Amid a public outcry over members of his government ignoring an advisory to avoid non-essential travel, Premier Jason Kenney suggested Wednesday that he is in favour of people travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic if they do so safely.
“I think we need to support safe travel,” he said in a Facebook Live. He said studies have shown that when proper safety measures are followed, air travel during a pandemic is safer than going to a grocery store.
“There is an advisory against non-essential travel, at the same time, the science is this: a Harvard University study and a U.S Department of Defence study have both concluded that the chance of transmission on an airplane with all the protocols being taken – mask-wearing, sanitation, HEPA filters and everything else — that the chance of transmission is statistically insignificant.”
Kenney made the comments five days after he last spoke publicly on Jan. 1.
He also said plans are being made to restrict members of government from travelling outside of Alberta without approval, and that such orders would extend to people who serve on government agencies, boards or commissions.
During his Facebook Live, the premier said because of the ongoing high number of hospitalizations and deaths linked to COVID-19 in Alberta, public health restrictions implemented in the fall will need to be extended beyond next week, when the government had tentatively hoped they could be lifted.
The statement on “safe travel” appeared to contradict the Alberta government’s website, which clearly states people should “avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.” For travel within Alberta, the government website offers a list of safety precautions a person can take “if you must travel.”
At a news conference last week where Kenney said he did not plan to sanction members of his government who travelled abroad over the Christmas holidays, Kenney spoke about air travel being a way people can help support the economy during the pandemic. He added that boarding flights would also help to keep airlines like Calgary-based WestJet in business.
Since that news conference and the public outrage that followed, several members of his government who travelled abroad despite being advised against doing received demotions or lost their jobs.
On Wednesday night, Kenney reiterated that he blames himself for them ignoring the travel advisory, because he was not “absolutely clear that that was not acceptable.”
He implied that politicians need to be held to “a higher standard” than the general public when it comes to following government travel advisories.
“I am deeply, deeply disappointed and I share the public anger,” he said of members of his government taking vacations abroad over the holidays.
Kenney also acknowledged that many Albertans have made sacrifices by trying to obey public health rules and guidelines like not visiting sick or elderly relatives over the holidays.
“I hear Albertans with their anger. They are right to be angry,” he said, adding the members of his government who took vacations out of country made “a mistake that was insulting to Albertans.”
Earlier this week, Global News reached out to WestJet for comment after Kenney encouraged Albertans to give the airline more business during the pandemic, and whether the airline was concerned about people travelling internationally during a pandemic,
“It is not for our airline to determine reasons for travel and we continue to operate to ensure Canadians have access to air service,” a WestJet spokesperson said in an email. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have safely operated more than 30,000 flights and carried more than 1.3 million guests with no reported cases of transmission onboard our aircraft.
“Both the Public Health Agency of Canada alongside our transport minister and have stated that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is low and extremely rare. Our public safety minister has also made statements on the low percentage of COVID(-19) transmission from international travel.
“WestJet has implemented additional stringent health and safety policies and procedures to ensure our guests can travel with peace of mind through our Safety Above All program. These protocols are consistent with the best practices and advice available to us from around the world including IATA’s guidance for global aviation health and safety and go above and beyond any regulatory requirement in our highly regulated industry.”
Watch below: Some Global News videos about travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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