Travellers navigate warnings, cancelations and shaming

Canadians and Americans in Panama, or with plans to travel to Panama, are navigating changes in travel advisories as the U.S. and Canadian governments have issued new warnings that include Panama.

We spoke with U.S. citizens and Canadians in Panama about the new travel advisories from their governments and found that the advisories were only one small hurdle the U.S. and Canadian citizens in Panama were experiencing.

Among the issues, some North Americans traveling to Panama are currently navigating are flight cancelations, travel shaming, and uncertainty about returning home. 

Travel Advisories 

Tuesday, Jan 18th, 2022 The United States Dept. of State issued a statement warning against travel to 22 nations among them four Latin American countries were listed: Panama, Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay. The statement which comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reads: 

"A level 4 travel health advisory has been issued for Panama due to to the increase in cases of the new coronavirus in the country.”

The advisory encouraging Americans not to travel to Panama also warned against mosquito-related illness in the Darian. 

The Canadian government also warned its citizens against "all non-essential travel" explaining "those who do choose to go abroad that they may have difficulty getting back."

Canceled flights 

Canadian Airline Air Canada announced the suspension of flights to a list of places including Panama, issuing a statement last week in collaboration with the Canadian government: 

“ In response to ongoing covid-19 concerns, Air Canada will suspend flights to Mexican and Caribbean destinations for 90 days as of Jan 31.” 

But canceled flights are not the only problem Canadians are facing. Travel shaming has become a prevalent issue for Canadians and Americans traveling in 2022. 

Travel Shaming

Yesterday the National Post published “Time for Canada to revisit pre-entry COVID test for Canadian travelers," an article detailing the experiences of Canadians who have had problems getting PCR tests to return home. 

"It took a two-week search and US$900 for a Calgary woman, her husband and daughter, to fly home from Palm Springs, due to a lack of PCR tests — the tests required for entry back into Canada” 

The women who chose to remain nameless “because of the lack of humanity toward people who are traveling” explained that people were traveling up to 2 hours to find tests.  

 She told the post,

 The only response I’m seeing to I’m stuck in Mexico for two weeks she said, is Gee, that’s too bad. You shouldn’t be travelling during a pandemic.’

So, amidst the canceled flights, travel advisories, and now, travel shaming, are Canadians and Americans reconsidering their travel plans to Panama? 

Not necessarily. 

Simply Flying reports in the 12 months leading up to November 2021, booking data suggested about 1.25 million passengers transited from the US or Canada to or through Panama City. 

4 out of 5 Canadians we spoke with whose flights to Panama were canceled re-booked their trip with another airline. 

We spoke with one traveler whose return flight was canceled, they told us that they have not rebooked a return flight, as they were considering extending their stay in Panama. 

As for PCR testing in Panama, out of 10 people, we spoke with in Coronado, Panama only one person had trouble finding a PCR test here (with results in 12 hours). This person explained that the test was not available in Coronado Panama on Jan 1 or 2, and they needed to travel to Panama City to find the test, then back to Coronado to catch their flight out of Rio Hato. 

While it is clear that foreigners (Canadians & Americans) are still traveling to Panama in 2022, for some the uncertainty that comes along with traveling during a pandemic, isn’t worth it. 

We spoke with two travelers from Toronto, Canada decided to cancel their trip to Coronado, Panama as they were worried " travel-related testing and quarantine requirements might change. And due to a need to get back to refill medications, they would not be able to travel with such uncertainty."

Now, with reports of Canadians “stuck” in the U.S. (due to testing shortages), for many, a stopover in the U.S. isn’t a viable option for most, as anyone arriving without proof of a test, could face fines of up to $5,000, plus surcharges, or even face criminal prosecution. (NP, 2022). 

The rules need "re-thinking" 

Not much has changed really, in the sense that Canadians and Americans are still free to travel to Panama and other destinations they’ve been warned against going to.

What has changed is the accessibility of PCR tests increasing the uncertainty of the overall cost of getting home. 

All this means is that those with the resources (money and time) will continue to be able to travel and obey travel-related testing and quarantine requirements while those without them suffer. 

With this in mind, some suggest it’s time to take a look at travel requirements take into account the current testing capacity and prevalence of the new variant. 

“It would be useful to revisit travel-related testing and quarantine requirements, taking into account the prevalence of Omicron and testing capacity in both the U.S. and Canada, among other factors,”

- Dr. Irfan Dhalla 

Dr. Anna Bershteyn an assistant professor in the department of population health at NYU Langone Health explained: 

“I don’t think the country should expect to see a slowdown in transmission from a policy like this.” (Omicron) is global, it has already surged in Canada.”  

A similar sentiment to the Calgary woman who explained: 

"We are in a single-family home in Palm Springs, we aren’t exposed to a lot of people, and Alberta is certainly a hotbed of COVID. If I’m going to get it, I’m going to get it in one place or the other.” 

There are “hundreds of Calgarians down here,” she added.

Bershteyn, of NYU, also added that mandatory testing is costly to travelers, “it can be stressful and disruptive”. 

Moreover, non-essential travel can be travel that’s important to people’s wellbeing. 

“When you think about the relatively small effect that something like this would have on the trajectory of Omicron in Canada, I don’t think I would recommend people miss weddings, funerals, or these really important life events over an advisory like this. And I think governments should be as supportive as possible, and as understanding as possible, that sometimes people have a very important personal need to travel.”

LA Prensa - U.S. includes Panama again in the list of countries to which it recommends not to travel to
NP - Time for Canada to revisit pre-entry COVID test for Canadian travelers
WP - Traveling was once social currency. Now it might get you shamed.