Coronavirus: Direct flights from U.S. and Mexico still landing at Kelowna airport

The Kelowna International Airport (YLW) says it is not affected by international flight suspensions at some Canadian airports.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that starting Wednesday only four Canadian airports will receive international flights. However, domestic flights and flights from the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean will not be affected.

Kelowna airport manager Sam Samaddar said the only international direct flights that land in the Central Okanagan are from intercontinental North American destinations, and therefore can proceed.

“We have three flights out of the U.S., which are not impacted by this announcement, so Phoenix, Las Vegas, as well as Seattle, so those flights are allowed to continue to operate into Kelowna directly,” Samaddar said.

“And then we have our sun destinations into Mexico and Cuba, those are allowed to continue to operate into Kelowna, as well.”

According to Trudeau, Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Vancouver International Airport, Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Calgary International Airport will be the only Canadian airports to receive international flights from overseas.

Trudeau also announced on Monday that Canada will be closing its borders to foreign travellers in an attempt to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Speaking to reporters from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Trudeau said Canada is taking “increasingly aggressive steps” and will be closing its borders to people who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada.

Trudeau said the restrictions will come into effect Wednesday but that exceptions will be made for air crews, diplomats, immediate family members and U.S. citizens.

Samaddar said increased screening measures are in place at the Kelowna airport to help identify travellers who may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, as well as instructions to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

“These are directions that are being provided by the health authority, with Health Canada, and they are being implemented by the Canadian Border Services Agency, so there is a series of screening questions as well as pamphlets that the individual traveller is given as they come through the airport,” he said.

Samaddar said the economic impact is being felt, with a tidal wave of flight cancellations and a significant drop in advanced bookings.

“It’s going to be a huge economic impact to the region, when we look at the number of travellers that have actually cancelled any form of travel,” he said.

“It’s very dynamic at this point and airlines, based on demand, are actually cancelling flights and in our case, they are also looking at places to house aircraft they are going to park.

“So as the demand curve continues to drop in terms of advanced bookings, we are getting notice from airlines as to what flights that they are cancelling to deal with what is happening globally.”

Global BC news coverage of the coronavirus in B.C.

Samaddar said extra cleaning and sanitation measures have been in place for the past six weeks, well before a passenger passing through YLW tested positive for the disease.

“We are taking all of the safety precautions as an industry, so it’s not just the airport, it’s the airlines that have put extra cleaning measures between flights and things like that,” he said

“As an industry, we are doing all of the things that we can to mitigate the risk of this virus spreading.”

YLW announced Sunday morning it had been informed that a passenger that flew on a Vancouver to Kelowna flight on March 10 tested positive for COVID-19.

The impacted flight from Vancouver to Kelowna was WestJet flight WS3326.

The airport said passengers in rows 10 to 14 are “considered close contacts and may be at risk of exposure.”

However, a statement from WestJet said rows 15 and 16 could also be affected.

The airline said public health officials are recommending those in rows 10 to 16 “self-isolate for 14 days after arrival in Canada and monitor for symptoms.​”

WestJet said if passengers in self-isolation do notice symptoms they should contact HealthLinkBC at 811.

There has been no update provided on the Okanagan passenger case since Sunday.

Samaddar said there are no other presumptive or confirmed cases of COVID-19 involving passengers or airport staff, as of Monday afternoon.

Kelowna International Airport (YLW) is the largest municipally owned airport in Canada, according to the city’s website.

The airport serves over two million passengers annually and offers more than 70 daily non-stop commercial flights with nine airlines.

As the 10th busiest airport in Canada, YLW’s total economic impact is 4,545 jobs and $789 million in total economic output to the province of British Columbia, according to its website.

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