OTTAWA -- The number of international travellers arriving by air has surged to the highest levels since mid-March, according to the newest numbers out of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Between August 3 and 9, 56,122 air travellers entered into Canada with 14,809 coming from the U.S. and 41,313 arriving on other international flights. It’s the highest count since between March 23 and 29 when 129,195 travellers arrived into the country, yet still down 94 per cent since 2019 levels.

The CBSA started collecting air and land travel statistics when the government announced enhanced COVID-19 travel restrictions requiring that all Canadians avoid non-essential travel outside of the country; that they return to Canada as soon as possible; and that they be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon entry.

Soon after, on March 21, the Canada-U.S. border shut down to non-essential travel – a measure that’s been renewed each month since. While Canadian borders are currently closed to all discretionary travel – such as for tourism, recreation or entertainment purposes – a short-list of exemptions exists.

April numbers hovered between 14,000 air travellers and 22,000, with the steepest decline between April 27 and May 3. Air travel had dropped 98 per cent compared to the same time period last year. Statistics show a slow climb since late May, reaching the 40,000 mark between June 29 and July 5.

Airline analyst Karl Moore says the moderate increase shows Canadians are slowly lowering their guard and becoming more at ease with the new realities of the pandemic, especially when it comes to travel.

"Canadians want to travel, they’re eager to get away, but it’s kind of tough to do," he said in an interview with "Part of it is business travel is up a bit, people are travelling to see family."

But he cautioned that numbers won’t return to pre-COVID-19 levels for many years and pointed to a new report by the International Air Transport Association, which says the airline sector won’t see a full rebound until 2024. They list three main factors for this: "Slow virus containment in the U.S. and developing economies, reduced corporate travel, and weak consumer confidence."

Moore said because workforces have quickly transitioned to a more remote-focused system, with communication tools like Skype and Zoom replacing in-person gatherings, employees will no longer need to hop on a plane to catch a meeting in a different city.

"Business travel will return, but not as much, partly because we’re in the biggest recession we’ve seen in our lifetime and one of the things you can cut is your business travel."

He added that numbers would be much higher if the government hadn’t enforced a two-week mandatory quarantine period upon return and if air travel itself was more enticing taking into consideration the new COVID-19 guidelines like wearing a mask at all times.

"I have a personal example – I’m not flying to Iceland [for work] because of the 14-day rule when I come back to Canada. Iceland is losing the hotel, the car rental money because of Canadian regulations," he said.

"So it’s not just that Canadians want to fly, but where can they fly to, who’s going to fly them, and what do they have to do when they come back?"

Air Canada’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Chung wrote a letter to Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Health Minister Patty Hajdu in mid-July calling for "a science-based approach" to easing the quarantine rules, at the very least to countries with low COVID-19 counts.

"Canada has made virtually no change to its quarantine restrictions since mid-March, despite continuing improvements containing the spread of the virus both in our country and in many others. This is severely impacting Air Canada, our customers and employees, as well as an overall recovery," he wrote.