Canada's Justin Trudeau begins easing travel restrictions

Pandemic restrictions on travel between Canada and the US loosened Monday, with double-jabbed Canadian citizens and permanent residents now excused from 14 days of quarantine for the first time for nearly a year and a half.

In addition, air travellers entering the country will no longer have to spend three days in an official quarantine hotel. However, the new rules will make no difference to Americans because they only apply to Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

To be eligible for the easing, passengers must also be travelling for essential purposes and have tested negative for COVID within three days of leaving.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said plans to totally reopen the US-Canada border – which has been shut since March 2020 – would be announced over the next few weeks. A ban on non-essential trips will remain in place until at least July 21. 

Trudeau said the easing of the restrictions marks a ‘big step’ toward re-opening the border.

‘We’re very hopeful that we’re going to see new steps on reopening announced in the coming weeks,’ he said at a news conference in Ontario.

‘We’re going to make sure that we’re not seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases because nobody wants to go back to further restrictions, after having done so much and sacrificed so much to get to this point.’

Julia Dunn, who landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport from the United States while on her way to Halifax, said she was glad the restrictions had eased.

‘It’s very freeing being able to get home to family without having to spend those two weeks alone,’ she said.

Dunn, a Canadian citizen but now lives in Houston, said she booked her trip to Canada after learning about the planned easing of quarantine rules a few weeks ago.

Trudeau said he understands how eager people are to see the border reopen but noted that the pandemic continues and ‘things aren’t normal yet.’

‘Nobody wants us to move too fast and have to reimpose restrictions as case numbers rise like we’re seeing elsewhere in the world,’ he said. ‘We need to do this right.’

On July 5, Canada saw 670 new cases and 8 new deaths, compared to 5,371 new cases and 41 deaths for the US.  

Canada’s vaccine rollout is currently lagging behind America’s with 36% of Canadians (13.7million people) fully vaccinated, compared with 47.4% (157.3m) of Americans.

The highly-infectious Delta variant is making ground in both the US and Canada,

It is now the most common strain of the virus in California, while it has also taken hold in Utah, Arkansas, Missouri and Nevada.

As of June 29, there had been more than 4,100 cumulative cases of the Delta variant in Canada, and experts predict it could soon become the most dominant strain across the country.

The United Kingdom suffered a massive swell of cases in June, of which 90% are believed to belong to the new mutation, which was first detected in India.

At the start of June, the U.K. was averaging 3,300 cases a day. That number has shot up to 24,000 cases per day as of this week – a 627 percent increase.

While experts believe the new Delta strain is more infectious, vaccines still appear to be highly effective in preventing hospital admissions and death.

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In the UK, for example, although there were 27,334 new cases of the virus yesterday, only nine people died. This reflects the country’s high vaccination rate, with 86% of adults receiving their first dose of the Covid vaccine, and 63% a second.

Video: Trudeau defends Canada’s extended ban on non-essential travel (The Washington Post)

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Meanwhile, 99% of people dying in the US have not been vaccinated, according to chief White House medical advisor, Dr Anthony Fauci.

Commercial traffic has gone back and forth normally between the Canada and the US since the start of the pandemic.

Canadians are able to fly into the the States with a negative COVID-19 test and Americans can visit Canada to see relatives or close friends as outlined by a strict set of guidelines.

But to do that, people entering Canada must quarantine for two weeks on arrival and the quarantine is enforced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Proof of the effectiveness of vaccinations in avoiding COVID deaths have prompted calls for the border to reopen sooner to avoid further damage to both countries tourism sectors.

In a normal, pre-COVID-19 summer, scores of pleasure boats are anchored in Lake Champlain off the Burlington waterfront by July 4, with most of them from Canada. But the anchorage is nearly empty this year because of the ongoing border closure.

People who rely on those boaters directly and indirectly hope Canadians are back soon enough to avoid losing a second summer to the pandemic.

‘We can’t wait to welcome our visitors from Canada so that they can really embrace our new location in Burlington because I know that they are going to like it as much as we do,’ said Elizabeth White, the director of development for Dream Yacht Charter. The company, which rents live-aboard sailing vessels to tourists across the world, moved its Lake Champlain operations to Burlington from upstate New York in 2020.

But it’s unclear when the border – an easy sail about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north to where Quebec’s Richelieu River drains the lake north into Canada – will fully reopen.

Meanwhile, there is a human angle to the border closure that is missed in the economic figures.

Since shortly after the border closed in March 2020, people from both countries traveled to Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec, to hold impromptu family reunions from their own side of the border on a residential street. While they can talk across the border, they can’t touch and they can’t pass things back and forth.

In the state of Washington, a grocery store in Point Roberts was in danger of closing until the state gave it a $100,000 grant to keep it open until the border reopens and its Canadian customers can return. It sits in an approximately 5-square-mile (8-square-kilometer) slice of the United States on the tip of a peninsula south of Vancouver, British Columbia, that juts into US territory.

In far northern Michigan, a bridge connects Sault Ste. Marie to a larger city with the same name in Ontario, Canada. Denise Boston Talentino, a citizen of both countries, has lived on the US side of the ‘Soo’ for 26 years. She commuted to Canada to work as an addiction counselor before retiring in November but couldn’t visit family there.

‘The United States and Canada were like one world to me. I never imagined it would ever last this long,’ Talentino said of the border rules.

Canadian officials would like 75% of eligible Canadian residents to be fully vaccinated before loosening border restrictions for tourists and business travelers. The Canadian government expects to have enough vaccine delivered for 80% of eligible Canadians to be fully vaccinated by the end of July. Canadian government statistics show that as of July 1, just over 35% of the eligible Canadian population was fully vaccinated.

‘We are optimistic that the decrease in cases and increase in vaccine coverage will in due course allow a progressive easing of measures at the border,’ said Madeleine Gomery, a spokesperson for Canada Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. ‘In the meantime, we are proceeding with appropriate caution on both sides, taking advice of public health experts, and encouraging Canadians to continue receiving their vaccinations.’

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a Liberal member of the Canadian Parliament from the Toronto area, has been pushing for the safe reopening of the border. Erskine-Smith said that easing the entry requirements for Canadian citizens is an important step for fully vaccinated individuals to build trust in travel.

‘I would say I continue to think we should move faster,’ Erskine-Smith said.

He says officials on both sides of the border should have begun the process months ago on reopening details such as what would be acceptable proof of vaccination that would allow people to cross.

On the US side, politicians from states along the Canadian border have been pushing the Biden administration to move forward with plans to reopen the border.

‘We in Vermont are for the restoration of these cross-border relationships as soon as possible,’ said Vermont’s Democratic US Sen. Patrick Leahy. ‘Those decisions should be based on sound science and not on politics.’

While the two governments are pondering the policy, people accustomed to seeing Canadians every summer are waiting.

In Maine’s Old Orchard Beach, a longtime popular vacation spot for people from Quebec, the Canadians are sorely missed. At the Alouette Beach Resort there was a single Canadian visitor the weekend of Quebec’s Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, a province holiday that often turns into a long weekend for vacationing families from Quebec.

Owner Fred Kennedy said the loss has been made up to some degree by American visitors and, looking ahead, some Canadians are making inquiries about travel later in the summer.

‘We still miss the Canadians,’ Kennedy said. ‘It gives a flavor to Old Orchard.’ 

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