The federal government exasperated a lot of people on Friday, when it announced that the ban on non-essential travel over the U.S.-Canada border will continue until at least July 21.
The rolling one-month ban, first introduced in March, 2020, and now reupped for the 15th time, means that Canadian businesses hungry for American tourists, and people who would just like to visit family on either side of the border, will have to keep being patient.
On the surface, there appear to be inconsistencies in the decision.
For one thing, the rate of COVID-19 infections in the United States has dropped dramatically. As of Friday, Canada’s seven-day average rate of cases per million people was just 29.23, while the U.S. rate was 31.42.
Gone are the dark days of winter, when the U.S. rate was almost four times that of Canada.
As well, vaccinations in Canada are moving along remarkably well. As of Friday, about 75 per cent of Canadians 12 years of age and older had received one shot, and almost 20 per cent had two. The U.S. figures were 62 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively.
Meanwhile, the European Union last week recommended allowing non-essential travel for fully vaccinated Americans.
Canadians may wonder why their country isn’t following suit. We can think of two very good reasons.
First, Canada has yet to fully reopen to itself. Public-health orders continue to restrict activities and movement, in a bid to stamp out the third wave’s last embers.
Ontarians can’t get a haircut, go to school, see a movie, visit a museum or have a meal inside a restaurant. In Montreal, only 3,500 fans were allowed to attend the Montreal Canadiens’ Stanley Cup playoff games on Friday and Sunday. In Manitoba, all indoor and outdoor gatherings on private property are prohibited.
To top it off, anyone entering Canada must quarantine for 14 days; air travellers were still required, as of Friday, to isolate in a hotel room for as many as three of those days. (The Trudeau government is expected to announce a change to the rules – for vaccinated travellers – on Monday.)
It would make no sense to allow millions of American and other tourists into a country that, as part of what is hopefully our last round in the fight against COVID-19, is still restricting so many basic activities.
The other good reason to hold off on a complete border reopening is that, though Canada’s vaccination campaign is going well, it’s still not where it needs to be.
On Friday, Ottawa announced that Canada is on track to receive 68 million doses of vaccine by the end of July, thanks to another increase in Moderna shipments. That’s more than enough to give two doses to every eligible Canadian by late July.
But we’re not there yet. With the growing prevalence of the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus, which is more transmissible and appears to be more resistant to a single dose of vaccine, there should be no rush to reopen the border before a much higher percentage of people have had their second shots.
Unfortunately, there is also a bad reason to keep on restricting non-essential travel – the failure of Ottawa and the provinces to set up a system for tracking and sharing information on who has been vaccinated.
Governments should have been preparing since mid-2020 to address this obvious issue. Instead, Ottawa said last week it won’t have a centralized vaccine confirmation system ready before the fall.
Canada’s progress on vaccinations, and continued success on COVID-19 suppression, is setting the stage for a reopening of the border, in a matter of weeks, for anyone who is fully vaccinated. Yet it’s hard to see how Ottawa will be able do that until it has a credible system for confirming travellers’ vaccination claims. The challenge is further complicated by the need to co-ordinate with other countries, including a U.S. government that says it has no intention of creating vaccine credentials for Americans.
Before Canada takes down its border barriers, COVID-19 cases have to fall further. Second-dose vaccinations have to rise, by a lot. And a system for checking travellers’ vaccination status has to be in place. Once all that happens – it can be done in a matter of weeks – then the border can reopen to tourism.
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