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The border crossing into the United States in Lacolle, Que., on Feb. 12, 2021.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending his government’s decision to extend restrictions against non-essential travel to the United States for another month, saying Canada has not yet reached a safety threshold of first- and second-dose vaccinations.

The Canada-U.S. border will remain closed to non-essential travel until July 21, the government announced on Friday, a renewal of a monthly agreement with the United States that has been repeatedly extended since the pandemic emerged in early 2020.

Mr. Trudeau said Canada is still not sufficiently protected by vaccination to relax cross-border travel.

“I get people’s impatience. But from the very beginning, we as a government have been there for Canadians, and that means doing what’s necessary to keep them safe.”

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“We have to hit our targets of 75 per cent vaccinated with a first dose and at least 20 per cent vaccinated with a second dose before we can start loosening things up, because even a fully vaccinated individual can pass on COVID-19 to someone who is not vaccinated,” he told reporters.

He said Ottawa is nevertheless planning to significantly ease post-travel quarantine restrictions soon for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents and other eligible individuals. Ottawa said on June 9 the loosening of rules was planned for early July. Further details including a precise date are expected on Monday.

The Prime Minister acknowledged, however, that a national vaccine passport in the works to verify that people have been immunized – one that would be accepted around the world – won’t be ready this summer. He said a national certification of vaccination status is a medium-term target for the fall of 2021, and access to provincial health databases would be needed to verify who has received two doses. “The provinces, of course, have your health data and your vaccination status.”

He said in the interim – as quarantine requirements after travel are relaxed for Canadians with two vaccine doses – people will have to upload photos of their vaccination documents to the ArriveCAN software app to prove to border officers they are fully vaccinated.

Ottawa announced last week that fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents and other essential travellers will be subject to a far shorter quarantine – days, not weeks – if they test negative for COVID-19 upon arrival. The changes would also mean qualifying travellers who arrive by air can skip government-mandated quarantine hotels and isolate at home until they receive a negative result on their arrival COVID-test.

There are signs, however, that the United States isn’t ready to welcome Canadians who have received doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca. Reports suggest theatre venues in New York will only admit individuals who got vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.

Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that the easing of post-travel quarantine rules for fully vaccinated Canadians could still leave their young children subject to mandatory 14-day quarantine rules, because COVID-19 vaccines in Canada have not been approved for those under 12. He suggested a workaround might be possible using repeated testing, but gave no guarantees. Current rules exempt unaccompanied minors from the mandatory hotel quarantine.

“We have to put the safety of Canadians first.”

The Prime Minister was asked about problems arising for fully vaccinated Canadians who have received vaccines not approved by the federal Department of Health. Only vaccines approved in Canada will be accepted in determining whether an incoming traveller counts as fully vaccinated. He said Canada could expand the range of acceptable vaccines to those assessed and listed for use by the World Health Organization, but gave no guarantees.

About 16 per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated and two-thirds have received their first shot. The number of double-dosed individuals is expected to rise quickly as provincial vaccination campaigns continue.

The Globe and Mail reported last week that travellers whose vaccination documents are not in French or English will have to pay for an official translation. If the credibility of the documents is in doubt, the traveller would be directed to a government-sanctioned quarantine hotel.

At least 25 countries, including France, Spain and Denmark, plan to reopen their borders to vaccinated travellers from some countries. Many are requiring a negative COVID-19 test and official proof of vaccination, while some are allowing unvaccinated travellers who test negative for COVID-19.

Goldy Hyder, president the Business Council of Canada, said he was disappointed to hear the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel.

“Our two countries have missed an opportunity to make amendments to the border agreement which would recognize the increasing number of people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Mr. Hyder said.

“Canadians need a clearly articulated plan to reopen the border safely so that friends and families can be reunited and businesses can welcome back travellers.”

Mr. Trudeau said Canada is on track to have received 68 million doses by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12.

Canada had expected enough to fully vaccinate 75 per cent of all eligible people before August, but Moderna has scheduled another 11 million doses to be delivered in late June and early July.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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