It’s been about 14 months since the border with the U.S. was closed. The time to start reopening it has arrived. And somehow the government of Canada is not ready.
This is one of those cases where a sudden blanket measure was put in place because of an emergency and, now that there are better ways to deal with it, there is too much sleepy inertia getting in the way.
So snap out of it, Ottawa. People who have been fully vaccinated can safely travel across borders without quarantining. Govern yourselves – and all of us – accordingly.
That’s not a political opinion. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded fully vaccinated people are good to go across borders, without quarantine. Last week, Health Canada’s own Expert Advisory Panel said the same thing.
In May, the Biden Administration suggested talks on reopening, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau played down the idea.
While Mr. Trudeau’s government is dawdling over it, two Liberal MPs, Wayne Easter and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, banded together with a U.S. Representative from western New York State, Brian Higgins, to call for government to start phasing in a reopening of the border – starting with dropping quarantine requirements for people who can show proof they are fully vaccinated.
“We really do need to exercise greater urgency – given the evidence, given the science that we know, that it is safe for fully vaccinated individuals to travel,” Mr. Erskine-Smith said in a telephone interview.
That Canadian Expert Advisory Panel didn’t suggest dropping all border measures, but revamping to make them smarter. The recommendations notably included cancelling the mandatory three-day hotel quarantine for air travellers because it is inconsistent, inconvenient and of marginal value in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Instead, on Thursday, the government increased the penalty for skipping out of hotel quarantine from $3,000 to $5,000.
It’s hard to imagine the hotel quarantine was ever much use, but it was implemented to beef up the blunt message the government wanted to send: Travel = Bad.
The thing is, Canada now needs to move to another message: Vaccination = Freedom.
Goldy Hyder, the chief executive officer of the Business Council of Canada, said the freedom to travel is a powerful incentive to get vaccinated. The benefit of being fully vaccinated should be the ability to travel, within Canada and abroad.
“COVID put us under house arrest. Vaccines give you mobility freedom. Or they should,” Mr. Hyder said. “What are we waiting for?”
One reason for Canada’s sluggish approach might be a political fear that opening the border to fully vaccinated people now might draw attention to the fact that, for the next month or two, there will be a lot more Americans that are fully vaccinated while Canadians are still in what Mr. Trudeau called a “one-dose summer.”
Maybe Mr. Trudeau figures it’s easier to wait till the end of August, when it will be closer to an expected fall election, too.
There are more practical concerns. There’s a question of whether a Canadian “vaccine passport” would be issued by the federal government and, if so, whether the provinces will share vaccination data with Ottawa. There’s also the issue of what documents from the U.S. and other countries would be accepted as proof of vaccination.
But surely, Ottawa should have seen that coming. If they’re not ready after all this time, they’d better get a move on.
Some European Union countries already have such documents, and international air-travel organizations are working on standard formats. Several U.S. states have their own certificates, and phone apps.
“Surely we can figure this out, as between Canada and the United States, much more quickly – given the friends, families and business interests that live across both borders, and work across both borders,” Mr. Erskine-Smith said.
Canada’s tourism sector would be better off even with just a partial reopening of the border. A little more business travel would be good for the economy, too. It’s also just a good message to send that Canada will welcome anyone who has had two shots.
“Its good for our economy, and it is good for our brand,” Mr. Hyder said.
It’s more than that. Governments have a duty to open up freedoms as much as possible when it is so low-risk. Canada’s has fallen asleep on its pandemic border policies. It’s time to wake up.
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