Canada Resists Opening U.S. Border as Covid-19 Vaccinations Ramp Up
Business groups, border city mayors and citizens are calling for the relaxation of pandemic border restrictions as Covid-19 cases in Canada drop
By Paul Vieira Updated June 24, 2021 1:30 pm ET
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OTTAWA—Pressure is building on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet to relax restrictions on crossing the 5,500-mile land border with the U.S. to help the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors salvage the summer tourism season.
Despite a sharp drop in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in Canada, and a significant ramp-up in vaccinations, the government said it would stick to a gradual approach, waiting for a significant majority of the population to be fully vaccinated. Officials remain cautious in part because of the spread of the highly transmissible Covid-19 Delta variant, and the possibility that fully vaccinated people could still carry and transmit the virus.
But business groups, border-city mayors and some frequent cross-border travelers say they are growing impatient with what they perceive to be a go-slow approach from Canada. Given the progress on the public-health front, they say it is urgent Canadian authorities allow the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors to start the task of rebuilding battered sales starting this summer, when activity tends to be busiest. Some Canadian citizens say it is also time to allow families and friends reunite after a 15-month pause.
Canada, along with the U.S., agreed to extend a ban on tourists crossing the land border until July 21. Canadians, if they so wish, can fly into the U.S., though they must present a negative Covid-19 test administered within 72 hours of boarding a flight. There is no quarantine requirement once someone arrives in the U.S. Canada, however, continues to ban all tourist entry, including Americans, via air and sea, and Canadians returning to the country must quarantine for a 14-day period, including a three-night stay in a government-mandated hotel. Those rules will change on July 6, when Canada won’t require fully vaccinated Canadians to quarantine, subject to test results.
“I understand the impatience people have to get traveling again, but keeping Canadians safe has been and will continue to be our number one priority throughout,” Mr. Trudeau said at a press conference. “We’re doing things gradually but we’re talking about weeks and not months anymore.”
Canada’s seven-day average of new, confirmed Covid-19 cases has sharply dropped since hitting a peak in mid-April during a third wave—from nearly 9,000 cases a day to, as of this week, fewer than 1,000. On a per-capita basis, Canada’s seven-day average fell this month below both the U.S. and U.K. level. On vaccinations, Canada leads the world on the share of the population with at least one shot, at 67%, and has seen the share of fully vaccinated climb to 21% from 5% at the start of June.
The White House has struck a joint task force with Canadian officials to discuss a timeline for reopening the border, and press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. would rely on CDC guidance regarding reopening.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said he pressed Canada’s ambassador in Washington, Kirsten Hillman, about the delay in reopening the land border, noting New York state has lifted pandemic restrictions with nearly half the population fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“I explained to Ambassador Hillman how mind-boggling it is that many New Yorkers are free to travel to Europe now, but even those fully vaccinated can’t even drive a few miles north to Canada to their homes, businesses, stores, families and properties,” Mr. Schumer said.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Hillman said the ambassador acknowledged the senator’s concerns, and conveyed to him there are talks among senior Canadian and U.S. officials on how best to proceed.
Chris Jacobs, a Republican congressman from upstate New York, told a Canadian audience last week he’s married to a Canadian, and his mother-in-law lives in the southwestern Ontario city of Kitchener, about 100 miles west from Buffalo. “My daughter has not seen her grandmother for 16 months,” he said.
Glenn Berg owns a lake house in Snohomish County in Washington state that he said is a roughly two-hour drive from his Vancouver home. He was last there on Valentine’s Day 2020, and said he’s frustrated he can’t keep tabs on property he’s poured a lot of money into and continues to pay taxes for. He said it is time for Canada and the U.S. to allow fully vaccinated folks—like himself—to cross the border, so long as they have proof.
“There’s no guidance, no nothing, especially on the Canadian side,” said Mr. Berg, now retired after a sales career in the technology sector. He added progress on the vaccination front in the U.S. and now Canada should give officials leeway to open up.
“The way the vaccination is going, it’s not like any variant is going to come and swell in the country. Why are we waiting? We are destroying people’s lives,” Mr. Berg said. Given the latest border-ban extension, he decided to charter a Cessna flight to Bellingham, Wash., along with his 14-year-old blind, deaf and geriatric pug. He’s having his vehicle shipped to the U.S. so he can pick up and drive with his pug to the vacation home. “Enough is enough.”
Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario—across the river from Niagara Falls, N.Y.—said tourism from the U.S. is crucial for his community. “It’s right up there with oxygen,” he said. He said he’s grown impatient with the Canadian government’s reluctance to offer a road map on reopening the border, or provide clear metrics on what thresholds the country needs to reach before tourists can return.
“We want to see a plan. And instead we’re getting pieces of a puzzle,” Mr. Diodati said. “They think they’re playing it safe. Instead, this is going to be detrimental for people in tourism, for people that have had their family separated, who are suffering from mental health issues, while people are sitting on their hands.”
At a minimum, Mr. Diodati said, fully-vaccinated travelers should be allowed to cross without quarantine requirements.
Statistics Canada said that since Canadian border restrictions have kicked in, the number of international travelers entering the country has plummeted more than 90%.
At a recent virtual panel, an executive with the U.S. Travel Association estimated the American economy loses $1.5 billion for each month that travel between the U.S. and Canada remains at a standstill. Tori Barnes, the association’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy, said the U.S. economy could recoup $3.3 billion in income if border restrictions and quarantine rules in Canada are loosened, and travel returns to half the level set in the second half of 2019. However, Ms. Barnes said, “the expediency isn’t there.”
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