Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shared some details about his approach to reopening the Canada-U.S. border, making public comments on Monday (June 7) that implied that it will be a multi-phased approach and that the first round of travellers entering Canada will have to be fully vaccinated.
While an official plan is still pending as both countries continue talks on a strategy, Trudeau’s remarks support previous reports that claimed Ottawa was working on a “two-track system” in which quarantine and testing requirements would relax for fully-vaxxed visitors.
According to reports this week by CBC News and The Canadian Press, the Government of Canada is eyeing a multi-stage approach that could allow fully vaccinated travellers to enter Canada starting this summer.
One possible scenario being discussed for “Phase One” is to allow vaccinated travellers to avoid quarantine if they have a negative COVID-19 test, reports say.
"We are looking at how we're going to start welcoming up tourists in a phased way as the numbers come down in Canada, as the numbers start to come down in the United States and elsewhere around the world," Trudeau said on Monday, speaking at virtual event hosted by the St. John’s Board of Trade.
But Trudeau was careful not to suggest that his government would rush into a reopening and sacrifice the work Canada has done to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Trudeau said.
What's the plan?
But the pressure to come up with something, and soon, is on as political figures in both the U.S. and Canada call for a reopening plan as vaccination rates increase.
In a May 5 letter, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a “transparent, bilateral, and public plan” based on public health data and guidance, along with standards and protocols for reopening the border.
Even Trudeau’s own Liberal caucus is getting antsy.
MP Wayne Easter, who chairs the House of Commons finance committee, told POLITICO on May 27 that Ottawa needs to get moving.
“As you get into July 1, Canada Day, and July 4, Independence Day, then those target dates are real pressure points for wanting to be normalized,” Easter said. “The heat’s on, and I think we absolutely must have a plan.”
No date set
Canadian officials have been vague at best when fielding questions about when travel restrictions between Canada and the U.S. will ease up.
An anonymous source that CBC spoke with was doubtful of a June reopening, suggesting that July will likely kick off Phase One.
Canada and the U.S. have agreed to extend its ban on non-essential travel at the land border until June 21. The order has been in place since March 2020.
Last month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki downplayed the possibility of the border reopening this month after a U.S.-based newspaper published a story claiming that a full reopening was for sure happening on June 22.
“I don’t think a decision has been made, that I’m aware of, about what would happen after that,” Psaki told media on May 27.
Trudeau himself has not announced a restart date and, as reported by CBC, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is still uncertain if whether the first phase will happen in June.
The only details the PM has provided, so far, is that coronavirus cases need to be down and more than 75 per cent of Canadians need to be vaccinated before land restrictions with the U.S. ease up.
On Tuesday (June 8), Trudeau hinted that the easing of border measures will favour Canadians who have had two full doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I think we all understand that we want to get back to normal and start travelling again,” Trudeau told reporters, “but it’s very clear that even though one dose has allowed us to significantly protect Canadians, and remove many of the pressures from public health systems, it is still an incomplete protection.”
What about vaccine certificates?
Another part to this puzzle is how Canadian border officials will check for proof of vaccination at the land border.
Canada and the United States have very different takes on vaccine certificates, a concept that is currently driving the reopening of borders and tourism in Europe.
The White House, months ago, ruled out vaccine passports, issuing a statement on April 6 that said “the government is not now, nor will we be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential.”
Canada, on the other hand, is in the midst of developing a digital pass that would allow travellers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, or recovery, from the virus.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has already met with his counterparts in the G7 to discuss the coordination of a platform that, he says, “works well with other countries.”
The platform will recognize both vaccinated foreign travellers entering Canada while equipping Canadians with health credentials for travel abroad, Alghabra said on May 28.
Vaccine certificates will be on Canada's agenda at the G7 Summit in the U.K. from June 11-13.
In an interview with CBC on May 1, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Canada may build a vaccine passport into Canada’s ArriveCAN app, a mobile tool, launched last year, that requires travellers to submit their contact information, COVID-19 symptom self-assessment and quarantine plan before boarding their flight to Canada.
How Canada will manage a politically-charged concept like vaccine certificates with U.S. travellers is unknown – the two countries could very well, in the interim, set different standards for providing proof of vaccination.
Whatever the outcome is, let’s just hope it’s easy to read, as was recommended in last month’s report on border testing and quarantine measures from the “COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel.”
The panel of epidemiology and virology experts, in a list of data-driven recommendations, said that future border measures must be simple, easy to understand and equitable.
On that note, the panel urged Ottawa to discontinue its mandatory hotel quarantine program for international air arrivals and eliminate quarantine and pre-departure testing for fully vaccinated travellers.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday (June 8), the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) will be launching its own #OpenTheBorder campaign.
A Facebook Live will be held on TIAC’s Facebook Page here at 11:00 a.m. EDT to announce the new initiative.
While non-essential traffic at the land border is prohibited, the flow of essential goods and services, essential workers and others who meet certain requirements are allowed to cross.
While the land border is closed, Canadians are still able to fly to the U.S. due to a well-known loophole in the system.
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