Canada says border won't fully reopen until 75% vaccinated

The restrictions, which exclude trade in goods, are now due to expire on July 21, 2021.
The restrictions, which exclude trade in goods, are now due to expire on July 21, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (BLOOMBERG) - The Canadian government announced a loosening of Covid-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people amid warnings that a return to a completely open border will take awhile longer.

Fully vaccinated Canadians and residents will exempt from the mandatory three-day hotel stay as well as a 14-day quarantine requirement on arrival to the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government said in a statement on Monday (June 21). Travellers will still need to have tested negative for Covid-19 before their trip, and take a second test at the border.

The move – effective July 5 – is a first, incremental step to ease restrictions amid mounting impatience for the government to reopen the border between the United States and Canada. A fuller reopening will not happen until 75 per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated, Canada’s border chief said on Sunday.

The world’s longest undefended border has been closed to most travel since March 2020. On Friday, the government extended the restrictions until at least July 21.

“We haven’t reached the finish line, and the finish line is when a significant majority of Canadians, approximately 75 per cent, are fully vaccinated,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Sunday.

At present, less than a fifth of Canadians have received two shots, according to data compiled by CTV News.

The border restrictions have kept families apart, blocked tourists and students, and hampered the world’s largest bilateral trading relationship. While trucks and trains continued to move goods, Canada’s tourism and travel-related businesses lost an estimated C$20 billion (S$22 billion) in revenue last year, according to one estimate.

The new measures announced on Monday will help primarily Canadians living in the US come home without the added costs and burden associated with the full quarantine. It could also expedite entry for new immigrants and non-permanent residents like students.

Travellers will still need to quarantine until they receive the results of the second test. The new rules don’t apply to tourists, and non-residents and partially vaccinated Canadians will still need to do the full quarantine.

Airlines, tour operators and other businesses on both sides of the border have been pleading for a more comprehensive reopening plan, with the vital summer season about to begin, and Canada’s go-slow approach is causing frustration.

Mr Blair’s announcement on Friday that Canada would extend the border restrictions was met with some unusually blunt language from Mr Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat who represents a border district.

Canada prioritised giving first doses to as many people as possible before moving on to second doses amid a shortage in vaccine supplies. As a result, some 66 per cent of Canadians have received one shot, but only 18 per cent have had two, the CTV data show. By contrast, about 45 per cent of Americans have had two doses, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

Despite its cautious stance, Mr Trudeau’s government had approved a travel exemption for National Hockey League teams earlier this month for the final rounds of championship play-offs.

But last week, the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens tested positive in Las Vegas after travelling while only partially vaccinated, according to a statement from the NHL.

Canada is expecting the delivery of 68 million doses by the end of July that should be enough to fully vaccinate the eligible population. Asked if that might allow Canada to reopen the border by the end of August, Mr Blair said while he did not want to get ahead of the country’s public health agency, he was hopeful.

“Clearly, as those vaccines arrive and as Canadians continue to get in those lines and get vaccines into their arms, we’re really optimistic that we can meet that threshold of 75 per cent,” he said.