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First stage of Canada-U.S. border reopening still leaves a lot of people stranded

First stage of Canada-U.S. border reopening still leaves a lot of people stranded
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WASHINGTON—This was a big a week for many Canadians who live in the U.S., because for the first time in about 16 months they were able to visit home without quarantining for two weeks. My wife Rebecca made the trip from D.C. to Toronto on the second day the new border rules were introduced, fully vaccinated and tested. She wasn’t alone: , and expected to spike further this weekend.

But those first-stage new rules still leave a lot of people stranded: children too young to be vaccinated (precluding many full-family trips, including for our own family), Canadians who want to cross into the U.S. in their cars by land, fully vaccinated U.S. citizens who want to visit Canada (by land, air, or sea) to see loved ones or for tourism. When the border may reopen to any of those categories of people is a question that so far has no clear answer.

“That’s not going to happen for quite a while,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday — providing what might be the most specific immediate answer any of us is likely to hear. As my colleague Stephanie Levitz reported , he was referring specifically to unvaccinated travellers from anywhere in the world, saying that the next phase of eased restrictions, whenever they come, would be for the fully vaccinated. But depending on your personal definition of “quite a while,” it seems likely to apply to the entire situation.

The U.S.-Canada border situation will likely remain status quo until at least July 21, when the current regulations are set for their monthly expiry (and should be expected to be renewed with or without any changes). Any changes to border restrictions would likely be announced well in advance, meaning that even if further reopening is announced with the July 21 renewal, they’d likely take effect well after that.

In the meantime, as industry groups and local border-town politicians are eager to make clear, a summer tourist season and the economic activity that comes with it are likely to be entirely lost. The kind of drive-across-for-a-day-trip or weekend retreat visits that fuel the economies of hundreds of places in both Canada and the U.S. remain impossible. In many places, regular life involves frequent border crossings to shop, visit doctors, tend to property, and see friends. that’s essentially in suburban Vancouver this week. “I do believe we’ve lost a piece of humanity,” one local resident there told him about the way restrictions have been applied at the border. It’s similar to what I’ve heard from U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins of New York , who talks of visiting Canada just to go for a jog on the beach during the pre-COVID era, and who represents constituents whose lives are lived on both sides of the border — or were.

Higgins was among 75 members of Congress from both U.S. political parties who issued a letter to President Joe Biden this week saying, “Both governments should follow the science and drop all travel restrictions for travellers between the United States and Canada who are fully vaccinated travellers or provide proof of a negative PCR test.” That came shortly after pressed American customs officials to ease restrictions on both the Canadian and Mexican borders.

This week, Reuters reported that a White House official said not to expect that to change anytime soon. “There are further discussions to be had before we can announce any next steps on travel reopening with any country.”

Some Canadians will be frustrated by that — especially those hoping to travel to the U.S. (about nine per cent of Canadians, ) and the businesses that depend on American tourists who have been calling for change. But my experience from the reactions to stories I’ve written is that many Canadians will cheer on an extended closure of the border to Americans — especially now that the Delta variant is apparently surging among unvaccinated Americans, and it appears there are places in the U.S. where high numbers of people are rejecting the idea of getting vaccinated, as I wrote this week . One Niagara region doctor told CP Thursday that situation means .

On the Canadian side, at least, we will find out more about what changes are in store for the fully vaccinated “in the coming weeks,” according to Trudeau. And Levitz reported that Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says “the spread of COVID-19 in Canada, hospitalization rates, vaccination rates and also what percentage of incoming travellers who are fully-vaccinated are carrying COVID with them” will inform any further decisions on changes. Whether that information will come, and will be acted on, before an expected fall election in Canada is called, stalling any government business for further months.

If not, those waiting on changes on the border could be left waiting for “quite a while” indeed.
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