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Canadians will soon be able to drive across the U.S. border again. Here’s why that might be a bad idea

Canadians will soon be able to drive across the U.S. border again. Here’s why that might be a bad idea
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WASHINGTON—It just so happened that on the day the U.S. announced that it was finally, after all these months, going to , Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland — the Trudeau government’s all-purpose handler of important stuff — was in Washington. Standing in a park in front of the White House as anti-pipeline environmentalist protesters shouted behind her, she was asked Wednesday morning about the long-awaited good news for snowbirds, cross-border shoppers, and those who miss their families and friends living in the U.S.

Her answer touched on why, although fully vaccinated Canadians will soon be able to travel to the U.S. for non-essential reasons such as tourism or family visits, they might think twice about whether they should.

“There are two different issues, right? Personal safety and what we should all be doing collectively to keep Canadians collectively as safe as possible in the face of this fourth wave, and of new and more contagious COVID variants,” Freeland said. “I think it’s really important for Canadians to listen closely to the advice from medical authorities.”

The key medical authority in her government, Health Minister Patty Hadju, said over the weekend that Canadians should travel to the U.S. only when it’s “absolutely necessary,” specifically warning against going to some U.S. states where COVID-19 is “very, very out of control.”

Almost 2,000 people are still dying from COVID-19 in the United States every day, according to the New York Times , and while new cases and hospitalizations have fallen almost a fifth from the rates of two weeks ago, they remain high compared to those in Canada.

Only 57 per cent of Americans are fully vaccinated so far (compared to 72 per cent of Canadians), and case rates in the Canadian border areas of Alaska, the Midwest and the Northeast have been rising even as rates in the U.S. South have fallen. As many as one in five U.S. hospitals recently reported their ICU beds to be more than 95 per cent occupied, meaning that those seeking medical treatment in — whether for COVID-19 or something else — may find hospitals overwhelmed .

While Freeland didn’t specifically recommend against travel to the U.S., she preached caution. “I’m going to quote Eileen de Villa, the Toronto Public Health officer, who offered some really good advice,” Freeland said. “She said, ‘Just try to do the things you need to do, and maybe hold back on doing the things you just want to do.’ And I think, if you jut keep doing that a few more weeks, Canada can really fully put COVID behind us. And I have to say as a finance minister ... the single most important policy for Canada right now is to put COVID behind us.”

Meanwhile, she said that when it comes to questions of how testing requirements will or won’t align on either side of the border, and whether she expects Canadians who received mixed doses of different COVID-19 vaccines to be allowed into the U.S., “we are working to clarify and finalize all the details with out American partners.”

As of Wednesday, some questions about those details and how they will apply to Canadians had been clarified by American authorities while others remained up in the air.

The new policy announced by the Department of Homeland Security includes no testing requirement for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders when they reopen to leisure travel next month. People will be questioned by guards to ensure they are fully vaccinated, and may be asked to show documents to prove it. “Essential travellers,” such as those involved in trade, will be exempt from the vaccination requirement (as they have been and remain now) until some time in January.

White House officials say they expected the U.S. to accept all the vaccines approved by the World Health Organization as valid; that includes the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved and used in Canada but not in the U.S.

However, they said a decision remains to be made — likely in a matter of weeks — about whether to accept those who had received doses of two different vaccines. That’s an important question for millions of Canadians who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but got a second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
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