Easing of border restrictions to apply to those fully vaccinated: Trudeau
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the eventual easing of travel restrictions and quarantine rules will apply to those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Trudeau said he understands all Canadians are eager to travel again but patience is needed until more individuals have received a second dose of the vaccine.
“It’s very clear that even though one dose has allowed us to significantly protect Canadians, to remove many of the pressures from our public health systems, it is still an incomplete protection. We need people to get the full two doses of their vaccines and that’s why easing of restrictions will be focused on Canadians who are fully vaccinated,” he said.
Trudeau added that the government will continue to consult with provinces about what they believe to be the most appropriate steps to easing restrictions. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been vocal about the need to enhance border controls, namely at the U.S. land border, citing variant spread in the province.
The current non-essential travel restrictions with the U.S. have been in place since March, 2020 and are set to expire on June 21. The provision exempts the flow of trade and commerce, as well as vital health-care workers such as nurses who live and work on opposite sides of the border.
On whether the government is aiming to start easing measures around that time, the prime minister said his team is in talks with medical professionals and epidemiologists in Canada and the U.S. and that a formal announcement is expected in the next several weeks.
In an interview with CTV News on Tuesday, Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, said he had a meeting with other border city mayors and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair on May 28 about the possibility of easing restrictions at the border on June 21, when Canada reaches the threshold of 75 per cent of Canadians vaccinated with one dose and 20 per cent vaccinated with two doses.
“Four weeks from that, their expectation is that 75 per cent of Canadians would be fully vaccinated and if this is to happen they expect that they will further loosen the border restrictions and they’re having discussions with their federal counterparts in the United States. He did preface that with the caveat that subject to any outbreaks, subject to any other issues …but you got to start with a plan,” he said.
Calls have been made to the Biden administration by American politicians to set their sights on a July 4 reopening with Canada.
In a March letter addressed to U.S. President Joe Biden, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, who also chairs the congressional Northern Border Caucus, wrote that the current border restriction between the two countries "tears at the fabric of our community and is a critical problem for individuals, families, and businesses."
On Tuesday Rep. Chris Jacobs introduced the “Northern Border Reopening Transparency Act” that would require the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to report back to congress within 30 days on a plan to reopen the border.
Canada’s COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel, comprised of infectious disease specialists and public health experts, laid out an extensive framework for how to adapt quarantine and testing rules for those not vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and fully vaccinated arriving into the country.
For unvaccinated travellers it recommends the usual 72 hour pre-departure test, arrival test, approved quarantine plan, and a day seven follow-up test.
For partially vaccinated travellers, it recommends they provide “acceptable” proof of vaccination, as defined by the government, with the stipulation that those “outside the maximum recommended 2-dose interval period are considered unvaccinated.” All other steps remain the same as those applied to unvaccinated travellers except quarantine is required only until confirmation of a negative PCR test, with no follow-up at the seven day mark.
For the fully vaccinated, it recommends that travellers provide “acceptable” proof of vaccination, as defined by the government, and the removal of the pre-departure test requirement. It proposes a PCR test upon arrival only for surveillance purposes. No quarantine is required unless the on-arrival test returns positive.
In all scenarios it recommends scrapping entirely the government’s hotel quarantine program.
The hard-hit tourism and business industries have long been asking for a fulsome plan to reopen the border as vaccinations ramp up.
On Tuesday, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce issued a press release stating that it was time to revisit the border closure with the U.S. given the high rates of vaccinations in both countries.
It recommends that as of June 22, the American and Canadian governments should recognize vaccine credentials, allow fully vaccinated travellers to cross the border without having to show a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test, eliminate mandatory quarantine, and establish a plan for other travellers for all modes of transportation.
“Travellers allowed to cross the border would of course be required to comply with all applicable state, provincial, territorial, Indigenous and local public health guidelines,” the release reads.
“Amending the Joint Initiative to take account of rising vaccination levels would sustain jobs, boost business confidence and allow more families to reunite. It would help facilitate a safe and gradual return to a more normal life.”
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada also launched a new campaign Tuesday to raise awareness of the urgency of reopening the U.S., Canada border as many businesses are at risk of permanently closing.