Canada’s COVID-19 Protests Threaten Border Trade With US
Canadian lawmakers expressed increasing worry about the economic effects of disruptive demonstrations after the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada became partially blocked by truckers protesting vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions. The blockade at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, prevented traffic from entering Canada while some U.S.-bound traffic was still moving, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said, calling the bridge “one of the most important border crossings in the world.” It carries 25% of all trade between Canada and the United States.
Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said such blockades will have serious implications on the economy and supply chains. “I’ve already heard from automakers and food grocers. This is really a serious cause for concern,” he said in Ottawa, the capital.
The daily demonstrations staged by the so-called Freedom Truck Convoy are centered in Ottawa, where demonstrators have used hundreds of parked trucks to paralyze parts of the capital for more than 10 days. Ottawa’s city manager said all tow-truck companies on contract with the city have refused to haul away the big rigs. The protests have infuriated people who live around downtown.
Dave Weatherall, a federal civil servant, lives near the truckers’ prime staging area in a city-owned parking lot outside of the downtown core. “They’re using the lot to terrorize people in Centretown,” he said, asking why the city has allowed the convoy to remain parked on its property for free and without intervention.
Demonstrations have spread to locations on or near the Canadian border, including the Ambassador Bridge, where a protest caused long backups and at one point stopped traffic in both directions. The bridge remains blocked on the road to Canada.
At a news conference after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke on February 7, trucker spokesman Tom Marrazo reiterated that the protesters want to overthrow the government. Marrazo said he is willing to meet with the opposition parties and the nation’s governor general, the representative of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
All three opposition parties technically could join together and defeat the government because Trudeau does not have the majority of seats in Parliament, but that is highly unlikely because lawmakers from the opposition New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois have condemned the protests.
Protesters have also closed another important U.S. Canada border crossing in Coutts, Alberta. “The border at Coutts continues to open and close at the discretion of a group of protesters who believe they are above the law. It has to stop,” tweeted Rachel Notley, Alberta’s former premier and current opposition New Democrat leader.
Protesters have said they will not leave until all vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. They also called for the removal of Trudeau’s government, though it is responsible for few of the restrictive measures, most of which were put in place by provincial governments.
François Laporte, the president of Teamsters Canada, which represents over 55,000 drivers, including 15,000 long-haul truck drivers, said the protests do not represent the industry in which 90% of drivers are vaccinated. The Freedom Convoy “and the despicable display of hate led by the political Right and shamefully encouraged by elected conservative politicians does not reflect the values of Teamsters Canada, nor the vast majority of our members, and in fact has served to de-legitimize the real concerns of most truck drivers today,” Laporte said in a statement.
Canada’s largest trucking company is virtually untouched by the vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, said Alain Bédard, chairman and CEO of TFI International Inc. The company’s few unvaccinated drivers are kept in Canada.
Trudeau continues to take a hard line against the protesters. The prime minister said everyone is tired of COVID-19, and that the restrictions will not last forever. He noted that Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. “I can understand frustrations with mandates,” he added. “But mandates are the way to avoid further restrictions.”
Source: Associated Press
Alberta Lifts COVID-19 Measures, With Restrictions Exemption Program Now Over
Albertans will no longer need to show their QR code to dine in restaurants or sit at entertainment venues. The changes took effect at midnight on February 8 after Premier Jason Kenney announced the three-step plan to ease public health measures in the province. As he’d previously promised, the restrictions exemption program — Alberta’s version of the vaccine passport — was first to go.
Capacity limits, masks for youngsters
Effective midnight on February 8, capacity limits were removed for smaller venues, including libraries and places of worship with a capacity of less than 500. Food and beverage consumption will be allowed in venues where audiences are seated. Larger venues will still have some limits: facilities with a capacity of 500 to 1,000 will continue to be limited to 500, while those with capacity for 1,000-plus people will be limited to 50%.
Also part of the first phase, children aged 12 and under will be exempt from all masking requirements; in schools, masking requirements will be lifted for students of all ages. Both those measures take effect on February 14.
“The threat of COVID-19 to public health no longer outweighs the hugely damaging impact of health restrictions on our society, on people’s mental health, on their emotional wellbeing, on our broader social health,” Kenney said. “So now is the time to begin learning to live with COVID.”
Steps 2 and 3
Step 2 comes into effect on March 1, if hospitalization numbers continue to trend down. Those changes include:
- Any remaining provincial school requirements (including cohorting) will be removed.
- Screening prior to youth activities will no longer be required.
- Capacity limits will be lifted for all venues.
- Limits on social gatherings will be removed.
- Provincial mask mandate will be removed.
- Mandatory work from home removed.
The timing of Step 3 will be determined by hospitalization rates, Kenney said. This phase will see COVID-specific measures in continuing care removed and mandatory isolation becoming a recommendation only.
‘Periods of uncertainty’
Health Minister Jason Copping said the province is entering a period of transition between the pandemic and endemic stage of COVID-19. “COVID-19 will be with us for a very long time and we will see times when COVID-19 infections will be higher than normal. But please rest assured we will continue to closely monitor the health-care system and we will take action when necessary to alleviate pressure in future waves or spikes.”
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, told the news conference that there has never been one right path to deal with COVID. “Every path has advantages and disadvantages that must be carefully weighed,” Hinshaw said.
Calgary Chamber of Commerce slams Alberta’s move to cancel vaccine passport program
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce issued a strongly worded statement just hours after Kenney announced that businesses will no longer have to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination from patrons as of midnight. Chamber president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said that public health measures like the Alberta Restrictions Exemption Program and masking remain critical to ensuring people feel comfortable dining at restaurants, attending sporting and entertainment events, going to gyms and going to work.
She added the chamber believes that prematurely lifting restrictions could lead to reduced revenues for businesses, as people choose to stay home and minimize the potential for exposure to the virus. Yedlin also warned of labour shortages due to illness, and a potential increase in infection rates at schools, “sending children and teachers home and disrupting work patterns and productivity for many parents.”
Another industry group, the Alberta Hospitality Association, which represents restaurants and bar owners, wanted to see other restrictions — such as a liquor curfew, bans on live music and billiards, and rules about how many people can be seated at one table — removed before the passport program. Instead, those restrictions remain in place until at least March 1.
Newfoundland and Labrador Announces Further Loosening of Restrictions
Newfoundland and Labrador has a plan to further loosen restrictions on gatherings and sporting events in the province. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said team competition within leagues or regions can resume on February 14. Tournaments are still not permitted, but single games can occur.
If cases emerge within a team where physical distancing and mask wearing is not observed, teammates would become non-household close contacts and follow the appropriate isolation protocols. The changes also apply to school sports, Fitzgerald said.
Also effective February 14, formal gatherings will be able to increase to 50% of a venue’s capacity. Informal gatherings will remain within a person’s 20 close, consistent contacts.
Restaurants, bars, theatres, bingo halls and other performance spaces can, starting February 14, operate at 50% capacity provided physical distancing can be maintained. Food and drink is permitted but masks must be worn at all times when not eating or drinking. Gyms, fitness facilities and arenas can also operate at 50% capacity with distancing.
Restrictions for faith-based groups are being loosened as of Saturday, allowing churches that require the province’s vaccination passport to operate at 50% capacity, but 25% capacity if not using the vaccine passport.
While Fitzgerald said the provincial government had expected to announce further changes on Feb. 21, she said the province’s favourable epidemiology and vaccination rate allowed them to do that sooner.
Fitzgerald said the province will also stop using its alert level system and will simply list all current public health restrictions in one place on the provincial government’s website. “It’s difficult to have that system apply appropriately at this point, and we got a lot of feedback that people were trying to make things fit with the alert levels and it was just causing more confusion,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t want that to happen. We just want people to be aware of what the restrictions are.”
If the province’s favourable epidemiology were to continue, Fitzgerald said it could be possible to loosen restrictions further in the future. However, she said case counts, positivity rate and hospitalizations would all play a factor.
Long-term care changes
Health Minister John Haggie also introduced a number of changes to long-term care homes in the province. Residents in long-term care and acute care will now be allowed two support visitors, instead of one, effective February 10, and will be able to leave their care home for family outings or visitation outside appointments. Hairstylists and volunteers can begin entering care homes again, provided they follow public health guidelines.
Group activities can also happen under guidelines, with the exception of events that include sharing food. However, Haggie said, residents who live in the same unit or on the same floor of a care home can eat together without the need for physical distancing.
Quebec plans to lift most pandemic restrictions by mid-March
Quebec Premier François Legault had one message for Quebecers on February 8: it is time to learn to live with the virus. “The population is fed up. I’m fed up. We’re all fed up,” he said. “But the reason we resisted [easing restrictions] until today was because there was too much risk. Right now, we can take a calculated risk and finally turn the page.”
Legault announced that most of the province’s restrictions will be lifted by mid-March, though mandatory mask mandates and the vaccine passport will remain — at least for now. It’s the latest in a series of reopening announcements, as the province steadily backs away from the mass shutdowns put in place in December due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
When asked if the recent convoy protest in Quebec City influenced his decision to reopen, Legault said it had not. “But if they want to take credit and not come back in two weeks, I wouldn’t be opposed to that,” he said.
Step-by-step guide to reopening
Home gatherings will no longer have any restrictions as of Saturday, February 12, though public health recommends having at most 10 people present, or three households.
In addition, restaurants will also be allowed to accommodate a maximum of 10 people per table as of February 12. Currently, only four people, or two households, are allowed to sit together at a restaurant.
Organized sports matches, like hockey, will be allowed to resume as of February 14. Gyms and spas, as previously announced, will also be allowed to open on that date. Legault said that tournaments, however, will only be allowed to restart two weeks later, on Feb. 28.
As of Feb. 21, all retail businesses will be allowed to reopen at full capacity. Places of worship will remain at 50% capacity, but with a maximum of 500 people.
As of Feb. 28, working from home will no longer be mandatory for those with jobs where that is possible. Large venues, like Montreal’s Bell Centre, will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity.
Bars, which have been closed since Dec. 20, will also be allowed to reopen as of February 28. They will have to operate at 50% capacity, with last call for alcohol at midnight and a closing time of 1 a.m. Dancing and karaoke will remain banned until March 14. Also on March 14, restaurants, bars and large venues like the Bell Centre and Videotron Centre will be allowed to operate at full capacity.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said there are no plans to lift mandatory mask mandates and the province’s vaccine passport, but did not rule out repealing them on or after March 14. Dubé did not provide a timeline for when the vaccine passport would require a third dose, as previously announced.
Saskatchewan to End COVID-19 Proof of Vaccination Policy on Feb. 14, Mandatory Masking to Remain Until End of Month
Saskatchewan will end its vaccine passport policy on Monday, Feb. 14. That means businesses, workplaces and other public venues will no longer be mandated by the province to require proof of vaccination or a negative test.
Currently, all Saskatchewan residents must show proof that they have received two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine to enter restaurants, bars and many other businesses. They also have the option to provide a negative COVID-19 test. Those requirements will be removed on February 14.
“We want things to be as normal as they possibly can,” Premier Scott Moe said. The provincial government confirmed that other current public health orders, including a requirement to mask in indoor public spaces and a requirement to self isolate after contracting COVID-19, will remain in effect until the latest public health order expires at the end of February.
Moe said the public health order will not be renewed. He said that means rules like mandatory self-isolation for those with COVID-19 will also be over at the end of the month.
Saskatchewan first to unveil plan
Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, laid out the plan at a COVID-19 update on February 8. Saskatchewan has become the first province to reveal a plan to relax restrictions, although Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he will do the same later the same day. The province says eHealth Saskatchewan will continue to make proof of vaccination records and QR codes available to Saskatchewan residents to use where needed, including for travel and in other jurisdictions.
Province opens booster dose eligibility
Saskatchewan also announced that all Saskatchewan residents 12 to 17 years old are now able to receive a Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine effective immediate. The booster dose will only be administered five months or more after the child has received their second dose.
Businesses should talk to lawyer if looking to implement proof of vaccine
Moe was asked whether businesses that choose to continue requiring proof of vaccination after the province’s mandate is lifted would have legal protection, as they did while the mandate was in place. He said businesses will no longer have that legal protection. “My advice to them would be to consult their lawyer,” the premier said.
The decision is being made in order to have unified access to schools, business and throughout communities in Saskatchewan, the premier said.
As part of that policy shift, the province has stopped providing daily COVID-19 updates. The data does indicate hospitalizations dropped in the three days preceding the halt of daily updates. Saskatchewan now requires all PCR tests for COVID-19 to be booked in advance via the 811 HealthLine and has reserved the tests for “priority populations at elevated risk to severe outcomes.
The lifting of the proof-of-vaccination or negative test policy is getting mixed reviews from Saskatchewan residents, and business owners. The head of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour has already called for the province to continue with some public health measures. At a news conference, Lori Johb called for the province to allow public access to PCR testing and for the proof of vaccination system to remain in place. “Our provincial government has let us down every step of the way throughout this pandemic. They have done nothing to ensure that workers are safe. We need paid sick time so that they can comfortably stay at home and continue to get paid while they’re taking care of themselves if they’re ill. Those things are essential,” she said. Johb said workers need 10 days of paid sick time.
However, according to Jim Bence, the president and CEO of Hospitality Saskatchewan, the early lifting of the public health order is welcome news to businesses keeping the province’s tourism industry afloat — especially restaurants. Despite fewer people eating out over the last few months, he said that many businesses have had to hire more staff to check for vaccine passports. “There’s that light at the end of the tunnel,” Bence said.