Canada-Us Border Closure Extended Through Mar. 21

The border between Canada and the United States will remain closed to non-essential travel for at least another month. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced on February 19 on Twitter that the closure will be extended to Mar. 21. That date would mark one full year of the border being closed to non-essential travel. 

Blair said the Canadian government will continue to make decisions based on the “best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe from COVID-19.”  Since last March, the Canada-U.S.border has been closed to non-essential travel due to restrictions set to address COVID-19 transmission. It’s been extended monthly ever since.

All essential travel, such as that for trade between the nations, has been allowed to continue as usual.

A number of U.S. legislators, including some from Washington state, have asked the countries to begin looking at what it would take to reopen the borders. U.S. President Joe Biden promised to begin looking into what it would take to open the 167 U.S. border crossings with Canada and Mexico shortly after taking office, according to a story by the Washington Examiner. 

On Monday, Feb. 15, Canada enacted new, stricter testing and quarantine regulations requiring all travellers — with few exceptions — to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test result in the U.S. within 72 hours of arrival or a positive test result from 14 to 90 days prior to arriving at all land and air ports of entry.

In addition, beginning Monday, Feb. 22, travellers entering Canada through a land border crossing will be required to take a molecular test on arrival as well as at the end of a mandatory 14-day quarantine and submit their travel and contact information along with a suitable quarantine plan upon entry.

“With these additional COVID testing requirements and safety measures at the land border we are taking extra steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants,” Blair said in a release announcing the measures. “As we do for air travel, we are now also requiring travellers (sic) by land to provide information using ArriveCAN to facilitate processing and limit points of contacts between border services officers and travellers.

Source: WHEC News 10
Source: The News Tribuine

Trucking Associations Question New COVID-19 Requirements at Border

Canadian trucking associations are pushing back against plans to require border-crossing truck drivers to submit contact information and travel details through the ArriveCAN app, as well as any proposal to require drivers to submit recent COVID-19 test results. Non-essential travellers now have to submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 72 hours, but truck drivers are exempt from such requirements as essential workers. Their screening is currently limited to a series of questions asked at the land crossings.

But questions about whether truck drivers should be included in the testing program emerged during the weekend of February 13, when Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told CBC that the government was exploring the idea. “We’re working very closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada and also with our provincial health authorities to [look] at implementing a system of regular testing to help protect those essential workers and truck drivers that are coming into the country and also to ensure that they’re not the source of any new infection,” he said on Rosemary Barton Live.

In a statement released on February 18, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) stressed that COVID-19 spread among trucking company employees has been “extremely minimal”, and highlighted that longhaul trucking tends to be self-isolating and limits contacts with others. “CTA is not supportive of mandatory COVID testing of truck drivers (at the border),” the CTA statement says, noting that many border crossings would not be able to hand a testing system or be able to turn loads around because drivers failed to submit a negative test. 

Congestion at border crossings could become extreme with the additional screening, causing many drivers to run out of hours, it adds. Instead, CTA is calling on the federal government to explore the idea of voluntary test sites that can be accessed through truck stops and rest areas, rather than setting up tests at the border itself.

Coming app requirements

Meanwhile, the CTA and Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) have each raised concerns about plans to require all travellers to submit information and a quarantine plan through the ArriveCAN app as of Feb 22.

“I have received numerous calls and emails from members whose drivers have been told at various border crossings, by several CBSA border officers, that effective February 22 they will need to submit their information via the app,” says PMTC president Mike Millian., “When drivers have informed them they did not have a device to download the ArriveCAN app, they have been told they will be detained and fined.”

“A conservative estimate of upwards of 20% of the cross-border truck driving community does not currently have access to smartphone technology, meaning alternative methods for complying with this potential requirement must be developed,” CTA says. Onboard communications systems are also unsuitable for personal use with the ArriveCAN app, it adds.

In a letter asking for clarification from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), Millian referred to a 55-truck fleet that uses a walkie-talkie style of communication system and crosses the border multiple times per day. “When the driver told the officer [that] he did not have the ability to download the app, the officer told him that was his problem,” Millian said.

“If you’re exempt from quarantine, you don’t have to include a quarantine plan through ArriveCAN,” a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada told Today’s Trucking. “However, you must still submit your contact information, travel details and any symptoms you may be experiencing. You don’t need to provide symptom self-assessments after you enter Canada.”

Source: Truck News

Mississauga Canada Post Worksite Hit by COVID-19 Outbreak Excluded From Provincial Inspections

Ontario labour inspectors are homing in on warehouses and distribution centres, but the site of a major workplace COVID-19 outbreak isn’t included in the ongoing inspections: Canada Post. More than 300 employees at the postal service’s Gateway facility in Mississauga, Ont., have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of 2021 and one employee has died. But because Canada Post is a federally regulated Crown corporation, its inspection falls outside provincial jurisdiction.

The president of the national union representing postal workers said consistent standards should be applied to all workplaces, noting that the outbreak has had an “enormous impact on all postal workers.”

“The virus doesn’t distinguish between provincial and federal workplaces and neither should inspections,” Jan Simpson, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, said in a statement. “Workplaces and workers in the Peel Region have been hit hard by COVID-19. It’s in everyone’s best interest that all workplaces be inspected to ensure the health and safety of workers.”

Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said earlier this month that the ministry chose to focus on warehouses and distribution centres in Peel Region – the hard-hit region of the Greater Toronto Area – noting that such workplaces employ a high number of temporary and precarious workers.

In the first week of the inspection “blitz” in Peel Region, inspectors visited 59 warehouses and issued issued 10 tickets and one order. They found compliance was just over 64%, according to the ministry.

However, McNaughton said the federal government has responsibility for the Canada Post workplace. He said all levels of government need to work together to make sure safety measures are in place.

Employment and Social Development Canada confirmed in a statement that the federal labour program “engaged” with the Gateway Canada Post facility “several” times between March 1, 2020 and Feb.12, including “to investigate refusals to work, to conduct an inspection into the (preventive) measures implemented, as well as to investigate the death of the employee.” But it’s unclear what, if any, enforcement took place on those visits, or how many of them occurred and when. The department said information on specific findings including tickets issued couldn’t be shared publicly unless through an Access to Information request.

The department statement said it works with employers to help them fulfil legal obligations, but added that employers are “best positioned to determine the health and safety measures for their work environment in order to meet legislated requirements.”

“Therefore, the Labour Program does not prescribe specific measures to be taken in any federally regulated workplaces,” spokesperson Marie-Eve Sigouin-Campeau said in a statement.

Peel Public Health, which also supported Canada Post in managing the outbreak by ordering asymptomatic testing of all workers among other measures, also declined to share specific findings. “As this is an ongoing, active investigation we are not in a position to disclose any further details,” Dr. Lawrence Loh, the region’s medical officer of health, said in a Feb. 17 statement. “Canada Post continues to co-operate with our investigation, and our joint priority remains protecting the health and safety of impacted employees and our broader community at this time.”

Tim Sly, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at Ryerson University, said the “tangle of power struggle” between levels of government is a recurring characteristic of public health crisis management in Canada that can erode the public’s trust. “It confuses everybody,” he said. “The city says one thing, the province says something else, the feds say something else, and the public is going around in circles saying that nobody knows what they’re doing.”

Source: Global News

Alberta Extends COVID-19 Financial Aid Program for Small, Medium-Sized Businesses

Alberta is releasing more funding to help keep small- and medium-sized businesses solvent during the COVID-19 crisis. Premier Jason Kenney says an extra $10,000 will be made available per organization — on top of previous grants totalling no more than $20,000 — for a new maximum of $30,000.

“Business owners can use this money to support their needs, whether it’s paying wages, paying for cleaning supplies, inventory or preparing for a safe reopening,” Kenney told a virtual news conference on February 17.

The province is directing $120 million to the new Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit. Eligible businesses must have fewer than 500 employees and have seen revenue plummet by at least 60% during the pandemic. The province hopes to have the program running by April as the previous grant program is completed.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said the money needs to come much faster. “It’s mind-boggling why the Alberta government is asking the hardest hit small businesses to wait until April for additional support when an existing program is in place to roll out funding now,” Annie Dormuth, the CFIB’s Alberta director, said in a news release. “This move makes no sense and does not reflect the realities of small businesses, many of which are barely hanging on. Small businesses are not in a position to wait for additional funding or have provincial or federal support programs turned off.”

The Opposition NDP said the United Conservative government gives with one hand and takes with the other, noting the revenue-drop eligibility rate has doubled to 60% from 30% with the new program.

Retail shops are currently open at 15% customer capacity. But entertainment venues, including bingo halls, movie theatres and casinos, are still closed. Restaurants that were restricted to takeout or delivery returned to limited in-person dining during the week of February 8. Fitness centres were also given a green light for one-on-one training. Some youth sports and activities have also resumed. Indoor social visits remain banned and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. The province has committed to slowly returning the economy to normal in four stages tied to hospitalization rates.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said there were 277 new cases of COVID-19 in the province. There were 370 people in hospital with the illness, 60 of whom are in intensive care. There were also seven more deaths, bringing that total to 1,798.

Hinshaw said she is seeing a small but concerning rise in those who are unwilling to work with contact tracers. “This leaves gaps that COVID is happy to fill,” said Hinshaw.

Source: Global News