Canada Announces U.S. Border Closure Extended Another Month Until April 21

The closure of the U.S.-Canada border to non-essential traffic has officially been extended another month, according to a tweet Thursday, March 18, by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The closure is now scheduled to extend at least until April 21, meaning the border between the two countries will be closed for at least 13 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Homeland Security from the U.S. shared its own tweet Thursday, adding that the U.S. border closure with Mexico also would be extended. “To prevent the further spread of COVID-19, and in coordination with our partners in Canada and Mexico, the United States is extending the restrictions on non-essential travel at our land borders through April 21, while ensuring continued flows of essential trade and travel,” the Homeland Security tweet read.

The border closure between the U.S. and Canada was previously scheduled to expire Sunday, March 21 — one year, to the day, since the two countries first closed the border in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 during the opening stages of the pandemic. The closure has been extended on month-by-month basis 12 times now.

This news is not a surprise, as Trudeau hinted Monday, March 15, during a news conference in Montreal that Canada was not ready to reopen the border to more people. “We’re all eager to be able to travel again,” Trudeau said, according to a story published by Global News. “But I think we’re all going to wait patiently until such time as the health situation allows us to loosen border restrictions internationally. That’ll be eventually, but not for today.”

A story by the CBC said that neither government has said what benchmarks — data driven or otherwise — must be cleared on either side of the border before it is reopened. One likely part of the reasoning for reluctance to reopen the border is that Canadian vaccination efforts are lagging behind those in the U.S.

According to a March 11 story by the Washington Post, the U.S. has administered nearly four times as many vaccine doses per person as Canada, and President Biden has announced plans to have enough supply to cover every U.S. adult by the end of May, though it may take longer to administer the shots. Canada, meanwhile, expects to have all adults vaccinated by the end of September, according to the story.

A number of U.S. legislators have called on the Biden administration to work to begin reopening the borders. Similar requests have been sent to U.S. and Canadian officials in recent months.

Closure Economic Impact 

The Western Washington University Border Policy Research Institute found before the pandemic that Canadians comprise approximately 75% of cross-border travelers to and from Whatcom County, depending on the exchange rate when the border is open, according to information Director Laurie Trautman emailed to The Bellingham Herald for an earlier story.

In 2018, that would have represented approximately 10.5 million southbound Canadian travellers through the Blaine, Lynden, Sumas and Point Roberts points of entry. Those Canadians represent a large portion of consumers in Whatcom County — anywhere from 2% to 46% of the weekend customer base Whatcom County retailers see, Trautman reported, adding that the average is about 17%.

Essential travel between the two countries is still allowed, though, and that includes transportation of freight. Bureau of Transportation statistics show that freight shipments across the border are continuing to recover from early pandemic lows. The statistics show freight crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada via truck was down 9.9% from 2019 to $309 billion. Rail freight between the two countries was down 18.3% to $79 billion.

Including the southern border with Mexico, all transborder freight was worth an estimated $1.06 trillion, which was down 13.3% from 2019. Transborder freight declined in 2020 from 2019 in every month since the start of COVID-19 except for December, when there was a 0.4% increase over 2019, according to the statistics.

Source: The Bellinghan Heralnd

Manufacturers Hopeful COVID-19 Will Force a Rethink of Canada’s Supply Chains

Penny Wise became president of 3M Canada on Feb. 18, 2020, just as the COVID-19 virus was beginning to take hold in Canada. 3M had tackled health crises before, but like most Canadians, Wise had no idea how much the world was about to change.

Wise plunged into a logistics crash course as, the pandemic gained momentum and demand surged for 3M’s Canadian-made cleaning products while the parent company began a global push to make two billion N95 respirators, tripling production in a single year.

Leading 3M Canada through the pandemic has taught Wise that the country needs to rethink supply-chain self-sufficiency for products such as PPE. Manufacturers such as 3M are hoping that the past year has convinced Canadian policy-makers, taxpayers and buyers to support local assembly lines after the pandemic exposed critical weakness in Canada’s supply chains.

“One of the things I think that we need to change and look at from a Canadian point of view, is this idea of our industrial strategy. Canada is very much recognized as an international trading partner, and we are very engaged in that …but what do we need in order to be self-sufficient as we move forward, so that we can protect our population during a crisis?”

Other manufacturers also scrambled to fill cracks in the supply chain exposed by COVID-19. At General Motors’ plant in Oshawa, Ont., COVID-19 was yet another upheaval for a workforce still reeling from the plant’s closure in late 2019 and subsequent reopening as a parts plant in the first quarter of 2020.

Ian Soutter, who helped set up GM’s mask-making operation in Canada, said his spouse, a pharmacist, struggled to get a steady supply of protective equipment in the early days of lockdown. GM found that much of the machinery and logic behind making a mask was the same as an auto part, and was able to produce about 10 million masks, at about one million per month.

GM has a long history remaking its supply chain, but COVID-19 presented new challenges, Soutter says. For instance, the raw materials to make masks were in extremely short supply, so GM reached out to its sources of acoustic insulation and asked them to pivot, too.

The pandemic also meant making hard choices for smaller manufacturers who saw their orders dry up last spring. Molded Precision Components in Oro-Medonte, Ont., pivoted its advanced manufacturing company to make protective equipment in March 2020. On top of making face shields, the company devised a hand-sanitizer bottling system that was more efficient than purchasing the sanitizer ingredients from overseas. While some of the auto business has now come back, the family business plans to stay in the medical supply industry and build a medical industrial park for other local suppliers.

Owner David Yeaman says Canadian companies can’t just expect buyers to pay a made-in-Canada premium forever, or they risk the PPE supply chain slowly migrating back to cheaper goods made overseas. Instead, Yeaman says advanced manufacturing technology is needed to make a premium product that is competitive with outside bidders.

But entrepreneurs like Yeaman now face an uphill battle getting hospitals and other PPE purchasers to commit to contracts going forward, says Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, which gave Yeaman’s company a grant. Many corporate PPE buyers have rigid requirements, like certifications that are done in U.S. labs which have been closed during the pandemic, says NGen chief executive Jayson Myers.

Myers is hoping that COVID-19 prompts buyers of PPE to rethink their mandates to buy specific overseas products and test new Canadian-made alternatives.

“We’ve already seen a number of companies that are laying off their employees and shutting down the production of PPE that they’ve set up, simply because…they can’t get them on the market. In fact, some of them found better markets outside of Canada,” says Myers.

“Some of these problems existed way before COVID. But the fact that we have these structural problems has become very apparent — the major one is around the procurement system itself.”

Source: Toronto Star

Alberta Won’t Move to Step 3 of COVID-19 Reopening Plan, Health Minister Says

With hospitalizations on the rise, Alberta will not move to Step 3 of its reopening plan, the province’s health minister announced on March 22. Cabinet’s COVID-19 committee met Monday and decided not to shift to the next step in a four-part plan to reopen the province, Tyler Shandro said at a news conference.

“When we announced the plan in January, we were clear,” Shandro said. “Moving to Step 3 can be considered only when hospitalizations for COVID patients are under 300 and declining. Hospitalizations must be on a clear downward trajectory if we are to enter any new step, just like they were when we entered Step 1 and Step 2 earlier this year.

“Today, while hospitalizations are indeed below 300, they’ve risen in recent days. The decline that we saw in January and early February has stopped. Alberta now sits at 280 COVID hospitalizations, which is a rise of 16 from a week ago.” That number is a “warning sign” the province has to take seriously, Shandro said.

Based on transmission rates, the province expects to have 300 people in hospital within a week. “And that’s why we decided not to move to Step 3 of our path forward plan today,” Shandro said.

“There will be no easing of any restrictions at this time. This is the safe move; it’s the smart move to make for our province right now, and it’s absolutely necessary to help us avoid a third wave that would take more lives and once again put more pressure on the hospital system.”

There is no specific date for moving forward with Step 3, he said. “The prudent and safe thing to do is for us to be able to hold off on proceeding with Step 3, continue to monitor the situation and move forward with Step 3 when it is prudent and safe for us to do so.”

Source: CBC

Atlantic Bubble Goal ‘Mid-April,’ King Says After Premiers Talk

Travel across provincial borders in the Atlantic region has been subject to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions since the end of November. The four premiers met virtually March 17th and loosening those restrictions was a major topic of discussion.

“We had been throwing around mid April as a goal,” P.E.I. Premier Dennis King told CBC News after that meeting.

“We will have a more formal announcement via communique jointly. But we all agreed to go back and have one last conversation with our public health offices to make sure we have everything we need in place to make this decision public.” Before the meeting New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said the premiers were talking about April 19.

Any announced date will be contingent on potential new outbreaks of COVID-19, but King said with more Atlantic Canadians being vaccinated every week serious outbreaks will become less likely. That does not mean, he added, that it won’t happen.  “Isn’t that the big question about COVID, though, is that things just seem like they’re under control and then they aren’t,” he said.

While public health has been the number one consideration during the pandemic across the region and that has served Atlantic Canada well, King said, it is not the only consideration. The premiers also need to consider the economy and the mental health of citizens.

For business in particular, he said, setting a date is important so plans can be made. King stressed, however, that he has not been feeling pressure from the business community.

“They’ve been nothing but patient and understanding,” he said. “I’ve never once felt pressure, to be honest. I think like most Islanders, the business community has been wanting us to be safe, to be healthy.”

Opening to rest of Canada

King said he hopes the region will be able to open up to the rest of Canada some time this summer.That opening could come with some restrictions.

“We still need to determine at the national table, sort of, what that looks like,” he said. “How we travel, what is required to travel and what documentation, if any, they will need. Will masking still need to take place? All of these different factors.” But King believes the Island will be able to open up to more tourism this summer, though he cautioned a full opening is unlikely.

Source: CBC

Manitoba Stays in Code Red Level of Pandemic Restrictions but Will Allow Larger Outdoor Gatherings

Manitoba won’t move down to orange-level COVID-19 pandemic restrictions after spending more than four months in the red zone, the province said on March 23. The decision to keep the province at the highest level of restrictions during the pandemic stemmed from feedback from Manitobans, concern over rising numbers of more transmissible coronavirus variants, and the need to maintain stability in the health-care system, the province said.

However, some changes will take effect at 12:01 a.m. local time March 26, including increasing the limit on outdoor gatherings at public places, weddings and funerals to 25 people from 10 currently. Maximum capacity at retail stores will rise to 500 people from 250 people at present, although stores still may not exceed 50% capacity.

The loosening of restrictions on outdoor gatherings doesn’t apply to private yards and there will be no changes to rules around visitors inside homes. Manitobans must choose either one household, or two individuals, as designated visitors to their homes. Up to 10 people are allowed to gather outside on private property.

Among other changes, people will also be allowed to leave their vehicles while attending drive-in events, as long as they follow all other public health rules.

The increasing number of COVID-19 cases involving variants of concern affected the province’s timing, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said. “We are in a race towards summer, we are at a race towards getting many Manitobans vaccinated, and we’re in a race against the third wave,”  he said. “And the more we see variants of concern in our province, the more at risk we are of that third wave before we get people vaccinated.”

More changes could be considered after spring break, Passover and Easter. Manitoba’s second wave of the pandemic, which saw the highest numbers of daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths, began shortly after Thanksgiving and Roussin said a repeat of that spike must be avoided.

The new health orders announced March 23rd are set to expire on April 15.

An online survey posted last week to gauge the level of public comfort with the proposed changes and get feedback received around 32,000 responses, the province says. 53% of respondents supported increasing the limit for outdoor public gatherings to 25 people and 48% supported the same increase for weddings and funerals, while 45% supported increasing in-store capacity to 500, according to the province. Among the respondents, 39% said bigger changes should wait until after the spring holidays.

Restrictions on indoor dining, concerts unchanged

During the week of March 15, Premier Brian Pallister had suggested that Manitoba could leave the critical code red level of its pandemic response system and move into the orange, reopening more services and activities. Other changes contemplated at the time but not implemented this week include expanded indoor restaurant dining criteria, permitting organized team games at indoor sporting facilities, and allowing indoor theatres, concert halls, casinos and gaming centres to open at limited capacity.

The province also floated the idea of removing the requirement for business travellers from other provinces who do not have symptoms to self-isolate for 14 days. Increasing numbers of variant cases in other provinces in Canada prompted the delay in loosening travel restrictions, Roussin said.

The province will announce more support for businesses later in the week, Pallister said. 

Source: CBC