When Will the Canada-U.S Border Reopen?
Travel across the Canada-U.S. border could resume by late summer or fall, according to the cautious estimates of some experts, but they say the process will be complicated. The border has been closed to non-essential travel like tourism and recreation since March 2020, and the closure agreement between Ottawa and Washington is expected to be renewed on May 21.
The question on most people’s minds, says foreign policy expert Aaron Ettinger, is probably “When can I do my day trips over the border once again? And my answer to that is, that it’s going to be a long, long time.”
Ettinger, an associate professor at Carleton University who specializes in Canadian and U.S. foreign policy, says he believes the borders will remain largely shut for at least a few more months. “My gut tells me it’s going to be [closed] at least well into the fall of 2021,” he said, “because things are literally ten times worse now than they were this time last year with infection rates, with ICU admissions.”
He says once both countries sort out the public health concerns, they will have to work through the politics. “Politically, the United States and Canada would have to get on the same page … and that would take an enormous amount of diplomatic cross-border interaction,” he said.
Melissa Haussman, a political science professor at Carleton University, says both populations would have to achieve a certain threshold of vaccinations, and be satisfied with each other’s levels before engaging in discussions. “I think that’s probably a few months off,” she said.
What about quarantine rules?
The rules requiring travellers to quarantine after crossing the border will also likely change, Ettinger says, as more people are vaccinated and cases decline. He noted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted at a possible vaccine passport system at the end of April. “The U.S. and Canada could develop a North American vaccine passport to replace and simplify the ramshackle quarantine rules currently in place,” Ettinger said.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said in April that it was too soon to talk about reopening the border due to the pandemic’s uncertain path in the coming months. “For the moment, there’s no active discussion [about] adjusting those measures,” he said at the time.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said in an email that the federal government is “continually evaluating the impacts of border measures. Decisions and considerations about lifting those measures will be based on reliable scientific evidence,” said the agency.
Alberta Tightens Restrictions, Increases Fines for Covid-19 Rule-Breakers
The Alberta government has introduced a bundle of tougher public-health restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 — measures Premier Jason Kenney argued are needed to keep the health-care system from being overwhelmed. The new restrictions, which will take effect immediately and be in place for at least three weeks, include:
- All kindergarten to Grade 12 students in Alberta will move to at-home learning starting on May 7 and continuing until after the May long weekend
- Retail stores must limit capacity to 10% of their fire code occupancy “or a minimum of 5 customers,” not including staff.
- Workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks will be mandated to close for 10 days, with exemptions for critical workplaces.
- All post-secondary instruction will move online.
- Outdoor social gatherings will be limited to 5 people.
- Places of worship will be limited to 15 people.
- Funerals will be limited to 10 people.
The following measures will be effective at 11:59 p.m. on May 9:
- Personal and wellness services, including hair salons, tattoo parlours, tanning salons and nail salons, will close for three weeks.
- In-person dining at bars and restaurants, including outdoor patios, will close for the same period. They can continue offering take-out and delivery.
- Outdoor sports and recreation will be limited to household and close contacts only.
- Youth and adult arts performance will stop.
- Health, social and professional services — such as massage therapy, physicians and dentists, accountants and lawyers — will be available by appointment only.
- The basic fine for violating public health measures will double to $2,000. The maximum fine for serious offences remains $100,000.
- These measures apply to any region or community except those with fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people and fewer than 30 active cases.
The province is also introducing “tougher enforcement” for repeat offenders, Kenney said.
Quebec is Making Covid-19 Vaccines Available to the General Population
All adults in Quebec will soon be able to book an appointment at a vaccine clinic through Clic Santé, the province’s online portal, in the coming days and weeks. The expected appointment dates are as follows (the schedule is based on age, not year of birth):
- April 30 – age 50 to 59.
- May 3 – age 45 to 49.
- May 5 – age 40 to 44.
- May 7 – age 35 to 39.
- May 10 – age 30 to 34.
- May 12 – age 25 to 29.
- May 14 – age 18 to 24.
In this next phase of the vaccination campaign, businesses and pharmacies will be called on to play a supporting role, alongside the large clinics that have been set up in such places as the Olympic Stadium and the Palais des congrès. Provincial officials also said they were exploring extending the opening hours of vaccine clinics, especially on weekends, and they expect to announce a drive-thru clinic project shortly.
Nunavut Bursts Its Travel Bubble With N.W.T
The common travel area or “travel bubble” for people travelling from the Northwest Territories to Nunavut has been suspended by Nunavut’s chief public health officer. In a news release, Dr. Michael Patterson said the decision is tied to the COVID-19 cases in Yellowknife.
Anyone travelling to Nunavut from the N.W.T. must now isolate at the designated isolation hub in Yellowknife for 14 days before returning to the territory, Patterson said. “Exceptions to this isolation requirement include travellers with a same-ticket layover through Yellowknife, critical workers with an authorized travel letter, medical travellers, or those granted compassionate exemption.”
The move is retroactive too — Patterson said all travellers who left Yellowknife for Nunavut on or after April 28 must isolate immediately for 14 days from the day they returned home. All household members of a person who is isolating must also isolate. This includes households with an exempted critical worker or those with someone who has recently travelled from Iqaluit or the N.W.T.
Saskatchewan Reopening Plan Reliant on Vaccination Puts People ‘In Charge of Our Destiny’
The potential timeline for Saskatchewan’s reopening plan is “subject to change if vaccination targets are not met,” the province said on May 4. Dr. Hassan Masri, an intensive care specialist in Saskatoon, said that means if people want to see the plan go ahead and get their lives back to normal, they have to do their part.
Masri said the current COVID-19 situation in the province is critical, with people dying and hospitals struggling with capacity. People will need to be careful during May and follow current public health restrictions, he said, but having a plan in place helps people.
“For a long time we have been in fight mode against COVID-19, and many people are looking for the end of this fight,” Masri said. “Step 1 of this [reopening] plan is not very aggressive.” That stage would allow for a limited in-restaurant dining, and expand limits for public gatherings outside, among other changes — but only if 70% or more of those age 40 and up are vaccinated.
Masri said that slow reopening is reasonable, but changes may need to be considered if Saskatchewan sees a spike in cases. “We need to understand that the collective ego has to be put aside … if in the next two weeks we see the rise of cases, whether because of spread from Alberta or a surge in Saskatoon, etc., then these plans will have to be delayed.”
Each of the three proposed stages of the reopening has two thresholds that must be met before it is triggered:
- Step 1 – Last week of May: It has been three weeks since 70% of residents aged 40 and above have received their first dose, and vaccine eligibility has opened to all adults ages 18 and older across the province.
- Step 2 – Third week of June: It has been three weeks since 70% of residents age 30 and above have received their first dose and three weeks since Step 1 began.
- Step 3 – Second week of July: It has been three weeks since 70% of residents age 18 and older have received their first dose and three weeks Step 2 began. Masri said the 70% threshold is attainable.
But Masri warned that if only 70% of people get vaccinated, COVID-19 will continue to be around and outbreaks could continue for years to come. “I do think that 70% is the floor of the minimum requirements. I do obviously hope that the number will be much higher,” Masri said. “It is certainly not the goal.”