Unless proposed creative solutions and a bump in vaccination rates can alter the equation, any hopes Canadians – or the travel industry – had of travel resuming soon are likely to be dashed.
A flurry of reports suggest most of Canada’s political and health leaders are for once on the same page, at least when it comes to re-opening travel for Canadians – even within Canada – as the whole country struggles to deal with a ‘third wave’ of COVID-19 cases.
With the border between Canada and the U.S. closed until 21APR, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told a press conference earlier this week, “Now is not the time to consider international travel.”
She cited factors including “domestic spread, provinces’ and territories’ capacities to manage cases in their own jurisdiction, as well as the situation internationally,” that would influence any decision to change the government’s ban on non-essential travel.
At the same time, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, added that open borders would require the ability to “cope with any potential risks,” as well as having full testing capabilities and policies concerning vaccine passports or certificates carried by arrivals into Canada as proof of immunization.
So no one was surprised to hear Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc tell the CBC Thursday that “it’s too soon” to take part in discussions to re-open the Canada-U.S. border.
“We do recognize, as vaccination rates go up and, hopefully, as we see the public health measures that are in place now bring down those case counts, there will be a conversation that we can have both with the American administration and with provinces and territories about what is the right posture at the international borders,”
LeBlanc is quoted as saying. “But for the moment, there’s no active discussion [about] adjusting those measures.”
Thinking Outside the Box
The CBC also asked New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs about his proposed solution to getting our border with the U.S. open quicker.
In talks with the Prime Minister, Higgs reportedly suggested the U.S. – keen to re-open the border – could direct its surplus vaccines north of the border to accelerate Canadian vaccination rates and therefore the pace of re-opening.
He stopped short of calling it any kind of quid pro quo. “There is a, I guess, a mutual interest there that would be respected,” Higgs reportedly said, but acknowledged no actual commitments were in place. “The reality of having a summer where it’s almost normal, with vaccines in, say, 70-80 per cent of the population, I think it does give us hope and it could happen quickly. They are producing a lot of vaccines in the U.S.”
Meanwhile, In the Rest of Canada…
LeBlanc even declined to confirm Canadians would be travelling again soon within our own borders, punting to the premiers in saying, “interprovincial travel is an area of provincial responsibility.”
This week Ontarians were again placed under the strictest pandemic restrictions – a stay-at-home order set to last at least for the next four weeks, and likely to be eased back after that, rather than re-opening full-throttle mid-MAY.
However, reports say the four Atlantic provinces are still planning to re-open the ‘Atlantic Bubble’ on 19APR, with Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin Tuesday opening provincial borders to travellers from Newfoundland and Labrador, now allowing “all Atlantic Canadians to enter the province without mandatory self-isolation — in a move that came as a surprise to some, considering that Nova Scotians still have to self-isolate when entering the other three provinces.”
CBC reports PEI’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, advising residents of that province that any easing of travel requirements including self-isolation or quarantine would apply equally to visitors to the province as well as Islanders who travel.
She added, “There may be different restrictions for those who are vaccinated versus those who are not.”
It’s an increasingly common refrain, and yet another indication that Canada’s vaccination rates may be the biggest impediment to re-starting travel.