Canada will indeed be taking steps to ease restrictions at the border for fully vaccinated travellers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday – he just won’t say when.
With Canada-U.S. travel restrictions set to expire in just two weeks and pressure mounting on the federal government to avoid yet another 30-day renewal, the Prime Minister offered only the barest hint of hope that things could change by June 21.
“We are looking at how we can ease the rules, based on science,” for would-be travellers who have had a complete course of a COVID-19 vaccine, Trudeau said in French during a news conference in Ottawa.
Trudeau says the safety of Canadians will be a priority and that he will be working with Premiers to gradually relax border restrictions when the time is right.
“We need to make sure that travellers are vaccinated, are fully vaccinated, before they come to Canada because we don’t want to risk further outbreaks,” said Trudeau on Monday.
“A fourth wave would be devastating, not just to the economy but to morale.”
Trudeau adds that when borders do start to reopen, Canada will likely be an attractive destination for tourists given our high vaccination rate.
The Prime Minister has been in talks with allies about the creation of an International vaccine passport, a topic that could be raised during the G7 meeting happening later this week.
“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves, though,” Trudeau added. “We are looking at how we’re going to start welcoming up tourists in a phased way, as the [COVID-19] numbers come down in Canada as they come down in the United States and around the world.”
Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati says at a recent virtual meeting, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the federal government suggested it could start easing COVID-19 restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border on June 22 if the country’s vaccination campaign stays on its current trajectory.
The Prime Minister, however, did not offer any timeline for reopening the border.
“We will have more announcements to make regarding measures that may be eased for those who have had both doses in the weeks to come.”
Trudeau acknowledges Canada’s highly improved rate of vaccinations
Despite a slow start, Canada has been setting a blistering pace of late when it comes to vaccination: as of Monday, more than 62 per cent of Canadians had received at least one dose, and about eight per cent – more than three million people – are fully vaccinated.
That latter figure may pale in comparison to the 42 per cent of Americans who have received both doses, but it represents a marked improvement over the 4.5 per cent just three weeks ago.
Still, there’s a long way to go, Trudeau said – especially considering the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 variants of concern and their potential trajectories.
“Even though one dose has allowed us to significantly protect Canadians, to remove many of the pressures from our public health systems, it is still an incomplete protection and we need people to get the full two doses of their vaccines,” he said.
“That’s why easing restrictions will be focused on Canadians who are fully vaccinated.”
Speculation has been rampant in recent days that the U.S. may be preparing to go it alone with plans to ease the border restrictions before June 21, regardless of whether Canada is ready to reciprocate.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki did little to suggest otherwise Tuesday.
“We would make a decision about the Canada border based on the guidance of our health and medical experts,” Psaki said when asked if the U.S. would take a unilateral approach.
“I’m sure that when that decision is made, we would communicate through diplomatic channels, but I don’t have anything to predict about the timeline.”
Calls grow louder to reopen Canada-U.S. border with plan in place
Several business associations on both sides of the border and the tourism industry association of Canada are issuing a fresh call today for a plan to ease travel restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border.
“In our view, the vaccination campaigns in both countries have progressed to the point where it is time to revisit the restrictions,” said the group, which includes both the Canadian and U.S. chambers of commerce, the Business Council of Canada and the U.S.-based National Retail Federation.
Doing so, they said, “would sustain jobs, boost business confidence and allow more families to reunite. It would help facilitate a safe and gradual return to a more normal life.”
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada was also sounding alarm bells Tuesday, warning of the risk that some of its members may be forced out of business if the restrictions eat into another summer travel season.
“There is a lack of urgency on the Canadian side for planning for the inevitable reopening of the border, which has been out of step with U.S. officials and the Biden administration,” president and CEO Beth Potter said in a statement.
“President Biden formally asked for a border reopening plan immediately after taking office, and so far, Canada has been slow to make any public progress.”
Trudeau is not providing details about what sorts of measures are in the works beyond insisting it will be a science-based decision.
“The difference between the protection of one dose of vaccine versus two doses of vaccine is quite significant,” said Trudeau. “That’s why we continue to encourage people to get double vaccinated to make sure we can end with this as quickly as possible.”
The border restrictions are due for renewal on June 21.
With files from The Canadian Press and the Associated Press