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MONTREAL For the past 30 years, Carol Anniuk has provided shelter and guidance for recreational fishing trips in northwestern Ontario. At normal times, 99% of its customers are American. But more than 15 months after Canada’s restrictions on non-essential travel went into effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, Anniuk, owner of Young’s Wilderness Camp, does not know when her American clients will be able to cross the border.
“I’m just irritated,” she sighs. Anniuk has been in a lot of debt since the coronavirus pandemic started in its tourism-dependent area, a six-hour drive from Minneapolis. She condemns the “lack of communication and lack of a plan” by the Canadian government on when to start accepting most visitors from the United States.
Canadians can fly to the US but cannot cross by land, and most non-Canadians can enter Canada neither by land nor by air. Both countries continue to extend their travel measures which are not the same in both directions month by month.
In the final step, which began July 5, the Canadian government lifted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning to Canada. However, federal ministers have resisted securing a time limit or clear standards for the next steps in receiving more visitors.
Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu warned in late June that with the delta variant “posing some significant challenges” in countries such as the UK, “we have to be very careful”. The delta variant already constitutes more than 70% of new cases in the province of Ontario, which includes Toronto, Canada’s largest city.
“We need to reduce infections because we do not know what COVID does,” says Kelley. Lee of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, who leads a pandemic and boundary research group. That group is advocating for tougher quarantine rules in Canada, raising the spectrum of new closures. But other experts suggest such tough moves are unlikely.
The essential cross-border journey continues
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, in southern Ontario, says Canada should quickly ease restrictions on fully vaccinated travelers. Dilkens can see the Detroit skyline, a mile and a half away, from his window at City Hall. His brother lives in Michigan, but he says they have not seen each other for a long time.
“The impact of border closure is really intensifying in border towns,” he says.
As vaccination rates increase, travel restrictions that made sense earlier in the pandemic have begun to be thrown at his constituents. Three-quarters of eligible Canadians have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, a higher percentage than in the US, and more than 40% have been fully vaccinated.
“Those who are separated … should come together for funerals, for the birth of the first grandchild, for all sorts of life events that happen,” says Dilkens. “If you are fully vaccinated now, it is becoming less acceptable to have the border closed to fully vaccinated people.”
Since the pandemic began, the U.S. and Canada have allowed essential travel including medical personnel and trucks to continue, notes economist Ambarish Chandra of the University of Toronto.
“There are something like 15,000 trucks entering Canada every day from the United States. These trucks carry everything we need: food and medical equipment, our raw materials,” says Chandra.
Throughout the pandemic, says Dilkens, 1,200 Canadian healthcare workers continued to travel regularly from Windsor to workplaces in Detroit.
Closing the border remains popular among Canadians
Chandra and others argue that this trip makes it virtually impossible for Canada to rule out variants once they arrive in the United States. While the overall rate of coronavirus infection in the US was much higher than that of Canada previously in the pandemic, Chandra points out that rates have seemed more similar since the spring, especially in the border states that normally send the largest numbers. travelers to Canada.
“It’s easy for governments to fall back and say, ‘Okay, let’s dive in, let’s close the borders,'” says Chandra, “and a kind of suggestion that has helped keep us safer.” “To a large extent, it is no longer.”
For now, restrictions on cross-border travel remain popular with many Canadians. Half of the respondents in a Nanos Research poll this month favored keeping border travel boundaries in the country until this fall or even next year.
“I understand why people feel that way,” says Sumon Chakrabarti, a physician in Ontario. “You don’t just want to open the flood gates.”
But, he says, Canada has reached a stage in the pandemic that allows for a serious review of border policy exchanges. “Because a large part of the population is protected,” says Chakrabarti, “we can now manage this at a medical level, rather than doing it at a borderline level.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated last week that vaccinated travelers would be accepted before those who were not vaccinated, but the government has said a full reopening could require 75% of Canadians or more than 85% of the population eligible for full vaccination.
“The goal set is extremely high,” says Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “We hope to get there, but we can never really get there.”
“We are all in this together”
Meanwhile, some Canadians have made their own decisions about acceptable risk.
When President Dilkens’s granddaughter recently got married in Michigan, his mother was not ready to miss the ceremony. She flew from Windsor to Toronto and then to Detroit an eight-hour journey that ended in less than an hour by car from where she had started.
Such decisions do not surprise Stall, although the policies that drive them deserve a review, he believes.
In Canada, there is a feeling that “we are all in this together,” he says. “I think there is a great reluctance to move forward and allow certain members of society to move forward and [be] able to have social privileges and freedoms that others do not yet have. “
However, many Canadians who have been vaccinated longer are as old as his patients. And, he warns, “We can deprive them of the limited moments of life, to let them wait for everyone else to have the opportunity to be vaccinated before reopening their settings based on vaccination status. “
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