Saskatoon StarPhoenix



- BRIAN PLATT in Ottawa

Federal cabinet ministers are refusing to outline a clear threshold for when the Canada-u.s. border can reopen for non-essential travel, saying instead that they are looking at a wide range of factors — and that even if Canada's domestic numbers look good, the internatio­nal situation may not allow for it.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu suggested that one key metric will be getting 75 per cent of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated. But she went on to list numerous other metrics that could play a role in reopening, including whether other countries have their own COVID-19 case rate under control.

Business groups, travel companies and politician­s on both sides of the border have been calling for a gradual opening of the U.S. border or, at the very least, a clear plan for when the restrictio­ns can be rolled back for fully vaccinated travellers.

Over the weekend, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer told the Buffalo News he was “really angry” that the border is staying closed for another month, and had called Canada's ambassador to the United States to voice his concerns. The border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020.

On Monday, Liberal ministers held a news conference to announce the quarantine requiremen­t will be eliminated on July 5 for vaccinated travellers who are already allowed to enter Canada under the current rules and have a negative test. Even then, however, children under 12 would still have to quarantine at home.

But as for reopening the land border with the U.S., Hajdu said the vaccinatio­n rate is just one of many considerat­ions.

“We are looking at a variety of metrics,” Hajdu said, adding that it requires collaborat­ion with provincial government­s. “One metric that Canadians can watch for is the rate of fully vaccinated Canadians, that is at least 75 per cent. And also how the disease is behaving in Canada. Are we seeing sustained and prolonged outbreaks in regions of the country? How are we managing in terms of our own hospitaliz­ation rates and capacity?”

She said it was just a few weeks ago that some parts of Canada were dealing with overloaded hospitals, and the government wants to ensure that never happens again.

But even as daily case rates plummet in Canada and vaccine supply scales up dramatical­ly, Hajdu said the internatio­nal situation might delay reopening.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair also mentioned the 75 per cent metric in a TV interview that aired on Sunday.

“We haven't reached the finish line, and the finish line is when a significan­t majority of Canadians, approximat­ely 75 per cent, are fully vaccinated,” Blair told the CBC.

The government's cautious approach drew condemnati­on from the head of the global airline lobby group. “I don't understand Canada,” Willie Walsh, chief executive officer of the Internatio­nal Air Transport Associatio­n, said Monday during an interview in Paris.

“This isn't only about holidays, these are business decisions. Future decisions will be made on people's experience­s and my experience of Canada is very poor,” Walsh said. IATA is based in Montreal, and he said he can't visit its headquarte­rs.

“The fact that it is easier for vaccinated Canadians to fly to Paris than it is to drive to Buffalo demonstrat­es how illogical the present policy is,” Perrin Beatty, chief executive officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said in an emailed statement. “It is time for common sense, guided by science, to dictate a well-considered reopening plan.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had suggested on Friday that further reopening couldn't happen until 75 per cent of eligible Canadians had one dose and 20 per cent had two, but didn't clarify what exactly that would mean for border rules.

As of Friday, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that 73.44 per cent of eligible Canadians have had at least one dose and 14.67 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Other estimates put the number higher: according to the website covid19tra­, 21.8 per cent of Canadians have now received two doses as of Monday morning.

The Canadian government announced on Friday that in co-ordination with the U.S. government, it's extending the border closure to at least July 21.

Monday's announceme­nt revealed details of how Canada will ease quarantine measures for people who are flying into Canada or are allowed to cross the U.S. border under current rules.

Starting at 11:59 p.m. on July 5, fully vaccinated travellers will not have to quarantine or do a followup test on their eighth day as long as they have proof of their vaccinatio­n, and they test negative on their pre-departure and arrival test.

However, children under 12 — who are not yet eligible for any approved vaccines in Canada — must still quarantine at home under the new rules, even if their parents are fully vaccinated.

The parents would be allowed to leave the quarantine, but federal officials acknowledg­ed this will be a significan­t obstacle for families looking to travel.

 ?? PETER J THOMPSON / POSTMEDIA NEWS ?? A traveller from the United States walks over to be tested for COVID-19 at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Monday.
PETER J THOMPSON / POSTMEDIA NEWS A traveller from the United States walks over to be tested for COVID-19 at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Monday.

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