By MICHELLE MONROE
GRAND ISLE – Returning home will be marginally easier for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents starting on July 5, the government announced Monday. However, there is little likelihood the border between the U.S. and Canada will be fully open anytime soon.
On Sunday, Canada’s Minister for Public Safety Bill Blair told the CBC that a full reopening of the border will have to wait until 75 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated. “The finish line is when a significant majority of Canadians, 75 percent, are fully vaccinated,” Blair said.
Currently, just 20 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated. Canada, like Britain, chose to focus on partial vaccination for as many people as possible rather than full vaccination for a smaller number.
Monday’s announcement comes as the country reaches a previously announced goal of 75 percent of the population partially vaccinated.
Canada is expecting to receive 68 million doses of vaccines in July, but Blair declined to estimate when the border may open more fully. At the same time, he did say the country is “rapidly reaching the goals we set for ourselves.”
The minister did say that there is significant pressure from within Canada to ease travel restrictions.
Canada has prohibited non-essential visitors from other parts of the world and actively discouraged Canadians from traveling. Anyone arriving at the border, including Canadians returning from visits elsewhere, was required to submit to a COVID-19 test, quarantine for 14 days and have a second test eight days into quarantine. Those arriving by air were required to quarantine for three days in a hotel designated for that purpose, with just four airports accepting international flights.
Monday’s changes will allow fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents to avoid quarantine when returning to Canada. However, they must still have an initial COVID test and a quarantine plan should it be needed.
“We are still discouraging non-essential travel,” Blair said.
All steps to reopen the border are being taken based on advice from Canada’s public health agency. Blair said the government is being “very careful so we don’t expose Canadians to unnecessary risk.”
One of the concerns, he said, is new variants of COVID-19.
The Delta variant, a highly infectious COVID mutation, originated in India and is now the most prevalent variant in the United Kingdom. U.S. public health officials have warned it will likely be the most common strain in the U.S. within weeks.
In addition to vaccination rates, the Canadian government is also looking at other metrics, such as hospitalizations when making decisions about easing border restrictions, according to Blair.
Vaccinated Canadians returning to the country will be required to upload proof of vaccination to an app, ArriveCAN. That information will then be compared to the written proof of vaccination travelers will have to present at the border. “Our border officers are going to check 100 percent of the time,” Blair said.
Blair acknowledged that there is a pent-up demand for travel, including to second homes in the U.S.
He said Canada and the U.S. are working on a vaccine certification system that will protect individual privacy while providing for easy confirmation of vaccination status. Similar discussions are happening with the European Union, Blair said.
Northern Vermont is a destination spot for Canadian travelers and it’s likely that despite heavy domestic travel communities here will still feel the pinch of lost Canadian visitors.
The toll may be even heavier for those with family on both sides of the border, a common occurrence, especially in communities near the border. Blair acknowledged that hardship, saying compassionate exceptions to the travel rules are being made.