Canada announces another extension of border closure with U.S. to non-essential travel

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Those wishing to travel to Canada for what has been deemed non-essential reasons will have to wait another month . . . at least.

Canada announced that it is extending the closure of its border with the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic until July 21, according to a tweet Friday morning by Canadian Minister for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair. The border closure will now extend into its 16th month.

“Our number one priority as we fight #COVID19 is keeping Canadians safe. In coordination with the U.S., we are extending restrictions on non-essential international travel and with the United States until July 21st, 2021,” Blair tweeted.

“As we have said, the government is planning measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, Permanent Residents, and others who are currently permitted to enter Canada and will provide further details on Monday, June 21,” the thread continued.

A tweet later Friday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the restriction on non-essential travel at U.S. land points of entry also would remain in effect, but stated “Essential travel and trade continue unimpeded.”

Blair’s tweets end recent hope that the restrictions on non-essential travel between the two countries, which will soon enter its 16th month, could begin to be dialed back, as talks between the two countries about how and when to reopen began to intensify.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden even spoke about the a reopening at the G-7 Summit last weekend in England, according to a CTVNews story. But Reuters reported Trudeau said the two leaders did not have any major breakthroughs about the hows and whens.

U.S. Congress members Bill Higgins of New York and Bill Huizenga of Michigan, who serve as co-chairs of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, released a joint statement after Blair’s tweet, saying:

“Millions of Americans and Canadians are counting on our governments to work together to reach an agreement that provides a clear roadmap for reopening the border between our two countries.

“The lack of transparency surrounding these negotiations is a disservice to our constituents and the millions of residents on both sides of the border waiting to see their loved ones, visit their property, and renew business ties.

“While the arrival of vaccines in record time has been a modern miracle, the inability of the U.S. and Canadian governments to reach an agreement on alleviating border restrictions or aligning additional essential traveler classes is simply unacceptable.”

Higgins went on to say in his tweet posting the statement that “another month’s delay is bull(expletive).”

According to a Buffalo News story this week, Huizenga said during a panel discussion he has heard little from the Biden administration and went on to predict the border may not reopen until Thanksgiving. Canadian officials at the panel were a bit more optimistic, predicting restrictions may loosen in July or August, the Buffalo News reported.

Higgins and Huizenga have not been the only U.S. government officials asking for answers and to see progress toward reopening the border.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee this month sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas urging at least a partial reopening.

“Washington state has taken a science-based approach to the pandemic and has enacted public health measures that prioritize safety and protect the lives of Washingtonians,” the letter read. “Because of rising vaccination rates, Washington state has a plan to reopen our economy statewide by June 30. Therefore, I respectfully request that the United States and Canadian governments, and specifically your departments, work to find innovative ways to reopen the border consistent with public health guidance.

“If a full border opening is not considered feasible, I would like to recommend that we prioritize the development of specific policies to partially open crossings. The hardships being experienced along the U.S.-Canadian border are significant, and measurable forward progress is needed”

The border between the two countries was first closed to non-essential travel March 21, 2020, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 during early stages of the pandemic. The initial closure was to last one month, but it has since been extended on a month-by-month basis 14 times and is currently set to expire June 21. Trade and other travel deemed to be essential between the two countries has been allowed throughout the pandemic.

Canadian business leaders have also become impatient with the reluctance to announce plans for a reopening.

Perrin Beatty, chief executive of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce called Canada “a world laggard when it comes to having a plan for reopening,” in a CTVNews story. “At some point government has to decide whether being vaccinated is meaningful,” Beatty said in the story. “We need a plan. We need it now. And everybody needs to know what it is.”

Canadian vaccine verification

Despite the border remaining closed for another month, Trudeau on Friday announced that Canada will unveil a vaccine verification app this summer.

According to a Daily Hive story on the announcement, the verification will work through the ArriveCAN app and will allow Canadians to upload an image confirming their vaccination status to the app so that border agents can verify their vaccination status.

The story did not indicate how non-Canadians will be able to verify their vaccination status once they are allowed to begin entering Canada.

“We are looking forward to getting back to normal as quickly as possible, but we’re not out of this pandemic yet,” Trudeau said when asked about the border closure extension, the Daily Hive reported. “We have to hit our targets of 75% vaccinated with a first dose, at least 20% vaccinated with a second dose, before we can start loosening things up.”

COVID numbers update

As of Friday, the United States continues to have the highest number of COVID cases in the world with more than 33.5 million confirmed cases and 600,000 related deaths, according to the John Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard. Canada, meanwhile, was 23rd overall with more than 1.4 million cases and 26,000 related deaths.

The U.S. is the third-most populated country in the world with more than 331 million residents, according to worldometers.info, while Canada is No. 39 with more than 37 million residents.

The Johns Hopkins site also reports that the U.S. has administered more than 314.6 million vaccine doses (or about 0.95 per resident), while Canada has administered 31.2 million (or approximately 0.84 per resident).

According to the British Columbia COVID-19 dashboard on Thursday, the province has seen 146,794 total cases during the pandemic and 1,739 confirmed deaths — an increase of 7,130 cases and 91 deaths since the last border extension was announced May 18. With a population of approximately 5.1 million, British Columbia has seen an infection rate of 140 cases and 1.8 deaths per 100,000 residents since May 18.

The Washington State Department of Health, meanwhile, reported 410,565 confirmed cases and 5,810 related deaths on Thursday — an increase of 19,565 cases and 170 deaths since May 18. With a population of approximately 7.5 million, the state has averaged 261 cases and 2.3 deaths per 100,000 residents since May 18.

Washington state reports administering 7.5 million vaccine doses, or approximately one dose per resident, while British Columbia reports administering 4.2 million doses, or approximately 0.82 per resident.

Washington state reports more than 4.1 million residents, or 53.8% of the total population, has initiated vaccination, and more than 3.6 million residents (47.5%) have completed it. Meanwhile, British Columbia reports that more than 3.4 million residents (66.7%) have initiated vaccination and 768,008 (15.1%) have completed it.

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