Trudeau says he's hopeful but ‘no guarantee,’ as Delta variant hangs over Canada-U.S. border decision

Trudeau’s caution comes amid growing national and global concerns about the Delta variant of Covid-19 and at a time when Canada’s own fully vaccinated rate was just over 20 percent.

Last week, President Joe Biden warned that Covid-19 cases will increase in some regions with lower vaccination rates. Biden also said the highly contagious Delta will put those at higher risk without their vaccinations.

The scenery: Canada announced the first phase of its plan to lift border restrictions on Monday. The steps followed an agreement between the two countries to keep the crossings closed for unnecessary travel until at least July 21.

So far, however, the lighter rules only apply to fully vaccinated citizens, residents, and others who already have a right to enter Canada – leaving non-essential travelers, including Americans, out of the picture.

Despite many questions, the Trudeau government has provided no data and very few specific metrics as to when it will open Canada’s door to foreign travelers.

Ottawa said this week that any update will require full vaccination of at least 75 percent of Canada’s population.

Trudeau said Tuesday that more than 75 percent of eligible Canadians had been vaccinated with a Covid vaccine and more than 21 percent were fully vaccinated.

“The fact that so many people in Canada are getting vaccinated is very, very good news,” he said in French before switching to English. “I understand the impatience people have to travel again, but the safety of Canadians has been and will remain our number one priority.”

US frustrations: As vaccination rates rise in both countries, Trudeau and Biden were under pressure to begin lifting public health measures introduced at the border in March 2020.

The loudest demands for a reopening have come from lawmakers, business leaders, landowners with land across the border, and families who have been separated from relatives for more than a year. The central argument of those who are calling for the border measures to be lifted is that fully vaccinated travelers are allowed to cross the border freely.

Trudeau’s arguments: The prime minister reiterated Tuesday that a full vaccination will protect people from the worst effects of the virus, but will not necessarily prevent the person from passing Covid-19 to another person.

The government has said that in addition to vaccination coverage, any decisions about reopening the border should also take into account case numbers, hospitalization rates, local outbreaks, variants and the situation in other parts of the world.

Trudeau stressed Canada was trying to avoid closing again. “Nobody wants new restrictions put in place in the summer because the quantities were too high, because we were a little too rushed,” he said. “So we will deal with things carefully and step by step with every step.”

A New York Times tracker lists the state’s population with the percentage of people who are fully vaccinated. Looking at the border states on Monday, Maine was 70 percent, New Hampshire 65, Vermont 75, New York 63, Pennsylvania 59, Ohio 54, Michigan 57, North Dakota 49, Montana 51, Idaho 47, Washington 65, and Alaska 53.

The reaction: Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), One of the loudest lawmakers pushing for the border measures to be lifted, told POLITICO on Tuesday that he was encouraged by Trudeau’s signal that further announcements of the restrictions may be on the way.

“It’s a lot more than was given because Friday’s announcement was really an announcement about nothing,” Higgins said, referring to the news that Canada is extending the restrictions for another month with no indication of a schedule or thresholds close.

“The Prime Minister has probably received some pushbacks that are in line with what we said and others … They all said, ‘Hey, look, we need more – we need more of you to do what we are going to achieve.” See You, that represents an opening. “

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer made a statement Monday calling it “Stunning” that New Yorker free to travel to Europe, but those who are fully vaccinated still can’t drive even a few miles north to Canada for their shops, stores, families, and homes.

But dr. David Fisman, professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, told POLITICO this week that Canada’s cautious approach to the border is “very appropriate” as the variants have moved the target posts.

“Both the higher reproductive numbers and the decreased effectiveness of the single-dose vaccine against Delta likely led them to make these changes,” he said.

What’s next: Since the first border measures were imposed, the countries have been renewing a bilateral agreement from month to month. The next contract expires on July 21st.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters at a separate press conference Tuesday that Ottawa understands the ramifications of the border measures on economic sectors such as tourism.

LeBlanc then brought up the July 21 expiration date.

“Of course, as we get closer to that date, in three or four weeks we’ll see what after … is a prudent approach,” he said.

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