By Natalie Obiko Pearson
The U.S. border is unlikely to be completely reopened until 75% of Canadians are fully vaccinated, Canada’s border chief said on Sunday in comments likely to fuel mounting impatience in both countries at the restrictions.
The world’s longest undefended border has been closed to most travel since March 2020. On Friday, Canada extended the restrictions until at least July 21, though it’s expected to announce the easing of some rules Monday for fully vaccinated citizens.
“We haven’t reached the finish line, and the finish line is when a significant majority of Canadians, approximately 75%, are fully vaccinated,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told national broadcaster CBC on Sunday. At present, less than a fifth of Canadians have received two shots, according to data compiled by CTV News.
The rules have kept families apart, blocked tourists and students, and hampered the world’s largest bilateral trading relationship. While trucks and trains continued to move goods, Canada’s tourism and travel-related businesses lost an estimated C$20 billion ($16 billion) in revenue last year, according to one estimate.
Airlines, tour operators and other businesses on both sides of the border have been pleading for a reopening, with the vital summer season about to begin, and Canada’s go-slow approach is causing frustration. Blair’s announcement Friday that Canada would extend the border restrictions was met with some unusually blunt language from Brian Higgins, a New York Democrat who represents a border district.
Canada prioritized giving first doses to as many people as possible before moving on to second doses amid a shortage in vaccine supplies. As a result, some 66% of Canadians have received one shot, but only 18% have had two, according to data compiled by CTV News. In contrast, about 45% of Americans have had two doses, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
Despite its cautious stance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had approved a travel exemption for National Hockey League teams earlier this month for the final round of championship playoffs.
That decision backfired. Last week, the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team tested positive in Las Vegas after traveling while only partially vaccinated, according to a statement from the NHL.
Canada is expecting the delivery of 68 million doses by the end of July that should be enough to fully vaccinate the eligible population. Asked if that might allow Canada to reopen the border by the end of August, Blair said while he didn’t want to get ahead of the country’s public health agency, he was hopeful.
“Clearly, as those vaccines arrive and as Canadians continue to get in those lines and get vaccines into their arms, we’re really optimistic that we can meet that threshold of 75%,” he said.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.