New public health data released later today has captured a number of positive progress. Canadian public health officials have pointed out that COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to rise, the number of cases declining, the pressure on hospitals and even optimism Canada is positioning itself to dodge a strong wave of the more contagious Delta variant.
Quick context: Canada and the United States closed overland crossings to non-essential travel in March 2020 and Trudeau took heat for his cautious approach to lifting the restrictions.
Critics have come from U.S. lawmakers in border districts, members of Trudeau’s own Liberal caucus, business leaders from both countries and families separated from loved ones for more than a year.
Many had placed their hopes on June 21 as the date Canada would begin to ease measures for fully vaccinated international travelers, including Americans.
Indeed, Ottawa relaxed the quarantine rules that day – but only for returning Canadians, permanent residents and those who already had the right to travel.
Since the measures were first imposed, countries have extended a deal month-to-month to keep them in place. The next deal expires on July 21.
Here are four reasons why it might be worth circling the date.
1. The key indicators are moving in the right direction. The Trudeau government has indicated that it will not make any further border adjustments until at least 75% of the Canadian population is fully immunized.
Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer, said on Friday that about 76% of eligible people aged 12 and older had received at least one dose, while 26% were fully vaccinated.
A senior government official told POLITICO that the deployment is progressing so quickly that the 75% target is expected to be reached within weeks.
The government has said that beyond vaccine coverage, decisions to reopen the border will take into account the number of cases, hospitalization rates, local epidemics, variants and the situation of Covid elsewhere in the world. .
Tam released data Friday that shows the average number of cases in Canada has fallen 91% since the mid-April peak of the third wave. Hospitalizations for Covid-19 fell 74%, intensive care use fell 63%, and daily deaths fell 67%.
The Delta variant has quadrupled in Canada since the end of April, Tam said. But she added that a full vaccination against Covid-19 offers “substantial protection” against Delta.
To get there, she said it takes time to increase immunization coverage. Tam said Canada was monitoring challenges created by variants in other countries, such as the UK, which relaxed the measures too soon.
“Cautious reopening is important – it will help keep virus levels low,” Tam said at a press conference. “Summer is shaping up to be pretty good.”
2. There were clues from the top. Trudeau said earlier this week that the gradual reopening of the border would take place in the weeks to come, not months. He stressed that nothing was guaranteed given the uncertainty of Covid.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Trudeau, Dominic LeBlanc, insisted on mentioning the July 21 expiration date. “Obviously, as that date approaches, in three or four weeks we will be looking to see what is… a cautious approach to take after this,” LeBlanc told reporters.
3. The first phase of reopening gives time to fine tune for a wider opening. The relaxed border measures for returning Canadians take effect on July 5 just before midnight.
A few weeks before July 21, the date would give border and public health authorities time to prepare for an increase in border traffic.
For example, they will be able to refine traveler processing protocols and assess Covid-19 testing requirements at ports of entry. One of the keys to Canada’s border testing program is that it will be able to detect the arrival of any variant of concern.
4. The provinces are jostling each other. A few weeks ago, Ontario Premier Doug Ford criticized the Trudeau government for not doing enough to tighten the border as his province grappled with the third wave.
But more recently, Ford has eased restrictions on Covid-19, including a series of changes such as reopening Ontario’s borders to neighboring provinces.
Quebec Premier François Legault is not opposed to lifting border restrictions as long as it is done according to specific guidelines, his spokesman Ewan Sauves said last week. He said Legault agreed with Trudeau’s insistence that Canada only admit fully vaccinated foreigners.