Tourism sector shares concerns about Canada-U.S. border reopening plan
Ottawa is looking to allow fully-vaccinated Americans to enter Canada for non-essential reasons by mid-August.
The prime minister's office broke the news in a readout from Justin Trudeau's weekly COVID-19 call with the premiers Thursday night.
Trudeau also said that if the vaccination rate remains on its current upward trajectory, fully-vaccinated travellers from around the world could be arriving by early September.
The Canada Border Services Agency began exempting fully-vaccinated Canadian citizens and permanent residents from a 14-day quarantine requirement last week.
Pressure has been mounting on the federal government to continue to ease the restrictions at the border, which have been in effect since March of last year.
The closure has had a devastating impact on B.C.'s once-thriving tourism sector in particular.
Destination Vancouver is calling on the federal government to provide the sector with more details about what the reopening will look like.
“The reason a reopening plan is so necessary is because tourism and hospitality professionals have left the industry during the pandemic and when borders reopen – we can’t make the changes we need to make in an instant. We need to recruit staff and train up to pre-pandemic levels again,” said Destination Vancouver in a statement to CTV.
The tourism association says the closure of the border has led to a loss of $9.8 billion in visitor spending and the equivalent of 72,000 full-time jobs.Plans to allow Canadians to drive across the border
PLANS TO ALLOW CANADIANS TO CROSS THE BORDER
At this stage, there are no details on when fully vaccinated Canadian travellers will be able to drive across the land borders for non-essential travel. Current restrictions require travellers, driving or flying, to take a test in the United States “within 72 hours of your planned entry into Canada.” In addition, there is another test requirement on the day of entry.
Premier John Horgan was asked about testing requirements for travel on Friday.
“Health authorities in B.C. are testing people with symptoms, not testing people so they can travel,” Horgan said. “That may change in the weeks ahead as we see continued decline in cases and those presenting with symptoms because of high vaccination rates.”
He acknowledged some travellers choosing to fly out of Canada are currently paying for COVID-19 tests through private operators.
Businesses south of the border are also anxious to welcome Canadians back.
“Some of our smaller, privately owned retail establishments tell us that as much as 30 to 40 per cent of their business comes from Canadians. So it's our small retailers, not just the big guys that have been hurt by the border closure,” said Sandy Ward, of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism.
Ward is concerned the lifting of restrictions won’t be reciprocal on both sides of the border.
“I think that's great news for Canada because I know you guys have been missing your American visitors. But what we're really concerned about is getting the Canadians back to the U.S. So what's involved with Canadians coming down, and then actually getting back into Canada, is what we're most concerned about,” she told CTV News.
Point Roberts is also waiting desperately for Canadians to come back.
“Economically, and in numbers and ownership of property, Canadians control Point Roberts,” said Brian Calder, president of the Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce. “75 per cent of our property is owned by Canadians, all of our water, all of our power comes from British Columbia, (and) 95 per cent of our economy comes from British Columbia.”
There are concerns the easing of restrictions will lead to new variants entering the country.
“We all want to reopen the country, but we have sacrificed a lot to get to where we are. Our approach is going to be gradual. It will be prudent, it will be based on science, and we are very aware of the additional dangers that the delta variant and other new variants of concern are posing,” said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Freeland says international travellers entering Canada will likely need to provide evidence they are fully vaccinated, though she was vague on what that would look like.
“The approach at the borders already requires proof of vaccination. I think that's entirely appropriate and the form of that proof will evolve. That's where the federal responsibility is in terms of Canadians,” said Freeland.
The White House has already ruled out the idea of a so-called vaccine "passport."
More details on the reopening of the border are expected next week.