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Brian Lilley: Canada's borders not nearly as secure as government claims

Trudeau keeps crowing about his `stringent' measures on travel to Canada. But they're just lies to take heat off his gross mismanagement of the situation

  • Calgary Sun
  • 16 May 2021
  • BRIAN LILLEY blilley@postmedia.com @brianlilley

img?regionKey=cOPehRiOHCMl2IUbulOkSQ%3d%3dTHE CANADIAN PRESS FILE Justin Trudeau may see nothing wrong with the way Canada is handling its borders, but the borders aren't as airtight as his government claims.

There are three big lies told about Canada's border situation during COVID.

Unfortunately, too often, they're being repeated rather than challenged.

First off, there's the claim that we have the “most stringent” measures in the world, that non-essential travel is banned and, finally, that only Canadians are allowed into the country at this time.

The Trudeau government repeats these claims often to defend itself from accusations of not doing enough on the border.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc responded to the Ford government in Ontario this week by ignoring its requests for stricter border measures, saying: “Canada has the most comprehensive border measures in the western world.”

Well, we aren't stricter than Britain, Australia or New Zealand — all countries that are part of the western world.

In Britain, foreign nationals who've even transited through one of more than 40 countries on their red list aren't allowed to enter, while in New Zealand, outsiders are restricted and even citizens must undergo a 14-day quarantine at a governmentrun facility.

Hong Kong is stricter still. In Canada, we have a system that requires people who arrive by air to spend up

to three days in a hotel, but there is no such requirement for those arriving by land.

As for quarantining at home, the system doesn't require travellers to isolate from others in their home.

It's why we've seen whole homes contract COVID-19 after a single person travelled.

It's why 90% of Ontario's COVID-19 cases during the third wave are the B.1.1.7 variant first found in the U.K.

The Liberals say travel accounts for less than 2% of cases but, somehow, the “most comprehensive border measures” couldn't contain the U.K. variant from getting into the community and spreading.

The Trudeau government banned flights from the U.K. for a period in December, stopped flights to vacation hot spots over the winter and currently has a ban on flights from India and Pakistan.

But ask it about other problems on the border and it will claim travel isn't an issue.

As for non-essential travel being banned, that's simply not the case.

Overall travel in the week of April 12-18, not counting commercial truckers, was 113,221 people compared to 53,515 during the same time period in 2020.

While travel is down compared to the PRECOVID-19 period, it's up compared to last year.

So too are the number of foreign nationals entering Canada.

Between Feb. 22, when the mandatory testing and quarantine hotels started, and April 18, 105,042 Canadian citizens or permanent residents entered the country by air compared to 110,955 foreign nationals.

If just Canadian citizens are allowed in, why are there more foreign nationals flying into Canada than citizens?

Stopping all flights into Canada isn't the answer to dealing with COVID-19 seeping through the leaky border, but that doesn't mean we don't have problems.

The list of exemptions on who can enter is too long and the quarantine system is a joke.

That's just for starters. Since we're going to continue dealing with this for the next while, we could look to other countries for best practices, like Britain determining your risk level and how strict your quarantine is based on where you're travelling from.

Instead, we have a government that lies to us about how strict the system is and media that refuse to look into the claims Trudeau makes.

It's time to face and deal with reality, and the need for our system to improve.

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I'm not posting this "view from the left" for "balance". The complaint about "the media" and the notion of "bias" does need elaboration and questioning rather than 42 pt. font headlines and other signs of drama & hyperbole. The left just does it with taste...?

The country and the government, be it Trudeau or other PM, will make up its mind based upon many factors including a view from the left or right. The notion of outright bias is easily recognized by those with good intellectual hygiene habits and robust crap-detectors, while the subtleties in both these stories produce "slant" to "sell" a particular focus.

For example, the Globe and Mail, on the 5th of April, printed the story below. Postmedia, (Calgary Sun) printed the story reproduced above this post. They are both very clear on what the author/journalist/newspaper want: Keep foreigners out / allow foreigners in. Neither point of view is uncontroversial. The key is, both beg for patient discussion while both parties suspend judgement in favour of curiosity. And this is kind of discussion can't be "re-solved" through rational thought & reason alone. It's highly emotional, territorial and now tribal. Opening the conversation mid-way is the only purpose of this post.

It’s time for Trudeau to reopen the border

Edward Alden
Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published April 5, 2021 Updated April 5, 2021

LARS HAGBERG/Reuters

 

Edward Alden is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a visiting professor of U.S.-Canada economic relations at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. He is the author of The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11.

Canada has good friends in the United States. There are the northern governors, who worked tirelessly to keep the border open and trade flowing after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There are the United Steelworkers union, which helped persuade former president Donald Trump to lift his steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada but keep them in place against China and others. And there are the members of Congress who blocked Mr. Trump’s efforts to cut a separate trade deal with Mexico, insisting the trade agreement that replaced NAFTA must include all three nations. And then there are many regional officials, cross-border business leaders, academics and think tank experts who have close ties to Canada and sympathy for Canadian concerns.

These friendships are more than sentimental – they have long allowed Canada to punch above its weight in the corridors of Washington and in state capitols. But the Trudeau government’s refusal, more than a year along, to even discuss a plan for reopening the closed border between the two countries is putting those friendships to the biggest test they have faced in decades.

Matt Morrison, chief executive officer of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, a Seattle-based group that promotes co-operation between government officials and business leaders across the border, has spent the past year pleading with the two governments to start working on a border plan. “I’m concerned about some of the long-term trust and relationships that are being eroded,” he said recently in a meeting organized by the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Brian Higgins, the upstate New York Democrat congressman who co-chairs the northern border caucus, is as good a friend as Ottawa has in D.C. “The distance to Canada is now further than it has ever been in my lifetime,” he lamented last month, urging the two governments to develop a plan for reopening the border by this summer.

The concerns are both personal – the thousands of people cut off from family and friends – and economic. While trade has continued, many tourist and other service businesses on both sides of the border will not survive another summer shutdown. Isolated communities – such as Washington State’s Point Roberts, which is accessible by land only through Canada – are turning into ghost towns.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t even want to talk about the problem. Looking closely, no doubt, at polls showing a strong majority of Canadians wants the border kept shut, Mr. Trudeau has only said that it will reopen “eventually, not today.”

Canada’s American friends are not blind to why Canadians wanted the border closed. The initial decision to halt all “non-essential” travel from the United States in March, 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis spread drew many sympathetic nods. It was obvious how Mr. Trump was mishandling the pandemic, endangering us and our fellow citizens. That Canada would want to insulate itself from irresponsible behaviour south of the border was entirely understandable.

What is indefensible is that more than a year later, with Americans having thrown out Mr. Trump for a responsible leader in President Joe Biden, Canadian officials are still refusing even to discuss plans for reopening. The U.S. failed terribly to contain the spread of COVID-19 but is now among the world’s leaders in vaccinating its citizens; every American who wants a shot will be eligible for one by May. With U.S. production ramping up, Mr. Biden has shipped 1.5 million doses north to help Canada with its anemic vaccine rollout, and more is certainly on the way.

It is long past time for the sort of high-level co-operation that took place in the aftermath of 9/11, when top officials from both governments worked hand-in-hand to bolster defences against terrorism without harming trade and travel across the world’s longest undefended border. This time, Mr. Morrison says, “it’s been way too long and there is nearly no movement.”

There is no shortage of good ideas, from schemes to co-operate on “vaccine passports” for cross-border travel to integrating advanced health screenings into trusted traveller documents such as Nexus. Even those Americans most eager to see the border reopened agree the steps should be incremental, with health risks top of mind.

The closed border is popular in Canada, and the Trudeau government will be criticized for any initiatives it takes toward reopening. But Canada has long thrived in North America because it has been masterful at managing relations with its larger southern neighbour. That means looking past the polls in order to nurture the friendships that Canada will need years and decades from now to keep pursuing its continental interests successfully.

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The trouble is, IMHO, is that governments of all stripes see the whole political system as a competition for power, and that good governance is secondary, or even further down the list of priorities. Our democracy both here and south of the border are now essentially dysfunctional. 

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Canada will need 75% vaccination before U.S. border reopens, Trudeau suggests

 

The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada for Tuesday, May 18, 2021

 

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is suggesting that three-quarters of Canadians will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the Canada-U.S. border can be reopened.

Trudeau acknowledges that discussions about the border are ongoing, but he's tamping down any expectations that travel restrictions could be lifted soon. 

Discretionary travel between Canada and the United States has been prohibited since March 2020, a restriction that will be extended into June before the end of the week. 

Trudeau says Canada is still not out of the current third wave of COVID-19 and has much more work to do before it's safe for travel to resume. 

That's in contrast with the U.S., where a blistering vaccination pace has prompted public health officials to lift face mask requirements for people who are fully vaccinated. 

That has some U.S. lawmakers urging the Biden administration to get serious about drafting a plan to allow travel to and from Canada to resume in time for the July 4 holiday. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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On 5/14/2021 at 8:36 PM, Don Hudson said:

sorting out who can cross the border, it is just another step in the "essential travel" process

Banana Bread

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4 hours ago, Kargokings said:

Canada will need 75% vaccination before U.S. border reopens, Trudeau suggests

 

The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada for Tuesday, May 18, 2021

 

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is suggesting that three-quarters of Canadians will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the Canada-U.S. border can be reopened.

Trudeau acknowledges that discussions about the border are ongoing, but he's tamping down any expectations that travel restrictions could be lifted soon. 

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Strikes me as a silly way to set the bar if Trudeau was quoted accurately.

If vaccination uptake ends up being of less than 75% is the border to remain closed forever?

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27 minutes ago, FA@AC said:

Strikes me as a silly way to set the bar if Trudeau was quoted accurately.

If vaccination uptake ends up being of less than 75% is the border to remain closed forever?

Only if that means that the Liberals will remain in power. ?

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Ok....explain to me again how Canadian Covid-related travel policy is driven solely by science.

According to "the experts", the risk of transmission of the virus by a fully-vaccinated individual is extremely low.

If the border was re-opened to US visitors with proof of vaccination, how are Canadian residents endangered?

On what rational basis does one assert that the border should remain closed until 75% of Canadians are vaccinated? Is the intent to protect US visitors from us? Have we become the threat to others which necessitates our exclusion from the world community?

On another note....checking flights to Florida on AC this coming weekend. Full.

Checked outbound flights YYZ to DTW on DL....full ( and NOT cheap!!) Checked flights on AA to CLT....very few seats open.

Are these leisure pax or vaccine-hunters?

And tell me why Canada wouldn't encourage and support every resident who qualifies from pursuing vaccination in the US.? The authorities quoted in the post above seemed at pains to emphasize; " Go directly to the vaccination site. Do NOT pass go. Carry a letter from your doctor. Get a letter from the provider. Use private transport. Etc etc."

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22 minutes ago, UpperDeck said:

Ok....explain to me again how Canadian Covid-related travel policy is driven solely by science.

According to "the experts", the risk of transmission of the virus by a fully-vaccinated individual is extremely low.

If the border was re-opened to US visitors with proof of vaccination, how are Canadian residents endangered?

On what rational basis does one assert that the border should remain closed until 75% of Canadians are vaccinated? Is the intent to protect US visitors from us? Have we become the threat to others which necessitates our exclusion from the world community?

On another note....checking flights to Florida on AC this coming weekend. Full.

Checked outbound flights YYZ to DTW on DL....full ( and NOT cheap!!) Checked flights on AA to CLT....very few seats open.

Are these leisure pax or vaccine-hunters?

And tell me why Canada wouldn't encourage and support every resident who qualifies from pursuing vaccination in the US.? The authorities quoted in the post above seemed at pains to emphasize; " Go directly to the vaccination site. Do NOT pass go. Carry a letter from your doctor. Get a letter from the provider. Use private transport. Etc etc."

One can never think that the politicians  should make sense.   Never have and never will.  Votes are the only thing most are looking for and if that means misleading the masses, so be it. 

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14 hours ago, Kargokings said:

Votes are the only thing most are looking for and if that means misleading the masses, so be it. 

You only have to look SOB to see that..............

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U.S. border agency says COVID vax not essential; Canadians could be denied entry

U.S. border agency says COVID vax not essential; Canadians could be denied entry | National Post

TORONTO — Canadians attempting to drive across the American border solely for a COVID-19 vaccination, even with a doctor's referral, would be denied entry, the U.S. border agency said on Wednesday.

Unlike the Canadian government, Customs and Border Protection said it does not consider a vaccine essential for entry purposes.     

"Travel for the sole purpose of obtaining a vaccination is not permissible under current travel restrictions," an agency spokesman said. "If a person is entering the U.S. for legitimate travel reasons, as allowed under current restriction guidelines, and receives a vaccine incidental to their trip, it is not part of the overall admissibility determination."

The Canada-U. S. border has been closed in light of the pandemic to all non-essential travel.

Earlier this week, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it considered driving to the States in a private vehicle for a COVID-19 vaccination on referral from a licensed health-care provider to be an essential medical service. 

As a result, the agency said such travellers would fall under a quarantine exemption on return if they could show proof of having had the shot and the trip was solely for that purpose.

Health Canada did say the decision on whether entry into the U.S. is allowed would fall to American border authorities.

Shaun Horton said he tried to travel to New York on Wednesday from Niagara Falls, Ont., for a vaccination appointment just inside the U.S. but was turned back. He said the border agent did not want to see his doctor's letter confirming that the vaccine was medically necessary. 

Horton, an airline pilot in Canada, said he wanted the vaccination because he's not allowed to wear a mask while the aircraft is in operation. He said he and his co-workers are tested prior to work. 

"The officer advised that entry solely for the COVID-19 is not an acceptable purpose as Canada has access to a vaccine, regardless of the supply issues," Horton told The Canadian Press.

However, David Musyj, head of Windsor Regional Hospital in Windsor, Ont., said there have been many examples of crossings for a vaccine allowed to happen.

"That is why this is so political and needs some clarity and leadership," Musyj said. "We will keep trying to get vaccines into Canada."

Musyj has been pressing Health Canada to clarify whether it considered COVID-19 vaccinations essential, saying it would be easy for people near the border to drive across for a shot, but that having to isolate for 14 days on return would be a major obstacle.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Albertans lined up at the Carway crossing for a quick drive into the U.S. for a COVID shot at a clinic put on by the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana. Those going to the clinic were exempt from having to quarantine for 14 days on return.

"I was amazed and grateful because it's too slow getting it any other way," said Linda Neilson, of Cardston, Alta. "We're just glad they were able to help us."

Musyj also said he was still pushing for federal approval to allow an organized effort to retrieve surplus vaccines from Detroit and bring them back for use here. Ottawa has said millions of COVID-19 inoculation doses are arriving but supplies remain limited in many areas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2021.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

 

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So...is there any correlation between this CBP position and JT's extension of the border closure to June 21st and assertion that restrictions would remain until 75% of Cdns were vaccinated?

Ask Chuck Schumer.

Quid pro quo.

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15 hours ago, UpperDeck said:

So...is there any correlation between this CBP position and JT's extension of the border closure to June 21st and assertion that restrictions would remain until 75% of Cdns were vaccinated?

Ask Chuck Schumer.

Quid pro quo.

I think it is a matter of not knowing their head from their ass.   Political decisions rather than science are ruling and those making the rules are changing their minds again and again.  Yesterday you were exempt if you went to the US for a shot and today.

Canadians who cross border for vaccine must quarantine on return, Ottawa says

Quote

Canadians looking to drive across the border to the United States for the sole purpose of getting a COVID-19 vaccine are not exempt from mandatory quarantine upon their return.

The Public Health Agency of Canada told CBC News in a statement Wednesday evening that Canada's quarantine exemptions currently in place are not intended for those travelling abroad to get vaccinated against the coronavirus disease.

"Testing and quarantine exemptions for travellers returning to Canada after receiving essential medical services in a foreign country was not intended to be used for those seeking to receive a COVID-19 vaccination," a PHAC spokesperson said in an email.

"This provision is in place to allow Canadians who are seeking life-saving medical treatment outside of Canada."

The statement attempts to clarify reports earlier this week that the vaccine may be considered an essential medical service and Canadians crossing the border could be exempt from the 14-day quarantine when they return.

Earlier this week, Albertans who attended a Montana vaccination clinic were told they were exempted from having to quarantine for 14 days.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020. Non-essential travellers entering Canada through the land border need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arrival, in addition to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for returning non-essential travellers.

But since February, patients undergoing essential medical treatment can skip those requirements only if they have a written statement from a licensed health-care practitioner in Canada — and from a practitioner in the country where they are receiving the treatment.
  

 

 

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None of it is rational!

Major shock to the system walking around T1 and T3 yesterday at Pearson and then suddenly you're trying to dodge the hoards in Atlanta. Seriously...it was PACKED this morning!! And multiple flights full.

I must say....everyone I took note of was wearing a mask but regardless, the difference between Canada and the US as it relates to air travel and some sense of normalcy is significant.

And on another note....I was surprised to learn that crew are being booked into Covid quarantine hotels. I would have expected CUPE to take exception.

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And this from Australia.......

 

"Virgin Australia airline group announced a recruitment drive to fill hundreds of new jobs and the launch of 700 more flights every week."

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On 5/16/2021 at 12:25 PM, GDR said:

The trouble is, IMHO, is that governments of all stripes see the whole political system as a competition for power, and that good governance is secondary, or even further down the list of priorities. Our democracy both here and south of the border are now essentially dysfunctional. 

I agree.  The boarder will remain closed until it becomes a political liability.  Currently the political liability is not being closed enough.

The government is using a carrot to encourage people to vaccinate.  75% vaccination and we can open up.  

Watch for that carrot to turn into a stick.

Get vaccinated because we are opening up regardless.

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In the meantime it appears that the US will pass a law that will allow foreign cruise ships (and most are) to sail from SEA to Alaska and VV without stopping in Canada.  Good news for SEA and Alaska but considerable loss of revenue for YVR and YYJ>  

 

Cruises to Alaska were put on hold after Canada banned all large ships until at least next year, directly affecting Alaska's cruise industry due to a century-old law that requires large foreign-flagged ships to first stop in Canada. The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, which was introduced by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and now needs to be passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Joe Biden, would allow ships to temporarily skip Canadian ports and travel directly between Washington and Alaska, The Associated Press reported.

SANTA CLARITA, Calif., May 20, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Following passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, work with Alaska government officials, and recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Princess, is announcing its intent to return to service in the United States with a partial season of Alaska sailings from Seattle.

 

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18 minutes ago, Kargokings said:

In the meantime it appears that the US will pass a law that will allow foreign cruise ships (and most are) to sail from SEA to Alaska and VV without stopping in Canada.  Good news for SEA and Alaska but considerable loss of revenue for YVR and YYJ>  

 

 

I think the big difference is opportunity.  Everyone in the US has had the opportunity to vaccinate.  That isn’t the case here.

Once everyone has had the opportunity to choose for themselves, life goes on with the choice each person made.

Baseball stadiums are full with maskless people in the US now based on the CDC advise that you don’t need a mask if you are fully vaccinated.  Are there unvaccinated maskless people there?  Probably.  Might they get sick?  Maybe.  They have been warned and had the opportunity to vaccinate.  Life goes on.

Smoking for example.

The carrot.  It’s not good for you.  Here are free programs to help you quit.

The stick.  Ugly pictures on cartons.  Drive the cost jump.

If you still don’t stop?  You live with it.

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1 hour ago, Turbofan said:

The stick.  Ugly pictures on cartons.  Drive the cost jump.

If you still don’t stop?  You live with it

And eventually DIE with it!

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1 hour ago, Turbofan said:

I think the big difference is opportunity.  Everyone in the US has had the opportunity to vaccinate.  That isn’t the case here.

Once everyone has had the opportunity to choose for themselves, life goes on with the choice each person made.

Baseball stadiums are full with maskless people in the US now based on the CDC advise that you don’t need a mask if you are fully vaccinated.  Are there unvaccinated maskless people there?  Probably.  Might they get sick?  Maybe.  They have been warned and had the opportunity to vaccinate.  Life goes on.

Smoking for example.

The carrot.  It’s not good for you.  Here are free programs to help you quit.

The stick.  Ugly pictures on cartons.  Drive the cost jump.

If you still don’t stop?  You live with it.

The current stats , despite the perhaps lack of vaccine, show that we only lagging by .01% ..... at least  re 1st does

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Too early to set a date on loosening travel restrictions: Canada’s transport minister

From CTV News – link to source story and video

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press Staff | 20 May 2021

OTTAWA — Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says he cannot yet commit to a date — or COVID-19 vaccination rate benchmarks — for when so-called vaccine passports will allow Canada to ease travel restrictions.

Speaking at a virtual news conference Thursday, Alghabra said decisions around hotel quarantines for air passengers and the eventual reopening of the border will hinge on expert advice and unspecified criteria tied to the pandemic.

“These decisions will depend on public health, will depend on data and evidence. At this moment I can’t give you a specific date,” he told reporters.

“We’re going to have all of these measures and all of these thresholds outlined in detail when we feel it’s time to do so.”

The travel and aviation sectors will take off again “when it’s safe,” he added.

Alghabra has stressed the need for a “common platform” to identify travellers’ vaccination status, saying Thursday he is working with G7 countries and the European Union to integrate vaccine certification into international travel in the months ahead.

The EU agreed Wednesday to a plan that would allow fully vaccinated travellers to visit the 27-nation bloc, as well as relax restrictions for all travel from some other countries that are deemed COVID-19-safe. A date remains to be set, however.

The move prompted Canada’s largest airlines to renew their call for a clear plan from Ottawa on resuming international travel.

Mike McNaney, who heads the National Airlines Council of Canada, lauded the EU for its “science-based approach” and demanded a similar blueprint from Ottawa, saying Wednesday the federal government should state when it will adjust travel restrictions for inoculated visitors.

Like EU nations, Canada has struggled to prop up an aviation and tourism sector battered by measures that include travel advisories and a 14-month border shutdown.

Fewer than 29,000 travellers arrived in Canada by plane the week of April 26 to May 2, in contrast to the 688,000 passengers who streamed in during a comparable time period two years earlier, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. The difference amounts to a 96 per cent drop in air travellers.

Numerous jurisdictions have tied reopening plans to vaccination benchmarks, though travel components of those plans can remain elusive.

Across the border, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a regime last month that links the rollback of coronavirus rules to the state’s vaccination rate. The phased plan will scrap indoor capacity limits at restaurants after 65 per cent of the population is vaccinated and lift the face-mask order at 70 per cent.

In Germany, the health minister has said the country aims to unveil a digital immunity certificate before July. The certificate would be stored in an app and, the government hopes, be made compatible with the EU’s vaccine certification platform, still under development.

Alghabra stressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s talking point of a “one-dose summer” and “two-dose fall,” which is when the transport minister “can see restarting some of the activities.”

“We could get ahead of ourselves. We don’t want to do that. But I want you to know that that work is being done right now,” he said of benchmarks and border restrictions.

“As we’ve seen from COVID, things change very quickly. We’re still grappling with the third wave.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021.

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Another quick note about travel. We travelled yesterday on Delta ( great staff!!) because "our" flights to FLL were oversold.

Someone mentioned that though showing full, these flights were going out with empty seats.

We checked that flight yesterday. It left with 4 unsold seats in J and 12 in Y with a number of pozies ( flight sim) and 2 cons.

We're told it's a result of Customs and no tests/attestations. Go figure.

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If the EU can do it, why not Canada & the US even if only a version for travel between the two countries? 

EU legislators, members reach compromise on vaccine certificates

System likely up and running by July

The Associated Press · Posted: May 20, 2021 9:10 PM ET | Last Updated: May 20
 
A nurse fills a syringe with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination centre of German speciality chemicals company Evonik in Hanau, western Germany, on Wednesday. (Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty Images)

European Union citizens can start packing for summer vacations in the bloc's 27 nations without having to worry about quarantines: they soon should be able to travel freely across the EU.

European Union legislators and member countries found a compromise Thursday for launching COVID-19 certificates before the height of the summer holiday season, a move aimed at boosting travel and tourism following the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The various players managed to reconcile their differences during another round of discussions, paving the way for the trans-border travel passes to be introduced. Officials said the system should be up and running by July 1.

"This agreement is the first step to get the Schengen Area back on track," European Parliament rapporteur Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said, referring to Europe's passport-free travel zone.

"It will make all the difference, and it won't be repeating the nightmare of Summer 2020."

Digital format

The European Commission said the certificates will be issued in digital format and designed to be shown either on smartphones or paper. It guaranteed that "a very high level of data protection will be ensured."

When it proposed the certificate plan in March, the executive commission said the documents would be given to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated, as well as those who tested negative for the virus or had proof they recovered from COVID-19.

EU lawmakers and nations agreed on that, but the European Parliament insisted that COVID-19 certificates should be enough to allow EU citizens to move about freely in all member countries, and that governments shouldn't be allowed to impose extra restrictions on certificate-holders, such as quarantines and more tests.

Since border controls are a national responsibility, EU member nations were not ready to relinquish their prerogatives. Another roadblock was the price of tests, as lawmakers insisted the tests should be free of charge,

Under the compromise sealed Thursday, the European Commission said it would allocate 100 million euros in EU funds (more than $147 million Cdn) for the purchase of virus tests compatible with the certificates.

"This should particularly benefit persons who cross borders daily or frequently to go to work or school, visit close relatives, seek medical care, or to take care of loved ones," the parliament said.

Negotiators agreed that, if necessary, additional funding should be mobilized, subject to approval by the budgetary authorities.

As for the extra travel requirements that EU members might be tempted to introduce, the 27 nations agreed "they shall refrain" from imposing additional restrictions "unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health."

 

Still work to do

The proposal should now go to member states for formal adoption and to the European Parliament for ratification during its next plenary session in June.

The EU's executive branch has already started working on the initiative's technical aspects with EU countries.

"Work still remains," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

"At [the] EU level, the system will be ready in the next few days. It is now crucial that all member states press ahead with the roll-out of their national systems to ensure that the system can be up and running as soon as possible. This is what EU citizens rightly expect."

All vaccines authorized by the European Medicines Agency — currently, that's the ones made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford and Johnson & Johnson — will be automatically recognized.

National governments will be allowed to include other vaccines which haven't received EU market authorization.

Under the provisional agreement, the certificate regulation would be in place for 12 months.

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U.S. cruise law puts B.C. economic impacts at risk: Harbour authority

7 hrs ago

VANCOUVER — When the U.S. House of Representatives swiftly passed legislation amending a historical law that some say could have severe consequences for British Columbia's port communities, it came as little surprise to Ian Robertson.

© Provided by The Canadian Press

The CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority said he tried to alert Canadian and B.C. politicians to the ramifications of the change that would temporarily allow international cruise ships to bypass B.C. ports. 

"I must admit it's been frustrating, we've been sounding the alarm for the past few months," Robertson said. 

The proposed legislation passed Thursday applies to cruise ships travelling between Washington state and Alaska and gives them the green light to sail past B.C. ports without stopping, a requirement introduced more than a century ago to protect U.S. shipbuilders and operators. 

The amendment is a response to Canada's ban on cruise ships through February 2022 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the legislation would only last as long. 

However, given the estimated $2.7-billion economic impact of the cruise industry on the B.C. coast, Robertson said it feels like a dangerous precedent to set before exploring other options. 

"You always worry about a temporary measure becoming permanent," Robertson said. 

Victoria has the most to lose, alongside fellow transit port communities like Nanaimo and Prince Rupert, which benefit from the flood of tourists who spend in their communities during the stops. Vancouver, a "home" port from which passengers start and finish cruises, is more insulated, he said. 

The harbour authority wants the federal government to allow "technical calls," which would see the ships maintain the routine stops without allowing passengers and crew to leave the ship. 

At the very least, they should be pushing for reassurances that the U.S. change will remain temporary, he said. 

The amendment will become law with President Joseph Biden's sign-off. 

Two Alaskan senators pursued the change. Sen. Dan Sullivan, one of the bill's sponsors, said he was pleased to see bipartisan, unanimous support in the Senate after running into roadblocks trying to work with Canada.

"We've put forward a number of very reasonable suggestions to try to accommodate what we are hoping will be a fighting chance for our tourism season, for our small businesses so decimated by this pandemic to our colleagues in Canada," he said before the Senate. 

"This is not the co-operative spirit that has defined the Alaska-Canadian relationship for decades. Quite frankly, we've been disappointed by it."

In a statement Wednesday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra's office stood by the cruise ship ban, which he said allows public health officials to focus on more pressing issues. 

"With the number of provinces battling a third wave of COVID-19 and the current public health situation, Canada is not at a point to safely resume cruise operations in our waters," the statement said. 

Canada supports U.S. actions requiring that 98 per cent of crew and 95 per cent of passengers be vaccinated. Transport Canada will also reassess measures as the pandemic evolves and review all requests, including technical stops, in consultation with provincial and local health authorities, the statement added. 

"Minister Alghabra has spoken a number of times with Senator Sullivan on the importance of cruise ships both to Canada and the United States, and how we can work together to safely welcome cruise ships when both countries are ready to do so," it said. 

After brushing off the legislation as a "blip" that wasn't likely to pass quickly, B.C. Premier John Horgan said Tuesday he was lining up meetings with U.S. officials to talk about it. 

However, the senators who put forward the legislation made clear in their correspondences that it would be a temporary measure until border restrictions are lifted, he added. 

"I'm taking great comfort in that, the legislation is specific about that," Horgan said. 

If it would help maintain the industry in B.C. in the long term, he said he is also happy to talk about technical port calls.  

The cruise industry's direct and indirect impacts in Canada totalled more than $4.2 billion in 2019, according to a tally by industry group Cruise Lines International Association. 

The pandemic sunk those figures to zero in 2020 and the same losses are expected this year. 

Donna Spalding, who works in government affairs and community relations for the Cruise Lines International Association, North West and Canada, said she couldn't predict if the temporary legislation could become permanent.

Despite being a transit stop, Victoria is considered a "premier" destination and cruise lines consistently hear positive feedback from guests, including that they planned to return, she said.

But it would be up to each cruise line to determine if they saw a benefit in bypassing transit stops, if that were an option beyond the pandemic, she added. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2021. 

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

 

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