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Fully vaccinated US citizens and permanent residents will be allowed into Canada as of Aug. 9, joined by the rest of the world Sept. 7, federal officials announced Monday as the country prepares to lower border barriers that were erected to limit the spread of COVID−19.
However, the United States is not currently planning to reciprocate by easing travel restrictions on would−be Canadian visitors hoping to go south of the border.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he briefed Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas about the steps Canada intended to take, but got no indication that the US would be following suit before the existing restrictions are set for renewal on Wednesday.
"He indicated to me at this time they have not yet made a decision; they anticipate their measures would likely be (extended) on July 21," Blair told a news conference announcing the changes.
"They are obviously considering additional measures and data, but at the present time they have not indicated any plan to make any changes in the current border restrictions that are in place."
That imbalance is sure to aggravate domestic political tensions around the border issue in the US, where a growing chorus of congressional lawmakers have been pressing President Joe Biden and his officials to embrace their vaccination success to date and ease international travel restrictions.
Rep. Brian Higgins, the New York member of Congress who has spearheaded the American campaign, said as much in a statement Monday as he cheered the Canadian measures.
"It is extremely frustrating that the US government has failed to reciprocate current family exemptions already allowed by the Canadian government and failed to show a lack of urgency to make any progress on this side of the border toward lifting restrictions," Higgins said.
"The US has neglected to give reopening the northern border the serious attention it deserves, and there is no excuse. Failure to co−ordinate this announcement in a binational way will only lead to confusion among travelers. We will continue to push for action by the US government to welcome our Canadian neighbours back."
Canadian officials say the 14−day quarantine requirement will be waived beginning the second week of August for eligible travellers who are currently residing in the United States and have received a full course of a COVID−19 vaccine approved for use by Health Canada.
The move comes two weeks after the Canada Border Services Agency began waiving quarantine rules for fully vaccinated Canadian citizens and permanent residents — a move that prompted an unsurprising spike in the number of travellers seeking to enter the country.
"This preliminary step allows for the government of Canada to fully operationalize the adjusted border measures ahead of Sept. 7, 2021, and recognizes the many close ties between Canadians and Americans," the government said in a news release.
Children under 12 who are accompanied by fully vaccinated and eligible family members will also be exempt from quarantine, provided they wear a mask in public places and avoid indoor group settings, such as classrooms and summer camp.
All travellers will still be required to submit a negative COVID−19 test result and proof of vaccination prior to arrival by way of the ArriveCAN smartphone app or web portal, but post−travel test results will no longer be necessary.
Canada Border Services Agency officials will also be subjecting random travellers to a mandatory molecular test upon arrival.
"This strategy allows the government of Canada to continue monitoring variants of concern in Canada and vaccine effectiveness," the release said.
"Using these layers of protection, the government of Canada can monitor the COVID−19 situation in Canada, respond quickly to threats and guide decisions on restricting international travel."
As of Aug. 9, airports in Halifax, Quebec City, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton will also be added to the list of Canadian cities where international flights are permitted to land. Air travellers will no longer be required to spend the first three nights of their quarantine at a government−approved hotel.
"However, all travellers must still provide a quarantine plan and be prepared to quarantine, in case it is determined at the border that they do not meet the necessary requirements."
Reaction to the decision in Canada was a swift and unequivocal thumbs−up, particularly from business stakeholders and travel industry executives — provided the changes don’t result in logistical snafus and lengthy delays at border crossings.
"The establishment of clear guidelines and dates will instill confidence and enable individuals and businesses to make plans. It will also provide much−needed hope for Canada’s hard−hit travel, tourism and hospitality sectors," said Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada.
"We will be watching closely to see how these rules are implemented. There should be no unnecessary hurdles or wait times at the border for travellers who satisfy all requirements, including being fully vaccinated with a Health Canada−approved COVID−19 vaccine."
Perrin Beatty, who heads up the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said it’s high time for Canada to modernize its border control measures with a secure, bilateral system of exchanging digital health credentials — particularly if delays result in fewer shorter incidental visits.
"We are concerned that the costly and cumbersome procedures that remain for fully vaccinated travellers will discourage short visits, including many business trips," Beatty said.
"As these measures are implemented, we will need to address a number of outstanding issues for Canadians, including how to efficiently manage points of entry to avoid border congestion, what changes the US government will make for Canadians travelling to that country and how the rules for unvaccinated minors will be applied."
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