Senior officials have started formally discussing options on how to proceed, three people familiar with the matter said, on condition that they were not identified. One question under consideration is whether to use a two-way system in which quarantine and testing requirements would be relaxed for vaccinated travelers.
The world’s longest international border has been closed since March 2020 to most non-essential travel, significantly reducing land and air traffic between the two countries. The restrictions have hit the country’s tourism and air transport sectors particularly hard – one estimate says the measures cost those industries about C $ 20 billion ($ 16.5 billion) in revenue last year.
“At the end of the day, it’s a political decision, and at what point the Canadian side – and it’s the Canadian side at this point that is the slowpoke – decides they are ready to receive and what categories of people they open up, ”said Michael Kergin, former Canadian ambassador to the United States, in a telephone interview. “A phased reopening would be the logical approach.”
Any reopening of the border would be gradual and dependent on the decline of cases in both countries, officials said.
The third wave of the pandemic has hit the northern country harder due to a vaccine rollout that has been slowed by supply issues and shipping delays. Many Canadian provinces remain in prolonged detention even as the country has stepped up its vaccination campaign.
A reopening of the border is unlikely to be imminent and discussions within the government are only just beginning, officials said. According to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, 34.1% of Canadian residents have received a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and only 2.7% are completely inoculated, compared to 46.6% and 35.8%, respectively, in United States.
Trudeau said most Canadians likely won’t be fully immunized until September.
One challenge is to find an approach, in coordination with the United States, to verify vaccination documentation. Trudeau said Canada was open to vaccine passports, which are electronic documents that would allow countries to verify whether travelers have been vaccinated. The administration of US President Joe Biden, on the other hand, has dismissed them. This will leave it up to businesses and other institutions such as colleges to determine their own rules.
“It would make sense for us to align ourselves with partners around the world on some sort of proof of vaccination or vaccine certification,” Trudeau said at a May 4 press conference. “We are looking at it very carefully, in the hope of aligning ourselves with the allied countries, but I cannot speak for the United States and the choices they might make as to who to welcome into their country.”
Canada said it was working with the European Union to align its approaches. The EU is already moving forward with plans to end internal travel restrictions for those vaccinated.
“The problem is, we have an asymmetric situation here,” Kergin said, referring to the vaccination disparity between Canada and the United States.