Canada's Taking It Slow On Reopening Its Border To Travelers From The U.S. Here's Why Canadians can fly to the U.S. but cannot enter by land. Most non-Canadians can't enter Canada by land or air. The government says a full reopening may require 75% of Canadians to be fully vaccinated.

Canada's Taking It Slow On Reopening Its Border To Travelers From The U.S. Here's Why

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Pandemic-related restrictions on non-essential travel between the U.S. and Canada have been in place now for more than 15 months. That, of course, is not good for Canada's tourist industry. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now says Canada may start letting fully vaccinated travelers cross the border from the U.S. by mid-august if vaccination rates keep improving. With more vaccine shots available in both countries and declining COVID cases in Canada, reporter Emma Jacobs in Montreal explains why the restrictions have become so unpopular.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Carol Anniuk has run Young's Wilderness Outpost in northwestern Ontario for 30 years. They do mostly fishing trips, accommodations, guiding guests, 99% of whom are normally American.

CAROL ANNIUK: I'm just frustrated, you know, lack of communication and the lack of a plan.

JACOBS: Last summer, she rolled over guest bookings to this year. Now she's not sure what to tell her American customers as Canada keeps extending its border measures month by month. Anniuk has taken on a lot of debt, like everyone around her, she says.

ANNIUK: There's a little bit of mining in the area. But tourism is the big thing. It keeps all the little guys in town employed, the grocery stores, the liquor stores, the hardware stores.

JACOBS: This month, the Canadian government did lift its 14-day quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning home. But federal ministers haven't provided clear benchmarks for next steps in admitting more visitors.

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PATTY HAJDU: We also know that with the delta variant posing some significant challenges...

JACOBS: Canadian Minister of Health Patty Hajdu speaking at a press conference in late June.

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HAJDU: We need to be very cautious.

JACOBS: The delta variant is already spreading within Canada. But some argue the country should still work to keep out as many cases as possible. Kelley Lee at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver leads a pandemics and borders research group.

KELLEY LEE: We need to reduce infections because we don't know what long COVID does.

JACOBS: Long COVID, the term for lasting symptoms. Members of her research team are advocating for tougher quarantine rules, even raising the specter of a fourth shutdown, which others believe is unwarranted, like Mayor Drew Dilkens in Windsor, Ontario, who says Canada should be moving towards easing restrictions for more fully vaccinated travelers.

DREW DILKENS: The impact of the border closure really is amplified in border cities.

JACOBS: From his window in city hall, he can see the Detroit skyline a mile and a half away. His brother lives in Michigan. He hasn't seen him for a long time.

DILKENS: Those who are separated and need to reunite for funerals, for births of the first grandchild, for all sorts of life events that happen - if you're fully vaccinated now, it's becoming less acceptable to have the border closed for fully vaccinated people.

JACOBS: Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. and Canada have allowed so-called essential travel to continue out of necessity, says Ambarish Chandra, an associate professor of economics at the University of Toronto.

AMBARISH CHANDRA: There's something like 15,000 trucks that enter Canada every day from the United States. These trucks carry everything we need - our food, our medical supplies, our raw materials.

JACOBS: And while the U.S. COVID case rate was much higher earlier in the pandemic, it's looking a lot more like Canada's lately, especially in border states.

CHANDRA: It's easy for governments to fall back on saying, all right, let's hunker down, let's close down borders, and sort of suggest that's contributed to keeping us safer. And to a large extent, it's not any longer.

JACOBS: Still, the partial border closure remains popular with the majority of Canadians. Sumon Chakrabarti is a physician in Ontario.

SUMON CHAKRABARTI: I understand why people feel that way, right? You don't want to just open up the floodgates.

JACOBS: But, he says, Canada has reached a different phase in the pandemic. Even partial vaccination provides some protection against COVID, including variants like delta.

CHAKRABARTI: We can now manage this at a medical level rather than have to do this at a broader level.

JACOBS: At this point, Chakrabarti says, the best place to focus resources is getting vaccines to harder-to-reach populations. That way, he says, even if some cases do make it across the border, they won't get very far. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.

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