When considering last week’s reopening of Canada’s borders to fully vaccinated foreign travellers, a couple of questions spring to mind:
Should the United States be reciprocating by opening its land borders to non-essential Canadian travellers?
And, were such a change to be implemented, given the current COVID-19 situation on both sides of the border, should Canadians travel for leisure to the U.S.?
These are not questions with simple answers. But they merit serious consideration as the pandemic’s fourth wave gains momentum and increasing caseloads in both nations have governments considering the reimposition of restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19’s delta variant.
To be clear, reopening Canada’s border does not amount to unlocking the gates and letting visitors rush on in. To be eligible for relaxed quarantine-upon-entry requirements, non-essential international travellers must show proof of having completed a full course of COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days prior to crossing the border, and must also produce proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test completed within the past 72 hours.
They are also required to upload their vaccination information to the ArriveCAN app or online portal.
These are prudent and necessary measures that will minimize the chances Canada-bound travellers will bring a viral load across the border with them. Random COVID-19 surveillance tests on fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents crossing the border in the past three weeks showed a positivity rate of just 0.19 per cent.
To date, the U.S. has shown no inclination to reciprocate by opening its land-border crossing to non-essential Canadian travellers. However, pressure is mounting on both sides of the international divide for the White House to announce a loosening of restrictions on Canada-U.S. border crossings, as a show of support for businesses that rely on cross-border commerce and to ease the burden experienced by border-adjacent residents who have long been separated from family and friends.
"The U.S. government has failed to follow the science and allow vaccinated and tested Canadians to cross the U.S.-Canada land border," the grassroots advocacy group Let Us Reunite said in a released statement.
Despite the complexities involved in formulating fair and safe policies for a nation with international borders both north and south, it is time for the U.S. to reconsider its Canada-specific restrictions in a way that reflects both the unique relationship the two nations share and the current COVID-19 reality in each country.
The second question remains, however: if southbound travel restrictions ease, should Canadians take full and immediate advantage of the opportunity to visit the U.S.? With autumn arriving and winter weather looming, surely many Canadians — so-called "snowbirds" in particular — would consider plans to return to warmer stateside climes after having last year been forced to endure the travel-ban-induced chill of an at-home winter.
With the traditional winter destinations for Canadians — Florida, Texas and Arizona — currently ranking among the worst U.S. states for increasing COVID-19 caseloads and anti-vaccine activism, even fully vaccinated Canadians might be inclined to think twice about a return to snowbirding. Having received the shots reduces one’s chances of contracting the virus or suffering a severe outcome if infected, but relocating even temporarily to an environment where cases are exploding and vaccine opposition is widespread undoubtedly re-raises the risks.
Should the U.S. follow Canada’s lead on border restrictions? Yes, it’s time. Should Canadians flock across a reopened U.S. border? Only with the most extreme of caution.