US-Canada border to remain shut for at least another month

Trudeau hints border may open only when 75 per cent of Canadians are vaccinated

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. and a Canadian flag flutter at the Canada-United States border crossing at the Thousand Islands Bridge, which remains closed to non-essential traffic to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lansdowne, Ontario, Canada September 28, 2020.  REUTERS/Lars Hagberg/File Photo
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Canada and the US on Thursday extended the border closure to non-essential travel in what has become a monthly event since the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic in March 2020.

Despite mass vaccinations by both countries, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair confirmed a further extension of the border closure to June 21.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Canada would need to have more people vaccinated before the border reopened.

"We're all eager to get back to normal but we know that before we get back to normal, cases need to be under control and over 75 per cent of people need to be vaccinated for us to loosen things up in Canada," Mr Trudeau said.

He would not say when the border with Canada's southern neighbour could reopen, just that his priority was “keeping Canadians safe even as we look to eventually change the restrictions and the posture at the border".

Mr Tudeau's comments sowed confusion among Canadians.

“My first question is, does that mean 75 per cent of people with their first vaccination or completely vaccinated?” said Aaron Ettinger, an assistant professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa.

There was criticism in Canada of the country's slow vaccination programme, but in recent weeks the campaign has increased.

About 47 per cent of Canadians have received their first shot.

The country is vaccinating about 1 per cent of its population every day.

On Thursday, Canada drew level with the US in the percentage of first doses administered.

At the current rate, Canada could have 75 per cent of the population vaccinated with at least one dose before July.

But experts do not expect Canada to reach that goal until at least autumn.

The border closure has had a significant effect on Canadian cities on the US frontier.

Windsor is Canada’s largest border city and forms what is considered to be one large metropolitan area with Detroit, Michigan.

The two cities share workforces and, in many cases, families live on opposite sides of the Detroit River.

“I think they have to start reopening parts of the border for different types of travel,” said Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor.

Mr Dilkens, whose brother lives in Detroit, is calling on the government to start lifting restrictions for family reunifications and for people who have property on either side of the border.

"There has to be some sensible pathway that allows certain life events and, you know, commonsense things to happen through the border in a reasonable and fair way," he told The National.

In the US, both Montana’s senators called on President Joe Biden to reopen the border.

“While efforts initially taken were critical to prevent the transmission of Covid-19, circumstances have drastically changed,” one of the senators, Steve Daines, wrote to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas.

Brian Higgins, a congressman from New York, also expressed “great disappointment” at the extension of the border closure.

“It is truly unacceptable to have another 30-day extension with no further exceptions for those vaccinated,” Mr Higgins said.

He criticised both governments for offering “no goals or targets” and no plan for the border reopening.