As an election looms, popular support for U.S. border closure will mean it gets renewed again

Canada-U.S. border crossing

Despite pleas from Canada’s tourism industry and politicians from border states calling on Ottawa to re-open the border with the United States, the closure remains popular with Canadians and with signs of a federal election coming soon, chances are good that it will remain for a while longer.

Federal politicians have been crisscrossing Canada this summer in what is likely a runup to an election in August or September. The ban on non-essential travel with the United States that has been in place since March of last year could be lifted as early as July 21 or it can stay and become an election issue.

In a recent opinion poll conducted for The Globe and Mail, a majority of Canadians want pandemic-related restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border to be lifted by the fall.

The poll found that only 15 per cent of Canadians wanted them removed immediately with another 14 per cent some time this summer. More people, 34 per cent, said they would prefer the fall.

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said that Canada needs a re-opening plan in place before an election or the country risks further delaying its recovery from the pandemic.

“We need this plan today – not after an election. And it needs to be based on medical science, not political science,” he told The Globe and Mail.

The next opportunity to re-open the closure, which has been renewed on a monthly basis since it began, is July 21. In the weeks ahead of that date, various Canadian tourism organizations have been holding near daily press conferences to pressure Ottawa to come up with a re-opening plan.

On Wednesday, they were joined by a coalition of border-state legislators calling on Ottawa and Washington to re-open the border. Even France is asking Canada to let its citizens in.

When asked about the issue during an appearance in Quebec Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister was non-committal, reported Politico.

“The reality is we know how unbelievably costly and heartbreaking it would be to fall into a fourth wave of this pandemic,” he said.

Reports that the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling a rise in cases in the United States among unvaccinated Americans could affect the decision to re-open the border.

“I think it could have an impact on the border reopening,” Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa told Global News. “Trudeau already said unvaccinated tourists are not welcome.”

New Embraer jets will allow Porter Airlines to expand across North America

Porter Airlines Embraer airplane

Toronto-based Porter Airlines has ambitions to expand beyond its current regional routes in eastern North America to become a bigger player across the continent.

It’s being tight-lipped about where those new destinations will be beyond stating they are considering routes in the west, the southern United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. One map of potential destinations includes numerous American destinations such such as Miami and Los Angeles along with much of western Canada.

The expansion will be made possible once they receive delivery by mid-2022 of 80 new Embraer E195-E2 aircraft which have transcontinental range. It will be the first airline to operate these planes in North America.

The aircraft are being acquired by Porter Aircraft Leasing Corp., a sister company of Porter Airlines. The total aircraft order is valued at up to US$5.82 billion at current list prices, with 30 firm commitments and 50 purchase right options.

The ability to convert purchase rights to smaller E190-E2s is included in the agreement. This provides opportunities to introduce non-stop service in markets where connecting flights are often the only option today. It also enables higher-frequency service for routes with greater demand.

Porter intends to operate the E2s to popular destinations from Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and Toronto Pearson International Airport.

“We believe that now is the right time to make this investment as the pandemic resets the aviation landscape. Adding a diverse selection of popular business and leisure destinations to our network means that we are better positioned to serve the needs of many more passengers,” said Michael Deluce, president and CEO, Porter Airlines.

While establishing service at Pearson Airport for the first time, flights from Porter’s existing hub at downtown Toronto’s Billy Bishop Airport remain core to its business and will continue with high-frequency regional service on turboprop aircraft. Service is confirmed to restart at Billy Bishop on Sept. 8, following a temporary shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions. The E2s will not operate at this airport.

The E195-E2 accommodates between 120 and 146 passengers.

Visitors to Canada reminded that non-essential travel is still forbidden

Canada-U.S. border crossing

Even as Canada relaxes quarantine rules for vaccinated citizens on Monday, the Canada Border Services Agency is warning would-be travellers that they still aren’t allowed to enter the country for non-essential reasons.

“If you were unable to come to Canada on July 4 of this year, you can’t come in on July 5 — there’s been no change to all of the restrictions and the provisions that have been issued on that front,” Denis Vinette, CBSA vice-president, travellers branch told the CBC.

“I think we can expect, certainly in the early days, individuals believing that, you know, July 5 is here, Canada is now open for tourism, recreation and things of that nature. That is not the case,” said Vinette.

Most foreign visitors to Canada come from the United States (15 million of the 22 million total foreign visitors in 2019)  and mutual travel restrictions between the two countries will remain in place until at least July 21.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given no hints as to whether or not the restrictions will be lifted by then.

“When we start reopening so Americans and others who are fully vaccinated can come into Canada will depend on how this goes — on the data we collect, on how we’re able to keep Canadians safe even as we make adjustments to the rules,” he stated.

Previously, Canadian officials have indicated that they would like 75 per cent of eligible Canadian residents to be fully vaccinated before easing border restrictions. Ottawa has said that it expects to have enough vaccine delivered for 80 per cent of eligible Canadians to be fully vaccinated by the end of July. As of July 1, slightly more than 35 per cent of the eligible Canadian population was fully vaccinated.

According to statistics cited in a USA Today report, the U.S. Travel Association estimates that each month the border is closed costs US$1.5 billion.

Delta variant is putting a damper on travel in Europe

Street scene in Bruges

Don’t look now, but the Delta variant of the coronavirus is putting the brakes on the restart of travel, especially in Europe.

Portugal, Spain and Germany are among the first nations to initiate new travel restrictions in a bid to limit the spread of the more contagious variant which was first detected in India, reported Euronews.

Portugal is the first European Union nation to announce that the more transmissible Delta variant was now dominant on its territory. In Germany, the number of delta-variant cases has doubled in a week, said a Reuters report.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Portugal last week for allowing British tourists to travel to the country between mid-May and early June, while the Delta variant was circulating in the U.K.

As of Monday, anyone travelling to mainland Portugal will have to prove they have been fully vaccinated or have to isolate for two weeks.

Turkey is also limiting flights to some countries over concern about the variant, according to a TRT World report.

Meanwhile, hopes for a travel corridor between the United States and Great Britain this summer seem to be dwindling, officials told the Financial Times on Monday, partially due to the rise of the Delta variant in the U.K.

FT said the talks for the corridor would likely extend into August and even September and are further complicated by the fact that the U.S. has yet to approve the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine which has been widely used in the U.K.

It’s not just Europe that is throwing up new measures to slow the spread of the new variant. In Israel, which is the most highly vaccinated country in the world against COVID, they have delayed the entry of individual tourists until at least August 1.

In Australia, which had seemingly eradicated the virus causing COVID, 80 per cent of the country’s population is now under lockdown due to a sudden rise in the Delta variant. The country also sits dead last in the OECD for vaccination against the virus with less than five per cent of its population fully vaccinated.

Because the Delta variant is spreading at such a fast rate, scientists say that the race against the virus could be lost unless countries seriously ramp up their immunization campaigns and increase their vigilance against the disease.

“This is the problem with hanging everything on vaccines until you’ve got something near a population immunity threshold … you need a much higher coverage to protect against a variant that’s more transmissible,”  Dr. Stephen Griffin, a virologist and associate professor at the University of Leeds school of medicine told The Guardian.

“It just speaks to the fact that we really, really must keep cases down at the same time as rolling the vaccines out.”

The same report stated that research in Australia indicates that the Delta variant can be spread in “scarily fleeting” encounters. In two cases, it was transmitted within five to 10 seconds of people walking past each other in an indoor shopping area.

Canada re-opens to fully-vaccinated travellers as of July 6

The Canadian government announced Monday that beginning July 5, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. EDT, fully vaccinated travellers who are permitted to enter Canada will not be subject to the federal requirement to quarantine or take a COVID-19 test on day-8. In addition, fully vaccinated travellers arriving by air will not be required to stay at a government-authorized quarantine hotel.

To be considered fully vaccinated, a traveller must have received the full series of a vaccine — or combination of vaccines — accepted by the Government of Canada at least 14 days prior to entering Canada. Currently, those vaccines are manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson). Travellers can receive their vaccine in any country, and must provide documentation supporting their vaccination in English, French or with a certified translation.

For these new measures to apply to them, fully vaccinated travellers must still meet all other mandatory requirements, including pre- and on-arrival testing. Continued testing will allow public health experts to keep monitoring positivity rates at the border, monitor for variants of concern, and make further adjustments to border measures as needed.

Fully vaccinated travellers must also be asymptomatic, have a paper or digital copy of their vaccination documentation, and provide COVID-19-related information electronically through ArriveCAN prior to arrival in Canada. They must still present a suitable quarantine plan, and be prepared to quarantine, in case it is determined at the border that they do not meet all of the conditions required to be exempt from quarantine. As with all other exempt travellers, they will be required to follow public health measures in place, such as wearing a mask when in public, keep a copy of their vaccine and test results, as well as a list of close contacts for 14 days after entry to Canada.

For travellers who are not fully vaccinated, there are no changes to Canada’s current border measures. They must continue to adhere to the current testing and federal quarantine requirements, which have been effective in reducing importation and transmission of COVID-19 and variants in Canada, and provide COVID-19-related information electronically through ArriveCAN before arriving in Canada. Unvaccinated air travellers must also book a three-night stay at a government-authorized hotel before their departure to Canada.

“This is the first phase of our precautionary approach to easing Canada’s border measures,” said Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc. “At this time we are not opening up our borders any further. The Government of Canada continues to work globally through the World Health Organization as well as closely with the provinces, territories, Indigenous partners and American authorities on moving forward toward reopening in a way that is safe for both countries.”

The existing international flight restrictions that funnel scheduled international commercial passenger flights into four Canadian airports (Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport, Calgary International Airport and Vancouver International Airport) will be maintained in this first phase of re-opening.

While the phased re-opening is a step in the right direction, the association representing Canada’s major airlines  repeated its plea that Canada present a clear and comprehensive re-start plan for international travel rather than piecemeal announcements concerning quarantine and border policy changes.

“Easing quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians and eligible travellers is a step in the right direction, but falls far short of the recommendations provided by Health Canada’s Expert Advisory Panel report released last month.  The government continues to refuse to provide Canadians with a clear and comprehensive restart plan outlining how measures from the report will be adopted.  While other countries like France have already changed their measures to welcome Canadian travellers, we still have no plan or clear timeframe in Canada,” said Mike McNaney, President and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Canada’s largest airlines (Air Canada, Air Transat, Jazz Aviation, and WestJet).

The Health Canada Advisory Panel report, prepared by experts in epidemiology, virology as well as advanced data analytics, is a data and science-based review that calls for a variety of changes to travel and border measures including elimination of quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers, elimination of hotel quarantine for all travellers, reduction of quarantine for partially vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers, and the use of rapid antigen testing.

McNaney also noted that the government’s requirement that children under the age of 18 who are not fully vaccinated must adhere to a 14-day quarantine runs counter to the approach taken by other countries.