When will Canada open its borders?
Canada has extended border closures for non-essential travellers until at least July 21. The extension of border closures was announced in a tweet by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. More details about re-opening the Canadian border may be announced on June 21, as Minister Blair stated that the government will provide more clarification on travel restrictions on that date.
Canada is facing pressure from a wide array of interest groups. From struggling Canadian airlines to families separated by borders, from top U.S. politicians to confirmed permanent residents waiting to activate their status — many lives and livelihoods have been put on hold due to the 15-month closure of the Canadian border. On June 9, Canada announced that they will soon be repealing the 14-day quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travellers, the first major relaxation of COVID-19 travel restrictions since March, 2020. However, this announcement has done little to alleviate the pressure the government is feeling to open the border, as the reduced quarantine will only impact those who are already allowed to enter Canada despite the COVID-19 border closure (Canadian citizens, permanent residents, essential workers, etc.).
So, what do we know about when Canada will open the border?
The re-opening will likely take a phased approach, with exemptions first being introduced for certain groups, like fully vaccinated travellers, before travel restrictions are relaxed for all travellers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signalled in the past that he wants 75 percent of eligible Canadians to have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 20 percent to be fully vaccinated before relaxing restrictions. As of June 18, more than 75 percent of eligible Canadians have had one dose of vaccine, and more than 18 percent are fully vaccinated. It is likely that the 75/20 target can be met in the coming days.
Another uncertainty lies in whether or not Canada’s border re-opening plan will prioritize the United States. Will Canada begin its phased border re-opening solely with the U.S. land border? Or, will exemptions be made simultaneously for fully vaccinated travellers arriving by air from other countries?
Finally, it is now confirmed that Canada will be using COVID-19 vaccination to facilitate international travel, but it remains unclear how travellers will show proof of vaccination. The United States has not implemented a federal “vaccine passport” system, so proof of vaccination differs across the country. Information on which documents will be accepted for proving vaccination is another detail many are hoping for when Canada announces a strategy for re-opening the border.
In this guide, we bring you all the latest information influencing Canada’s COVID-19 travel restrictions, as well as signs that may influence when the borders may reopen.
- What do we mean by “open borders”?
- Will getting vaccinated allow a person to travel?
- Is Canada going to create a COVID-19 vaccine passport?
- Canada’s vaccine rollout so far: Impacts on the border
- Could the COVID-19 variants derail Canada’s re-opening?
What do we mean by “open borders”?
Before we get into the question of when Canada’s borders will open, it’s important to define what we mean by Canada’s borders being “open.” Canada’s borders are never fully “open” or fully “closed” — the purpose of a border is to regulate who can and cannot enter a country. Before COVID-19, more people met the requirements to cross into Canada, but the borders still restricted some people from entering the country.
Instead of thinking of Canada’s borders in a binary fashion — either being “open” or “closed” — it’s more useful to think of Canada’s borders like a water tap or faucet — the flow of water will increase or decrease depending on how much you turn the handle. Throughout the pandemic, Canada’s borders have never been truly “closed,” but the flow has been decreased — the tap is just barely dripping.
As the pandemic begins to resolve, we can expect the flow to increase, but it might not all happen at one moment. Canada’s borders might not go from “closed” to “open” in one single day. Instead, Canada may slowly increase the number of permissible reasons for crossing the border — perhaps for approved permanent residence applicants (thousands of whom have been waiting for the green light to move to Canada since March 2020), or for individuals who have proof of full vaccination (more on that later).
Plus, when the pandemic is over, Canada’s borders might look different than they did before COVID-19. We might never return to the pre-COVID “normal,” instead Canada might create a new normal based on lessons learned during the pandemic.
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How will COVID-19 vaccines impact Canada’s border closures?
Vaccines are viewed as one of the most important tools in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and returning to a semblance of normalcy. Although Canada’s vaccine campaign was criticized in its early days for failing to keep up with the pace set by other countries around the world, the pace of inoculations is accelerating with political leaders around making some very optimistic promises about timelines.
Throughout April and May, daily vaccine doses administered across Canada climbed above 300,000 on many occasions — and several times throughout May, Canada surpassed 400,000 doses administered in a single day — putting Canada on pace to have all adults who want a vaccine fully inoculated by the end of September. As of June 18, more than 75 percent of the eligible Canadian population has received at least one dose of vaccine and nearly 19 percent is fully vaccinated.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has repeatedly stated that Canada prefers waiting to ease COVID-19 restrictions until 75 percent of the eligible population has received at least one dose of vaccine, and 20 percent is fully vaccinated. Based on Canada’s current rate of vaccination, it is likely that this milestone will be met within days. In a June 9 press conference, Dr. Tam indicated that the next milestone will be full vaccination of 75 percent of the Canadian population, which might allow for many more COVID-19 restrictions to be relaxed. However, Dr. Tam stressed that the decision to relax restrictions is “less data-oriented and more disease-activity oriented.” This is good news, as long as Canada’s vaccination rates continue climbing and case numbers continue falling in the way they have so far in June.
As of June, 2021, Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Johnson&Johnson. As of June 10, Canada has received more than 30 million doses of vaccine and has administered close to 28 million doses.
In April, many Canadian provinces experienced a surging third-wave of COVID-19 infections. Thankfully, and due in large part to extensive restrictions, Canada’s daily COVID-19 infection rate has dropped to low levels in June. Although hotspots still remain, the falling case counts are allowing restrictions to be loosened in many regions, including the lifting of Ontario’s stay-at-home order and the end of Quebec’s curfew.
Vaccination within Canada is only one piece of the puzzle, especially for those outside Canada hoping to cross the border and come into the country. While reaching population immunity domestically may ease restrictions, another important conversation is emerging around the world: the use of COVID-19 vaccination passports — proof of vaccination — as a means of facilitating international travel.