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Canada must be tough on border as Trump rolls out COVID-19 reopening plan: experts

Trump announces guidelines for states to start reopening
WATCH: Trump announces guidelines for states to start reopening.

U.S. President Donald Trump‘s desire to gradually reopen the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic makes it all the more important for Canada and the U.S. to stay on the same page about borders, according to experts.

“Canada is going to have to be tougher with the border than the U.S. is willing to be,” said Matthew Lebo, the chair of political science at Western University.

“As the U.S. loosens up, if there are outbreaks near Canadian borders, then Canada has got to be careful about the traffic it lets go back and forth, whether that be health-care workers in Windsor or Niagara Falls that go back and forth, or otherwise.”

READ MORE: Trump outlines 3-phase ‘gradual process’ for state-by-state easing of COVID-19 rules

The new approach out of the neighbouring country is significantly different from where Canada stands now.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Testing for COVID-19 in U.S. roadblock to reopening economy

The White House released a series of recommendations on Thursday that call for a gradual, three-phase reopening of businesses and schools to revive economic activity. The gradual reopening rests on declining infections and strong testing. It’s up to state governments to ultimately act on the guidelines as they see fit.

In Canada, the country is effectively on lockdown, with non-essential businesses ordered to stay closed for varying — mostly undetermined — periods and bans on large gatherings.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Trump issues guidelines for ‘phased’ reopening of U.S. economy

In the short run, given the density in some parts of the U.S., some of Trump’s phased plan makes sense, said Chris Sands, the director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

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If the plan works, Canadians themselves might feel enticed to see the same recommendations come for its leaders, he said.

“It won’t necessarily be Washington telling Ottawa, ‘You better follow our model,’ it’ll be people saying, ‘well, why can’t I do it too?’

“In that sense, it won’t be a bilateral issue. But, you know, our citizens shop and compare… I don’t think any politician wants to be on the wrong side of people who are frustrated and want to get back to work.”

But it’s pressure over border travel measures that might swell first, he said, and it will “come from the bottom up.”

“Citizens will want to work,” he said, “and businesses with supply chains that cross the border will call for coordinated re-opening.”

READ MORE: A 2nd wave of COVID-19 is possible. Here’s what that means for Canada

While Canada is in “continuous discussions” with the U.S. on these concerns, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that borders won’t reopen anytime soon.

“We will continue to listen to what science is telling us and to monitor very closely the evolution of the virus here in Canada and throughout the world before making decisions,” he said.

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“The conversations with the Americans have been extremely aligned and extremely productive.”

Trudeau discussed the issue with Trump during a recent video conference with fellow G7 leaders, and the two agreed that the approach to managing bilateral travel with each other would continue. It did not mean, however, that a decision to relax the travel ban was imminent, Trudeau said. Trump earlier in the week suggested some impatience about the northern border, but made no mention of it in his “Opening Up America Again” announcement on Thursday.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says it will be ‘significant’ amount of time before government considers easing border restrictions

While it’s a “breakthrough” that the two sides are seemingly in agreeance on borders, it will likely become more of an issue as Trump’s new COVID-19 guidelines roll out, said Sands.

“I think the business community is going to be one source of pressure. They’re going to say, ‘We run an auto plant, we’re part of the General Motors Network, other parts are opening up. If we can’t open up, then businesses is going to move to other plants and we’re hosed,” he said.

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“Those will be very hard conversations.”

Any decision made by the U.S. about the border should also be looked at through the lens of the 2020 U.S. election, said Lebo.

“The political environment is very different in Canada than it is in the United States,” Lebo said.

READ MORE: As Trump cuts off the WHO, Trudeau tight-lipped on credibility of Chinese data

“Most countries, Canada included, are looking at the public health aspect, the long term aspect, and thinking that small death tolls and smaller impacts will lessen the overall economic impacts in the long run. In the states, the worry is there’s an election in the first week of November, so we have to get the stock market back up. The recession can’t be too deep because the election, the election, the election.”

The toll of the virus outbreak in the U.S. is among the worst in the world, with more than 679,000 cases and 35,000 deaths as of April 17. Canada, by comparison, has about 32,000 cases and more than 1,300 deaths.

Trump, at one point, seemed to suggest the two countries were on par in their situations, saying “Canada’s doing well, we’re doing well, so we’ll see.”

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But that’s not so true, Sands said. Conditions vary across Canada and the U.S. in terms of how the virus is manifesting, he explained, which should ultimately drive how decisions to loosen restrictions are made in either country, especially at state and provincial levels.

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“Despite what Trump claims, the shutdown of the economy has been ordered at the state and local level in the U.S. Similarly, in Canada, it’s been the provinces managing the shutdown,” he said.

“There are federal public health officials whose advice is influencing everyone, but that’s not the same as Trump and Trudeau making the decisions.”

— with files from the Associated Press and Reuters