How the presidential election could affect the Canada-U.S. border

Click to play video: 'Trump vs Biden: How the U.S. election outcome could impact Canada'
Trump vs Biden: How the U.S. election outcome could impact Canada
WATCH: How the U.S. election outcome could impact Canada – Oct 26, 2020

With less than a week to go until the U.S. presidential election, President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden have each made their pitch to voters on how they would handle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the country.

But what has each candidate promised and how could it affect the Canada-U.S. border?

Here’s a look at what’s going on.

What has the Biden-Harris campaign said?

One of the main pillars of Biden’s coronavirus plan is a promise to ramp up testing, by increasing capacity and making it more accessible.

Read more: What is QAnon, the conspiracy theory supporting Trump in the 2020 presidential election?

The former vice-president has also been a strong proponent of mask-wearing and physical distancing, repeatedly touting the importance of the measures and consistently wearing masks while in public.

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What’s more, Biden has said if elected, he will expand access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and would allocate more federal aid to states and local governments to help those impacted by the pandemic.

He has also promised to spend $25 billion on manufacturing and distributing a vaccine. He has not specified when a vaccine could be ready, instead saying he trusts scientists and experts to determine when one would be safe for public consumption.

WATCH: How misinformation is playing a role in the 2020 U.S. election 

Biden has also said he will establish a task force to address racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19, an initiative first announced by his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris in April, and would rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO).

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According to Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, enforcing mask-wearing, physical distancing and banning large gatherings are “key” to getting things under control in the U.S.

However, he said it’s “really hard to get Americans rowing in the same direction,” adding that the country is “so polarized.”

“[Biden] can mandate these things, but you’re going to get pushback,” Furness said. “He’s going to get huge pushback in certain areas. There’s going to be no unanimity there at all with any measures like that.”

Furness said what is really needed in the U.S. is a “change in culture.”

Read more: Trump and Biden spar on coronavirus, race, climate in final U.S. presidential debate

Dr. Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health, echoed Furness’ remarks, saying if Biden is elected, he should enforce those policies “urgently” and “with a heavy hand,” but cautioned that there will be pushback.

“There will still be that residual who will kick back, and people having parties on the beach with beer and bonfires and spreading [the] virus around,” he said.

Sly said it will take “lots of imaginative and novel ways” to get the message across that the pandemic isn’t over and that the virus is still a threat because many people are suffering from fatigue.

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But regardless of who is elected, Furness said it’s going to be a “disastrous winter” for the U.S. when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak.

And I just don’t see how that can be arrested,” he said.

If Biden is able to effect any change, Furness said it likely won’t happen until spring or summer, which is roughly when a vaccine is predicted to be available for public use.

What has the Trump-Pence campaign said?

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has not released a full COVID-19 plan for his potential second term.

Speaking at the last presidential debate on Thursday, Trump claimed the country was “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.

“We’re rounding the corner,” he said. “It’s going away.”

The president doubled down on these remarks during campaign events over the weekend.

However, the data suggest otherwise.

The U.S. remains the epicentre of the virus, having seen more than 8.7 million cases and more than 226,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

What’s more, a record of more than 83,000 new infections was reported on Friday.

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Trump has also claimed, without providing evidence, that a vaccine to treat the virus was “ready.”

“It’s ready, it’s going to be announced within weeks,” he said during the debate last week. “The military is going to deliver the vaccine.”

The Republican president has relied heavily on the promise of a vaccine, vowing to make 300 million doses available by January 2021.

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Presidential debate: Biden claims Trump wasn’t ‘joking’ about injecting bleach amid coronavirus pandemic

But experts disagree with Trump’s proposed timeline, saying it is highly unlikely.

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said the U.S. is “not going to control the pandemic.”

Instead, Meadows told CNN what America needs to do is “make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it’s therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don’t die from this.”

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While Trump has said face masks are appropriate in some situations, he has been photographed at many public events without one.

He has also repeatedly criticized Biden’s decision to wear a mask, and one of his key coronavirus advisers, Scott Atlas, has publicly questioned the efficacy of the face coverings.

Ultimately, Furness said if Trump is re-elected the COVID-19 situation in the U.S. will “obviously be worse.”

“The White House has now essentially embraced herd immunity, right? That’s their thing,” he said. “If Trump wins again, then he’s really not accountable to anybody.”

Furness said Trump is focused on protecting his own strength.

And part of that is ignoring COVID [and] not yielding to a disease, not admitting mistakes or weakness,” he said. “So, yeah, I think it would be worse.”

Read more: Trump’s new claims on coronavirus immunity are ‘extremely dangerous,’ experts say

What do these plans mean for the Canada-U.S. border?

The Canada-U.S. border was closed to all non-essential travel in March, and earlier this month, the federal government announced the restrictions would be extended until at least Nov. 21.

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However, the Public Health Agency of Canada provided data to The Canadian Press which showed 4.6 million people arrived in Canada since the border was closed.

Of those, 3.5 million were considered essential while 1.1 million people were non-essential travellers and ordered to quarantine for 14 days, PHAC said.

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Kamala Harris calls President Trump’s downplaying of coronavirus threat ‘outrageous’

In an email to Global News, Canada Border Services Agency said between Mar. 22 and Oct. 18, a total of 24,556 foreign nationals were denied entry into the country from the U.S.

According to the CBSA, these travellers’ purpose of travel had been deemed to be “discretionary” by border services officers.

“Of the 24,556, 21,356 were U.S. Citizens and 3,200 were citizens of other countries arriving from the U.S.,” the email said.

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Read more: 3.5 million people who arrived in Canada since March exempted from quarantine requirement

Furness said these numbers suggest there is a “crack” in the border.

“We haven’t defined essential travel,” he said. “And actually, my fear is that the crack in the door is slowly opening wider and wider with more diffuse and broad interpretations of essential travel.”

Ultimately, though, Furness said regardless of who wins the election, Canada needs to “keep a really close eye” on the rules at the border, and be “really explicit” about what is and isn’t allowed.

Furness pointed to business travel as one example, saying it should not be allowed at all amid the pandemic.

When it comes to determining when we can safely reopen the border, Furness said daily case counts are not necessarily the best metric.

Instead, he said it should remain closed until we are able to conduct “really effective, rapid or instant testing at the point of departure.”

“So I think if we want to see that border open in the absence of a vaccine, we’re actually going to want to be able to do it by testing people, I think,” he said.

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Click to play video: 'Presidential debate: Trump touts coronavirus response in opening remarks'
Presidential debate: Trump touts coronavirus response in opening remarks

Sly said Canada should consider the positivity rate in the U.S. when determining when it will be safe to open the border.

The positivity rate is calculated by dividing the number of cases detected in a given day by the number of tests completed the same day.

“We’ve got to look really at an indication of what other countries are doing in their positivity rate,” Sly said.

On Saturday the U.S. reported a positivity rate of seven per cent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

In May of this year, the WHO advised governments that the positivity rate should remain at 5 per cent or lower for at least 14 days before reopening.
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According to data analyzed by Johns Hopkins University, only 15 states met that threshold as of Saturday.
However, Sly said he would like to see that number drop closer to one per cent in both Canada and the U.S. before he would feel comfortable easing any restrictions at the border.

–With a file from The Canadian Press

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