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N.B. targeting 70 per cent vaccination rate before opening borders to the rest of Canada

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WATCH: New Brunswick is eyeing a 70 per cent vaccination rate before it opens its borders back up to provinces outside of Atlantic Canada. As Silas Brown reports, Health Canada's most optimistic projections indicate that could be around late summer or early fall – Jan 3, 2021

Non-essential travel to New Brunswick from most of Canada has been prohibited since mid-March and according to Premier Blaine Higgs, that is unlikely to change in the near future.

In a year-end interview with Global News, Higgs said the province is looking to see a 70 per cent vaccination rate before lifting travel restrictions.

“We’re looking for like a 70 per cent vaccination ratio,” Higgs said. “That’s going to be very dependent on the availability of vaccines.”

“Once we understand the rollout and the availability of vaccines, then we can predict when the borders will be open.”

Read more: Residents who travelled within N.B. can claim $1,000 as part of government program

Higgs said that other provinces achieving a similar vaccination rate will also be part of the calculation of when to lift travel restrictions.

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According to guidance documents from a Health Canada technical briefing on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the federal government hopes to achieve a 40-50 per cent vaccination rate by end of June and 100 per cent by the end of September.

The Health Canada website’s section on the vaccine says the vaccination program will be wrapped up by the end of 2021.

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2020 year-end interview with N.B. Premier Blaine Higgs – Dec 31, 2020

The timelines could make for another tricky summer for New Brunswick’s tourism industry, particularly those who cater to out-of-province visitors.

“A third of my business comes from all the provinces outside of the Atlantic provinces, a third from the U.S. and a third from overseas,” said Anna-Marie Weir, the owner of Road to Sea guided tours.

“Until those borders open up again, my business model that I know today is in the toilet.”

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Read more: Businesses in Shediac, N.B., lose out on Quebec tourists

Weir’s business provides guided tours in the Fundy area. She says she received next to no bookings last summer, even once the Atlantic bubble opened.

“Nobody from Atlantic Canada is going to hire a local tour operator to talk about Atlantic Canada,” Weir said.

“My model is geared towards international markets and outside of the Atlantic provinces.”

Other areas fared somewhat better, propelled by the “Staycation” campaign championed by the province.

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Coronavirus: Experts call for quick roll-out as COVID-19 vaccines sit in freezers – Dec 31, 2020

The mayor of the popular resort town St. Andrews, N.B., says they saw a flock of visitors coming from other parts of the province and the Atlantic bubble.

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“We had a pretty good summer last summer, much better than we thought we would have,” said Doug Naish.

“I met all kinds of New Brunswickers who had never been to St. Andrews.”

The government also began offering a 20 per cent tourism rebate for food and accommodations to further encourage New Brunswickers to support tourism operators.

Read more: New Brunswick announces that it will open border to Quebec communities for day trips

Naish says he feels like the tourism-dependent town will be able to get through another summer without the traffic coming across the southern border, as well as the tourists from the rest of the country they normally see.

“With a bit of creativity I think we can eke out another one,” Naish said.

“We’ve had a historical relationship with visitors from the United States … and over the past three years most of our visitors have come from Ontario and Quebec.”

Weir is also eyeing a creative approach in order to save her business. Rather than offering tours more geared towards those from away, she’s looking to find ways to attract local interest, such as a tour of local wineries, distilleries and cideries.

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N.B. municipalities pandemic losses estimated at half of available funding – Jan 2, 2021

But if the borders are going to remain closed for another summer, the Liberal opposition is calling for more targeted support for the tourism sector.

“We don’t want to question public health and the recommendations that the chief medical officer of health is making,” said Moncton Centre MLA Rob McKee. “Although we feel that if the government is going to impose restrictions, and one of them being closed borders, they need to be there to step up for our businesses.”

“The longer this goes on the more we need the government to step up.”

While more government support would be nice, Weir’s biggest hope at this point is some semblance of certainty, even if she understands that is hard to come by.

“I wish they could give us a date and then we could plan, we could get ready for a relaunch,” Weir said.

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“But no can do until there’s certainty.”