‘Weeks not months’: Trudeau doubles down on gradual border reopening strategy

Click to play video: 'Trudeau defends new COVID-19 border rules amid questions over who is permitted entry'
Trudeau defends new COVID-19 border rules amid questions over who is permitted entry
WATCH: Trudeau defends new COVID-19 border rules amid questions over who is permitted entry – Jun 22, 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said the next phases of reopening the Canadian-U.S. border could come within weeks and not months.

This comes a day after Ottawa announced that fully vaccinated Canadians can return to the country without having to go through quarantine as of July 5, though they will still need to take COVID-19 tests.

At the time, the government described it as the “first phase” of a gradual lifting of restrictions but did not lay out a timeline for the next phases of the border reopening.

Read more: Fully vaccinated Canadians can enter country without quarantine on July 5

“We are doing things gradually, but we are talking about weeks and not months anymore. We certainly hope we will have more good news about reopenings in the coming weeks,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa.

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He did not give a specific date but said the announcement depends on vaccination rates, the number of COVID-19 cases, and the variants circulating across the country.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed since March 2020, with the closure being renewed several times. Its latest expiry is set for July 21.

There have been ongoing calls to reopen the border or at least give Canadians and businesses more clarity on how many phases there will be and how it might pan out.

“We were hoping to see a plan and are hoping still to see a plan. We should have been better prepared,” Goldy Hyder of the Business Council of Canada told Global News on Monday.

He said no one is asking to fully reopen the border right away, but just to give more information so Canadians can better prepare.

“How many phases are there? Why not come clean and say here is our “three-step plan”? I think Canadians can be forgiving if the plan has to be pivoted to a later date. I think they are less forgiving in that the idea is that we don’t have a plan,” he added.

Click to play video: 'Travel obstacles remain for Canadian families with children'
Travel obstacles remain for Canadian families with children

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc echoed Trudeau’s statement at the press conference Tuesday, adding that in the next couple of weeks there could be more information and changes to Canada’s border restrictions.

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Click to play video: 'Renewed calls to re-open Canada-U.S. border'
Renewed calls to re-open Canada-U.S. border

He said a “series of phased approaches to diminishing or relaxing these measures” will be guided by the advice of public health experts, scientists and doctors.

“There is again, a difference of opinions, among some scientific experts about the pace at which these changes should come into effect,” Leblanc said. “Obviously, as we approach that date (July 21) in three or four weeks, we’ll be looking to see what is the prudent approach to have in place after that.”

The federal government previously said that it would take 75 per cent of Canadians getting a first dose and 20 per cent receiving a second before rules can be loosened.

Canada hit that milestone on June 18, according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada.

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More than 75 per cent of eligible Canadians over 12 years old have now received at least one jab of an approved COVID-19 vaccine while more than 20 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

Speaking at a separate press conference later Tuesday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, called the initial stage of the reopening “quite precautionary.”

She argued the reason for cautiousness is because the majority of Canadians have only had one dose of vaccines and the spread of the Delta variant is still circulating. She added that studies are still ongoing about the effectiveness of vaccines against the Delta variant.

“The spread of the Delta variant is a very important consideration in whether or not to lift restrictions,” she said.

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