The long-closed Canada-U.S. land border will finally reopen in August but any re-opening carries with it a number of unanswered questions.
Chief among them is just how many Americans will be allowed to once again visit Canada, given their stalled vaccination efforts.
Canada will require visitors from the U.S. to be fully vaccinated and the fact is the rate of immunization in that country has slowed down significantly.
While the full vaccination rate for both countries hovers around 50 per cent of the population, Canada’s growth in second-dose vaccinations continues at a high level while the U.S. has essentially flat-lined for both first and second doses for more than a month now.
For example, Massachusetts is a state with one of the highest vaccination rates in the country (71.6 per cent for first doses and 63 per cent for second doses). However, it has taken more than six weeks for it to boost its numbers by 10 percentage points.
Many American states have low vaccination rates and they are not growing to any significant degree, as so much of the population south of the border appears to have turned their backs on vaccines.
Take Missouri, for example. Its first dose rate is just 46.3 per cent and its second dose rate is 40 per cent. Those numbers have barely moved for a month now and in fact, it took almost three months for those rates to grow by 10 percentage points.
It gets worse: Missouri has more than three dozen individual counties with vaccination rates of less than 30 per cent. There are many states where only urban centers have any notable vaccination numbers.
In neighboring Washington state, things are better but not by much. At its current rate of vaccinations, that state will not hit the desired target of 85 per cent fully vaccinated until late November.
By contrast, B.C.’s second dose (full vaccination) rate has been growing by about eight percentage points a week. You read that right: a week. This province should hit the 85 per cent mark by early September.
All of this means that many millions of Americans – perhaps as much as 40 per cent of the population -will simply be ineligible when it comes to crossing the border into Canada when it finally opens on August 9th.
As a result, the number of border crossings we will see will likely fall far short of pre-pandemic levels. For example, in December 2019, more than 700,000 motor vehicles with U.S. license plates crossed into Canada.
When the border closed in March 2020, monthly crossings dropped to less than 150,000 a month on average and almost all of those involved people were considered essential service workers (primarily commercial truck operators and health care professionals).
When the border re-opens, the number of Americans crossing into Canada will undoubtedly increase but given the widespread low rate of vaccination in the U.S., that number will likely not be as high as many in the tourism sector would like it to be.
Another big question is how many fully vaccinated Canadians – we should be at around 75 per cent by mid-August – will desire to travel to a country that appears to spiraling downward when it comes to containing the coronavirus.
There is also the matter of testing for the virus. Will it be required as a condition to cross and if so, who pays for the test and how quickly can they be processed?
Finally, back to the full vaccination requirement. How will border-crossers show they have been fully vaccinated? That has not yet been made clear.
Opening the border cannot come soon enough for many people. However, any reopening will be a lot more complicated than many people realize.
Keith Baldrey is the chief political reporter for Global BC.