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Real progress on a reopening plan for the Canada-U.S. border, or just the same old routine check-ins

TORONTO — New reports suggest that talks are underway about the reopening of the Canada-U.S. border – but whether those talks could lead to the border reopening this summer, or are the same routine check-ins that Canada and U.S. officials have maintained throughout the 14-month COVID-19 border closure, is anyone’s guess.

According to Bloomberg reports picked up by the CBC and others, sources familiar with the talks say officials are starting to look at what the reopening would look like. Sources say that could include a gradual, in-stages reopening that potentially relaxes restrictions for vaccinated travellers.

However a spokesperson for Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair noted that Blair is in regular contact with his U.S. counterparts about the Canada-U.S. border, and that “until conditions on both sides of the border change very substantively, the measures at our borders will remain intact.”

Earlier this month U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer sent a letter to the Biden administration stressing the need for a reopening plan for the Canada-U.S. border. Schumer is also calling for an expansion of the list of who’s able to travel across the border, to include fully vaccinated people with property on the other side of the border, or who are travelling for educational, medical or business purposes.

Late last week brought another call to reopen the border. New York Rep. Brian Higgins wrote Friday in a letter to the White House that the CDC’s decision to no longer require fully vaccinated Americans to wear face masks in virtually all situations, including indoors, is an “affirmation” of the power of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Higgins urged Biden to “directly engage” with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in order to widen the definition of essential travellers by the end of May, with an eye toward fully reopening the border by early July.

“Trends in vaccination and the most recent guidance from the CDC affirm that the time is right to do this safely and effectively,” the letter reads. “This decision underscores the minimal risk Americans will pose to Canadians when crossing the border to visit family and property.”

early 60% of American adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 37% are fully vaccinated. Canada’s vaccination rollout, slow to start but picking up strong momentum in recent weeks, has seen 45% of Canadians receive their first dose, however less than 5% are fully vaccinated.

The border is currently closed until at least May 21, 2021. First announced in March 2020, the closure has been extended many times during the course of the pandemic.

In February 2021 Higgins urged the president to get serious about drafting a plan to reopen the border, proposing much the same as he did Friday: a gradual easing of restrictions with a full reopening in time for the July 4 holiday.

Higgins’ recent input in the Star’s Washington Bureau Chief Edward Keenan’s column suggested that border reopening talks haven’t even really started. Asked for his take on discussions at the negotiating table, U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins told Keenan: “I think you’re being generous. I don’t think there is a table. I don’t think anybody’s at it. Therein lies the problem.”

Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that a “one-dose summer” could lead to a “two-dose fall” and, potentially, some eased restrictions, although he didn’t offer further details. Meanwhile, after 14 months, industry frustration with the federal government’s lack of transparency when it comes to reopening plans is reaching a boiling point. Calls for a reopening plan have been coming from all sectors of the travel industry for months, including, most recently, Air Canada and the NACC.

Meanwhile at least one medical expert thinks chances are good for interprovincial travel in Canada this summer.

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