GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Despite a rosy outlook on U.S. tourists being able to travel to Europe this summer, it’s looking unlikely Americans will be able to visit Canada in the near future, even as a top Canadian official says the government supports the idea of using vaccine passports to cross the international border.
According to an April 26 report by The Associated Press, European Union officials are working on a program to allow some U.S. travelers to enter member countries, though it isn’t yet known if travelers will need to show proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test, proof of recovery from the illness or some combination thereof.
But in Canada, Minister of Health Patty Hajdu last week said her government supports the idea of “vaccine passports” for international travel. Some Canadians are skeptical of her views, considering spiking cases of coronavirus there, along with a lagging vaccine rollout.
“We certainly won't be able to catch up to where the U.S. and the EU are, at least in terms of time,” said Simon Resch, owner of the duty free shop in Emerson, Man., just beyond the Pembina, N.D., port of entry. “I don't think any Canadian will be ready by this summertime timeline proposal of the EU and U.S. measures, which is a little bit disconcerting. I think (it’s) maybe just a touch premature for our health minister to be talking about it.”
By mutual agreement, Canada and the United States closed the border to non-essential traffic on March 20, 2020, to stop the spread of COVID-19. The closure has been extended month by month ever since, and it’s unclear when the border will be reopened. U.S. businesses like campgrounds, event centers and Grand Forks International Airport have been hit hard as their Canadian customers have had to stay home.
Robert Warren, a University of North Dakota professor who previously worked at the University of Manitoba, said the slow vaccine rollout means reopening the border could happen later this year, but not in time for the summer travel season. Oct. 1, Warren said, is a date he’s heard floated about, but he believes that's too optimistic.
“I even think October the first is a dream, but a lot of us would like to see it,” Warren said. “I'm still saying Jan. 1.”
As of May 2, Manitoba has more than 1,600 active cases of coronavirus, down from the peak of about 3,000 in late 2020, but those numbers have steadily been ticking back up. It’s the slow vaccine rollout that has Resch worried about reopening the border.
According to Manitoba’s vaccination dashboard, nearly 500,000 doses have been administered, and most of those are first doses. The vaccine is being rolled out in echelons to eligible people, mostly those over 50 and front-line workers, to the province’s 1.4 million people.
For comparison, 546,000 doses have been administered in North Dakota, with 279,000 people having had their first dose and 246,000 having both of the required doses for two of the three vaccines.
Resch said he’s had the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but the wait time for the second dose could take up to four months.
Like Warren, Resch said it is unlikely there will be any bump in business associated with summertime travel across the border, given the difficulty the province is having with vaccinations. He is looking more toward the end of the year and into 2022 for a return to normal travel.
“It seems to me like we've missed the opportunity for the summer,” Resch said.
He said the demand to visit the United States and other destinations is there, pent up and waiting in the rafters. Canadians have been inquiring with travel agents about places to which they could possibly visit, but the restrictions still make travel difficult. Even without a vaccine passport, Canadians are free to leave the country, but they can’t drive across the border. They are limited to flying out of four main airports, and have to quarantine at hotels — at their own expense — when they return home. Resch said the restrictions are a way to discourage travel during the pandemic.