Effect of pandemic border restrictions could be long-lasting: Critics

BANFF, Alta. – Canada’s last COVID-19 border restrictions are set to disappear later this month, but some critics fear the measures have already led to a permanent decline in cross-border travel.

BANFF, Alta. – Canada’s last COVID-19 border restrictions are set to disappear later this month, but some critics fear the measures have already led to a permanent decline in cross-border travel.

At the Global Business Forum in Banff, Alta. On Friday, prominent voices who have been calling for the lifting of restrictions such as mandatory vaccinations, testing and quarantine requirements for international visitors for months said they are now concerned the economic impact of such measures could be permanent.

In a panel discussion at an annual conference for business leaders in Canada’s most-visited national park, Meredith Lilly — an associate professor at Carleton University and former international trade adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper — spoke about cross-border day trips by Canadians to the US in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks never fully recovered in 2001.

She said her research showed some of this was due to the tightened US border controls put in place after that event.

“Because of the unfriendly border, fewer Canadians traveled to the United States to shop or fill up their tanks,” Lilly said.

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“Canada is now doing the same with the Americans. So it will take a lot of effort to get Americans to come back.”

Earlier this week, federal government sources confirmed that the cabinet order maintaining COVID-19 border measures will not be renewed when it expires on September 30.

The change means international travelers will no longer need to show they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Under the current rule, unvaccinated Canadians returning to the country must have a negative COVID-19 test result prior to arrival and undergo further testing upon arrival. They also have to be quarantined for 14 days.

The expiration date also means the end of insisting travelers use the ArriveCan app to enter their vaccine status and test results, although the app will live on as an optional tool for customs and immigration.

But Lilly said the two-and-a-half years that pandemic-related border rules have been in place are likely long enough to change the habits of some Americans, who will now not consider visiting Canada in the future.

Statistics Canada reported on Friday that the number of international arrivals in that country rose in July, although they are well below pre-pandemic levels.

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The agency said the number of trips by U.S. citizens in July was 2.2 million, 11 times the number of trips in July 2021 but still about 60 percent of the trips reported in July 2019.

“So the picture is still not that great,” Lilly said. “And three years is a long time for people to change their behavior permanently.”

Canadian Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Perrin Beatty, also speaking in Banff on Friday, said the country’s tourism industry has now missed two summer seasons.

He said several medical experts have argued that testing asymptomatic travelers for COVID-19 at the border is far less effective than testing symptomatic Canadians in their communities.

“We’ve been maintaining these restrictions that just don’t make sense. The cost to us, to small businesses across this country, of the friction we’ve caused at the border is in the billions of dollars,” Beatty said.

“And we’re not aligned with other countries around the world, we’re not aligned with science, and we’re not aligned with the rest of Canadian society because of these self-inflicted wounds that we’ve inflicted on ourselves.”

A report released Friday by the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable aimed to assess the impact and effectiveness of border measures and other travel restrictions put in place by the federal government to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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The report, authored by four Canadian doctors specializing in infectious diseases, emergency medicine and pandemic management, concluded that border measures have been largely ineffective in preventing new COVID-19 variants from entering the country.

It also said there was no convincing evidence that pre-departure and on-arrival testing and surveillance had a significant impact on local transmission in Canadian communities.

The expiration of the Cabinet regulation on September 30 does not address whether passengers must wear masks on domestic and international trains and planes, as that rule is contained in a separate regulation from the Minister for Transport.

The tourism industry has argued that masking on airplanes is also “inconsistent” from a political perspective, as the high air exchange rates on passenger planes make them one of the safest travel options from a COVID-19 perspective.

“But the Canadian government says the most dangerous thing to do is travel by plane,” Beatty said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 23, 2022.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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