Tuesday, January 18, 2022

US warns against travel to Canada due to COVID-19 surge

Passengers wearing face masks line up to check-in at Los Angeles International Airport on December 22. The CDC on Monday changed its warning rating for Canada to Level 4.Ringo HW Chiu / The Associated Press

The United States has named Canada one of the world’s most dangerous countries for COVID-19, warning against travel north at a time that omicron infections are spreading rapidly on both sides of the border.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday changed its warning rating on Canada to Level 4, indicating very high COVID-19 levels. It explicitly advised that Americans “avoid travel” to Canada, based on criteria that include the number of new cases.

Such advice has now been issued for large parts of the world, including most of Europe, some southern Africa, the Middle East – and the US itself. Overall, the CDC has ranked 82 countries a Level 4.

The advisory is a warning that does not include reimposing border restrictions, leaving Americans free to travel to Canada if they can meet entry requirements, which include costly PCR tests. The Canadian government has also advised against all non-essential international travel.

“Even if people want to cross the border, they can still cross the border,” said Javier Delgado, research coordinator for the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

But the US advisory nonetheless raised concerns that travelers could decide against Canada as they make plans for the remainder of the ski season and into the summer.

“As it is, we are on the verge of losing our third summer tourism season,” said Perrin Beatty, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

He called the US alert “disturbing” at a time of widespread COVID-19 community spread.

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Canada currently counts 422,017 active COVID cases. The United States on Monday counted more than 1.1 million new cases and set a new record for hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally.

Infection rates “have been consistently lower in Canada than in the US,” Mr Beatty said, and “travel advisories are not very helpful in terms of limiting the spread of disease.”

Canada’s business establishment has been frustrated by a lack of coordination on the management of the border, which has created different requirements for northbound and southbound traffic. The Canadian government intends to require proof of vaccination from cross-border truck drivers starting this Saturday, although estimates suggest that 5 percent to 10 percent of drivers are likely to be excluded from the country in times of widespread disruption to supply chains.

Mr. Beatty and other Canadian business leaders are scheduled to have a meeting with the new US Ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, this week. Mr Beatty said he plans to raise the need to “deepen our strategic ties, as opposed to putting obstacles in each other’s way”.

He added: “Inconsistency in terms of border management is a constraint that we have that makes it very difficult for businesses to make any kind of measured planning.”

In October, a task force for the Wilson Center released a report on the effectiveness of border measures, first put in place in March, 2020, that restricted non-essential travel between the two countries. Canada eased those restrictions last summer. The task force, which included former deputy prime ministers Anne McClellan and Jean Charest, criticized governments for turning a deaf ear to the public in enforcing the restrictions. It said voluntary compliance is cheaper than implementing limit measures.

On Monday, business leaders said the spread of the Omicron version, and with provincial sanctions, was already starting to do damage ahead of new US advice to avoid Canada.

“There was a lot of interest in getting into skis in the Rockies,” said Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. “As soon as Omicron started to spike, those bookings started to drop.”

She, too, expressed concern about US advice, as Canada maintains a stricter COVID-19 entry regime than the United States.

“It’s surprising, quite frankly, because we have different requirements than they do. In theory, you’re safe here,” she said.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now. It’s not going to help our tourism and hospitality industry in any way.”

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