Ontario says federal border measures 'broken', Alberta eyes curfew for COVID hotspots

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford scrapped over international border measures Friday while officials in two of Alberta's COVID-19 hotspots sought clarification over a possible curfew being floated to tame that province's surge.

Fresh fears over more infectious variants, travel-related cases and the ability of the country's vaccine rollout to keep pace sparked scrutiny into pandemic strategy in various parts of the country, with Trudeau and Ford butting heads over rules at the border.

Trudeau dismissed Ford's claims that Canada's "borders are broken," maintaining that there are already tight controls on land crossings, including tests before and after arriving in Canada and mandatory two-week quarantines.

"We know importation through the borders is extremely low in terms of cases in in the country — it's not zero," Trudeau told a news conference Friday. "But at the same time, we have seen that this third wave is very much around community transmission."

Trudeau said Ottawa will "work narrowly" with Ontario on its request to suspend the arrival of international students by helping the province revise the list of institutions that border officials use to allow international students smooth entry into the country.

As the leaders squabbled over whether community or cross-border spread was to blame for the COVID-19 surge, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will soon be sourced from the U.S. instead of Europe.

Starting next week, Canada will receive doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from Kalamazoo, Mich., instead of Belgium, said Anand.

This change isn't expected to affect the scheduled shipments of two million doses each week in May, and 2.4 million doses each week in June, she said.

Meanwhile, Ford said he will not relent in his campaign to further restrict international travel "because too much is at stake."

If it were up to him, the premier said he'd shut down Toronto's Pearson International Airport and Ontario's land borders to keep variants of the COVID-19 virus out of the province.

"(The variants) got in because of weak border measures," said Ford. "I can't stress this enough. We will never get ahead of this virus if we can't keep these deadly new variants out of our country."

Ontario has asked the federal government to impose mandatory three-day quarantines in hotels for travellers entering Canada at land crossings.

Travellers landing at Canada's international airports already have to stay in a federally approved hotel for three days while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test done on arrival. The hotel quarantine is part of a 14-day quarantine that can be completed at their destination if they test negative.

Iain Stewart, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, said 1,700 international air passengers have now tested positive for a variant of interest or a variant of concern while at a quarantine hotel.

Meanwhile, Ontario took issue with land travellers.

In a letter to Ottawa sent Thursday, Ontario's health minister and solicitor general said there have been reports of international travellers booking flights into nearby U.S. airports, taking a taxi to a United States-Canada land crossing and walking or driving across the border.

They asked their federal counterparts to ensure there are federally approved quarantine hotels at land border crossings in Niagara Region, Windsor, Sarnia, and Brockville.

Ontario reported 3,887 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 21 more deaths linked to the virus.

Provincial health authorities said 2,201 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 – 883 are in intensive care and 632 are on a ventilator.

Out West, COVID-19 hot spots in a Rocky Mountain tourist town and northeastern Alberta's oilsands hub asked for more details from the provincial government before deciding to request curfews.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced late Thursday that curfews could be imposed in municipalities where the virus case rate exceeds 1,000 per 100,000 people and if the local governments ask for one.

Canada's chief public health officer said Friday that daily COVID-19 case counts declined by seven per cent over the past week to an average of less than 7,900 infections.

Dr. Theresa Tam said the number of people with severe illness continues to rise, with an average of 4,400 hospitalizations each day over the past week, including 1,420 patients in intensive care.

An average of 50 deaths were reported daily over the past week, said Tam.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2021.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press