Next time, manage risk instead of closing border, task force urges Canada, U.S.

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WASHINGTON — A new report is urging Canada and the United States to keep their shared border open when the next pandemic hits, rather than closing it entirely to non-essential travel.

The task force, assembled by the D.C.-based Wilson Center, says a risk-management approach to the border would have been less disruptive and damaging than the "zero-risk" approach that was adopted.

The group includes former public safety minister Anne McLellan and ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest, as well as former Washington state governor Christine Gregoire and James Douglas, the former governor of Vermont.

The group's yearlong investigation also found that the border closure was far less integrated between the two countries than was originally believed.

Charest says a number of people living on both sides of the border suffered throughout the closure, which took effect in March 2020, and that the cost was ultimately too high.

And he says now is the time to get a mutual strategy in place, since the prospect of another pandemic is not a question of if, but of when.

The travel rules prohibited non-essential leisure travel over the land border without restricting trade shipments and essential workers. Canada began easing restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers in August, while a new U.S. requirement that travellers be fully vaccinated will take effect Nov. 8.

The U.S. will continue to require that air travellers produce evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test, but the office of New York congressman Brian Higgins says that requirement won't apply to those entering the country by land.

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed for us again today that there will not be a testing requirement for vaccinated travellers to cross the land border," Higgins' office said in a statement.

Higgins has already called on Canada's federal government to abandon its requirement that travellers submit the results of a costly PCR test before arriving at a land-border crossing.

He says the $200 test remains a significant deterrent to travel and a drag on the economic recovery in border communities.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, acknowledged Friday that testing is "very much a live issue" both inside the federal government, as well as in discussions with provinces and territories.

But as of now, she said the testing requirement remains an important safety measure, even with strong vaccination rates in Canada, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding the Delta variant and lingering questions about how long vaccines remain effective.

"No layer of protection is ever 100 per cent perfect, we know that," Tam said.

"With all these considerations, I think having that additional layer of protection (from testing) is important at this time, but we will review it."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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