Canada

Jarvis: The border isn’t really opening, at least not for everyone

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There’s a wedding in Mayor Drew Dilkens’ family in Michigan later this year. If he, his wife and their two children go, it will cost $800 in COVID-19 tests to return to Canada.

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He can afford it, but some people can’t.

So much for uniting cross-border families.

The border is supposed to be opening, but it’s not really opening, not for everyone.

The United States will open its land border to non-essential travellers from Canada on Nov. 8. All Canadians have to do is prove they’re vaccinated. But to return to Canada, they’ll have to also provide a negative molecular COVID-19 test, like a PCR test, within 72 hours before crossing. That costs up to $200.

It means that people who will have waited 20 months to visit family in Michigan still can’t visit them because they can’t afford the test.

There’s a case for Canada’s caution, as Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk, whose office is being inundated with calls about this, said Friday.

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Ontario, with a population of 14.5 million, reported 419 new COVID-19 infections Friday. Michigan, with a significantly smaller population of 10 million people, reported an average of 4,039 per day.

Ontario’s cases are falling. Michigan’s are surging.

Eighty-four per cent of people in Ontario are fully vaccinated. Only 59 percent of Michigan’s population is fully vaccinated. The number plummets to 38.6 percent in Detroit.

If Canadians are vaccinated, as they must be to go to the U.S., won’t that protect them? Largely, but not completely.

Twenty-four per cent of cases in Canada occur in people who are fully vaccinated, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated. You absolutely should. People who are vaccinated are still far less likely to be infected, and even if they’re infected, they’re far less likely to be hospitalized or spread the disease. But vaccination doesn’t provide 100 per cent protection. You can still be infected, and you can still spread the virus.

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MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L — Windsor-Tecumseh) is shown near the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.
MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L — Windsor-Tecumseh) is shown near the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

A test isn’t foolproof, either. You could test negative today, and be infected tomorrow. But it does provide some protection from transmission by identifying and isolating cases.

And when you open the border, you’re opening it across the country, and the fourth wave is dire in Saskatchewan now, the chief public health officer reduced to tears at a briefing last week.

Canada’s border rules are based on advice from the Public Health Agency.

“One of the lessons we’ve learned is we’ve avoided the worst of the pandemic when we listen to public health experts,” said Kusmierczyk. “The times we’ve gotten in trouble were when we veered away from that.”

Given the government’s case for caution, though, you have to ask, why did Canada open its border to the U.S. in August, three months earlier than the U.S. will open its border to Canada? Why did Canada lift its travel advisory to U.S. last week? Is this more about looking like the government opened the border?

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What no one can defend, and Kusmiercyzk didn’t even try, is this inane rule: If you know you’ll be in the U.S. for less than 72 hours, you can take your test here — before you leave Canada.

How does that protect our country? It doesn’t.

You could join tens of thousands of people at the Detroit Lions game on Thanksgiving and hordes of Black Friday shoppers the next day, eat and drink at busy restaurants and bars between football and shopping, all in a country with a higher infection rate and lower vaccination rate, and return to Canada without taking another test.

Readers who emailed me went berserk over this.

“This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever,” one couple wrote. “How does a test taken in Canada before our trip to Detroit protect the Canadian populace from a possible COVID infection originating in Detroit? It simply indicates that we were both healthy before we went shopping. This is a blatant money grab and does nothing to protect anyone from infection.”

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A vehicle in shown at an inspection booth at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in Windsor, ON. on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.
A vehicle in shown at an inspection booth at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in Windsor, ON. on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Another reader wrote, “How a test in Canada protects against importing the virus from travellers to the U.S. defies logic since the person re-entering Canada will not be tested after being in the U.S. This rule is clearly not science-driven and appears more a public relations effort to appear to be keeping the border safe.”

Said Kusmiercyzk, “I’m definitely asking the prime minister and ministers about that (rule).”

And, he said, “if we can do it safely, because that’s my No. 1 priority, then we should have that conversation about harmonizing Canadian and U.S. measures.”

At the very least, there should be a plan for border cities like Windsor, where the dynamic is unique because families straddle this border. Sharing a family milestone shouldn’t depend on if you can afford a test.

But change, if it happens, isn’t likely by Nov. 8. There’s a new cabinet, new ministers of health and public safety, and they’re being briefed, Kusmierczyk said.

Another consequence of calling that unnecessary election.

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