Since last year, Canada has kept its borders closed as a protective measure against the pandemic. Tourist travel was practically impossible. The Arctic regions also remained closed to tourism in order to protect the local population from large infection waves. Now the government in Ottawa has announced that it will gradually lift its border closures. But governments in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are still reluctant to join the moves.
In a press release, the government announced that entry for U.S. citizens will first be possible on August 9, 2021, followed by international travelers on September 7, 2021. However, this is only done if the domestic epidemiological situation allows it. Furthermore, the entry requirements are clearly regulated: All entrants must register via “ArriveCAN” prior to travel and must have verifiably, i.e. certified, received vaccines accepted by Canada in the full dose at least two weeks prior to entry. Furthermore, all entrants must present a negative COVID molecular test in English or French, demonstrate self-isolation plans in the event of infection, and randomly participate in a post-entry molecular test. Entry must be through one of nine international airports: Montréal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Halifax, Québec, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton or via the official border crossings with the USA.
For nearly 1.5 years, Canada’s borders have been kept closed to “non-essential travel” to protect the Canadian population from unchecked waves of infection. Canada recorded about 1.43 million cases of infection, of which 26,504 people died (as of July 19, 2021). There are currently just over 4,600 active cases known. Just under 44 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated, and another 25 percent have received an initial vaccination with one of the licensed vaccines. Health Secretary Patty Hajdu explains about the opening steps. “Canadians’ safety and security always come first. With rising vaccination rates and fewer cases in Canada, we can begin to safely ease border measures. A gradual approach to reopening will allow our health authorities to monitor the COVID-19 situation here and abroad. Canadians have worked hard and sacrificed for each other, and because of that work, we can take these next steps safely.”
According to the responsible government agency, the needs and plans of the indigenous population in the Arctic territories of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, among others, were also taken into account when planning the opening steps. “Working collaboratively with provinces, territories, Indigenous partners, and others to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated and follow public health advice is enabling us to begin welcoming more travellers back to Canada,” says Minister Dominic LeBlanc in the news release. Good news, then, for the Arctic regions, whose tourism sector is a major source of income for the population and governments. Economic Development Minister Melanie Joy also welcomes the opening: “The easing of Canada’s border measures is welcome news for tourism businesses across the country, the thousands of Canadians employed by the sector and the communities who rely on it.”
But no steps of their own had been made public by the governments in Iqaluit and Yellowknife as of this writing. Both regions have not recorded any new cases of infection for some time. But Nunavut is still under a public health emergency until July 22 and travel bans are still in effect in the Northwest Territories. These are not to be relaxed until all guideline values have been undershot. These are (as of July 10, 2021): 75 percent of the NWT population fully vaccinated (not yet met), 66 – 75 percent of the total Canadian population fully vaccinated (not met), and the 7-day average of new infections below 1,000 (not met).
The opening of the country is understandable because of the numbers in Canada itself. Other countries had also reopened and allowed increased entry in the face of falling numbers and rising vaccination rates. But at the same time, in some of the countries, the infection figures are rising massively again, mainly due to the delta variant of the virus. Important partner countries of Canada such as the UK and the USA are among these countries. And the US has just raised the warning level for the UK to the highest level again and strongly advises against travel there, even for fully vaccinated people. So the question for Canada is how the government will react to any rising numbers and whether the Arctic North will join in the moves or wait and see after just getting the virus back under control.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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