GRAND FORKS — As it has since March 21, 2020, when the U.S.-Canada border closed to nonessential travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the date for reopening the border remains pure speculation.
But restrictions are loosening in many Canadian provinces, and rumblings about reopening the border seem to be gaining traction.
Case in point: In Manitoba, where a third COVID wave hit especially hard in recent weeks and prompted a province-wide lockdown, the provincial government this week announced that residents now can invite up to five people to gather outside at their homes, but those visitors can’t be from more than two other households, Global News reported Wednesday, June 9.
Many other restrictions remain in place, according to Global News, including the continued closure of movie theaters, gyms and museums, and will remain in place at least until June 26.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Press on Tuesday reported that pressure is mounting on the federal government to avoid extending the border closure by another 30 days when the current travel restrictions expire June 21.
Despite that pressure, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered only hints of hope that border travel restrictions will end, according to the Canadian Press story.
“We are looking at how we can ease the rules, based on science,” for travelers who have completed the full course of COVID-19 vaccine, Trudeau said, quoted in the Canadian Press report. “We will have more announcements to make regarding measures that may be eased for those who have had both doses in the weeks to come.”
That could mean something or it could mean nothing, depending on one’s interpretation.
Whenever the border reopens and however that reopening unfolds, I think it’s all but certain that proof of being fully vaccinated will be key among the requirements. So for all you vaccine fence-sitters out there who have resisted getting the jab — I have friends in that camp — that’s something to think about if you ever want to hunt or fish in Canada again. Or go to Winnipeg for a Jets game. Or do anything else north of the border.
And while vaccination rates in Canada are improving, they continue to lag behind the U.S.
According to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, a dashboard for COVID-related statistics in the country, 62.7% of the Canadian population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 9% of the population is fully vaccinated.
In the U.S., by comparison, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 42.95% of the population now is fully vaccinated while 51.8% have received at least one dose.
To me, at least, that suggests vaccination rates in Canada will have to improve a bit more before the country eases its restrictions on nonessential travel. No doubt, though, the numbers are trending in the right direction.
It can’t happen soon enough as far as I’m concerned. Especially for resorts and businesses on Minnesota’s Northwest Angle, that oddity of geography bordered on three sides by Canada and accessible from the U.S. only by crossing some 40 miles of Lake of the Woods.
Until the border reopens, driving to the Angle by road is off-limits for all but permanent residents and workers deemed essential — an ambiguous designation that seems to vary depending on who's working at the Canadian border crossing — because getting there requires driving 40 miles of rural Manitoba road.
The impact on resorts, especially on the Northwest Angle mainland, has been devastating, with bookings since the onset of the pandemic down as much as 90% in some cases. At the same time, Americans who own cabins on the Angle can only get there by boat, while Americans with cabins in Canada haven't been able to access their property for more than a year.
One can only imagine the frustration.
The situation is even more dire for the Canadian fishing lodge industry, which depends almost exclusively on American anglers. Many lodges didn’t open their doors last year and remain shuttered so far this year.
That will change in a hurry when the border reopens, and as a fully vaccinated fisherman, I’ll be among the first in line.
A friend who lives near Winnipeg messaged me earlier this week to say he’s hearing “strong hints” the border will reopen July 1 and that an announcement could be coming yet this week.
More realistic, I think, was the assessment from another Canadian friend who works in the medical field, who said he’s hearing rumors of a September border reopening.
But at the same time, he speculated, border travel restrictions could be lifted even sooner as COVID cases continue to drop in Canada and vaccination rates move closer to U.S. numbers.