Don’t expect a flood of travel to U.S. anytime soon

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The plethora of warnings and onerous test results will keep all but the most intrepid traveller from venturing across to the United States anytime soon.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on October 18, 2021.

OTTAWA—The Canadian southern border is opening up, but don’t expect a flood of travel anytime soon.

The plethora of warnings and onerous test results will keep all but the most intrepid traveller from venturing across to the United States anytime soon.

Many border communities depend on travellers crossing the border for a day or two, investing a few dollars into the local economy and getting a break from the drudgery of daily chores.

But the Canadian government’s testing paranoia will make that possibility very nearly impossible.

To enter Canada, even as a fully vaccinated person, you need to have a PCR test that actually spins your DNA in a lab to guarantee your COVID-free status.

That test payment hovers around $200 U.S. on average, and at most American airports, it can be secured for between $250 and $350 U.S. per person.

At that price, the possibility of crossing the border for a night on the town is just about nil. No one in their right mind is willing to pay that kind of a travel premium just for the pleasure of breaking bread in another country.

The testing system for getting out of the country is less onerous. Right now, the Americans will accept an antigen test, which analyses your body’s protein to see whether you are COVID-free. That test is currently offered free to unvaccinated school teachers in Ontario for twice-weekly personal testing. But to Jane Q. public, the drug store charge is $40.

That is a lot more affordable than the outrageous cost of PCR testing, but consumers are still being gouged. Some European destinations are charging $1 for antigen tests while private clinics in Canada get up to $100 for administering the same test, which can be used within 72 hours as proof that you are travel ready.

Price-gouging and onerous test requirements will definitely discourage travellers from both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

And that is just fine with the Canadian government, because it really does not want you to travel anyway.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland tried to discreetly rationalize the open border announcement with an ongoing government directive to avoid international travel.

She suggested Canadians follow the Toronto public health officer’s advice to “just try to do the things you need to do and maybe hold back on the things you just want to do.”

So even though the border opening was lauded by many, it is clearly not the wish of the government that Canadians start moving.

But those border communities that are starving for business might feel differently.

Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty is urging the government to scrap generalized travel advisories in favour of individuated advice focused on the situation in specific countries or regions.

Beatty characterized the current blanket travel advisories as being in the category of “stay home or you will die” and asked the government to review it.

Freeland herself was in Washington when she was suggesting that Canadians do only what is necessary when it comes to travel.

In reality, the in-person appearances that are currently being made internationally by ministers could also be carried out digitally. So, Freeland could choose to stay home and make her point in the virtual bubble.

The fact that she is not doing so underscores the point made by Beatty that we are almost fully vaccinated and know a lot more about the spread of COVID than we did a year ago.

We know how to protect ourselves by getting vaccinated, practising social distancing, and wearing masks.

Pre-vaccination, global gatherings were virtual. And leaders from all countries were able to participate and get their point across in a virtual way.

With the shield of double vaccination, leaders are starting to meet internationally again. That is a healthy development. But it cannot be only applied for political leaders or travelling salespeople.

The Canadian government should have a plan to encourage the same safe movement for ordinary Canadians.

As leaders start cautiously fanning out to meetings across the world, citizens should be encouraged to start travelling with proper precautions.

Advising people to stay home while politicians travel is hypocritical.

The lockdown advice also runs counter to mounting evidence that risks from social isolation can quickly outstrip that of viral exposure.

Increasing depression and mental health problems have been a by-product of Covid lockdowns.

The government should stop stoking Canadians’ travel fears. It should be issuing sound advice on safe travels.

Open borders need to be matched by open minds.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.