Businesses, U.S. legislators fume as Canada extends travel ban; Trudeau stands firm

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: The Canada-United States border crossing in Lansdowne

(Corrects number of eligible Canadians who have had two COVID-19 vaccinations to 14.7% from 5.5%)

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada is extending a ban on nonessential travel with the United States and the rest of the world until July 21, officials said on Friday, prompting frustration from businesses and U.S. legislators.

Canada is under pressure from companies and the tourism industry to ease the ban, which was imposed in March 2020 to help contain spread of the coronavirus and has been renewed on a monthly basis ever since.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood firm, saying the border would stay largely shut until 75% of Canadians had received the first of a two-dose coronavirus vaccine and 20% had been given both shots.

Although Trudeau said Canada had basically achieved the first target, official data released after he spoke showed 73.4% had received their first shot. Only 14.7% of the eligible population has had both shots.

"Even a fully vaccinated individual can pass on COVID-19 to someone who is not vaccinated," Trudeau told reporters, saying Canada needed to avoid "any further massive waves."

The extended border closure comes as the western province of Alberta unveiled plans to fully reopen on July 1, lifting virtually all remaining public health restrictions, after 70% of eligible Albertans received their first vaccination dose.

The travel ban does not affect trade in goods but Statistics Canada said total exports of services in 2020 compared with 2019 fell by 17.7% and imports of services plunged by 24.0%, in part due to the border restrictions. Travel and transportation services were particularly hard hit.

"The inability of the U.S. and Canadian governments to reach an agreement on alleviating border restrictions ... is simply unacceptable," said U.S. Representatives Brian Higgins and Bill Huizenga, co-chairs of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group.

The United States is Canada's largest trading partner.

Harley Finkelstein, president of Canadian e-commerce company Shopify Inc, tweeted that the extended border closure was the wrong decision. "We need to open the border for fully vaccinated travellers immediately," he wrote.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce - a national group that advocates for businesses - lamented what it said was Ottawa's excessive caution.

"All of the science would say we should be moving ahead to reopen the border. We don't even have a plan at this point," said Perrin Beatty, the group's president and chief executive.

Ottawa will reveal on Monday how it plans to start easing measures for fully vaccinated Canadians.

(Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Nia Williams in CalgaryEditing by Jonathan Oatis and Matthew Lewis)

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