With the news that the US-Canada border restrictions will be lifted in November, Canadians could find themselves loading up on gas and preparing to take advantage of the new freedom. But Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is warning people to continue to “listen carefully” to the advice of Canadian officials and medical authorities.
As it is now, that advice remains to avoid nonessential travel.
“Just be careful. We are almost over COVID. We have high vaccination rates nationwide,” Freeland said.
“Just try to do the things you need to do and maybe you won’t do the things you just want to do. And I think if we can keep doing that for a few more weeks, Canada can really put COVID behind us. “
Still, if you decide to travel, this is how infectious disease specialists say you can do it safely.
The first and foremost thing you can do to keep your travel plans low-risk is to get vaccinated, according to experts.
“That will obviously be helpful from a health standpoint, but also from a regulatory standpoint of getting in and out of (the United States) and Canada,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist.
The United States will reopen the land border between Canada and Mexico to vaccinated travelers in early November
Under new US rules, non-essential travelers will be asked about their vaccination status at land border crossings, and only those who are fully vaccinated will be allowed through, with no proof requirement. Proof of vaccination will be required if selected for a randomized evaluation.
If you are not vaccinated, your plans will fall apart right then and there. However, if you are vaccinated, the next thing to consider is where you want to go.
“We know that COVID has varying numbers in terms of incidence and prevalence of that viral infection in different countries,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
“So the first thing I would look at is what is the current type of incidence and prevalence of the infection in that country.”
The US is expected to reopen the land border to vaccinated Canadians in November
Evans said countries like the United States, Brazil and India have a higher number of COVID-19 cases than other parts of the world. However, the UK, India and Russia have more new cases emerging on a regular basis. All of these are factors to consider when deciding on a vacation destination, according to Evans.
Another useful indicator is a country’s vaccination rates, according to Dr. Anna Banerji, a Toronto physician and an expert on the spread of infectious diseases.
It’s a good idea to “be selective where you go” and try to go “to places where there are high vaccination rates,” he said.
Finally, making sure you are informed about the specific requirements for things like testing can help you stay safe and keep your wallet full.
“There may be certain rules where you need a specific type of COVID test a certain number of days before your flight,” Banerji said.
“Otherwise, you cannot go back. And if you miss the flight, it could be very expensive. “
Staying safe abroad
Other questions to consider while traveling include: where are you staying and how safe for COVID is that environment, if the friends you are visiting are vaccinated and if there are vulnerable people in your home who would be at risk if brought home from the virus, Evans and Banerji said.
“Those are the kinds of considerations you get into when you’ve decided where your destination will be,” Evans said.
Even if the environment itself doesn’t require you to do things like masking or distancing, Banerji says you can still choose to take additional steps to reduce your risk.
Banerji advised prospective travelers to “avoid large groups of people where they may not be vaccinated.”
“And while the policy can be very flexible about wearing masks, I would still wear a mask,” he added.
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This is because some regions could have a higher prevalence of COVID-19 variants, Banerji cautioned, such as the Lambda variant, which is much more prevalent in South America than in Canada. Infected travelers abroad may be at risk of taking these types of variants home.
“You may be exposed to different strains of COVID than we have here, right now,” he said.
“You can be exposed to the Lambda strain instead of the Delta strain, and then you can bring it back (and) introduce new types of viruses, COVID viruses, in Canada or where you live.”
Still, at the end of the day, getting seriously vaccinated changes the likelihood that any of these considerations will become a big problem, according to Chagla.
“It is not going to be safer to travel during the pandemic,” he said. “Being fully vaccinated changes the scope of this disease.”
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Armed with vaccinations, Chagla said he believes it is “reasonable to consider” traveling at this time.
“Just make sure you know your requirements and the vaccine requirements, the industry requirements while you’re at it,” he said.
Banerji added that it would be prudent to wait for the fourth wave to stabilize, but he does not anticipate “a big fifth wave.”
“COVID will be around for a while. It’s going to burn and mainly … infect unvaccinated people, ”he said.
“So you have to be careful where you go and who you are with.”
Despite the considerations at stake when it comes to travel, many Canadians still have strong motivations for attempting to travel safely.
Joann Arpino’s father lives 27 minutes away by car, but he hasn’t been home in over a year.
That’s because Arpino’s father lives across the border, in Canada, while Joann lives in the United States.
COVID-19 forced politicians to close the border in March 2020, separating Arpino from many of his loved ones. In the time since, Arpino had her first child. His dad and some of his closest friends have never seen the baby in the comfort of their own home.
COVID-19: US to reopen land borders of Canada and Mexico to fully vaccinated travelers in November
But that is going to change soon. In early November, the US will open its land borders to fully vaccinated Canadians, including Arpino’s family.
“I woke up this morning and received text messages from my mom, my sister, friends… I was excited. My friends were excited. My family was excited. We are really relieved that we have been waiting a long time for that to happen, ”said Arpino.
His family has been cautious throughout the pandemic. Now, they are all vaccinated and he hopes they can reunite for Thanksgiving in late November.
“I’m excited that they can come here because they haven’t been able to see my life in two years and what has been going on here,” Arpino said.
“Hopefully they can come over here and see what I’ve been doing to see my place and celebrate together.”
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