If you ask Roger Dow, what’s happening at the border is “monstrous”—a prolonged disaster that gets worse by the day. “It is a crisis,” he told me by phone last week. Dow is the CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, and he wasn’t talking about the thousands of migrants surging illegally across the southern border with Mexico or the unaccompanied children detained in overcrowded shelters. Dow was talking about the 5,500-mile northern divide between the United States and Canada—and the “crisis” there is that hardly anyone can get across at all.
Fifteen months after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S.-Canada border remains closed to all but essential travel, cutting off families, would-be tourists, and billions of dollars in commerce. Travel from the U.S. to Canada is down more than 80 percent since before the pandemic. Both countries have imposed strict limits on who can cross the border, but Canada’s restrictions are tighter, and its enforcement is far more severe. Travelers who fly into Canada must land at one of four airports and then pay to spend the first three nights of a 14-day mandatory quarantine at a designated “stopover” hotel, at a cost the U.S. government says could exceed $1,600. There are no exceptions, even for fully vaccinated people or Canadian citizens. The restrictions have essentially forced Canada’s lone Major League Baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, and its lone NBA team, the Toronto Raptors, into exile in the U.S.
With case counts plummeting and vaccinations rising, most states have relaxed or eliminated restrictions on travel and businesses. But in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears in no hurry to end the shutdown. The current limits are due to expire on June 21, but he has said that before he begins to loosen the rules, he wants at least 75 percent of Canadians to receive a first shot and 20 percent to be fully vaccinated. Although Canada long lagged behind the United States in vaccinations, it has caught up recently, at least in first doses. At the end of May, nearly 68 percent of the adult population had gotten one shot—a higher percentage than in the United States. But just 7 percent had gotten the entire regimen. (Canada is following the U.K. model of delaying second doses to partially inoculate its population at a faster rate.)