When, not if, the next pandemic strikes, Canada and the United States need to work more closely together on a mutual, integrated strategy for managing risk at the shared border, rather than trying to shut it down entirely, a new report says.
A task force assembled by the D.C.-based Wilson Center, which included former Quebec premier Jean Charest and former Canadian justice minister Anne McLellan, concluded in its final report that closing the border entirely to non-essential travel likely did as much harm as good.
Next time — and there will be a next time, the panel warns — a plan to mitigate risk rather than trying to reduce it to zero would ultimately be a better solution, its members said Friday.
“A lot of people personally suffered through this period ? there was a very high cost on a personal level that can’t be measured, but it was real,” Charest said during the virtual launch of the final report.
“If only for that reason, we believe governments would be well-advised to look at more of a risk management approach.”
The panel also included former Washington governor Christine Gregoire and James Douglas, the former governor of Vermont, both of them from border states where managing the shared frontier is a more pressing priority than it might be in other parts of the country.
The panel also found that despite the lived experience of similar public health crises in the past, such as the SARS outbreak in Toronto in 2003 or the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009, neither country seemed to apply the lessons they had already learned.
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And despite public pronouncements of a mutual, bilateral plan when the COVID-19 border restrictions were first imposed in March 2020, Canada and the U.S. didn’t actually work together on the strategy as closely as was believed, Charest added.
Unlike in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, when the U.S. suddenly and unilaterally closed its borders to international travel, “this time, a decision was taken to act together, and to be synchronized,” Charest said.
“Only what we discovered in looking at the process is that there was much less co-ordination than what we had thought there should have been — much less.”
Among the report’s other findings:
— There was no tangible plan in place for a return to normal operations, making for uneven and unpredictable conditions across the length of the 9,000-kilometre border;
— A lack of government responsiveness to the concerns of individuals and businesses undermined public confidence in the measures and their efficacy;
— The restrictions focused on the purpose of travel, rather than on engaging members of the public about how they could cross the border safely;
— Legislators and lawmakers at the national level were “largely marginalized,” as were regional and local government officials;
— Both countries missed the opportunity to partner with the private sector and incorporate input from businesses on how best to manage the restrictions.
Land border reopening welcome news for travel industry
The panel also called for border authorities to be more creative in finding solutions for people with urgent travel needs, including through pilot projects, “trusted tester” programs and adapting restrictions in various regions to better suit the needs of local communities.
“Quite candidly, at the end of the day, we don’t want a separation,” Gregoire said. “We really fundamentally believe that there are technological advances, there are opportunities. If we can keep planes in the air, where people can travel, we can keep that border open.”
Canadians and Americans alike both adjusted in time to the new measures that were put in place at the border following the 9/11 attacks, and will do so again after the pandemic, said McLellan, who was justice minister in Jean Chretien’s government at the time.
“Now you don’t hear anyone complaining about the fact they have to have a passport to cross the border,” McLellan said.
“Just as after 9/11, life doesn’t return to so-called normal. It is a new life, with a set of new procedures, but in fact, we all live happily within that domain.”
The travel rules prohibited non-essential leisure travel over the land border without restricting trade shipments and essential workers. Canada began easing restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers in August, while a new U.S. requirement that travellers be fully vaccinated will take effect Nov. 8.
Late Friday, the U.S. announced that starting on Nov. 8 non-citizen travellers will be permitted to enter the U.S. through a land border or ferry terminal for a non-essential reason, provided they are fully vaccinated and can present proof of COVID-19 vaccination status. There is no need for a test at the land border.
Unvaccinated travelers may continue to cross the border for essential travel, including lawful trade, emergency response, and public health purposes.
Will travellers use system to get free PCR test?
Starting in January 2022, all inbound foreign national travellers to the U.S. must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and provide related proof of vaccination.
The U.S. will continue to require that air travellers produce evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test, but the office of New York congressman Brian Higgins says that requirement won’t apply to those entering the country by land.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed for us again today that there will not be a testing requirement for vaccinated travellers to cross the land border,” Higgins’ office said in a statement.
Higgins has already called on Canada’s federal government to abandon its requirement that travellers submit the results of a costly PCR test before arriving at a land-border crossing. The $200 test is a significant deterrent to travel and a drag on the economic recovery in border communities, he said.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, acknowledged Friday that testing is “very much a live issue” both inside the federal government, as well as in discussions with provinces and territories.
Tourism professionals discuss reopening of Canada-U.S. land border crossing
But as of now, she said the testing requirement remains an important safety measure, even with strong vaccination rates in Canada, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding the Delta variant and lingering questions about how long vaccines remain effective.
“No layer of protection is ever 100 per cent perfect, we know that,” Tam said.
“With all these considerations, I think having that additional layer of protection (from testing) is important at this time, but we will review it.”
© 2021 The Canadian Press
Courts block two Biden administration COVID vaccine mandates
The Biden administration was blocked on Tuesday from enforcing two mandates requiring millions of American workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a key part of its strategy for controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe, Louisiana, temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can resolve legal challenges.
Doughty’s ruling applied nationwide, except in 10 states where the CMS was already prevented from enforcing the rule due to a prior order from a federal judge in St. Louis.
Doughty said the CMS lacked the authority to issue a vaccine mandate that would require more than 2 million unvaccinated healthcare workers to get a coronavirus shot.
“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million healthcare workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” wrote Doughty.
Separately, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, blocked the administration from enforcing a regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated.
The contractor ruling applied in the three states that had filed the lawsuit, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, one of at least 13 legal challenges nationwide against the regulation. It appears to be the first ruling against the contractor vaccine mandate.
The White House declined to comment.
The legal setbacks for President Joe Biden’s vaccine policy come as concerns that the Omicron coronavirus variant could trigger a new wave of infections and curtail travel and economic activity across the globe.
Biden unveiled regulations in September to increase the U.S. adult vaccination rate beyond the current 71% as a way of fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and weighed on the economy.
Republican state attorneys general, conservative groups and trade organizations have sued to stop the regulations.
Tuesday’s rulings add to a string of court losses for the Biden administration over its COVID-19 policies.
The most sweeping regulation, a workplace vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees, was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in early November.
In August, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the administration’s pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)
Putin hits back as NATO warns Moscow against attacking Ukraine
Russia would pay a high price for any new military aggression against Ukraine, NATO and the United States warned on Tuesday as the Western military alliance met to discuss Moscow’s possible motives for massing troops near the Ukrainian border.
President Vladimir Putin countered that Russia would be forced to act if U.S.-led NATO placed missiles in Ukraine that could strike Moscow within minutes.
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that now aspires to join the European Union and NATO, has become the main flashpoint between Russia and the West as relations have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the Cold War ended.
“There will be a high price to pay for Russia if they once again use force against the independence of the nation Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Stoltenberg, saying: “Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States…, and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”
Tensions have been rising for weeks, with Russia, Ukraine and NATO all staging military exercises amid mutual recriminations over which side is the aggressor.
Putin went further than previously in spelling out Russia’s “red lines” on Ukraine, saying it would have to respond if NATO deployed advanced missile systems on its neighbour’s soil.
“If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be 7-10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed. Just imagine,” the Kremlin leader said.
“What are we to do in such a scenario? We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way. And we can do that now,” he said, pointing to Russia’s recent testing of a hypersonic weapon he said could fly at nine times the speed of sound.
EU and other Western leaders are involved in a geopolitical tug-of-war with Russia for influence in Ukraine and two other ex-Soviet republics, Moldova and Georgia, through trade, cooperation and protection arrangements.
NATO foreign ministers began two days of talks in the Latvian capital Riga to debate what they say is the growing Russian threat, with Blinken due to brief his 29 alliance counterparts on Washington’s intelligence assessment.
Blinken, speaking at a news conference with his Latvian counterpart, said he will have more to say on Wednesday on how to respond to Russia after holding talks with NATO allies.
“We will be consulting closely with…allies and partners in the days ahead…about whether there are other steps that we should take as an alliance to strengthen our defences, strengthen our resilience, strengthen our capacity,” he said.
Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmygal accused Russia https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-ukraine-pm-says-russia-absolutely-behind-coup-attempt-2021-11-30 of trying to topple the elected government in Kyiv, which the Kremlin denies, after Ukraine’s president last week unveiled what he said was a coup attempt.
Shmygal also said Ukraine would seek more weapons from the United States – precisely the course of action that Putin has warned against.
The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country. That conflict has killed 14,000 people, according to Kyiv, and is still simmering.
In May, Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders numbered 100,000, the most since its Crimea takeover, Western officials say. Ukraine says there are more than 90,000 there now.
Moscow has dismissed as inflammatory Ukrainian suggestions that it is preparing for an attack, said it does not threaten anyone and defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it wishes.
Britain and Germany echoed the NATO warnings.
“We will stand with our fellow democracies against Russia’s malign activity,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken…Russia would have to pay a high price for any sort of aggression.”
(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels; writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Robin Emmott and Mark Trevelyan; editing by Mark Heinrich)
Jazz singer Josephine Baker first Black woman honoured at France’s Pantheon
Josephine Baker, the famed French American singer and dancer, was inducted on Tuesday into the Pantheon mausoleum in Paris – one of France’s highest honours – at a ceremony attended by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Baker, who also served in the French Resistance during World War Two and was a prominent civic rights activist after the war, is the first Black woman and sixth woman to enter the Pantheon, a Paris landmark dominating the city’s Latin Quarter.
She was “a Black person who stood up for Black people, but foremost, she was a woman who defended humankind,” Macron said during a speech.
He spoke shortly after Baker’s most famous song, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris” (“I have two loves, my country and Paris”), was played at the ceremony.
Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906 but went on to find much of her fame after arriving in Paris in the 1920s, as many Black Americans stayed on in the French capital after World War One and brought over with them American jazz culture.
Baker, who became a French citizen in 1937, died in 1975 and is buried in Monaco.
In accordance with her family’s wishes, Baker’s remains have not been moved to the Pantheon. To represent her presence there, a symbolic coffin was carried into the mausoleum by six pallbearers containing handfuls of earth from four locations: St. Louis, Paris, Monaco and Milandes, in the Dordogne department of France, where Baker owned a castle.
Baker’s empty coffin will lie alongside other French national icons in the mausoleum such as authors Emile Zola and Victor Hugo, the philosopher Voltaire and politician Simone Veil.
(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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