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Today's coronavirus news: Wasaga Beach to close main beach area after huge Canada Day crowds; WE group to stop running federal volunteer program – Toronto Star

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KEY FACTS

  • 8:25 a.m.: Wasaga Beach to close main beach area after huge Canada Day crowds.

  • 5 a.m.: Atlantic provinces lifting travel restrictions within region today.

  • 4 a.m.: Farm shutdown escalates migrant fears over testing, group says.

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

11 a.m.: When COVID-19 hit, Paintbox Bistro, a restaurant located in Regent Park, quickly transformed into a store. Why? The goal was to keep her staff employed and continue providing a resource to feed lower-income residents.

The Star’s Karon Liu has the full story.

10:20 a.m. (updated): Youth Minister Bardish Chagger says the WE organization won’t manage the federal government’s $900-million program to pay students and fresh graduates for volunteer work this summer.

In a statement this morning, Chagger says it’s a “mutually agreed upon decision.”

Since the charity founded by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger was announced as the manager of the program last week, the sole-sourced deal has been criticized because of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s close relationship with the group.

Trudeau and Chagger have said repeatedly that the recommendation to use WE for the work came from the public service, not politicians.

10 a.m.: All those warnings from small cottage country mayors to stay away this spring haven’t discouraged Torontonians from hunting for vacation homes, realtors say. In fact, the pandemic is boosting those real estate numbers.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski.

9 a.m.: Outdoor patios at restaurants and bars have been given the green light to grow, allowing more people to dine or have a drink in the open air as summer gets into full swing.

Premier Doug Ford said the government has amended emergency orders to cut red tape and allow municipalities to quickly pass temporary bylaws clearing the way during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The measure follows consultations with chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams and a push from Progressive Conservative MPP Gila Martow (Thornhill), who proposed the idea in May to help restaurants and bars struggling to stay afloat selling take-away food, beer, wine and spirits.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson.

8:25 a.m.: The public’s “blatant disregard” for the rules of social distancing has resulted in Wasaga Beach laying out a plan to shut down the majority of the main beach area by July 9.

The only access permitted would be three walkways to reach the water, and so the public can access businesses along what was Beach Drive.

Anyone who chooses to flout the new rules by walking on the municipal portion of the beach will also face a hefty fine: $750.

The town’s emergency management co-ordinator and deputy fire chief, Craig Williams, called the disregard for social distancing and gathering recommendations on Canada Day, and the previous two weekends, “human behaviour at its worst.”

The beach area would be closed to the public by July 9 and “for the foreseeable future.”

The municipal lots would be reduced in capacity by half.

Mayor Nina Bifolchi said while the previous two weekends on the beach had been busy, the crowds on Canada Day “took it to a whole new level.”

7:18 a.m. The scale of coronavirus infections in English care homes was laid bare on Friday, adding to the pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his handling of the pandemic.

A survey of more than 9,000 institutions found that 56 per cent had at least one confirmed case of COVID-19 since the outbreak began, according to the Office for National Statistics. In total, 11 per cent of all care-home residents tested positive for the disease, almost double the rate in the community as a whole.

The government has come under fire for its failure to shield vulnerable people in care homes, with the ONS now estimating that over 19,000 residents in England and Wales died from the virus as of June 12. In the initial stages of the outbreak, some hospitalized residents were discharged into the facilities without a negative test to show they weren’t carrying the disease.

Speaking on LBC Radio on Friday, Johnson described the significant loss of life in care homes as “absolutely tragic” and promised a “proper examination.”

“Far too many lives were lost in care homes and we mourn for everyone,” he said. “I bitterly, bitterly regret every single loss of life that we’ve had. Whether an earlier lockdown would have made the crucial difference is something we will have to look at.”

Staff working arrangements also influenced levels of infection. Those that employed more workers from agencies, or had staff working across multiple sites, showed a greater spread of the virus. There was also evidence that care homes that provide sick pay had lower levels of infection, as staff were more likely to take time off work.

7 a.m.: The pandemic has dinged the auto sector, but one part of the industry is faring better than it was before the crisis: used cars.

Sales of used vehicles in the U.S. have roared back after dropping 38 per cent in April, when states were shut down and some dealerships were forced to close. In June, used-vehicle sales rose 17 per cent above the pre-pandemic forecasts, according to research firm J.D. Power.

A confluence of factors is drawing buyers to the used-car lot. Some have used federal stimulus checks on their purchases, dealers and analysts say. Interest rates have fallen during the pandemic, to about 4.73 per cent on average for a 36-month used-car loan, from about 5 per cent in early March, according to Bankrate.com.

Meanwhile, many dealers are having trouble getting new vehicles from the factory, after the health crisis forced auto makers to close their plants for nearly two months this spring. That has led salespeople to more readily redirect customers to the used-car lot, dealers say.

The used-vehicle market’s swift recovery is a relief for dealers and auto makers, which have seen other areas of their businesses upended by the pandemic.

6:10 a.m. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged officials to maintain alertness against the coronavirus, warning that complacency risked “unimaginable and irretrievable crisis,” state media said Friday.

Despite the warning, Kim reaffirmed North Korea’s claim to not have had a single case of COVID-19, telling a ruling party meeting Thursday that the country has “thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus” despite the worldwide health crisis.

Outsiders widely doubt North Korea escaped the pandemic entirely, given its poor health infrastructure and close trade and travel ties to China, where COVID-19 emerged late last year.

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” North Korea earlier this year shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists and mobilized health workers to quarantine anyone with similar symptoms to the disease.

Experts say the country’s self-imposed lockdown is hurting an economy already battered by stringent U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile program.

The Korean Central News Agency said Kim during the politburo meeting of the Workers’ Party “stressed the need to maintain maximum alert without a slight self-complacence or relaxation” as the virus continues to spread in neighbouring countries.

The agency said Kim sharply criticized inattentiveness among officials and violations of emergency anti-virus rules and warned that a “hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis.”

The North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published several photos of Kim at the meeting, which were the first state media images of him in weeks. Neither Kim nor the ruling party officials who participated were wearing masks.

5:01 a.m.: Toronto’s northwest corner — which has been hardest hit by COVID-19 — is part of a larger hot spot of vulnerability that extends beyond the edges of the city, suggesting a broader regional cluster of high infection rates that defies boundaries and is exploiting socioeconomic inequalities, according to experts and public health data.

Officials are still trying to puzzle out why Toronto’s northwest corner has seen the city’s highest infection rates, and who, exactly, has been impacted most.

Recent reporting from the Star found that these neighbourhoods have some of the highest concentrations of residents who are low-income, racialized and living in cramped housing while working in higher-risk sectors like manufacturing. These findings were echoed Thursday by newly released data from Toronto Public Health showing that neighbourhoods with these characteristics were correlated with higher case counts.

Read more of the Star’s reporting here.

5 a.m.: The four Atlantic provinces are lifting travel restrictions within the region today, with an agreement that’s causing a mix of anxiety and excitement among people in the region.

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Residents of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island can now travel to any of the other three provinces without self-isolating for 14 days after arriving.

The premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have hinted restrictions could soon be lifted for visitors from the rest of Canada if all goes well.

Some residents have criticized the so-called “Atlantic bubble” over fears the novel coronavirus could re-emerge in the region, but health officials are encouraging people to trust the science behind the decision and keep following health measures.

Read more of the Star’s reporting here

4:16 a.m.: South Africa’s reported coronavirus cases are surging.

Its hospitals are now bracing for an onslaught of patients, setting up temporary wards and hoping advances in treatment will help the country’s health facilities from becoming overwhelmed.

The spike comes as the country has allowed businesses to reopen in recent weeks to stave off economic disaster after a strict two-month stay-at-home order worsened already high unemployment and drastically increased hunger.

In Johannesburg, the largest city, health officials said they are considering reimposing some restrictions to try to slow the spread of the virus.

4 a.m.: A group representing greenhouse growers in Ontario’s Windsor-Essex region says a work stoppage at a local farm due to a COVID-19 outbreak has escalated fears about testing for the virus.

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers says in a statement that the public health order has contributed to anxiety among both farmers and workers.

On Wednesday, the region’s medical officer of health issued an order that required an unnamed farmer whose greenhouse has an active outbreak involving 191 workers to isolate those employees and stop work.

The medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex issued the order after a rash of positive tests over the weekend.

The growers group says it is working with the sector and the provincial government to address those fears as on-farm testing continues.

Premier Doug Ford said Thursday the work stoppage will not encourage local farmers to participate in efforts to combat the virus.

6 p.m.: Interest payments were already draining the bottom line at Cirque du Soleil Holdings LP before the pandemic froze its revenues, according to a report by the monitor in its bankruptcy protection case.

Ernst & Young, the firm overseeing Cirque’s restructuring under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in Canada, said its net loss increased to $80 million last year from $10.2 million in 2017.

“During that period, the applicant’s financial position deteriorated as a result of the losses sustained and the increasingly debt heavy capital structure,” the monitor said in a report.

The pandemic hit the 36-year-old company just as it emerged from a string of acquisitions that helped it diversify from its original acrobat-based shows. The deals, which included Blue Man Productions Inc., help Cirque increase revenue to $1.04 billion last year from $882 million in 2017, but also put it deeper into debt.

As of March 31, Cirque owed its first lien creditors $901 million and its second lien creditors $154 million. It also owed $32 million to shareholder Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec and an equal amount to Fonds de solidarite des travailleurs du Quebec, the monitor’s report said.

Montreal-based Cirque filed for protection from creditors on Monday after the coronavirus forced it to close shows around the world. A creditors’ group has said a proposal by existing shareholders — TPG, the Caisse and China’s Fosun International Ltd. — to restructure the live performance company is “doomed to fail” and there is no chance they will accept it.

The shareholders’ group proposed refinancing the company with new capital and giving creditors a 45% equity stake in exchange for wiping out most of its debt. Now the company will go through a process to see if another investor can improve on that offer.

Cirque had $1.47 billion in liabilities at the end of 2019, about five times shareholders’ equity.

Thursday 5 p.m. Ontario’s regional health units are reporting a total of 37,389 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, including 2,728 deaths, up a total of 154 new cases since Wednesday evening, according to the Star’s latest count.

As has been the case in recent weeks, the vast majority of new cases reported Thursday came in a small handful of health units. Just Toronto (77 new cases), Peel Region (23 cases) and York Region (21 cases) reported increases in the double digits.

New infections are down sharply, even in these regions. In Toronto, for example, the long-term average rate of new infections has fallen from 196 per day in early June to just 53 daily as of Thursday.

Four more fatal cases were reported Thursday, all in Toronto.

The daily rate of deaths has also fallen sharply since peaking in early May when the health units reported as many as 94 deaths in a single day.

Earlier, the province reported the Canada Day holiday meant it had incomplete information on the number of Ontarians currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The most recent totals of patients hospitalized, in the ICU or ventilated in Ontario hospitals were near the lowest levels in records that were first made public in early April.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of total deaths, 2,680, may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system. In the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases. This means they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

Thursday 2:45 p.m.: More than three million Canadians either lost their jobs or had their hours significantly reduced due to COVID-19, according to Statistics Canada.

And now that economies across the country are reopening, some people are looking to change course, having realized their careers aren’t as viable as they may have been pre-pandemic.

Many are going back to school to pursue an entirely new profession — for example, Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education saw a 15 per cent jump in its spring enrolment, according to dean Gary Hepburn, even after the school’s in-person courses had to be cancelled.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rosa Saba.

Click here to read more of Thursday’s coverage.

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Canada-U.S. border closure extended again amid tension over restrictions – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Canadian and U.S. officials have agreed to keep the border between the two countries closed to non-essential travel for another month. This comes as both countries are still working to stop the spread of COVID-19, and as tensions continue to flare between Canadians and prospective American visitors.

The current extension of the cross-border agreement expires on August 21, though as the spread of COVID-19 continues in both countries, the restrictions on recreational travel will remain in place until at least Sept. 21. The ban on discretionary travel was first introduced in March and has been extended each month since.

“We are extending the reciprocal restrictions at the Canada-US border for another 30 days, till Sept. 21, 2020. We will continue to do what’s necessary to keep our communities safe,” tweeted Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.  

The agreement, as it stands, exempts the flow of trade and commerce, as well as temporary foreign workers and vital health-care workers such as nurses who live and work on opposite sides of the border. Tourists and cross-border visits remain prohibited.

This is the fifth renewal of the border restrictions since the coronavirus pandemic was declared. 

As of June 9, foreign nationals who are immediate family members of either Canadian citizens or permanent residents can enter Canada to be reunited, under a limited exemption to the current border restrictions. This has allowed both foreign and cross-border Canada-U.S. families to reunite under certain stipulations, including having to remain in Canada for at least 15 days. 

While those eligible to cross the border for this reason include parents, spouses, common-law partners, dependent children and their children, many other families remain separated by the border restrictions including non-married couples. Those in this predicament continue to push for a further loosening of the rules in order to see their loved ones. 

‘NOT THE TIME TO VISIT’

While the restrictions have been in place for months, that hasn’t stopped some Americans from coming into Canada, which has led to numerous instances of confrontations between locals and visitors with U.S. license plates, as well as other expressions of frustration.

Some have legitimately boarded flights from the U.S. to Canada —which is permitted with restrictions like quarantining on arrival—though thousands of others have tried less-legitimate routes, or tried to cross over to come shopping or sightseeing.

As has been seen in Nova Scotia, the concerns about Americans are not without some merit, as there have been confirmed cases linked to people’s failure to self-isolate. 

The tensions aren’t exclusive to American visitors. Even some cross-province travel has irked locals, both in the Atlantic Canada bubble, and out West, where British Columbia Premier John Horgan suggested those with out-of-province license plates on their vehicles consider taking public transit or riding a bicycle if they’re feeling harassed.

Here are some notable examples of cross-border COVID-19 tensions.

THE ‘ALASKA LOOPHOLE’ 

At least a dozen Americans have been fined under the Quarantine Act, after trying what’s been coined the “Alaska loophole”: travellers telling border agents that they are passing through Canada in order to get to Alaska for an essential purpose such as working or returning home, but they end up vacationing in Alberta and British Columbia instead. 

In response the federal government has rolled out new restrictions requiring foreigners entering Canada en route to Alaska to do so at one of five approved border crossings and prohibiting them from visiting any tourism sites or stopping to get food anywhere other than drive-thru restaurants along their way. These pass-through visitors are also being given a “hang tag” to attach to their vehicle’s rear-view mirror, to make them easily identifiable. The tag will include the date by which they must leave Canada.

These crossings prompted Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to urge Americans to exercise caution and delay their trips to Canada until it has been deemed safe to do so.

“I love the Rockies too. I grew up in Alberta. Personally, I can think of no better place to spend time,” she said in mid-June. “But now is not the time to visit, hopefully we will be back to normal at some point soon.” 

TENSION IN COTTAGE COUNTRY

Ontario cottage country is typically home to many Americans over the summer, though this season there have been reports of out-of-towners being targeted and having their cars keyed.

This prompted Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding to encourage his residents to not jump to conclusions.

“Just because somebody is driving a U.S. vehicle doesn’t make them a bad person or carrier of the virus, and certainly doesn’t preclude them potentially from being here for a variety of other reasons,” he said. 

Harding has also spoken about an incident in near Huntsville, Ont., where he said two men approached a man getting gas and said “you’re American go home,” to which the man stated he lived in Canada. 

FLOAT CHASE 

With so many shared waterways there have also been incidents where Americans have floated into Canada despite warnings not to, as the restrictions include a ban on any cross-border entry for boating or fishing.

Among the instances of improper aquatic crossings was a whale watching boat with American passengers that crossed into Canadian waters in B.C. In that case the boat operator was fined $1,000 and escorted back to the United States. 

As well, there’s been a “float chase” down the Kettle River in B.C. after a Washington State border jumper entered Canada illegally at a closed border crossing and ended up on foot, and eventually in the water for two and a half hours as he tried to evade arrest. 

He was eventually escorted back to shore with the help of some “good Samaritans” who waded in after him. 

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10 years on, some of MV Sun Sea's passengers still in limbo after entering Canada as refugees – CBC.ca

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On August 13, 2010, the MV Sun Sea, a cargo ship carrying 492 Tamils seeking asylum from civil war in Sri Lanka docked in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island. Ten years later, some are still seeking relief.

Piranavan Thangavel, 29, a passenger on the ship, says he’s still waiting for permanent residency status while other fellow passengers are waiting for their refugee hearings. 

“We are not terrorists. We are not criminals. We are refugees … We came here to save our lives,” Thangavel said. 

When the ship arrived in Canada, all 380 men, 63 women, and 49 children on board were detained — for months to years. 

In the 10 years since his arrival, including eight months spent in detention, Thangavel has learned to speak English, graduated from high school and attended college.

He says he has been able to endure the long wait for status better than most because he is single, but others with spouses or children back in Sri Lanka have fallen into depression because of the uncertainty caused by the immigration limbo. 

“I don’t know why it takes this long,” he said. 

The MV Sun Sea is moved from its dock by tug boats in New Westminster, B.C., in August 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Gary Anandasangaree, a Liberal MP and human rights lawyer, was in Victoria Thursday morning at a commemorative ceremony for the MV Sun Sea held at the grounds of the B.C. Legislature. 

Anandasangaree had met with detainees back in 2010.

“There was a lot of scare-mongering at the time by politicians saying they were terrorists, criminals, undesirables,” he said.

“Sure enough, they were not as described and anticipated, they were actual refugees with enormous experiences of trauma.”

However, that political context and their subsequent months-long detention delayed the asylum claim process. Then came a shift in laws which led to a delay in processing refugee claims across the board, leading to a long, drawn-out process for many of the MV Sun Sea passengers. 

“Someone with a four-year-old now has a fourteen-year-old boy back home who doesn’t really remember his father. There’s many, many stories like that, I think, which goes to how the system failed on a number of different occasions,” he said. 

Thangavel says Canada should open its arms to anybody affected by war who comes here seeking refuge and safety.

“I have only one aim. I want to become a good Canadian citizen.”

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Canadian tour boats entering U.S. waters lead to turbulence during COVID-19 border closure – CBC.ca

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U.S. tour boat operator David Kay is frustrated. He said he’s prohibited from entering Canadian waters in the St. Lawrence River, yet he continually sees Canadian tour boats travel along the same river into U.S. waters. 

“We can’t go over there and they can come over here,” said Kay, owner of Clayton Island Tours in Clayton, N.Y. “It’s kind of an unfair advantage.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada and the U.S. have agreed to shut their shared land border to non-essential traffic, which includes recreational boating. 

But some U.S. commercial tour boat operators in the St. Lawrence — who are now prohibited from entering Canadian waters — say their Canadian counterparts don’t face similar restrictions. 

“I have no problem with Canadian boats coming into the U.S. waters,” said Ron Thomson, owner of Uncle Sam Boat Tours in Alexandria Bay, N.Y. But he said Canada should also let in U.S. tour boats — as long as no one docks and passengers don’t disembark.

“What [COVID-19] threat do my boats pose by coming into Canada and then going back to my docks?” he said. 

Clayton Island Tours offers a two-nation tour of the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence River, but it has had to be curtailed because the company’s boats currently can’t enter Canadian waters. (Clayton Island Tours/Facebook)

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York agrees. In a statement earlier this month, he said he sent a letter to the Canadian government asking it to relax its boating restrictions. 

Schumer said many U.S. boaters have recently reported facing fines when crossing to the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence. 

Americans caught entering Canadian waters for tourism face up to six months in jail and/or fines of up to $750,000.

Schumer said U.S. boaters sailing through Canadian waters pose no health risks and that the rules aren’t reciprocal, as U.S. authorities still allow Canadian vessels to pass through U.S. waters.

“That type of uneven enforcement puts U.S. boaters — especially tour companies — at a disadvantage and does nothing to protect Canadians from COVID-19 spread,” the Senate minority leader said.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York wants the Canadian government to relax its boating restrictions and allow U.S. boaters to enter Canadian waters as long as they do so safely. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told CBC News that the rules are even because Canadian tour boats actually aren’t allowed to enter U.S. waters.

“Traversing U.S. waters for recreational purposes is deemed non-essential and therefore not authorized due to the current travel restrictions,” CBP spokesperson Mike Niezgoda said in an email.

Confusion over rules

But U.S. tour operators Kay and Thomson said they see two Ontario-based tour boat companies — Gananoque Boat Line and Rockport Boat Line — take Canadian passengers on tours multiple times a day along the U.S. side of the St. Lawrence River.

“People on [my] boat see the Canadian boat go by and say, ‘Well why can they come here if we can’t go there?'” Kay said. “We can’t really give an answer.”

Gananoque Boat Line — based in Gananoque, Ont., near Kingston — declined to comment and referred CBC News to Transport Canada. 

Transport Canada responded in an email that it “respects the authority of U.S. officials regarding vessels entering their waters.” 

David Kay, who operates Clayton Island Tours, says one of his tour boat’s captains took this photo of a boat with Ontario-based tour company Rockport Boat Line while is was sailing in U.S. waters on Wednesday. (Submitted by David Kay)

Rockport Boat Line, based in Rockport, Ont., confirmed to CBC News that it’s still sailing to the U.S. side of the St. Lawrence and said that it has permission to do so.

Company president Kathleen Allen stated in an email that Rockport’s tour boat is considered a commercial vessel, not a recreational boat, and that U.S. CBP told her the vessel could travel — without stopping — in U.S. waters. 

“We are not ‘crossing into the U.S.’ as in some kind of border crossing,” Allen said. ‘We are travelling nonstop through U.S. waters.”

When CBC News asked U.S. CBP about Allen’s statement, it reiterated its policy that tour boats cannot enter the U.S. at this time. The agency said it’s constantly on the lookout for trespassers and that boaters who break the rules could face fines or expulsion.

CBP said it couldn’t immediately provide information on how many Canadians have been fined for entering U.S. waters since the border closure began in March.

A compromise?

Back in Clayton, N.Y., tour operator Kay said he hopes his Canadian counterparts will continue to sail in U.S. waters. 

“I’m not trying to shut them down. I’m trying to open it up for us.”

In Schumer’s letter to the Canadian government, he proposed that Canada grant U.S. boaters pre-clearance to enter Canadian waters, as long as they adhere to safety rules such as wearing masks and not docking. 

“Such a system … would not increase the risk of COVID-19 spread to Canadians,” he wrote.

But, at least for now, Canada is sticking to its current travel restrictions for U.S. boaters.

“These are unprecedented times, and the measures imposed were done so in light of potential public health risks,” Canada Border Services Agency said in an email.

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