As U.S. prepares to reopen border, some urge Canada to relax testing requirement
Members of the U.S. Congress are expected to send letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of Parliament asking Canada to drop the testing requirement for vaccinated travellers.
The hassle of getting tested will discourage people from taking advantage of the restored right to cross-border travel, said one member of Congress.
New York Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat, said proof of vaccination should be enough.
"Testing is redundant," he said Wednesday, one day after the U.S. confirmed it will reopen the border early next month.
These calls for ending test requirements have one key goal: attracting more Canadian travellers. Same-day trips represent a huge percentage of Canadian travel to the United States.
According to data from Statistics Canada, day trips comprised nearly half of all Canadian travel to the U.S. in 2019 — and two-thirds of trips taken by car.
The current Canadian testing requirements make that difficult. To enter Canada, recreational travellers need to provide evidence of a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of entry. It can't be a rapid antigen test, but rather must be a molecular test.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair noted on Wednesday that the federal government accepts negative PCR tests that are up to 72 hours old for incoming travellers. That rule means that Canadians making day trips to the U.S. can take their COVID-19 test before leaving and use it when they re-enter, rather than relying on a private test in the U.S.
"If [Canadians] want to go over and do some shopping, it will be relatively straightforward for them to return to Canada," Blair told CBC's Power & Politics.
Meanwhile, many Canadians received different doses in their two-shot regimen, unlike Americans. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently doesn't recognize mixed COVID-19 vaccines — such as one dose of AstraZeneca, and one dose of Pfizer or Moderna — and hasn't yet said if fully vaccinated Canadian travellers with two different doses will be blocked from entry when the vaccine requirement kicks in.
"CDC will release additional guidance and information as the travel requirements are finalized later this month," spokesperson Jade Fulce said in an email on Wednesday.
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Sask. minister says health-care system has enough staff to handle current COVID patient load
Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman says the province is not asking the federal government for nurses because Saskatchewan's health-care system has enough workers to handle its load of patients with and without COVID-19.
Merriman took questions from reporters Thursday after receiving his seasonal flu shot at a pharmacy in Regina.
Merriman's remark came only a day after Scott Livingstone, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the system was still under "significant pressures" because of the flood of COVID-19 patients into Saskatchewan hospitals.
Saskatchewan's per capita rate of 375 active cases for every 100,000 people is second in Canada right now, only surpassed by the much more sparsely populated Northwest Territories.
Saskatchewan has talked to Ontario about potentially moving some ICU patients out of province because of those pressures. One of the factors that will be used to trigger such a decision is staff burnout, Livingstone said.
Merriman said Thursday that wasn't occurring just yet and that he was encouraged by recent, lower daily increases in new COVID-19 cases as well as a pace of about 2,000 to 2,500 vaccinations per day.
When pressed by a reporter on Saskatchewan's lower rate of vaccination relative to most other Canadian jurisdictions, Merriman stressed that from a global and North American perspective, the province has had significant uptake. CBC tracking shows 76 per cent of the eligible population in Saskatchewan is fully vaccinated, with 85.3 per cent having receiving one dose.
On July 6, five days before all public health measures were dropped in Saskatchewan, the province had recorded a cumulative 569 COVID-19 deaths where the location was confirmed. That pandemic total is now 764, with the biggest tolls in the interim span seen in Saskatoon (35 deaths), Regina (23) and the northwest region, which includes La Loche, Beauval and Meadow Lake (22).
World roundup: COVID-19 developments in Russia, Africa and the U.S.
Russia on Thursday recorded the highest daily numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic, a rapidly surging toll that has severely strained the nation's health care system.
The government's coronavirus task force reported 31,299 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 986 deaths in the last 24 hours.
The country has repeatedly marked record daily death tolls over the past few weeks as infections surged amid a slow vaccination rate and lax enforcement of measures to protect against the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Tuesday that just 29 per cent of the country's nearly 146 million people, were fully vaccinated.
In Africa, only one in seven COVID-19 infections is being detected, meaning the continent's estimated infection level may be 59 million people, according to a new study by the World Health Organization.
"With limited testing, we're still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa," said Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for the WHO in Africa in a media briefing Thursday.
To get more accurate numbers of infections and to better curb transmission, the United Nations plans to increase rapid diagnostic testing in eight African countries, with the goal of testing seven million people in the next year.
The initiative will be based on what is called a ring strategy that has been used to eradicate smallpox and was implemented during Ebola outbreaks. It is called a ring method because it will target people living within a 100-metre radius around new confirmed cases.
The UN is warning that with Africa having millions of undetected cases, it is urgent to speed up the continent's access to vaccines, which have been to slow to arrive. Africa's vaccination rates are low. Only 30 per cent of the continent's 54 countries having fully vaccinated 10 per cent of their populations, a rate that badly lags countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
In the U.S., a panel of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will meet on Nov. 30 to discuss whether to authorize Merck & Co.'s experimental COVID-19 antiviral drug, it was learned Thursday.
Merck has touted trial results for its molnupiravir pill, for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults who have tested positive and are at high risk for progression to severe illness.
The FDA typically follows the advice of its experts but is not bound to do so.
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