The pandemic is by no means over. But Canada seems to at least erase some of the sleep from its eyes, as various restrictions have been lifted in most provinces.
This long weekend brought another wave of relaxation as the number of vaccinations continued to rise. As of Friday, the number of fully vaccinated adults reached 31 percent and 68 percent of Canadians had received at least one injection.
The latest Covid-19 modeling released by the Public Health Agency of Canada shows that the vaccination campaign is working. Hospital admissions, the number of cases and, thankfully, deaths are steadily declining. The R number, which represents the number of people to whom an infected person will transmit the virus, has been less than 1 since April 17, strong confirmation that the virus is on the decline.
None of this means that the Delta variant is no longer a problem and that we can forgo precautions altogether. The Public Health Agency has released a handy chart, offering advice to fully and partially vaccinated Canadians, as well as an interactive risk assessment questionnaire.
In short, if we are to fend off a fourth wave and another round of restrictions, more Canadians must continue to be vaccinated. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said even fully vaccinated people cannot resume normal lives until 80 percent of Canadians are vaccinated.
“As we continue to make great strides with more than 36 million doses of vaccine administered by provinces and territories to date, precautions are still needed as immunity grows in our communities,” said the Dr. Tam in a Canada Day message.
Just as provinces have imposed different restrictions, reopening has varied across the country. On Canada Day, Alberta lifted almost all of its pandemic restrictions, although it still allows businesses and institutions to demand measures such as the wearing of masks. Saskatchewan is expected to make a similar move on July 11.
Nova Scotia on Wednesday reopened its border with the rest of Canada – or at least to fully vaccinated people from other provinces.
And on Monday, fully vaccinated Canadians returning home will no longer have to self-quarantine in a government hotel while awaiting test results. The date of the full reopening of the border remains unknown.
A little over a week ago, I returned from my first out-of-province posting since the closures began in March of last year. And I headed to western Canada, the destination of my previous prepandemic trip.
I was there to report on the discovery of human remains on the grounds of former residential schools in British Columbia and Alberta.
[Read: With Discovery of Unmarked Graves, Canada’s Indigenous Seek Reckoning]
As I drove about 3,000 kilometers through Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, it was impossible not to see that there were notable differences between the three provinces when it comes to reopening as well. than with Ontario, where I live.
There is certainly not a great resurgence in travel. While my flight from Ottawa to Calgary was packed, the terminals in both cities are largely deserted; an overwhelming majority of their stores and restaurants were not only closed but often emptied of everything, including coffee decanters. Even the vending machines were stripped of their wares.
When I picked up a rental car, the clerk told me that business was still down about 90%. The rental rate, like my plane ticket, was way above what I was typically charged in the past. Upon checking out at a 224 room hotel, I saw a tally sheet indicating that only 29 were occupied that night. Food and room service was limited or absent in hotels and, wisely, housekeepers did not clean rooms except on request.
Perhaps because British Columbia has never locked down as much as other provinces, it seemed more normal than other provinces. (I left just before the Dome of Deadly Heat came down.) Fifty high school kids showed up for a graduation party at my hotel. This size of indoor gathering is still a distant memory in Ontario.
Downtown Calgary also seemed more lively than either Ottawa or Regina. In Medicine Hat, Alberta, I was able to visit the former Medalta Porcelain Factory, now a superb museum of Alberta’s once-powerful pottery industry. Back here in Ottawa, museums remain closed and indoor dining is still prohibited.
Canada Day, of course, has remained a more low-key and largely virtual affair than in the past. But it wasn’t just because of the pandemic. Several communities and groups canceled or modified their celebration plans out of respect for the demands of Indigenous leaders and groups.
[Read: After Bodies Are Found, Some Say Canada Day Is Nothing to Celebrate]
With the summer and the relaxation of the rules, what are your plans? Are you inclined to fly back on an out-of-province vacation or will you stay closer to home until full immunization levels increase? How do you feel about welcoming guests, especially from afar?
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Breaking records is an overused term when it comes to describing the weather. But as my colleague Dan Bilefsky and Vjosa Isai, The Times’ new editorial assistant in Canada, report, it was almost an understatement this week when it comes to British Columbia and Alberta. The scorching heat killed scores of people, and on Canada Day fires destroyed most of one village and forced evacuations in others. The Upshot explained how extreme the temperatures are.
Canada Goose boasts that its expensive parkas are still made in Canada to ensure better work practices. But Noam Scheiber reports that unions say the once fully unionized company, now owned by Boston-based Bain Capital, is stifling attempts to organize workers at its three Winnipeg factories.
Many more years ago – more than I want to think about – one of the first issues I addressed was the trade dispute created by the US tariffs on softwood lumber from Canada. It’s still going on. And that’s on top of the already high lumber prices in the United States, many say. Thomas Kaplan reports that there is growing pressure on President Biden to finally end it, but adds that “finding a resolution to the trade dispute is unlikely to be a straightforward endeavor.”
The Montreal Canadiens became the first Canadian team to advance to the Stanley Cup final since 1993, when they also won. But the first two games in the series didn’t bode well for their fans.
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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