A COVID-19 vaccine mandate for truckers crossing into Canada from the United States came into effect on Saturday, causing “limited delays” at some border crossings and raising worries about future disruptions to the supply chain as the pandemic drags on.
As of Saturday, Canadian truckers must be vaccinated if they want to avoid quarantine and a pre-arrival molecular test, while unvaccinated American big-riggers are to be turned back at the border.
Trucking industry groups accused the federal government of sparking confusion after the Canada Border Services Agency suggested earlier this week that Ottawa was backtracking on the rules, only to have that information refuted the next day.
The president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance says the application of the mandate could potentially cause some slowdowns at the border in the coming days if unvaccinated truckers have to turn their big rigs around.
But Stephen Laskowski says the bigger concern is over wider impacts on the supply chain caused by driver shortages, which are likely to be felt cumulatively in the coming weeks and months.
Mike Millian, the president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, said in an interview that as of midday Saturday, the borders appeared to be flowing smoothly.
But he said some Canadian truckers who were dispatched during the 16-hour window in which Ottawa’s erroneous announcement spread through the sector will have to face consequences upon their return.
“There’s going to be drivers returning in the next two, three, four days who were expecting not to quarantine who will have to quarantine,” he said in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.
A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said in an email that traveller processing times in the commercial stream had increased at some ports of entry, resulting in “some limited delays” in the hours following the new rules.
Rebecca Purdy added that there is normally a transition period when new measures are introduced, and said the CBSA would adjust its resources and staffing levels in the coming days if needed.
Up to 26,000 of 160,000 truckers who make regular cross-border trips will be sidelined, adding further bottlenecks and potential price hikes to the flow of goods into the country, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
Laskowski said Canadian trucking companies have been working to adjust to the mandate by reassigning unvaccinated truckers to domestic duties.
Public health experts have suggested in recent days that Canada could be nearing the peak of infections from the pandemic’s current, Omicron-driven wave. But hospitalizations and deaths, which tend to lag behind, showed no sign of easing on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair announced late Friday that Canadian Forces Rangers were being deployed to the remote northern First Nation of Attawapiskat, which has been struggling with a growing outbreak.
The Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, which serves the James Bay region of Ontario, reported nine new cases in Attawapiskat on Friday, bringing the total number of infected in the community to 40.
What’s happening across Canada
With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.
For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.
You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.
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In British Columbia, the 2022 B.C. Winter Games have been cancelled over COVID-19 concerns.
In the Prairies, students in Manitoba are preparing to go back to in-person schooling on Monday, even as the two largest universities in Alberta are delaying a return to in-person classes until late February, and an epidemiologist is countering a claim made by Saskatchewan‘s premier that restrictions don’t curb Omicron.
In Ontario, nurses are calling for pay parity with police officers and firefighters amid a pandemic staffing crunch.
In Quebec, the health agency representing hospitals in the east end of Montreal confirmed on Saturday that it will soon be reducing more services as hospitals struggle to balance the care of COVID-19 patients alongside others.
In the Atlantic provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed the province’s 25th death related to the virus; Nova Scotia announced it will not be following up with some people who tested positive for the virus due to high cases and testing demand; New Brunswick entered Level 3 of its lockdown measures — the province’s most restrictive level — on Saturday; and in Prince Edward Island, where the pandemic only made limited inroads in previous waves, officials recorded 309 new cases on Saturday.
In the North, Nunavut reported five new cases in the territory on Saturday, plus one presumptive case in the village of Naujaat, while the Yukon government is imposing stronger public health measures starting on Tuesday.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday, roughly 324.19 million cases had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.
In Europe, the Czech government will allow asymptomatic essential health-care workers and social service personnel who test positive for COVID-19 to keep working, the Health Ministry said.
In the Americas, Uruguay has opened its borders to citizens and residents even if they are infected with COVID-19, a rare move amid surging cases worldwide. Passengers would need to travel in private vehicles across the border and be in a family “bubble.”
In Asia, Bhutan has reported its first 14 cases of the Omicron variant, a health official said, amid a surge of the pandemic in the Himalayan kingdom that has so far been relatively successful at keeping the disease at bay.
In Africa, the continent’s top public health body said it was in talks with Pfizer about securing supplies of Paxlovid, the drugmaker’s antiviral COVID-19 pills.