By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada said on Monday it would start cautiously lifting border restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens on July 5 but made clear it would be months before U.S. and other foreign travelers could enter the country.
From 11:59 p.m. EDT on July 5 (0359 GMT on July 6), those who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will no longer have to spend time in quarantine. The move applies to Canadians and permanent residents.
“This is the first phase of our precautionary approach … at this time we are not opening up our borders any further,” said Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc. Ottawa first announced the plan on June 9.
LeBlanc told reporters that Ottawa was talking to its domestic and international partners “with the goal of allowing fully vaccinated travelers to enter Canada for non-essential reasons in the months to come.”
Canada and the United States first banned non-essential travel in March 2020 as a part of the effort to fight COVID-19. The restrictions, which exclude trade in goods, are now due to expire on July 21, 2021.
The measures have hit the travel and airline industries, which along with U.S. politicians are insisting Ottawa do much more to open the border.
But Canadian officials said further easing would depend on vaccination rates, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as well as the spread of variants of concern.
“We are not insensitive to the desire of many sectors of the economy and Canadians to see more steps but that will happen at the appropriate moment,” LeBlanc said.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp that the restrictions could not be lifted until 75% of Canadians had been fully vaccinated.
Only 14.7% of eligible Canadians have had both jabs of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine as of June 18, according to official data.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren, Editing by Franklin Paul and Paul Simao)