'On our terms': B.C. officials hesitant to reopen U.S. border quickly

Pressure is mounting on the Canadian government to reopen the land border with the U.S. for non-essential travel.

However, officials in British Columbia are cautioning the federal government about what’s at stake, concerned local progress in lowering COVID-19 case counts will be put in jeopardy.

The current non-essential travel restrictions between the two countries have been in place since March 2020, and are set to expire on June 21.

The B.C. government anticipates opening the border will mean an increase in cases and because of that, it wants the maximum number of British Columbians vaccinated.

“Our expectation for the federal government as they go through this process in this period of consultation with the United States, in consultation with us, and everyone else, is that we prepare for what is needed to deal with that as the time comes, in advance, not announced then prepare,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix.

B.C.’s economy has been hit particularly hard during the pandemic due to a massive drop in tourism.

“We want the world to come here but we want to make sure we do it on our terms,” said Premier John Horgan Wednesday.

“British Columbians have worked really hard to get to where we are with respect to case counts and hospitalizations and all of the sacrifices that have been made, we don't want to throw those away just for a couple of tourists to come earlier than we have anticipated,” said the premier.

Horgan said he has regular discussions with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

He's also been in talks with a senator from Alaska about issues she considers problematic with Canada, but not B.C. specifically.

Horgan plans to relay those concerns to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau next week.

“Not every jurisdiction across the country has the same view on this matter. Some want to open up tomorrow, others don't want to open up until September. I think somewhere between those two poles is where we'll land,” he said.

Infectious disease experts say the lifting of the restrictions at the border will need to be gradual.

“We're seeing great vaccine hesitancy in the United States, that's 40 per cent, compared to the 10 per cent we have in Canada,” said Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre.

“I want to see that addressed. So I think we're not close to opening the border, sort of widely without restrictions in the short term. But we could begin to allow fully vaccinated individuals to cross the border."

He said communication between the two countries about COVID-19 data will also need to improve.

“I would want to have in place some strategy that if disease transmission does occur, the public health authorities on both sides of the border will coordinate their activities to identify transmission networks and interrupt them and that we have robust strategies to prevent the entry of the variants into either country,” Conway told CTV News.

Trudeau has said his team is in talks with medical professionals and epidemiologists on both sides of the border about easing measures.

A formal announcement is expected in the next several weeks.