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As Vaccination Takes Hold in Canada, a Slow Reawakening Begins

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The pandemic is not over by any means. But Canada seems to be at least rubbing some of the sleep out of its eyes as a variety of restrictions have been lifted in most provinces.

This long weekend brought another round of loosening-up as vaccination numbers kept rising. As of Friday, the number of fully vaccinated adults reached 31 percent and 68 percent of Canadians had at least one shot.

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 have been steadily declining. The R number, which represents the number of people to whom an infected person will pass on the virus, has been below 1 since April 17, strong confirmation that the virus is in retreat.

None of that means that the Delta variant is no longer a concern and that we can entirely give up on precautions. The Public Health Agency has published a handy chart, offering some advice for fully and partly vaccinated Canadians, and an interactive risk-assessment questionnaire.

In short, if we want to hold off a fourth wave and another round of restrictions, more Canadians need to continue to get vaccinated. Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada, has said that even fully vaccinated people can’t go back to normal lives until 80 percent of Canadians are inoculated.

“While we continue to make great progress with more than 36 million doses of vaccine administered by provinces and territories to date, precautions are still needed as immunity builds up further across our communities,” Dr. Tam said in a Canada Day message.

In the same way that provinces imposed different restrictions, reopenings have varied across the country. On Canada Day, Alberta lifted nearly all of its pandemic restrictions, although it still allows businesses and institutions to require measures such as wearing masks. Saskatchewan is set to make a similar move on July 11.

On Wednesday, Nova Scotia reopened its border to the rest of Canada — or at least to fully vaccinated people from other provinces.

And on Monday, fully vaccinated Canadians returning to the country will no longer have to quarantine at a government hotel as they await test results. When the border will fully reopen remains unknown.

Just over a week ago, I returned from my first out-of-province assignment since the lockdowns 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 findings 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 are noticeable differences between the three provinces when it comes to reopening as well as with Ontario, where I live.

There’s certainly not a big resurgence in travel. While my flight from Ottawa to Calgary was packed, the airport terminals in both cities are largely deserted, an overwhelming majority of their shops and restaurants were not just closed but often emptied of everything including coffee carafes. Even vending machines were stripped of merchandise.

When I picked up a rental car, the clerk told me that business was still down by about 90 percent. The rental rate, like my airfare, was well above what I typically was charged in the past. At checkout time at a hotel with 224 rooms, I saw a tally sheet showing only 29 were occupied for that night. Restaurant and room service was limited or absent at hotels and, wisely, housekeepers were not cleaning rooms except on request.

Perhaps because British Columbia never locked down as much as other provinces, it felt closer to normal than the other provinces. (I left just before the deadly heat dome descended.) Fifty high school students showed up for a graduation party at my hotel. That size of indoor gathering is still a distant memory in Ontario.

Downtown Calgary also seemed more alive than Ottawa or Regina. In Medicine Hat, Alberta, I was able to visit the former Medalta china factory, now a superb museum about Alberta’s once mighty pottery industry. Back here in Ottawa, the museums remain locked and indoor dining is still banned.

Canada Day, of course, remained a more muted, and largely virtual affair than in the past. But that wasn’t just because of the pandemic. Several communities and groups canceled or changed their celebration plans in deference to requests from Indigenous leaders and groups.

[Read:After Bodies Are Found, Some Say Canada Day Is Nothing to Celebrate]

With summer here and the rules easing, what are your plans? Are you inclined to board a flight again for an out-of-province vacation or will you stay closer to home until full vaccination levels rise? How do you feel about hosting guests, particularly from far away?

Please email your thoughts with your full name and where you live to [email protected]. Unless you indicate otherwise, I may use some of your responses in an upcoming newsletter.

  • Record-breaking is an overused term when it comes to describing weather. But as my colleague Dan Bilefsky and Vjosa Isai, The Times’s new editorial assistant in Canada, report, it was almost understatement this week when it came to British Columbia and Alberta. The searing heat brought death to large numbers of people and by Canada Day fires had destroyed more of one village and were forcing evacuations in others. The Upshot laid out just how extreme the temperatures are.

  • Canada Goose boasts that its expensive parkas are still made in Canada to ensure better labor practices. But Noam Scheiber reports that unions say that the once fully unionized company, now owned by Boston-based Bain Capital, is stifling attempts to organize workers at its three Winnipeg plants.

  • Many more years ago — more than I care to think about — one of the first issues I covered was the trade dispute created by American tariffs on softwood lumber from Canada. It’s still going on. And it’s adding, many argue, to already high lumber prices in the United States. Thomas Kaplan reports that there is growing pressure on President Biden to finally bring it to its end but adds that “finding a resolution to the trade dispute is unlikely to be a simple undertaking.”

  • The Montreal Canadiens have become the first Canadian team to make the Stanley Cup finals since 1993, when they also won. But the first two games of the series have not been auspicious for their fans.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

How are we doing?
We’re eager to have your thoughts about this newsletter and events in Canada in general. Please send them to [email protected].

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