Column: We got some light at the end of local tunnel, how about the international?

With the new Re-open Saskatchewan plan, we got some light at the end of the tunnel. And it seems that the light is not even that far off.

If everything goes as planned with immunization, we can see some decent-sized events towards the end of this summer. We still won't have anything anywhere close to New Zealand's largest concert since the pandemic began.

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After the elimination of the virus in that country, 50,000 fans enjoyed live music there last month. (It's been just over a year since life changed, and I've been to events of this scale previously, but now it feels that it happened million years ago in a different life.)

We probably won't be able to have Mosaic Stadium full for a concert or Riders' games yet this summer, but we will have sports, weddings, concerts and all kinds of community events, finally in-person.

The Re-open Sask. plan is based on vaccination progress: the higher percentage gets the needle, the more freedom we'll see. And the date for the first step was already set, assuming that everything goes according to the current plan.

Of course, the plan laid out by Premier Scott Moe is for within the Saskatchewan borders. Our local future not only got some contour but even became tangible, as the vaccination opened for 29-plus on Monday and is supposed to become available to anyone 12 and over as of May 20, which makes the next steps of the Re-open Sask. plan more real as well.

But as the near future of the area becomes clearer and the summer is approaching, the questions about interprovincial and international travel instantly become more pressing, especially when it comes to communication with the immediate neighbour. 

You would assume that once both populations achieve a particular threshold of vaccinations, which will be considered satisfactory by each party, the border should finally re-open. But apparently, everything is way more complicated on the Canada-U.S. level. 

Experts here and there assume with caution that late summer-early fall might be the time when we'll see some changes. On the one hand, the situation with the pandemic is rather worse than better now. Canada’s per capita infection rate is higher this spring than it was a year ago. We did get some form of a grasp on the virus, so we react more efficiently, but it's still not under control and it spread way further than it was last May.

So far, the U.S. has vaccinated more citizens than Canada, but we are finally catching up. However, it seems that a similar percentage of the immunized population won't be enough of an argument to get back to pre-COVID relations. A lot of things have changed politically and economically, and now both sides would need to resolve a number of issues before any discussion is possible.

Besides, a closed border has separated us for a long time, and as it usually happens when there are walls between people, there are now many questions related to trust between two neighbouring countries.

Do Canadians want to see Americans freely coming into the country? Like here, every state there decides on their public safety measures, and while some areas were as conservative in their approach on slowing the spread as most of Canada, other parts of the U.S. executed different approaches.

On the other hand, with the complicated political situation, will the U.S. be keen on opening their border to their neighbour again? Public opinion in these decisions will play some role, but as far as I can see, it's far from being unanimous as I bet families living on two sides of the border that have been torn apart for many months would like to have an opportunity to see their loved ones again.

Others do business across the border; some just like travelling and with the immunization progress don't see the need for further restrictions.

Many people now want to know when we'll be able to go on day trips to the U.S. again, but how many people indeed want to see borders open for non-essential travel? After all, we've made it with closed borders way longer than we thought it was possible, and now, when the virus is still not close to being eliminated, the opening of the borders for many may seem like something unnecessary and rather dangerous. 

Experts assume that it will take a lot of work on both sides to bring the two countries on the same page again. Some name a few months term for that discussion, but after a year of "just for a month" statements, this measure of time almost turned into a cliché that doesn't stand up anymore.

I think that working out this deal will need to be bilateral and any agreements are to be made on an equal basis. Which in the current situation seems to be indeed problematic.

There are many questions, and not enough answers so far. But hopefully, as the immunization progresses the cross-border discussion will begin and we'll start seeing some light at the end of this tunnel as well.

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