COVID-19 live updates: Kenney suggests 'Common sense' response; City council extends indoor mask mandate; 422 new cases

Watch this page throughout the day for updates on COVID-19 in Edmonton

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COVID-19 news happens rapidly, we have created this file to keep you up-to-date on all the latest stories and information on the outbreak in and around Edmonton.

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Share your COVID-19 stories

As Alberta grapples with a fourth wave of COVID-19 at the start of another school year, we’re looking to hear your stories on this evolving situation.

  • Have you or a loved one had a surgery rescheduled or cancelled in recent weeks?
  • Are you someone who has decided to get vaccinated after previously being skeptical of the vaccines?
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  • Are you a frontline health-care worker seeing new strains on the health system?
    Send us your stories via email at edm-feedback@postmedia.com


Tuesday

Kenney suggests ‘common sense’ response for unvaccinated health-care workers, Hinshaw provides update Tuesday afternoon

Hamdi Issawi

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Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, leaves after a COVID-19 pandemic press conference at the media room at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton on July 28, 2021.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, leaves after a COVID-19 pandemic press conference at the media room at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton on July 28, 2021. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia, file

As a COVID-19 vaccination deadline looms for Alberta health-care workers, Premier Jason Kenney suggested Tuesday the province is open to bending that rule to avoid staffing shortages in rural hospitals.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, Kenney said the government has requested that Alberta Health Services ensure that the mandate does not effect health-care system capacity, particularly for small, rural hospitals and health-care centres in areas where immunization rates are lower .

“We’re asking AHS to exercise common sense in those situations and not to undermine the quality of patient care in the way that this is applied,” Kenney said of the mandate.

By Nov. 30, AHS requires all employees, including students, volunteers and contract health-care workers, as well as medical and midwifery staff, to be fully vaccinated. Those who don’t comply will be placed on unpaid leave of absence.

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At her own news conference Monday afternoon, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said she can’t speak to decisions the provincial health authority makes in this respect since it’s up to employers to determine “what requirements they feel are appropriate in their workplaces.”

In an email statement to Postmedia Tuesday, AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said the health authority has plans to ensure patient care is not affected by the vaccine mandate, which includes looking at additional staffing to support areas where immunization rates are low.

As of Monday, 95 per cent of AHS full-time and part-time employees have supplied proof of immunization, Williamson added, while 97 per cent of physicians have also confirmed immunization status.

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Hospitalizations still ‘taxing’ the system

The province reported 422 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, which brings Alberta’s case load to 6,090 infected persons — 297 fewer cases than the day before.

As with Monday, 608 Albertans remain hospitalized with COVID-19, although there are 128 patients in intensive care — seven fewer than the day before.

“I want to be clear that this is still a significant number of people in hospital taxing our health-care system,” Hinshaw said. “We must all continue to support efforts to bring these numbers down even further.”

In the last 24-hours, she added, Alberta saw eight more deaths due to COVID-19, but four deaths previously connected to the disease were reclassified, so the province only reported four new deaths on Tuesday, bringing the provincial death toll to 3,159.

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Tuesday

Edmonton city council unanimously extends indoor mask mandate indefinitely without thresholds for repeal

Dustin Cook

A sign reading “Masks Still Required” is seen at the Majesty and Friends store in Edmonton, on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. After a city council vote today, as of Sept. 3, wearing a mask or face covering will be mandatory in all indoor public places including publicly accessible areas of businesses, retail shops & City facilities as Edmonton faces rising COVID-19 cases. Photo by Ian Kucerak
A sign reading “Masks Still Required” is seen at the Majesty and Friends store in Edmonton, on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. After a city council vote today, as of Sept. 3, wearing a mask or face covering will be mandatory in all indoor public places including publicly accessible areas of businesses, retail shops & City facilities as Edmonton faces rising COVID-19 cases. Photo by Ian Kucerak Postmedia

Edmonton’s mask mandate will be extended indefinitely without any thresholds for its repeal following a unanimous vote by council Tuesday.

The indoor, public places mask rule within the City of Edmonton was set to deactivate Thursday under the previous bylaw regulations. Deactivation of the rule would have been triggered after 10 days of a case rate below the threshold of 100 per 100,000, which began last Monday. During the first COVID-19 update of the term Tuesday, council decided to remove the threshold and the Dec. 31 repeal date tied to the rule and extend the bylaw unconditionally.

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The move comes as the city’s active case rate dropped Tuesday to 78.8 per 100,000 and cases have declined significantly to 818 throughout Edmonton during the fourth wave of the pandemic. But councillors cautioned against ending the bylaw right now, with children still not able to be vaccinated and most of the surrounding municipalities with an active case rate still above 100.

Even if the bylaw were repealed, the provincial mask mandate remains in effect, but city bylaw officers wouldn’t have been able to enforce the rule as they have throughout the pandemic. The provincial order would only be enforceable by police or Alberta Health Services enforcement officers. With the bylaw extension, the rule will remain in effect even if the provincial mandate is repealed, city manager Andre Corbould said.

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Although the bylaw has been extended without a trigger for its end date, council did set parameters about when there will be an automatic discussion about the mandate, with some offering concerns that just leaving it open-ended without a set time to revisit wouldn’t be fair to the public. Ward Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack brought forward a successful motion that will have the city create draft bylaw amendments with four conditions that will prompt a council discussion around the mask rule if they are met. There will also be monthly reports to council.

If the bylaw amendments are approved in December, the discussion for possible repeal would take place when ICU capacity is below 50 per cent and falling in Edmonton, after the provincial mask mandate is repealed, two weeks after 80 per cent of children between the ages of 5 to 11 have been fully vaccinated and at least 28 days with an active case rate below 100 per 100,000 in the Edmonton Zone.

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Knack said with the bylaw losing all triggers for repeal, it was important to have some sort of thresholds to keep the public informed on when the mandate will be revisited.

“I think a fair criticism of the provincial government has been a lack of information sharing, the lack of publicly talking about these things. So this is at least saying, ‘Hey, the next time we’ll talk about it is when we hit these measures.’ It might not change it because who knows what the state of the world will be, but at least we will have something to talk about,” Knack said about wanting to have something for Edmontonians to see as a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. “I do think it’s important for us to have something to reach toward, something to look at.”

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Tuesday

Ninety-four per cent of Edmonton Public Schools staff have declared full COVID-19 vaccination

Blair McBride

Edmonton Public Schools board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks and Edmonton Public Schools’ superintendent Darrel Robertson at a news conference in Edmonton on. Aug. 16, 2021.
Edmonton Public Schools board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks and Edmonton Public Schools’ superintendent Darrel Robertson at a news conference in Edmonton on. Aug. 16, 2021. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia, file

Ninety-four per cent of Edmonton Public Schools staff have declared that they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, chief human resources officer Angela Anderson said that out of 12,665 staff members, 11,900 have attested to receiving both doses of vaccine.

As for the 765 staff who have yet to submit their declarations, board chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks said it’s not clear whether they are unvaccinated.

“We need to unpack that a little further,” she told reporters in a media briefing after the board meeting. “Is it vaccine hesitancy? Have they just not declared yet? Are they hourly workers who haven’t checked their email yet? We’re a large school division. There’s still a lot of work to do. I have confidence we can navigate that going forward.”

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Estabrooks said it was too early to say how staff who remain holdouts on declaring or getting vaccinated could impact learning, pointing to the “consequences” outlined in the vaccine mandate announced in October .

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Tuesday

Alberta beginning administering antibody for seniors, high-risk patients with COVID-19

Dylan Short

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia

Alberta Health Services teams have begun using a newly approved antibody treatment when responding to calls involving seniors and other high-risk patients, the first out-of-hospital treatment in the province.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday that AHS and EMS mobile response teams have begun administering Sotrovimab, a monoclonal antibody drug, to people over the age of 65 who are positive for COVID-19 and are unvaccinated who want the treatment. Some stem cell and organ recipients, regardless of their vaccination status, are also eligible to receive the drug after Health Canada approved its use for mild to moderate COVID-19 cases.

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“The treatment is being rolled out across the province in a phased approach starting with those of the highest risk of severe outcomes like hospitalization,” said Hinshaw. “While this medication is helpful, it does not change the fact that vaccines continue to be our most important tool to protect both ourselves and others.”

The AHS website states Sotrovimab is administered through an IV over an hour-long period, with patients monitored for an additional hour. Health Canada’s website states the drug can be used to stop COVID-19 symptoms from worsening in people over the age of 12 who weigh more than 40 kilograms and who are not in hospital.

“Sotrovimab is a monoclonal antibody, a type of protein that attaches to the spike protein of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19, and prevents the virus from entering and infecting healthy cells within your body,” reads Health Canada’s website.

Hinshaw said the drug must be administered within five days of when symptoms first appear for maximum effectiveness. She said the drug is not a replacement for COVID-19 vaccines and encouraged everyone to get immunized.

“Albertans are still strongly encouraged to be vaccinated against the virus, as vaccines are the most effective method to prevent the serious outcomes from the disease,” said Hinshaw.

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Tuesday

Health Canada authorizes Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster for adults

The Canadian Press

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Health Canada has approved a booster of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for people over the age of 18, though third doses have already been given to high-risk people across the country.

The booster is designed to help people with their first two COVID-19 vaccine doses maintain their protection against the virus over time.

The booster is identical to the regular Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and is to be given at least six months after the first two vaccine doses. Clinical trials have shown side-effects more or less the same as those experienced with the original two doses of the vaccine.

Health Canada’s review found the booster dose met the regulator’s safety, efficacy and quality requirements, according to a news release from the department.

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Different provinces have employed different rollout strategies for booster doses, and mRNA vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech have already been used to offer longer-lasting protection to high-risk people in several parts of the country.

Most boosters have so far been administered to the immunocompromised, people of advanced age, people in long-term care, Indigenous populations, and front-line health workers.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has also recommended a booster for people who received two doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca or one dose of the Janssen vaccine, because of evidence of waning immunity over time.

There is no evidence of waning protection over time against severe COVID-19 in the general vaccinated population, according to NACI’s latest advice.

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However at a briefing last Friday. Dr. Theresa Tam suggested some areas of the country with a high number of COVID-19 cases and good vaccine coverage may be suffering from the effects of waning immunity.

“Some of these populations have had the vaccine the earliest and therefore the longest time since vaccination,” she said. “There’s been reports of some observations of waning immunity against infection, and in some cases, they have had some severe outcomes.”

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Tuesday

People ‘unvaccinated by choice’ in Singapore to stop receiving free COVID-19 treatment

Washington Post

People above 70 years old wait in an observation area after getting a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination center in Singapore January 27, 2021.
People above 70 years old wait in an observation area after getting a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination center in Singapore January 27, 2021. Photo by Reuters

Eighty-five percent of people in Singapore eligible for coronavirus vaccines are fully vaccinated, and 18 per cent have received booster shots.

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But the Singaporean government said Monday that it will no longer cover the medical costs of people “unvaccinated by choice,” who make up the bulk of remaining new covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in the city-state.

“Currently, unvaccinated persons make up a sizable majority of those who require intensive inpatient care, and disproportionately contribute to the strain on our health care resources,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement Monday.

“Covid-19 patients who are unvaccinated by choice may still tap on regular health care financing arrangements to pay for their bills where applicable,” the ministry added.

The government now foots the bill for any Singaporean citizen, permanent resident and holder of a long-term work pass who is sick with covid-19, unless they tested positive shortly after returning from overseas.

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“This was to avoid financial considerations adding to public uncertainty and concern when covid-19 was an emergent and unfamiliar disease,” the Health Ministry said in its statement.

“Until the covid-19 situation is more stable,” it added, it will continue to cover related medical costs for those who are vaccinated, as well as for those still not eligible: children 12 and under and people with certain medical conditions. Partially vaccinated people in Singapore will be covered until Dec. 31.

Singapore is considered to have one of the world’s the best health care systems. A 2017 study in the leading medical journal the Lancet found that Singapore ranked first among 188 countries in efforts to meet health-related sustainable development goals set by the United Nations for 2030.

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Letter of the day

Canadian war veteran and youth discuss misinformation. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes)
Canadian war veteran and youth discuss misinformation. (Cartoon by Malcolm Mayes) Malcolm Mayes

Hinshaw thrown under the bus

Dear Dr. Hinshaw: At the beginning of this COVID-19 scourge, I had great respect and admiration for you and the way you presented the facts in a calm, reasoned and consistent manner. Now, however, I have been sorely disappointed at how you have been co-opted by Kenney and his complete farce of a government in the management of the ongoing pandemic.

I note now that he has attempted to dump the responsibility on you in terms of his latest statement that he would have immediately convened his “COVID committee” in August should you have requested it. My suggestion to you, Doctor, is to gather whatever remains of your reputation, reclaim some integrity and tell the truth about what really went on behind the scenes, inform the public and then resign. Preferably before he runs you over with the bus he threw you under.

Joan Swain, Edmonton

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Letters Welcome

We invite you to write letters to the editor. A maximum of 150 words is preferred. Letters must carry a first and last name, or two initials and a last name, and include an address and daytime telephone number. All letters are subject to editing. We don’t publish letters addressed to others or sent to other publications. Email: letters@edmontonjournal.com

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Monday

Alberta NDP Opposition wants immediate funding for daycare operators during COVID-19

The Canadian Press

Rakhi Pancholi, Alberta NDP critic for children’s services, speaks out about the Alberta UCP government’s delay on signing a $10/day child care deal with the federal government at It’s All About Kids Daycare in Edmonton on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.
Rakhi Pancholi, Alberta NDP critic for children’s services, speaks out about the Alberta UCP government’s delay on signing a $10/day child care deal with the federal government at It’s All About Kids Daycare in Edmonton on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

Alberta’s Opposition says the province needs to dip into surplus budget funds to allow child-care program operators to keep their doors open during the pandemic.

NDP critic Rakhi Pancholi estimates the Children’s Services Department has about $70 million in unspent funds because lower subsidies are going to care centres, a result of reduced capacity due to COVID-19.

Pancholi says that money needs to be spent now because many operators are facing serious financial hardship and may have to shut down as other COVID-19 support programs end.

“I’ve heard from countless child-care programs that are on the brink of closure,” Pancholi, accompanied by some child-care centre operators, told a news conference Monday.

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She said operators are still feeling the pinch as parents remain hesitant to return children to care centres or are either working from home or unable to afford care.

“Child-care operators are still experiencing the impacts of the pandemic, but now without the supports that came from the pandemic,” said Pancholi.

Heather Ratsoy, an Edmonton daycare operator who was with the NDP at the news conference, said numbers at her downtown centre have dropped considerably because businesses have closed or employees are working from home.

“We are unable to meet our monthly expenses like rent, salaries and so on,” said Ratsoy.

“(We) are in dire need of financial assistance from the province.”

Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz was not available for an interview but her office, in a statement, said “We are seeing enrolment numbers going up, which means that more parents will be accessing the subsidy programs and expenditure costs will rise.

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“And with almost five months left in the fiscal year, it’s premature to comment on unused funds.”

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Monday

‘Really, really exciting’: Eager travellers head for U.S. after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted

Reuters

Performers engage with travellers as they queue to check into Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines flights at Heathrow Airport Terminal 3, following the lifting of restrictions on the entry of non-U.S. citizens to the United States imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, November 8, 2021.
Performers engage with travellers as they queue to check into Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines flights at Heathrow Airport Terminal 3, following the lifting of restrictions on the entry of non-U.S. citizens to the United States imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, November 8, 2021. Photo by Henry Nicholls /Reuters

Travellers excited at the prospect of reuniting with family and friends headed for the United States on Monday as it lifted travel restrictions slapped on much of the world since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The travel ban, first imposed in early 2020, had barred access to non-U.S. citizens travelling from 33 countries – including China, India and much of Europe — and had also restricted overland entry from Mexico and Canada.

The United States lagged many other countries in lifting the curbs, made possible by the rollout of vaccines despite rising infections in many countries, and critical to reviving tourism around the globe.

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Months of pent-up demand triggered a major spike in bookings on Monday, with travellers only required to show official proof of vaccination and a recent, negative viral test.

“Really, really exciting. I mean, I was meant to go just before COVID happened, and obviously, it’s been delayed this long, so it’s really exciting to finally be able to go,” Alice Keane, traveling to Miami to see her sister, said at London’s Heathrow airport.

Long-term rivals British Airways and Virgin Atlantic carried out simultaneous take-offs from Heathrow’s parallel runways just before 0900 GMT, a stunt aimed at highlighting the importance of the transatlantic market to the UK’s aviation market.

The flights were full, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said, while passenger volume was expected to remain high in coming weeks with the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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“It’s a major day of celebration,” Weiss said, in what he called a significant tipping point for an industry brought to its knees by the pandemic.

The United States was preparing for long lines and delays on Monday, with United Airlines alone expecting about 50 per cent more total international inbound passengers compared to last Monday when it had about 20,000.

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Monday

Global COVID-19 cases hit 250 million, easter Europe infections at record levels

Reuters

Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment tend to a patient at a COVID-19 ward of the Ippokrateio General Hospital in Thessaloniki, Greece, on Nov. 3, 2021.
Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment tend to a patient at a COVID-19 ward of the Ippokrateio General Hospital in Thessaloniki, Greece, on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo by ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS /REUTERS

Global COVID-19 cases surpassed 250 million on Monday as some countries in eastern Europe experience record outbreaks, even as the Delta variant surge eases and many countries resume trade and tourism.

The daily average number of cases has fallen by 36% over the past three months, according to a Reuters analysis, but the virus is still infecting 50 million people worldwide every 90 days due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

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By contrast, it took nearly a year to record the first 50 million COVID-19 cases.

Health experts are optimistic that many nations have put the worst of the pandemic behind them thanks to vaccines and natural exposure, although they caution that colder weather and upcoming holiday gatherings could increase cases.

“We think between now and the end of 2022, this is the point where we get control over this virus … where we can significantly reduce severe disease and death,” Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist leading the World Health Organisation, told Reuters on Nov. 3.

Infections are still rising in 55 out of 240 countries, with Russia, Ukraine and Greece https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi at or near record levels of reported cases since the pandemic started two years ago, according to a Reuters analysis.

Eastern Europe has among the lowest vaccination rates https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi in the region. More than half of all new infections reported worldwide were from countries in Europe, with a million new infections about every four days, according to the analysis.

Several Russian regions said this week they could impose additional restrictions or extend a workplace shutdown as the country witnesses record deaths due to the disease.

On Monday Russia reported 39,400 new COVID-19 cases, including nearly 5,000 in Moscow alone.

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Monday

U.S.border re-opening sees far fewer traffic delays for Canadians than expected

Shari Kulha, National Post

The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel border crossing wait times this morning were negligible.
The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel border crossing wait times this morning were negligible. Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

For the first time in nearly 20 months, non-essential traffic is once again moving in both directions  across the Canada-U.S. land border  .

Shortly after midnight, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents began letting fully vaccinated vacationers, visitors and day-trippers drive into the United States for the first time since the border was closed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security acknowledged the new rules and warned visitors it might take a while to get through.

“Long lines are expected in the initial days following pent-up demand, and CBP will adjust resources as needed,” the agency said.

“Travellers are advised to expect longer-than-normal wait times, familiarize themselves with the new guidelines, and have appropriate documentation ready during a border inspection.

But after the first few hours of the midnight reopening, fewer cars than expected were lined up.

By 9 a.m. ET, traffic delays at the busiest Canada-U.S. crossings were mostly only a few minutes, although the wait at the Peace Bridge between Buffalo and Niagara Falls reached nearly two-and-a-half hours shortly after the midnight opening. Wait times calmed slightly between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. when they increased once again to 30 minutes or more. After 7:00 a.m., the waits shortened as more lanes opened, and by noon the wait time was two minutes.

In British Columbia,  wait times were very manageable  just after 7 a.m. The Peace Arch crossing between Surrey and Blaine, Wash. had the longest delay at 20 minutes, but that fell to zero by mid-day. Abbotsford-Huntingdon had a 10-minute delay in the morning, which fell to five minutes by noon. Travellers at the Pacific Highway truck crossing had to wait about five minutes.

In fact, by shortly after noon, the longest wait time at any land crossing was three minutes, and that was at Peace Bridge, typically one of the country’s busiest.  This list advises of wait times at all the border crossings and is updated hourly.

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