Border Closure Reaches a Year — U.S., Canada Extend Non-Essential Travel Ban to March 21

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The border closure to non-essential travel between the United States and Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic will now extend a full year.

The two countries agreed to extend the closure by a month, according to a social media posts by both countries made Friday afternoon, Feb. 19. It marks the 11th time the closure has been extended and means it will now last until at least March 21 — one year to the day after the closure began in 2020.

"Non-essential travel restrictions with the United States have been extended until March 21st, 2021. We will continue to base our decisions on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe from #COVID19," Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair tweeted.

A tweet from Homeland Security echoed Blair's sentiment from the U.S. side, saying, "To protect our citizens and prevent the further spread of COVID-19, the United States, Canada, and Mexico are extending the restrictions on non-essential travel at our land borders through March 21. We are also working to ensure essential trade and travel remain open."

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to non-essential travel for nearly 11 months, since the countries first agreed to limit who could cross March 21, 2020, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The closure has been extended a month at a time, as it was on Friday.

All essential travel, such as that for trade between the nations, has been allowed to continue as usual.

A number of U.S. legislators, including some from Washington state, have asked the countries to begin looking at what it would take to reopen the borders.

U.S. President Joe Biden promised to begin looking into what it would take to open the 167 U.S. border crossings with Canada and Mexico shortly after taking office, according to a story by the Washington Examiner. Biden signed an executive order asking the Centers for Disease Control, Homeland Security, and the State and Transportation departments to begin speaking to their Canadian and Mexican counterparts on how to end the travel restrictions.

Canada enacts stricter measures

On Monday, Feb. 15, Canada enacted new, stricter testing and quarantine regulations requiring all travelers — with few exceptions — to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test result in the U.S. within 72 hours of arrival or a positive test result from 14 to 90 days prior to arriving at all land and air ports of entry.

In addition, beginning Monday, Feb. 22, travelers entering Canada through a land border crossing will be required to take a molecular test on arrival as well as at the end of a mandatory 14-day quarantine and submit their travel and contact information along with a suitable quarantine plan upon entry.

"With these additional COVID testing requirements and safety measures at the land border we are taking extra steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants," Blair said in a release announcing the measures. "As we do for air travel, we are now also requiring travellers (sic) by land to provide information using ArriveCAN to facilitate processing and limit points of contacts between border services officers and travellers.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that residents of isolated Point Roberts will not have to show proof of a negative test so that they can cross the border to make essential trips to mainland Whatcom county.

COVID numbers update

As of Friday, the United States remained the hardest-hit country in the world during the pandemic with more than 27.9 million confirmed cases and 495,000 related deaths, according to the John Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard. Canada, meanwhile, was 22nd overall with more than 844,000 cases and 21,000 related deaths.

The U.S. is the third-most populated country in the world with more than 331 million residents, according to worlometers.info, while Canada is No. 39 with more than 37 million residents.

According to the British Columbia COVID-19 dashboard as of Thursday, Feb. 18, the province has seen 75,327 total cases during the pandemic and 1,321 confirmed deaths — an increase of 17,220 cases and 311 deaths since the last border extension was announced Jan. 12. With a population of approximately 5.1 million, British Columbia has seen an infection rate of 337.64 cases and 6.1 deaths per 100,000 residents since Jan. 12.

The Washington State Department of Health, meanwhile, reported 314,655 confirmed cases and 4,803 related deaths on Thursday — an increase of 50,343 cases and 1,104 deaths since Dec. 11. With a population of approximately 7.5 million, the state has averaged 671.2 cases and 14.72 deaths per 100,000 residents since Jan. 12.

Closure economic impact

Whatcom County is certainly feeling the economic impact of the border closure, which now prepares to enter its 12th month.

The Western Washington University Border Policy Research Institute found before the pandemic that Canadians comprise approximately 75% of cross-border travelers to and from Whatcom County, depending on the exchange rate when the border is open, according to information Director Laurie Trautman emailed to The Bellingham Herald for an earlier story.

In 2018, that would have represented approximately 10.5 million southbound Canadian travelers through the Blaine, Lynden, Sumas and Point Roberts points of entry.

Those Canadians represent a large portion of consumers in Whatcom County — anywhere from 2% to 46% of the weekend customer base Whatcom County retailers see, Trautman reported, adding that the average is about 17%.

Essential travel between the two countries is still allowed, though, and that includes transportation of freight.

Bureau of Transportation statistics show that freight shipments across the border are continuing to recover from early pandemic lows.

The statistics show freight crossing the border between the U.S. and Canada in November was down 3.5% from what was seen in October and 4.16% lower than was seen in October of 2019.

Approximately $27.4 billion worth of freight crossed the U.S.-Canada border in trucks in November, the Bureau of Transportation reported, which was down 5.3% over October and down 3.0% from last year. Rail freight over the border was valued at $7.2 billion — down 5.0% from October, but up 0.9% from October of 2019.

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