This week’s announcement by the United States that it would reopen its land border to vaccinated Canadian travellers next month “comes as a great relief,” though Surrey Board of Trade executive director Anita Huberman was quick to note that there are still many important questions that remain unanswered.
On Tuesday morning, the U.S. announced that its land borders – both with Canada and Mexico – would reopen to non-essential travel at some point in early November. The border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020.
In a statement released a few hours after the U.S. border announcement, the Surrey Board of Trade made note of a series of concerns regarding border crossings, COVID-19 tests, vaccines and more.
Chief among the questions posed was whether or not those with mixed-vaccine doses will be recognized by the U.S. as being fully vaccinated; the release notes that last Friday, the U.S. Center for Disease Control said the country would accept international visitors who have been vaccinated with vaccines authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization, though there was no mention of whether that would include people who have received mixed doses of approved vaccines.
Blaine-based immigration lawyer Len Saunders, a Canadian, echoed many of the concerns voiced in Huberman’s statement, adding that announcements have still not made it clear exactly when in November Canadians would be able to travel over the border.
“There are going to be issues about ‘what is fully vaccinated?’” he said.
Canadians’ travel plans could be undermined if the U.S. government rules that it won’t accept “mix-and-match” vaccinations, he said.
“Hopefully the Americans take a common sense approach.”
The SBOT statement also – while pointing out that travellers will not necessarily need to show proof of vaccination unless they are referred for secondary inspections – wondered what type of “mitigation strategies and technology” will be put in place to ensure efficient movement of traffic across the border.
Finally, SBOT wondered why Canadians continue to require a negative PCR COVID-19 test – which can cost individuals as much as $200 – in order to return home from the U.S. when they have been fully vaccinated.
“Will the Canadian government eliminate this rule?” the release asks.
Saunders noted that Canada now allows proof of a negative COVID test for re-entry whether it was done in the U.S. or in Canada – but only up to 72 hours after it was provided.
“Not many people know it’s very hard to get a COVID test in Washington State these days – setting up an appointment may take days or a week, and some places won’t even do them for travel,” he said.
Saunders predicted the situation may lead to a wave of short-term visits, as Canadians travel to the US briefly and return before the 72-hour time limit on negative tests performed in Canada expires.
But he said that, while the announcement sounded like “Christmas has come early for businesses in Blaine,” he believes uncertainty around returning to Canada will still put a crimp in the kind of casual cross-border shopping that used to occur, in favour of trips with a specific purpose.
“I don’t think anyone in their right mind is going to go across just to gas up their car,” he said. “But if people have got packages piled up at mailboxes, it’s probably worth their while to go down there to pick them up.”
Biggest beneficiaries of an open land border will be Canadian ‘snowbirds’ who travel south to U.S. destinations for the winter, he predicted.
Up to this point, they have have been faced with arranging to ship their recreation vehicles south and flying down to meet them.
“I think a lot of people will be cancelling plans they’ve made to ship their vehicles,” he said.