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U.S. and Canada announce COVID-19 border closure extended until at least Feb. 21

US Canada Border (Flickr/WikiCommons)

The United States and Canada have extended the closure of the border to non-essential travel between the two countries until Feb. 21 in a continuing effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to tweets Tuesday from both sides of the border.

All essential travel, such as that for trade between the nations, will continue as usual.

The closure was set to expire Jan. 21 before Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Bill Blair announced the extension of the closure in a Jan. 12 tweet.

“Our Government will continue to ensure the safety of Canadians against #COVID19 and base our decisions on the best public health advice available,” Blair wrote in the tweet.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced the decision to keep the border closed on Tuesday, telling media the extension is “an important decision, and one that will keep people on both sides of the border safe,” according to a story posted by Global News.

Approximately an hour later, a tweet from U.S. Homeland Security echoed the announcement, adding that the U.S. border closure with Mexico also has been extended another month to Feb. 21.

“We are working closely with Mexico and Canada to keep essential trade & travel open while also protecting our citizens from the virus,” the Homeland Security tweet read.

The U.S. and Canada first agreed to close the border to non-essential travel beginning March 21, and have extended that restriction on a month-by-month basis. Tuesday’s announcement officially marks the 10th such extension, as the closure is now nearing a full year.

COVID numbers update

The numbers on both sides of the border do not signal a reopening coming anytime soon, as both the U.S. and Canada are seeing big increases this fall.

As of Tuesday morning, the United States remained the hardest-hit country in the world during the pandemic with more than 22.6 million confirmed cases and 377,000 related deaths, according to the John Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard. Canada, meanwhile, was 23rd overall with more than 676,000 cases and 17,000 related deaths.

The U.S. is the third-most populated country in the world with 331,002,651 residents, according to worlometers.info, while Canada is No. 39 with 37,742,154 residents.

According to the British Columbia COVID-19 dashboard as of Monday, Jan. 11, the province has seen 58,107 total cases during the pandemic and 1,010 confirmed deaths — an increase of 18,047 cases and 423 deaths since the last border extension was announced Dec. 11. With a population of approximately 5.1 million, British Columbia has seen an infection rate of 353.9 cases and 8.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in the past month.

The Washington State Department of Health, meanwhile, reported 265,312 confirmed cases and 3,699 related deaths on Monday — an increase of 72,899 cases and 849 deaths since Dec. 11. With a population of approximately 7.5 million, the state has averaged 972.0 cases and 11.32 deaths per 100,000 residents in the past month.

Closure economic impact

Whatcom County is certainly feeling the economic impact of the border closure, which now prepares to enter its eighth 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 October was 1.1% above what was seen in September. It is still down 10.0% compared to October of 2019, though.

Approximately $29.0 billion worth of freight crossed the U.S.-Canada border in trucks, the Bureau of Transportation reported, which was up 2.2% over August, but down 3.4% from last year. Rail freight over the border was valued at $7.6 billion — up. 2.0% from September, but down 3.6% from October of 2019.

CBP asked to study closure

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and U.S. Sen. John Corny, both of Texas, have asked the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to make a report on the financial impact of border crossings being closed to non-essential travel, according to a story by the Rio Grande Guardian.

Cuellar and Corny reportedly want to learn how big of an impact the closure of U.S. borders to Canada and Mexico is having on shoppers, tourists and those who want to travel to see family in other countries.

“Sen. Cornyn and I added language to have Homeland (Security) look at the financial impact of keeping the border closed to communities, to businesses, to families on the border. I am talking about the border restrictions,” Cuellar said, on a conference call last week, the Guardian reported.

Travel testing

While the land border is closed to non-essential travel, Canada last week began requiring all travelers flying into Canada to have a negative COVID-19 test prior to being allowed to enter.

The requirement, which began Jan. 7, required all passengers aged 5 and older to show a negative polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test result before being allowed to board a flight to Canada, according to a story by Travel and Leisure.

Travelers flying to Canada still must follow the country’s mandatory 14-day quarantine and are subject to jail time and a potential $750,000 fine for violating that rule.

“The COVID-19 situation continues to show its unpredictable and rapidly changing nature. We, therefore, need to implement additional quick and effective actions to protect the health and safety of all Canadians,” François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, told Travel and Leisure in a statement.

Champagne also advised against any non-essential travel outside of Canada.

Canadian Minister of Transport Marc Garneau also told Travel and Leisure that the new testing requirements “will provide another layer of protection for Canadians as we continue to assess public health risks and work to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.”

The International Air Transport Association has expressed frustration with the requirement, according to a story by Government Technology and Services Coalition’s Homeland Security Today.

In a statement, the air transport association stated that it had been calling for testing to re-open borders without quarantine measures for months, but those requests had been ignored, according to Homeland Security Today.

It called Canada’s new measures “both callous and impractical to impose this new requirement on travelers at such short notice,” according to the story, adding that “it is completely unrealistic to mandate that airlines check passengers’ compliance with the new rule, as it cannot be the airline’s role to determine if a passenger tried their utmost to get tested or not.”

New Zealand has instituted similar requirements on Jan. 4 for travelers flying to that country from the United States or the United Kingdom to have proof of a negative test result no more than 72 hours before departing, according to a story by airlineratings.com.

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(c) 2021 The Bellingham Herald

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