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Canada to drop COVID testing requirement for short trips across U.S. border

US Canada Border (Flickr/WikiCommons)

Beginning Nov. 30, Canada will no longer require vaccinated Canadians to provide a negative COVID-19 test to re-enter the country within 72 hours of leaving.

That means that vaccinated Canadians wishing to make the trip across the U.S. border for weekend shopping trips or to see family will no longer incur the hassle or have to pay up to $200 to receive a molecular test.

News of the change was announced Friday, Nov. 19, in a release by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“COVID-19 testing and vaccine requirements, as well as other border measures, are an important part of Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and serve to protect the health and safety of all Canadians,” the release stated. “With vaccination rates increasing around the world, and an evolving epidemiological situation, it is important that Canada’s border measures reflect the current global context.”

The exemption of a pre-entry molecular test is only for fully vaccinated Canadians or permanent residents who leave Canada by land or air and return within 72 hours, the release states. It also extends to any accompanying children under the age 12, who are not yet able to be vaccinated, and to other individuals who have medical reasons for why they cannot be vaccinated.

Canada also announced that on Nov. 30 it is expanding its list of accepted vaccines it will accept to include the Sinopharm, Sinovac and COVAXIN vaccines, matching the list approved by the World Health Organization.

“Health and safety will always remain at the forefront of any decision our government makes in the fight against COVID-19,” Canadian Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos said in the release. “The upcoming changes to Canada’s border testing and entry requirements reflect the next stage in our government’s approach as we align with the improving vaccination rates both here in Canada and around the world.

“The situation at our borders remains closely monitored, with officials and experts continuing their work to evaluate the measures in place and recommend necessary adjustments as required.”

Impact on Whatcom County

News about the move surfaced earlier this week, and it was good news for Whatcom County retailers who relied on those short day shopping trips from Canadian visitors before the pandemic, which took hold in March 2020. The pandemic resulted in the border being closed to nonessential travelers, a restriction that was lifted on Monday, Nov. 8.

“It is certainly a good step in the right direction,” said Guy Occhiogrosso, president, and CEO of the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce. He’s hoping that at some point the Canadian policy matches the U.S. policy, which only requires proof of vaccination for land border crossings.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, from District 1 that includes Whatcom County, called news of the potential move “a huge win for our border communities” in a tweet Wednesday.

“The testing requirement has been a major barrier for vaxed Canadians traveling to the U.S. & would strengthen the partnership between our two countries,” DelBene wrote.

After U.S. began allowing nonessential border crossings by vaccinated Canadians on Nov. 8, Whatcom County began to see some more travel, but traffic did not return to pre-pandemic levels.

The Western Washington University Border Policy Institute counted 2,598 southbound personal vehicles at the Pacific Highway and Peace Arch border crossings in Blaine on Nov. 8, institute director Laurie Trautman told The Bellingham Herald in an email. That was a 75% increase from the 1,482 personal vehicles counted at those two crossings from one week earlier, Trautman reported.

But the total at the two Blaine crossings was less than a third of the 8,200 personal vehicles that entered from Canada on the second Monday of 2019.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported it also did not see a “huge uptick locally,” spokesperson Jason Givens told The Herald in an email, and wait times remained “pretty normal with about a five-minute average.”

The testing requirement has had a dramatic impact on dampening cross-border travel in the first week of fewer restrictions. Along with the logistics of getting a test within the 72-hour of crossing the border, it cost more than $100 for travelers to take the test.

That cost prevented many Canadians to come down solely for shopping, although some did find it worth it to pay for the test in order to visit families, friends and to check on property, Occhiogrosso said.

One Canadian border restriction that will continue to dampen cross-border shopping is the rule for unvaccinated children, said Laurie Trautman, director at Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute. The restrictions currently in place have unvaccinated children required to self-isolation for 14 days upon returning to Canada from the U.S., which would mean missing a significant amount of school or daycare.

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(c) 2021 The Bellingham Herald

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.