All lanes open this week at the Canada-U.S. Land border, but PCR testing remains a barrier to travel

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A family crosses the Canada-U.S. Border at Peace Arch Historic State Park as a cyclist passes the Canadian side in Blaine, Wash., August 9.Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Southbound lanes on North America’s post-pandemic recovery route will finally reopen Monday as the United States ends nearly 20 months of controversial COVID-19 exile and allows fully vaccinated travelers to cross the Canada-US land border.

From midnight, non-essential traffic will resume back and forth for the first time since March 2020, when the two countries imposed drastic but selective restrictions in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus – the first widespread closure of the border since the September 11 terrorist attacks 20 years ago.

After nearly two years, however, the excitement isn’t exactly palpable.

“We’re on the other side hopefully, but if the border were to close again they really have to realize that families are essential,” said Kim Patchett, who lives with her husband Barry in Saugeen Shores, in Ontario. , west of Owen Sound on the shores of Lake Huron.

Traveling to Philadelphia to visit daughter Kaity, American son-in-law Jesse, and three-year-old granddaughter Ilsa – a once routine business, costing just $ 80 for a tank of diesel fuel – has been a costly ordeal and frustrating. since the restrictions were imposed.

The couple have made the trip twice, including once by plane last Christmas, and then again in September for Ilsa’s third birthday. For this trip, they hired a helicopter to cross the border and a car transport service to deliver their SUV to American soil before making the remainder of the journey.

Then there is the Canadian requirement that all travelers submit the results of a recent PCR test to prove they are not sick, an expense that in Canada can range from $ 150 to $ 300 per person.

All in all, Patchett estimates they spent $ 6,000 on trips that would normally only cost them $ 320.

“We were there to be able to lend a hand, to give a real personal hug, you know?” To just sit back and listen or play, and you can’t do these things on FaceTime.

They will travel again for Thanksgiving to the United States later this month, when – under the current rules – they will have to spend an additional $ 500 on testing in order to re-enter Canada.

“It’s very frustrating,” Patchett said.

“Do you want to kiss your children? Want to put your grandchildren to bed? Do you want to sit and do a puzzle on the floor with them, run around the house and make a lot of noise? These are things that have literally been taken from us.

Before COVID-19, Joelle Deslippe, who lives in Windsor, Ont., Bought vacation property in Michigan as a meeting place halfway through so she didn’t have to make the full five-hour commute when ‘she wanted to visit her family in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

This chalet, which is hanging in a state of partial renovation, has remained largely unattended and exposed to the elements – and Deslippe is terrified of what she might find when she finally returns on Day 1.

“I’m really scared to go back and see how many more repairs we’re going to have to do now,” she said. “It’s been 20 months of anxiety.”

Patchett and Deslippe are both members of “Families Are Essential,” one of several grassroots activist groups that have erupted on social media during the pandemic as it became clear that border restrictions terrestrials were not going away anytime soon.

The cause evolved rapidly. It initially targeted both Washington and the federal government in Ottawa, then primarily targeted the White House and members of Congress when Canada resumed allowing fully vaccinated visitors in August.

In its heyday, it included feverish letter-writing campaigns, a deluge of social media testimonials, and even crowd-sponsored, US-style “attack announcements” that compared restrictions to hostage crisis in Iran.

As soon as the United States announced that fully vaccinated travelers would be allowed to cross the land border with a single proof of vaccination to accompany their passports, attention shifted again – this time to the COVID-19 molecular test. that Canada still needs, which costs $ 150- $ 300 per swab.

Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Friday morning that Ottawa is well aware of the drawbacks and “we are looking at this very carefully.” As at the right time, however, the Canada Border Services Agency followed suit with a sharp reminder that testing remains a necessary step.

Not only does the expense discourage people from traveling, it’s a doomed measure that does little to improve public safety, said Perrin Beatty, a former federal cabinet minister who is now CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. from Canada.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Beatty said in an interview.

He pointed to the federal government’s own rule that if a trip to the United States will last less than 72 hours, travelers can take their test in Canada before leaving and use the same results when they return home.

“Who is protected by this?” It just wastes money and wastes people time.

It also creates what Beatty calls “friction” along a border where people are supposed to be able to cross freely, “but where the cost and administrative hassle are so great that people just give up.”

“The frictions have essentially meant that the gains that the Canadian tourism sector hoped to achieve when Canada opened up the borders to people from the North simply never materialized,” he said.

New York Congressman Brian Higgins, one of the early champions of easing restrictions once COVID-19 vaccines become widely available, will hold a press conference Monday alongside mayors and community leaders from the both sides of the border to urge Canada to drop the requirement.

However, not everyone who plans to take advantage of the new rules is complaining.

Throughout the pandemic, Betty Chaborek, who also lives in Windsor, watched longingly for months as long lines of tractor-trailer trucks meander across the land border via the Ambassador Bridge. Trade and business activity has been allowed to continue from the start.

Chaborek used to travel to Michigan to visit his daughter, son-in-law and their two children almost every weekend before the onset of the global health crisis.

As she prepares to make the trip next Friday, she said she “can’t wait” to resume a long-standing family tradition.

“I am very, very excited to be going,” Chaborek said in a telephone interview. “Now I wonder if we should be talking about having (American) Thanksgiving early there.”

– With files from Noushin Ziafati in Toronto

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