Cross-border experts are frantically working on principles that the two countries could use to guide future border management decisions until viable treatments or vaccines for the virus hit the market. They say border communities face economic ruin due to a prolonged shutdown of personal travel and certain businesses during what has become the largest border disruption since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“Having the border closed indefinitely is devastating for both economies,” said Maryscott Greenwood, a former US diplomat in Ottawa who heads the Canadian-American Trade Council.
Citizens of one country who own property in the other have been prohibited from controlling their homes. Border cities accustomed to welcoming cross-border visitors to their restaurants and shops have seen a sharp decline in business since mid-March.
The bipartisan co-chairs of the Northern Border Caucus of the United States House wrote a letter earlier this month to top officials of each country’s border agencies urging them to “immediately develop a comprehensive framework for the gradual reopening of the border based on objective metrics and accounting for varied circumstances in border regions. “
The 29 lawmakers, led by Representatives from New York, Brian Higgins, a Democrat, and Elise Stefanik, a Republican, also asked the Department of Homeland Security and the Canada Border Services Agency to consider reducing restrictions in the meantime for family members and owners.
DHS spokesman Alexei Woltornist said the department is in close contact with Canada and Mexico, where similar restrictions also exist, but “there are no changes to announce” at this time.
“We will review possible expansion categories as public health conditions allow,” he said.
A CBSA spokesman declined to comment on the discussions.
Canadians, and some of their most prominent political leaders, strongly oppose receiving American visitors, while the United States breaks records of confirmed Covid-19 infections daily. Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford warned weeks ago against reopening the border, and British Columbia health authorities have released data showing that a large portion of the virus strains identified there originated in Washington state. .
Surveys published last week by Abacus Data show that 89 percent of Canadians want to see the border stay longer. Still, some Canadians have taken advantage of a loophole that allows them to fly to the United States largely unhindered, though they must remain in quarantine for two weeks upon returning to Canada. So many Canadians visited loved ones in a park on the BC-Washington border that the province closed its side of space.
Cross-border experts are developing proposals for Ottawa and Washington that recognize the new normal and allow some resumption of personal travel.
The Future Borders Coalition, which is comprised of binational transportation groups and logistics companies and firms, is studying how to implement a “health pre-approval” program in the US and Canada to minimize the risk of passengers from airlines spread and contract the new virus.
As the terminal’s operating area has shrunk amidst crowded demand, airports could create a “biosafety zone” and conduct rapid Covid tests for arriving passengers, said Gerry Bruno, vice president of affairs. of the federal government at the Vancouver Airport Authority and executive director of the coalition.
If everyone who enters safe areas is negative for the virus, he said, airport shops and restaurants could operate normally, and airlines would know that their planes are free from Covid. The goal is to launch a pilot program in the next six to eight months at three to four American and Canadian airports.
“This is something to keep us going and not have to be locked up, if you want, for the next two years, if that is what it takes,” said Bruno.
But for the plan to work, the accuracy of the Covid test has to improve and governments must be willing to fund the project, its advocates say. Just like September 11 reformulated travel to emphasize safety, they argue, the pandemic will likely require public health to take a broader approach to the travel experience.
“If we discover ways to successfully incorporate public health concerns safely and efficiently, there is no reason why we should not maintain that type of assessment,” said Laurie Trautman, director of the Institute for Border Policy Research at Western Washington University.
Another problem is finding out who within the countries’ border security systems would evaluate travelers when they enter airports. “No one wants to own this,” said Matt Morrison, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, a public-private nonprofit organization focused on economic development in the area.
As crossing restrictions continue through mid-summer, border communities are seeing its economic effects.
A ferry service between Seattle and Victoria, BC, announced Friday that it will extend the suspension of operations until April 2021, citing ongoing restrictions and Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period for travelers arriving from abroad.
“The loss of any summer operation causes year-round operations to [the Victoria] Clipper in 2020 unrealistic, ”said the company.
Mike Cuffe, a Republican state senator in Montana, said businesses near his home in Lincoln County, which borders inland British Columbia, are struggling because Canadians who generally travel there for tourism cannot visit. An August car show and September chainsaw carving contest are usually big draws.
“We are very close to the point where I can start to count how many people tell me they are going bankrupt within a month,” he said.