In the immediate aftermath of news that the United States will reopen its border to Canadians for leisure travel, calls have increased for the Canadian government to remove its COVID-19 testing requirement to re-enter the country.
When asked about the possibility, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland offered a reminder to Canadians: “The rules are the rules.”
The Canadian border is currently open for recreational travel, but only to Americans who can show they have been fully vaccinated and can present a negative PCR test.
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But trade boards, chambers of commerce and tourism organizations in the United States and Canada have called on the government to remove that requirement.
Speaking in Washington, DC, on Thursday, Freeland seemed closed to the idea, for now.
“Canadians need a valid PCR test to return to Canada. I was tested to go home this afternoon, ”Freeland said.
“I truly believe that when it comes to ending the fight against COVID, the Canadian approach, which has been to follow the science, follow the recommendations of public health authorities and err on the side of caution, has served us very, very well. . “
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The United States is expected to open its land border for international travel in November. However, prospective visitors are not being asked to provide a negative test, although a full immunization test will still be needed. However, Canadians will still need the proof for their trip home. The price of the test from most private US companies can be up to US $ 200, or nearly C $ 250.
A chamber of commerce director said removing this additional hurdle could help businesses on both sides of the border.
“What we hope is to show a vaccination card like the one you would have to do for theater, music or sports,” said the executive director of the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, Guy Ochiogrosso.
“When both sides of the border are aligned and it is similar to what we all experience as a new normal, that is when we will see an increase in normal activities.”
Canadians account for about 30 percent of retail sales in Whatcom County of Washington state, which includes Bellingham.
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The executive director of the chamber of commerce in Blaine, Washington, which is in the same county as Bellingham, echoed Ochiogrosso’s concerns and hopes.
“All of our businesses have been closed a few days a week and for lunch. Hopefully, with the border, that will change, ”Sheila Wood said.
In Vancouver, the pandemic has also had an impact on tourism-related spending. The estimated loss amounts to $ 10 billion to date.
Still, Freeland said his priority is “to finish the fight against COVID” and that “yes, that means we must remain prudent and careful.”
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He also declined to hint at when the test requirement might be dropped.
“Our government has been, throughout the pandemic, attentive to working with our public health authorities, working with scientists, working with doctors. And our measures have been flexible and adapted to changing circumstances, ”he said.
“That, of course, will continue to be the situation.”
Canada is “winning the fight against COVID,” Freeland continued.
“We are controlling the fourth wave. Fundamentally, our children are back in school and our economy is successfully reopening, ”he said.
“I really think being a little more careful as we go through the next few weeks, as we see what the effect of going back to school is, as we see what the effect of colder weather is, is a really sensible Canadian approach. . “
– with files from Richard Zussman of Global News
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