You still need a COVID-19 test to enter Canada. Is that a deal breaker for cross-border travel?

WASHINGTON – The reopening of the United States land border to Canadian leisure travelers on Monday was cause for celebration in the communities on both sides of the Peace Bridge and the Ambassador Bridge. But along with the relief, there is still exasperation with Canadian testing requirements that still serve as a barrier to travel.

“Today marks the day that loved ones who have been separated for the past 19 months will finally be reunited. That’s very, very significant, ”Representative Brian Higgins of Buffalo, New York, said at a virtual press conference. “As we prepare for this day, we will see a significant rebound in economic activity, but we are still doing it with one hand tied behind our back, with this redundant and unnecessary testing requirement.”

That was a reference to the ongoing requirement that those entering Canada, both returning Americans and Canadians, must provide proof of a negative result from a COVID-19 molecular test, such as a PCR test, that was taken within the 72 hours. There is no such requirement for those entering the United States by land; those entering the US by air need a negative test result, but can use the cheaper rapid antigen tests.

But getting a PCR test result in the required time can be expensive, between $ 200 and $ 300 per person. When the results of our free US pharmacy trials did not arrive in time for a recent visit to Canada, my family of four paid over $ 1,000 (Cdn.) To obtain eligible rapid tests in New York State. . For many travelers, especially those hoping to take a day trip or stay just for a weekend, that cost is a deal breaker.

“When you tell a family, ‘It’s going to cost you another $ 1,000 to visit,’ and you won’t have more to eat or a better place to stay, they choose not to,” said Jim Diodati, mayor of Niagara. Falls, Ontario. In a community that relies on American tourists for its economic survival, he said the proof requirement meant that there were hardly any visible American license plates on the streets of his city when the Canadian border was opened to American travelers in the summer.

Diodati said that while it is an urgent economic problem for its residents, it is also a question of the community’s cross-border lifestyle. “Niagara Falls is a great city divided by a border,” Diodati said. “There is family on both sides, friends on both sides, favorite restaurants, attractions, hotels, shopping. Imagine wherever you live right now, if half your city was isolated for the next two years, you are not allowed to cross into that area. Imagine how that would affect them psychologically and emotionally. “

Those who participated in Monday’s press conference, which included the mayors of Niagara Falls, New York, Sarnia and Windsor, don’t think there is much scientific justification for the testing requirement at this time; point out that vaccines are effective and PCR testing unlikely. to detect a case of COVID-19 contracted during a short visit due to the gestation period of the virus.

And that argument is emphasized to the point of absurdity by Canada’s policy of allowing hikers to display the results of tests conducted in Canada prior to departure. Such a test does not prove anything at all about whether your journey across the border was safe or not. Could not.

Even a co-chair of Canada’s advisory board on COVID-19 testing and detection acknowledged that the policy seems absurd. “Even if we were to require tests from these travelers, a test done in Canada before the trip begins would not be helpful,” Dr. Irfan Dhalla told The Canadian Press.

I have heard from many readers who believe they have detected a silent conspiracy to keep cross-border travel and tourism dollars in Canada during the Christmas season.

Those calling for an end to the testing requirement hope it won’t last through the holidays: Diodati and the others were targeting the November 21 deadline for Ottawa to renew its border guidelines as an opportune time for change.

And recently, Ottawa has signaled that it might be considering doing so. On Friday, Canada’s director of public health said her office “is actively studying” changing the requirement for the PCR test. “Just to reassure everyone,” Dr. Theresa Tam said during a briefing, “we’re looking at that pretty carefully.”

Tam didn’t give a timeline, but November 21 falls before America’s four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and the Black Friday shopping bonanza in between, and it’s time for Christmas family reunions.

“Dr. Tam said they are reviewing the evidence, which for those of us who know Ottawa-speak is a clear sign,” Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said. “The federal government is seriously considering this and seeing the impact. economic and social “.

Bradley said he is optimistic that November 21 will mark the end of testing requirements. “If you want to change this, that would be the time to do it,” he said. “This is the perfect time.”

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