WASHINGTON – Lots of people celebrated after the US government announced this week that it will reopen its land border for Canadian leisure travelers. Among them were Canadian wannabe day trips hoping to shop across borders, have dinner or sightseeing in places like Niagara Falls, NY. Perhaps even more ecstatic were restaurateurs, retailers, and other entrepreneurs in American border communities who have lacked such travelers: The New York Times reported Thursday that New Yorkers in the state of New York “could not be happier” with the news.
They may want to hold the celebration.
There are some fine print in border policy that can keep many Canadians at home (and I’m not talking about COVID-19 prices in the US which still has Canada as a travel warning). Even fully vaccinated Canadians who are determined to visit can be blocked, or the journey complicated, by two unique problems.
One is the acceptance at the border of mixed dose vaccinations — usually one dose of AstraZeneca and another either Pfizer or Moderna — that has been approved in Canada but not in the United States. soon.
The second is the requirement for a negative COVID-19 test result to re-enter Canada, a Canadian border policy that may remain an obstacle for some time.
First mixed doses. My brother and sister, who live in Toronto and may want to visit me in Washington, had mixed doses. My editor had mixed doses. Right under four million other Canadians received mixed doses. But US authorities say they are still considering whether these people are considered fully vaccinated. The US Centers for Disease Control says they have not seen enough evidence for the effectiveness of mixing vaccines, although a feasibility study by Dr. Anthony Faucis National Institutes of Health published online Wednesday shown mix-and-match vaccination boost shots provide “robust” immune responses that may be stronger than from another dose of the same vaccine. Earlier international studies has seemed to show strong reactions to mixed doses.
US Food and Drug Administration officials is now considering a number of vaccination issues, including new research on mixed-dose vaccinations. Should the United States decide not to allow it, the Canadian government would then have to decide whether to allow third-dose boosters for Canadians with mixed vaccines who want to travel to the United States.
Second, there is a need for a negative result from a PCR test taken within 72 hours to re-enter Canada. This is a complication for anyone traveling across the border from the United States — and has been one for air travelers all along — but it can be a major obstacle for cross-border customers or other day-trippers.
The question is that these tests can be prohibitively expensive. While PCR tests with a 72-hour turnaround are usually free for US residents, they cost about $ 75 (all figures US) for Canadians. Quick tests of the kind you need if you were on an overnight trip or day trip are significantly more than that: at a Buffalo location, a test that offers results in 24 hours costs $ 160, and tests that return results in one hour are $ 225. It can cause a family of four to return from an afternoon visit to the American side of Niagara Falls on the hook for more than $ 1000 Canadian in test fees.
That inconvenience and cost can deter quite a few of the visitors that border town businesses are desperate to welcome back. Think of the case with only grocery store in Point Roberts, a small municipality in the state of Washington that is completely surrounded by Canadian land in British Columbia, which is usually dependent on Canadian customers to stay afloat. No one will pay hundreds of dollars and wait hours for a test just so they can buy eggs and milk in their favorite store.
As Public Safety Secretary Bill Blair helpfully pointed out on Wednesday, there is a loophole: Canadians who make short trips can be tested in Canada before going and use that test result for their re-entry – as long as it is still less than 72 hours old. This seems to defeat the purpose of ensuring that Canadians do not take back a case they raised in the United States, but it has been the policy of air travelers and remains the policy of pilots.
Those who make a short trip would be good to plan ahead and be tested in Canada before leaving, unless Canadian policies requiring a test for fully vaccinated travelers change.
And there is no reason at this stage to believe that it is likely to happen soon. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was asked about it at a press conference in Washington on Thursday. “I’m going to travel from the United States to Canada this afternoon,” Freeland said. “I had to get a PCR test, and I’m glad I did.” While she said she would not “predict the future”, Freeland defended the test policy as a necessary precaution to control the virus in Canada. “It is an example of continued prudent and careful policy,” she said.
“The rules are the rules,” she added, “and people should expect to follow them.”
Which may mean that US border communities should not expect a wave of tourists yet, and that Canadians who travel should expect to plan in advance (and budget) for the test requirements. At least those Canadians whose vaccinations qualify them to enter the United States in the first place. Right now, it’s hard to know exactly how many Canadians expect it to be.