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Molecular testing requirement for COVID-19 to remain as land border opens: Blair

Canadians will still need to take a molecular test, like the expensive PCR test, in order to return to Canada from the United States after the land border reopens to fully vaccinated travellers in November.

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said acquiring a negative test has “proven to be one of the more effective requirements” for travellers and that maintaining the requirement was a recommendation of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“Again, we’re continuing to evaluate it, and we’ll look at the experience in other jurisdictions. But right now, it’s been a very effective protection for Canadians,” Blair told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton. He noted that some provinces are “very concerned” that people entering Canada are doing so safely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The molecular testing requirement has become a significant point of concern since the U.S. announced it would be reopening its land border to fully vaccinated travellers on Nov. 8.

Currently, Canadians can fly to the U.S. as long as they have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure — including a much cheaper and more easily accessed antigen test.

Vehicles line up to cross the U.S.-Canada border in Blaine, Wash., on Aug. 9, after Canada opened its land border to vaccinated Americans. The U.S. is opening its land border to fully vaccinated travellers on Nov. 8. (David Ryder/Reuters)

But to return to Canada, Canadians are required to provide a negative molecular test within 72 hours of departure. Some PCR tests, which are commonly used by travellers, can cost more than $139 US. Other types of molecular tests, like a NAAT test, are also accepted.

Still, Blair said he expected “some pretty significant” increases in the number of travellers once the new rules go into effect.

Calls to end test requirement

Groups and individuals on both sides of the border have called for testing rules to be simplified or dropped in order to ease travel for vaccinated people.

“Testing is redundant,” New York Rep. Brian Higgins said on Wednesday.

The requirement could be particularly burdensome for day trips south of the border, which typically make up almost half of all travel to the U.S., according to Statistics Canada data. Blair said this week that the government would accept tests completed in Canada for re-entry, so long as they fell within the 72-hour window.

U.S. officials in border states, such as Higgins, have been insistent about the need to reopen the land border and encourage travel.

WATCH | U.S. congressman urges Canada to make travel easier:

‘There are ways we could have done this earlier and better’: U.S. congressman

10 hours ago

North Dakota Republican Congressman Kelly Armstrong joins CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton to reflect on the U.S. plan to reopen the border to fully vaccinated travellers and how his state’s economy depends on Canadian visitors. 7:34

In a separate interview on Rosemary Barton Live, North Dakota Congressman Kelly Armstrong said he hoped the border reopening would rejuvenate communities dependent on cross-border travel.

“I’m hoping it’s seamless, and anything is better than nothing,” he said.

Canada reopened its land border to fully vaccinated Americans in August, but the U.S. has not followed suit until the announcement this month.

“Frustrating is an understatement” when it comes to describing that delay, Armstrong said, which had significant consequences.

“We have, I mean, 650,000-plus visits a year. In my old hometown, Grand Forks, N.D., about 25 per cent of our sales come from Canadian residents,” he said.

Armstrong echoed the idea that fully vaccinated Canadians should have testing requirements eased to enable smooth travel.

“Lifting the restrictions doesn’t work if it turns into a 37-minute stop every time,” he said.

“I think we’re trying to make the perfect the enemy of the good, and it just doesn’t work for our economies,” he added, suggesting being fully vaccinated and a negative rapid test should be sufficient.

Border communities waiting

Border communities have been hard hit by the end of most cross-border traffic during the pandemic. In Point Roberts, the small slice of American territory on a peninsula south of metro Vancouver, grocery store owner Ali Hayton said 75 per cent of her regular business came from Canada.

She said she’s “elated” about the border reopening, but she still has some concerns.

“We’re still dealing with the issue of Canadians needing that negative test once they go back home. That’s going to affect a lot of our day travelers, but … I’ll take anything I can get at this point. So I’m really, really happy they made this decision,” she said.

Hayton said she had only survived thanks to help from the state and county governments and through adapting her store.

Removing the test would help to get things back to normal, she said.

“Ninety per cent of Point Roberts residents are vaccinated. Canada, British Columbia, especially those people, their vaccination numbers are high. So I think adding that $200 test, every time somebody wants to come down and buy gas or pick up a package or grab a gallon of milk is really prohibitive to a lot of people.”

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

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