Health Care

Updated: Canada shuts border; exceptions ‘at this time’ for U.S. citizens

Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a news conference Monday. CBC screenshot

Canada is closing the border to non-Canadian citizens and permanent residents amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, though it is leaving an exception for United States citizens.

Land border points of entry, like those along the border shared by Vermont and Quebec, will remain open.

The closure will leave an exception for U.S. citizens “at this time,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said as he announced the measure Monday afternoon.

Any person traveling across the border, including U.S. citizens, will be instructed as they enter the country to self-isolate at home for 14 days. All travelers will be screened by border agents and asked to report any symptoms of coronavirus.

Canadian officials said at a press conference that the isolation recommendation will be lifted for certain types of workers, like truck drivers who are part of the food supply chain and flight personnel.

Trudeau administration officials emphasized that the decision to keep its border open to U.S. citizens reflected the interconnected nature of the two countries’ food systems, economies and more.

“What’s called for is really a continental response,” Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Canadian travel restrictions.

Canada’s move to sharply restrict international travel comes as countries around the globe are attempting to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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Last week, President Donald Trump announced that noncitizens traveling from 26 European countries would be barred from entering the U.S., expanding an earlier ban on those who had been in China and Iran. Over the weekend, he extended the ban to include the United Kingdom and Ireland. 

Canada had previously stopped short of issuing any travel restrictions, but did issue a strong advisory last week to all citizens and residents against international travel.

Before Trudeau’s announcement Monday, Julie Raboin, a former Newport City Council president, noted how restricting the border would disrupt life for many whose lives are interconnected across the international boundary.

“I would really hate to see the border closed,” she said. “There’s just so many people that live in one country, work in another — I’m just really struggling with the economic impact.” 

She also highlighted the impact of shutting down the border on families.

“I know people who live here who have family right over the border, who go back and forth all the time,” she said.

The international boundary in Derby Line is marked by flower pots. Photo by Alexandre Silberman/VTDigger

Both those points intersect in Raboin’s life. She said she isn’t allowed to visit her father while he stays in a Barton nursing home. And a doctor at that facility — who lives in Magog, a little under an hour north in Quebec — isn’t sure whether she’ll have to stay home or stay in Vermont.

Meanwhile, northern Vermont communities are not concerned about the connections across the border as they attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease.

“The porousness of the border is not a concern for Main Street St. Albans,” Dominic Cloud, the city manager for St. Albans, said.

Visitors from Quebec are typically an everyday sight in the city. As the coronavirus outbreak has grown, he said, city officials have kept an eye on what is happening in Canada, but are much more focused on taking cues from Vermont state government.

“The issues facing us, they’re run of the mill public health issues,” Cloud said. “Whether somebody is from Montreal or Montgomery, the issues are the same for us.”

While neither U.S. Customs and Border Protection nor the Canadian Border Services Agency could provide data about recent traffic patterns Monday, the coronavirus outbreak appears to have impacted cross-border travel already.

At the border crossing in Derby Line in March last year, U.S.-bound passenger vehicles often waited a few minutes, according to Customs and Border Protection data. In Highgate Springs, wait times ranged up to 16 minutes.

But figures on Monday showed no wait time at all at either crossing, despite each having just one lane open.

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Newport resident Pam Ladds is unconvinced that worrying about the border is worthwhile.

“It probably makes sense to restrict travel, but I’m really not totally sold on the idea of ‘close the border,’” she said Monday, before Canada announced the policy change. “Stuff doesn’t just stop there.”

Ladds participates in a curling club in Stanstead, just across from the nearby Derby Line border stop, but said she can no longer attend because of the pandemic.

She likened the idea of closing the border unfavorably to President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The new rules also bar anyone displaying symptoms of the virus to board a flight to Canada, and airlines must do health assessments of passengers. Flights coming from international destinations will be funneled through four particular airports.

In addition to U.S. citizens, the travel restrictions will not apply to diplomats and immediate family members of Canadian citizens.

Editor’s note: A blog post related to this story initially incorrectly stated that the northern border would be closed to nonresidents. It has been updated to clarify that the border remains open. U.S. citizens are exempt from the travel restrictions at this time.

VTDigger is posting regular updates on the coronavirus in Vermont on this page. You can also subscribe here for regular email updates on the coronavirus. If you have any questions, thoughts or updates on how Vermont is responding to COVID-19, contact us at [email protected].

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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