Part of Canada’s land border with the United States is pictured closed at the Peace Arch border crossing in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, April 28, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Part of Canada’s land border with the United States is pictured closed at the Peace Arch border crossing in Surrey, B.C., Tuesday, April 28, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Closing some U.S.-Canada land border crossings could help control COVID-19 pandemic

‘Strategy on border management requires consistency in the measures applied for air, land and sea arrivals’

By Simon Fraser University Professor of Global Health Policy Kelley Lee and Canada Research Chair in Global Health Governance, Anne-Marie Nicol, The Conversation

During the COVID-19 pandemic, attention to travel measures has largely focused on air travel. This includes the potential use of “vaccine passports” to open up international borders again. However, for countries with extensive land borders, there are special challenges.

Canada and the United States share the world’s longest undefended land border. While the U.S. is Canada’s most important trading partner, it is also the world’s epicentre for coronavirus infections and deaths.

COVID-19 variants of concern are now present in almost all U.S. states. The spread of these variants in the U.S. points to the need for Canada to review the adequacy of public health risk management at land crossings.

Current land border policy

Since March 21, 2020, non-essential travel has been restricted at Canada-U.S. land crossings. Outbound travel for Canadian nationals and permanent residents, and inbound and outbound travel for non-nationals (except Alaska-bound U.S. citizens) are not permitted.

On Jan. 29, 2021, the Canadian government announced new measures for non-essential travel in response to variants of concern. Arrivals by air now have testing and hotel quarantine requirements, and those by land have testing requirements but can self-quarantine or isolate.

Given that hundreds of thousands of essential and non-essential travellers continue to enter Canada by land each month, differences in policy for air and land travel have been questioned.

According to Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, the main reason for this difference is logistics. With 117 two-way land crossings, comparable measures “simply aren’t possible, given the existing infrastructure that’s available.”

As a team of travel health and pandemic experts, we suggest that there are solutions to this seemingly insurmountable challenge.

Less land border crossings

There are insufficient resources to provide screening, testing and quarantine measures at all land crossings comparable to air arrivals. Based on our study of travel-related measures during COVID-19, one option is to substantially reduce the number of crossings kept open. This is similar to the funnelling of air arrivals through four airports, and has been a successful strategy in other countries.

After closing some land crossings, the government can then designate selected crossings for incoming non-essential travel only. This prevents bottlenecks hindering essential travel. Given around seven per cent of land crossings during the pandemic are deemed non-essential, and that the volume of land travel has declined by around 90 per cent during the pandemic, temporarily closing some border crossings is also practical.

Crossings remaining open for non-essential travellers should be those that had higher vehicle volumes pre-pandemic such as the Peace Arch, B.C., and Rainbow Bridge, Ont. High traffic crossings already have the necessary inbound and outbound road networks to allow ease of access. They generally also have hotels nearby. This can enable an extension of mandatory quarantine at designated sites for travellers entering by land. These crossings should also be within a reasonable driving distance of a hospital should there be a need for health care. The border crossings themselves would need to have sufficient staff to accommodate any enhancements made to testing protocols.

Tailoring approaches

By streamlining land border crossings, on-site public health resources available can be tailored to specific types of travellers. For non-essential travel, alongside enhanced screening, testing and quarantine, arrivals should be provided with tailored information.

For example, in the coming weeks thousands of “snowbirds” are expected to return to Canada by land. These long-stay travellers should be directed to reliable sources of information regarding vaccine roll-out in their province as many will fall within priority groups. Those who were inoculated abroad should be given details on how to register this information in their personal vaccination record.

Transport workers comprise a large proportion of essential travellers crossing by land. The World Economic Forum ranks transport workers as being at highest risk among approximately 950 non-health occupations during COVID-19. Many Canadian truckers have been concerned about potential exposure to the coronavirus in the U.S. and risk of infecting family members upon their return.

We agree with calls for transport workers to be vaccinated as a priority group. In the meantime, rapid testing should be provided at land crossings designated to serve essential travellers.

All entry points

A more coherent Canadian strategy on border management requires consistency in the measures applied for air, land and sea arrivals. At a time when COVID-19 and its worrisome variants are being brought into Canada via travel, reducing points of entry has several benefits.

Limiting the number of crossings enables us to concentrate resources and enhance public health risk management. This would also facilitate any plans to introduce more testing or even vaccine passports for essential travel. And the incentive for travellers to circumvent air travel measures by diverting to land crossings would be reduced.

border agencyCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

School District 51 reported a potential COVID-19 exposure at Grand Forks Secondary School on Thursday, April 22. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
School board reports possible COVID exposure at Grand Forks high school

School District 51 said a member of the school community had tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Kimberley case counts not at the point for 18 years and older community vaccination, says Interior Health. (File photo)
Many factors considered for smaller community-wide vaccination: Interior Health

East Kootenay resort town’s COVID-19 situation not at the point of community-wide vaccination, say officials

Nav Canada will not be closing the tower at West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Nav Canada tower to remain open at West Kootenay Regional Airport

The organization was considering closing the tower

Fruits and veggies made a big splash at the last Grand Forks and District Fall Fair, held at Dick Bartlett Park and the nearby curling rink in September 2019. Fair president Danna O’Donnell said there would not be a return to in-person events this fall, citing COVID and financial constraints. Photo: Jensen Edwards
Grand Forks fall fair cancels in-person events for 2021

The fair’s board of directors is meanwhile considering relocating the fairgrounds

File photo.
Let’s cut the ‘and’ in ‘Mental Health and Addictions’

We need to acknowledge that addiction is a mental health issue

Four homes in Johnson Flats were at serious risk of falling into a neighbourhood section of the Kettle River, according to capital project manager Justin Dinsdale. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks shields riverside homes against erosion

Crews have built a modified dike along a section of the Kettle River in Johnson Flats

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Most Read