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

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

The Dease Lake Airport is receiving $11-million in upgrades funded by the province, Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and mining companies. (British Columbia Aviation Council)
Major upgrades coming to Dease Lake Airport

Airport to receive $11-million from the province, regional district and mining companies

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

(Photo by Mojpe/Pixabay)
Canadian kids extracting record amounts from Tooth Fairy

Our neighbours in the U.S. receive slightly less from Tooth Fairy visits

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Most Read