The reopening of the U.S.-Canadian border is set for two weeks from Monday unless either nation decides to keep it closed. And while there’s no official word yet on either side of the border as to what will happen on June 22 – the date when the current closure is set to expire – those with a vested interest in the issue said Friday that they expect any border opening to be piecemeal whenever it happens.
“The question is, if it does open, what restrictions will remain in place?” said Ron Rienas, executive director of the Peace Bridge Authority. “Are they going to be asking more questions? Are they going to be taking people’s temperature? Are they going to require a quarantine period?”
Rienas has no answers to those questions yet, but he’s especially concerned about the possibility of a quarantine period.
“If anyone entering Canada were required to quarantine for 14 days, that’s tantamount to keeping the border closed,” Rienas said.
The U.S. and Canada agreed in mid-March to close the border to nonessential travel for a month in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
That closure has been extended twice, each time only a couple of days before the border was supposedly set to reopen. And Rienas said the decision on what will happen on June 22 is likely to come only a few days in advance of that date, too.
One encouraging note about a possible reopening of some sort comes from the data, which shows that the number of new Covid-19 infections has been dropping on both sides of the border.
“The data shows that we are continuing to make progress in the fight against this virus in many communities, the number of new cases is low and we can trace where they came from,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a press briefing Thursday. “That’s an encouraging sign that the virus is slowing, and in some places, even stopping. But I want to be very clear: We’re not out of the woods.”
Given the slowdown in the number of cases, Canada is considering loosening its border restrictions modestly even before June 22.
“We have been looking at ways at perhaps allowing close family members — children, spouses or parents of Canadian citizens or permanent residents — to be able to reunite under strict conditions through a slight modification of the directives for the Canadian Border Services Agency,” Trudeau told reporters in late May.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been less forthcoming about its border plans. Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, sent the agency a letter in late May, suggesting that the travel limits be loosened to permit people to visit family, tend to personal business and inspect, secure or manage personal property. He never got a response.
“It’s hard to deal with one central bureaucracy; it’s even harder with two,” Higgins said. “But people on the Canadian side, tourism and elected officials, are pushing as we are to get it as open as it can be while keeping people safe on the 22nd.”
Higgins said he presumes that any opening of the border will require travelers to practice social distancing.
“There will be some restrictions,” he said. “We just don’t know quite what those restrictions will be.”
Craig W. Turner, the president of World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara, said he has been checking in with elected officials about a possible border reopening but has heard nothing definitive. He noted that Canada appears to be reopening businesses more slowly than the U.S. is.
“There doesn’t seem to be any rush, especially on the Canadian side, to open,” Turner said.