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

Rachna Singh, MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers, is the Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/bcgovphotos)
A micro brewery is being eyed for Jordan River. However, the site where the brewery is proposed still needs to go through the rezoning process. (Black Press Media file)
Micro brewery proposed for Jordan River

Jordan River Brewing Company envisions to build wholesale, sit-in brewery along Highway 14

Traffic waits at the intersection of Highway 17 and Beacon Avenue. A study found failing levels of service at the intersection of Highway 17 and Sidney’s Beacon Avenue for multiple movements during morning peak traffic and for all left-moving traffic during afternoon peak traffic. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Province supports potential interim improvements to Sidney intersection

Province says interchange is the long-term plan for intersection of Beacon Avenue and Highway 17

Oak Bay local Lachlan Kratz (red, middle) has signed with pro rugby team NOLO Gold in Louisiana. (Contributed photo)
Oak Bay local signs with pro rugby team

Lachlan Kratz at 21 is now NOLO Gold’s youngest member

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read