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

Alberta completed 18,412 COVID-19 tests, as reported on Wednesday, for a test positivity rate of 9.5 per cent. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Highest daily count of 2021 so far: Alberta reports 1,699 COVID-19 cases

Variants now make up 59 per cent of Alberta’s active cases

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. announces signage along Alberta border to discourage non-essential travel

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta begins rolling out AstraZeneca COVID vaccine for those aged 40 or older

There are more than 70 pharmacies offering AstraZeneca, including 26 offering walk-in appointments

A lone traveler enters the Calgary Airport in Calgary, Alta., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
VIDEO: Trudeau defends Canada’s travel restrictions as effective but open to doing more

Trudeau said quarantine hotels for international air travellers will continue until at least May 21

President Joe Biden holds a virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
U.S. to help Canada with more COVID-19 vaccine supply, Biden says

The U.S. has already provided Canada with about 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, center, is taken into custody as his attorney, Eric Nelson, left, looks on, after the verdicts were read at Chauvin’s trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Court TV via AP, Pool
George Floyd’s death was ‘wake-up call’ about systemic racism: Trudeau

Derek Chauvin was found guilty Tuesday on all three charges against him

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Most Read