Coronavirus: Non-essential U.S.-Canada travel is being suspended. Here’s what that means

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Canada-U.S. border closing Friday night
WATCH ABOVE: Canada-U.S. border closing Friday night – Mar 20, 2020

New restrictions on travel between Canada and the U.S. are being implemented in a bid to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As of midnight, the U.S. and Canada have agreed to permit only “essential” travel between the two countries.

That means those looking to cross the border for recreation or tourism purposes will not be allowed to enter.

The agreement is in place for a month, at which time the U.S. and Canada will review it.

The measures affect land ports of entry — so air travel is exempt, though Canada has already urged against all non-essential international travel.

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Government officials have stressed that trucks and trains with food and supplies will continue to move between countries. The border supports $2.4 billion in daily trade, according to a statement from the federal government.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet members have not outlined a full list of scenarios that would constitute essential travel, but they indicated that there would be a variety of acceptable reasons for Americans to enter Canada and vice versa.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Canadians and Americans who cross the border “every day to do essential work and for other urgent or essential reasons,” can continue to do so. He offered the example of health-care workers.

International students, workers with visas and temporary foreign workers will continue to be allowed to enter Canada. But all international arrivals have been told to self-isolate for 14 days.

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Blair said that truck drivers have also received advice on hand hygiene as well as social distancing, and they will be routinely checked for symptoms at the border.

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“We are facilitating essential workers crossing back and forth across the border, asking that they self-monitor for any symptoms which would be concerning, and then reference them immediately to health officials should they become symptomatic,” he said.

Blair was asked about travel for compassionate reasons on Friday.

“I know our officials on both sides of the border are working very closely to make sure that there is a consistency in the way in which these measures will be implemented,” he said at a press conference.

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“But at the same time, we recognize that there are exceptional, extraordinary circumstances and there is an expectation that border officers will exercise the appropriate discretion in determining in those exceptional and extraordinary circumstances if the travel is, in fact, essential.”

A document from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security outlines a list of scenarios in which travellers from Canada would be able to enter the U.S.

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The document has not officially been published by the U.S. Federal Register and therefore may not be finalized. A spokesperson for DHS did not respond to a request for clarification as of publication.

The document says the guidelines apply to land ports and ferry crossings. It states that essential travel includes, but is not limited to:

  • Returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents
  • Those travelling for medical purposes or to attend school
  • Those travelling to work in the U.S. (“e.g., individuals working in the farming or agriculture industry who must travel between the United States and Canada in furtherance of such work”)
  • Those travelling for “emergency response and public health purposes” — which includes government and emergency responders
  • Truck drivers and others “engaged in lawful cross-border trade”
  • Official government/diplomatic travel
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and those on military-related travel

With files from The Canadian Press

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