Temporary restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the U.S. have resulted in longer than usual wait times at border crossings — and snowbirds are scrambling to get back home.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump made the announcement on Wednesday. The regulations came into effect late Friday night.
According to Trudeau, the restrictions have been implemented to follow public health advice.
Both leaders said they mutually made the decision in order to decrease the spread of COVID-19 as the numbers of those affected continue to rise.
On Saturday afternoon, residents at the largest border crossing in Alberta said they haven’t seen the Coutts border crossing this busy in a while.
A lineup of commercial vehicles could be seen on the Canadian side of the border.
The Canada Border Services Agency released a statement to Global News, saying: “With more Canadians heeding advice to return to Canada sooner than planned and with added CBSA measures in place at the border, airports included, travelers may experience longer border wait times.
“CBSA is working closely with [Public Health Agency of Canada] officials to expedite processing while ensuring the health and safety of travellers and our employees.”
The CBSA said that Canadians still waiting to get back into Canada will be allowed in.
The border remains open for essential travel, which includes the transportation of goods and travel for work, to not hamper trade and the supply chains between the two countries.
The travel restrictions only apply to those seeking to leave their home countries for tourism and recreational reasons, according to the federal government.
The closure will also apply to irregular migrants crossing the border on foot at informal crossings, Trudeau said Friday, due to concern over screening them for COVID-19.
Local residents near the Coutts border said their businesses are already being affected negatively by the pandemic.
“For us, it is completely uncertain. We don’t pay into Employment Insurance as business owners, so we can’t collect EI,” said Laura Michaelis, part owner of the Sandstone Eatery and Lounge in Milk River, Alta.
“We have no other means of income to support our family, so I don’t know.”
Michaelis said they closed down the dining room to do their part to decrease the spread of the virus and are encouraging people to practise social distancing.
However, they are worried about their finances, since spring and summer are when they make the bulk of their annual profit.
“The traffic has slowed down a lot, so you’re not seeing as many people in general and because of that, we’ve had to cut our hours back. That’s affecting my base pay.”
Business owners and workers near the Coutts border are left wondering how they will survive these unprecedented times as they try to stay afloat in an uncertain economy.
The temporary restrictions on non-essential travel will be in place until at least April 20.
–With files from The Canadian Press, Andrew Russell, Rachael D’Amore and Eric Stober