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N.B. community pleased health officials will join screening process at U.S. border

Public health officials joining U.S. border agents to screen people coming into Canada
Residents of a New Brunswick community bordering the U.S. are pleased public health officials will join border agents to screen people coming into Canada. Tim Roszell explains.

Residents of St. Stephen, N.B., say they are pleased health officials will be assisting border agents screening people coming into Canada.

Lisa Aronson, owner of The Five Kings Restaurant about one kilometre from the border with Calais, Maine, said her business is down 40 to 50 per cent since the coronavirus pandemic began.

“We’re regaining the numbers again but we won’t be back to where we (were),” Aronson said. “We’re probably still going to be down 35 per cent.”

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential international travel since March 21. The Canadian government bent that rule last month by allowing Americans with immediate family in Canada to cross the border, as long as they quarantine for 14 days and stay for a minimum of 15 days.

Read more: As travel increases, Canada boosting presence of health officials at airports, U.S. border

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Now, Ottawa has announced that Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) officials will join Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) agents at frequently used land crossings in Canada, providing support for screening travellers who wish to enter the country for COVID-19. Until now, CBSA members were tasked with assessing people.

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Aronson said she gets about 15 per cent of her business from south of the border, but with a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., she said she’s pleased Canada is taking extra steps to protect its citizens.

“I think it’s good to be cautious,” she said. “And I think if that’s going to help keep everyone in line then I think it’s probably the best thing to be doing.”

Elmina Richardson just wants to be reconnected with her common-law partner, who is an American.

She said they spend six months of the year in New Brunswick and six months in Florida. They were in Florida when Richardson’s son advised her to come home, but her partner had to stay in the U.S.

Still, she said having health officials at the border makes sense.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Richardson said. “I’ve been sort of surprised with the people they’ve let across. They haven’t had the (thermometer). That’s a minimal cost. You put that on somebody’s forehead to see if they’ve got a temperature. That’s a minimal cost but as far as I know, they haven’t done that on our borders.”

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Read more: Coronavirus — Canada-U.S. border shutdown extended to July 21

Allan MacEachern, St. Stephen’s mayor, said it’s been challenging to stay separated from Calais for so long, as the communities are so intertwined.

But he agrees with the new measures.

“I think it’s another layer of protecting us,” MacEachern said. “It’s another added piece of security for our residents (with) people who specialize in those kinds of checks.”

He said he knows Calais is struggling.

“We don’t want our border community neighbour suffering either,” MacEachern said. “We’ve got to find a balance there and get that back to where we were. That’s how we work. That’s how border communities work.”