Beginning next week, anyone arriving in Canada at one of its many land borders will need to show a recent negative COVID-19 test.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that anyone who shows up at a land border with the U.S. will be required to have taken a COVID-19 test 72 hours before seeking entry.
The new measures will kick in on Feb. 15. However, lack of a negative test won’t necessarily prevent people from entering the country.
Should Canadians or permanent residents not be able to provide that test result, they could face “severe penalties,” including fines of up to $3,000 per person. Trudeau said his government will also be implementing new measures to ensure “extensive follow up by Health Canada” to ensure they are getting tested and properly quarantining.
“It’s not legal to refuse entry to a Canadian who wants to come home. That’s the major difference between land borders and air borders. You can prevent someone from boarding a flight in Miami or elsewhere, you can’t prevent someone standing at a land border crossing from coming into Canada, because technically they’re already on Canadian soil,” he told reporters from Ottawa.
“These will be more measures we’re putting forward, but as of next Monday, people who show up at a Canadian land border on nonessential travel — like returning snowbirds — will be required to show a negative COVID-19 test.”
The government has hinted at more stringent travel restrictions at land crossings in recent days.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair suggested Friday that the testing measures — though not officially announced at the time — would not apply to truckers “to ensure supply chains, essential services, and support for critical infrastructure” were unharmed.
He directed some of his comments at Canadian snowbirds, who have escaped to sunnier American destinations during the winter, albeit still within a pandemic.
“I want to assure them that the measures we’re putting in place are for their protection, and for the protection of their friends, families and communities, to keep them safe,” he said.
“They’re intended to be workable and to protect Canadians.”
Regardless of the rule change, Blair said all returning Canadians would still be required to abide by the quarantine measures laid out — and recently intensified — by the government.
The government began requiring all people arriving in Canada by air to show a negative PCR-based COVID-19 test in early January. In addition, the government recently announced that travellers will be required to take a second test when arriving, then quarantine at a hotel for three days while awaiting their test results — all at the traveller’s expense.
However, more people are coming into Canada via vehicle than on airplane.
Recent data from Canada Border Services Agency, as reported by the Canadian Press, show that since the end of March 2.9 million people, excluding truck drivers, entered through a land border crossing, while 2.4 million arrived by airplane.
Trudeau insisted that the vast majority of people crossing land borders are essential workers — like truck drivers and nurses.
Those who don’t fit those criteria will be subject to those fines, he said.
“These are measures we are going to be implementing to ensure there is follow up and that they are not putting other Canadians at risk by coming back to Canada.”
— with files from the Canadian Press