Residents of the small Washington state community of Point Roberts are pleading with Canada to relax COVID-19 testing requirements ahead of eased restrictions with the U.S. border.
“It was bad and we thought it was at bottom. Now it’s worse and we’ve found a new bottom,” chamber of commerce president Brian Calder told Global News.
“Keep going the way they’re going, I’m not sure we’re ever going to come back.”
The peninsula of Point Roberts, just south of Delta, B.C., is unusual in that it shares no land borders with the rest of the United States, and Calder said it is critically dependent on Canadians to keep its small economy alive.
Before the pandemic in 2018-2019, the community of about 1,000 full-time residents saw 1.5 million visitors, about half of which were there for day trips. About three-quarters of the properties in Point Roberts are owned by Canadians.
Canadian requirements for an expensive PCR test to return to Canada once the U.S. opens land borders to recreational travel in November will discourage most of those visitors, Calder said.
“This doesn’t help them because of the vaccination requirement going back into Canada, notwithstanding they’ve only been here for a few hours and they’re double vaccinated before they even come in here,” he said.
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“We’re the safest place in North America. We’ve got 88 per cent vaccinated, have been for months.”
Under Canada’s current rules, returning travellers must show proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test that is not more than 72 hours old.
Asked about the policy earlier this week, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland appeared cool to any changes.
“The rules are the rules,” she told reporters.
“I really believe that when it comes to finishing the fight against COVID, the Canadian approach, which has been to follow science, to follow the recommendations of public health authorities, and to err on the side of caution has served us really, really well.”
Boards of business groups and tourism organizations on both sides of the border have called for an end to the test requirements.
Sandy Ward, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, said merchants in the community just south of the B.C. border were “hopeful,” about the border reopening, but that much depends on how easy it is for travellers.
“Even our small retailers tell us that a big percentage of their business depends on Canadians. Our businesses are anxious to welcome everybody back,” she said.
“We hope that people won’t just come down for the day, we hope they’ll come for several days. I mean, there’s a lot of shopping to be done.”
Rich May, a city councillor in nearby Blaine, said he also doubted many people would drop up to $200 for a quick day trip across the border.
“That’s not opening up as much as we had hoped — people do want to come back down here and not just to get gas and cheese and some of these other things that are a better deal down in America, but people were using mail receiving services,” he said.
Back in Point Roberts, Calder said it was disappointing federal officials on both sides of the border were unwilling to act on a proposed pilot project to test a controlled reopening of the border, despite support from the state’s governor.
“We’ve missed two summers when we normally get 5,000 visitors a day,” he said, adding it was an open question as to how long businesses could hold up.
“They’re being wiped out.”