British Columbians in flood-stricken parts of the province will be allowed to cross into the U.S. and back for some emergency purposes without a COVID-19 vaccination or PCR test, federal officials said Sunday.
The Canada Border Services Agency was working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to allow residents of disaster areas to access the U.S. for emergency reasons, on a case-by-case basis, Border Security Minister Bill Blair said Sunday.
“This is something that I can believe can be accommodated under the exemption regulations that currently exist, but to be very clear those exemptions do not apply to non-essential travel,” Blair said.
Blair stressed that the exemptions were not a general permission for British Columbians to head south for leisure purposes, and that there was no guarantee U.S. officials would allow an individual to cross in any particular case.
Canada’s current border regulations, which require vaccination to cross into the U.S. and a valid PCR test upon return, remain in place, he said, but CBSA officials in B.C. have been instructed to apply exceptions for residents affected by the disaster.
“To be very clear for people, activities such as visiting a family for a vacation, checking up on your cottage or attending a social event, would not be deemed to be essential under these circumstances,” Blair said.
“But it will allow someone who lives in a border community in Canada to travel into the United States for the purpose of obtaining essential goods, such as food and other supplies, and returning without the requirement of a PCR test.”
Canada has no jurisdiction over U.S. CBP officers, Blair said, but noted they are aware of the extreme circumstances in Canada.
“Canadians will have to abide by all of the requirements of the United States to enter into their country, including producing the appropriate travel documents,” Blair said.
Exceptional reasons to cross the border could include the need to travel through the U.S. to bypass Canadian highway closures, or a need to buy essential supplies such as gas or food not available in B.C.
On Friday, the federal government announced that, as of Nov. 30, fully vaccinated Canadians would not need a molecular test to re-enter the country so long as they’d been out of the country for less than three days.
To allow British Columbians to make quick trips across the border to shop, the B.C. government had asked Ottawa to make that change as soon as possible.
B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the federal changes should help British Columbians get access to crucial supplies, chiefly gasoline, which was being rationed in the province due to supply chain problems.
“It’s not intended for Black Friday shopping, but rather for essential supplies and gasoline in particular,” Farnworth said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was slated to meet with the Incidence Response Group of Cabinet on Sunday for an update on the situation in B.C.
British Columbia has opened two highway routes between the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province. All major routes between the populous urban centre and the interior were cut off by multiple landslides triggered by heavy rains last weekend.
At least four people have been confirmed dead, and major flooding continues to affect several communities.
The Canadian Armed Forces have been deployed to B.C., and a Royal Canadian Air Force C-C-177 Globemaster arrived in the province Saturday, delivering three C-H-146 Griffon helicopters from 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron to assist.