The possibility of reopening the Canada-U.S. border is stirring mixed emotions for some whose livelihoods depend on the tourism industry.
In March, both countries agreed to restrict border crossings to commercial traffic and essential workers who cross for their job, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the border closure was extended until May 21.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted at the possibility of extending the border closure, before formally asking the U.S. for another extension on Thursday.
“It’s a really, really difficult situation,” said Simon Resch, co-owner of a duty-free shop near the U.S. border in Emerson, Man.
From a business perspective, the border reopening would be exciting, Resch said, especially since “you cannot sell duty-free unless there is international travel.”
Even so, he said reopening would mean having to ensure the safety of employees and customers who are travelling to or from the U.S., which has the most COVID-19 cases in the world.
Lifting the federal border restriction also does not supersede Manitoba’s public health orders, which still require travellers to self-quarantine for 14 days.
And, Resch said, people also have to want to travel.
“Even if everything is in place, there’s no such thing as a quarantine anymore — what Canadian is likely to go leisure travelling in the world’s [COVID-19] hotspot right now?”
Meanwhile, south of the border, the agency in charge of promoting Minnesota tourism is looking forward to the possibility of lifted restrictions, whenever that may be.
Cross-border traffic is important to both Canada and the U.S., but it’s especially so for the tourism industry of Minnesota, said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota.
“Canada is our No. 1 international travel partner,” Edman said, citing that the state has seen about 500,000 Canadians travel there for leisure and “spend thousands of dollars on tourism and tourism-related goods and activities.
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“It’s really important to our overall tourism economy,” he said, and that COVID-19 “is probably the biggest crisis that any of us [in the tourism industry] have felt in our careers.”
Within six months to a year, Edman hopes to get the tourism industry back to where it was. But ultimately public health has to be the priority.
“It’s not going to be a switch on the light switch and everything’s going to be fine,” Edman said. “It’s going to be a period of time before we really reassure people that they can be safe.”
A favourable response to Ottawa’s extension request is expected from Washington — but likely won’t come for a few more days, a source familiar with the ongoing discussions, but not authorized to talk about them publicly, told The Canadian Press
“Right now, we’re making decisions for right now,” Trudeau said when asked about the possibility of keeping the border closed even after June 21, regardless of the wishes of the U.S., which is dealing with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world.
“Obviously, there are reflections on what next steps could be and might be in different situations and different progressions of COVID-19, but every step of the way in this unprecedented situation, we’re reacting to and responding to the realities we see now, and that’s where we will stay focused.”
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