'Rules are the rules': Freeland mum on removing PCR testing for Canada border

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On the heels of news that the United States will reopen its border to Canadians for leisure travel, calls have grown for the Canadian government to scrap its COVID-19 testing requirement to re-enter the country.

When asked about the possibility, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland offered a reminder for Canadians: “the rules are the rules.”

The Canadian border is currently open for recreational travel, but only to Americans who can prove they’ve been fully vaccinated and can present a negative PCR test.

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But boards of trade, chambers of commerce and tourism organizations in both the United States and Canada have called on the government to scrap that requirement.

Speaking in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Freeland appeared closed off to the idea — for now.

“Canadians do need a valid PCR test to go back to Canada. I had my test done to go home this afternoon,” said Freeland.

“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.”

In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the Canada Border Services Agency also reminded Canadians that the current measures — including the testing requirements — are still in place.

“The Canada Border Services Agency would like to remind travellers that border measures remain in place for travellers entering or returning to Canada and that they should get informed and understand their obligations as they make their travel plans,” the press release read.

“Fully vaccinated travellers coming to Canada must complete the mandatory pre-arrival molecular COVID-19 test.”

The United States is expected to open its land border for international travel in November. However, it isn’t asking prospective visitors to provide a negative test — though proof of full immunization will still be needed. Canadians will still need the test for their trip home, though.

The price tag of the test from most private American companies can be up to US$200, or almost C$250.

One chamber of commerce head said that dropping this added hurdle could help businesses on both sides of the border.

“What we hope to get to is just showing a vaccination card like you would have to for theatre, music or sports,” Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Guy Ochiogrosso said.

“When both sides of the border are aligned and it is similar to what we are all experience as a new normal, that is when we will see an increase in normal activities.”

Canadians make up about 30 per cent of the retail sales in Washington state’s Whatcom County, which includes Bellingham.

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The executive director for the chamber of commerce in Blaine, Wash., which is in the same county as Bellingham, echoed Ochiogrosso’s concerns — and his hopes.

“All of our businesses have been closed a few days a week and at lunch. Hopefully, with the border, that will change,” Sheila Wood said.

In Vancouver, the pandemic has also had an impact on tourism-related spending. The estimated loss totals $10 billion to date.

Still, Freeland said her priority is “to finish the fight against COVID” and that “yes, that does mean we need to continue to be prudent and careful.”

She also refused to hint at when the testing requirement might be dropped.

“Our government has been, throughout the pandemic, thoughtful about working with our public health authorities, working with scientists, working with doctors. And our measures have been flexible and they have adapted to changing circumstances,” she said.

“That, of course, will continue to be the situation.”

Canada is “winning the fight against COVID,” Freeland went on to say.

“We are getting the fourth wave under control. Crucially, our kids are back in school and our economy is successfully reopening,” she said.

“I really believe that being that little bit more careful as we get through the next few weeks, as we see what the effect is of going back to school, as we see what the effect is of colder weather is a really sensible Canadian approach.”

— with files from Global News’ Richard Zussman

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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