Yukoners and Alaskans are one step closer to an open border.
The federal government announced July 29 that as of Aug. 9, fully vaccinated citizens of the United States and permanent residents will be allowed to enter Canada, with the rest of the world to follow Sept. 7.
Rules for entering the U.S., however, remain unchanged for now. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is extending its COVID-19 restrictions on travel by land from Canada until at least Aug 21.
The change of rules on the Canadian side was positive news for the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, but president Neil Hartling said there are still questions to be answered.
“It’s encouraging. It’s long awaited news,” said Hartling.
“The announcement was a bit vague on testing and what tests are acceptable, there’s quite a myriad of spin-off questions that come from it. From the tourism industry point of view those kinds of questions are hanging out there.”
Hartling noted that by August 9 the summer season in the Yukon will be primarily over. Winter tourism in the Yukon is largely dependent on international travel, so operators will be looking at getting answers to questions and smoothing over processes during the U.S. opening.
“Businesses are all hanging by a thread right now. They’re going to be reliant on relief and recovery support. It’ll be essential that those continue until the end of next summer season,” he said.
In Haines, Alaska, about four hours from Whitehorse, Mayor Douglas Olerud said his community is also welcoming the news and awaiting more details.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time to hear that we’re finally able to get back and forth for the Haines people to get to Whitehorse and for Yukoners to come down to Haines,” said Olerud. “There’s a lot of friendships, a lot of families across the border, as well as business relationships across the border. Having that free travel back and forth benefits both areas greatly.”
“We always felt fortunate that we had a road out of here until you have a worldwide pandemic that shuts that road down. And then you realize how isolated you are. It’s much easier for us when we have an open border,” he said.
Olerud said he still has questions about how testing will work and if it will be required.
Even if non-essential travel is allowed, COVID-19 testing for a family of four will cost between $500 and $800 — a hefty sum for a weekend away.
In Whitehorse, private COVID-19 tests for travel purposes begin at $125.
Right now the Canadian government says all travellers will still be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test result and proof of vaccination prior to arrival by way of the ArriveCAN smartphone app or web portal, but post-travel test results will no longer be necessary for those who are fully vaccinated.
Canada Border Services Agency officials will also be subjecting vaccinated travellers to a mandatory molecular test upon arrival on a random basis.
The governments have also not disclosed how international travellers will need to prove their COVID-19 vaccination status.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy said in a statement that U.S. citizens want to be able to freely transit through the Yukon.
“The Alaska highway is a vital part of our state’s economy, which is why the ability to travel to America by Americans is essential. While I am pleased to see progress in opening up our connections to the rest of the continent, I will continue to push for the right of all Alaskans to be able to reach the rest of our country through the Canadian border,” he said.
In Alaska 57 per cent of people have received at least one dose. Rates are higher than the state average in Juneau, where 77.5 per cent of residents have received a first dose.
– With files from the Canadian Press
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