Premier Sandy Silver during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on March 27. Silver said recently that he doesn’t support allowing Alaskan snowbirds to pass through the territory on their way to the southern states. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Premier Sandy Silver during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on March 27. Silver said recently that he doesn’t support allowing Alaskan snowbirds to pass through the territory on their way to the southern states. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon premier says Alaskan snowbird travel is ‘non essential’

Alaska officials have asked the Prime Minister to expand exemptions to those wintering in the south

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said he doesn’t support allowing Alaskan snowbirds to pass through the territory on their way to the southern states.

“It is our opinion that that is not an essential service,” Silver said. “So that’s what our officials have been communicating to the government. We’ve been asked by our friends and neighbours next door in Alaska for a few different provisions, one-offs or considerations, and we’ve told them … it’s definitely a federal responsibility.”

Silver said he has not personally been in touch directly with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but the government is continuing to work closely with the Canada Border Services Agency.

“We are looking at what’s important to us here in Yukon as far as keeping you COVID safe. At the same time, we don’t want to be too restrictive. But in this particular case we do not believe that folks going from Alaska to the Lower 48 is an essential service,” he said.

On Oct. 28 Alaskan U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young and Governor Mike Dunleavy sent a letter to the Prime Minister.

“Each year, Alaskans, many elderly and with medical conditions, pack up their vehicles and journey south to the contiguous United States. They travel south because Alaska’s winter can be harsh, complicating underlying medical conditions,” reads the letter.

“A recent challenge expressed by many Alaskans trying to return to their winter homes relates to current cross-border travel restrictions, which presently consider this travel non-essential,” it continues.

The letter suggests that Alaska has been managing the pandemic well and transit to the south is essential for seniors. It says many need to travel by road in order to transport motorhomes and trailers.

The Alaska officials suggested that the existing rules about staying on transit routes could be enhanced by a requirement to present a recent negative COVID-19 test at the border.

The letter was cc’d to Silver, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, B.C. Premier John Horgan and the countries’ two ambassadors.

So far, Alaska has had 17,750 COVID-19 cases compared to 23 in the Yukon. The state has seen 79 deaths and had 411 new cases as of Nov. 4.

The federal government makes the official decisions about the rules for the international border. Right now, travellers from the United States with no COVID-19 symptoms are only permitted to transit through the Yukon for “essential” reasons including relocating for a job, school or an essential worker providing services.

The letter sent by Alaskan politicians also requested that Canada relax quarantine requirements for residents of Hyder, a small Alaskan border town that is cut-off from America and relies on a neighbouring Stewart, British Columbia community for many services.

The Canadian government acquiesced to that request on Oct. 30. Neither community has seen a positive case of COVID-19.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

Correction: This article was updated Nov. 9 to indicate that the town of Stewart, B.C. borders Hyder, Alaska, rather than Seward, another town in Alaska.

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