Yukoners are one step closer to visiting family and friends, operating businesses and ocean sightseeing in Alaska — but making plans to travel across the open U.S. border in November is still complicated.
Beginning in early November, the U.S. plans to allow fully vaccinated visitors from a host of countries, including Canada, to enter the country.
The new rules will apply to the country’s land borders, including in Beaver Creek, on the Top of the World Highway and the Haines Highway, Klondike Highway entry points.
When fully vaccinated Canadian visitors are allowed to cross the land border into the U.S. next month, they won’t be required to show negative test results, but a test is required to return to Canada.
In an interview on Oct. 14, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters that people will still be required to show a recent COVID-19 test — a $200 expense — in order to enter or re-enter the country.
Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, is among those calling on the federal government to do away with the requirement.
On Oct. 14, Premier Sandy Silver said he has been in talks with Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy and the mayors of Haines and Skagway about the rule changes. He said “everybody’s chomping at the bit to get to Alaska” but he can “see both sides” when it comes to testing requirements.
“I’d love to see more collaborative or parallel rules and procedures on both sides of our borders, but we also are hearing from Chief Medical Officers of Health right across Canada,” he said. “Recognizing that we’re two different jurisdictions, we’re two different countries. The populations are different. We do have to cede a little bit of that conversation to the realities of the epidemiologist.”
Yukoners excited to visit Skagway and Haines
It’s been over 18 months since Yukoners were able to visit the neighbouring communities of Haines and Skagway.
Ákilena Jónasson said she’s excited to return to visits to the ocean, Thai food in Skagway, people watching when cruise ships unload in town and searching for unique snacks in American grocery chains.
“Well part of it – aside from my snack raids – it’s just nice to experience going to a different country. It’s so close but it just feels different. It feels like a mini-vacation that you can do in a day,” she said.
“The best part is you go over the pass, over the summit, and then from there it’s just such a short time from the summit to the ocean. That drive never gets boring.”
Matthew Lien, whose family in both Skagway and Juneau are eager to visit his elderly mother in the Yukon, said he is looking forward to a more straightforward system to get across the border.
Lien has residency status and has been able to occasionally visit the U.S. during the pandemic, but said a recent shortage of rapid tests in Skagway has prevented recent visits between family on both sides of the border.
“My niece doesn’t drive and so I have to pick her up [to visit her grandmother], and that’s one thing that’s been difficult to pull off because of the conditions. This will hopefully allow the flow of family,” he said.
Jeremy Murphy, who operates Northwinds Rocky Mountain Transport, said he’s looking forward to being able to work across the border again.
Residents in border communities like Beaver Creek said they are also excited to return to cross-border shopping for basic necessities like groceries.
COVID-19 cases still present in the state
COVID-19 cases in Alaska have been up since July.
Right now the COVID-19 alert is “high” in the Juneau Borough (which has had 203 cases in the last seven days) and Haines Borough (eight cases in the last seven days). The Skagway Borough is at a “substantial” alert and has had one case in the last seven days.
Vaccination levels for those above 12 years with at least one shot are 84 per cent in Juneau, 76 per cent in Haines and 87 per cent in Skagway, compared to 85 per cent in the Yukon.
– With files from The Canadian Press
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