Traveler COVID testing to ease up

WATERTOWN — Canadians crossing the border for shopping trips in the north country soon will no longer need to show proof of a COVID-19 test before returning to their country.

With that news, Corey C. Fram, director of the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, now expects that merchants and tourism operators will finally see an influx of Canadian travelers driving down to the north country for “short-haul” trips.

That’s because Canadian travelers won’t have to get COVID-19 molecular tests to return home.

The change will have a major economic impact for the north country, Mr. Fram said.

“It’s a big step for us along the border,” he said.

According to Canadian press reports, the COVID testing requirement will be lifted by the end of the month. Canadian visitors must still be fully vaccinated within 72 hours of crossing the border.

The testing change was first reported in Canadian media on Wednesday. It was then confirmed during a meeting between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. Reps. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, that was held later in the day in Washington D.C.

In a press release, Rep. Higgins said he learned during the meeting that changes to the testing requirements will come in three phases.

Eliminating testing for vaccinated Canadians is phase one, with changes to testing applied to vaccinated Americans and others to come in subsequent phases.

Official details are expected to come on Friday, according to the press release.

According to press reports, sources said the Canadian government is only dropping the testing requirement for Canadians and permanent residents for trips lasting less than 72 hours.

If a trip lasts longer than 72 hours, as Canadians prepare to reenter Canada, they still will be required to get a new pre-arrival molecular test in the United States.

Molecular tests, like the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR test, will still be required for trips longer than 72 hours.

The land border was reopened on Nov. 8 to Canadian visitors for the first time in 19 months. It had been closed because of the pandemic.

Mr. Fram thinks that the COVID tests have been deterring Canadians from crossing the border for shopping visits because the tests are expensive and “it doesn’t make sense” for them to spend that kind of money for such short visits.

Canadians’ shopping excursions typically last around 48 hours, consisting of a day or so of shopping, eating at local restaurants and staying in a hotel, where travelers can lounge around the pool before heading back north, Mr. Fram said.

When the border reopened on Nov. 8, the north country saw a large influx of Canadian travelers, but they were mostly snowbirds driving through the north country before heading to southern states for the winter, Mr. Fram said.

While the COVID testing requirements won’t be lifted until after Black Friday, Mr. Fram believes that Canadians will take advantage of north country shopping deals by going on “mini Black Friday” trips on their own.

For months, Reps. Stefanik and Higgins pushed the U.S. government to reopen the northern border. Both of them serve as co-chairs of the Northern Border Caucus.

“The fractured approach to border management by both the U.S. and Canadian governments is contributing to public confusion, anger and frankly, it makes no sense,” Rep. Higgins said after Wednesday’s developments.

He went on to say that fully vaccinated individuals — whether they live in the United States or Canada — are equally protected from getting or giving COVID. That means testing is unnecessary, he said in the press release.

“It is prohibiting a cross-border exchange critical to fostering economic recovery in both nations, Rep. Higgins said. “I was encouraged by today’s meeting that testing requirements on vaccinated Americans will soon be addressed. I hope that discussions this week can produce a more cohesive policy strategy between the U.S. and Canada on this and other matters.”

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