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Canada-U.S. cross-border travel will be forever changed by coronavirus, experts say

Last Updated Jul 15, 2020 at 7:22 am PST

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke

Some experts foresee long-term changes to border security between Canada and the U.S.

Canada and the U.S. have reached a tentative agreement to extend border restrictions amid COVID-19

Expert tells the Toronto Star bio-security could be more prevalent at border crossings in the future

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The pandemic has shut down the Canada-U.S. border until Aug. 21 at the earliest, but some experts envision permanent changes to travel between our two countries as bio-security becomes much more prevalent at ports of entry.

“There is a general appreciation that a restricted border regime has been imposed temporarily because COVID-19 is not under control,” Wesley Wark, a leading Canadian security expert, tells the Toronto Star.

“That view is short-sighted, and it doesn’t reflect the reality that we’re moving toward. One of the new (things) we are going to have to do is some more strategic thinking about monitoring bio-security hazards at borders as a long-term proposition.”

To date, the U.S. has reported more than three million COVID-19 infections and seen more than 138,000 deaths.

Wark envisions a “smart” border that would nimbly respond to risk while allowing trade, travel, and migration to flow relatively freely.

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The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential traffic since March 21. Truck drivers, Canadians and Americans who cross the border for essential work or other “urgent” reasons, as well as some others are exempt from the closure.

The visiting professor at the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies believes travel restrictions will be more targeted in the future, based on the prevalence of the pandemic in other countries.

“The blanket approach is easier. That’s why we have one at the moment. We have to move to a more targeted approach to allow travel,” he tells the Star. “If you’re going to have selective control of travels, then you have to be prepared to be nimble and agile, to open and close the border quickly. That complicates it.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the federal government plans to be “very, very careful” in dealing with an increase in cross-border traffic as businesses reopen and restrictions on personal mobility are slowly eased in both countries.

“We recognize that the situation continues to be complex in the United States in regards to COVID-19,” Trudeau said on Monday. “Every month we have been able to extend the border closures to all but essential goods and services, and those discussions are ongoing with the United States right now as we are a week from the next deadline for closures.”

Some experts foresee permanent public health guards who would oversee enhanced screening at border crossings. Wark says he could see current measures, such as temperature screening and self-quarantine, remaining in place along with an addition to passports that could indicate if a traveller’s COVID-19 vaccination is up to date, once one becomes available.