DULUTH – Canada further restricted nonessential travel across its border Monday in a blow to Minnesota businesses that have been eager to welcome back customers from the north.
The country has kept its border closed to nonessential foreign visitors for nearly 11 months and likely will for the foreseeable future. New measures to require COVID-19 tests when entering the country are meant to discourage travel by Canadians to the U.S. and elsewhere.
"I would like to request all people who would consider nonessential travel: Now is not the time. Cancel your vacation plans," Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair urged Canadians during a news conference on Friday. "Our shared priority must be to keep each other safe."
Northern Minnesota resorts, especially on the Northwest Angle, have long awaited looser border restrictions or some exemptions, but Canadian officials have not budged even amid pressure from U.S. officials.
Last month, Republican U.S. Reps. Pete Stauber and Michelle Fischbach of Minnesota and several other members of Congress representing northern border districts wrote to President Joe Biden urging the administration "to increase the number of essential traveler exceptions to current border restrictions and establish a plan, guided by public health metrics, upon which the United States-Canada land border will be reopened to nonessential travel."
Stauber said in a statement Friday he has "heard from a number of concerned constituents whose businesses and livelihoods have been suffering since the U.S.-Canadian border shutdown nearly a year ago. I have also been contacted by a number of Minnesotans who own cabins across the border, and are frustrated that they haven't been able to maintain or enjoy their property this past year. I share their concerns, and I continue to do everything in my power to help."
While some border businesses have been buoyed by a surge of Minnesotans heading north amid the pandemic, the continued border closure has taken a toll on others.
"Our Northwest Angle resorts are struggling," said Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism. "Tourists going to Canada will often stay in Baudette hotels before crossing in the morning — that isn't happening either, so we've lost that business."
Stauber said he is "disappointed" with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Biden.
"The special relationship held between the U.S. and our neighbors to the north is beneficial to Minnesotans and Canadians alike, and I know that many of the border communities on the Canadian side are hurting from this closure as well," the congressman said.
Canadian officials say they are trying to strike a balance between "a functioning society and controlling the virus," especially as new highly contagious variants emerge and vaccinations are just beginning to accelerate.
"Any increased spread could jeopardize our collective sacrifices," Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Friday.
As of Feb. 22, those flying into Canada will need to take a COVID-19 test on arrival and wait up to three days in a hotel for the results before traveling onward, which could cost travelers more than $2,000. Another test is required following a 14-day quarantine.
Those driving into Canada need to present a recent negative COVID-19 test at the border as of Monday; Canadians could be fined or prosecuted for failing to do so, and foreigners denied entry.
Anyone entering the country is required to quarantine for 14 days, though truck drivers, emergency responders and other essential workers will be still exempt.
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496