No COVID-19 test needed for fully vaccinated Canadians entering U.S. a…

WASHINGTON — Fully vaccinated Canadians entering the U.S. at land borders beginning Nov. 8 will not be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, a U.S. lawmaker said in a statement Saturday morning.

As the U.S. government prepares to fully reopen to travellers from Canada and around the world, information on exactly how and what will be required has been coming in dribs and drabs. Last week, the rules for air travellers — including proof of vaccination and a requirement for a recent negative COVID-19 test — were clarified.

Friday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security posted a “fact sheet” to its website about how the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control will apply at land borders. Beginning Nov. 8, the guidance says, travellers not considered to be “basic” who are entering the country by land or sea will be required to provide proof of complete vaccination — as they will when arriving by air.

There’s a permanent exemption from the vaccine requirement for those “basic” travellers who have already long been allowed to cross — until Jan. 2022.

Testing requirements are not directly addressed in the new fact sheet. Congressman Brian Higgins, who represents the border area around Buffalo, NY and who chairs the Congressional Northern Border Caucus, said in a statement Saturday morning that officials have confirmed to his office that no such requirement will be implemented.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed for Congressman Higgins’ office that, unlike the new air travel rules, vaccinated travellers entering the United States by land beginning on Nov. 8, will not be required to also produce a negative COVID test,” the statement said. A staff member in Higgins’ office told The Star this information had been “confirmed and reconfirmed” in several email exchanges with border officials, because it is one of the biggest noticeable questions their office has been fielding.

Higgins, who was a fierce advocate of more open borders with Canada throughout the pandemic, was the lawmaker who first broke the news that U.S. land borders would be reopened last month — when he issued a statement heralding the news before the Biden administration officially announced the decision.

In response to an inquiry from the Star about Higgins’ statement and testing requirements, Customs and Border Protection public affairs officer Michael Niezgoda simply said the fact sheet and accompanying press release were the most current information, and that the agency “will have additional information early next week.” A difference in the testing requirements at the different types of ports of entry would not be uncommon — air travellers currently allowed in and out of the U.S. have long faced a testing requirement that is officially administered by the airlines, while no such requirement has existed for those allowed to cross at land borders. Experts who have spoken to The Star in recent weeks have speculated that while U.S. officials have placed responsibility for the logistics of policing test results on airlines, they likely do not want to place the same burden on land border agents.

Canadians travelling to the U.S. by any method of transportation, however, will continue to confront a testing requirement for re-entry into Canada — the Canadian government requires proof of a negative PCR or molecular test taken within 72 hours of the time of entry. Bill Blair, until recently the Minister of Public Safety, has said this requirement is expected to keep in place by the U.S. reopening, though may be revisited in time depending on public health guidance.

The earlier new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control that were announced with the rules for air travellers clarified that children under 18 would be exempt from the new vaccine requirements, and that the U.S. government would recognize the vaccines obtainable in Canada, including “mixed measure” versions such as approximately 4 million Canadians have received.

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