VANCOUVER, BC — If you're planning on traveling to British Columbia, you'll need to be vaccinated.
"They're going to have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. I don't mean weeks or months, I mean years," British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix said during an interview with KING 5.
Monday, Aug. 9 marked the first full day that Americans could travel across the border for non-essential travel, as long as they provided border guards with proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test in the past 72 hours.
Dix said it was the right time to reopen, in phases, because vaccination rates in the province are at 82%.
"I was one of the first people to call for the border to be closed," said Dix. "This is the privilege of being vaccinated, crossing the border, both ways."
There didn't seem to be a rush of Americans going north. There wasn't a long line to cross the border when it opened at 9:01 p.m. on Aug. 8, and wait times were a little over an hour in the border town of Blaine for most of the day.
"I think it's a little early. I think the world they're all in flux," said Vancouver resident Reagan Wong, who expressed trepidation about the reopening. "All the cases rising are over there. It's not making me feel more assured. I feel like you guys have a lot less vaccinations over there than we do over here."
BC works to restore business, protect public health
Yet, BC, like Washington state is trying to strike the right balance of restoring business and protecting public health.
"It's exciting. I think the industry is cautiously optimistic. We need to see our American friends and neighbors back in our province. They represent two-thirds of international business," said Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia. "But we know it's not going to be enough to salvage our year for 2021."
A big part of that is because BC's $2.7 billion-a-year cruise ship industry has vanished, a situation put to the brink by a US bill to allow ships to bypass Canada on their way to and from Alaska. Judas said there would often be five ships a weekend docked in Vancouver, which fuels all the neighboring businesses and restaurants. Cruise lines are now docking in Seattle instead, and the Canadian government is now saying ships won't be allowed to harbor until November.
In the interim, Judas said many businesses are banking on the resumption of domestic travel within Canada.
"This year, because of COVID, we stayed in Canada," said Jeff Cote of Quebec City, who stopped to take a few pictures of the Olympic Cauldron. He was originally planning on traveling with his family to Disney World in Florida.
The same holds true for the Ramasawmy family of Toronto.
"We want to go to America. We can't wait, we want the border to open," said Ruba Ramasawmy, who was traveling with nearly a dozen family members in their first trip since the pandemic began.
A school teacher, Ramasawmy said the stress of the past 17 months took a toll.
"We had a hard year," she said.
Nadia Ramasawmy said she was surprised that BC was so relaxed about masks.
"Out here in BC we've seen a lot of signs where masks are optional now, restrictions have lifted a lot more than in Ontario."
The family agreed that unvaccinated Americans should not be allowed to enter the country.
But the dynamics are fluid, and wide ranging.
Issues with trade
In an interview with KING 5, US Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai, a member of President Joe Biden's cabinet, said she has seen issues with supply chains and returning the flow of trade to pre-pandemic levels.
"Everything about turning back on the economy, it's not like turning on a light switch, our economy is huge and it's complicated. You've got supply chains and distribution networks. It's going to be herky-jerky," she said. "Vaccination rates as they are increasing here at home in the US and increasing in Canada they're opening up lines of communication of movement, they're bringing hope back, and ability to plan back to peoples live, back to our workers, and our businesses."
Washington Congressmember Suzan DelBene (D-Medina) said the change at the border isn't perfect, but it's a start. DelBene represents Point Roberts, which has been cut off from the rest of mainland Whatcom County by two border crossings. After months of complaints, Canada said it would allow the Point's residents to travel into Canada for day-to-day trips, even if unvaccinated.
Yet there is still an issue for the Point, in that business is dependent on Canadian travelers who are not allowed into the US for non-essential trips.
DelBene is also concerned about tariffs on goods being a deterrent on restoring business between BC and Washington and said there have been complications with the dairy industry in particular.
Dix said Canadians should brace for the idea that they won't be allowed into the US without proof of vaccination either if the US makes a similar change later this month.
"If you live in Vancouver or Trail or anywhere else, and you're unvaccinated, you're not going to go to a Seahawks game or shop in Bellingham," he said. "There will be some things you're not able to do if you're not vaccinated, and that's just a practical reality."