Officials in both Washington and Ottawa agreed last week to keep the 8,893-kilometer-long border closed to all but commercial and essential traffic for at least another month, in an effort to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.This means only commercial goods and people such as nurses and doctors who live in one country and work in the other can cross. Travel for tourism or activities like retail shopping are banned.
Started on March 20, the closure is supported by two separate opinion polls taken this month that found more than 80% of Canadians want the border to remain closed to non-essential traffic.
David Webb is owner of the Ocean Rose Bed and Breakfast in White Rock, British Columbia. The Vancouver suburb sits right on the international boundary. Webb can see the Peace Arch border crossing and the American border town of Blaine, Washington, from his home.
Forty percent of his business is from the United States, but he agrees the border should remain closed for health reasons.
“I agree with that,” Webb said. “And one of the things that we have to think about is the people who have a compromised immune system. Both my wife and I have compromised immune systems, as do many other people. And it only takes one person with the virus to cause illness with many. And I think that’s what people are looking at here.”
One of the polls, done by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail newspaper, found that only 3% of respondents think the border should open immediately.
Nik Nanos, chief data scientist at Nanos Research, finds the results remarkable, considering how reliant Canada is on access to the United States.
“It kind of suggests that people who want to open the border immediately are less than a fringe of the population, basically less than one out of every 20,” Nanos said. “And we don’t usually see this type of consensus in the polling data where, you know, upwards of eight out of every 10 agree to such, what I would consider a drastic action, which is to close the border to nonessential visitors. So, it’s very unusual, but it speaks to the time and the threat that Canadians feel.”
Differences in coronavirus infection rates are stark along the westernmost portion of the border.
Washington state reported its highest level ever of infections at 1,267 cases and six deaths on July 16. On the same day, the Canadian province of British Columbia had 21 new cases and zero fatalities. Nearly 6% of those tested in Washington state were positive, compared to only half-a-percent in British Columbia.
Besides being the longest undefended international boundary in the world, the Canada-U.S. border also sees a considerable amount of business. The U.S. Trade Representative estimates that $718.5 billion in all types of trade crossed the border in 2018. That works out to just around $2 billion a day.