Alaska leaders hope to ease travel restrictions for residents entering Canada before winter

Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 6:03 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska delegation sent a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking for travel through Canada to be eased by the government ahead of the winter season.

The delegation, which includes Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, was joined by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in highlighting two concerns in the letter. One concern is the impact on current travel restrictions for many elderly Alaskans that journey south for better health care and warmer climates, and the other concern is for residents in a community that is divided by the U.S. Canada border.

On the first issue, the delegation noted that travel to be closer to comprehensive medical facilities for health care needs is “currently considered non-essential according to Canada’s cross-border travel restrictions.”

“Canadians and Alaskans alike know that winter will soon be upon us,” the delegation wrote. “Each year, Alaskans, many elderly and with medical conditions, pack up their vehicles and journey south to the contiguous United States. They travel south because Alaska’s winter can be harsh, complicating underlying medical conditions.”

The delegation also pointed out the unique situation for residents in Hyder, Alaska and in nearby Stewart, British Columbia.

“Hyder, Alaska, and the British Columbia community of Stewart, straddle the border of our two countries, and have been living as one community for generations. Hyder’s children attend Canadian schools, and their only road connects solely to Canada. The town’s utilities and grocery needs are wholly located in Stewart,” the delegation wrote.

Currently, the U.S. Canada border is closed to non-essential travel until at least Nov. 21.

As the delegation noted in their letter to Trudeau, this is causing issues for those in Hyder and Stewart.

“Families, some facing end-of life issues, have been separated for over half the year. Hyder residents are disallowed from visiting their family down the street in Stewart, their children barred from school. Stewart’s residents can walk down the road into Hyder, but must quarantine for two weeks upon return.”

The solutions proposed? Allow for non-discretionary, essential travel for Alaskans to head south for the care they need. The delegation proposed making it a requirement that each Alaskan traveler must present a negative COVID-19 test prior to transiting through Canada. This is similar to current requirements for nonresidents entering from out of state.

The other solution, specifically for those in Hyder and Stewart, and other communities alike, is to ease current travel restrictions and grant a “travel bubble.” This would allow residents to visit family, go to the grocery store and other essential functions.

Under current requirements, put into effect July 31, Alaskans can go through Canada to get to the lower 48 only for a “non-discretionary purpose” like traveling to a job or a primary residence.

Travels must go from point A to point B without making any stops for tourist activities. Also, travelers can only enter Canada at one of five designated ports of entry. Failure to comply with the current border restrictions may result in a fine of $750,000 or imprisonment of up to six months.

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