The Queen Elizabeth Way leads to the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ont.
WASHINGTON – Starting Tuesday, Canadians returning to their home country will once again have to show proof of a negative PCR test for Covid-19 even if they’ve just made short visits to the U.S. – a move that’s likely to lead to canceled family Christmas visits and holiday shopping trips.
Canadian officials, at a news briefing Friday, described the move as an attempt to discourage travel as the omicron variant spreads rapidly on both sides of the border.
“I will say it again: Now is not the time to travel,” said Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. “We know how difficult it is for Canadians to have to postpone their travel to visit families or friends or to take a break abroad. We are also aware of the many Canadians who are listening and are canceling their trips. These Canadians are leading by example and helping protect the health of their family, their community and of themselves. We do not want you to be stranded or sick abroad.”
The return of the testing requirement will come only three weeks after the country started allowing Canadians to visit the U.S. for 72 hours or less without showing proof of a negative test upon their return. 
But now, with the pandemic entering another wave during the holiday season, Canadian officials said they view the additional testing requirement as a way to limit travel to the U.S.
In particular, Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, appeared to try to discourage Canadians from crossing the border to go to Buffalo Bills games.
“I think Canadians should be aware and really think carefully about why they’re going into the United States,” Njoo said. “I think there’s a big difference in terms of potential risk of being exposed to the virus if you’re crossing the border just quickly to pick up some groceries or to get some cheap gas than planning to go to a tailgating party at a football game and then going bar-hopping.”
Canada reopened its border to nonessential travel from the U.S. in August, but has required proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival for American visitors. Canada dropped a similar requirement for returning Canadians on Nov. 30, but officials said Friday that they had no choice but to reimpose it.
And that test that Canadians soon will have to get done in the U.S. may not be their last. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Canada will continue its policy of randomly handing out test kits to both Canadians and Americans who cross the border.
But for residents of Canada who had been planning to cross the border to visit family at Christmas, it’s the reimposition of the border testing requirement that will prove especially troublesome.
Sandy Pearce, a Fort Erie resident and the founder of a group called Families Are Essential that has pressed for looser border requirements, said she and six family members planned to visit her aging parents in Hamburg over Christmas.
But with the testing requirement back in place, she said that trip will simply be too impractical.
“We were planning on all being together for Christmas and now this is not going to happen,” she said. “How horrible that they let us do that for three weeks, and now they’re taking it away. Merry Christmas, right?”
Making matters worse for travelers from Canada, the Buffalo area is in the midst of a Covid-19 spike, meaning it appears to be more difficult to get a PCR test with a reasonably quick result. On Friday, some Buffalo testing sites, such as Rite-Aid pharmacies, said on the state’s testing website that it could take up to five days to get test results.
That being the case, Canadians won’t likely cross the border for shopping trips after Monday, said Dottie Gallagher, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce.
“It is, in effect, a border closure … for retail,” given that PCR tests also cost money at many locations, Gallagher said. “The shopping effectively just stops, as it becomes a financial burden but also a challenging logistical burden as well.”
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Washington bureau
Jerry Zremski, who has covered Washington for The Buffalo News since 1989, is a lecturer at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
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The Queen Elizabeth Way leads to the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ont.
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