BLAINE, Wash. - As Washington prepares to fully reopen the economy this month, travel restrictions to Canada were extended again—this time for at least another month. Announced on Friday, non-essential travel is not permitted until July 21. The border first closed in March 2020.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said more than 70 percent of Canadians received their first COVID vaccine, but less than 20 percent of people are fully vaccinated because the country is waiting for additional vaccines. The country is still seeing COVID-19 cases. The prime minister said the goal is 75 percent of first doses administered, and at least 20 percent fully vaccinated before Canada begins loosening restrictions.
Andrea N. and her husband--who are both Canadians--love being grandparents. Back in April, they moved to be as close to the border as possible and ease the emotional toll.
"We just had enough of not seeing our family and our grandchildren. Really, really struggled with it. Our grandson was making up songs and singing about missing us and always saying how much he missed us," said Andrea. "We haven’t been to their home since Halloween 2019. We haven’t seen their big kid beds."
The family gathers at least once a month at Peace Arch Park in Whatcom County, which meets at the border.
"Right now I think they think we live in this park because seeing grandma and ‘opa’ means coming to this park," laughed Andrea. "We are grateful, we are grateful. Thank God for the park, but it’s very hard."
Friends Lindsay Gordon, Alicia Hamagishi and Nicole Buckley often meet at Peace Arch Park to catch up with each other. All three are Canadian, but Buckley now lives in Washington, which has made it a little tough for them to connect in person during the pandemic.
"I feel like we have to just do what’s right. We have to just be accepting of the process, be respectful of the process and then take advantage of opportunities like this to be able to see our friends and family that maybe live across the border," said
Across the border living in Bellingham, is Hamagishi’s husband.
"My husband is American and I’m Canadian. So, we’ve been apart from each other since the beginning of the pandemic," said Hamagishi. "We actually got married in this park. Lindsay was in my wedding. And we just did it because there was no time like the present, so we went for it."
Hamagishi said she and her husband meet once a week at Peace Arch Park just like so many other families.
"Interesting, creative and logistical year for us I would say," laughed Hamagishi.
Families like hers will have to continue gathering at the park longer than expected now that Canada extended its border closure.
"I fully understand that they’ve had to close this border, and I understand that they’ve been trying to keep people safe. All I’m hoping is that soon, there will be enough people vaccinated and the governments feel that the world is safe enough for these two countries to be able to intermingle again," said Andrea.
Not only does another extension cause an emotional toll, it also has financial impacts. Rustic Fork is a restaurant that opened in Blaine in December 2020.
"We kind of always felt this we’re missing some people of some sort—whether it’s people nervous to come out because of the pandemic and then of course with the border being closed," said Holly McKinley, the restaurant’s general manager.
When news about the border restrictions lifting in June, McKinley said they began hiring staff in preparation for a busy summer ahead.
"But then of course we got the news today that it’s going to probably be another month or so which is a little hurtful, but we have great community support keeping us going," said McKinley.
Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety minister, said the border restriction extension was decided in coordination with the U.S.
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