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Business groups urge Canada to scrap PCR test requirement, as U.S. border nears reopening

Boards of trade, chambers of commerce and tourism organizations both in the United States and Canada are calling on the Canadian government to scrap requirements to produce a negative COVID-19 PCR test to travel between countries.

The Canadian border is currently open for recreational travel, but only for fully vaccinated travellers who produce a negative PCR test.

The United States is expected to open its land border for international travel in November, without a negative test requirement though proof of full immunization will be needed.

“What we hope to get to is just showing a vaccination card like you would have to for theatre, music of sports,” Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Guy Ochiogrosso said.

“When both sides of the border are aligned and it is similar to what we are all experience as a new normal, that is when we will see increase in normal activities.”

Canadians make up about 30 per cent of the retail sales in Washington state’s Whatcom county, which includes Bellingham and Blaine.

All Canadian officials have said so far on the PCR requirement is that it will continue for now.

“Our current testing regime that exists for both land and air crossings will remain the same at this time,” a statement from the federal minister of health’s office reads.

“As the COVID situation and international travel requirements remain fluid, officials and experts will continue to evaluate the measures in place, and make necessary adjustments as required.”

Ochiogrosso said his expectation is that travellers will come to the United States to shop in situations where they already have a negative PCR test result.

Private companies offer the test for more than $200 in most places.

B.C.’s testing program is supposed to be used only for those with COVID-19 symptoms and not for those planning travel.

Meanwhile, businesses in Blaine are also expressing excitement and hesitation about the border opening under the current guidance.

“All of our businesses have been closed a few days a week and at lunch. Hopefully with the border, that will change,” Blaine Chamber of Commerce executive director Sheila Wood said.

Canadian businesses have also been impacted by the PCR requirement.

In Vancouver alone, the pandemic has led to an estimated loss of $10 billion in tourism-related spending.

Many American tourists have decided not to travel to Canada because of the additional cost of the test.

The business and tourism sector is already trying to plan for 2022, and a lack of clarity on the rules is causing problems.

“U.S. travellers spend twice as much as domestic travellers. We have done well with domestic travellers but we can’t sustain ourselves on that,” Destination Victoria CEO Paul Nursey said.

“If we don’t have more clarity about our biggest source market, the United States, that is a big problem. The federal government needs to get on with it.”

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