Alaska Officials Urge Trudeau to Open Border for Medical Care, School

October 29, 2020 Updated: October 29, 2020

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and other officials from Alaska urged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ease restrictions that currently keep state residents who are being affected by current pandemic-related border closures from a variety of essential activities.

In a letter, the four-person delegation urged Trudeau to allow Alaskans to be able to travel south and transit through Canada for the winter for medical treatments, and allow people living in isolated border towns to visit family, access essential supplies, attend school, receive medical care, and attend religious services in a “travel bubble.”

“As we continue to work together to address the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, to keep our residents and citizens safe and healthy, we appreciate the consideration for reasonable land crossing exceptions for essential travel between Alaska and the contiguous United States through your country,” the delegation wrote.

Alaskans can enter Canada from five entry points. The Canadian government states travelers, “will be limited to travel within Canada using the most direct route, while avoiding all national parks, leisure sites, and tourism activities.”

The failure to comply with these restrictions can lead to hefty fines from the Canadian government and to drive through Canada, you must be healthy, with no COVID-19 symptoms, and traveling for a “non-discretionary purpose,” Mark Stuart, spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency, told Anchorage Daily News.

The delegation’s letter addressed the fact that many elderly and sick Alaskans travel south through Canada to the contiguous United States to seek essential medical treatments that they can’t get in local communities. They also pointed out the effect the border restrictions are having on small, isolated border towns, such as Hyder, Alaska, and the British Columbia community of Stewart, that often share community resources.

“To date, there has not been a single diagnosed case of COVID-19 in either community. The current travel restrictions are having an increasingly negative impact on these communities, and for these reasons, we support the request of the residents of Hyder and Stewart to ease the current restrictions, including easing the travel quarantine requirement, in a responsible and safe way,” the letter states.

“These are starting suggestions, of course, and we are committed to working together with you, your administration, and your staff, as necessary to resolve any concerns or logistical issues.”

The Canadian border has been closed to non-essential travel since March of this year. On Oct. 19, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security confirmed the extension of these restrictions.

“To continue to limit the spread of COVID, the US, Mexico, & Canada will extend the restrictions on non-essential travel through Nov. 21. We are working closely with Mexico & Canada to identify safe criteria to ease the restrictions in the future & support our border communities,” Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said at the time.

Essential travel, including supply chains, hasn’t been affected.