US and Canada announce restrictions on nonessential travel

Haines is 39 miles south of the Canadian Border. (Photo by Henry Leasia/KHNS)

Updated 3/20 at 11:24 a.m. — Border restrictions between the U.S. and Canada that bar “non-essential” travel to prevent the spread of coronavirus will go into force at midnight Saturday, March 21. That’s according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Canada Border Services Agency released Friday.

A document drafted by Homeland Security’s acting general counsel defines “essential travel” as U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the U.S as well as travel for medical reasons, education, necessary work, emergency responses and legal cross-border trade. It also includes carve-outs for officials, military personnel and their families.

The restrictions will be reviewed by both countries after 30 days.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy sought to assure Alaskans on Thursday that Canada’s border restrictions are not affecting Alaska’s crossings in Southeast Alaska or the Alaska Highway. That was in response to a reporter’s question during a press conference.

“It was really for nonessential travel for folks coming from other countries,” Dunleavy said. “But here in Alaska, that being our only neighbor via land, those four border crossings are still open.”

Canada had announced Wednesday it would be closing its borders to “non-essential travel” as a public health precaution.  That led to concern from people in the Southeast communities of Haines, Skagway and Hyder, whose only road access runs through British Columbia.

This story has been updated.

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