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This article was published 17/11/2021 (266 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Businesses in North Dakota are eagerly anticipating a bump in Manitoba visitors as Ottawa prepares to drop the costly COVID-19 testing requirement for fully vaccinated Canadians who take short international trips.
"We’re going to be rolling out the welcome mat," said Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce. "We are looking so forward to seeing a big influx of Canadians in the States," he said Wednesday.
Media reports say the federal government will drop the need for a molecular test for returning Canadians. The Globe and Mail, CBC and La Presse say sources confirmed the change will affect Canadians who are out of the country for less than 72 hours.
A Health Canada spokesman said an announcement would be made in the coming days.
"A number of measures are under review," the spokesman wrote in an email. "There are still components to be finalized."
Since the U.S. land border opened to non-essential travel on Nov. 8, there’s been "more of a slow trickle than a rush" of Canadians travelling to Grand Forks, which is about 140 kilometres from the Manitoba border, said Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski.
He said the molecular testing requirement has kept people from travelling to North Dakota. Before the pandemic, Canadians used to go to Grand Forks to shop, attend a sports game and sometimes fly to destinations further south. Since Nov. 8, the testing requirement has kept Manitobans from returning to the state.
"It needs to be easy. If they’re afraid that they can’t get back, I think it makes it hard to want to make that trip," Bochenski said.
Grand Forks offers free polymerase chain reaction tests with results sent by text message. However, if sites are busy, Canadians might not receive results in the window needed, Bochenski said.
People can spend up to $300 for a test, depending on where they travel from. And, Canadians have complained of waiting 24 hours or longer for their results.
"Let’s say you don’t get your test within the 72 hours — well, then you’re stuck on the other side of the border and you can’t come to work, and then you’re missing a day of work," said Winnipegger Simon Lafleur.
Lafleur hasn’t considered crossing the border for a short trip because of the requirement for a molecular test.
"It’s just so much stress that we don’t need, I personally believe, at this point in the pandemic," he said.
Lafleur moved to Winnipeg from Montreal two and a half years ago. He’d hoped to visit Fargo, N.D., or Minnesota one summer — and he will, if the molecular test requirement is removed, he said.
"If you go for less than three days, (the testing) is very complicated," he said.
In Fargo, since the land border reopened, there hasn’t been an influx of Canadians, said Danni Melquist, director of marketing for the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.
However, Canadians often call to ask about COVID-19 requirements.
"I think they’re all kind of just planning ahead," she said. "If (Ottawa does) allow them to go back without the test, I think that would make a huge difference for us."
Neither she nor Mayor Bochenski could put a number on the Canadian tourists who visited their cities in a pre-pandemic year. But, Grand Forks experiences a "downtick" in its sales tax revenue when Canadians aren’t around, Bochenski said.
The northerners account for five to 15 per cent of Grand Forks’s hospitality consumer base, he said.
Greg Rixen, the general manager for the region’s Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops, wants the molecular tests nixed for short-term travel soon.
Black Friday is one week away. Normally, Canadians head to the U.S. for holiday shopping, he said.
"We are definitely eager for our Canadian friends to get back down to the States," he said. "We’re all stocked up and ready to go."
Molecular tests, including PCR tests, will be required for fully vaccinated visitors who enter Canada and Canadians who’ve been out of the country longer than 72 hours, media outlets have reported.
Canadians and permanent residents who return home from shorter trips will take antigen tests, which are inexpensive and easily administered, instead, the Globe and Mail reported.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.