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Point Roberts bar not waiting for border to re-open

Owner closing Kiniski’s Reef Tavern until next spring
Kinisk's Reef
Kiniski's Reef Tavern in Point Roberts has closed its doors until next spring.

After 19 months, Nick Kiniski is tired of waiting for his Canadian customers to return even if there is good news just days away.

The longtime owner of Kiniski’s Reef Tavern closed his bar for the winter on the weekend after seeing his business decimated since the U.S. border was closed for non-essential travel in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Thank-you to everyone that came out to support us during these strange times. We look forward to seeing everyone once we open up again,” wrote Kiniski on a social media post.

His decision comes when U.S. Homeland Security announced it will lift restrictions on land border crossings for fully vaccinated travellers on Nov. 8. However, Kiniski doesn’t see the re-opening helping him or other Point Roberts businesses anytime soon given their unique geographical location and the rules that remain on the Canadian side of the border.

They include proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of re-entering Canada.

“They can come down but then they have to have a COVID test to go back. Who is going to spend $200 (on a test) to come down here to get milk and cheese or gas then go right back?” asked Kiniski.

According to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, there is no plan to drop required mandatory negative test anytime soon, even though it’s not needed to enter U.S. land crossings.

“We have to have ongoing evaluation and discussions, there is no doubt,” said Tam during a press conference on Friday. “I would just like to remind everyone that right now we are still at the top of that fourth wave. We are in a situation in Canada where our health systems are still very fragile. We need to take a pre-cautionary approach in the next little while. We will continue to evaluate the situation.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo added data is showing there is fully vaccinated travellers coming into Canada that have still tested positive for COVID-19, albeit a very small percentage. The concern is what happens when the flow through the U.S. border increases dramatically.

“What is interesting is based on the data that we have been able to analyze to date there is a certain percentage, about 0.2 per cent of fully vaccinated travelers coming to Canada, that have tested positive for COVID-19,” he said. “Then the question is then is that good or bad? It’s less than one percent but when you look at the volumes of people increasing coming to Canada, as a percentage, the actual true number of people coming would obviously potentially be increasing as well. I think right now it’s certainly another layer of protection that is in place at the moment and we continue to look at the evidence."

Since the Boundary Bay crossing closure, Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce president Brian Calder has been lobbying for both countries to recognize how his isolated community relies heavily on Canadian customers making quick trips across the border. He points to the roughly 1.5 million pre-pandemic visits in 2018 and 2019 and how 50 percent of them were for an hour or less.

“These are what we call day-trippers,” he said. “They are not going to come if they need a (negative) test to go back. “And we only do testing here on Wednesdays and Sundays and it takes a day-a-half to get them back from Bellingham.

“Here we have a (Nick’s) business which he had kept opened seven days a week and never closed in 35 years, saying he is closing now. That’s where we are.”

A further blow was Canadian Border Services making an exception for Point Roberts residents to be produce a negative test or even be fully vaccinated as long as they remained in the neighboring Delta community. That made it easy for frequent trips when the Canadian border re-opened for non-essential travel back in early August.

“At that point I had lost like 90 percent of my business so that was it,” Kiniski added. “I can’t really blame them for wanting to go elsewhere. (Laughing) Even I am tired of my own menu.”