Point Roberts’ businesses are starting to see some familiar customers returning after nearly two years, but they hope there will be a whole lot more soon.
Since late November, the U.S. pene-exclave has been recognized as a remote border community by Canada’s Order in Council. It means fully-vaccinated Canadians can make essential or non-essential visits for any length of time and are not required to present a pre-entry negative PCR COVID test when returning home or go into quarantine. The trip details need to be provided via the ArriveCan app and there is a chance of being randomly selected to do a COVID test at home when you cross back over the border into Canada.
The exemption was extended again until March 31 and is one of just four Canadian crossings to be given such status.
It’s welcome news for the Point Roberts business community that has suffered greatly since the initial full border closure back in March 2020 and had been campaigning for the exemption to happen much sooner.
Now the challenge is getting Canadians to better understand the unique rules compared to the other 49th parallel U.S. crossings in B.C.
The Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce has run ads in the Optimist, including this week, to encourage Delta residents to return and take advantage of the special status. The border rules are also prominently displayed at the various parcel outlets where Canadians can use a U.S. address for a wider variety of online stores and merchandise or avoid international shipping costs.
A staff member at Point to Point Parcel told the Optimist some regular customers are starting to trickle back, but it’s nothing close to pre-pandemic levels.
Olivia Hughes completely agreed. She works at the nearby In Out Parcel.
“There's a lot of confusion and people are super scared to come. They just don't believe us,” explained Hughes. “Specifically, it’s mostly about the ArriveCan app where it says you will be fined $5,000 without a PCR test. It’s like they skip over the last sentence about how the exemption applies and don’t think it’s for them. We do get calls every day asking if it's really true. Like, ‘I just heard about this from a friend’ type of thing.
“I don't know if you remember how it was (here) pre-pandemic? The whole reason we have a locker (pick-up) system is because there would be long lines here and at other parcel places. This was a huge economy. I mean, it was almost like a nightmare even living here because people picking up all these packages. Now, we’re lucky to have one customer at any time.”
Like the parcel outlets, the International Marketplace, Point Roberts’ lone grocery store, was relatively quiet with no other Canadian cars in the parking lot when the Optimist paid a visit on Feb. 9, as were the various gas stations where the savings equated to about 35 cents a litre compared to current Canadian prices.
The Optimist can vouch for the quick border trips being seamless.
The Wednesday afternoon visit only required a Nexus card to get through U.S. Customs (vaccination status could have been asked). The ArriveCan app trip information was filled out prior to departing our Ladner office and it took the Canadian Border Services (CBSA) officer less than a minute to review it at the Boundary Bay crossing before being back on Delta roads.