Nearly one year after Canada-U.S. border restrictions came into effect due to the spread of the novel-coronavirus, southern Alberta communities near the province’s largest crossing are still feeling the impacts.
The Village of Coutts has a clear view of all land traffic that passes through the border — a view that has been much less eventful since Mar. 21, 2020.
Mayor Jim Willett says the change was startling at first, but the community has adjusted.
He says not being able to interact with the community of Sweet Grass, Montana during this time has been hard on some of the older residents.
Small border communities fear drop in business after U.S.-Canada borders halt non-essential traffic
“Obviously people who had been travelling back-and-forth all the time, had friends on the other side, weren’t able to do it anymore,” he said. “There were people who were losing friends on the other side to coronavirus, and weren’t able to go to funerals.”
While one bar closed down, Willett says most businesses in the village remained open.
“The Duty-Free I think it probably the one that suffered the most, because no tourists (means) no duty-free purchases.”
According to recent statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), overall traveller volumes are down almost 90 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Approximately 93 per cent of travellers inland mode are essential workers, meaning they are exempt from quarantine.
The Duty-Free shop in Coutts wasn’t available for an interview Friday, but tells Global News the store was closed last spring following the restrictions, but reopened to assist truckers and other essential workers in June.
As well, Mayor Willett says Red Cross employees who are now conducting COVID-19 testing at the border have been staying in several of the community motels and other lodging facilities.
“Nobody in their wildest dreams — I don’t think — would have thought that it would still be going on a year later.”
Expedited COVID-19 testing pilot project underway at Coutts border crossing
Nearby, in the town of Milk River, Mayor Peggy Losey echoed a similar sentiment, saying some businesses have been impacted more than others.
“When they first made the announcements they said ‘we’re doing this for 2 weeks’, and then it was 3 months… and then it was all summer… and then it was ‘oh, Christmas is cancelled’, she said. “We’ve all noticed a difference, because nobody’s travelling, and the road is pretty empty compared to what it usually was in the summer months around here.”
“Nobody expected it to be this long.”
Laura Michaelis, owner of the Sandstone Motel, Lounge, and Eatery, a large portion of their revenue comes from travellers heading south into the states, or north into Canada.
“Having the border closed is devastating for our business because we rely on about 80 per cent of our profits for the year coming off of our tourist season,” Michaelis explained. “If the border continues to remain closed for a second season, who knows how detrimental this is going to be?”
Current travel restrictions remain in place, with no target date for reopening of the international border.
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