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Drivers wait to enter Canadian customs at the Canada-U.S. border crossing at Peace Arch park in Surrey, B.C., on March 18, 2020.

JESSE WINTER/Reuters

Canada is cracking down on U.S. citizens passing through British Columbia to Alaska with newly announced rules that include travellers having to display signs in their vehicles identifying themselves as Americans and naming a date for their exit from Canadian territory.

The new rules take effect on Friday.

“These measures are put in place to further reduce the the risk of introduction of COVID-19 cases and to minimize the amount of time that in-transit travellers are in Canada,” the Canada Border Services Agency said in a statement Thursday in announcing the new rules.

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B.C. Premier John Horgan, who has advocated for keeping the Canada-U.S. border closed during the pandemic and expressed concerns about Alaskan-bound travellers lingering in B.C., welcomed the new measures.

“We look forward to the day when our borders are open and we can welcome travellers from all over, but we aren’t there yet. These enhanced measures will ensure those travelling to Alaska take the fastest route possible with minimal contact in communities that are working hard to contain COVID-19,” Mr. Horgan said in a statement.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the B.C. Health Officer, also said she was pleased with the new policy. “I think that’s great. That’s a really helpful step,” she told a daily COVID-19 briefing.

Although the Canada-U.S. border was closed to most travel on March 21, Americans travelling for what have been deemed essential reasons can cross.

Under the rules announced Thursday and aimed at travel to and from Alaska, in-transit foreign nationals must enter Canada at one of five identified CBSA ports of entry – three in B.C., one in Saskatchewan and one in Alberta – and are limited to the most direct route north to their exit while avoiding all national parks, leisure sites and tourism activities.

Before entering the United States, the travellers must report to the nearest CBSA point of exit to confirm they are departing Canada.

En route, travellers are to display an issued vehicle “hang tag” on their rear-view mirror that show they are transiting, and the date of their exit from Canada, while the back of the tag will feature conditions imposed upon entry and public-health tips.

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The measures also apply to foreign nationals travelling through Canada from Alaska.

According to a statement from the spokesperson for the federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, travellers who fail to exit Canada as scheduled would be the subject of a follow-up investigation by the enforcement and intelligence operations division of the CBSA. A traveller could be removed, and be issued a one-year exclusion order.

Discretionary and optional travel across the Canada-U.S. border remains banned.

Staff Sergeant Janelle Shoihet of the British Columbia division of the RCMP said, in a statement, that the new tags will help Mounties determine why American travellers are in Canada, and whether they are required to be travelling directly to Alaska.

She said that if a traveller is found to be contravening the Quarantine Act requirements, the RCMP could issue a $1,000 violation ticket. Staff-Sgt. Shoihet said, so far during the pandemic, six violation tickets have been issued in B.C. for failure to comply. However, she said she did not know the nationality of those ticketed.

Last Sunday, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in the state to date – a total 231 newly diagnosed individuals in the state, which is home to about 731,000 people. The agency linked the case count to widespread community transmission from social gatherings, several seafood industry outbreaks and a backlog of test results that have entered the system.

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The commissioner for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services warned that the surge had to be stopped, noting daily cases over 100 will soon diminish hospital bed capacity.

As of Wednesday, there were 84 new resident cases and 36 non-resident cases. A spokesman for the Alaska Governor was unavailable for comment on Canada’s new measures.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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