US and Canada border to close to all but essential travel and trade

The U.S./Canada border has remained open despite measures by both countries to block and limit international flights and mobility in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but that is changing today as the two countries have agreed, “by mutual consent,” to suspend any movement between the two beyond “essential traffic” and “trade,” as first revealed via President Donald Trump on Twitter, and confirmed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a briefing on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Canada announced during a press conference with Trudeau that it would be closing its borders to all non-citizens and residents, with the exception of American citizens. He was asked multiple times during the Q&A session at that briefing about why the U.S. was exempted, given that the rate of new cases in the U.S. was now large and growing larger at a rapid pace.

Trudeau said that closing the border to the U.S. was still on the table as an option, but emphasized the intertwined nature of the economies of both countries as one key factor in why they were not included in the original travel limitations. The exception for traffic deemed “essential” as well as for trade transportation between the two countries in the measures announced by Trump today appear to be an attempt to keep at least part of that economic activity intact.

The Canadian Prime Minister said during Wednesday’s briefing that the definition of non-essential travel as barred in this case applies primarily to “tourism and cross-border shopping.” Urgent essential business travel, trade and other commercial transportation is not included in the current temporary travel suspension.

Trudeau said that in terms of timing, Canada is “working with the U.S. to ensure that these measures come into force as quickly as possible,” while declining to set a specific beginning date or time for them to come into effect.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said during a White House press briefing that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be tasked with effecting the travel ban on the American side of the border.