Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments come as largest province sees rise in hospitalisations as variants spread.
Canadians in the United States are hiring taxis to cross the border into Canada and avoid mandatory COVID-19 hotel quarantine for air travellers, leading to a boom in transportation services in American border cities.
All travellers coming to Canada must present a negative COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours before arrival, as well as take another test when they enter the country and spend 14 days in quarantine.
But people flying into Canada must also pay for a mandatory three-night stay at a government-authorised hotel at the start of their quarantine period, which is estimated at more than $961 ($1,200 Canadian).
By comparison, a taxi trip to the border can cost around $200-$250, Canadian travel insurance broker Martin Firestone told the Reuters news agency.
This has led to a surge in calls for taxi and limousine services from Canadians in the US who fly through US airports in states like New York and then cross over the 6,416km (3,987-mile) land border, rather than flying into Canada directly.
“They call from six in the morning to 12 at night,” John Arnet, general manager of 716 Limousine in Buffalo, New York, told Reuters. “We’ve had so many requests for border crossings that we’re turning them down.”
Nick Boccio, general manager of Buffalo Limousines, told the news agency that the Canadian clientele has helped the company bring back chauffeurs.
In a single day this week, Boccio said the company gave nine different rides to Canadian passengers on just one flight from Florida.
Canada enacted strict coronavirus measures at its southern border with the US in March last year, barring entry to most noncitizens and nonpermanent residents – and those restrictions have been periodically renewed since then.
But the premiers of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec this week urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to tighten the rules at the land border into Canada.
Today, Premier @francoislegault and I wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau about the concerning situation at our borders.
With variants of concerns continuing to pose a threat to Canada, we need the federal government to take action now. pic.twitter.com/KY8V5KHCbl
— Doug Ford (@fordnation) April 22, 2021
“While it is crucial that the transport of essential goods is not hindered by border measures, it is likewise crucial that all non-essential travel be curtailed,” Doug Ford and Francois Legault said in an open letter on Thursday.
“The introduction of stricter measures for travellers crossing at land borders is a significant step to achieve that goal.”
Still, coronavirus cases related to international travel constitute a tiny percentage of overall infections in Canada.
According to Public Health Agency of Canada data for February 22 through March 25, 1.5 percent of air passengers tested positive for the virus on arrival compared with 0.3 percent of land travellers.
Canada is currently grappling with a surging third wave of the pandemic, fuelled in part by new variants of the virus, and record infections and hospitalisations continue to rock Ontario, the most populous province.
More than 23,900 people have died due to the coronavirus in Canada to date, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, while over 1.18 million cases have been recorded.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the situation was “critical” and echoed public health experts in urging Canadians to reduce their contacts.