COVID hammers border towns on both sides of the Canada-US divide

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Mike Hills, owner of Skye Hill station, sees the difference every day.

“I’m the first gas station (after) the Canadian border, and it’s a Chevron, and we were pumping like 5,000 gallons a day before COVID, and since COVID, we haven’t pumped 400 gallons a day,” he said. Hill said.

A lifelong Blaine resident, Hill said the only other comparison in 59 years was 9/11 when the United States closed the border for security reasons, but it was only for a day.

On the optimistic side, Hill said the only two driving checkpoints in Blaine, a new Starbucks that rents part of its resort and a Mexican restaurant, are busier than before COVID.

Ebert said local morale, which was a bit “depressed” at the start of the pandemic, had started to pick up a bit with the arrival of assistance programs, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

What worries Ebert, however, is how the resilience he now sees will hold up if the shutdown goes in winter, as most people expect.

“You can survive the first six months, maybe, but that’s when the rubber hits the road, that’s when the weather turns,” Ebert said.

Federal officials in Canada and the United States have extended border restrictions until October 21, but no one on either side expects a change until the end of the year as the number of U.S. cases continues to rise and tick in Canada.

On the Canadian side, while the impacts of the tourism collapse have been staggering, people are comfortable keeping non-essential restrictions in place until US states get better control of COVID-19.

Even right across from Blaine, where businesses typically rely on Americans for 20-30% of their business, concerns about the virus have beaten commerce.

The closure “definitely affects our business, especially in the restaurant and retail industry,” said Ritu Khanna, managing director of the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce. “The business owners I’ve spoken to aren’t pushing for the borders to be open because there is just too much perceived risk.”

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