Vehicles simply waved through at clogged N.B. border checkpoint, travellers say
Truck driver Trevor Wilson said he waited about two hours before officers stopped making checks
Despite long lineups at the New Brunswick border much of the day Friday, it appears not all travellers from Nova Scotia were checked by Department of Public Safety officials. Many were simply waved through.
Trucker Trevor Wilson said when he arrived at the Aulac border crossing shortly after 4 p.m., officials were waving everyone in all vehicles right past the station set up for health screening and a quick check of ID.
"Not a single vehicle coming into New Brunswick was being screened," said Wilson.
This included both commercial vehicles, which have had few restrictions for entering the province all along, and passenger vehicles now able to travel more freely because of the opening of the Atlantic travel bubble.
The bubble opened early Friday morning, allowing people to travel within all four Atlantic provinces for any reason and without having to self-isolate for 14 days.
Nova Scotian James Spray said he and his passengers "rolled right by the tents."
"Definitely not paying any attention to us at all. … It's definitely surprising."
Spray, who was on his way to Prince Edward Island, said the situation was a lot different on the Island after he drove across the Confederation Bridge.
Everyone was asked for a pre-filled out questionnaire and had to show ID proving they lived in Atlantic Canada.
"That was a good experience actually, we felt really good about the organization at P.E.I," Spray said.
Supposed to check IDs
Each provinces has its own rules, but all four are supposed to be checking travellers at their borders for proof of residency in the region. Visitors coming to New Brunswick must also answer questions about possible symptoms of COVID-19, their contacts with anyone who may have been ill, and their recent travel history.
Officers are also supposed to collect travellers' contact information for public health purposes in the event of an outbreak of the respiratory disease, the province said before the bubble opened.
Long lines started to form just after daybreak. The waving through of vehicles Friday afternoon has been reported to CBC News by other travellers and been written about on social media.
In an email to CBC News, government spokesperson Shawn Berry said the province made the decision to forego screening because traffic congestion represented a safety concern.
"[Public safety] began expediting traffic flow into New Brunswick around 3:45 p.m.," Berry said.
"This continued until congestion no longer represented a safety concern. Screening resumed when it was safe. We are looking at improvements to keep things as smooth as possible."
Earlier in the day, department spokesperson Coreen Enos said a large number of vehicles were in line to get into the province and officials were "making adjustments as they go."
There were many smiling faces excited to be travelling to New Brunswick through the Aulac checkpoint, but with hundreds of vehicles waiting to cross, the delays were frustrating for some.
Wilson was stuck in line when he talked to CBC News, after moving only about 300 feet (about 91 metres) in more than hour.
"I did hear truckers say that a little further up that there are signs telling cars to stay in one lane, but apparently a lot of people ignored them," Wilson said.
For Wilson, the first-day delays could have kept him from getting across the U.S-Canada border later Friday as planned. In Canada, he is able to drive 13 hours a day, but that changes once he goes into the U.S.
"Once I get to the states I can only be driving 11 hour days, and it was already going to be around an eight-hour drive when I got there. If I'm stuck here for two or three hours I will not actually be able to cross into the United States.
"It's frustrating, it's very frustrating."
Wilson said it was the worst traffic delay he' seen since COVID-19 started. He said he wishes it had been worked out so bubble travellers would pull off the highway for their screening.
People travelling for leisure were surprised by the wait times but didn't seem to mind.
Ann Dunlap said she was content waiting on her way to her new home in Moncton, but she worried about delays for essential workers.
"I wish they would have something a little bit better for essential workers and the truck drivers for them to get through."
Anyone travelling between provinces on Friday should expect some delays. Despite the wide open travel now allowed among the four Atlantic provinces, each has its own rules and questions for people coming in. What isn't required now is automatic self-isolation for 14 days.
Todd Kent was travelling with his family from Halifax to to Belleisle Bay in New Brunswick. They were on the road by 6:30 a.m. and expected to wait about about half an hour.
They'd waited in traffic for almost two hours and still hadn't crossed, but they were still in good spirits.
"It's a relief for us. We travel there every weekend throughout the summer months, and being shut down because of COVID it takes a toll on us. It's a good place to go relax and unwind."
Earlier in the day, Urquhart, the minister, said he was expecting to see quite a rush of travellers Friday and Saturday.
"I know at 1 a.m. as soon as they opened up the Confederation Bridge they had an hour wait, same with Aulac," Urquhart told Information Morning Fredericton. "They wanted to get in and get their summer started."
But no numbers were available about the traffic coming into New Brunswick through any entry or by any particular point in the day. Enos said figures would be available Saturday on the government website.
"Officers are working hard to welcome travellers efficiently, making adjustments as they go," she wrote in an email.
In the morning, it was taking a few minutes to get people in each vehicle through the process.
While not required, people travelling into New Brunswick can print and fill out a questionnaire from the government of New Brunswick's website to save a few minutes during screening.
Urquhart said there was talk of having all the provinces follow the same guidelines, but each province's residents brought different concerns to the attention of their governments.
"There are certain conditions that each province wants to put in and we respect that and they respect ours."
The other three provinces also require proof of Atlantic residency.
'Welcome to P.E.I.'
Among those thrilled to get out of New Brunswick Friday morning was Cindy Grant, a CBC Saint John producer, who hadn't been in her native province of Prince Edward Island for months.
"It's a big deal to be able to come home and you kind of take it for granted that you can go back and forth between New Brunswick and P.E.I.," she told Information Morning Moncton from the Island. "I never would have dreamt that I would not have access to Prince Edward Island from New Brunswick."
There’s more than just potato chips in those bags! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PEI?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PEI</a> <a href="https://t.co/1kcESk0dho">pic.twitter.com/1kcESk0dho</a>—@BrianHigginsCBC
Grant said the P.E.I. line moved quickly. Once off the bridge, travellers were directed to a screening lane. The lane Grant got had no other cars in it.
"It's a very strange time we're in, so just to be able to come back and be on the island for a few days — it means a lot, it's exciting."
Some people arriving on the Island were being given care packages as a welcome. The packages have chips, cheese and other P.E.I.-related items.
2 active cases in N.B.
New Brunswick is hoping for much greater numbers crossing the border than were possible during the closed months.
This week on Canada Day, for instance, when people were only allowed in for an essential purpose or if they fell under certain exceptions, 2,645 personal vehicles and 2,679 commercial vehicles came into the province through seven entry points .
Aulac saw 965 personal vehicles and 1,100 commercial cross from Nova Scotia.
Restrictions still apply to travel from Quebec and the border with the U.S. is closed to most personal travel.
New Brunswick has gone nine days without seeing a new case of COVID-19, and has only two active cases, including one person in the ICU in Campbellton.
With files from Kate Letterick, Information Morning Fredericton, Information Morning Moncton