North

Border closure leaves Alaskan towns cut off from Canadian neighbours

Some residents in southeast Alaska who have seen the border with Canada closed because of COVID-19 feel cut off from an area they visit and drive through frequently.

Towns in southeast Alaska rely on Canadian towns for supplies, services, economic activity

Skagway, Alaska, pictured on Aug. 18, 2019. Skagway, near the Yukon/Alaska border, is one of several Alaska communities feeling the strain of being cut off from its Canadian neighbours due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Some residents in southeast Alaska who have seen the border with Canada closed because of COVID-19 feel cut off from an area they visit and drive through frequently.

Haines, Skagway and Hyder all have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting border closure that has altered life dramatically for some, The Anchorage Daily News reported Monday.

The communities are connected to the rest of the state by the Alaska Highway through the Yukon and British Columbia. Each place depends on its neighbouring Canadian town for necessities such as food, health care and medicine and various activities conducted across the border.

The U.S.-Canada border closed March 20 to all nonessential traffic and the closure was recently extended to May 21.

Yukon has stringent travel restrictions and quarantine requirements for anyone entering the territory until it is no longer in a state of emergency.

The border closure, which could be extended again, "can be prolonged as necessary for public health reasons," said Mark Stuart, Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson.

In Hyder, residents shop for groceries and buy fuel across the border in Stewart, British Columbia.

"Stewart and Hyder are basically one community with two countries," said Wes Loe, Hyder's volunteer mayor and the owner of its general store.

Haines Mayor Jan Hill said the border restriction is changing what residents do on a regular basis.

"Going across the border into Canada is just a part of our daily life," Hill said.

'Yukon as our backyard'

People in Haines "think of the Yukon as our backyard," resident Leslie Ross said.

On a recent car trip with her daughter back to Haines, Ross showed an officer her passport and registered to enter the Yukon, agreeing to drive through within 24 hours.

"It was like a movie," Ross said. "It didn't feel like we were in North America."

For most people, the novel coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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