In this photo taken May 17, 2020, people walk back and forth across the border between the U.S. and Canada in Peace Arch Park in Blaine, Wash. With the border closed to nonessential travel amid the global pandemic, families and couples across the continent have found themselves cut off from loved ones on the other side. But the recent reopening of Peace Arch Park, which spans from Blaine into Surrey, British Columbia, at the far western end of the 3,987-mile contiguous border, has given at least a few separated parents, siblings, lovers and friends a rare chance for some better-than-Skype visits. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson file photo)

Peace Arch Park to close amid dozens using it as loophole in COVID-19 border restrictions

Temporary measure in response to ‘risk associated with significant increase in visitors’

Government officials have closed a loophole that has enabled cross-border couples and families to reunite at Peace Arch Provincial Park during the pandemic.

As of 8 p.m. June 18, the park – located on the South Surrey/Blaine border – closed and will remain so until “it is deemed safe” to reopen it,” a news release issued Thursday morning by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy states.

The closure “addresses the public safety and traffic concerns in neighbouring communities due to a significant increase in the number of park visitors,” the release continues.

The decision was not made by public health officials, Dr. Bonnie Henry noted during her daily update on the pandemic Thursday afternoon.

“It was not closed because of COVID-19, it was closed because of concerns around numbers of people and issues in the community,” Henry said.

“The issues are related to COVID-19, but not specifically the risk of transmission.”

The park reopened on May 14, just over a month after all provincial parks were closed as part of actions to help address the spread of COVID-19.

READ MORE: B.C. closes all provincial parks for COVID-19 protection

READ MORE: Influx of cross-border visitors to Peace Arch Park sparks concern COVID-19 could spike

Since then, parking lots and local access roads have been overwhelmed with nearly twice the number of vehicles compared to peak days in the summer season, resulting in illegal parking, the release states. As well, attendance has doubled over the same period compared to last year, leading to an increase in pedestrians along roadways.

Measures taken to manage the number of visitors – including increased enforcement, installation of a permanent gate at the park entrance and reducing park hours – “have not addressed the risk associated with the significant increases in visitors from both sides of the border.”

The release also points to recent exemptions announced to the Federal Quarantine Act, which allow immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to enter Canada to be with an immediate family member for a period of at least 15 days, as long as they are asymptomatic of COVID-19 and self-isolate for 14 days on arrival.

Those exemptions have been criticized by some as “not helping” those who have jobs or other commitments.

READ MORE: Canada-U.S. couple embrace only option to meet – Peace Arch Park, now dubbed ‘Passion Park’

Henry acknowledged the challenges of being separated, and the opportunity that the park being open created for some to reconnect with their loved ones across the border.

“But like the rest of us in the province, we need to find other ways of being able to contact our families and friends and neighbours who live in Washington State and other parts of the world where we’ve had challenges,” she said.



tholmes@peacearchnews.com

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