Road tripping in the time of Covid

Cross-country road tripping has long been on my bucket list. Fly to Yukon Canada and cross over into Alaska U.S. Forestalled for 2 years, it was set in motion again with the opening up of Canada’s borders to international tourists in April this year. I seized very attractively priced air tickets, read and re-read Canada’s Covid travel procedures, quarantined myself 2 weeks prior to departure and was well on my way to Yukon. 

At airport customs, I presented my ArrivalCAN documents and proof of vaccination (3 shots! Only 2 needed for entry). Things came to a screeching halt when the officer uttered the first half of my Chinese name (Westerners think it’s a middle name), “You’re selected for a random Covid test. Head left after baggage claim.”

Well. I read about random Covid testing at Canada’s borders but didn’t suppose someone from each traveller group would be picked. My parents weren’t selected and were free to leave.

As I queued to take the test, I noticed most if not all, everyone in line were Asians. Evident by them explaining to the administrative personnel which is their first and family name. While waiting, I connected to the airport’s free Wifi. Thank all my lucky stars I did that. 

Then it was my turn, the worker asked me for a local phone number and address as point of contact for test-related matters. My family got SIM cards but data roaming only. So I panicked-called my parents using Whatsapp call (thank you wifi!) and hurried them to send me our hotel phone number and address. Jittery as I was, the few minutes waiting felt like forever. 

When that was done, I was led to a test operator who proceeded to swab my nose and cheeks. That’s new. Test results would be sent to my email within a day. 

Next morning, I checked my email, fumbled in creating an account and logging into the portal. Squinting at the test results PDF, ‘positive’ looked back at me. I was in the clear! Off we went to Tim Houtons for breakfast — then onto the Alaska Highway. 

Fast forward a few days, we were at the south-western border of Fraser demarcating Yukon from Alaska. Somehow, we three were expecting to see a sign board stating ‘You are now leaving Canada’. There was none. Zooming past a small house looking suspiciously like a customs office, we thought nothing of it. 

Alaska. Snap the sign board for low key showing off on Instagram. The original plan was to cross into the U.S for a day trip in Skagway. But, entering and leaving the U.S in Covid times entails another set of paperwork. So it was forgone. 

Turning back into Canada, the small house from earlier came into view. “Stop behind the red line,” an officer’s voice resounded in the hushed alpine stillness. “Passports please.” We handed them over. 

“Did you complete ArrivalCAN?” Major opps. Not entering the U.S doesn’t mean we didn’t cross Canada’s borders and needn’t comply with entry requirements.

My dad meekly answered , “No. But we did it for our arrival in Canada via Vancouver a few days ago.” 

“No worries, I’ll do it.” 

“You’re good to go.” 

Phew. No surprise testing this time. Or so we thought…?

That night my dad shoved his phone into my hands. “Read.” 

According to our records, you were selected for Mandatory Randomized Testing. This means you MUST complete a Day 1 COVID-19 Molecular Test within 24 hours of entering Canada. Failure to comply may result in fines of up to $5000 per infraction and/or transfer to a designated quarantine facility.

It was sent to my dad’s email. At 5am that morning (hint, hint). So he was selected for testing yet the officer said nothing about it?

Law abiding citizens we were, we scoured the internet for relevant testing providers. The next day’s sight-seeing plans were postponed till the test was settled. 

Wifi was slow, instructions on border testing for travellers were unclear. Tempers flared. Got a free self-testing kit from the pharmacy but when they knew about the email, they said the test my dad is selected for has to be supervised. Called a private clinic to book a supervised test, they directed us elsewhere, to the only local clinic doing tests for travel. 

It was at this clinic when the pieces fell into place. Our initial ArrivalCAN application was registered using my dad’s email. So the email was a reminder referring to me who was selected for a random test on the arrival day. (Why wasn’t it sent to my email like the test results?) Plus, the email’s time stamp. 5am. How could they, whoever it is, know we were going to leave, re-enter the country and thus possibly be subjected to random testing? As the clinic personnel explained, if my dad was chosen for testing because of yesterday’s crossing, the custom officer would have given us a test kit. He didn’t, nor said anything of that matter. 

A false alarm it was. The trip’s third and final mini crisis. We were free once again.

Road tripping, criss crossing borders in the time of Covid is a test for the faint-hearted. Yet the scenic drive (especially enroute to Alaska via White Pass) and quieter than usual summer crowd are totally worth it. 

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