Yukon premier opposes letting Alaskan snowbirds drive south through territory

·2 min read

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says he's opposed to letting southbound Alaskans travel through the territory.

Last month, Alaska's Governor Mike Dunleavy, Alaska Rep. Don Young, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking the Canadian government to ease entry rules.

"Each year, Alaskans — many elderly and with medical conditions — pack up their vehicles and journey south to the contiguous United States," they wrote in a letter dated Oct. 21.

"They travel south because Alaska's winter can be harsh, complicating underlying medical conditions. Their winter homes in the 'Lower 48' are closer to comprehensive medical facilities which are better equipped to address their healthcare needs."

But with Alaska seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, Silver says it's not a good idea.

"Snowbirds leaving there, when they have other means to travel... and looking at the epidemiology in the area as well, you know, we don't believe that we're at a place right now where we want to start looking at these special case situations," the premier said.

Alaska COVID-19 cases accelerating, governor says

Alaska is in what Dunleavy has called an "acceleration" phase of COVID-19 cases. He has said the state is taking steps to bolster testing, supplies and contact tracing.

The state health department has reported nearly 16,000 confirmed resident cases since the start of the pandemic. Of those, about 9,400 are active, according to the state health department.

Under current border rules, Americans are permitted to travel north to Alaska by land to return home or if they are military personnel. That policy hasn't been well-received in Canada after evidence emerged of Americans straying from approved travel corridors.

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

The decision to allow southbound travel from Alaska through Canada is likewise up to the federal government. Silver said the Yukon government has informed Ottawa of its position.

"I don't want to speculate, however, I would be surprised if the federal government turned around and said this makes sense, to [allow] travel through Canada as an essential service into the lower 48 when they have other means at their disposal," Silver said.

Late last month, the federal government eased entry rules, allowing residents of Hyder, Alaska, whose only road connection is through nearby Stewart, B.C., to travel more freely.