The border crossing between the U.S. and Canada in Houlton. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — New Brunswick’s government tightened border restrictions again last week, so that even family members of Canadian citizens can no longer enter the province via border crossings in Maine.

The new restrictions, imposed on Jan. 8 and most recently updated on Feb. 27, came as the entire province entered into an “orange” stage of public health alert — the next to highest level in a four-phase system — due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases and concerns about the potential for more infectious COVID-19 variants in the country. The move not only affects U.S. citizens, but also Canadians living in other parts of Canada who want to enter New Brunswick.

Until January, family members and people in romantic relationships could cross the border into Canada, as long as they went through a 14-day quarantine period upon entry.

Travel into New Brunswick will now be permitted only for work, medical reasons and obtaining essential supplies for the First Nations communities, according to an advisory notice put out by the provincial government.

“Under the new restrictions, Canadian residents who own property in the province or who have family members [parents, children, siblings, grandchildren, grandparents, significant other] residing in New Brunswick will no longer be permitted to enter the province,” the notice also said. In addition, exceptions may be made for family travel from the U.S. or within Canada, but only in the case of attending a funeral service.

The orange level alert is expected to move back down to yellow as soon as March 7, leading to a potential easing of restrictions.

More good news comes from Canada’s announcement on Friday approving the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine, making the total number of approved vaccines in the country four. Canada already has approved vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

The Canadian federal government has yet to say how many doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine the province will receive, but that the province had been scheduled to receive 5 percent of the total doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and more would be delivered sometime next week, Alysha Elliott, a spokesperson for the New Brunswick Department of Health, said Friday.

“We will receive 10,500 AstraZeneca vaccines sometime late next week,” she said. “With the addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we are looking into a new vaccine plan.”

Elliott said that New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs would update the vaccine situation next week. As of Feb. 27, less than 3 percent of New Brunswick’s population had been vaccinated.

March 21 will mark one year since the U.S.-Canada border was closed for travel due to the pandemic. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tightened federal restrictions on border entry earlier this year with concerns about more infectious variants, and U.S. President Joe Biden also called for updated public health measures along the land border.

While no determined reopening date has been announced by either country, reduced cases from vaccination campaigns could lead to a reopening plan soon on the horizon. The Wilson Center, an influential think tank in Washington, D.C., plans to deliver its recommendations for reopening sometime in March. On March 2, the center launched a new project to discuss policy recommendations in all aspects of North American cooperation with Canada as well as Mexico.