(The Center Square) – Another major step toward New York’s recovery took place Monday when Canadian officials announced it would welcome fully vaccinated Americans to cross the border starting next month.
However, the move was not immediately reciprocated by the Biden administration, prompting one New York congressman to lash out at what he called a “lack of urgency.”
Effective Aug. 9, Canada will allow fully vaccinated American residents and permanent residents to cross the border for nonessential travel, including tourism, shopping and visiting friends and family. The two countries have kept the border closed for such travel since the COVID-19 emergency began more than 16 months ago.
Those fully vaccinated, which is defined as people who completed their COVID-19 vaccination protocol 14 or more days before, will need to submit their information through Canada’s online portal, be asymptomatic and have either a hard or digital copy of their vaccination record with them.
Those not fully vaccinated will be denied entry, with the exception of unvaccinated children younger than 12, who are currently not eligible for any available vaccine. Those minors will be allowed entry with a fully vaccinated parent, stepparent, guardian or tutor who can legally enter Canada.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo heralded the news as “a significant step” for the state, which shares borders with both Quebec and Ontario.
“An open border with our neighbors to the North means families will be reunited once again and much-needed relief for our border communities that depend on cross-border trade and supply chains,” Cuomo said.
While Canadian officials call it “nonessential” travel, it’s considered anything but for Ontario’s tourism industry. Representatives of attractions and trade groups are breathing a sigh of relief after seeing attractions on their side of Niagara Falls suffer from significantly reduced crowds since March 2020.
Janice Thompson, president and CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism, told The Center Square in a statement they’re excited to welcome Americans back, especially those from neighboring western New York. U.S. traffic represents about 30% of the business for the attractions and amenities.
“We are confident that public health experts will safely manage the border reopening,” she said.
While Canadian tourism attractions and other businesses stand to benefit from the reopening on Aug. 9, the U.S. has not signaled its intentions yet.
Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said during a Monday news briefing that U.S. officials take the border issue seriously but do not take it as a reciprocal matter.
“We are continuing to review our travel restrictions,” Psaki told reporters. “Any decisions about reopening travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts.”
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., praised Canada’s decision and said the reopening can’t come soon enough, but he added he’s frustrated that Washington has not acted on this as the country has reopened. Failing to work with Canada on the border reopening will cause confusion among travelers.
Two weeks ago, Higgins, who represents the Buffalo and Niagara Falls area in western New York, was among 75 House members who signed a letter to President Joe Biden asking to safely reopen international travel.
The letter stated the pandemic-forced border closure led to a loss of $150 billion in export income in 2020. If the closure remains in effect through the end of the year, it will mean an additional loss of $175 billion and up to 1.1 million jobs.
“It is extremely frustrating that the United States government has failed to reciprocate current family exemptions already allowed by the Canadian government and failed to show a lack of urgency to make any progress on this side of the border toward lifting restrictions,” Higgins said in a statement Monday. “There are logistics to be worked out and questions to be answered certainly, but the U.S. has neglected to give re-opening the Northern Border the serious attention it deserves, and there is no excuse.”