Local officials welcome Canada’s new border plan

Sparse traffic crosses the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge in Ogdensburg on May 20, 2020. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that Canada could start allowing fully vaccinated Americans into Canada as of mid-August for non-essential travel and should be in a position to welcome fully vaccinated travelers from all countries by early September.

In the early days of the pandemic, the U.S. and Canadian governments closed the more than 5,500-mile border to nonessential traffic. With increasing vaccination rates and dropping infection rates, some were annoyed the two governments hadn’t laid out detailed plans to fully reopen the border.

Canada began easing its restrictions earlier this month, allowing fully vaccinated Canadians or permanent legal residents to return to Canada without quarantining. But among the requirements are a negative test for the virus before returning, and another once they get back.

Pressure has been mounting on Canada to continue to ease the restrictions at the border, which have been in effect since March of last year.

Trudeau said his ministers would share more details on the border this week.

Commercial traffic has gone back and forth normally between the two countries since the start of the pandemic. Canadians are able to fly into the United States with a negative COVID-19 test.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that each month the border is closed costs $1.5 billion. Canadian officials say Canada had about 22 million foreign visitors in 2019 — about 15 million of them from the United States.

Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, issued a statement Friday morning about the border news.

“After 16 months with the United States-Canada border closed, I am pleased that there is finally light at the end of the tunnel with the most recent announcement from Prime Minister Trudeau indicating that the border could reopen as early as August for those who are vaccinated,” Jones said in the statement. “It would be better for families and local seasonal businesses such as campgrounds and marinas if the border reopened sooner, but it is a relief to know that progress is being made to finally lift the border restrictions.”

North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas also issued a statement Friday.

“While it is not clear why Canada is not starting the admission of fully vaccinated Americans now versus in an additional month, we certainly welcome this indication of meaningful progress,” Douglas said. “It is clear that the multi-faceted advocacy and outreach that we and partners in both countries have been engaged in is having some effect, including our communications and virtual meetings with provincial governments. The Prime Minister specifically refers to the latest weekly meeting with the Premiers in his comments. We also know first hand that they have felt a growing need to show response to the strong calls for progress from Senator (Charles E.) Schumer, Northern Border Caucus Co-Chairs Elise Stefanik and Brian Higgins and others all along the border.

“We will all renew our call for unilateral action this month by U.S. Homeland Security. Canada continues to take unilateral actions and we need to start doing so as well. If a Canadian federal election is called in August for September, we’ll be likely to see no further progress before fall on their part but can make further progress on our part.”

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