U.S. to reopen land border to fully vaccinated Canadians next month

Fully vaccinated Canadians will be allowed to go into the United States at land and ferry border crossings starting in early November.

Senior U.S. officials announced Tuesday night a plan to begin reopening the land borders with Canada and Mexico, which have been closed for non-basic travel since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

An exact date for the reopening has not in addition been determined, according to senior administration officials who briefed reporters earlier about the plan during a conference call.

They said a number of details are nevertheless being worked out, including the kind of documentation that will be accepted to prove a traveller’s vaccination position.

The U.S. is also awaiting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about travellers who received mixed doses of COVID-19 vaccines or the AstraZeneca vaccine. The U.S. has not approved the mixing of vaccine doses or the AstraZeneca vaccine for its own residents.

However, an official on the call noted that the CDC plans to recommend the acceptance of air travellers who have been inoculated with any vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, which includes AstraZeneca. The official said a similar rule should be expected at land crossings.

The Canada-U.S. Peace Arch border crossing in Surrey, B.C. on April 24, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Tuesday night’s announcement about the reopening came shortly after Rep. Brian Higgins — a New York Democrat who has been one of the loudest critics in Washington of the continued border restrictions — broke the news in a written statement.

“The sigh of relief coming from northern border communities following this announcement is so loud it can nearly be heard on either end of the Peace Bridge,” Higgins said in the statement, referring to the span that connects Buffalo, N.Y., to Fort Erie, Ont., and one of the busiest bridges between the two countries. 

Canadians to be asked about vaccination position

A short time later, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a statement outlining the reopening plan.

Mayorkas noted that cross-border traffic between Canada and the U.S. generates meaningful economic activity between border communities. 

“We are pleased to be taking steps to begin again regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner,” he said.

According to U.S. officials, Canadians crossing the border will be questioned about their vaccination position by border agents.

Proof of vaccination will only be required if a traveller is sent for secondary screening, the government officials said on the call.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said cross-border traffic between Canada and the U.S. generates meaningful economic activity between border communities.  (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

If a traveller is fully vaccinated, there will be no requirement for them to show a negative COVID-19 test.

When the updated rules go into effect, the U.S. will also ease other travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers arriving by air.

Disproportionate measures

The updated rules average Canadian and U.S. citizens will soon confront essentially the same rules when crossing the border after months of disproportionate measures at the world’s longest international border.

The Canadian government in August reopened its border to fully vaccinated U.S. travellers, which raised repeated questions about why the U.S. did not make the same change.

The U.S. rules have also been described as inconsistent, since Canadians have been allowed to go into the U.S. by air, already for non-basic purposes, for most of the pandemic.

The government officials said the updated regulations mirror the growing uptake in vaccinations across North America.

They noted that nearly 263 million people in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are now fully vaccinated.

basic workers crossing the land border, such as truckers, will also confront a new vaccine mandate starting sometime in January 2022.

The officials said they are waiting to implement that change, which they referred to as the second phase of the border reopening, so that basic workers are given adequate time to get fully vaccinated.

The existing border restrictions were set to expire on Oct. 21, but will now be extended until the new rules go into effect.

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