The owners of the punished businesses and families separated by the restrictions related to COVID-19 celebrated on Wednesday the announcement that the United States will reopen its land borders to non-essential travel starting next month, ending a closure of 19 months.
Land transfers across the borders with Canada and Mexico were largely limited to workers whose jobs are considered essential. The new measures will allow foreigners with a full vaccination schedule to enter the United States regardless of the reason for travel beginning in early November, when similar restrictions on air travel are eased. By mid-January, even essential workers intending to enter the country, such as truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.
Shopping malls and retail outlets in border communities in the United States, whose parking spaces used to be filled with cars with Mexican license plates, were hit hard by travel restrictions.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said it was difficult to quantify the economic impact, but it can be seen in the low presence of shoppers in a major shopping center located just a short distance from the Tijuana, Mexico border. The decision comes at a critical time: shortly before the holiday shopping season.
In Nogales, Arizona, a community of about 20,000 people, travel restrictions forced about 40 retail stores on the city’s main street to close, said Jessy Fontes, a board member of the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce. and owner of Mariposa Liquidation Store, an appliance store. His sales fell 60% and he considered closing, but instead cut his number of employees from seven to two.
In Del Rio, Texas, Mexican visitors account for about 65% of retail sales, said Blanca Larson, executive director of the city’s chamber of commerce and tourism, which has about 35,000 residents.
“At the border we are not two different communities; rather, we are one ”, he assured.
The restriction has also had a huge social and cultural impact, avoiding family reunions when members live on different sides of the border. Community events have come to a standstill, even as cities far from the border have grown closer to normal.
In Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where hockey and ice skating are entrenched, the Soo Eagles haven’t had a single home game against Canadian opponents in 20 months. The players, ages 17 to 20, have been traveling to Canada since border restrictions were lifted in that country two months ago. Now they can be the local team.
“I almost fell when I read the news,” said Ron Lavin, co-owner of the team. “It has been a long and frustrating journey for people on many fronts, much more important than hockey, but we are just happy. It’s great for the city. “
Americans with a full vaccination schedule and permanent residents have been able to enter Canada since August, provided they have waited at least two weeks since receiving the second dose of the vaccine and present recent evidence of a COVID-19 diagnostic test with a result. negative. Mexico has not implemented COVID-19-related entry procedures for its land borders.
The latest move follows last month’s announcement that the United States will end restrictions on air travel for certain countries and will instead require foreigners who want to get to the country that way to show evidence of vaccination.
The new measures apply only to legal income. Those arriving illegally in the country remain subject to expulsion under a public health decree that allows for the expedited removal of migrants before they can apply for asylum.
Travelers entering the United States by car, train or ferry will be asked about their vaccination status as part of the standard admission process for Customs and Border Protection (CBP). At the discretion of the agents, travelers will have to show evidence of vaccination, which would be verified in a secondary filter.
Unlike air travel, for which evidence of a negative COVID-19 diagnostic test is required before boarding a flight to enter the United States, a diagnostic test will not be required to reach the country by land or sea, as long as the travelers comply with the vaccination requirement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States will accept travelers who have a complete vaccination schedule with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Organization of Health, not just those approved for use in the United States. That means the AstraZeneca vaccine, widely used in Canada, will be accepted.
Officials noted that the CDC continues to work to formalize admission procedures for those who received doses of two different vaccines, something quite common in Canada.
National Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he was “pleased to take steps to resume regular transfers in a safe and sustainable manner,” and applauded the resulting economic benefits.
Mexico, Canada and elected officials in the border regions of the United States have lobbied the administration of President Joe Biden for months to lift the restrictions.
“This is a victory for families who have been separated and for the business and tourism industries whose operations have been blocked since the onset of the pandemic,” said US Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said that “many meetings were needed to achieve the opening of the border, but also the decision to vaccinate in the border municipalities to facilitate the agreement.”
Meanwhile, Bill Blair, Canada’s Minister of Public Security, assured that the announcement “is one more step towards normality.”
Cross-border traffic has plummeted since the start of the pandemic, according to figures from the US Department of Transportation.
The number of vehicular passengers entering the United States at Niagara Falls, New York – the busiest land crossing on the Canadian border – fell 83% to 1.7 million in 2020, and has remained low so far this year. anus.
“Losing those customers over the past 18 months has been one of the main reasons our hotels, restaurants and attractions have struggled,” said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, the area’s travel agency. .
At the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego, the largest and busiest in the country, crossings fell 30% last year to 18 million. Taxi drivers were parked with little to do Wednesday next to a nearby bridge, including one that preferred to exercise.
COVID-19 infections in the United States have fallen to about 85,000 a day, the lowest level since July, following a rebound driven by the delta variant. Per capita rates in Mexico and Canada have been significantly lower than in the United States throughout the pandemic, magnifying the annoyance over US restrictions.