On what would have been the final day of the US-Canada border closure before the latest 30-day extension, Congressman Brian Higgins is once again urging the two federal governments to come to terms on a re-opening plan.
With its all-but-closure for 14 months, Higgins said tight border restrictions don’t make sense as COVID vaccines are now in the arms of many Americans and some Canadians.
“Right now if you're vaccinated, if you're 4% of the Canadian population that's vaccinated, you're safe to travel to the United States, you're safe to travel to 27 countries in the European Union,” said Higgins. "If you're 38% of Americans who've been fully vaccinated, you're safe to travel to Canada, open the border. And at the very least expand that category of essential travel.”
As of Thursday, 48.5% of Canadians have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. However, just 4% of Canadians are fully vaccinated, due to the government delaying second doses to ration their supply. Canada has lacked a large pharmaceutical industry in recent decades to produce its own vaccine.
Higgins said border towns like Buffalo and Niagara Falls rely on free travel between the two countries, and it extends to both countries in terms of economics.
“Our economy, our life quality, is tied to predictable reliable access into and out of Canada. We've been denied that for 14 months,” said Higgins. “This is not good for the Canadian economy, it's not good for the U.S. economy. Let's recognize the powerful medicine that we now have in vaccines to open the border and get back to a sense of normalcy.”
The U.S.-Canada border has been closed since March of 20202 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are some exceptions for essential travel like work, transportation of goods, and vital health services, the Canadian government has remained steadfast in keeping restrictions in place until more Canadians are vaccinated.
One of those exceptions is “essential medical travel,” which allows Canadians receiving medical treatment in the United States to continue to cross the border. In Western New York for example, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center told the Buffalo News in July of 2020 that it has over 100 Canadian patients.
Higgins wants to use the medical exemption to allow Canadians to be able to get vaccinated in New York, but a U.S. Customs and Border Protection statement to CTV News said that “travel for the sole purpose of obtaining a vaccination is not permissible under current travel restrictions.” Higgins found that unacceptable.
“In a time of a pandemic, the one thing that you have available to you now that you didn't for most of the pandemic is a vaccine, a powerful medicine against COVID,” Higgins said. “Really, you're not going to identify that [vaccine] as essential travel for medicinal purposes? What else is more compelling as an exception than receiving a vaccine to keep yourself and your family healthy and safe?”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hinted he doesn’t see border restrictions loosening until at least 75% of Canada is vaccinated. The current border closure order extends until June 21.