SAN DIEGO (AP) – Harassed business owners and families separated by COVID-19 restrictions rejoiced Wednesday after the United States said it would reopen its land borders to non-essential travel next month, ending to a 19-month freeze.
Travel across land borders from Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to workers whose jobs are considered essential. The new rules will allow fully vaccinated foreigners to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason starting in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions for air travel is established. By mid-January, even essential travelers seeking to enter the U.S., such as truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.
Large shopping malls and businesses in U.S. border cities whose parking spaces had been filled by cars with Mexican license plates were severely affected by travel restrictions.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the economic impact was difficult to quantify, but it can be seen in the low presence of shoppers at a high-end mall on the city’s border with Tijuana, Mexico. . The decision comes at a critical time before the holiday shopping season.
In Nogales, Arizona, travel restrictions forced the closure of about 40 retail businesses in the city’s main strip of 20,000 people, said Jessy Fontes, a board member of the Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce. owner of Mariposa Liquidation Store, which sells appliances. Its sales fell 60% and it considered closing, but instead reduced its workforce from seven to two.
In Del Rio, Texas, Mexican visitors account for about 65 percent of retail sales, said Blanca Larson, executive director of the city’s 35,000-member Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Office.
“Along the border, we are more of a community than two different communities,” he said.
The ban has also had a huge social and cultural impact, preventing family reunions when relatives live on different sides of the border. Community events have stalled even though cities far from U.S. borders have moved toward normalcy.
A Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where hockey and ice skating are rooted, the Soo Eagles have not had a home game against a Canadian opponent in 20 months. Players, aged between 17 and 20, have been traveling to Canada since border restrictions were lifted two months ago. Now the American team can host.
“I almost fell for it when I read it,” said Ron Lavin, co-owner of the Eagles. “It has been a frustrating long journey for people on many fronts much more serious than hockey, but we are very happy. It’s great for the city. “
U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated permanent residents can enter Canada from August, as long as they have waited at least two weeks since they received their second dose of vaccine and can show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test. recently. Mexico has not enforced COVID-19 entry procedures for ground travelers.
The latest move comes after last month’s announcement that the United States will end country travel bans for air travel and instead require vaccination for foreign nationals who want to fly.
The new rules only apply to legal entry. Those who enter illegally will still be deported by a public health authority that will allow the rapid expulsion of migrants before they can apply for asylum.
Travelers entering the United States by vehicle, railroad, and ferry will be asked about their vaccination status as part of the standard U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection. At the discretion of officers, travelers will have the vaccination test verified in a secondary screening process.
Unlike air travel, for which a test of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the US, no test will be required to enter the US by land or sea, as long as the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those that are used in the US This means that the AstraZeneca vaccine, widely used in Canada, will be accepted.
Officials said the CDC was still working to formalize procedures for admitting those who received doses of two different vaccines, as was quite common in Canada.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said he was “delighted to take steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner” and praised the economic benefits that flow from it.
Mexico, Canada and elected officials from the U.S. border regions have been pushing the Biden administration for months to ease restrictions.
“This is a victory for families who have broken up and businesses and tourism industries whose operations have been blocked since the start of the pandemic,” said US Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, echoing the reactions of other federal, state and local officials. .
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said “many meetings are needed to get the border open.” Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety minister, described the announcement as “another step towards a return to normalcy”.
Cross-border traffic has plummeted since the pandemic, according to U.S. Department of Transportation figures.
The number of vehicle 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 this year.
“The loss of these customers over the past 18 months has been one of the main reasons our hotels, restaurants and attractions have suffered,” said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, the agency of tourism in the area.
At the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego, the busiest in the country, the steps fell 30% last year to 18 million. Taxi drivers were largely inactive on Wednesday at a nearby bridge, including one that was doing exercises.
COVID-19 cases in the United States have dropped to about 85,000 per day, the lowest level since July. Per capita case rates in Canada and Mexico have been markedly lower than in the U.S. during the duration of the pandemic, amplifying frustrations over U.S. travel restrictions.
Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Rob Gillies in Toronto; Juan A. Lozano to Houston; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont; Ed White in Detroit, Anita Snow in Phoenix, Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York, Alexis Triboulard in Mexico City and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed.