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The Editorial Board: Canada, U.S. need to break border impasse

  • Updated

It’s up to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make the next move to open our common border.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been accused of moving the goalposts when it comes to setting conditions for reopening Canada’s border with the U.S. To switch the metaphor to hockey, it’s time for Trudeau to put the puck in the net.

The U.S. appears to be waiting for a puff of white smoke from the prime minister’s residence in Ottawa, indicating that Trudeau will allow vaccinated foreigners to enter the country. Both countries need to work out joint plans to get trains, buses and automobiles moving back across our bridges.

The current border restrictions are due to expire July 21, so an announcement about next steps is due soon. Even if the gates do not open immediately, there’s no reason that a reopening date can’t be announced. That would give border and immigration agents time to plan and give residents and businesses the knowledge that better times are ahead.

As The News’ Jerry Zremski reported Wednesday, there are few tangible reasons left for keeping nonessential travelers from entering Canada. Canada’s Covid-19 infection rate has fallen dramatically. As of Tuesday, 44.38% of eligible Canadians had been fully vaccinated, compared to 47.69% in the U.S. That figure for adults in New York State is 66.8%, according to state statistics.

Trudeau on Friday said that his government would look at “what measures we can allow for international travelers who are fully vaccinated.”

That’s the right approach. Governments at every level should be doing everything they can to induce more people to get their shots. Those who are complacent, hesitant or just outright refusing to roll up their sleeves for a vaccine are slowing our country’s march toward conquering the virus. Some have medical reasons for refusing a shot, but many of the dissenters who identify as Republican seem to think that Covid-19 vaccines go against their political leanings. There’s no such thing as a progressive vaccine, but the virus and its dangerous Delta variant will become progressively worse if large sections of the populace don’t protect themselves with the shots developed by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Restrictions for the non-vaccinated are one way to get their attention. No one has the right to be admitted to a foreign country, attend a football game or a concert or walk into a museum, but government or private sector officials have the right to put restrictions on admitting those who are not fully vaccinated.

Health officials in Canada recently have sent mixed signals. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and member of a Canadian government panel that issued recommendations earlier this year on border management, told Zremski that it’s just a matter of time, “and not a long time,” when the border should open to vaccinated travelers.

By contrast, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the top public health official in Ontario’s Niagara Region, last week told the Canadian Press that reopening the border this summer would be too risky.

“I expect, probably, we need another two or three months before we’re at the stage where we’ve maxed out our vaccinations, and we would be at a stage where we could reopen and not have to worry about the Delta variant overwhelming us,” he said.

There is pressure from the tourism industry in both the U.S. and Canada to get traffic flowing again. Niagara Falls, Ont., Niagara-on-the-Lake and the wine region there depend on dollars from visiting Americans.

Cross-border shoppers from Canada regularly spend money at Western New York retail stores and myriad tourist attractions across upstate.

Many businesses that depend on foreign visitors are already looking at a lost summer. A reopening date would at least give them hope for the future.

Canada’s abundance-of-caution approach needs to be modified to recognize the abundance of vaccines. It’s your move, Mr. Trudeau.

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"I said if they come up with no plan or a plan that would be so cumbersome that it would make travel at the borders slow down to a snail's pace and be ridiculous and cumbersome, the U.S. should just open unilaterally," Schumer said.

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