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It All Started at the Northern Border

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Why is the U.S.-Canada border still closed to vaccinated people? I can fly to Europe if I want to. But I can’t drive to Niagara Falls. The point of vaccinations is that you have done what you need to do to protect yourself and others. You are safe and responsible. But the way I’m reading a lot of this, it’s Canadian domestic politics holding this up.

The pressure is mounting for the U.S. and Canadian governments to lift or at least loosen restrictions at their shared border after 16 months, with seemingly no end point in sight.

With COVID-19 vaccinations rising and infection rates plummeting, border communities, travel groups and long-separated families are anxious for officials, at minimum, to lay out a plan for reopening the 5,500-mile land boundary. Instead, the governments announced another extension of the restrictions through at least July 21.

“They are very frustrated because nobody can really explain what the holdup is,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who co-chairs the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group.

“You look at the effects here in Michigan or in northern New York — any one of the border states. There (are) some real impacts happening.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, whose New York district includes Niagara Falls and Buffalo, on Twitter called another month’s delay “bull—-.”

He said the refusal to crack open the border doesn’t follow science, or even the position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully inoculated individuals can return to pre-pandemic activity without masking, quarantining or social distancing.

“For the last 16 months, we’ve been told the game-changing moment would be the availability of vaccines. Now, 37% of Canadians are fully vaccinated and nearly 50% of Americans. Those people should be allowed to cross the border,” Higgins said.

“There’s only two people that can make this happen: the president of the United States and the prime minister of Canada. They need to engage and develop a plan.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a cautious approach. He initially said he’d relax the border rules only after at least 75% of Canadians got their first shot and 20% were fully vaccinated. Ottawa has since raised that benchmark to 75% fully vaccinated.

Part of what is driving the hesitancy in Canada is the variants of the virus, but also domestic politics, Trautman said.

It’s widely expected that the Trudeau government will call an election soon, either this summer or fall, and Canadian public opinion has broadly favored keeping the border restrictions in place.

“If you look at some of the words and language that Trudeau uses, it’s really all about ‘keeping Canadians safe,’ without any real substance to that messaging, so I think he’s definitely pandering to his base because there’s an election year coming up,” Trautman said.

Interprovincial politics are also at play, with Ontario’s Conservative Premier Doug Ford having criticized Trudeau, a Liberal, for not being tough enough on the border. But Ford lifted some COVID-19 restrictions in the province recently, moving to stage two of reopening last month.

I get wanting to be safe. But that’s what vaccinations are for. Again, you have to reward people for being vaccinated. How much of this is really about disgust in Canada over the Trump years and a general belief that Americans can’t be trusted? I don’t disagree with the latter point. And it’s most certainly up to Canada to decide how they want to enforce this, since the U.S. is obviously not going to come up with a vaccine passport. But this just seems like a situation most Canadians just don’t want to change, even though a lot of them like Florida as much as any 70 year old New Yorker. So I don’t see a real plan or endgame here. Meanwhile, the border stays closed until……….

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