The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont. is praising a change in rules from Ottawa which now allows fully-vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents to drive across Canada’s border, but is still scratching his head on why it’s not been reciprocated by the U.S.
Jim Diodati told Global News that the provision, which began on Monday, is very significant for what has been an ailing tourism business which required the provincial government to offer up $200 million in aid amid losses across Ontario since the pandemic began.
“Niagara Falls is the number one leisure destination in Canada,” said Diodati.
“We get 14 million people a year and typically 25 per cent come from the U.S. and they represent 50 per cent of the revenue. So it’s very significant and we’re grateful that we’ve come up with a safe way to reopen the border.”
Off and on shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic last summer particularly hurt Niagara businesses since many follow what Diodati calls the ’80/20′ rule, in which 80 per cent of their money is made in 20 per cent of the year.
However, on Monday businesses welcomed back American visitors for the first time in more than a year as restrictions at the border eased.
Non-essential U.S. travellers who’ve had a full course of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine are now allowed in the country, provided it’s been 14 days since their last dose and they have proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test within the last 72 hours.
As glad as Diodati was to se the return of U.S. customers, he still has some disappointment that the measure has not been reciprocated by our neighbours to the south.
“I’m in regular contact with a number of senators and congressmen and border city mayors and the U.S. and they’re all caught off guard,” said Diodati.
“The only explanation that was suggested to me was perhaps because the U.S. does have two borders that they wanted to make sure that they were aligned with the southern border as well.”
Last week, the Biden administration took steps towards a phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country.
Like Canada, the first initiative would require nearly all foreign visitors to the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
An issue with some Canadians could be the fact the U.S. currently has not approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use and does not recognize a mix of AstraZeneca and an mRNA vaccine as fully vaccinated.
No timeline for an easing of border restrictions have been revealed by the administration as of Monday.
“The frustrating part is we can fly across the border all day long, but we can’t drive across the border” Diodati said.
“So, yeah, we’re all scratching our heads wondering what’s going on.”
Diodati’s counterpart across the Rainbow International Bridge in Niagara Falls, N.Y., says the directives allowing Americans to cross is better than no rules at all.
But Mayor Robert Restaino says the continuing closure to ground traffic is frustrating and says his queries to federal counterparts in Wasshington, D.C. have been “murky.”
“Right now we have nothing,” Retaino told Global News.
“I can tell you that we keep getting the same kind of information that was coming out previously, even with the Canadian government — that, ‘Well, we’re considering it.’”
As of Monday, Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has hit 71.3 per cent of the total population with at least one dose, while 61.2 per cent of Canadians are fully vaccinated. Just over 58.3 per cent of Americans have had a single shot, while 49.8 per cent in the U.S. have had two doses.
Dr. Todd Coleman, biostatistician and assistant professor with Wilfrid Laurier University, says there’s not too much concern with fully-vaccinated Americans coming across the border despite large upticks across all 50 states recently due to the more transmissible Delta variant.
That potentially could create issues among travellers that are asymptomatic, but he expects transmission from that danger to be low.
“The combination of testing and fully vaccinated eases the concern that this might be something that results in a high number of infections here in Canada,” said Coleman.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), says the U.S. approach to keep their border closed to ground traffic “makes no sense” since Canadians have been fly to the states with little exemptions.
The effect the continuing closure will have for Canadian businesses is the lack of employees one can send stateside to do simple transactions with suppliers and customers.
“Many people just going for a simple business meeting or a plant tour, they’re not able to do it right now. That is biting some Canadian businesses,” said Kelly.
The obvious side benefit to having ground traffic going just one the way is Canadian tourism dollars staying north of the border.
“Canadians are trapped,” Kelly said.
“We can have U.S. citizens come to Canada, fully vaccinated ones, so hopefully the two things combined will mean some some better outcomes for tourism businesses that have just been hit so incredibly hard.”
— with files from the Canadian Press.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.