Canada welcomes back fully vaccinated Americans as border rules ease

Click to play video: 'Fully vaccinated Americans make eager return to Canada as border rules eased'
Fully vaccinated Americans make eager return to Canada as border rules eased
WATCH: After 17 months of measures at the border, fully vaccinated Americans are now able to visit Canada. But as Abigail Bimman reports, the excitement is matched with trepidation, as COVID-19 infections continue to surge on both sides of the border. – Aug 9, 2021

Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens wasted little time Monday seizing their first chance in 17 months to venture into Canada, while lawmakers south of the border urged the White House to hurry up and follow Ottawa’s lead.

As of 12:01 a.m. Monday, American citizens and permanent residents were allowed back on Canadian soil, provided they have had a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine approved by Health Canada.

To be eligible, travellers must live in the U.S., be 14 days past their last vaccine dose and show proof of a negative molecular test for COVID-19 that’s no more than 72 hours old.

The Canada Border Services Agency also requires visitors to use the ArriveCAN app or online web portal to upload their vaccination details.

Click to play video: 'Tourism concerns as COVID-19 surges in the U.S.'
Tourism concerns as COVID-19 surges in the U.S.

John Adams, a Florida resident who has been waging a relentless advertising campaign against the travel restrictions, said he was expecting to be back at his property in B.C. before the supper hour.

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“Our long-awaited journey to get back to our home on Vancouver Island has finally begun,” Adams wrote in an email from the airport in Tampa.

“So far, our experience has been totally hassle-free given the substantial new requirements.”

The restrictions had barely been eased 10 minutes before Adams got text messages from two separate people who had already crossed — one at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y., the other in B.C.

Click to play video: 'Fully vaccinated U.S. residents cross into B.C. as restrictions lift'
Fully vaccinated U.S. residents cross into B.C. as restrictions lift

“I asked both to rate their border crossing on a scale of one to 10 and both rated it as a 10.”

Fully vaccinated travellers who have recovered from the disease and are otherwise eligible to enter Canada can show proof of a positive molecular test taken between 14 and 90 days before crossing the border.

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Denis Vinette, vice-president of the CBSA’s travellers branch, said the agency learned a lot when fully vaccinated Canadian citizens were allowed to return under similar conditions last month.

Click to play video: 'Coutts border sees slow 1st day of Americans being allowed into Canada for non-essential purposes'
Coutts border sees slow 1st day of Americans being allowed into Canada for non-essential purposes

About half had to be turned away during the first week because they hadn’t received one of the four vaccines approved by Health Canada, or had not waited the full 14 days after their last shot.

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Canada has approved four vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, also known as Covishield, and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson option. All except AstraZeneca have been approved and widely deployed in the U.S.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Canada’s border opens to fully vaccinated Americans'
COVID-19: Canada’s border opens to fully vaccinated Americans

For its part, however, the U.S. has resisted easing restrictions on non-essential travel at land crossings, and won’t say when that might change. Air and sea travellers are exempt, though passengers by rail, ferry and pleasure boat are not.

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Critics of that lack of action were quick to point out the discrepancy Monday.

“We should work in a co-operative way to find out how we can meet in the middle ground,” Pennsylvania congressman Dwight Evans told an online panel hosted by the Canadian American Business Council.

“I believe that it can be done, and I think it is something that we just have to kind of get our heads together (on).”

Laurie Trautman, the director of the border policy research institute at Western Washington University, said the U.S. has not developed a system that would allow for the screening of health status at the land border.

“I think it’s a complicated situation and there are a lot of factors at play,” she said.

“The United States has not developed a system similar to the ARRIVECAN app where we have the ability to screen for health status at the land border. I do think that is holding us back.

“If we had a system like that in place, we could take a layered approach to easing the restrictions like Canada has.”

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Trautman said the Mexican border to the south could also complicate the easing of border restrictions.

Click to play video: 'Toronto anxious to welcome back American tourists'
Toronto anxious to welcome back American tourists

“If the U.S. lifts restrictions on the Canadian border, in all likelihood, that would have to be reciprocated on the Mexican border and once that happens, the ability for asylum seekers to make claims would be reinstated,” she said, adding there may not be the proper capacity to handle claims amid the pandemic.

A statement from a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said even for those who own homes or land in the U.S., “visiting property doesn’t fall under essential travel” and that they’ll need to fly across the border.

New York Rep. Brian Higgins, one of the most persistent congressional voices on easing restrictions in the Canada-U.S. corridor, reiterated his demand for a U.S. plan to let travel resume.

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Click to play video: 'Frustration from Canadians unable to cross U.S. land border'
Frustration from Canadians unable to cross U.S. land border

Keeping the restrictions in place “harms separated families and hurts opportunities for economic recovery,” Higgins tweeted. “The time to act is long overdue.” ‘

U.S. border communities have been “decimated” by the restrictions, “with steep losses in employment, wages and sales tax revenues, among other economic impacts,” says a new report from the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash.

The White House did say last week that it is exploring whether to require discretionary visitors from outside the country to be fully vaccinated when the time comes to ease restrictions, although it remains unclear whether that discussion specifically includes Canadian travellers.

A labour dispute between the federal government and Canadian border agents was resolved promptly Friday, easing fears of extensive delays. But Vinette said the screening process is still going to take time, which means travellers may have to wait a little longer to clear customs.

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“We’re just asking folks to be patient.”

The federal government is currently planning to allow vaccinated visitors from outside the U.S. to return to Canada for non-essential reasons as of Sept. 7.

— With files from Global News’ Erica Vella

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