The United States is set to reopen its land borders with Canada and Mexico in early November to travellers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to U.S. officials — a move nearly 20 months in the making.
Senior White House officials said details of the new rules will be announced on Wednesday, including what kind of vaccines will be accepted.
New York Rep. Brian Higgins first broke the news late Tuesday in a statement. Other U.S. lawmakers who represent northern border states like New York also issued statements celebrating the move.
“At long last, there is action by the United States to open the doors and welcome back our Canadian neighbours,” Higgins said.
Under the new rules, White House officials said, non-essential travellers will be asked about their vaccination status at land border crossings, and only those who are fully vaccinated will be allowed through. Proof of vaccination will be required if selected for random screening.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday that the government is still “working to clarify and finalize all the details with our American partners,” but that Canadians should be mindful of COVID as they consider their travel plans.
“I think it’s really important for Canadians to listen closely to the advice from PHAC, from Canadian medical authorities and to just be careful. We have almost, almost, gotten past COVID. We have high national vaccination rates,” she said.
“Just try to do the things you need to do and maybe hold back on doing the things that you just want to do. And I think if we can keep on doing that for a few more weeks, Canada can really fully put COVID behind us.”
Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the U.S., no testing will be required to enter the U.S. by land or sea, provided the travellers meet the vaccination requirement.
Starting in early January, the rules will also be applied to essential travellers like truckers. Officials said the phased approach will allow those workers to get vaccinated if they have not already done so.
Travellers who received any vaccines approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization will be allowed to enter the U.S.
That means Canadians who received AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria — which has not been approved by the FDA but has been cleared by the WHO and Health Canada — will be included.
The White House officials said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still determining whether it will allow travellers who received a mix of COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC is also working with governments in the U.S., Canada and Mexico on what will qualify as proper documentation of travellers’ vaccination status.
The White House had already announced last month that fully vaccinated travellers will be allowed to enter the U.S. by air starting in early November. An exact date for those new rules has not yet been announced.
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Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been allowed back into Canada since August, provided they have waited at least 14 days since getting a full course of a Health Canada-approved vaccine and can show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.
The White House declined to follow suit back then as the fourth wave of the pandemic — fuelled by the Delta variant — saw cases and hospitalizations skyrocket in several states, with over 2,000 people dying from the virus nationwide every day on average since late September.
Cases and deaths have since begun to decline, however, though are still not back down to the low levels seen in the early summer.
The current deadline for the U.S. to reopen its borders with Canada and Mexico is Oct. 21. The White House officials said the closure will be extended once again to the early November reopening date.
By that time, they said, more details of the new restrictions will be announced, including on what vaccine regimens are to be allowed.
More than 3.9 million Canadians have two different doses of Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccines, not including Quebec, which does not categorize data by vaccine product.
Of those, approximately 1.6 million had a dose of the AstraZeneca formula followed by an mRNA vaccine, data from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows.
The COVID-19 vaccines approved under the WHO’s emergency use listing have only been assessed as single product regimens, meaning people receive the same vaccine for both shots.
But the agency’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization recommends mRNA vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna — can be used as a second dose following a first one with AstraZeneca if a second shot of the same is not available.
More than 82 per cent of eligible Canadians aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. By contrast, just 66 per cent of eligible Americans have received both required doses, or one dose of the single-shot Janssen vaccine, which has not yet been administered in Canada.
“Strong vaccination rates in Canada made the continued border shutdown absurd and unjustifiable,” Higgins said in his statement.
In Mexico, only 37 per cent of all residents are fully vaccinated, although 75 per cent have received their first dose.
The southern U.S. border has been under the spotlight for weeks as a steady influx of migrants from Central America and Haiti seeking refuge from violence and poor conditions in their home countries have overwhelmed border patrol agencies.
White House officials said current rules brought in early during the pandemic that prevent unauthorized people like migrants to enter the U.S. through the southern border — known as Title 42 — will remain in place, even as non-essential travellers are allowed back across.
The reopening of the northern border, by contrast, is being met with celebration by lawmakers who have lamented the economic impact of the nearly two-year-long closure on border communities.
“This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families, and loved ones that depend on travel across the northern border,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York in a statement.
–With files from Global’s Reggie Cecchini and the Canadian Press