PLATTSBURGH — Canadian leaders are reportedly contemplating steps that could loosen northern border restrictions as early as June 22, news North Country officials embraced with open arms Tuesday.
END IN SIGHT
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) was among the voices, feeling “our pleas for a phased approach to reopening are finally being heard.”
“I am thrilled that the end of this border closure is in sight,” he says in a statement. “Living in a border community like the North Country, everyone is impacted by the border closure in some way. Folks on both sides of the border have been separated from their families for far too long, and businesses continue to struggle without their loyal Canadian customers.
“That is why I have repeatedly called on both governments to make steps toward reopening the border, and most recently called on New York specifically to vaccinate essential travelers from Canada. Considering that the North Country continues to have low infection rates and our northern neighbors continue to see a decline as well, it is an opportune time to take these first steps to reopening the border.”
UP NORTH VACCINATION
Virginia-based media group Politico reported Tuesday Canadian border city mayors had announced possible border progress signaled by the Canadian Government, like the country’s border point man Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.
Though he awaited further confirmation this week, Blair cited potential for some border restrictions to lighten the day after current ones are set to expire on June 21, the report says.
As previously reported by the Press-Republican, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his nation would only loosen widespread health restrictions, like those in place at the border, once 75% of the Canadian population received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 20% were fully vaccinated.
Unlike the United States’ vaccination rollout, in many cases Canadian vaccine doses were spaced several months, rather than several weeks, apart, somewhat stunting the nation’s percentage of fully vaccinated individuals.
As of Tuesday, nearly 57% of Canadians had received at least one dose and 5.7% were fully vaccinated.
According to the Politico report, Blair stated during a recent virtual meeting with Canadian mayors that Canada was on track to reach the Prime Minister’s vaccination goal by June 21.
In the many months since the northern border closed to nonessential travelers in March 2020, officials stationed in border communities, like those in the North Country, have long advocated for a phased in approach to reopening the border.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) just last week called on the Biden Administration to unilaterally ease restrictions if a bilateral plan is not in place before June 21 and Assemblyman Jones has asked New York State to begin vaccinating Canadian truck drivers, who have continued to make daily trips into the U.S., to help speed up Canada’s vaccine rollout.
According to Politico, Trudeau announced during a virtual event hosted by the St. John’s Board of Trade that Canada was looking at how they would “start welcoming up tourists in a phased way,” but noted travelers should be fully vaccinated before entry.
Attendees of Blair’s recent virtual meeting said the public safety minister referenced the possibility for those partially and fully vaccinated to cross the border, but noted those with only partial vaccination may face greater restrictions, Politico reports.
The North Country Chamber of Commerce Tuesday welcomed the reports, saying the elimination of quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travelers was one measure on the table and noting the U.S. Government was considering other such actions.
“These reports are providing some long-sought hope for the start of a phased reopening process,” North Country Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Garry Douglas says in a chamber release. “Clearly, strong recent progress in the vaccination efforts in Canada as well as in the U.S. has helped.”
Douglas referenced recent calls from U.S. leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Northern Border Caucus Co-Chairs Stefanik and Brian Higgins, as well as “a growing chorus of calls within Canada.”
“We will continue to be part of these voices, openly and through all available private channels, while hoping we are seeing a first bit of light at the end of the tunnel. We note that President (Joe) Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau will be meeting in the U.K. at the G-7 summit on Friday. We hope the border will be a key subject, leading to some agreement, even if it involves differences at first.”
While Assemblyman Jones said the North Country had been patient, with summer months approaching he said it became more difficult to understand why the border was still closed.
“It is about time that our calls to reopen the border are answered, and I will continue to work with our federal representatives and the North Country Chamber of Commerce to make progress toward ending the border closure.”
Clinton County Legislator Chair Mark Henry (R-Area 3) said the county was very happy to see “encouraging signs” of loosened border restrictions.
“We have been too long without a plan. We are grateful for all of the advocacy on this crucial issue, especially from Congresswoman Stefanik, Assemblyman Jones, and the North Country Chamber of Commerce,” he said.
“We look forward to having our Canadian friends visit us here again and for us to be able to visit them as well. This is great news for families, local business, and our regional economy.”
‘WITH OPEN ARMS’
Plattsburgh City Mayor Christopher Rosenquest saw the recent progress as a positive sign for the economies of both nations.
“The City of Plattsburgh and our region rely heavily on international and Canadian travel. We’ll remain cautiously optimistic that our Canadian neighbors will meet the necessary measures to open the border,” he said. “I also believe the sentiment remains that U.S. border communities can support Canadian vaccination efforts by sharing the doses we have.
“Let’s work together to get those essential travelers, property owners and other Canadians vaccinated. It simply makes sense.”
Town Supervisor Michael Cashman noted the region had sought a path forward from the beginning — and continued to.
“Plattsburgh continues to be ready to welcome our northern friends back with open arms.”
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