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Canada to open border to fully vaccinated Americans next month

Two boats sail under the black Peace Bridge, with the blue Niagara River flowing underneath, against a blue sky and white clouds.
Chris Caya
Fully vaccinated Americans will be allowed to enter Canada via the Peace Bridge and other border crossings starting Aug. 9.

It’s finally happening: Americans will once again be able to enter Canada starting next month.

The Canadian government announced Monday it will reopen its border to fully vaccinated Americans beginning Aug. 9. Fully-vaccinated people from any country can come into Canada for nonessential travel beginning Sep. 7.

The U.S. has yet to announce whether it will open its border to Canadians and whether they’ll be required to be fully vaccinated. Canadian Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said he told U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of the plan to narrowly reopen.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wearing a gray suite, white shirt and red tie, in front of two Canadian flags
Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the border reopening Monday.

"He indicated to me at this time, they've not yet made a decision," Blair said. "They anticipate their current measures will likely be rolled over on July 21. They are, obviously, considering additional measures and data, but at the present time they have not indicated a plan to make any changes in the current border restrictions."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alluded to the border reopening last week while on a call with province premiers. Monday’s official announcement comes almost exactly 16 months after the border was first closed to nonessential travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as months of clamoring by lawmakers and Americans and Canadians to reopen.

“Canadians’ safety and security always come first. With rising vaccination rates and fewer cases in Canada, we can begin to safely ease border measures,” said Canadian Minister of Health Patty Hajdu in a statement. “A gradual approach to reopening will allow our health authorities to monitor the COVID-19 situation here and abroad. Canadians have worked hard and sacrificed for each other, and because of that work, we can take these next steps safely.”

Lawmakers on the other side of the border reacted positively to the news. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo), one of the more vocal proponents of reopening the border, called the reopening a “major victory for separated families who have long awaited the opportunity to reunite,” in a tweet Monday. Higgins also called on the U.S. to follow suit.

Higgins said Washington, D.C. didn't help the situation. He said not only has it been putting more attention on the country's Southern border, but the Biden Administration has not kept its promises on COVID-19.

"That we would get back to a semblance of normalcy by July," Higgins said. "Well, we're in the middle of July and that the U.S. border is not open to Canadians is not a semblance of normalcy. It's a symbol that we are not reaching that goal which was outlined, not by me, but by the president and this administration."

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, speaking to reporters at an event alongside the Buffalo River Monday, said the announcement was all the more reason for Western New Yorkers who have not yet been vaccinated to finally get their shots.

“Considering it'll take three weeks from your first shot if you get the Pfizer or Moderna … you better get vaccinated now, so when they open up the border, you can actually travel to Canada,” he said.

About 71% of adults in the county have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to New York state data. The Erie County Department of Health has closed its major vaccine clinics but is still offering mobile clinics across the county.

Canada will still require vaccinated travelers to present a negative COVID test before crossing the border. Travelers will not have to get a second negative test once they’re in Canada, but may be randomly selected for one. See the full requirements here.

While some lawmakers have criticized that requirement, Poloncarz said Canada has every right to require vaccinated travelers to still get tested.

“[Canada has] had different issues associated with COVID. While we were seeing much lower COVID numbers, they were seeing big increases in late spring and early summer,” he said. “So we have to respect our Canadian neighbors, we have to respect their wishes. … And if they want testing, that's something they're entitled to do.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz speaks to the media July 19, 2021 at Tewksbury Lodge along the Buffalo River about Canada reopening its border to fully vaccinated Americans.
Tom Dinki
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz speaks to the media July 19, 2021 at Tewksbury Lodge along the Buffalo River about Canada reopening its border to fully vaccinated Americans.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a small number of vaccinated individuals testing positive for COVID is to be expected. More than 159 million Americans have been vaccinated, yet there have been only about 5,400 COVID breakthrough cases that have resulted in hospitalization or death, according to the CDC.

In addition to providing proof of vaccination and a negative test, travelers must be asymptomatic upon arrival. A person who submits false information about their vaccination status could be liable to a fine of up to $750,000 or six months imprisonment, the Canadian government said.

WBFO's Mike Desmond contributed to this story.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.