When, oh when, will that darn U.S.-Canada border reopen?
The COVID lid comes off Ontario Friday. Three days early, restaurants, bars and tourist attractions can open their doors and outdoor patios again. However, the larger question is, when will non-essential travel start to flow again on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
Long ago, Jim Diodati worked in the hospitality industry in Niagara Falls, ON, as had his father before him. Now, he is mayor of the Canadian end of the Rainbow Bridge.
For them, COVID has made it a bad year. Now that the lockdown is lifting and Canada is slated to receive 7 million more vaccinations by the end of the month, Mayor Diodati is hoping that will persuade the Canadian federal government to re-open the border.
"It's been devastating," Diodati said. "In Niagara Falls, our tourism industry is our number one industry. 14 million people come to Niagara Falls, Canada every year and 40,000 people count on tourism to put food on the table, to pay the rent, to pay the their mortgages. So when you turn the taps to tourism off, it's like cutting off their oxygen."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that he understands the eagerness to travel again, but he also asked for patience until more people have received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Trudeau said one dose is not enough.
"We need people to ge the full two doses of their vaccines and that’s why easing of restrictions will be focused on Canadians who are fully vaccinated." he said.
Trudeau said Ottawa will continue to consult with provinces about the appropriate steps needed to ease restrictions.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been adamant about the need for more border controls with the U.S., fearing the spread of COVID-19 variants. However, one measure being done away with is the mandatory hotel quarantine for fully vaccinated air travelers.
The border closure with the U.S. for non-essential travel was put in place in March of last year and is set to expire in less than two weeks, but there are indications it may remain until this summer: peak tourism time.
That brings us back to border towns like Niagara Falls amd people like Diodati.
Diodati said there's a new attraction coming to the Falls, the landmark Niagara Parks Power Station. One of the first hydroelectric power plants, it will officially open in September, with some tours before that.
"Myself and Mayor Restaino (of Niagara Falls, NY) and mayors before Robert, we've always said, we're one big city divided by a border and we see it that way. We really do," he said. "We want to go back to doing what we do best and that's showing people fun."
Diodati said he hasn't crossed the border since the pandemic began.
"It's the last time a lot of people did," he said, "and a lot of people come here because they've got family on the Canadian side. They've got property here. They've got favorite restaurants. They've got good friends. So many reasons."
As restrictions ease, he is especially looking forward to a trip to Buffalo to attend a Toronto Blue Jays game at Sahlen Field.
Some experts say motivating Canadians to become fully vaccinated is a good place to keep up the pressure.
"We’ve got to create an opportunity of not only incentivizes becoming full vaccinate, but then allows different forms of commerce, recreation an doing things like visitng family," said Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist in Toronto.