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Canada opens its border to non-essential travelers, but it's complicated

A long line of traffic waiting to cross the Peace Bridge
Mike Desmond
Traffic was already lined up on the Peace Bridge at midnight to cross from the U.S. into Canada. WBFO's Mike Desmond was among the first to cross.

Canada opened its border to American travelers early this morning — somewhat. The U.S. has not yet reciprocated and even some Canadian health experts speculate whether Ottawa has moved to quickly.

The border opened at midnight to non-essential U.S. travelers. For the long line of cars and vans that backed up onto the Niagara Section of the Thruway waiting to cross the Peace Bridge at midnight, everyone was supposed to have gone through the process. That process was built around people who have had their COVID shots more than two weeks ago.

There are many rules governing eligibility:

  • U.S. citizens and permanent residents must be fully vaccinated with vaccines approved by Health Canada.
  • They must have had their last vaccine days at least 14 days prior to arriving in Canada.
  • They must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test no more than 3 days old.
  • They must use the ArriveCAN app or online web portal to upload their vaccination details.

Border services agents said those who don’t fully comply with all the requirements will be denied entry to Canada.

An online pre-test is available to check whether you may have trouble crossing. That pre-test also asks about a traveler's purpose for crossing. Some may be reconnecting with loved ones, others may be visiting a second property or hoping to take in some Canadian recreation. Answers can bring up additional roadblocks.

Border guards are also in the midst of a work slowdown, as they negotiate a new contract with the government. That slowdown began Friday and resulted in two-hour wait times at international crossings during the day.

Not all health experts in Canada say the border should be reopened.
Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infections disease specialist at Dalhousie University, said she’s concerned about the growing fourth wave of the pandemic.

"We have to protect our vaccinated vulnerable people," Barret said. "We don’t have the ability to predict who gets very sick. So without the ability to know who’s going to get very sick, who’s going to have long term side effects, very challenging to expect to open borders if we are not going to test people and understand where the virus is. It’s a little early to do that yet and I think we’re expedite and expand a wave four."

While Canada has taken a major step in reopening its border, the U.S. has not yet offered the same welcome to Canadian travelers. It's not clear why, since President Biden talked about re-opening in his first days in office.

Washington has extended the land border closure until at least the Aug. 21.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.