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US to open borders with Mexico and Canada to fully vaccinated travelers

The U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada land borders will open for the first time in 19 months beginning in November.

(CN) — The Biden administration announced plans Wednesday to reopen land borders with Mexico and Canada for the fully vaccinated, ending a nearly 19-month freeze on nonessential travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The previous administration froze travel to the United States from its neighbors in March 2020 as the pandemic ramped up, with only essential workers being allowed entry. But beginning in November, foreign nationals will be allowed to enter the U.S. — regardless for the reason of their visit — as long as they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Any travelers looking to enter the U.S. by car, rail or ferry will be asked to confirm their vaccination status before crossing. It will be up to customs officers' discretion to ask for proof of vaccination during a second screening process.

It’s worth noting that lifting the land travel ban is targeted towards folks coming into the country, as fully vaccinated Americans have been allowed to travel into Canada since August. Mexico, meanwhile, has not enforced entry restrictions on land travel.

Jeffrey Ayres, a professor and chair of the political science department at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, says easing these restrictions has been a long time coming.

“I think my main reaction here — less than an hour from the Canadian border — is it is about time,” Ayres said. “Canadians overall have a higher per capita vaccination rate — for first and second shots — than Americans and it hasn’t been explained well at all why we have allowed Canadians to fly into the U.S. all during the pandemic while they have been prohibited from driving or taking a ferry into the U.S.  Also, why we waited two months after Canadians started admitting Americans was a puzzle.”

The decision to lift the land travel ban is set to coincide with similar efforts to ease restrictions for air travel as well. Just last month U.S. officials announced they would be lifting bans on air travel from other countries and will instead require foreign nationals to be fully vaccinated before boarding a U.S.-bound plane.

Ayres says lifting these restrictions will also serve as good news for border communities that regularly rely on tourist travel to keep some key industries afloat.

“It also comes as a relief to border communities such as my own here in Burlington-Winooski, Vermont, since we depend heavily on tourism especially from Quebec, and our ski industry here must be breathing a sigh of relief to know vaccinated Canadians are now going to be able to ski and say here in Vermont,” Ayres said.

Marc-Andreas Muendler, an economics professor at the University of California, San Diego, echoed this sentiment and said these changes will have a sizable ripple effect for well-populated areas on both sides of the border.

"The reopening of U.S. land borders to nonessential travel will make a huge difference to the cities and metropolitan areas near land borders, on both sides,” Muendler said. “In the San Diego and Tijuana area, families will get to meet up more easily, and the retail and hospitality industries can start planning again for a broad customer base from both sides of the border. Businesses and farms that face labor shortages can also start recruiting workers from both sides of the border."

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the new rules only apply people who enter the U.S. legally. Those who enter the country illegally regardless of vaccination status will still be subject to expulsion.  

The decision to end the travel ban comes amid a drop in new daily Covid cases, to around 85,000 per day following a heavy surge over the summer due in part to the spread of the Delta variant. The most recent 7-day average for new daily Covid-19 infections in Mexico and Canada, meanwhile, sits at just around 7,000 and 3,500, respectively.

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