By STEVE BITTENBENDER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) — New York officials have heralded a decision by Canadian leaders to end the country’s COVID-19 restrictions at border crossings effective later this week.
Starting on Saturday, all travelers will not need to show proof of vaccination, provide information through a website or submit to COVID testing.
“Canada’s travel measures successfully mitigated the full impact of COVID-19 for travelers and workers in the transportation sector and helped keep communities safe,” Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement. “Thanks to Canadians who rolled up their sleeves and got vaccinated, we are able to take this great step toward easing measures and returning to normal.”
Western New York sits next to the Canadian province of Ontario at Niagara Falls, with their border a critical one for both commerce and tourism. Leaders in the region said Canadian officials should have eased the restrictions long ago and called Washington to follow suit.
“It has been two and a half long years of border restrictions between the United States and Canada,” U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-New York state, said in a statement. “The extended measures have kept loved ones apart and kept border communities from reaching full economic recovery.”
Last Wednesday, Rep. Higgins wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, saying there was a “disconnect” between the stated American policy that car-bound travelers from Canada must show proof of vaccination upon entry and how border patrol agents enforced it.
Rep. Higgins said agents only requested vaccination records when they pulled vehicles for additional inspections.
“This obvious contradiction between policy and practice underscores the fact that the policy is accomplishing no public health or border security goals while it imposes an unnecessary burden on the economies of northern border communities and an unnecessary hardship on northern border families,” Rep.l Higgins wrote.
State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, had been calling for the restrictions to end for months, saying the measures, which have been in place since the border reopened last November, hampered recovery efforts.
“New Yorkers saw the freedom to connect and gather with family and friends suppressed during the pandemic – a freedom that should never again be in the hands of an overbearing government,” Sen. Ortt said.