Just in time for the holidays, the U.S. is finally opening its land borders to fully vaccinated travelers, ending an 18-month freeze forced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The news brought rejoicing in U.S. border towns from San Diego to Niagara Falls, N.Y.; from Nogales, Arizona to Sault St. Marie, Michigan, where the crossing bans had crippled local economies that depended heavily on visitors from Mexico and Canada.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the economic impact was hard to quantify by can be seen in the sparse presence of shoppers at a high-end outlet mall on the city’s border with Tijuana, according to an Associated Press report.
In Nogales, Arizona, the prolonged travel restrictions forced about 40 retail businesses on the main strip to close.
At Niagara Falls, the number of vehicle passengers entering the U.S. plummeted 83%, causing suffering for hotels, restaurants and other attractions in the Buffalo area.
Bianca Larson, executive director of the Del Rio, Texas, Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, said Mexican visitors to the city of 35,000 people accounted for about 65% of retail sales there before the pandemic border closings.
“Along the border, we’re like more of one community than two different communities,” she said.
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The crossing ban not only impacted economies of border towns, it also prevented family gatherings among relatives who lived across the border from each other.
The 19-month U.S. travel restrictions allowed crossings only for commercial workers and haulers whose jobs were deemed essential – closing the borders to tourism travel. The U.S. restrictions chafed officials and businesses on both sides of the Canada border, particularly because Canada eased its restrictions and allowed fully-vaccinated Americans to cross since August. Mexico has not enforced Covid-19 restrictions at its land borders.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, whose state touches Canada, said the Biden administration’s announcement last week was a “win for families who’ve been separated and businesses and tourism industries whose operations have been blocked since the start of the pandemic.”
It’s welcome news, particularly because it comes in advance of the holiday shopping season that accounts for a large chunk of the revenues for retailers each year along with the hefty impact of holiday travel for families from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.