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What will it take to open the U.S.-Canadian border?

Posted at 7:29 AM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 07:29:35-04

(WSYM) — The U.S. border with Canada has been closed to all non-essential travel for more than a year now, and it's expected to last at least through June 21. That means another month of frustration for people on both sides, unable to see family or vacation.

From the experts we've talked to, the border's reopening is likely tied to COVID-19 vaccination rates.

In Canada, just under 58% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but only 4.5% have been fully vaccinated.

Canada secured vaccine deals with European factories, and those factories are struggling with supplies. Canada also lacks the capacity to produce its own vaccine.

The border has only closed twice before – on 9/11 and during the gridout in 2003.

Danielle Reed is one of those people who can't see her family in Canada. She a young child, and her 85-year-old grandma said she has told them she hopes she gets to hug them before she dies.

"It's absolutely heartbreaking," Reed said.

Reed said it's hard trying to explain this to her 2 1/2-year-old.

"She'll say, 'Does Nanna not wanna see me?' I'll say, 'well Nanna does wanna see you, honey.' I had to explain it to her today that when the government says she can come, she can come," Reed said.

Each border closure extension is followed by disappointment. Dozens of people shared similar frustrations on our Channel 7 Facebook page.

A closure affecting family time, accessing one's property, tourism and business, like the auto industry.

"I touched base with two CEOs this morning, one in Canada and one in the US, just to get an update," Glenn Stevens, Jr., the VP of automotive and mobility initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, said. "Like I said, the goods and services are moving but the ability for people to interact, ya know, it's a hands-on industry. The ability to visit plants, show new technology, ya know, those things are tough."

Stevens said he's hopeful that as things progress and vaccines get distributed, the reopening will happen.

Rakesh Naidu, the president and CEO of the Windsor Essex Chamber of Commerce, echoed both views. He said the border closure caused a 25% cut in revenue for small businesses in Windsor because of a drop in tourism.

"When we have two advanced countries with so much science at our disposal, so much data at our disposal, I wonder why we can't be more aggressively using that science, data and the technology at our disposal to reopen the border," Naidu said.

He added that Windsor's mayor and the chamber are advocating for a vaccine sharing plan. That would mean Michigan would share its surplus vaccine with Canada so it doesn't go to waste.

"While there is still a shortage of vaccine on the Canadian, the border region here especially, being so close to the Detroit region where these vaccines are potentially wasted, it'll be wonderful if we can salvage that and use it and that will increase the vaccination rate and get more people vaccinated here which helps in reopening the border," Naidu said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said it's reviewing the concept of a vaccine sharing plan.

Naidu, with the Windsor Essex Chamber of Commerce, also said if there's a way to establish who's been fully vaccinated like a vaccine passport, that might be another way to resume non-essential travel.