Canada to let vaccinated US citizens enter on Aug. 9. What to know

Canadian officials announced Monday they will begin letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens into Canada on Aug. 9, and those from the rest of the world on Sept. 7.

Entry will require not just the traditional passport but proof of vaccination.

Officials said the 14-day quarantine requirement will be waived as of Aug. 9 for eligible travelers who are currently residing in the United States and have received a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca).

On Monday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who noted he spoke with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Friday, said the United States has not yet indicated any plan to change current restrictions at the land border. However, Canadians are able to fly into the United States with a negative COVID-19 test.

For the United States' part, it must decide whether to extend its land border closures with Canada and Mexico by Wednesday.

Also, according to the Canadian government, fully vaccinated travelers must also:

  • Provide COVID-19-related information electronically through ArriveCAN (app or web portal) including proof of vaccination prior to departing for Canada (subject to limited exceptions)
  • Meet pre-entry testing requirements
  • Be asymptomatic upon arrival 
  • Have a paper or digital copy of their vaccination documentation in English or French (or certified translation, along with the original) ready to show a government official upon request.
Traffic moves across the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario, Canada and Detroit, Michigan, as seen from the Detroit side on Monday, July 19, 2021.

Asked in Washington if the U.S. would reciprocate, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, "We are continuing to review our travel restrictions. Any decisions about resuming travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts. ... I wouldn’t look at it through a reciprocal intention.”

Neal Belitsky, CEO of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, said COVID-19 restrictions on travel has had a "significant" impact on the tunnel. The international tunnel went from about 12,000 cars per day to about 3,000, Belitsky said.

Due to the tunnel's fixed costs, the drop in toll traffic led to staff layoffs. Belitsky declined to say how many. But these next weeks will be spent bringing those workers back into the company and retraining them.

"We're looking forward to accommodating all the traffic that comes back," Belitsky said.

Of the traffic across the tunnel, roughly 60% originates at the Canadian side, Belitsky said, and about 50% are commuters who live on one side of the Detroit River and work on the other.

COVID restrictions will soon change. But one impact of the pandemic that won't is the move to cashless payments at the tunnel. Cashless is not only the new normal on the tunnel, he said, but it's becoming standard across the toll transportation world, Belitsky said.

The upcoming reopening is a relief to people who have been unable to visit loved ones across the border, and to businesses that depend on cross-border traffic.

John Kinney, owner of Whirlpool Jet Boats, which operates on both sides of the border at Niagara Falls, said his business suffered a 70% drop in traffic, resulting in a multimillion-dollar loss of revenue since 2020.

Kinney, who spent $1.4 million to buy an enclosed jet boat before the pandemic, said he is happy about Monday's announcement and hopes the reopening date doesn't change.

“It’s only going to give us two or three weeks of what we call prime season, but at this point in time, every day is going to be super important for us,” he said. “The kids will be going back to school at the end of August, but at least for us that will be the more normal tourist environment that we’re all seeking.”

Yanni Dionisopoulos, co-owner of the Golden Fleece restaurant in Detroit's Greektown, said normally 20% to 30% of his weekend customers are Canadian tourists who drive from the nearby Detroit-Windsor Tunnel for all-lamb gyros and ice-cold beer.

During the closure, the owners renovated the restaurant and opened a Greek market called Bakaliko next door.

“I’m looking forward for the connection again because we’re accustomed to it during the decades,” he said. “… We’re fortunate that we were able to survive this and did not shut down. We’re welcoming our Canadian neighbors back to Detroit, especially in Greektown.”

In Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Angela Caputo, owner of the Breakfast Pig restaurant, said she’s looking forward to welcoming U.S. tourists — and being able to cross the border herself, she hopes, to attend an Alanis Morrisette concert in Metro Detroit in September. 

"As soon as we are able, my girlfriends and I have already decided that Detroit is going to be the first destination," she said. "For us, we're able to pass through all those little towns. Frankenmuth is on our way to Detroit so we'll be coming to patronize Detroit as soon as we can."

Devon Wargo, 40, of Grosse Pointe is a nurse who works in Windsor. She's also Canadian, and grew up in Kingsville, and wants her children to know whence they came.

The 5- and 6-year-olds have only been to Canada once, earlier this month. Their experience consisted of a mandatory quarantine at their grandparents' home near Lake Erie. They couldn't visit family in the area, and family couldn't come visit them.

"I want to be able to travel freely throughout my own country," Wargo said.

She and her husband used to go over weekly before the pandemic. But until the recent visit, her trips were confined to her work as a nurse, which is considered "essential."

"What I don't get is, air travel is no problem," Wargo said, even for nonessential matters. "But you can't cross the land border in your car."

Devon Weber, of Montreal, founded an activist group called Let Us Reunite, which urges the resumption of normalized travel between America and Canada. "My reaction is frustration," Weber said. "Canada and the U.S. are supposed to be best friends."

She shared Wargo's puzzlement with the allowance of air travel, in tightly confined spaces, rather than individual border crossings via land.

"That's a classist and unscientific policy," Weber said. 

When she moved to Montreal in February 2020, Weber said, "I never imagined the U.S.-Canada border would close," let alone remain closed this long.

With family in New York City, border crossings will be regular, once allowed.

"I need my son to know his family," Weber said. 

Her husband, a French-Canadian without dual citizenship, still wouldn't be allowed across the U.S. border right now. 

"Canada is perceived as being more restrictive, but they've had exemptions for family members to cross the border," Weber said. "America never has. And now America can no longer hide behind Canada's border closure."

Let Us Reunite said it has met with "dozens" of politicians, including U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly.

"They've heard us, but maybe they need to use their voices a little louder," Weber said. "This isn't reciprocal. Until the U.S. opens its borders, this is not a true win."

Weber cited Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, as "one of the most vocal" politicians in pursuing border reopenings.

Higgins said the U.S. has “neglected to give reopening the northern border the serious attention it deserves, and there is no excuse.”

U.S. Rep Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, who co-chairs the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group with Higgins, supports the step by Canadian officials and urged Biden's administration to do more. 

“Today’s announcement from the Canadian government is definitely welcome news, however, more progress must be made," Huizenga said in a statement. "The Biden administration should not renew the restrictions set to expire on July 21st. Additionally, travel between the United States and Canada should be fully permissible if residents are able to provide a negative PCR test prior to 72 hours of crossing the border.”

Canadian officials also announced Monday that children who aren't vaccinated but are traveling with vaccinated parents won't have to quarantine, but will have to avoid group activities including schools and daycare centers.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra also said a ban on direct flights from India will be extended to Aug. 21 because of the delta variant. “The situation in India is still very serious,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said last week that Canada could start allowing fully vaccinated Americans into the country as of mid-August for nonessential travel and should be in a position to welcome fully vaccinated travelers from all countries by early September.

Canada leads G20 countries in vaccination rates, with approximately 80% of eligible Canadians vaccinated with their first dose and over 50% of those eligible fully vaccinated.

“This weekend, we even passed the U.S. in terms of fully vaccinated people,” Trudeau said. “Thanks to the rising vaccination rates and declining COVID-19 cases, we are able to move forward with adjusted border measures.”

Reopening to the U.S first is a “recognition of our unique bond, especially between border communities," Trudeau said.

In the early days of the pandemic, the U.S. and Canadian governments closed the more than 5,500-mile border to nonessential traffic. With increasing vaccination rates and dropping infection rates, some were annoyed the two governments hadn’t laid out plans to fully reopen the border.

Canada began easing its restrictions earlier this month, allowing fully vaccinated Canadians or permanent legal residents to return without quarantining. But among the requirements are a negative test for the virus before returning, and another once they get back.

Trucks make their way across the Ambassador Bridge toward Detroit on Monday.

Pressure has been mounting on Canada to continue to ease the restrictions at the border, which have been in effect since March 2020. Providing exemptions for travel into Canada amid the pandemic is politically sensitive and Trudeau is expected to call a federal election next month.

Canadian officials have said they would like 75% of eligible Canadian residents to be fully vaccinated before loosening border restrictions for tourists and business travelers. The Canadian government expects to have enough vaccine delivered for 80% of eligible Canadians to be fully vaccinated by the end of July. The U.S. only allowed for exports of vaccines into Canada in early May.

Commercial traffic has gone back and forth normally between the two countries since the start of the pandemic but overall crossings plunged, from 26.9 million in 2019 to 84 million in 2020, according to the Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that each month the border is closed costs $1.5 billion. Canadian officials say Canada had about 22 million foreign visitors in 2019 — about 15 million of them from the United States.

Eric Larson, CEO of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, said Canadian travelers spend an average of about $700 to $800 per person per day during overnight stays in the United States and about $100 for a day trip.

Without that spending, “it’s a significant reduction in economic activity,” he said. 

Gordon Orr, CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, said Monday the border reopening is a positive step toward recovery for Canadian businesses, particularly Essex County's wine industry, which receives 25% of its visitors from the United States.

“We all know that tourism and hospitality was hit first, hit the hardest and will take the longest to recover,” he said. “A major part of our tourism portfolio, our tourism industry, is our American visitation.”

Associated Press contributed.