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White House pushed to drop pandemic border requirements

by JEREMY WEBER
Daily Inter Lake | September 23, 2022 12:00 AM

Local leaders are pushing the White House to match Canada's withdrawal of Covid-19 vaccination requirements for people crossing the border.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, announced in a press release Wednesday that he was joining others in calling on the Biden administration to ease requirements. Tester is particularly interested in ending restrictions on commercial truck drivers, who continue to face Covid testing and delays as they transport Canadian goods into the U.S.

“We still have supply chain issues. They’ve gotten better, but they’re certainly not in the rearview mirror,” Tester said. “Canada is our No. 1 trading partner and I think to do away with these vaccination requirements would be a smart idea and we are encouraging the (Biden) administration to do that.”

According to several news outlets, the Canadian government plans to drop the Covid-19 vaccination requirement for people who enter Canada by the end of September, the same day it ends random testing of arrivals and makes optional the usage of the ArriveCan app.

The changes, for arrivals at land, air and sea ports of entry, are planned for Sept. 30, but have yet to be finalized by the Canadian cabinet.

Canada’s decision to end its Covid restrictions has been lauded by several Montana politicians, including Republican State Sen. Mike Cuffe, who represents the border town of Eureka.

“Hallelujah,” Cuffe told the Daily Inter Lake on Thursday. “It’s about time they finally saw the light.”

Canada's vaccine requirement prompted a nationwide protest by thousands of truck drivers who opposed the mandate, including a convoy of truckers who blocked the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit with Windsor, Ontario, for a week in February.

Montana shares a 545-mile border with Canada and is home to many border towns whose economies rely on Canadian trade and commerce. According to the Canadian Trade Commissioner, Canada is Montana’s top international trading partner, buying more from the state than the next six states combined. Reports by the U.S. Trade Representative estimate that Montana exported $692 million in goods to Canada in 2018, representing 42% of the state’s total goods exports.

Most European countries dropped entry requirements related to Covid before summer began, returning to pre pandemic standards in a bid to welcome tourists after more than two years of widespread illness, lockdowns and stay-home orders.

The Canadian government suspended vaccination requirements for domestic and outbound travelers, federal government employees and federally regulated industry workers June 20, citing declining Covid cases and the fact that 32 million people, or 90 percent of eligible Canadians, had been vaccinated against the virus.

Unvaccinated travelers who are allowed to enter Canada are currently subject to mandatory arrival tests and a 14-day quarantine.

The United States continues to require all non-U.S. citizens and non-U.S. immigrants entering the country to be vaccinated, and it is not known if the requirement will be lifted at the same time as Canada’s. Although President Joe Biden declared recently that the pandemic is over, he said Covid is still a problem.

Tester has joined other local leaders, including Republican Sen. Steve Daines, in pushing to reopen the northern border and ensuring U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have the necessary resources to secure the border and protect Montana communities.

In June, Tester and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) led a bipartisan group of senators in urging the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Committee to provide CBP with the necessary resources to properly staff and secure the U.S.-Canada border in Fiscal Year 2023. Tester continued the effort with a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on June 27 in which he stated “Truck drivers and the goods they transport are the lifeblood of our economy. This is especially true in northern border states, like Montana, that have a special trading relationship with Canada.”

“Fertilizer, hay and other agricultural products from Canada are critical for farmers and ranchers in Montana and across America,” Tester continued. “Vaccine mandates for truck drivers, along with reduced hours at ports of entry, longer drive times, and a shortage of truck drivers are making it harder and more expensive for American farmers and ranchers to get the products they need.”

The battle is not a new one for the senator, who first called for the northern border to fully reopen in May 2021 in a letter to the White House urging the Biden administration to work with Canadian officials to swiftly and safely open the border.

Tester followed up with a letter to Mayorkas in July, pressing the administration to move forward with the Canadian reopening in a “safe, fair and efficient manner.”

The United States reopened the border to vaccinated travelers in November 2021, but Tester believes it is time for that restriction to end.

“I urge (the Department of Homeland Security) to end the vaccine mandate for truck drivers and other travelers entering the United States, and to work with Canadian officials to end all mandates in a coordinated fashion,” Tester wrote.

Reporter Jeremy Weber can be reached at jweber@dailyinterlake.com.

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