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As pandemic rages in US, border with Canada stays closed - and Canadians approve

  • Author: Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News
  • Updated: July 15, 2020
  • Published July 15, 2020

The United States and Canada agreed to close the border to nonessential traffic in March. The majority of customs lanes at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel are closed in this April photo; the restrictions have been extended until at least late August. (Photo for The Washington Post by Tara Walton)

WASHINGTON – The closure of the U.S.-Canada border, extended for another month this week, is a tale of two countries: one that has failed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, and one that fears that visitors from south of the border could come in and spread the disease.

The shutdown of the border to all nonessential traffic will be extended to at least Aug. 21, officials confirmed Tuesday. That move comes in the wake of a poll showing that 81% of Canadians want the closure to continue indefinitely.

On top of that, when New York Rep. Brian Higgins tweeted out a letter earlier this month in which he called for development of a plan to reopen the border, Twitter erupted with more than 6,800 replies. Many came from Canadians who made clear they have no interest in reopening the border anytime soon.

"That border stays CLOSED. Canadians may be polite but we aren't CRAZY!" one Twitter respondent said. Another characterized the U.S. response to the coronavirus by posting a video of a dumpster in flames floating down a flooded street.

The rate of infection in Ontario is 267 COVID-19 cases for every hundred thousand people, whereas it’s 2,071 per hundred thousand in New York, noted Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat.

“That’s nearly eight times the number of COVID-19 cases in New York State versus the province of Ontario,” Higgins said. “So unless and until those numbers come down, that border is going to remain closed.”

Higgins has been pushing to reopen the border, saying he has an obligation to do so – but said he also has to be honest about how Canadians have come to regard their neighbors to the south.

“They view Americans as super-spreaders and a direct threat to the health and safety of their citizens in the province of Ontario, in the country of Canada,” Higgins said.

Nanos Research, a Canadian polling firm, confirmed that sentiment when it surveyed more than 1,000 Canadians between June 28 and July 2. The poll found that 81% of Canadians feel the border should remain closed for the foreseeable future.

“I think the fact of the matter is, for average Canadians, as long as they see the United States having difficulty containing and controlling the COVID-19 virus, there’s probably going to be a significant level of concern related to opening up that border because Canadians will feel that we will put ourselves at risk,” pollster Nik Nanos said on a recent CTV podcast.

The rate of new coronavirus infections over the past week was 21.5 times higher in the United States than in Canada, according to data compiled by Our World in Data, a numbers-crunching outfit based at the University of Oxford in Great Britain.

That data also shows that the daily rate of new infections in the U.S. has nearly tripled in the past month, whereas in Canada it has fallen by a third in that time.

That being the case, public officials in Canada now speak of the U.S. as a bad example not to be followed.

"We're making steady progress, and now we're looking at, we're preparing for the next step, the next stage of our reopening," Ontario Premier Doug Ford said recently. "And we're doing this carefully and thoughtfully because you just have to look what's happening south of the border to see the consequences of them moving too quickly."

The two nations agreed to shut the border to nonessential travel on March 21 in an effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The two countries agreed that tourism would be regarded as nonessential. Essential travel was originally restricted to:

• People traveling for medical purposes, or involved in emergency response or public health.

• Those traveling to educational institutions.

• Those traveling for work.

Canada loosened its restrictions slightly last month, saying close family members could visit relatives in Canada so long as they agreed to quarantine for 14 days. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given no indication that the restrictions will be further loosened anytime soon.

“We’re going to continue to work hard to keep Canadians safe and to keep our economies flowing and we will have more to say later this week,” he told reporters Monday.