Gillibrand, local congressmen urge Biden to keep border open despite Covid surge

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Traffic crosses the Peace Bridge.

The surge in Covid-19 cases blamed on the Omicron variant of the virus is no reason to consider new restrictions on cross-border access.

So said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Brian Higgins and Chris Jacobs in a letter to the White House Thursday.

“We write to urge you to work with Canada to keep the northern border open to vaccinated individuals, even as the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 raises new challenges,” the lawmakers wrote to President Biden.

“This is necessary to protect the economic livelihood of New York businesses and to ensure we are not placing additional burdens on our supply chains. It is also important for our constituents who are reliant on travel across the northern border to connect with friends and family members,” the letter said.

Since October, the Biden administration has allowed fully vaccinated individuals to enter the U.S. at the regular points of entry on the Canadian and Mexican borders.

“Now that vaccines are widely available, we cannot return to the economic and personal sacrifices that would be made if the northern border is closed once again,” the lawmakers wrote.

But the Omicron variant has produced the highest caseloads in the nearly two-year history of the Covid-19 pandemic, and has led some officials, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, to restore mask mandates.

Biden has attempted to mandate vaccinations for large businesses, health care facilities and government agencies, but his efforts have been challenged in court. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Friday.

The lawmakers’ letter to Biden, which also was sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, contended that the economic impact of any new border restrictions would be a severe blow to local business.

“The impact of nearly 20 months of closure was devastating to countless New York businesses, medical providers, and families who depend on travel across the New York-Canadian border,” the lawmakers said in a news release issued by Gillibrand’s office. “The northern border is the gateway to an indispensable economic partnership, and we are confident border crossings can continue safely and efficiently.”

According to the letter, “The closure and loss of Canadian business cost the U.S. economy an estimated $1.5 billion each month, and $665-855 million annually in Erie County alone.”

“We must recognize vaccine efficacy and follow the public health data,” the letter said. “There should not be additional restrictions placed on nonessential travel for fully vaccinated Americans and Canadians and all ports of entry on the northern border must remain open.”

Gillibrand, Higgins and Jacobs wrote that 76% of the Canadian population has been fully vaccinated against the Covid virus.

Despite that, Ontario has reimposed severe Covid restrictions.

All schools in the province have been shifted to online learning until at least Jan. 17, museums and other attractions have been closed, social gatherings have been limited to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors, and 50% capacity limits have been imposed on outdoor venues.

Sports teams in Ontario are playing home games without fans.