Fully vaccinated New Brunswickers will soon be able to travel back and forth across the Canada-U.S. border.
In a statement on Wednesday, Oct. 13, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced the federal government would ease COVID restrictions sometime in early November.
"In alignment with the new international air travel system that will be implemented in November, we will begin allowing travellers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings," Mayorkas said in a statement..
U.S. Customs prohibited New Brunswickers, as they did all Canadians, entry at all land borders, including those between New Brunswick and Maine, since March of 2020. Canada opened its borders to fully vaccinated Americans in August of this year.
John Slipp, the Atlantic Travel Centre's Woodstock Duty Free Shop owner, welcomed the American announcement, saying he and other duty-free businesses across Canada are "very excited."
Slipp said they are anxiously awaiting full details of the plan, including the date it will take effect.
"We hope it's sooner than later," he said.
COVID-19 restrictions delivered a devastating blow to duty-free shops across Canada, including Slipp's Woodstock business which closed for 17 months from March 2020 to September 2021.
Even after reopening his shop following Canada's decision to open the border to fully vaccinated travellers from the U.S., Slipp said, his business garnered only a tiny fraction of the pre-COVID traffic.
"The total U.S.customer transactions at the Woodstock Duty Free Shop from Sept. 5 through Oct. 7 of 2021 were 22 per cent of the U.S. Customer transactions in 2019," he said.
He said he hoped reduced restrictions on Canadian travellers would boost business soon. Slipp noted the majority of his shop's Canadian business comes from other parts of the province, PEI or Nova Scotia.
He said Woodstock Duty Free Shop employs local people and sells local goods, but it doesn't compete directly against local businesses.
Although New Brunswick is in the midst of the worst COVID-19 wave since the pandemic began, Slipp doesn't believe travel from outside the province is to blame. He said the stats and information he sees from Public Health point to a spread within the province.
Over the past month, New Brunswick's COVID-19 statistics skyrocketed as the Delta variant took hold in the province. During the middle of September, health officials raised concern as active COVID infections returned to more than 200, with 11 people in hospital, including nine in ICU.
A month later, those numbers sit as much as five times higher, pushing 1,100 active cases as of Oct. 13, with 68 in the hospital, including 27 under treatment in intensive care units.
In response to the soaring hospitalizations and deaths, New Brunswick returned to red-level protocols at all hospitals and health-care facilities on Oct. 13.
The province reported 80 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic began, including five reported on Oct. 13. More than 30 of those days occurred in the past month.
After going green in July, New Brunswick, on the recommendation of Public Health, began tightening restrictions in September, including requiring anyone entering non-essential public places such as restaurants, bars, sports and entertainment venues needed to produce I.D. and proof of vaccination.
The province reinstated a state of emergency on Sept. 24, including reducing contacts and a return of the mask mandate.
On Friday, Oct. 9, as the Thanksgiving long weekend kicked off, the province introduced tight restrictions, allowing private gatherings to include only household residents, with a few exceptions.
While the province lifted those restrictions at midnight, Monday, Oct. 11, for most New Brunswick, they will remain in place for at least two weeks in several areas, including a portion of Zone 3's Upper River Valley from Florenceville-Bristol north.
Public Health identified that portion of Zone 3, along with Zone 1, from Moncton to Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, and all of Zone 4, the Edmundston, Grand Falls and St. Quentin region New Brunswick "hot zones," requiring what health officials describe as "circuit breaker" measures.
The limit on private gatherings continues in the circuit-breaker areas, and travel, unless for essential reasons, to these areas is prohibited.
While the number of break-through cases involving the fully vaccinated rises, New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said the unvaccinated face much greater risk from the virus and are more likely to spread it to everyone.
"The evidence is clear: if you are unvaccinated, you are 18 times more likely to become severely ill if you contract the COVID-19 virus," said Russell. "It also shows that the vaccines are very good at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death among those infected with the COVID-19 virus."
Public Health pointed out in its Oct. 12 report that 52 of the 63 people in hospital at that time were not fully vaccinated.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun