Snowbird season: Canadian retirees hope for prompt COVID-19 booster shots in U.S. south

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WASHINGTON — Canadian snowbirds will be watching closely this week, RVs loaded with ready-made suitcases and fuel, to see if the United States finally eases travel restrictions preventing them from driving south for the winter. Can you

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Toronto travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said some people are not waiting for the White House, instead opting for the perfectly legal option of flying to the US – and many are looking to get a COVID-19 booster shot. making plans. .

“The feeling I’m getting from my clients is, ‘I’ll go south as I always planned, but I’ll hit my third booster right there and probably get it a lot sooner than I wait here. Was doing.” ‘ Firestone said in an interview.

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“People who are going south are going to reduce that booster in the states, I can assure you.”

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On Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration turned some heads when it rejected the idea of ​​a third shot for Americans 16 or older. However, the agency supported plans to make boosters available to people 65 years of age or older or those at high risk of serious disease.

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With Canada still a long way from formally deciding whether to offer boosters, with many US travel plans simply not wanting to wait for federal health officials and individual provinces to make up their minds , Firestone said.

Others are waiting to give America the green light to get behind the wheel.

Tuesday is a deadline for the US Department of Homeland Security to announce whether it plans to ease restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-US land border, or to extend the ban for another 30 days. is planning.

The US has remained largely silent on when the easing of sanctions might begin. Air and sea passengers are exempted from the ban, although passengers by rail, ferry and pleasure boat are not.

A new batch of US Senate Democrats, including Michigan Senators Debbie Stabeno and Gary Peters, New York Senators Kirsten Gillebrand and New Hampshire Senators Jean Shaheen, wrote Friday to urge President Joe Biden to lift the ban.

The letter, signed by New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Angus, read, “We believe that fully vaccinated Canadians will be able to travel safely into the United States through land ports of entry.” should be allowed.” King, independent of Maine.

“We urge you to remove these restrictions before October, provide a plan to reopen land ports of entry and appoint an inter-agency lead on US-Canadian border restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “

By establishing liaison between the various agencies, the White House and Congress will help ensure that the issue is given the necessary attention and ensure that lawmakers are kept in the loop, it continues.

“An inter-agency leadership will facilitate discussions between the Administration and our offices and ensure that we are able to effectively express the concerns of our constituents as you assess the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Meyerkas, whose department oversees the US Border Agency, acknowledged growing dismay during a National Press Club event in Washington last week.

“We expected that by now, we would have opened travel through the ports of entry, but sadly, due to the delta version, we have been delayed to do so,” Meyerkas said.

He said the restrictions now include language that makes it possible to relax or remove the ban completely before the start of the next 30-day window.

“Because we’ve renewed it for 30 days, it doesn’t mean that the ban will last for another 30 days,” Meyerkas said. “We have the capacity, of course, to reduce it or eliminate it as soon as the data suggests we should.”

He also acknowledged that the southern border, the scene of a growing immigration crisis, is complicating matters. The department sent 400 more border agents and officers to the South Texas area, where more than 14,000 Haiti migrants have gathered, with more arriving daily, hoping to win asylum in the US.

Some experts say the crisis at the US-Mexico border is making the White House wary about easing travel restrictions, especially when travel from Canada is still possible via air and trade and commercial shipments have been on the rise since the start of the pandemic. have since been largely free.

But there are families on the southern border who are suffering even under the restrictions, said Devon Weber, founder of Let Us Reunite, a grassroots advocacy group pushing for the reopening of borders.

“We cannot allow migrants to be the scapegoats for the government’s bureaucratic paralysis with respect to land border policy,” Weber said in an email.

“There’s a difference between immigration and opening the border to casual travel. The United States had 18 months to plan to safely reopen all land borders and chose not to.”

Firestone said older travelers may want a vehicle at their disposal while in the US, and prefer to avoid the hassle of air travel, especially since Canada’s decision to allow fully vaccinated visitors slowed it down dramatically. given what was already a plodding and delayed customs clearance process.

“We’re hearing stories about waiting three hours on the plane on the tarmac, and then waiting two hours in the building,” he said. “Flight is not what it used to be.”

Some want to take their own RVs, which provide both transportation and accommodation. The lack of rental cars available in North America has put another premium on being able to have your own car. And the cost of shipping a vehicle separately remains prohibitive.

Firestone said that if the border reopens soon, it expects demand for travel insurance to rise to above 90 percent of what it was in 2019 before the pandemic hit. Without reopening the land border, he said, the figure would be closer to 50 per cent.

“Another 30 days until October 21 is really going to break the flow of traffic in the US, and it will not bode well on many fronts,” he said. “The bottom line is that there should be no reason why the US didn’t open the land border, in my opinion. And it’s basically because there’s zero risk.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 19, 2021.

Improvement:

This is a true story. The previous version was referred to the US Federal Drug Administration. The correct name for the federal agency is the US Food and Drug Administration.

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