US, Canada banning most cross-border travel

Updated Wednesday at 6:58 p.m.

Canada and the United State have agreed to ban most cross-border traffic to counter the COVID-19 virus.

Customs officials on both sides of the border are expected to implement the ban at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Peace Bridge General Manager Ron Rienas told Investigative Post. 

Truck traffic will still be permitted as to not disrupt trade, but car crossings will be limited to essential travel, he said. Travelers returning to their home country will be permitted entry, he said. Other details are still being worked out.

Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe & Mail, reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expects the ban to last at least 30 days.

The definition of “essential” remains unclear: Both U.S. and Canadian customs and border officials have told Investigative Post they are awaiting specific direction on the matter. A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol subsequently referred questions to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The clamp-down follows the first confirmed reports of residents in Erie and Niagara counties testing positive for the virus, and the count of infected residents on both side of the border climbs. The partial ban also comes on the heels of a decision by Canada on Monday to close its borders to non-citizens, with the exception of Americans. 

The outbreak in Seattle and Washington State could have influenced the Canadians to take further steps. As the Toronto Star reported: “Leaving the border open to Americans sparked worries it was encouraging the spread of COVID-19, particularly in British Columbia, where neighboring Washington state is one of the hardest hit places in the U.S.”

About 200,000 people cross the border daily from Maine to Washington State. The edict will have a particular impact on residents in border communities such as Buffalo, Fort Erie and Niagara Falls, which are linked by four international bridges.

Rienas told Investigative Post that car traffic on the Peace Bridge has dropped about 50 percent since Friday. 

Our Weekly Newsletter

In addition, airports in Buffalo and Niagara Falls are popular with travelers from both countries.

According to NFTA spokesperson Helen Tederous, 40 percent of travelers passing through the Buffalo Niagara International Airport are Canadians. At the smaller Niagara Falls International Airport, 80 percent of passengers are Canadians. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is used by many Americans to catch flights abroad.

In another development, Amtrak service across the New York – Canadian border — that is, out of Niagara Falls, New York to Toronto and north of Albany to Montreal — is suspended.