BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The U.S. and Canada closed off its land border in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Gradually and with little coordination, the two countries have lifted restrictions. Next week the U.S. will remove the final pandemic-related restriction, a vaccine requirement for Canadian travelers.
"There's a lot of Canadians and a lot of foreign nationals that live in Canada that haven't been visiting the United States because of this requirement and as of May 11, doors open and it's business as usual," immigration attorney Rosanna Berardi said.
Berardi said Customs and Border Protection agents have not strictly been enforcing the vaccine requirement but the possibility has deterred a lot of travel between Western New York and Southern Ontario.
"I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from our clients in the last week since it's been announced. We have a YouTube channel and people have been waiting for this announcement forever and when we finally announced it we got a lot of positive feedback," she said.
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins has been among the most vocal critics of what he says has been a haphazard and often arbitrary decision-making process from both countries.
"The U.S. federal government and the Canadian federal government did not speak with one voice. They did not collaborate enough. That led to a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration on the part of both citizens, United States and Canadians," Higgins said.
The congressman believes this last step is coming far too late and hopes it won't have a lasting impact on the inter-connected regions. He said Western New York lost roughly 40% of its cross-border commerce over a three-year period with impacts on tourism, retail, health care and professional sports organizations among other things.
"We're all economic actors. When we're confident we move. When we're not we don't, individually and collectively," Higgins said.
On Friday, the World Health Organization also announced COVID-19 is no longer considered a global health emergency. Higgins said it won't be the last though.
"Our success in dealing with this in terms of saving peoples lives will be determined by what we invest in medical research to insure that we have effective treatment at the beginning, not seven months in, so there's a lot of lessons to learn. There's no real celebration. It's more of a reflection to what the nation's been through," he said.
Berardi advises people who are planning to start cross-border travel again to check their documents like passports and NEXUS cards to make sure they're not expired.