FILE - NY Buffalo Canada border 3-18-2020

Vehicles wait in line March 18, 2020, to cross into Canada at the Peace Bridge Plaza in Buffalo, New York.

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(The Center Square) – More than 18 months after COVID-19 forced the shutdown of America’s borders, the federal government announced late Tuesday that it would reopen them to fully vaccinated “non-essential travelers” next month – news that received a positive reception in New York state.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the border crossings would reopen as a new international air travel system is implemented. That includes those New York-based crossings into Canada.

Nonessential travelers include those coming across to visit friends and family as well as for tourist visits.

“Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy,” the secretary said in a statement. “We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., welcomed the news. Higgins represents the Buffalo and Niagara Falls areas. It's a key tourist market that draws visitors to both sides of the border.

He expressed frustration in July after Canadian officials announced their plans to allow fully vaccinated Americans to cross for nonessential purposes. U.S. residents were able to cross starting on Aug. 9.

That the U.S. blockade continued for months after Canada’s action was “absurd and unjustifiable,” he said in a statement. Especially since Canada has surpassed America in vaccination rates.

According to OurWorldinData.org, more than 72% of Canadians are fully vaccinated, and another 5% have received at least one dose. In the U.S., only 55.8% of those eligible are fully vaccinated, even though America had a vaccine supply advantage over its northern neighbor.

Another 8.8% of Americans have received one dose.

“For months now, we’ve heard from businesses that are suffering and families distraught over the separation imposed by the continued border shutdown,” the congressman said. “The sigh of relief coming from Northern Border communities following this announcement is so loud it can practically be heard on either end of the Peace Bridge.”

It’s not just western New York that will benefit from the lifting of the gates. According to TourismEconomics.com, Canadian tourists spent an average of more than $1.51 billion annually in the state’s Adirondack region from 2015 to 2019.

In addition to announcing the border reopening, the Department of Homeland Security also announced that, after the beginning of next year, all individuals crossing the border will need to be vaccinated. The statement said the announcement was made to essential travelers, including truckers, students and health care workers, time to get their shots.

This article originally ran on thecentersquare.com.

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