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Soo border remains closed for most crossings as air travel reopens

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Crossings of the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge remain restricted, even as the federal government plans to ease restrictions for air travel into the U.S.

Travel restrictions at the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge will remain in place for another month, despite the federal government announcing plans to relax restrictions for air travel.

Land crossings are unaffected by the move to allow international passengers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 into the U.S., the White House COVID-19 response coordinator reportedly said in a media conference this week.

Business leaders in Sault Saint Marie said the border closure has taken a heavy toll.

Almost 2 million vehicles cross the Sault Saint Marie International Bridge in normal years, but that number is down as much as 90% during the COVID-19 pandemic as the U.S. government bans non-essential crossings.

“Cross-border land travel in the economy for Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., is critical,” said Jeff Holt, the director of the city’s economic development corporation. “Many businesses obviously rely on the traffic.”

Holt says businesses are starting to close down because of the dearth of customers.

The one-month-at-a-time extensions of the travel restrictions are also curtailing their ability to plan for reopening. Holt said it’s impossible to anticipate how much merchandise or materials to stock, or how many staff to hire, when it's not clear when international customers will be able to return.

Stock too much, and businesses are stuck paying for storage while they wait for customers. Stock too little, and they’re caught flat-footed when the border does reopen.

“It’s difficult,” Holt said. “I trust our health officials, but my business is helping business and improving our economy, and we’re really caught.”

Canada reopened its side of the crossing to vaccinated U.S. travelers over a month ago, but the U.S. has not reciprocated. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” Holt said.

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.