Niagara Region top doc, Niagara Falls Mayor at odds over border opening


Published July 8, 2021 at 4:24 pm


Niagara Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mustafa Hirji says it’s too early to open the Canada-US border, given the more transmissible Delta variant spreading in parts of midwestern America.

On the other side of the coin, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati was among the many voices in his City calling for a swift reopening and has been appealing to both Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a possible date.

As it stands, the mutual travel restrictions between Canada and the U.S. are currently due to expire July 21, just 13 days from now.

That said, the border lockdown, which makes exceptions for essential workers and commercial trade, has been extended by Ottawa several times during the pandemic.

Hirji believes the border should remain closed at least until the end of July so that the Region can look at the COVID-19 numbers and reassess the situation at that time.

In fact, he would push it until September, saying in an interview, “I expect, probably, we need another two or three months before we’re at the stage where we’ve maxed out our vaccinations, and we would be at a stage where we could reopen and not have to worry about the delta variant overwhelming us.”

As recently as July 6, there were only two new cases of COVID-19 in the Niagara Region. For Hirji, that means the Region has a handle on the pandemic and he is reluctant to have potential Delta variant cases freely crossing the border.

But for Diodati, other local political figures and a large group of Niagara businesses, the low numbers mean it’s time to get back to business.

Groups such Niagara Falls Tourism and the Canadian Gaming Association were all willing to put their names into the combined efforts to get the border reopened. In a joint statement, they urged Ottawa to reopen the border, saying another summer of blocked tourism could spell the end for many Niagara Falls businesses.

“Now is the time for immediate action, as many beloved Niagara Falls attractions are in danger of permanent closure,” the group said in a joint statement.

Added Diodati in a statement, “It is not just a priority for our sector, but a dire situation for Canadian border cities that a plan be put in place, that relies on science, to open the border, safely, now.”

Both sides will now have to wait for Ottawa’s decision, which will likely be announced early next week.

(Photos of Dr. Mustafa Hirji, left, and Jim Diodati courtesy of Niagara Region)

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