Despite incurring losses from absence of Mexican shoppers, merchants leery about lagging vaccination rates south of the border
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 80 percent of Canadians are at least partially vaccinated and that ongoing discussions with U.S. authorities point to the possible resumption of non-essential travel by the middle of next month.
The news is raising hopes of a similar development in the U.S.-Mexico border but, despite intense lobbying from trade and tourism groups, some El Pasoans say they would like to see the restrictions remain in place a little longer.
“I don’t think it’s a good sign at all. It has nothing to do with the border between Mexico and El Paso. It’s a completely different thing. Juarez is a big city, almost 2 million people and the percentage of people vaccinated has been very small,” said Gustavo Tavera, owner of Tee Box on South El Paso Street.
El Paso County is among the leaders in Texas when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination rates. Almost 58% of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated and nearly 79 percent have received at least one shot. But Juarez, its Mexican neighbor across the Rio Grande, as of Monday had only administered shots to 30 percent of its population.
“Maybe (they’re ready) in Canada, but not here,” said the owner of La Bonita, a general merchandise store up the block from Tavera’s clothing shop.
The merchant, who only identified himself as Nicholas, noted that Texas’ COVID-19 vaccination rate stands at 60% while Juarez has not even inoculated half of its population.
“I don’t think either country is stupid enough to reopen without at least half of the population vaccinated … and then you have to consider the Delta variant,” he said.
Both merchants say their sales were cut in half because of the travel restrictions that prevent most of their Mexican clients from coming across. Still, Taveras says health comes before coin.
“The government of Mexico needs to get its act together. They need to distribute vaccines throughout the entire country. Chihuahua is a big state. There’s also Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo. The border is a big, big risk for people in the United States. It works both ways,” he said.
El Paso continues to vaccinate Mexican citizens at the Tornillo port of entry in hopes of boosting regional immunity.
In Juarez, officials say enough people have been vaccinated already.
“It’s incredible how we have increased vaccinations this week. It’s urgent that the border reopens completely. It has been a year and a half already and there is no point in keeping us apart. We are one single region, one single economy,” said Thor Salayandia, president of the Juarez Chamber of Industry and Manufacturing (Canacintra).
Salayandia and other Mexican officials expect the city’s partial vaccination rate to increase to 50 percent after the planned administering of half a million Pfizer shots this week.
“We’re going to have at least 900 of our maquiladora workers protected (after this),” he said.
Also, the industry leader noted the disparity in enforcement of the travel restrictions. Whereas the United States has been diligent in preventing Mexican citizens from trying to cross the border for non-essential purposes, Mexico isn’t checking U.S. citizens coming into the country.
“(Soon) we will be on par with El Paso, so there is no sense in having a sanitary fence in place, which has been ineffective because all U.S. citizens and residents have been crossing the border at will,” he said.
Despite the back and forth, the U.S. government has given no indication so far of an impending rollback of non-essential land travel restrictions. U.S. Customs and Border Protection points out on its website that the restrictions remain in force at least through July 21.