Mexico cheers imminent U.S. border opening, frets over WHO vaccine rules

·3-min read
U.S. Border Patrol officers walk along the perimeter fence near the International Bridge between Mexico and the U.S., where migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. are waiting to be processed, in Del Rio

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico's president on Wednesday hailed a U.S. decision to open their shared border in November after more than 18 months of pandemic restrictions, though millions of Mexicans inoculated with Chinese and Russian vaccines face being shut out.

The world's busiest land border, where nearly a million people crossed each day before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020.

"The opening of the northern border has been achieved, we are going to have normality," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told his daily morning news conference.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard added the United States would determine the exact date, but that it would be in early November.

With the United States planning to permit entry only to visitors inoculated with vaccines authorized by the World Health Organization (WHO), Lopez Obrador urged WHO to approve all other COVID-19 vaccines in public use.

"The WHO must act correctly, without political or ideological tendencies, sticking to the science," Lopez Obrador said, in reference to slower certification for Russian and some Chinese vaccines.

The closure of the 1,954-mile (3,144-km) border dealt a blow to businesses on both side of the frontier. In Texas border counties alone, the loss of Mexican shoppers and visitors caused around $4.9 billion in lost GDP in 2020, a report by the Baker Institute calculated.

More than 950,000 people entered the United States from Mexico on foot or in cars on a typical day, according to 2019 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency data.

VACCINATED AGAIN

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier said U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico would reopen in November for fully vaccinated travelers. U.S. officials last week said international visitors will need to be inoculated with U.S. or WHO-authorized vaccines.

This poses a problem for Mexico, which has inoculated millions of people with Russia's Sputnik V and China's Cansino - neither of which is WHO-approved.

Mexico has signed agreements for Sputnik to inoculate another 12 million people, and Cansino, another 35 million people, according to the foreign ministry.

Sergio Flores, who lives in the northern border state of Baja California and often crosses into the United States with his family, said he first got the Cansino jab because it was the only option.

Then he saw rumours on social media that he would not be able to cross the border with the Chinese formula, and went to the United States to look for an alternative.

"I went to get the other one, Pfizer, it was the first thing that came to mind," he said.

Foreign minister Ebrard said the border reopening will coincide with a push to reactivate economic activities in the frontier region, where Mexico has strived to bring vaccination rates in line with the United States.

He said high-level bilateral economic meetings in November will focus on the border area, and other meetings in the coming days will work out details of the reopening.

Mexico had been strongly pushing Washington for the reopening, including laying out proposals during a visit by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Ebrard added.

The United States "accepted many proposals that we made along the way to achieve this", Ebrard said, without giving details.

(Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Bernadette Baum)

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