Mexico cheers imminent US border opening, frets over WHO Covid-19 vaccine rules

A border bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, south of El Paso in the US state of Texas.
A border bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, south of El Paso in the US state of Texas.PHOTO: REUTERS

MEXICO CITY (REUTERS) - Mexico's president on Wednesday (Oct 13) hailed a US decision to open their shared border next month 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 last year.

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

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

With the US planning to permit entry only to visitors inoculated with vaccines authorised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Mr Lopez Obrador urged the 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," Mr Lopez Obrador said, in reference to slower certification for Russian and some Chinese vaccines.

The closure of the 3,144km 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 US$4.9 billion (S$6.6 billion) in lost gross domestic product last year, a report by the Baker Institute calculated.

More than 950,000 people entered the US from Mexico on foot or in cars on a typical day, according to 2019 data from the US Customs and Border Protection agency.

US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier said US borders with Canada and Mexico would reopen next month for fully vaccinated travellers. US officials last week said international visitors will need to be inoculated with US or WHO-authorised 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 V to inoculate another 12 million people, and CanSino for another 35 million people, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Mr 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 looking for an alternative.

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

Before the pandemic, more than 950,000 people entered the US from Mexico on foot or in cars on a typical day. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr 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 those of the US.

He said high-level bilateral economic meetings next month 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 US Vice-President Kamala Harris, Mr Ebrard added.

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