The US Administration extended the closure of land crossings with Canada and Mexico to non-essential travel like tourism until August 21, even as officials debate whether travelers must have taken the COVID-19 vaccine.
After the COVID-19 pandemic imposed a 16-month restriction that many businesses have deemed debilitating, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Monday that it would begin allowing fully vaccinated US visitors in on Aug. 9 for non-essential travel.
“We rely on the advice of our health and medical experts, not on the behavior of other nations,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, denying to provide a timeline for when the administration may relax travel restrictions that keep much of the world out of the country.
According to sources knowledgeable on the topic, one challenging question for President Joe Biden’s administration is whether to follow Canada’s approach and compel all visitors to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before entering the United States.
According to the sources, the White House is planning a new round of high-level meetings this week to discuss the travel restrictions and the possibility of forcing COVID-19 vaccines for visitors, but no decisions have been taken.
The study comes as US officials become increasingly concerned about the Delta variant. COVID-19 infections and deaths have increased significantly in the United States, with outbreaks occurring in areas with low immunization rates.
Last month, the White House formed interagency working groups with the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico to examine ways to eventually ease travel and border restrictions.
Asked on Friday about when the United States would lift European travel restrictions, Biden said he would “be able to answer that question to you within the next several days — what is likely to happen.”
Businesses in Canada and the United States, particularly the travel and airline industries, have pushed for an end to restrictions on non-essential travel between the two countries, which were imposed in March 2020, early in the pandemic.
Since then, the land border has remained closed to all non-essential travel. The United States has allowed Canadians to fly in, although they must first receive a negative COVID-19 test, as do nearly all U.S.-bound international air travelers. Canada has not allowed Americans to do the same.
Travelers crossing U.S. land borders on essential business do not need negative COVID-19 tests.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, a business group, criticized the latest U.S. extension. The chamber’s chief executive, Perrin Beatty, said the U.S. move “flies in the face of both science and the most recent public health data.”
“It’s hard to see how allowing fully vaccinated Canadians to enter the U.S. poses a public health threat when travel within the U.S. is unrestricted,” Beatty added.
Since March 2020, the US has proceeded to increase the limitations on Canada and Mexico on a monthly basis.
Airlines and others have pushed Biden’s administration to relax limitations that apply to most non-US individuals who have recently visited the United Kingdom, the 26 European Union countries with no border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran, and Brazil.
The land border limitations in the United States do not prevent U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents from returning to the country. DHS said it could seek to change or eliminate the limits before Aug. 21, as it has in previous extensions.