The U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed at land and ferry crossings for at least another month as the pandemic continues to pose a threat to “human life or national interests,” federal officials said Wednesday.
Any movement between the U.S. and its neighbors will be limited to “essential travel” only until Aug. 21, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a draft notice set to be published Thursday. The restrictions have been in place since March 2020, when the deadly outbreak of COVID-19 officially became a global pandemic.
The announcement comes just a day after Canada said it would finally allow fully vaccinated travelers, including Americans, to visit the country for the first time in more than a year. The air travel ban is set to be lifted on Aug. 9 for U.S. citizens and permanent residents and Sept. 7 for those from other countries.
But officials in the U.S., Canada and Mexico have “mutually determined” that nonessential travel at their land and ferry crossings “poses additional risk of transmission and spread of the virus associated with COVID-19 and places the populace of both nations at increased risk of contracting the virus,” according to the DHS notice.
The agency said sustained transmission of the virus and the risk of new variants would also place its staff in each port of entry at risk of contracting COVID-19.
The number of new infections and deaths in the U.S. has been ticking up in recent days, especially in states with low vaccination rates.
In Mexico, where only 17% of the population is fully vaccinated, the virus has killed more than 1,500 people in the past seven days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Canada, meanwhile, has seen a drop in infections and deaths as more than half of its population is now fully vaccinated.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has said that if there was no bilateral agreement to reopen the border for vaccinated travelers announced by Wednesday, July 21, which was when the closure agreement was set to end, American officials should change the definition of essential travel to include vacation travel, tourism and patronizing businesses. That redefinition would only apply to people crossing into the U.S. from Canada.
“As Canada prepares to further open the border next month, the United States is failing to reciprocate, jeopardizing an already tenuous recovery for thousands of businesses, families, and communities across Upstate New York,” the senator said in a prepared statement upon learning the U.S. was extending its border closure. “It is critical for the United States to level the playing field and create a uniform system, following the science and data, to safely — and finally — reopen the border for those vaccinated, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that happens as swiftly as possible.”