WASHINGTON – Officials with the Department of Homeland Security on Friday announced that restrictions on nonessential travel across the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico will continue through at least Sept. 21 as part of an ongoing effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In a statement posted on social media, officials said the Department of Homeland Security “continues working closely with its partners across the United States and internationally to determine how to safely and sustainably resume normal travel.”
The land borders with Canada and Mexico have been closed to travel deemed nonessential since March 2020. American citizens, lawful permanent residents and people traveling for medical purposes, school or work are exempt from the restrictions.
Canada reopened its borders to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9.
Lobbyists, lawmakers and others have been pushing for the Biden administration to ease restrictions on nonessential travel as businesses which benefited from cross-border travel struggle to continue surviving the pandemic, according to CNN and The Wall Street Journal.
Rep. Brian Higgins, who represents a part of New York that includes Buffalo and Niagara Falls, has called for a reopening of the U.S.-Canada border. He said the issue is a humanitarian one for families who have been separated by the closure, and an economic one for American businesses that rely on tourism.
“The U.S.-Canadian relationship is integral for our economies and life-quality. The failure to make opening the border the priority that it should be is a huge mistake,” the Democrat and co-chair of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group said Friday in a statement. “It is beyond disappointing; it is hurtful both at a human and economic level.”
Along the southern border, Kenia Zamarripa, executive director of international business affairs at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, told the Journal that 200 businesses have closed in the area due to a lack of business from Mexican tourists. She added that increased scrutiny of travelers coming across the border, aimed at weeding out people making nonessential trips, impacted even more businesses.
“Brokers, warehouses, logistics and cleaning companies have employees from Mexico that can still technically cross, but they’re being impacted by longer wait times,” she told the Journal. “They’re showing up late to work, sometimes a couple hours. Sometimes it’s so long of a wait that they just turn around and just don’t show up.”
Earlier this month, Jeffrey Zients, COVID-19 response coordinator for the White House, said that officials were developing plans “for when we do open travel, how we do it in a consistent and safe way.” He said officials were particularly concerned about the prevalence of the highly transmissible delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
“Part of that planning is a phased approach that foreign nationals traveling to the United States may … need to have some type of a vaccine requirement, but that’s not a decision at this point,” he said at a news conference on Aug. 5. “That’ll be guided, as always, by the science and the public health.”
As of Aug. 7, the last date for which data was available, about 71% of Canadians, or 27.1 million people, had received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose, according to government figures. About 61% of the country’s residents – 23.5 million people – have so far been fully vaccinated.
Officials in Mexico have administered at least 79.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses thus far, although it was not immediately clear how many of those were first doses or how many people were fully vaccinated in the country, Reuters reported.
Across the U.S., about 60% of the population, or 199.8 million people, had received at least one vaccine dose as of Thursday, according to the latest numbers available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials said 169.5 million people have so far been fully vaccinated, amounting to about 51% of the population.
More than 37.2 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the U.S. since the pandemic began, while Mexico has seen 3.1 million cases and Canada has reported 1.4 million cases, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with the most coronavirus cases and the highest number of deaths. More than 625,000 people nationwide have died of the viral infection. In Mexico, officials have identified about 251,000 deaths related to COVID-19, while Canadian officials have identified more than 26,700 virus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
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