WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States government on Wednesday (July 21) extended the closure of land borders with Canada and Mexico to non-essential travel such as tourism through Aug 21, even as officials debate whether to require visitors to have received a Covid-19 vaccine.
The latest 30-day extension by the Department of Homeland Security came after Canada said on Monday that it would start allowing in fully vaccinated US visitors on Aug 9 for non-essential travel after the Covid-19 pandemic forced a 16-month ban that many businesses have called crippling.
"We rely on the guidance of our health and medical experts, not on the actions of other countries," White House spokesman Jen Psaki said, declining to offer any timetable for when the administration might ease travel restrictions that bar much of the world from the US.
One difficult question for President Joe Biden's administration is whether to follow Canada's lead and require all visitors to be vaccinated for Covid-19 before entering the US, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.
The White House plans a new round of high-level meetings this week to discuss the travel restrictions and the potential of mandating Covid-19 vaccines for visitors, but no decisions have been made, the sources said.
The review comes amid increasing concern among US officials about the Delta variant. US health officials have reported sizeable increases in Covid-19 cases and deaths, with outbreaks occurring in parts of the country with low vaccination rates.
The White House last month launched inter-agency working groups with the European Union, Britain, Canada and Mexico to look at how to lift travel and border restrictions eventually.
When asked last Friday about when the US would lift European travel restrictions, Mr 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 US, 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 US has allowed Canadians to fly in, although they must first receive a negative Covid-19 test, as do nearly all US-bound international air travellers.
Canada has not allowed Americans to do the same.
Travellers crossing US land borders on essential business do not need negative Covid-19 tests.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, a business group, criticised the latest US extension. The chamber's chief executive Perrin Beatty said the US move "flies in the face of both science and the most recent public health data".
Mr Beatty added: "It's hard to see how allowing fully vaccinated Canadians to enter the US poses a public health threat when travel within the US is unrestricted."
The US has continued to extend the restrictions on Canada and Mexico on a monthly basis since March 2020.
Airlines and others have urged Mr Biden's administration to lift restrictions covering most non-US citizens who have recently been in Britain, the 26 nations in Europe without border controls as well as Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
The US land border restrictions do not bar US citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the country. As in prior extensions, the Department of Homeland Security said it could still seek to amend or rescind the restrictions before Aug 21.