After more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden administration announced it will extend US restrictions on non-essential travel for Mexico and Canada through August 21. 

The extension of travel curbs for the country’s southern and northern borders has been criticized, especially since such restrictions have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic. The only exceptions to the travel restrictions are US citizens, people traveling for schooling or medical reasons, permanent residents, and trade. 

However, Canada has since announced it is reopening its borders to fully vaccinated American citizens, prompting many to question the wisdom of the extension.

Continued transmissions, Delta variant 

Following high-level meetings with US officials, the Biden administration stood firm that there is due cause to extend travel restrictions. Specifically, health officials warned about continuous transmissions and the dangers posed by the Delta variant. At present, data reveal substantial increases in COVID-19 infections and deaths occurring in areas with poor vaccination rates.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) explained that despite “positive developments,” safeguards are still needed given the global threat posed by the highly contagious Delta variant. Some of the improvements noted in recent weeks are the increasing number of vaccinations in the US and the downgrading of both Mexico and Canada by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from Level 4 or very high risk to Level 3 or high risk. 

Still, the DHS has expressed that they are working together with their Mexican and Canadian counterparts to carve a trajectory by which these travel restrictions can be relaxed “safely and sustainably.” For now, travel curbs to these two countries will be effective until August 21, unless otherwise amended or revoked.

Trusting the guidance of health experts

Criticisms have been hurled at the travel restrictions extension. 

Business groups such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce considered the move ill-founded. Its head, Perrin Beatty, described the extension as one that “flies in the face of both science and the most recent public health data.”

Beatty went on to say that it is difficult to understand how fully vaccinated Canadians pose a threat to public health when entering US borders when traveling within the US is not curbed.

Canada has allowed fully vaccinated Americans into its borders beginning August 9, following a 16-month ban that hurt businesses. Meanwhile, US and Canadian airline and travel industries have echoed each other’s calls to reopen the borders and end the restrictions.

In particular, they have asked for restrictions to be lifted on non-US citizens coming from countries such as Britain, 26 European Union nations that have no border controls, Ireland, South Africa, Iran, China, India, and Brazil.

Still, the White House remained firm on its decision to extend. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the move was made with the “guidance of our health and medical experts” and not hinged on other countries’ actions. Furthermore, Psaki declined to state a timetable for a possible easing of travel restrictions.