The border crossing between the U.S. and Canada in Houlton. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — The United States extended the closure to Canada to at least May 21 late Monday, continuing the more than year-long travel ban across the world’s largest land border due to COVID-19 concerns.

The move, announced by the Department of Homeland Security, came just two days before the expiration date of April 21 for the ban on non-essential travel. The U.S. has renewed the restrictions every month since the border first closed in March 2020.

“These restrictions will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. EDT on May 21, 2021,” the DHS said in a statement released late on April 19. “We are maintaining cross-border activities with Canada and Mexico that support health security, trade, commerce, supply security and other essential activities while taking critical steps to protect our citizens and to curb spread of the virus.”

The move comes as Canada has had a surge of COVID-19 cases, particularly in the province of Ontario, which reported more than 4,000 new cases Monday. Canada’s vaccination rate has been slower than in the United States, with 24 percent of its population receiving just one dose of a vaccine, compared to more than 40 percent in the United States.

Although Canada has allowed family members of Canadian citizens and people holding dual citizenship to enter Canada followed by a mandatory quarantine period, the province of New Brunswick, located on the border with Maine, has barred family members from traveling and allowed only essential workers to travel. New Brunswick has had some of the lowest COVID-19 case counts amongst Canadian provinces, as well as some of the tightest restrictions.

With the extension, the border closure will last at least one year and two months, an unprecedented amount of time between the two countries that traditionally have had an open border policy. Debates have stirred in both Ottawa and Washington on whether a “vaccine passport” would be required in order to reopen the border.