By James McCarten
The Canadian Press

Washington: Canada and the United States are now widely expected to extend their mutual ban on non-essential cross-border travel as COVID-19 destroys President Donald Trump’s hopes for a quick end to America’s public-health nightmare.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to “discretionary” travel like vacations and shopping trips since the pandemic took hold of the continent in mid-March, a rolling 30-day agreement that’s currently set to expire July 21.

Officials on both sides of the border who are familiar with the ongoing talks, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters not yet public, say another extension until late August is all but inevitable, thanks to a towering wave of new COVID-19 cases that’s swamping efforts to restore a modicum of normality in the U.S.

New York Rep. Brian Higgins, one of several members of Congress from northern states keen to see a plan for reopening the border, expressed dismay Tuesday at news he called disappointing but hardly surprising.

“With no leadership from President Trump to address the pandemic, cases in the United States are spiking and as a result U.S. citizens are not welcome in several countries around the globe, including many of our allies,” Higgins, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Recent calls from Higgins and others for a plan to start easing border restrictions have been greeted with social-media scorn and derision in Canada, where recent polls make clear the idea of allowing entry to Americans any time soon is a non-starter.

The novel coronavirus has been particularly resurgent in southern states like Florida, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana, where businesses tried to reopen early, contrary to the advice of public health officials, and the wearing of face masks became a partisan issue.

“The U.S. and Canada should be developing a plan that lays out what continued, nuanced management of the border during a prolonged pandemic will look like,” Higgins said.

“But the administration’s failure to develop a national plan for widespread testing, (personal protective equipment) distribution and the rejection of social distancing and mask-wearing to slow the spread doesn’t inspire confidence that such a plan is in the works.”

Wearing a mask, perhaps the simplest way to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, has evolved into one of the most complex and flummoxing points of division in the U.S., thanks in part to conflicting signals early in the crisis about its effectiveness and the obvious reluctance of the commander-in-chief to embrace the idea.