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Pure joy: U.S reopens to international travel and emotional reunions

Parents held children born while they were stuck abroad. Long-separated couples kissed, and grandparents embraced grandchildren who had doubled in age. Is there anything more heartfelt right now than watching loved ones reunite the world over?

Parents held children born while they were stuck abroad. Long-separated couples kissed, and grandparents embraced grandchildren who had doubled in age. Is there anything more heartfelt right now than watching loved ones reunite the world over?

The U.S. fully reopened to many more vaccinated international travellers on Monday, allowing more families and friends to reunite for the first time since the coronavirus emerged and offering a boost to the travel industry decimated by the pandemic. The restrictions closed the U.S. to millions of people for 20 months.

Octavio Alvarez and his 14-year-old daughter zipped through a pedestrian crossing in San Diego in less than 15 minutes on their way to visit his mother-in-law in California.

“It’s a big feeling,” said Alvarez, 43, who lives in Ensenada, Mexico, a two-hour drive from San Diego. Prior to the pandemic, his family would visit California twice a month. The emotional cost of the border restrictions was “very high,” he added.

American citizens and permanent residents were always allowed to enter the U.S., but the travel bans grounded tourists, thwarted business travellers and often keep families far apart. Travellers must have proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test.

“I think a lot of people have been waiting for this day,” said Eileen Bigelow, area port director for Vermont for Customs and Border Protection. “They look at it as a light at the end of the tunnel for some return of normalcy.”

JFK Airport. Pic: British Airways

There were lots of prolonged hugs at airports from coast to coast. At Newark International Airport in New Jersey, Nirmit Shelat repeatedly embraced his girlfriend, Jolly Dave, after she arrived from India, ending their nine-month separation. She was on the first flight out of the country to the United States.

“I can’t even explain in my words how happy I am,” Dave said.

Gaye Camara, who lives in France, last saw her husband in New York in January 2020, not knowing it would be 21 months before they could hold each other again.

“I’m going to jump into his arms, kiss him, touch him,” said Camara, 40, as she wheeled her luggage through Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, where the humming crowds resembled those before the pandemic, except for the face masks.

JFK Airport. Pic: British Airways

Airlines are preparing for a surge in activity – especially from Europe – after the pandemic and resulting restrictions caused international travel to plunge.

The 28 European countries that were barred made up 37% of overseas visitors in 2019, according to the U.S. Travel Association. As the reopening takes effect, carriers are increasing flights between the United Kingdom and the U.S. by 21% this month over last month, according to data from travel and analytics firm Cirium.

In a sign of the huge importance of trans-Atlantic travel for airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic celebrated the reopening by synchronizing the departures of their early morning flights to New York on parallel runways at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Maria Giribet, 74, who lives on the Mediterranean isle of Majorca was headed to San Francisco where she planned to “suffocate” her twin grandchildren with hugs after missing half their lives. Gabriel and David are now 3.

The U.S. will accept travellers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the shots approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the U.S. That’s a relief for many in Canada, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is widely used.

But millions of people around the world who were vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s CanSino or other shots not approved by the WHO will not be able to travel to the U.S.

Testing and quarantine requirements remained obstacles for others. A mobile testing truck was parked near the Peace Bridge in New York, promising results in 30 minutes for US$225 and next-day results for US$160.

Via AAP