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Tears, relief, long lines as US reopens borders after 20 months of COVID-19 curbs

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People wait to cross a toll bridge to cross the border into the United States at the Thousand Islands Border Crossing in Lansdowne, Ontario, Canada.

US: Anxious travellers and their relatives rejoiced, wept and breathed sighs of relief on Monday (Nov 8) as the United States reopened to vaccinated visitors, ending 20 months of Covid-19 restrictions that separated families, hobbled tourism and strained diplomatic ties.

From Rainbow Bridge at the US-Canada border to Mexico’s Tijuana crossing at San Ysidro, California, cars, motor homes and masked pedestrians clogged entry points from before dawn for eagerly anticipated reunions.

At airports and other US ports of entry, reunited relatives hugged as many met for the first time since the coronavirus swept the globe, leaving more than five million people dead and devastating economies.

Smiling passengers from the first European flight to land under the new rules at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) said it was great to be back as they entered the terminal to cheers and applause.

At airports in Europe, passengers queued excitedly to board planes bound for American cities, while those entering the country by land – some lugging suitcases or pushing bag-filled strollers under the watchful eyes of border patrol agents – faced hours-long wait times.

The ban, imposed by then president Donald Trump in early 2020 and upheld by his successor Joe Biden, had become emblematic of the upheavals caused by the pandemic.

Trump initially closed US borders to China travellers in February last year.

A month later, he extended the ban to large swathes of the world, including the European Union, Britain, India and Brazil, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Overland visitors from Mexico and Canada were also banned.

At Frankfurt airport in Germany, Mr Hans Wolf queued at the check-in counter, visibly moved, bound for Houston to visit his son whom he had not seen in two years.

“We booked the first flights in March and had since then rebooked, I think, 28 times, and spent so much money in between that this flight must really be profitable now,” he said.

At London Heathrow Airport, two planes from rivals British Airways and Virgin Atlantic heading to New York took off at the same time from parallel runways to mark the occasion.

‘No words’: With travel ban lifted, families reunite

To cope with surging demand, airlines have increased the number of transatlantic flights and plan to use larger planes.

Ms Louise Erebara was awaiting at JFK for the arrival of her only sister and brother-in-law.

The women had not seen each other in 730 days, said Ms Erebara, who admitted she would cry hysterically upon seeing her sister.

“It’s been terrible not knowing when we were going to see them again due to Covid, not knowing if the borders would ever going to open,” she told Agence France-Presse. “Today is the day.”

Along the US-Mexico border, many cities have faced economic struggles due to anti-coronavirus trade restrictions.

Reflecting widespread anticipation of the reopening, currency exchange centres in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez were hit by a shortage of dollars.

The Ciudad Juarez government implemented a special system to direct traffic, with portable toilets on the three border bridges and waiting times of up to four hours expected.

In Canada, seniors will be able to resume their annual road trips to Florida to escape the bitter northern winters.

At the Thousand Islands Bridge into New York state, “there has been a wait since 11.30 last night”, Canadian border services worker Scott Carl said as he directed motorists.


People from the Netherlands arriving in the United States.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021 – 01:00

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