Sunday, February 5, 2023

Grandparents wait to hug, spouses reunite as US borders open

by Elliot Spaget and John Leicester

SAN DIEGO (AP) – The United States on Monday fully reopened its borders with Mexico and Canada and lifted travel restrictions that have covered most of Europe, setting the stage for an emotional reunion of nearly two years and promoted the travel industry. from the pandemic.

In the most severe restrictions in American history, families were kept apart, including spouses who haven’t been hugged for months, grandparents whose grandchildren have doubled their age, and uncles and aunts who have nieces. And haven’t met nephew who is now an adult.

Lines moved swiftly at the busiest crossing in the United States, at San Diego’s border with Mexico, despite additional checks for vaccinations required to enter the country.

The new rules also allow air travel to and from a range of countries from which it has been banned since the early days of the pandemic – as long as the traveler has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test.

US citizens and permanent residents were always allowed to enter the US, but travel stifled tourists, failed business travelers and often separated families.

Gaye Camara was already imagining her reunion with her husband, whom she hadn’t seen since COVID-19 brought the fly-here-there-everywhere world to a halt.

“I’m going to jump into his arms, kiss him, touch him,” said 40-year-old Camara as she rolled her luggage through Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, almost mistaken for her pre-pandemic self In which the resonant crowd in face masks is busy.

When Camara last saw him in January 2020, they had no way of knowing that they would have to wait 21 months before they could catch each other again. She lives in the Alsace region of France, where she works as a secretary. He is based in New York.

“In the beginning it was very hard. I used to cry almost every night,” she said.

Video calls, text messages, phone conversations kept them connected – but couldn’t make up for the lack of separation.

“I can’t wait,” she said. “Being with her, her presence, her face, her smile.”

Airlines are preparing for a surge in activity – particularly from Europe – as the pandemic and the resulting restrictions have led to a decline in international travel.

The US Travel Association says the 28 European countries that were banned under US policy accounted for 37% of foreign visitors in 2019. As soon as the reopening takes effect, carriers are increasing flights between the United Kingdom and the US by 21% this month compared to last month, according to data from travel and analytics firm Sirium.

In a sign of the immense importance of trans-Atlantic travel for airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic celebrated the reopening by synchronizing the departures of their morning flights to New York on parallel runways at London’s Heathrow Airport. BA CEO Sean Doyle was on board his company’s plane.

“Together, even as competitors, we have fought for the safe return of the trans-Atlantic journey – and now we celebrate that achievement as a team. Few things one-upmanship And it’s one of those things,” Doyle wrote in a message to customers, noting that the flight had the number that belonged to the supersonic Concorde.

For Martin Kerherway, separation from loved ones in the United States was fueled by anxiety that they might not survive the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people worldwide.

“We told ourselves we could die without seeing each other,” said Kerherway, who was on his way from Paris to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “We’ve all gone through periods of depression, anxiety.”

Before the pandemic, it was a trip Kerherway and his partner, Francis Pasquier, used to do once or twice a year. When they lost it, “we lost our bearing,” Paskier said.

Meanwhile, Maria Giribet has not seen her twin grandchildren Gabriel and David for half her life. Now 3 1/2, the boys are in San Francisco, which during the height of the pandemic may have been another planet for the 74-year-old Giribet, who lives on the Mediterranean island of Majorca.

“I’m going to hug them, suffocate them, that’s what I dream of,” Giribet said after check-in for his flight. A widow, she lost her husband to a prolonged illness before the pandemic and her three grown children live abroad.

“I found myself all alone,” said Giribet, who was flying alone for the first time in her life.

At the US borders with Mexico and Canada, where traveling back and forth was a way of life before the pandemic, the change meant another step towards normalcy.

Malls, restaurants and Main Street shops in US border cities have been devastated by a shortage of visitors from Mexico. On the border with Canada, cross-border hockey rivalries that were community traditions followed. Churches whose members were on either side of the border are hoping to welcome parishioners they haven’t seen in nearly two years.

Rivers Robinson’s American partner was not in Canada for the birth of their child 17 months earlier. She was thrilled to hear about the reopening of America.

“I plan to take my baby downstairs for American Thanksgiving,” said Robinson, who lives in St. Thomas, Ontario. “If everything goes smoothly at the border, I’ll plan to take it down as much as I can.”

“It’s crazy to think he has another side of the family that he just hasn’t got,” she said.

The US will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any shot approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the US. The point is, 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 others who were not cured by the WHO will not be able to travel to the US.

The move comes as the US has seen a dramatic improvement in its COVID-19 outlook in recent weeks as a summer delta surge pushed hospitals to the brink in many places.


Leicester reported from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Associated Press writers Travis Lawler in Nashville, Tennessee, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.


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