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US reopens borders after 20 months of Covid-19 restrictions

US reopens borders after 20 months of Covid-19 restrictions

Anxious travellers and their relatives have rejoiced, wept and breathed sighs of relief 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 on Nov 8 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 (JFK) International Airport 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.

Some restrictions remain

Lifting the travel ban will affect more than 30 countries, but US entry will not be unregulated. Authorities plan to closely monitor travellers’ vaccination status and will still require them to present negative Covid tests.

Starting on Nov 8 vaccines will be required for “non-essential” trips, including family visits or tourism, although unvaccinated travellers will still be allowed in for “essential” trips.

A second phase, beginning in early January, will require all visitors be fully vaccinated to enter by land.

US health authorities have said all vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization (WHO) would be accepted for entry by air.

The WHO meanwhile expressed “grave concern” over the rising pace of infections in Europe, warning that the trajectory could mean “another half a million Covid-19 deaths” by February.