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First foreign visitors arrive in US after 20-month Covid ban

Ns News Online Desk:Ns News Online Desk: The US reopened its borders Monday after 20 months of travel restrictions — immediately creating wild, miles-long lines of cars waiting to cross over from Canada and Mexico. The severe restrictions, first imposed by the Trump administration in March 2020, had barred access to non-US citizens traveling from 33 countries as well as overland entry from Mexico and Canada.

But starting Monday, fully vaccinated travelers are allowed again, with tourists rushing to make long-delayed trips and overseas family members finally able to reconnect with loved ones.

Unvaccinated travelers are also allowed for “essential” trips, a leeway that will end in January when all visitors need to have been jabbed.

Before sunrise, lines of cars as far as the eye could see were lining up on the US-Mexico border, with the Ciudad Juarez government having to implement a special system to direct the overwhelming surge of traffic.It included portable toilets on the three bridges crossing into the US “as waiting times of up to four hours are estimated,” the local director of road safety, Cesar Alberto Tapia, told Agence France-Presse.

Underscoring the anticipation of the reopening, currency exchange centers in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez were also hit by a shortage of dollars. Meanwhile, similar scenes were occurring in the north too — with seemingly endless lines of passenger cars and motor homes lining up on the Rainbow Bridge between Niagara Falls in Ontario and New York.

River Robinson excitedly planned a US trip to see her American partner, who wasn’t able to be in Canada for the birth of their baby boy 17 months ago.“I’m planning to take my baby down for the American Thanksgiving,” Robinson told the Associated Press. “If all goes smoothly at the border, I’ll plan on taking him down as much as I can.”

Churches on the boundary with Canada that had members on both sides are hoping to welcome parishioners they haven’t seen in nearly two years. In other countries, airlines have increased the number of trans-Atlantic flights and plan to use larger planes to cope with the surge in demand.

At London’s Heathrow Airport, two planes from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic heading to New York took off at the same time from parallel runways, to mark the occasion.Many also lined up at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport ready for flights to the Big Apple, including Gaye Camara, 40, who has not seen her New York-based husband since the restrictions were enforced last year.

“I’m going to jump into his arms, kiss him, touch him,” Camara told the AP.

“Just talking about it makes me emotional,” she said in the bustling airport, saying she had “cried nearly every night” when they were first kept apart.

“I cannot wait … Being with him, his presence, his face, his smile,” she said.Bindiya Patel was also traveling from Paris to New York, where she would finally get to meet her young nephew for the first time. “I think we might just start crying,” Patel said. The changes will be welcomed by many in border towns, which have been economically crippled by the sudden stop of tourism that they relied on.

But it also came amid a historic migrant crisis at the southern border, with recent data obtained by the Washington Post showing more than 1.7 million illegal entrants into the US between October last year and September 2021, the highest ever recorded. Customs and Border Protection will spot-check documentation at the land border crossings from Mexico and Canada, the agency said.

It also comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed “grave concern” over the rising pace of infections in Europe.The US will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the shots approved for emergency use by the WHO — including those not used in the US, such as the AstraZeneca jab given to many in Canada and the UK.

Under-18s are exempt from the new vaccine requirements. Non-tourist travelers from nearly 50 countries with nationwide vaccination rates of less than 10% are also eligible for exemption.

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