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US lifts pandemic travel ban, opens doors to visitors

By The Associated Press
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CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT, France (AP) — The U.S. lifted restrictions Monday on travel from a long list of countries including Mexico, Canada and most of Europe, allowing tourists to make long-delayed trips and family members to reconnect with loved ones after more than a year and a half apart because of the pandemic.

“I’m going to jump into his arms, kiss him, touch him,” Gaye Camara said of the husband in New York she has not seen since before COVID-19 brought the fly-here-there-and-everywhere world to a halt.

“Just talking about it makes me emotional,” Camara, 40, said as she wheeled her luggage through Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, which could almost be mistaken for its pre-pandemic self, busy with humming crowds, albeit in face masks.

The rules that go into effect Monday allow air travel from a series of countries from which it has been restricted since the early days of the pandemic — as long as the traveler has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. Those crossing a land border from Mexico or Canada will require proof of vaccination but no test.

U.S. citizens and permanent residents were always allowed to enter the U.S., but the travel bans grounded tourists, thwarted business travelers and often separated families.

Airlines are now preparing for a surge in travel. Data from travel and analytics firm Cirium showed airlines are increasing flights between the United Kingdom and the U.S. by 21% this month over last month.

When Camara last saw Mamadou, her husband, in January 2020, they had no way of knowing that they’d have to wait 21 months before holding each other again. She lives in France’s Alsace region, where she works as a secretary. He is based in New York.

“It was very hard at the beginning. I cried nearly every night,” she said. “I got through it thanks to him. He knows how to talk to me, to calm me.”

Video calls, text messages, phone conversations kept them connected — but couldn’t fill the void of separation.

“I cannot wait,” she said. “Being with him, his presence, his face, his smile.”

For grandmother Maria Giribet, the apples of her eye are her grandchildren Gabriel and David. The twins are in San Francisco, which during the height of the pandemic might as well have been another planet for 74-year-old Giribet, who lives on the Mediterranean isle of Majorca. Now 3 1/2 going on 4, the boys were half that age when she last saw them.

“I’m going to hug them, suffocate them, that’s what I dream of,” Giribet said after checking in for her flight. A widow, she lost her husband to a lengthy illness before the pandemic and her three grown children all live abroad: a son in Paris, a daughter in Richmond, Virginia, and the twins’ father in San Francisco.

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

The change will also have a profound effect on the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, where traveling back and forth was a way of life until the pandemic hit and the U.S. shut down nonessential travel.

Malls, restaurants and Main Street shops in U.S. border towns have been devastated by the lack of visitors from Mexico. On the boundary with Canada, cross-border hockey rivalries that were community traditions were upended. Churches that had members on both sides of the border are hoping to welcome parishioners they haven't seen in nearly two years.

Loved ones have missed holidays, birthdays and funerals while nonessential air travel was barred, and they are now eager to reconnect.

River Robinson’s American partner wasn’t able to be in Canada for the birth of their baby boy 17 months ago. She was thrilled to hear about the U.S. reopening.

“I’m planning to take my baby down for the American Thanksgiving,” said Robinson, who lives in St. Thomas, Ontario. “If all goes smoothly at the border I’ll plan on taking him down as much as I can.”

The U.S. will accept travelers 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.

The moves come as the U.S. has seen its COVID-19 outlook improve dramatically in recent weeks since the summer delta surge that pushed hospitals to the brink in many locations.

___

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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