US expects surge of vaccinated visitors as it opens photo reuters
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US expects surge of vaccinated visitors as it opens

Nov 8, 2021, 7:57 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Columnist

As the United States finally reopens its borders after suffering a wave of Covid-19 infections, passengers entering via land and air are warned to expect lengthy delays at border checkpoints as strict controls are implemented to prevent yet another surge in cases.

The United States is expecting a flood of international visitors crossing its borders by air and by land on Monday after lifting travel restrictions for much of the world's population first imposed in early 2020 to address the spread of Covid-19.

United Airlines is expecting about 50 percent more total international inbound passengers compared to last Monday when it had about 20,000, Reuters reported.

Delta Airlines Chief Executive Ed Bastian has warned travelers should be prepared for initial long lines.

"It's going to be a bit sloppy at first. I can assure you, there will be lines," Bastian said, adding that "we'll get it sorted out."

Delta said in the six weeks since the US reopening was announced it has seen a 450 percent increase in international point-of-sale bookings versus the six weeks prior to the announcement.

White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said on Twitter, "As we expect high demand when the US lifts its existing air and land travel restrictions Monday, we are taking critical steps to be prepared by providing additional resources."

The Biden administration has held multiple calls with US airlines to prepare for the influx of additional travelers that will begin arriving at U.S. airports and has warned travelers crossing from Canada and Mexico by land or ferry to be prepared for longer waits starting Monday.

For Bhavna Patel, a flight from London will take her to New York on Monday to see her first grandchild after more than a year of watching him grow via FaceTime.

The rules have barred most non-US citizens who within the prior 14 days have been in 33 countries -- the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, China, India, South Africa, Iran, Brazil, Britain and Ireland.

Trade group US Travel said the countries accounted for 53 percent of all overseas visitors to the United States in 2019 and border communities were hit hard by the loss of tourists crossing from Mexico and Canada.

The group estimates the reduction in international visitation "resulted in nearly $300 billion in lost export income" since March 2020.

US airlines are boosting flights to Europe and other destinations that were impacted by the restrictions. Airlines are planning events on Monday with executives meeting some of the first flights.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and United Airlines President Brett Hart are holding an event at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport Monday to mark the reopening. U.S. officials plan an Instagram live chat on November 9 to help answer questions.

Many international flights are expected to operate near full or full on Monday, with high passenger volume throughout the following weeks.

Airlines will check vaccination documentation for international travelers as they currently do for Covid-19 test results.

At land border crossings, US Customs and Border Protection will ask if travelers have been vaccinated and spot check some documentation.

Children under 18 are exempt from the new vaccine requirements.

Non-tourist travelers from nearly 50 countries with nationwide vaccination rates of less than 10 percent will also be eligible for exemption.

Also starting Monday, new contact tracing rules will take effect requiring airlines to collect information from international air passengers if needed "to follow up with travelers who have been exposed to Covid-19 variants or other pathogens."

The Agence France Presse also reported that the travel ban, imposed by former president Donald Trump in 2020 and upheld by his successor Joe Biden has been criticized and become emblematic of the uphevals caused by the pandemic.

The restrictions were particularly unpopular in Europe and US neighbors Canada and Mexico to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

US borders were closed after March 2020 to travelers from large parts of the world, including the European Union, Britain and China, India and Brazil. Overland visitors from Mexico and Canada were also banned.

The months of restrictions affecting hundreds of millions of people helped fuel both personal and economic suffering brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It's been so hard," Alison Henry, 63, told AFP. "I just want to see my son."

The British woman plans to fly Monday to see her son in New York, after 20 months of separation.

Families on both sides of the Atlantic are eager to reunite with their loved ones.

Although travel from the United States to Europe has been possible since the summer, foreign US residents holding certain visas have had no guarantee of re-entry.

To cope with surging demand, airlines have increased the number of transatlantic flights and plan to use larger planes, as they work their way out of the pandemic crisis.

Along the border with Mexico, many cities in the US states of Texas and California have faced economic struggles due to anti-Covid trade restrictions.

Authorities in Mexican border cities warned Sunday there would be long lines at crossings.

The reopening also caused a shortage of dollars in currency exchange centers in Ciudad Juarez.

The Ciudad Juarez government has implemented a special system to direct traffic, including installing portable toilets on the three bridges crossing into the United States "as waiting times of up to four hours are estimated," said the local director of road safety, Cesar Alberto Tapia.

In the United States' northern neighbor, seniors will be able to resume their annual trips to Florida to escape the bitter Canadian winters.

But the cost of PCR tests Canada requires for cross-border travel -- up to $250 -- can be prohibitive.

Ann Patchett, an Ontario resident, told the Ottawa Citizen it will cost $500 for her and her husband to go south to visit family.

"Do you want to hug your children? Do you want to tuck your grandchildren into bed?" she asked. "It's very frustrating."

New York congressman Brian Higgins, whose district touches the Canadian border and includes the US side of Niagara Falls, plans to hold a news conference Monday with mayors from both countries to urge Canada to drop its testing requirement.

Restrictions remain

Lifting the travel ban will affect more than 30 countries, but entry into the United States will not be totally unregulated: US authorities plan to closely monitor travelers' vaccination status and will still require them to present negative Covid-19 tests.

The United States, from Monday, will require air passengers to be fully vaccinated and be tested within three days before travel.

Airlines will be required to put in place a contact tracing system.

The land border opening will happen in two phases.

Starting Monday, vaccines will be required for "non-essential" trips -- such as family visits or tourism -- although unvaccinated travelers will still be allowed into the country for "essential" trips, as they have been for the last year and a half.

A second phase, beginning in early January, will require all visitors to be fully vaccinated to enter the United States by land, no matter the reason for their trip.

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

Washington has not yet commented on Europe's recent Covid-19 case increase.

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

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday on ABC he's "cautiously optimistic about where we are," while adding: "We can't take our foot off the accelerator until we're at the finish line."

But in Berlin, 51-year-old Elisabeth Zours is ready to hit the road.

A lifelong Rolling Stones fan, Zours had to miss a St. Louis show by the rock supergroup in September due to Covid-19 restrictions and was "frustrated" by the slow US reopening.

Now she plans to make up for lost time. "I've got tickets for four (US) concerts," she said.

Tags: #airtravel, #UnitedStates, #Covid19, #travelrestrictions


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