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Tears, relief as US reopens borders after 20 months

UK to allow travellers vaccinated with Covaxin from India from Nov 22

Indian travellers arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport via an Air India flight from New Delhi after the US re-opened travel for fully vaccinated people, in New Jersey. (PTI)

The first transatlantic travellers in more than 20 months touched down in the US late on Monday as the US opened its borders to fully vaccinated visitors, lifting covid-19 restrictions that had separated families and put a halt to tourism and business travel. 

At airports, land borders and other US ports of entry, relatives hugged for the first time since the novel coronavirus swept the globe and international borders were closed in February 2020.

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At Newark's Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, a state that's home to many Indian families, parents, children and siblings laughed and wept as they were reunited. “My Lady Luck is back,” Nirmit Shelat told The New York Times as he waited for his girlfriend Jolly Dave, who had travelled to Gujarat in early 2020 to spend time with her parents, and had to remain there as the covid-19 outbreak restricted travel. “You can make daily calls, stay connected by FaceTime, but you want to experience her fingers, her touch, her kiss,” he said.

Meanwhile, the UK government has said that India's Covaxin will be added to its list of approved covid-19 vaccines for international travellers from November 22, reports PTI. This means that those who have taken the Bharat Biotech-manufactured vaccine will not have to self-isolate after arrival in the UK. The move follows the World Health Organisation's Emergency Use Listing for Covaxin, which is the second most used formulation in India. Covishield was added to the UK's approved list last month. The changes will come into effect at 4am on 22 November.

Nations across Europe are considering strategies to confront a new wave of cases. Denmark, which has one of the highest vaccination rates, plans to reintroduce some restrictions to halt a recent spike in cases, having lifted curbs in September.

Virgin Atlantic flight VS3, front, and British Airways flight BA001 perform a synchronised departure on parallel runways at London Heathrow Airport to New York JFK to celebrate the reopening of the transatlantic travel corridor, more than 600 days since the US travel ban was introduced due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 
Virgin Atlantic flight VS3, front, and British Airways flight BA001 perform a synchronised departure on parallel runways at London Heathrow Airport to New York JFK to celebrate the reopening of the transatlantic travel corridor, more than 600 days since the US travel ban was introduced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  (AP)

Closer home, the Hong Kong government has said it needs at least six months before reopening to the world. Hong Kong and China remain the only places still pursuing a “Covid Zero” strategy, reports Bloomberg. 

Scenes of joy at US borders

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 from before dawn for highly anticipated reunions. Those entering through land borders faced hours-long waits, reported AFP.

Smiling passengers from the first European flight to land at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport entered the terminal to cheers and applause. “I just can't believe it, two and half years!” Alison Henry, 63, told AFP after stepping off a flight from London and hugging her son.

Then US president initially closed US borders to travellers from China in February 2020 and extended it to the EU, UK, India, Brazil and other parts of the world in March 2020. US President Joe Biden lifted the ban only on 8 November 2021.

At London's Heathrow Airport, two flights from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic heading to New York took off at the same time from parallel runways to mark the occasion, reports Reuters. To cope with surging demand, airlines have increased the number of transatlantic flights and plan to use larger planes.

Though the travel ban for more than 30 countries has been lifted, US authorities will be monitoring travellers' vaccination status and will require negative covid-19 tests.

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