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Performers engage with travellers in London on November 8, 2021, as they queue to check into Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines flights at Heathrow Airport Terminal 3, following the lifting of restrictions on the entry of non-US citizens to the United States imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19. Image Credit: REUTERS

New York: Long lines formed at border crossings on Monday as the United States reopened to foreign visitors vaccinated against COVID-19, ending 20 months of 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 before dawn as they sought eagerly anticipated reunions with family members and friends.

At airports in Europe, passengers queued excitedly to board planes bound for American cities, while those entering the country by land - some seen lugging suitcases and pushing bag-filled strollers under the watchful eyes of border patrol agents - were greeted by 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.

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People queue to check into Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines flights at Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 on Monday.
Explainers: What are the requirements?
All adult foreign nationals travelling to the US must be fully vaccinated before boarding their flight. Like before, travellers will still have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure to the US.
The airlines are required to verify vaccine records and match them against ID, and if they don’t, they could face fines of up to nearly $35,000 per violation.
Airlines will also collect information about passengers for contact tracing efforts. There will be CDC workers spot-checking travellers for compliance in the US. At land borders, Customs and Border Protection agents will check vaccine proof.
Yes, with some exceptions. Children under 18 don’t need to be vaccinated but they do need to take a COVID test. Kids 2 and younger are exempt from testing requirements.
Since half the world remains unvaccinated, and vaccine distribution has been so skewed to rich countries, the Biden administration is leaving a loophole for people who live in countries where vaccines are scarce. That list includes about 50 countries where fewer than 10% of people have been vaccinated. Travellers from those countries will need permission from the US government to come, and it can’t be just for tourism or business travel. The US government says it will permit unvaccinated international visitors to enter the country if there is a humanitarian or emergency reason, such as an emergency medical evacuation. Those exceptions will be applied ``extremely narrowly’’ and require approval from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. There could also be a medical exception, with documentation from a doctor.
Americans who are unvaccinated have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of international travel. If you’re vaccinated, you need to take a test within three days of your departure, for both Americans and citizens of other countries. This does not apply to flights within the US
That’s up to airlines. They will have to verify vaccine records and match them against ID, and if they don’t, they could face fines of up to nearly $35,000 per violation. Airlines will also collect information about passengers for contact tracing efforts. There will be CDC workers spot-checking travellers for compliance in the US
Most but not all of them. Any COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, which include the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines used in the US as well as most used overseas, such as AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac. Not currently allowed is Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which is authorized in 70 countries. The WHO is reviewing Sputnik but hasn’t approved it.
The land borders have only been open for “essential” travel. Now, anyone can come, if they’re vaccinated against COVID. Be prepared to show proof of the shot to Customs and Border Protection agents. Children are exempt from the requirement.
While the administration is characterizing this as a reopening, some people who were technically allowed to fly to the US earlier in the pandemic are now blocked because of their vaccination status. Other roadblocks to normal travel resuming are big delays in issuing US visas, which people in most countries need to visit the US for business and tourism, and restrictions in other countries that make travel difficult.
Even though people coming from China will now be allowed into the US, for example, not many are expected to travel because of restrictions at home. Before the pandemic, Chinese tourists were a lucrative market for the US travel industry.
Industry experts do expect a big influx in people flying from Europe, and hope that a broader recovery in travel follows as more people globally get vaccinated, US visa processing speeds up, other countries lift their own restrictions and people feel less scared about getting COVID because of travel.

Trump initially closed US borders to China travelers in February, 2020.

A month later he extended the ban to large swathes of the world, including the European Union, Britain, India and Brazil, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Overland visitors from Mexico and Canada were also banned.

Larger planes

At Frankfurt airport in Germany, Hans Wolf was queueing at the check-in counter, visibly moved, bound for Houston to visit his son whom he had not seen in two years.

“We booked the first flights in March and had since then rebooked I think 28 times, and spent so much money in between that this flight must really be profitable now,” he said.

At London Heathrow Airport, two planes from rivals British Airways and Virgin Atlantic heading to New York took off at the same time from parallel runways to mark the occasion.

To cope with surging demand, airlines have increased the number of transatlantic flights and plan to use larger planes.

Dollar shortages

Along the US-Mexico border, many cities have faced economic struggles due to anti-Covid trade restrictions.

Reflecting widespread anticipation of the reopening, currency exchange centers in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez were hit by a shortage of dollars.

The Ciudad Juarez government has implemented a special system to direct traffic, with 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.

Before sunrise, passenger cars and motor homes lined up on Rainbow Bridge straddling the border at Niagara Falls.

But the cost of PCR tests that 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.”

Some restrictions remain

Lifting the travel ban will affect more than 30 countries, but entry into the United States will not be unregulated.

US authorities plan to closely monitor travelers’ vaccination status and will still require them to present negative Covid tests.

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A passenger with her family and friends takes a selfie at the Terminal 3 of the IGI Airport on Monday to board a flight for London, on way to the US. Image Credit: PTI

The reopening 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.

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.

Europe’s rising cases

Washington has yet to comment on Europe’s recent COVID caseload increase.

The WHO has 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.

But many, including House Republican Elise Stefanik whose New York district borders Canada, expressed a sense of relief at the US reopening.

“Finally, the day we have been waiting for,” she said in a video statement.

“We have worked hard on a bipartisan basis, and while this is far too late, November 8th is here and we want to make sure that this border re-opening is as smooth as possible.”