‘Open for business:’ U.S. welcomes first travellers as COVID travel curbs are lifted


United States lifts travel restrictions
Ban had halted tourism since start of pandemic
Travellers must be vaccinated against COVID-19
LONDON/CHICAGO, Nov 8 (Reuters) – Packed intercontinental flights touched down and people embraced relatives at land borders on Monday after the United States lifted restrictions imposed on travellers from much of the world when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The travel ban, first imposed in early 2020, had barred access to non-U.S. citizens travelling from 33 countries – including China, India and much of Europe – and had also restricted overland entry from Mexico and Canada.

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“Today America is open for business. That is our message to the world,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Reuters in an interview at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

Jez Cartwright, 49, was one of the first passengers off BA001, the first British Airways flight to land at JFK airport from London’s Heathrow airport.

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“It’s brilliant to be on a full plane again,” he said.

Earlier, on the other side of the Atlantic, travellers boarding planes at airports in Frankfurt, Paris and London said they were eager to reunite with family and friends.

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“I was meant to go just before COVID happened, and obviously it’s been delayed this long, so it’s really exciting to finally be able to go,” Alice Keane, travelling to Miami to see her sister, said at London’s Heathrow airport.

Months of pent-up demand triggered a major spike in bookings on Monday, with travellers only required to show official proof of vaccination and a recent, negative viral test.

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No major issues at airports were flagged in an early morning call between airlines and U.S. government officials.

The flights were full, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said on what he called a “major day of celebration,” while passenger volume was expected to remain high in coming weeks with the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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U.S. land borders also reopened to non-essential travel on Monday.

In Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, across from the Texan city of El Paso, a line of about 20 people formed early before crossing and embracing family on the other side of the border, a Reuters witness said. One of the people hadn’t seen their relatives in El Paso since March 2020.