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Monday, August 2, 2021

Border shutdown hits both roads and airports

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Passengers wait at Benito Juarez airport of Mexico City while wearing face masks as a preventive measurement against the spread of coronavirus on Friday. Photo: Getty

Friday’s shutdown of the U.S.-Mexico border applies to both land and air travel between the two countries, said a representative of the Mexican embassy.

The United States and Mexico formally terminated all nonessential travel in response to fears over the growing coronavirus pandemic. For flyers, ticket holders are advised to contact their airline before heading to the airport.

This leaves thousands of Americans stranded overseas, in multiple countries.

The travel restriction expands upon a number of recent efforts to contain the coronavirus infection rate among the U.S. population, which has seen a spike in recent cases over the past few days. Canada implemented a similar border restriction with the United States on March 18, limiting travel between the two countries to situations of absolute necessity.

U.S. President Trump began banning all foreign travelers arriving from Europe’s Schengen Area countries beginning March 14, which was extended to include the United Kingdom and Ireland on March 16.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a press briefing Friday that the agency is using “all of the tools we can” to bring Americans home, including a combination of commercial and private flights, and is talking to the Pentagon about using space on military aircraft.

He said the state has put together a “repatriation task force” which is working on reports from individual citizens and members of Congress, and is urging stranded travelers to log in to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

“We’ll track you and try to get everybody back,” he said.

The first flights out of Morocco, which closed its borders on March 14, started Friday morning, according to the U.S. embassy there. U.S. citizens are able to hop a flight from Marrakesh for $1,485. The flights will stop in London before landing in 10 different U.S. cities.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard on Friday said Mexico was resisting U.S. requests to suspend flights from some of the worst-hit coronavirus regions, but that talks were ongoing.

Stranded Americans — citizens and legal permanent residents only — must sign up by emailing MoroccoEvac@state.gov.

Others, tired of waiting for the U.S. government to act, took matters into their own hands, in some cases crossing over the border from Guatemala into Mexico to catch flights that are still operating.

Two people stuck in Guatemala, which has also closed its borders to flights, said that they had purchased tickets from Avianca this week which were canceled, and that the airline had ignored their calls afterward.

One group, who found each other online, had given up on the U.S. embassy and were discussing how to get rides to Tapachula Airport in southern Mexico.

They’ve been sharing information in a group chat about where to cross the border, how to get a reliable ride, and how much the trip costs — including both paying a driver and the possibility of having to pay off Mexican customs officers.

With information from Politico, Reuters.

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