‘No words’: As COVID-19 travel ban lifts, a grandmother meets her grandson

By Julia Harte and Kate Holton

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Tears flowed, airline officials applauded, and cameras flashed as 1-year-old Kai Patel met his grandmother for the first time on Monday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

After months https://www.reuters.com/world/the-great-reboot/grandmother-grandson-finally-meet-us-flights-reopen-2021-11-05 of only being able to talk to her grandson via FaceTime, Bhavna Patel was elated to be hugging Kai and holding his hands as he toddled around the terminal.

“There’s no words,” she said, wiping her eyes. “How can you describe this feeling?”

Bhavna Patel and her daughter Bindiya were two of the passengers on BA001, the first New York-bound British Airways flight leaving Heathrow after the United States lifted COVID-19 restrictions https://www.reuters.com/world/us/international-travellers-head-united-states-flights-reopen-2021-11-08 that have barred much of the world from entering for over 20 months.

Then-President Donald Trump imposed the first COVID-19-related restrictions for air travelers from China who were non-U.S. citizens in January 2020. The ban was extended to dozens of other countries afterwards.

The British flag carrier marked the moment of the reopening with a first flight reserved for friends and families separated during the pandemic.

For nearly two years, the unprecedented restrictions have prevented families from gathering in person to celebrate weddings, grieve at funerals, or meet new babies.

Kai’s father, Kushal, said the most painful part of the pandemic for him was not being able to introduce his son to his sister and mother sooner.

Asked what the family planned to do during Bhavna and Bindiya’s 10-day visit, Kushal Patel said he was going to “let them hug Kai as much as possible,” for starters.

“We’re trying to make up for a whole year of not getting to see each other,” he said.

Bhavna Patel agreed that all she wanted to do for the next week and a half was “sit and look” at her grandson.

“I have other relatives in New York, but I said, ‘these ten days are just for him,’” she said, gazing fondly at Kai.

(Reporting by Julia Harte, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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