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COVID concerns linger in the minds of international travelers

COVID concerns linger in the minds of international travelers
COVID concerns linger in the minds of international travelers 02:03

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's a bittersweet sendoff for one family at San Francisco International Airport after a long-awaited visit from family member Elias Kakai.

"Because of COVID restrictions especially with us in Australia we weren't able to come when we wanted to," Kakai told CBS News Bay Area.

Kakai lives in Melbourne and was finally able to visit his Bay Area family after four years — almost free of COVID concerns. 

"It was always in the back of my mind I kept getting COVID notifications on my phone," he said. 

After a brief lull COVID is spreading widely again and countries are beginning to implement restrictions on travelers from China, which is experiencing a significant spike in new cases. 

"You just never know what's going to happen with COVID it's flaring up in different places you have to take your precautions but hope they don't block off the entrance so we can make more trips down," Kakai continued. 

The Biden administration Wednesday announced new testing requirements for those traveling from China. Until recently, the country has maintained a strict zero-COVID policy but made a sharp policy shift to relax its own travel restrictions. 

"It's provided an extraordinary opportunity for this virus to just explode like a volcano going from rural to urban areas," said Dr. William Schaffner, an Infectious Disease expert at Vanderbilt University. "It's going to cause a great deal of stress on the healthcare system with many people infected and also it provides an opportunity for this virus to mutate."

China has reported roughly 5,000 new COVID cases per fay but experts warn the number is likely much higher as hospitals are gripped with new cases and concerns swirl of new variants spreading further. 

"In Australia I think [travel requirements] might come back we're a bit more stringent but I don't think it will," Kakai said. "We should be fine but depending on how bad of a flare up we get that'll tell the story." 

But today Kakai and most other travelers CBS News Bay Area spoke to are not worried about a return to travel restrictions. 

"We were able to all be together and these are the memories you hold on to."

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