Júlia Ururahy, 24, had great plans for her post-quarantine life: the Brazilian-born administrator hoped to start a Master’s program with financial aid at Fordham University, move to a new apartment on the Upper East Side and enjoy summer in New York.
Then came the disappointment: On May 24, President Donald Trump decided that anyone who sets foot in Brazil needs to stay in quarantine for at least 14 days in another country before travelling to the U.S. The travel ban came as Brazil became the country with the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world. According to Johns Hopkins University, Brazil’s total went from 66,501 people infected on April 27 to 411,821 on May 27, the day after the ban went into effect.
“My only fault was coming back to Brazil in April because I didn’t want to be alone during the pandemic,” said Ururahy.
She moved to New York last summer and decided to share an East Village apartment with a friend while she attended English classes and prepared documents needed for the master’s program application. She started feeling lonely as soon as New York issued its stay-at-home order and her roommate went to Washington, D.C. to live with a family that had hosted her in an exchange program years ago.
The solitary Easter Sunday was “the worst day.” The cloudy afternoon with temperatures around 60 degrees was way too cold for her. A WhatsApp call in which she glimpsed her family’s excitement in the warm weather of Rio de Janeiro was all she needed to make a sudden decision: Ururahy bought a last-minute flight to Brazil. “I paid a fortune, but I was really happy to finally be with my parents,” she said.
“I planned to stay in Rio until June 23, my mother’s birthday, and go back to New York that same week. When I heard the news about the travel ban, I was desperate.”
That’s because her apartment lease in New York ends at the end of July. If she isn’t in the city, she can’t rent a new place, and has no means of taking her belongings out of her East Village room and returning the keys. She has two options: either pay someone to take her stuff and put it in a storage space, or find a country that accepts Brazilians and quarantine there before flying back to the U.S. She hasn’t made up her mind yet.
Glauber Rocha’s plans were similarly ruined. After spending a year studying English and finance at Columbia University, the 33-year-old financier just wantedto spend his two-week vacation with his mother, who lives in São Paulo. He would then return to New York, get his diploma, reunite with his girlfriend and apply for a Master’s program.
The travel ban came just in time for him to cancel his June 13 ticket to Brazil. “There was no point in staying two or three days at my family’s house and then two weeks isolated in another country,” said Rocha.
He considers himself lucky, because his brother and girlfriend stayed to keep him company in New York. They even threw him a birthday party in their Upper East Side apartment on April 27, just for the three of them. The theme was “quarantine.”
In light of the many current travel restrictions—Brazilians are only the latest on a list that started with the Chinese and expanded to 26 European countries—universities in New York are adding more flexibility to their programs. In an online statement, Fordham says it plans to restart Fall-semester classes on campus on August 26, but students unable to be physically present “will have the opportunity to participate fully in classes remotely.” New York University and Columbia University also pivoted in this direction, according to their latest updates.
While students have to think of the new possibilities, tourists don’t need to think at all. They just have to cancel whatever plans they had for this year.
“The travel ban was a definite answer to Brazilians who, even with all the discouraging news, were considering a visit to New York in the second semester,” said Fábio Angheben, 37.
Currently a New Yorker living in Hell’s Kitchen, he moved with his wife to the city after creating a blog with tips for tourists. The website reached 350,000 views per month, enough to make a living via tourism ads. Now that Brazilian money will not leave South America, he’ll have to get by with his savings.
According to the U.S. Consulate in Brazil, around 2.2 million Brazilians visited the U.S. in 2018 and spent $11 billion in American territory, an average of $5,000 per person. The majority of the money goes to Florida and New York. Even amid political and economic crises, Brazilians kept coming—before the pandemic, that is—and became the seventh biggest spender among all nationalities.
“2020 is over for tourism. But we try to keep the website going,” said Angheben. On the day the travel ban started, he went live on Instagram specifically to answer questions about flight cancelations, but ended up staying online for two hours exploring the city’s empty landmarks—Bryant Park, Public Library, Grand Central. “It’s a curiosity tourists can’t see for themselves right now. With or without the pandemic, the interest for the city is not dead,” he said.