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'Love is not tourism,' says couple separated for 6 months by coronavirus

by Reuters
Thursday, 6 August 2020 11:00 GMT

WIESLOCH, Germany, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Florian Mehler last saw his girlfriend in late January, when she left Germany for her native Brazil. His plans to join Renata Alves in late March were scuttled when the borders slammed shut as the coronavirus pandemic spread worldwide.

"We talk via FaceTime every day. But that's just virtual," Mehler, 41, said in an interview at home in Wiesloch near Frankfurt.

"We can't hug each other. We can't kiss. We can't wake up together, have coffee together, go into town together."

After meeting online a year ago, Alves visited Mehler in Germany twice, and he flew to see her in Brazil once. She has the necessary documents to move to Germany and look for a job.

Brazil last week reopened international air travel to all foreign tourists with health insurance for the duration of their trip, even as the country's coronavirus outbreak ranks as the world's second worst.

Germany has a travel warning in place for most countries, including Brazil, which may mean health and cancellation insurance are invalid for trips there.

And most European Union borders are closed to non-EU travellers, unless they are essential workers or married to an EU resident.

So Alves blows Mehler kisses on her tablet screen, and he tells her how much he misses her. On Sundays, they sometimes take virtual walks outdoors together.

"The worst thing is that we don't know when we will see each other because the borders are still closed," Mehler said.

On social media, separated couples have been lobbying under the hashtags #LoveIsEssential and #LoveIsNotTourism for governments to allow them to reunite.

A few European countries including Austria, Norway and Denmark, have heeded the call, introducing "sweetheart visas" that exempt couples from the travel ban.

Mehler joined a Frankfurt rally on Aug. 1, organised by the association of binational families and partnerships, urging Germany to issue such visas.

However, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer prefers a common European solution, given that Germany just assumed the EU presidency last month, a ministry spokesman said on Monday.

Alves, 40, said it was unfair that Germans can travel abroad for fun at the risk of catching COVID-19, while she is barred from entering Germany when she has more compelling reasons.

"I'm totally healthy, my family is totally healthy," she said in Recife, Brazil, noting that she would take a coronavirus test and undergo quarantine for love. (Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Richard Chang)

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