By John Dias

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Despite surging cases and a new COVID strain, millions are traveling for Christmas.

The Transportation Security Administration reports Wednesday was the highest single day total since March.

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Here in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio is stepping up quarantine enforcement on travelers – particularly those coming here from the United Kingdom.

“It was the longest time. I haven’t seen my family,” said traveler Victor Ramirez.

As CBS2’s John Dias reports, it has been more than a year since Ramirez has visited his family, which is why he is traveling from Peru to his brother on Long Island for Christmas.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

He knows quite well there’s a pandemic, and like many travelers Dias spoke with, he’s risking his health to see loved ones.

“We have pandemic everywhere. We have to take care of ourselves and coming for the holidays with family,” said traveler Lourdes Gonzales.

But their welcome committee is something new:

All travelers coming into New York City now get a face-to-face with someone from the city’s Health Department, to get their information.

“It was perfect, the protocols. Everything was professional,” Gonzales said.

“They said we had to fill out a form, basically trying to reach us if someone tested positive on the airline,” one traveler said.

“You never know where they are going, staying, families, friends,” said traveler Lauren Cardoso.

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For those coming from the U.K., where a new, more infectious variant of the virus was first discovered, enforcement is even more strict.

“We’re going to have a sheriff’s deputy go to the home or the hotel of every single traveler coming from the U.K.,” de Blasio announced Wednesday.

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All around at John F. Kennedy International Airport, enhanced cleaning is going on, easing some anxiety. Travelers say some airlines require not just a mask but a face shield.

“It’s a protocol. We have to use it through the whole flight,” one traveler said.

“They’re mopping the walls. I’ve never seen anyone mop a wall,” one traveler said.

While the TSA reports they screened nearly 1.2 million people Wednesday – the highest single day total since March – AAA is predicting at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last holiday season. As many as 84.5 million may still travel through Jan. 3 – a decline of 29%.

“I was scared, but when I saw only 30 people on the plane, it was a big plane. So it was fine,” one traveler said.

“Very clean. Very nice and neat. A lot of hand sanitizer when you go on the plane,” said Bronx resident Yokaira Rosaroa.

Meanwhile, across the pond, chaos erupted at a blockade in Britain as truckers clashed with cops. France is demanding every driver get tested for COVID before coming into the country. U.K. health officials warn cases of the mutated strain are surging. And now a third strain, similar to the variant in the U.K., has been found and is spreading fast in South Africa, prompting travel bans there as well.

“It is absolutely vital that we act. We simply cannot have the kind of Christmas that we will all yearn for,” said Britain’s Health Minister Matt Hancock.

Experts warn if you’re going to be flying, wear two masks, and you don’t have to wait exactly at your gate if it’s too crowded. You can wait a gate or two away where there may be fewer people.

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John Dias