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Stuck in COVID-19 Limbo: The Struggle to Get Back Home During Travel Shutdown

Zakiyyah Cooper could not think that Coronavirus would impact her directly during her recent trip to Dubai.

Everything went normal until she began to receive messages from her friends and family in the US asking her to return. Their fears came as travel guidelines were changing rapidly in the United States.

At the time of her initial international departure, the United States was barely impacted by what is now known as COVID-19 and there were no concerns about taking an international trip to the Middle East.

“My trip was planned for nearly a year and I was beyond excited to explore Dubai for the first time in my life. I had the best time and I felt no impact of the Coronavirus during my entire stay in Dubai,” Zakiyyah Cooper told

Although Zakiyyah enjoyed her international trip and stayed relatively far-removed from the growing spread of coronavirus in the United States, panic began to spread throughout the states as new diagnoses of the virus began to be reported.

It wasn’t long before Trump made the announcement to immediately suspend travel from European countries to the United States. This announcement came as a shock to American citizens and immediately put the country on edge. 

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Zakiyyah Cooper during her recent trip to Dubai
Zakiyyah Cooper during her recent trip to Dubai

Airports Panic

American citizens in countries throughout Europe panic as they scramble to get back to their homes in the US.

Citizens, such as Zakiyyah Cooper who were not directly impacted by this travel ban, had to make a difficult decision to adjust travel plans to avoid any future travel challenges.

Throughout the world, travel bans are being implemented by many countries, including countries in the Arab world.

According to NPR, “Saudi Arabia slapped in place a ban on visitors from 14 countries so quickly that airlines, which already had planes en route to the kingdom, had to sort their passengers by nationality, and ultimately fly many of them someplace else.”

Although the World Health Organization discourages travel bans, the rapid news and fears of this global crisis have created a crisis of stopping international flights from countries deemed most at-risk.

“From the beginning, since the first outbreaks became widely known, the World Health Organization has advised against blanket travel bans. The WHO has also warned that travel bans could violate the International Health Regulations,” NPR stated in a recent article. 

Stuck in COVID-19 Limbo: The Struggle to Get Back Home During Travel Shutdown - About Islam

Getting Home

Zakiyyah vigorously packed and raced to the airport to catch her international flight back to America. Yet, she was faced with many changes and challenges.

The airport was flooded with people and her flight was reported to be overbooked. As she approached her gate, she was sadly informed that her flight was canceled. There were no available flights back to the states. In a panic, Zakiyyah began texting her children and friends. 

“I was beyond nervous about my mother’s status and I wondered if she would be able to return home. It is a feeling that I can’t quite put into words,” Saudia Shabazz, daughter of Zakiyyah Cooper, told 

As the night extended and the updates became vaguer, Zakiyyah Cooper began to feel the intensity of the international panic from COVID-19.

Fortunately, Zakiyyah’s son is a pilot for an American airline. He worked aggressively to find her an alternative flight home. A little bit before dawn, Zakiyyah Cooper was booked on a flight back to the states. Although she had to make multiple transfers, she was finally able to make it back on United States soil. 

“I will have to go through a full medical check upon my arrival home,” Zakiyyah told via WhatsApp during one of her transfer stops.

Based on recommendations from the US government for incoming international travelers from Europe, citizens are expected to self-quarantine for 14-days. However, it is still unknown whether Zakiyyah will be required to self-quarantine upon her arrival in Atlanta. 

About Sabria Mills
Sabria Mills is the Co-founder and Executive Director of MACE - Muslims Advocates of Children with Exceptionalities. She is an Educational Leader and Social Advocate, who partners with educators, community leaders, and activists to advocate for inclusive spaces for people of all abilities. After spending nearly a decade working in education and addressing the needs of non-profit organizations, Sabria knows what truly drives social reform, equality, and education—and it’s not mastering the social advocacy flavor of the week. It’s how well you connect with the heart-beating people you’re trying to help and communicate your understanding back to them.