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Canadian snowbirds frustrated as US land border closure drags on – CTV News

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TORONTO —
With the United States’ land border still closed to non-essential travel, experts say some Canadian snowbirds may be staying home for a second consecutive winter.

Oct. 21 is the deadline for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to declare whether it plans to ease these travel restrictions at the Canada-U.S. land border, or extend the prohibition for another 30 days.

No one knows for sure why the U.S. has kept the land border closed while Canadians can still fly into the country by air, but Toronto travel insurance broker Martin Firestone says he is telling his clients to have faith that it will reopen come October.

“There’s going to be thousands and thousands of snowbirds that will for a second year in a row not find their way down south if it doesn’t because it’s going to curtail the season once again,” Firestone told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

As more Americans and Canadians get vaccinated, the Canadian Snowbirds Association (CSA) says it is hopeful the vast majority of snowbirds will be able to travel south this winter.

Evan Rachkovsky, a spokesperson for the CSA, told CTVNews.ca in an email that Canadian snowbirds are itching to return to the U.S., but the current ban is hampering their plans once again.

“As over 70 per cent of Canadian snowbirds travel to the United States in their Canadian vehicles, the ongoing closure of the U.S. land border continues to cause frustration amongst these travellers,” Rachkovsky said Wednesday.

He added that snowbirds who live in their RVs year round are particularly impacted since most Canadian campgrounds and RV sites are closed during the winter months.

“The CSA is calling on the Biden Administration to lift the current restrictions at the land border as the Canadian government did for fully vaccinated American travellers earlier this year,” Rachkovsky said.

The Canadian government eased travel restriction for U.S. citizens and permanent residents fully immunized against COVID-19 on Aug. 9.

The Biden administration announced in September that most adult foreign nationals will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to travel to the United States by early November. However, there were no details provided on how this new policy would specifically impact travel at the land border.

Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas previously said during a National Press Club event in Washington that the U.S. had hoped to ease land travel restrictions sooner, but the Delta variant delayed those plans.

If the land border remains closed come Oct. 21, Firestone said Canadian snowbirds do have some options, “all of which are expensive.”

Firestone says older travellers typically want a vehicle at their disposal or an RV while in the U.S., and prefer to avoid the hassle of air travel, particularly since Canada’s decision to allow fully-vaccinated visitors has dramatically slowed the customs clearance process.

“Why two people from the same family packing up their car and heading south across the border is not considered safer than going into an airport terminal with a thousand other people… is beyond any understanding,” Firestone said.

However, Firestone said the cost of shipping a vehicle or an RV separately while paying for plane tickets is too expensive for most snowbirds. In addition, a shortage of available rental cars across North America has put a further premium on being able to take one’s own car.

He says those who can’t afford these options will likely remain in Canada for the winter season.

“Yes there are choices, but I don’t think any [snowbirds] will take advantage of them if they need to have to do that,” Firestone said.

A group of U.S. Senate Democrats, including Michigan senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand of New York and New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, wrote a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden in September asking him to finally lift the travel ban.

“We believe that fully vaccinated Canadians should be allowed to safely travel into the United States via land ports of entry,” reads the letter, which was also signed by New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

“We urge you to lift these restrictions before October, provide a plan for reopening land ports of entry and appoint an interagency lead on U.S.-Canadian border restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the senators said in the letter.

Firestone says the U.S. may be looking to open its northern and southern borders at the same time, however, the ongoing immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border may be making the White House wary about easing travel restrictions altogether.

“I suspect that [America] wants an open border between their north and southern countries with respect to opening it simultaneously,” he said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world Tuesday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

New Zealand’s government says it will expand a vaccine mandate to include thousands of workers who have close contact with their customers — including those at restaurants, bars, gyms and hair salons.

The changes will mean that about 40 per cent of all New Zealand workers will need to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus or risk losing their jobs. Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she didn’t believe the new rules were an overreach of government power, but would ensure customers and employees are treated equally.

The government had already introduced a vaccine mandate for workers in certain sectors, including those who operate in the health and eduction sectors.

People are vaccinated at a COVID-19 vaccination centre on Tuesday in Otara, a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand. (Dean Purcell/New Zealand Herald/The Associated Press)

New Zealand is aiming to get 90 per cent of all people aged 12 and up fully vaccinated to put an end to lockdowns. According to the health ministry, 71 per cent of the country’s eligible population is fully vaccinated. 

As part of its plan to end lockdowns, New Zealand will also require people visiting high-traffic businesses to show vaccine passports to prove they’ve had their shots.

The island nation has seen a total of 28 related deaths and 5,822 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak of the global pandemic. 

-From The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Saskatchewan premier refuses COVID-19 restrictions, says situation improving

Sask. premier refuses COVID-19 restrictions, says situation improving

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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the COVID-19 situation is improving, new restrictions aren’t needed and would be unfair to the vaccinated. Public health experts are calling for gathering limits, which the mayor of Saskatoon is bringing in. 1:59


What’s happening around the world

A teen winces as she receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg last week. South Africa is giving COVID-19 vaccinations to adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years, with a goal of inoculating at least six million people from this age group. (Denis Farrell/The Associated Press)

As of late Tuesday morning, more than 244.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus case-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.9 million.

Moderna said it will make up to 110 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine available to African countries. Tuesday’s announcement says Moderna is prepared to deliver the first 15 million doses by the end of this year, with 35 million in the first quarter of 2022 and up to 60 million in the second quarter.

It said “all doses are offered at Moderna’s lowest tiered price.” The company called it “the first step in our long-term partnership with the African Union.” Africa and its 1.3 billion people remain the least-vaccinated region of the world against COVID-19, with just over five per cent fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Senegal and Rwanda have signed an agreement with German company BioNTech for the construction of its first start-to-finish factories to make messenger RNA vaccines in Africa.

BioNTech, which developed the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, said Tuesday that construction will start in mid-2022. It is working with the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, and the Rwandan government, a statement said.

In the Middle East on Monday, health officials reported 7,516 new cases of COVID-19 and 140 additional deaths. 

In Europe, the EU’s drug regulator said it has concluded in its review that Moderna’s COVID-19 booster vaccine may be given to people aged 18 years and above, at least six months after the second dose.

Students wearing protective mask stand outside a school on the first day of in-person classes since the beginning of the COVID-19 restrictions in Caracas, Venezuela. (Manuare Quintero/Getty Images)

In the Americas, Venezuela reopened public schools and universities, which serve more than 11 million students, though some schools remained closed for repairs or because of lack of staff.

Kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine may be getting closer in the U.S. as government advisers on Tuesday began deliberating whether there’s enough evidence that the shots are safe and effective for six- to 11-year-olds.

In a preliminary analysis last week, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewers said that protection would “clearly outweigh” the risk of a very rare side effect in almost all scenarios of the pandemic. Now FDA advisers are combing through that data to see if they agree.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia is reportedly finalizing a deal with Merck & Co to procure its experimental antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 ailments.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 11:05 a.m. ET

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Overcoming scandal and PTSD, Japan’s Princess Mako finally marries college sweetheart

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Japan‘s Princess Mako, the emperor’s niece, has married her commoner college sweetheart on Tuesday and left the royal family after a years-long engagement beset by scrutiny that has left the princess with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mako and fiance Kei Komuro, both 30, announced their engagement four years ago, a move initially cheered by the country. But things soon turned sour as tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro’s mother, prompting the press to turn on him. The marriage was postponed, and he left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018 only to return in September.

Their marriage consisted of an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family’s lives, submitting paperwork to a local office in the morning, foregoing the numerous rituals and ceremonies usual to royal weddings, including a reception.

Mako also refused to receive a one-off payment of about $1.3 million typically made to royal women who marry commoners and become ordinary citizens, in line with Japanese law.

Television footage showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan’s coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears.

Though Mako bowed formally to her parents, her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace.

In the afternoon, Mako and her new husband will hold a news conference, which will also depart from custom. While royals typically answer pre-submitted questions at such events, the couple will make a brief statement and hand out written replies to the questions instead.

“Some of the questions took mistaken information as fact and upset the princess,” said officials at the IHA, according to NHK public television.

Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning but said nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan, including long hair tied back in a ponytail, had sent tabloids into a frenzy.

MONEY SCANDAL

Just months after the two announced their engagement at a news conference where their smiles won the hearts of the nation, tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had not repaid a debt of about $35,000.

The scandal spread to mainstream media after the IHA failed to provide a clear explanation. In 2021, Komuro issued a 24-page statement on the matter and also said he would pay a settlement.

Public opinion polls show the Japanese are divided about the marriage, and there has been at least one protest.

Analysts say the problem is that the imperial family is so idealised that not the slightest hint of trouble with things such as money or politics should touch them.

The fact that Mako’s father and younger brother, Hisahito, are both in the line of succession after Emperor Naruhito, whose daughter is ineligible to inherit, makes the scandal particularly damaging, said Hideya Kawanishi, an associate professor of history at Nagoya University.

“Though it’s true they’ll both be private citizens, Mako’s younger brother will one day become emperor, so some people thought anybody with the problems he (Komuro) had shouldn’t be marrying her,” Kawanishi added.

The two will live in New York, though Mako will remain on her own in Tokyo for some time after the wedding to prepare for the move, including applying for the first passport of her life.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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EU countries splinter ahead of crisis talks on energy price spike

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Divisions have deepened among European Union countries ahead of an emergency meeting of ministers on Tuesday on their response to a spike in energy prices, with some countries seeking a regulatory overhaul and others firmly opposed.

European gas prices have hit record highs in autumn and remained at lofty levels, prompting most EU countries to respond with emergency measures like price caps and subsidies to help trim consumer energy bills.

Countries are struggling to agree, however, on a longer term plan to cushion against fossil-fuel price swings, which Spain, France, the Czech Republic and Greece say warrant a bigger shake-up of the way EU energy markets work.

Ministers from those countries will make the case on Tuesday for proposals that include decoupling European electricity and gas prices, joint gas buying among countries to create emergency reserves, and, in the case of a few countries including Poland, delaying planned policies to address climate change.

In an indication of differences likely to emerge at the meeting, nine countries including Germany – Europe’s biggest economy and market for electricity – on Monday said they would not support EU electricity market reforms.

“This will not be a remedy to mitigate the current rising energy prices linked to fossil fuels markets,” the countries said in a joint statement.

The European Commission has asked regulators to analyse the design of Europe’s electricity market, but said there was no evidence that a different market structure would have fared better during the recent price jump.

“Any interventions on the market and the decoupling of [gas and power] pricing are off the table,” one EU diplomat said, adding there was “no appetite” among most countries for those measures.

Other proposals – such as countries forming joint gas reserves – would also not offer a quick fix and could take months to negotiate. A European Commission proposal to upgrade EU gas market regulation to make it greener, due in December, is seen as the earliest that such proposals would arrive.

With less than a week until the international COP26 climate change summit, the energy price spike has also stoked tensions between countries over the EU’s green policies, setting up a clash as they prepare to negotiate new proposals including higher tax rates for polluting fuels.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has dismissed such plans as “utopian fantasy”, a stance at odds with other EU countries who say the price jump should trigger a faster switch to low-emission, locally produced renewable energy, to help reduce exposure to imported fossil fuel prices.

 

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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