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U.S. lawmakers push Biden to lift Canadian travel restrictions

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Four U.S. senators on Friday asked President Joe Biden to lift restrictions that have barred travel by Canadians across the northern U.S. border since March 2020.

Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana and independent Angus King of Maine asked Biden to allow Canadians vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel to the United States before October. The border state senators said in a letter the restrictions have led to “economic and emotional strain in our communities.”

The senators added: “A plan with some indication of when your administration would feel comfortable lifting border restrictions based on public health data would provide clarity to businesses and families along the northern border.”

They also noted that Canadians can fly to the United States. “We struggle to understand the public health rationale for the disparate treatment in modes of travel,” the senators wrote.

The White House did not immediately comment on Friday, but White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Wednesday that given the Delta variant of the coronavirus, “we will maintain the existing travel restrictions at this point.”

U.S. officials and travel industry executives say the White House is set to renew the restrictions before the latest extension expires on Sept. 21.

In August, the United States again extended restrictions closing its land borders with Canada and Mexico to nonessential travel such as tourism despite Ottawa’s decision to open its border to vaccinated Americans.

Canada on Aug. 9 began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors for nonessential travel.

The United States has continued to extend the extraordinary restrictions on Canada and Mexico on a monthly basis since March 2020, when they were imposed to address the spread of COVID-19.

The U.S. land border restrictions do not bar U.S. citizens from returning home.

The United States separately bars most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

 

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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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

14 hours ago

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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