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U.S. Thanksgiving air travel set to be busiest since pandemic began

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Airports and commercial airlines across the United States registered one of their busiest days since before the pandemic on Wednesday as millions of Americans traveled to visit loved ones for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving-eve usually tends to be the busiest day for travel. This year, however, working from home allowed many people to travel early and avoid the last day rush.

“So far, so good,” said Lani Emanuel, who was traveling from Los Angeles to Seattle to see her daughter. “It was a little tricky finding parking, but it doesn’t seem too crazy busy just yet.”

At Newark Airport, too, passengers did not have to wait long to pass through the security checkpoints. Some of the restaurants at the airport were not packed, either.

Yet, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) advised passengers to arrive early to allow extra time for security. U.S. carriers also ramped up capacity, anticipating higher demand on Thanksgiving-eve, data from Cirium showed.

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of what was shaping up as the busiest holiday season in two years. Rising COVID-19 vaccination rates have made people more confident about travel, leading to a surge in bookings.

U.S. consumers also enter the holiday season flush with spending power, thanks to a still-hefty pile of leftover savings from multiple rounds of government pandemic relief and now double-digit year-over-year wage increases as businesses compete for scarce workers. (For graphic on spending on food services and accommodations, click: https://tmsnrt.rs/3CLC7m9)

Data out Wednesday showed consumer spending overall grew by a greater-than-expected 1.3% in October. Spending on big-ticket items like automobiles lifted the headline figure, but the data also showed broad-based increases in spending on services like travel and eating out that had been sharply curtailed during much of the COVID-19 pandemic. (For graphic on recreation expenditures, click: https://tmsnrt.rs/3DPgHWx)

Americans shelled out record amounts on recreation, eating out, staying away from home and foreign travel last month. (For graphic on spending on foreign travel, click: https://tmsnrt.rs/2ZiM7pi)

RAMPING UP STAFFING

The TSA expects to screen about 20 million air passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period, the most since 2019 when nearly 26 million Americans were on the move at that time. On Tuesday, the agency screened about 2.21 million U.S. air passengers, the sixth consecutive day with checkpoint volume topping 2 million.

Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman, said the agency has hired 6,000 new officers this year and has enough staff to deal with the increase in passenger volumes.

“So staffing, while we are hiring, will not slow people down this holiday season,” Dankers said.

The holiday weekend is also a test for carriers after a spate of flight cancellations marred travel over the summer. One in five Americans are concerned about delays and cancellations, an American Pecans/YouGov survey found.

Carriers have ramped up staffing and offered bonuses and other incentives to employees to ensure they have enough resources.

“We’re staffed and ready to get our customers to where they need to go safely, reliably and enjoyably,” a Delta Air Lines spokesperson said.

Calm weather expected for Thanksgiving should also help to prevent disruption.

U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak is also expecting a jump in passenger volumes. A company spokesperson said some trains are already close to full capacity.

Travel group AAA estimates, in all, 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020, with air travel recovering to about 91% of pre-pandemic levels.

 

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; additional reporting by David French, Dan Burns, David Shepardson, Alan Devall and Omar Younis; Editing by Stephen Coates, Barbara Lewis, Mark Porter and Aurora Ellis)

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Omicron: Should you travel and what insurance will you need? – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Experts are divided on whether travel is advisable in light of the Omicron variant spurring restrictions at the border and new travel bans leading into the holiday season.

On Tuesday, the government announced travel bans for 10 countries and added that fully vaccinated travellers arriving by air from international destinations other than the U.S. would be required to take a PCR test upon arrival, and quarantine while awaiting the results.

Some travellers are having second thoughts amid the confusion, and Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure Inc., told CTV News Channel that the confusion at airports over the new PCR test requirement is likely to grow.

“There’s nothing clearly stated as to how it’s going to work — are they getting it done there, are they lining up with thousands of other people, are they getting a take-home test, are they going to wait and isolate three days till test results — incredibly confusing right now, in all aspects,” he said.

“I’m seeing right now there’s many people that are making a decision to cancel their flights or cancel their trips.”

Firestone said that booking an international trip for January or February might not be the best idea.

“They maybe have to be on hold,” he said.

“I’m looking at summer 2022 as the best chance to start going to Europe and Asia and places such as that.”

So far, just how dangerous Omicron might be is unclear, making it another question in the calculus of whether travelling is advisable. Scientists are studying the variant in the hopes of pinpointing whether it causes more severe illness, but so far cases have shown largely mild symptoms, and no deaths have been connected to the variant.

However, preliminary data suggests that those who have previously had COVID-19 are at a higher risk of reinfection from Omicron than other variants.

Currently, there are 18 cases of Omicron in Canada.

Not everyone is jumping to cancellations, according to Richard Vanderlubbe, president of tripcentral.ca and a member of the board of directors for the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), but “new inquiries and new bookings have slowed down.”

“We were at about a 40 per cent of the 2019 level just prior to that,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “And it was rising. So I think people are pausing and they’re trying to figure out what this means.”

Many who had planned Christmas trips are likely going to go through with them and simply plan for the added requirements at the border, he said, adding that whether to travel or not is up to where a person is going and how important it is to them to make that trip.

“I think what’s happening with government testing right now at airports is long overdue,” he said. “And we need to be able to create an environment where people are safe, that we’re vaccinated, […] the testing is available, it’s not [difficult] in terms of costs, that’s convenient and we get the results quickly.”

Firestone believes that it’ll be simplest to go to the U.S. this holiday season, if a person is set on getting away despite the added restrictions.

“Going to the U.S. right now, again, if everything’s properly done, including now the new one-day rapid test, negative test, that has to be done before you get into the U.S., that could still be plausible,” he said, adding that published health measures such as masking still need to be followed.

“But I think that’s the best bet at this point, is a U.S. holiday, possibly a sun destination holiday, although you’re going to face the large crowds coming back in, getting the negative PCR test. So it’s just nothing simple anymore, and I’m hoping that we get a bit of a holiday season and then travel eventually [can] open up again.”

IF I DO TRAVEL, SHOULD I GET INSURANCE?

Travellers worried about insurance should be aware of a couple things, Vanderlubbe said.

One is that since the blanket advisory against non-essential travel was lifted by the government in October, medical insurance policies for travel are now, in general, covering COVID-19 related medical claims, he explained.

“There was a time when the advisory was out that the insurance plans did not generally cover it,” he said. “And you had to buy separate insurance.”

When it comes to cancellation insurance, after some struggles earlier in the pandemic to get airlines to issue refunds when flights were cancelled by the airline itself, airlines are now generally covering any sort of involuntary cancellation where the airline decides not to operate the flight.

“There’s not a lot of risk now for consumers in booking something and then the government comes and, let’s say in the future slaps on a restriction on a certain destination and they cancel all the flights — you won’t lose your money,” Vanderlubbe said.

That leaves voluntary cancellation, which is when a person decides themselves that they no longer wish to fly.

“I’m looking at the arrangements and I’m looking at these things going on and maybe I’m getting cold feet and I don’t necessarily want to travel,” he explained.

Considering the shifting landscape right now, a traveller who is concerned that they may want to back out later — due to fears of COVID-19, due to falling ill themselves before the flight, or due to other unforeseen complications — may want to consider a waiver or other type of insurance that could aid them if they want to cancel a flight voluntarily.

“If you change your mind, at least you don’t lose all your money, you can rebook it as a credit,” Vanderlubbe said.

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

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The latest:

In Asia, South Korea again broke its daily records for coronavirus infections and deaths and confirmed three more cases of the new omicron variant as officials scramble to tighten social distancing and border controls.

The 5,352 new cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) on Saturday marked the third time this week the daily tally exceeded 5,000. The country’s death toll was at 3,809 after a record 70 virus patients died in the past 24 hours, while the 752 patients in serious or critical condition were also an all-time high.

As the delta-driven surge threatens to overwhelm hospital systems, there is also concern about the local spread of the omicron variant, which is seen as potentially more infectious than previous strains of the virus.

The country’s omicron caseload is now at nine after the KDCA confirmed three more cases. The new cases include the wife, mother-in-law and a friend of a man who caught omicron from a couple he drove home from the airport after they arrived from Nigeria on Nov. 24. The couple’s teenage child and two other women who also travelled to Nigeria have also been infected with omicron.

A woman walks near a banner that reads, ‘Mandatory mask wearing,’ at a park in Goyang, South Korea, on Saturday. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

Officials say the number of omicron cases could rise as some of the patients had attended a church gathering involving hundreds of people on Nov. 28.

While the emergence of omicron has triggered global alarm and pushed governments around the world to tighten their borders, scientists say it remains unclear whether the new variant is more contagious, more likely to evade the protection provided by vaccines or more likely to cause serious illnesses than previous versions of the virus.

Starting next week, private social gatherings of seven or more people will be banned in the densely populated capital Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas, which have been hit hardest by delta and are now running out of intensive care units.

To fend off omicron, South Korea has required all passengers arriving from abroad over the next two weeks to quarantine for at least 10 days, regardless of their nationality or vaccination status. The country has banned short-term foreign travelers arriving from nine African nations, including South Africa and Nigeria.


What’s happening across Canada

A 10-year-old girl is administered a COVID-19 vaccine shot as her eight-year-old sister reacts at a drive-thru clinic in Kingston, Ont., on Saturday. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

  • More than 1,000 public-sector workers placed on leave over N.S. vaccine mandate.

What’s happening around the world

As of Saturday, more than 265 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.

PHOTOS | Thousands protest restrictions in Dutch city:

In Europe, thousands of people marched peacefully through the Dutch city of Utrecht on Saturday to protest the government’s coronavirus lockdown measures. Meanwhile, Princess Beatrix, the country’s 83-year-old former queen, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the royal house announced Saturday.

In the Americas, Rio de Janeiro cancelled its famed New Year’s Eve party, becoming the latest Brazilian city — after Sao Paulo and Salvador — to halt holiday celebrations due to omicron fears.

In Africa, South Africa is being hit by a fourth wave of infections driven by the new variant that has been detected in seven of the country’s nine provinces, its health minister said.

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Thailand seizes $88 million worth of crystal meth bound for Taiwan

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Thai authorities intercepted nearly 900 kg (2,000 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine hidden in a cargo shipment at Bangkok’s Port Custom Office and bound for Taiwan where it could be sold for up to $88 million, a customs official said on Saturday.

The drug was seized by customs officials late on Friday, hidden in powder form inside 161 white silicon slabs in packages destined for Taiwan.

“The 897 kg of crystal meth is worth about 500 to 600 million baht ($15 million to $18 million), but once they reach their destination they will be worth 3 billion baht in market price,” Thai Customs Director-General Patchara Anuntasil told a press conference on Saturday.

Patchara said that Thai and Taiwanese authorities were both investigating.

The methamphetamine market has continued to expand and diversify in East and Southeast Asia, unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic.

In October, police in neighboring Laos seized a record https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/laos-police-seize-record-drugs-haul-golden-triangle-2021-10-28 haul of 55 million methamphetamine tablets and over 1.5 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine tablets in the Golden Triangle region where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet.

The Golden Triangle has a long history of illicit drug production and has recently served as a massive production centre for amphetamine-type stimulants, especially methamphetamine, used by Asian crime syndicates with distribution networks reaching as far as Japan and New Zealand.

($1 = 33.8400 baht)

 

(Reporting by Artorn Poonkasook and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Writing by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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