The United States will reopen in November to air travelers from 33 countries including China, India, Brazil and most of Europe who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House said on Monday, easing tough pandemic-related restrictions that started early last year.
The decision, announced by White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients, marked an abrupt shift for President Joe Biden’s administration, which said last week it was not the right time to lift any restrictions amid rising COVID-19 cases.
The United States had lagged many other countries in lifting such restrictions, and allies welcomed the move. The U.S. restrictions have barred travelers from most of the world including tens of thousands of foreign nationals with relatives or business links in the United States.
The United States will admit fully vaccinated air travelers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. The unprecedented U.S. restrictions have barred non-U.S. citizens who were in those countries within the past 14 days.
Restrictions on non-U.S. citizens were first imposed on air travelers from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to dozens of other countries, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.
Zients did not give a precise start date for the new rules beyond saying “early November,” and many details of the new policy are still being decided.
Separately on Monday, the United States extended its pandemic-related restrictions at land borders with Canada and Mexico that bar nonessential travel such as tourism through Oct. 21. It gave no indication if it would apply the new vaccine rules to those land border crossings.
The United States has allowed foreign air travelers from more than 150 countries throughout the pandemic, a policy that critics said made little sense because some countries with high COVID-19 rates were not on the restricted list, while some on the list had the pandemic more under control.
Monday’s action means COVID-19 vaccine requirements will now apply to nearly all foreign nationals flying to the United States – including those not subject to the prior restrictions.
Americans traveling from abroad who are not vaccinated will face tougher rules than vaccinated citizens, including needing to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel and proof of purchasing a viral test to be taken after arrival.
‘BASING IT ON SCIENCE’
Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said that through late August, international air travel was down 43% from pre-pandemic levels.
The announcement comes as President Joe Biden makes his first U.N. General Assembly speech on Tuesday, and hosts leaders from Britain, India, Japan and Australia this week.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday the policy was not timed for diplomacy. “If we were going to make things much easier for ourselves, we would have done it prior to June, when the president had his first foreign trip, or earlier this summer. This is when the process concluded,” she said. “We’re basing it on science.”
U.S. COVID-19 infections and deaths have skyrocketed since June as the Delta variant spreads, particularly among the unvaccinated. Nearly 29,000 new U.S. cases were reported on Sunday.
British Airways Chief Executive Sean Doyle said the U.S. announcement “marks a historic moment and one which will provide a huge boost to Global Britain as it emerges from this pandemic.”
Shares in U.S. airlines were little changed, while some European carriers gained. British Airways parent IAG SA rose 11.2%, while Air France-KLM and Deutsche Lufthansa AG closed up more than 5%.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the announcement “a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.” Germany’s U.S. ambassador, Emily Haber, said on Twitter it was “hugely important to promote people-to-people contacts and transatlantic business.”
It will have less impact travel from China, which requires its residents to quarantine for at least two weeks on return home. International flights from China are capped and running at around 2% of 2019 levels, a situation expected to last until the second half of next year.
CDC HAS FINAL WORD ON VACCINES ACCEPTED
Foreign nationals will need to present proof of vaccination before travel and will not be required to quarantine on arrival.The White House said the final decision on what vaccines would be accepted is up to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC on Monday pointed to its prior guidance when asked what vaccines it will accept.
“The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated with any FDA-authorized or approved vaccines and any vaccines that (the World Health Organization) has authorized,” said spokesperson Kristen Nordlund. That list could change pending additions by either agency, she said.
Exceptions include children not yet eligible for shots. Airlines heavily lobbied the White House to lift the restrictions, and it has been working since August https://www.reuters.com/world/us/exclusive-us-developing-plan-require-foreign-visitors-be-vaccinated-official-2021-08-04 on the new plan.
The U.S. Travel Association trade group previously estimated that the U.S. restrictions, if they ran to the end of the year, would cost the American economy $325 billion.
Zients said last Wednesday that given the rise of the Delta variant, it was not the right time to lift travel restrictions. Asked on Monday what had changed since then, Zients cited rising global vaccinations, adding: “The new system allows us to implement strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Zients said the new system would include collecting contact tracing data from passengers traveling into the United States to enable the CDC to contact travelers exposed to COVID-19.
The administration has been considering imposing vaccine requirements for foreign nationals since May, officials said, but the White House only decided on Friday to move forward.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Sarah Young, Julie Steenhuysen and Jamie Freed; Editing by Will Dunham, Heather Timmons, Peter Cooney and Sonya Hepinstall)
Tradition vs credibility: Inside the SE Asian meet that snubbed Myanmar
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore pushed for a harder stance against Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing at a “tense” meeting that decided to exclude him from a regional summit this month, four people with knowledge of the talks said.
Southeast Asian ministers were divided between sticking to a tradition of non-interference and the need to retain credibility by sanctioning the coup leader, who has led a bloody crackdown on dissent since seizing power from Myanmar’s civilian government on Feb. 1, the sources said.
In the end it was the chair Brunei, with majority backing, that chose to keep him from attending the virtual Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit set for Oct 26 to 28, and invite instead a “non-political representative” from Myanmar.
The decision broke with ASEAN’s decades-long policy of engagement and non-interference in the affairs of member nations.
“The mood in the meeting had never been more tense,” said one of the people with knowledge of the discussions.
“If you asked me if ASEAN would do something like this a year ago, I would have said it would never happen,” said a regional diplomat. “ASEAN is changing.”
Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Twitter the outcome of the meeting was a “difficult but necessary decision to uphold ASEAN’s credibility”.
Philippines Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said before the meeting that the bloc could no longer afford to take a neutral stance on Myanmar, adding that if it relented, “our credibility as a real regional organization disappears … We’re a bunch of guys who always agree with each other on the worthless things”.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry and a spokesperson for Indonesia’s foreign ministry declined to comment.
The 10-member ASEAN also includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
International pressure has been mounting on ASEAN for a harder line against Myanmar’s failure to take agreed steps to end violence, allow humanitarian access and start dialogue with its opponents.
The grouping’s perceived ineptitude has sparked outrage in Myanmar, with some anti-junta protesters burning the bloc’s flag.
Since overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, detaining her and most of her allies and ending a decade of tentative democracy, Myanmar’s military has killed more than 1,000 people and arrested thousands in a bid to crush resistance, monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says.
Fighting has flared nationwide between junta troops and hastily assembled pro-democracy armed groups.
In a televised address on Monday, making his first remarks since the snub, Min Aung Hlaing defended the military’s actions, saying it was seeking to restore order and ASEAN should take note of violence out by its opponents, before announcing an amnesty for thousands of political prisoners. [L1N2RE08M]
Earlier, a spokesman blamed ASEAN’s decision on “foreign intervention”, saying the United States and representatives of the European Union had pressured other members of the grouping.
CREDIBILITY AT STAKE
For decades, Myanmar’s military has been a thorny issue for the regional bloc, as previous ruling juntas came under fire for brutally crushing pro-democracy movements.
Friday’s decision came after weeks of failed diplomacy over the crisis and days after plans were scrapped for a visit to Myanmar by ASEAN’s special envoy Erywan Yusof when the junta denied him a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, citing the criminal charges she faces.
These include violating the official secrets act.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore first floated the idea of sidelining the junta head at a meeting this month of ASEAN foreign ministers, said the regional diplomat, as a tactic to win access to Suu Kyi, who is being held at an unknown location.
Two of the sources said there were fears that Min Aung Hlaing’s presence would deter other global leaders from attending the larger East Asia Summit, set for a few days after the ASEAN summit.
Last week, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres postponed a call with Southeast Asian ministers to avoid being in the same online room as a Myanmar military representative.
“The threats to disengage weren’t made, at least explicitly, but there was anxiety on the part of member states that it would begin to affect ASEAN’s credibility in a broader sense,” said Aaron Connelly, a Southeast Asia researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The regional leaders discussed on Friday requests to attend the summit from Myanmar’s parallel civilian government, the National Unity Government, which two sources said has been in quiet talks with Indonesia, among other nations, but stopped short.
The selection of a “non-political representative” now falls to the junta, which is likely to choose someone seen as comparatively neutral but tied to the regime, three of the sources said.
But the decision to sideline Min Aung Hlaing represents “the most severe sanction that any ASEAN member state has ever been dealt by the organisation,” said Connelly.
People regionwide have “lost faith and hope in the mechanism of ASEAN to protect its own community members,” said Fuadi Pitsuwan, a fellow at Chiang Mai University’s School of Public Policy.
It might be time to “re-evaluate” the non-interference principle, he added.
“Let’s see if this would kick start another round of this existential deliberation and whether it would end differently.”
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng, Karen Lema, and Shoon Naing; Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
China, Russia navy ships jointly sail through Japan strait
A group of 10 military vessels from China and Russia sailed through a narrow strait separating Japan’s main island and its northern island of Hokkaido on Monday, the Japanese defence ministry said on Tuesday.
It was the first time Japan , which closely monitors military exercises in its region, has confirmed the passage of Chinese and Russian naval vessels sailing together through the Tsugaru Strait, which separates the Sea of Japan from the Pacific.
The Tsugaru Strait is an international strait which is open to foreign ships, including military vessels.
“No violation of territorial waters has taken place, and no international rule has been ignored,” a Defence Ministry spokesperson said.
Russia and China held joint naval drills in the Sea of Japan as part of naval cooperation between the two countries from Oct. 14-17 involving warships and support vessels from Russia’s Pacific Fleet.
Moscow and Beijing have cultivated closer military and diplomatic ties in recent years at a time when their relations with the West have soured.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; editing by Richard Pullin)
Pfizer officially requests Health Canada approval for kids' COVID-19 shot – CTV News
Pfizer-BioNTech has asked Health Canada to approve the first COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 years old.
The vaccine was developed in partnership with Germany’s BioNTech and is now marketed under the brand name Comirnaty. It was authorized for people at least 16 years old last December, and for kids between 12 and 15 in May.
Pfizer already submitted clinical trial data for its child-sized dose to Health Canada at the beginning of the month. The company said the results were comparable to those recorded in the Pfizer-BioNTech study in people aged 16 to 25.
Health Canada said it will prioritize the review of the submission, while maintaining high scientific standards for safety, efficacy and quality, according to a statement from the department.
“Health Canada will only authorize the use of Comirnaty if the independent and thorough scientific review of all the data included in the submission showed that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the potential risks in this age group,” the statement read.
The doses are about one-third the size given to adults and teens age 12 and up.
As soon as the regulator gives the green light, providers will technically be able to start offering the COVID-19 shot to kids, though new child-sized doses might need to be procured.
Pfizer has delivered more than 46 million doses to Canada to date, and an analysis of the available data on administration from provincial and federal governments suggests there are more than enough Pfizer doses already in Canada to vaccinate kids between five and 11 years old.
But simply pulling smaller doses from the vials Canada already had stockpiled across the country may not be advised, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said at a media briefing late last week.
“We also understand from Pfizer that this actual formulation has shifted, this is a next generation formulation, so that is something that needs to be examined by the regulator,” Tam said Friday.
Canada signed a new contract with Pfizer for pediatric doses last spring.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has also been tested on children as young as six months old. Topline data for children under five years old is expected as soon as the end of the year.
Health Canada said it expects to receive more data for review from Pfizer for younger age groups, as well as other manufacturers for various age ranges in the coming months.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has noted rare incidents of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after receiving an mRNA vaccine like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
As of Oct. 1, Health Canada has documented 859 cases associated with the vaccines, which mainly seem to affect people under 40 year old. On balance, the risk appears to be low, according to Tim Sly, a Ryerson University epidemiologist with expertise in risk management.
“Of course, no one considers any complication in a child to be acceptable, and a tremendous amount of caution is being taken to look for and identify all problems,” said Sly in a recent email exchange with The Canadian Press.
COVID-19 infection also produces a very high risk of other cardiovascular problems, he said.
Aside from protecting kids against more serious symptoms of COVID-19, the vaccine would also reduce the risk of a child passing the virus on to a vulnerable family member and make for a better school environment with less stress about transmission.
Once the vaccine is approved for kids, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization will weigh in on whether the benefits of the shot outweigh potential risks for young children.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2021.
– With files from Mia Rabson
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