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AP News in Brief at 6:04 am EDT | Ap | – Berkshire Eagle

US to reopen land borders in November for fully vaccinated

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the country moves to require all international visitors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic. The new rules, to be announced Wednesday, will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason for travel starting in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions is set to kick in for air travel into the country. By mid-January, even essential travelers seeking to enter the U.S., like truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.

Senior administration officials previewed the new policy late Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to speak ahead of the formal announcement.

Both Mexico and Canada have pressed the U.S. for months to ease restrictions on travel that have separated families and curtailed leisure trips since the onset of the pandemic. The latest move follows last month’s announcement that the U.S. will end country-based travel bans for air travel, and instead require vaccination for foreign nationals seeking to enter by plane.

Both policies will take effect in early November, the officials said. They did not specify a particular date.

House sends debt limit hike to Biden, staving off default

WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of the House on Tuesday pushed through a short-term increase to the nation’s debt limit, ensuring the federal government can continue fully paying its bills into December and temporarily averting an unprecedented default that would have decimated the economy.

The $480 billion increase in the country’s borrowing ceiling cleared the Senate last week on a party-line vote. The House approved it swiftly so President Joe Biden can sign it into law this week. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had warned that steps to stave off a default on the country’s debts would be exhausted by Monday, and from that point, the department would soon be unable to fully meet the government’s financial obligations.

A default would have immense fallout on global financial markets built upon the bedrock safety of U.S. government debt. Routine government payments to Social Security beneficiaries, disabled veterans and active-duty military personnel would also be called into question.

The relief provided by passage of the legislation will only be temporary though, forcing Congress to revisit the issue in December — a time when lawmakers will also be laboring to complete federal spending bills and avoid a damaging government shutdown. The yearend backlog raises risks for both parties and threatens a tumultuous close to Biden’s first year in office.

“I’m glad that this at least allows us to prevent a totally self-made and utterly preventable economic catastrophe as we work on a longer-term plan,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Ransomed and beaten: Migrants face abuse in Libyan detention

ONBOARD THE GEO BARENTS OFF LIBYA (AP) — Osman Touré was crying from the pain of repeated beatings and torture as he dialed his brother’s cellphone number.

“I’m in prison in Libya,” Touré said in that August 2017 call. “They will kill me if you don’t pay 2,500 dinars in 24 hours.”

Within days, Touré’s family transferred the roughly $550 demanded to secure his freedom from a government detention center in Libya. But Touré was not let go — instead, he was sold to a trafficker and kept enslaved for four more years.

Touré is among tens of thousands of migrants who have endured torture, sexual violence and extortion at the hands of guards in detention centers in Libya, a major hub for migrants fleeing poverty and wars in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe.

The 25-year-old Guinean, along with two dozen other migrants, spoke to The Associated Press aboard the Geo Barents, a rescue vessel operated by the medical aid group Doctors without Borders in the Mediterranean off Libya. Most had been held in trafficking warehouses and government detention centers in western Libya over the past four years.

‘It’s not Satanism’: Zimbabwe church leaders preach vaccines

SEKE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Yvonne Binda stands in front of a church congregation, all in pristine white robes, and tells them not to believe what they’ve heard about COVID-19 vaccines.

“The vaccine is not linked to Satanism,” she says. The congregants, members of a Christian Apostolic church in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe, are unmoved. But when Binda, a vaccine campaigner and member of an Apostolic church herself, promises them soap, buckets and masks, there are enthusiastic shouts of “Amen!”

Apostolic groups that infuse traditional beliefs into a Pentecostal doctrine are among the most skeptical in Zimbabwe when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, with an already strong mistrust of modern medicine. Many followers put faith in prayer, holy water and anointed stones to ward off disease or cure illnesses.

The congregants Binda addressed in the rural area of Seke sang about being protected by the holy spirit, but have at least acknowledged soap and masks as a defense against the coronavirus. Binda is trying to convince them to also get vaccinated — and that’s a tough sell.

Congregation leader Kudzanayi Mudzoki had to work hard to persuade his flock just to stay and listen to Binda speak about vaccines.

The AP Interview: McAuliffe wants Democrats to ‘get it done’

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, on Tuesday called on leaders in Washington from both parties — including President Joe Biden — to “get their act together,” while pushing Senate Democrats to scrap the filibuster if needed to enact the party’s priorities on infrastructure spending and voting rights.

The harsh words from McAuliffe during an interview with The Associated Press come just three weeks before Election Day in Virginia. The former governor is facing Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin in a race that represents a critical early test of the Democrats’ political strength in the first year of Biden’s presidency.

Polls suggest the race is close, adding to McAuliffe’s sense of urgency to campaign on a robust list of his party’s accomplishments. The McAuliffe campaign confirmed Tuesday that Biden and former President Barack Obama would rally voters in the state later in the month at separate events.

Despite the outside support, McAuliffe has been deeply frustrated by his party’s inability to fulfill key campaign promises since taking control of the White House and both chambers of Congress in January. In Tuesday’s interview, the 64-year-old lamented the Democrats’ inability to protect voting rights against a wave of Republican-backed legislation, but he saved his sharpest comments for the stalled federal infrastructure package.

“They all got to get their act together and vote,” McAuliffe said. Asked specifically if he was calling out Biden, McAuliffe said, “I put everybody there.”

Capt. Kirk’s William Shatner on cusp of blasting into space

VAN HORN, Texas (AP) — Actor William Shatner counted down Wednesday to his wildest role yet: riding a rocket into space, courtesy of “Star Trek” fan Jeff Bezos.

Best known for his role as Captain Kirk, the 90-year-old Shatner joined three other passengers for the planned launch from West Texas.

Bezos’ space travel company, Blue Origin, invited Shatner on the brief jaunt to the fringes of the final frontier, which will make him the oldest person in space.

It will be Blue Origin’s second passenger flight, using the same capsule and rocket that Bezos used for his own launch three months ago. The trip should last just 10 minutes, with the fully automated capsule reacing a maximum altitude of about 66 miles (106 kilometers) before parachuting back into the desert.

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson kicked off the U.S.-based space tourism boom on July 11, riding his own rocketship to space. Bezos followed nine days later aboard his own capsule. Elon Musk stayed behind as his SpaceX company launched its first private flight last month, sending a billionaire, cancer survivor and two ticket winners into orbit.

Pamela could be hurricane again as it makes Mexico landfall

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Tropical Storm Pamela is picking up momentum in the Pacific off Mexico and forecasters say it should be back to hurricane strength again before striking the coast north of the port of Mazatlan on Wednesday.

After weakening to a tropical storm Tuesday afternoon, Pamela was centered about 170 miles (275 kilometers) west-southwest of Mazatlan late Tuesday and was moving north-northeast at about 12 mph (19 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The storm had maximum winds of about 70 mph (110 kph).

Pamela was forecast to pass well to the south of the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula during the night while accelerating its forward movement toward the coast and regaining wind strength.

The hurricane center warned of the possibility of life-threatening storm surges, flash floods and dangerous winds around the impact area.

Pamela was then forecast to weaken while crossing over northern Mexico and could approach the Texas border as a tropical depression by Thursday. The center said remnants of the storm could carry heavy rain to central Texas and southeast Oklahoma.

The AP Interview: James Shaw wants climate talks to deliver

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has shown that humans are very good at responding to an immediate crisis, says New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister James Shaw. But when it comes to dealing with a slower-moving threat like climate change, he says, we’re “terribly bad.”

Shaw spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday ahead of a key climate summit that starts in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 31. Many environmentalists say the U.N. summit, known as COP26, represents the world’s final chance to avert a climate catastrophe.

Shaw said that at Glasgow, he intends to announce a more ambitious target for New Zealand’s emissions reductions over the coming decade, and he hopes many other countries also aim higher.

He said a top priority will be to ensure that a promise made by wealthier nations to provide $100 billion a year to help poorer countries switch to cleaner energy is fulfilled.

“The developed world so far has not delivered on that promise,” Shaw said.

Unsupported ‘sickout’ claims take flight amid Southwest woes

DALLAS (AP) — When Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights over the weekend, citing bad weather and air traffic control issues, unsupported claims blaming vaccine mandates began taking off.

Conservative politicians and pundits, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, alleged the flight disruptions resulted from pilots and air traffic controllers walking off their jobs or calling in sick to protest federal vaccination requirements.

The airline, its pilots’ union and the Federal Aviation Administration denied that.

“The weekend challenges were not a result of Southwest employee demonstrations,” Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said Monday.

Still, Twitter posts claiming airline employees were “standing up to medical tyranny” and participating in a “mass sickout” amassed thousands of shares. Vague and anonymous messages on social media speculated that Southwest was hiding the real reason for its disruptions. And anti-vaccine rallying cries such as #DoNotComply, #NoVaccineMandate and #HoldTheLine were among the 10 most popular hashtags tweeted in connection to Southwest over the weekend, according to a report from media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.

The Latest: US to drop 19-month ban on nonessential travel

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says the United States will reopen its land borders for nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New rules to be announced Wednesday will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals entry to the U.S. regardless of the reason for travel.

That starts in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions is set to kick in for air travel. Senior administration officials previewed the new policy late Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to speak ahead of the formal announcement.

Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic. Both Mexico and Canada have pressed the U.S. for months to ease restrictions on non-essential travel that have separated families and curtailed leisure trips.

— By Zeke Miller

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Chartered Flight For MPs To Vic Falls For 2022 National Pre-Budget Seminar – New

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By Anna Chibamu

PARLIAMENT will avail a chartered flight for MPs to attend the 2022 annual pre-budget seminar in the resort city of Victoria Falls.

House of Assembly Speaker Jacob Mudenda confirmed the 2022 pre-budget seminar will be held this weekend.

Mudenda told National Assembly members Tuesday all MPs residing from provinces furthest Victoria Falls, such as Harare, Mashonaland East, West, Central, Manicaland will fly to the resort city Friday morning.

However, MPs from Masvingo, Midlands, Bulawayo, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South province will use their parliamentary-issued vehicles to travel for the all-paid weekend seminar.

The seminar follows public consultations carried out countrywide by Parliament ahead of the 2022 national budget to be presented by Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube next month.

However, previous national budgets have come under fire from citizens who feel the budgets have become documents filled with figures with no meaning as the country’s economy continues to worsen.

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US Congress Approves Zimbabwe's $213.2m HIV Response Support – New

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By Staff Reporter

MORE than 1.2 million Zimbabweans living with HIV will continue receiving life-saving treatment and health services enabling them to lead long and healthy lives.

Thousands of health care workers will also continue carrying out their critical work under the latest country plan approved by the United States.

The US Congress approved $213.2 million for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) 2021 country plan for Zimbabwe, reflecting strong coordination between the United States and key partners, including the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Global Fund, UNAIDS, and civil society.

The approved plan will advance client-centered services, support Zimbabwe health care workers, and implement resilient programmes designed to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19.

More than US$9.4 million of the total comes from the American Rescue Plan Act to strengthen health systems, such as the electronic health record and national surveillance systems, already helping screen and track Covid-19 at Zimbabwe’s ports of entry.

U.S. Embassy Chargé d’ Affaires Thomas Hastings has recognised the enormous contributions to the HIV response by civil society organizations, people living with HIV, health workers and implementing partners during an especially challenging year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I commend the Zimbabwean communities for continuing to work despite challenges posed by Covid-19.  Support under the PEPFAR program couldn’t have come at better time to ensure people continue to receive HIV treatment and other lifesaving services,” he said.

More than 1.27 million people live with HIV in Zimbabwe, including 1.19 million adults and nearly 76,000 children.

The PEPFAR 2021 plan supports 100 percent treatment coverage within every district and across all ages, ensuring people like 46-year-old Patricia Padzura, a Harare resident diagnosed with HIV 20 years ago, remain on treatment and continue to live healthy lives.

“Getting onto HIV treatment is the best thing that ever happened to my life,” Padzura said. “I am healthy and most importantly, I am happy that the virus in my blood is now undetectable.”

In the year ahead, PEPFAR will invest more than $40 million to support nearly 200,000 vulnerable girls and young women aged 10-24 in Zimbabwe under the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe) programme.

Since 2015, DREAMS has reached more than 785,000 girls with HIV and violence prevention education and services, educational assistance, economic strengthening, and post-violence care.

About $9 million of support will benefit nearly 53,000 Zimbabwean LGBTQI+ community members, targeting men who have sex with men and transgender people.

While no PEPFAR assistance goes directly to the Government of Zimbabwe, it does support thousands of health care workers through implementing partners and non-government organizations who carry out the work under close Embassy oversight.

PEPFAR supports these health care workers, as well as key staff in district and regional health offices and laboratories, with salary supplements, stipends, travel expenses, and other forms of support.

PEPFAR’s support to Zimbabwe, including the $1.7 billion cumulative investment since 2003, has vastly and positively changed the direction of the HIV epidemic.

The second Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (ZIMPHIA 2020) reflected this impact, noting that among all Zimbabweans on HIV treatment, 90.3% had achieved viral load suppression, meaning they effectively have no risk of transmitting HIV to others.

Continued PEPFAR investment will ensure Zimbabwe remains on track to attaining epidemic control and ending AIDS by 2030.

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OPINION | Maynard Manyowa: South Africa's lax border controls played a role in the red list issue – News24

The slow pace to move South Africa off the UK’s red list could have been as a result of South Africa’s lax border controls, writes Maynard Manyowa.

At midnight, on 11 October, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland removed South Africa from its ‘red list’, but only when it had relaxed most of its own rules surrounding travel, and life in the country had returned to normal. Currently only seven countries remain on the red list, most of them being South American Spanish speaking countries where the UK is not a prime destination anyway – the United States is. In truth, South Africa was only removed at the same time as Afghanistan, and when the UK was taking the final steps to abolish the traffic light system altogether.

What was the red list?

Under the three-tier travel traffic light system, passengers arriving in the UK from a green list country or passengers who had spent ten days in a green list country didn’t have to self-quarantine on arrival. All they required was a negative Covid test taken days before arrival. 

Passengers from amber list countries were required to take a test before coming to the UK, self-quarantine at home, and book for a test on day two and day eight of their arrival. This was largely seen as inconvenient but tolerable. 

However, passengers from the red list were subject to some of the harshest health screening protocols in recent times. They were required to book and pay for an 11-night quarantine in a managed hotel at the cost of £2 285 (R46,000). They were also required to pay for pre-departure Covid tests. 

The entire scheme was scandalous, and the experience was torrid. I flew back to the UK on 20 August through South Africa. I landed to an effective prison. I could only leave my hotel for 15 minutes supervised exercise a day – way less than the 30 minutes to an hour that death row inmates receive in the United States. 

READ | Scrapping UK travel red list might just save SA’s peak tourism season

But if it was scandalous, it was absurd too. My wife, a South African national, flew out of South Africa on 4 September, first to Dubai and then to London Heathrow. She had to pay £2,285 (R46,000) as well. On top of that, Emirates Airlines required her to test the day before departure at the cost of R800 and then six hours before boarding at the cost of R1400. On arrival, those who had spent ten days in Dubai were allowed to leave and go home, those who departed from South Africa were sent to the hotel, even though these passengers had been in the same flight for nearly nine hours. In fact my wife sat in the middle seat and next to two passengers who were allowed to go home. I found that self-defeating, but that is a story for another day. 

Throughout the year, the UK has moved several countries through different tiers. But South Africa, along with Zimbabwe, Malawi, and pretty much all Southern Africa debuted in the red list and remained there – much to the annoyance of South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Naledi Pandoor.

Why did South Africa remain in the red list? 

The UK never offered an official position as to why South Africa remained on the red list. For some time, it stood to reason that South Africa was not in control of infection rates, and the beta variant (also known as 501.V2 or B.1.351 and first identified in SA), was at one point thought to be the most infectious SARS Cov2 variants was out of control. After all, when the UK’s infection numbers were rocketing, South Africa was swift in banning passengers from the UK entirely.

But this explanation seemed to fall flat when India was moved from the red list to the amber list. India’s delta variant is straight from the pits of hell. It is more infectious than any other variant, affects the young as well as the elderly, spreads quickly, and is responsible for repeat infections among people who are already vaccinated. India’s own numbers were horrendous, at one point consistently registering more than a quarter million cases a day. 

READ | ‘Definitely not rooted in science’ – health experts slam UK’s decision to keep SA on red list

The United States led the list of confirmed active cases. India followed closely. At that time, South Africa was not even in the top 10. Its neighbours, Zimbabwe, and Malawi all had under 10,000 cases. They were off the red list. South Africa puzzlingly remained.

But there may have been one other reason that South Africa remained on the red list longer than it should have. A contact at Public Health England, told me that during several cluster meetings held by different Covid-19 response portfolios, security issues had been raised. 

What were these security issues? 

South Africa’s borders are gleefully ajar. It is a well-known and open secret that people from different countries can bribe their way past border officials without producing a passport, and that many illegal immigrants, especially from neighbouring countries, often pay border officials to have their passports “stamped out”. 

What is “stamping out”?

Stamping out is a practice where an immigrant in danger of overstaying their visitor visa will pay a border official to have their passport issued an exit stamp. Accordingly, that person will have left South Africa on paper, even though they remain in the country. In some instances, passports are stamped in, when the immigrant wants to exit the country. Perhaps critical is that people who overstay their visas can often get this fixed by paying officials to backdate entry and exit dates on passports.

South Africa’s law enforcement is aware of this practice and its priority crime police (HAWKS) have arrested border officials several times. 

According to my contacts, there were grave concerns raised that South Africa could be used as a gateway country, that, if it was placed on the amber list, people from countries that do not require a visa to enter South Africa could simply show up at the border, and have their passports stamped to indicate that they entered the country 11 days before the day they actually did – meaning they could board a plane to the UK the very same day and before spending ten days in the amber list country.

It is a plausible explanation that will surface again when vaccine passports become acceptable for international travel. As it is, anyone can get their passports backdated for as little as R300. South Africa’s police have already arrested people for issuing bogus vaccine documents. Zimbabwe has arrested several travellers for arriving with fake Covid tests from South Africa. The passengers make it past South Africa’s port health officials without notice. 

“It is one of those things that happens in Mzansi”, my wife Boipelo said to me as I penned this article. She is correct. But the whole world is watching, and they are catching up and catching on. So, while I ought to be angry for being left £4,570 (R92,544) out of pocket, I also understand that British authorities, like Zimbabwean authorities, have the right to step in and protect the public where South Africa’s lax border attitudes pose a danger to everyone else. 

– Maynard Manyowa is a Journalist and Documentary Film Maker based in Manchester, England. You can follow him on Twitter @iAmKudaMaynard

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