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

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.

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— By Zeke Miller

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Apostolic church leaders in Zimbabwe preach vaccines unrelated to Satanism

US to reopen land borders in November to fully vaccinated vacation travelers

— Conservative state Republicans move to undercut private employer vaccine mandates

— Russia hits new record for COVID-19 deaths, resists lockdown

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SEKE, Zimbabwe — The Apostolic church is one of Zimbabwe’s most skeptical groups when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. It is also one of the southern African nation’s largest religious denominations.

But many of these Christian churches, which combine traditional beliefs with a Pentecostal doctrine, preach against modern medicine and demand followers seek healing or protection against disease through spiritual means like prayer and the use of holy water.

Some secluded Apostolic groups believe vaccines are linked to Satanism. To combat that, authorities have formed teams of campaigners who are also churchgoers to dispel misconceptions about the vaccines in their own churches.

Vaccine activist 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.

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

While slow and steady might be best in dealing with some religious hesitancy, the situation is urgent in Africa, which has the world’s lowest vaccination rates. Zimbabwe has fully vaccinated 15% of its population, much better than many other African nations but still way behind the United States and Europe.

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JUNEAU, Alaska–Two Alaska state senators have tested positive for COVID-19 and a third was not feeling well and awaiting test results, Senate President Peter Micciche said Tuesday.

He did not identify the lawmakers who had tested positive.

Lawmakers are in the second week of their fourth special session of the year. Six of the Senate’s 20 members attended Tuesday’s floor session, which was a so-called technical session where no formal business was taken up.

Micciche said along with the COVID-19 cases some senators had put off trips and were unable to be in Juneau Tuesday, prompting the technical session.

Masks are required at legislative facilities, including the Capitol, though individual lawmakers can decide if they want to wear masks in their respective offices. Legislators and legislative staff also are to participate in regular COVID-19 testing under a recently adopted policy.

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SALT LAKE CITY — With the governor of Texas leading the charge, conservative Republicans in several states are moving to block or undercut U.S. President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for private employers before the regulations are even issued.

The growing battle over what some see as overreach by the federal government is firing up a segment of the Republican Party base, even though many large employers have already decided on their own to require their workers to get the shot.

The dustup will almost certainly end up in court since GOP attorneys general in nearly half of the states have vowed to sue once the rule requiring workers at private companies with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or tested weekly is unveiled.

The courts have long upheld vaccine mandates, and the Constitution gives the federal government the upper hand over the states, but with the details still unannounced and more conservative judges on the bench, the outcome isn’t entirely clear.

On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order barring private companies or any other entity from requiring vaccines.

States weighing or advancing bills include Arkansas and Ohio, and there are calls for special sessions in Wyoming, Kansas, South Dakota, Indiana and Tennessee.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden’s administration’s mandate that employers with 100 or more workers require coronavirus vaccinations or institute weekly virus testing has moved one step closer to enforcement.

On Tuesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration finalized the initial draft of the emergency order and sent it to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. That’s according to the Department of Labor.

OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will conduct a standard review of the regulation.

Officials did not immediately provide an estimate for the OMB examination. The agency has 90 days to review the rule or send it back to OSHA for revision. Text of the proposed order won’t be published until OMB completes its review.

Owing to the bureaucracy surrounding the rulemaking process, President Joe Biden has encouraged businesses to implement mandates ahead of the final rule being implemented.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s governor announced Tuesday that he would be lifting a curfew and a ban on alcohol sales as the U.S. territory reports a drop in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

Current restrictions prohibit certain businesses from operating between midnight and 5 a.m. and also bar alcohol sales during that time, two measures that will be lifted Thursday.

However, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said other restrictions, including an indoors mask requirement, remain in place.

He noted that 70% of the island’s 3.3 million people are vaccinated, and that the positivity rate for coronavirus tests dropped to 3%, compared with 10% in August.

Puerto Rico has reported more than 150,500 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 3,000 deaths from COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus.

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LEWISTON, Maine — Staffing shortages at one of Maine’s biggest hospitals have forced it to halt pediatric and trauma admissions, sparking a renewed debate over the governor’s vaccine mandate for health care workers.

Citing “acute staffing shortages,” Central Maine Medical Center temporarily suspended but later reinstated heart attack admissions and will be reviewing trauma admissions on an ongoing basis, the hospital said in a statement Tuesday.

The neonatal intensive care unit is closing and the suspension of pediatric admissions will continue until further notice, the hospital said.

Earlier this month, the hospital’s chief medical officer said about 70 employees left due to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement. The deadline was Oct. 1 but state officials said they would not start enforcing it until Oct. 29.

Republican leaders in the Maine Legislature sent a letter to Democratic leaders urging lawmakers to return to session to include a testing option for health care workers who don’t want the vaccine.

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SEATTLE — Boeing Co. has told employees they must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or possibly be fired.

The Seattle Times reports that the deadline for getting shots is Dec. 8.

The newspaper says an internal Boeing presentations says that employees failing to comply with the mandate “may be released from the company.” Employees granted exemptions “due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief” will have to be tested frequently for the virus and be ready to “present a negative test result upon request.”

The policy will apply to roughly 140,000 employees companywide, with about 57,000 of those in Washington state.

The white-collar union the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace says it is communicating with Boeing “to ensure implementation gives proper consideration to members’ concerns.”

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida has issued its first fine to a county it accuses of violating a new state law banning coronavirus vaccine mandates and for firing 14 workers who failed to get the shots.

The Florida Department of Health on Tuesday issued the $3.5 million fine for Leon County, saying the home to the state capital of Tallahassee violated Florida’s “vaccine passport” law that bars requiring people to show proof of vaccination.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says that “no one should lose their jobs because of COVID shots.”

The law is being challenged in court and conflicts with a Biden administration order that companies with more than 100 employees require their workers to be vaccinated or face weekly testing.

The Leon County administrator says the county believes its vaccination mandate is legally justifiable and necessary to keep people safe.

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NEW YORK — NBA star Kyrie Irving can keep refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but he can’t play for the Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets announced Tuesday that Irving wouldn’t play or practice with the team until he could be a full participant, ending the idea he could play in only road games. Under a New York City mandate, professional athletes playing for a team in the city must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play or practice in public venues.

Without mentioning his vaccination status, general manager Sean Marks said Irving has made a decision that keeps him from being a full member of the team. Irving hasn’t said he isn’t vaccinated, asking for privacy when he spoke via Zoom during the team’s media day on Sept. 27.

Marks said he and owner Joe Tsai together made the decision, adding it came through discussions with Irving and his associates. NBA players are not required to be vaccinated, but they face more testing and social distancing. The league had said that players wouldn’t be paid for games they miss because they are ineligible to play.

Marks said Irving will still be paid for road games.

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WASHINGTON — Hunger and food insecurity across the United States have dropped measurably over the past six months, but the need remains far above pre-pandemic levels.

Specialists in hunger issues warn the situation for millions of families remains extremely fragile. An Associated Press review of bulk distribution numbers from hundreds of food banks across the country reveals a downward trend in the amount of food handed out by food banks across the country.

The decrease started in the spring as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout took hold and some closed sectors of the economy began to reopen.

However, Katie Fitzgerald of Feeding America says, “It’s come down, but it’s still elevated.” Feeding America is a nonprofit organization that coordinates 200 food banks across the country and provided the AP with the national distribution numbers.

Fitzgerald says despite the recent decreases, the amount of food being distributed by Feeding America’s partner food banks remained more than 55% above pre-pandemic levels.

Factors include the advancement of the delta variant, which has already delayed planned returns to the office for millions of employees and could threaten school closures and other shutdowns as the nation enters the winter flu season. Other obstacles include the gradual expiration of an eviction moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania reported on Tuesday its highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Nearly 17,000 COVID-19 infections were confirmed Tuesday and 442 deaths, the first time the European Union country of 19 million has surpassed 400 virus deaths in a single day.

Romania’s intensive care units for coronavirus patients are stretched to capacity in what is the European Union’s second-least vaccinated nation. Only 34% of adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Romania has registered more than 1.3 million confirmed cases and 40,071 confirmed deaths.

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NEW YORK — Many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations are rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot. Meanwhile, millions who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine wait to learn when it’s their turn.

Federal regulators begin tackling that question this week. On Thursday and Friday, the Food and Drug Administration convenes its independent advisers for the first stage in the process of deciding whether extra shots of the two vaccines should be dispensed and, if so, who should get them and when.

The final go-ahead is not expected for at least another week. After the FDA advisers give their recommendation, the agency will make an official decision on whether to authorize boosters. Then a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer more specifics on who should get them.

The FDA meetings come as U.S. vaccinations have climbed back above 1 million per day on average, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks. The rise has been driven mainly by Pfizer boosters and employer vaccine mandates.

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LONDON — The German biotechnology company CureVac says it has withdrawn its application for the approval of its coronavirus vaccine from the European Medicines Agency and will focus on making next-generation messenger RNA vaccines.

In a statement on Tuesday, CureVac says recent communications with the EU drug regulator suggested its COVID-19 vaccine might only be authorized in mid-2022. Earlier this year, the company described its initial vaccine results as “sobering,” after data suggested the shot was only about 47% effective.

CureVac says it will instead prioritize the development of second-generation mRNA vaccines with its partner GlaxoSmithKline and expects to be in “late-stage clinical development” by the middle of next year.

The EMA confirmed Tuesday it had ended the accelerated evaluation of the CureVac vaccine, a process started in February. COVAX, the U.N.-backed effort to share vaccines globally, had been waiting for possible doses from CureVac, which received funding from one of the COVAX partners.

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


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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 Zimbabwe.com

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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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