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ImageJerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, in September.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday that inflation is likely to last well into next year and that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus creates more uncertainty around the economic outlook, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

The remarks by Mr. Powell, who will testify before the Senate Banking Committee alongside Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, convey a sense of wariness at a time when price increases are running at their fastest pace in three decades.

“It is difficult to predict the persistence and effects of supply constraints, but it now appears that factors pushing inflation upward will linger well into next year,” Mr. Powell plans to say. “In addition, with the rapid improvement in the labor market, slack is diminishing, and wages are rising at a brisk pace.”

Mr. Powell will also address the new variant, which governments and scientists are racing to assess and contain.

“The recent rise in Covid-19 cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant pose downside risks to employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation,” Mr. Powell said. “Greater concerns about the virus could reduce people’s willingness to work in person, which would slow progress in the labor market and intensify supply-chain disruptions.”

Much is unknown about the new mutation of the coronavirus, but it represents something Fed officials worry about: The possibility that the pandemic will continue to flare up, shutting down factories, roiling supply lines and keeping the economy out of balance. If that happens, as it did with the Delta variant earlier this summer and fall, it could perpetuate high prices.

Inflation has surged in 2021 as strong consumer demand has crashed into the barrier of limited supply. Production line closures, port pileups and part shortages have kept goods from getting onto shelves and to customers, prompting companies to charge more. At the same time, a dearth of labor in certain industries caused by virus wariness and pandemic-related child-care shortages has been pushing up wages and prices for some services.

It’s too early to know if the new virus strain will contribute to those trends, making inflation last longer than it otherwise would. But the new mutation strikes at a delicate moment for monetary policy.

Central bankers are slowing their bond-purchase program, a move that should give them more flexibility to raise interest rates — their more traditional and powerful tool for stoking the economy — if doing so should prove necessary next year.

Several Fed officials have signaled that they may speed up their so-called bond-buying “taper” given how high and how stubborn inflation is proving. Many economists think officials could announce a plan to do so at their meeting in December.

But if the coronavirus again hits the economy, it could make such a decision — and the timing and pace of eventual rate increases — more challenging.

That’s because the Fed balances two goals, controlling inflation and stoking employment, when it sets its policy. A faster and fuller removal of help for the economy might slow down price gains by weighing down demand, but it would likely slow business expansions and hiring in the process.

“We will use our tools both to support the economy and a strong labor market and to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched,” Mr. Powell plans to say, after once again acknowledging that the Fed realizes “high inflation imposes significant burdens, especially on those less able to meet the higher costs of essentials like food, housing, and transportation.”

Mr. Powell, whom President Biden plans to reappoint for a second term as Fed chair, will tell lawmakers that the Fed is “committed to our price-stability goal.”

Global markets steadied on Monday, with stocks on Wall Street and oil prices gaining, as investors contemplated more carefully the knowns and unknowns of a new Covid-19 variant.

The S&P 500 rose 1.3 percent, rebounding from a 2.3 percent drop on Friday. That was its worst day since February and came after initial news of the discovery in southern Africa of the new variant, called Omicron. The World Health Organization labeled it a “variant of concern,” its most serious category.

Shares of companies in industries that had been bouncing back in recent months, like airlines and other travel firms, took big hits as governments reintroduced limits on movement across borders. Oil prices plunged on concerns about the economic toll of potential restrictions, while government bond yields fell amid an investor flight to the relative safety of sovereign debt.

On Monday, with quick answers about the threat from Omicron hard to come by, investors seemed less focused on potential disaster, and some of Friday’s moves were undone. While the new variant might turn out to be more contagious and vaccine resistant, it could also prove to be less dangerous to the health of the vaccinated or previously infected. Scientists haven’t come to firm conclusions, and it could take up to two weeks before the tests of current vaccines on the new variant have results. And Covid-related stock market drops are getting milder and shorter.

When the virus first emerged in early 2020, the S&P 500 fell for a month and a half before recovering. In October 2020, a resurgence of cases led to a drop of 5.6 percent over a few days, but markets had rebounded within a week. In July of this year, the emergence of the Delta variant triggered a one-day slide of 1.6 percent that was recouped within a few days.

“We don’t know how dangerous it is to health, though early reports that it isn’t very dangerous, while downplayed by the cautious experts, are very seductive,” Kit Juckes, a strategist at Société Générale, wrote in a note to clients. “Against that backdrop, some of Friday’s madness has been reversed, but only part of it.”

Stocks in Europe also rose on Monday, with the Stoxx Europe 600 closing 0.7 percent higher. The FTSE 100 in Britain rose 0.9 percent, while stock indexes in France and Spain were also higher.

Futures of the two major oil benchmarks, Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate, gained 1 percent and 2.6 percent. With crude oil rebounding, shares of energy companies also climbed. Enphase Energy was up 3.8 percent, while Diamondback Energy gained about 2.3 percent.

Government bond yields also climbed. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage points, to 1.52 percent. On Friday, the yield had dropped 16 basis points, the steepest one-day fall since late March 2020. Concerns over newly imposed travel restrictions mostly eased on Monday, with travel and leisure stocks trading higher as President Biden said on Monday that the administration’s plan to combat Covid in the winter did not does not include “shutdowns or lockdowns,” and would instead rely on more testing, vaccinations and boosters.

Royal Caribbean Group rose 2.8 percent on Monday, while Norwegian Cruise Line was up 0.8 percent. Shares of United Airlines also rose. Moderna, the vaccine maker, rallied more than 10 percent.

Not every market rebounded, however. With Japan sealing its borders just days after reopening to short-term business travelers and international students, shares in Asia tumbled. The Nikkei 225 fell 1.6 percent, while stocks in Hong Kong fell 1 percent.

Carlos Tejada and Stephen Gandel contributed reporting.

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

The Black Friday weekend was a success for retailers, but reflected challenges in the supply chain and the prevalence of early deals in October, which prompted customers to spread out their spending.

Shoppers were clearly more comfortable going into stores than they were last year, but in-store visits were still well off prepandemic levels. Foot traffic soared about 48 percent from last year, though remained down about 28 percent from 2019, according to data from Sensormatic Solutions. The peak time for in-store shopping was 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, the firm said. Many retailers remained closed on Thanksgiving Day after closing for the day in 2020, reversing a yearslong trend of being open on the holiday.

Customers spent about $8.9 billion online on Black Friday, slightly less than in 2020, and $5.1 billion on Thanksgiving, which was on par with last year, according to Adobe Analytics data, which covers more than one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites. It was the first time Adobe saw a decrease on big shopping days since it first began reporting e-commerce data in 2012. But consumers spent far more between Nov. 1 and Nov. 28.

Hot products included denim, where loosefitting jeans have fueled sales, going-out apparel including dresses, beauty and fragrances, cozy sweaters, and comfortable athleisure and tailored clothes, according to analysts at Cowen & Co.

Cyber Monday discounts were expected to be weaker in part because of the supply chain issues from factory shutdowns to port backups, which have plagued retailers in recent months and were highlighted on earnings calls last week from Gap and Nordstrom.

Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — About 49 percent of prepandemic moviegoers are no longer buying tickets. Some of them, roughly 8 percent, have likely been lost forever. To win back the rest, multiplex owners must “urgently” rethink pricing and customer perks in addition to focusing on coronavirus safety.

Those were some of the takeaways from a new study on the state of the American movie theater business, which was troubled before the pandemic — attendance declining, streaming services proliferating — and has struggled to rebound from coronavirus-forced closings in 2020. Over the weekend, ticket sales in the United States and Canada stood at roughly $96 million, compared to $181 million over the same period in 2019.

The study, published online on Monday, was self-commissioned by the Quorum, a film research company led by David Herrin, the former head of research for United Talent Agency; Cultique, a consultancy run by the longtime brand strategist Linda Ong; and Fanthropology, which describes itself as a research, strategy and creative agency. They intend to run the survey once a quarter.

“The research clearly shows that theaters are suffering because the pandemic intensified, accelerated, amplified all of the nascent trends that were already underway,” Ms. Ong said. “That is the definition of a perfect storm — not that various problems exist at the same time, but that they have an intensifying effect on each other.”

The nascent trends? Rising ticket and concession prices. Decreasing “experiential value,” including the perception that moviegoing has become a hassle. The run-down state of shopping malls, which house many theaters. A generational shift toward streaming, gaming and other smartphone-based entertainment. “Before, maybe you went every now and again — overlooking the drawbacks,” Mr. Herrin said. “Now you add safety concerns to that mix, and you suddenly become a former filmgoer.”

The research companies surveyed 2,528 people who visited a movie theater in 2019. (Some bought a ticket once a week, while others went once a month. Others went “several” times a year.) About 51 percent of respondents said they had bought tickets in recent months, with some drawn by cinema-chain rewards programs. They are largely white men ages 25 to 45 who live in cities, according to Mr. Herrin. “Once you get outside of that demographic, you’re really starting to lose people,” he said.

The 49 percent no longer buying tickets were more likely to be in favor of a vaccine mandate for attendees. This group, predominantly female, was also more likely to be concerned about price and value, Mr. Herrin said. Still, he noted that roughly a third were “hopeful” about returning to theaters at some point. Among the changes most likely to bring them back: lower prices for classic concessions, newer seats, policing the usage of phones during films.

“There needs to be a sense of urgency,” Mr. Herrin said. “I don’t know how large a window there is for exhibition to win these people back,” he added, using Hollywood jargon for the multiplex business.

The “likely losts,” as the study identifies 8 percent of respondents who said they have not bought a ticket during the pandemic and can’t see themselves returning, are lower-income consumers. The group has a large proportion of Hispanic, Black and Asian women, the researchers noted.

Credit…Amr Alfiky for The New York Times

Britain’s independent data privacy authority on Monday fined the facial recognition company Clearview AI £17 million, or $22.6 million, for failing to comply with the nation’s data protection laws.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said it fined Clearview AI for failing to inform British residents that it was collecting billions of photos from sites including Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to build its facial recognition software. The I.C.O. ordered the company to stop processing the personal data of people in Britain and to delete their existing information.

Clearview AI can contest the fine and the data breach allegations, according to the I.C.O., which said it will make a final decision on the penalty by mid-2022. The I.C.O. said Clearview had been used by various British agencies. BuzzFeed News previously reported on leaked data that listed various British government agencies and police departments as having run searches with the facial recognition software.

“I have significant concerns that personal data was processed in a way that nobody in the U.K. will have expected,” Elizabeth Denham, Britain’s information commissioner, said in a statement.

Lisa Linden, a Clearview AI spokeswoman, said the I.C.O.’s assertions were incorrect and that the company was considering an appeal. Clearview only “provides publicly available information from the internet to law enforcement agencies,” she said in a statement.

“My company and I have acted in the best interests of the U.K. and their people by assisting law enforcement in solving heinous crimes against children, seniors and other victims of unscrupulous acts,” Hoan Ton-That, Clearview AI’s chief executive, said in a statement.

The fine was the biggest that Clearview AI has faced. Earlier this year, the company was fined €250,000 by a Swedish regulator for data privacy violations. The British fine, if it remains unchanged, would amount to nearly 60 percent of the $38 million in funding that Clearview AI has raised from investors. In July, the company raised $30 million.

This month, an Australian regulator also said the company had violated local privacy laws. The Office of the Australian Office Commissioner ordered Clearview AI to stop collecting data on its residents and to destroy data previously collected in the country. Canada also declared Clearview AI illegal in February.

Clearview AI recently ranked high on a federal test of facial recognition software.

Although there is a lot we don’t know about the Omicron variant, business leaders are wearily asking themselves the same questions they did during previous surges of the coronavirus, the DealBook newsletter reports.

  • Will there be new lockdowns or vaccine mandates? Some jumped on the Omicron variant as an opportunity to urge airlines to require proof of vaccination and testing for passengers. The variant could also put pressure on companies reluctant to impose vaccine mandates on employees. As for government measures, Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC News it was “too early to say” whether there needed to be new lockdowns or mandates.

  • What does this mean for conferences and in-person gatherings? There’s a full lineup of events this winter, with organizers hoping to get back on track after previous cancellations and postponements. In early January, CES is scheduled to return to Las Vegas in-person, while the World Economic Forum in Davos is set to take place in person later that month. The Beijing Winter Olympics in February will allow spectators, though only from mainland China. South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, is set to return in-person in March. In Britain, new rules come into effect on Tuesday that require all travelers to isolate on arrival until they receive a negative test result; similar policies elsewhere would make attending conferences and other gatherings more difficult, a potential setback for airlines that were just starting to see a rebound.

  • Are workers ever going back to the office? Beyond the immediate question about office holiday parties, there’s the bigger question about the fate of offices next year and beyond. Many companies have already set and delayed their return dates multiple times. Several, including Wells Fargo, Google and Facebook parent Meta, are planning to bring their workers back to the office in January. Will they postpone a return date again or simply order workers back? Is the prospect of a prolonged pandemic enough to persuade some companies to switch to a permanent form of flexibility or will they continue to muddle through with imperfect hybrid setups?

Credit…Amir Cohen/Reuters

For months, airline travel has been steadily rebounding, and Sunday was the busiest travel day at U.S. airports since February 2020. But the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant threatens to derail the industry’s recovery, as the Delta variant did this summer.

Several nations, including the United States, have barred visitors from South Africa and a handful of neighboring countries. Japan, Morocco and Israel have barred all incoming foreign visitors, while the Philippines has banned visitors from southern Africa and several European countries.

The tightening of restrictions has drawn criticism from the travel sector. In a statement last week, Willie Walsh, the head of the International Air Transport Association, a global trade association, called for “safe alternatives to border closures and quarantine.” Over the weekend, the U.S. Travel Association urged the Biden administration to rethink its ban.

“Covid variants are of concern, but closed borders have not prevented their presence in the United States while vaccinations have proven incredibly durable,” Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president for public affairs and policy, said in a statement. “With a vaccine and testing requirement in place to enter the U.S., we continue to believe that assessing an individual’s risk and health status is the best way to welcome qualified global travelers into the United States.”

For U.S. airlines, the rebound in international travel has been slower than that for travel within the United States. But President Biden’s decision to ease longstanding restrictions on foreign travelers this month promised to stimulate that recovery. It isn’t yet clear whether or how the Omicron variant will affect travel demand, but if travel bans proliferate and concerns over the variant continue to spread, hopes for an accelerated international rebound could be dashed again.

Only two U.S. carriers, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, fly out of southern Africa. Both have said that they are not yet planning to adjust their schedules in response to the administration’s ban, which took effect on Monday and does not apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents. Delta operates three weekly flights between Atlanta and Johannesburg. United operates five flights a week between Newark and Johannesburg, and it has not changed its plans to restart flights between Newark and Cape Town on Wednesday.

No major American airline has announced any substantive changes to procedures because of the variant. And all passengers flying into the United States must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test, with noncitizens also required to be fully vaccinated.

Within the United States, air travel has nearly recovered, even with many businesses still wary of sending employees on work trips. The number of people screened at airport security checkpoints over the past week was down only 12 percent from the same week in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

The industry easily handled the crush of travelers over the holiday week, avoiding the disruptions that lasted for days at some airlines in recent months. In the seven days ending Sunday, there were fewer than 600 cancellations, accounting for less than 0.5 percent of all scheduled domestic flights, according to FlightAware, an aviation data provider.

Credit…Anna Liminowicz for The New York Times

Hoping to alleviate long lines at gas stations, empty shelves in grocery stores and a Christmas without mince pies, the United Kingdom’s Department for Transport began to recruit truck drivers overseas in October.

Official figures have not been released, but in mid-October, Oliver Dowden, a co-chairman of the Conservative Party, said on a radio show that a “relatively limited” number of applications had been received, and a little more than 20 had been approved.

So rather than a source of instant relief, the visa offer has become an informal measure of the appeal of post-Brexit, late-pandemic Britain, David Segal reports for The New York Times.

Some drivers who have worked in Britain said the country had become more xenophobic since Brexit, which took effect in January 2020. The campaign to leave the European Union was championed loudest by the United Kingdom Independence Party, whose leader, Nigel Farage, pushed for a law that would ensure “British jobs for British workers.” In 2013, he warned of a “Romanian crime wave.”

The British government estimates that it needs 100,000 more drivers. This raises the question of why the Department for Transport has made a mere 5,000 temporary visas available. In Parliament, politicians from opposition parties contend that the low figure reflects ambivalence in the Conservative government. READ THE ARTICLE →

Solar panels and electric car batteries rely on cobalt, a metal abundant in the Democratic Republic of Congo and rare elsewhere. The United States had long recognized the Central African nation’s strategic importance, yet recent administrations have done little to maintain ties, leaving China to step in.

A New York Times investigation, “Race to the Future,” examines the global demand for raw materials as the clean energy revolution takes off. Places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces two-thirds of the world’s supply of cobalt, are stepping into the kinds of roles once played by Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations. The race to secure supplies could have far-reaching implications for the shared goal of protecting the planet.

Read the investigation:

  • Jack Dorsey will step down as chief executive of Twitter, the social media site he co-founded in 2006 The social media pioneer, whose name has become synonymous with the company, will be replaced by Twitter’s chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal. Mr. Dorsey, who is also the chief executive of the payments company Square, was fired from the top job at Twitter in 2008 but returned in 2015. Shares of Twitter rose on Monday. READ MORE →

Labor market snapshot: On Friday, the Labor Department will release its report on jobs in November. The most recent report showed that the economy added more than 500,000 jobs in October after months of disappointing job figures. Still, 4.2 million fewer Americans were working in October than before pandemic lockdowns.

Theranos trial: Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, will continue to testify as she defends herself against fraud charges. In three days of testimony last week, she painted herself as someone whose best intentions were misinterpreted.

Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday: Americans returned to in-person shopping with gusto on Black Friday. But as Wirecutter notes, many shopping deals will extend through today, known as Cyber Monday. And for those who are more inclined to spend on charitable causes, there’s Giving Tuesday.





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11 Things You Need to Know on Your First Trip to Maui


Updated May 4, 2021: Starting May 4, Maui County added a new requirement: All trans-Pacific travelers participating in the state’s Safe Travels Program will be subject to an additional rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival at Kahului Airport.

 

While a vacation to Maui can be the trip of a lifetime—and it’s pretty hard to have a bad time in Hawaiʻi—there are a few things every visitor should know if it’s the first time traveling to the island. Even if you’ve been to other Hawaiʻi islands, Maui has its own quirks and peculiarities that are worth knowing about ahead of time.

1. Download the Aloha Safe Alert App

Safety first, especially during these strange and uncertain COVID-times. And if you’re looking to avoid the 10-day travel quarantine, you’ll need a negative COVID-19 test as well as the Aloha Safe Alert app, which is required for Maui County. So what does the app do? Using Bluetooth technology, the app trades and stores contact information with other phones using the app if you come into close proximity. And if you test positive for COVID-19 in the future—knock on wood—you can then use the app to send messages, anonymously, to devices you’ve come into contact with, thus alerting users that they may need to get tested. (It was created by our sister company Upspring.)

2. Maui is Also Known as the Valley Isle

Aerial View Of Maui

Photo: Getty Images

Fun fact—every major island in Hawaiʻi has a nickname. Oʻahu is the Gathering Place, Kauaʻi is the Garden Isle and Maui just so happens to be the Valley Isle. Why is it called that? You’ll probably understand on your flight in. Many of the island’s towns are sandwiched between Maui’s two major mountain ranges, Haleakalā and the West Maui Mountains.

3. Sunrise Visits to Haleakalā Require a Reservation

Catching a sunrise (or sunset) at Haleakalā, Maui’s highest peak at just over 10,000 feet above sea level, is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. But—and this is a big but—if you want to witness the sun rising from above the clouds, you will need a reservation. And don’t delay: Reservations are known to go quickly and are often filled weeks in advance. Visit here for more information.

4. You’ll Definitely Want to Rent a Car

While Oʻahu has some relatively accommodating public transportation options for getting around the island, from TheBus to Biki, traveling on Maui can be a bit more challenging. While you can get around most of the island using the Maui Bus system, there are only 13 fixed routes and wait times can be long. There are also no routes to more adventurous locales, such as Hāna—more on that soon—so without a car, you may miss out on things you really don’t want to miss out on.

5. It’s the Prime Location for Whale Watching

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Photo: Daniel Sullivan

North Pacific humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Maui waters every winter. It’s a strange thing to say, but the whales are so plentiful off Maui from November to May, they can even sneak up on you. It’s a well-known fact that the whales prefer shallower waters off the west coast of the island, where conditions are ideal for raising their young. They’re easy to spot from land; just peer out at Maui’s leeward coast long enough and you’ll likely see a spout or even a breach. If you want the ultimate whale-watching adventure, though, you’ll have to check out one of Lahaina’s many whale-watching tours.

6. The Road to Hāna isn’t as Scary as You Might Think

Road To Hana Maui .hawaii

You’ve probably heard the stories about the Road to Hāna. We’ve actually written a few. Needless to say, it has garnered quite the reputation of being as beautiful as it is terrifying. And while it is fun to make light of its blind corners and perilous ridges, the road really isn’t all that bad for those behind the wheel. Just be sure to drive carefully, follow traffic signs, give warning honks before corners and follow the speed limit. (If you are prone to motion sickness, sit up front—or drive.)

READ MORE: Best Road to Hāna Places to Stop

7. Driving the “Backside” of Hāna is Ill-Advised

While the Road to Hāna isn’t as perilous as you might think, driving the “backside” of Hāna, past ʻOheʻo Gulch, isn’t worth the risk, especially in a rented car. Most car rental companies specify certain roads as “unauthorized,” meaning you’ll have to pay for car repairs out-of-pocket if any damage occurs there. The stretch of road between Kīpahulu and Nuʻu is one of those roads. And for good reason. This section of Highway 31 is rough, narrow, unpaved and prone to landslides. Yikes.

8. Don’t Forget a Jacket

When you pack your bags for Maui, don’t forget to throw in a sweater or two as the island actually has some frigid areas. While most of Maui’s lower altitude districts enjoy the same tropical weather as other Hawai‘i islands, high altitude towns like Kula and Makawao dip into the mid-50s (degrees Fahrenheit) at night, and average around the high 60s and low 70s during the day. And if you’re planning to spend time atop Haleakalā, you’ll really want to bring something to keep you warm.

9. Get to Know Maui’s Very Distinct Districts

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Wailuku, Maui.
Photo: David Croxford

Maui and its many districts and towns can cater to almost any traveler, so it’s worth knowing where to go depending on what you’re looking for. For example, those who want to indulge in a more classical resort atmosphere should head toward Kāʻanapali or Wailea-Mākena. Pāʻia and Wailuku are considered homes away from home for the barefooted and free at heart, while Lahaina is great for families looking for a town with an assortment of shops, hotels and activities.

10. Eat at Mama’s Fish House

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Photo: Kevin Allen

This is less of a “thing to know” and more of a “something you absolutely 100% need to do,” but eating at Mama’s Fish House cannot be missed on your visit to Maui. Working with local fishermen, the Maui staple has been serving some of the state’s top seafood dishes since 1973. The Pāʻia restaurant, one of Maui’s top fine dining spots, has placed eighth on Tripadvisor’s list of top 10 fine dining restaurants in America and has been recognized as a James Beard Award semifinalist in the outstanding restaurant category.

11. Think Twice about Visiting Little Beach

To be brief, at this small secluded beach on the island’s southwest shoreline, clothing is optional.





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Omicron: WHO warns COVID variant risk ‘very high’ – Live | Coronavirus pandemic News


A three-day special session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) has kicked off on Monday to discuss pandemic preparedness and response, amid concerns over the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The WHA normally meets in May but a special session was called for in a decision adopted by the World Health Organization member states.

A draft resolution currently under review stops short of calling for the establishment of a “pandemic treaty” or a “legally binding instrument”, which proponents say would beef up the international response to pandemics.

The WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel curbs. However, bans have been introduced in recent days including by the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States.

Here are the latest updates:


Hospitalisations in Michigan surge

Michigan’s number of hospitalized adults with confirmed COVID-19 cases reached a new pandemic high of nearly 4,200 as the state continued to confront surging infections.

The total of 4,181 surpassed the previous record of 4,158, which was set seven months ago during the state’s third wave.

Only Minnesota had a higher seven-case case rate than Michigan as of Sunday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State health officials are urging people to get vaccinated and to wear masks in public settings to limit the spread of the coronavirus amid the fourth surge. The federal government has deployed military medical staffers to help Michigan hospitals cope.

The federal government has deployed military medical staffers to help Michigan hospitals cope [File: Emily Elconin/Reuters]

Cuba tightens restrictions on eight African nation

Cuba will ratchet up restrictions from December 4 on passengers from certain African countries over concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant, the country’s Communist-run government said on Monday.

Travelers arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, and Mozambique will be allowed to enter Cuba, the country’s health ministry said, but will be required to comply with multiple precautionary measures, including proof of vaccination, three PCR tests and a seven-day quarantine.


France reports biggest jump in hospital patients since spring

France registered its biggest jump in coronavirus-related hospital admissions since the spring, health ministry data showed.

The number of patients in intensive care units with COVID-19 jumped by 117 to 1,749 people, the biggest increase since March-April, when the ICU number rose by more than 100 per day on several days.

The French health minister last week said that France has entered a fifth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The French health minister last week said that France has entered a fifth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic [File: Stephane Mahe/Reuters]

WHO warns that new virus variant poses ‘very high’ risk

The World Health Organization says the global risk from the omicron variant of the coronavirus is “very high” based on early evidence, and it could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

The UN health agency, in a technical memo to member states, says “considerable uncertainties” remain about the new variant that was first detected in southern Africa. But it says the likelihood of possible further spread around the world is high.


Canada’s Quebec province discovers first case of Omicron

Quebec has discovered its first case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Canadian province’s health minister said on Monday, bringing Canada’s total number of cases to three.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube also told reporters at a briefing that 115 travellers from countries affected by the new variant, primarily South Africa, were called and asked to take a new PCR test for COVID-19.


Omicron ‘not a cause for panic’: Biden

President Joe Biden in a televised address from the White House said the Omicron coronavirus strain “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic”.

“We have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before,” he said, while adding that his chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci expected current vaccines would remain protective, with boosters enhancing protection.

The US president appealed to the roughly 80 million unvaccinated Americans aged five and up to get their shots, and for the rest of the country to seek out booster shots six months after their second dose.

Biden also urged Americans to get back to wearing face masks in all indoor public settings – a pandemic precaution that has fallen out of use across much of the country.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team at the White House on November 29, 2021 in Washington, DC [Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images via AFP]

Sweden reports first confirmed case of Omicron

One case of the Omicron coronavirus variant has been detected in Sweden, the Public Health Agency said.

The case was detected in a test taken just over a week ago from a person who had travelled from South Africa, the agency said in a statement.


Omicron: Are gov’ts prepared to deal with a new COVID variant?

Countries around the world have reimposed travel restrictions in response to new Omicron variant.

They were starting to reopen their borders and lift COVID-19 restrictions. But a new variant is now threatening to derail the progress made in the past few months.

Several nations have already imposed travel restrictions to and from Southern Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected.

Watch here.


UN’s Gutteres ‘deeply concerned’ by curbs on Southern Africa

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was “deeply concerned” as countries around the world imposed travel restrictions on Southern Africa in an attempt to stop the spread of a worrying new COVID-19 variant discovered there.

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” the UN chief said in a statement.

“I am now deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries due to new Covid-19 travel restrictions,” Guterres added.


Spain detects first case of Omicron variant

Spain has detected its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in a traveller coming from South Africa, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.

The case of the new variant was sequenced by Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon hospital, according to a tweet by its microbiology unit, adding that the patient was in a fair condition.

Spain has recorded at least 5.1 million cases since the pandemic began [File: Javier Barbancho/Reuters]

Moderna says Omicron vaccine could be ready by early 2022

Moderna Inc is having its best two-day rally in a year after the company said a new vaccine to fight the Omicron strain of the coronavirus could be ready by early 2022 if required.

The stock soared as much as 14 percent to the highest level in two months, after jumping 21 percent during Friday’s global risk-asset sell-off, to reclaim its place as top performer on the S&P 500 year to date. The company mobilised hundreds of workers on Thanksgiving Day last Thursday in order to start work on Omicron, Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said over the weekend.

Read more here.


US stocks rebound after Friday’s Omicron-fuelled sell-off

The major stock indexes in the United States rebounded on Monday after fears about the potential economic effects of the Omicron COVID-19 variant triggered a steep sell-off on Friday.

At the opening bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 118 points or 0.34 percent at 35,017.71, according to Refinitiv data.

Read more here.


‘Highly transmissible’ Omicron requires ‘urgent action’: G7

The Omicron variant is highly transmissible and requires “urgent action,” G7 health ministers said, while applauding South Africa’s “exemplary work” for both detecting the strain and alerting others to it.

“The global community is faced with the threat of a new, at a first evaluation, highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, which requires urgent action,” the health ministers said in a statement following an emergency meeting.

Underlining the “strategic relevance of ensuring access to vaccines”, they pledged to hold to their donation commitments, as well as to provide support to research and development.


UK vaccine advisers say all adults to receive boosters

Britain will offer a COVID-19 booster vaccine to all adults and give second doses to children aged between 12 and 15, the UK’s top vaccine advisers said on Monday, accelerating shots in light of concern about the spread of the Omicron variant.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said that all adults between 18-39 years old could receive shots, extending a programme that is already open for over 40s.

“Having a booster dose of the vaccine will help to increase our level of protection against the Omicron variant,” said Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s Chair for COVID-19 immunisation.

JCVI advised a largely age-based approach to the booster programme, with older adults as well as vulnerable people prioritised for shots [File: Neil Hall/EPA]

Dutch find 14 Omicron cases among passengers from South Africa

Netherlands health authorities say they have found another case of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant among passengers arriving from South Africa, bringing the total to 14.

“With the help of sequencing, it has now been confirmed in 14 people that it is the Omicron variant,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said in a letter to parliament.

De Jonge had on Sunday announced 13 Omicron infections. They were among 61 passengers who were confirmed with coronavirus, out of 624 travellers who arrived in Amsterdam on two KLM flights from South Africa on Friday.


Biden to provide update on Omicron, US response: AJ correspondent

United States President Joe Biden is expected to give a speech on Monday to address the Omicron variant and measures required to curb its spread.

“What we expect is that the president will be urging the 80 million Americans still not vaccinated to get vaccinated, to get a booster,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent Kimberley Halkett reported from the White House.

“But what we think is the president will stop short of putting in place further travel restrictions with respect to international travel as well as domestic travel,” she added.

INTERACTIVE- COVID19 - How Omicron comparesAl Jazeera

Poland announces new curbs amid Omicron concerns

Poland said it would ban flights to seven African countries, extend the quarantine period for certain travellers and reduce limits on numbers allowed into places like restaurants.

“We must appreciate the importance of this phenomenon and the risk that a new mutation emerging poses,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference.


China’S Xi pledges 1bn Covid vaccine doses for Africa

President Xi Jinping has offered one billion coronavirus vaccine doses to Africa, in a speech made via videolink to a China-Africa summit in Senegal’s capital Dakar.

The Chinese leader said that his country would donate 600 million doses directly. Meanwhile, a further 400 million doses would come from other sources.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (on the screen) delivers his speech during the China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting in Dakar, Senegal, on November 29, 2021 [Seyllou/AFP]

Ukraine orders self-isolation for travellers from countries with Omicron cases

Ukraine has introduced mandatory 14-day self-isolation for travellers returning from countries where the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected, the health ministry said.

“Travellers who have spent more than seven days in the Republic of South Africa, the Republic of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Kingdom of Eswatini, and the Republic of Mozambique must complete 14 days of self-isolation,” it said in a statement, adding that the list would be expanded soon.

Health Minister Viktor Liashko told a televised briefing earlier on Monday that cases of the Omicron variant had not been registered in Ukraine yet.


Vaccines should give good protection against Omicron: South African expert

Existing COVID-19 vaccines should be highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation from the newly identified Omicron variant, a top South African infectious disease expert said.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who served as the government’s chief adviser during the initial response to the pandemic, also said it was too early to say whether Omicron led to more severe clinical symptoms than previous variants.

However, he said it did appear more contagious and more likely to infect people with immunity from vaccination or prior infection, and he was expecting it to drive new daily infections in the country above 10,000 before the end of the week, from 2,858 on Sunday.

“Based on what we know and how the other variants of concern have reacted to vaccine immunity, we can expect that we will still see high effectiveness for hospitalisation and severe disease, and that protection of the vaccines is likely to remain strong,” Abdool Karim told a news conference.

Preventing severe disease is mainly a function of T-cell immunity, different from the antibody immunity that often blocks infections, “so even if there’s some escape from antibodies it’s very hard to escape T-cell immunity”, he said.


South Africa says travel ban by African nations ‘regrettable’

South Africa says it is “regrettable” that fellow African nations have joined a rush to impose travel bans over the new Omicron variant.

“It is quite regrettable, very unfortunate, and I will even say sad, to be talking about travel restrictions imposed by a fellow African country,” foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said on Monday.

Angola, Mauritius, Rwanda and the Seychelles have halted flights from South Africa in a bid to shield themselves from the spread of the new COVID-19 variant.

Monyela said South Africa had recently made “substantial donations” of vaccines to some of the countries that were now imposing flight bans.

“When a fellow African country does that, especially in the context where most of these countries are beneficiaries … it doesn’t make sense,” he told an online news conference organised by the health ministry.

“That’s why we think these decision must be reversed immediately.”

A healthcare worker assists a traveller to obtain his test results after conducting a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27, 2021 [Phill Magakoe / AFP]

Portugal probes local transmission of Omicron among football team

Portuguese health authorities have identified 13 cases of Omicron among members of a top football club and have ordered those who have been in contact with the positive cases to isolate and be regularly tested.

The national health institute said on Monday that one of those who tested positive was a player from the Lisbon-based Belenenses SAD football club who had recently been to South Africa, where Omicron was first identified. The others had not travelled to South Africa.

Portuguese health authorities are investigating whether this is one of the first cases of local transmission outside of Southern Africa.

Portugal also found two positive coronavirus cases when it screened 218 passengers arriving in Lisbon from the capital of Mozambique on Saturday. One of the cases was the Delta variant and the other one could not be established, authorities said.


WHO chief calls for ‘legally binding’ agreement to help prevent future pandemics

The WHO chief says the spread of Omicron is a “test of our collective ability to respond to future pandemics” and called for a “legally binding” agreement to coordinate collective action.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the WHA opening session: “Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics,” adding that “courageous and compassionate leadership” and an “unshakeable commitment to solidarity” will be fundamental.

Tedros said “our current system disincentivises countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores” after many countries announced travel restrictions to and from Southern Africa.

He also criticised the inequitable distribution of vaccines, saying access for all was necessary to limit the spread of the virus and its mutations.


Germany’s Angela Merkel calls for funding increase to WHO

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a 50-percent increase in funding to the WHO.

Speaking at the opening session of the WHA, Merkel called for a binding international accord on preventing pandemics.

Germany’s outgoing chancellor added that a global approach was needed to prevent the spread of a virus that “knows no borders”.


South Africa ramping up to cope with Omicron

South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla says the government is doing everything possible to prepare health facilities to cope with Omicron and scientists are working to establish whether it is more transmissible and whether vaccines can protect against severe illness.

Phaahla also said, at the news conference on Monday, officials are engaging with countries that imposed travel restrictions on Southern African countries to try to get them to reverse them.

South African epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim also said on Monday that not enough data had been collected to determine the clinical implications of Omicron compared with previous variants, and that reinfections are likely but that vaccinated people had less probability of developing serious symptoms.

“Based on what we know and how the other variants of concern have reacted to vaccine immunity, we can expect that we will still see high effectiveness for hospitalisation and severe disease, and that protection of the vaccines is likely to remain strong,” Abdool Karim told a news conference.


WHO says Omicron poses ‘very high’ global risk, countries must prepare

The WHO says “the overall global risk related to … Omicron is … very high” and that it is likely to spread internationally with “severe consequences” in some areas.

In technical advice to its 194 member states, the UN health agency on Monday urged them to accelerate the vaccination of high priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.

Further research is needed to better understand Omicron’s potential to evade the immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections. More data is expected in the coming weeks.


Six cases of Omicron identified in Scotland

Six cases of Omicron have been identified in Scotland, the Scottish government says, adding that public health officials are working to investigate.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at a press conference on Monday that not all of the identified cases had a recent travel history or known links with others who have travelled to the countries in Southern Africa where the variant was originally detected.

“This suggests that there might already be some community transmission of this variant in Scotland,” Sturgeon said. “But again, let me stress, there is no evidence yet that this is sustained, nor any evidence from the enhanced surveillance that it is widespread at this stage.”


Britain to unveil new booster guidance as Omicron spreads

Britain is set to unveil new guidance on extending the rollout of COVID-19 booster shots to those under 40 on Monday, in light of the rapid spread of Omicron.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has restricted travel to Southern Africa, tightened testing rules and made mask-wearing compulsory in shops and on transport.

He also asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to urgently review boosters for under-40s, and look at reducing the gap between second doses and boosters.

Britain, which currently holds the G7 presidency, has called for an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the new COVID strain.


Dr Angelique Coetzee: Omicron causing ‘very mild symptoms’ in people who are vaccinated

Dr Angelique Coetzee, who first spotted the new COVID-19 variant in South Africa, says that so far, people infected with Omicron have “very mild symptoms”, especially those who were inoculated after August.

Coetzee, of the South African Medical Association, said Omicron had raised concerns due to its more than 30 mutations, which might hinder vaccine effectiveness.

While it might take weeks for scientists to understand the implications of the new variant, hospital admissions in South Africa remain low, raising hopes that the new variant will not lead to increased hospitalisation rates.

Speaking to Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, Coetzee said the travel bans imposed on South Africa were “extremely premature”.


Dutch police arrest couple attempting to flee quarantine for Spain

Dutch police have arrested a married couple attempting to flee the country after testing positive for COVID-19. It was unclear whether the couple had tested positive for Omicron.

The Spanish man and Portuguese woman had left a quarantine hotel and were trying to fly to Spain. They were arrested “in an aeroplane that was about to depart,” the military police said in a statement.

Dozens of passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday are being kept in quarantine at a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.


Singapore, Malaysia reopen land border

Singapore and Malaysia have reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of being shut due to the pandemic and amid concerns the border might close again due to Omicron.

Under the latest arrangement, up to 1,440 travellers from either side can cross the land border per day without quarantine, if they hold citizenship, permanent residency or long-term visas in the destination country.

Travel requirements include testing negative for COVID-19 before departure and an on-arrival test. Malaysia’s Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said a traveller had tested positive to a rapid antigen test, and that some COVID cases were inevitable.


Singapore blocks Middle East airlines

Singapore has deferred the start of vaccinated travel lanes with Middle Eastern countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in view of their role as “transport nodes” for affected countries, its health ministry says.


US scientist Fauci defends travel ban on African countries

US infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has defended the Biden administration’s travel restrictions in response to Omicron.

The US plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other Southern African countries starting from Monday. Fauci stressed the purpose of any travel ban was to buy time to ramp up preparedness, urging not to let the measure “go without a positive effect”.


First suspected case of Omicron detected in Switzerland

Switzerland’s first probable Omicron case has been detected, as the country tightens its entry restrictions to check the spread.

The case is a person who returned to Switzerland from South Africa a week ago, the Federal Office for Public Health said on Twitter. Testing will clarify the situation in the coming days, it added.

Switzerland has said travellers from 19 countries must present a negative test when boarding a flight to the country and must quarantine for 10 days on arrival. The list includes Australia, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Israel, and South Africa.


New variant not stopping New Zealand reopening

The emergence of Omicron has not changed New Zealand’s plans to ease restrictions in Auckland and move into a new, more open phase of its pandemic response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen from late Thursday, ending a coronavirus lockdown that began in August.

Around the country, a new “traffic light” system will bring an end to lockdowns, but people will need to be fully vaccinated in order to do anything from getting a haircut to watching a concert.


Japan to bar foreign arrivals over virus variant

Japan says it will bar entry to foreigners, joining Israel in the strictest border measures yet since the discovery of Omicron.

Tokyo already announced it would require travellers permitted to enter Japan from six Southern African countries to quarantine in government-designated facilities for 10 days on arrival.

Japan’s borders have been almost entirely shut to overseas visitors for most of the pandemic, with even foreign residents at one point unable to enter.

No Omicron cases have been detected in the country so far. One traveller from Namibia tested positive for the coronavirus, and further tests were being conducted to find out if it was from the new variant, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said.

Read the previous live blog here





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Tourists packed Moab last week as pandemic travelers filled the West


Moab on a mid-fall weeknight was full. All the motels, RV parks and tents sites had “no vacancy” notices. Every food provider from Denny’s to the organic, locally-sourced artisan places had limited hours and limited menus due to lack of staff or food shortages.

On the southernmost tip of Utah, things got worse. There was no avocado toast left at the Kanab Creek Bakery. At the news, vegans and foodies looked visibly wan. The staff feigned patience. I settled for coffee that oddly came from being roasted at the extreme north end of the state, in Logan, Utah.

This felt like what travel has become these days — lots of tourists, strained services, and everywhere, Help Wanted signs. And weekdays didn’t seem mainly for retired people. We got to Chaco Canyon National Park on a Tuesday afternoon, and the campground there was sold out.

Fall used to be shoulder or at least elbow season; kids were back in school, people commuting to work, some campgrounds closed, and some attractions boarded up. In the few all-season campgrounds, you had your pick of sites. The pandemic problematic abnormal has changed that, and now there are rearrangements of everything everywhere.

Tanja, who spells it that way, let us in the Circleville, Utah, RV Park and Kountry Store for free. “It’s my campground and I can do what I want,” she said before making her rounds on her ATV.

The Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, Utah, was not free and ready to close for the season. It’s near the Navaho Nation and many people were wearing masks. Nancy, the manager, tells us from a safe distance that she personally knew 40 people who died of COVID-19 in the last two years. She also gave us directions to the semi-secret petroglyph panels in Bears Ears National Monument; the same panels that the Friends of Cedar Mesa group would not mention.



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TravelPerk Launches Team Event Management Solution


Travel management platform TravelPerk has launched a new solution designed to allow clients to organize events-based travel.

Named TravelPerk Events, the solution is designed to help teams plan, book and manage business trips for company events like offsite meetings and seasonal parties.

According to TravelPerk, the tool was developed in response to the growing trend of hybrid and remote working models in which teams are distributed across multiple locations. Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index shows more than 70 percent of survey respondents would like flexible and remote working to continue as the world adjusts to the “new normal” following the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The company said TravelPerk Events users would have a single solution for managing team events, such as sending invitations and tracking responses; sharing trip details including attendee names, logistics, agendas and a wider itinerary; keeping attendees updated with additional details or changes; and viewing attendees’ travel plans, including arrival and departure times and accommodation details.

Attendees have the option of booking their trip through the event page, eliminating the need for planners to organize travel and accommodation via email with participants, according to TravelPerk.

TravelPerk said Events is live on its platform and will be updated with additional functionality over the coming months.

TravelPerk has pursued significant international growth throughout 2021, having acquired travel sustainability firm Susterra in September, U.K. travel management provider Click Travel in July and U.S. rival NexTravel in January. The company raised $160 million in Series D funding in May.



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Flight prices dip amid COVID. Will it impact holiday travel?


The nation’s airlines are sweating over an unexpected drop in business travel in the last few weeks — and that’s welcome news if you’re a traveler looking to save money.

This month, domestic airfares are down 5% from September 2019 and international fares down about 8%, drops that industry experts attribute partly to the traditional price slump that happens at the end of the peak summer travel season plus the rise in coronavirus cases due to the Delta variant, according to the travel website Hopper.

Prices for flights to Europe are at a five-year low, down more than 30% compared with the same month in 2019, according to the travel website.

But the discounted prices are not expected to last long, with increases likely when travelers start booking holiday trips.

“Everything we are seeing says people are definitely going to be traveling,” said Adit Damodaran, an economist for Hopper.

The airfare roller coaster shows how the pandemic continues to affect the nation’s $1.5-trillion travel and hospitality industry. For the first time since COVID-19 took hold in spring 2020, travel demand this summer began to match and briefly surpass pre-pandemic levels, giving airline executives hope that the industry would soon rebound from more than a year of financial losses.

But in the last few weeks, airlines have reported a steep drop in demand and an increase in reservation cancellations. September typically marks the end of the peak summer travel season and the start of business travel for conferences, conventions and meetings. Industry experts say the uptick in business travel never materialized because of the surge in COVID-19 cases.

As a result, airlines are forced to drop prices to fill the seats left empty by business travelers.

“In a normal year, the fares would stay high because people would travel for business, but that is just not happening,” said Madhu Unnikrishnan, editor of the publication Airline Weekly.

The average domestic round-trip flight costs $260, down from $290 at the end of August, according to Hopper. International round-trip fares have dropped to an average of $700, down from $760 at the end of August.

The average round-trip price of a flight to Europe from the U.S. is $565, down from $665 at the end of August and the lowest price in five years, according to the website’s data. That price was an average of $940 at this time in 2019.

But flying to Europe could become more difficult soon. The European Union recommended this week that its 27 nations reinstate restrictions on tourists from the U.S. because of rising coronavirus infections. The guidance isn’t mandatory, and member countries have the option of allowing fully vaccinated U.S. travelers in.

The slump in business travel and rise in overall cancellations have airlines worried. Southwest, United, Delta and American airlines all revised their earnings outlook for the July-to-September quarter.

“The company continues to experience softness in bookings and elevated trip cancellations, especially close-in, as a result of the rise in the COVID-19 cases associated with the Delta variant,” Southwest Airlines said in a Sept. 9 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Close-in” cancellations are usually defined as being within 21 days of departure.

In its own Sept. 9 investor update, Delta Air Lines said “initial revenue expectations were predicated on an acceleration of business travel through the September quarter. The pace of business travel recovery has paused as companies delay or scale down initial office reopening.”

United Airlines said it expects the drop in demand to push total revenue down 33% in the July-to-September quarter.

Airlines are not the only businesses feeling the pain. The hotel industry is projected to lose more than $59 billion in business travel revenue in 2021 compared with 2019, according to a report by the American Hotel & Lodging Assn. and Kalibri Labs.

If the number of coronavirus cases drops or remains unchanged, travel experts say, Americans are likely to book air travel in high numbers for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season. And higher demand usually means higher prices.

“Most airlines have said Thanksgiving and Christmas and year-end holidays remain solid,” Unnikrishnan said. “So far, people are not canceling their holiday plans.”

Bookings and internet searches for holiday flights have started to rise.

“Right now, flight prices for the holiday travel season are up across the board compared to both 2019 and 2020,” said Giorgos Zacharia, president of the travel website Kayak.

Domestic round-trip airfares around Thanksgiving are priced at an average of $300, up 23% from 2020 ($245) but down 11% from the pre-pandemic 2019 fares ($335), according to Hopper. The average domestic round-trip airfares for travel around Christmas are $430, up 71% from 2020 ($250) and up 10% from 2019 ($390).

Rick Seaney, chief innovations officer at 3 Victors, a travel data company, said making flight reservations for the holidays can be tricky. Booking early — up to six weeks before departure — usually ensures that travelers get the lowest prices. But Seaney said another coronavirus surge could keep prices down, allowing travelers to book flights much closer to the holiday season.

“The question is will the prices get better or worse if you wait,” he said. “It depends on what will happen with the pandemic.”





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Buyers highlight ground transport issues at ITM event


Car rental supply chain issues, driver shortages and rising ground
transportation costs were highlighted as key areas of concern for travel
managers at the Institute of Travel Management’s latest Buyer Knowledge
Exchange event.

According to the ITM, global, EMEA and UK travel managers
attending the event said their programmes have faced a shortage of vehicles
available to hire because car rental has become a preferred, ‘Covid-safe’
option for both business and leisure travel. The trend has particularly caused
issues with finding cars available for one-way hire.

In addition, attendees said suppliers cannot guarantee
availability of electric vehicles as the demand for more sustainable travel
options increases.

Elsewhere in ground transport, buyers attending the ITM
event said their travellers are finding it difficult to secure chauffeured cars
due to a shortage of drivers. Some buyers are urging travellers to book their
ground transport as far in advance as possible, ideally at the same time as
their flight booking.

With these operational challenges has come a rise in ground
transportation costs, with some buyers reporting that suppliers require a
minimum three or four-day rental, even when a traveller only needs the car for
24 hours. The shortage of vehicles means travellers are also turning to
non-preferred suppliers, which the ITM says can increase costs by as much as
four times. Buyers said they are also turning to secondary providers to support
fleet availability and alleviate cost challenges, with some saying incumbent
suppliers have raised prices significantly across all markets.

Other business travel trends discussed at the event include
concern regarding the readiness of online booking tools to handle ongoing
complex travel requirements as a result of Covid-19, as well as their ability
to steer travellers towards sustainable travel choices.

Meanwhile, travel management company staff shortages are
causing ongoing service issues, with bookers reporting long call waiting times
and slow email responses. Buyers say the problem is exacerbated by the fact
that bookers are seeking reassurance by speaking to their TMC over the phone.

In keeping with the industry’s renewed focus on sustainability
in the wake of disruption caused by the pandemic, buyers said stakeholders are increasingly
questioning the value of work trips and face-to-face meetings. As such, the
role of the travel buyer is shifting to become a consultant to stakeholders
within their organisation, supporting the decision-making process as to what
constitutes the ‘right’ level of travel from the perspective of sustainability,
traveller wellbeing and cost, according to the ITM.

And contrary to data from other sources, most of the buyers
attending the event still have policies in place that forbid international
travel unless essential. Most reported no marked increase in transatlantic
business travel bookings since the US reopened its borders to vaccinated foreign
nationals earlier this month. Instead, these buyers’ organisations are focusing
on getting employees back into the office before returning to travel.

Scott Davies, chief executive of the ITM, commented: “Our
ITM buyer members are at the coalface of what’s really happening in terms of
whether business travel is returning in any significant way and the challenges
that their bookers and travellers are facing.

“There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about air travel
volumes and the transatlantic corridor reopening with TMCs and airlines
reporting a surge in bookings to the US. However, it’s interesting to see that
our buyer members’ biggest challenges at the moment are with ground transport,
and in fact they haven’t seen any notable change yet in international travel to
the US.

“The role of the travel manager has also been elevated
within their respective organisations as they consistently engaged with senior
stakeholders throughout the pandemic. Now as travel returns, buyers are
becoming even more influential in the decision-making process as to what type
of meeting or collaboration justifies the need to travel in the post-pandemic
era.”



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WATCH KSAT News Now: Omicron travel ban begins; Cowboys hit with COVID; Pro wrestler joins show – KSAT San Antonio



WATCH KSAT News Now: Omicron travel ban begins; Cowboys hit with COVID; Pro wrestler joins show  KSAT San Antonio



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8 Outdoor Activities The Whole Family Will Love At Unicoi State Park & Lodge


The 1,050-acre Unicoi State Park & Lodge is in Helen, Georgia, a Bavarian-influenced town best known for the stunning Anna Ruby Falls and its year-round celebrations of German culture. Unicoi is an adventure lodge, meaning it has a lot of outdoor offerings to choose from in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. 

You don’t have to be an avid outdoorsman to stay there, and in fact, my husband and I had a great time at the lodge itself, dining on the property and enjoying the scenery. However, this family-friendly address in northeastern Georgia is one outdoors-lovers won’t want to miss any time of the year.

Pro Tip: October is the busiest month for the park, as this is when visitors flock for leaf peeping. 

Note: I was hosted by Unicoi State Park & Lodge. As always, opinions and reviews are 100 percent mine. 

A hiking path at Unicoi State Park
Melody Pittman

1. Hiking

Hiking is a big draw anywhere in the North Georgia Mountains, and Unicoi State Park & Lodge has several designated trails, all within the Chattahoochee National Forest. You will want to follow the signs and be sure to stay on the path. 

I found Frog Pond Nature Trail to be a good, quick hike (only one-third of a mile) that provided a lot of scenery and a nice workout in a short time. Keep your eyes open for possum, squirrels, and chipmunks. Bottoms Loop Trail was another trail that we enjoyed, with fallen trees that added more beauty to our pictures and the groundscape. This trail makes a 2-mile loop and is rated a moderate hike.

Perhaps you would enjoy a guided nature hike. How fun does that sound? For this activity, a park naturalist will take you on one of the trails and introduce you to plants and animals found on the Unicoi property. Any age will enjoy and appreciate this one to two-hour nature excursion. Tours start around $10.

Pro Tip: This is prime bear country, so keep an eye out and do not wander or travel alone. With that being said, the scenery is fantastic and the terrain exhilarating, so don’t let me scare you with the bear info. 

Anna Ruby Falls at Unicoi State Park
Anna Ruby Falls (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

2. See The Waterfall 

The mother of all waterfalls in the Helen region is right here at Unicoi State Park & Lodge: Anna Ruby Falls. The falls (named after the daughter of a Civil War general) is operated by the U.S. Forest Service, so therefore a separate admission fee of $5 per person (age 16 and up) is required at the gate.

After parking your car, you will follow a well-marked path for .4 miles to reach the pinnacle of the waterfall. While the hike is short, it is pretty strenuous in places with steep inclines. People of all ages, and what appeared to be all ability levels, were hiking it, but everyone kept their eye on the prize and went at their own pace to reach the waterfall platform. There were a few benches along the way for resting, which I had to use at one point.

Once you arrive at Anna Ruby Falls, there are two viewing platforms for the best views and photo-ops. The lower one is great for groups and selfies, and the top one allows you to feel the mist of the thrashing water. You are that close to this gorgeous display of cascading twin falls.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss the gift shop, which has an excellent selection of t-shirts, postcards, stickers, and souvenirs. 

The author practicing archery at Unicoi State Park
The author practicing archery (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

3. Archery

I did something brand new at Unicoi State Park & Lodge. My husband and I had an archery lesson, along with two other couples. I had no idea what to expect, but our guide was informative, easy to understand, and had us all shooting targets in only a few minutes. Safety is vital in this sport, so be sure to listen to the instructor about loading your arrows and firing the bow.

We all shot three rounds of arrows. When she called “cold range,” we all knew it was safe to collect the arrows we had fired. We started out shooting at pretty close targets, but they were still not all that easy to hit for us newbies. After about 45 minutes of that, we made our way over to the 3-D range, which replaces targets with fake animals. The bear, armadillo, coyote, and a few others provided a place for us to attempt to shoot our arrows. There is a tower you can shoot from, too. I didn’t hit one of the animals (my husband did), but we had a blast. The lesson and activity lasted about 90 minutes.

Target shooting at the air gun range is another fun offering in this part of the park. A covered range is where you’ll try your luck at paper targets. All three areas of the Air Gun and Archery Range are considered ADA accessible.

Zip-line platform at Unicoi State Park
Zip-line platform (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

4. Zip-Lining

As with many of the Georgia state parks, the zip-lining course is popular and enjoyable. Along with a canopy ranger, guests have the chance to take part in 19 aerial zips ranging from 75 to 2,000 feet long. You’ll zip 100 feet above the ground and have epic views of Unicoi Lake and the area’s wildlife. 

There are two levels you can choose for your ziplining adventure. Level 1 has a series of 11 zip lines and seven suspension bridges, while level 2 has 19 zips and 12 bridges. One of the zips is a half-mile across Unicoi Lake. That sounds awesome! I heard from guests at Unicoi Lodge who did Level 2 and loved every minute of it. As for me, I kept my feet firmly planted on the ground, though I have zip-lined before.

Smith Creek at Unicoi State Park
Smith Creek (Photo Credit: Melody Pittman)

5. Kayaking And Boating

Unicoi Lake on Smith Creek (a tributary of the Chattahoochee River) is a 53-acre attraction that is one of the prettiest sights you’ll ever see, especially in the fall when the colorful leaves are reflecting on the water. So stunning that nearly everyone who drives by pulls over for a photo or to just admire the sheer beauty. Smith Creek is an excellent place for getting out in a canoe, on a paddle board, or in a kayak, which can all be rented from the visitor center.

There is a fee to rent a canoe or kayak. Dogs are welcome but must have a lifejacket, which Unicoi does not provide.

Boating is also a popular activity on Unicoi Lake. In the warm months, you can rent boats on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Trout fishing is another desired outdoor offering. 

If you have time and the desire, schedule a mountain fly-fishing lesson to learn the parts of the fly-fishing rod, how to cast your line, and tips for catching the big one (like reading the water, for instance). Be sure to schedule your lessons 24 hours in advance.

6. Relaxing On The Beach

Yes, Unicoi State Park & Lodge has a beach area. You are probably as surprised as we were. There is a roped-off area for swimming (though the water is not more than 4 feet deep) and a sandy beach area for building sandcastles or just relaxing and enjoying the view. Standup paddle boarders and kayakers use this part of the lake, too. You can rent your outdoor gear at the boathouse during the season.

Path to Anna Ruby Falls at Unicoi State Park
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

7. Mountain Biking

Unicoi State Park & Lodge has a 7.5-mile mountain bike loop that is perfect for experienced riders. The mountainous terrain has specially designed paths through forests, fields, woodlands, and plenty of scenic overlooks. The trail makes a figure-8 shape so that you can ride it all or only half. You will need your own equipment for this activity. Watch for the white blaze markings that mark the trail.

8. Tomahawk Throwing

Join one of the activities attendants in this trendy, fun offering to spruce up your tomahawk-throwing skills. You’ll spend an hour on the outdoor range and learn the proper technique for throwing the tomahawk at wooden targets. Equipment is provided, and closed-toed shoes are required for this activity.

Pro Tip: If you want to capture some of your outdoor adventures with a GoPro, you can rent one from Unicoi Adventures on the third floor of the Unicoi Lodge. GoPro cameras are easy to use, and you can capture your unique experiences in beautiful 1080P high definition. Memory cards are sold separately.

Heading to Georgia? We have plenty more to show you:



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