Covid-19: Cook Islands travel bubble to remain despite Omicron cases

The travel bubble between the Cook Islands will remain open despite Omicron cases circulating in the community in New Zealand.

The country’s cabinet meet on Monday afternoon to discuss if quarantine-free travel would continue, just 10 days after the bubble with New Zealand resumed.

“Cabinet has approved to retain the existing International Quarantine Free Travel border settings with New Zealand,” the office of Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said in a statement.

The first tourists flew from Aotearoa to Rarotonga on January 14, five months after travel was halted because of the Delta outbreak in August.

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Before then, the Cook Islands and New Zealand travel bubble had been in place for three months, following a 15-month border closure due to the pandemic.

The Cook Island’s cabinet approved a number of new measures to take effect from Wednesday and was considering more in the coming days.

The Cook Islands government meet about the future of the travel bubble. (File photo)


The Cook Islands government meet about the future of the travel bubble. (File photo)

These included not allowing any unvaccinated people from entering for the next month and all travellers to Aitutaki – one of the Cook Island – from Rarotonga requiring rapid antigen testing prior to their departure.

The Cook Island’s government was also briefed about two recently arrived tourists, one who had been identified by the New Zealand Ministry of Health as having visited a location of interest.

“The couple tested negative on Saturday and are quarantined with day five and day nine tests to follow.”

Cook Islands Tourism Corporation general manager Graeme West said for now, quarantine-free travel was “full steam ahead”, but he asked visitors to check whether they had been at any locations of interest before travelling.

International travellers must return a negative PCR Covid test before departure, must have been in New Zealand for 10 days, and be double vaccinated.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown meet with cabinet on Monday afternoon. (File photo)


Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown meet with cabinet on Monday afternoon. (File photo)

Children under 12 can only enter the country if they are double vaccinated. Vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds in New Zealand began on January 17.

The re-opening of the bubble had been eagerly welcomed by resort operators after almost two years of financial blows dealt by the pandemic.

Tourism is the most important industry of the Cook Islands’ economy, making up 70 per cent of its GDP.

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Taiwan-Palau travel bubble bursts, 189 COVID cases reported | Taiwan News

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The travel bubble between Taiwan and Palau is in jeopardy as the diplomatic ally’s COVID case count has risen to 189.

On Wednesday evening (Jan. 19), Palau’s Ministry of Health and Human Services announced 22 new COVID cases. The country had already reported 161 active cases related to travel, nine active cases in the local community, 19 who have recovered, and 603 undergoing quarantine.

Palau’s Island Times on Tuesday (Jan. 18) reported that the country is suffering a COVID outbreak after nearly two years of having zero cases. Given the “characteristics and the speed of the spread,” the newspaper cited local physicians as saying that the culprit behind the surge is likely the Omicron variant.

Hospital isolation wards have reportedly “filled up” and people who test positive now are being told to quarantine at home. In an attempt to control the outbreak, all schools have suspended classes.

Taiwan and Palau are operating a travel bubble in which arrivals from Taiwan do not need to quarantine and only need to undergo self-health monitoring. Likewise, when they return from Palau do not need to undergo quarantine and can instead observe five days of enhanced self-health monitoring followed by nine days of general self-health monitoring.

In response to the spike in cases in Palau, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Spokesman Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said that a video conference will be held with Palau’s health ministry soon to better understand the local outbreak and re-evaluate whether it is necessary to adjust quarantine measures related to the “five plus nine” Palau travel bubble.

The next Taiwanese tour group is scheduled to fly to Palau on Jan. 26, and given the rapid rise in cases, the trip appears to be in jeopardy or could be subject to restrictions.

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Covid-19 news live updates: vaccine mandate, Omicron symptoms, cases, free testing, quarantine…

UK to step back from ‘Plan B’ covid-19 restrictions

Just like the United States, the United Kingdom has been wrestling with the spread of Omicron in recent months and soaring case numbers over the Christmas period. To help curb the spread UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced some additional restrictions over the Christmas period, but is now walking back some of those measures. 

Health minister Sajid Javid said on Tuesday that Britain had likely reached the peak in both cases and hospitalisations: “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to substantially reduce measures next week,” Javid said in parliament.

Johnson will address parliament on Wednesday on next steps for Plan B and hopes to reset his agenda following furore over the lockdown gatherings at his office, which has some in his party plotting to remove him. The lifting of Plan B measures, along with Johnson’s navigation of Omicron without resorting to stringent lockdown, could help him appease vocal opponents of restrictions in his own party amid the party unrest.

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Covid-19 news live updates: vaccine mandate, Omicron symptoms, cases, free testing, quarantine…

Chinese traditional medicine for Covid-19 delivers successful results

Pakistani health authorities have announced the completion of a successful clinical trial of Chinese traditional herbal medicine for treating Covid-19, as the South Asian nation enters a fifth wave of the pandemic driven by the Omicron variant.

The Chinese medicine, Jinhua Qinggan Granules (JHQG) manufactured by Juxiechang (Beijing) pharmaceutical Co Ltd, is already being used in treatment of Covid-19 patients in China. “Since it was tried on patients with different variants of Covid-19, we expect it to be effective on Omicron as on other variants,” Professor Iqbal Chaudhry, director of the International Center for Chemical and Biological Science (ICCBS) where trials were conducted, told reporters.

The trials were conducted on 300 patients who were treated at home, and would work on mild to moderate Covid-19 cases, Dr Raza Shah, principal investigator in the trials, told reporters, adding that the efficacy rate was around 82.67%. The trials were approved by the Drug Regulatory Authority Pakistan.

Pakistan reported 4,340 Covid-19 cases on Monday, the highest recorded in a 24-hour period in three months. Karachi, the country’s largest city, recorded a positivity rate – the percentage of tests coming back positive – of 39.39% at the weekend, the highest so far. “In the last seven days, Covid cases in Pakistan have increased by 170% while deaths have also increased by 62%,” the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC), which is overseeing the pandemic response, said in a tweet on Monday.

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China’s Tianjin Tightens Control Over Travel After Omicron Cases | World News

BEIJING (Reuters) – The northern Chinese city of Tianjin tightened exit controls and is requiring residents to obtain approval from employers or community authorities before leaving town in an effort to block the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The port city to the southeast of Beijing reported 21 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms on Sunday, the National Health Commission said on Monday, up from three a day earlier.

Tianjin, with around 14 million residents, said over the weekend it detected two local cases of infection with the Omicron. The source of the infections and route to the community remained unclear, and officials had yet to announce how many other local cases were caused by Omicron.

The highly transmissable Omicron variant is rapidly spreading globally, forcing several countries to tighten travel rules, and presents a heightened challenge to China’s efforts to quickly extinguish local outbreaks.

China’s quick containment strategy has taken on extra urgency in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, to be staged in Beijing and neighbouring Hebei province starting Feb. 4, and with the Lunar New Year holiday travel season beginning later this month.

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Tianjin’s mass testing scheme, which it aims to complete in two days, is part of its effort to “resolutely prevent the virus spreading to other provinces, regions and cities, especially Beijing”, the city government said in a letter to residents on Monday.

Last year, China hosted several foreign diplomatic delegations in Tianjin instead of Beijing, including those from the United States. The city is also one of north China’s most important oil and gas terminals, is a production base for European planemaker Airbus and hosts data storage centers for Chinese technology firms such as Tencent.

In China’s central Henan province, the city of Anyang detected two local Omicron infections traced to a student arriving from Tianjin, a local paper backed by Communist party authority in Anyang said on Monday.

It remained unclear how many other local cases in Anyang were Omicron. The city of 5.5 million residents suspended all bus services from Sunday.

Prior to the Tianjin and Anyang outbreak, China had reported a handful of Omicron cases among international travellers, and at least one locally transmitted Omicron infection.

In December, a national health official said local transmission of Omicron, caused by an Omicron infection arriving from overseas, had been found in the southern city of Guangzhou and quickly contained, without giving local case numbers.

Nationwide, mainland China reported 97 new local symptomatic cases for Sunday, up slightly from 92 a day earlier, with 60 in Henan.

The city of Xian, where local authorities are planning the gradual resumption of parcel deliveries and some businesses as a weeks-long lockdown showed signs of easing, reported 15 local symptomatic cases.

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, Stella Qiu, Ella Cao and Tony Munroe; Editing by Kim Coghill and Michael Perry)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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Cruises reported over 1,350 covid cases since sailing resumed, CDC says

The document provides several examples, mostly involving breakthrough cases, including one in which a symptomatic passenger who tested positive on a ship in late July was linked to 20 more confirmed cases over two sailings. In that case, 18 service workers and two passengers were infected. One ship reported 58 positive cases between July 24 and Aug. 28, and another reported 105 confirmed cases on four back-to-back trips between Aug. 19 and Sept. 7. One reported 112 cases on four voyages between Aug. 21 and Sept. 7.

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Cruise Ships Are Still Sailing as Cases Rise and Criticism Mounts

On the fourth day of a seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise, Jesse Suphan and other passengers onboard the Carnival Cruise Line’s Panorama were denied entry at the port of Puerto Vallarta, because of the number of onboard coronavirus cases. That was the first Mr. Suphan heard about the virus spreading on the ship.

“The captain announced that five people had tested positive for Covid and were quarantining,” Mr. Suphan, a 39-year-old revenue cycle manager, recalled in a telephone interview. “But, then, talking to the crew, they told me there were between 100 and 150 crew members who also tested positive, but the captain didn’t mention that.”

Two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans to avoid travel on cruise ships, regardless of their vaccination status. The advisory, the agency’s highest coronavirus warning, came in response to a surge in cases in recent weeks, caused by the spread of the contagious Omicron variant.

But even as case numbers rise, and criticism mounts about the safety of cruising and over cruise line protocols in reporting cases to passengers, ships keep sailing and guests keep embarking, adamant that the onboard environment is safe because of stringent health and safety requirements, including pre-departure testing and vaccine mandates.

Consider the New Year’s Eve festivities held on ships around the world. One day after the C.D.C. announcement, as dozens of crew members and other passengers were confined to small cabins, infected and quarantined, thousands of revelers packed into ship bars, casinos and deck venues, partying like it was 2019.

Harvey Freid, 56, recently returned from a 17-day sailing to Antarctica, during which one positive case was reported. But Mr. Freid, an avid cruiser, is undeterred and is scheduled to go on a Caribbean cruise in late January.

“The cruise ships do a very good job of handling Covid, and I think it’s safer than my building in Miami and most places that I go on land, because people are vaccinated and cases are quickly identified and isolated,” he said.

On Wednesday, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line canceled several voyages in response to the growing number of coronavirus cases onboard some of their ships.

The cruise industry’s trade group, Cruise Lines International Association, called the C.D.C.’s warning “perplexing,” and said that cases identified on ships “consistently make up a slim minority of the total population on board — far fewer than on land.”

“No setting can be immune from this virus — however, it is also the case that cruises provide one of the highest levels of demonstrated mitigation against the virus,” the group said in a statement.

But some passengers are starting to question the effectiveness of health and safety protocols, and say they aren’t being informed of the full extent of coronavirus cases on board. They say they learn of the positive cases only after returning home and would have been able to make more informed decisions about their behavior and participation in activities, if they had been made more aware.

When Mr. Suphan booked his vacation, he felt confident that Carnival had good protocols in place, which included pre-departure testing and requiring vaccines for all crew and most passengers. But as the ship sailed, Mr. Suphan was surprised by the number of people he met who said they had been exempted from the vaccine mandate. He said there were not enough crew members to enforce indoor mask rules for more than 3,000 passengers on board.

Carnival said only a small number of passengers had been exempted from the vaccination requirement, but did not specify how many.

Mr. Suphan was also struck, he said, when a crew member told him that several infected crew were isolating on board when the ship departed from Long Beach.

“The fact that they had infected staff on board when the cruise left Long Beach means that they knew there was the possibility of more cases coming up after we left,” Mr. Suphan said. “But they still continued with the cruise so they could take everyone’s money. It feels like a cash grab to maintain payments.”

Carnival said four asymptomatic crew members were in quarantine when the cruise departed, while others had been taken off the ship.

Most major cruise lines do not publicly announce the number of coronavirus cases on board their ships, but they are required to submit daily figures to the C.D.C. Currently, the agency is monitoring more than 90 cruise ships, because of reported cases that have reached the agency’s threshold for an investigation. (An investigation is undertaken when a certain number of cases is reported among a percentage of passengers.)

Carnival has denied that the number of infected crew was as high as 100 on Mr. Suphan’s sailing, but has not disclosed the total number of people who tested positive. On Dec. 28, when the cruise was denied entry to port, the Jalisco state health ministry said 69 cases had been detected among the ship’s 1,450 crew members. That day, Christine Duffy, the Carnival president, called into the ship and briefed guests on the situation. Passengers said she did not give updated figures for positive cases, which many found concerning.

Chris Chiames, chief communication officer for Carnival, said the company takes its responsibility for public health “very seriously” and has implemented protocols that exceed C.D.C. guidance since restarting operations in the United States in June.

“The extreme majority of the crew who test positive are asymptomatic and detected through the random testing protocol, and they and their close contacts are put into isolation or quarantine,” Mr. Chiames said. “None have required escalated medical attention or hospitalization, and we have also moved most crew off the ship to complete their isolation or quarantine.”

Carnival declined to comment on its policies for reporting daily cases to passengers onboard its ships, but Mr. Chiames said, “the additional complications caused by the fast-spreading Omicron variant will require us to evaluate how to communicate moving forward.”

For many, the idea of testing positive for the coronavirus on a cruise ship conjures up the horrors of the major outbreaks in the early stages of the pandemic, when thousands of people were confined to their rooms for endless days while the pandemic raged through the ships.

The health and safety protocols that allowed U.S. cruise ships to restart operations in June have helped cruise lines contain the virus and avoid large outbreaks, and until now, many of the small percentage of guests who tested positive during sailings have been satisfied with the handling of their cases. Some even received complimentary food and champagne to their rooms and were flown home by charter plane.

But since more contagious variants like Delta and Omicron have emerged, causing cases to increase among passengers and crew, guests have started to complain about quarantine conditions.

Richard Lewis, the chairman and chief executive of Savile Row Travel group, recently caught the coronavirus during two back-to-back Caribbean cruises with his family on board Celebrity Apex. It was his first cruise during the pandemic and initially, the protocols met his expectations and the experience felt relatively normal.

On day two of the cruise, the captain announced that there were two coronavirus cases on board the ship, which Mr. Lewis appreciated for keeping him informed. But there were no further announcements for the remainder of the week. That is when both he and his family started noticing changes.

“The staff were masking up a heck of a lot more, social distancing was being enforced between passengers and things did not seem right,” he said. “As we moved into the second week, some of the staff we became friends with disappeared and we found out they had gone into isolation. Then I started developing symptoms and tested positive and that’s when it became a nightmare.”

Mr. Lewis was moved from his “concierge class infinite veranda cabin” room to a standard cabin allotted for quarantines, which he said had a slightly oversized porthole and no fresh air. He had been under the impression that he could quarantine in his own room, saying the cruise line encourages people to book bigger rooms in the event that they will have to isolate.

Celebrity Cruises said its policy from day one was to move coronavirus-positive guests to a quarantine zone. Those identified as close contacts are permitted to isolate in their state rooms for 24 hours while they are tested and await results.

“Even the food was hideous,” Mr. Lewis said, sharing a picture of fried eggs, hash browns and bacon strips in a takeout container. ‘The first two meals were cold and appeared to have come from the crew canteen. It was only after I kicked up a fuss that I was allowed to order from the regular room service menu.”

That day, the captain announced that there were five coronavirus cases on board, but when Mr. Lewis pressed the doctor who visited him, he says he was told there were 16 cases.

“I know the cruise industry has suffered and I’m so supportive of getting travel back to normality, but there’s a serious lack of transparency and covering things up, and hiding them away is not going to help people make informed decisions,” Mr. Lewis said. Royal Caribbean Group, which owns Celebrity Cruises, said that passenger and crew members are informed when a threshold of virus cases has been met or exceeded.

“Publishing a dashboard of daily cases to all persons onboard is a less meaningful public-health mitigation measure than reinforcing continuous adherence to our industry-leading health and safety protocols, which has resulted in lower prevalence rates onboard than those found shoreside,” the company said in a statement.

Milly Parkinson, 28, developed coronavirus symptoms one day after returning from an eight-night Caribbean cruise with friends on board Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas. While more than 50 people tested positive for the virus on board the ship, Royal Caribbean, like most cruise companies, does not require passengers to test before disembarking at their final destination.

“I took a test because I had symptoms, but think of all the people who were asymptomatic who just walked off the ship straight into the grocery store, a restaurant or a nightclub,” Ms. Parkinson said.

“We booked the cruise because we were convinced it would be a fun, safe bubble of vaccinated people,” she said. “But who were we kidding? There’s no place to escape Omicron.”

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places list for 2021.

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‘More cases out there’: State’s testing plea as CHO admits authorities caught out by Omicron – Courier Mail

‘More cases out there’: State’s testing plea as CHO admits authorities caught out by Omicron  Courier Mail

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Pride of Oklahoma members ‘frustrated’ after band records 11 positive COVID-19 cases after Alamo Bowl travel | News

The Pride of Oklahoma has recorded 11 positive COVID-19 tests following the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl, according to the band’s director.

The 11 cases, as of Jan. 1, include 10 students and 1 staff member, band director Brian Britt told The Daily. The first three students tested positive during the band’s stay in San Antonio, Britt said. The students were isolated in separate rooms for the remainder of the stay, and Britt drove the positive students back to Norman in a rented vehicle separate from the band buses. 

The rental was paid for through a “contingency line” in the bowl budget to account for unforeseen circumstances, Britt said.

On the morning of Dec. 31, after the band returned to Norman, Britt said another student informed him they had tested positive. The additional seven students and one staff member reported their results by Jan. 1.

“We have encouraged all of our students to get tested and report their test results on the Healthy Together App so our university administration and medical officials are aware of our students’ health status,” Britt said.

The Pride brought 335 total band members traveled to San Antonio, Britt said, including 310 students.

The Alamo Bowl was not the first time The Pride traveled during the football season — it also went to Dallas for the Red River Rivalry game and a smaller section traveled to Waco for the Baylor game — but some band members said they were disappointed more precautions weren’t taken for the lengthier bowl travel.

“The thing that jumps out to me from a procedural standpoint is the amount of time we spent in closed spaces,” said Zach Yarbrough, astrophysics senior and Pride member. “Specifically, in the buses. We take seven buses for each trip, and we bus around 340 band members, plus 15 or 20 staff. On the Texas trip, that’s two and a half hours to Dallas, whereas when we traveled to San Antonio, we were on the buses from about 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. … in an enclosed area with pretty poor air circulation, all culminating in a game in an enclosed dome with 50,000 people.”

Ginger Miller, a history and clarinet performance junior, said members of her section tested positive following October’s Red River Rivalry game. However, she said the band’s trip to Dallas also featured less potential exposure since fewer band events were held in the city.

“We were in the hotel for one night (in Dallas), so I think part of the difference is that we weren’t together for as long a period of time,” Miller said.

Band members first returned to Norman for rehearsal on Dec. 26, Yarborough said, and left for San Antonio on Dec. 27. They stayed together in San Antonio until leaving the day after the game, around 10 a.m. Dec. 30. 

Concerns about increased exposure to other Pride members were compounded because some members traveled long distances during the holidays, Yarborough said. While band members who lived in Texas were allowed to join at different points to limit their travel, those from other states had to return directly to Norman. Even among those who limited travel, Yarborough said, there was uncertainty regarding potential in-home exposures.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads more easily than others, according to the CDC. With the variant’s surge returning the U.S. to the highest number of daily infections since the start of the pandemic, Miller said tighter protocols should have been enforced.

“I do feel like it was irresponsible in the way that it happened. Stricter guidelines around masking and modeling behavior for masking,” Miller said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people, and we feel like more could have been done, like having us all test before going on the trip. … I know of people who were allowed to go on the trip after having been exposed to COVID.”

In the final three reported weeks of the fall semester, from Dec. 2 to Dec. 22, the OU COVID-19 dashboard recorded 25 positive cases in 542 tests, a 4.6 percent positivity rate.

Although Britt said band leadership asked students to wear masks on the buses and in confined spaces — and “a majority” of meals were eaten outdoors to help mitigate spread — Yarborough said some were frustrated band leadership did not more actively encourage masking among band members who chose not to.

“I think that could have been a stronger point of emphasis from leadership, because as a student, it’s not fair to put us in that position to try to compel a peer to change their behavior,” Yarborough said. “That’s not our job, and it’s not good for morale.”

The lack of stronger messaging from leadership also led to some buses taking masking “less seriously” than others, Miller said, enhancing potential exposure between vehicles.

Despite younger people facing lower risks of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 — especially if they are vaccinated, according to CDC studies — Yarborough and Miller said they are taking infections within the Pride seriously because the virus’s impact extends beyond their own health.

“I have family members who are not vaccinated and do not take precautions themselves, and I know that many others are in that situation,” Miller said. “This situation is not just affecting those of us in the Pride, it’s affecting those we see once we get home.”

“My quote-unquote ‘personal decision’ to wear a mask is not personal at all — it’s what one would expect to be done to protect my friends in the section, and my peers in the band,” Yarborough said. “I don’t want my friends to go home to their families, or my staff members to go home to their spouses and children (with the virus).”

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