Live updates: South Africa sees surge in virus cases

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a day, authorities reported Wednesday, signaling a dramatic surge…

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a day, authorities reported Wednesday, signaling a dramatic surge in the country where scientists detected the omicron variant last week.

New confirmed cases rose to 8,561 Wednesday from 4,373 a day earlier, according to official statistics.

Scientists in South Africa said they are bracing for a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases following the discovery of the new omicron variant.

“There is a possibility that we are going to see a vast increase in number of cases being identified in South Africa,” Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, regional virologist for the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press.

The omicron variant has been detected in five of South Africa’s nine provinces and accounted for 74% of the virus genomes sequenced in November, the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases announced Wednesday.



— The world faces weeks of uncertainty as more countries restrict travel

— Spain and Portugal are stepping up efforts to vaccinate residents, despite having inoculation figures that are the envy of the world

— Singapore’s COVID-19 strategy appears to be on track despite the new variant

— U.S. moves to toughen testing requirement for travelers

— More cases linked to the new omicron variant are surfacing, prompting countries to impose restrictions.

Go to for updates throughout the day.



PORTLAND, Maine – The burden of COVID-19 on hospitals in Maine, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, grew more acute in the last two weeks, the head of the state’s public health agency said.

There were 334 people hospitalized in the state on Wednesday, said Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Nirav Shah. That was a new record and an increase from 280 two weeks ago, he said.

Maine has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccine rates in the U.S. at 73% and had been spared the burden experienced by other states until recent months. Shah said about 60% of the people in hospitals are not vaccinated.


WASHINGTON — The U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant Wednesday — a person in California who had been to South Africa — as scientists around the world raced to establish whether the new, mutant version of the coronavirus is more dangerous than previous ones.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, made the announcement at the White House.

“We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States,” he said.

The infected person was identified as a traveler who had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22. The person, who was fully vaccinated but had not had a booster shot, tested positive on Monday and had mild symptoms that are improving, officials said.


UNITED NATÎONS — The United Nations chief is accusing countries that have restricted air travel from some African nations because of South Africa’s discovery of the COVID-19 omicron variant of “travel apartheid.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries that have imposed travel restrictions to adopt testing measures instead, saying pre-departure and post-arrival tests have allowed thousands of people to fly in conditions where the transmission of COVID-19 is “highly unlikely.”

What is unacceptable, he said, is to have Africa, “one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy, condemned to a lockout” for revealing a new variant that already existed in other parts of the world.

Guterres spoke at a news conference following a meeting Wednesday with the African Union Commission chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who vigorously condemned “the unfair measures” imposed on Africa by a growing number of mainly Western countries which he called “a form of stigmatization” and “injustice.”

The U.N. chief said he was launching a very strong appeal “to common sense: We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let’s use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable.”

Mahamat echoed Guterres saying: “It’s immoral to condemn Africa in that way.”


BEIRUT— Lebanon has declared a nighttime curfew for the unvaccinated ahead and during the holiday seasons. Its health minister on Wednesday called it one of the measures to stem a recent rise in coronavirus infections and a precaution against the new variant.

Lebanon has not recorded any infections with Omicron, but the small country enduring a severe financial crisis is concerned its health care system won’t be handle a new peak of infections.

Lebanon’s Health Minister Firass Abiad said the COVID committee wants to avoid imposing a full lockdown and hopes to encourage more people to get vaccinated.


GENEVA — The World Health Organization says travel bans by countries are having an impact on global cooperation against the new omicron variant by causing “challenges” to the sharing of laboratory samples from South Africa that can help get better grips on the new variant.

The comments Wednesday came at the first press briefing by the U.N. health agency since it christened omicron as a “variant of concern” after being brought to light by researchers in South Africa last week. Many countries responded by suspending flights from seven southern Africa countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for “tailored” intervention by countries, including testing travelers before and after they arrive in a country, and advised against “blanket travel bans” that “place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”


GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says at least 23 countries have reported cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, “and we expect that number to grow.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the U.N. health agency “takes this development extremely seriously, and so should every country, but it should not surprise us. This is what viruses do, and it’s what this virus will continue to do as long as we allow it to continue spreading.”

Tedros, citing the early stages of global response to omicron, said efforts were ongoing to determine the severity of disease, transmissibility and the effectiveness of tests, treatments, and vaccines in the face of omicron. He said the delta variant remains by far the most common


RIO DE JANEIRO — Health officials on Wednesday confirmed Brazil’s third known case of the omicron coronavirus variant as the government examined possible new measures to contain the virus, such as suspending some flights and requiring arriving passengers to show proof of vaccination.

A passenger from Ethiopia tested positive for Covid-19 upon landing in Sao Paulo on Nov. 27, the state’s health secretariat said in a statement. The 29 year-old man is vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer shot and is in good health, officials said.

The news came a day after Brazilian health officials reported confirmed cases of the omicron variant in two travelers arriving from South Africa –– the first such cases in Latin America.


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government has proposed a plan to give people 60 and older a 500-euro ($568) bonus if they get vaccinated against COVID-19, the finance minister said Wednesday.

The measure, announced by Finance Minister Igor Matovic, should boost inoculations in the European Union country with one of the bloc’s lowest vaccination rates. So far, only 46.1% of the nation’s 5.5 million people have been fully vaccinated.

The current four-party ruling coalition in Slovakia has been split over the issue. The pro-business Freedom and Solidarity opposed it, saying it was ready to support a 150-euro ($170) bonus only. But the party didn’t veto it, making the approval possible.

The bill will now go to Parliament. It would need some opposition support to be approved.

The bonus would be a voucher that could be used in restaurants, cafes, hotels or to buy tickets for sports, theater, cinema, exhibitions or concerts. It could be also used to pay hairdressers or fitness centers.


BUENOS AIRES — Fear of the new variant also caused a scene reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic: a cruise liner turned away from port.

Argentina’s Ministry of Health said Tuesday it had isolated the German-based cruise ship Hamburg following two confirmed positive cases of the new coronavirus.

The vessel, whose trip originated in Hamburg, Germany, touched in at Africa’s Cape Verde islands en route to South America and Antarctica.

On Wednesday, it was at sea off Argentina’s Buenos Aires province with 285 passengers and 156 crew aboard. Officials said they were waiting for tests to determine what variant of the virus had been detected.

Officials initially had allowed some passengers off the ship when it arrived, causing a local controversy.

Plantours said Wednesday the ship was continuing its planned journey toward South Georgia Island and Antarctica and was not stranded.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea on Wednesday confirmed its first five cases of the new omicron coronavirus variant in people linked to arrivals from Nigeria, prompting the government to tighten the country’s borders.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Wednesday the cases include a couple who arrived from Nigeria on Nov. 24 and a friend who drove them home from the airport. The two other cases were women who also traveled to Nigeria and returned to South Korea on Nov. 23.

Health workers earlier said they were conducting genetic sequencing tests on a child of the couple and relatives of the man who drove them home to determine whether they were infected.

Following the confirmation of the omicron infections, South Korea announced it will require all passengers arriving from abroad over the next two weeks to quarantine for at least 10 days, regardless of their nationality or vaccination status.


PARIS — A spokesperson says France’s government will allow flights carrying French and European Union citizens back from Southern Africa to resume under very strict conditions starting Saturday.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the move will lift for “very few” travelers a suspension on flights from the region that France imposed last week as a precaution after the identification of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Trips for family visits, professional reasons or tourism still won’t be allowed, Attal said.

Only passengers who are returning home to France or who work as diplomats or for airlines will be permitted into the country, he said.

Under the rules taking effect Saturday, travelers departing from 10 countries, including South Africa and neighboring nations, Zambia and Mauritius, will need to get tested for the virus both before their flights and after arrival.


MIAMI — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami is making face coverings optional for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated students whose parents sign opt-out paperwork.

The archdiocese made the announcement Tuesday, citing community COVID-19 statistics and the advice of physician advisors, the CDC and the Miami-Dade County Department of Health.

The CDC recommends mask-wearing in public indoor settings, including schools, in areas of substantial or high community transmission. As of Wednesday, Florida was the only state in the U.S. where transmission was low in nearly every county, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker.

Face masks were already optional for fully vaccinated students and teachers.


WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s prime minister got a booster shot against the coronavirus and made an emotional appeal to citizens to get vaccinated as 570 new deaths in one day were reported from COVID-19.

Mateusz Morawiecki’s appeal on Wednesday was made to a nation with a vaccination rate of just 54%. The numbers of those fully vaccinated have risen very slowly in recent weeks, though fears of the new omicron variant have appeared to spur some to finally get vaccinated.

Poland also reported over 29,000 new infections, the highest infection rate since a virus wave in the spring made central Europe a global hot spot.


GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the rate of increase of coronavirus cases held steady over the last week, though its African, Western Pacific and European regions all reported gains.

At the same time, new weekly deaths linked to COVID-19 fell by 10% worldwide.

The U.N. health agency said in its latest weekly epidemiological report on the pandemic that case counts shot up 93% in Africa, though it cautioned about interpreting too much from that high figure because it was largely due to “batch reporting” of antigen tests by South Africa.

The report, issued Wednesday, referred for the first time to the new omicron variant that WHO named on Friday. WHO said the variant, which was first detected in South Africa and Botswana, had been reported in a “limited number” of countries in four of health agency’s six regions.

As of Sunday, more than 280 million cases and more than 5.2 million deaths have been tallied due to the pandemic, WHO said.


BERLIN — Germany’s intensive care association is calling for nationally uniform restrictions to be imposed immediately and warning that the number of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care will hit a new high before Christmas.

German federal and state leaders are expected to decide Thursday on new measures to curb a sharp recent rise in coronavirus infections. Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz says he will back a proposal to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for everybody next year.

The DIVI association said Wednesday that more than 6,000 patients with COVID-19 will need intensive care treatment before Christmas and the all-time high from last year will be exceeded. It said that more than 2,300 new patients were admitted to ICUs in the last week alone, and that transferring patients within Germany isn’t a long-term solution.


GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization is hailing steps by its member states to launch work toward an international agreement to help prevent and prepare for future pandemics in the wake of the coronavirus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the consensus decision during a long-planned special session of the U.N. health agency’s members was “cause for celebration.” It sets off work toward creating an “intergovernmental negotiating body” to draft an agreement, which is likely to take months if not years to be finalized.

“Of course, there is still a long road ahead. There are still differences of opinion about what a new accord could or should contain,” he said.


LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is entering a so-called state of calamity — the second this year — to curve an upward trend in coronavirus infections despite having one of the strongest vaccination records in Europe.

The state of calamity is one step below the country’s top level of alert.

The country is tightening passenger control in airports, seaports and land borders, requiring negative coronavirus tests for most incoming visitors as part of the new set of rules that kick in Wednesday.

Face masks are again required in enclosed spaces and coronavirus vaccination or COVID-19 recovery tests are required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels.

© 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Ontario sees 927 new COVID-19 cases as Ford calls for travel ban in response to new variant

Ontario reported 927 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday — the most on a single day in the province in nearly 10 weeks — while Premier Doug Ford called on the federal government to ban flights from countries where a new virus variant has been found.

In a statement, Ford said he was briefed this morning by Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, on a recently discovered variant that could potentially be resistant to existing vaccines and even more transmissible than the delta variant, which now accounts for nearly 100 per cent of all new cases in Ontario. 

A slew of nations have moved to stop air travel from southern Africa after cases of the new variant, known as B.1.1.529, were confirmed in South Africa and Botswana. Israel has also reported a single case in a person who had travelled there from Malawi.

The World Health Organization has cautioned against taking such actions until more information is known about the variant. Its experts are meeting Friday to assess the risks, which are largely unknown at this point.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also discouraged travel bans on countries that reported the new variant that was first detected in South Africa, arguing such bans have not had a “meaningful outcome” so far in the pandemic.

Ford said he contacted the federal government to his express his “extreme concern about the risks [the variant] poses and the need for immediate action today.”

Ford has asked that the federal government ban flights and passengers from countries of concern.

“Anyone arriving before the ban is implemented should be tested and quarantined, including the many passengers arriving today,” he said in the statement. 

“Out of an abundance of caution, we must also reintroduce point-of-arrival testing for all passengers arriving to Canada, regardless of where they’re coming from.”

Ford added that he has instructed to Moore to expand surveillance of new COVID cases in the province and update planning to “to ensure we are ready for any outcome.”

Public Health Ontario said in a statement that the new variant has not been detected in Ontario.

It said the province is tracking variants and monitoring for new ones, including B.1.1.529, and genomic sequencing is being done on 100 per cent of eligible virus samples.

17 schools closed due to COVID

Meanwhile, today’s case count is a roughly 17 per cent jump over the same time last week, when Ontario logged 793 infections.

The seven-day average of daily cases is up to 711.

Moore said on Thursday that he expects cases to continue rising into the new year, and that the province accounted for increases in its latest reopening plan.

The number of COVID patients requiring critical care has held relatively steady. As of yesterday evening, there were 140 people being treated for COVID-related illnesses in ICUs. That’s up from 128 last Thursday.

The Ministry of Health also reported the deaths of six more people with COVID-19, pushing the official toll to 9,991.

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the ministry’s daily provincial update:

New school-related cases: 141, including 132 students and eight staff. There are currently 17 schools closed due to COVID-19, up from nine last Friday — an 88 per cent increase. There are 178 concurrent outbreaks of COVID in schools, about 93 per cent of which are in elementary schools. 

Tests in the previous 24 hours: 33,901, with a three per cent positivity rate.

Active cases: 5,807, the most since Sept. 27.

Vaccinations: 19,820 doses were administered by public health units on Thursday. Of those, 12,228 were first doses, the most first shots on a single day since Oct. 9. The jump is due to the campaign to vaccinate children aged five to 11 beginning in earnest. 

Jason Berman and his daughter, Esther Shi Berman, 10, listen to a health-care provider at a Humber River Hospital-run COVID vaccination clinic, in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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Santa Barbara airport sees return of heavy holiday travel

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Santa Barbara airport is seeing a rush of travelers ahead of Thanksgiving day.

After more than a year of virtual celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are excited to finally reunite in person with their loved ones.

Santa Barbara airport saw a return of their holiday rush on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Travelers took part in the hustle and bustle of getting in and out of the airport.

“It’s going to be crazy, I have a feeling because it’s like Thanksgiving so everyone is just gonna be going going going,” said Paige Moor, who’s traveling to Tuscon.

COVID-19 prevented many from traveling and making contact with friends and family. This meant traveling services including airports and trains saw a dip in business from the pandemic.

“I’ve flown before COVID and like a little bit during COVID and now to see everything super busy again, it’s super cool and super weird at the same time,” said Delani Wahr, who is flying from Chicago.

The Santa Barbara airport expects millions of passengers by the end of 2021 year.

“For us what that means is that we’re seeing the success in everything that we put into staying safe and providing that ease of travel,” said Angi Daus, the Santa Barbara Airport Marketing Coordinator.

Airports continue to follow CDC protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including social distancing and wearing masks.

For more info on the Santa Barbara airport, click here.

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TSA sees most airline passengers since start of pandemic as Thanksgiving travel kicks off

For weeks, officials have been forecasting a rise in the number of holiday travelers this year. On Friday, their predictions were proven correct — the Transportation Security Administration reported a record number of flyers since the pandemic began in early 2020. 

@TSA officers screened 2,242,956 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide yesterday, Friday, Nov. 19,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein tweeted Saturday morning. “It’s the highest checkpoint volume since passenger volume tanked in early 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The Thanksgiving travel period has begun! #MaskUp”

With Thanksgiving just days away, the number of travelers is expected to continue to climb. Last week, experts predicted holiday travel could be up as much as 80% over last year, when COVID-19 kept many people at home. 

In 2020, the TSA screened around 1 million travelers per day in the week surrounding Thanksgiving. However, the agency saw a record number of travelers the year before. In fact, TSA reported its busiest travel day ever on December 1, 2019, with 2,870,764 people screened.

Also adding to this year’s holiday travel crunch — a November 22 deadline for all TSA workers to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination or risk being fired. As of last month, the most recent month for which data is available, 40% of the agency’s employees had either not submitted the required paperwork or not been inoculated.

Holiday travel could be near pre-pandemic lev…


TSA Administrator David Pekoske has brushed off concerns of staffing shortages, telling “CBS Mornings” on Wednesday that the agency’s vaccination numbers have “improved greatly.” He said most passengers should expect to spend about 30 minutes going through security.

“If they’re a pre-check passenger, 10 minutes or less,” Pekoske told “CBS Mornings.”

“I don’t think they should expect chaos… We’re very confident that this is going to be a very smooth operation over the next several days,” he said.

Earlier this month, AAA said more than 53 million Americans were expected to travel over the holiday weekend, a sharp rebound in Thanksgiving travel that nearly matches pre-pandemic levels. Up to 90% of travelers are expected to drive, according to AAA.

Those planning to drive should hit the road Wednesday before noon or Thursday morning if they’re not traveling too far, AAA said. 

Nelson Oliveira contributed reporting.

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MAG sees passenger numbers increase in October | News

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) airports served 2.7 million passengers in October, which represented 51 per cent of pre-pandemic traffic compared to the same month in October 2019.

These figures mark six months of sustained increases in the number of passengers travelling through MAG airports.

In May, the group only welcomed 260,000 passengers.

By contrast, October is the first month since February last year in which both Manchester and London Stansted airports have each served more than one million passengers.

The increase seen in October was boosted by the half term period and pent-up demand for international travel after more than a year of Covid-19-related disruption.

The number of passengers served in October was 22 per cent higher than in September following a further easing of restrictions on international travel on October 4th, which saw PCR tests on replaced by cheaper lateral flow requirements, alongside the removal of all remaining countries from the ‘red list’.

This positive trend is expected to continue in the lead up to the festive season. 

Leisure travel between the UK and the US resumed on November 8th in a significant moment for the revival of the aviation industry.

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See’s Turns 100. Plus Other Quintessentially California Foods.

“We refuse to become the vaccination police,” the company said last month after repeated violations of San Francisco’s local mandate forced health inspectors to temporarily shut down its Fisherman’s Wharf location. Since then, indoor dining has been suspended at the restaurant, along with several others in Contra Costa County.

More than 250 of the chain’s 370-plus locations are in California. The impending showdown has intensified Republican claims that California, led by Democrats, is less business-friendly than G.O.P.-dominated states such as Florida and Texas.

Last month, after the closure in San Francisco, Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, wrote to In-N-Out’s president, Lynsi Snyder-Ellingson, expressing his sympathy and noting that Florida opposes “harsh lockdowns and mandates.”

On Monday, as the city of Los Angeles began a sweeping new vaccine mandate that includes indoor dining, that overture was followed by one from Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

“I wasn’t in the room during the call, but I understand it was a productive conversation,” the Florida governor’s spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, wrote in an email. “If they can identify suppliers for all their ingredients here, which we believe is possible, In-N-Out could expand to Florida.”

Not so fast, In-N-Out has since countered.

“The phone call was at the request of Gov. DeSantis and the primary purpose was to establish a business relationship,” the company’s chief legal counsel and business officer, Arnie Wensinger, said in a statement. “While we are thankful for the gracious invitation, In-N-Out Burger has no plans or intention to expand operations or move its corporate headquarters to Florida.”

State records show that, as recently as April, In-N-Out was awarded a $7 million tax credit in return for a commitment to create 224 new jobs in its home state. “California is passionate about supporting local businesses, and In-N-Out is a California tradition,” said a spokeswoman for Gov. Gavin Newsom, Erin Mellon.

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Philippines Flight School Readies Recruits as Global Travel Sees Brighter Skies | World News

PAMPANGA, Philippines (Reuters) – With travel demand expected to grow as countries rush to reopen to international visitors, an aviation school in the Philippines is stepping up its training to try to head off problems from a global pilot shortage.

Travel restrictions imposed to fight COVID-19 have caused major disruption to the aviation sector, with aircraft grounded worldwide and many pilots no longer flying, having been laid off, furloughed or forced to find employment elsewhere.

“The important thing for us to do is to get ourselves prepared and be ahead of the herd,” said Lev Albarece, head of training at Alpha Aviation Group, a pilot school with hubs in the Philippines, Britain and the Middle East.

“We have to be ahead of the line and be ready for the next hiring surge.”

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Expanded vaccinations and an easing of restrictions in many countries has seen global demand for flights grow and airlines racing to restart routes after a lengthy hiatus.

Flights in the Philippines fell dramatically at the start of the pandemic, with no signs the country plans to reopen to foreign visitors or business travellers anytime soon.

Only 100 students have enrolled this year at Alpha’s local training facility, a third of pre-pandemic levels, with costly fees and job uncertainty deterring potential pilots.

But at Alpha’s school in Pampanga province, northwest of Manila, its full-motion Airbus flight simulators have been running all day to get trainees ready for real-world scenarios.

The programme involves simulators, classroom lectures, and flights in Cessna aircraft.

“Everything is uncertain. To me, there isn’t really a perfect timing to do everything,” said Casey Abadilla, 22, a flight student.

“Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith with the right amount of courage and hard work and hope for the best.”

(Reporting by Adrian Portugal; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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Delta sees 450% increase in bookings from outside U.S. as travel ban lifts – The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Delta sees 450% increase in bookings from outside U.S. as travel ban lifts   The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Lufthansa CEO Sees Business Travel Recovering Faster Than Thought | Investing News

VIENNA (Reuters) – Business air travel is recovering faster than expected and should remain solid through the winter, the chief executive of Germany’s Lufthansa said in remarks published on Monday.

Meanwhile private travel is seeing an “extension of the summer season” as people catch up on flights they were not able to take immediately after the onset of the pandemic, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

“In addition, we are seeing a positive trend in business travel, which was still at a low level in the third quarter and is now picking up strongly,” Spohr said in an interview.

Global air travel was brought to a standstill by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing Lufthansa into a multi-billion dollar bailout by the German government.

Lufthansa expects the level of business travel in the medium term to be around 90% or more of what it was before COVID-19.

“There will … be no sudden drop in demand in winter this year,” he said of the outlook for business travel as demand tends to fade less in that segment in winter and the “good development” in bookings is expected to last until December.

“Business travel has returned faster and more strongly than expected,” Spohr said, adding that it was being felt in particular in the German, Swiss, Austrian, Belgian and northern Italian markets, where more flights have been added.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Additional reporting by Riham Alkousaa in Berlin and Ilona Wissenbach in Frankfurt; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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United Sees Domestic, Transatlantic Business Rebound

Corporate bookings at United Airlines are “moving in the right direction,” with both domestic and transatlantic business travel showing signs of recovery in recent weeks, United CEO Scott Kirby said Wednesday during the carrier’s third-quarter earnings call.

“The effects of the delta [Covid-19] variant on our business was substantial, however we expect the worst of this wave is now past,” United chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said. “In the last two weeks, we’ve seen several leading business indicators return to where we were in July or better.”

Among those indicators, domestic business travel demand has rebounded to the levels seen before the emergence of the delta variant, with business travel demand from United’s largest corporate accounts increasing at a rate similar to its smallest accounts, he said. Demand has been particularly strong from consulting companies but has been rebounding “across the board” in United’s business sectors, according to Nocella. 

Overall, domestic business travel is nearing the 50 percent market compared with pre-pandemic levels, Nocella said. Delta Air Lines reported a similar rate of rebound last week.

“We have not recovered fully on business traffic and have a long way to go,” he said. “Just looking at the trends of only the last few days, our level of being bullish about this has increased a lot. The numbers for the delta variant caused things to go down quickly, and now that we’re past the delta variant, it appears they’re going to go up hopefully just as quickly.”

With the reopening of U.S. borders to vaccinated European travelers a month away, “business traffic across the Atlantic is now tracking consistent with or slightly better than domestic business traffic,” he added.

The return-to-office plans for United’s corporate customers remains a “hodgepodge,” with “people in general more and more returning to their office environment,” Nocella said. United expects business travel to accelerate next year with “a lot of pent-up demand,” he said.

United reported $6.6 billion in passenger revenue for the quarter, down 36.7 percent compared with the third quarter of 2019. Domestic passenger revenue made up $4.8 billion of that total, with transatlantic routes contributing $840 million in revenues, Latin America routes contributing $743 million and transpacific routes contributing $209 million.

Total revenue for the quarter was $7.8 billion, down 31.9 percent compared with 2019. Cargo revenue was up 84 percent across the same period.

As the rebound continues, Kirby said United’s early action with vaccine mandates would benefit the carrier as it would give travelers a reason to “book with confidence” with United. To date, 99.7 percent of the carrier’s employees opted to get vaccinated, president Brett Hart said.

Kirby said that airlines not pursuing mandates, instead letting employees request exemptions and do regular testing for Covid-19, could find themselves facing operational challenges.

“They’re likely to have tens of thousands of employees that need to be tested every week,” Kirby. “People will forget to do their test, do it wrong, don’t get it done or test positive. If you think weather in one state can lead to a meltdown, imagine if you have thousands of employees calling in on one day and saying their test didn’t pass. This is in the rear-view mirror for United.”

United reported net income of $473 million for the third quarter, which included benefits of federal payroll aid. Adjusted for that and other special items, United’s net loss for the quarter was $329 million, compared with an adjusted net loss of $2.4 billion in the third quarter of 2020.

RELATED: United Q2 earnings

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