Live updates: Obama, Fauci encourage vaccinations at clinic | National


WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, visited a children’s vaccination clinic in Washington Tuesday to encourage kids to get a COVID-19 shot.

Speaking to kids and parents at Kimball Elementary School waiting to get their second dose of the vaccine, Obama called the pediatric vaccinations “one more thing to be thankful for” during the holiday season.

“Nobody really loves getting a shot,” Obama said. “I don’t love getting a shot. But I do it because it’s going to help keep me healthy.”

After their surprise appearance in the school gymnasium drawing audible gasps, Obama and Fauci greeted kids and their families, posing for photos, and giving fist-bumps. The pair passed out stickers to kids after they got their shot.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— New information shows omicron spread wider earlier than thought

The EU’s medical agency says it will take two weeks to have an indication whether the current COVID-19 vaccines will be able to deal with the new omicron variant

U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says new COVID-19 variant could slow the economy and hiring, while also raising uncertainty about inflation.

Face masks are again mandatory in England in shops and on public transport due to the new variant

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

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NEW YORK — Pfizer asked U.S. regulators Tuesday to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to get booster doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.

The U.S. and many other nations already were urging adults to get boosters to pump up immunity that can wane about six months after vaccination — calls that intensified with the discovery of the worrisome new omicron variant.

While health authorities don’t yet know just how big a risk omicron poses, President Joe Biden has said it’s inevitable that the mutant will reach the U.S. and that boosters — plus first shots for the unvaccinated — are key to strengthening protection.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla announced the new booster request via tweet Tuesday, saying, “It is our hope to provide strong protection for as many people as possible, particularly in light of the new variant.”

The FDA is expected to consider the request rapidly.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization is tweaking its travel advice with regard to the omicron variant just hours after releasing it.

The U.N. health agency originally said that people who are unwell or at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease and dying are advised to postpone travel. The recommendation applies to people who are at least 60 years old and those with co-morbidities, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

But the WHO revised that statement later to say that people who haven’t been fully vaccinated or don’t have proof of earlier infection and are at greater risk are advised to postpone travel to areas with “community transmission,” where it’s spreading more widely.

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SAO PAULO — Health officials in Brazil have reported the country’s first confirmed cases of the omicron variant in two travelers arriving from South Africa, the first such cases in Latin America.

The Sao Paulo state health secretariat said Tuesday a 41-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman are in isolation. The two Brazilians had their tests taken on Nov. 25 and showed light symptoms of the disease at the time.

The secretariat statement said both travelers arrived in Brazil on Nov. 23 and took a PCR test before a trip scheduled for two days later. Their positive test results were collected at the Guarulhos international airport, outside Sao Paulo, before a return flight to South Africa.

“After the positive result, the couple was instructed to remain in isolation at home. Both are being monitored by state and municipal (authorities), as well as their respective family members,” said the Sao Paulo health secretariat. It said neither of the two are registered in the state’s vaccination platform.

Another potential case of omicron has been under investigation by Brazilian authorities since Sunday.

The two Brazilians are the first confirmed cases in Latin America, which has suffered heavily from the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil alone has reported more than 600,000 deaths, a figure that analysts believe to be undercounted.

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Canada is banning foreign nationals from three more countries because of concerns with the omicron COVID-19 variant and all air travelers coming to the country apart from the United States will have to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and will have to isolate themselves until they get the results of their test.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says Canada is banning all foreign nationals who have travelled through Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt because of concerns with the omicron COVID-19 variant.

Canada already announced a ban on foreign nationals from seven countries in southern Africa. Canadians who have visited the 10 countries will have to be tested and quarantine.

The Canadian province of Alberta also confirmed its first case of omicron in an individual who travelled from Nigeria and the Netherlands. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, says the person is asymptomatic.

Alberta is the third province in Canada to report the presence of the Omicron variant. Ontario announced its first cases on Sunday and Quebec reported its first case on Monday.

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LISBON, Portugal — A hospital in central Portugal says it’s closing its pediatric services after finding out that a health worker who had contact with members of a soccer club affected by an omicron coronavirus variant outbreak was also infected with the same strain.

The Hospital Garcia de Orta in Almada, a town neighboring the Portuguese capital has tested 28 other workers who came into close contact with the positive case and all of them returned as negative, according to a statement released late on Tuesday.

An additional group of 28 hospital users have been identified as at possible risk and authorities were following up with them, it said.

The hospital said it will close both emergency and outpatient pediatric service for two weeks.

Portuguese authorities on Monday reported what appeared to be the first confirmed cases of local omicron transmission in Europe after recording 13 positives among members of the Belenenses SAD professional soccer club, including a player who had returned from South Africa where the strain was first identified.

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BERLIN — German vaccine-maker BioNTech said Tuesday that it should be able to begin shipping doses of its coronavirus shot for children under 12 in the European Union a week earlier than previously announced.

BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved COVID-19 vaccine together with U.S. partner Pfizer, said the lower-dosage vials will be delivered to EU countries from Dec. 13.

The 27-nation bloc had previously expected the shipments to begin Dec. 20, causing some concern that the start of the vaccine campaign for younger children might be disrupted by the festive period.

BioNTech will provide up to 13 million such doses to EU countries in December.

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GENEVA — Switzerland is putting off a planned party for its next president and considering enhanced restrictive measures amid rising coronavirus case counts and concerns about the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant.

Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters Tuesday that the omicron variant that was brought to international attention last week “appears contagious — very contagious — and potentially could evade the immunity that we have seen in the pandemic up to now.”

The country of about 8.5 million people recorded more than 7,200 new coronavirus cases per day based on the latest 7-day average of daily cases, up from fewer than 900 in mid-October. The all-time high count was just over 8,000 per day, recorded in late October 2020. Hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 have been rising, but remain far below peak levels about a year ago.

The Swiss government said it was considering a new tightening of anti-COVID restrictions such as by requiring all attendees of indoor public gatherings to show a COVID certificate that shows vaccination or recovery from the virus, or a recent negative test, up from gatherings of more than 30 people now.

Other options include requiring people who have not been vaccinated or haven’t recovered from the illness to work from home, or wear a mask at all times in common workspaces.

Meanwhile, the government, citing “the evolution of the health situation,” announced the postponement of a planned Dec. 16 “party” for Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis before he takes up the Swiss presidency next year. It was to take place in his native region of Ticino along the Italian border.

The Swiss presidency rotates every year among the seven members of the executive Federal Council, and Cassis is set to take over from current president Guy Parmelin.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says “blanket travel bans” will not prevent the spread of a new coronavirus variant, while acknowledging that countries could order quarantines and take screening measures like testing travelers before or after arrival, or both.

The updated travel guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as dozens of countries have barred flights from southern African countries where the omicron variant was brought to international attention last week. WHO says the move unfairly punishes Botswana and South Africa for doing the right thing and being transparent about the emergence of a new variant.

Some health experts have countered that travel restrictions are effective, and many countries have bucked with WHO’s traditional recommendation against travel bans. WHO said that as of Sunday, 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at curbing the spread of omicron.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” WHO said, while acknowledging the use of screening measures to help stem the spread of omicron.

In its statement, WHO said that so far, current PCR tests continue to be effective in detecting the variant.

The U.N. health agency also said “essential travel” for emergencies, humanitarian missions and transport of essential supplies “should continue to be prioritized.”

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MADRID — Health authorities in the Spanish capital have confirmed a second case of the omicron variant in a 61-year-old woman who had returned from a trip to South Africa on Monday.

The woman, who shows no COVID-19 compatible symptoms and was double-vaccinated, had arrived in a different flight to the first case of omicron recorded in Spain, a 51-year-old man with two doses of coronavirus vaccine who traveled over the weekend.

Both patients remain in isolation, the Madrid region’s health department said Tuesday.

Authorities in northeastern Catalonia said they couldn’t establish yet if two suspected cases of coronavirus were related to the new variant, saying the sequencing of samples would not likely be conclusive until Friday.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — A Romanian state-owned aircraft brought 70 passengers from South Africa to Bucharest after concerns about the omicron variant of the coronavirus led to flight cancellations that left people stranded.

Romania’s foreign ministry said 46 of the passengers on the flight that landed Tuesday afternoon were Romanians and included a professional Romanian rugby team.

“European solidarity is a tangible reality,” Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu wrote online after the aircraft landed, noting that 18 EU citizens not from Romania were on the flight.

Seven Romanian citizens in Cape Town failed to board the repatriation flight due to logistical reasons or lack of a PCR test, authorities said.

The national champion rugby team, from Baia Mare in northern Romania, said authorities had undertaken “sustained efforts” to repatriate 31 team members who had been participating in a tournament in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Romanian authorities said Tuesday that 72 Romanian citizens stranded in Morocco after the North African country canceled almost all flights in response to the omicron variant are to be flown home later this week.

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LISBON, Portugal — All air passengers coming to Portugal must board their planes with a negative coronavirus test if they want to enter the country beginning on Wednesday, when Portugal enacts its second state of emergency this year as it tries to stop a surge in new infections, authorities said Tuesday.

The director of Lisbon’s airport, Rui Alves, told reporters that travelers will be given different wristbands depending on where their trip originated to ease their identification during the airport screening process. The new entry rules were drafted before the first cases of the omicron variant were reported in the country in the last few days.

Those who fail to show a negative test face fines ranging from 300 to 800 euros ($340 to $910). Airlines that transport untested passengers could also be fined 20,000 euros ($22,600) per person and, if they persist, could even lose their license.

PCR or antigen test results will be required for those arriving by land from outside of the European Union and from most EU countries considered at high or medium-high risk.

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RIGA, Latvia — U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had nothing but praise for South Africa on how it has alerted the world to the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

“I really want to applaud and express gratitude to South Africa and its government for its extraordinary transparency and also the very important work it did in detecting this new variant and in making it known to the world,” he said. “That’s exactly I think, a model of responsibility that South Africa has exhibited that we would hope everyone in the world would show, because we are all in this together.”

Blinken spoke Tuesday at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Riga, Latvia.

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LONDON — New measures to combat the new omicron variant of coronavirus took effect in England on Tuesday, with face coverings again compulsory in shops and on public transportation, as the government said it would offer all adults a booster dose of vaccine within two months to bolster the nation’s immunity.

From Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

The reintroduction of mandatory face masks brings England closer in line with the rest of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — which had kept some restrictions in place after England lifted all mandatory measures in the summer.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new measures will “buy us time in the face” of the new variant. He said that while many people felt an understandable “sense of exhaustion” at the prospect of renewed restrictions, the U.K.’s position is “immeasurably better than it was a year ago.”

The government said Tuesday that 22 cases of the omicron variant have been identified, a number that is expected to rise.

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ATHENS — Residents in Greece over 60 years old will have to undergo mandatory vaccinations against coronavirus or face monthly 100-euro ($114) fines beginning next year, the prime minister announced Tuesday, declaring the country’s first general inoculation mandate.

The Greek government decided upon the measure in response to a surge in new daily infections and the emergence of the omicron variant. It will take effect on Jan. 16 and the fines will be added to tax bills, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised statement.

Greece’s overall COVID-19 death toll exceeded 18,000 this week with confirmed new infections at high levels. Roughly a quarter of the country’s adult population remains unvaccinated.

Vaccination mandates were introduced over the summer for health care workers and fire service rescuers in Greece, with those failing to comply being suspended from their jobs indefinitely without pay.

The government has ruled out imposing new lockdowns but says it is targeting the elderly with tougher restrictions to protect the public health service as ICU occupancy is near capacity nationwide.

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BERLIN — Germany’s national and state leaders will decide Thursday on new measures to tackle a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, officials said after the country’s outgoing and incoming chancellors conferred with governors.

The measures are likely to include restrictions on shopping for unvaccinated people and limiting crowds at soccer matches, along with possible moves toward a vaccine mandate for all.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, held talks with Germany’s 16 state governors on Tuesday, hours after the country’s top court strengthened politicians’ hand by rejecting complaints against curfews and other restrictions imposed earlier this year.

Many states have tightened rules of their own accord, but experts and politicians have called for more coordinated national action as infection rates hit new highs.

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MOSCOW — Russian authorities on Tuesday tightened coronavirus restrictions because of the omicron variant, even though the country has yet to report its first confirmed case.

Anna Popova, head of Russia’s public health agency Rospotrebnadzor, announced Tuesday that travelers arriving from countries where the risk of contracting the omicron variant of coronavirus is high will have to quarantine for two weeks. She didn’t specify which countries were on the list.

Popova also said that results of PCR tests for coronavirus, used in many Russian regions to gain access to public places, will remain valid for only 48 hours instead of 72 hours.

“The new variant indeed elicits serious concerns and demands immediate, comprehensive study,” Popova said.

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GENEVA — The Swiss government says travelers arriving from Canada, Japan, Niger and Portugal will be required starting Wednesday to present both a negative COVID-19 test and undergo a 10-day quarantine.

The new measures were announced on Tuesday after cases of the newly identified coronavirus variant omicron turned up in those countries.

On Friday, the Swiss government initiated a similar requirement for travelers from Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, and banned all flights from seven countries in southern Africa where cases of the variant were first detected.

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WASHINGTON — Drugmaker Regeneron says that its COVID-19 antibody cocktail may be less effective against the omicron variant, though the company says more testing is needed to gauge the effect.

Regeneron’s cocktail is one of three antibody treatments that have become the standard U.S. treatments for COVID-19 patients who do not yet require hospitalization. The federal government has purchased and distributed millions of doses of the drugs, which are infused or injected by health professionals.

Because of mutations in the omicron variant, health authorities have warned that some vaccines and antibodies may lose their potency.

Regeneron says it is doing more analysis to define the variant’s impact on its drug’s effectiveness.

The company also says it is testing alternate antibodies that may be more effective against the new variant.

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MADRID — Spain’s government has banned flights connecting air routes from South Africa and six neighboring countries to the European country due to fears of the new omicron coronavirus variant.

The order affects any connecting flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Spain has no direct flights to southern Africa. The order will take effect on Thursday.

Spanish health authorities have reported one confirmed case of the omicron strain in a 51-year-old man who flew from South Africa to Madrid via Amsterdam. He was fully vaccinated and is showing mild symptoms. Three more possible cases are under investigation.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, though the World Health Organization warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.

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RIGA, Latvia — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which was discovered in South Africa, underscores the point that “none of us will be fully safe until everyone is.”

Speaking in Riga, Latvia, during a two-day meeting of the NATO foreign ministers, Blinken also noted “a real disparity” between vaccinations in Africa and the United States and Europe.

“We have vaccination rates in the United States, in Europe of 50, 60, 70%, depending on exactly who you’re counting. And in Africa, it’s more like 14, 15% or less.”

He noted that sometimes the supply of vaccines may actually be sufficient to meet the needs, but the ability to get shots in arms is lacking.

He said the United States was working on a solution that “brings the private sector into the game to help solve these last-mile problems of getting shots and arms. We’re putting that into into motion now.”

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BRUSSELS — The omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the World Health Organization about it last week, Dutch health authorities said Tuesday, adding to fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. The WHO said South Africa first reported the the variant to the U.N. healthy agency on Nov. 24.

It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged — but that hasn’t stopped nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa.

Much is still not known about the variant — though the WHO warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.



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Concerns rise over Indonesia’s sputtering COVID-19 vaccinations


Most vaccinations have been distributed in the more urban areas on the archipelago nation’s biggest islands of Java and Bali, while many on smaller, more rural islands — where health care systems are often rudimentary and the population tends to be older — have not been reached, said Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist and academic adviser to the government.

As more people travel back to these areas over the holidays, there is a greater risk the virus will spread to those populations, some of which have been partially protected by their isolation, he said.

“It will not be as bad as what we saw in July and August, but if we maybe look at the first wave, in January 2020, maybe it will be similar due to their vulnerability,” he said.

Because Indonesia started early with its vaccination program, there’s also more likelihood that the effectiveness is now waning, he said. Boosters are planned but probably will not begin until early 2022.

The government is urging people to avoid travel if they can and has increased restrictions in all provinces over Christmas and New Year’s, but some 20 million people are still expected to vacation on the popular islands of Java and Bali over the holidays.

Budiman said the country should accelerate the vaccination program now, while cases are down and health care systems are not overwhelmed.

Indonesia has reported more than 4.25 million cases and 143,000 deaths from COVID-19 among its 270 million people. At the peak of the last surge in July, it hit 56,757 cases per day as hospitals became overwhelmed by sick patients and ran out of beds and oxygen supplies.

With a poor record of testing and case reporting, many have questioned the official figures and the Health Ministry conceded this week that there have likely been about four times as many cases as officially listed.

A Health Ministry spokesperson, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, noted that one study of antibodies in Jakarta residents earlier this year suggested nearly 50% of people in the capital had been infected with COVID-19.

Budiman said his own research suggests that as many as 30-35% of the Indonesian population has had COVID-19 — which may be a silver lining to the vaccination cloud, in that many would have developed a natural immunity to the virus.

“But it’s still far from the threshold for herd immunity, and we know the immunity from both the vaccinations and the infections is waning,” he said.

Beyond issues with distribution to remote areas, predominantly-Muslim Indonesia is facing increasing vaccine hesitancy from many over the belief that shots other than the Chinese-made Sinovac are not “Halal,” or permissible under Islamic law, even though the Indonesian Ulema Council, the highest Islamic body, has said any of the vaccines are allowed.

Safrizal Rahman, chief of the Indonesian Medical Association in the province of Aceh, on the northwest tip of Sumatra island, said officials need to reach out to local religious leaders to enlist their support in moving ahead with vaccines.

“We need to make it a priority, because they are role models for society,” he told The Associated Press.

Aceh currently only has about 35% of its people partially vaccinated, up from about 30% in September, and it faces increasing headwinds, including the growing proliferation of misinformation, he said.

“Our education is still lacking compared with what people learn on social media,” he said. “Unfortunately what comes out on social media is a lot of hoaxes, but it is more influential in society than what is found in official sources.”

It has not helped that the prominent voice of former Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari, who served time for a corruption conviction, has been one of those sources, advising against getting the vaccine citing fully-debunked conspiracy theories.

As the number of cases has fallen recently, the sense of urgency to be vaccinated has also dropped, and the World Health Organization has noted strong declines in the numbers of shots given for three weeks in a row, most recently an 11.3% drop from Nov. 15 to 21.

The government is trying to ramp things back up, and is acquiring 102 million vaccine doses in December through purchases and donations from other countries.

More cold storage is also being added, so that each province would have at least one facility equipped to hold large quantities.

Noting the recent resurgence of the virus spread in Europe, Indonesia’s Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin urged people earlier this week not to be lulled into a false sense of security by the current low number of cases.

He stressed they should take whatever vaccine becomes available, noting that AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna have been shown to be more effective than the more popular Sinovac.

“Don’t worry, these vaccines have been proven safe, don’t hesitate to get vaccinated immediately,” he said.

“Don’t let what happened in Europe happen to us,” he added.




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Concerns rise over Indonesia’s sputtering COVID vaccinations


JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia has significantly recovered from a mid-year spike in coronavirus cases and deaths that was one of the worst in the region, but with its vaccination drive stalling due to logistical challenges and other issues, and with holidays approaching, experts and officials warn the island nation could soon face another surge.

Indonesia started its vaccination rollout earlier than any other country in Southeast Asia on Jan. 13, and as infection and death rates soared in July and August, ramped up its program to more than 1 million shots per day.

But as the world’s fourth most populous nation it had a lot more work to do than most, and today is only 33% fully vaccinated and 16% partially, far behind its smaller neighbor Malaysia, which boasts 76% fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

Most vaccinations have been distributed in the more urban areas on the archipelago nation’s biggest islands of Java and Bali, while many on smaller, more rural islands — where health care systems are often rudimentary and the population tends to be older — have not been reached, said Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist and academic adviser to the government.

As more people travel back to these areas over the holidays, there is a greater risk the virus will spread to those populations, some of which have been partially protected by their isolation, he said.

“It will not be as bad as what we saw in July and August, but if we maybe look at the first wave, in January 2020, maybe it will be similar due to their vulnerability,” he said.

Because Indonesia started early with its vaccination program, there’s also more likelihood that the effectiveness is now waning, he said. Boosters are planned but probably will not begin until early 2022.

The government is urging people to avoid travel if they can and has increased restrictions in all provinces over Christmas and New Year’s, but some 20 million people are still expected to vacation on the popular islands of Java and Bali over the holidays.

Budiman said the country should accelerate the vaccination program now, while cases are down and health care systems are not overwhelmed.

Indonesia has reported more than 4.25 million cases and 143,000 deaths from COVID-19 among its 270 million people. At the peak of the last surge in July, it hit 56,757 cases per day as hospitals became overwhelmed by sick patients and ran out of beds and oxygen supplies.

With a poor record of testing and case reporting, many have questioned the official figures and the Health Ministry conceded this week that there have likely been about four times as many cases as officially listed.

A Health Ministry spokesperson, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, noted that one study of antibodies in Jakarta residents earlier this year suggested nearly 50% of people in the capital had been infected with COVID-19.

Budiman said his own research suggests that as many as 30-35% of the Indonesian population has had COVID-19 — which may be a silver lining to the vaccination cloud, in that many would have developed a natural immunity to the virus.

“But it’s still far from the threshold for herd immunity, and we know the immunity from both the vaccinations and the infections is waning,” he said.

Beyond issues with distribution to remote areas, predominantly-Muslim Indonesia is facing increasing vaccine hesitancy from many over the belief that shots other than the Chinese-made Sinovac are not “Halal,” or permissible under Islamic law, even though the Indonesian Ulema Council, the highest Islamic body, has said any of the vaccines are allowed.

Safrizal Rahman, chief of the Indonesian Medical Association in the province of Aceh, on the northwest tip of Sumatra island, said officials need to reach out to local religious leaders to enlist their support in moving ahead with vaccines.

“We need to make it a priority, because they are role models for society,” he told The Associated Press.

Aceh currently only has about 35% of its people partially vaccinated, up from about 30% in September, and it faces increasing headwinds, including the growing proliferation of misinformation, he said.

“Our education is still lacking compared with what people learn on social media,” he said. “Unfortunately what comes out on social media is a lot of hoaxes, but it is more influential in society than what is found in official sources.”

It has not helped that the prominent voice of former Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari, who served time for a corruption conviction, has been one of those sources, advising against getting the vaccine citing fully-debunked conspiracy theories.

As the number of cases has fallen recently, the sense of urgency to be vaccinated has also dropped, and the World Health Organization has noted strong declines in the numbers of shots given for three weeks in a row, most recently an 11.3% drop from Nov. 15 to 21.

The government is trying to ramp things back up, and is acquiring 102 million vaccine doses in December through purchases and donations from other countries.

More cold storage is also being added, so that each province would have at least one facility equipped to hold large quantities.

Noting the recent resurgence of the virus spread in Europe, Indonesia’s Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin urged people earlier this week not to be lulled into a false sense of security by the current low number of cases.

He stressed they should take whatever vaccine becomes available, noting that AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna have been shown to be more effective than the more popular Sinovac.

“Don’t worry, these vaccines have been proven safe, don’t hesitate to get vaccinated immediately,” he said.

“Don’t let what happened in Europe happen to us,” he added.



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7 summer travel ideas as vaccinations roll out


Hsu’s answer for re-creating the magic of a ryokan, a Japanese inn, is to travel this summer to SingleThread Farms in Healdsburg, Calif., to stay in one of its five rooms and dine at its Hokkaido-inspired restaurant, Usu-Zan. An alternative farther south in Malibu, Calif., there is the 16-room Nobu Ryokan, complete with tatami mats and teak soaking tubs.



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Following Vaccinations, Travel On Many People’s Minds


6 P.M. Weather ReportThe summer heat and humidity are on the way, Lisa Meadows reports (3:19). WCCO 4 News At 6 – May 17, 2021

With New Rules, When And Where Do You Have To Wear A Mask?A major announcement from Target is adding to the mask confusion Minnesotans are experiencing, Jeff Wagner reports (1:56). WCCO 4 News At 6 – May 17, 2021

Budget Deal Brings Tax Relief For Small Businesses, Unemployed MinnesotansA big piece of the agreement is tax relief for small businesses and Minnesotans who received extended unemployment benefits, Caroline Cummings reports (2:06). WCCO 4 News At 6 – May 17, 2021

Community Calls For Change After 2 Kids Shot In MinneapolisThere is pressure to find a way to stop this senseless cycle of violence, Reg Chapman reports (3:16). WCCO 4 News At 6 – May 17, 2021

5 P.M. Weather ReportConditions were bright and warm Monday, Lisa Meadows reports (2:59). WCCO 4 News At 5 – May 17, 2021

Following Vaccinations, Travel On Many People’s MindsTravel predictions are up significantly over last year for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, Bradley Blackburn reports (1:48). WCCO 4 News At 5 – May 17, 2021

Lawmakers Worked Past Midnight To Broker Budget DealOn the last day of the regular session, top legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz finally reached an agreement on a $52 billion state budget for the next two years, Caroline Cummings reports (2:06). WCCO 4 News At 5 – May 17, 2021

Devastating Barn Fire Kills 12,000 Pigs Near WasecaThe fire chief says it could be days before they know the cause of the fire, John Lauritsen reports (1:35). WCCO 4 News At 5 – May 17, 2021

Trial Set For December For Ex-Officer Who Shot Daunte WrightThe criminal complaint says Kim Potter yelled she was going to Taser Wright and then fired her service revolver, killing him, Esme Murphy reports (1:42). WCCO 4 News At 5 – May 17, 2021

WCCO Digital Headlines: Afternoon Of May 17, 2021Frank Vascellaro shares the latest headlines (1:15). WCCO 4 News – May 17, 2021

Coming Soon: ‘6 Days In May,’ A WCCO DocumentaryWCCO looks back at the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing uprising that swept not only the Twin Cities, but the entire globe (3:33). WCCO 4 News – March 17, 2021

Bomb Squad Responds After Treasure Hunters Bring Mortar To Nimrod BarA bomb squad responded to a northern Minnesota bar Sunday after a group of treasure hunters brought a mortar round there to show others. Katie Johnston reports.

Noon Weather ReportMonday’s conditions are warm and sunny, but the week is bringing changes, Katie Steiner reports (3:15). WCCO 4 News At Noon – May 17, 2021

Report: Lack Of Gender-Specific Data On Heart DiseaseRather than chest pain, women sometimes report indigestion, back pain, or shortness of breath, Dr. Tara Narula reports (2:09). WCCO 4 News At Noon – May 17, 2021

At Least 200 Dead In Flaring Palestinian-Israeli ConflictEgypt’s President says he’s urgently working to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Ian Lee reports (1:50). WCCO 4 News At Noon – May 17, 2021

More Than 12,000 Hogs Dead After Barn FireSeveral departments were called to the scene around 10:30 last night, John Lauritsen reports (1:48). WCCO 4 News At Noon – May 17, 2021

Leaders Reach Budget Deal, But Will Require Special Session To Finish WorkGov. Tim Walz and the two top leaders of the Minnesota Legislature said they reached agreement early Monday on broad targets for the state’s next two-year budget (1:27). WCCO 4 News At Noon – May 17, 2021

FEEDBACK: Annoying Co-WorkersWe want to know about the annoying things your co-workers do. WCCO Mid-Morning — May 17, 2021

Nordic Waffles Celebrating ‘Syttende Mai’Stine Aasland, of Nordic Waffles, explained the significance of Norway’s Constitution Day and the tribute treat she’s serving at Pot Luck in Rosedale (3:12). WCCO Mid-Morning — May 17, 2021

DIY Gardening: The Blooming Backyard Fashion ShowRebecca Kolls says that designing fantastic outdoor pots is a bit like putting together a good outfit (4:01). WCCO Mid-Morning — May 17, 2021

Minneapolis College Offering Courses In High-Demand Specialized TradesVincent Thomas, the dean of two schools at Minneapolis College, spoke with Jason DeRusha and Heather Brown about the opportunities available in specialized trades (4:09). WCCO Mid-Morning — May 17, 2021

Sheriff: 2 Large Buildings Destroyed In Hog Barn Fire Near WasecaThe Waseca County Sheriff’s Office says two large buildings have been destroyed in a hog barn fire near Waseca Monday. Katie Johnston reports.

Packing In Protein On A Vegan DietAli Holman, of CoreCamper.com, showed the Mid-Morning crew some good sources of protein for those on a vegan, or mostly vegan, diet (3:53). WCCO Mid-Morning — May 17, 2021

Mid-Morning Weather ReportMeteorologist Riley O’Connor says Monday will be sunny and warm, but the rest of the week will be unsettled (3:30). WCCO Mid-Morning — May 17, 2021



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The Latest: Yale to require vaccinations for faculty, staff | National News


New Orleans, which had a tougher mask mandate than the state’s, also did away with the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people Friday, with similar exceptions.

Word from federal health officials that vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks in most situations may be leading to confusion among travelers.

Masks are still required under a Transportation Security Administration rule that will run into mid-September unless it is revoked before then. The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates airlines, felt the need to remind passengers of the TSA rule.

It issued a statement late Friday to “remind the traveling public that at this time if you travel, you are still required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.”

NEW YORK — Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, says it won’t require vaccinated shoppers or workers to wear a mask in its U.S. stores, unless state or local laws say otherwise.

Vaccinated shoppers can go maskless immediately, the company said. Vaccinated workers can stop wearing them on May 18. As an incentive, Walmart said it is offering workers $75 if they prove they’ve been vaccinated.



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Time Is Money: A Quick Wage-Hour Tip on … Providing Paid Time Off for COVID-19 Vaccinations | Epstein Becker & Green


With the United States in the midst of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, there has been focused attention on the rollout of vaccines approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the actual number of individuals being vaccinated. Presently, 250 million COVID-19 vaccine shots have been administered and individuals 16 years of age and older are eligible to receive the vaccine.  Now, in an effort to get more people vaccinated, employers are being encouraged to provide paid time off for employees who have not yet been vaccinated against the virus.

Federal Tax Incentives to Provide Paid Time Off

With the opportunities for employees to schedule or receive vaccinations generally limited to within business hours, employers have experienced an increased number of requests for leave from work in order to obtain a vaccination.  With more than half the adult population in the United States having been vaccinated, but the rate of vaccinations slowing by the day, there is an increasing push for employers to do more.  What is an employer to do?

To encourage employers to provide their employees with paid time off to be vaccinated, the federal government has provided certain employers with a tax incentive.  Specifically, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) extends federal tax credits for private employers with less than 500 employees in the United States that voluntarily decide to provide paid sick leave or family leave for each employee receiving the COVID-19 vaccination and for any time needed to recover from the vaccine through September 30, 2021.  For example, if an eligible employer offers employees a paid day off in order to get vaccinated, the employer can receive a tax credit equal to the wages paid to employees for that day (up to certain limits).  For more information about the tax credits, the IRS has published guidance for employers. On the federal level, while employers are not required to provide employees paid leave, there is a tax benefit to doing so.

State and Local COVID-19-Related Paid Sick Leave Laws

While the paid leave requirement under the federal ARPA is voluntary for employers, employers need to be aware of legislative developments at the state and local level that require employers to provide paid leave.  In California, for instance, employers with more than 25 employees are now required to provide up to 80 hours of paid supplemental sick leave (in addition to other available paid leave under state sick leave laws) for employees unable to work or telework for qualifying COVID-19-related reasons.  Those reasons include (i) the employee is subject to a quarantine or isolation period related to COVID-19, has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine due to COVID-19, or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis; (ii) the employee is caring for a family member who is either subject to a quarantine or isolation period related to COVID-19, has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine due to COVID-19, or is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19 on the premises; and (iii) the employee is attending a vaccine appointment or cannot work or telework due to vaccine-related side effects.

The law is retroactive to sick leave taken beginning January 1, 2021, and prevents employers from requiring employees to use other paid or unpaid leave available before using the COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave.  The law expires on September 30, 2021.  For additional information, see 2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave FAQs.  Note, Massachusetts is proposing a COVID-19-related paid sick leave law.  On a local level, Philadelphia has enacted similar legislation.  See COVID-19 pandemic paid sick leave resources.

Should an employer in California require its employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), having recently updated its Guide to COVID-19 Related Frequently Asked Questions to include wage and hour issues and vaccinations, has indicated that employers must pay for their employees’ time, including travel time as well as any time employees spends waiting to receive the vaccine.

State and Local COVID-19-Related Paid Vaccination Leave Laws

While California has provided for expansive COVID-19-related leave, New York has enacted more narrowly-tailored legislation requiring all employers to provide a paid leave of absence for a “sufficient period of time,” not to exceed four hours (unless otherwise authorized by the employer), for employees specifically to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.  Employers are required to provide such leave per COVID-19 vaccine injection.  The paid leave is in addition to any other paid leave benefits employees are entitled to, and cannot be charged against such other leave.  Unlike the law in California, the paid benefits are not retroactive and only cover the employee.  The law does not prevent an employer from requiring proof of vaccination.  However, employers should caution employees not to reveal any confidential medical information.  The law expires on December 31, 2021.  For more information, see Paid Leave for COVID-19 Vaccinations.

New York is the only state presently to require employers to provide paid leave for the express purpose of obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination.  However, several municipalities are enacting similar laws.  Chicago, for example, passed an ordinance that prevents employers from requiring its employees to be vaccinated only during non-working hours, whether vaccination is voluntarily sought or employer-required. For those employers requiring employees to be vaccinated, the ordinance requires the employer to compensate the employee at the employee’s regular rate of pay for the time spent to get vaccinated, up to four hours per dose.  Ordinances in several cities in California also require employers to provide up to four hours of paid leave to attend COVID-19 vaccinations.

Many states and municipalities of course have had paid leave laws providing preventive care prior to COVID-19 that can be used for vaccination-related purposes as well as recovery from vaccination side effects.  In fact, to promote health and safety in the workplace, guidance from states, including California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, and Oregon, explicitly confirms employees may use this leave for vaccination-related purposes.  Employers need to be mindful of these state and local requirements.

Non-COVID-19-Related Wage and Hour Considerations

Where there are no leave laws requiring employers to provide paid time off to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, the facts and circumstances in each case will determine whether time spent traveling to and from a vaccination site, or waiting for and receiving a vaccine, will be deemed hours worked for purposes of calculating minimum wage and overtime.  Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, whether time spent by an employee to receive a vaccination must be treated as compensable likely depends on when the vaccination occurs and whether the vaccination is required by the employer.  The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has not offered specific guidance on this issue.  However, in the context of an employer requiring COVID-19 testing, similar to requiring receipt of a vaccination, the DOL has indicated that the employer is required to pay employees for time spent waiting for and receiving medical attention at their direction, or on their premises during normal working hours.  See COVID-19 and the Fair Labor Standards Act Questions and Answers.

Myriad legal issues arise, at both the federal and state level, related to an employer implementing a mandatory vaccination policy, which is beyond the scope of this blog piece.  In addition to wage and hour laws, employers need to consider other potential legal issues including but not limited to employment discrimination and retaliation, family and medical leave, privacy, genetic information, workplace health and safety, collective bargaining, and workers’ compensation.  At present, it appears that most employers are choosing to encourage, and not require, employees to obtain their COVID-19 vaccinations.

What Employers Should Do Now

  • Review state and local paid sick leave requirements to determine whether and how they may apply to COVID-19, and be on the lookout for any legislative developments;
  • Consider adopting a written vaccination policy in order to ensure employee awareness and consistent practices;
  • Prohibit retaliation against employees for taking leave for COVID-19-related reasons including receiving the vaccination and provide training to HR personnel and managers to ensure compliance.

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Vaccinations and Vacations: Here’s Your Guide to Safe and Savvy Summer Travels


After a year during which many Americans canceled travel plans and hunkered down amid the pandemic, this summer figures to mark a tentative return to traditional pastimes as more people get Covid-19 vaccines. 

It won’t look quite like prepandemic travel, however, as many states are still limiting capacity in public venues and once-popular businesses reliant on tourism may have folded. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against unnecessary travel even though it has eased its mask advisory for vaccinated people in public settings and said in April that fully vaccinated people are less likely to get and spread Covid-19. 

But vacation options are growing as more people get inoculated against the virus. For instance, cruising could be back by mid-July as the CDC has reportedly eased its conditional no-sail order to potentially allow cruising based on the levels of guest vaccinations.

For some, taking a vacation has become necessary travel from a mental-health standpoint, said Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine who is also working with Chicago and Illinois officials on safe reopening guidelines. “If you’re just looking to go on vacation, because you need to escape your life…then you want to just be as careful as possible,” she says.

Careful traveling this year means keeping up safety protocols whether someone is vaccinated or not: washing hands, wearing masks in crowded public places, and maintaining social distance to help reduce spreading the virus. Experts say these precautions are particularly important for vulnerable seniors as vaccines aren’t 100% effective.

For now, vaccine passports aren’t likely to be required widely since there is no credential standards, but international travelers may have to provide proof of vaccinations and/or negative tests before boarding , and some industries also are likely to require screening or vaccine documentation. 

Check ahead: Jan Jones, professor of hospitality and tourism at the University of New Haven, says her biggest tip for travelers is to start researching now and call ahead for reservations for anything they want to see or do. Don’t just rely on websites, she says, as they might not be updated with the latest information as the pandemic ebbs and flows.

Call again just before hitting the road to reconfirm reservations and know what restrictions are in place, she adds. And be sure to find out what the vaccination requirements are for the places you’re visiting, if there are capacity limits or negative Covid tests required. 

Even if vacationers are traveling familiar roads in their own vehicles, Paula Twidale, senior vice president of travel at AAA Travel, says they should plan their stops as much as possible and look at what’s open along the way, including rest stops and gas stations.  

The travel association also has an online Covid-19 travel restrictions map that is updated several times a week that includes state and county travel restrictions to help travelers plan. 

Ultimately, says Pauline Frommer, editorial director for travel guidebook site Frommers.com, travelers can expect fewer choices and higher demand. Hotel chains closed some locations, airline routes may be different as many cut services to smaller cities, and it may be harder to get a car rental as many companies sold vehicles to stay in business last year. 

Vaccines and negative tests: Vaccines aren’t required in the U.S. and airlines aren’t requiring them as proof to fly. But cruise operators, including Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings , will be primarily open to adult cruisers who’ve gotten vaccinations, with tighter restrictions on voyages carrying many unvaccinated customers like children.

The European Union recently said it would allow Americans who have been fully vaccinated to visit this summer, but offered no timeline on when all member countries would be open. A few countries such as Greece and Iceland are welcoming tourists.

Even if travelers are vaccinated, the CDC requires all air passengers, including citizens, coming into the U.S. to show proof of negative Covid tests within three days before traveling. While most states and cities have no restrictions on visitors, Hawaii requires proof of a negative Covid test to enter to avoid a mandatory 10-day self-quarantine.

John Rose, chief risk and security officer at Altour, a travel management company, says some countries may require separate proof of medical insurance coverage. Additionally, the CDC suggests all travelers get tested for Covid when they return from overseas. As far as “vaccination passports” go, Rose says different countries are mulling how to implement these as there hasn’t been an agreement on what digital platforms to use, but he expects there will be a nationally recognized adopted platform since many countries are planning to implement these when allowing in visitors. “You have the right to not take the vaccine, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have permission to enter a certain country.”     

Social distancing: Most major attractions such as museums, stadiums, and amusement parks have advance reservation systems with timed entry and exits, which help them plan better because most large venues have some sort of capacity limit. Hours may be shortened, too.

“It’s going to be harder to have that sense of spontaneity. I think a lot of the vacation experiences will have to be planned in advance for the next couple years,” Frommer says.

Landon says families and groups with mixed vaccine status—where some people have their shots and others don’t—should practice social distancing to protect the unvaccinated. That means sticking with familiar protocols such as wearing masks in public, opting for outdoor activities and avoiding crowds, especially indoors where visitors aren’t wearing masks.

While some states such as Texas have lifted all restrictions on crowd sizes and mask mandates, that doesn’t mean individual businesses and organizations won’t have these restrictions in place, says Rose. Just as a business may have a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy, they may add a “no mask” policy, denying service to people who aren’t wearing masks.

Landon suggests mixed-status groups that are vacationing in areas that are fully open should mind how prevalent Covid is in a community when deciding what activities to do, and suggested sticking to places with occupancy limits to help with social distancing.

“Would you go to a place with a cholera outbreak? Would you vacation there? I think for the good of society, we should avoid hotspots,” she says.

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Hotels show signs of life with long-awaited travel boom in sight amid vaccinations


“It’s like we’re a sailing boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,” said Colin Reed, chief executive officer of Ryman Hospitality Properties Inc. “The good news is the breeze is blowing in the right direction. But we haven’t yet felt the massive breeze that’s going to take us back to where we were 12 or 18 months ago.”

Not many companies were set up worse for a pandemic than Ryman, a real estate investment trust that owns big-box hotels and live music venues in Nashville, Tennessee. Both of those businssess were slammed as trade groups and bachelorette parties canceled trips to the home of country music, as well as to other cities where the company operates.

Now groups are rebooking events and local governments are loosening restrictions on music venues and meeting places. Cost-cutting efforts designed to help Ryman survive the pandemic should lead to better margins when the business bounces back. There are other small positives to arise from the calamity: The company brought its concert venues online and will probably continue to make money streaming events at the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium once things return to normal, Reed said.

Investors have noticed, with shares climbing about 20% since the start of the year and more than tripling over the past 12 months. That puts Ryman’s rebound among the best for publicly traded U.S. hotel owners. A Bloomberg index of lodging REITs has jumped 27% over the last three months.

Growing confidence in a lodging recovery has also helped spur acquisitions. Blackstone and Starwood Capital Group said on March 15 that they were teaming up to take Extended Stay America Inc. private in a $6 billion deal, the largest hotel-industry transaction since the crisis took hold.

It followed an announcement last week from Hilton Grand Vacations Inc. that it was acquiring a timeshare competitor from Apollo Global Management Inc. in a stock deal with an equity value of $1.4 billion.

Slow comeback

Optimism for the industry comes with caution. Corporate travel is a long way from coming back, and some hotels are still closed in key markets. New York had a 47% lodging occupancy rate last week, according to STR, but that figure excludes shuttered properties. When closed hotels are accounted for, the occupancy rate was 30%, about a third of what it would be in a typical year.

And REIT stocks may be overheated considering some of the lasting damage the virus has wrought on the property market, according to a report this week from real estate analytics company Green Street. Hotels could be hurt if the government’s stimulus turns out to bring little more than a “sugar high,” the firm said.

“Signs are now appearing that investors may be focusing too much attention on the bright light at the end of the tunnel,” wrote Green Street co-founder Mike Kirby and managing director Peter Rothemund.

But for hotel owners, any prospect of rising consumer demand is welcome, and some lodging companies are now scrambling to staff up. Omni Hotels & Resorts, which owns and operates about 60 hotels across the U.S., Mexico and Canada, has outsourced recruiting for the first time in its history, CEO Peter Strebel said in an interview. The company, which had 22,000 workers pre-pandemic, is currently employing less than half that number.

“We’ve had to recruit a lot of new talent,” said Strebel. “Our biggest challenge isn’t going to be business volume, it’s going to be getting our people back.”



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