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Australia carries out first repatriation flight from India after travel ban


A traveler wearing a protective face mask and gloves departs the arrivals section of the international terminal of Kingsford Smith International Airport the morning after Australia implemented an entry ban on non-citizens and non-residents intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Australia carried out its first repatriation flight from India after temporarily banning all travel from the COVID-ravaged country last month, the government said, with 80 passengers arriving in Darwin on Saturday from New Delhi.

Passengers had to show two negative COVID-19 tests before boarding the government-backed Qantas (QAN.AX)
flight and were taken upon arrival to a converted mining camp in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory for a two-week quarantine.

The Australian government came under fire for temporarily barring all travel to and from India last month, a policy that drew heavy criticism from lawmakers, expatriates and the Indian diaspora.

A total of 70 passengers were barred from boarding the flight on Friday after they or their close contacts tested positive for the coronavirus. read more

“We are following the medical advice and ensuring that we protect Australians here and I’m pleased that that first flight has arrived, and obviously there will be more flights to come,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a televised briefing.

“It’s important to do the testing that we are doing right now, before people come on those planes to Australia. That’s the process we are following, and we will continue to follow.”

Two more Royal Australian Air Force repatriation flights to the Northern Territory are scheduled this month, with about 1,000 people planned to return by the end of June. About 9,000 Australians in India have registered with the federal government, requesting to return home.

The government aims to more than double the capacity of the quarantine facility in Howard Springs, 25 km (16 miles) southeast of the city of Darwin, so that it can cope with the arrival of 2,000 people every two weeks from June.

India has reported more than 300,000 infections a day over the past three weeks, overwhelming its health care system and leaving many without hospital beds, oxygen and adequate treatment.

By contrast, Australia has been one of the world’s most successful countries in curbing the pandemic, with snap lockdowns, border closures and swift contact-tracing. It has reported just under 29,950 coronavirus infections and 910 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic started.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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Peek Inside El Dorado Seaside Suites


It sounds dreamy, right? Step outside your spacious oceanfront hotel room to take a dip in your very own swimming pool located just a few feet from your suite’s sliding-glass door. Indeed, there’s an adults-only, all-inclusive resort in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, south of Playa del Carmen, that faces the ocean with infinity pools on all six floors.

That said, the pools on each floor of the El Dorado Seaside Suites are not created equal. You’ll want to reserve your room carefully — and know up front some of the benefits and pitfalls of each level — before you arrive. Here’s the scoop.

Ocean view from Honeymoon Suite, El Dorado Seaside Suites.
Kara Williams

Oceanfront Honeymoon Suites At El Dorado Seaside Suites

My husband and I went big on our first trip after we received our COVID-19 vaccines this spring. We booked a sixth-floor oceanfront honeymoon suite at El Dorado Seaside Suites, even though we celebrated our honeymoon more than 20 years ago! 

Since “honeymoon” is a resort room category, not a requirement, we thought, “Why not?!” Our accommodations came with some fun extras (candlelight dinner on the beach, special room-service breakfast) and we wanted to ensure great views of the ocean on the top floor.

We’re so glad we reserved this room type. Indeed, the ocean vistas, especially at sunrise, were spectacular. We appreciated all the sun that the top-floor patio and infinity pool received throughout the day. And it felt great to hop in the not-too-cold pool after an exercise walk or day spent on the beach.

Oceanfront Pool Swim Up Suites, El Dorado.
Kara Williams

Oceanfront Pool Swim Up Suites At El Dorado Seaside Suites

We’re doubly glad we didn’t book the swim-up suites on the first floor. Many visitors covet these accommodations, as they lead directly to the main pool with a swim-up bar just a few splashes away. But the pool is also party central! 

There’s zero privacy while lounging on your patio that’s in full view of guests frolicking in the main infinity pool. However, if you don’t mind being on display, this room category is ideal for vacationers who like to be in the midst of all the action — dancing to live music (a band sets up poolside at least once weekly), aqua aerobics, pool volleyball, and a whole lot of folks socializing around the bar (all alcoholic drinks are included in your all-inclusive vacation here).

Suite interior, El Dorado Seaside Suites.
Kara Williams

Oceanfront Swim Up Suites At El Dorado Seaside Suites

Note that this room category doesn’t include the word “pool” (that is, the main pool) in its name. These rooms are located on the second through fifth floors of the V-shaped building. While they indeed have balcony infinity pools, the rooms don’t receive a ton of sunlight throughout the day. And, according to multiple reports on Facebook fan groups for the resort, the water in these balcony pools isn’t very warm — unless you’re visiting in the toasty months of July and August.

Of course, pool temperature is relative! But if you’re hoping to dip into bathwater temperatures on a December vacation, you may be sorely disappointed. (I didn’t see many people using pools on the second to fifth floors in early May.)

Also reported in the Facebook fan groups: the lack of ocean views on the second floor. There are just too many (beautiful!) palm trees in the way to get a great view of the water. So, while these rooms may be priced most affordably, you may be missing out on warm pool water or great views if you end up on the second to fifth floors.

Morning yoga, El Dorado Seaside Suites.
Kara Williams

What Else You Need To Know About Visiting El Dorado Seaside Suites

You actually get to enjoy two resorts for the price of one when you book a vacation here. That’s because El Dorado Seaside Suites is adjacent to El Dorado Seaside Palms, so a variety of restaurants, bars, activities (beach volleyball, morning yoga), and a great beach are just a short stroll (or golf-cart shuttle ride) away. As an all-inclusive guest, you have access to it all.

And this is key because the beach at the newer Seaside Suites section is quite rocky. The beach at next-door Seaside Palms is bigger, with a nicer stretch of white sand and a quiet bay for swimming and snorkeling. (Don’t expect to boogie board here; there are man-made sandbars protecting the beach, so big, rolling waves don’t reach the shore.)

The resorts share an upscale spa; I highly recommend a massage or other body treatment that includes “water journey” hydrotherapy featuring a sublime steam room, warm soaking pool with multiple jets, hot tub, and exhilarating cold plunge!

My favorite restaurant is also located on the Palms side. At La Carreta, I enjoyed the marinated pork tacos with pineapple salsa and the savory chicken mole. Also, keep an eye out for outdoor pop-up stands throughout the entire resort, where you might be able to grab authentic tacos de canasta or chicken kebabs to go.

Pro Tip: Rooms at El Dorado Seaside Suites are spacious with a large bathroom, Jacuzzi tub, and modern decor, no matter what category you book. However, Mexico’s humidity and the resort’s oceanfront location can lead to the sleek floors being coated with condensation if you leave your balcony door open! Be sure to turn the A/C on “dry” mode to help combat this problem.



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First 80 Australians return after controversial travel ban imposed on India


(CNN) — Australia received its first repatriation flight from India since its controversial ban on travel from the Covid-hit country came into force, with 80 Australians landing in Darwin on Saturday and immediately being taken to quarantine facilities.

A number of passengers were unable to board the Qantas flight from New Delhi after testing positive for Covid-19, and close contacts were also blocked from boarding, according to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT.)

The Australian government’s aggressive ban on travelers from the country has proven controversial; ministers were accused of racism after threatening five years’ imprisonment for anyone who breached the restrictions.

Saturday’s journey was the first of a handful to bring home 9,000 Australians stuck in India in the coming weeks. The next flight is scheduled for May 23, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Friday.

After arrival, travelers face two weeks in quarantine at a converted mining camp in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, Reuters reports.

“We are following the medical advice and ensuring that we protect Australians here and I’m pleased that that first flight has arrived, and obviously there will be more flights to come,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a televised briefing, the news agency added.

Passengers are transported to the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility.

Passengers are transported to the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility.

Steven Hoare/Getty Images

“It’s important to do the testing that we are doing right now, before people come on those planes to Australia. That’s the process we are following, and we will continue to follow.”

India is in the grips of a devastating coronavirus outbreak, reporting another 326,098 infections and 3,890 new deaths on Saturday. It has seen almost 25 million recorded Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began.

In total about 9,000 Australians in India have registered with the federal government, requesting to return home.

But the total ban on arrivals from India has faced strong opposition from Australia’s Indian community, human rights advocates and even members of the government itself.

Government senator Matt Canavan said in a tweet earlier this month that it was more important to fix Australia’s quarantine system than to “leave our fellow Australians stranded.”

“We should be helping Aussies in India return, not jailing them,” he said.

Payne said that Saturday’s flight brings the total number of government-facilitated flights over the course of the pandemic from India to 39 — returning over 6,400 Australians since March 2020.

Since the start of the pandemic, DFAT has helped over 45,700 Australians return on over 500 flights including over 18,800 people on 128 government-facilitated flights, a DFAT spokesperson told CNN.



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Aide: Whitmer’s Fl. trip paid for by fund created after election


The lack of details has dogged Whitmer since the March trip was revealed in April.

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s private round trip to Florida to see her ailing father was paid for from a fund that’s used for travel not covered by tax dollars, her chief of staff said Friday.

The cost was $27,521, with Whitmer personally paying $855 of that amount, according to the Michigan Transition 2019 website, which lists donations and expenses. The nonprofit was initially formed for inauguration events.

The lack of details has dogged Whitmer since the March trip was revealed in April.

“As chief of staff, I acknowledge we could have done a better job of answering questions about this trip with more clarity while also balancing the need to protect the governor’s security, and for that I take responsibility,” JoAnne Huls told senior staff in a memo.

Whitmer left Michigan on March 12 and returned on March 15.

“She continued to carry out her duties as governor while she assisted her father with household duties like cooking and cleaning. … The governor’s flight was not a gift, not paid for at taxpayer expense, and was done in compliance with the law,” Huls said.

The Associated Press last week confirmed flights to West Palm Beach using aviation-tracking website Flightradar24. The Gulfstream 280 business jet is registered to Air Eagle, whose agent is John Nicholson, executive vice president of Detroit-based PVS Chemicals, according to state records.

On May 7, when asked who paid, Whitmer said: “I’ve said everything I’m going to say about my trip to go check on my father. It was a quick trip. It was an important family reason for doing it, and I’ve got nothing to add.”

She said her office does not discuss her travel because of an “incredible number” of death threats. A group of men is charged with plotting to kidnap her over her coronavirus restrictions.

Huls said Whitmer took her father, Richard Whitmer, to a medical procedure Monday at the University of Michigan.

“Mr. Whitmer’s procedure was successful, and we are hopeful that his condition improves,” Huls said.

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ATM 2021: New Emirates premium economy product to be unveiled | News


Emirates will be showcasing its premium economy seats for the first time at Arabian Travel Market this week.

The tourism exhibition will run from May 16-19, and will be the first in-person travel industry event to take place in the Middle East since the onset of the pandemic.

The Emirates stand will offer travel industry visitors from over 60 countries a chance to experience the airline’s signature products and recently introduced service enhancements across every cabin class onboard its A380 aircraft, and is a reminder of the elevated onboard experiences in store for travellers once they get back to the skies.

The highly-anticipated Emirates premium economy seat will be on display for visitors to experience.

The seat boasts an abundant pitch of up to 40-inches, and visitors trying out Emirates’ premium economy seat will also notice its generous width of 19.5 inches and ability to recline into a comfortable cradle position with ample room to stretch out.

Emirates will also showcase its Boeing 777-300ER first class fully enclosed private suites exhibit, Boeing 777 business class seat, the newly refreshed A380 lounge.

Visitors to the Emirates product exhibits will be able to try out all of the products on the stand, and all seats and surfaces will be cleaned and sanitised after each use.

Visitors can also try out their Emirates knowledge through an interactive 60 second challenge played on a touch screen at the stand.

The Emirates stand is located in Hall 3 stand number ME3310 at Arabian Travel Market.





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Here Are The Best Places To Travel After COVID-19


When the subject of where to travel after COVID-19 comes up, Jason Phillips has a ready answer: Jamaica.

“The ambiance is great,” says Phillips, a licensed therapist from Detroit. “The food is delicious, and it gave us a chance to reconnect.”

Seems many Americans have an answer, too — places they’ve already been but plan to return to. Or bucket-list destinations they want to visit. 

And now it’s time. The travel boom of 2021 has started. After more than a year of going nowhere, we’re all going somewhere.

But where?

The latest Global Rescue survey says Canada, Mexico, Europe, Argentina, and South Africa are the leading international destinations for travelers over the next several months. More than half of those surveyed (53%) expect to travel abroad before the end of the year. 

“They plan to take advantage of discounts, take longer trips, and go to places with modern health care facilities,” says Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue. 

Finding the best places to travel after COVID-19 might be a little tricky. You’ll need to personalize your visit and always keep your safety in mind, say experts. If you want to go abroad, closer is better.

Where to travel after COVID-19

Pinpointing the best places for you to travel after the pandemic can be a challenge. Everyone has advice. 

Travel companies publish their own polls that perhaps coincidentally suggest that everyone should visit the destinations they serve. Websites post “please-oh-please-Google-rank-this-on-page-one” listicles. I’ve written one or two myself. Not my finest moment as a journalist.

Then there are the keyword-stuffing travel blogs that mindlessly repeat phrases like “best places to travel after COVID-19” and then try to recommend places like the Gobi Desert.

But here’s some advice that’ll actually work: Before you make any travel plans, consult with someone who knows what the heck they’re talking about.  

No computer can beat a human travel agent at recommending a place to visit after COVID. A qualified travel advisor will take the time to listen to you and then make a recommendation based on your preferences. And until they can send an AI on a familiarization trip, that’s how it will always be.

So if you’re ready to go somewhere, find a travel agency on the American Society of Travel Advisors site. Working with a good agent means you won’t have to stumble around on the internet, sifting through useless advice on destinations. (Except for this story, of course.)

A well-traveled friend can be a great resource, too. My nonprofit organization also runs an online help forum for consumers to help people figure out where to go.

But seriously. Get help. 

The best places to travel right now in the U.S.

The “best” destination to travel after COVID-19 is a personal choice. That’s because where you go depends on where you live and your interests. 

This summer, an overwhelming majority of vacation trips will take place by car or RV. People remain concerned about their safety even though the pandemic appears to be fading. That means they’re choosing places that are close and allow for plenty of social distancing.

In coming up with my suggestion of the best places to travel right now in the U.S., I reviewed lists compiled by companies that should know. For example, Allianz Travel publishes a reliable list of the most popular domestic and international destinations. But as I reviewed their favorite places, I realized that a list tells only half the story. It isn’t where you go that matters, but what the destination represents.

For example, if you wanted a theme park experience, I might recommend Orlando’s attractions — specifically Walt Disney World. It’s been super-careful with protecting guests visiting its parks and hotels, with temperature checks and outdoor mask requirements. (It dropped both this month after updated CDC guidance.) It is the iconic theme park experience. If you can wait until after Labor Day, the crowds will thin and prices will drop.

Orlando isn’t all Disney, of course. There’s no shortage of great shopping in nearby Winter Park or great dining options in Orlando’s Milk District, one of my favorite places to hang out when I’m in town. Bet you didn’t know Orlando had its own arts district.  

Stay close if you’re looking for the best place to travel after COVID-19

Another sound strategy for finding a vacation destination: think close. 

For instance, if you live in the New York City area, there’s no need to board a plane for a vacation. A destination like Ithaca in upstate New York can be the best place to travel. It’s the cultural and wellness hub of the Finger Lakes region, with plenty of well-appointed spas, outdoor summer theatre, public mural walking tours, and engaging small museums.

Another summer travel strategy: Zig when everyone else zags. For Thomas Swick, author of The Joys of Travel, that means a trip to Iowa. As a bonus, it’s also culturally relevant. 

“Iowa is especially rich in memorable Americana,” he says. “From the National Hobo Museum and Cemetery in Britt to the Surf Ballroom in nearby Clear Lake, where Buddy Holly sang his last song, to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville. And the rolling hills and rows of corn make you feel like you’re in a Grant Wood painting.” 

Speaking of the Midwest, one place I never miss is a short drive from Chicago: Wisconsin’s Dells. Sure, it’s the waterpark capital of the world, but there’s much more to it. Have you ever visited the International Crane Foundation in nearby Baraboo? It’s definitely worth the trip.

The best place to visit depends on where you are now. There’s no shortage of visit-worthy destinations near you. 

The best places to travel internationally

When it comes to international travel, the usual suspects are suspect this year. “There are so many unknowns in Italy, France and Germany at the moment,” explains Andrew Steinberg, a travel advisor with Ovation Travel Group. “Our clients want to make sure when they arrive at a destination that restaurants, cultural activities and other points of interest are fully open and ready.”

Some places are open and ready for American visitors. This summer, the Caribbean and Mexico rank highly for international travelers. Prices are affordable since it’s the off-season, and for some families, that’s a green light.

“News that the FDA has approved the use of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for teens 12 to 15 is going to unleash tremendous pent-up demand for family vacations,” predicts Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz Travel. “Destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean are family-friendly, have put in place extensive safety protocols and are easy for Americans to reach.”

By the way, I agree with Phillips on Jamaica. As a cub reporter at Travel Weekly, I covered Jamaica, and I loved every minute of it.

But when it comes to Caribbean islands, there are more than just the usual suspects. Consider the Dutch Caribbean island of Saba in the Lesser Antilles. More than 85 percent of the population is vaccinated. The island caters to outdoor activities and ecotourism, and it’s an excellent destination for hiking and scuba diving. 

“With nearly the entire population vaccinated and our emphasis on enjoying the natural beauty, Saba is one of the best and safest destinations for those looking to explore and rejuvenate after the past year of quarantining,” says Saba commissioner Bruce Zagers.  

Travel after COVID-19: Is the destination safe?

If you’re wondering whether a destination is safe, here’s a pro tip: Check to see if it has a Safe Travel stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). Also, check out my latest story on how to travel safely during the pandemic.

One of the earliest destinations to get the WTTC stamp was Peru. It was just the third South American country to get certified. Other reasons to go: Machu Picchu offers flexible ticket bookings, a departure from its normally strict rules. The site is open at a limited 40% capacity, so there are fewer crowds.

“I have been guiding a few tours there recently with only my small group and no other visitors,” says Michael Lazo Gamarra, founder of Papi’s Treks. “The photo opportunities are incredible.”

Oh, and don’t rule out Europe, at least not entirely. You can get there now — if you know where to go.

“Although much of Europe is still off-limits to Americans for the time being, Croatia and various other Balkan countries, including Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, are open,” says Charles Neville, a marketing director at JayWay Travel.

Stay close and stay safe

The best places to travel after COVID-19 allow you to stay close and stay safe. If you live in the United States, a domestic vacation offers plenty of opportunities to reacquaint yourself with your own country. If you go abroad, this may be the year to visit a nearby destination like the Caribbean, Mexico, or — when it opens back up — Canada. 

I’m not just an innocent bystander. I’m about to embark on a six-month road trip with my kids, from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. We’ve had our shots and are ready to go after a lengthy lockdown.

What are the best places to travel after the pandemic? We’ll find out, and I’ll let you know.



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The Latest: Dutch govt eases travel to vacation spots


THE HAGUE, Netherlands — As coronavirus infections decline in parts of the world and the summer holiday season tentatively begins, the Dutch government has eased travel restrictions for a group of popular vacation destinations.

Among the countries with a lower risk of infections that can be visited starting Saturday are Portugal, Malta, Ireland, Thailand, Rwanda, the former Dutch colonies of Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten and a large group of Greek islands.

They previously were designated code orange, meaning the government advised only traveling there if it was urgently necessary. The Greek mainland and Crete remain under code orange.

The destinations are now yellow code, meaning Dutch travelers can visit without having to undergo a COVID-19 test and go into self-isolation on their return.

However, the foreign ministry is stressing that travelers still have to adhere to local rules and restrictions in the countries they visit, which can include showing a negative coronavirus test and self-isolating on arrival.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— States, business sort out what new CDC mask guidance means

— Cuba rolls out mass vaccines while awaiting study results

— The unwitting are the target of COVID-19 falsehoods online

— A video promoting tourism in Turkey amid the pandemic has caused an uproar on social media for showing tourism employees wearing masks that read “Enjoy, I’m vaccinated.”

— Japan is further expanding a coronavirus state of emergency from six areas, including Tokyo, to nine as the government repeated its determination to hold the Olympics in just over two months.

— Southern European countries are racing to reopen their tourism services despite delays in rolling out a planned EU-wide travel pass.

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Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has raised the COVID-19 alert level for the capital Taipei and the surrounding area of New Taipei city following its worst outbreak since the pandemic began.

The level 3 alert announced Saturday requires people to wear a mask outdoors and limits indoor gatherings to five people and outdoor gatherings to 10 people. The alert remains in effect for two weeks.

Health authorities said that 180 new locally spread cases had been confirmed through Friday, the majority in Taipei and New Taipei. The daily number of new cases had risen steadily from single digits early this week to 29 before the triple-digit jump announced Saturday.

“The epidemic is gaining intensity,” Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said, while noting that more cases are being identified as authorities hone in on hot zones.

Movie theaters, museums, indoor swimming pools and amusement parks were among the places ordered closed under the level 3 alert, as were community colleges and senior citizen activity centers.

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NEW DELHI — India’s two biggest cities have reported a drop in daily infections but the government is warning that the devastating surge is spreading in rural areas, where nearly two-thirds of India’s 1.4 billion people live.

India reported 326,098 new confirmed cases and 3,890 deaths in the past 24 hours, though experts say both figures are an undercount. The Health Ministry had reported 343,144 cases on Friday and 362,727 on Thursday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday warned people to take extra precautions as the virus was spreading fast in rural areas. He said the government was mobilizing all resources, including the military.

News reports say hapless villagers have been rushing the sick to nearby towns and cities for treatment because health care facilities are limited in the countryside.

India’s capital has reported less than 10,000 new cases in a day for the first time in over a month. It recorded 8,506 cases in the past 24 hours.

After a peak of 11,000 daily infections, Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, has been reporting less than 2,000.

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SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico has adopted guidance on facemasks from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors or outside in most cases.

Under revisions Friday to the state’s emergency public health order, masks are no longer required of fully vaccinated people in many public settings, though businesses and workplaces may still make face coverings a requirement for all.

Public schools are still bound by universal mask requirements with allowances for meals, as the state gradually relaxes aggressive restrictions on public gatherings and some business operations.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that getting vaccinated is crucial to a safe future, with the statewide vaccination rate recently surpassing 50% for eligible residents 16 and over.

“We are close and getting closer. But that all depends on New Mexicans continuing to protect themselves and their community by getting vaccinated,” she said in a statement.

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska legislative leaders have voted to make mask-wearing optional at the state Capitol and then shed their own face coverings after the vote.

The decision by the Legislative Council followed new guidelines the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The council is composed of House and Senate leaders.

Under the new policy, masks are optional in legislative facilities, with some exceptions. For example, lawmakers can require masks in their respective offices.

The policy also further eases testing rules.

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BATON ROUGE, La. –Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has further eased the state’s mask requirements.

Edwards largely dropped the state mask mandate on April 27, but there were exceptions. Friday’s order drops the requirement for entry into state office buildings for people who are fully vaccinated.

Masking is still required by the state in educational facilities from early childhood classes to universities, and at state correctional facilities and health care facilities.

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.

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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.”

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NEW YORK — Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, said Friday that 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.

Walmart said it won’t ask shoppers if they’ve been vaccinated. Workers, however, will need to tell the company if they’ve been vaccinated in order to go maskless.

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JUNEAU, Alaska — The acting mayor of Anchorage says Alaska’s largest city is revoking its mask mandate, starting May 21.

Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s office says masks no longer will be required in indoor or outdoor settings but that people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 are encouraged to wear masks.

The decision follows guidance released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday for people who are vaccinated.

Quinn-Davidson’s office says applying a mask mandate only to those who are not vaccinated in Anchorage would have created enforcement challenges and issues for businesses.

Meanwhile, in Juneau, city officials ease mask wearing rules for people who are fully vaccinated.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ capital city is dropping its requirement to wear a mask to combat the coronavirus following loosened federal guidance and a new state law that will ban local mandates, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott said Friday.

Scott said the city’s mask mandate will end Saturday, though private entities, hospitals and churches can still enforce their own requirements on employees and patrons. People entering City of Little Rock indoor facilities will still be required to wear a mask, the mayor said.

“We strongly encourage residents to continue wearing face coverings in public until we reach the desired vaccination rate in our city, as outlined by healthcare professionals,” Scott said in a statement.

The decision comes a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

Arkansas dropped its mask mandate in March, but the governor allowed local governments to enforce their own. A new state law, however, takes effect in July that will ban any state or local mandates.

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ATLANTA — Georgia’s 26 public universities and colleges do not currently plan to require students, faculty or staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the fall, according to guidance issued by the University System of Georgia.

The 340,000-student university system in March asked all campuses “to plan for resuming normal operations for the Fall 2021 semester.” Thursday’s guidance says fully vaccinated people won’t have to socially distance or wear masks, while unvaccinated people “are strongly encouraged to continue” socially distancing and wearing a mask inside.

The universities are supposed to make sure vaccinations are available, but schools won’t be “responsible for assessing current COVID-19 vaccination rates for their institution.”

The university system said it had made the decisions in concert with the state Department of Public Health and that they were subject to change.

The Board of Regents insisted on at least some in-person instruction in the fall and spring semesters. Those moves came despite resistance from some employees.



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Pandemic travel news update: UK opens to international ‘green’ list


(CNN) — Now that the world is starting to open back up, CNN Travel is helping you make plans for 2021 and beyond through these weekly round-ups of travel news.

Come here to learn about the attractions opening their doors, the destinations relaxing entry rules, and the places where Covid spikes have forced authorities to pull down shutters.

Openings

English people will finally be able to hug each other on Monday.

This isn’t due to a relaxation of the country’s “stiff upper lip,” but rather the next stage of easing coronavirus restrictions in England.

As well as cautious physical intimacy — by which we don’t mean pajamas and twin beds — the green light has also been given to indoor hospitality and entertainment, including pubs, restaurants, cinemas and museums.

International travel is set to reopen, with people allowed to vacation in a very limited “green” list of countries — only a few of which are actually welcome UK tourists. Portugal, which will reopen to British visitors just in time for May 17, is set to the biggest tourism winner.
The UK‘s other nations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — each implement their own sets of restrictions, which you can get the lowdown on here.
One of Italy‘s most popular islands, Capri — an upscale destination in the Gulf of Naples — has stolen a march on its tourism rivals by this week declaring that it was within days of becoming “Covid-free,” with its vaccination program almost concluded.
In Germany, Munich‘s world-famous Oktoberfest may have been canceled last week for the second year in a row, but there was cheer in parts of Bavaria this week as some outdoor beer gardens opened up.

Word to the wise: If a shadowy male offers to let you skip the line and get both jabs at once in the neck, turn him down.

The port of the volcanic island of Ischia (front) and the island of Procida (back) are pictured in the Bay of Naples, off Italy's western coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea, on March 4, 2019. (Photo by Laurent EMMANUEL / AFP) (Photo credit should read LAURENT EMMANUEL/AFP via Getty Images)

Capri in the Gulf of Naples has declared itself almost “Covid-free.”

Laurent Emmanuel/AFP via Getty Images

In Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, country legend Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood reopened this week on a limited basis.

And on May 13, the US Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that Americans who are fully vaccinated can now go without masks indoors or outdoors — as the US roll out has been a success, that already applies to more than a third of the population.

Two of New York’s most legendary hotels have opening dates lined up: The Plaza, the French Renaissance-inspired monolith beside Central Park, is slated to reopen on May 20, while The Peninsula, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, will welcome guests on June 1.
More than 37 million people are expected to travel in the United States for the Memorial Day holiday at the end of the month, a big boost from last year’s record low.

Closings

Sources tell CNN there are now dozens of suspected cases of Covid-19 at the Everest Base Camp – although officials deny it. CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout speaks to a Norwegian mountaineer who developed Covid-19 symptoms while climbing the mountain.
Coronavirus restrictions have even reached the tiny dining-table-sized summit of Mount Everest, with China planning to set up a “line of separation” to prevent climbers from the Tibetan side mixing with climbers ascending from Covid-hit Nepal.

The fact that this highest section of Everest is known as the “Death Zone” gives some indication it’s not an environment conducive to lingering, and Reuters reports that it’s not clear how the separation line will be enforced or who will be enforcing it.

The Maldives was one of the first countries to fully reopen to tourists, but it has now banned tourists from South Asia until further notice, cutting off an escape route for wealthy Indians fleeing their country’s Covid crisis.

The ban applies to all visa holders from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and anyone who has transited through those countries in the past two weeks.

Looking ahead

The proposals, published by the European Commission, advised that arrivals must have been inoculated 14 days before arrival with a vaccine from its approved list.

Washington D.C. plans to fully reopen by June 11, but with mask restrictions still in place. The first stage of a two-part plan unveiled by Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday will see the lifting of capacity restrictions on most indoor activities on May 21, apart from in bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues.
St. Helena, the tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic where Napoleon was once exiled and which only got an airport in 2017, is now fully vaccinated and will reopen to visitors from June 21. The super-remote island is one of the limited number of destinations on the UK’s “green” list.

Remote working opportunity of the week

If you’re tired of staring at the walls of your spare room-turned-office, you might be tempted by the picturesque Italian towns of Santa Fiora in Tuscany and Rieti in Lazio.

Both towns are offering to pay up to 50% of the rent of anyone who decides to move and telecommute on a long-term basis. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, as long as you have an “active” job and are tech-savvy enought to do it anywhere.

Applicants must have an “active” job, even if they can do it in front of a laptop on a panoramic terrace overlooking olive groves while sipping a glass of red wine.

It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, as long as you’re tech-savvy enough to do it anywhere.

So-called “smart working villages” are now flourishing in Italy as local authorities grasp the potential of boosting high-speed internet and setting up equipped “labs” for telecommuters.

CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Livia Borghese, Jack Guy, Meenketan Jha, Silvia Marchetti, Cristiana Moisescu, Kristen Rogers and Jessie Yeung contributed to this report.



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Walt Disney World Increasing Capacity, Could Change Mask Requirement


Capacity limits are on their way up at Walt Disney World, and mask requirements at the Florida park may soon be a thing of the past.

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Thursday could lead to rapidly implemented changes at Walt Disney World, company CEO Bob Chapek said during an earnings call.

The park had been operating at 35 percent capacity in recent weeks. Chapek said that number has already been increased, but he didn’t say when increased capacity went into effect — or exactly how many more visitors have been allowed in the park.

He also didn’t specify when the mask requirement might end, but he called the CDC announcement big news for the theme park.

“Obviously, today’s guidance that we got from the CDC in terms of those that were vaccinated do not necessarily need to wear masks anymore, both outdoors and indoors, is very big news for us, particularly if anybody’s been in Florida in the middle of summer with a mask on,” Chapek said. “That could be quite daunting.”

Over the past few weeks, Disney has been relenting on many of its strict pandemic protocols. Many locations at the resort have ended temperature checks, and social distancing is beginning to be reduced from six feet to three feet in some locations.

“We believe that as we’re now bringing back a lot of people back to work, that it’s going to be an even bigger catalyst for growth in attendance,” Chapek said. “So I think you’re going to see an immediate increase in the number of folks that we’re able to admit into our parks through our reservation systems that we recently implemented.”

The relaxed rules only apply to Disney World, Chapek said, noting that state regulations in California continue to limit capacity at Disneyland to 25 percent. Disneyland and California Adventure opened in late April, and demand is extremely high, he said.

“Since we’ve opened up Disneyland Resort, intent to visit is actually growing well, so we’re thrilled with the guest response to that,” he said. “So as capacity limits increase, we don’t think we’re going to have any problem at all … increasing our attendance to match that capacity. That is not something that keeps any of us up at night.”

For both parks, increasing capacity requires an increase in workers. And despite the workforce being furloughed for much of the pandemic, Chapek said it hasn’t been an issue getting employees back.

“We’ve had about 80 percent of our cast members return that we’ve asked to return,” he said. “Obviously, one of the gating factors for us to continue to increase capacity is to continue to get more and more cast members back. It thrills us to be able to do that, but we’ve had no problems whatsoever in terms of trying to get our cast to come back and make some magic for our guests.”

Want to get in on the magic? Get planning with all our Disney content here, plus additional Orlando inspiration.



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