Will New ‘Highly Mutated’ Covid-19 Variant Trigger Return Of Travel Restrictions?

Will the lifting of international travel restrictions earlier this month turn out to be another example of premature relaxation? On November 8, the Biden Administration welcomed back to the U.S. all international visitors who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 after 19 months of pandemic-related border restrictions. Now, just under three weeks later, the emergence of a new “highly mutated” variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus is prompting a number of countries to enact more international travel restrictions again.

Welcome to another “yo” in what’s becoming a “yo-yo” for travelers.

As I described on Thursday for Forbes, this new variant, currently known as the not-so-easy-to-remember B.1.1.529 variant, has over 50 different mutations with over 30 changes to the spike protein compare to the original version of the virus. The large number of mutations has led people to call this variant a “highly mutated” or “heavily mutated” or “oh-geez-not-another-Delta-esque-variant-when-I-mistakenly-acted-as-if-the-pandemic-were-over” variant. The big questions are whether this variant can readily evade the immune protection offered by vaccination or previous infection and whether this variant is more transmissible and harmful than previous versions. Data suggests that this new variant has been spreading rapidly in South Africa over the past couple of weeks.

As we’ve seen time and time again, the Covid-19 coronavirus doesn’t behave like that wild weekend spent in Las Vegas that involved candles, masks, and an ox. What happens in one location doesn’t necessarily stay in that location. The B.1.1.529 variant may have already spread well beyond the southern African region. There have been reports of the variant being detected among people in Hong Kong, Belgium, and Israel who had recently traveled in different parts of Africa. One example is a vaccinated person who returned to Israel from Malawi, as the Times of Israel reported. Marc Van Ranst, MD, PhD, a Professor of Virology at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, tweeted about another example:

Unless you already have a very aggressive Covid-19 coronavirus testing and surveillance system in place, any reported cases of the variant may be just the tip of Iceberg lettuce. For every reported case, there may be a complex salad of many more unreported cases running around. Or walking around. Or texting around.

Therefore, swift action may be needed in order to contain this new variant, at least until it can be determined how much of a threat the B.1.1.529 variant may be. That’s why European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted the following:

As Euronews reported, Germany, Italy, and France have already announced restrictions on air travel from the southern African region with the Netherlands poised to follow suit.

European Union (EU) countries haven’t been the only countries increasing travel restrictions. The U.K., which is not longer part of the EU due to that whole “Brexit” thing, has temporary halted flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Israel has placed South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini on its “red countries” list. Foreign nationals from such “red countries” will not be allowed to visit Israel, and Israelis will not be allowed to visit “red countries.” Expect other countries around the world to follow suit.

How about the U.S.? Well, the Biden Administration’s decision to lift international travel restrictions for those who are vaccinated was risky. As of November 24, only about 59% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated. Many Americans have not been following face mask and social distancing recommendations. Even though the Delta variant surge from the Summer seemed to be subsiding in October, the U.S. had never really gotten the Covid-19 coronavirus under control. Plus, the country was heading into the Winter months when colder and drier weather, indoor Holiday gatherings, and Holiday travel could be perfect storms to drive up Covid-19 coronavirus transmission again. All of this left the U.S. rather open to being engulfed by the Covid-19 coronavirus again like a hot dog in a bun factory. So the recent upswing in Covid-19 cases in the U.S. hasn’t been that surprising, as I described for Forbes on November 22. And that was even before things got “highly mutated.”

Rather than such a drastic lifting of travel restrictions, it may have been better for the U.S. to ease travel restrictions more gradually based on achieving different clearly-defined milestones. For example, achieving a progression of vaccination coverage levels along with reductions in measured virus activity could then result in the partial lifting of certain travel restrictions. Such a more progressive approach could have helped businesses and the general public aim for different milestones and help them better understand the scientific rational behind different restrictions. It could also make it easy to dial back to slightly more stringent precautions when upticks in the virus activity occur.

Instead, throughout this pandemic, many decision makers in the U.S. have alternated between being too late with Covid-19 precautions and being too premature in relaxing such precautions. For example, 2020 was chock full of policy makers ignoring warning signs, not acting quickly enough, and prematurely declaring the pandemic as under control. As time eventually showed, the pandemic was about as under control as an all-cat version of Dancing with the Stars.

As another example, in mid-May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed their guidelines so that those fully vaccinated no longer needed to wear face masks while indoors in public. As I covered back then for Forbes, this seemed like a premature relaxation since the U.S. hadn’t yet achieved high enough vaccination coverages to really interrupt transmission of the virus and businesses had no real way of confirming whether people were fully vaccinated. As a result, many people both vaccinated and unvaccinated ditched face mask use, which made it much more difficult to re-institute face mask use when the Delta variant began spreading and caused a Covid-19 surge in the Summer. As you know (or maybe you don’t know), anything premature can leave things very messy and people very confused.

A better approach would have been to tell businesses and the public the thresholds needed to relax face mask use. This could have further motivated everyone to push each other to achieve such thresholds.

Not following a clearer science-based progression has left many confused over when and why Covid-19 precautions are needed. It’s a bit like being with a significant other who doesn’t seem to be following larger principles and goals when acting. One day your significant other tells you that he or she only wants to be with you. The next day your significant other is taking dance lessons with his or her “best friend” and forgets your birthday. Such a situation may leave you wondering, “what the bleep is he or she going to do now?”

Such a situation also leaves the country much more vulnerable when nature inevitably throws another curve ball. As the B.1.1.529 variant is showing, the virus is not going to announce on Instagram or Twitter whenever it is preparing for a new variant to arrive. The virus doesn’t go on Jimmy Kimmel Live and say, “I’m really excited about this new variant to be released on November with all these mutations. By the way, where is Matt Damon?” This isn’t like a new Marvel series that only emerges after a bunch of previews, trailers, and other promos have been dropped. No, the virus is more like that person who justifies his or her cheating after the fact, essentially saying, “yeah, you should have paid more attention before.”

So, it’s a good idea to put a pause on non-essential travel for the next few months if you can. Keep your travel plans for the upcoming Winter months as flexible as possible. It’s not clear yet how much of a problem this new B.1.1.529 variant may be. A World Health Organization (WHO) committee is meeting today (November 26) to determine whether B.1.1.529 should be considered a variant of interest or a variant of concern and whether it deserves a Greek letter name such as the Nu variant. You may not want to make any Nu travel plans until you see what comes out of this WHO meeting and what scientific studies say about the B.1.1.529 variant.

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Santa Barbara airport sees return of heavy holiday travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Travel weather gets tricky as many return home from Thanksgiving

People returning home from Thanksgiving festivities may encounter travel delays as a series of storms crisscross the country.

A strengthening cold front, followed by another fast-moving system, will impact many from the Plains to the Midwest, and even the Northeast.

The second storm could bring the first measurable snowfall of the season to many cities on the East Coast.

Rain, wind, and snow are all possible across the Northeast on Friday. However, major coastal cities along the I-95 corridor will see mainly rain.

Millions will still be impacted by snow across interior sections of New England through Friday, which is expected to clear out by Saturday morning.

Rain will impact much of the east coast on Friday as a strong cold front moves through.

Bur windy conditions will remain, with gusts potentially up to 55 mph for parts of the Northeast.

“Right now, we are looking at sustained winds at 15 to 25 mph, with gusts of 25 to 35 mph,” says the National Weather Service (NWS) office in New York City.

Wind is one of the main causes of travel delays in the late autumn and winter months, and this weekend will be no exception.

We could see airport delays on Friday due to wind and a few delays due to snow and de-icing in New England.

Cold temperatures will follow, impacting the vast majority of the eastern half of the country.

From Texas to Maine, temperatures will be anywhere from 5 to 15 degrees below normal on Friday and Saturday.

Morning low temperatures forecast for the next four days.

The Pacific Northwest will also be at risk for travel delays through Friday, with another atmospheric river event getting set to impact the area.

Heavy coastal rainfall and mountain snowfall are expected through Friday with a slight break in the evening hours.

Saturday’s weather travel hot spots

Major cities on the East Coast are off the hook Saturday, but parts of northern New England can still see snowfall.

Wind gusts are likely to reach 40 mph, but Saturday still looks like the better travel day in this region.

The central US will experience winds gusting up to 55 mph in some locations.

Cities like Minneapolis could see an excess of flight delays, as the winds strengthen during peak volume hours.

In addition, these winds whipping across the Great Lakes will likely force lake-effect snow into the weekend.

Sunday’s weather travel hot spots

By Sunday, a quick-moving storm system could bring a brief shot of snow to the Midwest and Great Lakes.

The snow could reach the Washington, DC, area late in the weekend, impacting flights as well as road travelers.

Some computer models are hinting at the possibility of the storm system intensifying off the mid-Atlantic coast.

Rain and snow accumulation forecast for this weekend.

If this scenario plays out, snow would develop in eastern Pennsylvania, reaching Philadelphia and possibly farther north into New York City.

Of course, the timing and exact locations that will see snow will change in the coming days, but it bears watching as we get closer to the end of the week.

In the Northwest, another system pushes through with more rainfall over the weekend.

Washington town sees 75% of homes damaged by floodwaters
This will add to the impressive rainfall totals that the region has seen in the month of November.

Seattle has already seen 8.40″ of rain in November, and the month will most likely end as one of the wettest.

Overall, the weather will have some impact on travel, but it won’t be the ginormous snarl of mounting airport delays we have seen some years.

Something to be thankful about, for sure.

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Thanksgiving travel to return to pre-pandemic levels | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch —
Passengers line up for flights at Des Moines International Airport on July 13.

Thanksgiving travel is likely to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, travel experts say, including a resurgence of crowds and traffic.

The Des Moines International Airport expects “a significant increase in passenger traffic compared to 2020, possibly even edging ahead of 2019,” spokesperson Kayla Kovarna said.

“Local TSA officials are predicting approximately 21,100 passengers coming through the checkpoint between Wednesday and Sunday,” Kovarna said in an email. “Iowans can fly to 27 nonstop destinations out of Des Moines International this year, that is a 28 percent increase in nonstop options compared to 2019.”

National groups also predicted a return to normal traffic this year for both air and land travel. AAA expects travel will be “within 5 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.”

“Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.

There could be additional complications for holiday travelers by air. American Airlines canceled over 1,000 flights in late October due to workforce shortages and weather issues. Southwest also had widespread cancellations in October, though the company said it was a domino effect from inclement weather, rather than a staffing shortage issue. Both airlines have introduced staff incentives to ensure they are fully staffed through the holidays.

Kovarna said the Des Moines airport does not anticipate “more cancellations or delays beyond normal operations this holiday travel season.”

AAA also warned of more traffic on the roads, especially compared to 2020. They forecast 48.3 million Americans will travel by car this year, up nearly 4 million from last year.

“Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips and this year will be no different even during the pandemic,” said INRIX Transportation Analyst Bob Pishue. “Drivers around major metros must be prepared for significant delays, especially Wednesday afternoon.”

Travel experts urged patience and planning ahead.

Kovarna recommended that travelers through the Des Moines airport arrive earlier than usual to accommodate longer lines at security and at the gate. AAA advises booking flights and driving during “non-peak travel periods.”

“It’s also great to remember that everyone is doing their best to get you to where you need to go as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Kovarna said.

Thanksgiving travel to return to pre-pandemic levels

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Startups and NASA working to return passenger supersonic flights to the sky – 60 Minutes

If you are planning to travel by air over the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays – and millions of Americans are – would you jump at the chance to get to your destination in half the time? Does New York to Los Angeles in under three hours sound appealing?

The last commercial supersonic flight was almost 20 years ago, and even then super-fast flights were only on very limited routes. Most of today’s jetliners actually fly more slowly than they did 20 or 30 years ago, in order to save fuel.

But that may be about to change. It’s still a long shot, but private start-up companies – with a big assist from NASA – may just give us all another chance to fly faster than the speed of sound. 

When British Airways Flight 002 roared into the New York sky on October 24, 2003, everyone on board – passengers and pilots – knew that something special was coming to an end.

PILOT: Enjoy the moment, as you are the last people in the world, as passengers, to cruise at twice the speed of sound.

The supersonic Concorde, a joint effort of the British and French governments, was making its last flight after nearly 30 years in the air, grounded by a combination of stratospheric costs and safety concerns after a deadly crash in 2000. Even people watching that last landing in London were emotional.

KID (in tears): I just love airplanes.

INTERVIEWER: And there’s not going to be anything like Concorde again, is there?

KID: Never.

Well, you know that old maxim “never say never?”

Blake Scholl: Supersonic’s coming back. And it’s gonna be different this time. It’s– it’s back to stay.

Blake Scholl is the founder and CEO of Boom. His audacious goal is to build a new supersonic airliner, from scratch.

Blake Scholl

Bill Whitaker: Has a private company ever built– a supersonic aircraft–

Blake Scholl: No.

Bill Whitaker: –anywhere?

Blake Scholl: No, nowhere. It’s been governments and militaries only.   

Boom is not the only American startup company in the new supersonic sweepstakes. Spike is developing an ultra-fast business jet, and Hermeus aspires to make a hypersonic plane that would fly five times the speed of sound. But Boom is the only entrant to actually build an airplane. 

Bill Whitaker: This is it?

Boom’s aircraft

Blake Scholl: That’s it.

Bill Whitaker: Oh wow.

So far, Blake Scholl and Boom have built this single-seater test plane, due to make its first flight next year. The passenger jet meant to follow is called Overture. It only exists in artist renderings, but it’s real enough for one of America’s largest airlines to climb on board.

Bill Whitaker: So is the Overture the plane that United recently ordered?

Blake Scholl: That’s right. United just ordered 15 Overture airplanes. So more Overtures than Concordes were ever delivered into service.

Bill Whitaker: Is this United deal like– a stamp of approval?

Blake Scholl: I think it’s incredibly validating. You know, when you are United, you take– you take these things really seriously.

Seriously enough to produce a slick promotional video that’s already playing on many United flights.

The ad may say supersonic is here, but it’s not, not yet. Blake Scholl is a software engineer who started his career at Amazon, not in aerospace, but he insists he’s going to make it happen.

Blake Scholl: When I look several decades out, you know, what I want is to be able to be anywhere in the world in four hours for 100 bucks. Now, that’s not where we start. But that’s the end goal.

Bill Whitaker: The Concorde charged thousands– thousands of dollars for a one-way flight from New York to London. How is it going to be possible for you to have a similar flight experience for $100?

Blake Scholl: You keep iterating. And so the same way– you know, for example, electric cars when they first came out, they were pretty expensive. But we kept working on them. And the price came down. They got better and better. And so we’re gonna do the same thing with supersonic jets. We’re gonna keep working on them. We’re gonna keep innovating.

Jon Ostrower: This industry needs people dreaming big. That is essential. This industry was built on that. 

  Jon Ostrower

Jon Ostrower is editor-in-chief of The Air Current, a publication that tracks every development in commercial aviation, including Boom and Blake Scholl.

Bill Whitaker: He admits that it’s– something like he is proposing has never been done by– a private company before. But yet, he’s convinced that he can do it. Do you think he can?

Jon Ostrower: I think you cannot ignore the obstacles that will be on the path to getting there. And I think the amount of money that is– is required to make this happen– makes this a very long shot.

Bill Whitaker: How much money will it take?

Jon Ostrower: Probably in the neighborhood of at least $15 or $20 billion. 

Ostrower says that’s about what it cost Boeing to develop and build and certify a new subsonic airliner. And they already have huge manufacturing facilities, Boom doesn’t.

Blake Scholl told us he can get Overture built for $7 to $8 billion, but that’s a lot more than the $300 million he’s raised so far. And money’s not the only hurdle. Boom and United have promised their new plane will operate on 100% sustainable aviation fuel, but that doesn’t exist yet in anything like the quantities they’ll need. Oh, and one other thing…

Jon Ostrower: They’re gonna need an engine to do this.

Bill Whitaker: And they don’t have the engine yet—

Jon Ostrower: They don’t have an engine.

Blake Scholl says an engine is on the way, from the same company that built the supersonic engines for the concorde.

Blake Scholl: And we are working with Rolls Royce on a– custom jet engine that will power Overture.

Bill Whitaker: You’re working with Rolls Royce. It– it doesn’t ex– this engine does not exist yet.

Blake Scholl: It is a– it is a lightly customized engine. And part of that is Rolls Royce’s work where they’re kind of turning some design knobs.

Blake Scholl doesn’t dismiss the skeptics, but he points to the example of Elon Musk and says not so long ago no one thought he could build Teslas and reusable rockets.

Bill Whitaker: Where does this passion come from?

Blake Scholl: It’s because we stopped making progress on the speed of travel. You know, the airplanes we have today are no faster than the ones we had when my parents were growing up. And there is no good reason for that. It doesn’t have to be. We can fix it.

Bill Whitaker: When do you expect the first paying customers to fly on one of your planes?

Blake Scholl: By the end of the decade.

Supersonic really only makes sense on flights of 4 or 5 hours or more. But thousands of such routes are out of reach to Boom. The reason is in the very name of the company: The sound of a sonic boom created by a plane breaking the sound barrier.

The first boom was made by Chuck Yeager’s X-1 rocket plane when it passed through mach one – about 660 miles per hour – back in 1947.

Bill Whitaker: What is the sonic boom? What– what generates it?

Mike Buonanno: So when an aircraft flies faster than the speed of sound it creates disturbances.

Mike Buonanno is a top engineer at Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works” aircraft design studio in California. Dave Richardson is his boss.

Mike Buonanno and Dave Richardson

David Richardson: A lot of us understand the wake that’s generated by a ship or a boat. And so imagine that wake from a speed boat or whatever, all those different waves coming to be one large wave.

Mike Buonanno: Those individual disturbances created up by the airplane, they combine together to make a loud double bang.

The Federal Aviation Administration tested the impact of that big bang back in 1964, by flying military supersonic jets over Oklahoma City for six months. The outcome? Broken bricks and ceilings, frayed nerves and public outrage.

Mike Buonanno: It was just patently obvious that no one was gonna tolerate such a loud noise on a day-to-day basis.

The result was a ban on civilian supersonic flights everywhere in the world other than over open water.

Mike Buonanno: And that basically hit the brakes on the development of commercial air travel in terms of an advancing speed. Up until– that ban, every decade air travel had gotten faster and faster.

The ban remains in place today, so if Boom gets its overture in the air, it will only be able to serve long transoceanic routes similar to what the Concorde flew.

Mike Buonanno: So if you want to go from JFK in New York to Paris, that’s– okay. But for many of us, we wanna fly places over land. Here living in Los Angeles, almost everywhere I wanna go– flying east requires over land travel. And that’s one of the big problems that we’re trying to solve.

Buonanno and Richardson and their Lockheed Martin team have been commissioned by NASA to build a test plane that can fly twice as fast as current airliners without rattling nerves or breaking windows.

Bill Whitaker: Your mission is to get rid of this sonic boom?

Mike Buonanno: That’s right. The entire point of the airplane– is to reduce sonic boom. 

The airplane is called the X-59. It will look like this when it makes its first flight next year. For now, it looks like this, inside Lockheed Martin’s assembly building. 

David Richardson: You’re looking at the cockpit of the airplane, and there’s no forward windscreen. This is it.

Every part of the X-59 is streamlined and smooth to disperse sound waves and transform the loud sonic boom into a much quieter “thump.”

  Nils Larson

Nils Larson: If you look at it, it’s pretty slick. I mean, it looks like a dart.

Nils Larson is the NASA test pilot whose job it will be to prove that the X-59 can replace the sonic boom with a simple thump. Starting next year he’ll pilot some of the early test flights and then its first sound tests.

Nils Larson: That’s coming to a town near you. So our researchers are gonna work with the public and we’re going to fly over various cities and towns, and they’re gonna give us the feedback of that thump. Was that thump too loud? You know, did you even hear it at all?

Bill Whitaker: So if you are able to fly over populated areas, and provide this data, then the FAA will use this data, perhaps, to lift this ban?

Nils Larson: Exactly.

Bill Whitaker: Are we likely to see planes in the future flying supersonic that look like this one?

Nils Larson: I certainly hope so. And I think you will.  So there are definite things that you would see, if you walked into a commercial, you know, supersonic airplane here, you know, ten, 12 years from now, and you were to look at that, you could see, you know, some DNA that goes back to the X-59.

Larson took us over to NASA’s X-59 flight simulator, and the first thing we noticed is that there’s a TV screen in place of the missing windshield.

Bill Whitaker: For you, does it work as well as–

Nils Larson:  Yeah, I think–

Bill Whitaker: –using your own eyes?

Nils Larson:  So far, I think it does. About to go through mach one. There’s mach one. You know, you see–

Bill Whitaker:  So we’re now going supersonic.

Nils Larson:  Yup, you’re now supersonic.

Larson gave me a turn in the cockpit, not to fly supersonic but to land the X-59, which is tricky given that it’s shaped like a pencil, has no windshield and I’m not a pilot.

Nils Larson: Come up, follow them up just a little bit. So pull back just a little bit, little bit more. And just hold it right there. Hold it right there. There you go. You just landed the X59. And in the middle–

Bill Whitaker: I landed–

Nils Larson:  –of the runway.

Bill Whitaker: –I landed the–

Nils Larson:  –that’s better than I did. (LAUGH) Sign him up.

Nils Larson will start test-flying the real X-59 sometime next year. And soon after that, he’ll be flying it over us. And if it’s quiet enough, future planes that follow its design lead could eventually fly us lots of places twice as fast as we can get there now. 

Bill Whitaker: When might I be able to fly from New York to Los Angeles in a supersonic plane–

David Richardson:  So there’s– there’s a long line of things that have to happen, starting with the X-59. But I think 2035 is your answer, if everything marches along the way that it’s supposed to.

Bill Whitaker: It’s something that people have been trying to solve for– for decades. Have you guys solved that problem?

Mike Buonanno: We believe we have. It’s rewarding seeing it getting built. But I think that real “aha” moment for me is gonna be when I hear that first shaped boom from X-59.

Bill Whitaker: Thump, thump.

Mike Buonanno: Thump, thump.

David Richardson: We won’t hear this BANG. And when we hear, or don’t hear, that sound is when we know we did it. 

Produced by Rome Hartman. Associate producer, Sara Kuzmarov. Broadcast associate, Emilio Almonte. Edited by Robert Zimet.

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U.S. merchants happy to see Mexican shoppers return as border travel restrictions rolled back

Juarez residents emotional about restoring family ties, being able to cross border for first time in 20 monhts

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – It was barely 9:30 a.m. and Luz Gallardo was already heading back to Mexico with a cart full of items purchased at South El Paso discount stores.

“It’s better to buy in bulk so we can resell it at affordable prices over there. […] Wrapping paper, dollar items, the inexpensive stuff,” she said.

Monday marked the first time in 20 months that Juarez residents like Gallardo were able to cross into the United States by land for non-essential reasons like shopping and seeing family members as long as they’re fully vaccinated for COVID-19. It was an estrangement that cost border merchants dearly and temporarily severed ties between families with members on both sides of the Rio Grande.

“My niece is hospitalized. I came to see her,” said Cynthia Torres, also a Juarez resident who crossed into El Paso early Monday morning with her mother and child. “I wasn’t planning to come but I’m taking advantage (of the rollback of travel restrictions) to see her. I think (the reopening) is good because I have family on this side of the border, and also to shop.”

The rollback of travel restrictions went smoothly and without the feared hours-long lines for visitors to come across the ports of entry, border crossers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

Average wait times for pedestrians were 20 to 30 minutes on Monday morning, even less for those who came across in vehicles.

A CBP spokesman said foreigners coming across for the first time since non-essential travel restrictions were put in place in March 2020 were quick to present their documents and state vaccination status. That helped speed up fully staffed international bridges in the El Paso Sector, the spokesman said.

Exact border crossing figures were not immediately available.

Mexican shoppers account for between 8% and 14% of El Paso’s $13 billion a year retail economy, according to studies by the University of Texas at El Paso. Local malls, outlet shops, hotels and restaurants benefit from these shoppers, as do stores in South El Paso near the international bridges.

“It’s nice to have our neighbors back,” said David Jerome, president and CEO of the El Paso Chamber. “Our economy is doing reasonably well, it’s coming back (from the COVID-19 pandemic). We have more jobs than people so it’s nice to see the border reopening from that perspective. The other thing is sectors like restaurants and hotels and retail, a large percentage of their business is from our neighbors to the south, so it’s nice to have them able to take care of those customers again.”

Danny, the manager at Casa Victoria on South El Paso Street, said the rollback of restrictions comes just in time – with the holiday shopping season looming. On Monday, he said it was too early to tell how much his sales would pick up, but he’s hopeful they will.

Phil, a cab driver based in El Paso’s Sixth Street, also said he was hopeful the El Paso economy will get a boost from the rollback of border travel restrictions.

“Everyone is happy. The businesses have suffered greatly during the pandemic, some have even closed,” he said. “As for us, we don’t know if there’s going to be an increase or not, but I’m happy people are free to come over and shop. The economies of both cities (Juarez and El Paso) depend on one another. I think it’s going to work out well for anyone concerned.”

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Virgin Atlantic flight marks return of international travel in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — After nearly two years of tight restrictions, the U.S. borders are open to vaccinated, COVID-negative travelers.

And that means international flights are flying again at McCarran International Airport.

A Virgin Atlantic flight was the first to touch down earlier today.

“We have waited 20 months for this day,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of aviation.

“Twenty months ago was our last flight. Virgin happened to be our last flight out of this airport back in March of 2020,” Vassiliadis said.

And travelers were treated to a fabulous Las Vegas welcome.

Some were here to gamble. Others were happy for the chance to see their families after such a long time.

“It is wonderful for Las Vegas. It is the essence of our economy, and McCarran … the airport is the gateway to that,” Vassiliadis said.

She said the demand to fly is high.

“On Virgin thus far we are seeing very, very high,” she said.

“The number of passengers and number of seats that they are selling is way over average,” Vassiliadis said.

Both Rosemary and Andrew Allison are from Scotland, and they said they’re excited to ge to see their sons after such a long time apart.

“Been here for nearly two years, so it’s different. Exciting,” Rosemary Allison said.

“Relaxing and forgetting all the worry about getting here … getting vaccines, getting forms and getting to the airport,” said Andrew Allison.

They said it’s been a bit of a hassle going through the process of getting the right forms. But it all worked out, and now … a sense of relief.

What’s next?

“We know that British Air will be coming from London, as well,” Vassiliadis said. “But they are starting with daily service.”

“That already shows the confidence from this destination. We already heard from Copa Latin America. KLM, come from Amsterdam. Yet another gateway from Europe will be coming shortly after the new year,” Vassiliadis said.

Just proving that everyone needs a piece of Las Vegas.

The Virgin Atlantic flight brought 240 passengers and reported no problems.

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NY Mobile Bids, Potential Rodgers’ Return, And OSU-PUR

Each Monday, our “What’s on Tap” series previews the week ahead in the world of sports betting. Come here for a summary of upcoming financial happenings, legislative and regulatory meetings, industry conferences, top games scheduled for the week, and much more. Also, check out our weekly review Get a Grip for a look back at last week’s notable news.

Monday, November 8

Mobile licensee recommendations expected at NYGC meeting

New York is getting closer to naming the winners of an intricate bidding process for the issuance of mobile sports wagering operator and platform provider licenses. Last week, Sports Handle reported that the New York Gaming Commission was moving toward recommending two consortiums for selection of the state’s coveted slots — featuring applications led by FanDuel and sports betting technology provider Kambi.

At Monday’s meeting, the commission is expected to recommend bids for at least nine operators, including four from the FanDuel-led “super bid.” FanDuel’s consortium also includes platform provider and operator bids from DraftKings, BetMGM, and Bally Bet. The Kambi-led consortium, meanwhile, contains operator bids from Rush Street InteractiveCaesars EntertainmentPointsBetWynn Resorts, and Genting, which owns Resorts World. The commission reportedly has a target to launch mobile sports before Super Bowl LVI in February. If nine operators gain market access in New York, operators will be taxed at 51% of their online gross gaming revenue, according to the commission. If a 10th operator receives licensure, the tax rate will drop to 50%.

Tuesday, November 9

Government attorneys scheduled to submit brief in Seminoles case

At a closely watched hearing last week, a federal judge accused government attorneys of being “woefully unprepared” to argue a case surrounding the Seminole Tribe of Florida‘s lucrative gaming compact with the state. At issue is whether the compact is legal under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). A provision in the compact enabled the tribe to launch mobile sports wagering in Florida by Nov. 15. The Seminoles, to the surprise of many, rolled out a Florida online sports betting platform last week.

Questions remain as to whether the two plaintiffs, West Flagler Associations (Magic City Casino) and Bonita-Fort Meyers Corp. (Bonita Springs Poker Room), have standing to file a lawsuit against the federal government and the state of Florida. Instead of simply dismissing the lawsuit, federal Judge Dabney Friedrich gave attorneys from the government until Tuesday to file a brief that explains the merits of the case.

College hoops season tips off at MSG

The college basketball season opens on Tuesday night with more than a dozen top-25 teams in action. Duke opens coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season with a marquee matchup against 10th-ranked Kentucky at Madison Square Garden. At Caesars Sportsbook, the Blue Devils are slight 1-point favorites. The opener of Tuesday’s Champion Classic at the Garden features third-ranked Kansas against unranked Michigan State.

Gonzaga, the nation’s top-ranked team in the preseason, will face Dixie State in Spokane. The Bulldogs will be without head coach Mark Few, who was suspended by the university stemming from his offseason arrest for driving under the influence. Few, the 2016-17 AP National Coach of the Year, pleaded guilty last month to a misdemeanor DUI and was fined $1,000 in lieu of a four-day jail sentence. Few will return for Gonzaga’s home game on Nov. 13 against fifth-ranked Texas. Gonzaga, last year’s national runner-up, is the clear favorite to win the 2022 national title at numerous top sportsbooks.

College basketball futures at FanDuel

  • Gonzaga: +650
  • Texas: +1200
  • Michigan: +1200
  • Kansas: +1300
  • Purdue: +1300
  • Villanova: +1400
  • Duke: +1500
  • UCLA: +1500
  • Kentucky: +1600
  • Alabama: +2000

Saturday, November 13

Key Purdue matchup kicks off tough stretch for Ohio State

A crushing loss by Michigan State to Purdue last Saturday opened the door for Ohio State to capture the Big Ten East division. Purdue already has three losses on the season, but the Boilermakers notched their second victory over a top-5 team this year with a 40-29 win over then-third ranked Michigan State. Ohio State, which has won seven straight, ranked fifth in the College Football Playoff’s first rankings on Nov. 2. At Circa Sports, Ohio State opened as 19-point favorites against Purdue on Saturday. After the Boilermakers matchup, Ohio State will face a pair of top-10 teams in eighth-ranked Michigan State and ninth-ranked Michigan.

Speaking of top teams from Ohio, second-ranked Cincinnati will travel to Tampa to face South Florida. The Bearcats survived a scare in Saturday’s 28-20 win over Tulsa when the Golden Hurricane fumbled near the goal line with 36 seconds left. Cincinnati opened as a heavy 24-point favorite against the 2-7 Bulls. Elsewhere, eighth-ranked Oklahoma will face 12th-ranked Baylor in Waco. The Sooners need to remain undefeated to move closer to the top 4 as the regular season nears completion. Oklahoma is a 5-point favorite, and the total is 61.5 points.

Sunday, November 14

Potential return of Rodgers impacts Packers-Seahawks line

Without Aaron Rodgers on Sunday in Kansas City, the Green Bay Packers offense sputtered in a 13-7 loss to the Chiefs. Rodgers, who missed the game with COVID-19, might return in Week 10 when Green Bay hosts Seattle at Lambeau Field. Jordan Love, Rodgers’ replacement, went 19-34 for 190 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. The Packers opened as 5.5-point favorites over the Seahawks at Caesars. Per NFL rules, the earliest Rodgers can return to the team is Saturday. The line will also be affected if Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson returns to action. Wilson has missed three games since suffering a finger injury against the Rams last month.

Have a good week, everyone!

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San Ysidro Business Community Welcomes Full Return of Cross-Border Travel – NBC 7 San Diego

San Ysidro business owners are anxious for the return of many of their customers.

This Monday the Port of Entry and Ferry terminal will open to nonessential travel as long as visitors are fully vaccinated.

Olivia Campos and her family managed to keep Carolin Shoes open over the 19 months the San Ysidro Port of Entry was closed to the majority of her customers, but it wasn’t easy.

 “We are seven days working. Seven days working without it stopping,” Campos said.

Each of those days are 10 to 12 hours serving very few customers.

With Monday comes hope.

“Monday I am going to be 8 o’clock over here. I wish it to come back to normal, but I don’t know exactly what is going to happen to be honest,” Campos said.

San Ysidro’s Chamber of Commerce Executive Director tells NBC 7 95% of its small business customers come from Mexico. More than 275 businesses closed because of travel restrictions.  

“It’s been rough on my parents as far as workers also just retail itself no income,” Alex Espinosa said.

Espinosa and his family own Rossy’s Fashion next to Campos’ store.

The business started on one side of the building.

Travel restrictions forced the shop next door to close so Rossy’s took the chance on expanding to the entire building.

Monday Espinosa hopes that gamble pays off.

“Back to normal. Yeah, back to normal. The usual and more business,of course,” Espinosa said.

As promising as the combination of reopening the San Ysidro Port of Entry to nonessential travel and the holidays just around the corner is, retailers are looking at the horizon and what they see are increased costs and difficulties stocking shelves.

 “It’s really hard because we have hardly 10 boxes of high heels in the whole year because they don’t have enough, and they give the majority of the merchandise to the chain stores,” Campos said.

In anticipation of larger crowds next week, both stores bought as much available merchandise as they could get their hands on. They are increasing hours of operation but not staff.

Officials with the Port of Entry are predicting a significant increase in traffic. CBP staffing is back to pre-covid levels.

“We know people are coming and then we can survive for the next months or years to come,” Campos said.

Visitors are required to have proof when they cross the border and CBP officers will randomly check travelers’ vaccination documents.

A spokesperson tells NBC 7 that a picture of your proof of vaccination on a mobile device is acceptable.  

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WTM London Virtual to return next week | News

WTM & TF Virtual – the two-day virtual event that takes place on Monday and Tuesday – has finalised its programme of on-demand sessions.

WTM & TF Virtual follows on from the WTM London and Travel Forward in-person events held at ExCeL this week, where global brands and leaders once again came together to do business and plan for the future of the travel industry.

For those who were unable to attend the live event, WTM & TF Virtual will run from 07:00-22:00 GMT to allow travel and tourism visitors to access at different times zones across the globe.

A whole host of sessions and conferences that took place during WTM London and Travel Forward in-person shows will be available on demand on the virtual platform, covering the whole spectrum of the industry.

On-demand sessions include the chance to find out about Changing Trends as Domestic Demand Leads European Recovery, with insight from Oxford Economics managing director, Europe and Middle East, David Goodger, and Evan Saunders, vice president, global tourism and hospitality, Near.com.

Responsible Tourism sessions will also be available on demand, including Conversations with Tourism Leaders, led by WTM’s responsible tourism advisor, Harold Goodwin, and bosses from across the travel spectrum, including airlines, hotel groups and travel organisers

As expected, other Responsible Tourism session will look at issues such as sustainability and reducing carbon emissions.

The Future Development of World Tourism Cities will be discussed, led by the World Tourism Cities Foundation, while rebuilding tourism, destination briefings and wellness developments all also feature.

In separate interviews, aviation analyst John Strickland speaks to Ryanair chief executive, Michael O’Leary, and easyJet chief executive, Johan Lundgren.

Simon Press, WTM London and Travel Forward exhibition director, said: “The success of WTM London’s and Travel Forward’s in-person events have proved beyond doubt that face-to-face networking is back, but for those unable to attend the in-person event, WTM & TF Virtual is the perfect solution.”

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