Travel News

Germany Heads Toward New Pandemic Measures as Omicron Threatens - BLOOMBERG

JANUARY 03, 2022

BY  Iain RogersBloomberg News

(Bloomberg) -- Germany is contemplating further measures to contain Covid-19 as the omicron variant threatens to become the dominant strain in the country by mid-January.

When Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets with state leaders on Friday to discuss the pandemic, the country could shorten quarantine times to prevent staff shortages in critical services like hospitals and police, according to Health Minister Karl Lauterbach.

“There are very many questions that need to be settled, and preparations are in full swing,” Lauterbach said late Sunday in an interview with RTL/ntv television.

He reiterated a call for more citizens to get vaccinated or booster shots, warning that omicron still represents a significant threat despite evidence it may cause milder symptoms than the delta variant. 

Europe’s biggest economy is currently in what some officials have termed a “lockdown for the unvaccinated,” with wide-ranging limits on the size of public events and on access to non-essential stores. Tighter curbs on private gatherings went into force last week.

Germany’s outbreak has been receding since hitting record levels in late November. A slight uptick in recent days amid a growing number of omicron infections has been far less dramatic than the surges in countries like France and Britain. 

Lauterbach has warned that the current data may not provide an accurate picture due to reporting delays over the Christmas holidays. The Harvard-educated epidemiologist, who had a window smashed at his parliamentary office in Cologne over the weekend, dismissed recent protests against the government’s pandemic strategy and said they won’t have any impact on policy.

Demonstrations scattered across Germany have been relatively small, typically involving a couple of hundred people at a time, but some have turned violent with marchers clashing with police.

“It’s a worrying development, but I must emphasize again and again that this is a small, radical minority,” Lauterbach said. “The majority of society is standing together against the pandemic.”

Scarcity of Nigeria’s passport to be over by March – Immigration chief - PREMIUM TIMES

JANUARY 03, 2022

“Just Friday we received a total of 45,000 booklets towards clearing the backlogs and in December alone, we received more than 100,000 booklets which we have continued to distribute across the passport centres nationwide."

By Oge Udegbunam

The Acting Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Isa Idris, has assured Nigerians that the delay in renewing international passports or getting new ones will be a thing of the past by March 2022.

Mr Idris made the pledge on Saturday during a virtual media interaction.

He said the challenge of delayed passport production can be blamed on the coronavirus pandemic, accompanying global lockdowns, and the difficulty in accessing foreign exchange in the country.

Mr Idris said part of the efforts towards addressing the problem is the launch of the enhanced e-passport, which he noted has been embedded with improved features.

He said it has been launched in the United Kingdom and in some Nigerian centres; Kano, Port Harcourt and Ibadan.

“Just Friday we received a total of 45,000 booklets towards clearing the backlogs and in December alone, we received more than 100,000 booklets which we have continued to distribute across the passport centres nationwide. This is not just for Nigerians in Nigeria alone but for those in the Diaspora as well,” he said.

“But with the introduction of the enhanced e-Passport, we are good to go in our efforts towards addressing the scarcity. This enhanced e-passport is a great improvement on the biometric passport technology which we adopted as a country in 2007. It is a strategic step towards curbing forgery, impersonation and other forms of fraud associated with obtaining travel documents under the old Machine Readable Passport regime,” he added.

On behalf of the service, he pleaded with Nigerians to apply only online and stop physical contact with immigration officials to avoid corruption.

“We have continued to try to stop personal contacts with our officials. My predecessor started to break the jinx and we are continuing on that.”

The comptroller-general also condemned what he described as the last-minute rush for either renewal or fresh application for international passports, saying applicants for renewal can apply for it six months to the expiration of their current passports.

He said the immigration service is working hard to ensure full compliance to the three-week duration for renewal and six-week waiting period for fresh applications, adding that there is nowhere in the world where passports are produced in 24 hours except in emergency situations.

“The waiting period is for us to validate the addresses provided by the applicants. So Nigerians should not forget that they have six months to renew their passport. They should not wait till it expires, and of course, there are other emergencies, and there is a window for them,” Mr Idris said.

He said one of the core responsibilities of the NIS is to protect the borders and that it would not allow itself to be reduced to a passport production agency.

With more than 5,000 land borders and shorelines, the deployment of technology is the best way to tackle the problems, Mr Idris said.

He said the Service is leaving no stone unturned towards ensuring that Nigerians can sleep with their two eyes closed and that improved border management is part of his three-point agenda when he took over the leadership in acting capacity in September.

He complained about poor funding and said the organisation is working towards securing approval so that it could be able to spend part of its generated revenue for its operations.

According to Mr Idris, workers that are not motivated will find it hard not to engage in corrupt practices and he is committed to improving the welfare of his officers for improved productivity and efficiency.

Many Nigerians abroad embittered, migrated due to frustration – Adekugbe, ex-UK support worker - PUNCH

JANUARY 03, 2022

BY Alexander Okere

Mary Adekugbe is a former support worker at King’s College Hospital London, NHS Foundation Trust, and the Assistant Welfare Secretary of the Central Association of Nigerians in the United Kingdom. She tells ALEXANDER OKERE about her contributions to the growth of the Nigerian community in the UK and how her upbringing inspired what she does

What fond memories of your childhood do you have?

I am from Ondo State but I grew up on Lagos Island. I attended St. Matthias’ Primary School on the island and Aunty Ayo High School. I attended a pastoral institute in Akure. It was fun being a child in the 80s; I grew up with many social activities in my area and my school. Compared to now, we were busy. I took part in debates at school and was a member of the choir in the church I attended. Nowadays, many children are idle.

I also attended Yaba College of Technology. I studied Statistics and Mathematics but that was not my choice. I wanted to study Estate Management but when I could not meet the requirements, I had to study Maths and Statistics. At the initial stage, I struggled with it, but I later found a way to cope. The course made me calculative. I later left for the United Kingdom.

What kind of upbringing did you have?

My father, Samuel Fadahunsi, worked with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Chevron; he was a chief photographer. My mother worked as a secretary in the Federal Ministry of Aviation. My parents played a role in the kind of discipline I have. My father was also a soldier, so he was a very strict person. He did not talk much but when he did, one would know they had erred. He would signal to us with his eyes or stamp his foot to tell us we had erred. My mother was the type that would advise and talk to us about our wrongdoings.

You said you went to the UK. What took you there?

My father-in-law sponsored me to the UK.

For what purpose?

I told him I wanted greener pastures. That was in 2004.  Although things were better at that time but there were family challenges, so I thought travelling abroad would be better. I later got a job at Kings’ College Hospital, London, as a support worker.

What was your first impression when you got to the UK?

Everything there was amazing; their way of life is different from ours. The environment was neat, there was infrastructure and the power supply was stable there. The people there are loving and welcoming.

How did you switch from statistics to the health sector?

I was trained to the required standard. I had to study English because the English spoken in the UK is different from the one we speak in Nigeria; I’m still studying anyway.

What impression do you have when you think about Nigeria’s health sector?

I feel sorry about our health sector. I have visited three hospitals since returning to Nigeria and it was not a pleasant experience. I feel sorry about it because I love Nigeria and want the best for this country. We need to improve.

Where should the improvement begin?

We can begin from our mindset. What I noticed since I returned is that everybody wants money and if everybody wants money beyond their salaries, I don’t think things would work. Corruption is a very big problem – from the bottom to the top. One has to pay before they could be listened to and that is bad.

How different is it in the UK?

If a person in the UK needs help, they could just put a call through or go to the accident and emergency unit, if they don’t need to see a general practitioner because that could take a while. One could also dial 999 and workers from A and E, as it is called, would come in an ambulance. The paramedics would later hand your file over to a doctor to check whether admission is required. They attend to patients immediately. I work more with communities. Many people think anyone who does not have the required documents to live in the UK would be deported from the hospital. It’s not true; one just has to go there.

Do you interact with the Nigerian community in the UK?

Yes. I’m a community leader in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. I am the founder of Beejs Heritage Foundation in the UK.

What do your compatriots say about the current situation in Nigeria?

We feel bitter about our country, with the way things are. I also felt the same way when I arrived at the airport in Nigeria. Some of the workers asked for money. When I visited one of the offices of the Nigeria Immigration Service, I was told to pay N20,000 for scanning that costs N5,000. But when I complained about it, one of the officers told me to pay N10,000. Many Nigerians left the country due to frustration.

Nigeria is a good place to live and work but things are not working. We don’t have the things that should make us live well. There is no regular power supply, good infrastructure, and no jobs. It’s not easy over there (outside the country) but many feel it’s better to be there than here (in Nigeria).

What do you do at Beejs Heritage Foundation?

It is a charity organisation that provides support for Nigerian citizens living in the UK, called Black African Minority Ethnics.

What kind of support do you provide?

We help in any way we think we could. The UK government and Rochdale council have been helpful to our people over there. During the onset of the (COVID-19) pandemic, we were able to provide support through the migrant destitution fund. Forever Manchester gave us funds to enable us to give food parcels to a lot of Nigerians. Rochdale Council, Action Together, and a Manchester United player, Marcus Rashford also helped us provide food for children.

Are there perceptions Nigerians at home have about their compatriots living abroad that you think are wrong?

I think it’s shameful for people in Nigeria to think that people or their families in the UK pick money on the streets of London, wherever in the UK or abroad because people are suffering. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of poverty among Nigerians was on the high side. Do you know why? It was because most of them had no documents to enable them to live and work there. As of that time (during the pandemic), a lot of people had to stop working and they found it difficult to eat or maintain a normal living. That was why charities in the UK stood up; that was how we came up with food parcels which we dropped at the doorsteps of hungry people. In the parcels were garri, rice, and other food items that could serve them for one week. We also had volunteers, despite the restrictions, and we are happy none of the volunteers got COVID-19. We wanted our people to be happy.

Where else did you get support?

We got support from Heritage Fund, FareShare, our community warehouse in Rochdale that supplied us food, and BME Network.

Is your charity registered?

Yes, we are registered in the UK but we plan to start operating in Nigeria; we plan to involve government agencies. Presently, I am the assistant welfare secretary of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK; we work directly with the Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission.

What led you into charity in the first place?

I inherited the act of charity from my dad because he loved having people around him. He used to buy food items and share them among his bosses at the NNPC and Chevron. He also helped people to secure jobs in government agencies.

You mentioned that you were a support worker at King’s College Hospital, London, NHS Foundation Trust. What exactly were your responsibilities?

I look into the affairs of Nigerians. I supported people in need, depressed, lonely, or needed their documents processed. I referred them to relevant places. The UK government trained us to be able to do that.

If you didn’t go to the UK and become a support worker, what would you have loved to do in Nigeria?

I would have done the same thing I do now – charity.

How supportive has your husband been to you?

Lack Of Emergency Services At Abuja Airport Untrue – FAAN - DAILY TRUST

JANUARY 04, 2022

By Chris Agabi

FAAN was reacting to a video on social media showing a passenger about to board an Air Peace flight from Abuja who collapsed but didn’t get an emergency response.

Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, the General Manager, Corporate Affairs, said “the passenger in question received immediate attention as a FAAN officer, Mr. Ajani, immediately revived the unconscious passenger by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the passenger before the arrival of the medical team, which arrived shortly after to administer first aid treatment and subsequently evacuated the passenger to the Airforce Base clinic.

“We appeal to stakeholders to always be orderly and proactive in the face of emergency situations as on that day, a Port Health officer on duty was intimidated and hindered from assisting the sick passenger. 

“Interference, threats and agitations only undermine the focus on saving lives, and further slowing the emergency response process,” the statement stated. 

FAAN appealed that “the privacy of any distressed person(s) in our facilities be always respected by desisting from just merely watching, and recording such persons for public broadcast. To succeed in resolving emergencies, we do need more hands on deck, than on phone.”

UAE Faces Risk of Inclusion on Global Watchlist Over Dirty Money - BLOOMBERG

JANUARY 04, 2022

(Bloomberg) -- The United Arab Emirates is at increased risk of being placed on a global watchdog’s list of countries subject to more oversight for shortcomings in combating money laundering and terrorist financing, even after a recent government push to stamp out illicit transactions.

The Financial Action Task Force is leaning toward adding the UAE to its “gray list” early this year, one of two classifications used by the intergovernmental body for nations determined to have “strategic deficiencies,” according to people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity because the discussions are private.

Should the FATF approve the designation, it would be among the most significant such steps in the Paris-based group’s three-decade history given the UAE’s position as the main financial hub of the Middle East. The FATF currently puts 23 countries -- including Albania, Syria and South Sudan -- under closer scrutiny, with only Iran and North Korea on its highest-risk “black list.”

READ MORE: Global Money Laundering Watchdog Adds Turkey to Its ‘Gray List’

“There are undoubtedly costs associated with being gray-listed,” said Katherine Bauer, a former Treasury Department official who led the U.S. delegation to the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a regional body modeled after the FATF.

“Many global regulators require that banks and financial institutions review, if not revise, their risk ratings and associated due diligence measures for counterparties in countries on the FATF list,” said Bauer, who’s now a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The UAE submitted a report to the FATF in November but hasn’t reached many of the thresholds needed to stay off the gray list, the people said. The group is expected to make a decision at a plenary meeting set for late February. There are still several opportunities for Emirati officials to make their case to the FATF, including during a planned trip to Paris in the coming weeks, they said.

“We are taking this very seriously, having partnered with highly skilled and experienced specialists with a track-record in meeting best international practices and standards,” Hamid Al Zaabi, director general of the UAE Executive Office for Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing, said in a statement to Bloomberg News. 

‘Fully Committed’

“The UAE is fully committed to upholding the integrity of the international financial system, which includes working closely with our partners around the world to combat financial crime,” he said.

A FATF spokesperson declined to comment. A gray-listing applies to countries that have “strategic deficiencies in their regimes to counter money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing” but which are committed to address the issues “swiftly,” according to its website.

In a report published in April 2020, the FATF questioned the UAE’s system despite what it called “significant steps” to strengthen regulations, including new legislation in 2018 and 2019. 

“Fundamental and major improvements are needed across the UAE in order to demonstrate that the system cannot be used for money laundering/terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” the group said at the time.

Since the FATF’s warning in 2020, the UAE government has taken numerous steps to better align with global standards on anti-money laundering and countering terrorist financing, according to Ibtissem Lassoued, the Dubai-based head of advisory in financial crime at law firm Al Tamimi & Co.

Authorities set up courts focused on financial crimes and now require companies to disclose their ultimate owners to the government. UAE officials also established the Executive Office led by Al Zaabi to ensure the central bank, Finance Ministry and other authorities collaborate more closely.

The central bank has in recent months levied penalties on multiple banks for breaching anti-money laundering regulations and imposed new rules on hawalas, charities often alleged to enable terrorism-related money flows.

By the Numbers

* Source: UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

Still, illicit transactions are “a feature, not a bug” of Dubai’s financial system, according to a 2020 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The U.S. lists the UAE as a “major money-laundering” jurisdiction.

READ MORE: Dubai Struggles to Shake Off the Stain of Smuggled African Gold

The FATF, set up by the Group of Seven major economies, requires a significant majority of its members to make a gray-list decision, though the precise number isn’t defined. The organization includes 37 jurisdictions as well as the European Commission and the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which the UAE is a part. The country isn’t itself a member of the FATF.

Potential Setback

A gray-list designation would be a setback at a time when the oil-rich nation faces greater competition from neighboring Saudi Arabia, which is growing its financial markets and taking steps to lure more investment. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also seeking to raise billions of dollars by listing state firms, and the UAE shifted its work week to Monday-Friday from the start of this year in a bid to lure global business.

A report by the International Monetary Fund last year found that gray-listing by the FATF leads to “a large and statistically significant reduction in capital inflows.” Analyzing a sample of 89 emerging and developing countries from 2000 to 2017, it estimated that on average foreign direct investment and portfolio inflows each declined by around 3% of gross domestic product.

The extent of any fallout for the UAE would be difficult to quantify, partly because foreign financial firms and investors may already approach it as a high-risk area, according to Bauer. 

Abu Dhabi, the nation’s capital, is home to sovereign wealth funds with more than $1 trillion of assets. Meantime, Dubai houses the regional headquarters for most multinational lenders, and the skyscraper-studded emirate has boomed in recent decades thanks largely to its light regulation and low taxes.

As part of an effort to strengthen oversight, the UAE government is using a slew of consultants including K2 Integrity, the people said. The New York-based firm’s leaders include Juan Zarate, who headed efforts against terrorist financing and financial crimes at U.S. Treasury during George W. Bush’s presidency.

The UAE has also hired Vienna-based Financial Transparency Advisors GmbH, run by former FATF assessors Gabriele Dunker and Michael Stellini, and Richard Gould, who used to work at the U.K.’s National Crime Agency, the people said.

Gould as well as representatives at K2 Integrity and FTA declined to comment. 

2021: The year travelling Nigerians found it difficult to get passports - NAN

JANUARY 04, 2022

The NIS adopted different measures to address the challenges Nigerians faced in getting passports in 2021

It is a truism that many intending Nigerian international travellers went through tough times in the year 2021 while trying to obtain passports from the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).

While some were lucky to get the international travel document, others remain on the waiting list after going through all the required processes. A similar situation was obtained in Nigeria’s embassies abroad.

It got to a point that the NIS, under the watch of its former Comptroller-General, Mohammed Babandede, halted applications for new and renewal of passports to enable the service to clear backlogs of passport applications.

In its bid to ensure enforcement of the directive, the service shut down all payment portals from May 18 until June 1 and sent Task Force teams to all passport offices to enforce the clearance of passport backlogs.

Consequently, Deputy Comptrollers were deployed to all passport centres to monitor the process and ensure the directive was followed.

However, in spite of the measures, difficulties in accessing passports persist.

Recently, a report from Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation Europe, (NIDOE), Italy Chapter, indicated that more than 1.5 million Nigerians living in Europe needed passports.

The NIS adopted different measures to address the challenges Nigerians faced in getting passports in 2021

Also, the Nigerians in Diaspora Network (NDN) staged a protest in Oberhausen, Germany, over passport scarcity, according to reports widely publicised on social media.

The NIS blamed the scarcity on the emergence of the Coronavirus (COVID19) that surged in 2020

The service explained that when the lockdown that resulted from COVID19 eased, what it witnessed was geometric turn-in in passport applications.

It also attributed its inability most times to meet its six weeks timeframe for fresh passport issuance and three weeks for re-issuance to challenges posed by the National Identity Management System (NIMC).

The NIS claimed it always got delayed responses from NIMC when enquiries were filed.

A new circular recently emerged from the NIS in Lagos, barring the management of the service from speaking to journalists. Also, a circular barring journalists from exclusive interviews with Passport Control Officers (PCOs) was released in November 2021.

Speakíng with journalists before the circular was issued, the Passport Controller, Lagos Passport Command, Milka Musa, said that difficulties in getting passports were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which kept the world at standstill during the lockdown.

“When the lockdown was eased, what the NIS witnessed was a geometrical growth in passport applications,” he said, adding that the service was working hard to ensure a state of equilibrium was achieved.

Dubai flights: 48-hour validity PCR tests must for passengers from over 12 countries - KHALEEJ TIMES

JANUARY 04, 2022

NHS Covid-19 test certificates are not accepted for travel from the United Kingdom

by Waheed Abbas

Passengers travelling from more than two dozen countries to Dubai will have to present a negative Covid-19 PCR with a validity of 48 hours.

This also includes passengers transiting through Dubai airports.

Effective January 2, 2022, all passengers travelling from the UK to Dubai must hold a negative Covid-19 PCR test certificate taken no more than 48 hours before departure. In the latest update on its website, Emirates airline said that the certificate must be for a Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT PCR) test.

It said the RT PCR test result certificate must state where the test sample was taken. NHS Covid-19 test certificates are not accepted for travel from the United Kingdom.

In addition, passengers arriving or transiting through Dubai from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Sudan and Zambia must carry a valid negative Covid-19 PCR test certificate with a QR code conducted within 48 hours. The QR code must be presented at check-in and to the Dubai Health Authority representatives upon arrival in Dubai airports.

Passengers from these seven countries must also take a rapid Covid-19 PCR test report with a QR code within six hours of departure at the airport.

Effective January 1, 2022, all passengers travelling on Emirates from Lebanon to Dubai must carry a negative PCR test with a QR code from an approved facility within 48 hours of departure.

But travel restrictions are in place for passengers from Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Only employees of official missions between UAE and the aforesaid countries; UAE nationals, first-degree relative(s) and their domestic/house workers/helpers; and UAE golden visa holders can fly to Dubai but must carry a negative Covid-19 PCR test with a validity of fewer than 48 hours.

While passengers coming from more than 50 countries must take another Covid-19 test upon arrival at Dubai airports. This includes passengers travelling from Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Guinea, India, Iran, Iraq and Ivory Coast.

The other countries are Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Russia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Somaliland, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Last week, it was announced that Dubai International airport would carry out random PCR tests on passengers arriving on flights, not on screening lists, to contain the pandemic's spread. Some passengers travelling from the UK to Dubai also underwent random testing upon arrival at the airport.

[email protected]

Flight Cancellations Pile Up as Snowstorm Pounds U.S. Capital - BLOOMBERG

JANUARY 05, 2022

(Bloomberg) -- A winter storm that slammed Washington with its biggest snowfall since 2019 snarled flights in the region for a second day, accounting for the bulk of cancellations across the U.S.

Some 21% of flights at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport were grounded Tuesday morning, according to FlightAware.com. At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, 18% of flights were scrubbed. 

About 1,200 flights were dropped nationwide, continuing a string of cancellations that began before the Christmas holiday, many of them as coronavirus infections caused staffing shortages.

Southwest Airlines Co., which has a significant presence at BWI, canceled 10% of its flights Tuesday, while JetBlue Airways Corp. grounded 11%.

More than 3,200 flights were canceled in the U.S. on Monday, the most in more than a month. Nearly 18,000 flights were parked in the U.S. from Dec. 24 through Monday, according to FlightAware, while more than 67,500 were delayed. 

U.S. Schools Close in Droves as Omicron Drives Staff Shortages - BLOOMBERG

JANUARY 05, 2022

(Bloomberg) -- School closings are accelerating across the U.S. as omicron infections ensnare teachers and drive staffing shortages.

The speed of this Covid-19 surge led large districts like Atlanta, Detroit, and Prince George’s County in Maryland to adopt remote instruction just days before the beginning of the second semester, often leaving parents little time to readjust schedules. 

Nationally, the number of in-person closings has tripled since Dec. 19 as the percentage of positive tests surged. At least 3,229 schools were closed in the first week of January, the highest for the year but still below the peaks reached during last year’s winter surge, according to Burbio, which tracks closings. 

“Districts are trying to open,” said Dennis Roche, Burbio’s co-founder. “The major variable is that in some parts of the U.S., where Covid rates are in the 20%+ range, you are going to have staffing shortages when testing is done.”

The surge has put state and city officials reluctant to repeat last year in a bind. “Kids need to be in school,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said Tuesday. The state has some outbreaks in schools, but transmission levels are higher in the community, he said.

“We don’t think closing schools and sending kids home for virtual learning is the way to go,” Hogan said.

In New Jersey, 30% of schools had switched to virtual learning as of Jan. 3, according to the state health department. Among 1.4 million K-12 students, infections have more than doubled in three weeks, to 11 per 1,000 pupils. Staff positives have quadrupled, to 24 per 1,000, according to state data. 

Still, Governor Phil Murphy said the number of school outbreaks is lower than anticipated, which he called a sign that masking and other steps are working.

“We currently have no intention or plan to shut our schools,” Murphy said Monday during a virus briefing. “We have no desire to return to remote learning, which is suboptimal.” Individual districts, though, have the option to close.

In metro Atlanta, the city’s school district along with those in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton and Rockdale counties all started the new year virtually due to infections among students and staff. Most districts plan to return to in-person classes next week.

Two other large suburban Atlanta districts planned to resume classes later this week. Cobb County schools will open Wednesday and Gwinnett County schools -- the largest district in Georgia -- will resume classes Thursday.

Baltimore students and staff are returning to public schools this week, but the district extended winter break through Wednesday to allow for testing. Schools will resume weekly pooled testing at K-8 schools and individual PCR testing at all stand-alone middle schools and high schools when schools reopen on Thursday.

Students in Boston, meanwhile, returned to class Tuesday with more than 1,000 teachers and staff out with Covid, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said on WCVB-TV. The teachers’ union has called for stronger testing protocols.

In Chicago, the teachers’ union plans to vote Tuesday on whether to return to remote learning against the district’s wishes amid the Covid surge. The union is seeking more mitigation steps from the district to curb the spread in classrooms that reopened on Monday. The district has said it’s planning to “double down” on strategies like vaccination and testing.

In New York City schools, the largest district in the country, a third of the system’s 1 million students didn’t show up on the first day back, with the city reporting a 67% attendance rate on Jan 3. City Department of Education officials are still tabulating staff absence totals. Unions had asked for remote instruction and added testing ahead of classes, while warning of staff shortages due to teachers testing positive for Covid.

Mayor Eric Adams has made efforts to convince families that schools are safe, and the city so far hasn’t shifted to virtual or mandated proof of negative tests. In a CNN interview on Tuesday, he said if recommendations from his health officials change than he might reconsider. 

For now, “the safest place for our children is in a school building,” Adams said.

Goldman Says China Could Keep Border Restrictions Through 2022 - BLOOMBERG

JANUARY 05, 2022

(Bloomberg) -- China could maintain its border restrictions for the rest of the year as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics and a series of political events in 2022, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said.

Reports that vaccines made by domestic firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd. offer limited protection against the omicron variant will likely reinforce China’s resolve to stick with its Covid Zero strategy, analysts led by Andrew Tilton wrote in a note Tuesday. 

China is one of the few countries in the world that’s still committed to the Covid Zero approach, while many others have shifted toward living with the virus. Strict measures to contain outbreaks -- like the hard lockdown in Xi’an currently -- have led to disruptions to production and travel, and a slump in consumption, adding pressure on an economy already weighed down by a housing market slump.

Quarantine requirements on travelers arriving from abroad could be kept in place to avoid major disruption to the Winter Olympics, which will begin next month, the annual meeting of the national legislature in March, and the 20th Communist Party Congress in the fourth quarter, Goldman said. President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term during the once-in-five-year party event. 

Beijing has vowed to shift its policy focus this year to stabilizing economic growth from preventing risks, as it warns of a triple whammy of contracting demand, a supply shock, and weakening expectations. 

The central bank last month boosted liquidity by cutting the amount of cash lenders must keep in reserve. The authorities have also said they will better meet what they term as “reasonable demand” for homes as they move to limit the fallout from a widening debt crisis engulfing the country’s real estate industry.

Goldman expects another reduction in the reserve requirement ratio in the first quarter, with easing focused on credit and fiscal measures cushioning but not fully absorbing the downturn in the housing market.

The yuan could see “small further gains” to 6.2 per dollar by the end of this year as China maintains a “meaningful” current account surplus, the analysts said. Also helping the Chinese currency would be solid net portfolio inflows driven by index inclusions and a potential acceleration in equity purchases by foreigners with domestic stocks likely performing better this year than last, they added.


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