White House testing czar says Americans who traveled during Thanksgiving should get tested

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There was a concern entering and coming out of the Thanksgiving holiday as people travelled and congregated, which was why experts tried to get out the message that people shouldn’t have large gatherings but to keep it confined to their immediate households, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told NBC on Sunday.

“But, you know people are not always going to do that so what we expect unfortunately, as we go to the next couple of weeks into December, that we might see a surge superimposed upon that surge that we’re already in,” Fauci said. 

Fauci said that he didn’t want to frighten people by giving this message, “except to say it is not too late at all for us to do something about this, because as we travel back to be careful when we go back to where we are, to just continue to do the things that we’ve been talking about.”  

He said that it is known that something can be done about the infection curve particularly going in to the colder season, by doing things like mitigating with masks, distance and not having crowds or congregate settings. 

When asked whether there would be more dire warnings about travel preparing for Christmas and New Year’s, Fauci said “I think we’re going to be faced with another situation, we’re going to have to make decisions as a nation, state, city and family, that we’re in a very difficult time and we’re going to have to do the kinds of restrictions of things we would like to have done, particularly in this holiday season.” 

This is because, Fauci said, “we’re entering into what really is a precarious situation because we’re in the middle of a steep slope.” 

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though, he said, because vaccines will be seen soon, “we likely, almost certainly, are going to be vaccinating a portion of the individuals in the first priority before the end of December.” Going in to January, February and March, more and more people will be being vaccinated. 

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ALG Vacations Creates Agent Resource Toolkit for COVID-19 Testing Requirements

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WHY IT RATES: ALG Vacations continues to work hard for agents and advisors.—Donald Wood, Breaking News Senior Writer.


At the beginning of the pandemic, global tour operator ALG Vacations promised to “give travel advisors MORE,” pulling together a comprehensive info hub (www.vaxvacationaccess.com/ALGVAdvisorUpdate) to help them navigate through quick-changing times and their challenges.

Now, as the situation and adaptations around the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) new requirement for COVID-testing for re-entry into the U.S. begin to take form, ALG Vacations has once again created a centralized resource and toolkit to provide advisors with guidance and clarification on how to advance their business past this new hurdle.

INFORMATIONAL RESOURCES

Travel professionals can rely on www.vaxvacationaccess.com/cdcguidelines for immediate access to information and policies pertaining to this CDC update as ALG Vacations receives it, as well as additional resources to help them adapt their business to these changing needs.

Trending Now

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

On this new, frequently updated page, ALGV provides:

—CDC U.S. entry testing requirements

—An evolving FAQ section

—Partner airline policies

—Necessary forms and documents

—Hotel and destination official protocols

—Daily-updated destination and hotel grids showing:

—The availability of on-site testing for specific properties

—Cost per test if applicable, including for antigen testing

—Minimum stay requirements for free testing

—Travel date validity

—Local clinics should on-site not be available

—Quarantine offers

On Friday, 1/22/21, a webinar hosted by ALG Vacations executives was attended by more than 900 travel advisors, centering on the new CDC regulations and guidelines, and what ALG Vacations is doing to support travel agencies during this time.

With an ALG Vacations-hosted FAM to Punta Cana currently in resort, and another departing to Cancun on 1/27, travel advisors have the opportunity to be part of the new testing and departure experience in resort. ALGV is currently sharing these experiences on its social channels, and will share more content and video in the upcoming days.

FUNCTIONAL RESOURCES

On VAX VacationAccess, agents will now find hotel-specific messaging regarding on-site COVID testing, along with a new browsing filter for easy, at-a-glance shopping. This dynamic, on-demand supplement to the daily-updated hotel grid on the CDC Update page will help provide immediate answers while agents are searching for the best fit for their customers.

TRAVEL AGENT BUSINESS PROTECTION EFFORTS

In addition, ALG Vacations has announced several new developments and policies in support of travel agent business. This includes enhanced during-travel trip protection coverage; namely, increased trip delay protection for packages with Travel Protection Plus. The plan will now reimburse up to $3000 per person (formerly $500 per person maximum) for expenses such as meals, lodging, and local transportation costs for ALGV customers delayed 6 or more hours due to a defined Hazard, such as a Common Carrier delay or Quarantine (imposed by a physician or government authority). This benefit is valid for all current and new bookings for departures 2/1/21 onward for Apple Vacations, Funjet Vacations, Travel Impressions, United Vacations, Blue Sky Tours, and Southwest Vacations. This increase in coverage, funded by ALG Vacations, is in addition to the standard values, which includes medical coverage up to $50,000; emergency evacuation, Cancel for Any Reason, and much more.

In yet another effort to protect bookings and the customers who made them, the successful, popular Rebook Now. Recharge Later. 125% refund consumer incentive has temporarily returned to the marketplace for those eligible for a cash-back refund. Would-be cancellers are being offered an extra 25% in bonus travel credit toward their rebooking if they choose to convert their refunds into credit with ALG Vacations instead. More information on this promotion, as well as explanatory infographics and usage guides, can be found at www.vaxvacationaccess.com/RebookRecharge.

For customers who aren’t eligible for this incentive, ALG Vacations has streamlined the process of changing air dates, and is publicly providing insider recommendations on how to best maximize vacationers’ investment value, such as how to bypass cancel fees as they take advantage of ALGV’s waived brand change fees.

“We at ALG Vacations are intent on being problem-solvers for our travel partners and their customers,” says Executive Vice President, Trade Brands Jacki Marks. “We believe that creating multiple options for customers in a wide range of scenarios; developing tools and technology that proactively increase agent efficiency; and providing an all-encompassing but thoughtfully curated hub of resources are all critical components of supporting travel advisor success during tough times. Through a multi-angle approach, we’re making it a priority to proactively protect the travel agent community and our shared industry. We cannot emphasize more that our guiding value is that ‘We do it together,’ and will continue to listen closely to our partners and work on providing resources that meet or exceed their needs.”


SOURCE: ALG Vacations press release.



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Americans warned against travel as COVID-19 variants spread and testing rules go into effect

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The State Department warned Americans to strongly reconsider travel Tuesday as a new COVID-19 testing requirement went into effect and new variants of the virus were detected in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“If you’re overseas right now, it could be harder to come home for a while,” said Ian Brownlee, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for consular affairs. “Everyone needs to be prepared to be potentially seriously disrupted in their trip.”

Brownlee’s warning came on the first day of the U.S.’s new testing requirement for inbound travelers overseas. All airline passengers, regardless of citizenship, must now present proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel or show proof that they have recovered from the deadly virus. Anyone failing to do either will be denied boarding by the airlines and will be responsible for any additional lodging costs.

While U.S. embassies overseas can help U.S. citizens with information and possibly a loan to help them return home, Brownlee said they do not have the ability to provide COVID-19 testing for those seeking to return.

“The bottom line message is: This is really not the time for people to be engaging in discretionary travel and that all travel should be postponed until we get a better handle on getting this virus under control, and accelerating our vaccination strategies,” he said.

The new measure is part of an executive order issued by the Biden administration to tighten COVID-19 restrictions with the hope of slowing down the spread of several highly contagious variants of the disease that are now spreading in the region.

At least 15 countries and territories in the Americas, including the United States, have confirmed the presence of at least one of three emerging variants: Those first identified in southeast England, South Africa or Brazil.

The new variants are proving to be very difficult and their emergence highlights the challenges U.S. health officials are facing in the race to vaccinate as many people as they can against infections, said Dr. Marty Cetron, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s global migration and quarantine division.

“They all suggest that they are potentially more contagious than the current circulating predominate virus. They can quickly become the predominant virus that’s circulating and several of them have presented challenges in …evading some of the natural immunity and challenges toward looking at our vaccine solutions,” he said.

The Pan American Health Organization confirmed the spread of one of the highly contagious mutated strains of the virus to 14 countries Tuesday. That list grew hours later when the Cayman Islands, a British dependent territory 433 miles south of Miami, reported that the U.K. variant had also been detected in three recent travelers arriving from Barbados and Britain.

“It is not surprising that we now have confirmation of this variant in the Cayman Islands, as we know it to be virulent and widespread,” Cayman’ Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said.

Cayman was notified of the strain by the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the Trinidad-based public health agency conducting COVID-19 testing for a number of countries and territories in the region. The agency has been asking its members to send in selections of positive COVID-19 samples for genetic sequencing.

So far, Caribbean health experts have discovered the U.K. variant in Cayman Islands, St. Lucia, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Separately Cuba, according to PAHO, has reported the presence of the South African strain while the Dominican Republic has confirmed the presence of the U.K. variant.

On Tuesday, the U.S. surpassed 25 million reported cases of COVID-19 and over 400,000 deaths, the CDC said, making the variants even more of a threat. The CDC made a last-minute decision to eliminate a two-week waiver for airlines flying to countries where it will be difficult for passengers returning to the U.S. to comply with the new testing rule.

“This virus is a formidable foe,” Cetron said. “We have to be prepared to be very flexible in response to this virus and adapt our strategies quickly.”

Cetron said the new variants have the ability to spread asymptomatically and pre-symptomatically, characteristics that have been fueling the pandemic. Also worrying is the speed at which the virus can move through a population and grow exponentially, its reproductive rate and the evolution of the virus in forming mutations that have the potential to become more contagious, and potentially more serious.

For example, in the case of the strain that emerged in Manaus, Brazil, there is a high probability of reinfection. While the population had recovered from an initial large wave of infections, it was later revealed that the mutation caused a number of reinfections and a second uptick in cases. This variant has been reported in Japan after it was first identified in Brazil in December.

“We’re really in a race between a really formidable virus and our human ability to control transmission and bring our best tools to the table in the form of vaccinations. So we have the variant versus the vaccines, and we have the infection in general in and of itself, versus our ability to fight this.”

Since Tuesday, airlines have been tasked with confirming that passengers traveling to the U.S. have been tested within the previous three days, in accordance with the new order.

A spokesperson for American Airlines said Tuesday afternoon that the company’s Latin American and Caribbean operations were running smoothly, and that there were no major issues to report.

U.S. officials said they have been fielding calls from airlines and so far the issues that have come up are things that were anticipated and are being worked out. There are over 100 countries that have testing requirements for either exit or entry to control the global pandemic, the CDC said.

The new testing requirement does not apply to individuals flying from the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico.

At the Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti, however, chaos did erupt and police had to be called, said a physician, Dr. Vincent DeGennaro, who was traveling back to the U.S. Tuesday. DeGennaro said several passengers who got tested at his facility, Innovating Health International, which is among several on a U.S. embassy list, were denied boarding by airline agents when they checked in for their flight.

The airlines told the travelers that the tests were invalid because DeGennaro’s facility is not among the five on a list released by Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP).

“Why does the MSPP list matter?” said DeGennaro, who also got tested at his facility and faced no problems boarding a JetBlue flight to Fort Lauderdale. “These are American visa holders on U.S. private companies being screened for a U.S. policy they are going to need to enforce on the U.S. side of the border.”

DeGennaro said he spent the afternoon emailing, tweeting and calling all of the major U.S. carriers flying to Haiti, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. No one responded. He said another colleague traveling Tuesday told him he saw dozens of U.S. bound passengers denied due to the testing requirement.

American Airlines spokeswoman Laura Masvidal declined to comment on whether there had been any significant reduction in the number of people boarding flights. She acknowledged that some passengers arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport without proof of negative results and were moved to a later flight after showing the necessary documentation.

Spirit Airlines said while most of its U.S.-bound passengers flying out of the region Tuesday showed up with the proper documentation, some had to be turned away after presenting antibody tests. The CDC is requiring PCR COVID-19 tests or rapid antigen tests.

• • •

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Travel Latest News: New testing rules came into force at 4am

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The UK’s new testing rules began today at 4am, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement last week that all international arrivals would need to show a negative Covid test on arrival into the country, or face a potential £500 fine. The strict new rules are intended to protect against the spread of coronavirus variants, after two new forms of the virus were recently discovered in Brazil. 

A quarantine is also still in place for all UK arrivals, consisting of 10 days – but shortened to five if a second negative test result is obtained. Currently, no one is able to bypass this quarantine due to the removal last week of all the UK’s travel corridors.  

More spot checks have also been ordered to check people are quarantining, and all exemptions to the policy – including the controversial separate rules for business travel – have also been removed. 

While the news around testing is welcome news for many in the travel industry, who have spent the past year calling for an effective testing regime, the majority are still despairing over the continued use of a quarantine. 

Speaking on Radio 4 this morning, the CEO of the Airport Operators Association (AOA), Karen Dee warned that the new measures will make little difference to the industry right now due to the already rock bottom travel levels, but that getting the balance right would be crucial going forward. Dee emphasised that quarantine is the “biggest deterrent” to people booking travel, rather than testing. 

For now, the best way out of the UK’s travel deadlock may be the consistent use of testing, but with a restrictive quarantine still in place the question of when travel for Britons will be able to resume in a meaningful way remains unclear.

Scroll down for the latest updates.



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