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US Issues 'Level One' Travel Health Notice For India

WASHINGTON, Nov 16: The top US health body has issued a "Level One" COVID-19 notice for Americans travelling to India, saying the risk of contracting the infection and developing severe symptoms may be lower if one is fully vaccinated.

The new travel advisory issued on Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of "Level One" which is considered safe came in the wake of the significant improvement in the Covid-19 situation in India.

The CDC in its health travel notice "Level One" said, "Your risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing severe symptoms may be lower if you are fully vaccinated with an FDA (Food and Drug Administration) authorised vaccine."

Make sure you are fully vaccinated before travelling to India. Travellers should follow recommendations or requirements in India, including wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart from others, the health notice said.

In August, the US eased its travel advisory for India, lowering it to Level 2: Moderate.

Early this year, the US had put India in Level 4, asking its citizens not to travel to India, which at that point of time was experiencing an unprecedented second wave of COVID-19.

Double-Vaccinated Indians Can Enter Singapore Without Quarantine

SINGAPORE, Nov 15: Singapore has begun the arduous task of reestablishing itself as Asia's international aviation hub, throwing its borders open to five more countries as it presses on with plans to reopen and live with Covid.

The city-state will allow quarantine-free travel for fully-vaccinated people from countries including India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, it said Monday as it looks to safely move past the pandemic that has kept its 5.7 million residents home for more than a year.

Inoculated visitors from Indonesia and India will be able to enter Singapore from Nov. 29, while those from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar will be welcome from Dec. 6 without having to quarantine, the Ministry of Health said in a statement Monday. Unvaccinated children age 12 and under can accompany eligible adults.

Singapore plans to start the arrangement with Indonesia with two designated flights between Singapore and Jakarta everyday, and will increase that to four, Transport Minister S Iswaran said. It's aiming for two daily flights each to Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai, he said. Both countries were among the top five markets for passenger arrivals at Singapore's Changi Airport in 2019.

The southeast Asian nation started gradually reopening its borders to general travel in September when it kicked off a vaccinated travel lane with Germany and Brunei. The city-state, home to the world's best airport for eight years until 2020, has ditched its Covid-Zero policy and pivoted to an approach of living with the virus.

Infection rates are likely to increase as the travel lanes open and the country continues to ease its Covid curbs, a risk officials said they were willing to take given the rising number of vaccinations that have been administered. An average of about 2,700 new infections are being diagnosed each day, a slight decrease from recent weeks as the current outbreak ebbs.

"We should expect higher transmission rates, and infection cases in the coming days and weeks," said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, during a briefing with reporters on Monday. "However, while this is happening, we are also administering more booster shots and more people are also recovering safely from infection and become resilient to the virus."

It's only a matter of time before natural immunity and protection from vaccines will bring infection rates back down again, he said.

Currently, there are 13 countries, including the US, Canada and Italy, under the VTL program. Malaysia, Finland and Sweden will join the list on Nov. 29. Details on the travel arrangement with Malaysia will be available later this week.

The daily quota for those arriving in Singapore under the VTL program will increase to 10,000 when the latest countries are added to the list, from 6,000, according to the statement. As of Nov. 14, more than 24,000 vaccinated travelers have entered Singapore under these arrangements.

With 85% of its population fully inoculated, the country is trying to tread a path of reopening to rebuild its status as a hub and keeping a tight lid of infections that may overwhelm its health care system.

Passenger traffic at Changi Airport, Asia's second-busiest for international flights last year, was just 2% of pre-Covid levels in the first nine months of the year.

While Singapore Airlines Ltd. has been losing money due to the pandemic, the travel lanes are already benefitting the carrier. It carried 165,000 passengers in October, up from 136,000 a month earlier.

Singapore is allowing more migrant workers who have been confined to their dormitories to rejoin the community -- from 3,000 vaccinated workers per week to 3,000 per day.

Singapore is piloting the resumption of business events as well as sports and live performances with vaccination and testing. This begins with the Milken Institute Asia Summit and Bloomberg New Economy Forum this week, followed by a two-day charity concert later this month.

Officials say they're working toward a phased resumption of international events, such as the Formula One night racing event that drew droves of international visitors before the pandemic. Singapore is in talks with F1 management and the Singapore Grand Prix on a contract for a renewed term.

Authorities are looking to implement access control and checking systems at food courts to differentiate between patrons who are fully vaccinated and those who aren't inoculated. Once the systems are in place, up to five people living in the same residence can dine at those places. Currently, this rule only applies to restaurants.

US To Allow Fully Vaccinated Foreign Visitors From November 8

WASHINGTON, Oct 15: The United States will reopen its land and air borders on November 8 to foreign visitors fully vaccinated against Covid-19 -- ending a more than 18-month ban on travel from much of the globe that separated families, hobbled tourism and strained diplomatic ties.

The decision to ease restrictions was "guided by public health, stringent and consistent," said White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz in a tweet announcing the new policy.

He said the "announcement and date applies to both international air travel and land travel."

The new policy was quickly hailed by the European Union's ambassador in the US, Stavros Lambrinidis, who called it "important and very welcome news" and said in a Twitter post that more details were expected to follow.

In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, US borders were closed after March 2020 to travelers from large parts of the world, including the European Union, Britain and China, India and Brazil. Overland visitors from Mexico and Canada were also banned.

The months of restrictions affecting hundreds of millions of people helped fuel both personal and economic suffering brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But officials had previously outlined it, saying that vaccinated air passengers will need to be tested within three days before travel, and airlines will be required to put in place a contact tracing system.

US health authorities have said that all vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization would be accepted for entry by air.

At the moment, this includes the AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines.

Earlier this week, a White House source said the land border opening would happen in two phases.

Initially, vaccines will be required for "non-essential" trips -- such as visiting family or tourism -- though unvaccinated travelers will still be allowed into the country for "essential" trips as they have been for the last year and a half.

A second phase beginning in early January 2022 will require all visitors to be fully vaccinated to enter the United States by land, no matter the reason for their trip.

The new schedule means the land border restrictions, which had been set to expire on October 21, will have to be extended one more time before the new rules enter into force, the White House official indicated.

Despite the strict border closures, the United States has not yet mandated vaccines for domestic air travel.

10-Day Quarantine For UK Visitors In India's Tit-For-Tat Move: Sources

NEW DELHI, Oct 1: All British citizens arriving in India from Monday will face a mandatory 10-day quarantine irrespective of vaccination status, said sources in the government, in a reciprocal measure over the UK's hugely controversial similar rules for residents of several countries including India.

"From October 4, all UK nationals arriving in India from the UK, irrespective of their vaccination status, will have to undertake three COVID-19 RT-PCR tests - within 72 hours before travel, on arrival at the airport, and on Day 8 after arrival, and mandatory quarantine at home or in the destination address for 10 days after arrival in India," sources said.

Described as discriminatory and even "colonialist", the UK government has faced intense backlash over its refusal to recognise visitors as vaccinated unless they received their shots in a handful of select countries.

Under travel rules unveiled last month, fully dosed arrivals from several nations are being allowed to enter England without quarantine starting October 4. But vaccinated people from vast swathes of the world still face tougher restrictions, including a 10-day home isolation period.

India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla called the rules "discriminatory" and warned that "reciprocal action" may be warranted.

The UK adjusted its policy to include the Covishield shot widely used in India as an approved vaccine, but India still isn't on the list of acceptable places to receive a dose. As a result, people who received Covishield in the UK count as vaccinated, while those who got it in India do not.

British officials said last week that the issue was not the vaccine itself but the issues with India's "vaccination certification" process and the two sides announced "progress" in recognising each other's certificates after high-level talks.

Dr RS Sharma, CEO of India's National Health Authority said certification after coronavirus vaccinations in India is a centralised national system managed through the CoWIN app and portal and there are "no issues" with the platform which is entirely compliant with World Health Organisation standards.

In a statement on Friday, a spokesperson for the British High Commission reiterated its position saying, "The UK is continuing to work on expanding the policy to countries and territories across the globe in a phased approach. We are continuing to engage with the Government of India on technical cooperation to expand UK recognition of vaccine certification to people vaccinated by a relevant public health body in India."

"The UK is open to travel and we're already seeing a lot of people going from India to the UK, be it tourists, business people or students. Over 62,500 student visas have been issued in the year ending June 2021, which is an increase of almost 30% as compared to the previous year. We want to make the process of travelling as easy as possible," the statement said.

Australia To Ease 18-Month International Border Restrictions From November

SYDNEY, Oct 1: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday announced an 18-month ban on Australians travelling abroad will be lifted from next month, easing one of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions imposed globally.

Reopening the international border for citizens and permanent residents will be linked to the establishment of home quarantine in Australia's eight states and territories, Morrison said, meaning that some parts of the country will reopen sooner than others.

The first phase of the plan will focus on citizens and permanent residents being allowed to leave Australia, with further changes expected to permit foreign travellers to enter the country.

"It's time to give Australians their lives back. We've saved lives," Morrison said during a televised media conference. "We've saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country."

Morrison slammed the international border shut in March 2020. Since then, only a limited number of people have been granted a permit to leave the country for critical business or humanitarian reasons.

Citizens and permanent residents have been allowed to return from abroad, subject to quota limits and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their own expense. There have also been a few high-profile exceptions granted for entry for business purposes, including Hollywood actors to film movies and TV shows.

Morrison said he expects the first home quarantine systems to be up and running in November, but the timetable will be set by individual states and territories.

He has previously said it wants all state and international borders reopened when the national vaccination rate for people aged over 16 reaches 80%, expected by the end of next month.

However, a Delta variant-fuelled outbreak that has locked down the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra for weeks has divided state and territory leaders. Some presiding over virus-free parts of the country have indicated they will defy the federal plan.

Under the plan announced on Friday, Australians who are fully vaccinated will be able to travel abroad and complete a 7-day quarantine at home on their return. People who are not vaccinated will be required to undertake 14 days of quarantine at a hotel when they return.

Morrison said his government was working towards quarantine free travel with countries such as New Zealand when "safe to do so".

An Australian government source said plans were being discussed to allow foreign visitors to enter the country, but it was not possible to yet state a timetable.

Australia's strict border closure has been credited with keeping both fatalities and infections relatively low. It has recorded just over 107,000 COVID-19 cases and about 1,300 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The country on Friday reported 2,084 new COVID-19 cases, the bulk of which were detected in New South Wales and Victoria states. The results marked a small decline in case numbers from those reported one day earlier, but authorities warned against complacency.

Australia will also expand its list of authorised COVID-19 vaccines, allowing thousands of citizens and permanent residents still abroad to return via the home quarantine system, Morrison said.

Australia currently only recognises vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. The source said China's Sinovac and Covishield, a version of AstraZeneca's vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, would be added to the list.

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