The Latest: Governor bans vaccine passports for Montana



HELENA, Mont. – Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has issued an executive order banning the development or use of vaccine passports in Montana.

Vaccine passports are documents that could be used to verify coronavirus immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine.

The move by Gianforte on Tuesday comes as vaccine passports have drawn criticism as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices. Gianforte says in a statement that he encourages all Montana residents to get vaccinated but that it is “entirely voluntary.”

Vaccine passports have been implemented in New York but the White House has said there will not be any federal vaccine passport program.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

VACCINES: More than 122.2 million people, or 36.8% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 75.3 million people, or 22.7% of the population, have completed their vaccination.

CASES: The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks 65,785.4 on March 29 to 68,959.6 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

DEATHS: The seven-day rolling average for daily new deaths in the U.S. did not increase over the past two weeks going from 1,001 on March 29 to 962.4 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

– US suggests ‘pause’ on Johnson & Johnson shots over blood clot reports

– South Africa halts J&J; vaccine shots; Europe rollout delayed

– Muslims open Ramadan with communal prayers in socially distanced contrast to empty mosques of a year ago

India reels from explosive virus surge, affecting world vaccine supply

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

HOLLAND, Mich. – A western Michigan restaurant owner who spent four nights in jail for violating coronavirus-related orders is firing back weeks later with a demand that $15,000 in fines be refunded and contempt findings dropped.

An attorney for Marlena Pavlos-Hackney said her rights were violated during a contentious court hearing on March 19.

State regulators yanked Pavlos-Hackney’s food license in January for serving indoor diners and breaking other rules related to preventing the spread of COVID-19. But the restaurant, Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria in Holland, stayed open in defiance.

Pavlos-Hackney refused to turn herself in to face a contempt hearing. She was arrested and spent four nights in jail until authorities were convinced that her restaurant would stay closed.

Attorney Robert Baker, who wasn’t hired until Pavlos-Hackney was arrested, said a judge questioned her without recognizing that she had a lawyer. He said there was “no testing of any evidence” or an opportunity to cross-examine or produce witnesses.

A message seeking comment was sent to the attorney general’s office.

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AMSTERDAM – The Dutch government has presented a roadmap for relaxing coronavirus lockdown measures, but caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte is stressing that it is still too early to ease restrictions.

In a nationally televised press conference Tuesday, Rutte said hospitals in the Netherlands are as crowded with COVID-19 patients now as they were during the first wave of the pandemic last year and that it would be irresponsible to relax the country’s months-long lockdown now.

The government had previously said it hoped the first relaxation could have started April 21, but Rutte said that was too soon.

Earlier Tuesday, the Dutch public health institute said the number of new coronavirus infections rose 6% over the past week to 51,240, with the largest increase in positive tests recorded among children aged 13-17 years.

The increase comes despite the months-long tough lockdown in the Netherlands including a nighttime curfew, closed bars and restaurants and shuttered public institutions like museums and zoos.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. health insurance customers may receive higher premium rebates than normal later this year partly because insurers had less care to cover after COVID-19 arrived in 2020.

Some individual insurance customers could receive premium credits or rebates of nearly $300 on average, according to an analysis of government data from the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to give customers refunds or premium credits if they don’t spend certain percentages of the premiums they collect on care and costs related to it.

Kaiser’s analysis noted that last year hospitals and other care providers canceled surgeries and non-essential care early in the pandemic and then during subsequent COVID-19 spikes.

Kaiser Vice President Cynthia Cox said nearly half of customers in the individual market receive these annual rebates. Some people with employer-sponsored coverage also may get rebates that they share with their company.

Rebate totals will be finalized later this year. They generally are then delivered by the end of September. The totals will vary by market and depend on factors like whether an insurer has already offered premium breaks to counter the drop in care.

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WASHINGTON – The nation’s capital city joined a growing list of states in suspending the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine that’s become the focus of a federal examination of rare blood clots.

District of Columbia health director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt says she’s not aware of any cases of dangerous blood clots among the 16,000 Washingtonians who had received the J&J; one-dose vaccine before the temporary halt recommended by federal health authorities.

“This pause means that the system is working properly,” Nesbitt says.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, echoed Nesbitt, saying Americans who’ve recently received a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine shouldn’t be anxious about the pause. Fauci called it a “testimony to how seriously we take safety.”

J&J; said in a statement Tuesday it was aware of the reports of blood clots, but that no link to its vaccine had been established.

A CDC committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the cases. The FDA has launched an investigation into the cause of the clots and low platelet counts. There have been six reported clots among the 6.8 million shots administered.

U.S. health authorities cautioned doctors against using a typical clot treatment, the blood-thinner heparin. “In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous and alternative treatments need to be given,” the FDA and CDC say.

Washington state, Idaho, California, Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada and Alaska are among the states that have temporarily halted or have recommended pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson shot amid the investigation.

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BERLIN – South Africa has suspended giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a “precautionary measure” following the FDA decision in the U.S. to pause the use of the vaccine while rare blood clots are examined.

All six cases were in women between ages 18 to 48, including one who died. The unusual clots occurred six to 13 days after vaccination.

South Africa has given more than 289,000 shots of the J&J; vaccine to the country’s health workers without any reports of blood clots, Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize says.

He says South Africa is halting the use of the J&J; doses “out of an abundance of caution.” He expects the questions regarding the J&J; vaccine should “be cleared within a matter of days.”

Recently, the blood clot reports prompted several European Union countries in the 27-nation bloc to limit the AstraZeneca vaccine to older age groups.

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OTTAWA, Ontario – The Public Health Agency of Canada says it has received a report of an adverse event involving blood clots after someone in Canada received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

This is the first such reported case in Canada. The federal agency says the person is recovering at home. The vaccine was the one produced at the Serum Institute of India.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is approved for those 55 and over in Canada. Several European countries decided in recent weeks to limit their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to older people because of concerns the vaccine may be linked to rare blood clots in younger populations.

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ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a partial lockdown during the first two weeks of the Muslim month of Ramadan to curb coronavirus infections reaching record levels.

In a televised address following a Cabinet meeting, Erdogan says the government was re-imposing bans on intercity travel, barring people above age 65 and those below 18 from using public transport, re-adjusting public sector shifts and working hours, closing down sports and leisure centers and expanding nighttime curfew hours to combat the surge in infections.

Weddings, engagement parties and other crowded gatherings will be barred until after a holiday that follows the month of Ramadan. He warned of stricter measures should the new restrictions fail to bring the infections down.

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BERLIN – Johnson & Johnson says it is delaying the rollout of its coronavirus vaccine in Europe amid a U.S. probe into rare blood clots.

The announcement came after regulators in the U.S. say they were recommending a “pause” in the administration of the single-dose shot to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots.

The delay is another blow to vaccination drives in European Union member nations, which have been plagued by supply shortages, logistical problems and concerns over unusual blood clots in a small number of people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The blood clot reports prompted several countries in the 27-nation bloc to limit the AstraZeneca vaccine to older age groups, who are more at risk from serious illness when infected with the coronavirus.

The EU ordered 200 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in 2021. Britain ordered 30 million doses of the J& J shots, although U.K. regulators have not yet approved its use.

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WASHINGTON – The Pentagon says it is immediately pausing the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, amid reports of potentially dangerous blood clots.

The announcement came as Johnson & Johnson says it is delaying the rollout of its vaccine in Europe, and U.S. regulators recommended a “pause” in the administration of the shot.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says the department is reviewing its distribution of vaccines to address the issue and will continue to provide other shots to defense personnel.

In a joint statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced it was investigating clots in six women in the days after vaccination, in combination with reduced platelet counts. More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J; vaccine have been administered in the U.S.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the Food and Drug Administration’s acting commissioner, said earlier Tuesday the agency “expects it to be a matter of days for this pause.”

Regulators say they want to educate patients and medical professionals about spotting and treating the clots. The clots were observed along with reduced platelet counts, making the usual treatment for blood clots, the blood thinner heparin, potentially “dangerous.”

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PARIS – France suspended all flights from Brazil on Tuesday amid mounting fears over the particularly contagious coronavirus variant that has been sweeping the South American country.

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the suspension to parliament.

Although France has seen comparatively few known cases of the P.1 variant striking Brazil, the ravages it is causing in Latin America’s largest nation are increasingly raising alarm bells in France.

Castex noted travelers from Brazil already needed to test negative for the coronavirus before their departure and upon arrival in France and quarantine for 10 days. But the government has been facing mounting calls from health experts for a flight suspension to further limit potential spread.

The country is struggling with another wave of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations that is straining hospitals in Paris and elsewhere.

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NEW DELHI – India is experiencing its worst pandemic surge, with average daily infections exceeding 143,000 in the past week.

The spike is particularly alarming because India is a major vaccine producer and a critical supplier to the U.N.-backed initiative that aims to help distribute shots fairly. Already the rise in cases has forced India to focus on satisfying its domestic demand and delay deliveries elsewhere.

When infections began plummeting in India in September, many concluded the worst had passed. Masks and social distancing were abandoned, while the government gave mixed signals about the level of risk. Then cases began rising again in February.

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Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.





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How Adelaide Hills in South Australia has recovered since the bushfires


It was just five days before Christmas 2019 when residents in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia were delivered a blow no one saw coming.

As much of the rest of the world was preoccupied with last-minute shopping and fussing with plans for the festive season, in the Adelaide Hills, thousands of residents suddenly found themselves in the fight of their lives.

A rapidly moving and uncontrolled bushfire ripped through the Cudlee Creek area in the Mount Lofty Ranges, destroying more than 25,000 hectares in a single day.

In an interview for a new video series supporting bushfire-affected communities, Open for Business, Adelaide Hills resident Carly said the catastrophic bushfire took the region by surprise.

RELATED: ‘Fifteen years of work gone in 10 minutes’

RELATED: Horror moment town had been waiting for

“We were all very unprepared,” she said.

“The fire was so wind-driven and so erratic. It was just moving so quickly.”

By the time the Adelaide Hills fires came under control, one person had died, about 80 homes in the region were lost, multiple businesses were in ruins and the entire population was shell-shocked and shattered.

“It was just devastation,” Mount Barker mayor Ann Ferguson said.

“It’s just so challenging mentally to comprehend that you’ve lost it all. It is just incredible when you think about these industries that have to bounce back.”

The Adelaide Hills, just east of the South Australian capital, is particularly famous for its wines.

About a third of the region’s wine production was believed to have been wiped out as the deadly flames ripped through vineyards, including at Simon Tolley Wines, where 90 per cent of the property was affected by fire.

The region’s famous apple and pear growers and other primary producers were equally devastated.

“About half a dozen growers lost a significant part of their orchard,” Cam Stafford, the owner of Stafford Orchards, said.

“And (they have) the challenge of whether they remove those or regenerate them somehow.”

The spirited local community rallied quickly around the region’s growers and farmers, as well as residents who had lost their homes and possessions to the bushfires. But local woman Carly noticed there was something crucial that was missing in the post-bushfire response.

“After the fires I felt there was so much help for adults in the mental health recovery, but I remember thinking, what about our children?” she said.

Worried about how the kids of the Adelaide Hills were coping with the trauma of the fires, she founded the Facebook group Bushfire Kids Connect to offer specific and unique support to them.

“(It’s) a community group that is actually led by our children, and what we do is we create fun events and educational workshops to assist and connect children in the Adelaide Hills region that helps in their recovery journey after the fires,” she said.

“Connection is the key to resilience, and so we’re connecting our children by injecting fun back into their lives.

“Without realising it, these children of Bushfire Kids Connect today will actually be mentors in helping children of future fires in Australia.”

More than a year on from the bushfire, the Adelaide Hills region is well and truly rebuilding itself back to life.

Simon Tolley Wines, which had almost all of its vineyard affected by fire, planned to open a cellar door this month in a signal of how it has thrived beyond the 2019 tragedy.

“We’re really looking forward to that, and that will really be a start of a real recovery for us,” owner Simon Tolley said.

Mount Barker mayor Ann Ferguson said it was clear locals were getting back on their feet.

“They are very aware of the value of what they have to give to the community through the produce they make,” she said.

“It’s so rewarding to see that we can be so resilient and helpful of one another to make sure they’re building better than what they had.”

And that’s where the rest of Australia comes in – there’s no better time to visit this once-again thriving community, and experience the towns, culture, jaw-dropping natural landscape and world-class produce of the Adelaide Hills region, just a stone’s throw from the Adelaide CBD.

“We want (people) to come pick our strawberries, we want them to come and taste our wine, we want them to eat our juicy pears and apples, devour our cheese and chocolates,” Carly said.

“We want them to come and support our local community.”

“There is nowhere like the Adelaide Hills,” Mr Stafford from Stafford Orchards said.

“There are some fantastic places here in the hills. There are beautiful views, but also fantastic little glens and things to explore – and don’t forget the personalities.

“We have every ingredient here for a fantastic holiday.”



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Canary Islands hotel offers shelter to migrants in need



PUERTO RICO DE GRAN CANARIA, Spain (AP) – When hotel director Calvin Lucock and restaurant owner Unn Tove Saetran said goodbye to one of the last groups of migrants staying in one of the seaside resorts they manage in Spain’s Canary Islands, the British-Norwegian couple didn’t know when they would have guests again.

They had initially lost their tourism clientele to the coronavirus pandemic, but then things had taken an unexpected turn.

A humanitarian crisis was unfolding on the archipelago where tens of thousands of African men, women and children were arriving on rudimentary boats. The Spanish government – struggling to accommodate 23,000 people who disembarked on the islands in 2020 – contracted hundreds of hotel rooms left empty due to the coronavirus travel restrictions.

The deal not only helped migrants and asylum-seekers have a place to sleep, it also allowed Lucock to keep most of his hotel staff employed.

But the contract ended in February and thousands of people were transferred out of the hotels and into newly built large-scale migrant camps. Or so they thought.

“We realized that we had a queue of people standing outside when we closed the doors,” said Saetran, a former teacher, in a recent interview with The Associated Press at the Holiday Club Puerto Calma in southern Gran Canaria.

Some of the “boys,” as she calls them, had ended up on the streets after being expelled from government-funded reception centers. Others had chosen to leave the official system fearing overcrowded camps and forced returns to the countries they fled from. With the rooms still empty, Saetran said she couldn’t sleep knowing the migrants would be left on the street.

So they reopened the hotel doors again, this time at their own expense.

“They were very scared, they didn’t have anywhere to go, and there wasn’t any other solution,” said Saetran who has lived in the Canary Islands with Lucock since the ‘90s and has a Spanish-born daughter.

Today, the family, with the help of some of the hotel staff and other volunteers, provide food through Saetran’s restaurant, shelter through the hotel and care to 58 young men, including eight unaccompanied minors, mainly from Morocco and Senegal as well as other West African countries, who fell out of the official migrant reception and integration system for one reason or another.

One of them is Fode Top, a 28-year-old Senegalese fisherman who left his country in search of better work in Europe last November. The fish in Senegal, he says, have disappeared from the ocean following years of industrial fishing by Chinese and European vessels. Nowadays one can hardly make a living being a fisherman.

To make matters worse, Top’s 3-year-old son needed life-saving and expensive heart surgery. To pay medical bills, Top borrowed money he wasn’t able to pay back, resulting in threats.

“If I return to Senegal I will have problems. Many problems,” Top said.

The official camps have also been plagued with problems, with reports of overcrowding, insufficient food, unsanitary conditions and lack of legal and medical assistance. Most recently, police intervened with rubber bullets in the largest camp on the island of Tenerife after a fight broke out between two groups of residents.

The Canary Islands and their year-round sunny beaches normally attract millions of northern European tourists each year. But for the migrants at Puerto Calma, staying in the hotel is no vacation. The islands were just meant to be a stepping stone toward stability, security and employment in continental Europe, not their final destination. Today, it is a place of limbo for thousands who were denied access to the Spanish peninsula and live in waiting, unable to work and send money back to their families.

“They’ve come here looking for a better life, one of the reasons I came to Spain,” said 57-year-old Lucock. There’s only one difference: “They are not born with a European passport so they can’t travel in the same way I can.”

On a recent evening, as they ate dinner, Saetran got a text message: Six young men, including alleged minors, had been sleeping in the streets of Las Palmas for days. She looked at her husband, who runs the hotel, for approval. He rolled his eyes and took a deep breath.

The next day, the six boys arrived at the hotel carrying their belongings in plastic bags. Saetran and Lucock welcomed them and gave them two rooms. Both of them know the hotel won’t be able to shelter migrants forever, but for now they have a place to sleep.

“If we can play a small part in making them feel safe and secure while they are here, then I feel like we’ve achieved something,” Lucock said.

As the men wait month after month to either move north or be returned south, Lucock and Saetran try to keep them busy. Volunteers come three times a week to give English and Spanish classes. The athletic ones play soccer on the beach or run up the mountain with locals. There’s also a lot of checkers and card games.

The couple says they hope to continue helping young migrants even after tourism kicks off again, and are setting up a charity.

“In our culture we have so much that we forget to appreciate the small things,” Saetran said.

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“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times – stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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Guests can apply to review hotel quarantine


Hotel quarantine guests in Victoria will now be able to apply to have their mandatory period of detention reviewed by lawyers.

Under the move, overseas arrivals would be permitted to appeal a case against quarantine from next Tuesday, with an independent panel of lawyers to make the determinations.

The entire process would take no longer than 24 hours and falls into line with recommendations handed down by Judge Jennifer Coate at the damning Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry.

The right to appeal also reflects the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment State of Emergency Extension Act 2021.

“A person who is subject to detention under section 200(1)(a) may make an application to the secretary for a review by a detention,” it reads.

“The detention review officer must use their best endeavours to decide the application and advise the applicant in writing of the decision and the reasons for it within 24 hours after the application was received by the secretary.”

Lawyers with more than 10 years of experience would act as the detention review officers, with all applications referred to an officer immediately after they were made for review.

Detention review officers then must make a decision within 24 hours of receiving the application or refer it to the chief health officer to make a final decision.

People detained in hotel quarantine can make multiple applications.

Exemptions to leave quarantine can still be granted, including on compassionate grounds, such as people wishing to attend a funeral or visit a dying relative, or on medical grounds.

Victoria banned international flights in mid-February after Premier Daniel Andrews announced a snap five-day lockdown.

The shutdown was prompted by a coronavirus outbreak linked to the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport hotel that resulted in the more virulent UK strain of the virus leaking from the quarantine system into the community.

But Victoria restarted hotel quarantine on Thursday with a rigorous new approach that involved dividing hotels into “red and green zones” – representing the level of infection risk – with staff performing rigorous hand hygiene as they transitioned between zones.

Victoria has recorded just one coronavirus case since the state’s new hotel quarantine program resumed.

The man in his 40s, who arrived on a flight from Doha on Thursday, tested positive for COVID-19 and was transferred to a health hotel on Friday night.

Victoria’s Department for Health has been contacted for comment.



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Qantas sticks to international travel plan despite COVID vaccine delay


Australia had been aiming to open its international borders beyond New Zealand from the end of October.

But after Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged that the majority of Australians will not be vaccinated against COVID-19 until next year, plans for airlines to be flying overseas was once more thrown into limbo.

In February, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce announced at the airline’s half-yearly trading update that both Qantas and Jetstar international flights would make a comeback from October 31 in line with the government’s expected completion of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

RELATED: International travel for Australians likely won’t return until 2024

RELATED: What AstraZeneca changes may mean for overseas travel plans

But despite the revised vaccination advice, Australia’s largest airline still has its eyes on international flights making a return well before Christmas.

In a statement released late on Monday, Qantas said it was “closely monitoring the recent developments in the rollout of vaccines in Australia”.

“The government has not updated its timeline for the effective completion of the vaccine rollout and at this stage there’s no change to the planned restart of our international flights,” a Qantas spokeswoman said.

“We’ll continue to have dialogue with the government.”

RELATED: Vaccine side effects compared as Australia changes rollout

The announcement comes after a revelation last week advising that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was no longer recommended for under-50s, due to a small risk of blood clots developing in some recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccination.

As a result, the Pfizer jab will be encouraged for those under the age of 50.

As a result, there are concerns the changed advice will inevitably cause a major setback in the vaccine rollout plan, which Mr Morrison hoped to see every willing citizen vaccinated by the end of October.

The setback comes just days after Australian residents were given their first taste of overseas travel normality – with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the trans-Tasman travel bubble will be open from April 19.

The new corridor will means Australians can travel over the ditch and into New Zealand without needing to enter mandatory hotel quarantine.

The announcement of the travel bubble between both nations was dubbed by Ms Ardern as a world first of sorts, and an “important step” in post-pandemic recovery.

Qantas will significantly increase its trans-Tasman flying next week following the opening of the two-way bubble between Australia and New Zealand, with as many as 150 flights a week.

Earlier this year, Professor Brendan Murphy said he was hopeful international travel would be on the cards again from 2022, after vaccine programs were completed in Australia and rolled out extensively around the world.

However this week, Deloitte Access Economics’ latest quarterly business outlook predicts international travel won’t fully return until 2024, as international borders open slowly until then.

On top of that, Deloitte said quarantine for arrivals would likely remain in some form for years, as efforts continue to stop the virus being imported back into the country.

Deloitte economist Chris Richardson said that would have a bearing on overseas travel getting back to what it was pre-COVID.

“That keeps international travel – both inbound and outbound – pretty weak in 2022, and it may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024,” he said, according to 7 News.

Deloitte’s quarterly forecast was prepared prior to Australia’s national vaccine rollout hitting a setback last week, which could further dampen expectations about the return of overseas travel.



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Scott Morrison warns reopening international borders as COVID-19 remains rampant ‘dangerous’


Scott Morrison has warned reopening Australia’s international borders while COVID-19 remains rampant could trigger a “dangerous situation” as criticism mounts over his vaccination rollout.

While stopping short of abandoning plans to reopen international borders on October 31, the Prime Minister’s comments suggest that international flight bans and restrictions for tourists may last even longer than expected.

“It’s not safe right now to open up our international borders. Around the world, COVID-19 is still rife,” the PM said in a Facebook Live.

“We are still seeing increases in daily cases, particularly in the developing world. We’re seeing that right now up in Papua New Guinea, for example, where we’re reaching out to give them a helping hand.

“But around the world, it is still a very dangerous situation because of COVID. We’ll keep moving quickly to vaccinate our most vulnerable population and we’ll keep those borders closed for as long as we have to, but only as long as we have to, and we’re already right now preparing for what it looks like when we can open up again.”

The Prime Minister has been accused of retreating into his Facebook bunker and refusing to come out after spending 24 hours defending his “bungled” vaccine rollout online.

Mr Morrison announced on social media on Sunday that he would scrap existing targets to vaccinate the majority of Australians, declining to mark the major announcement with an official statement.

On Monday night, he took to Facebook again to complain that “a lot of people have had a lot to say about it.”

He insisted Australia still had a lot to be thankful for compared to other countries and the fact that COVID was not running rampant gave us more options for the vaccine rollout.

RELATED: PM scraps COVID vaccination deadline

But Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said it was about time the Prime Minister stopped hiding on Facebook and fronted the media and the public.

“It’s frankly unbelievable that, at a time when Australians are crying out for clear information about the vaccine rollout, Scott Morrison has retreated to Facebook instead of fronting up to scrutiny,” Mr Butler said.

“This is Scott Morrison’s most important job for the year — get Australia vaccinated — and people deserve to know how and when that will happen.”

The Prime Minister said on Facebook on Monday night that he wouldn’t say what the targets were anymore in terms of getting everyone vaccinated by the end of the year.

“Now, I’ve been asked a bit about what our targets are. One of the things about COVID is it writes its own rules,’’ he said.

“You don’t get to set the agenda, you have to be able to respond quickly to when things change. And it’s certainly the case over the course of this past year, we’ve had to deal with a lot of changes. We’ve just had one recently regarding the medical advice on AstraZeneca.

RELATED: Overseas travel may not be back until 2024

“Now, I want to stress, particularly for those over 50, it is essential that we encourage you to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. The medical advice is very strong in supporting those over 50 getting the AstraZeneca vaccine because it protects you, because you are vulnerable to COVID-19.

“And for those who are under 50, particularly when we get to that point in the second half of this year, we have put together a vaccination program that is delivered through your GPs. See, you trust your GPs with your health. We trust your GPs with your health. That’s why we’ve chosen to predominantly distribute the vaccination program through your GP. So you can ask your questions, you can make the decisions about your health with the person you most trust about your health, your General Practitioner.

“Now, there are other distribution methods that we’re using, particularly with the states and territories, and we’ll put those also to good use over the course of this year, particularly when we’re moving to the balance of the population where there will be the opportunity later in the year, I think, to do things at a more ramped up scale.”

The Prime Minister’s revelation that it could take until mid-year to complete the first two phases of the vaccine rollout for people aged over 60 appears to be in stark contrast to original predictions that everyone in aged care would be vaccinated by Easter.

Earlier, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there were tragically 11,000 COVID deaths in the world in the last 24 hours but none in Australia underlining our success in controlling outbreaks.

Professor Kelly said the timetable was to get the first two phases — frontline workers, aged care workers and over 70s — vaccinated by mid year.

“By mid year, we want to get those completed,” he said.

“The rest, with this new information we have over the last few days, we need to recalibrate what we are doing with the program. I won’t give a number or date. But we absolutely committed to providing the vaccine to anyone, any adult Australian, who wants the vaccine. As quickly as possible.”



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Sidelined last year, the Met Gala is returning – twice



The Met Gala is coming back. Actually, twice.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Monday that the annual high-wattage celebration of both fashion and celebrity — held virtually last year because of the pandemic — will return in person, first in September, then again in 2022 in its usual slot of the first Monday in May.

The galas, a “more intimate” version Sept. 13 of this year and a larger one on May 2, 2022, will launch a two-part exhibition, to be on view for almost a year.

“In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” opening Sept. 18, will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the museum’s Costume Institute and “explore a modern vocabulary of American fashion,” the museum said. Part two, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” will open in the museum’s popular American Wing period rooms on May 5, 2022, and will explore American fashion, with collaborations with film directors, by “presenting narratives that relate to the complex and layered histories of those spaces.” Both parts will close on Sept. 5, 2022.

There was no immediate word on who the celebrity hosts, or chairs, would be for the galas, traditionally a heady mix of luminaries from fashion, music, film, TV, sports and other arenas. The first gala in September will be smaller, and held in accordance with government coronavirus guidelines. The second next May is intended to be larger, in line with previous galas.

The gala is a major fundraiser, providing the Costume Institute with its primary source of funding.

“Fashion is both a harbinger of cultural shifts and a record of the forces, beliefs, and events that shape our lives,” said Max Hollein, director of the Met, in a statement. “This two-part exhibition will consider how fashion reflects evolving notions of identity in America and will explore a multitude of perspectives through presentations that speak to some of the complexities of history with powerful immediacy.”

As always, the exhibits will be the work of star curator Andrew Bolton. “Over the past year, because of the pandemic, the connections to our homes have become more emotional, as have those to our clothes,” he said in his own statement. “For American fashion, this has meant an increased emphasis on sentiment over practicality.”

He said that in accordance with this shift, Part One of the exhibition will establish “a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on the expressive qualities of clothing as well as deeper associations with issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

As for Part Two, it will “further investigate the evolving language of American fashion through a series of collaborations with American film directors who will visualize the unfinished stories inherent in The Met’s period rooms.”

Online: www.metmuseum.org/InAmerica

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Greece pins hopes on mandatory home testing, opens schools



ATHENS, Greece (AP) – High schools have reopened in Greece to students in the final three grades with the mandatory use of test kits for COVID-19 being rolled out across the country to help with mass screening for infections, with an eye to further reopening the economy and tourism.

Students from grades 10 to 12 were allowed to return to class Monday – most for the first time in five months – if they provided a negative test result using the kits being distributed at pharmacies. Some teachers chose to hold classes outdoors.

Students in other grades continued online classes.

The kits “are a valuable screening tool,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. “Some 613 students and teachers were found to be positive, most of them showing no symptoms, and are staying at home and not exposing their classmates and colleagues to danger.”

Greece’s center-right government is keen to start reopening the economy and its crucial tourism industry after lockdown measures were imposed in early November. But the rate of infections and death has remained high since early February, with mortality currently above the European Union average.

Self-test kits are being made available on a weekly basis at no charge to all residents registered with the public health service, with the use to be made mandatory for workers in various sectors including food delivery and retail.

The government plans to officially launch the tourism season in mid-May. With less than 7% of the population fully vaccinated, the government has promised to ramp up its campaign through the rest of April.

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Art exhibit in Blue Mountains


Setting off on a bushwalk, you’re bound to see all kinds of interesting things and discover unique stories.

But the Blue Mountains takes things to the next level.

Tucked away in the ancient rainforest in the heart of the World Heritage-listed area you’ll find a bushwalk littered with important messages – and a bit of actual litter too.

It’s not leaf litter or rubbish careless bushwalkers have left behind – it’s strategically crafted art that tells its own story.

Sculpture at Scenic World transforms the rainforest into a captivating outdoor gallery and it’s back this year after a two-year hiatus.

Featuring bold installations mindfully curated to suit the environment they sit in, the exhibit showcases 25 world-class artworks from established and emerging artists.

Each sculpture tells its own story and many provide a serious message.

Simone Leonelli’s ‘The Drop’ reminds visitors of the real crisis we are facing outside of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are currently too busy suffering the pandemic implications that we have almost lost our attention to climate change,” the Italian designer based in Sydney says.

“Unfortunately climate change will be a much bigger challenge.

“There is no vaccine for our planet and the solutions to fix it can’t be instantly applied.

“We can still make a difference with our actions – the ocean is made up of drops.”

RELATED: How the Blue Mountains recovered from the flames

Visitors get to the sculptures on the world’s steepest railway, one of the best parts of a visit to Scenic World which has the iconic Three Sisters as a backdrop.

Free trail guides for the kids will keep them guessing on their nature-based adventure.

Sculpture at Scenic World curator Justin Morrissey says the exhibition provides a memorable way for families to unplug from digital distractions and enjoy quality time together these school holidays.

“The Blue Mountains puts on a show in autumn and Sculpture at Scenic World ticks all the right boxes for a weekend getaway that creates lasting memories,” he says.

“It’s a privilege to collaborate with such a high calibre of artists to create an iconic outdoor exhibition that resonates with visitors of all ages.”

RELATED: What to see and do on your next Blue Mountains NSW holiday

Visitors can also extend their Blue Mountains discovery with a range of exclusive accommodation packages available from $98 per person for a two-night stay.

That way they can also take advantage of the spectacular new Katoomba Falls Night-lit Walk which has sent social media into a frenzy.

Sculpture at Scenic World is open until May 2 and entry includes access to the exhibition and travel on the Scenic Railway, Cableway and Skyway.

Visitors also get access to Sculpture Otherwise at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, an indoor exhibition of smaller works.

There’s also Twist & Shout, an outdoor exhibition of larger works which invites visitors to explore iconic locations in the Blue Mountains, including the Fairmont Resort & Spa, Braemar Gallery, Mountain Heritage Hotel, and the Carrington Hotel.

Tickets are priced from $49.90 for adults and $27.90 for children under 14 years. Online early bird savings also apply for entry before 10am during the school holidays.

Scenic World is also currently accepting Dine & Discover NSW vouchers, providing $25 off entry to Sculpture at Scenic World. Vouchers can also be used for food and beverage purchases on site.



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Virgin Australia offering triple Velocity points for flights booked before Anzac Day


Pandemic lockdowns, border closures and suspended international travel has made it pretty difficult to earn frequent flyer points over the past year.

But for the next couple of weeks, Virgin Australia’s Velocity members will be able to give their points tallies a massive boost.

Velocity members can earn triple the usual number of Velocity Points on eligible domestic flights they book between today, April 12, to Sunday, April 25.

This means members will earn 15 points for every $1 spent on the flights.

While there are only 13 days to take advantage of the triple points offer, the flights booked during that period can be taken any time between June 1, 2021 and March 8, 2022.

So you’ll have to jump in quick to book, but you’ll have almost an entire year to take the flight.

There is no limit on the number of flights members can book, however the promotion only applies to “eligible” flights.

RELATED: Why most Aussies won’t get Anzac Day off this year

RELATED: Hundreds of flights to NZ go on sale

According to the terms and conditions, an eligible flight is a “domestic flight marketed and operated by Virgin Australia, except where a domestic flight is flown as part of an international journey”.

It also must be booked and ticketed in a fare class that normally accrues Velocity points.

To take advantage of the offer, Velocity members will need to activate it on the Velocity website or app, and simply book an eligible flight by April 25.

The offer is one of the ways airlines are looking to get passengers back in the air after the COVID-19 slowdown.

“Velocity Frequent Flyer is continuously looking at ways to reward our more than 10 million loyal members and our triple points offer is a really great example of that,” the airline said in a statement.

“Loyalty works both ways and just recently we had our largest number of domestic flight bookings in the one day in our 20-year history and so we’re saying thank you by offering this fantastic offer to encourage Velocity members to explore Australia.”



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