THE Commonwealth is willing to sign travel bubble agreements with its other tourist markets, but it will depend on their Covid-19 situation, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said.

“I know that it’s not as easy to work with other tourist destinations because of their Covid-19 situations, but we are open to other destinations,” he added. “But at the same time, our priority is our public health and [the] safety of our community so we continue to monitor other tourist destinations. Once they have achieved Covid-19 herd immunity percentages, then it will allows us to move forward in signing a new travel bubble agreement.”

The CNMI has a travel bubble agreement with its primary tourism market, South Korea, which, according to Reuters, “is in the middle of its worst wave of infections, but it has kept the number of severely ill cases under control through steadily rising vaccination rates.”

Reuters also reported that South Korea “is drawing up a plan on how to live more normally with Covid-19, expecting 80% of adults to be fully vaccinated by late October…. The country has not seen a significant increase in coronavirus deaths, with a mortality rate of 0.88%, largely due to high vaccination rates among the elderly and vulnerable. Severe or critical cases stood at 387 as of Tuesday.”

In July, the CNMI hosted a familiarization tour for South Korean visitors that included representatives of major travel agencies and six media and social media channels.

The group spent five days at the designated hybrid quarantine resort, then visited Saipan, Tinian, and Rota after testing negative on the fifth day after their arrival.

Participants gave rave reviews of their trip, stating that they had felt safe despite the still raging global Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Marianas Visitors Authority, the total estimated advertising value of the media fam tour was over $117,000.

The crew of the TV travel show Eudiny, also part of the fam tour, remained in the CNMI for another week and will produce nine one- to two-minute video clips based on their trip, MVA said.

Malaysia pilots tourism travel bubble in Langkawi on 16 Sep, to open more destinations once vaccination rate hits 80%

The average vaccination rate in each state is expected to reach 80% of the adult population by the end of September 2021, and Prime Minister Ismail Sabri believes Malaysia could hit 100% vaccination by end-October.

A travel bubble could soon be underway for selected tourist destinations in Malaysia, once vaccination rates in each locality hits 80%, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has shared.

This programme will first begin with Langkawi Island on 16 September.

In the same vein, the Prime Minister said based on updates by the COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Access Assurance Committee (JKJAV), the average vaccination rate in each state is expected to reach 80% of the adult population by the end of September 2021. As at 2 September, 65.9% of the adult population has completed their vaccination regime.

PM Ismail added: “I believe the 100% vaccination rate will be achieved by the end of October 2021, thus providing protection to the Malaysian Family. Citizens and entire Malaysian families also need to be prepared to live with COVID-19 as an endemic after October, when vaccinations are expected to be fully completed.

“Therefore, the Ministry of Health Malaysia is requested to present appropriate new pandemic and endemic strategies other than compliance with Standard Operating Procedures alone.”

Apart from the above, the Prime Minister also shared that starting tomorrow (Saturday, 4 September), Melaka will move to Phase Two of the National Recovery Plan, while Negeri Sembilan will move to Phase Three.

Last, he announced that the special meeting on COVID-19 will now be known as the Special Committee on Pandemic Management. “The Special Committee involves representatives from opposition parties. This approach is one of the collective efforts to involve all stakeholders to ensure that the country’s recovery goes as planned, in line with the spirit of the Malaysian Family.”

Photo / 123RF

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A number of countries are tightening travel restrictions against people from the United States in light of the new guidance from the European Union, but at least one member state – Portugal – plans to remain open for now. 

The EU removed the U.S. from its safe travel list on Monday, a move that signaled that travel restrictions should no longer be eased for Americans given the country’s COVID-19 case counts. August was the fourth-worst month for cases in the U.S., with almost 4.22 million new coronavirus cases reported.

In light of the news, EU member state Bulgaria announced it would move the U.S. into its “red zone” and prohibit travel from the United States as the country faces its fourth surge of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, all people from the U.S., regardless of vaccination status, cannot enter Bulgaria. There are a number of exemptions, including travelers with Bulgarian or EU citizenship. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State Department have each labeled Bulgaria as a Level 3 destination, meaning unvaccinated Americans are advised to “avoid nonessential travel” to the country. Bulgaria reported more than 10,600 new COVID-19 cases in the past week and has more than 16% of its adult population fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

Other countries have been tightening restrictions on American travelers. Earlier this week, Italy updated its entry requirements so that vaccinated travelers from the U.S. would have to take a pre-departure coronavirus test and unvaccinated travelers would have to test for the virus multiple times and self-isolate at least five days. 

Portugal plans to stay open to US travelers

Meanwhile, EU member state Portugal will remain open to U.S. tourists, according to a press release from Visit Portugal, the country’s tourism authority.

“Portugal has confirmed that discretionary, non-essential travel is still allowed, provided visitors present a negative COVID-19 test result at boarding and entry into the country,” the statement reads. 

The CDC suggests avoiding travel to Portugal due to its COVID-19 rates. The country has more than 73% of its adult population vaccinated and reported more than 15,100 new cases in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

► Can Americans visit Europe this fall?:It’s complicated, after the EU decision. What travelers need to know.

► EU takes US off safe country list:Recommends Europe travel restrictions tighten for Americans

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz

Malaysia plans to reopen the tourist haven of Langkawi islands as it renews efforts to rebuild parts of the economy worst hit by the pandemic.

Langkawi, in the state of Kedah, will open to locals under a travel bubble plan from Sept. 16, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said in a statement Thursday. Other destinations will be allowed to operate when the locality’s vaccination rate hits 80%, he said. 

Malaysia is preparing for life with Covid even as daily cases remain elevated, mirroring Thailand’s tourism-reopening plan based on a pilot project in the popular resort island of Phuket. Covid-19 will be treated as endemic and it is time for Malaysians to learn to live with the virus, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said at a briefing on Wednesday.

New infections have soared despite the containment measures, hitting a record 24,599 in a single day late last month and turning the country into Southeast Asia’s Covid hotspot. The nation added 20,988 cases Thursday. Still, the virus’ effective reproduction rate, or R-naught, has fallen below 1 nationwide for the first time in few months, Ismail Sabri said, amid an increase in vaccination.  

More than 84% of the adult population has received at least one dose, and 64% has been fully inoculated, according to the health ministry. Based on projected data, the average vaccination rate among adults in each state is expected to reach 80% by month-end, and 100% by end of October, Ismail Sabri said. 

“Eventually we have to live with Covid as is the case around the world,” he said.

Meantime, Melaka state will move into the second phase, and Negeri Sembilan into the third stage of the national recovery plan from Saturday after meeting the threshold limits in reducing Covid infections, the prime minister said.

The decision was made by the National Security Council, which will now be renamed as the Special Committee on Pandemic Management, he said. The committee will include representatives from opposition parties as well.

Kinship, a butcher shop, neighborhood market, and cafe, along with former Irwin Street Market coffee bar Academy Coffee, are now open at the VA-HI building in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood.

Co-owned by Myles Moody and Rachael Pack, Kinship sells whole-animal butchered meats, in-season produce, and other ingredients from local farmers and food producers. The market also features a cheese counter and a selection of natural wines. Refrigerated cases also include daily meats and cheeses for sale, while the kitchen offers fresh stocks and broths as well as to-go breakfast and lunch sandwiches and specials throughout the day.

Prior to opening Kinship, Moody worked for Atlanta chef Linton Hopkins at both Holeman & Finch Public House and Restaurant Eugene and trained in the kitchens of restaurants like Eleven Madison Park, Atera, and Aska in New York City. Pack previously worked as a food writer and recipe editor for online travel and culture site New Worlder, before working as a sommelier for the Beatrice Inn and as the beverage manager and later general manager for Aska.

Joining Kinship is Moody’s brother Connan, who reopens his Irwin Street Market coffee bar Academy Coffee inside the marketplace. Academy is known for serving coffee and tea drinks that go beyond the usual latte and mocha, including the Space Cadet iced butterfly flower tea drink with jasmine and lemon and a cold brew concoction the B-Side with banana and basil. For those willing to take a risk with their coffee, the Surprise Me offers an on-the-spot original creation from Moody.

Academy Coffee menu at Kinship Butcher Sundries in Virginia-Highland, Atlanta

Academy Coffee

Academy Coffee and Kinship join Paolo’s Gelato and forthcoming pizzeria Pizza by the Slice in the circa-1910 building at the corner of Virginia and North Highland avenues. The latter is a Sicilian-style pizza joint owned by O4W Pizza proprietor Anthony Spina.

1019 Virginia Avenue, Atlanta. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Wednesdays.

Is your child interested in learning the game of soccer? Or would your child like to continue to play but not quite ready to commit to travel soccer? High Country Soccer Association is accepting registrations for youth players ages U6 to U15 for the fall season. The U6, U8, and U10 Academy programs are designed to teach kids the fundamentals of soccer and prepare them for travel soccer. The U10-U15 Challenge programs are designed for kids who have aged out of Academy but are not ready to commit to travel soccer.

High Country Soccer Association follows strict guidelines set by NC Youth Soccer, US Youth Soccer, and FIFA to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. HCSA also follows state, county, and town restrictions, and works with AppHealthCare to safely protect players and families from contracting or spreading the virus. Protocols can be read at

All Academy and Challenge Soccer programs will be held at the Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex on Brookshire Road in Boone. Each team will be assigned a licensed, paid coach. HCSA, which opened in 1986, offers soccer training to youth ranging from U6 to U18 and is a member of the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association. HCSA also offers travel team soccer, winter futsal youth training, summer camps, and adult leagues. In all, HCSA has more than 600 youth players and more than 300 adult players from Avery, Ashe, Caldwell, Wilkes, and Watauga counties.


U6 Academy: $65, 2 sessions per week, 6-week program, begins 8/30

U8 Academy: $120, 3 sessions per week, 8-week program, begins 8/31

U10 Academy: $195), 3 sessions per week, 10-week program, begins 8/30

U9-U14 Challenge: $75, 2 sessions per week, 6-week program, begins 9/2

U6 Academy is an age-appropriate, basic introduction to the game of soccer. It is a six-week program consisting of a weekly 45-minute session. Sessions are offered on Tuesday and Friday. Sneakers or soccer cleats are appropriate footwear. Each player needs to wear shin guards and should bring a size 3 soccer ball and water bottle to each session. Practice begins August 30.

U8 Academy is soccer with philosophy and curriculum taught by professional licensed coaches. It is an eight-week program consisting of a weekly practice (Tuesday and Wednesday) and weekly game (Friday). Soccer cleats are appropriate footwear. Each player needs to wear shin guards and should bring a size 3 soccer ball and water bottle to each session. Practice begins August 31.

U10 Academy is more advanced than rec soccer and is an introduction to travel soccer. It is a 10-week program consisting of practice twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and a weekly house match (Friday). There is also opportunity for Academy matches against similar Academy teams from clubs in our region of the state (limited travel, with the opt-out option to play on some Saturdays). Practice begins August 30.

HCSA Challenge Soccer is a recreational league for players U9-U15. It is a 6-week program suitable for all levels of experience,

TAP Into Another Town’s News:

DAYTONA BEACH — Jennifer Pickett was all smiles as she emerged from an interview at an open-house job fair this past week at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort.

Pickett, 45, who left her job as an assistant manager at a senior assisted living facility in Palm Coast in the wake of COVID-related stresses of 2020, was excited about the prospects of a hospitality career.

“I really think this whole area, Daytona Beach, is hopping again,” she said, following an interview that she hoped would lead to a job in reservations or customer service. “I think the Hilton is a classy, sophisticated hotel, with a great feel to it. I think it would be a great hotel to work for.

“There should be hundreds of people here,” she said. “I don’t know why there aren’t.”

Indeed, business is booming at Volusia County hotels this summer, with occupancy and tourism bed-tax collections topping the destination’s performance for pre-COVID 2019.

Hisa Tamura, a guest services employee, rolls a guest's luggage to their car during check-out on Monday at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort. The 744-room hotel, the largest in Daytona Beach, is among the Volusia County hotels struggling to hire workers as summer tourism is booming, a reflection of a national trend.

Tourism taxes climb:Collections for May reflect 52% jump over pre-pandemic May 2019

Help (really wanted):Volusia restaurants, hotels struggle to hire workers

 Yet many hotels are still struggling to hire employees to bolster workforces downsized by pandemic-related staff reductions a year ago.Only a trickle of applicants — a dozen or so — arrived over the first two hours of the Hilton’s job fair, a five-hour window for interviews about a wide range of jobs that included bartenders, cooks, front-deck supervisors, security officers, reservationists and other roles at the 744-room hotel, the largest in Daytona Beach.

“It’s really the whole gamut,” said Jordan White, the hotel’s Human Resources director. “Food and beverage, reservations, people support; it’s almost the whole hotel.”

To entice potential employees, the Hilton offered a perk to job fair applicants, a drawing to win a two-night stay at the hotel. Even so, the hallway outside the interview rooms in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom was quiet.

In greeting applicants, White also touted the hotel’s famed worldwide brand, its competitive wages and employee recognition programs and its standing as one of the marquee hotels on the World’s Most Famous Beach.

“More important is the people and the relationships that we build here,” she said.  

Potential job candidates participate in interviews for open positions at a recent job fair at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort. “I think the Hilton is a classy, sophisticated hotel, with a great feel to it," said Jennifer Pickett, of Palm Coast, among the day's job applicants. 
“There should be hundreds of people here,” she said. “I don’t know why there aren’t.”

‘It has to be better’: Job satisfaction low in hospitality industry

Despite all that, the Hilton is among the area hotels scrambling to fill open positions, a reflection of a national labor crisis that has hit the hotel and restaurant industry hard even as customers return in big numbers following the 2020 pandemic lockdowns.  

The reasons are tied to a variety of factors that include low wages, the availability of federal unemployment benefits and displaced workers who have moved on to other careers after losing jobs during the pandemic.

The impact of the latter is evident by the results of a newly released survey of more than 13,000 former hospitality workers by online employment-search firm Joblist. It shows that more than half of those workers did not want to return to the industry and more than

Gateway city: In spite of setbacks, Australia is determined to have a Singapore travel agreement by the end of the year. Photo / 123RF


In spite of the current state of the Transtasman bubble, Australia has said it is determined to open its borders to Singapore by the end of the year.

But what does this mean for New Zealand and other countries with adjacent safe travel agreements, such as the Cook Islands?

Speculation that a safe travel bubble with Singapore may be imminent was fuelled last week by Air New Zealand’s international flight scheduling update.

As well as a return to three flights a week for popular US ports – San Francisco, Honolulu and Los Angeles – Singapore saw a huge increase in capacity for Summer.

Auckland is scheduled to gain weekly flights to Changi Airport from October 31. By the end of November Christchurch Airport is set to gain five direct Singapore flights a week.

This huge uptick in capacity led many to believe the national carrier was jumping the gun.

Air New Zealand was quick to dismiss inside knowledge of a potential Singapore Bubble, saying that these flights were part of the extended ‘Maintaining International Air Connectivity’ MIAC programme.

Singapore Airlines say they remain flexible to 'meet the demand'. Photo / Supplied
Singapore Airlines say they remain flexible to ‘meet the demand’. Photo / Supplied

Seats on these routes are being subsidised in part by cargo freight and the Government scheme to keep air links afloat which otherwise would be unviable.

“Nearly 75,000 people have returned to New Zealand on flights supported by the scheme” said Transport Minister Michael Wood, who announced the latest round of the scheme in May.

53 per cent of the total number of people to pass through MIQ facilities have entered the country on these subsidised MIAC air links.

However, this summer schedule anticipates both that the MIAC scheme will be extended ( the current funding ends in October ) and that there will be a dramatic increase in demand for international travel between Singapore and New Zealand.

A spokesperson for Singapore Airlines told the Herald that their own summer schedule had not been released but that the carrier “will remain nimble and flexible in adjusting capacity to meet the demand for air travel.”

There are currently 10 passenger flights a week to Auckland and four passenger flights a week to Christchurch operated by SIA.

Airlines have no certainty when a new travel bubble will be announced, but they can be fairly confident of where it will be.

Australia has been clear that Singapore is next in line for a travel agreement.

Australia’s High Commissioner to Singapore Will Hodgman was firm that a bubble would be in place this year.

“Given the outbreak in Australia, the unpredictability of this virus, it is more likely that travel will be possible towards the end of this calendar year,” Hodgman told Bloomberg news last week.

The growing outbreak of the Delta variant is a spanner in the works.

Even so, it seems that Australia is

Finally, after weeks of refusing to tether himself to a timeline, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has laid out a firmer plan with loose dates attached for reopening the U.S.-Canada border to tourists.

Canada will begin welcoming fully vaccinated American non-essential travelers in mid-August, according to an official summary of a meeting between Trudeau and provincial leaders yesterday. The government is apparently planning to open the border to vaccinated U.S. travelers weeks before a broader re-opening to vaccinated travelers from other countries.

“The Prime Minister noted that, if our current positive path of vaccination rate and public health conditions continue, Canada would be in a position to welcome fully vaccinated travelers from all countries by early September,” according to the summary. “He noted the ongoing discussions with the United States on reopening plans, and indicated that we could expect to start allowing fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents into Canada as of mid-August for non-essential travel.”

MORE: Meet ArriveCAN: How To Use Canada’s Vaccine Passport When The Border Finally Reopens

The 5,525-mile border between the U.S. and Canada has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020. The closure has been extended on a month-by-month basis, and the current restrictions officially expire in five days, on July 21 — and are expected to be extended one last time.

For months, the prime minister has insisted that he is in no hurry to reopen the border, and has instead followed the recommendations of health experts for a slow, phased process based on vaccination rates and Covid-19 case counts. “We’re on the right path, but we’ll make our decisions based on the interests of Canadians and not based on what other countries want,” said Trudeau in late May.

The prime minister reiterated his ‘slowly, slowly’ messaging earlier this week, when he told reporters in Quebec, “As we have been every step of the way, we are going to be cautious and responsible and take things step-by-step.”

But Trudeau has also been clear that there will be a different set of protocols in place for travelers depending on their vaccination status, saying that it will be some time before unvaccinated international travelers will be allowed into the country.

“I can tell you right now that’s not going to happen for quite a while,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference earlier this month in British Columbia, noting that his “first focus” was how to reopen the border to travelers who have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Trudeau’s insistence on keeping travel restrictions in place along the U.S.-Canada border has drawn criticism from business leaders on both sides of the border, but he has maintained the support of the majority of Canadians.

According to a survey by the Angus Reid Institute, published just yesterday, nearly seven in 10 Canadians (69%) want the travel ban to remain in place until 75% of Canadians are