The government’s next update to the traffic light travel restrictions is likely to take place on Thursday (16 September).

And the most recent government briefings indicate that the current system restricting travel to the UK is likely to be dismantled soon.

The UK has by far the highest infection rates for any major country in Europe, yet it also imposes the strictest rules on arrivals.

A total of 62 nations and territories are on the UK”s “red list,” representing a total population of well over one billion people.

Appearing on the red list is effectively a travel ban, with arrivals from those countries required to go into 11 nights of hotel quarantine once in the UK – at a cost, for a solo traveller, of £2,285.

So which countries might leave the club – and which nations should join?

Tim White, the Covid data analyst who tweets as @TWMCLtd, has trawled through the genomic sequencing records held by Gisaid, the worldwide database, with a focus on variants of concern.

He will be on hand to answer all your latest travel questions around the upcoming announcement and what might happen to the traffic light system in coming weeks during a live ‘ask me anything’ event being held on this page today (14 September).

Join Tim at 4pm today, 14 September, when he’ll be on hand to answer your travel questions about all the latest rules and restrictions live.

Register to submit your question in the Comments below. If you’re not already a member, click “sign up” in the Comments box to leave your question.

Don’t worry if you can’t see your question – they will be hidden until Tim joins the conversation to answer them.

Then join us live on this page from 4-5pm as he tackles as many as he can within an hour.

SAIPAN — The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is looking at the possibility of establishing travel bubble programs with other tourism markets, including Japan.

Gov. Ralph Torres on Monday said that he had spoken with Japanese Consul Kazuhiko Ono regarding the vaccination rate in Japan.

He noted that Japan’s vaccination rate is based on the entire population, while the U.S. rate measures those who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, or individuals 12 years old or older. 

Marianas Visitors Authority Managing Director Priscilla Iakopo on Monday said the MVA board has approved the creation of a Japan Tourism Resumption Investment Plan, or TRIP, ad hoc committee to be chaired by Hyatt Regency Saipan General Manager Nick Nishikawa.

Iakopo said MVA also is communicating with its Japan office to begin discussions with travel partners in Japan.

She said MVA was told that Japan currently is focusing on controlling the coronavirus in the Asian nation.

“When they’re able to control that, I guess, they’ll start discussions with us,” she added.

Last week, she said she spoke with Skymark Airlines, which had to suspend its Japan-Saipan flight service because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re still asking for our patience,” Iaokopo said, referring to Skymark Airlines. “Once they’re ready to resume travel again, whether that will be domestically or internationally, we will be on standby.”

Could vaccines be mandated for U.S. air travelers?

It was reported by the Washington Post that White House Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci is in support of a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel.

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“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people, that you should be vaccinated,” he told theSkimm in a recorded interview.

The U.S. Travel Association disagreed with Fauci, noting that travel precautions used by airlines to control the spread of COVID-19 are already sufficient.

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“The science—including studies from the Harvard School of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Defense—overwhelmingly points to the safety of air travel as long as masks are worn. And with the federal mask mandate for all forms of public transportation and U.S. airports extended through January 2022, proper tools are already in place to enable safe air travel for Americans,” said U.S. Travel Association executive vice president of public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes.

The association maintained that there should be no mandates for vaccinations for domestic travel.

“Such a policy would have an unfair, negative impact on families with young children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine,” noted Emerson Barnes. “While U.S. Travel does not endorse a national vaccine mandate, we continue to believe that vaccines are the fastest path back to normalcy for all, and we strongly encourage all who are eligible to get a vaccine immediately to protect themselves, their families and their neighbors.”

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Auckland is now in its fourth week of level-four lockdown – the strictest level of restrictions – with the rest of the country leaving lockdown last week.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Auckland was likely to move to level-three restrictions next week, but it could be weeks before the current COVID-19 cluster is eliminated.

Based on that, any resumption of Australia-New Zealand travel may not be possible before Christmas.

Key market for Queensland

A total of 66.5 per cent of NZ’s eligible population (those aged 12 years and over) have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and 34 per cent have had both doses.

Australian Tourism Minister Dan Tehan has flagged international flights for double-vaccinated Australians to a number of destinations could be on the cards by the end of the year.

“Well, they’ll be all part of the discussions that we’ll be having, especially as we seek to set up travel bubbles once we hit that 80 per cent double vaccination rate, and looking at those requirements,” Mr Tehan told ABC on Monday.

He said some countries required travellers to get a test three days before arrival and then tested when in the country, while others rely on rapid antigen tests at airports.

“So, there’s various ideas and thought being put into this, and they’ll be part of the discussions that we’ll continue to have as we seek to set up travel bubbles, once we hit that 80 per cent double vax rate,” he said.

The Morrison government is also working on vaccination passports for incoming passengers.

But tourism-reliant states such as Queensland are keen to reopen the existing trans-Tasman travel bubble once it is safe.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said there was no reason why there should not be travel from New Zealand to Queensland and vice versa once the current outbreaks are under control.

New Zealand is a key market for Queensland tourism operators, with a large number of Kiwi relatives living in regions such as the Gold Coast.

“We certainly would like to see travel with New Zealand activated. It would be highly desirable,” Mr Gschwind said.

“Queensland and New Zealand are very compatible markets.”

  • Brits are working again, as new data shows the number of employees has returned to pre-pandemic levels
  • But the travel industry is bracing for a wave of redundancies once furlough support ends
  • JD Sports’ US expansion has paid off, as demand for sports fashion booms

UK labour market regains pre-pandemic strength

The UK jobs market is booming, but will the impending end to furlough temper its expansion?

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed another 241,000 employees were added to UK payrolls in August, taking the total number of people in work to 29.1m – a level last recorded in February 2020. Meanwhile the number of job vacancies during the three months to August reached 1.03m, breaching the 1m mark for the first time and around a quarter of a million higher than the number of vacancies between January and March 2020.

For those who have been holidaying in the UK over the summer and noticed the number of job ads in restaurant windows, it will come as little surprise that the sector which saw the biggest rise in vacancies was accommodation and food service. Vacancies here rose by 75 per cent, although the increase may drop as seasonal factors fall away. 

Those in work are still enjoying strong pay growth. Average pay was up 8.3 per cent in May to July, although the market is being distorted by a decline in low-paying jobs and sharp wage inflation in sectors where there are severe shortages of workers, such as haulage.

But the big question remains: what effect will the ending of furlough support later this month have on the jobs market? The ONS reported that more than 1m people were still being supported by the furlough scheme at the end of August. GD

Read more: 

Is there a national labour shortage?

What does the lorry driver shortage mean for supermarket earnings?

Save travel industry by ending harsh rules, says ABTA

When the government does withdraw coronavirus job support, travel companies are likely to be hit harder than most. The UK’s leading travel agency body warned today that the industry faces a wave of redundancies when the furlough scheme ends later this month.

The Association of British Travel Agents argued the government should kill its current traffic light system, maintaining only a red list for the highest risk destinations. It also called for the end of expensive PCR testing for vaccinated travellers returning from “lower-risk countries”. New foreign holiday bookings this summer were down 83 per cent on 2019, ABTA said, while 58 per cent of holidays booked for July and August had to be postponed or cancelled. 

The government is reportedly considering changing testing requirements, and the traffic light system could end within weeks. But the industry is demanding action soon. On Monday, Heathrow Airport said that its August traffic figures were down 71 per cent compared to 2019, adding it had gone from being Europe’s busiest airport to only the 10th busiest. AH 

Further reading: 

EasyJet

Government briefings indicate that the current “traffic light” system that restricts travel to the UK is likely to be dismantled soon.

The UK has by far the highest infection rates for any major country in Europe, yet it also imposes the strictest rules on arrivals.

A total of 62 nations and territories are on the UK”s “red list,” representing a total population of well over one billion people.

Appearing on the red list is effectively a travel ban, with arrivals from those countries required to go into 11 nights of hotel quarantine once in the UK – at a cost, for a solo traveller, of £2,285.

So which countries might leave the club – and which nations should join? Tim White, the Covid data analyst who tweets as @TWMCLtd, has given his expertise to The Independent.

He has trawled through the genomic sequencing records held by Gisaid, the worldwide database, with a focus on variants of concern.

Staying on red

Fourteen nations, says Mr White, are likely to remain on red: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Egypt, French Guiana, Montenegro, Philippines, Seychelles, Suriname, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia.

Mr White offered this commentary: “Brazil uploaded many hundreds of samples, but 41 per cent were Gamma.

“Chile reported 37 per cent of its sequenced positive cases were Gamma, while almost 10 per cent were Lambda and another 16 per cent were the most recent variant, Mu.

“Colombia will be kept red because of lack of quality data.

“Costa Rica uploaded only four samples, two of which were variants.

“Suriname and French Guiana are likely to stay red with Gamma variant circulating widely.

But, he added: “Most scientists believe most of the variants circulating in South America are not more likely to evade vaccines so there is an argument to allow them all off red.”

Elsewhere in the world, he said: “Montenegro is Europe’s most infected country.

“The Philippines registered an all-time record recently

“Seychelles has still quite high rates.

“Tanzania has never bothered reporting any samples to the collective, so it is almost certain to stay on red, more so considering the government’s attitude to the virus has been to pretty much deny its existence and punish people for posting things about it.

“Thailand submitted very little data. Given the fear over mutant strains and Beta in particular, I think Thailand will stay red until it can do more genomic sequencing.

“Tunisia had awful figures for number of travellers arriving into UK infected with Covid-19.”

Added to red

Tim White picked another 10 nations not currently on the red list which, he said, have high case rates or were “fibbing about figures”, meaning they should probably be added to the red list.

These were Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cote d’Ivoire, Fiji, Grenada, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Russia and Venezuela.

All of these are currently amber, except Grenada – currently on the “low-risk” green list.

Mr White speculates that Iran, Iraq and Russia have avoided the red list up to now “for political

The Cook Islands will not reopen travel to New Zealand until there has been no community transmission of Covid-19 for 14 days and travellers over 12 have been fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Mark Brown says.

Cook Islands borders have been closed to New Zealand for more than three weeks since the first Delta case was first reported on August 16 in Auckland.

The country’s government closed off travel immediately, only allowing Kiwis in the Cook Islands to return.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says his government is doing everything possible to protect the health of Cook Islanders and the country’s economy.

Ryan Anderson/Stuff

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown says his government is doing everything possible to protect the health of Cook Islanders and the country’s economy.

Brown said the decision by his Cabinet might be disappointing to many, but those people now had at least some indication of when tourism may resume.

READ MORE:
* Cook Islands tourism focus turns to Australia
* Cook Islands ready to host Kiwi tourists from May 1, says Prime Minister Mark Brown
* Fears Cook Islands will not be able to host as many visitors if two-way bubble doesn’t inflate soon

He said that at some point in the future, all countries would have to live with Covid-19. However, that time wasn’t now for Cook Islanders, as they closely monitor New Zealand’s Delta outbreak and vaccination programme.

Torika Tokalau/Stuff

Cook Islands hotel owner Richard Vinsen says the past 15 months have been difficult but he’s hopeful the New Zealand travel bubble will revive the country’s fortunes.

“As one of the few countries in the world that has managed to keep Covid-19 out, we do not want to do anything to jeopardise the safety of our people,” Brown said.

“While we acknowledge that at some point in the future all countries will need to learn to live with Covid-19, that time has not yet come.

“We do not want an outbreak here. The impact on our health resources as well as our economy would be devastating.”

Brown said his government was doing everything possible to protect the health and wellbeing of Cook Islanders as well as the country’s economy.

The Cook Islands closed its borders to New Zealand as soon as a community case was identified in Auckland in August.

RYAN ANDERSON/Stuff

The Cook Islands closed its borders to New Zealand as soon as a community case was identified in Auckland in August.

More than 300 Cook Islanders stranded in New Zealand would have to wait until at least next Tuesday to find out if they could return home.

Brown said his government was looking at repatriation flights from Christchurch for those outside of Auckland in level 2 areas, but no dates had been set yet.

Those travellers would need to provide a negative Covid-19 test 72 hours before departure, complete a Cook Islands managed return application form and undergo a seven-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival into Rarotonga.

Brown said because of the risk of Covid-19, Cook Islanders in Auckland had to wait for a drop to level 2 or below before being allowed to catch a flight home.

His Cabinet would continue to review new information and advice from its health authorities when vaccination numbers increase in

“The court imposed the penalties after finding Allianz and AWP engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct when selling travel insurance by failing to correctly state how premiums were calculated and by allowing insurance to be sold to ineligible customers,” said the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in a press release. (Photo: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg)

On Sep. 7, an Australian court fined two units of German insurer Allianz SE for A$1.5 million (US$1.12 million) for selling travel insurance to ineligible customers and not disclosing how premiums were calculated, Reuters reported.

The fine concludes a nearly year-long civil lawsuit that was filed on Sep. 30, 2020, by Australia’s corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). The lawsuit alleged that two of Allianz’s units, Allianz Australia and AWP Australia, engaged in misleading and deceptive practices when selling travel insurance by not providing consumers with correct information on how premiums were calculated and failing to prevent the sale of travel insurance on Expedia to consumers illegible to make claims under policies.

According to the ASIC, Allianz’s travel insurance policies sold through Expedia were sold upon the purchase of travel, such as a flight, and presented as “add-on insurance” where consumers could add travel insurance to their travel product purchase.

The ASIC also claimed the Allianz units misused a quote from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the importance of purchasing travel insurance.

“ASIC is committed to improving the outcomes for Australian consumers who purchase insurance. The insurance industry needs to be transparent and accurate when selling and promoting their products,” said ASIC Deputy Chair Sarah Court in a release, adding: “The community expects that the insurance industry will promote and sell products in a transparent way. People take out travel insurance for peace of mind and to protect their families. The value of an insurance policy is in the promise — that a consumer can feel confident and secure that they will be looked after if something goes wrong. ASIC remains committed to ensuring that consumers’ experience matches that expectation.”

In October 2020, ASIC secured A$10 million (US$7.37 million) from Allianz to compensate approximately 31,500 consumers who were missold travel insurance through Allianz’s website or through distributions patterns, such as Expedia.

The courts considered the early remediation efforts from Allianz when determining its fine, the ASIC said.

Related: 

Dr Anthony Fauci has backed the idea of banning unvaccinated people from air travel in the US.

“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people, you should be vaccinated,” Dr Fauci, the director of the US’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Skimm This podcast, according to The Hill. The podcast was taped last week and is set to be released on Thursday.

The support from Dr Fauci, who earlier led the Covid-19 task force, comes days after Democrat representative Don Beyer introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to make a proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours from travel a requirement to board an airline or a train.

Mr Beyer, the representative from Virginia, introduced The Safe Travel Act in the House on Thursday.

“Requiring airport and Amtrak travellers and employees to provide a proof of Covid vaccine or negative test is just common sense,” Mr Beyer said on his bill. “These are easy steps we can take to make travel safer, as companies like United have already demonstrated with responsible policy changes.”

Earlier in August another Democrat, New York representative Ritchie Torres, also pushed a bill to require Americans to get immunised or tested before travelling. In his letter to the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, Mr Torres said such a requirement was “common sense”.

On Friday, the White House refused to rule out the introduction of such a policy. “I think we have a very strong track record that shows we’re pulling available levers to acquire vaccinations and we’re not taking any measures off the table,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said.

So far, 54 per cent of Americans have been fully vaccinated, while 63 per cent have received at least one dose, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. Over 35 per cent, or nearly 80 million, Americans are unvaccinated.

President Joe Biden said last week that vaccine hesitancy, which remains a major hurdle for the US, has cost the country a great deal. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Mr Biden said. “And your refusal has cost all of us. So, please, do the right thing.”

KUALA LUMPUR, 14 SEPTEMBER 2021 – The Langkawi travel bubble which has been well-received by Malaysians since its announcement last week will be a catalyst towards the revival of tourism and the AirAsia Group intends to play a strong role in further solidifying the return of travel.

As the transformation of AirAsia into a digital travel and lifestyle group is now complete, travellers can now book their ride to the airport and within Langkawi island, confirm their flights and accommodation to Langkawi, as well as complete their duty-free shopping all within one platform – the airasia Super App, at unbeatable value and prices.

For a start, AirAsia Malaysia (flight code AK) will be resuming its flights to and from Langkawi with 90 weekly flights departing from Kuala Lumpur (63x weekly), Penang (14x weekly), Johor Bahru (7x weekly), Ipoh (3x weekly) and Kota Bharu (3x weekly). More routes will be added and frequencies increased as the travel demand grows in tandem with the reopening of more leisure destinations in the near future.

Guests can look forward to an improved, more exciting travel experience as the airasia Super App is collaborating with the Langkawi Development Authority to offer a new digitized and contactless duty-free shopping experience which will see an island-wide and same-day delivery across Langkawi hotels by the end of this month. Soon there will also be a full spectrum of fulfilment from inflight seat delivery, airport pickup apart from hotel and home delivery with 13 Asean retailers on board with airasia’s duty free offerings.

The airasia Super App which now offers e-hailing with the recent launch of airasia ride will also be operating in Langkawi beginning 16th September 2021. The airasia ride e-hailing service can be booked by clicking on the ‘Ride’ icon on the airasia Super App, or visitingairasia.com/ride.

Riad Asmat, CEO AirAsia Malaysia and Amanda Woo, CEO airasia Super App announced these initiatives at an online press conference held today, which was also attended by En Nasaruddin Abdul Muttalib, Chief Executive Officer, Lembaga Pembangunan Langkawi (LADA).

Riad Asmat, CEO AirAsia Malaysia said: ‘Since the government’s announcement of the Langkawi travel bubble’s SOP last week, we have seen very strong uptake for seats to Langkawi, especially with the RM12 low fares and RM99 SNAP deals by AirAsia. This clearly indicates a strong pent up demand for travel and AirAsia is committed towards working with the government, Tourism Malaysia, LADA and all tourism industry players to make this a success with more than 90 weekly flights to Langkawi. From an operational standpoint, we have prepared extensively and implemented robust and comprehensive health and safety protocols to ensure all of our guests can travel safely, while our crew can bring our guests to their favourite island destination safely as well.

‘Our self check-in system on the airasia Super App is our latest innovation that integrates data from certified healthcare providers to seamlessly verify a guest’s travel eligibility based on their test certificate and/or vaccination certificate. Our comprehensive travel