‘Light at the end of the tunnel’: New Zealand welcomes border reopening plans

New Zealand’s much-awaited, albeit cautious, roadmap for reopening its borders has given businesses and families a taste of hope for the future, though health experts warn that it is dependent on improving the country’s vaccination strategy to reach vulnerable communities.

The prime minister Jacinda Ardern laid out the reopening plans at a forum in Wellington on Thursday, 17 months after borders closed in March 2020.

Ardern indicated that, all going well, vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries will be allowed to skip quarantine and enter the country early next year. Travellers from medium-risk countries would undertake some form of self-isolation or a shorter stay in a quarantine hotel, while MIQ would still be required for those coming from high-risk countries, or those who are unvaccinated.

The proposals are contingent on an accelerated vaccine rollout in the next few months as the country seeks to avoid the lockdowns that are currently taking place in Australia.

Business leader and former chief executive of Air New Zealand Rob Fyfe said he felt encouraged that the strategy was “a clear signal of intent to open up”.


UK – France moves to amber list and green list expands


Fully-vaccinated passengers returning to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from France will no longer need to quarantine after Sunday.

Under widespread changes to the traffic light system for travel, France is being moved from amber-plus to amber.

It was added to the list last month amid concerns about the Covid Beta variant, which scientists believe may be more resistant to vaccines.

However the travel industry says the government has not gone far enough.

Germany, Austria and Norway are among seven nations being added to the green list as part of the changes.

Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been moved from the red list to the amber list. But Mexico is among four countries now considered to be among the highest risk destinations going on to the red list.

The changes from 04:00 BST on 8 August raise the total number of countries or territories on the green list – where all travellers can return from without having to quarantine – from 29 to 36.

Covid in Scotland: Most restrictions to end from 9 August


Almost all of Scotland’s remaining Covid-19 restrictions are to end from 9 August, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

Social distancing will be dropped in most settings, meaning more capacity in pubs and restaurants and larger crowds at sporting events and concerts.

And close contacts of those who test positive for Covid will no longer have to self-isolate – as long as they are fully vaccinated and test negative.

However, the wearing of face coverings in some public spaces will continue.

The first minister also said a “gradual approach” will be taken to returning workers to offices, warning that the virus still poses “real challenges”.

While the changes would restore a “substantial degree of normality”, she said they do not “signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as we knew it”.

She said: “Declaring freedom from or victory over this virus is in my view premature.”

The number of new Covid-19 cases has fallen markedly from the peak of the “third wave”, with Ms Sturgeon saying the infection rate had fallen by two-thirds since early July.

The percentage of tests coming back positive has also fallen, as has the number of patients being admitted to hospital and intensive care wards with the virus.

The first minister said uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine had been “exceptional”, and that this – along with the fall in cases – made it possible to lift most of the legal restrictions still in force.

From Monday, 9 August, the current limits on the number of people who can meet up will be dropped, as will social distancing rules in most settings.

Covid pandemic in UK ‘could largely be over by October,’ says Professor Neil Ferguson


The Covid-19 pandemic in Britain will largely be over within three months, a leading epidemiologist predicted on Tuesday.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, believes cases are now “plateauing”. He is still urging “caution” as there could be a new peak after lockdown laws were scrapped last Monday.

But he stressed vaccines had “fundamentally changed” the equation in combating the disease.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The effect of vaccines has been huge in reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death and I’m positive that by late September, October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic.

“We will still have Covid with us, we will still have people dying from Covid but we will (have) put the bulk of the pandemic behind us.”

New York City announces ticker tape parade for Covid-19 pandemic heroes


New York City will hold a ticker tape parade to celebrate the health care staff, first-responders and other essential workers who got the city through the Covid-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

The event will be the first official parade hosted in the city since the pandemic began early last year.

The parade will be held July 7 on the Canyon of Heroes parade route in downtown Manhattan and will include groups of essential workers marching and standing on floats.

The mayor said the event is meant to celebrate “the people who kept us alive, the people who kept this city going — no matter what.”

It will be “a day to celebrate and appreciate the heroes who often go unsung,” de Blasio said, calling it “a parade you will remember for the rest of your life.”

The announcement comes as the city has a Covid-19 positivity rate of just 0.59% — setting a new record for the city’s lowest rate since tracking that statistic, de Blasio said. Now, about 65% of adults have had at least one Covid-19 vaccine, and the average daily deaths is in the single digits.

Germany takes US, Canada off travel risk list, most others from July


Germany no longer classifies some regions, including the United States, Canada and Austria, as areas of a high coronavirus risk, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said on Friday.

The RKI listed 19 countries and regions that are “no longer considered risk areas” thanks to their low coronavirus infection rates.

Countries that have been removed from the travel risk list include Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Cyprus, Kosovo, Lebanon, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine and the US.

Some regions in Portugal, Norway, Croatia, Greece and Switzerland are also no longer considered risk regions by Germany.

Travelers entering Germany by plane must provide a negative test result, proof of vaccination or proof of recovery before their departure, whether or not they spent time in a risk area, the RKI said.

The decision takes effect on June 13.

UK to donate more than 100m surplus vaccine doses, says PM


Boris Johnson says the UK will start donating coronavirus vaccines to poorer countries in the next few weeks.

More than 100 million surplus doses will be delivered in the next year, he announced ahead of the G7 summit.

US President Joe Biden has promised 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccines to 92 low and middle-income countries and the African Union.

Five million doses will be given by the UK by the end of September, with 25 million more by the end of the year.

The prime minister said: “As a result of the success of the UK’s vaccine programme we are now in a position to share some of our surplus doses with those who need them.

“In doing so we will take a massive step towards beating this pandemic for good.”

He said he hoped his fellow leaders at the summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, which starts on Friday, would “make similar pledges so that, together, we can vaccinate the world by the end of next year”.

Israel to drop indoor mask requirement on June 15, as daily cases near zero


The Health Ministry announced Sunday that the requirement for masks to be worn indoors will be lifted on June 15, marking the end of one of the only major coronavirus restrictions remaining in Israel.

For the time being, schools will be excluded from the easing of limitations, with children still required to wear masks in class, since the majority of those under 16 have yet to be vaccinated.

The ministry said that if the declining trend in morbidity continues and the campaign to vaccinate 12- to-15-year-olds, which began Sunday, succeeds, there would be another discussion to consider dropping the mask requirement in schools as well.

Announcing the decision at a Sunday government ceremony recognizing the efforts of health workers during the pandemic, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said, “At the peak of morbidity, five months ago, there were over 10,000 cases a day; yesterday, there were only four cases.”

Chicago, Illinois enter full reopening with nearly all COVID restrictions lifted


Illinois and Chicago have entered Phase 5 and are fully reopen, with nearly all COVID restrictions lifted.

Chicago is now the largest city in the country to fully reopen. As of Friday, there are no capacity limits for bars, restaurants, gyms, or other large venues and no social distancing requirements.

Masks are still required on public transportation, in airports, at schools, in hospitals and in some other congregate settings. However, businesses can make their own rules when it comes to masking and distancing.

Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement Thursday: “I invite all Illinoisans to feel the hope and joy of this moment while also recognizing that this pandemic is still very present for the world at large… As we take this next step forward, let’s do so with a renewed commitment to empathy, to community, and to making each day together count. You did it, Illinois.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady and other city leaders spoke on the reopening Friday morning outside Gibsons Italia.

“Due to the incredible progress we’ve made in our mission to stop the spread of COVID-19, I am thrilled to announce that we are able to safely transition into Phase 5 and become the first major city in the country to fully reopen,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “Our ongoing vaccination efforts, which prioritize equity and inclusion, have made a remarkable difference in our COVID-19 journey and have resulted in the lowest positivity rate since the beginning of the pandemic. This progress, as well as ongoing initiatives such as Open Chicago, have allowed us to safely lift capacity limits and reconnect our residents back to the activities they love the most. With today’s announcement and even more residents continuing to do their part and get vaccinated, we are one step closer to being able to put this pandemic in our rearview mirror.”

France is back: Borders reopen to American tourists, others


After “a very bad year,” Paris tour operator Marc Vernhet sees a ray of light with the promised return of tourists from the United States and elsewhere who are welcome in France as of Wednesday if they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

His agency,, is starting to get bookings again from Americans for its sightseeing tours conducted in quirky, bug-eyed Citroen cars. June is still very lean, but July is looking better, Vernhet said as France took the first steps toward rebuilding its position as a top destination for foreign tourists.

Before the pandemic, Vernhet ran three or four tours of the capital per day. The work dried up when France locked down, and he’s only doing around three tours per week now, nearly exclusively for French visitors. Vernhet hailed the reopening of France’s borders for vaccinated tourists as “excellent news” but said it is going to take a few more weeks for business to pick up and that “I’m not expecting to work correctly before mid-July.”

“We’ve been waiting for this for months and months,” he said.

To be allowed in for tourism, Americans and other visitors from most countries outside of Europe will need to show that they have been fully inoculated against the coronavirus with vaccines approved by the European Union’s medicines agency.

France’s acceptance of only the Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccines means tourism isn’t immediately coming back from the lucrative markets of China and Russia, which use vaccines not approved by the European Medicines Agency.

Without one of the those four vaccines, most non-EU visitors will still need to prove that they have a compelling reason to visit France and must quarantine on arrival.

But European visitors and those from a handful of low-risk countries are being welcomed back with open arms, even if they are not vaccinated. These so-called “green” countries include Japan, South Korea and Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, Lebanon and Israel. All EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are also “green.” Vaccinated tourists from these countries can waltz right in; the unvaccinated need a recent negative test.

“Treat yourself, reserve now,” France’s tourism minister, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, said in a video message Wednesday.