U.S. to lift curbs from Nov. 8 for vaccinated foreign travelers – White House

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Friday announced it will lift travel restrictions for fully vaccinated foreign nationals effective Nov. 8, at land borders and for air travel.

Curbs on non-essential travelers at land borders have been in place since March 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Reuters first reported the announcement earlier on Friday.

Restrictions on non-U.S. citizens were first imposed on air travelers from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to dozens of other countries, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.

The United States had lagged many other countries in lifting such restrictions, and allies welcomed the move. The U.S. restrictions have barred travelers from most of the world, including tens of thousands of foreign nationals with relatives or business links in the United States.

The White House on Tuesday announced it would lift restrictions at its land borders and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated foreign nationals in early November. They are similar but not identical to requirements announced last month for international air travelers.

Unvaccinated visitors will still be barred from entering the United States from Canada or Mexico at land borders.

Canada on Aug. 9 began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors for non-essential travel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Reuters last week the United States will accept the use by international visitors of COVID-19 vaccines authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization.

There are still some remaining questions to be resolved, including how and what exemptions the Biden administration will grant to the vaccine requirements.

The White House announced on Sept. 20 that the United States would lift restrictions on air travelers from 33 countries in early November. It did not disclose the precise date at the time.

Starting Nov. 8, the United States will admit fully vaccinated foreign air travelers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. The unprecedented U.S. restrictions have barred non-U.S. citizens who were in those countries within the past 14 days.

The United States has allowed foreign air travelers from more than 150 countries throughout the pandemic, a policy that critics said made little sense because some countries with high COVID-19 rates were not on the restricted list, while some on the list had the pandemic more under control.

The White House said last month it would apply vaccine requirements to foreign nationals traveling from all other countries.

Non-U.S. air travelers will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding a flight, and will need to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Foreign visitors crossing a land border will not need to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

The CDC plans to soon issue new rules on contact tracing for international air travelers.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by John Stonestreet, Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)

Here’s what we know about how U.S. will lift travel restrictions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration plans to ease in early November COVID-19 pandemic-related travel restrictions that have barred people from much of the world from entering the United States starting in early 2020.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still must issue a formal order that will provide details on the new rules and when they will begin.

Here is a look at the U.S. travel restriction policy.

WHO CAN TRAVEL TO THE UNITED STATES?

– The United States will lift travel restrictions on 33 countries including China, India, Brazil, Iran, South Africa and most of Europe for travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 that were imposed starting in early 2020.

– Travelers will still need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of departing for the United States.

– Until the new rules take effect, most foreign nationals who have been in the 33 countries for 14 days prior to departure cannot travel to the United States.

– Foreign nationals from all countries, with few exceptions, will need vaccinations to travel to the United States by air.

– The CDC has not yet said whether foreign nationals who recently had COVID-19 and are not currently eligible to be vaccinated will be allowed to travel to the United States.

WHAT VACCINES WILL BE ACCEPTED?

– It is not certain what vaccines the CDC will accept beyond the three already authorized in the United States – those from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – or what proof must be presented. The Biden administration told airlines on Tuesday that it was still deciding what vaccines will be accepted.

– The CDC pointed to its prior guidance when asked by Reuters what vaccines it will accept. “The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated with any FDA-authorized or approved vaccines and any vaccines that (the World Health Organization) has authorized,” spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said.

WHAT ROLES WILL AIRLINES PLAY?

– It is expected that travelers will need to sign a form attesting to their vaccination and airlines will check passengers’ documents to certify compliance with the vaccine rules.

– Airlines currently check for proof of a negative COVID-19 test before travelers depart.

– The CDC will also issue new contact-tracing rules before the restrictions are lifted that will require international passengers to give email and phone contact information so public health authorities can reach them if needed, including if they are seated near someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

WHAT HAPPENS TO UNVACCINATED AMERICAN TRAVELERS?

– Americans traveling from abroad who are not vaccinated will face tougher rules than those who are vaccinated, including needing to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel and proof of purchasing a viral test to be taken after arrival. Vaccinated Americans must show proof of a negative test within three days of returning to the United States.

– Exceptions from the vaccine requirements include children not yet eligible for shots.

– The Biden administration expects humanitarian exemptions will be granted for certain foreign nationals who agree to be vaccinated upon arrival in the United States, according to a White House official and a document seen by Reuters. The Biden administration expects such exemptions will be very limited.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. data show rising ‘breakthrough’ infections among fully vaccinated

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Some 25% of SARS-CoV-2 infections among Los Angeles County residents occurred in fully vaccinated residents from May through July 25, a period that includes the impact of the highly transmissible Delta variant, U.S. officials reported on Tuesday.

The data, published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly report on death and disease, shows an increase in so-called “breakthrough” infections among fully vaccinated individuals.

The CDC is relying on data from cohorts, such as the Los Angeles County study, to determine whether Americans need a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines to increase protection. Government scientists last week laid out a strategy for booster doses beginning on Sept. 20, pending reviews from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC.

The new data released on Tuesday involved more than 43,000 reported infections among Los Angeles County residents aged 16 and older. Of them, 10,895, or 25.3%, occurred in fully vaccinated persons, 1,431, or 3.3%, were in partially vaccinated persons, and 30,801, or 71.4%, were in unvaccinated individuals.

The vaccines did, however, protect individuals from more severe cases. According to the study, 3.2% of fully vaccinated individuals who were infected with the virus were hospitalized, just 0.05% were admitted to an intensive care unit and 0.25% were placed on a ventilator.

Among the unvaccinated who fell ill, 7.5% were hospitalized, 1.5% were admitted to an intensive care unit and 0.5% required breathing support with a mechanical ventilator.

In addition to the LA County data, the CDC on Tuesday released an update on the HEROES cohort study among healthcare workers that showed a significant drop in vaccine effectiveness among vaccinated frontline workers in eight states who became infected with the coronavirus.

Vaccine efficacy during the period of the study when Delta was predominant fell to 66% from 91% prior to the arrival of the Delta variant, according to the report.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, Editing by Mark Porter)

Long delays as Canada opens border to fully vaccinated American tourists after 16 months

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Long delays were reported at the Canadian-U.S. border on Monday as Ottawa finally opened doors to fully vaccinated American tourists for the first time in 16 months, causing a rush of tourists to travel north during the busy summer season.

Government data showed a seven-hour wait time for the Fort Frances, Ontario, and International Falls, Minnesota, crossing. Fort Frances advertises itself online as “rarely experiencing delays.”

Several crossings in Ontario and New Brunswick – between the states of New York and Maine – had waits of three hours.

Canada barred all leisure travel from the United States in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as of August 9 fully vaccinated travelers are able to enter the country. International travelers who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to enter in early September.

Late on Friday, the Canadian government and border staff reached a tentative deal to end a strike action that began earlier in the day.

Prior to the pandemic, tourism was the fifth-largest industry in Canada, contributing C$105 billion ($83.4 billion) to the GDP and providing one in ten jobs, according to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Canada’s biggest airport, has also asked travelers to brace for delays as American leisure travelers returns to Canada.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

U.S. CDC recommends vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in many cases

By David Shepardson and Julie Steenhuysen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should go back to wearing masks in indoor public places in regions where the coronavirus and especially the Delta variant are spreading rapidly, U.S. authorities said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommended all students and teachers at kindergarten through 12th grade schools wear masks regardless of vaccination status. The CDC said children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies.

The changes mark a reversal of the CDC’s announcement in May that prompted millions of vaccinated Americans to shed their face coverings.

The United States leads the world in the daily average number of new infections, accounting for one in every nine cases reported worldwide each day. The seven-day average for new cases has been rising sharply and stands at 57,126, still about a quarter of the pandemic peak.

“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent spread of Delta and protect others,” the agency said.

The CDC said that 63% of U.S. counties had high transmission rates that warranted mask wearing. The Delta variant is highly transmissible.

In May, the agency advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, guidance the agency said would allow life to begin to return to normal.

Dr. David Doudy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, said the CDC guidance was motivated by a change in infection patterns. “We’re seeing this doubling in the number of cases every 10 days or so,” he said.

‘A NECESSARY PRECAUTION’

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten praised the new CDC mask guidance in a statement, saying it was needed “to deal with the changing realities of virus transmission.”

She called it “a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID vaccine and more Americans over 12 get vaccinated.”

The new CDC recommendations are not binding and many Americans, especially in Republican-leaning states, may choose not to follow them. At least eight states bar schools from requiring masks.

Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, a medical epidemiologist and adjunct professor at Cornell University Public Health, said resistance was likely among some people. “I think we will get blowback because I think people might view it as backtracking,” he said.

On Monday, the Biden administration confirmed it will not lift any existing international travel restrictions, citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the expectation that they will continue to rise in the weeks ahead.

Masks became a political issue in the United States under former President Donald Trump, who resisted mandating face coverings. President Joe Biden has embraced masks and mandated them for transit hubs days after taking office.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)

Canada to ease border measures, welcome vaccinated U.S. tourists next month

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada will start allowing fully-vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents into the country on Aug. 9 for non-essential travel as the threat from the COVID-19 pandemic fades, Ottawa said on Monday.

Businesses on both sides of the border, particularly the travel and airline industries, are demanding an end to restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States which were first imposed in March 2020.

Fully-vaccinated visitors from countries other than the United States will be permitted to enter beginning on Sept. 7. The relaxation depends on Canada’s COVID-19 epidemiology remaining favorable, the government said in a statement.

“Thanks to the hard work of Canadians, rising vaccination rates and declining COVID-19 cases, the government … is able to move forward with adjusted border measures,” it said.

People eligible to enter Canada must have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days beforehand. From Aug. 9, Ottawa is also lifting the requirement that all travelers arriving by air must spend three nights in a hotel.

The government repeated that Canadians should avoid non-essential travel abroad.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve SchererEditing by Paul Simao)

Canada to ease border restrictions in steps, scrap hotel quarantine

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada is poised to outline a process to ease border restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens and to get rid of its hotel quarantine for returning air travelers as soon as July, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Canada’s air and land borders have allowed for only essential travel since March of last year, and Canadians coming home are currently required to quarantine for 14 days. If they fly home, they also must quarantine in a designated hotel until they receive a negative COVID-19 test.

Fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents coming home will no longer be required to quarantine for 14 days, nor endure a hotel quarantine, once 75% of the eligible population has received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 20% has had a second dose, said the source who asked not to be identified.

However, even fully vaccinated travelers will be required to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and quarantine until they receive a negative result, the source said.

There will be as many as seven steps before borders are completely opened when 75% of the population is fully vaccinated, the source said. It is still unclear when the rules might change for foreign travelers as there were few details on subsequent steps.

Canadian businesses, and especially airlines and those that depend on tourism, have been lobbying furiously for the government to relax restrictions as more and more people are vaccinated. Some 63% of eligible Canadians have received a first shot, while 8.5% have got a second one.

Canada will have enough vaccines to reach that 75%/20% vaccination threshold by June 21, said Trevor Tombe, an economic professor at the University of Calgary who tracks scheduled deliveries of vaccines.

However, the supply will then need to be distributed and administered, and two weeks should pass to allow immunity from the first shots to take effect, so Canada could reach that goal in mid-July, Tombe said.

News of the plan to ease restrictions was first reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp’s Katie Simpson on Twitter, who said the announcement would be made later on Wednesday. French-language public broadcaster Radio-Canada had earlier reported the hotel quarantine would be scrapped.

Canada’s Ministry of Public Safety, which is in charge of border security, did not immediately respond for comment.

(Reporting by Steve SchererEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. CDC eases travel recommendations on 110 countries, territories including Japan

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has eased travel recommendations for more than 110 countries and territories, including Japan just ahead of the Olympics.

The CDC’s new ratings were first reported by Reuters and posted on a CDC website on Monday, include 61 nations that were lowered from its highest “Level 4” rating that discouraged all travel to recommending travel for fully vaccinated individuals, the agency confirmed on Tuesday.

Another 50 countries and territories have been lowered to “Level 2” or “Level 1,” a CDC spokeswoman said. Countries ranked lowest for COVID-19 risks now include Singapore, Israel, South Korea, Iceland, Belize and Albania.

Among those now listed at “Level 3,” are France, Ecuador, Philippines, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Honduras, Hungary, and Italy.

A U.S. State Department official said it was in the process of revising its travel advisory to reflect the CDC changes.

As of early Tuesday, the State Department had lowered its ratings on more than 90 countries and territories, including for Japan.

On May 24, the State Department had urged against travel to Japan, citing a new wave of coronavirus cases before the Tokyo Olympics are set to begin July 23.

The State Department warning raised concerns and prompted the White House to reaffirm its support for Tokyo’s plan to hold the Games this summer and for U.S. athletes competing there despite a new wave of infections and low vaccination rate in the host country.

Foreign spectators have been banned, and organizers are expected to make a decision late this month on domestic spectators.

The CDC said the change comes after it revised its criteria for travel health notices. The CDC said it has also revised its rating for the United States to “Level 3” from “Level 4.”

The agency said the new criteria for a Level 4 “avoid all travel” recommendation has changed from 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 to 500 cases per 100,000.

The agency added that many countries have lower ratings “because of the criteria changes or because their outbreaks are better controlled.” The CDC said it expects more countries to get lower, more favorable travel ratings.

Other countries being lowered to “Level 3” include Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Libya, Panama, Poland, Denmark and Malaysia.

Many of the countries that now have lower ratings remain on the U.S. government’s list of countries subject to severe travel restrictions – and most have been subject to the restrictions since early 2020.

The United States bars nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have within the previous 14 days been to China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, India, South Africa, Brazil, Iran and the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls.

Asked why the United States is maintaining the warnings even though some countries now have low infection rates subject to the restrictions, while others with high rates are exempt, CDC Director Rochelle Wallensky said on Tuesday the issue is subject to “an interagency conversation, and we are looking at the data in real time as to how we should move forward with that.”

The United States also has been in discussions with Canada and Mexico – both of which had recommendations eased on Tuesday – on how to eventually lift or revise restrictions at U.S. land borders that bar non-essential travel.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. job growth improves; desperate employers raise wages to attract workers

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. employers increased hiring in May and raised wages as they competed for workers, with millions of unemployed Americans still at home because of childcare issues, generous unemployment checks and lingering fears over COVID-19.

Though the pickup in job growth shown in the Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday missed economists’ forecasts, it offered some assurance that the recovery from the pandemic recession remained on track.

Growth is being supported by vaccinations against COVID-19, massive fiscal stimulus and the Federal Reserve’s ultra-easy monetary policy stance. April’s nonfarm payrolls count, which delivered about a quarter of the new jobs economists had forecast, caused handwringing among some analysts and investors that growth was stagnating at a time when inflation was rising.

“There are still a lot of people unemployed, but there does not seem to be a lot of eagerness to work,” said Chris Low, chief economist at FHN Financial in New York. “There would have been many more hires if employers could find more people.”

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 559,000 jobs last month. Data for April was revised higher to show payrolls rising by 278,000 jobs instead of 266,000 as previously reported.

That left employment about 7.6 million jobs below its peak in February 2020. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 650,000 jobs created in May. About 9.3 million people were classified as officially unemployed last month. There are a record 8.1 million unfilled jobs.

At least half of the American population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That has allowed authorities across the country to lift virus-related restrictions on businesses, which nearly paralyzed the economy early in the pandemic. But the reopening of the economy is straining the supply chain.

Millions of workers, mostly women, remain at home as most school districts have not moved to full-time in-person learning. Despite vaccines being widely accessible, some segments of the population are reluctant to get inoculated, which labor market experts say is discouraging some people from returning to work.

Government-funded benefits, including a $300 weekly unemployment subsidy, are also constraining hiring. Republican governors in 25 states are terminating this benefit and other unemployment programs funded by the federal government starting next Saturday.

These states account for more than 40% of the workforce. The expanded benefits end in early September across the country. That, together with more people vaccinated and schools fully reopening in the fall, is expected to ease the worker crunch.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said the argument that enhanced benefits were discouraging job seeking was not supported by what workers were telling him.

“Working people across America are eager to work,” said Walsh in a statement. “But workers also told me about the challenges they and their families face, finding affordable childcare, caring for elderly parents and grandparents”

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices rose.

WILLING WORKERS IN SHORT SUPPLY

Average hourly earnings rose a solid 0.5% after shooting up 0.7% in April. That raised the year-on-year increase in wages to 2.0% from 0.4% in April. Wages in the leisure and hospitality sector jumped 1.3%, the third straight month of gains above 1%.

Postings on Poachedjobs.com, a national job board for the restaurant/hospitality industry, are showing restaurants offering as much as $30-$35 per hour for lead line cooks.

Sustained wage growth could strengthen the argument among some economists that higher inflation could last longer rather than being transitory as currently envisioned by Fed Chair Jerome Powell. A measure of underlying inflation tracked by the Fed for its 2% target accelerated 3.1% on a year-on-year basis in April, the largest increase since July 1992.

Still, most economists do not expect the U.S. central bank to start withdrawing its massive economic support anytime soon.

“The data will likely reinforce the view of most Fed officials that progress has not been ‘substantial’ enough for them to start signaling tapering,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. macro strategist at TD Securities in New York.

The average workweek held steady at 34.9 hours. That together with strong wage gains lifted an income proxy 0.9%, matching April’s gain. This bodes well for consumer spending, which could also get a powerful tailwind from the more than $2.3 trillion in excess savings amassed during the pandemic.

Economists are sticking to their forecasts for double-digit growth this quarter.

Last month’s increase in hiring was led by the leisure and hospitality industry, which added 292,000 jobs, with restaurants and bars accounting for 186,000 of those positions. Local government education employment rose by 53,000 jobs as the resumption of in-person learning and other school-related activities in some parts of the country continued.

Manufacturing payrolls increased by 23,000 jobs. But construction employment decreased by 20,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.8% from 6.1% in April. The drop was in part due to more jobs created and 53,000 people dropping out of the labor force. The jobless rate has been understated by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” Without this problem, the unemployment rate would have been 6.1%.

The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one, fell to 61.6% from 61.7% in April.

“It appears like employers may need to offer up more incentives to entice workers to fill the record number of job openings that are out there,” said Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz Investment Management.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. health agency eases masking guidance for summer camps where all are vaccinated

By David Shepardson and Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – The top U.S. health agency on Friday relaxed guidance for mask-wearing at summer camps, saying that camps do not need to require children to wear masks or physically distance if all participants have been fully vaccinated.

The new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention settles a question that has been top of mind for the parents of tens of millions of children who attend camp each summer in the United States.

“We think the possibility of having a camp setting where everyone is fully vaccinated will be a reality by mid- to late-summer,” said Commander Erin Sauber-Schatz, a team lead at the CDC, in an interview with Reuters.

The CDC also updated guidance for unvaccinated camp attendees on wearing masks outdoors. Camps should no longer require masking outdoors in most circumstances for vaccinated or unvaccinated children, according to the new guidance.

The CDC previously required camp programs to mandate use of masks and physical distancing even for fully vaccinated teachers, staff and children. The agency has been under sharp criticism recently for being overly cautious in its masking guidelines.

The CDC still recommends that summer camps where everyone is not fully vaccinated require masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. It also recommends that they employ other standard COVID-19 prevention strategies, including physical distancing, testing, and limiting attendees contact to a fixed cohort of other campers.

The more stringent recommendations apply to all summer camps that host children under 12 years old. U.S. regulators have not yet authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for that younger age group.

The CDC does not offer specific guidance for how camps should determine which attendees are fully vaccinated, Sauber-Schatz said. The agency expects that camps will work with state and local public health officials to develop those procedures, she added.

Sauber-Schatz said breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated camp participants are highly unlikely.

“Based on the evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccine, we are very comfortable with the recommendations we have made,” she said.

The agency’s latest guideline revision comes after the recent authorization and rollout of Pfizer/BioNTech, vaccine for 12-15 year old’s.

The vaccine was authorized for the younger age group earlier in May and the country has since vaccinated nearly 59% of Americans over the age of 12, according to latest data from the CDC.

Earlier this month, it said fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places but stuck to more conservative guidelines for schools as children below 12 will not get their shots yet.

The agency previously recommended all children and staff should wear makers at all times except when eating, drinking or swimming.

Speaking on the CDC’s annual budget before a House subcommittee, Director Rochelle Walensky said changing guidance quickly as more information becomes available has been a challenge.

“This is complex. And as we change things, things that we knew a year ago are different now because we have much more information and they continue to evolve,” she said.

She added that it is better for children to be outside than inside. “My own kids were home from camp last summer, and I want camps to be open this summer.”

(Reporting by David Shepherdson in Washington and Carl O’Donnell in New York; additional reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Alistair Bell)