New York City erects quarantine checkpoints to curb coronavirus

By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City will put up COVID-19 quarantine checkpoints at key entry points to ensure that travelers from 35 states on New York state’s travel advisory comply with the state’s 14-day quarantine mandate, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday.

“Travelers coming in from those states will be given information about the quarantine and will be reminded that it is required, not optional,” de Blasio told a news briefing. He added that, under certain circumstances, fines for not observing the quarantine order could be as high as $10,000.

The Sheriff’s Office, in coordination with other law enforcement agencies, will begin deploying checkpoints at major bridge and tunnel crossings into New York City on Wednesday.

“This is serious stuff and it’s time for everyone to realize that if we’re going to hold at this level of health and safety in this city, and get better, we have to deal with the fact that the quarantine must be applied consistently to anyone who’s traveled,” de Blasio said.

Once the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, New York has taken strong steps to prevent a resurgence of cases that has emerged elsewhere.

In Illinois, where COVID-19 cases have risen for six weeks in a row, Chicago Public Schools will start the new academic year conducting all classes remotely, school officials said on Wednesday.

Teachers in the district, the country’s third largest with 350,000 students, had resisted a plan by city leaders to launch a hybrid model in which parents could choose to have their children attend in-person instruction in pods of 15 pupils twice a week.

The Chicago Teachers Union threatened to strike over safety concerns if city leaders did not go to all-remote learning.

“Nothing about this crisis has been easy,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “Every day has been another step into uncharted territory.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Howard Goller)

There is no ‘zero risk’ in easing travel restrictions, WHO says

By Bhargav Acharya and Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – There is no “zero risk” strategy for countries easing international travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and essential travel for emergencies should remain the priority, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

In a long-awaited update to its guidance on travel, the United Nations global health agency said cross-border trips for emergencies, humanitarian work, the transfer of essential personnel and repatriation would constitute essential travel.

“There is no ‘zero risk’ when considering the potential importation or exportation of cases in the context of international travel,” it said in the updated guidance posted on its website on Thursday.

A surge of new infections in many parts of the world has prompted some countries to reintroduce some travel restrictions, including testing and quarantining incoming passengers.

The WHO had said in June it would update its travel guidelines before the northern hemisphere summer holidays.

The WHO’s guidance can be used by governments and industries to help shape policies, but is not enforceable.

The updated travel advice is little changed from previous guidance, which also included infection control advice applicable to other settings such as social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and avoiding touching the face.

The WHO urged each country to conduct its own risk-benefit analysis before lifting any or all travel restrictions. Authorities should take into account local epidemiology and transmission patterns, it said, as well as national health and social distancing measures already in place.

Countries that choose to quarantine all travelers on arrival should do so after assessing the risks and consider local circumstances, the WHO said.

“Countries should continuously plan for and assess their surge capacities for testing, tracking, isolating and managing imported cases and quarantine of contacts,” it said.

The WHO said this week that international travel bans cannot stay in place indefinitely, and countries will have to do more to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus within their borders.

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Writing by Kate Kelland, editing by Diane Craft, Marguerita Choy, Grant McCool and Timothy Heritage))

Three more states, D.C. and Puerto Rico added to New York’s COVID-19 travel advisory

(Reuters) – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered those arriving in New York from an additional three states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico to quarantine for 14 days to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The states of Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota were added to the travel order which was first issued in June. The District of Columbia and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico were also added.

Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 34 states are now required to quarantine, Cuomo said.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Franklin Paul)

New travel curbs imposed as world tackles second COVID-19 wave

By Stephen Coates and Peter Graff

SYDNEY/LONDON (Reuters) – Nations in Asia imposed new restrictions on Monday and an abrupt British quarantine on travelers from Spain threw Europe’s summer reopening into disarray, as the world confronted the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

In the United States, where infection rates have been climbing since mid-June, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien became the most senior White House official to test positive.

Surges were reported in a number of countries previously singled out as places where the virus was under control.

Australia recorded a record daily rise. Vietnam locked down the city of Danang, forcing tens of thousands of visitors to evacuate. Mainland China confirmed the most new locally transmitted cases since early March. Papua New Guinea shut its borders.

Hong Kong banned gatherings of more than two people, closed down restaurant dining and introduced mandatory face masks in public places, including outdoors.

Just weeks after European countries trumpeted the reopening of tourism, a surge in infections in Spain prompted Britain to order all travelers from there to quarantine for two weeks, torpedoing the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people.

The World Health Organization said travel restrictions could not be the answer for the long term, and countries had to do more to halt the spread inside their borders by adopting proven strategies such as social distancing and the wearing of masks.

“It is going to be almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future. Economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume,” WHO emergencies program director Mike Ryan said.

“What is clear is pressure on the virus pushes the numbers down. Release that pressure and cases creep back up.”

NOT LIKE BEFORE

Officials in some of the European and Asian countries where the virus is again spreading say new outbreaks will not be as bad as the original waves that hit earlier this year, and can be contained with local measures rather than nationwide shutdowns.

But countries that have suffered extreme economic hardship from months of lockdowns are also determined not to let the virus get out of control again, even if that means reversing the path to reopening.

Europe has yet to lift bans on travelers from many countries, including the United States where the White House said national security adviser O’Brien presented no risk of infection for Trump or Vice President Mike Pence.

Britain’s announcement of the return of quarantine for Spain was likely to torpedo the revival of airlines and tourism businesses across the continent, which had thought they had survived their biggest crisis in living memory.

Britain accounts for more than 20% of foreign visitors to Spain, where tourism represents 12% of the economy.

Europe’s biggest airline, Ryanair, cut its annual passenger target by a quarter on Monday and warned a second wave of COVID-19 infections could lower that further.

A British junior health minister said more European countries could end up on the “red list” if infections surge.

“If we see the rates going up, we would have to take action because we cannot take the risk of coronavirus being spread again across the UK,” Helen Whately told Sky News when asked if Germany or France might be next after Spain.

In China, which managed to squelch local transmission through firm lockdowns after the virus first emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year, a new surge has been driven by infections in the far western region of Xinjiang.

In the northeast, Liaoning province reported a fifth straight day of new infections and Jilin province reported two new cases, its first since late May.

Australian authorities who have imposed a six-week lockdown in parts of the southeastern state of Victoria said it could last longer after the country’s highest daily increase in infections.

“The tragedy of COVID-19 is that we know, with the number of new infections that we have seen today, that there will be many further deaths in the days ahead,” Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told reporters.

In Japan, the government said it would urge business leaders to ramp up anti-virus measures such as staggered shifts, and aimed to see rates of telecommuting return to levels achieved during an earlier state of emergency.

“At one point, commuter numbers were down by 70 to 80%, but now it’s only about 30%,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said late on Sunday. “We really don’t want to backtrack on this, so we have to explore new ways of working and keep telecommuting high.”

Vietnam is evacuating 80,000 people, mostly local tourists, from Danang after three residents tested positive at the weekend. Until Saturday, the country had reported no community infections since April.

North Korean state media reported on the weekend that the border town of Kaesong was in lockdown after a person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned this month with symptoms of COVID-19. If confirmed, it would be the first case officially acknowledged by Pyongyang.

Papua New Guinea halted entry for travellers from Monday, except those arriving by air, as it tightens curbs against infections that have more than doubled over the past week.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Stephen Coates and Peter Graff; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Travel bans cannot be indefinite, countries must fight virus at home: WHO

By Michael Shields and Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Bans on international travel cannot stay in place indefinitely, and countries are going to have to do more to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus within their borders, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

A surge of infections has prompted countries to reimpose some travel restrictions in recent days, with Britain throwing the reopening of Europe’s tourism industry into disarray by ordering a quarantine on travelers returning from Spain.

Only with strict adherence to health measures, from wearing masks to avoiding crowds, would the world manage to beat the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said at a virtual news briefing.

“Where these measures are followed, cases go down. Where they are not, cases go up,” he said, praising Canada, China, Germany and South Korea for controlling outbreaks.

WHO emergencies program head Mike Ryan said it was impossible for countries to keep borders shut for the foreseeable future.

“…It is going to be almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future. Economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume,” he said.

“What is clear is pressure on the virus pushes the numbers down. Release that pressure and cases creep back up.”

Ryan praised Japan and Australia for having had “good success in containing the disease” but said that it was to be expected that the virus would re-surge in areas with active transmission if restrictions are lifted and mobility increased.

“And that is what has essentially occurred in many countries is that in nightclubs, other situations, dormitories, other environments in which people are close together can act as amplification points for the disease and then it can spread back into the community. We need to be hyper-alert on those.”

Measures must be consistent and kept in place long enough to ensure their effectiveness and public acceptance, Ryan said, adding that governments investigating clusters should be praised not criticized.

“What we need to worry about is situations where the problems aren’t being surfaced, where the problems are being glossed over, where everything looks good.”

Ryan said Spain’s current situation was nowhere near as bad as it had been at the pandemic’s peak there, and he expected clusters to be brought under control, though it would take days or weeks to discern the disease’s future pattern.

“The more we understand the disease, the more we have a microscope on the virus, the more precise we can be in surgically removing it from our communities,” he added.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Emma Farge, Michael Shields; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Peter Graff)

Quarantine or not, tourists still flock to New Mexico

By Andrew Hay

RED RIVER, N.M. (Reuters) – In the New Mexico mountain resort of Red River, tourists from Texas stroll along Main Street, most disregarding Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s orders they quarantine and wear masks.

It’s the same in other New Mexican tourist towns such as Taos and Santa Fe, except nearly all their visitors wear face coverings – surrounded by signs warning of fines if they don’t.

Like governors in at least 15 states, Democrat Lujan Grisham has ordered out-of-state tourists to self-isolate, citing data that about one in 10 of New Mexico’s spiking COVID-19 cases comes from visitors.

Enforcing the orders is proving difficult, given the lack of a national plan, police reluctance to take on the massive task, and Americans’ penchant for driving hundreds or thousands of miles to vacation, even in a pandemic.

A U.S. road trip this summer means navigating through a patchwork of quarantine regulations across various states, most of them voluntary.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut require travelers from 19 states with high COVID-19 infection rates to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. New York imposes fines.

Hard-hit Florida requires travelers from those three states to self-isolate for 14 days whether arriving by plane or car, or face a $500 fine.

Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont all have varying self-isolation rules.

‘TAKING AWAY OUR LIBERTY’

New Mexico published newspaper ads in neighboring Arizona and Texas, states respectively reporting 27% and 18% positive coronavirus test rates, urging their residents not to visit. Health experts consider a 5% rate to be worrisome.

But tourists keep coming.

“I think it’s bullshit. They’re saying the masks should work, so why should you be quarantined?” said Chris Fry, 59, a feed company manager from Dimmitt, Texas, staying in his cabin near Red River and stopping in town for ice before going fishing.

A 45-minute drive south in Taos Plaza, Louisiana tourist Christy Brasiel was frustrated the historic Native American community was closed to visitors and compared Lujan Grisham’s rules to “communism or socialism.”

“They’re taking away our liberty,” said Brasiel, 49, staying in an Airbnb rental to avoid her voluntary quarantine order enforced by local hotels that turn away out-of-state visitors.

As in cities across New Mexico, police in Red River have yet to issue citations for non-compliance to COVID-19 rules, said Mayor Linda Calhoun, a Republican, adding that she is encouraging businesses to require masks.

“We live off of tourists, that’s all we have, so it’s very difficult for us to enforce the order,” Calhoun said of the quarantine rule in her town nicknamed “Little Texas” for the number of visitors from that state.

Many locals in Taos County, where COVID-19 cases have doubled in the last month, are dismayed by the rule breaking.

“It doesn’t make any sense to be so selfish,” said lawyer Maureen Moore, 67.

“WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE”

Only three weeks ago, as outbreaks raged across the U.S. Sunbelt, New Mexico reported stable or declining daily cases.

A poor state with limited hospital capacity, New Mexico used early, tough restrictions to curb the pandemic.

But with its positive test rate rising above 4%, Lujan Grisham has scolded New Mexicans for letting down their guard since she eased restrictions on June 1, and on Monday re-closed indoor restaurant dining.

On a shortlist as a running mate to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Lujan Grisham has also rounded on tourism, the state’s second-largest industry.

“We don’t want you here now,” she told potential visitors in a July 9 press briefing, taking special aim at Texans. “I want you to stay in Texas.”

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico State Police would “aggressively” enforce her quarantine and mask orders. The force has handed out 13 verbal warnings for mask violations but none for quarantine non-compliance, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

The rules are piling pandemic pain on businesses in the state. Standing outside his Red River supermarket, business owner Ted Calhoun said Lujan Grisham had gone too far.

“Ordering visitors to do a 14-day quarantine is killing the tourist industry of New Mexico,” said Calhoun, the mayor’s husband.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Red River, New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant, Tom Brown and Alistair Bell)

Four more states added to New York quarantine order, Cuomo says

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered those arriving in New York from an additional four states to quarantine for 14 days to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The newly added states – Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin – were all seeing ‘significant’ community spread of the virus, Cuomo said in a statement.

Delaware, previously on the list, has now been removed.

Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 22 U.S. states are now required to quarantine for 14 days, according to Cuomo’s order which was first issued in June.

On Monday, the governor announced a travel enforcement operation at airports across the state to ensure travelers are abiding by the quarantine restrictions.

New York reported five COVID-19 fatalities on Monday, and 820 hospitalizations. There were 912 positive test results, or 1.5% of the total, as Cuomo warned in a tweet that “infection rates are alarmingly rising among 20-somethings in NY.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bernadette Baum)

Three more states added to New York governor’s quarantine order

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered people arriving from an additional three states to quarantine for 14 days amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The three additional states are Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma, all of which are seeing ‘significant’ community spread of the virus, Cuomo said in a statement.

Travelers arriving to New York from a total of 19 U.S. states are now required to quarantine for 14 days.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Three U.S. governors to quarantine visitors from states where COVID-19 spiking

By Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As the number of new coronavirus cases surged in many areas of the United States, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – once at the epicenter of the outbreak – will require visitors from states with high infection rates to quarantine on arrival.

The announcement on Wednesday came a day after the country recorded the second-largest increase in coronavirus cases since the health crisis began in early March. There were nearly 36,000 new infections nationwide on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally.

States subject to the 14-day quarantine are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and Utah, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a briefing.

“This is a smart thing to do,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said via video at a joint news conference in New York City. “We have taken our people, the three of us from these three states, through hell and back, and the last thing we need to do right now is subject our folks to another round.”

While the United States appeared to have curbed the outbreak in May, leading many states to lift restrictions on social and economic activity, the virus is moving into rural areas and other places that it had not initially penetrated deeply.

The virus is also renewing its surge in states that opened up early to ease the devastating effect of the restrictions on local economies.

Florida, one of the first states to reopen, on Wednesday experienced a record increase of more than 5,500 new cases. Oklahoma, which never ordered a statewide lockdown, posted record new cases on Wednesday, the sixth time it has shattered that record.

On Tuesday, Arizona, California, Mississippi and Nevada had record rises. Texas set an all-time high on Monday.

The surge in cases nationwide on Tuesday was the highest since a record of 36,426 new infections on April 24.

The New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area has lowered its infection rate after locking down much of its economy.

Visitors found violating the new quarantine order in the three Northeast states could face fines of $1,000 for a first violation and $5,000 for repeat offenses, Cuomo said.

The order will take effect from midnight. “So get on a flight quickly,” he said.

QUARANTINE

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said officials would carefully monitor travel from states with high infection rates.

“If you come to Connecticut, you come to New York, you come to New Jersey, you come safely, you follow the protocols,” said Lamont.

Such quarantines are not unprecedented. Hawaii requires visitors from the U.S. mainland to self-quarantine for two weeks. Florida and Texas at one point required people coming in from New York area airports to quarantine for two weeks.

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed its support for a lawsuit challenging Hawaii’s quarantine, saying visitors are being denied rights granted to most island residents.

While some of the increased numbers of cases can be attributed to more testing, the numbers do not correlate.

The average number of tests has risen 7.6% over the last seven days, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, while the average number of new cases rose 30%.

The percentage of positive tests is also rising.

At least four states are averaging double-digit rates of positive tests for the virus, such as Arizona at 20%. By contrast, New York has been reporting positive test rates of around 1%.

The European Union hopes to reopen borders from July but will review individual nations’ COVID-19 situation fortnightly, according to diplomats and a document laying out criteria that could keep Americans and Russians out.

 

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Cyclone Amphan tears into India, Bangladesh, destroys homes, whips up storm surge

By Subrata Nagchoudhary and Ruma Paul

KOLKATA/DHAKA (Reuters) – A powerful cyclone tore into eastern India and Bangladesh on Wednesday, destroying mud houses and embankments and whipping up a storm surge along the coast, officials said, after millions of people were moved out of its path.

At least one 70-year-old man was killed by a falling tree in Bangladesh’s coastal Bhola district, a police official said. The low-lying country has evacuated 2.4 million people to shelters.

Another 650,000 people have been moved to safety in the eastern Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal, authorities said, an operation carried out amid surging coronavirus infections.

It was too early to estimate a toll on life or damage to property.

Cyclone Amphan began moving inland with winds gusting up to 185 kph, Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director-general of the India Meteorological Department, told reporters.

Mohapatra said that the storm surge could rise to around five meters in the Sundarbans delta, home to around four million people and thick mangrove forests that are a critical tiger habitat.

“Our estimate is that some areas 10-15 kilometers from the coast could be inundated,” Mohapatra said.

On the Sundarbans’ Ghoramara island, resident Sanjib Sagar said several embankments surrounding settlements had been damaged, and some flooding had started.

“A lot of houses have been damaged,” he told Reuters by phone.

The storm will also sweep past Kolkata, a sprawling city of 4.5 million people, where strong winds uprooted trees and electricity poles, littering several streets, television showed.

A home ministry official said authorities in West Bengal and neighboring Odisha had struggled to house thousands of evacuees as shelters were being used as coronavirus quarantine centers.

Extra shelters were being prepared in markets and government buildings with allowances made for social distancing, while masks were being distributed to villagers.

Police in West Bengal said some people were unwilling to go to the shelters because they were afraid of being infected by the coronavirus and many were refusing to leave their livestock.

“We have literally had to force people out of their homes, make them wear masks and put them in government buildings,” said a senior police official in Kolkata.

In Bangladesh, standing crops could be damaged and large tracts of fertile land washed away, officials said. Farmers were being helped to move produce and hundreds of thousands of animals to higher ground.

“Fortunately, the harvesting of the rice crop has almost been completed. Still it could leave a trail of destruction,” Mizanur Rahman Khan, a senior official in the Bangladesh agriculture ministry, said.

Bangladeshi officials also said they had moved hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, living on a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, to shelter.

(GRAPHIC: Map of cyclone path – https://ppe.graphics.reuters.com/ASIA-STORM/INDIA-BANGLADESH/xklpykdqpgd/Amphan-cyclone.jpg)

(Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESHWAR, Writing by Rupam Jain and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nick Macfie)