NZ’s Cenbank to Stand Pat as It Assesses Travel Resumption, Property Curbs: Reuters Poll | Investing News


WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s central bank is expected to leave interest rates and its quantitative easing programme unchanged this week as it assesses the economic impact of some international tourists returning and the government’s new housing market measures.

In a Reuters poll, all 11 economists forecast the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) to stand pat on Wednesday, and predicted it will keep the official cash rate (OCR) at the historic low of 0.25% for the rest of the year.

Only three expected rates to be raised after the second half of next year.

Business sentiment has been waning in recent months despite a remarkable rebound in economic activity after the COVID-19 lockdowns, and the economy contracted in the last quarter of 2020.

But these downsides were offset by the improving global outlook, and the return of Australian tourists to New Zealand next week through a COVID-19 ‘travel bubble’ arrangement.

“We expect no change in monetary policy settings at next Wednesday’s review, with the OCR on hold at 0.25% for the foreseeable future,” said Westpac economist Michael Gordon.

“The recent news on the domestic economy has been softer than expected, but this is offset to some degree by a rapidly improving global outlook and growing concerns about cost and price pressures,” he said.

The central bank cut its cash rate by 75 basis points in March last year and pledged to keep it unchanged for 12 months, while also introducing quantitative easing to support an economy hit by border closure and coronavirus lockdowns.

But a quicker economic recovery and concerns about a red-hot property market buoyed by historically low interest rates have left markets speculating that the easing cycle has ended, and a rate hike may come sooner than expected.

Under political pressure to cool the housing market, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern introduced a raft of measures slugging investors with new taxes.

Analysts expect the RBNZ to hold off on any near term policy action until it assesses the impact of the new property cooling measures on the economy.

“The housing market is an important driver of economic momentum currently, so housing developments have a significant bearing on the OCR outlook,” said ANZ economist Sharon Zollner.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Shri Navaratnam)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.



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CDC Warns Americans Against Travel to Canada, Even if They’re Vaccinated


Right now, Canada is in the throes of a third COVID-19 wave and is reportedly on track to outpace the U.S. in terms of its rate of new infections relative to the overall population. Worse yet, the country is seeing significant outbreaks of dangerous coronavirus strains that are more transmissible than the original virus and potentially even vaccine-resistant.

The trend is so worrisome that U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated Canada’s travel advisory (a Level Four—the highest possible risk category) to include a warning that even fully vaccinated Americans should not risk venturing north of the U.S. border. The change was made on the same day that the CDC released new travel guidelines for vaccinated Americans in which the agency said that those who are fully vaccinated can safely move about the country.

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

“Because of the current situation in Canada, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Canada,” the website now reads. “If you must travel to Canada, get fully vaccinated before travel. All travelers should wear a mask, stay 6 feet from others, avoid crowds, and wash their hands.”

For a full year now, the Great White North has kept its case counts comparatively low while the health crisis in the U.S. continued to escalate. So, what happened?

Firstly, the pandemic situation in America is finally improving, thanks to a massive nationwide vaccination campaign and the government’s having secured an ample supply of the COVID-19 vaccine, while our northern neighbor’s vaccination efforts have trailed behind those of many other nations.

The U.S. has thus far managed to get roughly 19 percent of its population fully vaccinated, while Canada can say the same of only about two percent of its population. The National Post reported that, as of April 6, roughly one-third of Americans had received at least the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, while only 16 percent of Canadians had gotten at least one dose.

Young woman getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Young woman getting vaccinated against COVID-19. (photo via iStock/Getty Images E+/Geber86)

Johns Hopkins University’s dataset this week revealed that the U.S. was seeing about 196 new COVID-19 cases per one million people per day, while in Canada about 180 new cases per million people were being added daily (based on a seven-day rolling average). Noel Gibney, a professor emeritus in the faculty of medicine at the University of Alberta, said that it’s almost certain that Canada will surpass the U.S. in terms of community spread in the next few days.

The infiltration of more contagious, and possibly even more deadly, viral variants is being blamed for causing Canada’s third COVID-19 wave. According to a Vice report, Canada is one of the world’s only countries to be battling significant outbreaks of three different variants at the same time.

In Alberta, experts believe that the B.1.1.7 U.K. variant has almost entirely replaced the original COVID-19 strain. The P1 variant that emerged in Brazil—which has reinfected people who have previously contracted and recovered from COVID-19 and may be vaccine-resistant—is also spreading in Canada, as is the B1351 variant that first came from South Africa.

Just as Americans are being warned to stay away, Canada’s health officials are also beseeching Canadians to avoid nonessential travel within the country; although experts are saying that tighter travel restrictions may not be enough at this point to contain the spread of the highly transmissible variants.

Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, remarked on the variants’ prevalence within Ontario, “It’s incredibly widespread, so I think there’s merit in restricting movement between areas…But as a way to control the spread of variants? That ship has likely already sailed.”





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Letter to Birdland | An immigrant's tale | Travel | news-gazette.com – Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette



Letter to Birdland | An immigrant’s tale | Travel | news-gazette.com  Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette



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Local tourism experts discuss changes in travel industry post-pandemic


Shoppers pose for a photo during Girlfriends Weekend in downtown Holland. This year's event brought dozens of women to the area, highlighting a marked increase in weekend visitors.

Shoppers pose for a photo during Girlfriends Weekend in downtown Holland. This year’s event brought dozens of women to the area, highlighting a marked increase in weekend visitors.
Girlfriends Weekend

HOLLAND — Few industries have been hit harder than travel during the pandemic.

While predicting long-term change is nearly impossible, as the vaccination rate increases across the state, local experts are turning their attention toward post-pandemic shifts.

For example, Holland Area Visitors Bureau Executive Director Linda Hart has noticed a stark change in the activities visitors are choosing.

More: As tourism in Holland improves, focus remains on outdoor activities

More: Saugatuck eyes social drinking zones to boost bars, restaurants

More: New bureau director: Holland tourism holding steady

“I think we’re going to see a continuation of outdoor activities post-pandemic,” Hart said. “The activities offered outside are different than when we were growing up, but restaurants and breweries are trying to find a way to keep people safe outside. I think we’re going to see record numbers in our parks, people bicycling, people going to the beach.

“I know different communities implemented different strategies, whether it was an outdoor igloo or a heated downtown. I think outdoor dining on Eighth Street, allowing restaurants to expand their footprint, that’s going to continue, at least throughout the summer and definitely into the fall.”

Shoppers pose for a photo during Girlfriends Weekend in downtown Holland. This year's event brought dozens of women to the area, highlighting a marked increase in weekend visitors.

Shoppers pose for a photo during Girlfriends Weekend in downtown Holland. This year’s event brought dozens of women to the area, highlighting a marked increase in weekend visitors.
Girlfriends Weekend

Already, with restaurants enclosing sections of parking spaces, downtown Holland is experiencing an increase in traffic.

“It’s jamming down here on the weekends,” Hart said. “It’s good to see.”

And that traffic could increase further with the addition of a social district — a specified area where restaurant patrons can enjoy alcoholic beverages while socializing and exploring.

“We’re looking at doing a social district in Holland,” Hart said. “It’s something we’re having conversations about.

“It’s a safe way to get people into the community to enjoy it. We’ll have to see how the process goes, but there was a lot of favorable feedback from downtown merchants and restaurants.”

Hart believes sanitation will remain a major concern of visitors to the area, even after the pandemic ends.

“With the merchants in our community, visitors want to make sure they’re maintaining safety standards,” she said. “We did it well last summer, and we did it well over the holidays, and even when we went backwards as a state, that safety helped us maintain shoppers and visitors downtown.”

When it comes to overnight travel, changes in the way employees interact with symposiums, conferences, and day-to-day work schedules may affect hotel occupancy levels.

“People are still weary of doing online meetings,” Hart said. “But I think we’ve also realized that it’s extremely efficient. I think in the future, we’ll see a lot more hybrid conferences and symposiums. I think there’ll be an element of in-person but also online options. I think that could impact us.

“On the other hand, a lot of companies still have employees working from home. I think that’s going to be the new normal across the board. People can work from almost anywhere. Take the family, go work from this town or this town, where the family can do things while mom or dad are working.”

The spring weather in May 2020 enticed dozens of people to walk through Windmill Island Gardens to view the tulips.

The spring weather in May 2020 enticed dozens of people to walk through Windmill Island Gardens to view the tulips.
[Brian Vernellis/Sentinel Staff]

In January 2020, hotel occupancy rates in the area were 42 percent.

“That’s pretty good for January,” Hart said. “And it was mostly corporate business.

“This year in January, that number was 28 percent. We forecasted a low number. That was a little lower than maybe we wanted, but I think we rallied better in February.”

In February 2020, occupancy rates were 52 percent. This year, that number was 38 percent.

Suburban Inns CEO Pete Beukema experiences those occupancy rates firsthand.

Beukema’s organization owns and operates several hotels in the Holland area, including the Courtyard by Marriott on Eighth Street, CityFlatsHotel on Seventh Street, and the Holiday Inn Express and the Hampton Inn on Felch Street.

“I do think we’ll see a big potential change in corporate travel,” Beukema said. “Corporate travel is our bread and butter. We’re slowly starting to see them re-engage.

“Right now, our anticipation and hope is that we start to see corporate travel rise this summer and really rise in the fall at a noticeable level.”

A note placed on a bed at the Hampton Inn of Holland on Felch Street notes, "Even though we're apart, you're in our hearts." The note marks a shift in front desk service during the pandemic.

Beukema noted cleanliness will remain an important topic for guests.

“I think a lot of the cleaning protocols that we’ve implemented will hang around for quite some time,” he said. “Our industry was pretty clean to begin with, but a lot of the partnerships we’ve made will probably continue.

“The truth is, the way we interact with other people will probably change for quite some time. The days of cramming twelve people into an elevator are probably over. It’s going to be maybe six people max, just because of people’s hesitations. I think that’s a behavior that will potentially change over time, but not in the short-term.”

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Beukema expects to see some semblance of normalcy return in terms of breakfast options.

Linda Hart
People can work from almost anywhere. Take the family, go work from this town or this town, where the family can do things while mom or dad are working.

“We’re hoping to see the breakfast buffet return a bit with sneeze-guards and sanitation to protect guests,” he said.

“The brands have not made significant changes to the way new breakfast areas are being constructed, so that leads me to believe they’re expecting those to return to normal as we’ve experienced in the past.”

In the short-term, Beukema expects to see an influx of travelers eager to escape their homes.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand in terms of leisure,” he said. “I know my family is chomping at the bit to travel again.

“I think that’s a common theme throughout the industry. People want to get out.”

— Contact reporter Cassandra Lybrink at cassandra.lybrink@hollandsentinel.com. Follow her on Instagram @BizHolland.

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Thailand Faces Growing Outbreak Ahead of New Year Travel | World News


By BUSABA SIVASOMBOON, Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai authorities struggled to contain a growing coronavirus outbreak just days before the country’s traditional Songkran New Year’s holiday, when millions of people travel.

Health officials reported 559 new infections on Friday, following increases over the previous two days. The government response has so far centered on closures of nightlife venues in 41 provinces for two weeks. Governors of some provinces are placing restrictions on travelers arriving from elsewhere.

Such daily increases are rare for Thailand, which has weathered the pandemic far better than many nations through measures including strict border controls that have decimated the country’s lucrative tourism industry. Thailand has also experimented at times with curfews, alcohol bans and closures of schools, shopping malls and restaurants.

The outbreak — which has infected at least one Cabinet minister and forced a number of others into self-quarantine — is increasing criticism of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government and its handling of the pandemic. While Thailand has only recorded 30,869 infections and 96 deaths, critics say the vaccination drive is too slow — less than 1% have gotten their jabs — and support for people whose livelihoods have been wiped out by the pandemic is lacking.

The director-general of the Department of Disease Control, Dr. Opas Karnkawinpong, said this week that according to Health Ministry projections, the number of new infections could rise as high as 10,000 per day if no adequate measures are taken.

Travelers and businesses alike had been hoping that this year’s Songkran holiday could go forward without a spike in infections. The official holiday was canceled last year during the country’s first major outbreak.

The government has so far declined to issue blanket travel restrictions though provincial authorities are allowed to set quarantine rules for people coming from high-risk zones such as Bangkok. Several provinces have done so, throwing many people’s travel plans into question.

Chief among them was Chiang Mai in the north, one of the country’s most popular destinations until the coronavirus pandemic crippled the tourism industry.

Chiang Mai provincial health officials are requiring visitors from Bangkok and four surrounding provinces to self-quarantine for the duration of their stay, up to 14 days, the state Thai News agency reported. A 280-bed field hospital has been set up to treat COVID-19 patients.

The state-owned Transport Company, a major inter-provincial bus operator, estimated that only half of the 100,000 people anticipated to leave Bangkok on Friday for other provinces had embarked on their journeys, the Bangkok Post reported.

It said at least two airline executives wanted travel restrictions tightened over the Songkran holiday. Tassapon Bijleveld of Asia Aviation, the largest shareholder in Thai AirAsia, and Nuntaporn Komonsittivate of Thai Lion Air both said a further spread of the virus could endanger the future large-scale return of foreign visitors.

The current outbreak is the largest since December, when it was centered around a fresh food market that employs a number of migrant workers from Myanmar. This time, the outbreak has been traced to a number of bars and nightlife venues in the heart of Bangkok, including many popular with the rich and powerful. Cases are now on the rise in at least 20 provinces, with authorities saying some of those infected have a more contagious variant of the virus first detected in Britain.

So far, Thailand has been using a relatively small supply of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines. While there have been some high-profile vaccination events — including most recently for workers at now-closed entertainment venues — there is still no clear timetable for the general public.

Authorities in Bangkok have set up mass testing sites in some neighborhoods, drawing large crowds of people who often had to wait hours in line. Efforts to trace infections have been complicated after a number of hospitals in Bangkok said they are suspending testing due to shortages of the chemicals needed to process tests.

The government has ordered preparations to set up field hospitals to accommodate any surge in patients and said vacant rooms in Bangkok hotels could also be converted to accommodate infected people if numbers keep rising.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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Flights: easyJet, Jet2, TUI & British Airways latest updates – ‘traffic light’ travel | Travel News | Travel


Airlines found themselves mostly grounded amid the multiple lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic. However, from May 17, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed hopes some international travel will return with a “traffic light” system in place to categorise the “risk” countries pose to increasing the spread of infection globally.

easyJet

easyJet has continued to operate some flights throughout the pandemic, however, these are subject to change at short notice.

The airline’s package holidays arm easyJet holidays has cancelled all holiday plans up to May 17, in line with Government guidance.

In an update issued on April 9 regarding package holidays, the airline explained: “The government has shared a little bit more about how holidays can be restarted again and more about the introduction of a traffic light system.

“The government has also said it will share which traffic light colour destinations fall under in early May, so we’ll know even more then.

“In the meantime, if you’ve got a booking with us between May and August look out for an email with a reminder of the flexibility we offer under our Protection Promise.”

The airline developed a “Protection Promise” to allow more “flexibility” for customers with new and existing bookings.

This means holidays where there is a known quarantine requirement will be cancelled, and customers will be entitled to a full refund.

Holidaymakers can also cancel their holiday in exchange for a full refund as long as they do so up to 28 days before travel.

“Your refund will be free of fees, and unlike some holiday companies that will keep your deposit, if you book directly with us we’ll even give your deposit back to you as credit on your easyJet holidays online account,” explains the easyJet website.

Customers also have the choice of obtaining a voucher for the full value of their ticket which can be used towards future travel.

In anticipation of travel restarting, the orange-tipped carrier has boosted its itinerary with an array of new routes.

These include new routes and package holidays from Birmingham Airport to Spain, Portugal and Greece.

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Jet2

Jet2 has made the decision to further axe holidays due to the ongoing “uncertainty” around travel.

The low-cost holiday provider has cancelled all flights and holidays until June 24.

Steve Heapy, CEO of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, expressed his “disappointment” at the Government’s travel plans.

He said: “We have taken time to study the Global Travel Taskforce’s framework, and we are extremely disappointed at the lack of clarity and detail.

“After several weeks exploring how to restart international travel, with substantial assistance and input from the industry, the framework lacks any rigorous detail about how to get international travel going again. In fact, the framework is virtually the same as six months ago.”

He called for more clarity, stating: “Following the publication of the framework today, we still do not know when we can start to fly, where we can fly to and the availability and cost of testing. Rather than answering questions, the framework leaves everyone asking more.

The CEO continued: “Because of the continued uncertainty that the framework provides, it is with a heavy heart that we have taken the decision to extend the suspension of flights and holidays up to and including 23rd June 2021.”

Jet2 passengers impacted by cancellations will be offered a full refund of the amount paid.

The airline says it is in the process of contacting all customers to discuss their options.

Despite this, the airline has issued some positive updates too.

As of summer, Jet2 will operate a new route from Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol Airport’s to Innsbruck in Austria for summer 2022.

Jet2 and Jet2holidays have also announced the launch of flights and holidays to Sicily and Sardinia for summer 2022.

TUI

TUI has detailed plans to resume some travel from May 17 in line with Government guidelines.

In a statement on its website, issued on April 9, the airline explained: “Following the recent announcement from the UK government, customers travelling from England will be subject to a new traffic light system with ‘green’, ‘amber’ and ‘red’ destinations.

“It’s expected that international travel can resume from 17 May at the earliest.

“We review the information on this page in line with each government announcement and expect to know more within the next few weeks.”

TUI customers with new and existing bookings are protected by the airline’s “Holiday Promise”.

If Government, FCDO or quarantine rules impact holiday plans, customers will be entitled to change their booking to another date “for free” or receive a “full refund.”

TUI adds: “If we need to cancel your holiday for any of these reasons, you don’t need to do anything. We’ll work through bookings in departure date order to proactively contact you as soon as we can.”

Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Monday, managing director for TUI UK and Ireland, Andrew Flintham, showed hope for some destinations.

He said: “Cyprus has come out and been very positive, Greece and Turkey have come out and been very positive, and Spain again.

“So I think all these European countries, whilst to a degree they are struggling with their rates at the moment, we are still a significant period away from the summer season properly opening up, we are probably 11 weeks away.

“The world has been changing on a weekly basis, never mind an 11-weekly basis.

“So we are still positive about those destinations. We are also positive that the Caribbean and some of those destinations will open up.”

British Airways

British Airways (BA) has continued to operate a “reduced” and “dynamic” service throughout the pandemic.

This means some flights may be cancelled or changed at short notice.

Customers with travel plans are advised to stay up-to-date with the latest flight information on the BA website.

The airline has cancelled all of its package holidays up to May 17.

A BA spokesperson told Express.co.uk: “All affected customers will be contacted and offered a refund.”

In a statement, the travel provider added: “If we cannot fulfil a holiday, we’re committed to ensuring customers receive a full refund within 14 days.

“Customers who are unable to travel, or choose not to, can continue to change their holiday without a change fee, or request a voucher for future use.”

The airline has also introduced its own “Protection Promise” to allow customers more “flexibility” when booking.

“Our book with confidence commitment means you have the option to change your booking date and destination or even cancel it completely,” explains the airline’s website.

For bookings made on or after March 3, 2020, for journeys that are due to have been completed by April 30, 2022, customers have the option to change their booking or cancel their booking in exchange for a voucher for future travel.

The airline also made the decision to extend its pause on short-haul operations out of Gatwick Airport.

Instead, the majority of these services will now operate from Heathrow.

Some long-haul and domestic routes from Gatwick will remain.

In a statement, the airline explained: “Until the end of October, most of our short-haul flights will continue to operate from Heathrow.

“This enables us to ensure a smooth, uninterrupted, and efficient operation across our business at a time when demand is yet to return and international travel restrictions remain in place.





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US holidays: Foreign Office update as some travel rules relax in America | Travel News | Travel


The US Government shut borders to most travellers amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In recent months, though, the nation has sped through its vaccination roll-out.

In its latest update, the FCDO provided “new information and advice under ‘Entry for Green Card and Current Visa Holders’ and ‘New Visas and Humanitarian Exceptions’.”

It explained: “Since 16 March 2020, it is not possible for most British nationals to enter the USA if they have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil, or China within the previous 14 days.

“On 30 January 2021, South Africa was added. Those arriving from outside these areas will need to get a visa or an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa waiver to enter or transit the USA as a visitor.

“US citizens and permanent residents of the USA, certain specified close family members and certain other limited categories of visas holders (such as UN staff and diplomats) are exempt.

“They will still be able to enter the USA, subject to normal entry requirements.”

It continued: “New and renewed Green Cards (a Permanent Resident Card) are not currently being issued. However, existing Green Cards remain valid, although individuals who have been away from the USA for a substantial period of time should check their validity with their nearest US Embassy or Consulate before travelling.

“Those with existing visas remain valid as long as the holders are in the USA. All current visa holders based in the USA wishing to travel to the UK or any other country covered by the Presidential Proclamation are strongly advised to check before they travel as to whether they would need an exception to re-enter the USA.”

Students travelling from the UK and Ireland with valid visas are allowed to travel without “a national interest exception”.

New visas and humanitarian exception visas are only being provided in “emergency and mission-critical” situations.

The FCDO adds: “The Center for Disease Control (CDC) requires all arrivals by air into the US to quarantine for at least 7 days, and to take a COVID-19 test (NAAT or antigen) three to five days after arrival.”

Travellers who have been in the UK, Ireland, Schengen zone, Iran, Brazil, China and South Africa within the previous 14 days are not allowed to enter the US for the purposes of transiting to another country.

COVID-19 restrictions remain in place across the US, though these vary from state to state.

Travellers from the UK currently in the US are advised to follow the advice of local authorities.





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