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COVID-19: Hope for Nigerians as Saudi Arabia reopens border for pilgrims - PUNCH

AUGUST 08, 2021

BY  Sodiq Oyeleke

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced that it will start receiving foreign pilgrims for Umrah (lesser hajj) requests from various countries from Monday.

Saudi Press Agency quoted the ministry as also saying that there would be a gradual increase in the capacity to reach 2 million pilgrims per month.

However, Deputy Minister of Hajj, Dr. Abdul Fattah Mashat, who made this known, said that the ministry is working, in coordination with the competent authorities, to determine the countries from which the pilgrims will be permitted.

This gives hope to pilgrims from Nigeria and other countries who were earlier barred from performing hajj last month over COVID-19 concerns.

Before Sunday’s announcement, only immunised pilgrims residing in Saudi Arabia were eligible for umrah permits. This led to about 60,000 inoculated residents were allowed to take part in a scaled down form of the annual hajj.

Mashat said, “Permits will be issued through the Eatmarna and Tawakkalna mobile applications, amid an integrated system of services and preventive measures, taken by the Kingdom for the safety and health of those wishing to perform the rituals of Umrah and Ziyarah,” he added.

Mashat added that “the number of passengers on buses transporting the pilgrims will not exceed 50 percent capacity to ensure social distancing. Authorities will provide sanitizers and verify the permits of pilgrims issued by the Eatmarna and Tawakkalna applications before boarding the bus.

“Pilgrims coming from outside the Kingdom are required to present a certificate of immunization certified by the official authorities in the country of the pilgrim and it must be attached within the justifications for requesting the performance of the rituals, with the condition that the vaccines be approved.

“Only international pilgrims who were vaccinated with either Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, or the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 jab will be allowed to perform Umrah, according to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.”

Saudi Arabia has registered nearly 532,000 coronavirus cases and more than 8,300 deaths.

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, with 2.5 million taking part in 2019. 

Nigerians in US, Ireland decry extortion, maltreatment over passport reissuance - PUNCH

AUGUST 08, 2021

Some Nigerians in the United States and Ireland have lambasted officials of Nigerian embassies and consulates  over alleged extortion and maltreatment in the process of obtaning new passports.

In a viral footage shared in June, an official of the Consulate General of Nigeria in Atlanta, United States, was seen in a heated verbal exchange with passport applicants.

Houston-based soccer trainer, Bayonle Arashi, who recorded the brawl at the consulate explained what led to the clash.

He said, “Normally, we get an appointment before going to the embassy but walking into the Nigerian Embassy in Atlanta, you must pay another $110 or more to be attended to.

“I’m just one of those people who went to Atlanta that day. I travelled on the 10th of June, which was a Thursday. So, on Friday morning, at eight, we were already in front of the embassy but there were no officials.

“We later discovered that they only capture the details of applicants on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. We complained to the security official on duty, querying why the embassy failed to put such vital information on its website.’’

According to Arashi, a couple who were trying to make some inquiries from the security guards on duty were harassed by an embassy official identified as Pius Uhomoibhi, an Administrative Assistant at the consulate.

“This man just started shouting at this couple. Aside from the fact that he was late for work, he was still bullying people. When Uhomoibhi refused to keep quiet, the couple challenged him. That was when the war of words began. When I shared the video about his behaviour, thousands of people that have been to that place for the renewal of their passports started narrating the same experience with this man,” he said.

A Texas-based Nigerian, Victoria Ogunyele, told Sunday PUNCH that despite following the required processes, she paid $440 for a passport that costs $106.

Ogunyele said, “In 2020, I wanted to renew my Nigerian passport. So, I did the application and paid on January 19. After payment, COVID-19 came, everywhere was on lockdown. The appointment date they gave me was April 24, 2020. I called in but unfortunately, they said nothing was happening and that the office was closed.”

The health worker said she inquired about the status of her previous payment when the consulate informed her that it would consider those who paid during the COVID-19 lockdown.

 However, when she contacted a staff member of the consulate in September 2020, she was asked to pay additional $300.

Ogunyele left Texas for Atlanta with her kids on May 23, 2021, which was a Sunday and arrived in Atlanta at about 3:30pm the same day.

Ogunyele said she had seen a notice on the consulate’s website stating that processing passports would require a money order of $150, noting that she purchased it together with a money order of $30.

According to her, when she presented her documents for screening, a consulate staff member informed her that her prior registration was invalid.

She was then asked to process a fresh application at a makeshift business centre located at some metres from the consulate building.

Ogunyele was also told that her name was not on the list of invited applicants for that day, adding that Uhomoibhi openly asked applicants whose names were not on the list and who could not pay $130 for a walk-in appointment to vacate the premises.

She lamented, “I ended up paying $440 that day. They told me the old pre-COVID-19 application was expired and not useful. Then they made me do a fresh application in a small business centre not far from the main office.”

Ogunyele noted that she met an official who told her that her prior application has still valid and that she needed not to do a fresh one.

The Nigerian lamented that she had yet to receive the passport one month after the screening.

Uhomoibhi declined to comment but said he would inform the consulate which he said would assign an official to respond to the allegations but this had not been done as of the time of filing this report.

Also, one Olasunkanmi Adeosun, a Nigerian who resides in Dublin, Ireland, alleged that passport applicants in the European country were also being maltreated.

He said, “I think the most embarrassing thing about going to the Nigerian Embassy here in Dublin is that they’re absolutely rude.

“Even when you are asking questions just to get an idea of what is required from you, they will talk down to you. This was my experience and also that of other people I know.”

The media assistant, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Gabriel Odu, said NiDCOM had yet to receive such complaints from Nigerians in Atlanta, and promised to find out about the situation.

The spokesperson, Nigeria Immigration Service, Amos Okpu, declined comment and referred inquiries to the ministry of Foreign Affairs, which does not have a spokesperson yet.

Australian Delta Outbreak Continues as Vaccination Push Ramps Up - BLOOMBERG

AUGUST 09, 2021

(Bloomberg) --

Australia continued its struggle to contain a delta outbreak across the nation’s east coast, with the race to increase vaccinations now key to prospects for a reduction in virus restrictions.

New South Wales state reported 262 new locally acquired cases on Sunday, state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters, down from the record 319 a day earlier. That brings the number of local infections since the latest outbreak began in mid June to 5,169.

“Vaccination is the key,” Berejiklian said. She’s aiming to have 6 million people in the state inoculated by the end of the month, up from about 4.4 million ast present.

Victoria, whose state capital Melbourne is in its sixth lockdown, announced 11 new cases on Sunday, down from 29 on Saturday. State Premier Daniel Andrews urged Victorians to get vaccinated, saying that’s “critical to us being open and staying open.”

There were nine new cases in Queensland, where state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said a lockdown will ease in the southeast on Sunday. New stay-at-home orders were imposed for three days in the northern city of Cairns.

The highly contagious delta variant has caused shutdowns across Australia’s eastern coast, its most populated area. Delta is placing increased pressure on the nation’s so-called “Covid-zero” strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to eliminate community transmission of the virus.

The central bank estimates household spending drops about 15% during lockdown and has acknowledged the economy will likely contract this quarter. Still, it expects a robust recovery to resume, and decided to stick with plans to taper bond purchases for now.

Fraudsters Jailed Six Years Over $1m Scam of Klm, British, Turkish Airways - THISDAY

AUGUST 09, 2021

BY  Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja

Two Nigerian fraudsters, Tobilola Ibrahim Bakare and Alimi Seun Sikiru have bagged six years imprisonment over alleged $1 million scam of three major airlines: British Airways, KLM and Turkish Airlines.

The duo, who also forfeited mega properties in upscale areas of Lagos and vehicles worth N260 million and N200 million in bank accounts to the federal government, were, however, given the options of fine of N3 million and N1 million respectively.

This followed their arrest and successful prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

THISDAY gathered that the forfeited assets include: the sums of N196, 741, 216.82 and N7, 054, 852.01 in bank accounts, two vehicles, Mercedes Benz E500, Toyota Hilux 2020 and five bedroom duplex situated at Ibrahim Eleto Street, Osopa London, Lekki, Lagos; four bedroom semi-detached duplex situated at Ologolo, Jakande, Lekki, Lagos and another four bedroom semi-detached duplex in Southern View Estate, Mayor Court, Chevron Alternative Road, Lekki, Lagos.

The two vehicles were valued at N30million while the three duplexes are valued at N230million. The fraudsters gave up the assets as they could not give satisfactory explanation of the funds and properties linked to them.

They confessed to involvement in cybercrime. Bakare, 27, an indigene of Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, admitted involvement in Business Email Compromise (BEC) and admitted hacking into different companies outside the shores of Nigeria.

The scammers had been successful in their ignoble trade, earning a cumulative sum of $1million from victims including three foreign airlines through Business Email Compromise fraud. They laundered the proceeds of crime by acquiring properties including real estate and luxury vehicles. A source close to the investigation narrated how the anti-graft agency stumbled on the scam.

“Life was good, but their misfortune began in September 2020, when operatives of the commission, in the course of investigating a case of suspicious transactions and money laundering involving one Kehinde Adelakun, a convicted internet fraudster, stumbled on evidence linking Alvine International Resources Ventures, owned by the second defendant, Sikiru”, the source said.

It was further gathered that the transaction that set off the alarm bell was an inflow of N5million in two tranches from Alvine International Resources Ventures.

Further probing by the investigators, revealed several inflows suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities in both the Sterling Bank and Polaris accounts of the second defendant.

The balance in both accounts including N196, 741,216.82 in Sterling Bank and N7, 054,852.01 in Polaris Bank, were swiftly placed on a post no debit to forestall dissipation of the funds pending the conclusion of investigation and determination of the case.

The second defendant, in his statement to the commission, admitted that majority of the funds found in his account were from the first defendant, Bakare, who confessed his involvement in Business Email Compromise (BEC), between 2009 and 2020 and also hacking into the accounts of KLM, Turkish Airlines and British Airways.

The fraudsters were subsequently arraigned before Justice O. A Taiwo of the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja on five-count amended charge bordering on conspiracy and retaining stolen property, an offence contrary to Sections 411 and 328 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State.

One of the counts read: “Tobilola Ibrahim Bakare and Alimi Seun Sikiru, sometime in 2020 in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired to commit felony to wit: retaining cumulative sum of about $1,000.000,00 (One Million United States of America Dollars) property of KLM, Turkish Airways and British Airways.”

Another count reads: “Tobiloba Ibrahim Bakare and Alimi Seun Sikiru, sometime in 2020 in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court , with a dishonest intent, retained four-bedroom detached duplex situated at Ologolo Jakande, Lekki, Lagos.”

They pleaded ‘guilty’ to the charges preferred against them.

Delivering judgment, Justice Taiwo noted that the action of the defendants was “responsible for giving Nigeria a bad image globally, whereby the average Nigerian is looked upon as being untrustworthy and fraudulent”.

She convicted and sentenced Bakare, to three years imprisonment on counts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, with the option of fine of N3million.

The Judge also convicted and sentenced Sikiru, to three years imprisonment on counts 1 and 5 with an option of fine of N1 million.

Justice Taiwo also held that the five bedroom duplex situated at Ibrahim Eleto Street, Osopa London, Lekki, Lagos, four bedroom semi-detached duplex situated at Ologolo, Jakande, Lekki, Lagos and another four bedroom semi-detached duplex in Southern View Estate, Mayor Court, Chevron Alternative Road, Lekki, Lagos recovered from the first defendant be forfeited to the federal government.

The Judge further held that the sums of N196, 741, 216.82 recovered from the second defendant’s company, Alvine International Resources Ventures account domiciled in Sterling Bank and N7, 054, 852. 01 recovered from the second defendant’s account domiciled in Polaris Bank be forfeited to the federal government.

Two vehicles, a Mercedes Benz E500 and a Toyota Hilux 2020 recovered from the first defendant were also ordered forfeited to the federal government.

Immigration Steps Up Anti-Touting Vigilance - THE TIDE

AUGUST 09, 2021

The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Passports Command, Ikoyi, has increased its surveillance  on touting in a bid to check extortion within its jurisdiction. Speaking in an exclusive chat with The Tide in Lagos, last Friday, the Immigration Comptroller, Passports Office, Ikoyi, Lagos, Deputy Comptroller Liman A.I , said the negative impact of touting on the nation’s economy would not be allowed to continue under his watch. He said ,”we are applying persuasion, dialogue and seeking the support of all well meaning stakeholders in this area to spread the anti-touting message and dissuade people from unlawful acts. However, we could apply coercive power as the need arises.

“With the selfless leadership shown by the Comptroller General, Alhaji Mohammed Babandede, we at the PCO, Ikoyi, Lagos, have decided to re-dedicate ourselves to duty and complement the efforts of the CGIS.  “We are prepared more than ever to wage the anti-miscreants war relentlessly. Liman assured the general public of friendly environment for legitimate transaction in an effort to strengthen the national economy, warning deviants to shun touting and other related vices. 

According to him, “the command has keyed into the various strategies including the use of ICT in gathering of intelligence, among others. “The service believes that the fight against miscreants within its corridor cannot be undertaken by the service alone, hence our call on Nigerians to partner with us in ensuring that the passport seekers do not patronise touts to defraud them. 

Our resolve is unshaken and our commitment is total”.  On her part, the Public Relations Officer of the command, a Deputy Superintendent of Immigration (DSI), Mrs Adetoun Shiyindemi, commended the Deputy Comptroller Liman, for his selfless service, pointing out that he has really given the officers and men of the command a sense of belonging.  “Since the Comptroller came in, it has been a servant-leader relationship here at Ikoyi PCO and we are all motivated to put in our best with what the CGIS has given us, you will see a new immigration service”, she assured.

By: NkpemenyieMcdominic, Lagos

Norwegian Cruise Line Wins U.S. Injunction for Vaccination Proof - BLOOMBERG

AUGUST 09, 2021

BY  Eduard GismatullinBloomberg News

(Bloomberg) -- Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said it won a preliminary U.S. court injunction that allows the company to ask customers to show proof of Covid vaccination before boarding, setting aside Florida’s ban on such documentation.

The owner of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands will be able to operate with all passengers and crew fully vaccinated when sailing from Florida ports, it said in a statement on Sunday. The first sailing is scheduled on Aug. 15 on the Norwegian Gem departing from Miami.

“We are pleased that Judge Williams saw the facts, the law and the science as we did and granted the Company’s motion for preliminary injunction allowing us to operate cruises from Florida with 100% vaccinated guests and crew,” Daniel S. Farkas, general counsel of Norwegian Cruise Line, said.

Norwegian Cruise Line filed a legal suit against Florida last month in federal court, saying the state’s laws against collecting vaccine documentation violated federal law and may force the company to cancel scheduled cruises. The lawsuit was filed against the state’s surgeon general in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Biden Extends Freeze on Student Loan Payments Until February - BLOOMBERG

AUGUST 09, 2021

(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration will relieve Americans from paying their federal student loans through the end of January 2022, extending the pause for the last time as the government seeks to keep the economic recovery rolling.

The move continues the suspension of payments for all loans owned by the Education Department, maintaining a 0% interest rate for the loans and keeping in place a freeze on the collection of defaulted loans. Loan payments will begin coming due again on February 1.

All of the loan measures, first adopted in March 2020, were to expire at the end of September. The administration intends for this to be the final extension of the protections and announced the extension Friday to give certainty to borrowers and loan servicers alike, a person familiar with the matter said on the condition of anonymity to preview the plan.

The announcement gives servicing companies who process payments for the Education Department more time to prepare for the influx from borrowers. In all, 41 million borrowers benefited from the interest rate freeze, including several million current students.

“The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “As our nation’s economy continues to recover from a deep hole, this final extension will give students and borrowers the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment.”

Canada reopens its border for vaccinated US visitors - REUTERS

AUGUST 10, 2021

DERBY LINE, Vermont (AP) — Canada lifted its prohibition on Americans crossing the border to shop, vacation or visit on Monday while the United States is maintaining similar restrictions for Canadians, part of a bumpy return to normalcy from COVID-19 travel bans.

U.S. citizens and legal residents must be both fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19 within three days to get across one of the world’s longest and busiest land borders, and Canadian officials warn they won't sacrifice safety for shorter border waits. Travelers also must fill out a detailed application on the arriveCAN app before crossing.

On the first morning that U.S. citizens were allowed to cross into Canada again, it was slow going in the tiny border town of Derby Line, Vermont, where long stretches passed without any cars headed into downtown Stanstead, Quebec.

In Buffalo, New York, Lisa and Jim Docherty got COVID-19 tests at a pharmacy for their first visit to their Ridgeway, Ontario, cottage since the summer of 2019. The Hilton, South Carolina couple, originally from Buffalo, has had the cottage more than 40 years.

Lisa Doherty said she looked forward to "just mentally making sure everything’s OK.

“It’s just been a part of my life because my grandma had a cottage since I was 10, so just kind of a feeling like returning to normal," she said.

The pharmacy clinic was charging $140 for same-day tests and $125 for delivery of results in 24 to 48 hours.

“At this point, we’ll just do whatever we have to do,” Lisa Docherty said before heading in for a nasal swab.

By early afternoon, passenger cars were waiting more than an hour at the Rainbow Bridge to enter Niagara Falls, Ontario, from Niagara Falls, New York. There were no delays at two other western New York crossings, the Peace Bridge in Buffalo and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge in Lewiston.

In Washington state at the Peace Arch Border Crossing and Historical State Park, three lanes of vehicles with Washington state license plates waited to cross the border Monday morning. Wait times were about 30 minutes at 11 a.m.

Wendy and Fred Chen, who live near the park said they went to the border to see the crossings were going. They said friends crossed at 1 a.m. Monday and waited two hours and that border agents thoroughly checked everyone’s test results, vaccination cards and identification.

They used to go into Canada weekly before the pandemic to enjoy city life in Vancouver, British Columbia, and take a break from their rural Washington state surroundings.

“It was so easy before,” Wendy Chen said.

The U.S.-Canada border has been closed to nonessential travel since March 2020 to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The U.S. has said it will extend its closure to all Canadians making nonessential trips until at least Aug. 21, which also applies to the Mexican border. But the Biden administration is beginning to make plans for a phased reopening. The main requirement would be that nearly all foreign visitors to the U.S. will have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

But Canadians aren't waiting for reciprocal rules.

Garnet Health, an Essex, Vermont-based company that offers same-day COVID-19 testing, has seen the number of tests it performs more than triple in recent weeks. The increase coincides with Canada’s decision last month to drop a two-week quarantine requirement for its citizens when they return home from the U.S.

“I imagine once that border opens, we are going to see lots of people,” said Chelsea Sweeney, the company’s director of business development.

Joel Villanueva, owner of Primo's Mexican Grill in White Rock, British Columbia, about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) north of the U.S. border, is more than ready for Americans to return.

“Let’s get this thing going,” he said. “A lot of our customers are from the United States, and we are literally minutes from across the border."

Villanueva said he supports people coming who are fully vaccinated and doesn't think there will be a rush of Americans initially.

Near the border in Washington state, Blaine Chamber of Commerce board member Carroll Solomon called the reopening a step in the right direction for businesses. But she also said it was somewhat concerning because of an increase in COVID-19 cases nationwide as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.

“For people who need to get up there (to Canada) for family reasons, it's wonderful,” said Solomon, who also volunteers at the Blaine Visitor Information Center.

With all the hoops people need to jump through — being fully vaccinated, getting tested for COVID-19 and uploading that information to an app — she doesn’t think that people will be going to Canada for many day trips.

Steve Blake, who lives in Stanstead, Quebec — just across the border from Derby Line, Vermont, — is hoping his siblings living in the United States will be able to visit Canada soon so they can hold a memorial service for their mother who died in early 2020. But given the requirements, he doesn't know how quickly that will happen.

“I’d like it to be sooner rather than later,” he said.

Sue Crumley of Abbotsford, British Columbia, crossed into the U.S. side of the Peace Arch to meet her family on Monday, including her 2-month-old grandson Silas, whom she had never met.

Canadians and Americans have been meeting at the park, located on the border in the U.S. and in Canada, during the pandemic without much interference from border agents.

Crumley said she knew the border was opening to Americans but said it was her understanding that her daughter and son-in-law would have to pay about $180 per COVID-19 test and opted to meet at the park instead.

Her granddaughter Sophia, 4, started running toward Crumley as soon as she saw her grandmother.

“We FaceTime for hours but it’s not the same,” Crumley said. “I couldn’t wait any longer.”

___

Baumann reported from Blaine, Washington. Associated Press writer Carolyn Thompson contributed from Buffalo, N.Y.

Lisa Baumann And Wilson Ring, The Associated Press

New Airline, Green Africa, To Begin Operations - NEW TELEGRAPH

AUGUST 10, 2021

After months of apprehension and uncertainty over whether or not one of Nigeria’s and perhaps African airlines that promised so much would end up on paper, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) yesterday granted startup, Green Africa, Air Operators Certificate (AOC  which clears the way for the carrier to begin flight services. 

The carrier also indicated its readiness to begin scheduled flight operations on August 12. Amid COVID-19, more airlines have shown intent to start operations this year’s as many of them awaits AOC from the aviation regulatory body. 

Following the successful completion of all five phases of the AOC application process, the country’s aviation regulatory body presented it with AOC by its Director- General, Capt. Musa Nuhu, at the NCAA headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. 

With this certificate, Green Africa is able to commence operations in accordance with its initial route network unveiled earlier in June. 

Speaking on the issuance of the AOC to Green Africa, Nuhu said: “We at the NCAA are impressed with Green Africa’s effort and commitment to safely connect many more people across the country and we look forward to the positive contribution that the new airline will bring to the Nigerian aviation industry.”

Canada Extends India Flight Curbs; U.S. Cases Rise: Virus Update - BLOOMBERG

AUGUST 10, 2021

(Bloomberg) -- Canada extended restrictions on direct flights from India to Sept. 21. In the U.S., new coronavirus cases surged to the highest weekly level since early February, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant. Deaths rose by 49%, the biggest weekly increase since December.

Hospitalizations in the state of Arkansas climbed to a record. The Pentagon will require members of the U.S. military to get vaccinated by Sept. 15. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised the travel advisory for France and Israel to the highest level.

Israel is considering lowering the minimum age for a third dose of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot to 40 or 50 from 60. Meanwhile, BioNTech raised its 2021 vaccine sales forecast by 28%. 

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases top 203.2 million; deaths pass 4.3 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 4.48 billion doses administered
  • China’s Covid-zero strategy risks leaving it isolated for years
  • U.S. city with 2.4 million people has just six ICU beds left
  • Fully inoculated Malaysians to get travel and dine-in perks
  • Restaurants are back on the vaccine culture war’s front lines

Canada Extends Curbs on Flights From India  (5:30 a.m. HK)

Canada is extending its restrictions on direct commercial and private passenger flights from India to Sept. 21 because of Covid-19. The government will also extend testing requirements for passengers arriving from India via an indirect flight.

Arkansas Sets Hospitalization Record (4:40 p.m. NY)

The number of people hospitalized because of Covid-19 in Arkansas rose to a record 1,376, topping January’s peak of 1,371, according to the Associated Press. The state added 103 virus patients in hospitals, the biggest one-day increase. 

Perella Weinberg to Delay Return to Office (4:30 p.m. NY)

Perella Weinberg Partners told staff primarily in New York and London that return-to-office plans will be delayed as the Covid-19 variants spread.

The investment bank may seek to bring more workers back in October, depending on the trajectory of the virus, a person familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified discussing internal decisions. It had previously sought a September return.

U.S. Prepares to Send Vaccines to Mexico (3:25 p.m. NY)

The U.S. is preparing to send Mexico vaccines from Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc in coming days to bolster its southern neighbor’s fight against Covid-19, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Vaccines are set to be discussed on a Monday afternoon phone call between Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

Lopez Obrador said at his morning press briefing two weeks ago that Mexico had a new offer for more vaccines from the U.S. after he had requested 5 million vaccines in April. AstraZeneca shipments were delayed due to problems at manufacturer Emergent BioSolutions Inc. in Baltimore.

CDC Raises Advisory for Israel, France (3 p.m. NY)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised the travel advisory for France and Israel to the highest level. The agency lowered the advisory for Canada to level 2, or moderate.

Pentagon to Require Shots for Troops, AP Says (1 p.m. NY)

The Pentagon will require members of the U.S. military to get vaccinated by Sept. 15, the Associated Press reported, citing a memo it said it obtained. That deadline could be pushed up if the vaccine receives final Food and Drug Administration approval or infection rates continue to rise, the wire service repoted.

Israel Considers Lowering Booster Age (11:12 a.m. NY)

Israel is considering lowering the minimum age for a third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to 40 or 50 from the current 60, a health ministry official said. Officials are also considering expanding the booster drive to health-care workers, said Nachman Ash, director general of the health ministry.

U.S. Cases Surge to February Levels (10:30 a.m. NY)

Fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant, new coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose to 761,216 in the week ended Sunday, the highest total since early February, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

The death toll climbed 49% to 3,486 for same period. It was the biggest weekly increase since December. Overall, more than 616,800 Americans have been killed by the virus.

On Sunday, Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious-disease doctor, said he’s “strongly in favor” of speeding booster shots to people with weakened immune systems, a further sign of how the delta variant is shifting the strategies for curbing the pandemic.

Indonesia Lays Out Plans to Live With Covid (8:30 a.m. NY)

Indonesia will gradually ease restrictions in several cities, including the capital Jakarta, as it sets out a roadmap for life with the coronavirus for the next few years.

Those who are vaccinated can go to shopping centers and places of worship in Jakarta and other major cities, with the capacity set at maximum 25%, said Luhut Panjaitan, the government minister overseeing the pandemic response. Bali’s situation remains concerning, he added.

The restrictions for Java and Bali are in place until Aug. 16, while curbs for other islands apply until Aug. 23.

India Finds Benefits in Dose-Mixing (7:18 a.m. NY)

Inadvertently mixing a first dose of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covishield vaccine with a second dose of Covaxin -- a vaccine made by an Indian drugmaker -- led to a higher antibody response in 18 people in a north Indian state against the alpha, beta and delta variants, according to a recent study by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

India, which has fully inoculated only 8.2% its population, recorded 35,499 Covid-19 cases Monday, taking the total tally to almost 32 million. Deaths rose by 447 in a day to 428,309, according to health ministry data.

BioNTech Raises Vaccine Sales Forecast (7 a.m. NY)

BioNTech SE raised its forecast for this year’s Covid-19 vaccine sales to 15.9 billion euros and said it is pushing forward plans to test its messenger RNA technology in cancer drugs.

BioNTech and partner Pfizer Inc. signed contracts to deliver some 2.2 billion doses of the two-shot vaccine this year and more than 1 billion doses in 2022 and beyond, the Mainz, Germany-based company said Monday. BioNTech had previously predicted 12.4 billion euros in 2021 revenue from its only marketed product.

The Covid vaccine is on track to be one of the best-selling drugs of all time, with Pfizer saying last month it may generate $33.5 billion in sales this year.

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