The Latest: Philippines ends ban on workers’ travel to Saudi
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has lifted a ban on the deployment of workers to Saudi Arabia, which it imposed after receiving reports that workers were being asked to shoulder COVID-19 test and quarantine costs in the oil-rich kingdom.
Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that after Saudi Arabia formally notified his country Saturday that recruitment agencies and Saudi employers would bear the costs of tests and 10 days of quarantine for Filipinos, he decided to lift the ban.
The ban, which Bello imposed Thursday, prevented more than 400 Filipino workers from boarding their Philippine Airlines flights for Saudi Arabia on Friday. Many were stranded at the Manila airport, with some begging in tears for the government to immediately lift the ban.
“I apologize for the inconvenience and momentary anguish that it may have caused our dear overseas Filipino workers,” Bello said, but added “our Saudi-bound workers will no longer be disadvantaged.”
The Philippines is a leading source of global labor. Its regulations require recruitment agencies and foreign employers to cover the costs of COVID-19 tests and quarantines, which would be a financial burden to the mostly poor workers.
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— The number of new coronavirus infections in the U.K. has hit a near two-month high. There is growing speculation that the new variant of the virus first identified in India may prompt the British government to delay further easing lockdown restrictions in England.
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— Malaysia’s prime minister says a near-total coronavirus lockdown will be imposed in the country, with social and economic activities to be halted for two weeks to contain a worsening outbreak.
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s Health Ministry announced the shutdown of all public and private universities and schools in the country’s 16 provinces, including Kabul, for at least two weeks starting Saturday.
The decision follows a surge in cases. On Friday, 977 people tested positive for COVID-19 and 18 died, most of them in Kabul. Only 3,800 were tested.
Over 600,000 people have received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the ministry said, without counting the armed forces. The vaccination drive has been put on hold due to shortages and the remaining stocks are reserved for those who got the first shot.
BEIJING — China on Saturday reported 16 new confirmed coronavirus cases including two authorities said were believed to have been acquired locally.
The two locally transmitted cases were in Guangdong province in the south, adjacent to Hong Kong, the National Health Commission reported. It said the other infections are believed to have been acquired abroad.
Mainland China’s death toll stands at 4,636 out of 91,061 confirmed cases, according to the NHC.
NEW YORK — Kids at summer camps can skip wearing masks outdoors, with some exceptions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the guidance Friday. Children who aren’t fully vaccinated should still wear masks outside when they’re in crowds or in sustained close contact with others – and when they are inside.
But fully vaccinated kids need not wear masks, indoors or outside. It’s the first in a wave of guidance updates that seek to incorporate recent CDC decisions to tell Americans they don’t have to be as cautious about using masks and social distancing outdoors.
MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Phillies will soon be able to pack their ballpark.
The city said Friday it will lift nearly all of its pandemic restrictions more than a week ahead of schedule, as new coronavirus infections decline to their lowest point since September.
Capacity limits for businesses and events and social distancing rules will go away on Wednesday.
The city had planned to eliminate the restrictions on June 11, but officials said the relatively low number of new cases and a test positivity rate of less than 3% made it possible to do it sooner than planned.
The city’s indoor mask mandate and an 11 p.m. last call at bars and restaurants will continue until at least June 11, the city said.
After the city’s announcement Friday, the Phillies announced that seating at Citizens Bank Park will be increased to 100% capacity starting June 4, the club’s next home series.
ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared Friday that public schools no longer have his permission to require masks for coronavirus protection, though his executive order fell short of banning such mandates outright.
The Republican governor’s written order came two days after Kemp gave a preview in a Fox News Channel interview Wednesday, declaring: “The time for mandates is over.”
“We’re not going to have a mask mandate for our kids,” Kemp said. “Our teachers have had the ability to get vaccinated. It certainly doesn’t keep anyone from wearing a mask.”
The actual order adjusting Georgia’s few remaining coronavirus restrictions isn’t so strongly worded.
Instead, Kemp’s order says Georgia school districts can no longer claim their authority to require masks comes from the governor.
It’s unclear how many Georgia districts ever required employees and students to wear masks. While a number of metro Atlanta school districts enforced the requirement, many districts in outer suburbs and rural areas only strongly recommended masks.
Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University, said school boards can likely require teachers and staff to wear masks without the governor’s permission, much like they impose dress codes.
Kreis said Kemp’s order “punted this as a political issue back to the local school boards and said, `I don’t want you to do this and you can’t use me as your justification.’”
Kemp is running for reelection in 2022 and has been taking steps to shore up support among Republican voters still restive over claims that Kemp didn’t do enough to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory in Georgia.
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Crew members of ships arriving at the California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are being offered COVID-19 vaccinations.
The vaccinations are administered without charge to international crews aboard ships visiting San Pedro Bay.
The Port of Long Beach said in a statement Friday that more than 450 crewmembers from 27 ships have received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Nearly 480 more sailors on 29 ships are booked for vaccinations.
“It’s great to see our city helping these sailors who serve on the ships that carry the world’s cargo across the oceans and keep this industry moving,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. “These men and women are an important part of the supply chain, and they travel all over the world.”
The vaccinations are a joint effort of the Port of Long Beach, the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services and the National Guard.
BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Friday issued an executive order repealing a mask mandate prohibition put in place while he was out of the state by the lieutenant governor, describing her actions as a tyrannical abuse of power and an “irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.”
The Republican governor up to now had been reserved in his comments about Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, a member of the far-right who has worked to undermine Little’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week she announced her run for governor, challenging the first-term incumbent Little. Her executive order Thursday banning mask mandates in schools and public buildings is widely seen as part of that campaign, and she is already using that executive order in fundraising efforts.
Little has never issued a statewide mask mandate, but counties, cities and schools have issued their own directives. Many have been lifted as more Idaho residents have been vaccinated, but two counties and 10 cities still have them in place, as do multiple schools.
DENVER — Two sheriff’s deputies who contracted COVID-19 have died in less than two weeks.
The Denver Sheriff’s Department announced the death of Deputy Daniel “Duke” Trujillo on Thursday. The former Marine was a seven-year department veteran who worked for the city’s downtown jail. His death followed the death of Deputy James Herrera. Herrera worked for the department for 25 years and was also assigned to the downtown jail.
After Trujillo’s death was announced, criticism of some of his social media posts that seemed to express skepticism about coronavirus vaccinations surfaced. Like other workplaces, the department says employees aren’t required to be vaccinated.