US to reopen land borders in November for fully vaccinated

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. will reopen its land borders to nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the country moves to require all international visitors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic. The new rules, to be announced Wednesday, will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason for travel starting in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions is set to kick in for air travel into the country. By mid-January, even essential travelers seeking to enter the U.S., like truck drivers, will need to be fully vaccinated.

Senior administration officials previewed the new policy late Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to speak ahead of the formal announcement.

Both Mexico and Canada have pressed the U.S. for months to ease restrictions on travel that have separated families and curtailed leisure trips since the onset of the pandemic. The latest move follows last month's announcement that the U.S. will end country-based travel bans for air travel, and instead require vaccination for foreign nationals seeking to enter by plane. 

Both policies will take effect in early November, the officials said. They did not specify a particular date.

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House sends debt limit hike to Biden, staving off default

WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of the House on Tuesday pushed through a short-term increase to the nation's debt limit, ensuring the federal government can continue fully paying its bills into December and temporarily averting an unprecedented default that would have decimated the economy.

The $480 billion increase in the country's borrowing ceiling cleared the Senate last week on a party-line vote. The House approved it swiftly so President Joe Biden can sign it into law this week. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had warned that steps to stave off a default on the country's debts would be exhausted by Monday, and from that point, the department would soon be unable to fully meet the government's financial obligations. 

A default would have immense fallout on global financial markets built upon the bedrock safety of U.S. government debt. Routine government payments to Social Security beneficiaries, disabled veterans and active-duty military personnel would also be called into question. 

The relief provided by passage of the legislation will only be temporary though, forcing Congress to revisit the issue in December — a time when lawmakers will also be laboring to complete federal spending bills and avoid a damaging government shutdown. The yearend backlog raises risks for both parties and threatens a tumultuous close to Biden's first year in office. 

"I'm glad that this at least allows us to prevent a totally self-made and utterly preventable economic catastrophe as we work on a longer-term plan," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

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Ransomed and beaten: Migrants face abuse in Libyan detention

ONBOARD THE GEO BARENTS OFF LIBYA (AP) — Osman Touré was crying from the pain of repeated beatings and torture as he dialed his brother's cellphone number.

"I'm in prison in Libya," Touré said in that August 2017 call. "They will kill me if you don't pay 2,500 dinars in 24 hours."

Within days, Touré's family transferred the roughly $550 demanded to secure his freedom from a government detention center in Libya. But Touré was not let go — instead, he was sold to a trafficker and kept enslaved for four more years.

Touré is among tens of thousands of migrants who have endured torture, sexual violence and extortion at the hands of guards in detention centers in Libya, a major hub for migrants fleeing poverty and wars in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe.

The 25-year-old Guinean, along with two dozen other migrants, spoke to The Associated Press aboard the Geo Barents, a rescue vessel operated by the medical aid group Doctors without Borders in the Mediterranean off Libya. Most had been held in trafficking warehouses and government detention centers in western Libya over the past four years.

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'It's not Satanism': Zimbabwe church leaders preach vaccines

SEKE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Yvonne Binda stands in front of a church congregation, all in pristine white robes, and tells them not to believe what they've heard about COVID-19 vaccines.

"The vaccine is not linked to Satanism," she says. The congregants, members of a Christian Apostolic church in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe, are unmoved. But when Binda, a vaccine campaigner and member of an Apostolic church herself, promises them soap, buckets and masks, there are enthusiastic shouts of "Amen!"

Apostolic groups that infuse traditional beliefs into a Pentecostal doctrine are among the most skeptical in Zimbabwe when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, with an already strong mistrust of modern medicine. Many followers put faith in prayer, holy water and anointed stones to ward off disease or cure illnesses.

The congregants Binda addressed in the rural area of Seke sang about being protected by the holy spirit, but have at least acknowledged soap and masks as a defense against the coronavirus. Binda is trying to convince them to also get vaccinated — and that's a tough sell.

Congregation leader Kudzanayi Mudzoki had to work hard to persuade his flock just to stay and listen to Binda speak about vaccines.

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The AP Interview: McAuliffe wants Democrats to 'get it done'

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, on Tuesday called on leaders in Washington from both parties — including President Joe Biden — to "get their act together," while pushing Senate Democrats to scrap the filibuster if needed to enact the party's priorities on infrastructure spending and voting rights.

The harsh words from McAuliffe during an interview with The Associated Press come just three weeks before Election Day in Virginia. The former governor is facing Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin in a race that represents a critical early test of the Democrats' political strength in the first year of Biden's presidency.

Polls suggest the race is close, adding to McAuliffe's sense of urgency to campaign on a robust list of his party's accomplishments. The McAuliffe campaign confirmed Tuesday that Biden and former President Barack Obama would rally voters in the state later in the month at separate events. 

Despite the outside support, McAuliffe has been deeply frustrated by his party's inability to fulfill key campaign promises since taking control of the White House and both chambers of Congress in January. In Tuesday's interview, the 64-year-old lamented the Democrats' inability to protect voting rights against a wave of Republican-backed legislation, but he saved his sharpest comments for the stalled federal infrastructure package.

"They all got to get their act together and vote," McAuliffe said. Asked specifically if he was calling out Biden, McAuliffe said, "I put everybody there."

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Capt. Kirk's William Shatner on cusp of blasting into space

VAN HORN, Texas (AP) — Actor William Shatner counted down Wednesday to his wildest role yet: riding a rocket into space, courtesy of "Star Trek" fan Jeff Bezos.

Best known for his role as Captain Kirk, the 90-year-old Shatner joined three other passengers for the planned launch from West Texas. 

Bezos' space travel company, Blue Origin, invited Shatner on the brief jaunt to the fringes of the final frontier, which will make him the oldest person in space. 

It will be Blue Origin's second passenger flight, using the same capsule and rocket that Bezos used for his own launch three months ago. The trip should last just 10 minutes, with the fully automated capsule reacing a maximum altitude of about 66 miles (106 kilometers) before parachuting back into the desert.

Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson kicked off the U.S.-based space tourism boom on July 11, riding his own rocketship to space. Bezos followed nine days later aboard his own capsule. Elon Musk stayed behind as his SpaceX company launched its first private flight last month, sending a billionaire, cancer survivor and two ticket winners into orbit.

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Pamela could be hurricane again as it makes Mexico landfall

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Tropical Storm Pamela is picking up momentum in the Pacific off Mexico and forecasters say it should be back to hurricane strength again before striking the coast north of the port of Mazatlan on Wednesday.

After weakening to a tropical storm Tuesday afternoon, Pamela was centered about 170 miles (275 kilometers) west-southwest of Mazatlan late Tuesday and was moving north-northeast at about 12 mph (19 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The storm had maximum winds of about 70 mph (110 kph). 

Pamela was forecast to pass well to the south of the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula during the night while accelerating its forward movement toward the coast and regaining wind strength.

The hurricane center warned of the possibility of life-threatening storm surges, flash floods and dangerous winds around the impact area.

Pamela was then forecast to weaken while crossing over northern Mexico and could approach the Texas border as a tropical depression by Thursday. The center said remnants of the storm could carry heavy rain to central Texas and southeast Oklahoma.

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The AP Interview: James Shaw wants climate talks to deliver

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has shown that humans are very good at responding to an immediate crisis, says New Zealand's Climate Change Minister James Shaw. But when it comes to dealing with a slower-moving threat like climate change, he says, we're "terribly bad."

Shaw spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday ahead of a key climate summit that starts in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 31. Many environmentalists say the U.N. summit, known as COP26, represents the world's final chance to avert a climate catastrophe.

Shaw said that at Glasgow, he intends to announce a more ambitious target for New Zealand's emissions reductions over the coming decade, and he hopes many other countries also aim higher.

He said a top priority will be to ensure that a promise made by wealthier nations to provide $100 billion a year to help poorer countries switch to cleaner energy is fulfilled.

"The developed world so far has not delivered on that promise," Shaw said.

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Unsupported 'sickout' claims take flight amid Southwest woes

DALLAS (AP) — When Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights over the weekend, citing bad weather and air traffic control issues, unsupported claims blaming vaccine mandates began taking off.

Conservative politicians and pundits, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, alleged the flight disruptions resulted from pilots and air traffic controllers walking off their jobs or calling in sick to protest federal vaccination requirements.

The airline, its pilots' union and the Federal Aviation Administration denied that. 

"The weekend challenges were not a result of Southwest employee demonstrations," Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said Monday.

Still, Twitter posts claiming airline employees were "standing up to medical tyranny" and participating in a "mass sickout" amassed thousands of shares. Vague and anonymous messages on social media speculated that Southwest was hiding the real reason for its disruptions. And anti-vaccine rallying cries such as #DoNotComply, #NoVaccineMandate and #HoldTheLine were among the 10 most popular hashtags tweeted in connection to Southwest over the weekend, according to a report from media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.

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The Latest: US to drop 19-month ban on nonessential travel

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says the United States will reopen its land borders for nonessential travel next month, ending a 19-month freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New rules to be announced Wednesday will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals entry to the U.S. regardless of the reason for travel.

That starts in early November, when a similar easing of restrictions is set to kick in for air travel. Senior administration officials previewed the new policy late Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to speak ahead of the formal announcement.

Vehicle, rail and ferry travel between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to essential travel, such as trade, since the earliest days of the pandemic. Both Mexico and Canada have pressed the U.S. for months to ease restrictions on non-essential travel that have separated families and curtailed leisure trips.

— By Zeke Miller

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