Supply Chain Woes Prompt a New Push to Revive U.S. Factories

When visitors arrive at the office of America Knits in tiny Swainsboro, Ga., the first thing they see on the wall is a black-and-white photo that a company co-founder, Steve Hawkins, discovered in a local antiques store.

It depicts one of a score of textile mills that once dotted the area, along with the workers that toiled on its machines and powered the local economy. The scene reflects the heyday — and to Mr. Hawkins, the potential — of making clothes in the rural South.

Companies like America Knits will test whether the United States can regain some of the manufacturing output it ceded in recent decades to China and other countries. That question has been contentious among workers whose jobs were lost to globalization. But with the supply-chain snarls resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, it has become intensely tangible from the consumer viewpoint as well.

Mr. Hawkins’s company, founded in 2019, has 65 workers producing premium T-shirts from locally grown cotton. He expects the work force to increase to 100 in the coming months. If the area is to have an industrial renaissance, it is so far a lonely one. “I’m the only one, the only crazy one,” Mr. Hawkins said.

General Motors disclosed in December that it was considering spending upward of $4 billion to expand electric vehicle and battery production in Michigan. Just days later, Toyota announced plans for a $1.3 billion battery plant in North Carolina that will employ 1,750 people.

little change in the balance of trade or the inclination of companies operating in China to redirect investment to the United States.

Since the pandemic began, however, efforts to relocate manufacturing have accelerated, said Claudio Knizek, global leader for advanced manufacturing and mobility at EY-Parthenon, a strategy consulting firm. “It may have reached a tipping point,” he added.

Decades of dependence on Asian factories, especially in China, has been upended by delays and surging freight rates — when shipping capacity can be found at all.

Backups at overwhelmed ports and the challenges of obtaining components as well as finished products in a timely way have convinced companies to think about locating production capacity closer to buyers.

“It’s absolutely about being close to customers,” said Tim Ingle, group vice president for enterprise strategy at Toyota Motor North America. “It’s a big endeavor, but it’s the future.”

New corporate commitments to sustainability are also playing a role, with the opportunity to reduce pollution and fossil fuel consumption in transportation across oceans emerging as a selling point.

Repositioning the supply chain isn’t just an American phenomenon, however. Experts say the trend is also encouraging manufacturing in northern Mexico, a short hop to the United States by truck.

traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:

“Incentives to help level the playing field are a key piece,” said David Moore, chief strategy officer and senior vice president at Micron. “Building a leading-edge memory fabrication facility is a sizable investment; it’s not just a billion or two here and there. These are major decisions.”

In the aftermath of the coronavirus and restrictions on exports of goods like masks, moving manufacturing closer to home is also being viewed as a national security priority, said Rick Burke, a managing director with the consulting firm Deloitte.

“As the pandemic continues, there’s a realization that this may be the new normal,” Mr. Burke said. “The pandemic has sent a shock wave through organizations. It’s no longer a discussion about cost, but about supply-chain resiliency.”

Despite the big announcements and the billions being spent, it could take until the late 2020s before the investments yield a meaningful number of manufacturing jobs, Mr. Burke said — and even then, raw materials and some components will probably come from overseas.

Still, if the experts are correct, these moves could reverse decades of dwindling employment in American factories. A quarter of a century ago, U.S. factories employed more than 17 million people, but that number dropped to 11.5 million by 2010.

Since then, the gains have been modest, with the total manufacturing work force now at 12.5 million.

But the sector remains one of the few where the two-thirds of Americans who lack a college degree can earn a middle-class wage. In bigger cities and parts of the country where workers are unionized, factories frequently pay $20 to $25 an hour compared with $15 or less for jobs at warehouses or in restaurants and bars.

Even in the rural South, long resistant to unions, manufacturing jobs can come with a healthy salary premium. At America Knits, a private-label manufacturer that sells to retailers including J. Crew and Buck Mason, workers earn $12 to $15 an hour, compared with $7.50 to $11 in service jobs.

The hiring is being driven by strong demand for the company’s T-shirts, Mr. Hawkins said, as well as by a recognition among retailers of the effect of supply-chain problems on foreign sources of goods.

“Retailers have opened their eyes more and are bringing manufacturing back,” he said. “And with premium T-shirts selling for $30 or more, they can afford to.”

A few years ago, Julie Land said she would naturally have looked to Asia to expand production of outerwear and other goods for her Canadian company, Winnipeg Stitch Factory, and its clothing brand, Pine Falls.

Instead, the 12-year-old business is opening a plant in Port Gibson, Miss., in 2022. Fabric will be cut in Winnipeg and then shipped to Port Gibson to be sewn into garments like jackets and sweaters. The factory will be heavily automated, Ms. Land said, enabling her company to keep costs manageable and compete with overseas workshops.

“Reshoring is not going to happen overnight, but it is happening, and it’s exciting,” she said. “If you place an order offshore, there is so much uncertainty with a longer lead time. All of that adds up.”

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Bosses Have a New Headache: How Long Should Sick Workers Isolate?

Barbara Sibley’s four New York restaurants had already weathered the city’s initial Covid-19 wave, the prevaccine surge last winter and this summer’s Delta spike when last weekend it finally happened: Fearing an outbreak and struggling with staffing after one of her workers got sick with Covid, she temporarily shut down one of her locations.

That was only the start of Ms. Sibley’s worries. She also had to weigh how long the employee, who was fully vaccinated, should isolate before returning to the job. And the messaging from public health experts was not clear-cut.

In the early days of the pandemic the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that most people who tested positive for the coronavirus isolate for 14 days. It later reduced its recommended isolation period to 10 days. But these policies were based on data from unvaccinated individuals and were implemented before the widespread availability of rapid tests. An increasing number of health and policy professionals now suggest that vaccinated people can end their isolation after five to seven days, so long as they are not symptomatic and they test negative.

On Thursday, the C.D.C. reduced, in some circumstances, the number of days it recommends that health care workers who test positive for the coronavirus isolate themselves, but it did not address other businesses.

said on Friday that fully vaccinated critical workers could return to work five days after testing positive, so long as they have no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving and they have had no fever for 72 hours. Those workers will also have to wear a mask, she said.

Omicron has intensified staffing shortages across industries, and the spike in cases has disrupted travel during the holidays, stranding thousands of customers and underscoring the economic toll of employees needing to isolate. Already, some economists are warning about the potential impact that shutdowns can have on consumer spending.

Delta Air Lines asked the C.D.C. on Tuesday to cut isolation time to five days for fully vaccinated people, warning that the current 10-day period may “significantly impact” operations. It was followed by JetBlue and Airlines for America, a trade group that represents eight airlines.

eliminated weekly testing for vaccinated players who are asymptomatic, with its chief medical officer saying the pandemic had reached a stage in which it’s unnecessary for vaccinated players to sit out if they feel healthy.

canceled performances through Christmas. CityMD, the privately owned urgent care clinic, temporarily shut 19 sites in New York and New Jersey because of staffing shortages. At least a dozen New York restaurants have temporarily closed in response to positive tests.

“I think lots of companies are looking at a lot of disruption in the next month and trying to put in policies right now, because they know their employees are going to get infected in very high numbers,” said Dr. Jha.

The United States might take direction from policy shifts abroad. Britain said on Wednesday that it was reducing to seven from 10 the days that people must isolate after showing Covid-19 symptoms.

After the British government lifted nearly all its pandemic restrictions in July, hundreds of thousands of workers were pinged by the National Health Service’s track-and-trace app and told to isolate because they had been exposed to the coronavirus. Businesses complained of being short-staffed, and economists said the “pingdemic” may have slowed economic growth in July.

In the United States, new tools to help manage through the pandemic are on the way.

The Food and Drug Administration this week authorized two pills to treat Covid, from Pfizer and Merck. Those treatments have been shown to stave off severe disease and have potential to reduce transmission of the virus, though supply of both pills, especially Pfizer’s, will be limited in the next few months.

President Biden said on Tuesday that he planned to invoke the Defense Production Act to buy and give away 500 million rapid antigen tests, a crucial tool in detecting transmissibility, though those tests will not be available for weeks or longer.

If a combination of the antiviral pills and rapid tests is able to get individuals back to work faster, “that’s a big economic point,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research.

Molly Moon Neitzel, who owns an ice cream business in Seattle with just over 100 employees, said she had kept guidelines for isolation conservative.

“I’m on the side of protecting people over getting them back to work right now,” she said, adding that if it were summer and her business were busier, she might consider a shorter isolation period. “It’s the slowest time of the year for an ice cream company, so that is in my favor.”

Some public health experts worry that if the C.D.C. shortens its guidelines on isolating, employers could pressure workers to get back before they’re fully recovered.

“What I don’t want to see happen is for this to be used as an excuse to force people to come back while they are unwell,” Dr. Ranney of Brown said.

And even with clearer guidelines, putting policies in place can be tricky. While some experts suggest different isolation rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, some companies do not yet have a system for tracking which of their workers have gotten a vaccine. The question of whether the C.D.C. will change its definition of fully vaccinated to include booster shots adds another layer of complexity.

It’s not just sick employees who may have to stay home: Companies are also grappling with whether vaccinated workers should quarantine after exposure to someone with Covid-19, which C.D.C. guidelines do not require.

“It becomes a challenge for employers to choose between providing a safer environment and keeping staff intact, or going with the C.D.C. guidance,” said Karen Burke, an adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management.

But almost two years into the pandemic, that’s the position that employers continue to find themselves in, amid an ever-flowing cascade of new data, guidelines and considerations.

“Every moment, you’re making life or death decisions,” Ms. Sibley said. “That’s not what we signed up for.”

Rebecca Robbins contributed reporting.

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Omicron Is Turning Europe’s Busy Season Silent

“You could feel Christmas was coming,” Amanda Whiteside, a manager at Gordon’s Wine Bar in London, said of the crowds and buzz. “And then it was gone.”

Throughout Britain and in other parts of Europe, new government restrictions combined with heightened anxiety over the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus have drastically reduced business at restaurants, pubs, event venues and stores, prompting urgent calls for additional government assistance.

In Britain, the government responded Tuesday, announcing 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in aid for the hospitality industry, with one-time grants of £6,000 and rebates for employees’ sick leave.

The additional assistance was promised as a fresh wave of anxiety over the economy washes over the region. In France, government ministers announced Tuesday additional aid up to 12 million euros for travel agencies, events, caterers and indoor leisure companies that suffer big operating losses this month.

Spain, the government has scheduled an emergency meeting with regional leaders on Wednesday to discuss whether to adopt new restrictions. Italy’s government is meeting on Thursday.

“We are in a different phase now where lockdown will be potentially more costly,” said Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “Up until now, we’ve been used to lockdowns followed by support from the government. I think that will be the case as well, but support will be more conditional, less comprehensive than before.”

Britain recorded the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Europe over the last seven days, according to the World Health Organization.

On Monday, organizations representing more than 100,000 businesses around the country sent an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, demanding more tax relief and grants to tide them over.

new requirements that customers must show proof of vaccination or recent recovery. And in the Netherlands, where the government announced a lockdown over the weekend, calls to the nation’s business registry asking for help climbed past 400 on Monday — seven times the number logged the previous Monday.

known as Plan B, on Dec. 8 as a response to Omicron, cancellations have been rolling in and foot traffic has disappeared in some areas.

At Gordon’s Wine Bar, it was common to find every table in its cavelike cellar and on its outdoor patio full and a long line of customers waiting. Then Plan B was put in place.

The drop-off, said Ms. Whiteside, the administrative manager, “was very dramatic.”

Customers thinned out, and several staff members got Covid, she said. Gordon’s is now offering only outside service, and Ms. Whiteside estimates that sales are down 25 percent.

Half a mile away, in Soho, the Coach and Horses pub was similarly contending with fewer customers and sick staff. Last week, business was off by a third, while on Monday it fell “off the edge of a cliff,” said Alison Ross, the manager.

Kaasbar Utrecht, is shuttered, and $100,000 at the cafe. Plans to rebuild a nightclub he owns that was burned in a fire in January have been postponed. He has had to let go most of his 80-person staff and is now trying to make money selling mulled wine in the streets and cheese packages door to door.

Mr. Waseq said that because he opened his business after the pandemic began and did not have 2019 sales to use as a benchmark comparison, he was not eligible for government assistance.

Ron Sinnige, a spokesman for the national business registry, the Kamer van Koophandel, said the agency was flooded with calls this week asking about financial assistance, advice or liquidating their operations. Some were seeking guidance on how to qualify as an essential business — could a clothing store sell candy and soda, could a beauty salon offer postsurgical massages or list Botox injections as a medical procedure?

The questions were a sign of people’s creativity and despair, Mr. Sinnige said. “As opposed to previous lockdowns, people are really at the end of their financial flexibility and emotional flexibility,” he said.

France has canceled a menu of year-end celebrations and barred tourists from Britain, a blow to the ski industry.

On Tuesday, the Swedish government imposed some new restrictions that included allowing only seated customers to be served in restaurants and bars.

Ireland imposed an early curfew of 8 p.m. on restaurants and bars that began on Monday, while limiting attendance at events.

In Denmark, restaurants and bars must cut off serving alcohol after 10 p.m., and a slate of venues and event spaces including ​​theaters, museums, zoos, concert halls and Tivoli, Copenhagen’s landmark amusement park, have been closed.

Switzerland’s restrictions that bar unvaccinated people from going to restaurants, gyms and museums are expected to last until Jan. 24.

In Germany, the check-in process at stores, which requires stopping everyone at the door and asking to see vaccination certification and an ID, was deterring shoppers at what would normally be the busiest time of the year, the German Trade Association said.

Retailers surveyed by the group reported a 37 percent drop in sales from Christmas 2019.

“After months of lockdowns, the restrictions are once again bringing many retailers to the edge of their existence,” said Stefan Genth, head of the Trade Association.

A court in the northern state of Lower Saxony last week threw out the restrictions there, after the Woolworth department store chain challenged them on grounds that they were not fairly applied and that requiring shoppers to wear masks provided sufficient protection. The ruling on Thursday raised hopes that other states would follow its lead, giving a final boost to last-minute shoppers.

“Last weekend was better, but overall the shopping season has been more than depressing,” said Mark Alexander Krack, head of the Lower Saxony Trade Association.

Eshe Nelson contributed reporting.

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How Omicron Could Knock Economic Recovery Off Track

LONDON — This week, Marisha Wallace finally had to admit that her planned five-day ski holiday in Switzerland in mid-December was not salvageable: The Swiss government’s sudden decision to impose a 10-day quarantine on some international travelers meant she wouldn’t be able to leave her hotel or return home to London on her scheduled flight.

“It’s the way of the world right now,” said Ms. Wallace, an actress and a singer. “You can’t plan anymore.”

That provisional state, amplified across the world, has left the still-fragile economy in a state of suspense as spiking coronavirus infections and the new variant Omicron have popped up around the globe.

“There’s no way to know how bad it will get,” said Ángel Talavera, head of European economics at Oxford Economics.

report released Wednesday from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed, although growth has been uneven, the world economy this year bounced back more quickly and strongly than had been anticipated. The report, compiled largely before the latest coronavirus news, nevertheless warned that growth was projected to slow: in the eurozone, to 4.3 percent next year from 5.2 percent in 2021; and in the United States, to 3.7 percent in 2022 from 5.6 percent.

The organization characterized its outlook as “cautiously optimistic.” But it reiterated how much economic fortunes are inextricably tied to the coronavirus: “The economic policy priority is to get people vaccinated,” the report concluded.

a fourth wave of infections transformed Europe into a Covid hot spot and prompted new restrictions like lockdowns in the Netherlands and Austria.

During earlier outbreaks, trillions in government assistance helped quickly resuscitate the struggling U.S. and European economies. It also brought some unexpected side effects. Combined with pent-up demand, that support helped produce a shortage of labor and materials and rising inflation.

Given how much debt was racked up in the past 18 months, such aid is unlikely to recur even with a sharp downturn — and neither are wholesale closures. Vaccines provide some protection, and many people say they are unwilling to go back into hibernation.

People and business alike have shifted into a wait-and-see mode. “A lot of things do seem like they are on hold, like labor market or overall consumption decisions,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research for the job site Indeed.

How that will affect unemployment levels and inflation rates is unclear. Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, indicated on Tuesday that concern about stubborn inflation was growing. The O.E.C.D. also warned that inflation could be higher and last longer than originally anticipated.

Omicron’s appearance just adds to the uncertainty, Laurence Boone, the organization’s chief economist, said in an interview.

governments have reacted with a confusing hodgepodge of stern warnings, travel bans, mask mandates and testing rules that further cloud the economic outlook. That patchwork response combined with people’s varying tolerance for risk means that, at least in the short term, the virus’s latest swerves will have a vastly different effect depending on where you are and what you do.

In France, Luna Park, an annual one-month amusement fair held in the southern city of Nice and slated to open this weekend, was called off after the government suddenly requisitioned the massive warehouse where roller coasters, shooting galleries and merry-go-rounds were being set up in order to convert the space to an emergency vaccination center.

“Today I find myself trying to save my company, and I’m not sure that I can,” said Serge Paillon, park’s owner. He feared he would face huge losses, including 500,000 euros (about $566,000) he had already invested in the event, as well as refunds for tickets that had been on sale for several months

Mr. Paillon furloughed 20 employees. Another 200 festival workers who were coming from around the country to manage the 60 games and rides were told to stay home.

“For a year and a half, it was already a disaster,” Mr. Paillon said. “And now it’s starting again.”

Israel’s decision on Saturday to shut its borders to all foreign tourists for two weeks is likely to reduce the number of tourists in Israel and the occupied territories this December by up to 40,000, or nearly 60 percent of what was expected, according to a government estimate.

Wiatt F. Bowers, an urban planner, had planned to leave Jacksonville, Fla., for Tel Aviv on Wednesday but had to cancel — the fifth time in 18 months that he had to scrap a planned trip to Israel. He will rebook, but doesn’t know when.

Foreign tourism, which brought a record 4.55 million tourists to Israel in 2019, had already nearly vanished. Between March 2020 and September 2021, nonresident foreigners were barred from entering Israel — and, by extension, the occupied territories, where entry and exit are controlled by Israel.

In Bethlehem, where tourism is the main industry, income consequently fell more than 50 percent, said the mayor, Anton Salman, in a phone interview.

Elias al-Arja, the chief of the Arab Hotel Association, which represents about 100 Palestinian hotels in the occupied territories, said he was concerned less about the short-term effect of the sudden travel ban than about the long-term message of unpredictability it sent to potential visitors.

“The disaster isn’t the groups who canceled over the next two weeks,” Mr. al-Arja said. “How can I convince people to come to the Holy Land after we promised them that you can come, but then the government closes the border?”

Reluctance to travel, though, could mean an upswing in other sectors if the new variant is not as harmful as people fear. Jessica Moulton, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company in London, said previous spending patterns during the pandemic showed that some money people would otherwise use for travel would instead be spent on dining.

She estimated that the roughly $40 billion that British consumers saved on travel last summer was used for shopping and eating out.

At the moment, Ms. Moulton said, “to the extent that Omicron decreases travel, which will happen as we head into Christmas, that will benefit restaurants.”

In Switzerland, where travelers from Britain and 22 other countries must now quarantine, the effect of the policy change on hotels was immediate.

“The majority of travelers from England — between 80 to 90 percent — have already canceled,” said Andreas Züllig, head of HotellerieSuisse, the Swiss hotel association.

Ms. Wallace, who canceled her trip to the Cambrian Hotel in Adelboden, was one of several people who changed their reservations at the hotel after the Swiss government made its announcement on Friday, just one week before the slopes open.

“This obviously has an impact on our very important winter and Christmas business,” said Anke Lock, the Cambrian’s manager, who estimated that 20 percent of the hotel’s December bookings were at risk.

For now, though, most guests are watching and waiting, Ms. Lock said: “We’ve changed the bookings from guaranteed to tentative.”

Extreme uncertainty about the economy may turn out to be the only certainty.

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem, Melissa Eddy from Berlin and Léontine Gallois from Paris.

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World Omicron Fight Hindered by Fragmented Response

ROME — In a wrenchingly familiar cycle of tracking first cases, pointing fingers and banning travel, nations worldwide reacted Monday to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the piecemeal fashion that has defined — and hobbled — the pandemic response all along.

As here-we-go-again fear and resignation gripped much of the world, the World Health Organization warned that the risk posed by the heavily mutated variant was “very high.” But operating once again in a vacuum of evidence, governments chose approaches that differed between continents, between neighboring countries, and even between cities within those countries.

Little is known about Omicron beyond its large number of mutations; it will be weeks, at least, before scientists can say with confidence whether it is more contagious — early evidence suggests it is — whether it causes more serious illness, and how it responds to vaccines.

In China, which had been increasingly alone in sealing itself off as it sought to eradicate the virus, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party gloated about democracies that are now following suit as Japan, Australia and other countries gave up flirting with a return to normalcy and slammed their borders shut to the world. The West, it said, had hoarded vaccines at the expense of poorer regions, and was now paying a price for its selfishness.

announced that government employees, health care workers and staff and students at most schools must be vaccinated by Jan. 22.

tied to a single soccer team — and Scotland reported six, while the numbers in South Africa continued to soar.

Experts warned that the variant will reach every part of the world, if it hasn’t already.

The leaders of the world’s top powers insisted that they understood this, but their assurances also had a strong whiff of geopolitics.

President Xi Jinping of China offered one billion doses of Covid vaccine to Africa, on top of nearly 200 million that Beijing has already shipped to the continent, during an address to a conference in Senegal by video link.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, boasted of China’s success in thwarting virus transmission, and said the West was now paying the price for its selfish policies. “Western countries control most of the resources needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” it wrote. “But they have failed to curb the spread of the virus and have exposed more and more developing countries to the virus.”

told France Inter radio on Monday that variants would continue to emerge unless richer countries shared more vaccines. “We need a much more systemic approach,” she said.

“zero Covid” strategy.

China has steadfastly kept a high wall against visitors from the rest of the world. Foreign residents and visa holders are allowed in only under limited circumstances, leading to concerns by some within the business world that Covid restrictions were leaving the country increasingly isolated.

Visitors must submit to two-week quarantines upon arrival and face potential limits on their movement after that. Movements are tracked via monitoring smartphone apps, which display color codes that can signal whether a person has traveled from or through an area with recent infections, triggering instructions to remain in one place.

In other parts of Asia, people are less focused on eradicating the virus than just surviving it.

“This news is terrifying,” said Gurinder Singh, 57, in New Delhi, who worried about his shop going under. “If this virus spreads in India, the government will shut the country again, and we will be forced to beg.”

Reporting was contributed by Declan Walsh from Nairobi, Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem, Carlos Tejada from Seoul, Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, India, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Elian Peltier and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, Megan Specia from London, Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin, Emma Bubola from Rome and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva.

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Europe · 7:42 AM UTC

AMSTERDAM, Nov 26 (Reuters) – Dutch health authorities said that 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for COVID-19, and they were conducting further testing early Saturday to see if any of the infections are with the recently discovered Omicron coronavirus variant.

Around 600 passengers arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on the two KLM flights on Friday and then faced hours of delays and testing due to concerns over the new virus variant.

The Dutch health ministry said early Saturday 61 tests had come back positive.

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“Travelers with a positive test result will be placed in isolation at a hotel at or near Schiphol,” health authorities said in a statement.

“Of the positive test results, we are researching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named ‘Omicron’.”

The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge determined that passengers already en route to the Netherlands would have to undergo testing and quarantine upon arrival.

Passengers on the two KLM flights, from Cape Town and Johannesburg, said they were kept waiting on the tarmac for hours.

“Vigorous applause because there is a BUS that has come to take us … somewhere,” tweeted New York Times journalist Stephanie Nolen, a passenger on the flight from Johannesburg who later said she had tested negative.

“Bus to a hall to a huge queue. I can see COVID testers in bright blue PPE far on the distance. Still no snacks for the sad babies,” she added in a second tweet.

A spokesperson for the health authorities in Kennemerland, the Dutch region that oversees Schiphol, said the positive cases were being analysed by an academic medical hospital to determine whether they are the new strain.

The new variant has been detected just as many European countries are grappling with a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Dutch government separately on Friday announced the nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores as it tries to curb a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is swamping its healthcare system. read more

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Reporting by Toby Sterling
Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Leslie Adler and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Austria Imposes Lockdown Amid Europe’s Covid Surge

Vaccination rates in most of Western Europe are higher, but the levels in Eastern Europe are far lower — from 59 percent in the Czech Republic to 24 percent in Bulgaria.

Belgium is highly vaccinated, at 75 percent, but a rise in cases has caused the government to impose tighter restrictions, including more working from home and wider mandatory mask wearing. That prompted a protest in Brussels on Sunday of an estimated 35,000 people near the European Union headquarters. Some protesters threw stones and set fires, the police made more than 40 arrests, and three officers were hurt.

Alexander de Croo, the prime minister of Belgium, called the violence “absolutely unacceptable.” Like Mr. Rutte, he said Belgians were free to protest, but that “the way in which some demonstrators behaved had nothing to do with freedom.” He continued: “It had nothing to do with whether vaccination was a good thing or not, this was criminal behavior.”

In Greece, the government said on Monday that unvaccinated people would be barred from indoor spaces, including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms. Vaccination certificates for those older than 60 will be valid for only seven months, with people then required to get booster shots to maintain validity.

In Slovakia, the country’s prime minister, Eduard Heger, announced a “lockdown for the unvaccinated” from Monday. Slovakia and the Czech Republic banned unvaccinated people from restaurants, pubs, shopping malls, public events and stores, except for those selling essential goods.

The W.HO. chief for Europe, Hans Kluge, earlier this month blamed the region’s woes on insufficient vaccination despite the availability of vaccines, and said that the continent could see half a million more deaths by February.

“We must change our tactics, from reacting to surges of Covid-19 to preventing them from happening in the first place,” he said.

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High Gas Prices Force Sacrifices, Like Travel and Dining Out

A driver in Belleville, N.J., cut his cable and downsized his apartment to save money for gas. A retiree in Vallejo, Calif., said he had stopped driving to go fishing because the miles cost too much in fuel. An auto repairman in Toms River, N.J., doesn’t go to restaurants as often. And an Uber Eats deliveryman said he couldn’t afford frequent visits to his family and friends, some of whom live 60 miles away.

“Times are tough right now,” Chris Gonzalez, 31, the Uber Eats driver, said as he filled up his tank at a Safeway gas station off Interstate 80 in California.

Millions of American drivers have acutely felt the recent surge in gas prices, which last month hit their highest level since 2014. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.41, which is $1.29 more than it was a year ago, according to AAA. Even after a recent price dip in crude oil, gasoline remains 7 cents more per gallon than it was a month ago.

While consumers are seeing a steady rise in the prices of many goods and services, the cost of gas is especially visible. It is displayed along highways across the country, including in areas where a gallon has climbed as high as $7.59.

survey from the fuel savings platform GasBuddy.

instructed the Federal Trade Commission this week to investigate why prices at the pump haven’t declined as much as might be expected, citing the possibility of “illegal conduct” by oil and gas companies. The administration is also facing calls from Congress to tap the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said would help struggling Americans.

Gas prices have gone up in part because of fluctuations in supply and demand. Demand for oil fell precipitously in the early months of the pandemic, so the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing nations cut production. In the United States, reduced demand led to a substantial decline in drilling; the country’s oil rig count was down nearly 70 percent in summer 2020.

But over the past year, demand for oil recovered far faster than OPEC restored its production, and crude oil prices doubled to as much as $84 a barrel. (Since Nov. 9, the price has declined to just over $76.)

higher in the past; in 2008, the national average rose above $4.10 per gallon. (Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to $5.16 today.) They’re optimistic that the increase in travel and gas demand is a reflection of the economy’s rebound from the pandemic, though they worry that rising prices could make people cut back on other spending.

“If gas prices rise so much that it affects consumers’ disposable incomes, this would weigh on discretionary spending,” said Fawad Razaqzada, a market analyst at ThinkMarkets. “It would be bad news for retailers.”

In California, where the average price of a gallon is the highest in the nation, at more than $4.60, drivers said they were changing their behavior. Some sought out cheaper spots, like Costco and Safeway gas stations, to save a few dollars.

At an Arco station in San Francisco’s NoPa neighborhood, a line of cars extended into the crowded street on Thursday. Some drivers searched for change. Others grumbled about the prices, which have shot up to as much as $4.49 at the Arco — known locally for its normally cheap rates — and up to $5.85 in the most expensive part of the city.

Keith Crawford, 57, who was filling up his Kia Optima, said he had taken to getting smaller amounts of gas twice a week to soften the blow to his bank account.

“You have to spread it out in order to stay afloat,” said Mr. Crawford, a concierge. “It’s part of the budget now.”

Thirty miles northeast of San Francisco in Vallejo, drivers lined up at the Safeway gas station off I-80, where the price was $4.83 per gallon. Several put the blame for their bills on the Biden administration.

“It’s Biden, Gavin Newsom — look at the gas taxes we pay,” said Kevin Altman, a 54-year-old retiree, referring to California’s governor.

Mr. Altman paid $50 to fill up his Jeep and estimated the gas would last him just two days. He said he had stopped driving to go fishing in nearby Benicia to avoid using too much gas, and would do all his Christmas shopping online this year.

The cost can be especially challenging for people who own businesses that depend on transit. Mahmut Sonmez, 33, who runs a car service, spends nearly $800 on gas out of the $2,500 he earns each week driving people around New Jersey. To save money, he moved in September into a Belleville apartment that is $400 cheaper than his previous home. He also cut his cable service and changed cellphone plans.

If gas prices keep rising, Mr. Sonmez said, he will consider changing jobs after nine years in the industry. “Somehow we’ve got to pay the rent,” he said.

In New Jersey, which bans self-service gas, some drivers are directing their ire toward station attendants.

“Every day they’re cursing me out,” said Gaby Marmol, 25, the assistant manager of a BP station in Newark, adding that when she sees how much the customers spend on both gas and convenience store items — $1.19 for ring pops that used to be 50 cents — she feels sympathetic. “We’re just doing our jobs, but they think we set the prices.”

Cheik Diakite, 62, an attendant at a Mobil station in Newark, doesn’t get as many tips as he did before the pandemic, he said, and grows frustrated listening to customers attribute the high prices to Mr. Biden.

Mr. Diakite typically passes afternoons by looking out for his most loyal customers. Bebi Amzad, who works at a nearby school, always has the same request for him: “Fill it up.” But when she pulled in on Thursday, she asked him to give her just $30 worth of gas.

“Today I’m not filling up all the way because I have other expenses,” said Ms. Amzad, 54, who commutes to Newark from Linden, N.J. “Everybody is hurting.”

Because she spends so much on gas and groceries, Ms. Amzad continued, she can’t afford many indulgences. “I don’t go to Marshalls anymore.”

Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.

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Japan’s Economy Shrinks, but Outlook Is Brighter as Virus Ebbs

Japan’s economy continued to wobble in the third quarter of 2021, tipping back into contraction, as the country struggled to find its economic footing in the face of coronavirus restrictions and a supply chain crunch that hit its biggest manufacturers.

In the July-to-September period, the country’s economy, the third largest after the United States and China, shrank by an annualized rate of 3 percent, government data showed on Monday. The result, a quarterly drop of 0.8 percent, followed a slight expansion in the previous three-month period, when economic output grew at a revised annualized rate of 1.5 percent, or a quarterly rate of 0.4 percent.

But brighter days may be ahead, at least in the near term.

Japan now has one of the highest vaccination rates among major nations, and it has lifted virtually all restrictions on its economy as its virus caseload has fallen in recent weeks to one of the lowest levels in the world.

Seventy-five percent of the country is fully vaccinated. And coronavirus case counts have hovered in the low hundreds since mid-October, a decline of about 99 percent since their August peak, heralding the return of long-suppressed consumer spending.

back foot because of a clunky vaccine rollout that left it far behind its peer countries.

By midsummer, it was in the midst of its toughest battle yet with the virus. The Delta variant caused cases to surge just as Tokyo prepared to kick off the Summer Olympics. Sponsors rolled back advertising campaigns, and tourists stayed home. The Games, which were conducted without spectators, failed to deliver the economic boost that had been promised when the country was chosen as host.

As the virus spread, Japan entered a new state of emergency. Restaurants and bars closed early and travel dried up, with many people deciding to stay home rather than brave record-high case counts.

At the same time, semiconductor shortages battered the country’s automakers, forcing many to drastically cut production. In September, the top eight Japanese manufacturers made about half as many cars as they had at the same time in the previous year.

“There was an enormous drop in production, and even if people wanted to buy cars, they couldn’t,” Ms. Kobayashi said.

Since the country ended its state of emergency last month, however, foot traffic has nearly returned to prepandemic levels, said Tomohiko Kozawa, a researcher at the Japan Research Institute.

“There’s a risk that infections could begin to spread again, but for the moment, the outlook points to recovery,” he said, adding that “we can expect high growth” in domestic consumption in the coming months.

The auto industry, too, is expected to rebound, he said, as chip manufacturers expand production and the pandemic ebbs in Southeast Asia, where the virus shut down factories that manufacture critical parts for Japanese vehicles.

“Exports should recover in the first three months of next year,” Mr. Kozawa said.

Hoping to get the economy back on track, the government is expected to pass its economic stimulus package in the coming days, which would provide cash handouts to families with children under 18, give aid to small businesses and put in place measures to offset rising fuel prices, which have increased costs across a range of industries.

Still, other factors will continue to weigh on growth. The country remains closed to tourists — and difficult to enter for many businesspeople and students — and it is unclear when the borders might reopen. Before the pandemic, many businesses in Japan had relied on a steady stream of visitors from abroad.

Although the country should be congratulated for its success in tackling the virus, it needs to articulate a vision for what comes next, said Daisuke Karakama, chief market economist at Mizuho Bank.

Even as daily reported infections in Tokyo have dropped to low double digits, “there’s no road map” he said, and “no strategy.”

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