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Texas governor moves state sharply to the right ahead of 2022 election

By Joseph Ax and Julia Harte

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Texas governor moves state sharply to the right ahead of 2022 election
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Governor Greg Abbott meets with Texas National Guard troops and U.S. Border Patrol personnel for a briefing regarding security along the Mexico-U.S. border in Weslaco, Texas, U.S., April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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By Joseph Ax and Julia Harte

(Reuters) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to bar private companies from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates is the latest sign he is betting the state’s electorate remains solidly Republican ahead of his re-election bid next year.

In recent months, Abbott has backed a series of measures that have pulled Texas sharply to the right, including the country’s most restrictive abortion ban, a raft of voting limits, an effort to fund a border wall, restrictions on transgender student athletes and expanded gun rights.

His executive order on Monday banning private employers and other entities from imposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates is in direct conflict https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/texas-vaccine-mandate-ban-likely-be-trumped-by-federal-law-could-cause-2021-10-13 with the Biden administration’s plan to require shots for workers.

Democrats have made political gains in Texas on the strength of rapidly growing metropolitan areas such as Houston and Austin. But with the two-term governor facing a pair of intraparty challengers in a March primary, Abbott’s moves appear aimed at energizing the Republican base rather than appealing to swing voters and moderate Democrats.

“He’s taking a more aggressive approach,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas-based Republican political consultant. “These are all ways to shore up conservative voters in the state.”

There is evidence to suggest the strategy is sound. Last year, former President Donald Trump carried Texas by more than five percentage points, despite national unpopularity and unprecedented Democratic fervor.

Abbott, 63, is likely to face a far friendlier environment in 2022 as he seeks another four-year term. The party that controls the White House typically suffers losses in its first midterm election, and President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has already seen his approval ratings falter.

“I do strongly believe Governor Abbott is in the catbird seat for re-election,” said Ray Sullivan, who was a senior adviser to Republican former Texas Governor Rick Perry. “History is against the Democrats this cycle.”

No Democrat has announced a run for Abbott’s office next year. Most political observers expect Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman and presidential candidate who has proven fundraising muscle, to throw his hat in the ring.

Abbott is facing at least two credible Republican rivals for the first time in his tenure: Don Huffines, a former state senator, and Allen West, chairman of the Texas Republican Party who was recently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Both say Abbott is not conservative enough for Texas. Huffines took credit for Abbott’s vaccine mandates ban on Monday, tweeting that he was “glad Greg Abbott is finally caving to the grassroots pressure brought by my campaign.”

Abbott’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

CONSERVATIVE BONA FIDES

Abbott has occasionally angered his party’s right wing, such as last year when, early in the coronavirus pandemic, he issued a statewide mask order. That stands in contrast to his decision this summer to prohibit schools from requiring masks.

With Biden serving as a convenient political foil in the White House, Abbott can focus on re-establishing his conservative bona fides. Abbott has already made the president a frequent target, picking fights with the administration on everything from border security to mask mandates to abortion.

“By and large, Abbott’s thinking right now first and foremost about the March 2022 Republican primary,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

Mustafa Tameez, a Texas-based Democratic strategist, said Abbott is doing what many other Republican leaders have done: demonstrating his fealty to Trump. Last month, Abbott defended his state’s partial review of the 2020 presidential election, a decision announced hours after Trump called on Republicans to “audit” the results even though he carried the state.

Tameez said he understood the argument that Texas Republicans hold an edge in midterm elections, in part because turnout tends to be lower among Democrats. But he noted that turnout has exploded in recent cycles and warned that Abbott could pay a price for pursuing far-right priorities.

“If Governor Abbott and the Republican Party continue to go to their extreme agenda… they will lose the suburbs of Texas and therefore will lose elections – sooner than they believe,” he said.

A poll conducted by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas in August showed a majority of Texans feel the state is headed in the wrong direction, the worst assessment since the poll began in 2008. It gave Abbott his lowest approval rating since he took office in 2015.

Some of Abbott’s drop in approval can be attributed to his more aggressive partisan stances of the past year. But it was also part of a general decline in support for political leaders over the same period, said James Henson, who directs the polling project.

Even if Abbott’s policies have alienated some independents and Democrats, consolidating his conservative base is a strategic way to prepare for next year’s elections, Henson said.

“He knows that Trump is not going to be on the ticket in 2022, which would get Democratic voters more fired up,” said Nate Lerner, a Democratic consultant who helped run a grassroots effort to convince O’Rourke to run for the White House in 2020. “The middle is so tiny and small, it’s become more about base turnout.”

Coronavirus

China’s growing COVID-19 outbreak tests vulnerable border towns

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has reported nearly 250 locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 since the start of the current outbreak 10 days ago, with many infections in remote towns along porous international borders in the country’s northwest.

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China's growing COVID-19 outbreak tests vulnerable border towns
© Reuters. A medical worker administers a dose of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to a child in Huzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 26, 2021. Picture taken October 26, 2021. China Daily via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has reported nearly 250 locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 since the start of the current outbreak 10 days ago, with many infections in remote towns along porous international borders in the country’s northwest.

China had 50 new local cases for Oct. 26, the highest daily count since Sept. 16, official data showed on Wednesday.

The overall number is tiny versus many clusters outside the country. It is also modest compared with more than 1,200 local cases reported during China’s July-August outbreak and the more than 2,000 cases in January during the last winter.

However, the steady increase of cases in the past week and their geographical spread alarmed local authorities and prompted the return of complex sets of restrictions on travel as well as on the tourism and catering sectors.

China has said the COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge to its hosting of the Winter Olympics in February. Officials suspected the current flare-up was caused by a virus source from overseas.

Richer cities such as Beijing have managed to keep infection numbers low by quickly quarantining and testing potential cases. But small border towns, battling a higher risk of infections imported from overseas while equipped with relatively few resources, have suffered more severe and prolonged disruptions amid China’s zero tolerance for COVID-19.

Prior to COVID-19, Ejina Banner (NASDAQ:), a remote administrative division on China’s border with Mongolia, saw 8 million visitors in 2019 thanks to attractions such as a drought-resistant forest that would turn a golden yellow in October.

But the settlement of its 36,000 residents has been hard hit in the latest outbreak. Ejina has gone into a lockdown since last week, rendering nearly 10,000 tourists unable to leave, a local official said on Tuesday. Nearly half of those visitors are aged over 60.

“[Ejina Banner] has fewer medical workers and virus control staffers,” Fan Mengguang, a health official at Inner Mongolia where Ejina is based, told state television.

“Because Ejina is large but sparsely populated, it’s hard for it to seal its border,” Fan said.

Ruili in the southwestern province of Yunnan, rocked by multiple domestic outbreaks this year, has been served with the toughest curbs ever seen in China.

People who want to leave the city, except for those leaving for a few essential reasons, must be quarantined at centralised facilities for at least seven days before departure, Ruili said on Wednesday.

Ruili is a key transit point for Yunnan, which has fought to monitor its rugged 4,000 km (2,485-mile) border with Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam for illegal immigration amid unauthorised crossings by those seeking a haven from the pandemic.

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

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Coronavirus

Louisiana governor lifts indoor mask mandate except for K-12 schools

By Kanishka Singh

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Louisiana governor lifts indoor mask mandate except for K-12 schools
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is seen in front of a sign showing supplies provided to the state of Louisiana as he speaks about the coronavirus response during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White H

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said on Tuesday that the state was ending its indoor mask mandate, except for K-12 schools, because of the decline in the growth of new coronavirus infections.

The governor’s updated order allows school districts to opt out of the mask mandate as long as they continue to follow the existing quarantine guidelines recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better separate exposed students and faculty members from others and avoid outbreaks on campus.

CDC guidance still says everyone 2 years of age or older who is not fully vaccinated should wear a mask in indoor public places.

“Today, I am cautiously optimistic and very relieved that the worst of this fourth surge of COVID is clearly behind us, which is a direct result of the people of Louisiana who stepped up to the plate when we needed them to and put their masks back on, got vaccinated, and took extra precautions to stay safe”, the Democratic governor said in a statement.

Local governments and private businesses may choose to continue to require and enforce mask requirements under the governor’s order, which takes effect on Wednesday, the statement added.

In August, Edwards reinstated a statewide indoor mask mandate for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, as COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state had risen.

The Southern U.S. state has had over 750,000 COVID-19 cases, with over 14,400 deaths from the coronavirus. About 56% of state residents aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, according to data from the CDC.

Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.

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Lights on, nobody applying: skills shortage bites as Australia reopens

By Byron Kaye

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Lights on, nobody applying: skills shortage bites as Australia reopens
© Reuters. Maddison Thomas, a business manager at MSS Security provider, works in the company’s mostly empty office following an extended coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Sydney, Australia, October 26, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) – After two years of stop-start COVID-19 lockdowns Australia is ready to party, but venues from restaurants to sporting stadiums are facing a difficult summer after a huge exodus of holiday workers and foreign students.

Strict border closures have left a gaping hole in the market for casual workers, with hospitality-focused firms like Sydney’s AlSeasons being forced to turn down some jobs even as the economy opens up.

“Prior to lockdown, you could place an advertisement and have hundreds of applicants,” said Rhondda Everingham, hiring manager at the hospitality labour hire company.

“Now you’re lucky if you get five and you might have three that are suitable, and by the time you get a hold of them, they’ve got another job.”

The labour shortages are hitting hardest at public-facing businesses, those already most affected by months of rolling lockdowns in the two biggest cities of Sydney, which ended many COVID-19 curbs on Oct. 11, and Melbourne, which moved late last week.

Government statistics show the number of non-resident workers in the country — often travellers with work visas — was down by two-thirds in the June quarter of 2021 from the start of 2020.

The fall in international students has been nearly as dramatic, said Peter Hurley, a researcher of education policy at Victoria University. There are now some 300,000 fewer foreign students living in Australian than at the start of the pandemic, a drop of more than half.

That has left businesses in Sydney, home to a quarter of Australia’s 2.2 million casual workforce, struggling to find staff as the city emerges from four months of lockdowns.

In the first big test of event staffing, a stadium soccer match was given eight days to find 730 cooking, serving, cleaning and security staff for 22,500 permitted spectators on Oct. 25.

Stadium operator, VenuesLive, got the headcount because there were no other big events on at the same time, a company representative said, noting that “hospitality businesses everywhere are encountering staff challenges.”

JOB LAG

The government of New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, plans to resume taking modest numbers of international students and has said it wants immigration into Australia to double from pre-COVID levels to 400,000 people a year to fill labour shortages.

For now, the federal government, which enjoyed popular support for hardline border closures early in the pandemic, is sticking with a staged reopening. It says only Australian citizens, residents and their family members may enter the country at present.

Even when foreign nationals return, many employers face a delay hiring them because they demand staff with local experience and proficient English, said AlSeasons’ Everingham.

So, employers are adding incentives.

Australian Venue Co, owner of 160 pubs and clubs around the country, said it was offering A$1,000 ($745) vouchers for new kitchen and floorstaff who stay longer than three months due to difficulty finding personnel.

MSS Security, which guards university, corporate and government buildings around Sydney, will spend A$1 million a year to bankroll industry-required training and help fill vacancies that have doubled to 400 since early 2020, said managing director Geoff Alcock.

Pompei’s, a popular Italian restaurant at Bondi Beach, traded through lockdown offering takeout and delivery, but is now closing for weekday lunches and all of Monday for the first time in 20 years because half its staff have left the country, said owner George Pompei.

Despite advertising a A$2,000 cash “sign-on bonus” for waitstaff and bar staff, nobody has shown up for an interview.

“Before, you couldn’t wait to hear the phone ring and people wanting to book and queuing out the front. Now you almost don’t want that,” Pompei said. “This is the new ‘COVID-normal’.”

($1 = 1.3414 Australian dollars)

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