The Latest: Saudi Arabia will reopen to tourists on Sunday

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A Saudi security officer watches as Muslim hajj pilgrims, wearing masks and keeping social distancing to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, circumambulate the Kaaba, a square stone structure in the Great Mosque, in Mecca Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Once drawing some 2.5 million Muslims from across the globe to the holy city of Mecca, the Islamic pilgrimage has been dramatically scaled back due to the virus. (Saudi Media Ministry via AP)

Saudi Arabia will reopen its borders to tourists on Sunday for the first time in 18 months after imposing restrictions at the start of the pandemic to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The historically closed-off kingdom introduced electronic visas for tourists in late 2019, just before the pandemic struck.

Saudi Arabia is looking to rebrand itself as a unique tourist destination for nature lovers and curious travelers as a way to boost non-oil revenue and create more jobs.

Citizens of 49 mostly European countries, as well as the U.S. and China among others, will be allowed to enter the kingdom under the new rules without quarantine if they provide a negative PCR test before travel and have vaccine certificates proving two doses of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or a single dose of the vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson.

Travelers vaccinated with the Chinese Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccine must have received a third dose of one of the other vaccines.

Earlier this week, the kingdom warned that any citizen who travels to red-listed countries, such as the neighboring emirate of Dubai where the delta variant is present, could face a three-year travel ban.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Allegations grow that Myanmargovernment is using pandemic to consolidate power and crush opposition

— Bidenorders tough new vaccination rules for federal workers, aiming to boost rates and set an example

— Japanis set to expand its emergency beyond Tokyo amid record surge in infections while the capital hosts the Olympics

— US ban on housingevictions to expire Saturday, with legislation to extend it facing uncertainty

— Statesrace to use COVID-19 vaccines before they expire

— Olympics collects vial after vial of spitto ensure against virus spread, but such tests are hard to find elsewhere in Tokyo

— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are expected to release new data about the spread of COVID-19 on Friday that led to their decision to recommend that vaccinated people wear masks in some situations, a reversal of previous guidance.

The report, to be released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from a recent investigation of a coronavirus outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, according to a federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the plan.

Earlier this week, the CDC changed its masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling surges in new cases.

Citing new – but unreleased — information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia will offer free antibody tests to some fully vaccinated people to study whether some elderly and immunocompromised individuals should receive a booster shot.

State officials said they are following the lead of Israel, which said Thursday fully vaccinated people older than 60 would be offered a booster.

West Virginia will offer the testing for residents age 60 and older, particularly those living in nursing homes, who received their final vaccine dose at least six months ago.

If their antibody levels are low, a booster shot may be recommended. The move comes as the more contagious delta variant takes a hold in the United States, leading to the return of mask mandates in some parts of the country.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ Republican governor is calling lawmakers back to the Capitol to lift the state’s ban on mask requirements in public schools.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday said he’ll call the majority-Republican Legislature into session likely next week to amend a state law that prohibits state and local government entities from requiring face masks. Hutchinson said he’ll propose giving local school boards the power to decide whether to require masks in K-12 schools.

“This is not a debate about mask mandates for those that can make their own decisions and have the means to get vaccinated,” Hutchinson said a news conference at the state Capitol. “This is a discussion about the school environment where schools can make decisions about the public health for their school environment and the children they have responsibility to protect.”

Hutchinson also declared a new emergency, two months after ending the declaration he’d put in place at the start of the pandemic last year.

Arkansas’ coronavirus cases have skyrocketed because of the delta variant and the state’s low vaccination rate. The state reported more than 2,800 new cases on Thursday.

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ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sought to shift blame to President Joe Biden for Georgia’s poor vaccination rate Thursday as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continued to sprint upward.

The Republican, speaking to reporters, blamed the Democratic president for not doing enough to push the Food and Drug Administration to upgrade their emergency authorization for the vaccines to a permanent authorization. Kemp said urging people to use masks again is a “mixed message” that could discourage vaccination.

The governor reiterated his call for people to get vaccinated against the disease, saying he would only seek other solutions if Georgia hospitals began to get overwhelmed. Georgia ranks in the bottom 10 states for vaccination rates.

“We know that the vaccines work,” Kemp said. “I want to encourage people to get vaccinated if you’re comfortable doing that.”

Democratic state Sen. Michelle Au, an anesthesiologist with a master’s degree in public health, said Kemp’s approach to increasing vaccination rates is unimaginative and passive.

Georgia recorded more than 4,800 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the worst number since Feb. 5. The state peaked on Jan. 8, with nearly 13,000 recorded cases.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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