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Severe weather, omicron infections drive thousands more U.S. flight cancellations

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Travelers push their luggage past baggage claim inside the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during the holiday season as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Omicron variant threatens to increase case numbers in Los Angeles, California, U.S. December 22, 2021.

Bing Guan | Reuters

Airlines canceled more than 2,400 U.S. flights on New Year’s Day as they faced severe weather across the country and a surge in omicron infections among staff that has disrupted air travel throughout the year-end holidays.

Since Christmas Eve, airlines have canceled more than 12,000 U.S. flights and have been forced to delay thousands more, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.

The travel woes come during what airlines expected to be among the busiest days since the pandemic began. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 580 million people, up 79% from 2020 but still off about 30% from 2019 before the pandemic.

Southwest Airlines had largely escaped some of the severe disruptions that affected rivals over the holidays, but scrubbed 472 flights on Saturday, 13% of its schedule, according to FlightAware. The airline suspended operations at Chicago’s airports as of 1 p.m. local time ahead of a severe winter storm.

The airline has more than 200 daily departures from Chicago Midway International Airport. An airline spokeswoman said that the flights were cut because planners were “anticipating the gusty winds and blowing snow that decades of our history operating in this airport show us will slow down the airspace and also make deicing and getting aircraft back into the air very challenging.” The spokeswoman Southwest didn’t have staffing issues.

While weather drove many of the cancellations on New Year’s Day, carriers including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways have canceled hundreds of flights over the holidays, citing omicron infections among crews for many of the disruptions.

Airlines have ramped up incentives for pilots and flight attendants to pick up trips and ease staffing shortages that some executives say could last several more weeks as Covid cases continue to rise.

The Air Line Pilots Association, United pilots’ union, negotiated triple pay for aviators who pick up open trips through most of January, CNBC reported Friday.  Flight attendants at United and both cabin crews and pilots at Spirit and others are also getting extra pay over the busy holiday period.

The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this week also said disruptions would likely continue.

“Weather and heavy seasonal traffic are likely to result in some travel delays in the coming days,” the agency said in a statement Friday. “Like the rest of the U.S. population, an increased number of FAA employees have tested positive for COVID-19. To maintain safety, traffic volume at some facilities could be reduced, which might result in delays during busy periods.”

Airlines have tried to cancel flights ahead of time so that customers don’t get stuck at the airport, overwhelming ticket counters and scrambling to change their plans. JetBlue Airways this week said it will cut 1,280 flights from its schedule through mid-January to avoid last-minute cancellations as omicron Covid infections sideline crews.

American Airlines, which operates a large hub out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, canceled 205 flights, or 7% of its operation on Saturday, FlightAware data showed. Chicago-based United canceled 153, 7% of its mainline flights.

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Teladoc Tumbled 38% After Big First-Quarter Loss. Is It Just a Pandemic Play?

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After pandemic drop, Canada’s detention of immigrants rises again By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Two closed Canadian border checkpoints are seen after it was announced that the border would close to “non-essential traffic” to combat the spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the U.S.-Canada border crossing at the Thousand Isla

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is locking up more people in immigration detention without charge after the numbers fell during the pandemic, government data obtained by Reuters shows.

Authorities cite an overall rise in foreign travelers amid easing restrictions but lawyers say their detained clients came to Canada years ago.

Canada held 206 people in immigration detention as of March 1, 2022 – a 28% increase compared with March 1 of the previous year. Immigration detainees have not been charged with crimes in Canada and 68% of detainees as of March 1 were locked up because Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) fears they are “unlikely to appear” at an immigration hearing, according to the data.

The rise puts Canada at odds with Amnesty International and other human rights groups that have urged Ottawa to end its use of indefinite immigration detention, noting CBSA has used factors such as a person’s mental illness as reason to detain them.

A CBSA spokesperson told Reuters that “when the number of entries (to Canada) goes up, an increase in detention is to be expected.” CBSA has said in the past it uses detention as a last resort.

A lawyer told Reuters her detained clients have been in Canada for years.

In the United Kingdom, too, immigration detention levels rose last year after dropping earlier in the pandemic, according to government statistics. Unlike Canada, the United States and Australia, European Union member states have limits on immigration detention and those limits cannot exceed six months.

The rise in detentions puts people at risk of contracting COVID-19 in harsh congregate settings, refugee lawyers say.

Julia Sande, Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner with Amnesty, called the increase in detentions “disappointing but not surprising,” although she was reluctant to draw conclusions from limited data.

The number of immigration detainees in Canada dropped early in the pandemic, from a daily average of 301 in the fourth quarter (January through March) of 2019-20 to 126 in the first quarter (April through June) of 2020-21.

FEW NO-SHOWS AS DETENTIONS DROPPED

Detaining fewer people did not result in a significant increase in no-shows at immigration hearings – the most common reason for detention, according to Immigration and Refugee Board data.

The average number of no-shows as a percentage of admissibility hearings was about 5.5% in 2021, according to that data, compared to about 5.9% in 2019.

No-shows rose as high as 16% in October 2020, but a spokesperson for the Immigration and Refugee Board said this was due to people not receiving notifications when their hearings resumed after a pause in the pandemic.

Refugee lawyer Andrew Brouwer said the decline in detention earlier in the pandemic shows Canada does not need to lock up as many non-citizens.

“We didn’t see a bunch of no-shows. We didn’t see the sky fall … It for sure shows that the system can operate without throwing people in jail,” Brouwer said.

He added that detainees face harsh pandemic conditions in provincial jails – including extended lockdowns, sometimes with three people in a cell for 23 hours a day.

Refugee lawyer Swathi Sekhar said CBSA officials and the Immigration and Refugee Board members reviewing detentions took the risk of COVID-19 into account when deciding whether someone should be detained earlier in the pandemic but are doing so less now.

“Their position is that COVID is not a factor that should weigh in favor of release,” she said.

“We also see very, very perverse findings … [decision-makers] outright saying that individuals are going to be safer in jail.”

The Immigration and Refugee Board did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

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Nasdaq futures rise as market attempts comeback from April sell-off, Meta shares soar

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Stock futures rose in overnight trading as the market shook off the April sell-off and investors reacted positively to earnings from Meta Platforms.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 70 points or 0.2%. S&P 500 futures gained 0.7% and Nasdaq 100 futures jumped 1.2%.

The moves came as shares of Meta surged more than 18% after hours following a beat on earnings but a miss on revenue, a sign that investors may see signs of relief in the beaten-up tech sector. Shares were down 48% on the year heading into the results.

Meanwhile, shares of Qualcomm gained 5.6% in extended trading on the back of strong earnings while PayPal rose 5% despite issuing weak guidance for the second quarter.

“I think a lot of people want to believe that earnings are going to pull us out of this, but earnings are not what got us into this,” SoFi’s Liz Young told CNBC’s “Closing Bell: Overtime” on Wednesday. “… But the reality is there are so many macro headwinds still in front of us in the next 60 days that the market is just hard to impress.”

The after-hour activity followed a volatile regular trading session that saw the Nasdaq Composite stoop to its lowest level in 2022, as stocks looked to bounce back from a tech-led April sell-off. The index is down more than 12% since the start of April.

In Wednesday’s regular trading, the tech-heavy Nasdaq ended at 12,488.93, after rising to 1.7% at session highs. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 61.75 points, or 0.2%, to 33,301.93 propped up by gains from Visa and Microsoft, while the S&P 500 added 0.2% to 4,183.96.

Investors await big tech earnings on Thursday from Apple, Amazon and Twitter, along with results from Robinhood. Jobless claims are also due out Thursday.

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