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NORAD intercepts 2 Russian aircraft off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands

JUNEAU — Two Russian aircraft that came within 50 miles of Unimak Island along Alaska’s Aleutian chain were intercepted late Wednesday, military officials said Thursday.

The incident marked the fifth time this month that such an intercept has taken place, Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said in a release.

NORAD said the Russian aircraft did not enter U.S. or Canadian airspace during the roughly four-hour flight in the region. The Russian planes were identified as IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft.

Capt. Cameron Hillier, a NORAD spokesperson, said this is the ninth such incident off Alaska or Canada this year. He said all the interactions are “safe and professional.”

Since Russia resumed long-range aviation activities in 2007, there has been an average of around seven intercepts a year, though the number in any given year has been zero to 15, Hillier said.

Alaska clarifies new pandemic restrictions for ferries that include tests for some passengers

The state has launched new protocols to guard against the spread of COVID-19 on Alaska’s ferries — some stricter than those governing flying or driving into the state.

The Alaska Marine Highway System on Sunday announced sweeping new restrictions requiring negative tests for all passengers except those on the day ferries LeConte and Lituya. But they almost immediately started working to tweak those protocols.

By Wednesday, Alaska Marine Highway System officials released a clarification that exempted people making short trips within the state from testing requirements. They also added a provision for passengers on longer trips allowing them to avoid testing by proving they quarantined for two weeks beforehand.

Shorter duration and day-boat passenger travel does not require COVID-19 testing or a sworn statement of quarantine, officials now say.

The only ferries sailing now are the day ferries. The Kennicott this week was scheduled to depart from Ketchikan for Bellingham on Thursday and make the first run of the season from Washington state on Saturday.

The state has launched new protocols to guard against the spread of COVID-19 on Alaska’s ferries — some stricter than those governing flying or driving into the state.

The Alaska Marine Highway System on Sunday announced sweeping new restrictions requiring negative tests for all passengers except those on the day ferries LeConte and Lituya. But they almost immediately started working to tweak those protocols.

By Wednesday, Alaska Marine Highway System officials released a clarification that exempted people making short trips within the state from testing requirements. They also added a provision for passengers on longer trips allowing them to avoid testing by proving they quarantined for two weeks beforehand.

Shorter duration and day-boat passenger travel does not require COVID-19 testing or a sworn statement of quarantine, officials now say.

The only ferries sailing now are the day ferries. The Kennicott this week was scheduled to depart from Ketchikan for Bellingham on Thursday and make the first run of the season from Washington state on Saturday.

The new restrictions come too late to prevent a COVID-19 cluster on the state ferry Tustumena during its first sailing in early June. A crew member developed mild symptoms after the ferry left Homer, and she ended up testing positive several days later and infecting several other co-workers. One additional crew member tested positive last week, bringing the total infected to eight.

Under the clarified restrictions released Wednesday, ferry passengers boarding at Bellingham in Washington state must have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before boarding and provide the mandatory state travel declaration form to crew.

Passengers already in Alaska traveling to Bellingham, crossing the Gulf of Alaska, or going to or from the Aleutian Chain including Kodiak must either provide a sworn statement affirming they’ve quarantined for 14 days prior to trip or test negative for COVID-19 within five days of departure.

The time it takes to get test results back can vary widely. Air travelers from Outside following testing protocols — though they may choose to quarantine for 14 days instead of testing — were reporting long delays with results from tests taken upon arrival at Alaska airports, a situation state officials say they are remedying.