Home Blog

Online Survey for Health Professionals on a Healthy Recovery from COVID-19

Online Survey for Health Professionals on a Healthy Recovery from COVID-19

WHO invites health professionals globally to participate in a brief survey about their country’s – and the world’s – efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health emergencies.

This survey is being carried out by George Mason University on behalf of the World Health Organization-Civil Society Working Group on Climate Change and Health, and will inform the working group in their work around a healthy recovery from COVID-19.

The survey can be taken here. Participation in the survey should take a maximum of 3 minutes.


About the survey

Much of the world is currently experiencing both a public health crisis and an economic crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many nations are implementing economic recovery packages in response. What will happen to my answers?

Some health professionals are proposing that COVID-19 economic recovery packages should aim for a “healthy recovery” (where the nation seeks to become healthier and more resilient) rather than a “return to normal” (how things were before the pandemic). In addition to strengthening healthcare systems, this would involve producing much more clean renewable energy, embracing sustainable farming and food systems, and helping cities prioritize pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation over cars to improve people’s health and quality of life.


What will happen to my answers?

Submissions to this survey are anonymous and will be used to inform the World Health Organization-Civil Society Working Group on Climate Change and Health on the priorities of the health community, as well as inform the George Mason University in their research on effectively communicating the interconnections between climate change and human health.

The survey does not collect any personal information or contact details from participants.


If you have further questions or feedback about the survey you can contact carbonfootprint@who.int.

Source link

Black light experiment shows how quickly a virus like Covid-19 can spread at a restaurant

Black light experiment shows how quickly a virus like Covid-19 can spread at a restaurant

The video shows 10 people coming into the restaurant, with one singled out as the “infected” person. Each participant goes about the buffet as they normally would, not considering a potential contamination.

At the end of the video, the participants are cast under black lights illuminating where the “infection” has spread.

The substance, used to signify the germs, can be seen on food, serving utensils and platters, and even on the faces of some of the participants.

Here’s what the experts have to say

While these kinds of experiments are not new, John Nicholls, a clinical professor in pathology at Hong Kong University, said they demonstrate how quickly a virus can spread, especially when hand washing is not performed.

“What the video demonstrated, is that it will spread to surfaces and to people very efficiently,” Nicholls told CNN, “and I think it really highlights the need of what people have been saying about hand hygiene to stop the spread of disease.”

However, Nicholls said that the situation is “artificial” because so much emphasis is placed on the touching alone.

Kentaro Iwata, an infectious disease specialist at Kobe University, agreed.

“The experiment just described the possibility of the spread by contact, and that is not proof of what happened, so the distinction has to be clearly made between what could happen and what did happen,” Iwata told CNN.

But both experts said the experiment is a good way to show the importance of hand washing.

For the sake of science, Nicholls said it would be even more effective to see the experiment done after the “infected” person washes their hands for five and then ten seconds.

“So the general public gets some concept of the mechanism of how much the use of hand washing can actually reduce the transmission of potentially infectious material,” Nicholls said.

CNN’s Bex Wright contributed to this report.

Source link

Coronavirus may “never go away,” WHO official says

live news

WHO health emergencies program director Michael Ryan speaks during a coronavirus news briefing in Geneva on March 11. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The novel coronavirus may never go away and may just join the mix of viruses that kill people around the world every year, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization health emergencies program, said Wednesday.

“This virus just may become another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away. HIV hasn’t gone away,” Ryan said.

“I’m not comparing the two diseases but I think it is important that we’re realistic. I don’t think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear,” Ryan added.

With a vaccine, “we may have a shot at eliminating this virus but that vaccine will have to be available, it will have to be highly effective, it will have to be made available to everyone and we’ll have to use it,” Ryan said. “This disease may settle into a long-term problem or it may not be.”

Yet the future of coronavirus does not have to be all doom and gloom, according to WHO infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.

“The trajectory of this outbreak is in our hands,” Van Kerkhove said during Wednesday’s briefing.

“The global community has come together to work in solidarity,” Van Kerkhove said. “We have seen countries bring this virus under control. We have seen countries use public health measures.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus echoed Van Kerkhove’s sentiments on Wednesday and added, “We should all contribute to stop this pandemic.”

Source link

Biologist: Avoid these places to protect against Covid-19 – CNN Video

Biologist: Avoid these places to protect against Covid-19 - CNN Video

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Biology Professor Erin Bromage tells CNN’s John Berman which environments have an increased risk of spreading coronavirus.

Source link

'Coronavirus slayer' puts Indian state in lead of Covid-19 fight

'Coronavirus slayer' puts Indian state in lead of Covid-19 fight

'Coronavirus slayer' puts Indian state in lead of Covid-19 fight

Source link

Europe promises to reopen for summer tourism in wake of coronavirus

Europe promises to reopen for summer tourism in wake of coronavirus

(CNN) — The world’s biggest tourist playground has been roped off since it became a coronavirus epicenter, but as summer looms Europe is desperate to lift restrictions to get visitors pumping much needed cash into stricken economies.

Across the continent, various nations currently sitting behind the firewall of quarantines or sealed frontiers, are figuring out how they can once again welcome holidaymakers.

On Wednesday the European Union unveiled an action plan to get its internal borders reopening, safely fire up its hospitality sector and to revive rail, road, air and sea connections that have been strangled during the pandemic.

It’s a situation eagerly anticipated by millions of would-be travelers, desperate to enjoy a slice of European sunshine and culture after weeks or months being sequestered at home under lockdown.

“We all need a break, especially after this confinement,” Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said. “We want to enjoy summer holidays, we would like to see our families and friends even if they live in another region, in another country.

“But we want to be able to so while staying healthy and safe because we know the virus will stay for us for some time.”

The EU currently has recommendations in place to all its member nations that they restrict all non-essential visitors from outside. But with infection rates dropping off in some countries, this looks set to change.

Some countries, such as Greece, are already naming specific dates. Others, such as Austria and Germany, are already lifting internal borders.

There’s even talk of permitting special “green corridors” or “travel bubbles” that would allow certain countries with low or sharply declining infection rates to open up to a select few destinations until borders are fully reopened.

Those moves have been backed in the EU plan which proposes lifting restrictions between member states of “sufficiently similar epidemiological situations,” in other words, the same rate of coronavirus infection.

Non-EU visitors could still face an indeterminate wait though.

The EU’s plan also sets out a roadmap for developing health and safety protocols for beaches, hotels, campsites, B&Bs, cafes and restaurants to protect guests and employees.

It also aims to strengthen rules giving travelers the right to choose between vouchers or cash reimbursement for canceled transport tickets or package trips.

EU member states have also agreed to protocols to ensure tracing apps work across borders so that citizens can be warned of a potential infection with coronavirus while traveling within the bloc.

“This is not going to be a normal summer, not for any of us,” said Margrethe Vestager, the vice-president of the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission.”But when we all work together and we all do our part in the ways the Commission is setting out today, then we don’t have to face a summer stuck at home or a completely lost summer for the European tourism industry.”

While these new measures will help impose some order on a somewhat chaotic travel situation across the continent, it remains a fluid situation.

For the time being, if you’re planning to travel to or within Europe in coming months, here’s what you need to know:


France is the world’s most visited country, but the coronvirus crisis has cripped tourism here.


Travelers with France at the top of their list of places to visit once the coronavirus crisis is abating should prepare themselves for a long wait.

Much like the rest of the EU, its borders have been shut to non-EU visitors for the last two months — with the EU recently recommending an extension to the ban until June 15, 2020.

From now until at least July 24, anyone who enters the country, with the exception of EU citizens or arrivals from the UK, will be subject to a compulsory 14-day coronavirus quarantine.

While its lockdown is slowly being lifted, with schools, restaurants and cafes in the country to reopen in the coming weeks, France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, has made it clear the country will not be adapting its border restrictions for the foreseeable future.

However, hotels may be given permission to resume business in the coming weeks.

French hotel chain Accor has closed nearly two-thirds of its hotels, while those that remain open are being used to support healthcare and frontline workers, as well as “vulnerable populations.”

“One piece of good news is the initial recovery of the Chinese hotel market, with mild improvements in occupancy and food & beverage activity: an encouraging tell-tale sign,” a spokesperson for Accor tells CNN.

While waiting for the green light from the government, workers have been “setting stringent safety standards and cleaning protocols,” in preparation for reopening.

Although they aren’t expecting many, if any, international visitors in the coming months, much of Accor’s revenue is from domestic travel, which seems likely to increase considerably if border restrictions stay in place while restrictions are relaxed.

“When the lockdown measures soften, French tourists are likely to want to stay close to home in the short term,” adds the spokesperson.

“It will be the moment for them to rediscover their own country and we will be there to welcome them.”


santorini pixabay-1

Greece hopes to wlelcome back visitors as early as June.

Russell Yan/Pixabay

Greece may end up becoming one of the first European destinations to open up to tourists again.

The Mediterranean nation has managed to keep its coronavirus death toll remarkably low, with only 150 Covid-19 deaths so far, by enforcing a strict lockdown early on.

However, any summer 2020 Greece vacations will be very different to those of past years for obvious reasons.

“The tourism experience this summer may be slightly different from what you’ve had in previous years,” Mitsotakis told CNN earlier this month.

“Maybe no bars may be open, or no tight crowds, but you can still get a fantastic experience in Greece — provided that the global epidemic is on a downward path.”

Greece’s city hotels are scheduled to reopen on June 1 followed by seasonal hotels a month later.

At present, all international passengers must take a Covid-19 test upon arrival in Greece, but Mitsotakis suggests tourists will soon be required to undergo testing before their visit as a further precaution.

While the country may be priming itself to receive visitors again, getting there will prove to be a challenge for most.

At present, all non-EU citizens are banned from entering Greece until May 18, while the majority of low-cost carrier routes, which make up much of the country’s foreign air arrival, from neighboring countries are suspended.

However, Mitsotakis is banking on an influx of “more high-end tourists” to help re-energize the country’s tourism industry, which employs one in five Greeks.


Sanxenxo beach

New beach protocols in Spanih town Sanxenxo will involve allocating sunbathing spots on a “first come, first served” basis.

Courtesy Diario de Arousa

Spain’s lockdown proved to be one of the strictest in Europe — children were banned from leaving the house entirely at one stage.

But the popular destination, which welcomed a record 84 million visitors in 2019, is slowly easing restrictions, with beaches set to reopen in June and hotels in some parts of the country granted permission to resume business.

However, officials are understandably cautious about reopening the country, and it seems unlikely the current border restrictions, which ban non-essential travel to Spain for everyone other than Spanish citizens, residents and frontier workers, will change before the end of the summer season.

In addition, a 14-day quarantine has now been enforced for all travelers arriving in the country from May 15 to at least May 24, the date Spain’s state of emergency is due to end.
“We have to guarantee, when international tourism opens, that the person who comes to Spain is a safe person,” Spanish tourism minister Reyes Maroto recently told local newspaper El Pais.

“The issue of borders will be accompanied by the evolution of the health crisis,” he said.

“Therefore, I do not have the solution of when [they will be able to open]. On how you will be able to enjoy our beaches, we are defining different scenarios.”

One or two of these “scenarios” have already been announced, with a number of towns setting out new protocols to maintain social distancing measures on busy stretches of sand.

Canet d’en Berenguer, a Mediterranean town located just north of Valencia, will only allow 5,000 daily sunbathers on its local beach when it reopens, while Galicia’s Sanxenxo will allocate entry to its beach on a “first come, first served” basis.

Both are roping off small sections on the sands to ensure beachgoers can maintain a safe distance from each other, a move that may well indicate the future of beach visits.

Last week, a senior government official admitted the country’s tourism industry wouldn’t be able to get going again until all internal and external borders within the EU are reopened.

“A big part of our economy depends on the movements of international visitors and of Spaniards,” said the official.

“But we have to have a health system that can take care of anyone who’s in Spain. That’s the fundamental issue.”


A general view shows the Vatican's empty St Peter's Square and its main basilica on April 6, 2020,

Italy is slowly lifting restrictions after weeks in weeks in lockdown.


Italy has been one of the destinations worst hit by the pandemic, with a “very long” lockdown imposed back in March, but the Beautiful Country may not be off limits for much longer.

The Italian government has said it expects borders to be open to tourists by summertime, although a drop in numbers is predicted for obvious reasons.

At present, the country, along with the rest of the EU, currently has restrictions in place on all non-essential travel from outside the Schengen Zone (a grouping of 26 countries that normally have open borders) — apart from the UK.

In addition, nearby Austria and Switzerland have put heavy restrictions on traveling across the borders, while many airlines have canceled the majority of their flights to Italy, so reopening won’t be a straightforward process.

However, officials seem keen to get things moving.

“I have never spoken, nor ever thought, of closing the Italian borders to tourists for 2020,” Giorgio Palmucci, president of the Italian National Tourist Board (ENIT) told local reporters last month. “I am working on the exact opposite.”

All museums, including Rome’s Vatican Museums, are to slowly reopen throughout May. However, strict social-distancing rules will apply, with tickets bought in advance online.

The island of Sicily has already announced a scheme to entice travelers back, with subsidized holidays for both domestic and international visitors on offer.


Tourists stand near the Brandenburg Gate on March 13, 2020 in Berlin, Germany

Officials in Germany are in no rush to reopen its borders.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Germany has managed to contain its coronavirus fatality numbers somewhat due to substantial testing and contact tracing, but it seems officials are hesitant to let tourists back in just yet.

The fact that virus infections began rising in the country this week, just days after lockdown restrictions were eased, will have done little to ease concerns regarding reopening borders, although it was announced Wednesday that its frontier with neighboring Austria was being unlocked as of May 15.

A spokesman for the Austrian Tourism Ministry says the chancellors of the two countries agreed to open the border in a first step for day trippers and commuters. A second step would see a normalized reopening as of June 15.

Germany remains closed to non-EU visitors, while many of its border crossings to neighboring states such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Switzerland are either closed or guarded.

Hotels are currently prohibited from accommodating tourists, and the majority of flights to and from Germany remain grounded.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has previously expressed concerns about reopening destinations too swiftly, stressing that European countries should come together to decide the best course of action.

“A European race to see who will allow tourism travel first will lead to unacceptable risks,” he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

United Kingdom

Tourists stand near the Brandenburg Gate on March 13, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.

Visitors to the UK are required to go into quarantine for 14 days.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

The UK government’s decision to introduce a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals just as it begun to ease restrictions for residents has dashed any lingering hopes of reviving international tourism here in the coming weeks.

It’s thought the move, introduced for an indeterminate amount of time, will dissuade airlines from restarting flight operations quickly and officials have warned Brits that their prospects of a summer foreign escape are slim.

Asked in a BBC television interview whether UK citizens should book flights in July, Transport Minister Grant Shapps said: “I’m saying, right now you can’t travel abroad. If you are booking it you are clearly by very nature taking a chance of where the direction of this virus goes and therefore where the travel advice is in the future.”

Under current plans, hotels are likely begin to open in early July, but as EU border restrictions are still in place, it’s expected the UK will focus on domestic travel before any further decisions are made.

“With nearly 40 million inbound visitors per year, International visitors play a hugely important part of the UK visitor economy and we look forward to welcoming visitors back when it is safe to do so,” Nigel Huddleston, UK tourism minister, said during a speech at the Extraordinary G20 Tourism Ministers’ Meeting on Covid-19.

Sadly, there’s absolutely no indication of when that’s likely to happen.


Portugal wild Algarve west beach

Portugal received 24 million tourists in 2019.

Regiao de Turismo do Algarve

Portugal has also begun to ease its lockdown restrictions, allowing hair salons, dry cleaners and repair shops to reopen.

While it seems doubtful international visitors will be able to return before 2021, the destination has already put measures in place to alleviate the effects.

Rita Marques, the country’s Secretary of State for Tourism, recently launched a “don’t cancel, postpone” scheme, which allows tourists to reschedule any pre-arranged holidays to Portugal until the close of 2021.

This applies to all bookings made through accredited travel agencies, as well as hotels or Airbnbs, for trips scheduled between March 13 and September 30, 2020.

Meanwhile, national tourism authority Turismo de Portugal has devised a free hygiene-certification stamp to distinguish “Clean & Safe” tourism enterprises in order to gain visitors’ confidence.

Businesses will need to comply with hygiene and cleaning requirements for the prevention and control of Covid-19, in order to receive the stamp, which is valid for one year.

The aim here is to boost the sector’s recovery by reassuring visitors that all efforts are being made to ensure they’re protected.

Raul Martins, President of the Association of Portuguese Hotels (AHP,) says he expects most hotels in the country to reopen in July.

But like most other European countries, Portugal will have to rely on business from domestic travelers while border restrictions remain in tact.

Eliderico Viegas, head of the Association of Algarve Hotels and Tourism Enterprises, recently told Bloomberg he’s not expecting any international tourists in Portugal’s Algarve region until next year.


A general view shows the Vatican's empty St Peter's Square and its main basilica on April 6, 202

Croatia suffered from overtourism previously, now the destination is keen to get travelers back.


But like many European destinations, Croatia is reliant on tourism, accounting for 20% of its GDP, and officials have suggested its borders may be opened to foreign tourists later this year.

However, the current limitations on foreign nationals are likely to remain in place until June 15.

Any non-nationals who are permitted entry may be ordered to self-isolate or spend 14 days in official government quarantine facilities “at the expense of the traveler.”

But officials are hoping to work around this by introducing a special “green corridor” between itself and the Czech Republic, another destination with a low number of coronavirus cases as early as this summer.

This would effectively mean any Czech tourists who can provide documentation to prove they’re not infected with the virus would be permitted to travel into Croatia.

“We have already discussed with the Czech Republic that they prepare their proposals and we will prepare ours,” Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli said during an interview aired on the state-run HRT radio.


A picture taken on from Mont-Pelerin, western Switzerland, on November 20, 2016 shows the cities of Vevey (below) and Montreux (background) on Lake Geneva. / AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI        (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

A picture taken on from Mont-Pelerin, western Switzerland, on November 20, 2016 shows the cities of Vevey (below) and Montreux (background) on Lake Geneva. / AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

By mid-May, the Swiss border crossings with Italy, France, Germany and Austria, will all have reopened, less than two months after they were shut by the Federal Council due to the pandemic.

But that doesn’t mean things have returned to normal when it come to traveling within the country.

Only Swiss citizens and permanent residents, as well as those who have to travel to Switzerland for professional reasons, are currently permitted to enter the country.

Plans to resume domestic tourism industry are moving ahead, with museums, bars and restaurants due to be reopened this week, followed by hotels towards the end of May.

Eastern Europe


The Czech Republic was one of the first European countries to close its borders back in March.

Pixabay/Creative Commons

Croatia isn’t the only country the Czech Republic is likely to share a “green corridor” with.

Proposals for a similar arrangement with Slovakia, one of the first European countries to ban international passenger travel, are apparently in the works.

Both countries have closed their borders to non-citizens and residents, along with Ukraine, Hungary and Poland, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine required for anyone coming from abroad.

While there’s been no clear indication from the governments of the aforementioned countries on when borders will be reopened, wearing a face mask in public spaces is now compulsory in Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

As the likes of Czech Republic and Slovakia have expressed interest in solely opening up international tourism to less affected destinations, it’s fair to assume officials will be in no rush to welcome travelers from those destinations heavily affected, such as the UK and the US, as well as Spain and Italy.

Scandinavia and the Nordic region

Two ducks stand next to a couple as they enjoy the warm weather at the Kungstradgarden in Stockholm on May 8, 2020, amid the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic

Sweden’s government opted not to issue a lockdown


As one of the only countries in Europe not to issue a lockdown, Sweden has few restrictions to lift.

However, its borders are still shut to countries outside the EU, EEA, or Switzerland, and these measures are set to remain in place for now.

Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lovin has admitted the country’s tourism sector has been hit “incredibly hard” by the absence of travelers.

Lovin said it was wrong to suggest the more relaxed approach meant it was business as usual in Sweden.

“The biggest myth and misconception is that life goes on as normal in Sweden,” she recently told multi-regional publication The Local. “It absolutely does not.”

“A lot of small businesses are on their knees because production is down or has decreased a lot.

“It is not business as usual in Sweden but the opposite, things are very, very tough.”

Nearby Austria is planning a gradual return to normality, with hotels reopening from May 29.

The Geniesserhotel “Die Forelle” in Carinthia, is one of several establishments gearing up to welcome domestic travelers months after being forced to close their doors.

“We would like to offer our guests a wonderfully relaxed stay and of course we make sure that all hygiene regulations are observed,” says Hannes Muller, who runs the hotel.

Meanwhile Denmark plans to lift its remaining lockdown restrictions by the second week of June.

The country’s prime minister Mette Frederiksen has previously spoken of the possibility of reopening borders warning this could move things into “a negative direction.”

“It may help to move the infection in a negative direction. Of course, the borders must also be seen in the context of what is happening in the countries around us.” Frederiksen went on to suggest Denmark would not reopen borders until “at least.”

Iceland brought temporary internal border controls last month, banning all foreign nationals, except EU/EEA, EFTA or UK nationals, while everyone arriving from outside the country has been required to complete a 14-day quarantine since April 24.

The Nordic country is now preparing to reopen in a bid to undo some of the damage caused by the closure.

However, this may take a while to implement according to Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson.

“In order to be able to open the door to some travel, all sorts of precautions must be taken, which we, as well as everyone else, are looking into.”

Baltic states

Vilnius, Lithuania

Lithuania is set to join a “travel bubble” with fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia.


The borders for Baltic countries Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have been largely closed to foreign travelers due to the pandemic.

But as of May 15, each will lift restrictions for each other’s citizens, creating the European Union’s first official “green corridors” or “travel bubble.”

The new protocol, which is due to come into effect on May 15, was agreed after the states decided all three “had successfully managed the spread of Covid-19 and trust each other’s health care systems,” according to the Lithuanian government.

However, anyone traveling the countries from outside the “bubble” will be required to go into quarantine for two weeks.

“It’s a big step towards life as normal,” Jüri Ratas, prime minister of Estonia, tweeted earlier this month.

CNN’s James Frater, Max Ramsey, Al Goodman, Mick Krever and Elinda Labropoulou contributed to this report.

Source link

Germany finds a unique way back to nightlife – CNN Video

Germany finds a unique way back to nightlife - CNN Video

Germany’s cultural institutions are making a comeback, but the way people visit museums and enjoy nightlife has been changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Business owners have adopted strict hygiene and social distancing guidelines in a bid to fend off the virus. CNN’s Fred Pleitgen reports.

Source link

2020 is a catastrophe for tourism businesses. Here’s what the industry needs to get back on its feet

2020 is a catastrophe for tourism businesses. Here's what the industry needs to get back on its feet

Located a short distance from the Greek capital’s commercial center, Pi Athens ordinarily welcomes droves of American and Australian tourists this time of year.

“The concern this summer is that those who will come — if and when they do — will skip the big cities and head directly to a beach location,” Gavriel told CNN Business. “The hotel is a rented property and there are many bills to pay. I have invested in it heavily. We are hoping for some revenue in the summer but we don’t know if this is going to happen.”

Gavriel’s story is playing out across the globe, as government restrictions designed to curb the coronavirus pandemic keep billions of people at home, bringing international travel and tourism to a standstill. The shutdown is affecting everything from small businesses like Gavriel’s to massive companies, such as Marriott International (MAR) and Carnival Corporation (CCL). TUI, the world’s biggest tour operator, said Wednesday that it could shed up to 8,000 jobs.

Travel and tourism accounts for some 10% of global GDP and one in 10 jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, an industry group. As many as a third of these jobs, or more than 100 million positions, and some $2.7 trillion in GDP could be at risk as a result of the current crisis, the council said last month.

Countries that rely most heavily on tourist dollars will be hardest hit. A 25% decline in tourism income will knock on average 7% off GDP among “small island developing states,” a contraction that could go as deep as 16% in places such as the Maldives and Seychelles, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The situation is also dire in Europe, which boasts half the world’s international tourist arrivals. The European Parliament estimates that the bloc’s tourism industry is losing around €1 billion ($1.1 billion) in revenue per month, a devastating blow to the 27 million EU workers whose jobs are connected to the sector.

“The crisis in the tourism sector is deeper than we could imagine two months ago,” said Isabel Oliver, Spain’s secretary of state for tourism. “The sector was one of the first to suffer the consequences of the crisis and will be one of the last to recover,” she added.

While hotel owners such as Gavriel desperately need international visitors, reopening borders risks a surge in new coronavirus infections even if it could mean economic relief. Greece hopes to start welcoming tourists by July 1, but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis admits that “it’s a very tough trade off.”

“Nobody knows exactly how to do this,” he told CNN in an interview earlier this month.

Kickstarting tourism, while crucial for the global economy, will be especially complex. Reopening businesses and restarting factories is proving hard enough, but the return of travel will require an easing of border controls, international cooperation and, most crucially, travelers themselves.
Kuredu island, Maldives.
“The critical issue is to build confidence between countries that it is safe to reopen borders without risk of reinfection and to build confidence in the general public that it is safe to fly,” John Holland-Kaye, CEO of London’s Heathrow, the busiest airport in Europe, said last month.

Airports hold the key

But airlines are already downsizing, trimming fleets and slashing thousands of jobs, in expectation that people will fly less. British Airways parent IAG (ICAGY) said last week that it does not expect passenger demand to recover to 2019 levels before 2023. Princess Cruises, a division of Carnival Corporation, has canceled virtually all its summer sailings, citing limited flight availability and the closure of many popular cruise ports. And rival cruise line Norwegian has had to raise more than $2 billion in the capital markets to stay afloat.
Airports and hotels are trying to lure travelers back with health checks and enhanced cleaning protocols, all of which will add layers of cost at a time when the sector’s finances are in tatters because of the collapse in travel.

But such measures are necessary to restore confidence before a Covid-19 vaccine is widely available, said World Travel and Tourism Council CEO Gloria Guevara. “The most critical piece is the airports,” she told CNN Business.

The Dubai Health Authority carries out coronavirus screening on passengers heading to Tunisia on a repatriation flight.

The World Travel and Tourism Council is working with governments and travel organizations to agree on standardized health checks and cleaning protocols. It expects to issue guidelines for the hospitality industry this week with guidance for airports to follow.

Ryanair (RYAAY), which carries millions of tourists around Europe each year, on Tuesday announced new health measures to be implemented on board aircraft as part of plans to restore 40% of flights starting on July 1. The measures illustrate the daunting task facing airlines as they seek to resume flying.

“A quick and effective restart of travel will only happen if governments around the world agree to a common set of health protocols developed by the private sector,” Guevara said in a statement.

Even if that does happen, international tourist arrivals are predicted to be virtually nonexistent this year.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates a decline of as much as 80% from 2019, depending on how long travel restrictions remain in place. That compares with a 0.4% decline during the SARS epidemic in 2003 and a 4% drop in 2009 following the global financial crisis.

“This is by far the worst crisis that international tourism has faced since records began [in 1950],” the UN body said in a statement last week. “The impact will be felt to varying degrees in the different global regions and at overlapping times, with Asia and the Pacific expected to rebound first.”

Domestic travel offers glimmer of hope

There are some early signs that domestic travel is gradually picking up again in certain countries, although it’s too soon to call a recovery.

China began to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions in March, after the country’s near complete shutdown in late January. More than 30% of domestic airline capacity has returned since March 1, according to aviation analytics company, Cirium.

“Green shoots in the Chinese domestic market … is a positive sign for short-haul travel recovery,” the company said in a research note. “It’s clear that, as some travel restrictions ease, it will be the domestic market which will start to return first.”

But flight cancellations remain elevated and the recovery has plateaued, suggesting consumer confidence has not yet been fully restored, Cirium added.

Marriott said Monday that occupancy at its hotels in Greater China reached 25% in April, up from less than 10% in mid February. Meituan Dianping, an app that allows consumers to shop, order food and book trips, recorded increased spending on local tourist attractions, and a pickup in hotel and bed and breakfast bookings last month.

Chinese tourists wear protective masks as they line up to enter the Forbidden City.
However, some tourist attractions in China were forced to shut shortly after reopening due to an influx of visitors. The country is now renewing restrictions in some areas after new cases of the virus were reported in two cities, including the pandemic’s epicenter Wuhan.
Elsewhere, Airbnb has observed a surge in domestic bookings in Denmark and the Netherlands, CEO Brian Chesky told the Financial Times recently. “People will want options that are closer to home, safer, and more affordable,” Chesky said in a letter to staff posted to the company’s website.
But that doesn’t mean a full recovery will be achieved anytime soon, and China’s experience could cause other countries to reopen with even greater caution. In the same letter, Chesky announced a 25% cut to the company’s workforce and said revenue in 2020 is expected to be less than half what it took in last year.

With “staycations” expected to spearhead the sector’s eventual revival, countries that rely more heavily on domestic and regional visitors will fare better.

80 million Chinese may already be out of work. 9 million more will soon be competing for jobs, too

At the top of this list are the United States, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, India, the Philippines, Germany and the United Kingdom, where domestic tourism accounts for more than 80% of total travel and tourism spending, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Asia Pacific has the largest regional travel market, which bodes well for some islands, such as the Maldives and Fiji, assuming tourists choose destinations that are closer to home. Countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, which both derive more than 20% of their GDP from travel and tourism, could also benefit. Visitors from Asia accounted for nearly 70% of all tourist arrivals in Thailand in 2018, according to Bangkok Bank.

Chinese tourists spend most on world travel, accounting for one fifth of international tourism spending in 2018, or $277 billion, according to the World Tourism Organization. Tourists from the United States follow at $144 billion.

With journeys to international destinations expected to recover last, small business owners like Gavriel, whose patrons travel long distances to come to Greece, face an uncertain future.

— Elinda Labropoulou, Laura Perez Maestro and Sherisse Pham contributed reporting.

Source link

Taiwan offers a glimpse into a post Covid-19 world

Taiwan offers a glimpse into a post Covid-19 world

On the streets of the island’s capital, Taipei, pedestrians appear more concerned with staying out of the hot midday sun than maintaining any semblance of social distancing. Large lines stretch along the sidewalks, as people cram into popular lunchtime eateries. And in nearby parks, large groups of young people exercise and practice dance routines.

In fact, there are few if any visible signs that this is 2020 and the world is in the grip of a raging pandemic.

And in Taiwan as a whole, an island with a population of approximately 23 million people, there have been around 500 confirmed cases and just 7 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

And that’s despite it being located just 130 kilometers (81 miles) from China, the country where the virus was first detected.

The Secret of success

One of the main reasons for Taiwan’s success in containing the virus is speed.

The island’s leaders were quick to act as rumors spread online of an unidentified virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan and unconfirmed reports of patients having to isolate.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told CNN the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 had taught them a lot. “At the time Taiwan was hit very hard and then we started building up our capacity dealing with a pandemic like this,” said Wu.

“So, when we heard that there were some secret pneumonia cases in China where patients were treated in isolation, we knew it was something similar.”

Even before Beijing publicly acknowledged the gravity of the virus, Wu said Taiwan health officials began screening passengers arriving from Wuhan and additional early travel restrictions were put in place.

As much of the world waited for more information, Taiwan activated its Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), which coordinates different ministries in an emergency, and the military was brought in to boost mask and PPE production.

Those initial, early responses to the outbreak in China — and the willingness to take action — were critical in preventing the spread of the virus in Taiwan, potentially saving thousands of lives.

A worker sprays hand sanitiser onto passengers after they arrive at Taoyuan Airport on March 19, 2020.

Direct flights from Wuhan, China were monitored from December 31, 2019 and all passengers underwent a health screen.

Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control announced on January 20 it had sent two experts to Wuhan to try and “obtain more comprehensive information of the outbreak.”

One day later, Taiwan confirmed its first reported case of the novel coronavirus. Wuhan residents were banned from entering and all passengers from China, Hong Kong and Macau were screened.

All this happened before Wuhan itself went into lockdown on January 23. And by March, Taiwan banned all foreign nations from entering the island, apart from diplomats, those with resident visas with special entry visas.

Dr. Jason Wang is the Director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention at Stanford University, he said places like Taiwan “tend to act on the conservative side so, when it wasn’t clear how it was spread, they said we’re going to wear a mask anyway and they got it right.”

Another key to success, according to Foreign Minister Wu and outside experts: be honest about the dangers.

Wu said they were giving “daily briefings, every day and sometimes twice a day to brief the population on what was going on in a very transparent way and the people just developed a trust to the government dealing with this matter.”

This trust according to Wu, helped to ensure that masks were worn, hands were washed and quarantines respected.

Residents stand outside Hsing Tian Kong temple on March 17, 2020 in Taipei, Taiwan.

‘Life here is so surreal’

Taiwan’s early response means everyday life on the island is now very different from a lot of places worldwide where leaders weren’t quick to act.

Sil Chen moved to New York from her native Taiwan 16 years ago to set up a psychotherapy practice.

She thinks she caught the virus mid-March from a client who was coughing during a session. “At the time, people were not taking this very seriously,” said Chen.

Back then, it was also hard to get a test in the US so she stayed in her apartment for five weeks to avoid spreading the virus. An antibody test two months later confirmed her infection.

Taiwan's success in fighting coronavirus has bolstered its global standing. This has infuriated Beijing.

“I think it was quite mild compared to the other people that I knew but I did cough for two months… and I did not get my smell back for a month,” said Chen.

Chen came back to Taipei mid-July to visit her grandmother who has lung cancer. After a 14-day quarantine, she took her 99-year-old grandmother out and about. “We were dining in a restaurant,” she said, “doing group yoga with people and I was like, wow, this is so surreal, it would not have been possible for me to bring my grandma to a public space like that anywhere else in the world almost.”

Students wearing face masks run during a sports class at Dajia Elementary School in Taipei on April 29, 2020.

From the science of closing to the science of re-opening

Dr. Wang and associates at Stanford have written about the success of the Taiwan model in slowing the virus, but he would like the island to go one step further.

“Taiwan has been really great at the science of closing… but what is the new science of re-opening that could be a good model for the world?” said Wang.

Looking at potential travel corridors or travel bubbles between countries that have handled the pandemic well, Wang suggested introducing a shorter quarantine period, made possible by successive negative tests.
Pedestrians walk with their bubble tea drinks in the Ximending shopping district in Taipei, Taiwan, on July 30, 2020.

Taiwan introduced a shorter quarantine period for business visitors in June from countries it considers low or medium risk. This requires visitors to undergo a pre-boarding test to prove they are negative within 72 hours of flying, then a test on day five of quarantine, after which they are permitted to leave isolation and self-monitor for the next two weeks.

“They are already doing what I am suggesting for business travelers, special visas, so what’s the logic in not doing it for everybody?” he asked.

Wang said Taiwan’s government is currently considering an international travel study with Stanford to test shorter quarantine periods with more frequent testing. He said travel corridors are a vital way of reviving economies around the world and wants to study travelers arriving in Taiwan to check the efficiency and practicalities of shorter quarantines.

As Wang pointed out, “at one point we still need to reopen the world and even with the vaccine, it’s not 100% protected.”

An earlier version of this story had the wrong first name for the Director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention at Stanford University. He is Dr. Jason Wang.

Source link

As US COVID-19 deaths near 200,000, CDC reverses itself again

As US COVID-19 deaths near 200,000, CDC reverses itself again

Today the United States edged close to the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus as the drop in new COVID-19 cases seen in recent weeks across the country appears to be ending and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) again waffles on guidance, this time regarding the mode of virus spread.

The current US totals stand at 6,831,222 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 199,766 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 online tracker.

After a steady decline in new cases from the peak of well over 60,000 a day in July, a Reuters analysis shows that US officials reported a 17% increase in the number of new infections last week compared with the previous 7 days. The country is averaging more than 40,000 new COVID-19 cases a day.

Public health experts have been predicting that cases will rise as the school year kicks into gear and colder weather drives people indoors.

Among the states reporting increases in new cases in the past 7 days are Wisconsin, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa.

New controversy over CDC guidance

As the country faces the prospect of another surge in cases, a new controversy erupted today over the latest change in the official COVID-19 guidance from the CDC. The controversy involves the agency’s position on how the coronavirus is transmitted from person to person.

On Friday, the CDC posted updated guidance on its website that said the coronavirus can spread through both large droplets and small particles, such as those in aerosols, and that airborne particles that form when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes can remain suspended in the air, be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet.

The guidance indicated that this is the main way the virus spreads, and suggested indoor spaces without good ventilation may increase the risk of spread. The previous guidance had focused on the virus spreading via respiratory droplets between people within 6 feet of contact.

But earlier today, the new guidance was taken down from the CDC website, with an accompanying note that said “A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website. CDC is currently updating its recommendation regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted.”

Whatever the reason for the change, it comes amid growing concern that the agency’s messaging on the coronavirus is being shaped by political considerations. Last week, the CDC reversed coronavirus testing guidance on its website that had been updated in August with new recommendations made by political appointees in the Trump administration. Those recommendations had suggested that people who were exposed to an infected person but weren’t showing symptoms don’t necessarily need to be tested.

Last week the CDC clarified that such close contacts do need to be tested, which reflects guidance on its site before the August changes.

White House: Some could be immunized by end of year

In vaccine-related developments, the chief adviser for Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to speed up development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, told CNBC this morning that the United States could immunize Americans who are most susceptible to the coronavirus by the end of the year if a vaccine is approved, or granted emergency use authorization, before then.

“We are already stockpiling small amounts if vaccine doses that could become readily available in November or December,” Moncef Slaoui, PhD, said.

Under that scenario, according to Slaoui, most of the elderly and frontline workers could receive the vaccine in January 2021, and the rest of the country would get immunized in February, March, and April.

Last week, CDC Director Robert Redfield told US lawmakers on Capitol Hill that most of the American public likely wouldn’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine until next spring or summer. President Trump later said Redfield had incorrect information, and has suggested on several occasions that a vaccine could be approved by the end of October, a claim he repeated this morning on Fox News.

Slaoui has previously said that it’s unlikely that any of the three vaccine candidates in phase 3 trials would have enough efficacy and safety data by the end of October.

California deaths, schools opening in NYC

In other US news:

  • California became the fourth state to surpass 15,000 COVID-19 deaths, along with Texas, New York, and New Jersey, according to the Los Angeles Times. But an analysis by Kaiser Health News, which found that deaths in California were up by 13% from March through July compared with the same period in previous years, suggests that COVID-19 deaths in the state may be undercounted. California has more than 785,000 coronavirus cases, more than any other state.
  • Schools in New York City opened today for preschoolers and children with advanced disabilities. In-person learning was initially supposed to begin for the city’s 1.1 million public school students on Sep 10, but under the new plan, elementary students will begin on Sep 29, and high school students will return on Oct 1.
  • The National Medical Association, an organization of African American physicians, has created its own expert panel to independently evaluate regulatory decisions about COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, Stat News The group says it’s concerned that recent decisions by the Food and Drug Administration regarding COVID-19 treatments have been “unduly influenced” by politics.

Source link

Studies trace COVID-19 spread to international flights

Studies trace COVID-19 spread to international flights

Three studies published late last week describe in-flight COVID-19 transmission, with one involving a single symptomatic passenger who likely infected at least 12 others during an international flight.

Seat proximity and increased risk

The first study, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, involved an epidemiologic investigation of all traceable passengers and crew members on a 10-hour Vietnam Airlines flight 54 (VN54) from London to Hanoi, Vietnam, on Mar 1 that resulted in 15 ill people in addition to the index patient.

Researchers interviewed, tested, and quarantined the passengers and crew and traced their close contacts to estimate the likelihood of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, on the flight and identify risk factors for in-flight spread.

Of the 16 crew members and 168 passengers tested, 15 (8.2%) were positive for the novel coronavirus, 12 (75%) of whom had been seated in business class with the symptomatic passenger, for an attack rate of 62% in that section of the 274-seat plane. The other infected travelers had been seated in economy class and may have had contact with the index patient on arrival at immigration or baggage claim.

Of the 12 infected passengers in business class, 8 (67%) developed symptoms after a median of 8.8 days following arrival in Hanoi. None had symptoms on the flight.

Sitting near the ill passenger was strongly tied to increased infection risk. Eleven of the 12 infected passengers sitting one or two seats away (92%) tested positive for COVID-19, versus only 1 (13%) more than two seats away (risk ratio, 7.3).

Of the 1,300 close contacts of crew members and passengers, 5 people (0.4%) tested positive for coronavirus, 3 of whom were household staff members of the index patient, who was the only symptomatic passenger and reported pre-flight contact with her sister, a confirmed COVID-19 patient.

The authors wrote, “The most likely route of transmission during the flight is aerosol or droplet transmission from case 1, particularly for persons seated in business class.” They added, “We found no strong evidence supporting alternative transmission scenarios.”

The authors noted that thermal temperature screening and self-reporting of symptoms at the airport did not stop the infected person from boarding. As is clear from this investigation, long flights can lead to ideal conditions for “superspreader” events, they added.

Industry guidelines insufficient, authors say

Current international air travel industry guidelines characterize the likelihood of in-flight transmission of SARS-CoV-2 as very low and recommend only the use of face masks—not physical distancing vis a vis blocking middle seats, the researchers said.

“Our findings challenge these recommendations,” they wrote. “Transmission on flight VN54 was clustered in business class, where seats are already more widely spaced than in economy class, and infection spread much further than the existing 2-row or 2 meters [6.6 feet] rule recommended for COVID-19 prevention on airplanes and other public transport would have captured.” 

The findings reveal the need for more stringent screening and infection-control measures before and during flights, the investigators said, adding that systematic testing and quarantine policies for inbound passengers may also be justified in countries with low levels of community spread, high risk of case importation, and low capacity for contact tracing. Vietnam now mandates testing on arrival and a 14-day quarantine.

“We conclude that the risk for on-board transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during long flights is real and has the potential to cause COVID-19 clusters of substantial size, even in business class–like settings with spacious seating arrangements well beyond the established distance used to define close contact on airplanes,” the authors said.

“As long as COVID-19 presents a global pandemic threat in the absence of a good point-of-care test, better on-board infection prevention measures and arrival screening procedures are needed to make flying safe.”

Signature virus genome sequence

Another study in the same journal details probable in-flight COVID-19 transmission in two passengers and two crew members on a 15-hour flight from Boston to Hong Kong on Mar 9.

The infected travelers were diagnosed as having coronavirus at local healthcare providers 5 to 11 days after arrival. They included a married couple in business class and two flight attendants, one of whom had served the couple during the flight.

Genomic sequencing showed that the viruses from all four infected travelers were identical, unique, and part of a clade (group of viruses evolving from a single ancestor) not previously seen in Hong Kong, which the authors said strongly suggests that the virus was transmitted during the flight. Similar virus sequences were later identified in Toronto, New York City, and Massachusetts, all of which the couple had visited.

The authors said that the evidence suggests that the married couple were infected in North America and transmitted the virus to the flight attendants.

“SARS-CoV-2 test results have been positive for hundreds of flight attendants and pilots; at least 2 have died,” they wrote. “Our results demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted on airplanes. To prevent transmission of the virus during travel, infection control measures must continue.”

Travel with symptoms

A third study, an epidemiologic analysis published in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, demonstrated probable in-flight COVID-19 transmission in five passengers. Researchers in Athens, Greece, performed contact tracing on 2,224 passengers and 110 crew members on 18 international flights arriving to or leaving from Greece from Feb 26 to Mar 9.

They identified 21 index COVID-19 cases and 891 close contacts, defined as passengers sitting less than 2 meters away from an infected passenger for at least 15 minutes or crew members who were near them. Of the close contacts, four passengers and one crew member tested positive for COVID-19. Six index patients had symptoms during their flight.

The infected close contacts, who included three members of the same family, had traveled on the same 2-hour flight as two infected travelers who had been part of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

“Exposure of the two pilgrim index cases in Jerusalem and subsequent in-flight spread of the disease can be justified considering that pilgrims constitute a high-risk group of travellers for acquisition of respiratory diseases due to their exposure to crowded conditions and mixing with other people from different countries where local transmission of SARS-CoV-2 might had been documented,” the authors said.

Source link

Boost for global response to covid-19 as economies worldwide formally sign up to covax facility


  • 64 higher income economies have now joined the COVAX Facility, with a further 38 economies expected to sign in the coming days
  • These self-financing economies, which include 29 from ‘Team Europe’ participating as part of an agreement with the European Commission, join 92 lower income economies eligible for financial support through the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment
  • This means a total of 156 economies, representing nearly two-thirds of the global population, are now committed to or eligible to receive vaccines through the Facility Click here for the list of economies

64 higher income economies have joined the COVAX Facility, a global initiative that brings together governments and manufacturers to ensure eventual COVID-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need, whoever they are and wherever they live. These 64 economies
include commitments from 35 economies as well as the European Commission which will procure doses on behalf of 27 EU member states plus Norway and Iceland

By pooling financial and scientific resources, these participating economies will be able to insure themselves against the failure of any individual vaccine candidate and secure successful vaccines in a cost-effective, targeted way. 

The 64 members of the Facility will be joined by 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible for support for the procurement of vaccines through the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a financing instrument aimed at supporting the procurement
of vaccines for these countries. This means that 156 economies, representing roughly 64% of the global population in total, are now either committed to or eligible for the COVAX Facility, with more to follow.

With the Commitment Agreements secured, the COVAX Facility will now start signing formal agreements with vaccine manufacturers and developers, which are partners in the COVAX effort, to secure the doses needed to end the acute phase of the pandemic by
the end of 2021. This is in addition to an ongoing effort to raise funding for both R&D and for the procurement of vaccines for lower-income countries via the Gavi COVAX AMC.

“COVAX is now in business: governments from every continent have chosen to work together, not only to secure vaccines for their own populations, but also to help ensure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable everywhere,” said Dr
Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is coordinating the COVAX Facility. “With the commitments we’re announcing today for the COVAX Facility, as well as the historic partnership we are forging with industry, we now stand
a far better chance of ending the acute phase of this pandemic once safe, effective vaccines become available.”

The COVAX Facility is part of COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO)
– working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, UNICEF, the World Bank, Civil Society Organisations and others. 

The allocation of vaccines, once licensed and approved, will be guided by an Allocation Framework released today by WHO following the principle of fair and equitable access, ensuring no participating economy will be left behind. Policies determining the prioritization of vaccine rollout within economies will be guided by recommendations from the
WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), which has recently released a Values Framework laying the groundwork for subsequent guidance on
target populations and policies on vaccine use.  

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery.
Working together through the COVAX Facility is not charity, it’s in every country’s own best interests to control the pandemic and accelerate the global economic recovery.”

The commitment of fully self-financing economies will now unlock vital funding and the security of demand needed to scale up manufacturing and secure the doses needed for the Facility. CEPI is leading COVAX vaccine research and development work, which
aims to develop at least three safe and effective vaccines which can be made available to economies participating in the COVAX Facility. Nine candidate vaccines are currently being supported by CEPI; eight of which are currently in clinical trials.

“This is a landmark moment in the history of public health with the international community coming together to tackle this pandemic. The global spread of COVID-19 means that it is only through equitable and simultaneous access to new lifesaving
COVID-19 vaccines that we can hope to end this pandemic”, said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI. “Countries coming together in this way shows a unity of purpose and resolve to end the acute phase of this pandemic, and we must now work
closely with vaccine manufacturers—who play an integral part in the global response—to put in place the agreements needed to fulfil COVAX’s core aim: to have two billion vaccine doses available by the end of 2021. Today, we have
taken a great leap towards that goal, for the benefit of all.”

The success of COVAX hinges not only on economies signing up to the COVAX Facility and commitments from vaccine manufacturers, but also filling key funding gaps for both COVAX research and development (R&D) work and the Gavi COVAX AMC to support participation
of lower income economies in the COVAX Facility.

Governments, vaccine manufacturers (in addition to their own R&D), organisations and individuals have committed US$ 1.4 billion towards vaccine R&D so far, but a further US$ 700-800 million is urgently needed to continue to move the portfolio
forward in addition to US$ 300 million to fund WHO’s SOLIDARITY trial.

The Gavi COVAX AMC has raised around US$ 700 million from sovereign donors as well as philanthropy and the private sector, against an initial target of US$ 2 billion in seed funding needed by the end of 2020. Funding the Gavi COVAX AMC will be critical
to ensuring ability to pay is not a barrier to accessing COVID-19 vaccines, a situation which would leave the majority of the world unprotected, with the pandemic and its impact continuing unabated.

The Commitment Agreements also commit higher income governments to provide an upfront payment to reserve doses by 9 October 2020. These funds will be used to accelerate the scale-up of vaccine manufacturing to secure two billion doses of vaccine, enough
to vaccinate one billion people assuming the vaccine requires a two-dose regimen. Further details on these upfront payments are available in Gavi’s COVAX Facility Explainer

As well as procuring doses for participating economies, the COVAX Facility will also maintain a buffer of doses for emergency and humanitarian use.

Participating country comments

“COVID-19 poses serious health concerns to people everywhere, and that’s why Canada is committed to working with partners around the world to end the pandemic,” said the Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. “Equitable,
timely, and affordable access to a safe and effective COVID vaccine will be critical to help protect people’s health. Canada supports the objectives and principles of the COVAX Facility as the only global pooled procurement mechanism for countries
to collaborate on this monumental undertaking. Our country is a part of this important global response.” 

“New Zealand’s commitment to the COVAX Facility supports access to vaccines against COVID-19 for other countries too,” said Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. 

“COVAX and the idea of equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of ability to pay, is not just a moral imperative, it is the only practical solution to this pandemic. Protecting everyone is the only way we can return our world – our
trade, tourism, travel, business – to normal,” said the Honourable Dr Edwin G. Dikoloti, Minister of Health and Wellness for Botswana. “We urge those countries who have not yet signed up to do so. Let us work together to protect
each other.” 

“Immunisation saves lives. Investing in immunisation infrastructure helps strengthen health systems. We have seen this time and again through our work with Gavi and Alliance partners,” said Dr Lia Tadesse, Minister of Health for Ethiopia.
“By being a part of the COVAX Facility and the AMC we can continue this work and protect our citizens – and the world – against the impact of COVID-19.” 

“With COVAX, the world is joining forces and proving that together, we are stronger – and together, we can defeat this pandemic,” said Ekaterine Tikaradze, Minister of Health for Georgia. “Georgia will be joining the COVAX Facility
to give our citizens the best chance at having access to safe vaccines. By doing this, we also make sure health care workers and other high risk persons all over the world have access to these life-saving tools, helping to bring the pandemic under
control – and we can all recover and rebuild.”

“Joining the COVAX Facility was not a difficult decision – not only will this give Kuwaiti citizens access to COVID-19 vaccines as they become available, it will also mean our friends and partners outside our borders also get access,”
said His Excellency Sheikh Dr Basel Humoud Al-Sabah, Minister of Health of the State of Kuwait. “We need a global solution to this global pandemic: we believe COVAX is that solution.”

“We believe international cooperation – a global effort – is key,” said Dag-Inge Ulstein, Minister of International Development for Norway. “We must continue to work for equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments.
To defeat the coronavirus pandemic, well-off countries need to act swiftly and boldly to make vaccines and treatments available to those who cannot afford to pay themselves. With the commitments to the COVAX facility we are heading in the right direction.”

“This is a hugely important initiative, which could offer us a path out of the acute phase of this pandemic and a return to normality,” said His Excellency Dr Ahmed Mohammed Obaid Al Saidi, Minister of Health of the Sultanate of Oman. “I
would urge every country that has not yet done so to sign up, for all our sakes. It is far better for us to work together than apart.”

Partner comments

“The history of vaccines will be defined by our response to COVID-19; the COVAX facility is at the epicenter of this response. Industry is at the forefront in vaccines development and manufacturing leading to supplies of several billion doses within
the next few years”, said Mr. Sai D. Prasad, President of the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers’ Network (DCVMN). “The COVAX facility will have a major impact on lives, livelihoods and accelerate the return to normalcy for
countries. The DCVMN is fully engaged with its partners to enhance its mission of global public health and to leave no one behind.”       

“It is very encouraging to see so many countries move from talk to full commitment,” said Thomas Cueni, Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA). “The Facility can only work, and equitable
access can only be achieved, if there is solidarity between rich and poorer countries. Today vaccine makers who have the unique skills and expertise to scale up manufacturing to levels never seen before, stand ready, together, to take up the challenge
of providing two billion doses of yet unknown COVID-19 vaccines. This is no mean feat, as it requires doubling existing capacity in record time. Today, marks a significant step forward, and is a historic mark of solidarity which has the power to bring
the acute phase of this pandemic to an end; and we are proud to be part of this unique endeavour to leave no one behind.”

“Uniting our efforts through COVAX must guarantee fair allocation and equitable delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine to those who need it most, and not just those who can afford it,” said Jagan Chapagain, Secretary-General of the International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “We all have a moral and public health imperative to protect the poor in rural communities as the affluent in cities, the old in care homes as the young in refugee camps. The power of our humanity
and the success of COVAX will be measured by how we collectively protect the most vulnerable among us.”

“Global cooperation must be the cornerstone of our global response to COVID-19,” said Kevin Watkins, Chief Executive of Save the Children. “The COVAX Facility has the potential to help ensure universal and equitable access to future COVID
vaccines. For this to happen, we need to ensure people in low- and middle-income countries get their fair share and can access the vaccines they need to help overcome the biggest public health and child rights crisis of our generation.”

“Seeing such unity in the face of the COVID-19 crisis gives us confidence that, together, we can ensure the equitable delivery of COVID vaccines globally,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “With our globe-spanning supply
chain and on-the-ground presence across 190 countries, UNICEF is proud to support this historic effort.”


Notes to editors

A COVAX Facility Explainer document is available on the Gavi website here:, as well as a Q&A from Gavi CEO Seth Berkley here.

The full list of fully self-financing economies that have submitted both binding Commitment Agreements and non-binding Confirmations of Intent to Participate, as well as the 92 low- and middle-income countries eligible for the Gavi COVAX AMC, is available

About Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is a public-private partnership that helps vaccinate half the world’s children against some of the world’s deadliest diseases. Since its inception in 2000, Gavi has helped to immunise a whole generation – over
760 million children – and prevented more than 13 million deaths, helping to halve child mortality in 73 developing countries. Gavi also plays a key role in improving global health security by supporting health systems as well as funding global
stockpiles for Ebola, cholera, meningitis and yellow fever vaccines.  After two decades of progress, Gavi is now focused on protecting the next generation and reaching the unvaccinated children still being left behind, employing innovative
finance and the latest technology – from drones to biometrics – to save millions more lives, prevent outbreaks before they can spread and help countries on the road to self-sufficiency. Learn more at www.gavi.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector
partners. View the full list of donor governments and other leading organizations that fund Gavi’s work here.

About CEPI

CEPI is an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations, launched at Davos in 2017, to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics. CEPI has moved with great urgency and in coordination with WHO in response to the
emergence of COVID-19. CEPI has initiated nine partnerships to develop vaccines against the novel coronavirus. The programmes are leveraging rapid response platforms already supported by CEPI as well as new partnerships.

Before the emergence of COVID-19, CEPI’s priority diseases included Ebola virus, Lassa virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, Nipah virus, Rift Valley Fever and Chikungunya virus. CEPI also invested in platform technologies that can
be used for rapid vaccine and immunoprophylactic development against unknown pathogens (Disease X).

About WHO

The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States, across six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, keep the world safe and
serve the vulnerable. Our goal for 2019-2023 is to ensure that a billion more people have universal health coverage, to protect a billion more people from health emergencies, and provide a further billion people with better health and wellbeing.

For updates on COVID-19 and public health advice to protect yourself from coronavirus, visit www.who.int and follow WHO on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube

About ACT-Accelerator

The Access to COVID-19 Tools ACT-Accelerator, is a new, ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. It was set up in response to a call from G20 leaders
in March and launched by the WHO, European Commission, France and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in April 2020.

The ACT-Accelerator is not a decision-making body or a new organisation, but works to speed up collaborative efforts among existing organisations to end the pandemic. It is a framework for collaboration that has been designed to bring key players around
the table with the goal of ending the pandemic as quickly as possible through the accelerated development, equitable allocation, and scaled up delivery of tests, treatments and vaccines, thereby protecting health systems and restoring societies and
economies in the near term. It draws on the experience of leading global health organisations which are tackling the world’s toughest health challenges, and who, by working together, are able to unlock new and more ambitious results against
COVID-19. Its members share a commitment to ensure all people have access to all the tools needed to defeat COVID-19 and to work with unprecedented levels of partnership to achieve it.

The ACT-Accelerator has four areas of work: diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccines and the health system connector. Cross-cutting all of these is the workstream on Access & Allocation. More information on the ACT Accelerator is available here.

Source link

China prepares to count 1.3 billion people as date for new population census announced

China prepares to count 1.3 billion people as date for new population census announced
According to state-run news agency Xinhua, the colossal undertaking will see around 7 million census workers spread out across the country, collecting names, ID numbers, gender, marital details, as well as education and professional information.

As well as traditional methods, citizens will also be encouraged to use cell phones and other digital tools “to declare personal and family information,” Xinhua reported.

China conducts a national census every 10 years. The last survey found the population had increased from 1.29 billion to 1.37 billion. It was also the first to include foreigners. Nearly 600,000 foreign citizens returned the survey in 2010 — most were from South Korea, the United States and Japan.

The census provides key data for national policy making, information that is becoming more and more important as the demographic time bomb of the one child policy begins to kick in.

In 2010, the census found that the number of people aged 14 or younger was down 6.2% from the previous census.
Beijing began reversing its hugely controversial one child policy — in which women were subject to forced abortions, heavy fines, and eviction if they attempted to have a second baby — in 2015, as demographic issues caused by the lack of children became increasingly apparent.

China’s pool of workers is shrinking, with many young people supporting their parents and two sets of grandparents, in a country where social services for the elderly are still lacking.

Last year, the country’s birthrate hit its lowest level since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. More than 250 million Chinese were over 60 years old last year, the statistics revealed. They make up more than 18% of the population.

The figure is forecast to rise to a third of the population by 2050 — or 480 million people.

This year’s census may even show a decrease in the total size of the population for the first time in decades, setting the stage for India to overtake China as the world’s most populous country.

India was due to begin its own census counting earlier this year but had to delay operations due to the coronavirus.
The pandemic will also pose some concerns to China, particularly with millions of census workers moving around the country. However, Chinese virus numbers have been very low in recent weeks, with no new domestic infections reported Sunday, and just 12 imported cases.

Source link

Analysis: Australia’s coronavirus lockdown strategy worked. Could this be a model for the US?

Analysis: Australia's coronavirus lockdown strategy worked. Could this be a model for the US?
But Andrews — a Labor Party politician who has run Australia’s second-largest state since 2014 — has remained popular with Victorians throughout the lockdown, local polls show. And this week, his hardline approach was thoroughly vindicated.
On Sunday, Victoria recorded just 11 new coronavirus cases, down from over 670 at the height of the most recent outbreak last month. Next week, Melbourne will begin lifting some restrictions if new cases remain below a fortnightly average of 50 per day. A nightly curfew is slated to remain in effect until October 26.
“We can do this,” Andrews tweeted Sunday, echoing his words at the beginning of the lockdown: “We are Victorians — and we will get through this as Victorians. With grit, with guts and together.”
And while it may have provoked outrage from some elements of the Australian media, and criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Victoria’s experience shows once again that targeted lockdowns are effective in containing the coronavirus: driving down infections, relieving pressure on hospitals and medical staff, and creating space for contact tracing and mass testing.
This was first shown in China, where the government imposed an intense lockdown on Wuhan, the city where cases of the virus were first detected late last year. Wuhan spent 76-days under lockdown, which was finally lifted as the daily caseload slowed to a trickle.
That was back in April, and now Wuhan is basically back to normal, even able to host massive water park raves without much concern. And the model has been successfully applied to other cities across China, including the capital Beijing, suppressing new spikes as they appear and keeping national figures down.

“The Covid-19 epidemic in our country has gone through four waves,” Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Saturday. “Besides the first wave (in Wuhan), the other epidemic waves were clusters that were regional and small-scale and were effectively controlled.”

For some lockdown skeptics, China’s experience was easy to dismiss: the country is an authoritarian, one-party state, and its methods could not necessarily be applied in democracies.

But the situation in Victoria proves that the lockdown strategy does work elsewhere, and that, given the proper information and reassurances, people are willing to make the sacrifices required to contain the virus.

With the outbreak in Victoria contained, the number of cases throughout the rest of Australia has continued to trend down. On Sunday, New South Wales, which includes Sydney, reported four new cases, while Queensland state reported just one.

New Zealand too, which on Monday began reducing social distancing regulations after daily cases dropped to zero, has seen positive results from lockdowns, enabling the country to return to relative normality far faster than nations which did not take such measures.

Elsewhere, however, lockdown strategies have been less successful, with partial closures bringing with them the misery of a full lockdown while not actually containing infections. This could make it far more difficult to introduce further restrictions in future, such as when infections spike in winter months, as most experts believe will happen.
There is also considerable political resistance to lockdowns, or even partial shutdowns, in some countries, particularly the United States, where last week Attorney General William Barr said a nationwide closure would be the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties” in history “other than slavery.”
Potential lockdowns have also provoked backlash in the European Union and United Kingdom in recent days, despite a spike in case numbers across the continent.

The US, however, remains the worst hit country in the world, with more than 6.7 million coronavirus cases and almost 200,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. As those figures potentially rise through winter, and with less and less reason to go outside, some people may start to reconsider their anti-lockdown sentiment.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that authorities in Melbourne would consider lifting a nighttime curfew next week. The curfew is currently in effect until October 26.

CNN’s Angus Watson and Eric Cheung contributed reporting.

Source link

Thai protesters declare ‘victory’ in monarchy reform rallies, after delivering their demands to authorities

Thai protesters declare 'victory' in monarchy reform rallies, after delivering their demands to authorities

Thousands gathered in the nation’s capital for this weekend’s rallies, which began on Saturday and were part of a protest movement that has been gaining momentum since July.

Student leader and activist Panasaya “Rung” Sitthijirawattanakul, 21, took to a public stage late Saturday to directly address Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn — an act that, under strict national laws, could be punishable by 15 years in jail if her comments are considered defamatory to the monarchy.

Panasaya listed to the crowd the ten demands of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, a student union group of which she is the spokesperson. They include revoking laws against defaming the monarchy, a new constitution, abolishing royal offices, ousting the military junta and disbanding the king’s royal guards.

In an interview with CNN, Panasaya said: “I mean no harm to the monarchy.” But she also shared a message to the king: “You should reform it so that the monarchy can continue to exist in Thailand … If you pay attention to what I am saying, I’d like you to consider our demands.”

On Sunday, with thousands still out, a group from the rally announced it intended to deliver the ten demands to the Privy Council, the king’s advisers.

However, Panasaya and other marchers were stopped by police as they attempted to approach the council. In an exchange broadcast live on television, Panasaya instead agreed to hand the demands to police, and declared a victory for protesters.

Speaking to the crowds before they dispersed, protest leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak said: “Our victory is that we handed our letter directly to the king, so we can show that everyone is equal. Everyone has the same blood color — it’s red. Thank you everyone for celebrating our victory. We told people to raise their hand.”

Parit said the movement would continue to pursue its goals peacefully.

“We achieved all of this by non-violent methods and we will uphold the principle of non-violence in our movement,” Parit said Sunday.

On Sunday protesters also installed a “people’s plaque” near the Thai Royal Palace, commemorating their movement as the “vanguard of democracy.”

“Here, the people declare that this place belongs to the people, not the King,” the plaque reads. Protest leaders said it was a replacement for another plaque that had marked the end of monarchic rule in 1932, but went missing in 2017.

Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Sunday “expressed his gratitude to officers and all the people who have jointly cooperated to end the situation peacefully,” according to a statement from his official spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri.

“Both the protesters and officers have avoided confrontation and instigation which could lead to an unnecessarily tense situation,” the statement read.

“The government has the intention to allow people to lawfully express their rights under the constitution.”

Asked about the submission of a reform letter to the king, Burapachaisri said: “I am aware of their demands about monarchy reform from listening to their speeches on the stage but I don’t have them in detail yet. I would need time to gather info before we have further comments on this.”

Weekend protests escalate

Ahead of this weekend, official figures had tried to dissuade protesters from turning out — and dispel fears that the rallies could turn violent.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister warned protesters they could cause economic destruction if coronavirus spreads at gatherings, though he didn’t name protest groups individually or specifically address the planned weekend rallies.

And in a briefing on Saturday morning, the commander of the Thai Royal Police told people not to believe what he called rumors that police will “suppress the mobs,” and urged officers not to react if “provoked.”

Thailand's monarchy was long considered God-like. But protesters say it's time for change

Later that afternoon, protest leaders pushed open the gates of Thammasat University, a heart of student activism in Thailand. They gathered on the campus and at Sanam Luang, a public square near the king’s official residence at the Grand Palace.

This comes after two months of almost daily demonstrations, including one in Bangkok with an estimated 10,000 people on August 16. The movement began with students in towns across the country — but has since attracted a large cross-section of society.

Protesters and their supporters are calling for a range of institutional changes; for instance, Pita Limjaroenrat of the opposition Move Forward Party said his group will propose a council meeting to “re-write the constitution peacefully.”

Anti-government protesters break through a gate at Thammasat University as they arrive for a pro-democracy rally in Bangkok on September 19.

The best solution, Limjaroenrat says, is to elect a “group of persons” to re-write it. He told the media that if change does not occur in the country “the people will keep coming out on the street.”

But among these grievances, reforming the monarchy is becoming the central demand. At a previous protest on August 10, Panusaya read out a series of demands for palace reform, that include ensuring a genuine constitutional monarchy that places the monarch under the constitution.

That is a radical idea in Thailand, where the powerful royal institution is regarded by many with deity-like reverence — but dissatisfaction, especially among Thai youth, has been simmering for years.

Years of growing resistance

Thailand has endured years of political upheaval. A military coup in 2014 was followed by failed promises to restore democracy, and what activists say is a repression of civil rights and freedoms.

Activists say they are fed up with injustices such as the military’s continued hold on power through the constitution, the prolonged coronavirus state of emergency — which they say is being used to stifle political opposition and free speech — and a flailing economy that offers them little job prospects, as well as the disappearance of democracy activists living in exile.

It’s within this atmosphere that their ire is now being directed toward King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who assumed the throne in 2016 and was crowned in May 2019.

Security forces stand guard as anti-government protesters take part in a rally in Bangkok on September 19.

Vajiralongkorn is believed to spend much of his time overseas and has been largely absent from public life in Thailand as the country grappled with the coronavirus pandemic.

Since becoming King, billions of dollars worth of assets held by the Thai Crown have been transferred to Vajiralongkorn, asserting his control of royal finances and vastly increasing his personal wealth.

The Crown Property Act, passed in 1936, reorganized the Thai royal family’s assets into separate categorizes for royal assets. The repeal of the act meant that the Crown’s and the King’s personal holdings were placed into a single category to be administered by King Vajiralongkorn.

Although the absolute monarchy was abolished in Thailand in 1932, the monarch still wields significant political influence. Thais are still expected to follow a long tradition of worshiping the royal institution.

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok on September 19.

Change appears to taking root, however.

At schools in Bangkok and southern Thailand last month video posted to social media showed students singing the national anthem while wearing white ribbons and making the three-fingered salute from the “Hunger Games” movie franchise, which has become a symbol of defiance against the Thai government since the military coup.

CNN cannot independently verify the videos.

Traditionally, Thai citizens are supposed to stand still to pay respects to the anthem — played twice daily in public spaces — and the rule is even stricter in schools.

“The protests in Thailand are historic because this is the first time in Thailand’s history that urban demonstrators have demanded such reforms,” Paul Chambers, a lecturer and special adviser at Naresuan University’s Center of ASEAN Community Studies, told CNN last month.

CNN’s Jaide Garcia and Emma Reynolds contributed to this report.

Source link

Tadej Pogacar wins Tour de France to make history for Slovenia

Tadej Pogacar wins Tour de France to make history for Slovenia

Pogacar, who celebrates his 22nd birthday on Monday, is the youngest winner since 1904, sealing his triumph with a sensational performance in the mountain time trial on the penultimate stage.

Until then it had looked as if his compatriot and long-time leader Primoz Roglic would claim the yellow jersey, but in a remarkable reversal it was Pogacar who won the stage and took the race lead by 59 seconds.

Sunday’s 21st stage is by tradition a processional affair, with no attempts at breakaways until the concluding eight circuits around the French capital commence.

Pogacar stayed safely on his bike to cross the line in triumph with his UAE Team Emirates teammates as the stage was brilliantly won by green jersey winner Sam Bennett of Ireland, his second stage win of the 2020 Tour.

Bennett usurped Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, a seven-time winner, to top the points classification and did so in some style, relegating world champion Mads Pedersen to second place on the stage, with Sagan in third.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” Bennett said. “The green jersey and the Champs-Elysees, the world championships of sprinting. I never thought I’d be able to win this stage and to do it in green is so special.”

Triple for Pogacar

Not only did he claim the yellow jersey, Pogacar also sealed the polka dot King of the Mountains prize and won the category for best young rider in his first attempt at the Tour.

Roglic, who had led since the ninth stage with his powerful Jumbo-Visma team in support, had to settle for second overall, with Australian veteran Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) taking the final place on the podium.

With the global pandemic causing the race to be moved from its traditional July slot, there were doubts that it would even be completed with strict hygiene measures in place and mandatory coronavirus testing for riders and their team connections.

Spectators were also limited in finishing areas, with only 5,000 allowed into the post-race podium area in Paris usually filled by many thousands more.

Source link

A Hong Kong teenager’s death became a magnet for conspiracies, and exposed deep problems in how the city operates

A Hong Kong teenager's death became a magnet for conspiracies, and exposed deep problems in how the city operates

The smoke billowed forth as experienced protesters pulled masks down over their faces and scrambled to put goggles on. Many bystanders were slower to react, and took lungfuls of the stinging, choking gas as they hurried to get out of the way.

Chan Yin-lam was one of the unlucky ones. In a video the 15-year-old posted to social media, she complained she had been out shopping and wasn’t taking part in the protest.

“I want to ask what did I do wrong?” she said into the camera, her eyes red and puffy. “I am very normal, why do I have to suffer this?”

Like many young Hong Kongers, Chan supported the protest movement and took part in many of the large marches that eventually led the government to withdraw the extradition bill with China that kicked off the unrest. But she was never a frontline participant, her mother testified later, and largely avoided the increasingly violent action that came to characterize the protests.

Had things worked out differently, she would likely not have played a central role in the unrest — one of many supporters who threw their weight behind the movement but avoided direct clashes with police.

Six weeks later however, on the morning of September 22, Chan’s naked body was found floating in the sea. She had been dead for more than 48 hours.

The discovery sparked a maelstrom of media coverage and conspiracy theories. While police swiftly classified the case as a suicide, some in the protest movement claimed there were signs of foul play — and even accused authorities of being involved in a cover-up..

In the almost 12 months since she died, the controversy has not waned, fed by surveillance footage that seems to show almost all of Chan’s final movements, with just enough gaps to invite speculation and conjecture.

And far from being peripheral to the protest movement, Chan has been adopted as one of its martyrs, her face plastered over posters and flyers as other young people demanded justice on her behalf.

On August 11 this year, after almost two weeks of hearings, a Hong Kong jury ruled the cause of Chan’s death could not be ascertained.

What should have been a private tragedy for her family has become a matter of public debate over who is to be believed: the police or the protesters. Questions about mental health support in Hong Kong, and whether institutions Chan was in contact with had failed to help her, have fallen by the wayside.

Yet in a city divided over the government and its police force, her case is unlikely to be the last engulfed by conspiracy theories.

Protestors stand off against riot police Tsim Sha Tsui on August 10, 2019.

Breakdown in trust

Many news events, particularly those involving unexplained or confusing deaths, attract conspiracy theories.
What has made Hong Kong particularly vulnerable to these since the protests broke out last year is the way trust in authorities has collapsed among certain groups, and the political divide has grown, with both sides advancing competing narratives around various events.

“The government and police created a very ripe environment for conspiracy theories to flourish in,” said Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and author of “City on Fire,” a book about the unrest. “Both the police and government gave accounts of events that were so clearly at odds with the objective experiences of people who witnessed it themselves or witnessed it online.”

Violent protests involving tear gas, petrol bombs and police charges can be confusing events to follow, even for those directly involved. Hong Kong’s unrest was extensively live streamed, but not everything was caught on camera — leaving knowledge gaps in which conspiracy theories could thrive.

Police have denied accusations of excessive use of force and rejected claims they were too quick to use tear gas and other weapons, pointing to the difficulty of controlling large, often chaotic protests over an extended period.
While allegations of brutality were consistently leveled at authorities in the months after the protests began in June 2019, a particular series of events sent public confidence in the police into a nose-dive. In late July, officers were accused of standing by while thugs attacked protesters at a subway station in the northern town of Yuen Long. The following month, videos showed officers violently storming a subway train at Prince Edward station, beating protesters and bystanders while they pleaded for help. Separately, officers also faced allegations of sexual assault from some female protesters, both during arrests and in police stations — accusations the force has consistently and strenuously denied.

Before Chan’s death, unfounded rumors had swirled that several people had died during the Prince Edward incident. While no bereaved families ever came forward, and there was no public record from any Hong Kong authorities to substantiate the claim, the theory soon became accepted fact for many protesters, and the station became a memorial covered in flowers.

One man whose disappearance around that time was linked to the incident finally emerged last month. In a video posted online, he said that he’d fled to the United Kingdom two weeks before the Prince Edward protests, fearing arrest.

“He did not come out to dispel the myth sooner because he did not want to help the police,” said Paul Yip, director of the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention at Hong Kong University. “It’s all very, very sad, to see this level of mistrust between the people and police.”

Dapiran blamed the Hong Kong authorities for the breakdown in trust, pointing to long delays in facing the public after key events — such as the Yuen Long attacks — and the way top officials pushed conspiracy theories around alleged foreign guidance of the protests.

“All of it speaks to the absence of leadership from the government,” he said. “When the authorities either abdicate their responsibility or disappear, as the government did for weeks last year, and/or there’s no trust in the authorities, this creates a vacuum.”

Chan is seen in surveillance footage from September 19, 2019. At some point during the evening, Chan took off her shoes and continued walking around the HKDI campus barefoot.

Conspiracy city

Chan’s body was discovered three weeks after the Prince Edward incident, as allegations of police sexual assault were spreading. As news emerged that she had taken part in some protests earlier in the summer, claims began to spread online — with no evidence — that officers might have assaulted or raped Chan, killed her, and thrown her body in the harbor.

Speculation about Chan’s death continued even after her mother publicly said she believed her daughter had taken her own life, and asked people to stop focusing on the case.

But rather than stop the conspiracy theories, Chan’s mother was engulfed by them. She said she was inundated with phone calls and online harassment, accused of being an actor or somehow in league with the police in covering up her own daughter’s murder.

“My personal information was released online, I am being harassed by calls in the middle of the night,” Chan’s mother said in an interview with Hong Kong broadcaster TVB last year. “I’ve lost my daughter, please stop brutalizing me. It’s too hard for us … Please leave our family alone. I want my daughter to rest in peace.”

Chan’s family could not be reached for this story. A lawyer representing Chan’s mother did not respond to a request for comment.

People fold paper cranes at the Hong Kong Design Institute as part of a memorial to Chan on October 17, 2019.

Yip, director of Hong Kong University’s Center for Suicide Research and Prevention, said “mistrust itself is very contagious, when you feel very strongly about a certain subject.”

In a city where everything was being split along political lines, with politicians, companies and celebrities cast as either “blue” (pro-police) or “yellow” (pro-protest), the decision to speak to TVB — seen by many as friendly to the government — poisoned Chan’s mother’s words for some observers.

“That interview rendered (her mother) immediately suspect to protesters and other Hong Kongers who identify as ‘yellow,'” said Sharon Yam, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky and regular commentator on Hong Kong politics. In an increasingly paranoid environment, she added, “Hong Kongers who are already made skeptical might believe that Chan’s parents had been paid off as well by the state to lie about their daughter’s death.”

When she appeared outside the coroner’s court last month, Chan’s mother was again the target of abuse, with a crowd shouting at her and accusing her of being an actor. Police said two people, a 17-year-old boy and a 65-year-old woman, were arrested and charged with public disorder.

Yet Chan’s family members weren’t the only ones to face repercussions from the case.

When the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI), where Chan was a student, initially refused to release all surveillance footage from the night of her death, students vandalized the school, smashing windows and glass panels, breaking cameras, and spraying graffiti. Though HKDI eventually released more videos showing Chan’s movements, including when she appears to leave the campus, some claimed the school was actively involved in a cover-up, and even suggested the girl appearing in the videos was an actress.
People stand in silent tribute at the Hong Kong Design Institute. Behind them, broken windows can be seen, the result of protests over an alleged lack of transparency regarding Chan's last movements.

Warning signs

That HKDI surveillance footage perhaps more than anything else, is what focused media and public attention on Chan’s case.

The sight of Chan walking aimlessly around HKDI, across the harbor from Hong Kong Island, with the knowledge that it is among the last times she was seen alive, is haunting. It is hard not to look for signs of what she was thinking, of what is to come.

In 16 videos shot across almost 90 minutes on the evening of September 19, Chan — wearing a black tank top and baggy, black-and-white striped trousers — appeared to look confused or lost, but not overly distressed. Her short hair, dyed brown, is pulled back from her face, and she clasps her hands in front of her as she walks, once stopping and appearing to count on her fingers. She does not look at a phone or talk to anyone in the footage.

For over an hour, she can be seen pacing around the campus, waiting for elevators, walking around an outdoor area on the roof and through a canteen where other students are seen huddled over laptops or eating dinner. At some point, she ditches her bag and then her shoes, continuing barefoot.

At around 7 p.m., Chan appears to leave campus. A witness at the inquest into her death testified to seeing her walking into a nearby subway station, but she didn’t go through the ticket gate. What happened between that time and when her body was discovered three days later remains unknown.

But while that gap in the official record has obsessed many observers, the full story of Chan’s death begins much earlier.

Evidence introduced during the inquest on August 11 painted a picture of an increasingly disturbed young woman who, despite multiple opportunities, appears to have slipped through the cracks when it comes to getting her the help she needed.

Before her death, Chan lived with her grandfather, but was in close contact with her mother, who said the pair were “like sisters.” She was not in contact with her father, who was a drug addict and used to beat her, the court heard.

Once a high-achieving student, from early 2019, Chan began struggling educationally, and was cycled through a number of schools in quick succession. Her grades suffered and she got into arguments with other students.

She began going missing for extended periods of time, the court heard, and in March 2019 she got into a confrontation with police, after which she was placed in a government-run juvenile home. There, she attempted to strangle herself with a plastic bag and banged her head against the wall, the court heard, forcing staff to send her to hospital.

This was one of the first of Chan’s many interactions with medical professionals, according to evidence provided to the court. She told a doctor she sometimes heard voices, but denied having tried to kill herself. The doctor examining her felt she might be suffering from acute stress disorder, but was unable to get her to agree to a follow-up examination. Social workers responsible for her, however, dismissed the incident as an attempt to get away from the juvenile home — an opinion Chan solidified by slipping away from them outside the hospital and disappearing for several weeks, the court heard.

In May, Chan reemerged and expressed a desire to turn her life around. She wanted to enroll in a design course at HKDI and began looking into part-time work. As protests kicked off that summer, Chan took part but remained on the periphery, her mother told the inquest.

Around this time, the court heard, she also began corresponding with a boy, surnamed Wu, who was being held in the Tong Fuk Correctional Institution, on Lantau Island in western Hong Kong. She later described him as her boyfriend and would go to visit him alongside Wu’s father, the court heard.

Two days after she was tear gassed in Tsim Sha Tsui, on August 12, police were called to a subway station on Lantau, where Chan was screaming and shouting, in severe distress, saying she had lost her phone and needed to contact her boyfriend’s father. Police said she refused help from officers, who then left.

Eventually, Wu’s father arrived at the station, and took Chan to a nearby restaurant. There, she continued to act strangely, talking to people on other tables and ordering food that wasn’t on the menu. After he dropped her off, she said she was going home, but instead returned to the correctional institution where Wu was held, the court heard.

She spent the night sleeping outside the building, and attempted to enter in the morning, getting into a confrontation with staff that resulted in her being handcuffed and taken to a nearby police station.

During a subsequent examination with a doctor, Chan again reported hearing voices, and became agitated. She was sent back to the juvenile home, where she again began self-harming, destroying her room and banging her head against a wall, the court heard. She was then transferred to Castle Peak Hospital, a mental health facility, where staff said they had trouble controlling her and had to restrain her at one point.

Chan refused to return to the juvenile home, saying she heard voices when she was there, and complained of not sleeping. A doctor gave her a tranquilizer, but dismissed her complaints as signs of her “being rebellious,” the court heard.

This would be the last chance for an intervention that might have saved Chan’s life.

Following the inquest, jurors recommended the Hospital Authority review how follow-ups are conducted after psychiatric consultations with juvenile patients.

Hong Kong’s Social Welfare Department also did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement, Castle Peak Hospital said it had “noted the verdict of the Coroner” and would review “the recommendations made by the jury.”

Chan walks through the canteen at the Hong Kong Design Institute. This was one of the last times she was seen alive.

Final day

Towards the end of August and into September, Chan’s behavior was mostly normal, the court heard. She returned home and soon enrolled at HKDI, where she made friends and appeared to be enjoying her classes.

Yet on September 19, the situation again took a turn for the worse. At 3 a.m., her grandfather testified at court, he was woken by the sound of Chan tidying her room. She said she was hearing voices and couldn’t sleep. Later that day, at HKDI, she took off her shoes and lay down on the floor during class, using a backpack as a pillow, the court heard.

After class, Chan told friends she wanted to tidy her locker. She spent almost half an hour doing so, before friends persuaded her to leave with them. When they got on the train at Tiu Keng Leng station, Chan said she would return to the school later to continue tidying. She refused to take a seat on the subway, instead sitting on the floor.

Eventually, Chan left her friends, saying she was heading home. Instead she returned to HKDI, where she would spent the last hours of her life, before heading towards a nearby waterfront park, evidence presented at the inquest showed.

What exactly happened next is unclear, the crucial gap in surveillance and witness testimony that left the jury ultimately unable to reach a verdict.

During the inquest, forensic psychiatrist Robyn Ho said Chan’s behavior in the time leading up to her death demonstrated signs of a potential psychotic break. Ho’s assessment would appear to be supported by Chan’s complaints of hearing voices, her inability to sleep — which also could have been a contributing factor — and her obsession with tidiness.

The state of decomposition meant that ascertaining the cause of Chan’s death was impossible. But pathologist Garrick Li, who performed the autopsy on Chan, said that while he could not be sure, there was a “distinct possibility” that she had drowned.

Evidence was introduced at the inquest that Chan was naked when she entered the water, an interpretation the jury agreed with in its verdict. A strong swimmer, according to court testimony, it seems unlikely that she would choose this method to kill herself, but, while in the midst of a psychotic episode, on a hot summer night, it is not beyond belief that she might have decided to go for a swim, with fatal consequences.

In instructing the jury, coroner David Ko ruled out both suicide and “unlawful killing” as the potential causes of Chan’s death, saying there was insufficient evidence for either verdict beyond a reasonable doubt, the legal standard. When her body was discovered, it showed no signs of obvious bruising or injury, and no evidence of sexual assault or rape, though pathologists admitted that such evidence might have disappeared during her time in the water.

Ko told the jury to consider whether Chan might have died as a result of an accident, or reach an open verdict, essentially an admission that the truth cannot be fully ascertained. In doing so, the jury cited insufficient forensic evidence about exactly how Chan had died, and whether a mental disorder or break had caused her death.

A diatom test, which compares the levels of a certain type of microalgae in the water and a victim’s lungs and blood, might have shown that she drowned, but such testing is not conducted in Hong Kong. The jury recommended that diatom tests be used in future suspected drowning cases.
Chan waits for an elevator at the Hong Kong Design Institute on September 19. She spent almost 90 minutes walking around the campus that evening.

Tragic consequences

Taken alone, Chan’s death is a tragedy, of a young woman demonstrating signs of mental distress, who might have been saved had she received the right help at the right time.

To date, the conspiracies surrounding Chan’s death have largely obscured important questions of whether various authority figures and institutions with whom she interacted, from doctors to social workers, failed to help her or even recognize that she was in need of help. Her death also points to wider issues about mental health provisions in Hong Kong, particularly for young people.
Since 2015, when a string of youth suicides led to public demands for action, the government has increased funding for mental health support. However experts warn that gaps remain, and social stigma around acknowledging mental illness may prevent people from seeking help.
Political unrest has exacerbated the burdens facing young people in Hong Kong, who already face intense pressure to succeed at school, along with the reality of a shrinking job market and extortionate housing that could leave them struggling to ever get on the ladder.

For some young people, said Yip, the HKU expert, the protest movement may have saved their lives, providing the sense of community and solidarity that can be needed when someone is at their most vulnerable.

But he was deeply concerned at the way Chan and several other deaths linked to the movement have been turned into so-called “martyrs,” something he said risked inspiring copycats — even when the person may not have intentionally killed themselves.

“Every suicide death for us is a very tragic case, we have to deal with them very carefully, not sensationalize them, not try and glorify them,” he said.

“When people feel very helpless they might think if I die I can stir up so much emotion and energy, and give fuel to the (protest) movement itself, that is very tempting.”

He partially blamed the long delay between Chan’s death and it being investigated by the coroner for giving space for conspiracies to spread. And he was concerned that future cases in which confusion or lack of evidence around how someone died could be seized upon in a similar way.

Yam, the University of Kentucky professor, said “while mental illness, especially depression, anxiety, and PTSD, has become more prevalent among Hong Kongers, it continues to be stigmatized.”

“This stigma, coupled with the public’s propensity for anti-government conspiracy theories, may result in a significant public health crisis in Hong Kong, where people are unable to access mental health support,” she added, given that most support is provided by the government or government-linked bodies.

She ultimately tied the issue back to the protests, particularly the “lack of police accountability and transparency.”

And this lack of trust is spilling out far beyond the police, casting a pall over any action by the government, no matter how much officials insist that their action is in the public interest.

When the authorities announced voluntary mass testing for the coronavirus this month, some saw it as a way to gather samples of citizens’ DNA, or a sop to Beijing, which sent medical staff to help out with the drive. An initial delay in closing Hong Kong’s border with mainland China in the early months of the pandemic was also seen as politically charged, even as countries around the world struggled to react in time.

In summing up the case, the judge in Chan’s inquest expressed sorrow for her family, particularly the way her mother had been treated. Before her death, he said, Chan had finally been able to study what she wanted, and was kind to her friends and family.

“Although there were disputes, I believe (Chan) treated you well,” the judge told her mother, adding he hoped the family would find a way to return to normal in time.

As Chan’s case shows, however, Hong Kong itself may find such normality harder to come by.

Journalist Phoebe Lai contributed reporting.

Source link

Analysis: Most recent US elections have had an international event as the October Surprise. This one may be no different

Analysis: Most recent US elections have had an international event as the October Surprise. This one may be no different

The October Surprise that American pollsters await with trepidation is usually a US domestic upset. Witness the seismic impact of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and it’s only mid September. But the past two decades have also seen major international events overshadow November elections.
A startling moment of opportunity looms for adversaries of Washington and the world order it still, perhaps reluctantly heads. And, from Moscow to Minsk, from Beijing to Tehran, three questions are key. Are you better off with another four years of Donald Trump? Is there anything you think you can pull off while he’s trying to be re-elected in the next 50 days?

And if “No” is the answer to those two, then the 75 days of likely chaos and wrangling that follow the election before inauguration present another opportunity. In the White House, there may be nobody at the wheel, instead under it, fighting for the car keys. Is that also a window for competitors to get stuff done?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the more adept pragmatist and opportunist, despite also having the most to gain from another four years of Trump at the helm. His first term has allowed Putin to make substantial gains in the Middle East — something the Kremlin has done with both little US resistance and fanfare of Russia’s own achievements.
But it is important to remember that Russian collisions with US patrols in Syria, and a Russian bounty plot to kill Americans in Afghanistan have both emerged mostly unchallenged in the last six months. The Kremlin is likely not only emboldened, but carefully calculating what the next 120 days might permit.

The protest movement against the brutal Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is an uninvited but pressing quandary on Putin’s list. Russia has sent journalists, perhaps technical support, maybe even some security forces, to back up Lukashenko. But he is still faltering, and a long-term poor bet, as his plaintive body language when he met Putin in Sochi betrayed. It is hard to overstate how vital retaining control over Belarus is to Moscow and how essential it is for this protest movement – about personal freedoms that really disturb Putin, not the geopolitics that excite his nationalist base — to fail.

Retaining control of Belarus is vital to Moscow's interests.

Belarus is also very low on the US agenda. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was slow to back the protest movement — perhaps, in his slender defense, after a bid to court Lukashenko in the hope to turn him West.

The Kremlin is surely not embracing the idea of years more propping up a leader they will see as too weak to crush his own dissidents and too unpopular to face them down. Lukashenko is an expensive drag, and one they probably have a plan to rid itself of, while imposing a tighter union between Moscow and Minsk. The thorn will be the protests themselves — unpredictable and needing to keep momentum — if Putin thinks a distracted Washington may be unable to respond to his next move. To some degree, it is surprising Putin has not made greater use of a pliable US administration since 2017. He is ambitious, capable, and dexterous, yet has spent the past four years subtly pursuing his goals. That may change.

The West can gnash its teeth over Belarus. But there's little it can do to change things
Subtlety has not been evident in the “maximum pressure” the Trump administration has applied over Iran. You might be forgiven to argue it has been successful. Trump killed Iran’s top hardliner, Qassem Soleimani, in January, in a move many feared could set the region aflame. It didn’t. In fact, Tehran has steered clear of even lower-level retaliation, with Trump tweeting recently, in response to press reports that US diplomats might be at risk, that he would hit back 1,000 times harder.
Sanctions have been tightened almost to their elastic limit. And Covid-19 has affected Iran severely. Mysterious fires have hit the Natanz nuclear facility and other key infrastructure. Yet it would be a mistake to think this has wiped the fabled long memories of Tehran’s hardliners. Internally, in many ways, their hand has been strengthened by the collapse of the nuclear deal they despised. Trump has also given them the gift of a rift. Five years ago, the world was united behind the JCPOA’s ability to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Now Europeans hold their heads in their hands as Trump tears the deal to pieces, as Russia and China look on bemused at Washington denigrating its own allies.
Many feared for the worst when Trump ordered the attack on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

And during this collapse, Iran has methodically and slowly made good on its promise to enrich again. Publicly, they have stepped outside the terms of the deal, yet not raced towards the 20% enrichment that would set alarm bells ringing. The IAEA now believes they have enriched 10 times the amount of uranium permitted under the deal, yet has also stated positively it will be able to inspect a second suspect site in the weeks ahead.

The given wisdom in Western capitals is that Iran understands the consequences of it getting the bomb would be so severe, it would outweigh any benefits. There’s a paradox there, in that a new nuclear power might be more relaxed about retaliation. And in the tit-for-tat world of the Gulf, Iran has yet to respond, knows Trump doesn’t want another war in the Middle East, and is patient.

Iran's response to the US may happen slowly and that's more concerning
Less patient is a key Trump ally — one of the few who have pursued goals totally contrary to US interests after a personal chat with the White House occupant — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. It feels like a decade since his forces invaded Syria, attacking US allies the Syrian Kurds and relocating US forces with sheer might. But it was just over a year ago.

Turkey has since consolidated its gains there, and been busy elsewhere. It briefly saber-rattled around Greece’s islands. And more significantly Erdogan has invested political and military capital backing for the UN-supported government in Libya. Russia has weighed in, similarly boosting its opponent in the oil-rich country’s East, with mercenaries from the Wagner group, heavy armor, missiles and other enablers, according to US officials. Peace talks are under way, but under the cloud of an intense build-up on both sides.

Presidents Putin and Erdogan may see America's neutrality in Libya, and Trump's hectic days ahead, as a reason to act if talks stumble

Putin and Erdogan once celebrated their blooming friendship, despite Turkey’s NATO membership. Now the shine on their grins has gone. And Moscow has a long history of talking peace while pouring greater resolve into war. Both Putin and Erdogan may see America’s neutrality in Libya, and Trump’s hectic days ahead, as a reason to act if talks stumble.

The next 120 days will be hostage to the last four years’ reliance on bluster, the myth of intense, yet ultimately flawed, personal relations between Trump and other leaders, and the stop-start nature of this White House’s foreign policy. US politics may hit a crisis long-predicted and even fomented by its adversaries. Yet the world will not stop, and hope this crisis resolves, and instead keep turning in ways a self-obsessed White House did not anticipate.

Source link