Italy mulls ‘health passport’ to help tourism recover from COVID-19 pandemic

Italy mulls ‘health passport’ to help tourism recover from COVID-19 pandemic
The coronavirus crisis will hit Sardinia particularly hard. The island is famed for its hundreds of kilometers of beaches and for the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) in the north, where ultra-luxury resorts attract tourists from around the world. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 30 April 2020

Italy mulls ‘health passport’ to help tourism recover from COVID-19 pandemic

Italy mulls ‘health passport’ to help tourism recover from COVID-19 pandemic
  • Country’s tourist industry set to shrink by over 50 percent in summer 2020
  • The crisis will hit Sardinia particularly hard

ROME: With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) seriously damaging Italy’s tourism sector for the summer, authorities in Sardinia are reportedly considering implementing a ‘health passport’ for visitors when Phase 2 of the government’s plans to control the spread of the disease come into effect.

The Italian government has imposed the strictest lockdown measures in Europe since March 9, in an attempt to contain an outbreak that has so far killed more than 27,000 people and infected 200,000. Those measures are slowly being eased, with businesses, shops and industry restarting and museums scheduled to reopen on May 18.

The tourism sector accounts for around 15 percent of Italy's GDP — or 270 billion euros per year — and employs 4.2 million people. As in many other Mediterranean countries, tourism is vital to the economy. However, bookings for the coming summer are down by 57 percent, and the sector is not expected to fully recover from the impact of COVID-19 until 2023, according to a study by the National Tourism Agency.

The crisis will hit Sardinia particularly hard. The island is famed for its hundreds of kilometers of beaches and for the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) in the north, where ultra-luxury resorts attract tourists from around the world.

Partly due to its separation from the mainland, the island has so far managed to contain the spread of COVID-19, with just 0.07 percent of the population testing positive for the virus — among the lowest rates of infection in Italy.

Eager to provide a safe holiday environment and to preserve the health of its 1.8 million residents, the regional government of Sardinia is working on a scheme that would require tourists coming to the island to have a document showing that they have tested negative for COVID-19. The laboratory test would have to have been conducted within a week prior to the tourist's arrival.

If the scheme is approved, then when travel to Sardinia is once again permitted — possibly within a few weeks if the easing of the lockdown goes as planned — holidaymakers would have to present their certification before boarding a plane or ferry to the Island. Upon arrival, their temperatures will be checked before they are permitted to enter Sardinia.

“This way we hope to relaunch our tourism sector in June. I just asked the government for a specific protocol which will allow us to demand a health passport from tourists who want to come to Sardinia,” the island's governor, Christian Solinas, told Arab News after a meeting with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. “Whoever boards a plane or a ferry will have to show it along with their boarding pass and their identity document. I am sure that it will work fine: we will preserve health and save our economy at the same time. Now everything has to be done to boost tourism: it is the biggest source of income for Sardinia.”

Other islands in Italy, including Capri and Ischia — both off Naples — and Panarea, all popular high-end tourist destinations, are considering similar measures. The mayor of Ischia has also suggested installing multiple floating platforms off beaches: they would allow couples or families to enjoy the sun and sea but remain at a distance from other tourists, maintaining the law on social distancing passed by the government. The 6ft-wide platforms would be equipped with loungers and an umbrella.

The southern region of Puglia, famous for its beaches and small conical houses (trulli), is also considering a similar scheme. None of Italy’s southern regions have been hit hard by the pandemic, in comparison to areas in the north like Lombardy and Veneto. Many governors in the south have asked Rome to restart normal business in phase two of post-lockdown plans, while suggesting measures such as the health passport to prevent a second wave of infections.  

Sicily, where the infection rate has been comparatively low, is also taking action to kick start its tourism. The governor of the biggest island in the Mediterranean has said it may cover half of flight costs and a third of hotel expenses for travelers wishing to visit, as well as offering free tickets to many of its museums and archaeological sites.

“We urgently need clarification on the possibility of traveling within Italy, otherwise operators cannot make plans,” said Giorgio Palmucci, the head of the tourism agency, suggesting that the government should look at signing bilateral accords with neighboring countries — including Austria, Germany and Switzerland — and also with Gulf countries, based on common health protocols, allowing tourists to return to Italy.

“We must have the same protocols and health standards, so that citizens of different countries of the European Union can move quietly”, Tourism Minister Dario Franceschini told Arab News. He said he had already begun talks with Germany, the country from which the largest number of tourists to Italy comes.

The EU has been discussing the idea of a bloc-wide “COVID-19 passport” to help the continent’s tourism sector recover, along with the possibility of opening up “tourist corridors” between states by agreeing common rules and protocols to combat the spread of the virus.


Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
Updated 54 sec ago

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
  • Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30
  • The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: Strict COVID-19 lockdowns in the Philippines capital and four adjacent provinces will be eased from April 12, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday.
Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30, spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual briefing.
Roque gave the briefing from hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19. He gave no details on which restrictions will be eased but said details would be released on Monday.
The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals in the capital overwhelmed amid record daily infections, while authorities face delays in delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Sunday, the Department of Health recorded 11,681 new COVID-19 cases and 201 more deaths, bringing the country’s tallies to 864,868 confirmed infections and 14,945 fatalities.
New cases have surge in recent weeks, surpassing 15,000 on April 2, most of those in the congested capital.
Last week, Duterte canceled a weekly televised address and a meeting with his coronavirus task force as some of his staff and security detail were found to be COVID-19 positive.
Roque and Duterte’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, also tested positive.
Roque said the government will work to increase the number of COVID-19 beds in health care facilities and free up more room in hospitals.
Under the current quarantine classification for Manila and surrounding areas, non-essential movement is banned, along with mass gatherings and dining in restaurants, with longer-than-usual curfews also in place since March 29.
The reimposition of strict lockdowns has raised concerns the economy will take longer to recover from last year’s worst slump on record.


South Korea to resume wider use of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, exclude people under 30

South Korea to resume wider use of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, exclude people under 30
Updated 11 April 2021

South Korea to resume wider use of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, exclude people under 30

South Korea to resume wider use of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, exclude people under 30
  • South Korea on Wednesday suspended providing the AstraZeneca shot to people under 60
  • Risks of coronavirus are far worse than the rare possibility of side effects from the vaccines

SEOUL: South Korean authorities said on Sunday they will move ahead with a coronavirus vaccination drive this week, after deciding to continue using AstraZeneca PLC’s vaccine for all eligible people 30 years old or over.
South Korea on Wednesday suspended providing the AstraZeneca shot to people under 60 as Europe reviewed cases of blood clotting in adults.
People under 30 will still be excluded from the vaccinations resuming on Monday because the benefits of the shot do not outweigh the risks for that age group, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a statement.
Three vaccinated people in South Korea are reported to have developed blood clots, with one case determined to be correlated to the vaccine, Choi Eun-hwa, chair of the Korea Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, told a briefing.
That case was a type of blood clot considered less serious than the type being examined by European authorities, she said.
For most people, the risks of coronavirus are far worse than the rare possibility of side effects from the vaccines, Choi said, adding that the best way to end the pandemic was to vaccinate everyone who can receive it.
But she said, “the benefits are not as great for those under 30 years old, so we will not recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for them.”
The AstraZeneca shot’s benefit-to-risk ratio rises the older people get as the risk of serious harm due to vaccination falls and ICU admissions prevented by vaccination rise sharply, according to the University of Cambridge’s Winton Center for Risk and Evidence Communication.
The drugmaker has said its studies have found no higher risk of clots because of its vaccine, millions of doses of which have been administered worldwide. The World Health Organization has said the benefits outweigh the risks.
Global controversy over the efficacy and side-effects of some COVID-19 vaccines has caused some delays in South Korea’s vaccination campaign, which kicked off in late February with the goal of reaching herd immunity in November.
The second-quarter vaccination program includes special disability school teachers and vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities and the homeless, the KDCA said.


Philippines, US defense chiefs hope to resume joint military drill

Philippines, US defense chiefs hope to resume joint military drill
Updated 11 April 2021

Philippines, US defense chiefs hope to resume joint military drill

Philippines, US defense chiefs hope to resume joint military drill
  • The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III reiterated the importance of the two countries’ Visiting Forces Agreement

MANILA: Philippine and US defense chiefs on Sunday expressed hopes to resume the joint “Balikatan” military exercise that was canceled last year, as they discussed the situation in the South China Sea.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III also discussed in a telephone conference recent developments in regional security, according to a statement issued by Lorenzana’s department.

“Both are looking forward to the conduct of Exercise Balikatan,” the statement said.

Their conversation comes just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, also in a phone call, expressed their shared concerns about Chinese vessels, which Manila believes are manned by militia, in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has protested against the presence of the Chinese boats inside its 200-mile exclusive economic zone at Whitsun Reef in the strategic waterway, repeatedly asking China to move the vessels away.

Chinese diplomats, however, have said the fishing boats were just sheltering from rough seas and no militia were aboard.

Austin, during the telephone conference, reiterated the importance of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries, while Lorenzana committed to discussing the matter with President Rodrigo Duterte.

In February, Duterte said he had not made a decision yet on the future of the two-decade-old troop deployment agreement with the United States.

The VFA provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines.

Relations between the United States and its former Asian colony have been complicated since 2016 when Duterte, who has repeatedly made statements condemning US foreign policy while befriending China, rose to power.

Duterte has said the United States must pay more if it wants to maintain the VFA, which he unilaterally canceled last year in an angry response to an ally being denied a US visa.

The VFA’s withdrawal period has been twice extended, creating what Philippine officials say is a window for better terms to be agreed.

Lorenzana likewise sought the assistance of Austin in expediting the delivery of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna that the Philippines has ordered.

Austin “would look into the issue and bring it to the attention of the office concerned,” the statement said.


India reports record 152,879 new COVID-19 infections

India reports record 152,879 new COVID-19 infections
Updated 11 April 2021

India reports record 152,879 new COVID-19 infections

India reports record 152,879 new COVID-19 infections
  • The number of new fatalities stood at 839, the most deaths in more than five months

NEW DELHI: India reported a record 152,879 new COVID-19 cases, health ministry data showed on Sunday, as a second-wave of infections continued to surge and overwhelm hospitals in parts of the country.
The number of new fatalities stood at 839, the most deaths in more than five months, taking the toll to 169,275.
India’s tally of more than 13.35 million cases is the third-highest globally, behind only Brazil and the United States.


China’s plans for Himalayan super dam stoke fears in India

China’s plans for Himalayan super dam stoke fears in India
Updated 11 April 2021

China’s plans for Himalayan super dam stoke fears in India

China’s plans for Himalayan super dam stoke fears in India
  • The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India
  • The project is expected to dwarf China's record-breaking Three Gorges Dam

BEIJING: China is planning a mega dam in Tibet able to produce triple the electricity generated by the Three Gorges — the world’s largest power station — stoking fears among environmentalists and in neighboring India.
The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world’s longest and deepest canyon at an altitude of more than 1,500 meters (4,900 feet).
The project in Tibet’s Medog County is expected to dwarf the record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China, and is billed as able to produce 300 billion kilowatts of electricity each year.
It is mentioned in China’s strategic 14th Five-Year Plan, unveiled in March at an annual rubber-stamp congress of the country’s top lawmakers.
But the plan was short on details, a timeframe or budget.
The river, known as the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibetan, is also home to two other projects far upstream, while six others are in the pipeline or under construction.
The “super-dam” however is in a league of its own.
Last October, the Tibet local government signed a “strategic cooperation agreement” with PowerChina, a public construction company specializing in hydroelectric projects.
A month later the head of PowerChina, Yan Zhiyong, partially unveiled the project to the Communist Youth League, the youth wing of China’s ruling party.
Enthusiastic about “the world’s richest region in terms of hydroelectric resources,” Yan explained that the dam would draw its power from the huge drop of the river at this particular section.

Unique biodiversity threatened
Beijing may justify the massive project as an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, but it risks provoking strong opposition from environmentalists in the same way as the Three Gorges Dam, built between 1994 and 2012.
The Three Gorges created a reservoir and displaced 1.4 million inhabitants upstream.
“Building a dam the size of the super-dam is likely a really bad idea for many reasons,” said Brian Eyler, energy, water and sustainability program director at the Stimson Center, a US think tank.
Besides being known for seismic activity, the area also contains a unique biodiversity. The dam would block the migration of fish as well as sediment flow that enriches the soil during seasonal floods downstream, said Eyler.
There are both ecological and political risks, noted Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, an environmental policy specialist at the Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank linked to the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamshala, India.
“We have a very rich Tibetan cultural heritage in those areas, and any dam construction would cause ecological destruction, submergence of parts of that region,” he told AFP.
“Many local residents would be forced to leave their ancestral homes,” he said, adding that the project will encourage migration of Han Chinese workers that “gradually becomes a permanent settlement.”

Water wars
New Delhi is also worried by the project.
The Chinese Communist Party is effectively in a position to control the origins of much of South Asia’s water supply, analysts say.
“Water wars are a key component of such warfare because they allow China to leverage its upstream Tibet-centered power over the most essential natural resource,” wrote political scientist Brahma Chellaney last month in the Times of India.
The risks of seismic activity would also make it a “ticking water bomb” for residents downstream, he warned.
In reaction to the dam idea, the Indian government has floated the prospect of building another dam on the Brahmaputra to shore up its own water reserves.
“There is still much time to negotiate with China about the future of the super-dam and its impacts,” said Eyler.
“A poor outcome would see India build a dam downstream.”