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.


US pledges funding to help Egypt move to solar power

US pledges funding to help Egypt move to solar power
Updated 43 min 47 sec ago

US pledges funding to help Egypt move to solar power

US pledges funding to help Egypt move to solar power
  • Egypt remains reliant on fossil fuels for its energy needs, and a gigantic cloud of air pollution often hovers over Cairo
  • But President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government is taking steps toward renewables

CAIRO: The United States is planning to increase funding to Egypt to help it convert to solar energy and move away from fossil fuels, US special envoy for climate John Kerry said in Cairo on Wednesday.
Egypt is “blessed to be the number one country in the world” when it comes to making use of solar energy, Kerry told reporters following meetings with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry.
Egypt remains reliant on fossil fuels for its energy needs, and a gigantic cloud of air pollution often hovers over its capital of Cairo, home to some 20 million people.
But President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government is taking steps toward renewables. El-Sisi has said that he aims to take greater advantage of the country’s optimal solar and wind conditions for energy harvesting. Officials have said they plan to get 20 percent of the country’s energy needs met by renewables before 2022, and 43 percent by 2035.
Kerry said that switching to renewable energy could help Egypt create jobs as well. Roughly a third of Egyptian citizens live below the poverty line, according to a government study from 2019. And the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have also hit hard the tourism-dependent nation.
Kerry also told reporters that the world has a long way to go before it meets international goals that were set by the historic 2015 Paris climate accord.
President Joe Biden, who has said that fighting global warming is among his highest priorities, had the United States rejoin the historic Paris accord in the first hours of his presidency, undoing the US withdrawal ordered by his predecessor Donald Trump.
Major emitters of greenhouse gases are preparing for the next UN climate summit, due in November in Glasgow, UK The summit aims to relaunch global efforts to keep rising global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) as agreed in the Paris accord.


’Time on no one’s side’ in Iran nuclear talks: France

’Time on no one’s side’ in Iran nuclear talks: France
Updated 16 June 2021

’Time on no one’s side’ in Iran nuclear talks: France

’Time on no one’s side’ in Iran nuclear talks: France
  • French foreign ministry said "significant disagreements persist"
  • US President has indicated a willingness to rejoin the agreement, once it is certain Iran’s willing to respect its commitments

PARIS: France said Wednesday that “time is on no one’s side” in talks aiming to bring the US back into the 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
This comes two days ahead of an Iranian presidential election expected to be won by a hard-liner.
The French foreign ministry said “significant disagreements persist” as representatives from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran meet in Vienna in search of a breakthrough.
US President Joe Biden has indicated a willingness to rejoin the agreement, once it is certain that Iran is willing to respect its commitments, after his predecessor Donald Trump walked out of the accord.
But the expected victory of hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi in Friday’s presidential election in Iran could add a new complication, even if supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has always had the final say on the issue.
“The negotiations become more difficult as they focus on the more difficult issues. Significant disagreements persist,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.
“This means courageous decisions are needed, which will have to be taken quickly, because we all share the opinion that time is on no one’s side,” it added.
Raisi is regarded as the clear favorite to win after heavyweight rivals, including conservative figures, were disqualified in pre-vote vetting by an oversight body, the Guardians Council.
The French ministry was responding to comments in an Italian newspaper by UN atomic agency chief Rafael Grossi who indicated there was no prospect of a deal until a new Iranian government takes office, which may not be until August.
The landmark 2015 accord has been hanging by a thread since Trump took the United States out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions. That led Tehran to step up its nuclear activities, which were curtailed by the deal.
Negotiators from the US are taking part indirectly in the EU-chaired discussions in Vienna.
The Iranian presidency has been held for the last eight years by Hassan Rouhani, a former chief nuclear negotiator seen as a relatively pragmatic figure on the issue.
The constitution bars him from seeking a third consecutive term.


Junta troops burn Myanmar village in escalation of violence

Junta troops burn Myanmar village in escalation of violence
Updated 16 June 2021

Junta troops burn Myanmar village in escalation of violence

Junta troops burn Myanmar village in escalation of violence
  • The action appeared to be an attempt to suppress resistance against the ruling military junta
  • The attack is the latest example of how violence has become endemic in much of Myanmar

BANGKOK: Government troops in Myanmar have burned most of a village in the country’s central heartland, a resident said Wednesday, confirming reports by independent media and on social networks.
The action appeared to be an attempt to suppress resistance against the ruling military junta.
The attack is the latest example of how violence has become endemic in much of Myanmar in recent months as the junta tries to subdue an incipient nationwide insurrection. After the army seized power in February, overthrowing the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, a nonviolent civil disobedience movement arose to challenge military rule, but the junta’s attempt to repress it with deadly force fueled rather than quelled resistance.
Photos and videos of devastated Kinma village in Magway region that circulated widely on social media on Wednesday showed much of the village flattened by fire and the charred bodies of farm animals. A villager contacted by phone said only 10 of 237 houses were left standing.
The villager, who asked that his name not be used because of fear of government reprisal, said most residents had already fled when soldiers firing guns entered the village shortly before noon on Tuesday.
He said he believed the troops were searching for members of a village defense force that had been established to protect against the junta’s troops and police. Most such local forces are very lightly armed with homemade hunting rifles.
The village defense force gave residents advance warning of the troops’ arrival, so only four or five people were left in the village when they began searching houses in the afternoon. When they found nothing, they began setting the homes on fire, he said.
“There are some forests just nearby our village. Most of us fled into the forests,” he said.
The villager said he believed there were three casualties, a boy who was a goat-herder who was shot in the thigh, and an elderly couple who were unable to flee. He believed the couple had died but several media reports said they were missing.
Asked if he planned to go back to the village, he said: “No, we dare not to. We think it isn’t over. We will shift to other villages. Even if we go back to our village, there is no place to stay because everything is burnt.”
The village defense forces are committed to forming a future opposition federal army, and some have allied themselves with ethnic minority groups in border areas that have been fighting for decades for autonomy from the central government.
Most of the fiercest fighting takes place in the border regions, where government forces are deployed in areas controlled by ethnic groups such as the Chin in the west, the Kachin in the north and the Karenni in the east.
The incident in Kinma attracted special attention because the Burman, or Barmar ethnic group, the country’s power-holding majority, is predominant in the Magway region and it is unusual for them to be targeted for such severe measures.
The army burned many villages of the Muslim Rohingya minority in 2017 in a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in the western state of Rakhine that drove more than 700,000 to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh.
There is widespread prejudice against the Rohingya and few in Myanmar protested the army’s treatment of them, though international courts are now considering whether it constituted genocide. Some people commenting Wednesday on social media said the burning of Kinma made Rohingya claims of mistreatment more credible.


Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’
Updated 16 June 2021

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’
  • Dan Newey traveled to Syria to join Kurdish forces
  • Home Office: ‘We have consistently warned’ against UK nationals, residents going to Syria ‘for any reason’

LONDON: The father of a British man arrested fighting Daesh alongside Kurdish forces has said his family is being “persecuted.”

Dan Newey, 28, was detained by police when he landed at Heathrow airport in London earlier this year. He had traveled to and fought on the border region between Syria and Turkey.

Newey’s father Paul told British newspaper Metro that Dan had fought with the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Paul was arrested on suspicion of funding terrorism after sending his son £150 ($211).

The case against him collapsed at the Old Bailey, the central criminal court of England and Wales, but former YPG fighters still face arrest even though it is not a banned group in Britain.

Newey traveled to the Syrian border region against advice from the UK Foreign Office. He has previously claimed that he worked closely with British and US forces.

Paul said his son “flew back into Heathrow and got arrested straight away under terrorism laws. He’s been on bail ever since. They’re looking into it but in the meantime he’s just been left in limbo. He can’t go to work and he can’t sign on.

“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel — this could go on for years and we feel we’re being persecuted despite my son having risked his life to protect British interests.”

Paul said his son was prevented from speaking to the media due to his legal situation in the UK.

In November, Newey said he was “exhausted” after spending almost two years in Syria, but remained because he wanted to continue fighting Daesh. 

He added: “We survive this and then have another war when we go home. Lots of people don’t manage. I know many people that struggled to reintegrate, struggled to come to terms with the things they’d seen here, and the treatment of us by the Crown Prosecution Service makes it worse. People have taken their own lives. We’re not the criminals. We’re doing the right thing.”

A UK Home Office spokesperson said in a statement: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases. We have consistently warned against UK nationals and residents travelling to Syria for any reason.

“Those who become involved in fighting abroad, including fighting against Daesh alongside Kurdish groups, can expect to be arrested on return and investigated to establish if they pose any risk and whether they have committed any offences.”


British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor
Updated 16 June 2021

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor

THE HAGUE: British lawyer Karim Khan was sworn in Wednesday as the new chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, pledging to reach out to nations that are not members of the court in his quest to end impunity for atrocities and to try to hold trials in countries where crimes are committed.
Khan, a 51-year-old English lawyer, has years of experience in international courts as a prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney. He takes over from Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, whose nine-year term ended Tuesday.
“The priority for me, and I believe that’s the principle of the Rome Statute, is not to focus so much on where trials take place, but to ensure that the quest for accountability and inroads on impunity are made,” Khan said, referring to the treaty that founded the court, in his first speech after taking his oath of office.
“The Hague itself should be a city of last resort,” he said. “Wherever possible, we should be trying to have trials in the country or in the region.”
Khan said he wanted to work with countries that are not among the court’s 123 member states to achieve justice. World powers the United States, Russia and China are not members and do not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
“My conviction is that we can find common ground in the quest and in the imperative to ensure we eradicate genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Khan said.
Most recently, Khan led a United Nations team investigating atrocities in Iraq, telling the Security Council last month that he uncovered “clear and compelling evidence” that Islamic State extremists committed genocide against the Yazidi minority in 2014.
In the past, he has defended clients at international courts including former Liberian President Charles Taylor and Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto. ICC prosecutors dropped charges against Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta of involvement in deadly post-election violence in their country.
Khan begins his nine-year term as the court’s prosecution office is struggling to keep up with demands for investigations. The court prosecutes genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in nations unable or unwilling to carry out their own prosecutions.
He said he wants to reform the office and immediately address what he called a “gender and geographical imbalance” among its staff. He also said prosecutors, who have lost several high profile cases in recent years, have to improve their performances in court.
“We have to perform in trial,” Khan said. “We cannot invest so much. We cannot raise expectations so high and achieve so little so often in the courtroom.”
His predecessor told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that there is “a serious mismatch” between what the prosecutor’s office needs to do its work and what it is getting from the court’s member nations.
“We have more or less had an explosion of cases that we are supposed to be handling, but we cannot do it without adequate resources,” Bensouda told the AP.
She also had a warning for Khan that there are “attempts at every side, every corner, to politicize the actions of the prosecutor.”
Among the most politically charged investigations Khan inherits are those in Afghanistan — where prosecutors are pursuing cases against all sides in the country’s conflict, including allegations of crimes by American troops and foreign intelligence operatives — and in the Palestinian territories, where alleged abuses by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants are being probed.
Bensouda said every case the court opens “is politically charged one way or the other. So we are aware of that. But it should not be part of our decision-making.”
Human Rights Watch had a similar message for Khan.
Bensouda’s decisions to launch investigations in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories “reinforced the office’s independence,” said Liz Evenson, associate international justice director at the rights group. “Karim Khan should build on his predecessor’s efforts to ensure that those most responsible for grave crimes are held to account, regardless of their power or position.”