Parisians brace for new COVID-19 lockdown

Parisians brace for new COVID-19 lockdown
Large numbers of Paris residents headed out of the city before the coronavirus restrictions, due to last for a month, come into force. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 March 2021

Parisians brace for new COVID-19 lockdown

Parisians brace for new COVID-19 lockdown
  • Large numbers of Paris residents headed to railway stations on Friday morning so they could get out of the city before the restrictions

PARIS: Camila Campodonico was at work in Paris on Thursday evening when the government announced the city was entering a new lockdown to combat COVID-19, and she knew her plans for a get-together with friends this weekend were over.
“I heard that and I said: ‘Oh no, not again. A lockdown.’ I wasn’t very happy,” said Campodonico, a student from Argentina who is working temporarily for a marketing company.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that, because intensive care units were close to over-flowing, Paris residents could only leave home for essential trips or exercise, and non-essential travel to other parts of the county was banned.
Large numbers of Paris residents headed to railway stations on Friday morning so they could get out of the city before the restrictions, due to last for a month, come into force at midnight.
At the Gare de l’Est station in Paris, there were long lines of people at the ticket office. People, some with pets, rushed to board trains heading for Strasbourg and Luxembourg.
Valentino Armilli, 27, was going to visit his parents in Thionville, in the Lorraine region in eastern France, for the weekend. He took the decision to go there on Thursday night, because of the new lockdown.
“My parents had COVID a month ago and I have not seen them since. This weekend is the last time for a long while that I’ll be able to see them,” he said.
There was relief though that the restrictions were less severe than in previous lockdowns. This time, for example, hairdressers can stay open.
“I think that it’s important for people’s mental health to have a decent hair style,” hairdresser Marie Leroy said at her salon in Joinville-le-Pont, just outside Paris.
“People are a bit depressed, they’re fed up I think at the moment so going to the hairdresser’s is important.”


Rome to host Palestinian Christmas Bazaar

Rome to host Palestinian Christmas Bazaar
Updated 7 sec ago

Rome to host Palestinian Christmas Bazaar

Rome to host Palestinian Christmas Bazaar
  • Two-day event will showcase traditional Palestinian culture and crafts
  • Organizers hope bazaar can ‘create a bridge between the diaspora and the motherland’

ROME: Italy’s capital city will host the Palestinian Christmas Bazaar this weekend, with food, live music, folk dancing, free workshops and traditional handicrafts on offer.  

The event takes place Dec. 11 and 12 at the Container, a huge venue in the popular San Lorenzo neighborhood — one of Rome’s liveliest areas.

An exhibition of work by Palestinian photojournalist Issam Rimawi, entitled “Roses Bloomed at Christmas,” will be on display at the bazaar, and Palestinian chef Hanan Samara will prepare a special hummus dish followed by dinner with typical Middle Eastern drinks on Saturday. On Sunday, a Palestinian Christmas brunch will be served.

Palestinian cinema will feature heavily on Sunday, with screenings selected by director Kami Fares, while actresses Dalal Suleiman and Hanin Tarabay are also involved in the event. Tarabay will present a traditional Christmas tale, and will also recite some of Najwan Darwish’s poems in Arabic.

Traditional handicrafts on sale will include pottery; holiday-themed decorations made from olive wood; fabrics that have been hand-embroidered in the local ‘tatreez’ style; soap made in Nablus; incense and essential oils; traditional keffiyeh headdresses and more.

All proceeds from the sale of these items will go directly to Palestinian artisans, according to the organizers of the bazaar — Rania Hammad, Nasmia Mallah and Sara Alawia, founders of the Falastin Festival and the startup project Ya Amar, which is funded by the European Commission.

They hope that such events can promote the work of Palestinian women and artisans “by creating a bridge between the diaspora and the motherland, strengthening community and solidarity, and promoting Palestinian cultural heritage and female empowerment.”


Azerbaijan says soldier killed in clashes with Armenia

Azerbaijan says soldier killed in clashes with Armenia
Updated 09 December 2021

Azerbaijan says soldier killed in clashes with Armenia

Azerbaijan says soldier killed in clashes with Armenia
  • Baku’s defense ministry said an Azerbaijani soldier was killed overnight

BAKU: An Azerbaijani soldier has died in a shootout with Armenian forces, officials in Baku said Thursday, two weeks after the arch-foe countries held talks on easing tensions following their war last year.
The ex-Soviet Caucasus neighbors fought last autumn a six-week war over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh which has claimed more than 6,500 lives.
Hostilities ended last November with a Russian-brokered cease-fire under which Yerevan ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades.
Baku’s defense ministry said an Azerbaijani soldier “was killed overnight as a result of a provocation by Armenia’s armed forces” near the countries’ shared border.
“Full responsibility for the escalation lies with Armenia’s political and military leaders,” the ministry said in a statement.
Armenia, meanwhile, said Baku had opened fire on its positions on Wednesday night on the eastern part of their shared border.
It called on Azerbaijan to “refrain from provocative actions.”
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met for rare face-to-face talks under the mediation of Russian President Vladimir Putin last month.
The talks focused on resolving disputes left over from last year’s war, and were hailed by all sides as positive.
The trio met less than two weeks after the worst fighting since the Karabakh war killed six Armenian troops and seven Azerbaijani soldiers.
They discussed demarcation issues between the two Caucasus countries, as Yerevan accuses Baku’s forces of intruding into its sovereignty territory.
They also addressed the issue of rebuilding Soviet-era transport links between Azerbaijan and Armenia which are currently closed by a mutual blockade.
On December 4, Azerbaijan freed 10 Armenian soldiers it had captured during border clashes last month.
Aliyev and Pashinyan are to meet again in Brussels on December 15 for talks mediated by the European Council President Charles Michel.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and an ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.


Virus turns Indonesia holiday island into desert of abandoned resorts

Virus turns Indonesia holiday island into desert of abandoned resorts
Updated 09 December 2021

Virus turns Indonesia holiday island into desert of abandoned resorts

Virus turns Indonesia holiday island into desert of abandoned resorts
  • Situated close to Bali, tourism and the local economy had been booming, with around 1,500 foreign visitors visiting Trawangan every day
  • As fears grow over new Covid variant omicron, Indonesia has extended its mandatory quarantine to ten days

GILI TRAWANGAN: Chef Ilhani used to serve up Japanese cuisine to holidaymakers every night, now he makes just $3 a day selling fried snacks on the near empty streets of once bustling Gili Trawangan.
The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered almost all the resorts and restaurants across Indonesia’s Gili Islands, famed for their turquoise waters, sandy beaches, and diverse marine life.
Situated close to Bali, tourism and the local economy had been booming, with around 1,500 foreign visitors visiting Trawangan every day.
But when authorities first imposed a nationwide virus lockdown in March 2020 and then closed borders to international travelers, his restaurant could not survive the loss of business.
Almost two years on, he says he is struggling to support his wife and four children.
“Life is painfully difficult now. I sell fried snacks because it is something that locals can afford,” he told AFP, adding: “In the past, whatever we sell there are tourists who will buy, but now as you can see the island is deserted.”
The three Gili islands — Trawangan, Meno and Air — have long been reliant on foreign travelers. There are some 800 hotels with 7,000 rooms but only between 20 and 30 properties remain open, according to Lalu Kusnawan, the chairman of Gili Hotel Association who runs a resort in Trawangan.
Shops, bars, cafes, restaurants all stand empty, some up for sale, others abandoned altogether. Dust and spider webs gather on long unused tables and chairs.
Staff that once worked there have been forced to find other ways to earn a living — some have turned to fishing just to feed their families.
The coronavirus pandemic will cost the global tourism sector $2.0 trillion in lost revenue in 2021 — the same losses as 2020, the UN’s tourism body warned last week.
International tourist arrivals will this year remain 70-75 percent below the 1.5 billion arrivals recorded in 2019 before the pandemic hit, according to the World Tourism Organization, adding that the sector’s recovery will be “fragile” and “slow.”

Ilhani fears the suffering will be prolonged because the Indonesian government is now planning to impose stricter virus restrictions in anticipation of a fresh wave of infections.
In Gili Trawangan’s port, most of the boats — used to transfer tourists from one island to another or to reach diving sites — have been anchored for months. A bit further, a pontoon is left to rot.
Borders were officially re-opened in October, but direct international flights to Bali are yet to resume as tourists face a quarantine and strict visa requirements, limiting the demand.
And as fears grow over new Covid variant omicron, Indonesia has extended its mandatory quarantine to ten days, dashing hopes of an imminent tourism revival.
Kusnawan fears he and his fellow islanders cannot take much more.
“We are not just bleeding, but we no longer have blood to bleed out... We were already in a bad shape even before the omicron,” he added.
Abdian Saputra, who runs a boat service from Bali to the islands, said he had to sell his assets and lay off half his staff in order to keep his business open as the pandemic meant far fewer sailings were necessary.
“I rarely see any new passengers since the pandemic. If we stop, businesses such as hotels will also die. We are helping each other to be able to survive,” he said.
“But if the situation stays like this, my business could see its last breath in January or early February next year,” he added.
But for foreign travelers who reached Indonesia before the borders closed, or who already lived in the country, the situation has enabled them to explore the island paradise untroubled by mass tourism.
Nicolas Lindback, who is originally from Norway, explained: “I will never experience the island like this again, but if I have to choose I prefer the tourism back...because locals are already suffering long enough.”


New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth

New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth
Updated 09 December 2021

New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth

New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth
  • Because the current minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18, the lifetime smoking ban for youth wouldn’t have an impact for a few years

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand’s government believes it has come up with a unique plan to end tobacco smoking — a lifetime ban for those aged 14 or younger.
Under a new law the government announced Thursday and plans to pass next year, the minimum age to buy cigarettes would keep rising year after year.
That means, in theory at least, 65 years after the law takes effect, shoppers could still buy cigarettes — but only if they could prove they were at least 80 years old.
In practice, officials hope smoking will fade away decades before then. Indeed, the plan sets a goal of having fewer than 5 percent of New Zealanders smoking by 2025.
Other parts of the plan include allowing only the sale of tobacco products with very low nicotine levels and slashing the number of stores that can sell them. The changes would be brought in over time to help retailers adjust.
Because the current minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18, the lifetime smoking ban for youth wouldn’t have an impact for a few years.
In an interview with The Associated Press, New Zealand’s Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall, who is spearheading the plan, said her work at a public hospital in Wellington involved telling several smokers they had developed cancer.
“You meet, every day, someone facing the misery caused by tobacco,” Verrall said. ”The most horrible ways people die. Being short of breath, caused by tobacco.”
Smoking rates have steadily fallen in New Zealand for years, with only about 11 percent of adults now smoking and 9 percent smoking every day. The daily rate among Indigenous Maori remains much higher at 22 percent. Under the government’s plan, a taskforce would be created to help reduce smoking among Maori.
Big tax increases have already been imposed on cigarettes in recent years and some question why they aren’t hiked even higher.
“We don’t think tax increases will have any further impact,” Verrall said. “It’s really hard to quit and we feel if we did that, we’d be punishing those people who are addicted to cigarettes even more.”
And she said the tax measures tend to place a higher burden on lower-income people, who are more likely to smoke.
The new law wouldn’t impact vaping. Verrall said that tobacco smoking is far more harmful and remains a leading cause of preventable deaths in New Zealand, killing up to 5,000 people each year.
“We think vaping’s a really appropriate quit tool,” she said.
The sale of vaping products is already restricted to those aged 18 and over in New Zealand and vaping is banned in schools. Verrall said there was some evidence of a rise in youth vaping, a trend she is following “really closely.”
New Zealand’s approach to ban the next generation from tobacco smoking hasn’t been tried elsewhere, she said.
But she said studies have shown youth sales decrease when minimum ages are raised. In the US, the federal minimum age to buy tobacco products was raised from 18 to 21 two years ago.
While public health experts have generally welcomed the New Zealand plan, not everybody is happy.
Sunny Kaushal said some stores could be put out of business. Kaushal chairs the Dairy and Business Owners Group, which represents nearly 5,000 corner stores — often called dairies in New Zealand — and gas stations.
“We all want a smoke-free New Zealand,” he said. “But this is going to hugely impact small businesses. It should not be done so it is destroying dairies, lives and families in the process. It’s not the way.”
Kaushal said the tax increases on tobacco had already created a black market that was being exploited by gangs, and the problem would only get worse. He said smoking was already in its twilight in New Zealand and would die away of its own accord.
“This is being driven by academics,” he said, adding that stakeholders hadn’t been consulted.
But Verrall said she didn’t believe the government was overreaching because statistics showed the vast majority of smokers wanted to quit anyway, and the new policies would only help them achieve their goal.
She said the pandemic had helped people gain a new appreciation for the benefits of public health measures and rallying communities, and that perhaps that energy could be harnessed not only to tackle smoking but also diseases like diabetes.
Verrall said she had never smoked herself but her late grandmother did, and it likely compromised her health.
“It’s a really cruel product,” Verrall said.


Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says
Updated 09 December 2021

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says
  • Javid said there was no plan to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for the general population

LONDON: Britain’s decision to impose restrictions to slow the spread of the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus will likely avoid the need to impose much tougher controls in the new year, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday.
Javid said the omicron variant was spreading more swiftly than any other variant studied and could result in around 1 million infections across the United Kingdom by the end of the month if transmission continued at the current rate.
“I hope that most people will understand that by taking some decisive action now, we can potentially avoid action later,” Javid told Sky.
Asked if tougher measures could be imposed in January, Javid said: “No. I hope not.”
Javid said there was no plan to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for the general population.