Rising Delta virus, absent Brits dampen Europe’s tourism hopes

Rising Delta virus, absent Brits dampen Europe’s tourism hopes
In Greece, where tourism makes up a fifth of the economy, the central bank this week cited concerns over new variants. (AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2021

Rising Delta virus, absent Brits dampen Europe’s tourism hopes

Rising Delta virus, absent Brits dampen Europe’s tourism hopes
  • The fast-spreading Delta variant of coronavirus is pushing a rise in cases globally

LISBON/LONDON: While not a complete wash-out, the summer tourism season vital to southern Europe’s economies will be less than sizzling as the Delta coronavirus spreads and travel hurdles keep British and other sun-seekers at home.
A European Union COVID-19 travel certificate launched on Thursday may help some make trips but arrivals to tourist hotspots from Portugal to Croatia are set to remain well down on normal levels, putting businesses and hospitality jobs at risk.
“The recovery of tourism in Portugal has come to a halt,” Raul Martins, head of the country’s AHP hotel association said of new travel restrictions from Britain and Germany, normally lucrative markets for Portugal’s beaches, restaurants and clubs.
The fast-spreading Delta variant of coronavirus is pushing a rise in cases in the Algarve’s tourist magnet Albufeira and is to blame for over half of new infections in the capital Lisbon.
Add to that Britain’s decision last month to strike Portugal from its “green list” of destinations and Germany’s move to curb travel there just ahead of the introduction of EU certificates showing a tourist’s double-vaccination or COVID-free status.
Even before the German decision and a recent Portuguese rule for unvaccinated UK travelers to quarantine, hotels there forecast occupancy rates of just 43 percent this month and 46 percent for August. AHP said hotels would be more downbeat if polled now.
Save for a few bright spots, the sector is seeing the same pattern across the entire south of Europe: better than the lost summer of 2020, but barely half the activity it would normally expect before the pandemic.
In Greece, where tourism makes up a fifth of the economy, the central bank this week cited concerns over new variants as it cut forecasts for 2021 tourism revenues from 50 percent to 40 percent of those in 2019, when it welcomed a record 33 million visitors.
Grigoris Tassios, head of Greece’s Hoteliers Association, said the average occupancy rate at hotels across the country was currently 35-45 percent, a rate he saw persisting through early July.
“Bookings have frozen clearly because of the uncertainty over COVID and particularly the Delta variant lately,” he said.
Spain is a shade more optimistic, raising its estimate for this year’s tourist numbers to 45 million visitors — about 54 percent of 2019 levels — from the 42 million it predicted a month ago.
The tourism ministry on Wednesday was particularly upbeat about the German market, expecting the number of German tourists to reach 3.8 million this year, a strong 77 percent of 2019 numbers.
Mallorca and Spain’s other Balearic islands are meanwhile reaping the benefit of the June 30 move by the UK to allow Britons to travel there without having to quarantine upon return: air bookings there stand at 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
“Since restrictions for UK tourists were lifted, they are back. In the first 24 hours, we had reservations equivalent to 10 days of 2019,” said a spokesperson for Spanish chain Melia Hotels.
In the northern European countries which provide the sun-seekers, holiday industries are lobbying governments to find safe ways to make more destinations available — and quickly.
Britain’s plan to restart travel in May after over four months of lockdown has to date hugely disappointed tour operators, with only a limited number of smaller destinations currently on its “green list” of quarantine-free travel.
“This is not the meaningful restart of international travel that the industry desperately needs,” said a spokesperson for ABTA, the UK industry body representing 4,300 travel brands.
It is urging the government to make good on proposals to relax quarantine rules for fully vaccinated individuals visiting countries on the “amber list” like Spain and France.
“But this needs to happen soon so businesses can save what remains of the peak summer season, crucial weeks which represent two-thirds of travel companies’ income,” said the spokesperson.
A major headache for the UK industry is coping with sudden rule changes in destination countries — Malta, for instance, banned British visitors who are not fully vaccinated on Tuesday.
Germany’s travel sector is also demanding clarity after the move to declare Portugal a “virus-variant zone,” a measure that implies a 14-day quarantine for travelers. Industry leaders warned the government this week any steps to include countries like Greece and Spain in that band would be devastating.
“This current debate about further possible changes is needlessly disconcerting people and damaging confidence,” said Thomas Bareiss, the government’s federal tourism commissioner.
Some remain upbeat. Tomas Dvorak, economist at Oxford Economics, said southern Europe could still recoup by the end of the year around 85 percent of its 2019 levels if vaccine campaigns continue to step up and bring overall infections down.
But a McKinsey report this week painted a stark picture of the wider damage to the region’s economy, with a full recovery of foreign tourism in some cases not likely before 2024-2025.
It estimated Portugal would lose some 52 billion euros of revenues between 2020-2023 — the equivalent of a quarter of its total 2019 GDP — with up to 600,000 jobs potentially affected.
In Spain’s case, it said international tourism might not recover till 2025, putting a massive 4.4 million direct and indirect jobs at risk. It saw Italy benefiting from a more resilient domestic tourist market to recover earlier in 2024.
While a UN study this week welcomed the EU COVID-19 pass as a rare example of countries harmonizing arrangements on travel, it will not be enough to rescue the European summer.
Capital Economics argued it did not remove constraints for those not fully vaccinated — meaning many travelers including children will still need to undergo COVID-19 tests — and that specific travel rules were still set by national governments.
That is a point that resonates in Portugal, still stung by the German travel curbs.
“There are different countries and each country wants to show its sovereignty,” said the AHP’s Martins. We believe that the certificate will work but there are countries saying ‘my house, my rules’.”


Muslims in Southend, southeast England condemn ‘brutal’ murder of British politician

Updated 5 sec ago

Muslims in Southend, southeast England condemn ‘brutal’ murder of British politician

Muslims in Southend, southeast England condemn ‘brutal’ murder of British politician

LONDON: The murder of MP Sir David Amess has been strongly condemned in a joint statement issued by all of Southend’s mosques as a “brutal and senseless killing.”

The statement said that Sir David’s killing was “an indefensible atrocity” committed in the name of “blind hatred, and we look forward to the perpetrator being brought to justice.”

Veteran Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was talking with constituents at a church in the small town of Leigh-on-Sea, east of London, when he was stabbed to death on Friday.

Police said they arrested a 25-year-old suspect and were investigating “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”

The fatal stabbing has “been declared as a terrorist incident, with the investigation being led by Counter Terrorism Policing,” the police said in a statement.

The MP was described as a “tremendous force for good and pillar of support for our community” by the Joint Secretary of Essex Jamme Masjid Ruhul Shamsuddin.

“This was senseless violence against a truly wonderful man. It’s an honour to say I’ve known him my whole life. I’ve lost not just a community leader, but a family friend and mentor, Shamsuddin said. 

The Imam of UKIM Southend Mosque Iftikhar Ul Haq and its president, Dr Arshad Ghori, praised Sir David for being “always reachable“ and for his “great compassion for communities.”

They added: “He will be greatly missed by us at UKIM Southend Mosque and the community in Southend. We strongly condemn this brutal murder and hope the perpetrator be swiftly brought to justice.”

The statement paid tribute to Sir David’s “warmth, selflessness and kindness,” adding that he had joined the local Muslim community as it celebrated its achievements over the years. 

“He graced us with his presence at the opening of the Essex Jamme Masjid in 2008 and 2014. He took part in the launch of Southend-on-Sea’s first Muslim Scout group,” it added.

“He shared in our happiness, by attending our weddings and functions and he was there for us in our times of need. We will all miss him dearly.”


6 combatants, 2 workers killed in fresh violence in Kashmir

6 combatants, 2 workers killed in fresh violence in Kashmir
Updated 45 min 33 sec ago

6 combatants, 2 workers killed in fresh violence in Kashmir

6 combatants, 2 workers killed in fresh violence in Kashmir
  • Police blamed militants fighting against Indian rule for the Saturday attacks in the region’s main city and a village in southern Kashmir
  • Following the spate of killings last week, authorities have detained over 1,000 people in a sweeping crackdown across the Kashmir Valley

SRINAGAR, India: Assailants fatally shot two non-local workers in two targeted attacks in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday night, police said, days after five people were killed in a similar fashion in the disputed region.
The killing comes hours after police said government forces killed four suspected militants in the last 24 hours and claimed three of them were involved in last week’s killings of three members of minority communities.
Police blamed militants fighting against Indian rule for the Saturday attacks in the region’s main city and a village in southern Kashmir and called the killings “terror attacks.”
In a first incident in Srinagar, police said militants fired at a Hindu street vendor from India’s eastern state of Bihar. He died on the spot, police said.
An hour later, a Muslim worker from northern Uttar Pradesh state was shot and critically wounded in southern Litter village of Pulwama district. Police said he later died at a hospital.
Last week, assailants fatally shot three Hindus, a Sikh woman and a local Muslim taxi driver in the region in a sudden rise in violence against civilians that both pro- and anti-India Kashmiri politicians widely condemned.
Also Saturday, two militants were killed in a gunfight with government forces in southern Pampore area, police said. Another two rebels were killed in two separate gunbattles with Indian troops in Srinagar and southern Pulwama district on Friday.
Police said three among the slain rebels were involved in the killings of prominent local Hindu chemist and two schoolteachers of Hindu and Sikh faiths.
Following the spate of killings last week, authorities have detained over 1,000 people in a sweeping crackdown across the Kashmir Valley.
Meanwhile, the Indian army said the death toll in a gunfight with rebels that raged on Thursday in a forested area of southern Mendhar town climbed to four as troops Saturday recovered the bodies of two soldiers missing in action.
On Monday, five Indian soldiers were killed in the deadliest gunbattle with militants this year in contiguous forested area of Surankote town.
Lt. Col. Devender Anand, an Indian army spokesman, said troops continued with search operations in both the areas.
India and Pakistan claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety.
Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.


16-year-old charged over fatal stabbing of Afghan teen in London 

16-year-old charged over fatal stabbing of Afghan teen in London 
Updated 16 October 2021

16-year-old charged over fatal stabbing of Afghan teen in London 

16-year-old charged over fatal stabbing of Afghan teen in London 

LONDON: A 16-year-old boy has been charged with murder over the fatal stabbing of an Afghan teenager in London, the Metropolitan Police said.

Hazrat Wali, 18, succumbed to his injuries in hospital on Tuesday after being stabbed that afternoon. 

He reportedly arrived in Britain two years ago as a refugee and attended London’s Richmond-upon-Thames College. 

The 16-year-old is expected to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court. The police specialist crime command are investigating the murder. 


Macron condemns ‘inexcusable’ crackdown on 1961 Paris protest of Algerians

Macron condemns ‘inexcusable’ crackdown on 1961 Paris protest of Algerians
Updated 16 October 2021

Macron condemns ‘inexcusable’ crackdown on 1961 Paris protest of Algerians

Macron condemns ‘inexcusable’ crackdown on 1961 Paris protest of Algerians
  • Macron told relatives and activists on the 60th anniversary of the bloodshed that ‘crimes’ were committed on the night of October 17, 1961
  • Macron acknowledged that several dozen protesters had been killed, ‘their bodies thrown into the River Seine’ and paid tribute to the memory of the victims

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday condemned as “inexcusable” a deadly crackdown by Paris police on a 1961 protest by Algerians whose scale was a taboo covered up for decades by French authorities.
Macron told relatives and activists on the 60th anniversary of the bloodshed that “crimes” were committed on the night of October 17, 1961 under the command of the notorious Paris police chief Maurice Papon.
He acknowledged that several dozen protesters had been killed, “their bodies thrown into the River Seine” and paid tribute to the memory of the victims.
The precise number of victims has never been made clear and some activists fear several hundred could have been killed.
Macron “recognized the facts: that the crimes committed that night under Maurice Papon are inexcusable for the Republic,” the Elysee said.
“This tragedy was long hushed-up, denied or concealed,” it added.
Macron, the first French president to attend a memorial ceremony for those killed, observed a minute of silence in their memory at the Bezons bridge over the Seine on the outskirts of Paris where the protest started.
His comments that crimes were committed went further than predecessor Francois Hollande, who acknowledged in 2012 that the protesting Algerians had been “killed during a bloody repression.”
However, as expected, he did not issue a formal apology. He also did not give a public speech, with the Elysee issuing only the written statement.
Papon was in the 1980s revealed to have been a collaborator with the occupying Nazis in World War II and complicit in the deportation of Jews. He was convicted of crimes against humanity but later released.


Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack
Updated 16 October 2021

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack

Mental illness may have triggered Norway bow-and-arrow attack
  • Espen Andersen Brathen is believed to have acted alone when he killed four women and a man, aged between 50 and 70, in several locations in Kongsberg where he lived
  • While authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of an act of terror, they seemed to be leaning toward the theory that it was the act of a mentally unstable person

KONGSBERG, Norway: A bow-and-arrow attack in Norway that left five people dead this week appears to have been motivated by mental illness, authorities indicated Friday, as the perpetrator was ordered to be kept in a medical facility.
Espen Andersen Brathen, a 37-year-old Danish citizen who converted to Islam and is believed to have been radicalized, has confessed to the Wednesday killings in police questioning.
He was in custody in a medical facility on Friday pending a psychiatric evaluation.
“The strongest hypothesis after the first days of the investigation is that illness is in the background,” police inspector Per Thomas Omholt told reporters on Friday.
Police were however keeping other possibilities open, and have investigated a range of motives including “anger, revenge, impulse, extremism, illness and provocation,” Omholt said.
The psychiatric evaluation, which could take several months, is necessary to determine whether Brathen can be held legally responsible for his actions.
“This indicates that things are not exactly as they should be,” his lawyer Fredrik Neumann said, referring to his client’s mental health.
“A complete judicial assessment will clarify that,” he told the Norwegian newspaper VG.
Omholt said Friday that Brathen had admitted to the acts but did not admit guilt.
While authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of an act of terror, they seemed to be leaning toward the theory that it was the act of a mentally unstable person.
“There is no doubt that (it) appears as if it could be an act of terror, but it’s important that the investigation continues and that we establish the motive of the suspect,” the head of Norway’s intelligence service PST, Hans Sverre Sjovold, said Thursday.
“This is a person who has been in and out of the health system for some time.”
Four women and one man were killed and three people injured in the attack in the town of Kongsberg, and police said a bow and arrows and two other undisclosed weapons were used before he was arrested.
Brathan was known to PST, which is in charge of Norway’s anti-terrorism efforts, but few details have emerged about why. According to public broadcaster NRK, the first warning was in 2015.
“There were fears linked to radicalization previously,” police official Ole Bredrup Saeverud told reporters.
Those reports dated to last year or earlier, and police said they had followed up at the time.
Norwegian media reported that in 2018 the PST had warned that he could commit “a small-scale attack.”
It also said that Brathen was subject to two prior court rulings, including a restraining order against him regarding his parents after threatening to kill his father, and a conviction for burglary and purchasing narcotics in 2012.
Local media also unearthed a video Brathen allegedly posted on social media in 2017, in which he issued a “warning” and declared his Muslim faith.
Speaking anonymously, one of Brathen’s neighbors described him as a big person with a crew cut and a serious demeanour, who was always seen “alone.”
“No smile, nothing in the face. He was just staring,” the neighbor told AFP.
Brathen is believed to have acted alone when he killed four women and a man, aged between 50 and 70, in several locations in Kongsberg where he lived.
Flowers and candles were placed in front of the various crime scenes in Kongsberg, a town of 25,000 people still reeling from the attack.
Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store, who took office on Thursday following elections last month, visited the town on Friday.
“We stand together when crisis strikes. For those of who have political responsibility, the safety of our citizens is the most important thing,” he said in a speech.
Svein Westad, a 75-year-old pensioner wandered aimlessly on Hyttegata street, where two of his neighbors and close friends were killed in their homes.
“I’m totally broken into pieces, I cannot say anything more than that. I will never get over this,” he told AFP.
“They should have caught him immediately,” he said, referring to criticism against the police for arresting Brathen more than 30 minutes after the first reports came in.
Norway rarely experiences such violence, but 10 years ago Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in the country’s worst massacre since World War II.