US easing virus restrictions for foreign flights to America

US easing virus restrictions for foreign flights to America
The U.S. said Monday it will ease airline restrictions this fall on travel to the country for people who have vaccination proof and a negative COVID-19 test. (AFP)
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Updated 20 September 2021

US easing virus restrictions for foreign flights to America

US easing virus restrictions for foreign flights to America
  • Changes, to take effect in November, will allow those who’ve been separated by travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications
  • The new policy will replace a patchwork of travel bans

WASHINGTON: The US said Monday it will ease airline restrictions this fall on travel to the country for people who have vaccination proof and a negative COVID-19 test.
This will replace a hodgepodge of rules that had kept out many non-citizens and irritated allies in Europe and beyond where virus cases are far lower.
The changes, to take effect in November, will allow families and others who have been separated by the travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications and allow foreigners with work permits to get back to their jobs in the US
Airlines, business groups and travelers cheered.
“It’s a happy day. Big Apple, here I come!” said French entrepreneur Stephane Le Breton, 45, finally able to book a trip to New York City that had been put on hold over the virus restrictions.
The new policy will replace a patchwork of travel bans first instituted by President Donald Trump last year and tightened by President Joe Biden that restrict travel by non-citizens who have in the prior 14 days been in the United Kingdom, European Union, China, India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil or South Africa.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new policies, which still will require all foreign travelers flying to the US to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight. Biden will also tighten testing rules for unvaccinated American citizens, who will need to be tested within a day before returning to the US, as well as after they arrive home.
The tougher rules for unvaccinated Americans come as the White House has moved to impose sweeping vaccination-or-testing requirements affecting as many as 100 million people in an effort to encourage holdouts to get shots.
Fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to quarantine, Zients said.
There will be no immediate change to US land border policies, which restrict much cross-border travel with Mexico and Canada.
The travel bans had become the source of growing geopolitical frustration, particularly among allies in the UK and EU. The easing comes ahead of Biden meeting with some European leaders on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly this week.
“This is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach, so it’s a stronger system,” Zients said.
The EU and UK had previously moved to allow vaccinated US travelers in without quarantines, in an effort to boost business and tourism. But the EU recommended last month that some travel restrictions be reimposed on US travelers to the bloc because of the rampant spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus in America.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will require airlines to collect contact information from international travelers to facilitate tracing, Zients said.
It was not immediately clear which vaccines would be acceptable under the US system and whether those unapproved in the US could be used. Zients said that decision would be up to the CDC.
Monday’s announcement was met with applause by the air travel industry, which has lost significant revenue from declines in international travel.
Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant said, “Science tells us that vaccinations coupled with testing is the safest way to re-open travel, and we are optimistic this important decision will allow for the continued economic recovery both in the US and abroad and the reunification of families who have been separated for more than 18 months.”
Worldwide, air travel is still down more than half from pre-pandemic levels, and the decline is much sharper for cross-border flying. By July, domestic travel had recovered to 84 percent of 2019 numbers, but international travel was just 26 percent of the same month two years ago, according to figures this month from the airline industry’s main global trade group, the International Air Transport Association.
The numbers are similar but not quite as stark for the US, where international travel in August was 46 percent of that in August 2019, according to Airlines for America. Arrivals by non-US citizens were only 36 percent of the 2019 level.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “delighted” by the news. He said: “It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.”
Airlines hailed the US decision as a lifeline for the struggling industry. Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK said it was “a major breakthrough.”
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said it was “a major milestone. ... The UK will now be able to strengthen ties with our most important economic partner, the US, boosting trade and tourism as well as reuniting friends, families and business colleagues.”
The changes also drew praise from business groups, who have been contending with labor shortages as the economy bounces back with unexpected strength from last year’s coronavirus recession. US employers have been posting job openings — a record 10.9 million in July — faster than applicants can fill them.
Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs for the U..S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement, “Allowing vaccinated foreign nationals to travel freely to the United States will help foster a robust and durable recovery for the American economy.”


France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris
Updated 55 min 43 sec ago

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris

France commemorates the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris
  • Historians say at least 120 protesters died

PARIS: A tribute march was organized on Sunday in Paris for the 60th anniversary of the bloody police crackdown on a protest by Algerians in the French capital, during the final year of their country’s independence war with its colonial power.
The commemoration comes after French President Macron acknowledged that “crimes” committed on Oct. 17, 1961 — which authorities have sought to cover up for decades — were “inexcusable for the Republic.”
“The repression was brutal, violent, bloody” under orders of Paris police chief Maurice Papon, Macron said in a statement released Saturday. About 12,000 Algerians were arrested and dozens were killed, “their bodies thrown into the Seine River,” the president’s office said.
Historians say at least 120 protesters died, some shot and some drowned, according to Macron’s office. The exact number has never been established as archives remain partially closed.
Papon later became the highest-ranking Frenchman convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in deporting Jews during World War II.
Human rights and anti-racism groups and Algerian associations in France staged a tribute march in Paris on Sunday afternoon. They called on authorities to further recognize the French state’s responsibilities in the “tragedies and horrors” related to Algeria’s independence war and to further open up archives.
Earlier Sunday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo attended a tribute ceremony at the Saint-Michel bridge, in the capital’s city center.
Macron paid tribute to victims on Saturday at the Bezons bridge over the Seine River in the northwest of Paris. He was the first president to attend a commemoration event for the massacre.
Earlier this year, he announced a decision to speed up the declassification of secret documents related to Algeria’s 1954-62 war of independence from France. The new procedure was introduced in August, Macron’s office said.
The move was part of a series of steps taken by Macron to address France’s brutal history with Algeria, which had been under French rule for 132 years until its independence in 1962.
In 2018, Macron formally recognized the responsibility of the French state in the 1957 death of a dissident in Algeria, Maurice Audin, admitting for the first time the French military’s use of systematic torture during the war.


Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections

Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections
Updated 17 October 2021

Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections

Russia’s reports record-high daily COVID-19 infections

MOSCOW: Russia reported 34,303 cases of new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, a record-high number since the start of the pandemic, data from the state coronavirus task force showed on Sunday.
It also reported 997 deaths from the disease, five fewer than the daily record-high of 1,002 reported the previous day.
The latest coronavirus deaths brought the official national death toll to 223,312, with a total of almost 8 million cases.
Russian authorities blame a slow vaccination campaign for the sharp rise of infections and deaths, which forced the health ministry to ask retired, vaccinated medics to return to hospitals. 


Activists arrested in Athens for protesting Beijing Winter Olympics

Activists arrested in Athens for protesting Beijing Winter Olympics
Updated 17 October 2021

Activists arrested in Athens for protesting Beijing Winter Olympics

Activists arrested in Athens for protesting Beijing Winter Olympics
  • Detained activists are members of the ‘No Beijing 2022’ campaign
  • The Beijing Winter Games are scheduled to run from Feb. 4-20, 2022

ATHENS: Two women attempted to hang a banner from the Acropolis in Athens Sunday morning in protest at the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, and were detained by Greek police.
The activists, 18-year-old Tibetan student Tsela Zoksang and 22-year-old exiled Hong Kong activist Joey Siu, both American citizens, are members of the “No Beijing 2022” campaign, a statement from the New York-based organization Students for a Free Tibet said.
They, and a third person, entered the archaeological site as paying customers and then Zoksang and Siu climbed up some scaffolding, from which they attempted to unfurl the banner.
A security officer rushed to them and took the banner away. The two women remained on the scaffolding and deployed a Tibetan flag and a smaller banner proclaiming, “Free Hong Kong Revolution.” They also chanted slogans including “Free Tibet,” “Boycott Beijing 2022” and “No freedom, no Games.” Police arrived and detained the protesters.
The whole incident lasted about 10 minutes.
“Now it is time for the international community, and all people of conscience, to take a stand and boycott Beijing 2022; anything less will be a clear endorsement of China’s genocidal regime,” Zoksang was quoted as saying in the statement. ”The IOC is sending the world a message that it is ok to turn a blind eye to genocide and crimes against humanity in Hong Kong, Tibet, East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia,” added Siu.
The Olympic flame for the 24th Winter Games will be lit at Ancient Olympia Monday and handed over to the Chinese at a ceremony in Athens’ Panathenian Stadium Tuesday. The International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board met in Athens Saturday. The board will gather at Ancient Olympia later Sunday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Executive Board’s founding. The dress rehearsal for the Olympic flame ceremony will also take place Sunday.
A protest against the staging of the summer Olympic Games by China previously took place in Athens in March 2008; a couple of dozen Greek and Tibetan activists tried unsuccessfully to interfere with the torch relay for that year’s Summer Olympics.
The Beijing Winter Games are scheduled to run from Feb. 4-20, 2022, with the Paralympics set to follow from March 4-13.


Afghan girls still barred from school: ‘Why should only boys have a future?’

Afghan girls still barred from school: ‘Why should only boys have a future?’
Updated 17 October 2021

Afghan girls still barred from school: ‘Why should only boys have a future?’

Afghan girls still barred from school: ‘Why should only boys have a future?’
  • Vast majority of girls are barred from lessons across the country, including in the capital Kabul

KABUL: Afghan teenager Amena saw dozens of classmates killed when her girls’ school was targeted by a Daesh bomb attack in May, but she was determined to continue her education.
Now, like most secondary school girls in the country, she is banned from lessons altogether after the Taliban’s hard-line government excluded them from returning to class one month ago.
“I wanted to study, see my friends and have a bright future, but now I am not allowed,” 16-year-old Amena said at her home in western Kabul.
“This situation makes me feel awful. Since the Taliban arrived, I am very sad and angry.”
On September 18, Afghanistan’s new Islamist rulers ordered male teachers and boys aged 13 and over back to secondary schools, picking up an academic year already cut short by violence and the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, there was no mention of women teachers or girl pupils.
The Taliban later said older girls can return to secondary schools, which were already mostly split by gender, but only once security and stricter segregation under their interpretation of Islamic law could be ensured.
Reports have emerged of girls going back to a few high schools — such as in Kunduz province where the Taliban promoted the return with a stage-managed rally.
The de facto Taliban education minister told the UN children’s body that a framework to allow all girls to go to secondary school will be announced soon, a senior UNICEF executive said Friday.
But for now, the vast majority are barred from lessons across the country of about 39 million people, including in the capital Kabul.
Primary schools, meanwhile, have reopened for all children and women can go to private universities, though with tough restrictions on their clothes and movement.
Amena lives just a short walk from her Sayed Al-Shuhada High School, where 85 people — mainly young girls — perished in the May bomb attack.
“Innocent girls were killed,” Amena said, her eyes welling up.
“I saw with my own eyes the dying and wounded girls.
“However, I still wanted to go to school again.”
Amena would be in Grade 10 studying her favorite subjects such as biology, but instead is stuck inside with a handful of books doing “nothing special.”
The teenager said she dreamt of becoming a journalist, but now has “no hope in Afghanistan.”
Her siblings help her at home, and occasionally she gets lessons from a psychologist who comes to see her younger sister, still traumatized by the school attack.
“They say: ‘Study if you cannot go to school — study at home so that you may become someone in the future.’“
“My brother brings home storybooks and I read them,” Amena said. “And I always watch the news.”
But she does not understand why boys are allowed to study and girls are not.
“Half of the society is made up of girls and the other half is made up of boys. There is no difference between them,” she said.
“Why can’t we study? Are we not part of society? Why should only boys have a future?“
After US-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, progress was made in girls’ education.
The number of schools tripled and female literacy nearly doubled to 30 percent, but the change was largely limited to the cities.
“Afghan women have made great achievements in the past 20 years,” said Nasrin Hasani, a 21-year-old teacher at a Kabul secondary school who now helps out with primary pupils.
But the current situation has “lowered both our and the students’ morale,” she said, questioning the Taliban’s reasoning.
“As far as we all know, the religion of Islam has never hindered the education and work of women.”
Hasani said she has not experienced any direct threats from the Taliban.
But Amnesty International reported that one high school teacher received death threats and was summoned for prosecution because she used to teach co-educational sport.
Hasani said she was clinging to hope that the Taliban will be “a little different” from their brutal 1996-2001 regime, when women were not even allowed out of their homes unchaperoned.
Born years after 2001, Zainab has no memories of that period and loved going to school until the Taliban directive.
The 12-year-old was stuck looking out of the window with a “terrible feeling” last month when boys went back to school.
“It is quite obvious that things get worse day by day,” said Zainab, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
Her 16-year-old sister Malalay said tearfully that she had “feelings of despair and fear.”
Malalay, whose name has also been changed, passes her time helping around the house, cleaning, washing dishes and doing laundry.
She said she tries not to cry in front of her mother “because there are a lot of pressures on her.”
The teen had dreams of promoting women’s rights and speaking out against the men depriving her of her rights.
“My rights are to go to school and university,” she said.
“All my dreams and plans are now buried.”


Volunteers in the sky watch over migrant rescues by sea

Volunteers in the sky watch over migrant rescues by sea
Updated 17 October 2021

Volunteers in the sky watch over migrant rescues by sea

Volunteers in the sky watch over migrant rescues by sea
  • Despite the risks, many migrants and refugees say they’d rather die trying to cross to Europe than be returned to Libya

ABOARD THE SEABIRD: As dozens of African migrants traversed the Mediterranean Sea on a flimsy white rubber boat, a small aircraft circling 1,000 feet above closely monitored their attempt to reach Europe.
The twin-engine Seabird, owned by the German non-governmental organization Sea-Watch, is tasked with documenting human rights violations committed against migrants at sea and relaying distress cases to nearby ships and authorities who have increasingly ignored their pleas.
On this cloudy October afternoon, an approaching thunderstorm heightened the dangers for the overcrowded boat. Nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe since 2014, according to the United Nations’ migration agency.
“Nour 2, Nour 2, this is aircraft Seabird, aircraft Seabird,” the aircraft’s tactical coordinator, Eike Bretschneider, communicated via radio with the only vessel nearby. The captain of the Nour 2, agreed to change course and check up on the flimsy boat. But after seeing the boat had a Libyan flag, the people refused its assistance, the captain reported back on the crackling radio.
“They say they only have 20 liters of fuel left,” the captain, who did not identify himself by name, told the Seabird. “They want to continue on their journey.”
The small boat’s destination was the Italian island of Lampedusa, where tourists sitting in outdoor cafés sipped on Aperol Spritz, oblivious to what was unfolding some 60 nautical miles (111 km/68 miles) south of them on the Mediterranean Sea.
Bretschneider, a 30-year-old social worker, made some quick calculations and concluded the migrants must have departed Libya approximately 20 hours ago and still had some 15 hours ahead of them before they reached Lampedusa. That was if their boat did not fall apart or capsize along the way.
Despite the risks, many migrants and refugees say they’d rather die trying to cross to Europe than be returned to Libya where, upon disembarkation, they are placed in detention centers and often subjected to relentless abuse.
Bretschneider sent the rubber boat’s coordinates to the air liaison officer sitting in Berlin, who then relayed the position (inside the Maltese Search and Rescue zone) to both Malta and Italy. Unsurprisingly to them, they received no response.
Running low on fuel, the Seabird had to leave the scene.
“We can only hope the people will reach the shore at some moment or will get rescued by a European coast guard vessel,” Bretschneider told AP as they made their way back.
The activists have grown used to having their distress calls go unanswered.
For years human rights groups and international law experts have denounced that European countries are increasingly ignoring their international obligations to rescue migrants at sea. Instead, they’ve outsourced rescues to the Libyan Coast Guard, which has a track record of reckless interceptions as well as ties to human traffickers and militias.
“I’m sorry, we don’t speak with NGOs,” a man answering the phone of the Maltese Rescue and Coordination Center told a member of Sea-Watch inquiring about a boat in distress this past June. In a separate call to the Rescue and Coordination Center in Rome, another Sea-Watch member was told: “We have no information to report to you.”
Maltese and Italian authorities did not respond to questions sent by AP.
Trying to get in touch with the Libyan rescue and coordination center is an even greater challenge. On the rare occasion that someone does pick up, the person on the other side of the line often doesn’t speak English.
More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the Italian Ministry of Interior, nearly double the number of people who crossed in the same time period last year.
Although it is illegal for European vessels to take rescued migrants back to Libya themselves, information shared by the EU’s surveillance drones and planes have allowed the Libyan Coast Guard to considerably increase its ability to stop migrants from reaching Europe. So far this year, it has intercepted roughly half of those who have attempted to leave, returning more than 26,000 men, women and children to Libya.
Sea-Watch has relied on millions of euros from individual donations over several years to expand its air monitoring capabilities as well. It now has two small aircraft that, with a birds-eye view, can find boats in distress much faster than ships can.
Taking off from Lampedusa, which is closer to North Africa than Italy, the planes can reach a distress case relatively quickly if its position is known. But when there are no exact coordinates, they must fly a search pattern, sometimes for hours, and scan the sea with the help of binoculars.
Even when flying low, finding a tiny boat in the vast Mediterranean can strain the most experienced eyes. The three- to four-person crew of volunteers reports every little dot on the horizon that could potentially be people in distress.
“Target at 10 o’clock,” the Seabird’s photographer sitting in the back alerted on a recent flight.
The pilot veered left to inspect it.
“Fishing boat, disregard,” Bretschneider, the tactical coordinator, replied.
In rough seas, breaking waves can play tricks and for brief moments resemble wobbly boats in the distance. Frequently, the “targets” turn out to be nothing at all, and the Seabird returns to land hours later without any new information.
But finding boats in distress is only the first challenge. Getting them rescued is just as difficult, if not harder.
With the absence of state rescue vessels and NGO ships getting increasingly blocked from leaving port, Sea-Watch often relies on the good will of merchant vessels navigating the area. But many are also reluctant to get involved after several commercial ships found themselves stuck at sea for days as they waited for Italy’s or Malta’s permission to disembark rescued migrants. Others have taken them back to Libya in violation of maritime and refugee conventions.
This week, a court in Naples convicted the captain of an Italian commercial ship for returning 101 migrants to Libya in 2018.
Without any state authority, the Seabird can only remind captains of their duty to rescue persons in distress. In this way, Bretschneider recently got an Italian supply vessel to save 65 people from a drifting migrant boat, just moments before the Libyan Coast Guard arrived.
On another mission a few days later, the Seabird returned from its flight without knowing what would happen to the people they had seen on the white rubber boat.
Bretschneider checked his phone at dinner that night, hoping for good news. On the other side of the Mediterranean, 17 bodies had washed up in Western Libya, apparently from a different boat.
The next day the Seabird took off to look for the white rubber boat again, in vain. On their way back, they got a message from land.
The white rubber boat had reached waters near Lampedusa and was picked up by the Italian Coast Guard. The people had made it.