Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from COVID-19

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from COVID-19
Hundreds of Greek state hospital workers marched through central Athens as part of a 24-hour strike to protest staff shortages and compulsory coronavirus vaccinations. (AP)
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Updated 22 October 2021

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from COVID-19

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from COVID-19
  • Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece's tourism industry
  • Pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector

ATHENS: The number of foreign tourists arriving in Greece has rebounded strongly this year, central bank data released Friday showed, but the key tourism sector still remains far below pre-pandemic levels.
Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece’s tourism industry, which accounts for a fifth of the overall economy, but pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector.
Greek central bank data showed that the number of tourist arrivals has jumped 80 percent this year to over 8.6 million.
Meanwhile, spending by tourists during the first eight months of the year has shot up by over 135 percent to nearly 6.6 billion euros ($7.7 billion), the Bank of Greece said in a statement.
But those figures are still far off the level in 2019, before the pandemic, when some 21.8 million tourists spent 13.2 billion euros.
Ahead of the peak summer tourism season, Greece ran a major campaign to voluntarily vaccinate most residents if its Aegean islands, its most popular travel destinations, to help lure back foreign tourists.
Most of the arrivals came from Germany, Britain, France and the United States.
Greece’s economy contracted by 9.0 percent in 2020, due in no small part to the drop in tourists.
The government expects the economy to rebound 6.1 percent this year and grow by 4.5 percent in 2022.


Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
Updated 37 min 21 sec ago

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 mandatory, PM says
  • About 63 percent of the population of about 11 million is fully vaccinated
  • Greece has recorded a spike in infections this month, with daily cases hitting record highs

ATHENS: Greece said on Tuesday it would make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and over, a drastic step for the country grappling with a new surge in coronavirus cases.
Authorities said they would impose a 100 euro ($114) fine on every individual over the age of 60 who was not vaccinated. The measure would apply each month from Jan. 16 onwards.
About 63 percent of the population of about 11 million is fully vaccinated. Vaccine appointments have picked up in recent weeks.
“We are focusing our efforts on protection of our fellow citizens and for this reason their vaccination will be mandatory from now on,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting.
“Greeks over the age of 60 who have not been vaccinated must, by Jan. 16, booked an appointment for their first dose, or else they will face a 100 euro administrative fine every month.”
Greece has recorded a spike in infections this month, with daily cases hitting record highs.
It has recorded 931,183 infections and 18,067 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year.
The country this month barred unvaccinated people from indoor spaces including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms, even if they had tested negative for the coronavirus.


The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online
Updated 30 November 2021

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online

The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue held online

TOKYO: The third Japan-Jordan Politico-Military dialogue was held via video conference on Monday, the foreign ministry said.

The Japanese delegation was led by Kansuke Nagaoka, director general of the Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yasushi Noguchi, director general for International Affairs of the Bureau of Defense Policy in the Ministry of Defense.

The Jordanian delegation was led by Adli Qasem Alkhaledi, director of Asia and Oceania Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Brigadier General Yousef Alkhatib, assistant of the chief of staff for planning, organization and defense resources.

The delegations exchanged views on a wide-ranging number of issues, including Japan-Jordan security cooperation and regional situations.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna

Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna
Updated 30 November 2021

Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna

Citing debris risk, NASA delays spacewalk to fix space station antenna
  • Two US astronauts had been scheduled to venture outside the space station at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time (1210 GMT) to begin their work
  • It was not made clear how close debris had come to the space station, orbiting about 250 miles (402 km) above the Earth, or whether it was related to the Russian missile test

A spacewalk planned for Tuesday to repair a faulty antenna on the International Space Station was postponed indefinitely, NASA said, citing a “debris notification” it received for the orbiting research laboratory.
Two US astronauts had been scheduled to venture outside the space station at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time (1210 GMT) to begin their work, facing what NASA officials had called a slightly elevated risk posed by debris from a Russian anti-satellite missile test this month.
But about five hours before the outing was to have commenced, NASA said on Twitter that the spacewalk had been called off for the time being.
“NASA received a debris notification for the space station. Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available,” the space agency tweeted.
It was not made clear how close debris had come to the space station, orbiting about 250 miles (402 km) above the Earth, or whether it was related to the Russian missile test.
NASA TV had planned to provide live coverage of the 6-1/2-hour “extravehicular activity,” or EVA, operation by astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Brown. The outing would be the fifth spacewalk for Marshburn, 61, a medical doctor and former flight surgeon with two previous trips to orbit, and the first for Barron, 34, a US Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer on her debut spaceflight for NASA.
The objective is to remove a faulty S-band radio communications antenna assembly, now more than 20 years old, and replace it with a new spare stowed outside the space station.
According to plans, Marshburn was to have worked with Barron while positioned at the end of a robotic arm operated from inside the station by German astronaut Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency, with help from NASA crewmate Raja Chari.
The four arrived at the space station Nov. 11 in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, joining two Russian cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut already aboard the orbiting outpost.
Four days later, an anti-satellite missile test conducted without warning by Russia generated a debris field in low-Earth orbit, and all seven crew members took shelter in their docked spaceships to allow for a quick getaway until the immediate danger passed, according to NASA.
The residual debris cloud from the blasted satellite has dispersed since then, according to Dana Weigel, NASA deputy manager of the International Space Station (ISS) program.
But NASA calculates that remaining fragments continued to pose a “slightly elevated” background risk to the space station as a whole, and a 7 percent higher risk of spacewalkers’ suits being punctured, as compared to before Russia’s missile test, Weigel told reporters on Monday.
Although NASA has yet to fully quantify additional hazards posed by more than 1,700 larger fragments it is tracking around the station’s orbit, the 7 percent higher risk to spacewalkers falls “well within” fluctuations previously seen in “the natural environment,” Weigel said.
Still, mission managers canceled several smaller maintenance tasks under consideration for Tuesday’s spacewalk, Weigel added.


Japan and Palestine confirm grant deal worth more than $9m

Japan and Palestine confirm grant deal worth more than $9m
Updated 30 November 2021

Japan and Palestine confirm grant deal worth more than $9m

Japan and Palestine confirm grant deal worth more than $9m

TOKYO: Japan signed an agreement to provide Palestine with 1 billion yen (approximately $9.17 million) based on an “economic and social development plan”, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said.

The agreement was reached on Nov. 28 and signed by Masayuki Magoshi, ambassador for Palestinian affairs and representative of Japan to Palestine, and Palestinian Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara, who also exchanged a letter regarding the grant.

“This cooperation is intended to contribute to the promotion of economic and social development efforts of the Palestinian Authority and will be used to procure fuel as a necessary material in the Palestinian Authority,” Magoshi said. 

“It is hoped that this will improve the severe financial situation of the Palestinian Authority and contribute to the promotion of efforts to stabilize economic activities and civil affairs,” Magoshi added.

In the Palestinian Autonomous Region, the Gaza Strip suffered widespread damage in May this year due to conflict and the socio-economic situation of Palestine continues to be severe. 

“Under these circumstances, it is indispensable to support the efforts of the Palestinian Authority for economic and social development and to stabilize and develop Palestinian civil society in order to foster the momentum for achieving peace in the Middle East,” Magoshi said.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


Migrant crisis front and center in pope’s Greece-Cyprus trip

Migrant crisis front and center in pope’s Greece-Cyprus trip
Updated 30 November 2021

Migrant crisis front and center in pope’s Greece-Cyprus trip

Migrant crisis front and center in pope’s Greece-Cyprus trip
  • Francis will first stop in Cyprus, a country in the Mediterranean that is coping with a rise in refugees so significant that the government is seeking to stop processing asylum claims
  • Greece continues to host large numbers of asylum-seekers while failing to protect their rights

LESBOS, Greece: When Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016, he was so moved by the stories he heard from families fleeing war in Iraq and Syria that he wept and brought a dozen refugees home with him.
Speaking to reporters on the way home that day, he held up a drawing handed to him by a child from the island’s sprawling refugee camp.
“Look at this one,” he said, revealing a bird neatly decorated in colored pencil, the word “peace” scrolled in English underneath it. “That’s what children want: Peace.”
Francis is returning to Lesbos this week for the first time since that defining day of his papacy, making a repeat visit to the island where hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have passed through on their journey to Europe.
But he will find attitudes toward migrants here have only hardened in the intervening five years, as they have elsewhere in Europe, with tensions flaring on the border between European Union country Poland and Belarus and more deadly crossings — most recently in the English Channel.
Francis will first stop in Cyprus, another predominantly Orthodox Christian country in the Mediterranean that is also coping with a rise in refugees so significant that the government is seeking to stop processing asylum claims. As he did in Lesbos five years ago, Francis has arranged for several would-be refugees in Cyprus to travel to Italy after his visit, Cypriot officials say.
“They are our brothers and sisters,” Francis said in a video message to Greek and Cypriot faithful before the trip. “How many have lost their lives at sea! Today our sea, the Mediterranean, is a great cemetery.”
The pontiff starts his five-day trip on Thursday in Cyprus before heading to Greece on Saturday. He returns home on Monday.
While Francis’ renewed messages of compassion and welcome for migrants isn’t quite resonating in European capitals, they are a welcome salvo for the migrants themselves.
“His presence here will strengthen us, spiritually, and give us hope, some comfort,” said Christian Tango Muyaka, a 30-year-old asylum-seeker from Congo who is due to participate in a Sunday service with the pope at a new migrant camp on Lesbos.
“It gives us faith, it strengthens our faith,” he said.
Muyaka was separated from his wife and youngest daughter a year ago on the Turkish coast when they scrambled to board a boat bound for Greece. He has had no news of what happened to them since.
The north coast of Lesbos, just 10 kilometers (six miles) from Turkey, served as the main landing point for boats crossing into Europe during the 2015-16 migration crisis.
Piles of discarded orange life vests covered beaches, local fishermen helped daily rescue operations, and island residents took pride in setting up campaigns to provide hundreds of refugees arriving daily with food and clothing.
Fast forward five years, and the welcome mat is gone.
Migrants reaching the eastern Greek islands are now being held in detention camps, newly built and funded by the EU. Coast guard patrols are instructed to intercept dinghies and boats heading west and send them back to Turkey.
The overcrowded camp on Lesbos that Francis was taken to in 2016 burnt to the ground last year during protests against pandemic restrictions.
And along Greece’s land border with Turkey, a new steel wall and hi-tech sensor network have been installed to stop illegal crossings.
Eva Cosse at Human Rights Watch said Francis’ visit will serve as an urgent reminder of the human nature of the crisis.
“At a time when people are suffering and their rights are threatened, having the pope standing up for them and expressing these concerns is more important than ever,” she told The Associated Press. “Since the pope’s last visit, Greece continues to host large numbers of asylum-seekers while failing to protect their rights.
“Thousands seeking refuge in Greece are violently pushed back to Turkey. Migrant children face homelessness and a lack of access to health care, education and food. And nongovernmental groups face legislative restrictions and criminal harassment by officials.”
Greek authorities deny allegations of summary deportations. They argue that tougher border policing is necessary to counter hostility by several EU neighbors accused of exploiting the crisis and to limit arrival numbers to manageable levels.
“(Francis’) message is that we are one world, that we don’t have borders, that everybody is a child of God. Look, this is the religious point of view,” said Dimitris Vafeas, the deputy director of Mavrovouni migrant camp on Lesbos where the pope will visit.
“In practical terms, I think Greece has delivered ... so I think (Francis) will see calm faces. I don’t dare say happy faces, but calm for sure.”