EU-wide mask rules for flights, airports eased from Monday

EU-wide mask rules for flights, airports eased from Monday
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said Wednesday that from next week onward it is no longer recommending the use of medical masks at airports and on planes due to the coronavirus. (AP)
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Updated 11 May 2022

EU-wide mask rules for flights, airports eased from Monday

EU-wide mask rules for flights, airports eased from Monday
  • "From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases," said EASA executive director
  • Despite the new guidance, Germany as the EU's most populous country and top economy said it had no plans to lift the mask mandate for flights

BERLIN: EU-wide guidance on requiring masks for air travel will be lifted from next week, the bloc’s aviation safety agency said on Wednesday, as the pandemic eases in Europe.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said that under the new guidelines developed with the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), masks were no longer considered essential for all flights and airports.
Nevertheless national regulators and airlines will still have scope to demand face and nose covering by passengers and staff, it noted.
“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” said EASA executive director Patrick Ky in a statement.
“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalization of air travel.”
Despite the new guidance, Germany as the EU’s most populous country and top economy said it had no plans to lift the mask mandate for flights.
“The mask requirement on airplanes continues to be in place for all domestic routes as well as on flights that take off or land in Germany,” health ministry spokesman Hanno Kautz said in an emailed statement.
EASA said after Monday, “rules for masks in particular will continue to vary by airline beyond that date.”
It stated that “flights to or from a destination where mask-wearing is still required on public transport should continue to encourage mask wearing.”
Vulnerable passengers with compromised health “should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules,” it added.
The EASA said passengers were also encouraged to observe social distancing at the airport but that operators should adopt a “pragmatic approach,” meaning avoiding measures that would “lead to a bottleneck in another location in the passenger journey.”
The Geneva-based International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed the new guidance for the EU but acknowledged the picture was more complex in an international context.
“Although the European protocol comes into effect next week, there is no globally consistent approach to mask-wearing on board aircraft,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, in a statement.
“Airlines must comply with the regulations applicable to the routes they are operating. The aircraft crew will know what rules apply and it is critical that passengers follow their instructions.”
He added that the IATA asked all passengers to “be respectful of other people’s decision to voluntarily wear masks even if it not a requirement.”
The European aviation sector has predicted a return to near pre-pandemic traffic levels this summer despite soaring fuel prices, the war in Ukraine and inflation.


Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest
Updated 6 sec ago

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest
  • Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens
QUETTA, Pakistan: At least six people, including women and children, were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed in heavy rains lashing southwestern Pakistan and other parts of the country, a provincial disaster management agency said Tuesday.
There were fears the death toll could be higher as several people went missing after flash flooding hit southwestern Baluchistan province’s remote areas overnight, according to a statement from the agency.
Authorities say the latest spell of torrential rains, which started on Monday and continued on Tuesday, also damaged dozens of homes in Baluchistan.
Since June, rains have killed 38 people and damaged more than 200 homes across Pakistan, including in Baluchistan, where over the weekend, a passenger bus skidded off a road and fell into a deep ravine amid heavy rain, killing 19 people.
Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens.

Hacker claims to have stolen 1 billion records of Chinese citizens from police

A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 05 July 2022

Hacker claims to have stolen 1 billion records of Chinese citizens from police

A 3D printed model of men working on computers are seen in this illustration taken, July 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • “Databases contain information on 1 Billion Chinese national residents and several billion case records, including: name, address, birthplace, national ID number, mobile number, all crime/case details”

SHANGHAI: A hacker has claimed to have procured a trove of personal information from the Shanghai police on one billion Chinese citizens, which tech experts say, if true, would be one of the biggest data breaches in history.
The anonymous Internet user, identified as “ChinaDan,” posted on hacker forum Breach Forums last week offering to sell the more than 23 terabytes (TB) of data for 10 bitcoin, equivalent to about $200,000.
“In 2022, the Shanghai National Police (SHGA) database was leaked. This database contains many TB of data and information on Billions of Chinese citizen,” the post said.
“Databases contain information on 1 Billion Chinese national residents and several billion case records, including: name, address, birthplace, national ID number, mobile number, all crime/case details.”
Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the post.
The Shanghai government and police department did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Reuters was also unable to reach the self-proclaimed hacker, ChinaDan, but the post was widely discussed on China’s Weibo and WeChat social media platforms over the weekend with many users worried it could be real.
The hashtag “data leak” was blocked on Weibo by Sunday afternoon.
Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy research at Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China, said in a post on Twitter it was “hard to parse truth from rumor mill.”
If the material the hacker claimed to have came from the Ministry of Public Security, it would be bad for “a number of reasons,” Schaefer said.
“Most obviously it would be among biggest and worst breaches in history,” she said.
Zhao Changpeng, CEO of Binance, said on Monday the cryptocurrency exchange had stepped up user verification processes after the exchange’s threat intelligence detected the sale of records belonging to 1 billion residents of an Asian country on the dark web.
He said on Twitter that a leak could have happened due to “a bug in an Elastic Search deployment by a (government) agency,” without saying if he was referring to the Shanghai police case. He did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
The claim of a hack comes as China has vowed to improve protection of online user data privacy, instructing its tech giants to ensure safer storage after public complaints about mismanagement and misuse.
Last year, China passed new laws governing how personal information and data generated within its borders should be handled. (Reporting by Brenda Goh, Sophie Yu, Stella Qiu, Eduardo Baptista and Josh Ye; Editing by Robert Birsel)


Australia floods worsen as thousands more Sydney residents evacuate

An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
Updated 05 July 2022

Australia floods worsen as thousands more Sydney residents evacuate

An emergency vehicle blocks access to the flooded Windsor Bridge on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Monday, July 4, 2022.
  • An intense low-pressure system off Australia’s east coast is forecast to bring heavy rain through Monday across New South Wales

SYDNEY: Hundreds of homes have been inundated in and around Australia’s largest city in a flood emergency that was impacting 50,000 people, officials said Tuesday.
Emergency response teams made 100 rescues overnight of people trapped in cars on flooded roads or in inundated homes in the Sydney area, State Emergency Service manager Ashley Sullivan said.
Days of torrential rain have caused dams to overflow and waterways to break their banks, bringing a fourth flood emergency in 16 months to parts of the city of 5 million people.
The New South Wales state government declared a disaster across 23 local government areas overnight, activating federal government financial assistance for flood victims.

A couple walk through flood waters from their semi-submerged car at Richmond on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (AP)

Evacuation orders and warnings to prepare to abandon homes impacted 50,000 people, up from 32,000 on Monday, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
“This event is far from over. Please don’t be complacent, wherever you are. Please careful when you’re driving on our roads. There is still substantial risk for flash flooding across our state,” Perrottet said.
Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke credited the skill and commitment of rescue crews for preventing any death or serious injury by the fourth day of the flooding emergency.
Parts of southern Sydney had been lashed by more than 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) of rain in 24 hours, more than 17 percent of the city’s annual average, Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Jonathan How said.
Severe weather warnings of heavy rain remained in place across Sydney’s eastern suburbs on Tuesday. The warnings also extended north of Sydney along the coast and into the Hunter Valley.
The worst flooding was along the Hawkesbury-Nepean rivers system along Sydney’s northern and western fringes.
“The good news is that by tomorrow afternoon, it is looking to be mostly dry but, of course, we are reminding people that these floodwaters will remain very high well after the rain has stopped,” How said.
“There was plenty of rain fall overnight and that is actually seeing some rivers peak for a second time. So you’ve got to take many days, if not a week, to start to see these floodwaters start to recede,” How added.
The wild weather and mountainous seas along the New South Wales coast thwarted plans to tow a stricken cargo ship with 21 crew members to the safety of open sea.
The ship lost power after leaving port in Wollongong, south of Sydney, on Monday morning and risked being grounded by 8-meter (26-foot) swells and winds blowing at 30 knots (34 mph) against cliffs.
An attempt to tow the ship with tugboats into open ocean ended when a towline snapped in an 11-meter (36-foot) swell late Monday, Port Authority chief executive Philip Holliday said.
The ship was maintaining its position on Tuesday farther from the coast than it had been on Monday with two anchors and the help of two tugboats. The new plan was to tow the ship to Sydney when weather and sea conditions calmed as early as Wednesday, Holliday said. The original plan had been for the ship’s crew to repair their engine at sea.
“We’re in a better position than we were yesterday,” Holliday said. “We’re in relative safety.”
Perrottet described the tugboat crews’ response on Monday to save the ship as “heroic.”
“I want to thank those men and women who were on those crews last night for the heroic work they did in incredibly treacherous conditions. To have an 11-meter (36-foot) swell, to be undergoing and carrying out that work is incredibly impressive,” Perrottet said.


Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
Updated 04 July 2022

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
  • Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades

CANAZEI, Italy: Search and rescue operations resumed on Monday in the Italian Alps with 17 people missing, authorities said, after part of a mountain glacier collapsed, killing at least six people and injuring eight.

The avalanche took place on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a range in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.

Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades.

It was not clear what caused the ice to break way but an early summer heatwave across Italy saw temperature rise abruptly, including on the Marmolada.

“For weeks the temperatures at high altitudes in the Alps have been well above normal values, while this past winter there has been little snow, which hardly protects the glacial basins anymore,” Renato Colucci from the polar sciences institute of the National Research Council (CNR) said in a statement.

Four victims were identified on Monday, three of them Italian, including two alpine guides, and another from the Czech Republic, news agency AGI reported, citing rescuers.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the head of the National Civil Protection agency were due to visit the area later on Monday.


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures
Updated 05 July 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures
  • Island’s dwindling stock of petrol, diesel expected to run out in days
  • Follows 2-week shutdown in Colombo and urban areas

COLOMBO: Schools across Sri Lanka will close for one week starting Monday, the Education Ministry has announced, as the island nation grapples with its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948.

Sri Lanka is struggling to find critical funding to finance the import of essential goods, including fuel, food and medicines.
The country’s existing stock of petrol and diesel is only sufficient for a few more days, and is now limited for use in essential services, such as health, public transport and food distribution. Long queues of drivers have been sighted across Colombo at gas stations, as some wait for more than 48 hours to fill their vehicles.

FASTFACT

The announcement comes after schools in Colombo and other urban areas were closed for two weeks in a row. Lessons were replaced with online classes, with officials previously citing transportation difficulties caused by the fuel crisis.

With the worsening economic turmoil, the Ministry of Education announced an early “holiday week” for all schools across the island, following an official review of the “notifications about the distribution of fuel” in the country.
“The week from July 4 to July 8 will be declared as a holiday week for all government schools and government-approved private schools across the island,” a circular issued by the ministry on Sunday reads.
The latest announcement comes after schools in Colombo and other urban areas were closed for two weeks in a row. Lessons were replaced with online classes, with officials previously citing transportation difficulties caused by the fuel crisis.
The extended closures have raised concerns among Sri Lankans, as some are worried about how the crisis will affect the future of younger generations.
“Simply closing schools will damage the future of the next generation,” Prof. Chandima Wijegunawardena, leader of the Sri Lanka Humanity Party, told Arab News.
“It’s sad that the political blunder of the parliamentarians is affecting children’s education.”
The economic meltdown has triggered a political crisis, with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa facing accusations of corruption and economic mismanagement. Anti-government protesters have taken to the streets for months to demand his resignation.
Wijegunawardena said that the government should implement a system that allows students to attend schools closest to their homes.
“It’s a scheme that allows children to walk to schools nearby their homes, so the rule can apply to teachers and other staff, too,” he said. “Policies and principles can be changed with the changing times.”
Ismeth Fatima, principal of Zahira College in Colombo, said that students should not be deprived of education in schools.
“Let them go to the nearby school and transfer teachers to their respective places of origin so they can cut down on the travel,” Fatima told Arab News.
“It is sad that the country has to undergo this ordeal,” she said. “A school is a school — we cannot expect the children to learn properly in their own respective home environment.”
Online learning as an alternative has also worried educators, with MRM Rifky, principal of Al-Humaisara National School located in Beruwala, a town 60 kilometers south of Colombo, warning that students at his school have failed to attend the new virtual classes.  
“Online education is an utter failure,” he told Arab News.
The two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have already deprived children in Sri Lanka of their educational experiences, said women’s rights activist Shreen Saroor.
“Now with this ad-hoc management of the education system, Sri Lanka will lose out on our history and pride.”