MADRID : The coronavirus crisis cost the global tourism sector $320 billion in lost revenue during the first five months of 2020, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people, the UN said Tuesday.
The amount of revenue lost between January and May is “more than three times the loss during the Global Financial Crisis of 2009,” the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization said in a statement.
International tourist arrivals fell by 300 million during the period, or 56 percent, as lockdown restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19 hammered the travel sector, it added.
“This latest data makes clear the importance of restarting tourism as soon as it is safe to do so. The dramatic fall in international tourism places many millions of livelihoods at risk,” the body’s secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said.
While tourism is slowly returning in some destinations, the UN body warned the sector faced serious “downside risks” such as a resurgence of the virus that could trigger new lockdowns, travel restrictions and border shutdowns in “most destinations”.
The United States and China, both major sources of international tourists, are still “at standstill” it added.
The UN body forecast in May that international tourist arrivals could plunge by 60 to 80 percent in 2020 owing to the coronavirus.
International tourism arrivals rose by four percent in 2019 to 1.5 billion, with France the world’s most visited country, followed by Spain and the United States.
The last time international tourist arrivals posted an annual decline was in 2009 when the global economic crisis led to a four percent drop.
Afghan president says peace talks could start ‘in a week’s time’
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday that peace talks with the Taliban could begin “in a week’s time”, following the completion of a crucial prisoner exchange.
“To demonstrate the government’s commitment to peace, the Islamic Republic will soon complete the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners,” Ghani told senior officials at the presidential palace.
“With this action, we look forward to the start of direct negotiations with the Taliban in a week’s time,” he added, speaking in English.
Taliban declare three-day ceasefire during Eid al-Adha holiday
The Taliban on Tuesday declared a three-day ceasefire during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha starting Friday, marking the second such truce offer in just over two months in Afghanistan.
“All the mujahedeen (Taliban fighters)… are ordered to refrain from carrying out any operation against the enemy during the three days and nights of Eid al-Adha,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
UN demands probe after death of jailed Kyrgyz activist
The UN called Tuesday for an impartial probe into the death of a rights defender who was jailed for life in Kyrgyzstan and urged the early humanitarian release of vulnerable prisoners.
Azimjon Askarov, a 69-year-old human rights defender and member of the country’s ethnic Uzbek minority, died in a prison hospital on Saturday.
Kyrgyz authorities have listed the cause of his death as double pneumonia.
“There should be a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into his death,” Elizabeth Throssel, a spokeswoman with the UN rights office, told reporters.
“Under international human rights law, his family have the right to redress,” she said.
Askarov was jailed for life following ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan a decade ago.
His detention became a point of contention between the Central Asian country and the United States after Washington awarded him a rights prize in 2015.
Throssel said the UN rights office had urged Kyrgyz authorities in May to allow Askarov to leave prison since he had frail health and was among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In recent weeks we received information that his health was deteriorating further but despite repeated calls, Askarov was not provided with urgent medical assistance required and was not released on humanitarian grounds,” she said.
She also reiterated the UN’s call for the Kyrgyz government to “consider an early humanitarian release of the most vulnerable prisoners” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Authorities there, she stressed, had “repeatedly and publicly expressed their commitment to international human rights norms and standards, which also include obligations to ensure the right to health and the right to life.”
“For people deprived of their liberty, the state has a heightened duty of care.”
Throssel said Askarov should not have been in prison in the first place.
The UN Human Rights Committee in 2016 ruled that Askarov “had been arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured and mistreated, and prevented from adequately preparing his defence,” she said.
Askarov’s lawyer Valeryan Vahitov told AFP that his client had been “unable to walk” when he visited him last week, due to an illness.
“No one paid him any attention. The system killed him,” Vahitov said on Saturday, confirming Askarov had died.
“He cried. (Askarov) knew that he was dying and no one lifted a finger.”
Air pollution ‘greatest risk’ to global life expectancy
By Patrick GALEY
Air pollution cuts life expectancy for every man, woman and child on Earth by nearly two years, according to data released Tuesday which experts said showed poor air quality is “the greatest risk to human health”.
The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) said that as the world races to find a vaccine to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control, air pollution would continue to cause billions of people to lead shorter and sicker lives across the globe.
The index converts particulate air pollution — mainly from the burning of fossil fuels — into its impact on human health.
It found that despite significant reductions in particulate matter in China — once one of the world’s most polluted countries — the overall level of air pollution had stayed stable over the past two decades.
In countries such as India and Bangladesh, air pollution was so severe that it now cuts average lifespans in some areas by nearly a decade.
Authors of the research said the quality of the air many humans breathe constituted a far higher health risk than COVID-19.
“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is getting, embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people to lead longer and healthier lives,” said Michael Greenstone, creator of AQLI.
Nearly a quarter of the global population lives in just four south Asian countries that are among the most polluted — Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
AQLI found that these populations would see their lifespan cut by five years on average, after being exposed to pollution levels 44 percent higher than 20 years ago.
– Millions losing years –
It said that particulate pollution was also a “signifiant concern” across southeast Asia, where forest and crop fires were combining with traffic and power plant fumes to create toxic air.
Some 89 percent of the region’s 650 million people live in areas where air pollution exceeds the World Health Organization’s recommended guidelines.
While places such as the United States, Europe and Japan have succeeded in improving air quality, pollution still takes an average of two years off life expectancy worldwide, AQLI said.
Bangladesh was found to have the worst air quality of any country, and around 250 million residents of India’s northern states will lose eight years of life on average unless pollution is brought under control.
Several studies have shown exposure to air pollution is also a key COVID-19 risk factor, and Greenstone urged governments to prioritise air quality after the pandemic.
“No shot in the arm will alleviate air pollution,” said Greenstone, from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.
“The solution lies in robust public policy,” he said.
No indication new coronavirus is seasonal: WHO
GENEVA, July 28, 2020 (AFP) – The spread of the novel coronavirus does not appear to be impacted by seasonality, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, warning against false beliefs that summer is safer.
“Season does not seem to be affecting the transmission of this virus,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters in a virtual briefing.
She pointed out that some of the hardest-hit countries are currently in the midst of different season.
While it is summer in the United States, which with nearly 148,000 deaths and close to 4.3 million cases is the hardest-hit country, the second most affected country Brazil, which counts more than 87,000 deaths, is in winter.
And yet, she said, there “seems to be this fixed idea about this virus being seasonal”, and that COVID-19 will come in waves.
This is because people are mistakenly viewing the pandemic through “a flu lense, because that is the way the flu behaves.”
“What we all need to get our heads around is this is a new virus… and even though it is a respiratory virus and even though respiratory viruses in the past did tend to do these different seasonal waves, this one is behaving differently,” Harris said.
Instead of expecting the virus to behave like other viruses that are more familiar, she said people should look at what is actually known about how to stop transmission of COVID-19.
What works, she said, is physical distancing, hand washing, wearing a mask where appropriate, always covering up sneezes and coughs, staying home when experiencing symptoms, the isolation of cases and quarantining of contacts.
“But at the moment, we aren’t doing that, because people seem to have it fixed in their heads that there is this seasonal thing and there seems to… be this persistent belief that summer is not a problem,” Harris said.
“Summer is a problem. This virus likes all weathers, but what it particularly likes is jumping from one person to another when we come in close contact,” Harris said.
“Let’s not give it that opportunity.”
7 killed including 5 policemen in armed clash in Pakistan: local media
An armed clash between police and fugitives early Tuesday in Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan region in north Pakistan left at least seven people dead, including five policemen and two civilians, local media reported.
According to the reports, a group of fugitives opened fire at the police personnel of the Counter Terrorism Department in the wee hours on Tuesday morning when the police were conducting a search operation in Ronai area in Chilas region of Diamer district.
Police and security forces rushed to the site and shifted the bodies to a hospital.
Security forces cordoned off the area and launched a search operation, but have not found the assailants who ran away after the attack.
No group or individual has claimed responsibility for the incident yet.
Nissan forecasts $6.4 bn annual net loss as virus bites
Crisis-hit Japanese automaker Nissan warned on Tuesday of a massive $6.4 billion net loss for the current fiscal year as it reels from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nissan, which had delayed an annual forecast because of ongoing uncertainty, issued the warning as it reported a first-quarter net loss of 285.6 billion yen ($2.7 billion) on plunging sales.
“These results… reflect a full quarter of COVID-19 disruption that we knew would undermine our performance in key markets,” chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta said announcing the results.
“As you can see, the pandemic had a severe impact on our operations,” he added.
Nissan said the value of global sales plunged 50.5 percent, with falls across markets including Japan, China and the United States.
And it warned the woes would continue, forecasting annual sales will plunge 21 percent to 7.8 trillion yen following a 15 percent drop the previous year.
“As a result of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic worldwide, the overall demand dropped to about half in this first quarter compared to last year,” chief operating officer Makoto Uchida told reporters.
“Plants in the world were forced to stop their production. At plants that continued running, the ratio of production largely declined as sales dropped. This caused a very severe business environment and impacted financial results,” he added.
The forecast annual net loss of 670 billion yen would put Nissan in the red for a second straight year after it reported 671 billion yen annual losses in May, announcing it would shut its Barcelona plant and slash production in an attempt to get back on track.
Nissan was already battling weak demand as well as the fallout from the arrest of former boss Carlos Ghosn, currently an international fugitive after jumping bail and fleeing Japan, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
But the unprecedented global health crisis has hit the auto industry hard, with lockdowns keeping people indoors and economic woes dampening demand.
This Q1 result in 2020 and the full-year outlook is a very challenging one,” Uchida acknowledged, saying it was nonetheless “within our expectations.”
Black Lives Matter protests “very dangerous” amid coronavirus spike: Australian health minister
CANBERRA, July 28 (Xinhua) — Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt has warned that Black Lives Matter protests planned for Tuesday could cause spread of coronavirus.
Hunt on Tuesday morning slammed the planned protest in Sydney, describing the organizers’ decision to go ahead with the rally despite the COVID-19 threat as “very dangerous and irresponsible.”
The New South Wales (NSW) Supreme Court has declared the event a prohibited public assembly meaning that attendees could be fined or arrested.
“No matter the absolute nobility of the cause, the means of meeting at this moment in our history, with a pandemic afoot, is inappropriate and dangerous,” Hunt said.
“I could not be clearer. Please, do not go. Express your views on social media, a silent vigil outside your place of residence, whatever other means, but not gathering in large groups.”
There has been a small spike in community transmission of COVID-19 in Sydney since mid-July, with outdoor gatherings limited to 20 people to prevent the spread of the virus.
Despite the risk, organizers have repeatedly declared that the event will go ahead.
“Our family is having no second thoughts about going ahead with a peaceful gathering,” organizer Paul Silva said.
“Despite what’s happening around Australia as we speak, with all the commercial gatherings, such as football events and weekend markets and, you know, just everyday living, no one is really safe.”