• Covid still a threat to Europe – travel should be avoided, says WHO | Coronavirus | The Guardian

    Covid still a threat to Europe – travel should be avoided, says WHO
    Vaccines work against new variants but ‘increased mobility may lead to more transmission’. Covid vaccines in use in Europe appear to protect against all new variants but progress in region remains “fragile” and international travel should be avoided to prevent pockets of transmission quickly spreading into “dangerous resurgences”, the World Health Organization has said.Weekly official cases in Europe have fallen by almost 60% from 1.7m in mid-April to nearly 685,000 last week with deaths also in decline, the WHO regional director, Hans Kluge, said on Thursday, but incidence rates remained stubbornly high in eight countries.
    “The pandemic is not over yet,” Kluge said. “Increased mobility and interactions may lead to more transmission … In the face of a continued threat and new uncertainty we need to exercise caution and rethink or avoid international travel.”European leaders should “not make the same mistakes that were made this time last year that resulted in a resurgence of Covid-19 and saw health systems, communities and economies once again bear the full force of the pandemic,” he said.Kluge said the B.1.617 variant first identified in India had been identified in at least 26 of the region’s 53 countries, with most cases linked to international travel but onward transmission also now occurring.“We are still learning about the new variant, but it is able to spread rapidly and displace the B.1.1.7 lineage [first identified in the UK] that has now become the dominant lineage in Europe,” he said.Kluge said vaccines were effective against the new strain, with all variants that have so far emerged responding to “available, approved vaccines”. But since only 23% of people in the region have received a vaccine dose and only 11% have had both, governments and citizens must continue to exercise caution.“Neither testing nor receiving vaccines is a substitute for adherence to measures such as physical distancing and mask wearing in public spaces or healthcare settings,” Kluge said. “Vaccines may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot be blinded by that light.”Catherine Smallwood, the WHO’s senior European emergency officer, said it was difficult to know yet exactly how transmissible the India variant was.“There are three different sub-lineages in this particular variant of concern, and one of them has been shown to at least have a capacity to spread quite quickly in the presence of B.1.1.7,” she said. “We’ve seen this in several parts of the UK but also in other countries in the European region.”
    The organisation was “tracking it very closely”, she said. “We’re learning about it. We’re pulling as much information as we can together in order to be making some more specific statements around its characteristics both in terms of transmissibility, but also in terms of its ability to evade any immunity.”


  • Up to 8,700 patients died after catching Covid in English hospitals | Coronavirus | The Guardian

    Exclusive: official NHS data reveals 32,307 people contracted the virus while in hospital since March 2020

    Up to 8,700 patients died after catching Covid-19 while in hospital being treated for another medical problem, according to official NHS data obtained by the Guardian.

    The figures, which were provided by the hospitals themselves, were described as “horrifying” by relatives of those who died.

    Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, said that hospital-acquired Covid “remains one of the silent scandals of this pandemic, causing many thousands of avoidable deaths”.

    NHS leaders and senior doctors have long claimed hospitals have struggled to stop Covid spreading because of shortages of single rooms, a lack of personal protective equipment and an inability to test staff and patients early in the pandemic.

    Now, official figures supplied by NHS trusts in England show that 32,307 people have probably or definitely contracted the disease while in hospital since March 2020 – and 8,747 of them died.

    That means that almost three in 10 (27.1%) of those infected that way lost their lives within 28 days.

    The NHS has done us all proud over the past year, but these new figures are devastating and pose challenging questions on whether the right hospital infection controls were in place”, said Hunt, who chairs the Commons health and social care select committee.

    The Guardian obtained the data under freedom of information laws from 81 of England’s 126 acute hospital trusts.

    The responses show that every trust had to grapple with what doctors call nosocomial or hospital-acquired infection. Many hospitals were unable to keep Covid-positive patients separate from those without the disease, which led to its lethal transmission.

    According to the FoI responses, University Hospitals Birmingham trust had the highest number of deaths (408), followed by Nottingham University Hospitals (279) and Frimley Health (259). Nine trusts had 200 or more deaths.

    However, the numbers of deaths are influenced by factors such as a hospital’s size, number of single rooms and capacity of its intensive care unit, and the make up of its local population and level of infection among them, as well as weaknesses in infection control procedures.

    At a handful of trusts, about a third of all people who died after catching Covid had become infected in hospital. They include Royal Cornwall hospitals (36%), Salisbury (35.2%) and Kettering general hospital (31.2%).

    The answers provided to the Guardian reveal that the 8,747 who died were all in hospital for another reason, such as treatment for a fall, flare-up of a serious illness, or to have an operation.

    The figures include people who died in hospital and after discharge. They do not distinguish between those who died of Covid, with Covid or of another condition potentially exacerbated by the virus, such as a heart attack.

  • Britons should not be holidaying in Spain yet, says UK minister | Coronavirus | The Guardian

    Britons have been urged not to travel to Spain after the country opened its doors to tourists from the UK.Spain has lifted its restrictions on holidaymakers from the UK but the business minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan has urged people not to go there unless there is an urgent reason.The country is still on the UK government’s amber list, meaning people should not visit unless it is for essential family or business reasons. Travellers will have to quarantine for 10 days and get tested for the virus upon leaving and returning.Despite this, Fernando Valdés, Spain’s tourism minister, suggested Spain could be added to the UK’s green list in the next government review, meaning travellers would not have to self-isolate on their return to England.He told Sky News: “What I can say is that right now Spain is doing a great effort not only in terms of vaccination … but also, we do have some holiday destinations which are very loved by British tourists such as the Balearic islands, Costa Blanca or Málaga, with our notification rates which are pretty low and by the same notification range of the UK, so I have to suspect that on the next review that the UK government can provide … Spain is going to change on its notification.”Earlier on Monday, the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said the country would “be delighted, very delighted to welcome all British tourists”. He said those coming over would also be welcome for non-essential travel.A state of emergency in Spain was lifted on 9 May, although curfews remain in some regions.Trevelyan told Sky News that amber meant “please don’t go unless there is an urgent family reason and so on.“Because we are still trying to slowly move through our roadmap to being able to open up on 21 June and we want to do that in a steady and careful way,” she said.She later told Times Radio: “The reality is, at the moment, amber countries are still not meeting the criteria for our scientists to say that they should be green. So the recommendation remains don’t go unless you have to and remember that, if you do go, you will have to quarantine for 10 days and that will be monitored.”The energy minister said: “The reason we ask people still not to go is because there is still too great a risk as far as our scientists are concerned.”Her words echoed those of the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, who said people considering going to not-yet-green-listed countries should have “more patience”.Those who come back from countries on the green list will need to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test and a post-arrival test, but they will not need to self-isolate upon return.
    On Monday, Andrew Pollard, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, said the public health message to get people vaccinated was key, as new variants will spread and evolve among those who have not been inoculated.“If you’re unvaccinated then the virus will find [those] individuals in the population … There is a really important public health message that we have to get those small proportion of people not vaccinated to get their first dose,” he said.
    If you have been affected or have any information, we’d like to hear from you. You can get in touch by filling in the form below, anonymously if you wish or contact us via WhatsApp by clicking here or adding the contact +44(0)7766780300. Only the Guardian can see your contributions and one of our journalists may contact you to discuss further. Amid concern about the spread of the variant first detected in India, he added that understanding how effective vaccinations were in reducing hospital admissions was critical to understanding how they respond to new variants and, eventually, ending the pandemic.“If the current generation of vaccines is able to stop people going into hospital … then the pandemic is over,” he said.He added that it was unclear yet whether booster vaccines would be needed. “We might not need them but we are in a good place [if we do] as we have highly effective vaccines at the moment,” he said.


  • Mount Everest Covid outbreak has infected 100 people at base camp, says guide | Mount Everest | The Guardian

    Mount Everest Covid outbreak has infected 100 people at base camp, says guide. Austrian expedition leader Lukas Furtenbach says the real number could be 200, despite official Nepali denials. A coronavirus outbreak on Mount Everest has infected at least 100 climbers and support staff, a mountaineering guide said, giving the first comprehensive estimate amid official Nepalese denials that the disease has spread to the world’s highest peak. Lukas Furtenbach of Austria, who last week halted his Everest expedition due to virus fears, said on Saturday one of his foreign guides and six Nepali Sherpa guides had tested positive.
    “I think with all the confirmed cases we know now confirmed from (rescue) pilots, from insurance, from doctors, from expedition leaders, I have the positive tests so we can prove this,” Furtenbach said from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.“We have at least 100 people minimum positive for Covid in base camp, and then the numbers might be something like 150 or 200.”
    He said it was obvious there were many cases at the Everest base camp because he could visibly see people were sick, and could hear people coughing in their tents.A total of 408 foreign climbers were issued permits to climb Everest this season, aided by several hundred Sherpas and support staff who had been stationed at base camp since April.
    Nepalese mountaineering officials have denied there were any active cases this season among climbers and support staff at all base camps for the country’s Himalayan mountains. Mountaineering was closed last year due to the pandemic. Nepalese officials could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday. Other climbing teams have not announced any Covid-19 infections among their members or staff. Several climbers have reported testing positive after they were brought down from the Everest base camp.Furtenbach said most teams on the mountain were not carrying virus testing kits, and that before his team pulled out, they had helped conduct tests and had confirmed two cases. Most teams were still at base camp, hoping for clear weather next week so they can make a final push to the summit before the climbing season closes at the end of the month, Furtenbach said. In late April, a Norwegian climber became the first to test positive at the Everest base camp. He was flown by helicopter to Kathmandu, where he was treated and later returned home. Nepal is experiencing a virus surge, with record numbers of new infections and deaths. China last week canceled climbing from its side of Mount Everest due to fears the virus could be spread from the Nepalese side. Nepal reported 8,607 new infections and 177 deaths on Friday, bringing the nation’s totals since the pandemic began to more than 497,000 infections and 6,024 deaths.


  • Spain accused of summary deportations as thousands sent back to Morocco | Spain | The Guardian

    Spain accused of summary deportations as thousands sent back to Morocco Campaigners say Spain may be violating migrants’ rights after mass crossing into enclave of Ceuta The rapid pace at which Spain is returning migrants to Morocco could mean that migrants’ rights are being violated, campaigners have warned, as Spain said it had already sent back 4,800 of the 8,000 people who had arrived in the north African enclave of Ceuta since Monday. “How can 4,000 people be summarily returned without violating the rights of children, asylum seekers, everyone?” Judith Sunderland, of Human Rights Watch, asked on Twitter. “The challenge of so many arrivals in a short time does not justify the violation of rights or abandoning our humanity.”
    On Wednesday arrivals in Ceuta had all but halted as Morocco tightened control of the border. Even so, Spain’s prime minister stepped up his criticism of the Moroccan government, drawing a direct link between its actions and the unprecedented influx of thousands of people, including an estimated 2,000 minors. “This is an act of defiance,” Pedro Sánchez told Spain’s parliament on Wednesday. “The lack of border control by Morocco is not a show of disrespect of Spain, but rather for the European Union.”
    The 36-hour mass crossing played out against a backdrop of deepening tensions with Morocco over Madrid’s decision to allow the leader of the Western Sahara independence movement to be treated for Covid-19 in Spain.As Spain scrambled to cope with the humanitarian crisis – deploying its army, military vehicles and 200 extra police to patrol the border – Sánchez promised swift action. “We will proceed to immediately return – I repeat, immediately return – all those who have entered Ceuta and Melilla irregularly,” he said, citing provisions set out in a longstanding bilateral agreement with Morocco. The agreement, however, stipulates exceptions for vulnerable groups such as minors, people with disabilities, pregnant women and asylum seekers. It also sets out a process that specifies that migrants must be identified before being returned.Rafael Escudero, of the Spanish Network for Immigration and Refugee Aid, said the frenzied pace of returns suggested Spanish officials were ignoring these provisions. “The maths don’t work out,” he said. “Even if there were 4,000 police officers on the ground, it would take at least 4,000 minutes to collect data and take a declaration. That’s dozens of hours … They’re carrying out summary deportations.”The concerns echo reports from journalists at the scene. The Associated Press said its reporters saw Spanish military personnel and police officers ushering adults and children through a gate in the border fence. Those who resisted were pushed and chased by soldiers who used batons to hasten them, it said.Spain’s interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, has denied that unaccompanied minors are being deported in violation of Spanish laws, but the ministry has not provided details on how migrants’ rights are being protected.Spain’s hardline approach has been vaunted by the Italian far-right politician Matteo Salvini on Twitter, and EU officials have backed Spain. “EU stands in solidarity with Ceuta & Spain,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU commission, said on Twitter on Tuesday.The commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas took a tougher stance, telling the Spanish broadcaster RTVE: “Nobody can intimidate or blackmail the European Union. Ceuta is Europe, this border is a European border and what happens there is not a problem for Madrid, but a problem for all.”


  • Fauci: ‘Undeniable effects of racism’ have worsened Covid for US minorities | Coronavirus | The Guardian

    Fauci: ‘Undeniable effects of racism’ have worsened Covid for US minorities. Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, said on Sunday “the undeniable effects of racism” have worsened the coronavirus pandemic for Black, Hispanic and Native Americans.
    Republican Covid lies follow foreign strongmen’s lead – and are deadly for it
    “Covid-19 has shone a bright light on our own society’s failings,” Fauci said during a graduation ceremony for Emory University in Atlanta. Speaking to students from Washington, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), who leads the Covid-19 response in the US, said many members of minority groups work in essential jobs where they might be exposed to the coronavirus. He also said they are more likely to become infected if exposed because of medical conditions such as hypertension, chronic lung disease, diabetes or obesity. “Now, very few of these co-morbidities have racial determinants,” Fauci said. “Almost all relate to the social determinants of health dating back to disadvantageous conditions that some people of color find themselves in from birth regarding the availability of an adequate diet, access to healthcare and the undeniable effects of racism in our society.” Fauci said correcting societal wrongs will take decades, and urged graduates to be part of the solution.
    Once society returns to “some form of normality”, he said, people should not forget that infectious disease has disproportionally hospitalized and killed people of color.Fauci was awarded the Emory University president’s medal. Previous recipients include former president Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama and the late John Lewis, a civil rights leader and congressman.
    Accepting the award, Fauci denounced the destruction of division. “Societal divisiveness is counterproductive in a pandemic,” Fauci said. “We must not be at odds with each other since the virus is the enemy, not each other.”
    Fauci has led NIAID since 1984. He led the US response to Covid-19 under Donald Trump and has continued under Joe Biden. He praised the Emory graduates for coping with the profound disruption of the pandemic.
    “Not since the influenza pandemic of 1918 has humanity faced a public health crisis of this magnitude,“ he said. “Each of you deserves enormous respect for your extraordinary adaptability, resilience and dedication to learning, completing your studies and graduating despite immense difficulties and uncertainties.”


  • ‘I’m filled with hope’: cash-strapped Algarve awaits return of UK tourists | Portugal | The Guardian

    ‘I’m filled with hope’: cash-strapped Algarve awaits return of UK tourists
    Assistant in souvenir shop. Tatiana stands by the counter of the souvenir shop where she works in downtown Faro, with little in the way of company besides the postcard racks, the shelves of trinkets and towels, and an all too familiar silence.Outside, the cobbled streets of the Algarve tourist city are similarly quiet – but probably not for much longer. A week after the UK government added Portugal to its travel “green list”, Lisbon announced that British visitors would be welcomed back from Monday as long as they provided a negative PCR test.The news has been greeted with relief and excitement by those who work in one of the country’s most tourism-dependent regions. Portugal, which was praised for its speedy and far-sighted response to the first wave of the coronavirus, was pitched into crisis at the beginning of this year, logging more than 16,000 cases a day in a population of just 10.2 million people. In an effort to save the country’s paralysed health system from collapse, the government imposed a strict nationwide lockdown and banned foreign visitors, leaving the tourism sector struggling to survive.The Algarve bore the brunt of the losses: in February, the number of people registered at the regions’s job centres was up 70% on the previous year. Without income, many families found themselves dependent on charity. “We live in an area that lives off tourism,” says the charity’s vice-president, Elsa Morais Cardoso. “But tourism stopped and no one was prepared for it. Suddenly people saw themselves without any income – and that was when the hunger arrived.”
    While the Algarve has always suffered from seasonal unemployment and a precarious work environment – a situation exacerbated by the pandemic – Cardoso says the current situation is totally different: “We have entire families going hungry.”

    Cabrita Alves worries that the crisis will not die down until 2024, a fear shared by Paula Matias, the Faro coordinator for Refood, an NGO that works to cut food waste by redistributing leftover food from restaurants and supermarkets. Refood is helping 428 people – a fourfold increase on pre-pandemic demand – and the requests for assistance are still coming in.
    The Portuguese government hopes that its vaccination programme will head off a further economic crisis and has already handed out €233m (£200m) in financial aid to companies in the Algarve. João Fernandes, president of the regional tourism board, says a new financial package is on the way. However, like most people in the Algarve, he is not betting on a speedy recovery. Bookings from the UK have tripled since Portugal was added to the green list, leading Fernandes and others to cross their fingers – not least because neighbouring Spain remains on the amber list, meaning travellers returning to the UK will have to quarantine for 10 days and take two Covid tests. “We’re seeing quite interesting levels of demand, especially because some of our competitors were not included in the green list,” says Fernandes. “So every indicator points to a robust demand from the UK.”
    He and most of the people who live and work in the Algarve hope the worst has passed and that British visitors will arrive with deep enthusiasm and still deeper pockets. But the optimism is guarded. “There’s a renewed excitement,” says Fernandes. “But I don’t have a crystal ball.”
    Despite the pain of the past year – not to mention Portugal’s continuing state of emergency – Friday’s announcement was the best news many people in and around Faro had received in almost a year. Carla Lacerda, who was let go from her job at a duty-free shop in Faro airport last August, is a single mother who has been relying on Refood to help feed her nine-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. She cannot make ends meet on the €620 she receives each month in unemployment and child benefits.
    She is praying that the return of Britons will lead to a call from the duty-free shop for her and her 35 colleagues. “They’ll need staff,” she says. “I don’t think people understand the amount of British clients we had at the airport; sometimes there would be five flights arriving at the same time and we had no rest.” After what seems like an eternity, Lacerda is beginning to feel the stirrings of a long-forgotten emotion. “I’m filled with a lot of hope,” she says. “Hope is always the last to die.”


  • India variant could seriously disrupt lifting of lockdown, says Boris Johnson | Coronavirus | The Guardian

    India variant could seriously disrupt lifting of lockdown, says Boris Johnson
    The final stage of the lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions across England could face “serious disruption” due to the India variant, the prime minister has warned, as he announced plans to accelerate the vaccine programme to curb its spread.Boris Johnson said the gap between the first and second Covid jab would be cut from 12 weeks to eight for all over-50s and the clinically vulnerable, admitting: “The race between our vaccine programme and the virus may be about to become a great deal tighter.”
    He announced that the army would be deployed to two variant hotspots – Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen – to help with vaccinations, and urged residents in those areas to “think twice” before taking advantages of the freedoms allowed again from Monday.
    Johnson said the India variant appeared to be “more transmissible” than the dominant strain in the UK, which originated in Kent, but that it was not yet clear by how much. If it is significantly more, then, he warned, “we’re likely to face some hard choices”. Asked whether the lockdown easing would have to be paused during a press conference, he added: “The truth is, we cannot say for certain … The situation is very different from last year, we are in the throes of an incredible vaccine rollout … We just have to wait and see … We rule nothing out.”The PM’s words came as new documents released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) revealed just how worried scientists are about the variant. Modelling by Sage suggested it was “a realistic possibility” that it could be up to 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant.If that was the case, they said, progressing to stage 3 of the road map – due on Monday – would “lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations (similar to, or larger than, previous peaks)”. The variant’s spread will raise questions about perceived government delays in adding India to the “red list” of countries from which arrivals have to quarantine in hotels.Johnson’s announcement came following calls from councils in Lancashire and Greater Manchester to let them roll out vaccines to all over-18s in some variant hotspots, including Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.


  • UK travellers complain of ‘prison-like’ conditions in quarantine hotels | Coronavirus | The Guardian

    UK travellers complain of ‘prison-like’ conditions in quarantine hotels. Travellers staying in quarantine hotels in the UK after returning from “red list” countries have complained of “prison-like” conditions, including windows that do not open, a lack of fresh air, exercise and decent food.
    The Guardian spoke to nine travellers who are or have recently been in quarantine hotels after returning from countries including Brazil, India, Pakistan and South Africa. They complained of a deterioration in their mental and physical health due to being confined in their bedrooms round the clock and being forced into debt to pay the £1,750 per adult charge for the quarantine period.
    Some of them had travelled abroad due to sickness or death of loved ones and so were already in a distressed and traumatised state before entering the quarantine process.They also expressed concern about a lack of social distancing at UK airports and on the coaches transporting people to quarantine hotels.While nobody challenged the need to quarantine, it is the way the process has been handled that has generated the complaints. A Facebook group called UK Hotel Quarantine Support Chat has been set up and has thousands of members, many of whom have raised concerns about quarantine arrangements.Dr Sanjay Gupta, an NHS cardiology consultant, who was returning from Kenya where he had travelled to be with his dying father, said: “Not everyone can afford to pay the £1,750 cost. There seems to be something shamelessly opportunistic about this situation. But if you’re arriving from a red list country you don’t have a choice.”
    Dr Thanjavur Bragadeesh, also an NHS consultant, who had returned from India where he was helping to care for his elderly parents after both had had surgery, said: “It took several hours to reach the hotel after arriving at the airport. The food is not good and the quantities are small. I got a small box of cereal for breakfast with a cheese omelette that was so hard that if I had thrown it, it would hit someone. One of the things I got for dinner was half a naan bread. I don’t know who got the other half!”
    He said people quarantining had to be escorted by security guards for their 15 minutes of fresh air. “We are not prisoners, we are not trying to escape,” he said.“I really feel for the people who are quarantining with children. The hotel staff have been polite but the conditions here are claustrophobic. It is perfectly reasonable and sensible not to bring infection into the country but things don’t need to be this draconian.”
    Zahid Siddiqui, 58, returned from Pakistan where he had spent several months visiting his sick father. He expressed concerns about the lack of ventilation, fresh air and exercise and poor food.“The whole thing was a nightmare,” he said. “I have various medical conditions such as atrial fibrillation and medical advice is that I need to take daily exercise. But I was only allowed to go outside for two of the 11 days. I have never been in jail in my life but this experience felt like it. I have never before suffered from depression but after my time in the quarantine hotel I now understand the meaning of the word.”He was told his quarantine ended at midnight on a particular day so he could leave the following morning. He said he could not wait that long and arranged for a relative to collect him from the hotel on the dot of midnight.
    “I was so hungry I ate throughout my journey back to my home in Cheshire,” he said.One 69-year-old woman with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, who is in a quarantine hotel after returning from Brazil, said it was impossible for her to eat the fatty and sugary food she has been provided with. When she complained she was given an apple, a tangerine and a banana. “I have been left very hungry,” she said.A woman who had returned from visiting her sick mother in South Africa with her husband and four-month-old baby said: “We were treated like animals. I was begging for help sterilising my baby’s bottles after we arrived back at the airport. There was no social distancing there and I was terrified of catching Covid at the airport. The food was inedible, I can’t explain how bad it was. I took a bite of a chicken burger that tasted like pork, spat it out and felt sick all evening. We are in debt now from paying for the quarantine hotel and feel completely exhausted.”
    A government spokesperson said: “Our top priority has always been protecting the public and our robust border regime is helping minimise the risk of new variants coming into the UK. The government continues to ensure every person in quarantine gets the support they need, and all managed quarantine facilities are accommodating the vast majority of people’s requirements. Hotels do their utmost to take any necessary steps to address concerns raised by guests.”Government sources added that strict rules were in place, including seating plans, to ensure social distancing in vehicles used to transport people to quarantine hotels.


  • England’s travel green list sends Madeira flight bookings soaring | Coronavirus | The Guardian

    England’s travel green list sends Madeira flight bookings soaring. Portugal is only major European ‘sun and sand’ destination on list of countries for quarantine-free travel. Yet after months of lockdown it seems that not even the reputation of its international airport is deterring people in England from looking to Madeira, which has had the biggest jump in popularity among destinations on the government quarantine-free travel “green list”.
    Daily booking volumes recorded by Skyscanner for flights to the Atlantic archipelago jumped by 625% on Friday after Portugal became the only major European “sun and sand” destination for which self-isolation would not be necessary on a return for people in England.With the country now hoping to welcome tourists back from next week, the Portuguese government is expected to outline its plan for the reactivation of the sector on Thursday.
    Other figures provided to the Guardian by Skyscanner for economy-class return flights from the UK, showed that planned travel to Gibraltar went up by 335%. The other major choice was Israel, for which the daily booking volume was up by 290%. The green light for quarantine-free travel to the country with the world’s highest vaccination rate is also being seen as a lifeline for the airline industry.


  • ‘Like purgatory’: diaspora in despair as India sinks deeper into Covid crisis | India | The Guardian

    ‘Like purgatory’: diaspora in despair as India sinks deeper into Covid crisis
    A medical worker observes patients who have been infected by Covid-19 inside a makeshift are facility in a sports stadium in New Delhi on 2 May 2021.A few days ago, her uncle died in his car as he was driving back home from a hospital in Hyderabad, a city in southern India. “All the hospitals were at capacity, so they couldn’t take him in,” said Ahmed. “He pulled over and he called the rest of the family, the khandan – before he passed.”
    Each loss has amplified her anger – at the mass crisis unfolding 8,000 miles away, at the shortages of oxygen and vaccines, at the anti-Muslim attacks stoked by Indian officials who have scapegoated religious minorities as the country. Ahmed, an academic and activist based in New Jersey, has asked the Guardian to use a pseudonym for privacy and safety concerns.
    As the US begins to emerge from the depths of the coronavirus crisis, India is sinking. And the 4.8 million members of the diaspora in the US, like Ahmed, have been anxiously monitoring their phones in case of news that an old neighbor, or relative, or close friend has died. The despair has permeated across time zones, as Indian Americans scramble to secure oxygen canisters and hospital beds for family members, desperately work to raise funds, donate resources and pressure US legislators to lift vaccine patents.“I’ve been feeling hopeless and disconnected and guilty,” said Himanshu Suri, a New York-based rapper. Suri’s father died of Covid-19 at a Long Island nursing home last April, at the height of surge in New York. Instead of flying to India to spread his dad’s ashes this spring, as he’d planned, Suri has watched from afar as the subcontinent is engulfed by the pandemic.“I thought I’d feel happier after getting the vaccine,” he said – but there’s been no sense of relief. “Instead, I’ve had this feeling, like I’m in purgatory.”
    Unable to fly home to help or comfort loved ones, many Indian Americans have leveraged their power and money to pressure political leaders, raise awareness and build up grassroots aid efforts. In recent weeks, Indian American doctors and health workers have joined activists in successfully pressuring the Biden administration to send supplies, and help waive intellectual property protections on coronavirus vaccines to help ramp up production.Many have also called for a harder-line stance against the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, a rightwing Hindu nationalist and US ally who before the surge lifted most coronavirus restrictions and had held massive, in-person political rallies. As reported cases began to rise exponentially, graphing a nearly vertical trend line, his administration has also been accused of hiding the true toll, cracking down on critical social media posts and threatening journalists who question his party line.
    Meanwhile, India’s most vulnerable – including the poorest, those on the lowest rungs of the caste system, religious minorities and Indigenous people, have faced the worst effects.The denialism, refusal to enact lockdown measures and the evasion of responsibility by scapegoating of minorities by officials in Modi’s government have sparked comparisons to the Trump administration, compounding the anger felt by some Indian American families.“When there’s more anger and backlash from some leaders at the media showing images of cremated bodies, than the fact that so many people are dying, it’s extremely angering,” said Suri. “We saw how badly things played out last year, with our own government – and seeing it all play out similarly over there is extremely frustrating.”Suri said the crisis had reshaped his daily schedule: he begins each work day by checking in on Indian artists and musicians – asking after their health and contributing to grassroots efforts to raise funds for medical supplies. Each night, before heading to bed, he checks in with family members. For the first time, he’s also begun to discuss politics and philanthropy with cousins, over group chat. “We don’t typically talk about those things,” he said,
    The crisis has brought on “a real moment of reckoning within the diaspora”, said Sruti Suryanarayanan, a hate violence researcher at Saalt, a south Asian justice and research organization. “We’re going to have to hold the Indian government, and the American government accountable for what’s happened during this pandemic.”Saalt volunteers have been organizing mutual aid efforts, and helping the most vulnerable in India and Nepal find ICU beds and oxygen canisters. The organization has also joined with the Sikh Coalition and other groups campaigning for the Biden administration to direct medical resources to India, and pressure the Modi government to ensure that historically marginalized groups including Dalit, Adivasi, Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Kashmiri communities get equal access to vaccines.Suryanarayanan said Saalt has been monitoring instances of hate crimes against Indian Americans, amid a surge of scapegoating and hate crimes against Asian Americans in the US. Sikh and Muslim Americans, who were already among the most-targeted, may be especially vulnerable now, they said, as social media posts characterizing Indian Americans as contagious circulate online.
    “I’ve just been looking to do anything that will give me some sense of feeling a little less helpless,” said Zain Alam, a New York-based musician and artist. As cases began to rise exponentially in India, Alam’s best friend, Mohit, was one of a crew of first responders in New Delhi filling and refilling oxygen canisters and delivering them to the sick.“He hadn’t slept for 48 hours when we were finally able to connect with him – it was 4am over there,” said Ajay Madiwale, another New York-based friend who works in humanitarian aid. “It just felt ethically untenable for us over here not to be doing more.”Alam, Madiwale and their friend Anjali Kumar have organized an effort called Doctors in Diaspora, which connects physicians and healthcare workers in the US with providers and patients in India. “We saw so many Indian doctors responding, on the frontlines of the crisis in the US,” Madiwale said. “And now we have this huge capacity to help people in India.” Nearly 200 doctors have enrolled in the program so far, getting ready to offer advice, insight and emotional support to colleagues on the front line.Kumar, who helped launch a secure platform for Covid patients at US hospitals and senior care facilities to video call loved ones, has also used the same platform to help doctors connect across oceans. “The south Asian community in New York was disproportionately affected during the first wave in New York, especially when hospitals in Queens were running out of beds,” Mediwale said. “And now, just when we’re getting back to normal, we’re again watching our loved ones suffer from even farther away.”
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised Americans not to travel to India, and placed restrictions on air travel to the subcontinent. So, the diaspora has been mourning from afar.For each member of her family that has died, Ahmed has read out one chapter Qu’r’an. “Each family member reads one or two chapters – on their own – and we mark in a Google Doc what we’ve read,” she said. “It’s not the same as us all gathering to recite the Qur’an together – but it helps us feel connected.”


  • Zapatistas set sail for Spain on mission of solidarity and rebellion | Mexico | The Guardian

    David Agren in Mexico City and Sam Jones in Madrid
    Tue 4 May 2021

    Zapatistas set sail for Spain on mission of solidarity and rebellion


    Small band of mariners embark upon peaceful ‘invasion’ of Europe 500 years after the conquistadores
    Members of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) wave goodbye as they set sail for Europe from Isla Mujeres, Mexico
    Photograph: Lourdes Cruz/EPA

    Five hundred years after Hernán Cortés and his men conquered Mexico, a small boatload of indigenous Zapatistas are making the return journey across the Atlantic to “invade” Spain, rail against capitalist oppression, and perhaps throw the odd cumbia party.

    The two men and five women set out on Sunday evening from Isla Mujeres, Mexico’s most eastern point. Although Subcomandante Galeano – the pipe-smoking former Zapatista spokesman once known as Subcomandante Marcos – said they were travelling with the message that “the invasion has started”, their mission is one of solidarity and rebellion rather than belated conquest.

    “We’re following the route that they came from 500 years ago,” Subcomandante Moisés, another Zapatista leader, told Mexican media at the departure ceremony. “In this case, we’re following the route to sow life, not like 500 years ago. It’s completely the opposite.”

    The group explained that their rusty vessel, named La Montaña, would carry them to Europe on “an odyssey that has everything to do with defiance and nothing to do with a rebuke”.
    Friends and loved ones as they set sail for Europe from Isla Mujeres
    Friends and loved ones as the group set sail for Europe from Isla Mujeres. Photograph: Lourdes Cruz/EPA

    The mariners hope to arrive in the north-western Spanish coastal city of Vigo some time before 13 August, which will be the 500th anniversary of the Spanish sacking of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, which became Mexico City. This year Mexico is also celebrating the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.

    If they are unable to enter the country, they plan to unfurl a banner reading “Wake up!”, according to a Zapatista statement. “But if we are able to disembark and embrace with words those who fight, resist and rebel there,” the statement said, “then there will be parties, dancing, songs and cumbias … shaking the floors and distant skies.”

    The Zapatistas will then embark on a tour across Europe to meet NGOs and other groups in order to share their thoughts on how best to tackle “the inequality that comes from the capitalist socio-economic system”.

    The Zapatista National Liberation Army became famous as representatives of the anti-globalisation movement after briefly leading an uprising in the southern Chiapas state on New Year’s Day 1994, which coincided with the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    Known for wearing balaclavas and traditional Mayan dress, the Zapatistas live in autonomous municipalities, which are self-sufficient and do not participate in government assistance programmes.
    After 500 years, Cortés still looms large on both sides of Atlantic
    Read more

    Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has promoted 2021 as a year of remembrance. On Monday he travelled to the Maya community of Tihosuco to ask forgiveness for the 18th-century war of the castes, in which the Maya people of the Yucatán peninsula rose up against the slave-like conditions they worked under harvesting henequin, which was used to make rope.

    “We offer the most sincere apologies to the Maya people for the terrible abuses committed by private individuals and Mexican and foreign authorities during the three centuries of colonial dominion and two centuries of the independent Mexico,” said López Obrador, commonly known as Amlo.

    Amlo has had a complicated relationship with indigenous peoples, however. He promised to put the poor and excluded – including indigenous people – first in his government and received a consecrated staff representing governance from indigenous leaders at his inauguration.
    The mariners hope to arrive in Vigo some time before 13 August, the 500th anniversary of the Spanish sacking of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, which became Mexico City
    The mariners hope to arrive in Vigo some time before 13 August, the 500th anniversary of the Spanish sacking of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, which became Mexico City. Photograph: Lourdes Cruz/EPA

    But he has pushed forward with mega-projects such as a train line around the Yucatán peninsula, which Maya communities say they have not been properly consulted about.

    “You can’t support the exploited and the people doing the exploiting,” Subcomandante Moisés said in a 2019 message directed at Amlo. “You have to pick one.”

    López Obrador has previously asked the Spanish crown and the Vatican to apologise for the conquest. Spain dismissed the request, saying it “profoundly regretted” the publication of a letter from the Mexican president to King Felipe.

    “The arrival of the Spanish on Mexican soil 500 years ago cannot be judged in the light of contemporary considerations,” it said in a statement at the time. “Our closely related peoples have always known how to view our shared history without anger and from a shared perspective, as free peoples with a common heritage and an extraordinary future.” The Vatican said it had already addressed the issue.

    The Zapatistas, however, have a rather different agenda. “We are going to tell the people of Spain two simple things,” they said in a statement. “One, they did not conquer us, we are still here resisting, in rebellion. Second, they do not have to ask that we forgive them for anything.”

    A spokeswoman for Vigo city hall said there were currently no plans to formally receive the Zapatistas as the visitors had not requested a meeting.

    #colonisation #Spain #EZLN #résistance

  • New Zealand fires nine border workers who refused Covid vaccine | New Zealand | The Guardian

    New Zealand fires nine border workers who refused Covid vaccine. PM Jacinda Ardern had previously said workers who declined to be vaccinated would be moved to other roles
    New Zealand’s customs agency has fired nine border workers who refused to get the Covid-19 vaccine. The country has required all frontline border workers to be vaccinated by the end of April.In February, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said the government would not be making the vaccine compulsory for frontline staff, and that those who declined the vaccine would be moved into backroom roles.But no other work could be found to redeploy the nine workers who were in fixed term employment at the maritime border, Jacinda Funnell, Customs’ deputy chief executive for people and capability, said.“We regret that these individuals have had to leave employment, and understand what a difficult situation this is for them,” Funnell said in a statement. She said about 95% of Customs’ frontline staff who were required to be vaccinated had received their first dose, and 85% had received the second dose of the vaccine. Customs had been discussing options with staff since the beginning of March, she said, and had told them that “options for redeployment were very limited due to no other Customs functions existing in the area”. She said the agency had also explored redeployment options across the wider public service.
    A Ministry of Health order made under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act has made it a legal requirement for anyone working in high-risk border environments to be vaccinated by the 1 May deadline.In April, the New Zealand Defence Force threatened to fire service members who refused to get a Covid-19 vaccination.In correspondence to staff published by RNZ, the chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Kevin Short, said: “Electing to not meet the baseline immunisation readiness criteria will result in a review of an individual’s future service.”New Zealand’s unions have spoken out against the firing of workers who decline the vaccine, saying they should be redeployed instead. E tū union has said in their member FAQs: “We do not support mandatory vaccination and will not tolerate discrimination against workers who choose not to vaccinate.” The Public Service Association union has said unvaccinated border staff “should be redeployed, and their employment rights must be protected”.


  • Hong Kong plan to force Covid vaccines on foreign domestic workers sparks alarm | Hong Kong | The Guardian

    Hong Kong plan to force Covid vaccines on foreign domestic workers sparks alarm. Authorities accused of ‘blackmailing’ workers over plan to make vaccine a condition of getting a job

    Hong Kong’s government has sparked discrimination concerns over plans to force hundreds of thousands of foreign domestic workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or face losing their job. Authorities have embarked on mass mandatory testing of the city’s 370,000 domestic workers after a more infectious strain was detected in the community, and flagged plans for compulsory vaccinations.Under the measures, workers would need to be vaccinated before their contracts could be renewed, and any incoming worker would be required to have the vaccination to enter Hong Kong.
    Hong Kong passes law that can stop people leaving
    The vast majority of Hong Kong’s domestic workers are migrant workers, primarily from the Philippines and Indonesia, and no other foreign workforce has been singled out for mandatory vaccines, drawing criticism from Philippines officials. The country’s foreign affairs secretary, Teddy Locsin Jr, praised Hong Kong’s provision of free vaccines to domestic workers, but said singling them out to make it mandatory “smacks of discrimination”.“If it is a special favour, it is unfair to other nationalities. Hong Kong can do better than that,” he said.Eman Villanueva, spokesperson for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, said the enforced testing and proposed vaccinations were “discrimination and social exclusion of domestic workers at its worst”, and accused the government of “blackmailing” workers by tying vaccines to contracts.“They did not respond like this when there were outbreaks in several fitness gyms and dance studios, restaurants, banks, etc,” he said in an opinion piece for Stand News. “It’s because to them we are easy targets and scapegoats. It’s because they know we don’t have much choice but to follow their discriminatory, illogical, and unreasonable impositions or end up jobless.”
    The comments by Locsin echoed those by the Philippines consul general, Raly Tejada, who said his office had been very supportive of Hong Kong’s free vaccine programme, but if it was to become mandatory for work contracts then it should be non-discriminatory and include “other non-resident workers who are similarly situated so that there is no feeling of being singled out”.In explaining the new rules, Hong Kong’s minister for labour, Dr Law Chi-kwong, said the “high risk group” mainly spent their holidays with friends, which could lead to cross-family infections. The migrant workers, who usually travel alone to Hong Kong, have one day off a week and frequently gather in public places to socialise away from the home where they work.On Sunday the Hong Kong government said the labour department was “working out the relevant details” on mandatory vaccines. It said its mandatory testing programme did not discriminate based on race or status, but did not address accusations that its plans for mandatory vaccines were.It appealed to all workers to get their vaccines voluntarily “to protect their own health and that of their employers’ family and others, and to avoid being subject to any regular testing in the future”.
    It also urged employers to encourage their workers and to give them sufficient rest after getting vaccinated. Those who could not be vaccinated for health reasons could get an exemption, it added.On Sunday health authorities reported the second consecutive day of no community transmission cases detected. There had been about 20 in the past two weeks.


  • EU plans to reopen to fully Covid-vaccinated foreign tourists from June | European Union | The Guardian

    EU plans to reopen to fully Covid-vaccinated foreign tourists from June
    Holidaymakers would also be welcome from countries with low case rates but bloc would retain ‘emergency brake’
    The EU would reopen to holidaymakers from countries with low Covid infection rates such as the UK, and to anyone who has been fully vaccinated, by the start of June under a European Commission plan.With the rate of vaccination rising “dramatically” in EU member states, commission officials said it was time to relax rules on non-essential travel while legislating to provide for powers to pull an “emergency brake” if necessary.EU borders would be reopened at the latest by the start of June, officials said, with agreement due to be sought from member states during meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.The existing requirement to undergo Covid testing before or after arrival or to quarantine could still be enforced by member states but EU officials added that “hopefully with the situation improving and the vaccination rate immensely picking up we will also see a gradual phasing out of these additional conditions”.
    Tight restrictions on those wishing to travel into the EU have been in force since last year. The commission’s announcement will come as welcome news to people in the UK hoping to take a European summer holiday.Under the UK government’s plan to relax coronavirus restrictions, international travel for leisure purposes could resume from 17 May. A traffic light system is expected to be unveiled this week under which countries will be added to green, amber and red lists, with different rules regarding issues such as quarantine of returning travellers for each list.Under the commission’s proposals, member states would allow travel into the EU of those people who had received, at least 14 days before arrival, the final dose of an authorised vaccine.Even those who have not been fully vaccinated will be allowed into the EU if they are coming from a country with a “good epidemiological situation”.As it stands, only seven countries worldwide are on a green list allowing for non-essential travel. The commission is proposing to increase the threshold of 14-day cumulative Covid-19 case notification rate from 25 to 100. The UK’s rate is about 23.2 per 100,000 people.A senior official said the UK could be added to the green list but that it would depend on a reciprocal willingness to open its borders to all EU citizens. “The figures for the UK are good,” the EU official said. “Those vaccinated in the UK will be eligible to travel to the EU but [we are are] mindful of other aspects: reciprocity. It is still a principle under this new recommendation.”The commission is proposing, however, an emergency brake. When the epidemiological situation of a non-EU country worsens quickly and in particular if a variant of concern or interest is detected, a member state will be able to “urgently and temporarily suspend all inbound travel by non-EU citizens resident in such a country”.The only exceptions would be healthcare professionals, transport personnel, diplomats, transit passengers, those travelling for imperative family reasons, seafarers, and people in need of international protection or for other humanitarian reasons. They would instead be subject to strict testing and quarantine arrangements even if they had been vaccinated.