BBC

The Latest: Biden Chinese Ban, Belarus Confession, Million Dollar Parking Space

Demonstrators clash with the police in Medellin as protests against the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque continue across the country
Demonstrators clash with the police in Medellin as protests against the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque continue across the country

Welcome to Friday, where Biden toughens U.S. investment ban on China, the Belarus journalist forced to confess and a parking space sells for more than a million. We've also produced a short photographic video that tells the story of the pandemic in Italy — one closed (and open) storefront at a time.


• Biden to ban Americans from investing in Chinese firms: As of August 2, Americans will no longer be able to invest in 59 Chinese tech and defense companies, including telecom giant Huawei. This executive order will build on the Trump administration's previous banning of 31 surveillance companies.

• Apparent forced confession of Belarusian journalist on state TV: In an interview aired Thursday night, dissident journalist Roman Protasevich admitted to partaking in anti-government activity and retracted former criticisms of President Alexander Lukashenko. His family and human rights activists responded to the video, saying it was filmed under duress, following his brazen capture from a Ryanair flight last month.

• Tiananmen Square vigil organizer arrested: Hong Kong authorities arrest Ms Chow, a prominent pro-Democracy activist and leader of the Hong Kong Alliance, for attempting to organize a vigil for the 32nd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

• New Denmark law to deport asylum seekers outside EU: Denmark passes a law that will allow for the transfer of asylum seekers to partner countries, many of which are outside of Europe, while their applications are being processed. The law intends to limit the number of asylum seekers setting foot on Danish soil and has been decried by the United Nations as undermining "the rights of those seeking safety and protection."

• France suspends military operations with Mali: Following last week's coup d"état in Mali, the second in nine months, France announced it will temporarily suspend joint military operations with its West African ally. The decision, which affects the battle against jihadists, is intended to pressure the Colonel Goita to reinstate the civilian-led government.

• Syria likely used chemical weapons 17 times: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported to the UN Security Council that they have confirmed 17 cases where the Syrian government "likely or definitely used chemical weapons." Russia has opposed the findings, claiming the organization used unreliable sources.

• Koala "facial recognition": Griffith University on Australia's Gold Coast will use artificial intelligence to begin studying koalas' facial expressions. The goal of the study is to gain insight into the marsupials behavior, particularly with hopes of enticing the animals to use "koala bridges' so that they can safely cross major roads.


The weekly magazine 北京 (Beijing) publishes the latest data from China's 7th demographic census, showing that the resident population in the capital is 21.89 million, of which 35% weren't born in Beijing. Not mentioned in the coverage of the census was the news this week that China is changing its two-child-per-family policy to three children to try to boost the nation's birth rate. Accompanying the report, is a photo series showing the early-summer scenery that includes a recent proliferation of Western architecture.

Taiwan counting on "self-discipline" to stop COVID spread

After having just a handful of cases, the virus is suddenly spreading on the island nation. Despite a relatively loose lockdown, residents boast that they know how to shut COVID down on their own, write Byun Chung Pei and Li Ka Ho in Hong Kong-based digital media The Initium.

Since May 15, when Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center announced that Taipei and New Taipei City were on "Level 3 Epidemic Alert," photos and videos of street scenes of Taipei's "empty city" have filled social media. The posts often refer to Taiwan's "self-discipline," with one boasting "Watch out world, Taiwan will only demonstrate once how it will lift the level 3 (alert) within two weeks."

Despite Taiwan's proximity to Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus first broke out, the island nation has been largely spared. It held a record of 252 consecutive days of zero confirmed cases this past year. With confirmed cases mostly kept to a single digit, Taiwan was considered a "model student of epidemic prevention" by outsiders. However, the myth is now destroyed. With loosening adherence to protocols, lowered quarantine requirements for flight crews and vaccine shortfall, cluster affections in late April soon led to the spike in cases during May, resulting the announcement of Level 3 Alert.

As the epidemic has escalated, there have been calls for the government to further "harden" the measures. However, according to international studies, if we look at nine countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany, we will eventually find that the key to an effective lockdown policy is not to take harsh measures, but to "start early and gradually unblock" the cities. This could be the reason why strong closures have failed to contain the epidemic. After all, it's not just about strict closures; it's also about how well people accept and abide by the policy, and how much they can tolerate.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com



$1.3 million

A 135 square-foot parking space has been sold for a record $1.3 million at a luxury apartment complex in Hong Kong. With breathtaking views over Victoria Harbour, The Peak residential area includes some of the world's most expensive real estate. The previous record price for a parking space had also been set in Hong Kong in 2019, when a spot was sold for $980,000.


Florence storefront photos: a sign of our COVID times

In March 2020, Italy became the first country in the West to be hit by the coronavirus. During the worst month, the mortality rate in Italy doubled, and today the country still mourns the more than 126,000 people killed by the pandemic, the sixth highest death count in the world.

Beyond the immediate health impact, Italy was also the first country in Europe to impose a strict nationwide lockdown to counter the spread of the virus. The quarantine forced schools, businesses and shops to close their doors.

About a month after restrictions were imposed, Italian photographer Simone Donati ventured outside to begin documenting his home city of Florence. Long known as a center of commerce, including the receipts from some 16 million tourists per year, Florence was virtually deserted. After a few days of shooting, Donati began to focus on simple images of closed storefronts — the series eventually was featured on the cover of Italian weekly magazine, L'Espresso.

One year later, as Florence and Italy slowly return to normal, Donati went back to the same shops he'd photographed shuttered down to see what he would find ...


I never want to get involved in politics again.

— Belarusian dissident and journalist Roman Protasevich said tearfully on state TV, in a confession his family and opposition activists say was coerced. In Protasevich's third appearance since his Ryanair plane was forced to land in Belarus on May 23, the 26-year-old pleaded guilty to organizing protests while also praising President Alexander Lukashenko's "balls of steel" for not bowing to international pressure.

✍️ Newsletter by Genevieve Mansfield, Anne-Sophie Goninet & Bertrand Hauger

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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