Welcome to Monday, where India worries about a COVID spike, record floods hit Australia and Spring Break gets out of hand in Miami. Clarin also explains the stark contrast in vaccine rollouts between two Latin American neighbors.
• India sees "alarming" COVID spike: After slowing in early 2021 in India, the virus has spread the past week faster than any point since early last year. Experts have yet to determine if new variants have sparked the rise. India has so far recorded more than 11 million cases and 160,000 deaths.
• Congo-Brazzaville candidate dies: Guy-Brice Parfait Kolélas, the leading opposition candidate in Congo-Brazzaville presidential election, dies just hours after polls closed, from COVID-19 complications. He was 61.
• Turkey lira plummets after Bank chief sacked: Turkey's currency dips 15% to near its all-time low after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's surprise sacking of the central bank governor.
• Record Australia floods: The worst flooding in decades prompts the evacuation of 12,000 people in New South Wales, southeastern Australia, with more heavy rainfall forecast.
• BBC journalist released in Myanmar: Aung Thur, who works for Burmese language reports for the BBC, has been released three days after being taken away by men in plain clothes while reporting outside a court in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. Forty journalists have been arrested since the Feb. 1 military coup.
• IKEA France accused of spying: The French subsidiary of retailing giant IKEA goes on trial over allegations that the company used private detectives and police officers to spy on staff and job applicants.
• Gold mask: Archeologists have discovered a 3,000-year-old gold mask in southwest China among over 500 other artifacts which could help experts understand how civilization developed in ancient China.
The Australian daily features the evacuation of thousands of people in New South Wales, which is experiencing its worst floods in decades — the same areas that had been ravaged by the country's record bushfire season this past two years.
Argentina vs. Chile: tale of two vaccine rollouts
Despite the geographical proximity of Chile and Argentina and their undoubted cultural and historical links, there is a dramatic contrast between the pace of their coronavirus vaccine rollouts. While Chile has injected almost 11 million doses, Argentina has delivered just over a third of that figure. Why this significant difference? ask Irene Hartmann and José María del Pino in Buenos Aires-based daily Clarín.
Communication is one outstanding difference between Argentina and Chile in this pandemic. While Chile's information database SAS offered clear data from day one of all details of the vaccine situation (who has been vaccinated, where, dosage and vaccine brands), Argentina created a Vaccination Public Monitor after reports of "VIP" or out-of-turn vaccinations sparked public outrage.
Countries like Chile also began planning agreements to buy future vaccines as early as May 2020. As one Chilean deputy-health minister, Paula Daza, said, "Everything was prepared far in advance ... in May and June, conversations began to sign agreements with various laboratories, which allowed us to have today this amount of doses." These agreements meant advance payments (nobody knows how much) to finance the development of vaccines.
Adolfo Rubinstein, a former Argentine health minister and clinical epidemiology professor, says the government had various problems on this front. Firstly, he says, "compared to Chile, Argentina is a less reliable buyer. You cannot get over this. A country that has defaulted on debt 20 times, which had to restructure its debt ... isn't reliable for pharmaceutical firms. Also, while others purchased in advance, Argentina has no dollars. It is a macroeconomic restriction that puts us at a disadvantage."
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Court orders French celebrity magazine to pay homeless man €40,000
Since its founding in 1949, the iconic French weekly Paris Match has published countless photos of the rich and powerful — and every now and then, a paparazzi shot might cost them.
Last week, instead, the magazine was ordered to pay VIP money to a homeless man for running a photograph of him without his permission.
A court in Nanterre, west of Paris, ordered Paris Match to pay 40,000 euros to the man for running his picture, as part of an investigative article on crack cocaine addiction in Paris.
"Everyone, no matter their degree of celebrity, their wealth, their present or future occupation, has a right to privacy and enjoys exclusive right over their image which allows them to oppose its use … without prior authorization," the court wrote in its decision.
The photo, published without the man's consent in January 2018, showed the unnamed 48-year-old smoking crack cocaine on a metro platform in the French capital's 18th arrondissement. Unlike other people in the photograph, his face was unblurred, the daily Le Parisien reports.
Alerted by friends who recognized him in the Paris Match article, the homeless man sued the magazine: In May 2019, the magazine was ordered to pay him 10,000 euros in damages, but failed to remove the photograph from its website and app, resulting in an additional 30,000-euro fine last week.
Le Parisien quoted the man as saying that he used some of the money to "help out friends' and that he now may be able "to get his wife and children back."
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A new phase three study of AstraZeneca vaccine in the United States shows higher effectiveness than previously found, with 79% fully protected from the virus, with 100% protection from severe effects. The results may provide a boost in confidence in the rest of the world where the vaccine has already been authorized and is also likely to lead to approval in the U.S.
You couldn't see pavement and you couldn't see grass.
— Miami Beach official Raul Aguila describing the density of spring break visitors in the Florida resort city, as concern grows that the crowds of young people will set off more COVID-19 contagion.
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.
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.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
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 airportcommons.wikimedia.org
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.
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.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
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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