Welcome to Tuesday, where Peru's contested election finally gets a winner, the Olympics bubble system is broken and another billionaire is blasting off for space. German daily Die Welt also explains why Asian countries, which were previously considered successful COVID tamers, are now struggling with new waves of infections.
• Pedro Castillo declared winner of Peru election: Weeks after a contested run-off election, Pedro Castillo has been declared the next president of Peru. The country's election authority confirmed his win after reviewing electoral fraud claims made by Mr Castillo's right-wing rival, Keiko Fujimori. Castillo won by just 44,000 votes and will be sworn in as President on July 28.
• China blamed for Microsoft hack: The Biden Administration has formally blamed China for a massive hack of the Microsoft Exchange email server software, accusing criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government for the cyber attack. China has called the accusations "groundless' and stated that it opposes all forms of cyber crime.
• Baghdad suicide bombing kills dozens: At least 35 people were killed and more than 60 injured by a suicide bomber in a crowded market in the Sadr City neighborhood of the Iraqi capital. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.
• Haiti's new prime minister: Ariel Henry, a 71-year-old neurosurgeon and public official, will be taking office as the new prime minister of Haiti, taking over from Claude Joseph, who had seized political control after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
• Emissions to hit record high 2023: According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global greenhouse emissions are very likely to reach unprecedented levels in the next two years if the so-called "green recovery" fails. Such a rise would put the goals of the Paris climate agreement out of reach.
• Ben & Jerry's to stop sale in Palestinian territories: The popular ice cream company Ben & Jerry's will end sales in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, stating that it was "inconsistent with our values." The company said the decision reflected the concerns of "fans and trusted partners," while Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blasted the decision as a "capitulation" to the movement to boycott Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.
• Another billionaire blasts into space: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is about to blast into space accompanied by his brother, an 82-year-old female aviator and an 18-year-old student. The rocket ship New Shepard, built by Bezos' company Blue Origin, is designed to serve the market for space tourism. Bezos is the second billionaire to travel to space, after Richard Branson's trip last week.
Peruvian daily La Republica reports on the victory of leftist candidate Pedro Castillo, who was confirmed as Peru's president-elect more than six weeks after the vote, the country's longest electoral count in 40 years. The former teacher defeated right-wing politician Keiko Fujimori by just 44,000 votes.
Role model no more: Why COVID is spreading in Asia
Asia was considered a role model in the fight against the pandemic. But now COVID-19 numbers are rising, forcing lockdowns just as the U.S. and Europe regain their freedom thanks in large part to high vaccination rates, reports Christina zur Nedden in German daily Die Welt.
Indonesia recorded 1,205 deaths on July 16 and a record 54,000 confirmed new infections. Images from the capital, Jakarta, are reminiscent of India a month or two ago: lines outside hospitals, crowded cemeteries and desperate people looking for oxygen for their relatives. The island nation of 270 million is not the only country in Southeast Asia struggling with rising COVID case numbers. Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar are also currently experiencing new waves of infections. The tide seems to be turning for the previously successful COVID tamers. How could this have happened?
The cause of Asia's new wave of infection is the highly contagious delta variant, but also because people are adhering less and less to hygiene rules, international travel has been partially relaxed, and countries are making no progress with vaccination. In Thailand, only 4.8% of the population is fully vaccinated. In Vietnam, the figure is only 0.3%, in Indonesia 5.7% and India 5.5%. "These countries have no prospect whatsoever of overcoming the pandemic through a rapid vaccination campaign in the next few months," says Donald Low, professor of public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
In addition, large countries such as Indonesia, have been immunized with the far less effective Chinese vaccines. Without sufficient vaccine doses, the governments of Southeast Asia have no choice but to close themselves off again, as Australia is doing. In the process, the already beleaguered economy suffers each time. But in countries like Indonesia, where people live closely together, lockdowns and stand-offs are difficult to implement.
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Malaysian authorities steamrolled 1,069 Bitcoin mining machines, which had been seized in raids after miners allegedly used them to steal $2 million worth of siphoned electricity from nearby power lines. The local Sarawak news outlet Dayak Daily shared a video of the "crypto-crackdown."
In Monaco, four-year-old runs over man with dad's Bentley
The idea that the streets of Monaco are lined with luxury vehicles isn't an overstatement. The recently crowned "supercar capital of the world" also comes with risks, as stretch limousines and sports cars must navigate the tiny city-state's meandering streets and narrow squares.
Yet last Friday, when a Bentley crashed into a Belgian man outside the Place du Casino, the driver at fault turned out to be quite a wildcard: a four-year-old boy.
Police report that the child slid into the driver's seat when his father, an Armenian visiting from Prague, stepped out of the vehicle to give the car keys to the hotel valet. The boy then managed to hit the gas pedal, making the big British car lurch forward a dozen meters, where it ran over the unfortunate pedestrian.
The 53-year-old victim had to undergo emergency surgery in nearby Nice after being trapped under the wheels of the Bentley, but is now out of danger, reports local daily Nice-Matin.
Belgian daily Le Soir writes that the ongoing investigation by the Monaco police will determine how the boy was able to drive forward if the father had brought the keys to the valet. First-world problems, Monaco-style.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
It's obvious that the bubble system is kind of broken.
— Kenji Shibuya, a prominent Japanese public health expert and the former director of the Institute for Population Health at King's College London, said as officials reported the first athlete to have tested positive for coronavirus in the Olympic village on Sunday, raising fears about the possibility of the village becoming a cluster for infections.
✍️ Newsletter by Genevieve Mansfield, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger, and Meike Eijsberg
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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