Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The UK’s new travel rules are being called discriminatory as travellers from certain countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America will still be subject to quarantine rules even if they have received a UK-approved vaccine.
Last week, the UK removed several countries from their “red list” and stated that fully vaccinated individuals were not required to complete a 10-day quarantine upon arrival to the UK. However, no African countries were found on the updated list, and to be considered “fully vaccinated” travellers must have received a vaccine from an American, British, or European program.
Many travellers have been left outraged and puzzled at the restriction which has been targeted at specific countries. The UK is facing backlash from people around the world since it has supplied Covid vaccines to African citizens, yet it is not recognising the vaccinated status of those receiving them.
A UK government spokesperson said regarding the situation, “We have always said we would take a phased approach to the rollout of our inbound vaccination program to other countries and territories.” They said the policy would be reviewed and changes would be considered every three weeks.
For many, who have spent months apart from their relatives in England due to the pandemic, the news came as a shock. “If you send us vaccines and we use those vaccines, and you say you don’t recognise people that have been immunised, it sends a very challenging message for us,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Thursday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Less than 4% of Africa’s population of 1.3 billion has been fully vaccinated. Some factors that have caused the low inoculation rate are vaccine shortages and vaccine hesitancy. Nkengasong added that the new rule would not help to alleviate vaccine hesitancy among Africans, rather it would reinforce the notion.
Authorities have addressed the uneven distribution of the Covid-19 jabs, where poorer nations have received less vaccines. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently criticised Western countries saying it was “unconscionable” that some countries are now offering booster shots “while so many people remain unprotected”.
Some European countries, such as Germany, have based their quarantine policy on other countries’ infection levels, but the UK policy is based on concerns over vaccine certifications.
Africa is currently amid a third wave and health experts say the slow vaccine rollout could even prolong the pandemic. The UK’s new ruling will come into effect on 4th October 2021.
Australia Reopens Borders After $72bn Loss
After two years of closing its borders, Australia has decided to allow the entry of visa holders into the country. The travellers would have to show proof of being fully vaccinated while those who have not yet received their vaccination are bound to provide a valid travel exemption.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in a press conference, announced that the borders will open from the 21st of February 2022 for international visitors. Stressing on the vaccination requirement, Scott Morrison, said “Everyone is expected to abide by it. And it’s very important that people understand that requirement if they’re seeking to come to Australia,”.
Earlier this year, Tennis star Novak Djokovic was not allowed to enter Australia for the covid prevention regulation. Morrison made a reference to the event in his statement to further emphasize the rule “Your visa is one thing, but your entry into Australia requires you also to be double vaccinated. And I think events earlier in the year should have sent a very clear message,”
Australian Minister of Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, expressed the hope of the revival of the tourism industry with the opening of the borders which “generated more than $60 billion for the Australian economy, with more than 660,000 jobs dependent on the industry” in the years 2018-2019.
The Australian borders were closed in March 2020 and were partially opened for students and skilled workers in November 2021.
Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas, who earlier this month compared the Australian border restrictions to the “totalitarian state of North Korea” welcomed the decision by expressing the hope of opening of the businesses.
He said that the decision will help in bringing the economic growth with tourism “There are a lot of tourism operators in city centres and the regions that have been doing it really tough over the past couple of years and this will see more tourists come to their town, spend money and get local economies going again.”
Australia has faced a loss of around 72 billion dollars since March 2020. Peter Shelley, Australian Tourism Export Council Managing Director, called the decision an opportunity to rebuild “an industry that is in disrepair”.
New Zealand Announces Plan to Reopen Borders After 2 Years
Benchill, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- New Zealand will be reopening its borders after being shut down for nearly 2 years due to its tough Covid restrictions.
- Prime Minister Ardern announced a 5-phased plan to allow fully-vaccinated citizens back into the country.
- New Zealand has become one of the most vaccinated country in the world, with 93% of eligible people fully-vaccinated.
New Zealand has finally signaled an end to its tough border rules after nearly 2 years of being shut down due to its strict Covid restrictions.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explained the 5-step phased reopening which will allow fully vaccinated citizens and foreigners to finally enter the country. This plan will also allow citizens to skip the state mandatory hotel quarantine and be able to self-isolate at home for 10 days.
The plan first allows fully-vaccinated citizens residing in Australia to re-enter later this month. By July, fully-vaccinated people from visa-waived countries, such as the US and UK, can enter New Zealand.
In 2020, the country had banned all foreign travelers from entering and had required any visitors to spend time in a state-run quarantine facility at their own expense. This system allowed New Zealand to keep Covid cases low; only 53 deaths have been reported to date. These strict rules also gave the country ample time to become one of the world’s most vaccinated country, with 93% of eligible people fully-vaccinated over the age of 12.
Although this approach was applauded by domestic citizens, around 1 million New Zealand citizens were stuck overseas and unable to be reunited with their loved ones for years. A large demand for hotel quarantine spots prevented many citizens from reentering and a quarantine lottery system had to be put in place for reserving a spot.
Ardern stated that opening back in this manner allows them to control the influx of travelers, fill workforce shortages, and allow the healthcare system to manage an increase in cases. Ms. Ardern has switched from a Covid elimination strategy to treating the virus as endemic, especially after the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Snow-Salting: Clearing our roads but Destroying our Planet
Snowstorms are blazing through the United States, and the most reliable method of clearing out the roads is salt. However, although dumping tons of salt onto the asphalt makes driving in snowy and icy conditions much safer, it comes with a cost – the environment and human health. The United States has been using de-icing salt since the 1930s and over the past fifty or so years, its use across the country has tripled. The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York estimates that more than 20 million metric tons of salt are poured on US roads each winter, and the environmental costs are growing.
About 70% of the US population lives in regions that experience snow and ice. Surely, many people are familiar with the flashing trucks on the highway signaling “SALTING IN PROGRESS.” Road deicing salts reduce vehicular accident rates in these regions by more than 78% but have led to dramatic increases in freshwater salinity. Road salt or de-icing salt is halite, the mineral form of sodium chloride. It is a form of table salt and a naturally mined mineral used to melt ice. Table salt, unlike road salt, is purified for the daily use of human consumption. In contrast, road salt still contains impure minerals. Its color is typically gray or brownish.
Research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency has found that “As snow and ice melt on roads, the salt washes into soil, lakes and streams, in some cases contaminating drinking water reservoirs and wells. It has killed or endangered wildlife in freshwater ecosystems, with high chloride levels toxic to fish, bugs and amphibians.”
The salty runoff contaminates groundwater affecting human health, vegetation, crops, and much more. The chlorides from the salt are infiltrating lakes, streams, and groundwater – harming local fauna, wildlife, and is also incredibly damaging to aquatic life and ecosystems. Unnatural materials when used in abundance can create something called dead zones in aquatic ecosystems which essentially suffocates all surrounding life. According to Wisconsin Salt Wise, one teaspoon of salt is all it takes to make five gallons of water toxic for freshwater organisms.
Furthermore, rock salts cause rusting and damage to various materials and infrastructures. Long-term exposure to the salt causes rust damage to vehicles and transportation systems. Cracking and separation of concrete and roads also occurs from salt infiltration. These salts erode masonry and stone therefore, using salt to remove snow and ice from concrete pathways or patios will likely lead to signs of damage.
It is clear that salting roads has caused and is continuing to cause a substantial amount of damage to the environment. That being said, there are several non-toxic alternatives available to de-icing salts.
Researchers at Washington State University published a study in 2019 indicating that grapes are an excellent sustainable alternative for road salt. After a two-year lab study, the de-icing compound made of grape skin extract surpassed conventional de-icing methods, including road salt. Not only does this grape skin substance generate better results, it also produces zero waste. It is said that this method even outperforms the runner-up environmentally friendly blend of salt brine and beet juice.
Cities in New Jersey, Minnesota, and Canada have been using beet juice in their de-icing practices. Beet juice requires salt brine to melt the ice. But when mixed with salt, beet juice helps the salt mixture in melting ice at lower temperatures. Regular salt works up until the temperatures reach 25 °F, whereas beet juice works well until 5 °F. This mixture uses less salt, which means less corrosiveness on the road and surrounding environment.
Electric and gas-powered snow blowers are also commonly mentioned alternatives to melting ice with salt. Electric and gas-powered snow blowers can help remove snow entirely from walkways, driveways, and more. However, the drawback with this method is that it is mainly only suitable for smaller properties and common areas; they also are not as effective for big patches of snow.
Another notable alternative is brine from pickling foods. According to the National Geographic, pickle brine is better for the environment (than salt) because it prevents ice from sticking to the road, making it easier to remove. Pickle brine would also dramatically reduce the amount of chloride permeating water systems – a reduction of up to 29%. It is used as a pre-treatment before snowfall since it prevents snow and ice from bonding to the pavement. The ice is then easily chipped off and removed, which is something that rock salt is not able to do on its own.
Several options exist for an eco-friendlier way of melting snow and ice off our roads. Just one switch would not only make driving and walking safer, but it would also protect wildlife and prevent the negative human health impacts. Many states and local cities have taken it upon themselves to implement better de-icing methods however a stronger push needs to be made in this direction – especially since twelve states currently use a salt and sand mixture with a rate that typically falls within a range of 250 to 300 pounds per lane mile during snow and ice conditions.
US charges four Belarus officials with air piracy over Ryanair flight diversion
Ryanair flight FR4978 made an unexpected journey to Belarus instead of directly heading to its destination in Lithuania, despite being closer to it on 23rd May 2021. The plane had been diverted under a supposed bomb threat. The crew on board were under the impression that a bomb could be detonated closer to it’s destination of landing and hence advised to divert to Minsk, Belarus. With a bomb threat looming at large, the crew were coerced to land in Belarus where two passengers, Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega renowned journalists were arrested. It had also been noted that shortly after the plane landed the Belarusian military scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet to encourage the crew to follow flight official orders.
Investigations of this claim hailed inconclusive evidence, suggesting that Belarusian government was the mastermind behind this act of air piracy. Amongst other terror groups, the Palestenian terrorist organisation Hamas was accused of placing the bomb on the plane. This was denied by Hamas and no evidence was found. Regardless, Belarusian officials and media portrayed this incident as a matter of security and protection of human life. However, Roman & Sofia’s arrest and difficult history with the current Belursian government states otherwise. President Alexander Lukashenko, also referred to as ‘Europe’s last dictator’ was the subject of Roman Protasevich’s accusations of fraud and corruption during elections. Roman had been in exile in Lithuania over charges relating to organisation of mass protests and his role as the editor of dissident media channel known as Nexta. It appears his flight after a quick tour of Greece was enough for the Belarusian government to snatch an opponent out of the air. It appears both Roman and Sofia are facing jail terms of an unknown duration with charges of terrorism and icitement of riots. US Prosecutors have hence charged four Belarusian officials with aircraft piracy for claiming that there was no bomb onboard the aircraft but a ploy to capture the opposing journalists on board. The US attorney, who has jurisdiction on the case as US citizens were on board, stated, “Since the dawn of powered flight, countries around the world have cooperated to keep passenger airplanes safe. The defendants shattered those standards by diverting an airplane to further the improper purpose of suppressing dissent and free speech.” Despite charges against Belarus, the notion of ‘free speech’ has suffered a great strike and the future of dissidents like Roman and Sofia appear bleak.
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4,400 flights canceled due to Covid and weather conditions
Flights were cancelled on Christmas Eve due to a sudden increase in the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, with the issue still ongoing. Most of the flights were cancelled due to reduced staff with additional flights cancelled due to severe weather conditions as well.
The United States saw more than 2,600 flights cancelled on New Year’s Day due to the weather conditions as well as the surge in Omicron. This was the largest flight canceled in a single day since this problem started. The staff on flights have been exposed to the virus which makes them unfit to travel and thus have to quarantine for a few days until they are virus-free. Due to this many flights were cancelled. More than 13,700 US flights have been cancelled from Christmas Eve. Moreover, The Federal Aviation Administration has warned citizens that this condition may continue for a couple of more days. On Sunday, around 2,000 flights had already been cancelled, trapping the holiday travellers.
California and Denver saw increased flight cancellations because of the weather. According to the FlightAware website, around 500 flights were cancelled to and from Chicago and 200 were cancelled to and from Denver. Southwest Airlines cancelled 473 New Year’s flights and also cancelled their Saturday flights because “our Planners proactively suspended operations at both Chicago airports as of 1 pm CST today (we operate well more than 200 departures a day at Chicago Midway) anticipating the gusty winds and blowing snow that decades of our history operating in this airport show us will slow down the airspace and also make deicing and getting aircraft back into the air very challenging.” On Sunday, SkyWest Airlines had the most canceled flights, with 425 of their flights cancelled which accounts for around 18% of their scheduled flights. Delta Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and American Airlines also have cancelled many flights.
Although the new variant is supposed to be milder compared to the others, it has already caused a lot of economic damage. Moreover, the world’s remotest region in Antarctica has now been impacted by Covid as two-thirds of a total of 25 researchers stationed there have tested positive for the virus. Not only is Omicron highly transmissible but due to reduced preventive measures against it, the virus is spreading very fast. Therefore, more laws should be implemented, especially in countries with the highest rates of Covid to try to control it.
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