Almost half the Australians booked on India repatriation flight barred after Covid tests
While people in England seem desperate to get abroad as soon as restrictions lift, the situation is very different for those in India trying to get home to Australia, as Paul Karp and Elias Visontay report for us:
Almost half the Australians due to fly home on the first post-pause repatriation flight out of India have been thrown off the passenger list after they either tested positive to Covid-19 or were deemed close contacts of cases.
Guardian Australia has confirmed that of the 150 vulnerable Australians booked to take the first repatriation flight home from India when the travel ban expires, more than 40 have tested positive to Covid-19. The number who will be unable to fly rises to more than 70 when you factor in the close contacts of those who have tested positive.
The flight is due to leave Delhi after midnight and travel to the Northern Territory where repatriated Australians will quarantine at the Howard Springs facility.
These numbers come from the first Covid test, which is administered 48 hours before flying. There is a second test administered eight hours before flying, meaning it’s possible that more than 70 people will be barred from the flight. Other Australians will not be substituted onto the flight because of the strict processes to prepare for the repatriation flights.
About 10,000 Australian citizens and permanent residents have registered with the government as wanting to return from India. About 1,000 of these people have been deemed vulnerable.
Read more here: Almost half the Australians booked on India repatriation flight barred after Covid tests
The UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has been on Sky News in the UK, saying that England will push ahead with its plan to lift the Covid-19 restrictions gradually, because even though it is worried about the emergence of a variant first detected in India it believes the vaccines are working.
Reuters report that Zahawi said there were concerns about the presence of the Indian variant in some parts of England but that there was no evidence that the B.1.617.2 variant had a more severe impact on people or was able to escape the vaccines.
“The roadmap from Monday remains in place because the vaccines are delivering, vaccines are keeping people out of hospital and away from severe infection,” he said.
Petition against Tokyo Olympics submitted to organisers
A petition calling for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics which garnered 350,000 signatures in nine days was submitted to organisers today, reflecting growing public opposition to the event as a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections sweeps Japan.
“Stop Tokyo Olympics” campaign organiser Kenji Utsunomiya said the global festival of sport – already postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic – should take place only when Japan can welcome visitors and athletes wholeheartedly.
“We are not in that situation and therefore the Games should be cancelled,” he told a news conference. “Precious medical resources would need to be diverted to the Olympics if it’s held.”
Test events for the Olympics are continuing to be held without spectators.
Japanese skater Taisei Kikuchi competes at a men’s park skateboarding test event. The event was held without spectators. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA
Kiyoshi Takenaka and Sakura Murakami report for Reuters from Tokyo that the petition was submitted to the Olympic and Paralympic committee chiefs as well as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.
Asked about the anti-Games campaign, Tokyo governor Koike said she would continue to work towards a “safe and secure” Olympics.“Though there is a global pandemic, it is important to hold safe and secure Tokyo 2020 Games,” she told a regular press conference.
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A reminder that there seems to be some disarray this morning if you were one of those planning to head to Portugal next week from England. The country is on England’s “green list”, but at the other end, Portugal has extended its Covid restrictions. Sean Morrison sums the situation up for the Evening Standard:
The nation’s government decided to extend its “state of calamity” until at least 30 May. Guidance published on the Portuguese Government’s website on Thursday stated that ministers had approved a move to continue the current level of lockdown.
Portuguese Cabinet office minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said in a briefing on Thursday she had “no information to give yet” when asked if restrictions on travel from the UK would soon be lifted.
It is understood the UK Government has been in discussion with Portuguese representatives this week to discuss plans to unlock travel between the two countries.
During the “state of calamity”, entry to Portugal is only allowed if you are a returning resident, according to information on the FCDO website. To enter Portugal, proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken with 72 hours of departure is required.
‘This is the year to take your holiday in Wales’ – Wales first minister Drakeford
The first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, has just been on BBC Breakfast in the UK, and he has urged Welsh residents to strongly consider domestic holidays this year, rather than travelling abroad, even when restrictions have been lifted.
“This is the year to take your holiday in Wales” said Drakeford. He also said it would be unenforceable to impose restrictions prohibiting Welsh residents travelling to English airports.
The BBC have put up the clip here:
“This is the year to take your holiday in Wales”First Minister of Wales. Mark Drakeford tells #BBCBreakfast why the Welsh government is advising people against going on a foreign holiday even after the rules on international travel are changed. https://t.co/6Z2Bac3X1w pic.twitter.com/HB1S5aBEBk
May 14, 2021
Hong Kong is are barring 13,000 refugees from accessing Covid-19 vaccines, writes our correspondent Helen Davidson.
According to a report by the Hong Kong Free Press, the group are not considered eligible because they aren’t residents.
Programmes manager at Christian Action’s Centre for Refugees, Jennifer Moberg Pforte, said there wasn’t a known outbreak in the community yet, but warned of the risk.
“It is almost impossible to maintain social distancing when living in extremely cramped conditions, even if they want to.”
Hong Kong is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention and instead of settling refugees itself, it instead transfers them to a third country. In the meantime, refugees wait in Hong Kong on rolling six-month permits without employment rights, often living in substandard and overcrowded conditions.
“Our immigration status should not be an excuse to prevent us from getting vaccinated,” a 19-year-old asylum seeker told the outlet. “We already face enough discrimination and stereotypes from the public, why exclude us further when all we ask for is that our personal safety and health be cared for just as equally as a Hong Kong resident?”
HKU professor of epidemiology Ben Cowling told HKPF the World Health Organisation has said it was important in terms of public health to ensure the refugee community had access to Covid-19 vaccines.
“They are still a vital part of our community,” he said.About 17% of Hong Kong has received their first shot, and 11.2% their second.
There are concerns among observers of vaccine hesitancy in the city, which has battled waves of moderate outbreaks since last year. It is currently reporting about three community cases a day.
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Singapore has announced the strictest curbs on social gatherings and public activities since easing a lockdown last year, amid a rise in locally acquired infections and with new coronavirus clusters forming in recent weeks.
The new measures announced by the health ministry, which will be effective from Sunday to mid June, include limiting social gatherings to two people and ceasing dining in at restaurants.
The authorities said they will review the measures after two weeks to assess if adjustments are needed.
Taiwan-made vaccine available by July
A Taiwan-made vaccine will be available for residents by the end of July, president Tsai Ing-wen has said today, writes our correspondent in Taiwan, Helen Davidson.
Taiwan has remained largely unscathed by the pandemic, but has been slow on vaccine procurement, rollout and community take-up.
It has several hundred thousand doses of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine and is expecting orders of mRNA vaccines later in the year, but speaking after a national security meeting on Friday, the president said a locally-made product would be ready and available within three months. Tsai said:
The phase two clinical trials of Taiwan-made vaccines are nearing completion. We expect the first vaccine to be ready in late July.
No details were provided about the vaccine but there are at least three candidates in development. The national security meeting was called in response to Taiwan’s current outbreak involving dozens of cases across several northern counties including Taipei.
Taiwan is now on level two of a four-level alert system, requiring increased mask usage and mandatory check-ins at shops and venues.
Greece has officially launched its tourism season as both the government and travel operators hope the country’s natural beauty will bring a much-needed revenue boost after last year’s miserable holiday season, AFP reports.
Speaking from the ancient Greek temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, near Athens on Thursday night, tourism minister Harry Theoharis said: “We are raising anchor. We leave behind the dark clouds of fear and insecurity.”
Tourists at Balos beach on Crete. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images
Tourism revenue plunged to €4.28bn ($5bn) in 2020 from €18bn in 2019.
According to government regulations announced on Wednesday, anyone travelling to Greek islands by sea or air must show a vaccination certificate or a negative Covid-19 test result.
Europe’s leading tour operator TUI has scheduled 120 flights to Greece until the end of May, with the first six touching down on Friday and another 15 on Saturday. Some 40 international incoming flights are expected in 14 regional Greek airports on Friday and another 110 on Saturday.
In an early setback, the UK put Greece on its amber travel list, meaning that returning Britons face at least five days in quarantine.
The UK government is under growing pressure to deploy “surge vaccinations” in Covid hotspots, with some local authorities pushing to extend the offer of jabs to over-18s to stop the spread of a coronavirus variant.
Boris Johnson said he was anxious about the spread of the variant first detected in India, as cases more than doubled in a week. Some government advisers are concerned that his roadmap out of lockdown should be slowed down until the infections are under control.
Infection cases jumped from 520 to 1,313 in a week, according to Public Health England (PHE), which said it was “actively monitoring the impact of this variant and its severity”.
Full story here:
Japan will declare a state of emergency in three more prefectures
Japan will declare a state of emergency in three more prefectures hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday, in a surprise move reflecting growing concerns about the virus’s spread.Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima will on Sunday join Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures under a state of emergency until May 31, said Nishimura, who is also in charge of coronavirus countermeasures.The government had originally proposed a more targeted “quasi-emergency” declaration for Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima, and two other prefectures. The lesser declaration now covers eight of Japan’s 47 prefectures.“There were various views expressed at the meeting (with experts). Based on those views, we retracted our original proposal and came up with this new one and got approval for it,” Nishimura told reporters after the meeting.The rising state of emergency declarations come as Japan grapples with a surge of a more infectious strain just 10 weeks before the Tokyo Olympics are due to start.Experts say medical resources are being pushed to the brink, while Japan’s vaccination drive has been the slowest among advanced nations with just 3% of the population vaccinated, according to Reuters data.
Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Helen Sullivan.
As always, you can find me on Twitter @helenrsullivan.
Japan will declare a state of emergency in three more prefectures hit hard by Covid, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday, in a surprise move reflecting growing concerns about the virus’s spread.
Meanwhile UK ministers are under growing pressure to deploy “surge vaccinations” in Covid hotspots, with some local authorities pushing to extend the offer of jabs to over-18s to stop the spread of a coronavirus variant.
Here are the other key recent developments:
Fully vaccinated Americans no longer have to wear a mask in most settings, the Center for Disease Control said on Thursday. Joe Biden called it “a great day for America in our long battle against coronavirus”.
UK cases of an Indian variant have more than doubled in the past week, according to Public Health England data. Figures published on Thursday evening show there are 1,313 cases of the VOC-21APR-02 variant in the country, up from 520 the previous week.
Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, said it was a variant of concern. “We are anxious about it,” he said when asked by reporters.
The four most worrying variants have been detected in virtually all parts of the Americas, a World Health Organization expert said.
French health authorities reported 19,461 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, representing a weekly rise of less than two per cent for the first time in almost a year, Reuters reports. The total number of hospitalisations for the disease fell by 598, decreasing for the 10th day in a row to 23,656, the lowest since October 31.
The Philippines is set to ease of some coronavirus restrictions in the capital and nearby provinces, with daily infections well down from a peak six weeks ago.
The United Arab Emirates have approved the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for children, the government announced.
Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said the country is on track for herd immunity, predicting 33 million people will be vaccinated by mid-August.
Malaysia has reported its highest number of new coronavirus cases in more than three months.
The number of cases of the Indian Covid variant in Northern Ireland has increased to at least 12, it has been reported.
A South African report into excess deaths over the past year suggests more than 133,000 people in the country have died from Covid, far more than the official tally of nearly 55,000.