Pandemic Inflames Violence Against Women

A medical worker wearing protective equipment puts on her gloves on the balcony of the nursing house on November 16, 2020 in Prague.  (Photo by Michal Cizek / AFP)

 

No country has been spared by the coronavirus epidemic, nor the scourge of domestic violence, which has surged during lockdowns as the day marking such violence approaches on Wednesday.

From a spike in rapes in Nigeria and South Africa, increased numbers of women missing in Peru, higher rates of women being killed in Brazil and Mexico and overwhelmed associations in Europe: the pandemic has aggravated the plague of sexual violence.

According to UN data released in late September, lockdowns have led to increases in complaints or calls to report domestic abuse of 25 percent in Argentina, 30 percent in Cyprus and France and 33 percent in Singapore.

In essentially all countries, measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus have resulted in woman and children being confined at home.

“The house is the most dangerous place for women,” Moroccan associations noted in April as they pressed authorities for “an emergency response”.

In India, Heena — not her real name — a 33-year-old cook who lives in Mumbai, said she felt “trapped in my house” with a husband who did not work, consumed drugs and was violent.

READ ALSO: World’s Top Surgical Glove Maker Shuts Factories Due To COVID-19

As she described what she had endured, she frequently broke down in tears.

After buying drugs, “he would spend the rest of his day either hooked to his phone playing PubG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) or beating me up and abusing me,” she told AFP by telephone.

– Insufficient measures –

On August 15, her husband beat Heena worse than before, in front of their seven-year-old son, and threw her out of the house at 3:00 am.

“I had nowhere to go,” she said. “I could barely move my body -– he beat me to pulp, my body was swollen.”

Instead of going to the police, she made it to a friend’s home and then to her parents.

She is now fighting for custody of her son, “but courts are not working in full capacity due to Covid”.

She has not seen her son in four months, though he manages to call her in secret from time to time.

It is not the just the courts that are hobbled by the virus. The closure of businesses and schools, as well as cultural and athletic activities, have deprived victims already weakened by economic insecurity of ways to escape violence.

Hanaa Edwar of the Iraqi Women’s Network, told AFP there had been “a dangerous deterioration in the socioeconomic situation for families following the lockdown, with more families going into poverty, which leads to violent reactions”.

In Brazil, 648 murders of women were recorded in the first half of the year, a small increase from the same period in 2019 according to the Brazilian Forum for Public Security.

While the government has launched a campaign to encourage women to file complaints, the forum says that measures designed to help victims remain insufficient.

– ‘Mask-19’ –

Worldwide, the United Nations says that only one country in eight has taken measures to lessen the pandemic’s impact on women and children.

In Spain, victims could discreetly ask for help in pharmacies by using the code “mask-19”, and some French associations established contact points in supermarkets.

“The women who came to us were in situations that had become unbearable, dangerous,” said Sophie Cartron, assistant director of an association that worked in a shopping mall near Paris.

“The lockdown established a wall of silence,” she said.

Mobilisation on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women remains uncertain owing to restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Marches for women’s rights have nevertheless taken place recently in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Liberia, Namibia and Romania.

“We will not be able to demonstrate to express our anger, or march together,” said the Paris-based feminist group Family Planning.

“But we will make ourselves heard all the same, virtually and visually.”

Tamara Mathebula of the South African Commission for Gender Equality described a chronic “toxic masculinity” that was “everywhere you look”.

“There are gender pay gaps which are widening and continue to widen during the Covid-19 pandemic,” she told AFP.

“Gender-based violence worsened” as a result, she said, and the potential consequences were very serious.

In July, the UN estimated that six months of restrictions could result in 31 million additional cases of sexual violence in the world and seven million unwanted pregnancies.

The situation was also undermining the fight against female genital mutilation and forced marriages, the UN warned.

AFP

Mexico Surpasses One Million COVID-19 Cases

Forensic experts remove a corpse from the crime scene after Mexico City's Public Security Secretary Omar Garcia Harfuch attacked in Mexico City, on June 26, 2020. - Mexico City's security chief was wounded in a gun attack Friday in which two of his bodyguards and a woman passerby were killed, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP)
Forensic experts remove a corpse from the crime scene after Mexico City’s Public Security Secretary Omar Garcia Harfuch attacked in Mexico City, on June 26, 2020. – Mexico City’s security chief was wounded in a gun attack Friday in which two of his bodyguards and a woman passerby were killed, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP)

 

Mexico surpassed one million Covid-19 cases on Saturday, registering 5,860 new infections over the previous day in a country with one of the world’s highest death tolls from the virus, the government said.

A total of 1,003,253 people have now tested positive for the virus in Mexico, said health ministry official Ricardo Cortes.

The death toll meanwhile reached 98,259, including 635 registered over the past day, he added.

Mexico has the world’s fourth-highest death toll from the virus behind the United States, Brazil and India, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

It also has the 11th highest number of infections.

Cases have been spiking in a number of areas of the country.

“We probably still need to see the worst,” Alejandro Macias, former national commissioner against the AH1N1 influenza pandemic in Mexico City in 2009, told AFP.

The government earlier declared a lockdown on March 23, although essential economic activities remained open, with no sanctions for non-compliance.

The mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, announced on Friday the closure of bars for 15 days and earlier closing times for restaurants, cinemas and gyms due to the spike in infections and hospitalizations over the last week.

Sheinbaum also said that daily tests will be increased to 10,000.

The capital has seen an increase in infections since mid-October and remains the epicenter of the pandemic in Mexico.

AFP

Biden Announces COVID-19 Team As US Cases Soar

(FILES) In this file photo former Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden removes his facemask as he arrives to speak at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 4, 2020. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP)

 

US President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named the scientists who will lead his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, signaling his plans to prioritize Covid-19 from the outset.

The advisory board will be led by three co-chairs: epidemiologist and former Federal Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner David Kessler, former surgeon general Vivek Murthy, and Yale public health professor Marcella Nunez-Smith, according to a statement from the Biden transition team.

In addition, the board will have ten members, ranging from immunologists and epidemiologists to biodefense experts and leading public health officials.

The announcement came before US company Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech announced Monday that a vaccine they had jointly developed had so far proven 90 percent effective in preventing infections in ongoing Phase 3 trials — news that cheered scientists, politicians and markets.

Covid-19 has left more than 237,000 people dead in the US — the worst death toll globally — and is surging across the country, which last week voted out Donald Trump in a nailbiting poll.

According to a Johns Hopkins University tracker, the number of new cases in the US has topped 100,000 every 24 hours for several days running, and is nearing 10 million in total — showing no sign of slowing despite Trump’s claim the world’s biggest economy is “rounding the corner”.

The pandemic remains “one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” Biden was quoted as saying in the statement.

The board will help shape his approach on the surge in cases across the country as well as ensuring a safe vaccine is distributed efficiently while protecting at-risk populations.

The president-elect has promised that they will create a blueprint he will begin implementing on day one of his presidency.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have announced they will receive a joint virus briefing Monday in Wilmington, Delaware from their advisory team.

Biden will then deliver remarks on coronavirus and economic recovery.

AFP

Boeing To Cut 7,000 More Jobs As It Reports Another Loss

In this file photo the Boeing Company logo is seen on a building in Annapolis Junction, Maryland, on March 11, 2019. Jim WATSON / AFP

 

Pressured by another quarterly loss, Boeing announced Wednesday additional job cuts as it adapts to a prolonged downturn in the aviation industry.

The planemaker, which has been in belt-tightening mode throughout 2020, plans to eliminate about 7,000 more jobs through the end of 2021. The headcount at that time will be around 130,000, down from 160,000 in January of this year.

Boeing reported a third-quarter loss of $449 million, compared with profits of $1.2 billion in the year-ago period.

Revenues fell 29.2 percent to $14.1 billion.

A sharp drop in commercial plane travel has prompted airlines to cancel plane orders or defer deliveries, crimping Boeing’s revenues.

On top of that, the company’s finances have been under pressure due to the grounding since March 2019 of the Boeing 737 MAX, which is nearing regulatory approval to resume service after a lengthy oversight process with air travel authorities.

“The global pandemic continued to add pressure to our business this quarter, and we’re aligning to this new reality by closely managing our liquidity and transforming our enterprise to be sharper, more resilient and more sustainable for the long term,” said Chief Executive Dave Calhoun.

Boeing did not announce additional reductions in commercial plane production.

Shares in Boeing rose 0.3 percent to $155.65 in pre-market trading.

AFP

Enforce Quarantine To Crush Pandemic, Says WHO

A file photo of World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
A file photo of World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

 

Contacts of people confirmed to have coronavirus should be properly quarantined, the World Health Organization said on Monday, as the pandemic surges in Europe and North America.

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan linked soaring transmission rates in the northern hemisphere to the failure to implement the vital step rigorously.

He said if he could have one wish, it would be to ensure “every contact of a confirmed case is in quarantine for the appropriate period”.

“I do not believe that has occurred systematically, anywhere,” he told a virtual press conference from the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, saying it was “a good part of the reason why we’re seeing such high numbers”.

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Ryan said that about half of the 48 countries in the UN health agency’s European region had seen roughly 50 percent increases in cases within the past week — and hospitalisations and death rates were beginning to track those rises.

However, there was hope that deaths and serious cases would not reach the levels seen earlier this year.

Ryan said the average age of sufferers was now much younger, treatment had improved and those infected may have been exposed to lower doses of the virus because of physical distancing and mask wearing.

– ‘Breakneck speed’ –

The tally of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide passed 40 million on Monday, with more than 1.1 million deaths.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned against people getting fed up with the pandemic and the measures imposed to control it.

“We’re in this for the long haul, but there is hope that if we make smart choices together, we can keep cases down,” he said.

“I know there is a fatigue but the virus has shown that when we let our guard down, it can surge back at breakneck speed and threaten hospitals and health systems.”

The WHO says 42 potential vaccines are now being tested on humans, of which 10 have reached the third and final stage.

A further 156 are being worked on in laboratories with a view to human testing.

Typically, only around one in 10 candidate drugs make it through the trials.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that while one or two trials may report data by the end of the year, most would start to do so in early 2021.

High-risk groups across all countries would get the first doses, probably in mid-2021, she said.

“There are some of the vaccines, certainly, that are showing promising results even amongst older people,” Swaminathan said, referring to drugs that have completed second-stage tests.

Meanwhile, the WHO teamed up with Kim Sledge from the US disco group Sister Sledge for a remake of their 1979 hit “We Are Family”, to stress the UN health agency’s call for global solidarity.

AFP

Bayern, Rivals Await Champions League Draw As Pandemic Riddle Remains


Hoffenheim’s Croatian forward Andrej Kramaric (C) celebrates scoring the 4-1 goal from the penalty spot during the German first division Bundesliga football match TSG 1899 Hoffenheim v FC Bayern Munich on September 27, 2020 in Mainz, southern Germany. Daniel ROLAND / AFP.

 

Less than six weeks Bayern Munich won last season’s delayed final behind closed doors, the draw for the group stage of the next Champions League takes place on Thursday with the threat of the coronavirus pandemic again hanging over the competition.

Bayern were crowned European champions for the sixth time after beating Paris Saint-Germain beating Paris Saint-Germain at an empty Estadio da Luz in Lisbon in August. The surreal occasion represented a triumph of sorts for UEFA.

European football’s governing body succeeded in playing its flagship competition to a conclusion despite the long shutdown caused by the health crisis, but the final rounds were not the same.

“A game like this without supporters is not the football that we know,” lamented Bayern coach Hansi Flick. “Perhaps they can be back again in the future.”

Thursday’s draw is part of a ceremony which will also see the best men’s and women’s player of last season crowned.

UEFA had to ditch plans to stage the event in Athens and instead moved it to its own headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, where the draw will go ahead without guests.

It is further evidence that, after the battle to get last season finished, things are not about to return to normal in Europe yet, and virus cases are exploding again.

But this time the football, it seems, will go on.

Both Bayern and PSG will be in the first pot of seeds along with Liverpool, Real Madrid, Juventus, Porto, Zenit Saint-Petersburg and Sevilla, the Europa League winners.

There is the prospect of plenty of enticing match-ups, with Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and both Manchester clubs all in the second pot, and Inter Milan, Atalanta, RB Leipzig and Marseille among the lower seeds.

But the excitement of the draw will be quickly tempered.

First, there is the realisation that almost all the leading clubs will make it through to the last 16 anyway, as they always do, removing much of the jeopardy from the early games.

– Pitfalls ahead –

As the pandemic continues to cast a shadow, it seems hard to imagine the final going ahead as scheduled in Istanbul next May in a full stadium.

UEFA experimented with the return of fans when around 15,500 attended last week’s Super Cup between Bayern and Sevilla in Budapest.

“Health is the number one priority but we want to bring hope,” said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin. He added: “Fans and players are the essential part of football.”

But with rules on large gatherings varying considerably from country to country, UEFA must decide how to approach the issue of crowds attending games in the Champions League and Europa League, the draw for which is on Friday.

UEFA’s current stance is that games will be behind closed doors “until further notice”.

It has adapted its rules. In the face of travel restrictions, it will allow matches on neutral territory. If a club suffers a Covid-19 outbreak, a game can go ahead as long as each team has at least 13 fit players including one goalkeeper.

The group stage starts on October 20, more than a month later than usual, and all six rounds of games will be packed into eight weeks.

However, in the event of more delays, UEFA has set January 28 as the deadline to complete the group stage.

Pitfalls lie ahead, but the draw offers a brief return to something like normality.

AFP

World’s Workers Lost $3.5 Trillion In Wages Amid Pandemic – UN

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on September 5, 2018, Palestinian school children raise the victory gesture over a UN flag during a protest at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, financed by US aid, in the Arroub refugee camp near Hebron in the occupied West Bank. (Photo by HAZEM BADER / AFP)

 

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavier toll on jobs than previously feared, the UN said Wednesday, with hundreds of millions of jobs lost and workers suffering a “massive” drop in earnings.

In a fresh study, the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that by the mid-year point, global working hours had declined by 17.3 percent compared to last December — equivalent to nearly 500 million full-time jobs.

That is nearly 100 million more job-equivalents than the number forecast by the ILO back in June, when it expected 14 percent of working hours to be lost by the end of the second three-month period of the year.

“The impact has been catastrophic,” ILO chief Guy Ryder told reporters in a virtual briefing, pointing out that global labour income had shrunk by 10.7 percent during the first nine months of the year compared to the same period in 2019.

That amounts to a drop of some $3.5 trillion, or 5.5 percent of the overall global gross domestic product (GDP), the ILO said.

Since surfacing in China late last year, the novel coronavirus has killed nearly one million people worldwide out of the more than 31 million infected.

In addition to the health challenges, lockdowns, travel restrictions and other measures taken to rein in the virus have had a devastating impact on jobs and income across the globe.

– ‘Worsened significantly’ –

The ILO also warned that the outlook for the final three months of 2020 had “worsened significantly” since its last report in June.

The organisation had previously forecast that global working hours would be 4.9 percent lower in the fourth quarter than a year earlier, but said it now expected an 8.6 percent drop, which corresponds to 245 million full-time jobs.

It explained that workers in developing and emerging economies, especially those in informal jobs, had been much more affected than in past crises.

The ILO also pointed out that while many of the most stringent workplace closures have been relaxed, 94 percent of the world’s workers were in countries where some sort of workplace restrictions remain in place.

And Sangheon Lee, head of ILO’s employment policy division, warned that the situation for workers could worsen further.

If second waves of infections bring tighter restrictions and new lockdowns, he said, “the impact on the labour market could be comparable to the magnitude we saw in the second quarter of this year”.

Ryder cautioned against those pushing for policy makers to focus on economy over health in their response to the pandemic.

“It is very clear … that the capacity and the speed with which the global economy can get out of its labour market slump is intimately linked to our capacity to control the pandemic,” he said.

“These two things are very, very intimately intertwined, and we have to act on that understanding.”

The ILO’s report meanwhile showed that the labour market devastation could have been worse without the numerous fiscal stimulus packages provided by governments.

Without such stimulus efforts — amounting to around $9.6 trillion globally — global working hours would have shrunk by a full 28 percent in the second quarter, it said.

But it warned that fiscal stimulus was delivered very unevenly, with low- and middle-income countries receiving around $982 billion less in overall support than their wealthy counterparts.

Ryder urged international efforts to close the gap, insisting that “no group, country or region can beat this crisis alone.”

AFP

Austria Limits Indoor Events To 10 As COVID-19 Spikes

An Austrian police van is pictured in the Mariahilfer street in Vienna, Austria on march 15, 2020. – Austria on March 15, 2020 banned gatherings of more than five people and told residents to go out only if necessary, in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus.  (Photo by HERBERT P. OCZERET / APA / AFP) / Austria.

 

Austria announced Thursday that private indoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people in the battle to contain a second wave of coronavirus infections.

“From midnight on Monday… all parties, private events and meetings indoors are limited to ten people,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a press conference.

“We have an exponential rise in new infections in Austria,” he said, adding the country was going through a second wave of the pandemic.

Funerals will be exempt from the new rules and the limit for outdoors will remain at 100, Kurz said, with further exemptions for some cultural events.

He admitted it would not be legally possible to enforce the new limit in people’s homes but added that he hoped Austrians would follow the rule.

Also from Monday, cafe and restaurant customers will have to wear a mask whenever they’re not at their tables.

Previously only waiters and other staff had to wear a face covering.

Austria is recording several hundred new daily infections, with the one-day total reaching 882 on September 11, the second-highest of the whole crisis.

Kurz said he was aware the measures “will once again mean sacrifices” from the population but they were necessary “to hopefully prevent a second lockdown” and the “catastrophic consequences” that would entail.

Asked whether Vienna’s famous winter ball season could go ahead, Kurz said it was too early to say but admitted “autumn and winter will be very hard”.

“We expect a clear improvement next year in terms of progress with vaccines and treatments,” he said.

Neighbouring Slovenia has also seen a recent rise in infections and on Thursday announced that from Saturday masks would be mandatory in outdoor public spaces such as markets.

Masks will also be compulsory for pupils and teachers in secondary schools, and from Monday restaurants and cafes will have to close at 10 pm.

Hungary has also been experiencing a virus surge and on Wednesday Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced the country’s border closure would remain in place beyond October 1.

He added that the second wave of Hungary’s outbreak could be expected to peak around the end of the year.

Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia will remain exempted from Hungary’s border closures — exceptions which have raised criticism from top EU officials, who have warned of discrimination between member states.

AFP

Millions Return To School In Italy After COVID-19 Closure

Pupils wait behing floors markers prior to enter the Luigi Einaudi technical high school in Rome on September 14, 2020 for the start of the school year, during the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. – Schools in some European nations were set to open on September 14, 2020 with millions returning to classrooms in Italy, Greece and Romania. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

 

Millions of Italian children returned to the classroom on Monday as most schools reopened more than six months after they were closed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Although some Italian schools opened earlier this month, roughly 5.6 million students from a total of eight million went back to school on Monday, confronting a new reality of restrictions.

Italy was one of the first in Europe to be hit by the pandemic, which has now officially killed over 35,500 people out of a total of 280,000 cases.

Premier Giuseppe Conte admitted on Sunday that Italian schools faced a difficult situation, including a lack of teachers, single-seat benches and surgical masks.

“There will be difficulties and inconveniences, especially in the beginning,” Conte wrote on Facebook.

He also saluted teachers, who he said had “made an extraordinary effort in the months of confinement to continue lessons and distant learning”.

“We are grateful to you,” he said.

With the country registering more than 1,500 infections a day, Conte also had particular words for youngsters.

“You have to do your part. You have to commit yourselves to the rules of caution that will allow you to protect your health and the health of the people you love,” he said.

Italian Education Minister Lucia Azzolina said more than 5,000 extra classrooms had been created to give pupils more space.

Nevertheless, some southern regions like Puglia and Calabria already postponed the reopening until September 24, over concerns they were not ready to meet all the new requirements.

Italian officials said the back-to-school strategy involved immediate quarantine of those “in close contact” with a student or teacher testing positive.

After a positive result, pupils will be allowed back to school only after returning two negatives, carried out a day apart.

AFP

China Celebrates COVID-19 Success As Europe Suffers

Zhang Dingyu (L), the head of the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, receives an award from Chinese President Xi Jinping during a ceremony to honour people who fought against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 8, 2020. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)

 

China’s leaders held a triumphant ceremony to celebrate beating the coronavirus on Tuesday, as billions of people around the world still suffer the fallout from the pandemic and the global death toll nears 900,000.

The upbeat mood in Beijing comes as concerns grow about a resurgence of Covid-19 across Europe, with France tightening restrictions, cases in Britain spiking and schools resuming around the region in recent days.

Worldwide infections to date now stand at more than 27 million and over 890,000 people have died from the disease, with the pandemic showing no sign of peaking.

But in China the virus has been all but banished through a combination of lockdowns and travel restrictions earlier in the year that have officials touting the nation as a coronavirus success story.

President Xi Jinping said China had passed “an extraordinary and historic test” during an awards ceremony for medical professionals decorated with bugle calls and applause.

“We quickly achieved initial success in the people’s war against the coronavirus,” Xi said.

“We are leading the world in economic recovery and in the fight against Covid-19.”

The nation’s propaganda machine has been attempting to seize the narrative surrounding the pandemic, reframing the episode as an example of the agility and organisation of the Communist leadership.

Xi had stern words for China’s doubters, saying “selfish moves, any buck-passing and deeds that confuse right and wrong” risked inflicting damage across the world.

Beijing is also touting progress on its vaccines as a sign of global leadership and resilience.

China put its homegrown Covid-19 vaccines on display for the first time at a Beijing trade fair this week and authorities hope the jabs will be approved for use by year-end.

The vaccines are among nearly 10 worldwide to enter phase 3 trials, typically the last step ahead of regulatory approval, as countries race to stub out an illness that continues to ravage large parts of the globe.

– ‘We have to get out of our homes’ –

Spain on Monday became the first country in Western Europe to pass half a million infections. The nation had largely gained control over its outbreak but cases have surged since restrictions were removed at the end of June.

In neighbouring Morocco, the government shut all schools and imposed a lockdown on Casablanca on the day classes were supposed to resume after cases surged in the city.

Officials said the virus risked overwhelming the North African country if it was not controlled, but some parents were left fuming.

“They were on cloud nine over returning to school tomorrow,” one father wrote of his children on Twitter.

“How do you explain this to a six-year-old and an eight-year-old?”

Restrictions have also been reimposed in France where seven more regions were placed on a red list after successively recording daily infection rates of between 7,000 and 9,000.

And in England, officials fiddled with overseas quarantine rules again, imposing curbs on travellers from seven Greek islands popular with holidaymakers, after Britain at the weekend registered a level of infection not seen since late May.

In Asia, India pressed ahead with reopening its battered economy even as it surpassed Brazil on Monday as the second-most infected nation in the world with 4.2 million cases.

Trains began running again in the capital New Delhi after a five-month shutdown and 12 other cities also restarted subway services.

“For our lives to move on, we have to get out of our homes… so this is a good move by the government,” commuter Deepak Kumar told AFP in Delhi.

– Barty to skip French Open –

French footballer Kylian Mbappe became the latest sports star to test positive for the virus after his club teammate Brazilian forward Neymar was confirmed to have Covid-19 last week.

Mbappe has been ruled out of France’s Nations League game against Croatia on Tuesday and is the seventh Paris Saint-Germain player to contract the illness.

A number of tennis players have also been infected, and on Tuesday, world number one Ashleigh Barty announced she will not defend her French Open crown due to virus fears.

The Australian star said it was a “difficult” decision but the health of her family and team came first.

AFP

German Unemployment Stabilises In August

A picture taken on March 19, 2020 shows a view of closed restaurants, bars and locations for adult entertainment on the “Grosse Freiheit” street in the red light district of the northern German city of Hamburg on March 19, 2020. MORRIS MAC MATZEN / AFP

 

German unemployment held steady in August, official data showed Tuesday, as Europe’s largest economy adapted to life after lockdowns imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

The jobless rate ticked up slightly to 6.4 percent from 6.3 percent in July, the BA federal labour agency said, signalling a plateau after a marked rise in unemployment in the early period of the pandemic.

Before the coronavirus struck, unemployment had hovered at around five percent, record lows since reunification. In August 2019, unemployment was 5.1 percent.

The BA blamed the summer break for the rise in unemployment in August.

“Unemployment rose at the usual rate in August, meaning there was no additional coronavirus-related increase in unemployment from July. Nevertheless, the effects of the pandemic on the labour market are still very clearly visible,” said Detlef Scheele, chairman of the labour agency.

Unemployment may continue to rise as companies restructure and the post-corona economy takes shape. German carrier Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline by passengers, said it may cut 22,000 jobs and tour operator giant TUI says it will lay off 8,000 workers.

The impact of the crisis on the job market has been cushioned by Germany’s shorter hours programme, known as Kurzarbeit, in which the government tops up workers’ wages when their working hours are cut.

After an initial surge to 10.6 million in March and April combined, the numbers of new applications for the scheme have come down significantly.

Around 5.4 million people were on Kurzarbeit in June, according to the BA, still considerably higher than at the height of the financial crash in 2009. There were 170,000 new sign-ups to the scheme in August, it added.

AFP

COVID-19 Forces London Tourist Guides To Adapt

Tourists queue for the London Eye attraction in central London on August 24, 2020. – The World Travel & Tourism Council said this week that Britain’s economy will lose about £22 billion ($29 billion, 24 billion euros) this year because of the coronavirus outbreak. VisitBritain also forecast that the number of foreign tourists will plummet by 73 percent in 2020 to 11 million people. The grounding of aircraft and travel restrictions have largely been blamed. Tolga Akmen / AFP.

 

“I don’t know if you’re aware, but we’re living through a pandemic right now,” says Joel Robinson with a smile as he introduces his Jack the Ripper tour in London’s East End.

Robinson, a trained actor and history buff who works for the tourist company London With A Local, goes on to explain social distancing best practice to his nine clients.

Although he doesn’t wear them himself, he advises the tourists to wear masks and gloves before they set off through the once-gloomy alleyways of Victorian-era London.

Down darkened side streets and past shiny new buildings, Robinson recounts the tale of the still unidentified serial killer of five women who stalked the streets of Whitechapel in 1888.

London’s tourist guides are resuming their work slowly as lockdown restrictions are eased, and adapting to new health and safety rules to curb the spread of the virus.

Numbers are currently limited but it’s the background of the clients that has changed the most.

Where before Robinson and walking guides like him played mainly to foreign tourists, now customers are mainly British.

Dwindling numbers of overseas clients are largely down to quarantine measures imposed by the British government on foreign visitors.

“We have far more Britons than we had,” said Olivia Calvert, one of Robinson’s colleagues. “It’s a huge shift. They’re expecting something else, something different.”

Among the home-grown tourists traipsing around the Ripper’s old haunts are Anne and Nick Garner, a couple in their fifties from near Manchester, in northwest England.

“We would have been abroad but we decided to come to London,” said Anne Garner after her insight into the bloodthirsty past of the city’s East End.

– Getting creative –

The 90-minute Jack the Ripper tour is one of London’s most popular, alongside the Harry Potter tour and another visiting the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll hotspots of Soho.

“The British already know London’s famous monuments, so they expect something else,” said Calvert.

Antony Robbins is an independent guide affiliated to the Guild of Tourist Guides, the national professional association for Blue Badge Tourist Guides across the country.

Tour guide Joel Robinson (R) leads a group of tourists on a Jack The Ripper tour in London on August 24, 2020. – London’s tourist guides are resuming their work slowly as lockdown restrictions are eased, and adapting to new health and safety rules to curb the spread of the virus. Numbers are currently limited but it’s the background of the clients that has changed the most: before Robinson and walking guides like him played mainly to foreign tourists. Now, they’re mainly British. Tolga Akmen / AFP.

 

Lack of demand has meant he has had to abandon his walks from Westminster to Buckingham Palace.

This week, he led his first “fooding” tour, taking a young woman and her mother to several restaurants and high-end patisseries in the British capital.

“We’re changing the way we work because we have to,” he said. “We need to be more creative.”

Although some guides have been able to go back to work, many tourism professionals — particularly freelancers not linked to major attractions — are finding it hard.

Only six staff at London With A Local have returned to work and the number of weekly guided tours has been cut by half.

And predictions for the coming months don’t make easy reading.

– Loss of income –

The World Travel & Tourism Council said this week that Britain’s economy will lose about £22 billion ($29 billion, 24 billion euros) this year because of the outbreak.

British tourism promotion body VisitBritain also forecast that the number of foreign tourists will plummet by 73 percent in 2020, to 11 million people — a drop largely blamed on grounded aircraft and travel restrictions.

In London, guides in particular are worried about the lack of American visitors, who have a culture of tipping well, but who are also currently subject to quarantine restrictions.

A man takes pictures on Tower Bridge from the near empty top of an open top tourist tour bus in central London on August 24, 2020. – The World Travel & Tourism Council said this week that Britain’s economy will lose about £22 billion ($29 billion, 24 billion euros) this year because of the coronavirus outbreak. VisitBritain also forecast that the number of foreign tourists will plummet by 73 percent in 2020 to 11 million people. The grounding of aircraft and travel restrictions have largely been blamed. Tolga Akmen / AFP.

 

Some 85 percent of tourist spending in the British capital is by foreigners, putting nearly three million jobs in the UK supported by travel and tourism at risk, the WTTC said.

At London With A Local, tours in Spanish have not restarted — unsurprisingly, as arrivals to the UK from Spain have since July been required to self-quarantine.

The numbers don’t lie when Pepe Martinez, an independent guide and blue badge holder, compares this year with last.

“June is one of the biggest months. I did 46 visits last year. This year, I’ve only done eight. Six of those have been online,” he said.

AFP