Thailand To Allow Vaccinated Tourists From Over 40 Countries, Says PM

People enjoy a drink at a roof-top bar as rain falls in Bangkok on October 21, 2021. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP)

 

Thai Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha announced Thursday that vaccinated travellers from more than 40 countries will be allowed to enter the kingdom without undergoing quarantine come November 1, as it readies for a much-anticipated reopening.

The 46 countries and territories is a significant jump from the 10 initially announced last week by Prayut when he unveiled plans to reopen the country next month.

The ballooning list is due to Thailand’s urgent need “to stimulate the tourism sector and other related business sectors,” said Prayut.

“We need to move faster than that and do it now,” he wrote in a post on his official Facebook page.

“This is because waiting for everything to be perfect will be too late.”

Besides the United States, Britain and China, vaccinated tourists from a slew of European countries, including France and Germany will be allowed in, if they are able to provide a negative Covid RT-PCR test.

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Neighbours Cambodia and Malaysia are also on the “low-risk” list, as well as Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

Upon landing in Thailand, travellers will have to take another Covid test and book a single night in a government-approved hotel while awaiting the results — before being allowed to travel freely.

“We know that this is a rapid acceleration and there is a risk that the number of infected people will increase, but it’s a risk that we have to accept,” Prayut said.

Before the pandemic, Thailand attracted nearly 40 million visitors, with tourism making up almost 20 per cent of its national income.

Last year, the country lost about $50 billion in tourism revenue as foreign arrivals plunged 83 per cent to 6.7 million.

Prayut had initially said earlier this year that 70 per cent of all Thais must be vaccinated before the kingdom fully reopened its borders. To date, nearly 40 per cent have received two vaccine doses.

Thailand is also still registering about 10,000 cases per day — largely fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant.

The country has more than 1.8 million cases to date and has recorded 18,559 deaths.

Thailand To Re-Open To Vaccinated Tourists On November 1, Says PM

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 14, 2021, a man swims in a hotel swimming pool in Phuket as tourists take advantage of the “Phuket Sandbox” programme for visitors fully vaccinated against the Covid-19 coronavirus. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP)

 

Thailand plans to fully re-open to vaccinated tourists travelling by air from countries deemed low risk from November 1, Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha said Monday.

Before the pandemic, the kingdom attracted nearly 40 million visitors a year drawn to its picturesque beaches and robust nightlife, with tourism making up almost 20 percent of its national income.

But Covid-related travel restrictions have left the economy battered, contributing to its worst performance in more than 20 years.

Prayut announced Monday in a televised address the country will be reopening its borders to vaccinated tourists travelling by air from “low risk countries”.

The 10 nations considered low risk include Britain, the United States, China, Germany and Singapore.

“When they arrive, they should present a (negative) Covid test… and test once again upon arrival,” the prime minister said.

After getting a negative test, “they can travel freely like Thais,” he said.

His announcement significantly loosens up current restrictions in place for vaccinated tourists, who must undergo at least seven days quarantine in a hotel.

Thailand’s so-called “sandbox” scheme in Phuket — which allows vaccinated tourists to move freely around the popular beach island — currently requires them to remain there for a week.

Visitors outside of Thailand’s designated 10 low-risk countries are welcome, “but they have to be in quarantine,” said Prayut, adding that more nations would be added to the greenlit list in December.

He acknowledged the decision came with the risk of more coronavirus cases.

“But I think the people will not able to stand it if they have to lose a second chance at this business opportunity.”

Last year, Thailand lost about $50 billion in tourism revenue as foreign arrivals plunged 83 percent to 6.7 million, from a record 39.9 million two years ago.

Currently, the kingdom has more than 1.7 million cases, and has recorded 17,751 dead.

AFP

Tourists Told To Leave As COVID-19 Cases Rise In French Overseas Territories

The Eiffel Tower is reflected in a puddle as a man runs, on December 24, 2020 in Paris. (Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP)

 

Two French ministers were due on Tuesday to travel to the Caribbean as concern grows over spiralling Covid-19 infections in French overseas territories across the globe, with the island of Martinique tightening a lockdown and telling tourists to leave.

While well over half of people in mainland France have now received two vaccination doses, rates in its overseas territories, from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, have lagged well behind.

Authorities on the Caribbean island of Martinique late Monday announced that all non-essential shops would now be closed, as well as hotels and holiday rentals, adding that tourists should leave. Beaches would also be closed and people can only go within a 1 kilometre radius of their homes.

There are now 1,200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on Martinique, while only 22 percent of the population have received even a first dose of the vaccination.

“These rules are strict and they will be lifted as soon as the health situation allows it,” the top official of Martinique, Stanislas Cazelles told reporters in its main city of Fort-de-France.

French Overseas Territories Minister Sebastien Lecornu and Health Minister Olivier Veran are both expected in the Caribbean later Tuesday for visits to Martinique and neighbouring Guadeloupe, which is also in a lockdown albeit less strict than that on Martinique.

READ ALSO: US Warns Citizens Against Travel To France Over COVID-19 Concerns

Veran had earlier this week made a video plea on social media for medical workers in mainland France to show “national solidarity” and volunteer to help the stretched medical teams on the islands. Some 240 volunteers are now due to leave on Tuesday.

In the Pacific territory of French Polynesia, authorities meanwhile announced curfew from 9:00 pm local time to deal with rising cases.

Tensions have been heightened by a marriage party at a restaurant that was attended hundreds of people including top local figures, in defiance of existing rules and without masks.

“We were not exemplary and I am infinitely sorry,” said the local president Edouard Fritch who was seen playing the guitar in the images that shocked many Polynesians while Papeete mayor Michel Buillard provided the vocals.

The Indian Ocean island of Le Reunion also remains in partial lockdown, a measure which like in the Caribbean has prompted protests that led to scuffles with the security forces.

AFP

Sri Lanka Welcomes First Tourists Despite New COVID-19 Strain

Ukraine passengers arrive at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, in Mattala on December 28, 2020. – Sri Lanka welcomed its first foreign tourists in nine months on December 28 even as a new deadlier strain of the coronavirus gripped the island. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

Sri Lanka welcomed its first foreign tourists in nine months Monday even as a new deadlier strain of the coronavirus gripped the island.

A charter flight carrying 185 passengers from Ukraine landed at a little-used airport south of the capital, which has been stricken by a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths.

In less than three months, the official number of coronavirus fatalities has risen from 13 to 191, while the number of infections has gone from 3,300 to more than 41,000.

Still, authorities hope the Ukrainian arrivals will be the first of thousands of foreigners to visit — easing pressure on the tourism-reliant economy that was shut down in March.

The visitors, who had to produce coronavirus-free certificates before departure, were tested again on arrival at Rajapaksa International airport.

They will be confined to their hotels for the duration of their holiday.

“This is a pilot project to test our systems,” government spokesman Ramesh Pathirana said, adding that there would be a review after one month.

Sri Lanka’s international borders remain closed, with the exception of repatriation flights and charters approved by local health authorities.

But Sri Lanka is also scheduled to host a two-Test cricket tour by England next month.

The moves come despite authorities announcing a deadlier coronavirus strain.

Minister for COVID Disease Control, Sudharshini Fernandopulle, said the strain was more infectious than one which spread in Sri Lanka between January and October.

Greece Launches COVID-19 Questionnaire For Tourists

A street with shops near the beach in Pefkochori on Halkidiki Peninsula, Greece, on June 20, 2020. – One of Greece’s most popular tourism destinations, the Halkidiki peninsula provides hotels and apartments with around 100,000 rooms. Nearly 60 percent of business activity relies on the travel sector. Sakis MITROLIDIS / AFP.

 

Tourists travelling to Greece will be required from Wednesday to complete an online questionnaire 48 hours in advance to determine whether they need to be tested for coronavirus on arrival.

Over the weekend the Greek government ended random testing of travellers according to their country of origin, which had confused tourists who did not know whether they should spend a night in a hotel to be tested after landing in Athens and Thessaloniki, or go directly into quarantine.

Greece, which has a relatively low coronavirus death toll at 191, has launched a promotional campaign to revive tourism — which accounts for a quarter of its gross domestic product — and hopes to reassure potential travellers as well as Greeks who fear a resurgence of the pandemic with the return of tourists.

Under the new protocol, travellers are given scannable bar codes after they fill out a questionnaire with personal details such as their country of origin and the countries they have travelled through in the last 15 days.

The questionnaire is mandatory until August 31.

Bar codes will be scanned from printed paper or mobile devices at ports of arrival, which will determine whether travellers will be directed to the exit or to a screening area.

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Those who are tested will be told to isolate at the address provided on the questionnaire while waiting for the results.

The new protocol “is most likely to be able to detect the majority of imported cases”, Dimitris Paraskevis, a member of the health ministry’s expert committee, told Skai TV.

All airports in the country will reopen to international flights by Wednesday and the ports of Patras and Igoumenista will again receive ferries from Italy, while other ports will be reopened to cruise ships.

AFP

Italy Reopens To Tourists From Europe

In this file photo taken on November 04, 2019 tourists walk across St Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) by St. Mark's Campanile (Rear L), St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica San Marco, Rear R) and the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale, R) in Venice. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 04, 2019 tourists walk across St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) by St. Mark’s Campanile (Rear L), St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica San Marco, Rear R) and the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale, R) in Venice. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

 

Italy reopened to travellers from Europe on Wednesday, three months after the country went into coronavirus lockdown, with all hopes pinned on reviving the key tourism industry as the summer season begins.

Gondolas were ready to punt along Venice’s canals, lovers will be able to act out “Romeo and Juliet” on Verona’s famed balcony, and gladiator fans can pose for selfies at Rome’s Colosseum.

But there were fears many foreign tourists would be put off coming to a country still shaking off a vicious pandemic.

“Come to Calabria. There’s only one risk: that you’ll get fat,” the southern region’s governor Jole Santelli said on Sunday as the race began to lure big spenders — or any spenders — back to Italy’s sandy shores.

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus and has officially reported more than 33,000 deaths.

It imposed an economically crippling lockdown in early March and has since seen its contagion numbers drop off dramatically.

With the country facing its deepest recession since World War II, it needs foreigners to return, and quickly.

But it is still reporting hundreds of new cases a day, particularly in the northern Lombardy region, and experts warn the government may be being hasty in permitting travel between regions and abroad.

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“We hoped to see some movement from today, but have no foreign tourists booked in for this week or next,” said Alessandra Conti, receptionist at the Albergo del Senato hotel which overlooks the Pantheon in Rome.

“We’ve got a few reservations from mid-June… (but) are still getting lots of cancellations for this summer”.

– ‘Like a leper’ –

International flights were only expected to resume in three main cities: Milan, Rome and Naples.

And there were concerns that those who usually come in by car, train or ferry from neighbouring countries would go elsewhere on their holidays.

Switzerland has warned its citizens that if they go to Italy they will be subject to “health measures” on their return. The country will open its borders with Germany, France and Austria on June 15, but not with Italy.

Austria is lifting restrictions in mid-June with Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary — but again, not Italy, described last week by Vienna’s health minister as “still a hotspot”.

Other countries, such as Belgium and Britain, are still advising against, or forbidding, all non-essential travel abroad.

In response to perceived anti-Italian sentiment, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has warned countries not to treat Italy “like a leper”.

He said Saturday he would be travelling to Germany, Slovenia and Greece to persuade them Italy is safe for foreign tourists.

Arrivals in Italy from Europe will not be required to self-isolate unless they have recently travelled from another continent.

At the border between the town of Ventimiglia in Italy and Menton in France, more people were trying to enter France from Italy than the other way round early Wednesday, but controls on the French side were very strict.

“The situation is a bit complex. There is a total reopening of the Italian borders, but the situation is not the same on the French side,” a police source told AFP, as drivers stuck in long queues sounded their horns.

– Too expensive –

Italy’s lockdown has had a particularly devastating effect on the tourism sector, which amounts to some 13 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Historic sites were shut, restaurants closed, and hotels were used to care for coronavirus sick.

Restaurants, cafes and beach establishments have slowly reopened over the past two weeks — although the government has said it reserves the right to impose localised lockdowns if it sees contagion numbers rise.

But only 40 of Rome’s 1,200 hotels have reopened, the Corriere della Sera newspaper said Monday, and just a dozen in Milan. It costs too much to open them if they will just stand empty.

“My hoteliers all want to reopen, but as long as the borders remain closed, it’s not possible,” Marco Michielli, deputy head of hoteliers’ association Federalberghi, said Saturday.

Italy’s national tourism agency (ENIT) said some 40 per cent of Italians traditionally travel abroad for their holidays, but could be forced this year to vacation at home, helping local businesses.

That may be little comfort to those running the country’s costly historic sites, because most of the tens of thousands of visitors that usually flock daily to the Tower of Pisa, Pantheon or Pompeii come from abroad.

AFP

Cyprus To Pay Medical Bill If Tourists Catch Coronavirus

File photo of a man wearing a mask as a precaution against COVID-19. PHOTO: QATAR OUT / AFP.

Cyprus hopes to attract tourists after its coronavirus lockdown by paying the medical costs of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 while holidaying on the island, officials said on Wednesday.

The plan was outlined in a letter to tour operators and airlines detailing the measures Cyprus is taking to ensure the safety of its tourism sector.

The letter was made public Wednesday and signed by the ministers of foreign affairs, transport, and tourism.

The Mediterranean island is marketing itself as a safe holiday destination during the global pandemic.

The Republic of Cyprus has reported 939 novel coronavirus cases and only 17 deaths.

The government said it is “committed to taking care of all travellers who test positive during their stay, as well as their families and close contacts”.

It pledged to cover accommodation, dining and medical care if a tourist falls ill with the virus.

The “traveller will only need to bear the cost of their airport transfer and repatriation flight,” it said.

 ‘Quarantine hotels’

A 100-bed hospital will be available exclusively for tourists who test positive, with more beds available “at very short notice if required”.

An additional 112 beds in intensive care units with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients.

Designated “quarantine hotels” will have 500 rooms available for family members and close contacts of patients.

Other hotels on the island will be allowed to remain open if a guest tests positive, but their room will “undergo a deep clean”.

Authorities have forecast a 70 per cent decline in tourist arrivals in 2020.

Tourism earned Cyprus €2.68 billion ($2.94 bn) in 2019 — about 15 percent of gross domestic product — down one percent from the previous year, which was bolstered by a record 3.97 million arrivals.

Cyprus plans to reopen its airports on June 9 to arrivals from 13 countries considered low risk.

These include Israel, Greece, Germany, Austria and Malta but the island’s two biggest markets Britain and Russia are not on the approved list.

Those arriving between June 9–19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they do not have the virus.

That requirement will be dropped from June 20, when another six countries will be added to the approved list, including Switzerland and Poland.

Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on scientific advice.

Officials will administer temperature checks and free random testing of arrivals.

Having tested over 10 percent of its population, Cyprus says it has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in Europe.

“Very few countries worldwide, especially in the Mediterranean, can boast about such statistics,” the letter said.

AFP

COVID-19: Cuba To Quarantine Tourists, Close Borders

Stranded passengers line up looking for a flight to return to their countries, at Havana’s Jose Marti airport, on March 23, 2020. – As of Tuesday, March 24, no flights with tourists will be allowed into the country as a preventive measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP.

 

Cuba will quarantine foreign tourists from Tuesday when it seals its borders to guard against the spread of the new coronavirus, the prime minister said Monday, in a move cutting one of the communist country’s few revenue sources.

“All tourists still in hotels will be placed in quarantine… They cannot leave the hotel” until they find a flight home, Manuel Marrero said on state TV, adding that there were 32,500 holidaymakers from overseas on the Caribbean island on Monday.

Some of them rushed to the airport in Havana Monday, anxious about their chances of finding a flight — many are already full and carriers have started canceling routes.

Economically crippled by US sanctions, Cuba is largely dependent on its tourism revenue.

Until now, Cuba had bucked the regional trend of closing its borders to foreigners.

READ ALSO: Over 200,000 Coronavirus Cases Declared In Europe

That generated heavy criticism from a worried population where 20 percent are over 60 and there are often cuts in the water supply and a lack of soap.

Regularly washing hands has been one of the main pieces of advice that health authorities have given to help people avoid contracting the virus.

But now only citizens and foreign residents will be allowed to enter the country, which has so far counted 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Car rentals and tour excursions have also been canceled.

“Next week no tourists” will enter the country, said Marrero, adding that almost all hotels on the island would close.

Of the 32,500 tourists already on the island, 9,400 are staying in homestays. According to the government, they will be moved to state-run hotels.

Authorities on Monday also announced one-month-long school closures, an unprecedented move not seen since the 1959 revolution made education and health two of the country’s main pillars.

And Cubans themselves may not leave the island without authorization, except for their own health, the prime minister said.

A 61-year-old Italian tourist has been Cuba’s only coronavirus death so far, and all of the country’s other cases have been among foreigners or those who have had close contact with known cases.

Authorities have assured Cubans the virus is so far not circulating locally.

AFP

Coronavirus Scare: Thousands Held On Board Cruise Ship In Italy

The Costa Smeralda cruise ship is docked in the Civitavecchia port 70km north of Rome on January 30, 2020. More than 6,000 tourists were under lockdown aboard the cruise ship after two Chinese passengers were isolated over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus. Samples from the two passengers were sent for testing after three doctors and a nurse boarded the Costa Crociere ship in the port of Civitavecchia to tend to a woman running a fever, the local health authorities said.
Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

 

More than 6,000 tourists were under lockdown aboard a cruise ship at an Italian port on Thursday after two Chinese passengers were isolated over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus.

Samples from the two passengers were sent for testing after three doctors and a nurse boarded the Costa Crociere ship in the port of Civitavecchia to tend to a woman running a fever, the local health authorities said.

Costa Crociere confirmed the ship, carrying some 7,000 people in total including the crew, was in lockdown.

It came as China reported its biggest single-day jump in coronavirus deaths and global fears deepened over the spread of the disease, with at least 15 countries confirming infections.

Costa said a 54-year old woman from Macau “was placed in solitary confinement in the on-board hospital last night with her travel companion”, and the crew was following instructions from the health ministry.

The Costa Smeralda, the company’s flagship and the fifth-largest cruise ship in the world, “came from Palma de Mallorca and is currently engaged in one-week cruises in the western Mediterranean,” it said.

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government was “not worried, but vigilant and cautious”.

The couple flew into Milan from Hong Kong on January 25, before getting on the cruise at Savona in northern Italy, according to Italian media reports.

“The couple’s cabin has been isolated and they are in with the doctors,” an unnamed passenger was quoted as telling ANSA news agency.

“We’re a bit worried of course. No-one is getting on or off the ship apart from the doctors. This holiday risks ending in a nightmare”.

 

Passengers stand on Costa Smeralda cruise ship docked in the Civitavecchia port 70km north of Rome on January 30, 2020. More than 6,000 tourists were under lockdown aboard the cruise ship after two Chinese passengers were isolated over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus. Samples from the two passengers were sent for testing after three doctors and a nurse boarded the Costa Crociere ship in the port of Civitavecchia to tend to a woman running a fever, the local health authorities said.
Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

 

– In isolation –

The ship then stopped off in Marseilles and Barcelona, as well as Parma de Mallorca, according to an itinerary on its website.

It had been due to sail for La Spezia in north Italy late Thursday, but would be detained in the Civitavecchia port near Rome “until we have an update on the health tests,” said port captain Vincenzo Leone.

There are some 750 other Chinese passengers on board, who all appear to be in good health, media reports said.

The World Health Organization, which initially downplayed a disease that has now killed 170 in China, was preparing to meet Thursday to decide whether to declare it a global emergency.

Silvio Brusaferro, president of the Italian national health institute, said that all suspected cases in Italy so far had turned out to be false alarms, but the health service was “ready should any cases of infection emerge”.

Beijing has taken extraordinary steps to arrest the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

The pathogen is believed to have emerged in a market that sold wild game, and spread by a Lunar New Year holiday season in which hundreds of millions of Chinese travel domestically or abroad.

AFP

Australia Gives Tourists 48 Hours To Vacate Fire-Ravaged Communities

Firefighters create a back burn ahead of a fire front in the New South Wales town of Jerrawangala on January 1, 2020. A major operation to reach thousands of people stranded in fire-ravaged seaside towns was under way in Australia on January 1 after deadly bushfires ripped through popular tourist spots and rural areas leaving at least eight people dead.
PETER PARKS / AFP

 

Thousands of tourists have been given less than 48 hours to evacuate fire-ravaged coastal communities as Australia braces for a heatwave Saturday expected to fan deadly bushfires.

Catastrophic blazes ripped through swathes of the continent’s south-east on New Year’s Eve, killing at least eight people and stranding holidaymakers as seaside towns were ringed by flames.

The New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service on Thursday morning declared a “tourist leave zone” stretching about 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the popular holiday spot of Bateman’s Bay along the usually picturesque south-east coast to neighbouring Victoria state, where people are also being urged to evacuate fire-threatened areas.

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Visitors are being warned to leave before Saturday, which is forecast to bring gusting winds and temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

That weather will create dangerous fire conditions that officials say will be as bad — if not worse — than Tuesday, Australia’s deadliest day of fires in a months-long bushfire crisis.

Many tourists and residents spent two nights isolated with no electricity or telecommunications, and dwindling food supplies, before authorities on Thursday deemed some roads out of the region temporarily safe to use.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance told public broadcaster ABC it would be the “largest evacuation of people out of the region ever”, with thousands preparing to leave ahead of another “terrible” day of fires.

NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said firefighters were unable to extinguish or even control the raging blazes.

“The message is we’ve got so much fire in that area, we have no capacity to contain these fires,” he told ABC.

“We just need to make sure that people are not in front of them.”

But with food and fuel supplies reportedly running short in many centres, there were concerns some would remain trapped.

Authorities still have not been able to reach some rural communities, such as the town of Genoa in Victoria.

There are also mounting fears for five people still missing after the most recent blazes while the number of homes confirmed destroyed has topped 400, with that number expected to rise as firefighters reach devastated communities still isolated by flames.

Navy ships and military aircraft have been deployed alongside emergency crews to provide humanitarian relief and assess the damage.

This season’s blazes have killed at least 18 people, destroyed more than 1,000 homes and scorched about 5.5 million hectares (13.5 million acres) — an area bigger than Denmark or the Netherlands.

The unprecedented crisis has sparked street protests calling on the government to immediately act on climate change, which scientists say is creating a longer and more intense bushfire season.

Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under increasing pressure for his actions, which included holidaying in Hawaii as the disaster unfolded and reiterating his support for Australia’s lucrative — but heavily polluting — coal mining industry.

AFP

Tourists Spend Thousands To Swim Among Penguins In Antarctic

Tourists and Barbijo penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) are seen on Half Moon island, Antarctica on November 09, 2019. PHOTO: Johan ORDONEZ / AFP

 

“It’s like getting stabbed,” a tourist exclaims, as he plunges into the three-degree Celsius (37-Fahrenheit) water, all under the intrigued gaze of a group of penguins.

All around Half Moon Island, off the Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes.

To reach the Antarctic destination the 58-year-old Norwegian, Even Carlsen, travelled 14,000 kilometres (8,700 miles), and spent thousands of euros.

Mostly indifferent to the bipeds donning neon-coloured windbreakers, wildlife abounds in the deafening silence of the icy landscape.

The penguins are as awkward on land as they are agile in water, while massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun.

Antarctica, a land of adventure without rulers, is “like the heart of the Earth,” according to Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.

He said it expands and contracts like a beating heart, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system absorbing warm currents from other oceans and redistributing cold water.

But this long tongue of land that stretches towards South America is warming rapidly. Its glaciers are melting and its ecosystem has been invaded by microplastics carried by currents.

 ‘Keep nothing but memories’

Tourists are also flocking to the area in greater numbers. This season nearly 80,000 visitors are expected, a 40-percent increase compared to last year.

Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism.

“Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories,” is their motto.

It is Antarctica’s very vulnerability that is a draw, with tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of what one day might be gone.

But critics question this sort of tourism, as the emissions from world-crossing flights and soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of cruise ships are part of what is putting the region under threat.

On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins — named for the black stripe on their chin — strut about in the spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests.

“This is to tell other males ‘this is my space’ and also, perhaps, ‘this is my female’,” ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss tells AFP.

The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years. It is not known if it is the fault of humanity.

AFP

Four Killed As Bus Carrying Chinese Tourists Crashes In US

 

At least four people were killed and up to 15 others critically injured when a bus transporting Chinese tourists crashed on Friday near Bryce Canyon National Park in the western US state of Utah, local authorities said.

The Utah Highway Patrol said the crash took place in the morning about seven miles from the park entrance, forcing the road to be shut as ambulances and rescue vehicles rushed to the site.

It said a total of 30 people, including the driver, were on board the bus as it headed to the famous park.

“Four have been killed 12-15 with critical injuries and 10 more with minor to serious injuries,” the Highway Patrol said in a tweet.

It posted pictures of the mangled bus, with its roof partly caved in, lying on the side of the main highway leading to the park entrance.

“The bus was traveling east bound when it ran off the road and rolled into the guardrail,” the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook message that described the crash as “horrible.”

It said the injured were transported to various hospitals, some by helicopter.

China’s embassy in Washington said on Twitter that it had initiated its emergency protocols and sent personnel to assist the victims.

Utah Governor Gary Hart expressed sadness over the tragedy.

“My heart sank when I heard the news that a tour bus crashed near Bryce Canyon,” he said in a tweet. “I grieve with all who lost loved ones in this crash and I’m grateful for the quick work of first responders, as well as all those who are volunteering to act as translators.”

Bryce Canyon is one of the most visited national parks in the US, attracting some 1.5 million tourists every year.

AFP