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More airlines ease policies for bookings to Zika-hit areas

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– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

More airlines ease policies for bookings to Zika-hit areas
Phuket Gazette / Reuters


PHUKET: Lufthansa (LHAG.DE), British Airways (ICAG.L) and JetBlue (JBLU.O) on Thursday became the latest international carriers to offer rebookings or refunds for tickets to areas affected by the Zika virus, as the World Health Organization expressed concern about the swift spread of the mosquito-borne disease.

The virus, which has been linked to birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil, has provoked concern among travelers holding tickets to affected destinations. The virus is present in more than 20 countries and territories in the Americas, including Mexico, Puerto Rico and Caribbean countries that are popular with U.S. winter vacationers.

Lufthansa and British Airways both said they would offer pregnant women the opportunity to change their reservations to another destination or delay travel, although they stopped short of offering complete refunds as several U.S. airlines have.

JetBlue, which is offering refunds, so far has seen “no measurable impact” on advance bookings or customer refunds, Marty St. George, JetBlue’s executive vice president for commercial and planning, said on an investor call Thursday.

Cruise lines and resorts have so far reported little impact from increasing fears about the disease. Still, some cancellations, especially among the main risk group – pregnant women – look inevitable especially as the illness becomes more widely publicized.

“We believe there could be a slowdown in bookings during this time of heightened media coverage and general fear until more information is known,” airline analyst Helane Becker of Cowen and Co said in a research note on Thursday.

However, speaking in terms of the impact of the disease on airlines’ performance, she added, “We do not view this virus on the same level as the Ebola outbreak in late 2014 or SARS in 2003 … We would view a decline in shares as a result of the Zika virus as a buying opportunity.”

New York-traded airline shares were generally lower, led by a 9.2 percent drop in Panama-based Copa (CPA.N) and JetBlue, down 7.4 percent.

Several carriers – from United Airlines (UAL.N) to Latam LAN.SN – have already offered to refund people planning to travel to regions affected by the virus.

American Airlines (AAL.O), the U.S. carrier with the largest network of flights to Latin America and the Caribbean, said on Thursday ticketholders to any Zika-hit area could request a refund, broadening its previous list of eligible destinations.

Delta Air Lines announced a similar refund policy Wednesday.

Brazil’s Gol (GOLL4.SA) said it would let pregnant women reschedule flights or receive credit, but would not offer refunds.

The World Health Organization warned Thursday that Zika is spreading “explosively” and could affect as many as four million people in the Americas.

The virus causes rash, mild fever and red eyes. Some 80 percent of those infected typically do not have symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to determine if they have the virus. No vaccine or treatment is available.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

US President Biden jump starting Covid-19 strategy

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US President Biden jump starting Covid-19 strategy | The Thaiger

Newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden is jump starting his Covid-19strategy by signing more executive orders on his 2nd day in office. The orders include requiring Americans to wear masks for travelling in planes, ships, intercity buses and public transportation.

Such mask-wearing requirements are now a federal mandate, which leaves little room for Americans to argue about their rights, which was applauded by the airline unions. Travellers from abroad must also now produce a negative Covid-19 test before departing for the US and must quarantine upon arrival.

“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it will take months to turn this around. To a nation waiting for action, let me be clear on this point: Help is on the way.”

Such promised help comes as deaths from Covid in the US have passed 400,000, with Biden saying projections point to that number increasing to 500,000 in a month. But his efforts may be hampered if Republicans don’t help him pass a US $1.9 trillion economic relief and Covid response package.

Biden officials also say they’ve been hampered by a lack of cooperation from the Trump administration during the transition. They say they are confused about Trump’s actions on vaccine distribution which has garnered many complaints from states saying that they are not getting enough vaccines on top of being asked to vaccinate more groups of people.

But Biden says he is seeking to expand testing and vaccine availability, announcing a plan of 100 million shots in the first 100 days of him being in office. Some independent experts, however, are criticising the new president by saying his goal is disappointingly low, to which Biden responded.

“When I announced it, you all said it’s not possible. Come on, give me a break, man.”

Biden has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin setting up vaccination centres, aiming to have 100 running in a month. He’s also trying to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month, building on a plan devised by the Trump administration.

Biden has also set a goal of having most K-8 schools reopen in his first 100 days, with states receiving aid from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to help get schools back open. But administration officials say reopening schools safely depends on increased testing.

The national vaccination strategy plan put forth by the new administration, requires $160 billion, and Biden says he wants an additional $170 billion to aid the reopening of schools and universities.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Politics

US Ambassador to Thailand quits after Biden inaugurated

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US Ambassador to Thailand quits after Biden inaugurated | The Thaiger

The US Ambassador to Thailand seems to have quit after only serving less than 1 year in office and moments after President Biden’s inauguration. Michael George DeSombre, who was appointed by President Trump in early 2020, made the announcement of his departure on the embassy’s official social media platform yesterday. A day before, he met with PM Prayut to “thank the Royal Thai Government” as is customary with departing ambassadors. DeSombre succeeded career diplomat Glyn T. Davies.

“It has been a privilege serving as the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. I am exceedingly proud of all we have done to strengthen the US-Thai relationship. I am signing off now from this account and leaving it in the good hands of our Embassy staff.”

Now, as the US Embassy official website names Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath as its diplomatic mission leader, it is not known when a new ambassador will be chosen by the Biden administration.

Just last year in October, DeSombre wrote, on the same day that President Trump tested positive for the virus, that he was less than supportive of a full-blown shutdown.

“The evidence over the last six months shows that the costs of a really extreme shutdown are generally worse than the benefits and it is better to keep the economy running.”

According to Wikipedia, DeSombre co-founded Republicans Overseas for Americans abroad in 2013 in which the organisation focuses on tax reform. Upon his appointment as Ambassador, DeSombre stated that his office would primarily encourage the economic partnership between the two countries, with a focus on American investments and Thailand’s infrastructure projects and supply chains.

He has also said that US firms were interested in increasing investments in Thailand, including in areas under the 1966 Amity treaty. Thailand and the US established relations in 1818 and later formalised the ties in 1833.

SOURCE: Khaosod English

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World

US President Biden reverses Trump’s policies on first day of presidency

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US President Biden reverses Trump’s policies on first day of presidency | The Thaiger

Just after being sworn in, the new US President Joe Biden is reversing Donald Trump’s policies by signing 15 executive actions, principally targeting pandemic and climate change. Joe Biden, now America’s 46th President, said there is “no time to waste” as he referenced America’s battle with Covid-19.

“Some of the executive actions I’m going to be signing today are going to help change the course of the COVID crisis, we’re going to combat climate change in a way that we haven’t done so far and advance racial equity and support other underserved communities. These are just all starting points.”

Among his initiatives, President Biden signed a mask mandate for those on federal property and federal employees. He also signed an order to designate a new White House office to coordinate the response to Covid-19 while halting the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organisation. His press secretary, Jen Psaki, says his quick actions were just the beginning of many changes.

“The Day One plans were just the start of a flurry of executive actions Biden would take soon after entering office. In the coming days and weeks, we will be announcing additional executive actions that confront these challenges and deliver on the president-elect’s promises.”

President Biden signed documents to begin the process of rejoining the Paris climate accord, including revoking the permit that was granted by former President Trump to the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

President Biden stopped Donald Trump’s emergency declaration that funded the border wall’s construction and ended travel bans on some majority-Muslim countries. It was reported that he will also reverse the ban on transgenders joining the military and reverse a policy that blocks US funding for abortion programs overseas.

He also asked to extend a moratorium on housing evictions until the end of March and on student loan payments until the end of September.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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