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Tired of waiting for aid, angry Nepalis block roads

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Tired of waiting for aid, angry Nepalis block roads
Reuters / Phuket Gazette


PHUKET: Nepali villagers blocked trucks carrying supplies for earthquake victims on Wednesday, demanding the government do more to help after last week’s disaster left more than 5,200 people dead and tens of thousands homeless and short of food and water.

In the capital Kathmandu, about 200 people protested outside parliament, asking for more buses to go to their homes in remote parts of the Himalayan nation and to hasten the distribution of aid that has flooded into the country but been slow to reach those in need.

In Sangachowk village in one of the worst-hit districts, about three hours by road from the capital, scores of angry villagers blocked the road with tires.

They stopped two trucks headed for the district capital with rice, noodles and biscuits. Later they blocked a convoy of three army trucks with relief supplies, leading to a tense standoff with armed soldiers.

“We have been given no food by the government,” said Udhav Giri, 34. “Trucks carrying rice go past and don’t stop. The district headquarters is getting all the food.”

The government was struggling to fully assess the devastation wrought by Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake.

“This is a disaster on an unprecedented scale. There have been some weaknesses in managing the relief operation,” Nepal’s Communication Minister Minendra Rijal said late on Tuesday.

An official from Nepal’s home ministry said the number of confirmed deaths had risen to 5,238 by Wednesday night. Almost 10,350 were injured in Nepal, and more than 80 were also killed in India and Tibet.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has told Reuters the death toll could reach 10,000, with information on casualties and damage from far-flung villages and towns yet to come in.

That would surpass the 8,500 who died in a 1934 earthquake, the last disaster on this scale to hit the Himalayan nation of 28 million people located between India and China.

However, there were signs on Wednesday that Kathmandu was slowly returning to normal. Some people prepared to head home to sleep after spending the last four nights in the open out of fear their damaged homes may not be able to withstand aftershocks.

Some street vendors started selling fruit in the city, but others said they were too scared to open shops because buildings had been so badly damaged.

“I want to start selling, I have children at home, but how can I open a shop where it is risky for me to sit inside?” said Arjun Rai, a 54-year-old who runs a general store.

In some mountainous areas, the government has struggled to deliver aid. Rescue helicopters have had problems landing at some sites.

Shambhu Khatri, a technician on board one of the helicopters, said entire hillsides had collapsed in parts of the Gorkha district, burying settlements, and access was almost impossible.

FEAR OF DISEASE

In Kathmandu and other cities, hospitals quickly overflowed with injured soon after the quake, with many being treated out in the open or not at all.

Guna Raj, who works for a Kathmandu-based NGO specializing in providing sanitation, said there have been outbreaks of diarrhea in relief camps because of a shortage of toilets and clean water.

“In the next few days or weeks I am sure there will be an outbreak of epidemics,” said Raj, who is involved in the relief effort.

Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi appealed for specialist doctors from overseas, as well as for search-and-rescue teams despite earlier suggestions from officials that Nepal did not need more such assistance.

“Our top priority is for relief and rescue teams. We need neurologists, orthopedic surgeons and trauma surgeons,” Bairagi said. Experts from a Polish NGO that has an 87-strong team in Nepal have said the chances of finding people alive in the ruins five days after the quake were “next to zero”.

Nevertheless, a Nepali-French rescue team pulled a 28-year-old man, Rishi Khanal, from a collapsed apartment block in Kathmandu on Tuesday after he had spent around 80 hours trapped in a room with three dead bodies.

Doctors amputated one of his legs on Wednesday because of damage from prolonged internal bleeding.

Tensions between foreigners and Nepalis desperate for relief surfaced, rescuers said, as fresh avalanches were reported in several areas.

Members of Israeli search-and-rescue group Magnus said hundreds of tourists, including about 100 Israelis, were being airlifted out of Langtang in Rasuwa district, a popular trekking area north of Kathmandu hit by a fresh avalanche on Tuesday.

Fights had broken out there because of food shortages, Magnus team member Amit Rubin said. One of the trekkers said there had also been scuffles over places on the rescue helicopters.

The quake also triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least 18 climbers and guides, including four foreigners, the worst disaster on the world’s highest peak.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Trump announces withdrawal from WHO over China claims

Jack Burton

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Trump announces withdrawal from WHO over China claims | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Al Jazeera

The UN has announced that the US is leaving the World Health Organisation effective July 6, 2021, after official notice from US President Donald Trump, who has been sharply critical of the agency’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. He had accused the WHO of being “a puppet of China”. The WHO has denied assertions by President Trump that it promoted Chinese “disinformation” about the virus.

Trump announced the decision over a month ago, and by law, must give a year’s notice of withdrawal from the Geneva-based body as well as pay all Washington’s dues under a 1948 joint resolution of the US Congress. The US currently owes more than US$200 million in assessed contributions, according to the WHO website. After more than 70 years of membership, and as the organisation’s main sponsor, the US is quitting the WHO amid rising tensions with China over the coronavirus pandemic. The virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump’s official withdrawal “an act of true senselessness as WHO coordinates the global fight against Covid-19.”

“With millions of lives at risk, the President is crippling the international effort to defeat the virus.”

The number of cases worldwide is rapidly approaching 12 million, with more than 546,000 known deaths worldwide, with about 25% of both cases and deaths in the US. Trump’s decision could be overturned if he is defeated by his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the November general election.

Trump stopped funding for the 194-member organisation in April, then in a May letter gave the WHO 30 days to commit to reforms. Less than 2 weeks later he announced the United States would leave the organization.

Vice President Mike Pence, was asked in a Fox News Channel interview, whether it was the right time to break with the WHO.

“It’s absolutely the right time.”

“The World Health Organisation let the world down… There have to be consequences to this.”

The WHO is an independent international body that works with the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the WHO is “absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against Covid-19.”

Since taking office in January 2017, President Trump has quit the UN Human Rights Council, the UN cultural agency, a global accord to tackle climate change and the Iran nuclear deal. He has also cut funding for the UN population fund and the UN agency that provides aid for Palestinian refugees.

SOURCE: Reuters

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

“Travel bubble” scheme likely to be delayed

Jack Burton

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“Travel bubble” scheme likely to be delayed | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Wikipedia

Thailand’s “travel bubble” scheme, which would allow limited numbers of certain groups of tourists from nations or areas deemed Covid-19 free by the World Health Organisation, now appears likely to be delayed. The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has announced the delay after several countries, that were considered for the scheme, have now seen resurgences of the virus. The CAAT’s director-general says even though talks about travel bubble arrangements are ongoing with countries including China, Japan, and South Korea, the scheme will be put on hold due to a spike in infections.

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha himself expressed serious concerns about the scheme. The government had decided to launch travel bubbles with several countries that had a low coronavirus risk and initially, the arrangements were to be adopted with the first group of international leisure travellers in August at the earliest. The CAAT director-general says local tourism is crucial to rebuilding the country’s aviation industry and pointed out that demand for domestic travel is picking up after airlines resumed operations. Many business operators also launched promotional campaigns to boost travel. He expressed confidence that further stimulus measures to be rolled out by the government will increase spending power and that the aviation and transport sectors will begin to recover.

Echoing the words of the PM, Thailand’s transport minister says “public safety is the top priority” for the government as it considers reopening the country to international travellers. When asked about reports over airlines preparing to resume international flights in September, he called on all airlines to wait for a clear policy from the government and the CAAT.

An epidemiologist at Chulalongkorn University is also urging the government to “exercise extreme caution” when considering travel bubble arrangements because the Covid-19 pandemic is still ravaging many parts of the world. And the chief of the Communicable Disease Division yesterday urged the public to “keep their guard up” even though the country has reported no community transmissions of coronavirus for 43 consecutive days.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Locals not rushing to book Singapore ‘staycations’

The Thaiger

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Locals not rushing to book Singapore ‘staycations’ | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Todayonline

Tokyo residents can escape the city with a hike up Mount Fuji. New Yorkers can head to Long Island for a weekend. In Indonesia locals will be able to fly to the beaches of Bali. And in Thailand anyone living here now can visit the island of Phuket for a beach retreat.

Such is the Covid era ‘staycation’, the solution for domestic tourist economies around the world. Or is it?

Residents of Singapore have less of an option as, well, Singapore is tiny so any staycation won’t take you far away from home. With the island’s borders closed to foreigners, hotels and tourist attractions are hoping ‘staycationers’ will plug the gap in the battered $20 billion-a-year tourist industry. But despite industry enthusiasm, the Singapore locals haven’t been rushing to book staycations just yet.

Michael Issenberg, CEO Accor South East Asia, the largest hotel operator in Singapore says that unless there is a return to international business, the hotel industry is going to be decimated.

“Up to 90% of our bookings come from international travellers.”

While tourism internationally has been profoundly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, a gradual re-opening of some domestic travel is giving a shot in the arm to airlines and hotels. Both industries, and the downstream travel agents, tour companies, taxi and passenger bus drivers, and cleaners, etc, have been particularly hard hit as border closures and lockdowns have shuttered hotels and ground entire fleets of planes.

Locals not rushing to book Singapore 'staycations' | News by The Thaiger

Singapore’s tourism sector faces an even tougher challenge with hotels given a green light just last week to request approval to welcome domestic tourists. But locals have been saying they’d prefer to save their money and wait for travel to resume in nearby holiday spots in Thailand and Malaysia rather than spend it on a hotel just around the corner in Singapore.

Thailand and Malaysia are also promoting local versions of ‘staycations’. In Thailand the government is rolling out a three month stimulus package which gives users a 3,000 baht digital ‘wallet’ to use for expenses on rooms, flights and food.

Back in Singapore, the 5.7 million Singaporeans are now rebooting their economy after two months of lockdown, including a huge spike of new cases in April, the borders are still mostly closed. The city-state registered a historic low of just 750 foreign visitors in April, down from 1.6 million in the same month last year. May wasn’t much better – 880 visitors.

Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp says that in the short term, hotels, restaurants and attractions can shuffle their businesses to draw interest to staycationers by adding attractions and food discounts,.

“However, our inherent small domestic market size implies it may not be a longer-term sustainable solution.”

Tourism has been an increasingly vital industry for Singapore, helping to re-invent the economy from its traditional finance and shipping hub strengths. World class attractions including – Marina Bay Sands hotel, casino, Universal Studios and the Singapore Zoo have drawn tourists from around the world. The island has found its advantages as a cheap shopping stop-over and financial hub have been taken over by other south east Asian mega cities.

Last year, Singapore hosted a record 19.1 million visitors, while tourism receipts rose to S$27.7 billion (US$19.8 billion), fun 3% from the year before. Singapore’s tourism industry, employing about 65,000 people, contributes about 4% to the island’s GDP.

The border closure means Singapore needs to persuade locals to spend more money at home. Tourism Board CEO Keith Tan is confident the locals will be keen to travel locally and support the Singaporean economy.

“They may therefore be open to take time off in their own city and rediscover all that Singapore has to offer.”

“Singapore has set aside S$90 million for the tourism sector and a task force is developing domestic and international recovery plans to be shared soon. The board also aims to strengthen Singapore’s brand abroad by spending S$2 million to encourage content creators to produce compelling stories about the city-state.”

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