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MEPs says EU must act - 22 million tourism jobs at stake

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MEPs' Tourism Task Force reiterates that the tourism sector needs EU-level co-ordination and substantial support to give SMEs a chance of survival.

The Transport and Tourism Committee met on Wednesday with travel and tourism stakeholders to take stock of the dire situation facing the sector and to discuss ways to overcome this unprecedented crisis. (Catch up with the debate here.)

The Tourism Task Force MEPs issued a joint statement after the meeting, acknowledging the tourism sector’s disappointment that the EU has done little to help:

“More than six months have passed in this emergency situation, yet there are still no common criteria in the EU on how to handle and live with this pandemic: no universal hygiene and health protocols, no common rules for testing or on how to assess the risks, no adhering to the free movement principle.

"Even when travelling is partially possible, the wide array of rules make it extremely difficult. People are confused and have no guarantees that their planned trips can and will go ahead.

"The tourism sector, that employs 22 million people in Europe, is on the verge of collapse. This is no small threat: depending on the country, tourism accounts from 4.3% to 25% of the GDP. As things stand, hundreds of thousands of SMEs will not survive until the end of this year.

"It is still not clear which crisis management tool can be used by the tourism sector, besides the “European instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE)”. We insist on urgent concrete action from the European Commission and the member states. A well-defined crisis management mechanism is needed; the sector is fighting to survive.

"The tourism sector therefore requires urgently:

  • Direct and dedicated financial support;
  • consistent and transparent criteria to assess the risks across the EU;
  • EU-level coordination of travel restrictions, hygiene and health protocols, and;
  • a clear path towards a genuine EU policy on sustainable tourism.

"It is high time for the EU to come forward with a strategy on sustainable tourism and a dedicated budget line in the next long-term EU budget. A €300 million budget line to implement a common vision for sustainable tourism over the next seven years is not too much to ask. It is essential, to make sure that this economic sector will have a chance to get back on its feet after months of stagnation and so that we can shape it to become more sustainable.

"We need EU leadership. It is a matter of political will and it is time to take bold decisions.”

Members of the Tourism Task Force:

Karima Delli (Greens/EFA, FR) (Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism)

Benoît Lutgen (EPP, BE)

Elżbieta Katarzyna Łukacijewska (EPP, PL)

Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar (EPP, PT) (Member of the Steering Group)

Barbara Thaler (EPP, AT)

Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi (EPP, EL)

Giuseppe Ferrandino (S&D, IT)

István Ujhelyi (S&D, HU) (Member of the Steering Group)

Josianne Cutajar (S&D, MT)

Isabel García Muñoz (S&D, ES)

José Ramón Bauzà Díaz (Renew, ES) (Member of the Steering Group)

Søren Gade (Renew, DK)

Roman Haider (ID, AT)

Massimo Casanova (ID, IT)

Tilly Metz (Greens/EFA, LU)

Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg (Greens/EFA, DE)

Carlo Fidanza (ECR, IT)

Elena Kountoura (GUE/NGL, EL)

Mario Furore (NA, IT)

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Italy approves trial of osteoporosis drug to treat COVID-19

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Italy’s main medicines regulator gave the go-ahead on Tuesday (27 October) for human clinical trials on raloxifene, a generic osteoporosis drug that researchers hope may also help reduce COVID-19 symptoms and make patients less infectious, writes .

The drug was identified as a potential COVID-19 treatment by researchers using supercomputers to screen more than 400,000 molecules for chemical characteristics that might inhibit the virus, focusing on those already approved for use in humans.

Andrea Beccari, from Excalate4Cov, a public-private consortium led by Italy’s Dompé Farmaceutici, said researchers hoped that raloxifene - a generic drug known as a selective oestrogen receptor modulator - would block replication of the virus in cells and thus slow down progress of the disease.

“It inhibits virus replication, thus preventing the worsening of patients with mild symptoms, and also decreases infectivity, limiting the viral load,” said Marco Allegretti, head of research at Dompé Farmaceutici.

There was some evidence early in the coronavirus pandemic that oestrogen present in pre-menopausal women might have a protective effect against the virus. Some scientists think raloxifene, which is prescribed to strengthen the bones of older women with lower levels of oestrogen, the female hormone, may provide the same kind of protection.

The trial will involve 450 hospital and home patients at Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital and Humanitas in Milan in the initial phase.

They will be given a seven-day treatment of raloxifene capsules in a randomised sample and 174 more people may be added in the final stage. Enrolment will last 12 weeks.

The Excalate4Cov platform is backed by the European Commission and coordinates supercomputing centres in Italy, Germany and Spain with pharmaceutical companies and research centres, including the University of Louvain, Fraunhofer Institut, Politecnico di Milano and Spallanzani Hospital.

It uses a chemical library of 500 billion molecules and can process 3 million molecules per second using four supercomputers of more than 122 Petaflops, a unit of computing speed equal to one thousand trillion floating-point operations a second.

Researchers harnessed the power of the supercomputers to create a three-dimensional structure of 12 coronavirus proteins and conduct simulations to see where the proteins may be attacked by a drug.

“It took a million hours of calculation,” Beccari said, adding that, as research continued, it may be possible to develop second-generation drugs superior to raloxifene.

($1 = €0.8443)

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France sees highest number of COVID-19 patients going into hospital since April

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French hospitals registered 1,307 new coronavirus patients on Monday in the highest one-day increase since 2 April, which saw 1,607 new patients, as the health system comes under increasing stress from a runaway infection rate, writes Geert De Clercq.

French health ministry data showed that France now has a total of 17,784 coronavirus patients in its hospitals, compared with a record 32,292 on 14 April, at the height of the March-May lockdown.

The ministry also reported 26,771 new confirmed coronavirus cases in past 24 hours, from 52,010 on Sunday (25 October). On Monday, the tally usually drops sharply because of reporting lags over the weekend.

The death toll went up by 257, taking the cumulative total since the start of the epidemic to 35,018. The number of people in intensive care units rose by 186 to 2,770.

Several regions in France have implemented emergency plans in hospitals, delaying non-essential operations to make space in ICU units for COVID-19 patients and cancelling staff holidays.

Sources told Reuters that authorities were looking at options for still tighter measures to fight COVID-19, including starting a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m curfew earlier, confining people to their homes at weekends except for essential trips, and closing non-essential shops.

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Mounting pressure on Portugal's health system could prompt further restrictions, minister says

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Portugal’s national health minister warned on Monday (26 October) that the country’s national health service was under grave pressure and that further restrictive measures could be coming as the number of patients in intensive care approached record levels, write and

“Although the Portuguese and the national health service are better prepared to respond to the pandemic than before, the situation in Portugal - as in other places - is grave,” Health Minister Marta Temido told a news conference.

The government “is ready to cover possible new municipalities with more restrictive measures,” she added.

Three municipalities in the country’s North went into partial lockdown last Thursday, and non-essential travel between regions was banned from 30 October 30 to 3 November to reduce the risk of transmission during the All Saints national holiday.

A total of 1,672 people were in hospital as of Monday, with 240 in intensive care units (ICUs) - close to the peak of 271 reached in April.

The health system, which prior to the pandemic had the lowest number of critical care beds per 100,000 inhabitants in Europe, could accommodate a maximum of 800 COVID-19 patients in ICUs, Temido said.

Given current trends, over half that figure would be reached by next week, the minister cautioned.

Portugal has reported a total of 121,133 coronavirus cases and 2,343 deaths.

Recent numbers of new daily cases - reaching 3,669 on Saturday - have approached triple the country’s previous peak in April, but testing has also multiplied by around the same proportion.

The country’s toll of hospitalizations and deaths has surpassed April levels, reflecting the considerable number of new cases still being detected among higher-risk age groups, worrying health authorities. Rising hospitalizations and deaths are not linked to increased testing.

Parliament voted on Friday for masks to be compulsory in public spaces where social distancing is difficult for a period of 70 days, a measure which will soon come into law.

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