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'It's unfair': British tourists fume as Portugal removed from safe travel list

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Tired of mixed messages, British sunseekers in Portugal reacted with fury and disbelief to their government's decision to reimpose a quarantine regime for travellers coming from the popular southern European destination, write Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira.

Desperate to shake off pandemic blues, John Joyce, from Newcastle, and his family decided to book a holiday in sunny Portugal as soon as Britain added it to the so-called green list of foreign destinations around three weeks ago.

"Everybody needed a little break... a change from being stuck at home," the 44-year-old said as he enjoyed a beer at a restaurant in the heart of Lisbon.

Portugal was the only big beach destination placed on the list, which allowed Britons to travel there without needing to quarantine when returning home. Like Joyce, thousands packed their bags.

But on Thursday Britain shifted Portugal to its amber list due to rising COVID-19 case numbers and the risk of a mutation of the virus variant first discovered in India. Read more ]

"It's a bit unfair," Joyce said. "There are families bringing out kids and people who booked their holidays already...and the stress involved for people, including myself," a visibly annoyed Joyce said.

Charlotte Cheddle, a 22-year-old from England, echoed the same feelings, urging the British government to either "ban international travel completely or communicate properly with people".

People sunbathe on the Luz beach, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Lagos, Portugal, June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
A Ryanair flight from Manchester arrives at Faro Airport on the first day that Britons are allowed to enter Portugal without needing to quarantine, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions continue to ease, in Faro, Portugal, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo

"It's silly," said Cheddle, who will now have to quarantine for 10 days when she flies back. "We made an effort to get tested privately...We paid for everything and we have done everything to make it safe."

Portugal has lifted most of its lockdown restrictions. The government has been heavily criticised for allowing thousands of mainly maskless English football to party in Porto during the Champions League final last weekend.

Some locals worried it could fuel a spike in cases.

The country of just over 10 million people reported 769 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest daily increase since early April. Total infections now stand at 851,031.

The British government's decision is a huge blow for Portugal's tourism sector, which represents a significant chunk of GDP and has Britain as one of its biggest foreign markets.

"It's not great for businesses but slowly we will get there - or at least I really hope so because our economy is down," said restaurant manager Ana Paula Gomes in Lisbon.

The head of the hotels' association in the touristy Algarve region, Eliderico Viegas, said Britain's move would hit the sector like a "bucket of cold water".

COVID-19

EU Digital COVID Certificate - ‘A big step towards a safe recovery’

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Today (14 June), the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission attended the official signing ceremony for the Regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, marking the end of the legislative process.

Prime Minister of Portugal Antonio Costa said: “Today, we are making a big step towards a safe recovery, to recover our freedom of movement and to boost economic recovery. The digital certificate is an inclusive tool. It includes people who have recovered from COVID, people with negative tests and vaccinated people. Today we are sending a renewed sense of confidence to our citizens that together we will overcome this pandemic and to enjoy travel again, safely and freely across the European Union.”

Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen said: “On this day 36 years ago, the Schengen Agreement was signed, five member states at that time decided to open their borders to one another and this was the beginning of what today is for many, many citizens, one of the biggest achievements of Europe, the possibility to travel freely within our union. The European digital COVID certificate reassures us of this spirit of an open Europe, a Europe without barriers, but also a Europe that is slowly but surely opening up after most difficult time, the certificate is a symbol of an open and digital Europe.”

Thirteen member states have already started to issue EU Digital COVID Certificates, by 1 July the new rules will be applicable in all EU states. The Commission has set up a gateway that will allow member states to verify that the certificates are authentic. Von der Leyen also said that the certificate was also attributable to the success of the European vaccination strategy. 

EU countries will still be able to impose restrictions if they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health, but all states are asked to refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of the EU Digital COVID Certificate

EU Digital COVID Certificate

The aim of the EU Digital COVID Certificate is to facilitate safe and free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. All Europeans have the right to free movement, also without the certificate, but the certificate will facilitate travel, exempting holders from restrictions like quarantine.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate will be accessible for everyone and it will:

  • cover COVID-19 vaccination, test and recovery
  • be free of charge and available in all EU languages
  • be available in a digital and paper-based format
  • be secure and include a digitally signed QR code

In addition, the Commission committed to mobilising €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to support Member States in providing affordable tests.

The Regulation will apply for 12 months as of 1 July 2021.

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Parliament president calls for a European Search and Rescue Mission

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European Parliament President David Sassoli (pictured) has opened a high-level interparliamentary conference on managing migration and asylum in Europe. The conference focused particularly on the external aspects of migration. The president said: “We have chosen to discuss today the external dimension of migration and asylum policies because we know that only by tackling the instability, crises, poverty, human rights violations that occur beyond our borders, will we be able to address the root causes that push millions of people to leave. We need to manage this global phenomenon in a human way, to welcome the people that knock on our doors every day with dignity and respect.
 
“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on migration patterns locally and worldwide and has had a multiplier effect on the forced movement of people around the world, especially where access to treatment and healthcare is not guaranteed. The pandemic has disrupted migration pathways, blocked immigration, destroyed jobs and income, reduced remittances, and pushed millions of migrants and vulnerable populations into poverty.
 
“Migration and asylum are already an integral part of the external action of the European Union. But they must become part of a stronger and more cohesive foreign policy  in the future.
 
“I believe it is our duty first of all to save lives. It is no longer acceptable to leave this responsibility only to NGOs, which perform a substitute function in the Mediterranean. We must go back to thinking about joint action by the European Union in the Mediterranean that saves lives and tackles traffickers. We need a European search and rescue mechanism at sea, which uses the expertise of all actors involved, from Member States to civil society to European agencies.
 
“Second, we must ensure that people in need of protection can arrive in the European Union safely and without risking their lives. We need humanitarian channels to be defined together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We must work together on a European resettlement system based on common responsibility. We are talking about people who can also make an important contribution to the recovery of our societies affected by the pandemic and demographic decline, thanks to their work and their skills.
 
“We also need to put in place a European migration reception policy. Together we shoulddefine the criteria for a single entry and residence permit, assessing the needs of our labor markets at a national level. During the pandemic, entire economic sectors came to a halt due to the absence of immigrant workers. We need regulated immigration for the recovery of our societies and for the maintenance of our social protection systems.”

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Mainstream media risks becoming a threat to public health

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In recent weeks the controversial claim that the pandemic might have leaked from a Chinese laboratory - once dismissed by many as a fringe conspiracy theory - has been gaining traction. Now, US President Joe Biden has announced an urgent investigation that will look into the theory as a possible origin of the disease, writes Henry St.George.

Suspicion first arose in early 2020 for obvious reasons, the virus having emerged in the same Chinese city as the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which has been studying coronaviruses in bats for over a decade. The laboratory is located just a few kilometres from the Huanan wet market where the first cluster of infections emerged in Wuhan.

Despite the glaring coincidence, many in the media and politics dismissed the idea outright as a conspiracy theory and refused to consider it seriously throughout the past year. But this week it has emerged that a report prepared in May 2020 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California had concluded that the hypothesis claiming the virus leaked from a Chinese lab in Wuhan was plausible and deserved further investigation.

So why was the Lab Leak Theory overwhelmingly dismissed from the get go? There is no question that from the mainstream media’s perspective the idea was tarnished by association with President Donald Trump. Granted, skepticism of the President’s claims surrounding any given aspect of the pandemic would have been warranted at almost any stage. To put it euphemistically, Trump had shown himself to be something of an unreliable narrator.

During the course of the pandemic Trump dismissed the seriousness of COVID-19 repeatedly, pushed unproven, potentially dangerous remedies like hydroxychloroquine, and even suggested at one memorable press briefing that injecting bleach might help.

Journalists also reasonably feared similarities with the narrative of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whereby vast threats were cited and assumptions granted to an antagonistic theory with too little evidence to back it up.

However, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that a general animus felt towards Trump by large swathes of the media brought about a large-scale dereliction of duty and failure to uphold objective standards of journalism as well as science. In reality the Lab Leak was never a conspiracy theory but a valid hypothesis all along.

Suggestions to the contrary by anti-establishment figures in China were also summarily quashed. As early as September 2020, the ‘Rule of Law Foundation’, connected with prominent Chinese dissident Miles Kwok, appeared on the title page a study that alleged the coronavirus was an artificial pathogen. Mr. Kwok’s long-standing opposition to the CCP was sufficient to ensure the idea was not taken seriously.

Under the pretense that they were combatting misinformation, the social media monopolies even censored posts about the lab-leak hypothesis. Only now – after almost every major media outlet as well as the British and American security services have confirmed that it is a feasible possibility – have they been forced to backtrack.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts,” a Facebook spokesman said, “we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps.” In other words, Facebook now believes that its censorship of millions of posts in the preceding months had been in error.

The consequences of the idea not having been taken seriously are profound. There is evidence that the lab in question may have been conducting what is called “gain of function” research, a dangerous innovation in which diseases are deliberately made more virulent as part of scientific research.

As such, if the lab theory is in fact true, the world has been deliberately kept in the dark about the genetic origins of a virus that has killed over 3.7m people to date. Hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved if the key properties of the virus and its propensity to mutate had been understood sooner and better.

The cultural ramifications of such a discovery cannot be overstated. If the hypothesis is true - the realization will soon set in that the world’s fundamental mistake was not insufficient reverence for scientists, or inadequate respect for expertise, but not enough scrutiny of mainstream media and too much censorship on Facebook. Our main failure will have been the inability to think critically and acknowledge that there is no such thing as absolute expertise.

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