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Ubiquitous coronavirus: Do travel blockades work?

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Over the past couple of weeks, many countries, including Iran, have imposed travel restrictions to help curb the spread of novel coronavirus. In this line, incoming and outgoing flights have been suspended, and road travels restricted to a great extent.

Iran on Sunday declared it is set to lift intercity travel bans on April 20, a decision which could inflame a divide in public opinion.

The scheme was announced days after President Hassan Rouhani unveiled a “Smart Social Distancing Initiative” as a new phase of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Under the initiative, low-risk businesses are allowed to return to work if they meet strict protocols introduced by the Health Ministry. However, the plan has drawn skepticism from some experts.

Iran medical council on Sunday warned the coronavirus crisis may be developing under the initiative, saying it may waste all the previous efforts. “Though the resumption of economic activities has been the main goal of the plan, efforts of all people, officials and medical staff would be wasted without considering scientific and executive equipment, and there will be serious threats to the recurrence of the disease.”

Avoiding to touch the face, washing hands, social isolation, and cancelation of travel plans are the most frequent recommendations nowadays we hear for lessening the likelihood of being infected by the virus. The latter is still puzzling because public health experts are expressing a great deal of skepticism about, noting once a disease has started circulating within a community, banning outsiders is mostly useless.

Now, a tricky question is how effective travel blockades could be, while the virus may be traced almost everywhere. There are different opinions. Many authorities emphasize the need for enforcing travel bans, believing that such restrictions could be successful in briefly delaying the spread of coronavirus just for a few days, not in stopping it entirely. Researchers say it could be a strategy in terms of buying time for governments, healthcare professionals, and communities to prepare.

Effects of travel restrictions in China’s Wuhan, the ground zero of the virus, have been recently investigated in a recent study conducted by an international group from institutions including Northeastern University in Boston, MA, the Bruno Kessler Foundation and the ISI Foundation in Italy, the Fogarty International Center at NIH, Fudan University in Shanghai, China, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington in Seattle, WA, and the University of Florida.

The work was published last month in Science Magazine in an article titled, “The effect of travel restrictions on the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.”

The researchers of the study used computer simulations to examine the impact of restricting movement. They found that the travel ban introduced in Wuhan on January 23 delayed progression of the epidemic throughout Mainland China by three to five days because the virus had already made its way to other major Chinese cities by the time the restrictions were put in place.

The authors, however, suggest that the greatest benefit to mitigating the epidemic will come from public health interventions and behavioral changes; factors like early detection, isolation, and handwashing.

Regarding travel limits, it is worthy to remind that epidemiologists have long observed the failure of travel restrictions to contain other infectious diseases, such as influenza.

You might say coronavirus knows no borders, however, borders may be the first thing that a majority of world leaders and policymakers know.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Tourism

UNWTO Launches Global Guidelines to Reopen Tourism

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has released a set of guidelines to help tourism sector emerge stronger and more sustainably from COVID-19. The guidelines highlight the need to act decisively, to restore confidence and, as UNWTO strengthens its partnership with Google, to embrace innovation and the digital transformation of global tourism.

The guidelines were produced in consultation with the Global Tourism Crisis Committee and aim to support governments and private sector to recover from an unparalleled crisis. Depending on when travel restrictions are lifted, the United Nations specialized agency warns that international tourist arrivals could fall by between 60% and 80%. This puts 100-120 million jobs at risk and could lead to US$ 910 billion to US$ 1.2 trillion lost in exports.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “These guidelines provide both governments and businesses with a comprehensive set of measures designed to help them open tourism up again in a safe, seamless and responsible manner. They are the product of the enhanced cooperation that has characterized tourism’s response to this shared challenge, building on knowledge and inputs from across the public and private sectors and from several UN agencies as part of the UN’s wider response.”

Safe and security protocols for tourism recovery

The new guide, a follow up of the Recommendations for Action already endorsed by the Committee, is focused on seven priorities for tourism recovery based on the pillars of mitigating the economic impact, developing safety protocols and coordinated responds and fostering innovation.

The guidelines highlight the importance of restoring the confidence of the travelers through safety and security protocols designed to reduce risks in each step of the tourism value chain. These protocols include the implementation of check procedures where appropriate, including temperature scans, testing, physical distancing, enhanced frequency of cleaning and the provision of hygiene kits for safe air travel, hospitality services or safe events.

Innovation key as UNWTO builds on Google partnership

The UNWTO Guidelines also highlight the opportunity to foster a digital transformation of destinations, companies and employees with initiatives such as the free online training with the UNWTO Online Academy and the implementation of apps such as the Hi Card to improve international interoperability at the airports and hotels. The role of technology in promoting social distancing in hotels and tourist destinations is also highlighted.

This comes as UNWTO strengthens its partnership with Google. Through this enhanced collaboration, the UN agency will work with Google to promote digital learning and online skills training so as to provide new opportunities across the global tourism sector.

Secretary-General Pololikashvili added: “We are thrilled to be working more closely with Google. The past weeks have highlighted the enhanced role technology plays in our lives and furthering the digital transformation of tourism will make the sector more resilient and create opportunities for people all around the world.”

About the Global Tourism Crisis Committee

UNWTO formed the Global Tourism Crisis Committee to guide the sector as it responds to the COVID-19 crisis and to build the foundations for future resilience and sustainable growth.

The Committee comprises representatives of UNWTO’s Member States and Affiliate Members, alongside the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO),  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Bank Group and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The private sector is represented by Airports Council International (ACI), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) to ensure a coordinated and effective response.

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Reforms Needed to Future-Proof Tourism Industry

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Tourism officials from APEC’s member economies are advancing cooperation in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the tourism industry and charting the way towards recovery.

It was announced at the APEC Tourism Working Group virtual meeting on Friday that the pandemic deeply affects international travel and would set back international tourist arrivals by 58 percent to 78 percent in 2020.

“The tourism industry is the first sector to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and will be among the last ones to recover as travelers become more conscious of the health risks and are discouraged by the stringent travel restrictions that are being implemented around the world,” said Muhammad Daud, Senior Director of Tourism Policy and International Relations of Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

“We have to assume our role by consolidating our efforts in areas where we can support the businesses and communities in the region,” added Daud, who is also the Lead Shepherd of the working group.

The Asia-Pacific region recorded the highest growth in terms of tourist arrivals globally with a total of 464.7 million international tourist arrivals in 2017, or about 33 percent of global tourism arrivals. Moving forward, this will no longer be the case.

“It will take a long time before people have the confidence and trust in traveling again. Even when the situation gets better, it will take a while for global travel to pick up the pace,” said Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, the APEC Secretariat’s Executive Director, in her remarks to officials.

“The tourism industry is the backbone for many of our small businesses, women and vulnerable communities,” she continued. “We must fine tune our approach to provide the people in our communities the support they need in navigating through these difficult times.”

The travel and tourism sector employs 57.5 million people in the APEC region and contributes USD1.5 trillion to global domestic product (GDP). There are 470 international airports in APEC economies, facilitating business and leisure travel. The scale of the industry’s contribution to the economy makes it an important driver of growth for the region.

Work in promoting sustainable and inclusive tourism within APEC is underway, including aligning policies among member economies, facilitating travel and improving coordination mechanisms. Given current developments, the group is reviewing the existing work plans and goals, including exploring the best solutions to conform to the new normal within the tourism industry.

The group will also bolster efforts in strengthening the resiliency of tourism by incorporating risk and emergency management measures, enhancing information flow for sharing best practices and encouraging more collaboration.

“Members are keen to open up the economy and revive the tourism sector, however the health and safety of travelers are paramount. We need to work closely with our health and emergency preparedness agencies in developing standard procedures that will instill confidence, encourage travel and ensure safety at the same time,” Daud concluded.

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UNWTO Releases a COVID-19 Technical Assistance Package for Tourism Recovery

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has released a Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package to offer guidance to Member States in response to COVID-19. The package is structured around three main pillars: economic recovery, marketing and promotion and institutional strengthening and resilience building.

With tourism among the hardest-hit of all sectors, UNWTO has identified three possible scenarios for the months ahead. Depending on when restrictions on travel are lifted, international tourist arrivals could decline by 60-80% in 2020.

This could translate into a decline in export revenues from tourism of between US$910 billion to US$1.2 trillion and place 100-120 million jobs directly at risk. The social ripple effect is also feared to be at least equally challenging for many societies the world over.

Against this backdrop, the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package is designed to support governments, the private sector and donor agencies face this unprecedented socio-economic emergency.

UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili says: “We must support the tourism sector now with real actions while we prepare for it to come back and be stronger and more sustainable. Recovery plans and programmes for tourism will translate into jobs and economic growth, not just within tourism itself but across the whole of societies. This package of support will help governments and business implement our Recommendations for Recovery”

Call for action: economic, promotional and institutional measures

Alongside the set of recommendations already released by UNWTO to call for action to mitigate the socio-economic impact of COVID and endorsed by the UNWTO Global Tourism Crisis Committee, the package identified three potential areas of intervention to accelerate the recovery of tourism: economic, promotional and institutional.

The COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package makes the case for policies and measures to be introduced to stimulate the economic recovery of the tourism sector. These should be introduced alongside the development of impact needs assessments and country-specific plans for tourism recovery, among other measures.

In terms of marketing and promotion, UNWTO stands ready to provide technical assistance to identify markets that can help accelerate recovery, addressing product diversification, and (re)formulating marketing strategies and promotional activities.

The third pillar, institutional strengthening and resilience building, is particularly aimed at enhancing public-private partnership and promoting collaborative efforts for tourism recovery, and, enhancing skills in crisis management and recovery.

Tourism for Sustainable Development

The technical support offered by UNWTO is designed to help Members work towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Several of these Goals directly relate to tourism, most notably the SDGs 8, 12 and 17, on ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’, and ‘Partnerships for the Goals’.

UNWTO is also working as part of the wider UN response to COVID-19, emphasizing the role tourism can play in shielding developing countries and the most vulnerable members of society from the worst impacts of the current crisis.

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