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FEBRUARY 2021

South Asia Times

CELEBRATiNG 18TH YEAR OF PUBLICATION

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guest editorial PG 2 COMMUNITY PG 5 SOUTH ASIA PG 10 cinema PG 14

Vol.18 I No. 6 I FEBRUARY 2021 I FREE

HINDI PUSHP PGS 16-17

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travel PG 19

Editor: Neeraj Nanda I M: 0421 677 082 I Add: PO Box 465, Brentford Square, Victoria 3131

Gaura Travel excels by flying 10,000 INDIANS back home from Australia

.......Read on page 9

La Trobe University announces decision to retain Hindi in curriculum .......Read on page 13

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Guest EDITORIAl

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South Asia Times

The big barriers to global vaccination: patent rights, national self-interest and the wealth gap

PUBLISHER/EDITOR Neeraj Nanda M: 0421 677 082 satimes@gmail.com

EDITOR (Hindi Pushp) Mridula Kakkar kakkar@optusnet.com.au

SAT NEWS BUREAU/Australia (Melbourne) Neeraj Nanda satimes@gmail.com

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By Ilan Noy* & Ami Neuberger**

W

e will not be able to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us until the world’s population is mostly immune through vaccination or previous exposure to the disease. A truly global vaccination campaign, however, would look very different from what we are seeing now. For example, as of January 20, many more people have been immunised in Israel (with a population less than 10 million) than in Africa and Latin America combined. Notwithstanding recent questions about the effectiveness of the initial single dose of the vaccine, there is a clear disparity in vaccine rollouts internationally. That is a problem. As long as there are still existing

reservoirs of a propagating virus it will be able to spread again to populations that either cannot or would not vaccinate. It will also be able to mutate to variants that are either more transmissible or more deadly. Counterintuitively, an increase in transmissibility, such as has been found with the new UK variant, is worse than the same percentage increase in mortality rate. This is because increased transmissibility increases the number of cases (and hence the number of deaths) exponentially, while an increase in mortality rates increases only deaths, and only linearly. Evolutionary pressure on the virus will inevitably favour mutations that make the disease more transmissible, or the virus itself more vaccine-resistant. It is clear, therefore, that every nation’s interest is in universal vaccination. But

this is not the trajectory we are on. Politics and profits Fortunately, in the countries already vaccinating, the vaccine is (mostly) not allocated by wealth or power, but by prioritising those facing the highest risk. At a country level, however, national wealth is determining vaccine roll out. Yet in the past we have managed to eradicate diseases worldwide, including small pox, a viral infection with much higher death rates than COVID-19. There are two barriers that prevent us from rapidly pursuing a similar goal for the current pandemic: big pharma is profit-driven and therefore keeps a tight lid on the intellectual property it is developing in the new vaccines countries find it difficult to see beyond their national interest; not surprisingly, politicians are

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committed only to their own voters. At this point, we don’t have a global system to confront either of these problems. Each vaccine’s patent is owned by its developer, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is too weak to be the world’s Ministry of Health. The polio vaccine model Overcoming big pharma’s profit motive has been achieved before, however. In 1955, Jonas Salk announced the development of a polio vaccine in the midst of a huge epidemic. The news initially met with scepticism. Even employees of his own laboratory resigned, protesting that he was moving too fast with clinical experimentation. When a huge placebo– controlled clinical trial involving 1.6 million children proved him right, however, he declared that


FEBRUARY 2021

Guest EDITORIAl

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The big barriers to global vaccination: patent rights national self-interest...

in order to maximise the global distribution of this lifesaving vaccine his lab would not patent it. Asked who owned the patent, he famously replied: Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun? In an echo of the current moment, Israel (then a new state) was also experiencing a rapidly spreading polio epidemic. Efforts to purchase vaccines from the US were unsuccessful, as not all American children were yet vaccinated. So a scientist named Natan Goldblum was sent to Salk’s laboratory to learn how to make the new vaccine. No lawyers were involved and no contracts signed. The young Dr Goldblum spent 1956 setting up manufacturing facilities for Salk’s vaccine in Israel and by early 1957 mass vaccination was underway.

Evolutionary pressure on the virus will inevitably favour mutations that make the disease more transmissible, or the virus itself more vaccineresistant.

2000s saw AIDS treatments distributed in poorer countries. Pharmaceutical companies that owned the patented drugs were forced to supply them at cost or for free, not at market prices set in the rich countries. This was achieved through public pressure and the willingness of governments to support the required policies. A temporary withdrawal of the patenting rights to the successful COVID-19 vaccines, with or without compensation for the developers, seems a small price to pay for an exit strategy from this global and incredibly costly crisis.

Suspend patent rights Israel, a small and relatively poor country in the 1950s, became the third country in the world (after the US and Denmark) to produce the vaccine locally and eventually eradicate polio. It took a handful of scientists, a modest budget and, most importantly, no patenting. Like Salk, Goldblum was aware viruses have complete disregard for political borders. He was also involved in a very successful Palestinian polio vaccination campaign in Gaza. More recently, a highly successful international campaign in the early

Act local, think global Overcoming national interest is perhaps more complicated. Clearly, countries have an interest in vaccinating their most vulnerable populations first. But at some point, well before everyone is vaccinated, it becomes more efficient for countries to start vaccinating their neighbours (the countries they are most exposed to through movements of people and trade). Disappointingly, rich countries today behave as though they will reach 100% vaccination rates before they give away a single dose, with many having bought well in excess of what is

needed for 100% coverage. The COVAX plan to distribute vaccines in poorer countries has so far been an under-funded effort that has not yet delivered a single dose of vaccine. Even if COVAX were to be fully funded, it mostly aims to donate an insufficient number of

vaccine doses to the poorest countries, rather than really bring about a universal vaccination programme. Nevertheless, overcoming the profit-maximising interest of big pharma and the national focus of governments is not a pipe dream. The world has done it before.

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*Professor and Chair in the Economics of Disasters and Climate Change, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington ** Clinical Assistant Professor, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology Source- The Conversation, 20 January, 2021 (Under Creative Commons Licence)


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community

FEBRUARY 2021

AISV celebrates Australia Day & India’s R-Day By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE: The Australia India Society of Victoria (AISV) marked Australia Day 2021 & India's Republic Day 2021 on 25 Jan 2021 which was attended by many speakers including State, community, and Federal leaders plus the Indian consul general, Mr. Raj Kumar. Speeches were followed by an Indian dinner, networking, and dancing. It was probably the first post-COVID Indian event in Melbourne. It was held at the Haveli Indian Restaurant, Carnish Road, Clayton.

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FEBRUARY 2021

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COMMUNITY

FEBRUARY 2021

Sankat Mochan Samiti celebrates A-Day & R-Day

By SAT News Desk MELBOURNE 26 January 2021: The Sankat Mochan Samiti celebrated Australia-Day and India's Republic-Day at its temple premises in Huntingdale. The gathering was addressed by the Monash Mayor, Manoj Kumar, ALP, SAPAC President among others. A lively cultural program by Sankat Mochan volunteers entertained those present. Snacks were later served with networking.

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FEBRUARY 2021

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FEBRUARY 2021

Why Indian farmers are so angry about the Modi government’s agricultural reforms By Bhavani Shankar*

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ndia’s farmers have been protesting since the autumn, with a growing intensity that culminated in a violent breaching of barriers in the Red Fort in Delhi during India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26. The protests were spurred by the passing of a set of agricultural reform bills in parliament in September 2020 that aimed to fundamentally transform the way in which farm produce is marketed in the country. India’s farming population of more than 100 million is comprised largely of small farmers who fear that the reforms will add considerable uncertainty to their already meagre livelihoods. India has historically had a strongly regulated marketing system for agricultural produce, originally devised to enable farmers to sell to the market but at the same time to protect the small, often poor farmers from the vagaries of the open market. Such regulation is a state-level responsibility in India’s federal governance structure. Accordingly, each state devised a system wherein the initial purchase and sale of agricultural products had to be conducted at state-regulated wholesale markets called mandis. These mandis had licensed middlemen and traders who could be regulated by the government to ensure that farmers were not exploited. The broader legislative framework also acted to limit private sector storage of key food products (to prevent hoarding) and discourage direct contracting between private agribusiness and farmers. There were important variations in regulations across states, and legislation has changed over time, but the broad intention was to protect farmers by limiting the power of agribusiness. However, the regulatory system did not always work as intended in practice, and deficiencies became apparent over time. Despite the idea of monitoring, traders and middlemen in wholesale markets were found to often collude to the

Cartoon: Rohnit, Financial Express, New Delhi

disadvantage of the farmer. Pricing practices were opaque and farmers too often received a very low share of the price. Variations in regulations across states also hindered interstate trade opportunities. As the Indian economy was liberalised, private enterprise and agribusiness was growing, but found itself shackled by the regulatory framework. Many commentators agreed that reform was needed. The three bills A set of three complementary bills was rushed through parliament by the Modi government in September 2020. The first seeks to erode the role of the regulated mandis in marketing farm produce by allowing parallel trade, including electronic trading,

outside the mandi system within and across states. The second loosens the restrictions on private sector storage and stocking of produce, allowing restrictions only in case of strong price spikes when hoarding becomes a strong concern. The third bill sets up a framework for direct formal contracting between farmers and the agribusinesses that buy from them. Taken together, these bills are a radical departure from the tightly regulated system for marketing agricultural produce that existed before. The bills would curb the regulatory power of states, allowing the central government to set the agenda more firmly. The reforms provide a significant fillip to the operation of private

enterprise, especially large agribusiness in India. The expectation of the government is that the strengthening of these parallel market channels will create competition for the farmers’ produce from both within and across states, leading to improved remuneration for farmers. What are the farmers unhappy about? Although the reforms are ostensibly about empowering farmers, there is deep concern that they will largely boost private agribusiness to the detriment of the livelihoods of small farmers. The bills propose new market channels that are largely unregulated, potentially leaving farmers at the mercy of powerful private sector players.

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A related concern is that the emergence of these parallel channels will undermine the longstanding regulated mandi system that farmers understand and are used to operating in, despite its numerous flaws. Contract farming, which would become more commonplace if the bills become law, theoretically offers farmers the option of cutting out middlemen and their fees to deal directly with a downstream buyer. But experience from India and around the world shows that large buyers often prefer to deal with larger farmers located in well-developed regions who can supply assured large volumes with minimal friction. Thus small farmers from less developed areas with poor infrastructure may find themselves frozen out of such channels. These serious concerns have led protesting farmers to demand not just alterations to the new bills, but their complete repeal. The direction of travel of the bills – towards private sector entry and government withdrawal – has also left farmers worrying about the future of other government policies that have long supported their livelihoods, such as Minimum Support Prices (MSPs). MSPs are minimum prices announced periodically by the government for certain essential farm products, and used when the government buys these crops from the farmers for distribution to poor consumers. The MSPs help provide a measure of stability and certainty to prices received by farmers, and the protesting farmers want MSPs to be legally guaranteed in the future. This and a set of other demands, ranging from the cancellation of penalties for crop residue burning that contributes to air pollution, to enhancements to energy subsidies, have now also been added to the farmers’ core demand to cancel reforms. *Professorial Reseach Fellow in Food Systems and Health, University of Sheffield Source- The Conversation, February 2, 2021 (Under Creative Commons Licence)


South Asia Times

FEBRUARY 2021

Gaura Travel excels by flying

INDIANS back home from Australia By Neeraj Nanda

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ELBOURNE, 6 February 2021: Australia based Gaura Travel through their 40 chartered flights flew out 10,000 people to India during the pandemic. People stranded in different Australian cities as the Coronavirus hit the world and Australia, faced immense physical and psychological trauma with little or no chance of going back home. It is here the Gaura Travel led by brothers Ashwini and Abhishek came in and performed the feat of 2020, uniting thousands separated across seas by the cruel pandemic. ‘Reuniting 10,000 Families’, was the celebration motto at the Mint-o- Mustard restaurant, Docklands, laced with the cool breeze of the water flowing across. Many from the community rubbed shoulders as Abhishek and Ashwini described their experience helping people hit by the pandemic and stuck in a limbo. Their mission was, as they say, to be blessed by their clients. The support of Mr. Raj Kumar, Indian Consul General and the Consulate, they said, was of great import in the endeavour. Off course, the wider community gave its full support and the mission was accomplished. As the celebration progressed the 41st chartered flight to India was gearing up to take off from the Melbourne Airport. In his speech, Mr. Raj Kumar detailed how during the pandemic the Indian Consulate remained busy throughout with the special flights going to India. The pressure was immense

‘Reuniting 10,000 Families’, was the celebration motto at the Mint-o- Mustard restaurant, Docklands, laced with the cool breeze of the water flowing across. and stranded people were desperate. He praised the efforts and excellent successful work done

by Gaura Travel and its team. The whole team was present and one could see the smiles and the pride of success on their faces. Among those present were representatives from almost all the prominent

international airlines who collaborated with the Gaura Travel in the venture. So, what in the future? The answer came from Ashwini who said, “our goal is now 25,000”. Regular international

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flights have not yet commenced and with the virus still around in many countries, one may have a wait for the pre pandemic flying days. Till then the Gaura Travel seems to be the saviour.

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South Asia Times

FEBRUARY 2021

For these girls living in Delhi’s slums, education is a dream fraught with violence, discrimination

By Suprakash Majumdar

Research and Advocacy Associate at Dalit Arthik Adhikar Andolan. “There are discriminatory practices of the school administration and the functioning of schools. Teachers pay less attention to the students from the Dalit and Adivasi communities. Bullying, ragging and physical abuse by the dominant caste peers is extremely common for the oppressed castes. Even parents’ castebased occupation leads to more humiliation and casteist name-calling. These are the reasons why many children stop going to school and instead work as child labourers,” he adds.

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ELHI: The first thing Janaki does in the morning is to help her mother prepare food. Beside the chulha (a stove), covering her face to protect herself from the smoke, she and her mother are preparing a form of soup made up of discarded fish and chicken bones from shops. Janaki (13) belongs to the Mahavat community, which is a de-notified tribe living in Mansarovar park railway slums in New Delhi. Janaki dropped out of school when she was in the fifth grade. “When a person wants to study, they will also need to be aided by someone who wants to teach,” Janki says. According to the latest survey data from the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) 201718, the annual average dropout rate of SC students at the secondary school level is at 21.8 per cent. For ST students, it was at 22.3%. According to UNICEF, Dalit girls have the highest rate of exclusion from school due to social discrimination. 51% of Dalit children drop out of elementary school as opposed to 37% of children from non-Dalit and nonAdivasi communities. Discrimination and subtle casteism in the society is the reason for the high dropout rates, Advocate Bhawana Yadav of KOSHISH TISS, an NGO which works for the upliftment of these communities told TwoCircles. net. “I have come across many incidents where the students have been chastised by the teachers for the smell of food they take to the school. They can’t afford the food the other classmates eat,” says Bhawana. The slum clusters do not have clean water supply and sanitation. Water remains inaccessible to socioeconomically marginalised communities. Clean running water comes once or twice every week and sometimes water won’t come for two weeks. Water is a precious resource for them which can only be used for necessities. “I dealt with a case where

the teacher complained to a parent that their boy wears dirty uniforms and a strange smell comes from him,” Bhawana told TwoCircles.net. The parents of these children want them to study and have a better life. The children have big dreams too. Malini (13), studies in eighth grade in a nearby government school. She aspires to become a police officer when growing up. Malini is a confident girl who takes up studies very sincerely and says her parents arranged for a cheap smartphone to help her attend online classes during the lockdown. “I don’t use phones for anything apart from studies and my father is also very strict about studies. He doesn’t let me play games or fool around with the phone,” she says. Bhawana says the slumdwelling families have no money. “They are ragpickers and traditionally they were street play artists. Often, to help their parents financially, these children are forced to drop out,” Bhawana explains. For the girls, it’s even harder. “When I used to go to school, men used to follow me and sexually harass me

and make lewd comments and stare and stalk. They would follow me back to my home. That is why I stopped going to school. People either look at us with an intent to harass, or to insult because we are ‘dirty’, nobody looks at us with dignity,” said Ragini (11). She dropped out of school when she was in the fifth grade. “For the people, these people are dirty, don’t take

baths and are only ragpickers. They think they can do anything to them,” says Bhawana. “Even the police don’t take their complaints seriously,” she adds. To help the children with studies, KOSHISH organises tuition classes in the small community centre in the middle of the slum. “Being a Dalit or an Adivasi student is hard”, says Dnyaneshwar Shejwal,

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The future of these children is at risk. In a longstanding pending case on waste management in the region, the SC passed an order on August 31. It was in response to a writ petition filed back in 1985 by lawyer MC Mehta on Delhi air pollution, to which other petitions, including waste control, pollution, and so on, have since been tagged. The petition highlighted that waste was spilt along the railway tracks that caused pollution, and slums should be cleared along the 140 km railway tracks in the city for protection and pollution control purposes. According to the August 31 Supreme Court order, “The encroachments which are there in the safety zones should be removed within a period of three months and no interference, political or otherwise, should be there and no Court shall grant any stay with respect to removal of the encroachments in the area in question.” As the sun goes down, Janaki goes back to her small room and tries to help her younger siblings with their studies. She might be dreaming about her siblings becoming an officer in the government but she knows about the societal and economic hurdles her siblings will face in their lifetimes. Names of the slum children have been changed on request. Source- twocircles.net, 28 January, 2021 (Under Creative Common Licence)


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Prospects for an Australia–India trade deal By Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

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egotiations on the Australia– India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) are set to restart after being suspended in 2015. Australia’s new Minister for Trade Dan Tehan has flagged that a trade deal with India will be one of his top priorities. A worker watches as a loader unloads coal at a yard on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India, 12 February 2016. India is asking the country's big steelmakers to consider converting local medium-quality coal into premium coking coal to slash an annual import bill of more than $4 billion for buying that grade from countries such as Australia (Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave). Why were the original negotiations abandoned? And has anything changed to make a deal more likely now? There are potential gains for both countries. The original joint feasibility study found significant tariff and nontariff barriers to goods and services trade. It assessed the potential welfare gains of an agreement as between 0.15–1.1 per cent of GDP for India and 0.23–1.17 per cent of GDP for Australia. Australia’s India Economic Strategy identifies 10 priority areas to grow trade with India: a flagship sector (education), three lead sectors (agribusiness, resources and tourism) and six promising sectors (energy, health, financial services, infrastructure, sport and science). India’s recently-released Australia Economic Strategy identifies significant room for growth in exports and investment in 12 focus sectors and eight emerging sectors. But after nine rounds between 2011–2015 covering many proposed chapters, negotiations were suspended. For India, Australia’s agricultural exports were a sticking point. With half of India’s employment tied to agriculture, anything that threatens producers is political dynamite. Australia’s argument that many of its agriculture exports are aimed at the premium end of the market and would not displace the production of India’s smallholder farmers fell on deaf ears. Similar dynamics are at play in other sectors where India’s largest corporations feel threatened by the prospect of increased market competition and will lobby hard to defend their privileged status. Proposed trade agreements are generally judged by the benefits to domestic producers, not to consumers. India’s suspicion toward trade has deep roots, stretching back to the United Kingdom’s colonial theft of India’s wealth, which was (wrongly)

justified as ‘free trade’. Trade is often framed in terms of winning or losing, so India’s trade deficit of around AU$15 billion (US$12 billion) means that trade is seen as heavily skewed in Australia’s favour, with different levels of development preventing a level playing field. Trade agreements with ASEAN, South Korea and Japan have worsened India’s trade deficit. For Australia, one of the most politically-sensitive sticking points was India’s desire for a more relaxed visa regime for Indian workers. Other reported concerns include threats from parasites on imported mangoes and the impact on steel and food processing. Overall, the sense was that India wasn’t offering enough to make a deal worthwhile. The diplomatic description in 2018 was that ‘negotiating positions are too far apart to make the conclusion of a CECA a realistic objective in the near term’. After talks were suspended, Australia focussed on keeping India in negotiations for the multi-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as a way to achieve a trade pact, with CECA to follow.

But India’s decision to pull out of RCEP suggests that concerns remain about trade deficits and unemployment, with industry and traders’ bodies playing a blocking role. While there are voices arguing for a different approach to trade agreements, this remains a minority view. Only 5–25 per cent of India’s international trade is covered by agreements compared to 70 per cent for Australia. On the Australian side, the government is under pressure to promote diversification of exports markets because of China’s restrictions on exports worth at least AU$20 billion (US$15.4 billion). Of the agreements under negotiation, the Australia–EU Free Trade Agreement is the only one close to conclusion after nine rounds. Negotiations for a UK–Australia agreement have just begun, while Israel, Switzerland and others are at feasibility study stage.

What’s different today? The biggest change is in the wider context of the Australia–India relationship. Motivated partly by concerns about China, India and Australia elevated their relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership at the Leaders’ Virtual Summit in June 2020. While India may want to prise Australia away from what it would see as an unhealthy dependence on China, it’s unlikely to make trade concessions for wider security benefits. India’s room for movement given domestic politics is narrow, as recent farm demonstrations show, and it’s unlikely to spend political capital on an agreement seen as anything other than highly advantageous to Indian industry. The fact that India is also looking at reviving trade talks with the United States and with the European Union, suspended in 2013, suggests there may be some change in its orientation on trade. Reforms to reduce red tape have improved its ease of doing business ranking and it has introduced policies that seek to encourage foreign investment.

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With both governments wanting to show that they are doing something for economies that are hurting badly, even just restarting negotiations might have political benefit. There may be no rush to put in the hard yards to reach agreement, with no talks yet taking place despite being announced in June. What’s on the negotiating table might not be much better than in 2015, but both Australia and India might be more willing to accept it. The most attractive option might be a relatively slim agreement of mainly symbolic value, though this would pain Australia’s trade negotiators. Those who want to nurture the economic relationship might look for other avenues beyond a formal agreement. Melissa Conley Tyler is a Research Fellow at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne. Source- eastasiaforum.org, 25 January 2021 (Under Creative Commons Licence)


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FEBRUARY 2021

How Sri Lankan remittances are defying COVID-19 By Bilesha Weeraratne

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n 2019 over 200,000 Sri Lankans left for foreign employment. 85 per cent headed to the Middle East. The pandemic caused worker migration to decrease by 56 per cent in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019. By October 2020 over 54,000 Sri Lankans were repatriated, including nearly 18,000 migrant workers from the Middle East. Another 43,000 are waiting to be repatriated. Such high returns are due to job losses, wage cuts and other negative employment outcomes surrounding the pandemic. With the virus raging across the world, remittances to Sri Lanka for 2020 were projected to decline below the US$6.7 billion received in 2019. The emerging lockdowns, economic contraction and lay-offs seemed to hold up these projections, with steep declines in remittances to Sri Lanka in March and April 2020. But remittances saw a speedy recovery from May 2020. Many viewed May as the calm before the storm, fearing a huge slump in subsequent months due to the rising economic impact of the pandemic. Defying expectations, June remittances (US$702 million) surpassed May and July, becoming the third highest

monthly figure since 2009. Even though August saw a 5 per cent decline relative to July, in September 2020 remittances to Sri Lanka were US$703 million. In October and November, they fell to US$631 and US$612 million, respectively. But overall, from January to November 2020, total remittances to Sri Lanka increased by 3.9 per cent compared to the same period in 2019. Two of the top four monthly remittances since 2009 were recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in remittances in March and April 2020 had mainly been due to the restrictions on mobility faced

by remitters overseas, who rely on physically visiting remittance service providers. And in March and April 2020, Sri Lanka experienced a similar scenario. Once restrictions eased, backed-up funds were sent in addition to regular amounts. The increase in remittances in May and June 2020 are attributed to this catch up. The economic slowdown and increased uncertainty in Sri Lanka and abroad may have also diverted informal remittances towards formal channels. Informal remittances to Sri Lanka are significant and include Undial and Hawala-

type networks, as well as hand carrying. Remittances through these Undial and Hawala-type networks are informal and cash does not cross borders, relying on retail establishments to collect remittances overseas for pay out in Sri Lanka through money already in the country. Similarly, limited travel during the pandemic and the mandatory 14-day quarantine made physical carry of cash difficult. These factors are likely to have shifted previously informal remittances into formal channels, leading to an increase in official remittances. While these two reasons may have turned around the declining trend in remittances to Sri Lanka during the second quarter of 2020, they fall short of justifying the record-breaking streak in the next quarter, when worker departures were low and returns were high. These factors point towards alternative explanations. Apart from regular remitters, less frequent and less reliable remitters, who transfer countercyclically during a crisis for altruistic reasons, also likely contributed. Sri Lanka traditionally receives nearly 50 per cent of its remittances from regions outside the Middle East and a recent study by IPS found that permanent migrants in Western countries were more secure in their jobs during the pandemic, making them well-placed to send funds to Sri Lanka during this time of difficulty. An increase in remittances appears to be driven by Sri Lankans abroad who are less

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affected by the pandemic. Similarly, there were also new remitters who took advantage of the incentives offered by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka through Special Deposit Accounts (SDA). The pandemic resulted in many migrant workers being laid off in the Middle East, where most of Sri Lanka’s migrant workers are based. Over 18 million full-time jobs were lost in this region between March and September 2020. Most laid-off workers had already accumulated savings to bring on their return and many laid-off skilled and professional workers received terminal employment benefits such as gratuity. Unlike in a normal year, in 2020 much of these terminal employment benefits and accumulated savings were remitted. The World Bank projected low and middle-income countries would experience a gradual but more prolonged decline in remittances spanning from 2020 to 2021, and expected remittances to Sri Lanka to decline by 9 per cent in 2020. While data on outmigration and return migration has not yet settled, monthly remittances data up to November indicate that Sri Lanka is unlikely to suffer a drastic decline as projected. Since remittances in December tend to be large, the overall figure for 2020 will likely be an increase from 2019. *Bilesha Weeraratne is a Research Fellow and the Head of Migration and Urbanization Policy Research at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka. Source- eastasiaforum.org, 28 January 2021


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La Trobe University announces decision to retain Hindi in curriculum

By Neeraj Nanda

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ELBOURNE, 8 February 2021: The La Trobe University has decided to retain its Hindi teaching. The official decision in this regard was announced on Monday (8 February 2021), by an email from Prof Nick Bisley, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, La Trobe University. The Prof said, ” After considerable discussion with stakeholders including staff, students, community groups, and governments we have decided to retain the current Hindi program.” “Notwithstanding the significant financial challenges we face, it is clear to us that it remains firmly in the University and country’s interest to retain the Hindi program”, he said. Talking to South Asia Times (SAT), Ian Woolford, who teaches Hindi at the La Trobe University said, ” It’s extremely wonderful news that the university will continue to support the Hindi program because the recognition of Hindi language is vital to Australia’s national interest. So, Hindi remains part of the curriculum.” ” I am grateful to the Hindi Action Group, the community, those in academics, staff, and all others around Australia who waged the three-month-long effort to retain Hindi at the La

Trobe University,” he said. Vikrant Kishore of the Hindi Action Group says, ” It is heartening to know that Hindi program at La Trobe University will be retained. I would like to thank the La Trobe University VC and Executive members for taking into consideration the massive support of the Australian-Indian community, who were very concerned regarding the proposed removal of the Hindi program, that led to a hugely successful signature campaign, and letters of support from many politicians,

community groups, and academics across the world. I am sure La Trobe University will benefit immensely by retaining the Hindi program, and we as a community will take a keen interest to support the program and spread the word around. I was fortunate to work along with the HINDI ACTION GROUP, where eminent Australian Indian academics, journalists, artists, and business representatives – such as – Neeraj Nanda, Deepak Joshi, Saksham Katyal, Priya Chacko, Manoj Kumar, Arun

Sharma, Mohamed Haroon, Rampal Muthalya, and Intaj Khan helped to liaise with the community members to raise support for the Hindi program.” ” Our support for the Hindi program at La Trobe University was solely on the following reasons: 1. Supporting the largest spoken language of India, 2. to make stakeholders understand the importance of soft-cultural power and diplomacy through language (in this case Hindi, but our passion, is and will remain the same for any language

group, or sub-group from India, and we must add that we also support and respect all other languages, thus we made sure that we also include saving Greek and Indonesian languages at La Trobe in our communications), 3. Due importance to language courses at University level must be given, 4. The community must work together to take forward the Australia-India relations beyond Bollywood and Cricket, and finally, 5. Indian being a key partner of Australia, and Indian diaspora forming the third largest migrant group, it is high time that we acknowledge that partnership, and move beyond tokenism.” says Vikrant Kishore. The issue had become a hot potato in the community as the ‘Hindi Action Group’ spearheaded a campaign against the proposed plan of the La Trobe University to scrap Hindi teaching, citing the pandemic fall in revenue and dwindling student numbers. The ‘Hindi Action Group’ managed to do a massive signature campaign and talked to the Federal Education Minister on the issue. The university was impressed to retain the Hindi teaching as part of Australia’s expanding relations with India. Big support also came from academic circles on the issue. Only two universities (ANU and La Trobe) teach Hindi in Australia.

Indian diaspora (17.5 m) biggest in the world, followed by Mexico & China: UN report By Neeraj Nanda

in different countries. International remittances increased to USD 689 billion in 2018, the top countries being India (USD 78.6 billion), China (USD 67.4 billion), and Mexico (USD 35.7 billion). The United States remained the top remittance-sending country (USD 68.0 billion) followed by the United Arab Emirates (USD 44.4 billion) and Saudi Arabia (USD 36.1 billion). The report adds:

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ELBOURNE, 16 January 2021: The Indian diaspora continues to be the largest country of origin of international migrants (migrants living abroad) in the world, with 17.5 million of them living in other countries. Mexico has 11.8 million and China has 10.7 million migrants respectively. The top destination country remained the United States (50.7 million international migrants). The startling figures have come out from the World Migration Report 2020 released recently by the United Nations. The introduction to the report starts off by saying, ” The long-term and growing body of evidence on migration and mobility shows that migration is in large part related to the broader global economic, social, political and technological

transformations that are affecting a wide range of high-priority policy issues. As the processes of globalization deepen, these transformations increasingly shape our lives – in our workplaces, in our homes, in our social and spiritual lives – as we go about our daily routines. Increasing numbers

of people are able to access information, goods, and services from around the world because of the ongoing expansion in distanceshrinking technologies.” Interestingly, the Mexican diaspora is mostly in the United States, the diaspora of India and China are spread all over the globe,

The global refugee population was 25.9 million in 2018 • 20.4 million refugees were under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and 5.5 million were refugees under the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the Near East.

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• 52 percent of the global refugee population was under 18 years of age. The number of internally displaced persons due to violence and conflict reached 41.3 million • This was the highest number on record since the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre began monitoring in 1998. • The Syrian Arab Republic had the highest number of people displaced (6.1 million) followed by Colombia (5.8 million) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (3.1 million). The number of stateless persons globally in 2018 was 3.9 million • Bangladesh had the largest number of stateless persons (around 906,000). It was followed by Côte d’Ivoire (692,000) and Myanmar (620,000). The report has 11 chapters and many key issues dealing with world migration are dealt with.


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Cinema

South Asia Times

FEBRUARY 2021

Political ‘Tandav’ in contemporary India By Neeraj Nanda

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ELBOURNE, 20 January 2021: The happenings at Raisina Hill (India’s Capitol Hill), New Delhi, is often shrouded in mystery except the occasional storm in a tea cup. India’s loud and chaotic media (or Godi media) keeps viewers/readers busy with their sensational stuff. In medieval India power struggles saw dangling swords as weapons of solution. In modern India it’s intrigue, money, media (including social media) and much more that matters. Watching ‘Tandav’ (Session 1- nine episodes) is a bit longish effort but makes one feel the heat in New Delhi is quite shady and intriguing. Or, maybe, politics is like that only. Anyway, Director Ali Abbas Zafar’s effort is straight forward. The son of India’s PM poisons to death his dad and engineers his mum to be the next PM. The plot moves on amid many subplots and the mum PM is also bumped off and a party loyalist is appointed the interim PM (end of last episode). What the power hungry son will do next will come (I guess) in the next Session of the serial. In between, is lots of student politics (shades of JNU), Hindu nationalism, rustic cops, Right and Left, party politics, swearing, love scenes, shady deals,

corruption… One almost feels the heat increasing. The less said the better.

Saif Ali Khan (Samar Pratap Singh-son), Dimple Kapadia (Aunaradha Kishore-

mum), Sunil Grover (Gurpal), Md. Zeeshan Ayyub (Shiv Shankar) among others. Saif

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and Dimple do justice to their roles. Sunil Grover excels with his Haryanavi accent. Md. Zeeshan Ayyub is good. The start of the serial is promising as the political drama takes off but towards the second last episode the script becomes sloppy. A tighter script could have given punch to the intense political intrigues taking place. A lot of the serial has been shot at the ‘Pataudi Palace’ in Pataudi, Haryana, Saif Ali Khan’s ancestral palace. Saif is son of Mansoor Ali Khan (former Nawab of Pataudi and caption of India’s cricket team) and actress Sharmila Tagore. As expected there is a backlash and legal actions from right-wing groups and the cast and crew of Amazon Prime Video have apologised if the serial hurts anyone. There is also a repeat call for regulation of content on OTT platforms (streaming services). One has to wait and see what happens next. The nine episodes are: Tanashah, Aazaadi, Chandragupta, Left se Right, Jeevan aur Mrityu, Khel, Dhappa, Babool ka Ped and Tandav. The serial has been reviewed by many already and views are out. It’s not the best as one expects. Despite this it points at the toxic political ambience in a democracy. I give ‘Tandav’ 2 and half stars out of 5.


Technology

FEBRUARY 2021

South Asia Times

15

Love in the time of algorithms: would you let artificial intelligence choose your partner? By David Tuffley Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics & CyberSecurity, Griffith University

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t could be argued artificial intelligence (AI) is already the indispensable tool of the 21st century. From helping doctors diagnose and treat patients to rapidly advancing new drug discoveries, it’s our trusted partner in so many ways. Now it has found its way into the once exclusivelyhuman domain of love and relationships. With AIsystems as matchmakers, in the coming decades it may become common to date a personalised avatar. This was explored in the 2014 movie “Her”, in which a writer living in near-future Los Angeles develops affection for an AI system. The sci-fi film won an Academy Award for depicting what seemed like a highly unconventional love story. In reality, we’ve already started down this road. Delving into the human psyche The online dating industrty is worth more than US$4 billion and there are a growing number of players in this market. Dominating it is the Match Group, which owns OkCupid, Match, Tinder and 45 other datingrelated businesses. Match and its competitors have accumulated a rich trove of personal data, which AI can analyse to predict how we choose partners. The industry is majorly embracing AI. For instance, Match has an AI-enabled chatbot named “Lara” who guides people through the process of romance, offering suggestions based on up to 50 personal factors. Tinder co-founder and CEO Sean Rad outlines his vision of AI being a simplifier: a smart filter that serves up what it knows a person is interested in. Dating website eHarmony has used AI that analyses people’s chat and sends suggestions about how to make the next move. Happn uses AI to “rank” profiles and show those it predicts a user might prefer. Loveflutter’s AI takes the

guesswork out of moving the relationship along, such as by suggesting a restaurant both parties could visit. And Badoo uses facial recognition to suggest a partner that may look like a celebrity crush. Dating platforms are using AI to analyse all the finer details. From the results, they can identify a greater number of potential matches for a user. They could also potentially examine a person’s public posts on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get a sense of their attitudes and interests. This would circumvent bias in how people represent themselves on matchmaking questionnaires. Research has shown inaccuracies in self-reported attributes are the main reason online dating isn’t successful. While the sheer amount of data on the web is too much for a person to process, it’s all grist to the mill for a smart matchmaking AI. Shovelling your data into the dating sandbox As more user data is generated on the internet

(especially on social media), AI will be able to make increasingly accurate predictions. Big players such as Match.com would be well-placed for this as they already have access to large pools of data. And where there is AI there will often be its technological sibling, virtual reality (VR). As both evolve simultaneously, we’ll likely see versions of VR in which would-be daters can “practice” in simulated environments to avoid slipping up on a real date. This isn’t a far stretch considering “virtual girlfriends”, which are supposed to help people practice dating, have already existed for some years and are maturing as a technology. A growing number of offerings point to a significant degree of interest in them. With enough user data, future AI could eventually create a fullycustomised partner for you in virtual reality – one that checks all your “boxes”. Controversially, the next step would be to experience an avatar as a physical entity. It could inhabit a lifelike android and become

a combined interactive companion and sex partner. Such advanced androids don’t exist yet, but they could one day. Proponents of companion robots argue this technology helps meet a legitimate need for more intimacy across society — especially for the elderly, widowed and people with disabilities. Meanwhile, critics warn of the inherent risks of objectification, racism and dehumanisation — particularly of women, but also men. Using tech to save us from the problems of tech? Another problematic consequence may be rising numbers of socially reclusive people who substitute technology for real human interaction. In Japan, this phenomenon (called “hikikomori”) is quite prevalent. At the same time, Japan has also experienced a severe decline in birth rates for decades. The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research predicts the population will fall from 127 million to about 88 million by 2065. Concerned by the

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declining birth rate, the Japanese government last month announced it would pour two billion yen (about A$25,000,000) into an AIbased matchmaking system. AI as a facilitator, not a replacement The debate on digital and robotic “love” is highly polarised, much like most major debates in the history of technology. Usually, consensus is reached somewhere in the middle. But in this debate, it seems the technology is advancing faster than we are approaching a consensus. Generally, the most constructive relationship a person can have with technology is one in which the person is in control, and the technology helps enhance their experiences. For technology to be in control is dehumanising. Humans have leveraged new technologies for millenia. Just as we learned how to use fire without burning down cities, so too we will have to learn the risks and rewards accompanying future tech. Source- The Conversation, January 18, 2021 (Under Creative Commons Licence)


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South Asia Times

GLOBAL INEQUALITY

FEBRUARY 2021

Eradicating the inequality virus calls for more than just slogans The Oxfam inequality report highlights that the impact of COVID-19 has been different across different sections of society. Government policies across the world have enabled the rich and powerful to increase their wealth during the pandemic.

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he latest report published by Oxfam has yet again confirmed the rising trend of inequality globally, a phenomenon that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also made all the more evident the need for decisive actions by governments if combating inequality is to be anything more than a slogan.

What does the report say? According to the report published by Oxfam on January 25, the world has seen an unprecedented rise in inequality during the pandemic period. The report titled “The inequality virus: Bringing together a world torn apart by coronavirus through a fair, just and sustainable economy” pitches for increased social expenditure by all governments in order to help poor and vulnerable sections cope with loss of income which may take years to return to pre-COVID levels. The report prepared by Esmé Berkhout, Nick Galasso, Max Lawson, Pablo Andrés Rivero Morales, Anjela Taneja, and Diego Alejo Vázquez Pimentel argues that the idea of COVID-19 being an economic leveler, of it affecting all sections of society equally, has been proved to be a myth. In reality, COVID-19 has widened existing social and economic inequalities of class, race and gender in all corners of the world. A part of the study was a survey of 279 renowned economists across the world on the economic implications of the pandemic. More than 87% of respondents believed that the pandemic has led to a major increase in income inequality and more than 55% thought that it will lead to increased gender inequality. The report argues that though the rich have already bounced back to their preCOVID levels of income, and in fact have become richer, the poor may take at least a decade to recover lost incomes. Inequality Virus Though inequality has been rising in different parts of the world for long, the period between March and December 2020 was the first time on record when it increased at the same time in virtually every country and at an unprecedented rate.

The report mentions how the fortunes of the world’s top billionaires, which suffered an average loss of 30% during the first few months, returned to their pre-COVID high within just nine months. These billionaires, in fact, added trillions of dollars to their combined wealth during the same period. The report highlights that the increase in the overall wealth of just 10 billionaires in the world is so great that it is enough to pay for all vaccination across the world. That wealth is also enough to prevent anyone anywhere on earth from falling into poverty due to emergencies such as COVID-19. This has happened even as the pandemic has created the worst jobs crisis of the last 90 years with millions unemployed or half-employed . Already marginalized are the worst affected Existing social and economic inequalities have resulted in the virus having an unequal impact on different sections of society. The report highlights the gap in the mortality rates between the white and Latin/ Back population in several countries, including the US and Brazil. In the US alone, at

least 22,000 more Latin/Black people have died than white people. Similar data also emerged from Brazil where people of Afro descent were found to be 40% more likely to die of COVID than the white population. The report notes that amongst those at risk of losing their jobs, women outnumbered men by at least 112 million. This is a result of the disproportionately high representation of women in low-paid, precarious jobs which are more vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic. Women are also more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their over-representation in health and care-related, “frontline” work. Vulnerability to COVID-19 is higher among the poor due to greater exposure and mobility. In Europe, for example, unlike higher wage earners, 74% of whom could sit at home and work, merely 3% of lower wage earners could enjoy the same luxury. Fair and more active state is the solution The report emphasizes that those on the margins — the poor, racial minorities and women — are in general more likely to suffer due to the pandemic and it is imperative that governments

across the globe take note of this and devise policies to increase public expenditure. The vitality of public health depends on government expenditure aimed at preserving people’s livelihoods. Talking to Peoples Dispatch, Sucheta Sarkar who teaches economics and is also a consultant with Oxfam India, said that all governments need to take the rising inequalities seriously as it can affect the social and economic status of a large number of people. She also highlighted the need to increase public spending on health and education. Responding to the oft-made argument that governments lack resources for such expenditure, she said that, “additional money can be generated through the introduction of wealth tax which is virtually non-existent in countries such as India, to cover extra expenditure bills.” The Oxfam report argues that if a temporary tax had been imposed on just 32 of the largest corporations, it would have generated USD 104 billion in 2020 – enough to provide some kind of unemployment benefits and other financial support to all in poor and middle-income countries.

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Warning, however, against adopting such policies in a ad hoc way, Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, argued that “these measures must not be band-aid solutions for desperate times but a ‘new normal’ in economies that work for the benefit of all people, not just the privileged few.” The policy shift, in other words, must be long-term and involve a change in priorities. “The virus has shown us that guaranteed income security is essential, and that a permanent exit from poverty is possible. For this to happen we need not just living wages, but also far greater job security, with labor rights, sick pay, paid parental leave and unemployment benefits if people lose their jobs.” The report notes that the pandemic has exposed our collective frailty and the inability of our deeply unequal societies to work for all and that it is high time for course correction. Addressing structural problems such as patriarchy, racism and neoliberal exploitation would better prepare us to face such emergencies in the future. Source: Peoples Dispatch, January 31, 2021


Travel

FEBRUARY 2021

South Asia Times

19

Global tourism crisis committee meets again to explore safe travel in age of vaccines The Global Tourism Crisis Committee has met for the first time in 2021. Organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the cross-sector body met in Madrid during the 113th session of the UNWTO Executive Council to advance solid plans to restart tourism. The meeting focused on the integration of vaccines into a harmonized approach to safe travel and launching a coordinated effort to boost confidence in the sector.

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ith countries around the world now rolling out vaccines against the COVID-19 virus, the Committee noted that this opens a critical window in the fight against the pandemic and to promote the safe resumption of international travel. Members highlighted the importance of stepping up coordination, within the framework of the International Health Regulations, of vaccination certificates to ensure the implementation of common, harmonized digital related travel principles, protocols and documents. This would be in line with the work being carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO), which has reported at potential applications of digital technology to enable safe international travel and facilitate arrivals and departures. Harmonized plans and protocols the priority The United for Travel campaign will help us achieve this, providing a clear and strong message that safe tourism is now possible The Committee’s own Technical Group, chaired by Greece, alongside a dedicated inter-agency group drawing on diverse parts of the United Nations system and international organizations, are working to ensure measures are implemented, including by governments, to foster their application at every level of tourism. The Technical Group Chairman Harry Theocharis provided his latest update, showing how concrete steps have been taken to guarantee a harmonized plan of action. UNWTO SecretaryGeneral Pololikashvili said: “The rollout of vaccines is a step in the right direction, but the restart of tourism cannot wait. Vaccines must be part of a wider, coordinated approach that includes certificates and passes for safe cross-border travel. In the longer-term,

we also need to restore confidence in tourism. The United for Travel campaign will help us achieve this, providing a clear and strong message that safe tourism is now possible.” Testing for safe and seamless travel Alongside the Technical Group’s work, the Committee called for support of the OECD’s own initiative aimed at developing a harmonized system of border controls. This would be developed in coordination with UNWTO as well as with WHO and, representing the civil aviation and the maritime sectors respectively, ICAO and the IMO. The Crisis Committee members also called for firm actions to Support the standardization, digitalization and interoperability of testing protocols and certification systems. Members agreed that these should be based on commonly agreed evidence and riskassessment indicators for origin and destination country or territory. The implementation of the CART Take-Off Guidance, developed by ICAO, was identified as an effective tool for advancing the harmonization of testing protocols and accelerating the establishment of Public Health Corridors. Committee draws on top expertise and leadership Since the start of the crisis, UNWTO has convened the Committee to bring together governments, public and private sector leaders and international organizations to form a united and efficient response. Addressing this latest meeting were Margaritis Schinas, Vice President of the European Commission, OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurría, and both tourism ministers from UNWTO’s Member States and leading representatives of from the civil aviation and cruise tourism sectors. Joining them and ensuring the

United Nations speaks with one voice were Fang Liu, Secretary-General and Kitack Lim, SecretaryGeneral of IMO. The Global Tourism Crisis Committee met against the backdrop of the 113th session of the UNWTO Executive Council, also being held in Madrid as a hybrid event. The Council brings together more than 150 in-person participants alongside participants representing governments and destinations of every global region, to advance UNWTO’s Programme of Work and to vote for the Organization’s SecretaryGeneral for 2022-2025. Crisis Committee: Recommendations and Next Steps Meeting on the occasion of the 8th Global Tourism Crisis Committee, held in Madrid, on 18 January 2021 and within the context of the 113th session of the UNWTO Executive Council, the members of the Committee recalled: That the vaccination opens a critical window of opportunity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and promote the safe reassuming of international travel alongside other risk mitigation tools such COVID-19 testing. That according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General report to the WHO Executive

Council on ‘Strengthening preparedness for health emergencies: implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005); Interim progress report of the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) during the COVID-19 Response’ the Committee “is looking into the possible applications of digital technology to enable safe international travel, including for documentation at points of entry (arriving and departing travellers), travel history, testing and contact tracing, and possibly vaccination requirements.1 The urgency of accelerating the coordination of international cross-border travel principles and protocols to ensure a safe and seamless restart of tourism in view of the resurge of cases and the continued lack of common principles and mechanisms for testing protocols related to travel. The Committee called for: Stepping up the coordination, within the framework of the International Health Regulations2, of vaccination certificates to ensure a timely monitoring, definition and implementation of common, harmonized digital related travel principles,

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protocols and documents. Support the standardization, digitalization and interoperability of testing protocols and certification systems, based on commonly agreed evidence and risk-assessment indicators for origin and destination country/ territory. Support of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s initiative for the development and coordination of a harmonised system in all countries to open borders safely in coordination with World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The implementation of the ICAO CART Takeoff Guidance, including the Manual on Testing and Cross-border Risk Management Measures3 and establishing Public Health Corridors (PHCs), in order to advance the harmonization of testing protocols requirements. Countries to ensure that measures affecting international traffic are risk-based, evidence-based, coherent, proportionate and time limited. Source- UNWTO, 21 January 2021


20

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FEBRUARY 2021

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