Belarus says police fired live rounds at protesters as EU weighs sanctions

Belarus says police fired live rounds at protesters as EU weighs sanctions

People talk to Belarusian law enforcement officers near the site where a protester died during a rally following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, August 11, 2020.

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Belarus’ interior ministry said on Wednesday that police had fired live rounds at protesters in the city of Brest and arrested more than 1,000 people nationwide, intensifying a crackdown that has prompted the European Union to weigh new sanctions on Minsk.

Security forces have clashed with protesters for three consecutive nights after strongman President Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide re-election victory in a vote on Sunday that his opponents say was rigged.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets again on Wednesday. Women dressed in white formed a human chain outside a covered food market in the capital Minsk, while a crowd also gathered outside a prison where protesters were being kept.

Women take part in a demonstration against police violence during the recent rallies of opposition supporters following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, August 12, 2020.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Lukashenko has sought better ties with the West amid strained relations with traditional ally Russia. Brussels lifted sanctions, imposed over Lukashenko’s human rights record, in 2016 but will consider new measures this week.

A former Soviet collective farm manager, the 65-year-old Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for more than a quarter of a century but faces anger over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a sluggish economy and human rights.

“I have to come today to support those who go out at night,” said Elena, a protester speaking outside the covered market. “It’s not only my vote that was stolen from me, but 20 years of my life. The authorities must go.”

Clashes

The Belarusian interior ministry said 51 protesters and 14 police officers had been injured in clashes on Tuesday night.

In Brest, a city in southwestern Belarus on the Polish border, police fired live rounds after some protesters it said were armed with metal bars ignored warning shots fired in the air, the ministry said. One person was injured.

Lukashenko has accused the protesters of being in cahoots with foreign backers from Russia and elsewhere.

Belarusian state media this week broadcast footage of a van in Minsk with Russian number plates saying it was packed with ammunition and tents.

Tracked down by Reuters, Valdemar Grubov, the van’s owner, said he was a film producer and that the vehicle contained only his own personal effects.

He said he had been unable to retrieve the van due to COVID-19 restrictions and was not involved in any foreign plot.

Lukashenko’s rival in Sunday’s vote, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a 37-year-old former English teacher, has fled to neighboring Lithuania to join her children there. She urged her compatriots not to oppose the police and to avoid putting their lives in danger.

By Andrei Makhovsky/Reuters

Mourning and anger amid devastation after Beirut explosion; One-third of Afghanistan may have had COVID-19; 75-years since Hiroshima bombing

Mourning and anger amid devastation after Beirut explosion; One-third of Afghanistan may have had COVID-19; 75-years since Hiroshima bombing

By
The World staff

A damage is seen after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.

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Top of The World — our morning news round up written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

Still reeling from the massive explosion that flattened Beirut’s port on Tuesday, many Lebanese are turning toward anger and frustration over corrupt Lebanese officials for the presence of a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate at the center of the blast. French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut today and warned that without serious reforms the country would “continue to sink.”

The blast, which killed at least 137 people and injured more than 5,000, appears to have been caused by an accidental fire that ignited the warehouse at the city’s port, according to Lebanese President Michel Aoun. The devastation in Beirut — with buildings across the city damaged and more than 250,000 people displaced from their homes, forced to move in with relatives and friends — is compounded by the ongoing pandemic and an economic crisis.

What The World is following

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said test results for a man who is possibly North Korea’s first case of the coronavirus are “inconclusive,” even as the country moved to isolate 3,635 of his apparent contacts. Pyongyang declared a state of emergency on July 26.

In Afghanistan, the country’s health minister said an antibody survey revealed almost one-third of the nation may have been infected with the coronavirus. The research was conducted by WHO and Johns Hopkins University. While the testing showed Kabul and other urban areas were worst affected, it is believed a significant percentage of cases have been asymptomatic.

And, with Hiroshima marking the 75th anniversary of the 1945 nuclear blast on Thursday, the survivors were a diminished presence due to the threat of the coronavirus and their old age. Hibakusha, the name for the survivors of those atomic tragedies, have been a force for peace and strong advocates for a nuclear-free world. The two bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed at least 200,000 people.

From The WorldJohn Bolton: Trump doesn’t understand ‘the gravity of responsibility’

Then-National Security Adviser John Bolton listens as US President Donald Trump holds a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 9, 2018.

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Kevin Lamarque/File Photo/Reuters

The former White House national security adviser tells The World’s host Marco Werman that the president is not “very well-informed,” which means he “doesn’t really see the bigger-picture implications” of foreign policy decisions he makes on his gut feelings rather than intelligence.

NHL players kneel to protest police brutality

Andre Burakovsky #95 of the Colorado Avalanche battles with Matt Dumba #24 of the Minnesota Wild during the third period of the exhibition game prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on July 29, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta.

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Andy Devlin/NHLI via USA Today Sports

After a four-month delay, National Hockey League players are back on the ice, bringing social justice movements with them.

“For those unaffected by systematic racism, or unaware, I’m sure that some of you believe that this topic has garnered too much attention during the last couple months,” Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba said through the loudspeakers at Rogers Place arena Aug. 1 in Edmonton, Canada. But, he added, “Black Lives Matter. Breona Taylor’s life matters. Hockey is a great game, but it could be a whole lot greater, and it starts with all of us.”

Bright spot

A trade deal between Canada and the European Union may collapse over cheese … specifically the grillable, briny (and “rubber delicacy,”) halloumi from Cyprus. Government officials from the Mediterranean island recently voted against the EU trade deal with Canada over a lack of protections for halloumi raising many questions over the potential of a single EU government sinking a deal for the entire block.

I am, admittedly, biased but Cyprus halloumi is *chef’s kiss*. https://t.co/vhRKLJsang

— Christina Frangou (@cfrangou) August 5, 2020In case you missed itListen: Lebanon declares a state of emergency after explosion

A view of the site of an explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.

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Bilal Hussein/AP

After Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut, Lebanon’s government has declared a two-week state of emergency. Emergency crews are still on the scene after nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate produced the blast that killed more than 100 people with several thousand more wounded. And, what would President Trump’s foreign policy look like in a second term? Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton offers his thoughts. Plus, high-resolution images of poop stains via satellites show that there are nearly 20% more emperor penguin colonies than previously thought on the icy continent of Antarctica.

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EU may ban US travelers; Latin America sees COVID-19 surge; Palestinian officials call for probe into killing of youth

EU may ban US travelers; Latin America sees COVID-19 surge; Palestinian officials call for probe into killing of youth

By
The World staff

A man sits on his rickshaw waiting for clients, as Spain officially reopens the borders amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Barcelona, Spain, June 21, 2020.

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Top of The World — our morning news round up written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

Backpacking through Europe will likely not be an option for US travelers this summer. As the European Union looks to reopen in July, the bloc is working to prevent additional outbreaks of the novel coronavirus by blocking entry from countries that have had unsuccessful or haphazard responses to the pandemic — including the US. Visitors from China, however, are likely to be welcomed.

Travel bans have become synonymous with the Trump administration. The president sparked ire in March after announcing a ban against most European travelers, though that move did not prevent the US from becoming an epicenter of the virus, with more than 2.3 million cases reported.   

On the EU’s draft list of banned travelers, the US keeps company with Brazil and Russia, which are also deemed unsafe by the EU’s epidemiological criteria. In all three of these countries, leadership downplayed the virus and responses have been chaotic. This week, a Brazilian judge ordered President Jair Bolsonaro, known for his blasé attitude about COVID-19, to wear a mask in Brasília or risk fines, reminding the president that he is not above the law. 

What The World is following

The novel coronavirus is accelerating in Latin America and the Caribbean; official deaths surpassed 100,000 Tuesday, though the true number is likely much higher. The virus is plunging millions into poverty, and criminal corruption scandals are threatening more lives. And as the virus surges in impoverised regions, aid agencies are scrambling to deliver a lifesaving resource: oxygen

Palestinian officials have called for an international probe into the killing of Ahmed Erekat after Israeli soldiers shot the 27-year-old man and prevented medical aid from reaching him for more than an hour. Israeli officials say they suspected Erekat to be involved in a car-ramming attack. His family disputes the allegations, and human rights groups have condemned Israel’s excessive use of force.

Tennis star Novak Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus after organizing a tournament in Croatia. And, Major League Baseball announced plans to open the 2020 season in late July. 

From The WorldAmid global protests, Jamaicans confront their own problems with policing

People hold posters as they take part in a demonstration against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, at the Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica, June 6, 2020.

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Gilbert Bellamy/Reuters 

Jamaica shares the United States’ history of colonialism and slavery, and now has one of the highest rates of fatal police shootings. Activists there are thinking about what the global moment of police accountability could mean for their country.

The World is hosting a Facebook Live on the Latino conservative vote titled. “The Latino Republican: Issues and influence in the 2020 election.”

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Graphic by Maria Elena Romero/The World

In the 2018 midterm election, about 30% of Latinos in the US backed a Republican candidate. But conservative Latinos are not a monolithic group, and they do not vote as a bloc. 

The World’s Daisy Contreras will moderate a Facebook Live conversation on Latino conservatives today, June 24 at noon Eastern time. Join us for the discussion: “The Latino Republican: Issues and influence in the 2020 election.”

Morning meme

Yesterday, we noted that in Spain, plants filled an opera house. In France? Minions take to the cinema. We assume Kevin, Stuart and Bob are watching “Despicable Me.”

Minions toys are seen on cinema chairs to maintain social distancing between spectators at a MK2 cinema in Paris as Paris’ cinemas reopen doors to the public following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in France, June 22, 2020. 

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Benoit Tessier/Reuters

In case you missed itListen: Trump celebrates the border wall

US President Donald Trump arrives aboard Air Force One to visit a nearby US-Mexico border wall site in Yuma, Arizona, June 23, 2020.

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Carlos Barria/Reuters

President Donald Trump visits Arizona on Tuesday where he will make a stop in Yuma to celebrate the 200th mile of construction of the US-Mexico border wall. Most of the construction has been replacement segments. And, a monument to Winston Churchill in central London has become a flashpoint between Black Lives Matter demonstrators and far-right protesters. Also, after three months of darkness, the stage lights at a Barcelona opera house were flipped back on, suggesting a return to normalcy. But as musicians took the stage for a live concert, they looked out at an audience filled with potted plants.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The World’s Latest Edition podcast using your favorite podcast player: RadioPublicApple PodcastsStitcherSoundcloudRSS.

Love is blind: How Germany’s long romance with cars led to the nation’s biggest clean energy failure

Love is blind: How Germany’s long romance with cars led to the nation’s biggest clean energy failure

By
Dan Gearino

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Cars jam on the motorway A8 between Salzburg and Munich near Irschenberg, southern Germany, July 20, 2019.

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A longer version of this story was originally published by InsideClimate News.

The night before the leaders of the European Union met in Brussels in 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a phone call.

After more than a year of talks, the EU nations had agreed on a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

But Merkel, the leader of the largest and most economically powerful of those countries, had a last-minute change of heart.

In a call to Ireland’s prime minister, Enda Kenny, the European Union president, Merkel persuaded him to delay a vote on the transportation issue. Using threats to close auto plants in other European nations and promises to cooperate on other issues, Germany then lobbied its way to a plan with more favorable terms for its auto industry.

“It was, for everybody, shocking,” said Rebecca Harms, a former member of the European Parliament from the Alliance 90/The Greens party, who was representing Germany in Brussels.

Germany’s transition to clean energy has had successes that can serve as models for other countries of how to combat climate change. But one of the most important lessons comes from a failure: The nation’s decades-long unwillingness to cut emissions from cars and trucks.

Related: What Germany’s energy revolution can teach the US

From 1990 to 2019, Germany made substantial progress in reducing emissions from electricity production. But Germans’ love affair with cars and the auto industry’s political clout meant that during the same period, the country made almost no headway in cutting the transportation sector’s emissions, which represent about one-fifth of total emissions.

The German government repeatedly deferred to the auto industry, wary of doing anything that might affect manufacturing jobs in the country’s No. 1 export and raise prices for consumers. Whether in national legislation or with the European Union, the government long acted as an advocate rather than a regulator of these corporate giants.

The result was dissonance: Germany nourished wind and solar power and democratized its electricity system through local cooperatives. At the same time, it was burning gasoline and diesel with abandon. The failure to cut vehicle emissions was severe enough to derail progress on meeting climate goals for the whole economy.

Last summer, I went to Germany to see where the energy transition stood now. I did not expect that I would spend so much time talking about cars.

I learned that the struggle to cut auto emissions is Germany’s great unsolved problem, and the process of addressing it is just beginning, a shift that is at once cultural, political and economic.

The United States faces its own long-term challenges in cutting transportation emissions, and can learn from the German example.

“The bigger lessons are really in the failure stories,” said Jonas Meckling, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of energy and environmental policy, who previously worked as a senior advisor for the German environment ministry.

One lesson, he said, is that an energy transition is not monolithic. It is made up of a series of challenges, and governments need strategies for each major sector of the economy. But even more important, he said, the leaders need to build and then maintain public support for making changes in each sector. And that gets complicated in a country where the love of cars runs deep, and speed is almost a religion.

In an energy transition, a (large) oversight

Germany began its Energiewende, or energy transition, in earnest in 2000, led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and a center-left coalition of Social Democrats and Alliance 90/The Greens.

The new leaders made rapid changes, but they were focused on the country’s largest emissions source, the electricity sector. The moves led to a boom in renewable energy and an ability for local communities to control projects and benefit from them. The transportation sector, however, was almost ignored.

In 2005, voters gave the center-right Chistian Democrats a plurality in the parliament, led by the new chancellor, Angela Merkel, who would turn out to be a staunch defender of the auto industry’s interests.

German chancellor Angela Merkel stands next to a VW car during the opening of the Frankfurt Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 14, 2017.

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Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Over the next few years, a pattern emerged, in which Germany did little at the national level to deal with transportation emissions and also worked to weaken rules being considered by the European Union.

In 2007, the European Union enacted its first mandatory emissions rules for vehicles, a plan that would have been more stringent if Merkel’s government had not successfully pushed to set the standards at a level amenable to Germany’s auto industry.

Those standards took effect in 2009, in the middle of a global economic downturn. Environmental advocates were pleased to see early evidence that mandatory rules seemed to be working in a way that voluntary rules had not.

And they were eager to get back to the table to update the rules and make them more stringent, a process that came to a head in 2013.

Dorothee Saar is head of the transportation and air quality for a prominent German environmental group.

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Courtesy of Deutsche Umwelthilfe

Dorothee Saar, head of transportation policy for Deutsche Umwelthilfe, a leading German environmental group, participated in more than a year of negotiations in which environmental advocates and auto industry representatives worked on the details with policymakers from member states, including Germany.

The deal they reached was a fair compromise, she said, with rules that were not as tough as environmental groups would have liked, but clearly a step in the right direction.

Then, out of nowhere, Merkel intervened. She phoned various heads of state to ask them to join her in pushing to reopen the negotiations.

Saar learned of the sudden change of plans from a newspaper.

“What a mess,” she said, remembering her reaction.

Merkel’s actions had short-circuited the regular process of EU law making. Reopening the negotiations, however, only led to minor changes to the agreement. Six months later, the sides agreed on a plan to impose tougher emissions rules by 2021 instead of 2020, with new provisions that would give automakers credit for electric vehicles that would count toward offsetting emissions for other models.

Harms, the former European Parliament member, now thinks Merkel’s actions affected the credibility of the process in a way that ended up doing much more damage than the changes to the policy.

In response to questions from InsideClimate News about Merkel’s role in the 2013 negotiations and the criticism that she has been too close to the auto industry, a spokesman for the Merkel government said the chancellor “maintains working relationships to all major sectors of the German economy.” He added that the EU rules for carbon emissions from vehicles, including those passed since 2013, set a “global benchmark.”

That Germany was a leader in supporting renewable energy but also an adversary of dealing with transportation emissions might seem contradictory. Yet, inside the country, it made sense.

“Our economy still is dominated by the mobility sector, mainly by the German automotive industry and the suppliers,” said Christian Hochfeld, director of Agora Verkehrswende, a Berlin think tank that focuses on clean transportation policy.

Transportation emissions, he said, are “the elephant in the room” when it comes to Germany seriously addressing climate change.

Auto manufacturers, including parts suppliers, employ more than 800,000 Germans, making the industry an economic powerhouse. Those numbers alone would be enough to wield political influence. But the industry also has plants in nearly every German state, giving it local and national power.

In 2015, though, this bedrock industry was about to squander its goodwill.

Deconstructing ‘Dieselgate’

The German government’s efforts to protect the auto industry included staying out of the way of the growth strategy of its largest automaker, Volkswagen.

In 2015, Volkswagen was eight years into a corporate plan to increase its annual sales from the 6.2 million vehicles it sold in 2007 to 10 million vehicles, a number likely to make the company the world’s leading automaker.

Volkswagen aimed to grow in the United States by competing in the SUV segment, and by marketing its diesel vehicles as good for the environment. The catchphrase for the company was “clean diesel.”

While it was true that Volkswagen’s diesel engines were fuel efficient, with low carbon dioxide emissions, diesel vehicles emitted high levels of nitrogen oxide, a major contributor to air pollution.

To sell diesels in the United States and meet air quality regulations, Volkswagen needed to install equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. But this equipment also harmed the vehicles’ performance, making the cars feel sluggish when they were driven.

So the company cheated. Its engineers developed software that could detect when a car was driving onto a lab platform for emissions testing and would then engage pollution controls. On the open road, however, the vehicles spewed nitrogen oxide at levels up to 40 times legal limits.

The scheme might have gone undetected if not for a small group of researchers from West Virginia University that did tests of various brands and vehicles to see how emissions in the lab compared to emissions on the road. After several tests, it was clear something was amiss with the Volkswagen cars.

Volkswagen initially deflected, then blustered, accusing the testers of making mistakes. But the company had been caught, and the evidence continued to accumulate, exposing wrongdoing by other automakers, as well.

Merkel urged Volkswagen and other companies to fully disclose what they had done.

“I am just as disgusted with this deception as you are, with this cheating of customers,” Merkel said in a 2017 interview.

Longtime observers of German politics and business could see signs that the government and the auto industry were no longer in lockstep, setting the stage for another round of European Union talks about increasing vehicle emissions standards in 2018.

The negotiations did not play out as they had before. Other countries pushed harder for aggressive action, and were less deferential to Germany. The result was a compromise, but one that went further than ever before.

Under the new rules, adopted in December 2018, countries are required to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 15 percent by 2025 and 37.5 percent by 2030, compared to a 2021 baseline.

A change of heart

Volkswagen soon demonstrated that it was ahead of its government in recognizing that the future of the auto industry lay in electric vehicles (EV).

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess rolled out a new strategy in March 2019, announcing an increase in the number of planned EV models and a new goal of selling 22 million EVs in the next 10 years, up from the previous goal of 15 million in the same period.

“Volkswagen will change fundamentally,” Diess said at a news conference at the company’s headquarters. “Some of you may still be rubbing your eyes in amazement, but there’s no question this supertanker is picking up speed.”

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess speaks at a news conference in March 2019, announcing a major increase in electric vehicle production.

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Volkswagen

Germany’s other leading automakers, Daimler and BMW, also were increasing their emphasis on EVs. With the automakers moving in this direction, the German government was running out of reasons not to pursue national legislation to reduce vehicle emissions.

In December, Merkel’s governing coalition passed legislation designed to accelerate the country’s progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Among its many provisions, the law included Germany’s first-ever carbon tax for transportation, which will increase the cost of motor fuels such as gasoline and diesel when it takes effect next year.

Breaking the chains

As bad as the Volkswagen scandal was, it may ultimately have saved the company and, by helping to enact more aggressive vehicle emissions rules, provided much-needed momentum for the German energy transition.

Christian Hochfeld is director of Agora Verkehrswende, a Berlin think tank that focuses on environmental issues related to transportation.

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Courtesy of Agora Verkehrswende

“Without ‘Dieselgate,’ the old management would still be in today,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, an auto analyst and former director of the automotive research center at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, “and they would still be just saying ‘We have the best diesels.’”

Hochfeld, director of Agora Verkehrswende, the Berlin think tank, added, “The diesel scandal broke a lot of chains between the policymakers and the car industry and it also broke a lot of chains between German people and the car industry, because they lost their trust and they lost their pride in this industry.”

Even Volkswagen can see that the scandal has led to positive changes.

“The diesel crisis, the scandal, was a loud and clear call for action,” said Ralf Pfitzner, Volkswagen’s head of sustainability, in a phone interview. “It’s now helped us to be at the forefront of electrification.”

Environmental advocates are cautiously hopeful that this change is enduring, part of a broader shift that could turn around what has been the greatest failure of the country’s energy transition.

‘Travel bubbles’: Who’s in and who’s out of the plan to save global tourism

'Travel bubbles': Who’s in and who’s out of the plan to save global tourism

"Travel bubbles" are popping up around the world in an attempt to revitalize tourism economies.

By
Bianca Hillier

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Passengers wait for a regional train at the main train station in Berlin during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Berlin, Germany, June 10, 2020.

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The coronavirus pandemic has brought leisure travel to a standstill. International tourism could decline by up to 80% this year, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Now, just as the Northern Hemisphere enters the summer season, governments around the world are trying to revitalize their tourism economies.

“The idea to start reallowing travel is not to open up all borders to everybody, but that countries form free travel zones,” said Per Block, an Oxford University researcher in social mobility. 

“Free travel zones” — also known as “corona corridors” and “travel bubbles” — are agreements with neighboring regions that allow for travel across borders for non-essential trips without quarantining upon arrival.

Related: Baltic ‘bubble’ looks to reopen regional travel

Countries don’t need to have zero cases of COVID-19 to form a travel bubble, but all countries involved should be at a similar stage of reopening, Block said.

“Travel is slowly being allowed again, even though their caseload is nowhere near zero.”

Per Block, researcher, Oxford University

“That’s what’s happening in many European countries,” Block said. “Travel is slowly being allowed again, even though their caseload is nowhere near zero.”

A report last month from the European Commission recommends this strategy for European Union member-states. Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal are among the countries that have agreed to opening their borders to travelers from the EU. Norway and Denmark, meanwhile, have opened their borders just to each other, leaving other Scandinavian countries out of immediate plans.

Beyond Europe, travel bubbles are also popping up. People in Singapore and select Chinese provinces can now travel for business without having to quarantine for 14 days. Travelers will be subject to COVID-19 tests before and after flying, and will be required to use an app that tracks their movements during the trip.

Tourists pose for photos at a Three Sisters rock formation lookout in Blue Mountains National Park in the wake of regional travel re-opening as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions are eased in New South Wales, in Katoomba, Australia, June 5, 2020.

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Loren Elliott/Reuters

Australia and New Zealand were among the first to discuss the idea of a travel bubble. Both countries have been praised for their handling of the pandemic, and New Zealand even announced zero active cases of the disease this week.

Related: New Zealand is free of COVID-19

But New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Kiwis aren’t ready to welcome in Aussies just yet.

“We need to be assured that when we open up to Australia, we can do that with confidence.”

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand prime minister 

“We need to be assured that when we open up to Australia, we can do that with confidence. There are still cases in Australia. So we do need to be careful,” Ardern said at a press conference on Monday. “They’re not quite in the position New Zealand is in.”

The European Commission shares that caution. A report this week announced that travelers coming from outside the EU will not be allowed into EU member states for non-essential travel through June 30. Spokesperson Sonya Gospodinova says a plan to loosen the travel restrictions is being developed.

“We are looking ahead to resuming the travel from outside the EU very shortly,” Gospodinova said. “Possibly in July.”

Related: After lockdown, Milan plans to open streets to cyclists, pedestrians

Like the kind made of soap and water, travel bubbles are fragile. The United States has one of the worst infection rates in the world, and the lack of widespread testing and contact tracing might doom its chances of being invited into any travel bubble at this point — even with its closest neighbors.

“I think it’s simply inarguable that we in Canada stand to gain very little by opening the border to the United States.”

Amir Attaran, professor, University of Ottawa

“I think it’s simply inarguable that we in Canada stand to gain very little by opening the border to the United States,” said Amir Attaran, a professor of law and epidemiology at the University of Ottawa. “I don’t particularly think Canada is a success to which the United States should compare itself. We have failed too. We just have not failed as badly as you have.”

Related: Niagara Falls off-limits to Americans as US-Canada border is closed

Those in favor of reopening the border point to Canada’s reliance on the US for tourism. According to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, nearly 70% of people visiting the country come from the US. But Attaran says the marketplace can’t operate without a healthy population.

“Americans need to get quite realistic about this,” he said. “Unless you get this disease under control quickly, it’s not just the end of your economy — it’s the end of your country, really.”

WHO chief promises review of coronavirus response, China defends its performance

WHO chief promises review of coronavirus response, China defends its performance

Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, February 2020.

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The head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday an independent evaluation of the global coronavirus response would be launched as soon as possible during a virtual meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, facing global criticism over his county’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, defended China’s handling of the crisis but also backed the WHO’s review.

US President Donald Trump has fiercely questioned the WHO’s performance during the pandemic and led international criticism of China’s handling of the early stages of the crisis.

Tedros, who has always promised a post-pandemic review, said it would come “at the earliest appropriate moment” and provide recommendations for future preparedness.

“We all have lessons to learn from the pandemic. Every country and every organisation must examine its response and learn from its experience. WHO is committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement,” Tedros said.

The review must encompass responsibility of “all actors in good faith,” he said.

“The risk remains high and we have a long road to travel,” Tedros added, saying preliminary tests in some countries showed that at most 20% of populations had contracted the disease but most places that less than 10%.

Related: Is 2020 an economic write-off?

A resolution drafted by the European Union called for an independent evaluation of the WHO’s performance and appeared to have won consensus backing among the health body’s 194 states.

China has previously opposed calls for a review of the origin and spread of the coronavirus, but Xi signalled Beijing would be amenable to an impartial evaluation of the global response once the pandemic is brought under control.

“This work needs a scientific and professional attitude, and needs to be led by the WHO. And the principles of objectivity and fairness need to be upheld,” he told the meeting via video.

Calling the pandemic the most serious global public health emergency since the end of World War Two, Xi said: “All along we have acted with openness and transparency and responsibility.”

Wildlife origins

A draft of the EU resolution made no mention of China.

WHO and most experts say the virus is believed to have emerged in a market selling wildlife in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

A draft text of the EU resolution urges Tedros to initiate an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the  response to COVID-19 under the WHO “at the earliest appropriate moment.”

Diplomats said the United States, which suspended its funding of the WHO during the crisis, was unlikely to block a consensus backing the resolution.

But it could “dissociate” itself from sections referring to intellectual property rights for drugs and vaccines, and to continued provision of services for sexual and reproductive health during the pandemic, they said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the WHO “irreplaceable.” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Africa affirms its “full support,” but assistance to the continent should include debt relief and help with diagnostics, drugs and medical supplies.

Barbados’ prime minister said Caribbean states need a restructuring of debt or a debt moratorium to “provide certainty to both borrower and lender” during the pandemic.

By Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge/Reuters