High expectations as Eastern rail project takes off - THE NATION
The ground-breaking of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri narrow gauge line, otherwise known as the Eastern rail, this morning would go down as the continuation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s ambitious’ mandate to link all parts of the country by rail, writes ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE
Finally, the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi, will today bring the dividends of democracy closer home, as he, on behalf of his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, performs the ground breaking of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri railway project.
The Eastern Narrow Gauge Railway project with a construction time of 36 months estimated at about 1,000 kilometres, is expected to cost $3billion, with the Federal Government obligated to pay only 15 percent counterpart funding.
Instructively, the project is coming with two new elements – the link to the Bonny Deep seaport and the Railway Industrial Park – to be located in Port Harcourt.
The project, which would be executed by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, (CCECC), had been approved since September, to link Port Harcourt on the Atlantic Coast, southsouth, to Maiduguri, on the border with chad, on northeast Nigeria.
Amaechi, who broke the news to reporters during his routine inspection of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail project, expressed happiness that at last his people would be happy that the railway is, at least, coming closer home.
The minister added that two new spurs (branch lines) may be added to the project to link Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital and Akwa, the Anambra State capital, thereby achieving the dream of linking the Southeast capitals by rail system.
He clarified that the ground breaking entailed only the take-off of front end engineering procedures including engineering designs and planning, after which the actual construction is expected to begin.
On the viability of the corridor, Amaechi said though the Lagos-Kano rail could move 30 million tons of cargo; when completed, the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line would move 11 million tons of cargo.
He said: “When we complete the railways, there are certain cargoes that will no longer be allowed on the roads.
“This is to encourage the movement of cargo on the rail lines and to ensure that our roads are preserved.
“Moving cargo across the country through rail would be cheaper and faster than the roads.”
The Global Construction Review, a website of the Chartered Institute of Building, quoted the minister as saying last year, that the Federal Executive Council has approved the award of contracts for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri narrow-gauge railway, with new branch lines and transshipment infrastructure. These are the construction of a deep-sea port in Bonny and a railway industrial park in Port Harcourt.
According to the website, the minister said the reconstruction of the railways would cost around $3billion. The industrial park is expected to cost $240million and the port $480million.
These last two projects would be developed as public–private partnerships “at no cost to the federal government”.
The port at Bonny will have a rail connection to the Port Harcourt line. Others will be built to Owerri, the Imo State capital, and Kafanchan in Kaduna State.
The Eastern rail line project was started by the British colonialists from Port Harcourt to Enugu, 243 km between 1914 and 1916, from Enugu it extended to Makurdi 223km from 1916–1924, and from Kaduna to Kafranchan 179 km 1924-1927, and Kafranchan to Jos, 101 km from 1924 -1927.
For about 31 years, 1927 -1957 there was a lull in railway development until 1958, when the rail line was extended from Kafanchan to Bauchi in 1961, 238 kms and, ultimately, to Maiduguri 302 kms from 1963 to 1964.
This development, in addition to the western narrow gauge rail line, brought the nation’s total narrow gauge assets to 2,505 and track kilometres to 4,332 managed by the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
From its peak of glory, regarded as the golden age of the early ‘60s, the railway fell into stormy waters, because there were no comprehensive maintenance provision for the narrow gauge, and the corporation went into bankruptcy.
The corporation existed in fits and starts until 2002, when the government birthed the 25-year strategic vision for the railway, which favoured the modernisation of the rail system with the construction of the standard gauge.
The vision has three phases: Phase One; system transition from 2002 to 2007, entails the transition of the narrow gauge rehabilitation which narrow gauge functions effectively and become attractive to concessionaires. Phase two includes system modernisation from 2007 to 2015, and both phases are being implemented concurrently and because of some delays in budgetary allocation and implementation, which involves the construction of new standard gauge infrastructure and the attraction of private investment and modernisation of operations and increasing local technological capacity.
Phase Three system stabilisation 2015 to 2027. This will consolidate on the advancements of the two previous phases with the extension of new routes to reach all the state capitals and commercial centres and effective commercialisation of rail operations and development of high speed lines with optimal efficiency.
The Port Harcourt narrow gauge rail line would have been in total comatose but for skeletal services being provided by the NRC between Port Harcourt and Calabar, which has been suspended due to COVID-19 and loss of tracks.
In May 2010, former President Goodluck Jonathan launched an ambitious rail rehabilitation project meant to see the rail network rehabilitated. One of the lines identified for immediate rehabilitation was the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri corridor, which was partitioned into three contracts, the 463 km Port Harcourt- Makurdi, which collapsed and was abandoned, in need of reconstruction and rehabilitation.
Logistics stakeholders said the rehabilitation of the rail corridor would unleash huge economic potential of the areas and support economic diversification and job creation.
UAE extends ban on Nigerian travellers - DAILY POST
The United Arab Emirates authorities has announced it’s extending the ban on Nigerian flights to Dubai until March 20.
A statement from the Public Relations officer of the Emirate Airlines said that customers from both Abuja and Lagos would not be accepted for travel prior to or including this date.
The statement, however, failed to reveal if Emirates flights from Dubai to Lagos and Abuja will continue as scheduled.
“In line with government directives, passenger services from Nigeria, to Dubai are temporarily suspended until 20 March 2021.
“Moreso, customers from both Abuja and Lagos will not be able to travel prior to or including this date.
“Passengers who have been to or connected through Nigeria in the last 14 days are equally not allowed entry into Dubia,” the statement said.
Pilgrims funds safer in Hajj savings account — Gov. Sule - THE NATION
The governor says the funds will be "free from any unforeseen temptation."
Keeping pilgrims fund in the newly introduced Hajj Savings Scheme is safe, reliable and free from any unforeseen temptation, the governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Sule, has said.
Speaking at the launch/sensitisation of the scheme in Lafia, Nasarawa State, Mr Sule said the scheme, beside easing the Hajj processes, will reduce the chances of redirecting the pilgrims’ funds for other activities outside Hajj operations.
He said the HSS came at the right time when various governments are withdrawing gradually from sponsoring religious activities. He emphasised that Muslims will now be better prepared at their convenience to perform Hajj, being one of the pillars of Islam.
The Managing Director of Jaiz Bank Plc, Hassan Usman, said, “the Bank is committed to this journey and we are ready to support it with best-in-class technology infrastructure as well as safe investment management practice.”
Mr Hassan, represented by the Acting MD/Executive Director, Operations/CFO of the Bank, Abdulfattah Amoo, said as the Scheme grows over time, NAHCON and the various State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards can have the liquid funds required to effectively plan Hajj operations early, thereby securing better bargain for accommodation and other services for their pilgrims. The Scheme can also be the key to making them highly self-sustaining in the long run.
In his remark, the Chairman/CEO, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Zikirullah Hassan, said HSS is “an idea whose time has come and which is quite crucial and a dream come true for us all if Hajj must be taken to the next level like as it is done in some parts of the world.
“However, the reality for the success of the Scheme depends on all of us to propagate and support it in every way through encouraging our people to key into this noble scheme. Therefore as we rise from here today, we must all go to work to preach the message of the Hajj Savings Scheme.”
The Chairman of the Nasarawa State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Mustafa Yahuza, said the state has put in place a mechanism to promote the scheme deep to the grassroots in order to meet its objectives.
The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Pilgrims, Abubakar Nalaraba, said the scheme is backed by law as contained in NAHCON Act which established the Commission.
He said the benefit of HSS is for all Nigerian Muslims and the procedure has been simplified to capture more pilgrims for the country.
New York's Domestic Travel Quarantine Rule Ends April 1; Fed ‘Vaccine Supercharge' Incoming - NBC
The state's vaccine program got a huge boost at the same time Gov. Cuomo's travel news dropped, as Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a "vaccine supercharge" courtesy of the federal government
What to Know
- New York vaccine eligibility expanded to people 60+ starting Wednesday, as pharmacies gained the right to administer doses to that group and teachers; it expands further early next week
- Mayor Bill de Blasio says he expects everyone in New York to at least be eligible for vaccination by June 20; if the supply were sufficient, he says the city could dose everyone who wants it a month earlier
- The accelerated vaccination rollout combined with sustained declines in virus rates have fueled a spate of significant reopenings across the tri-state area; next week will end on a big note
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that domestic travelers will no longer be required to quarantine after entering New York from another U.S. state or territory starting April 1, though isolation is required for international travelers.
Though the mandate will end, New York state health officials still recommend quarantine after domestic travel as an added precaution. All travelers must continue to fill out the state's traveler form as well as adhere to core COVID safety guidelines as issued by the state and federal authorities.
That includes continuing daily symptom monitoring for two weeks post-arrival in New York, strict adherence to core COVID safety measures and immediate self-isolation if symptoms develop. Symptomatic people should contact their healthcare providers to report the change and determine if they should be tested.
Asked about it later Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has criticized Cuomo often in recent weeks over sexual harassment allegations and separate claims of bullying before that, said the city wasn't consulted first.
"Of course, I have concerns about this," de Blasio said, adding he wanted to anlyze the guidance with his health team for more detail. "The introduction of the virus from outside has been one of the biggest and toughest X factors in this whole crisis and something we worry about very much going forward."
The mayor's senior public health adviser and the head of NYC Health + Hospitals both agreed limiting travel was a key component of reducing viral spread, with the vaccination rollout still in its fairly early stages in terms of population percentage. They encourage New Yorkers to keep using other mitigation methods regardless.
Cuomo had mentioned the looming change earlier this month but said at the time that the quarantine requirement would lift for domestic travelers who were fully vaccinated. The updated announcement Thursday doesn't mention a vaccination requirement, but the governor indicated the accelerated rollout, along with sustained declines in virus rates across the state, contributed to his decision.
Hospitalizations statewide are at their lowest total since Dec. 6 (4,735), Cuomo said, while the daily positivity rate is 2.77 percent, the lowest since Nov. 21.
"New Yorkers have shown strength and perseverance throughout this entire pandemic, and it shows through the numbers that continue to decrease every day," Cuomo said. "As we work to build our vaccination infrastructure even further and get more shots in arms, we're making significant progress in winning the footrace between the infection rate and the vaccination rate, allowing us to open new sectors of our economy and start our transition to a new normal in a post-pandemic world."
New York's vaccine program got a huge boost at the same time Cuomo's news dropped, as Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a "vaccine supercharge" courtesy of the federal government. That program, which the longtime Democratic senator revealed during an appearance in Mayor Bill de Blasio's daily coronavirus briefing, will utilize community health centers as federally funded vaccine sites. More than 100 new sites will be established.
The vaccine "supercharge" comes in addition to the benefits ascribed to New York from Congress' new $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign as early as Friday, Schumer said. It wasn't clear when the first sites under the new federal program the senator announced would launch.
Italy to impose nationwide coronavirus lockdown over Easter weekend - draft decree - REUTERS
By Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) - Italy will be placed under a nationwide lockdown over the Easter weekend for the second year running, a draft decree law seen by Reuters said on Friday, underlining the struggle to stem a fresh surge in coronavirus cases.
Non-essential shops will be shuttered nationwide from April 3-5. On those days, Italians will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, health or emergency reasons.
However, a number of regions including wealthy Lombardy, which is centred on Italy’s financial capital Milan, look certain to be placed under full lockdown from Monday because of the recent jump in infections and hospitalisations.
“I hope that this will be the last sacrifice asked of our citizens,” said Lombardy President Attilio Fontana.
Italy, the first Western country hit hard by the pandemic, saw infections rise by 10% this week compared with the week before, and officials have warned that the situation is deteriorating as new, highly contagious variants gain ground.
The country was placed under its first nationwide lockdown a year ago, which lasted 10 weeks. A second lockdown was imposed at Christmas. In recent months, the government has introduced restrictions at a regional level, depending on case numbers.
It was not immediately clear how the decree would affect churchgoers in the Catholic country. However, it was expected to be similar to provisions last Christmas when people were allowed to go to churches in their neighbourhoods.
A Vatican source said Pope Francis’ Easter Eve Mass likely would be held a few hours earlier so that faithful could get home in time for Italy’s 10 p.m. curfew and that the pontiff’s Holy Week activities before Easter would be held in the Vatican with a limited number of participants.
Unlike last year, the new decree, which was expected to be approved by Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s cabinet later on Friday, allows for limited visits to friends and relatives over the Easter holiday - for example to see elderly parents.
But the decree also imposes tougher curbs for the country’s low-risk “yellow” regions as of Monday, severely limiting movement between towns and closing restaurants and bars.
“The spread of the virus is accelerating due to the impact of variants. We agree with the government’s choices,” Stefano Bonaccini, president of Italy’s conference of regions, said in a statement after meeting ministers.
Alongside some nationwide measures, Italy calibrates restrictions in its 20 regions according to a four-tier, colour-coded system (white, yellow, orange and red) based on infection levels and revised every week.
Italy has reported more than 100,000 deaths from the disease since discovering its first cases 13 months ago, the seventh highest toll worldwide.
Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer/Mark Heinrich
New Airlines Emerge in Nigeria as Global Aviation is Threatened - THISDAY
BY Chinedu Eze
New airlines are emerging in Nigeria to take care of the low capacity in the air transport industry. Signals from different parts of the world have shown that it will take years for the air transport industry to recover fully from the devastating effects of COVID-19, as many renowned airlines are going under, some merging, while thousands of aviation workers are losing their jobs.
And with indications that the Nigerian industry currently suffers from low capacity, new airlines are emerging even it is believed that more operating aircraft are needed in the country.
The former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, told THISDAY that in Nigeria there would be growth in the industry because the sector is currently underserved that it therefore needs more airlines and more aircraft to meet the surging demand.
He noted that as road transport continues to be unsafe due to security threats and rail transport is yet to connect all parts of the country, there would continue to be high demand for air travel in the country.
But industry analysts said Nigeria’s case is going to be an isolated one because global prediction indicated that 2021 would still be a tough year for the aviation industry and that the sector would begin to ease out next year, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Reports indicate that Virgin Airways has fired more than 3,000 people including 600 Pilots. Virgin Australia has filed for bankruptcy. African carrier, Air Mauritius has gone into administration just as South African Airways has become bankrupt. Finish carrier, Finnair has returned 12 planes and laid off 2,400 people. Ryanair grounded 113 planes and got rid of 900 pilots for the moment and possibly 450 more in the coming months.
Norwegian airliner, ASA has completely stopped its long-haul operations and the Boeing 787s in its fleet have been returned to the lessors. Scandinavian airline, SAS has returned 14 planes and fired 520 pilots and the Scandinavian states are said to be studying a plan to liquidate Norwegian and SAS to rebuild a new company from their ashes.
In the Middle East, Ethihad cancelled 18 orders for A350, grounds 10 A380 and 10 Boeing 787 and laid off 720 staff. Emirates grounded 38 Airbus A380s and cancelled all orders for the Boeing 777x (150 aircraft, the largest order for this type) and over 56 of the airline’s personnel are to be refitted. They “invite” all employees over 56 to retired Hungarian carrier, Wizzair has returned 32 A320s and laid off 1,200 people, including 200 pilots, another wave of 430 layoffs planned in the coming months and remaining employees would see their wages reduced by 30 per cent.
Also IAG (British Airways’ parent company) has abandoned the takeover of Air Europa (and will pay €40 million compensation for that), while IAG (Iberia) grounded 56 planes; IAG (British Airways) grounds 34 planes and everyone over 58 years has been asked to retire. THISDAY also gathered that currently, 60 new aircraft stored at Airbus with no buyers in sight (order cancellations) including 18 A350s. But in Nigeria a new airline, United Nigeria Airlines took to the sky last month and Green Africa Airways, NG Eagle and Binani Air are queuing for Air Operator Certificate (AON).
However, travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ambassador Ikechi Uko told THISDAY that what Nigeria needs is not necessarily new airlines but more aircraft, noting that what Nigerian travellers need are more aircraft seats, not airlines because if only two airlines provide the needed seats it would even serve the country better than have many airlines because when there are more airlines they would jostle for passengers and eventually destroy the market value.
“Currently Nigeria is experiencing low capacity. There are no enough aircraft seats to meet the demand of passengers. I wanted to go to Abuja and I learnt that there are no seats. More Nigerians want to travel by air because road travel is not safe. I just heard that there was security threat on the Lagos-Benin road today (Wednesday) and every motorist stopped and parked his car on the road. No one wanted to move because no one knew what was ahead. So many people would want to fly, which is the most reliable and safest means of travel that is also the fastest,” Ambassador Uko said.
THISDAY learnt that presently Nigerian airlines’ fleet is depleted. Many aircraft have been ferried overseas for maintenance and due to the lockdown many Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities were shut down for a long time due to COVID-19 lockdown so they were behind in their maintenance schedule for aircraft delivery to airlines.
One Airline Is Offering $4 Covid Tests to Get People Flying - BLOOMBERG
By Ragini Saxena
One airline in India has hit upon a new way to make a bit of extra money while encouraging people back on planes -- sell them Covid-19 tests.
SpiceJet Ltd., India’s second-largest carrier, is offering coronavirus screening to passengers for as little as 299 rupees ($4). That’s about one-third the current market rate. SpiceHealth, the unit selling the tests, has also set up mobile-testing facilities for the general public in Mumbai and New Delhi, where starting from 499 rupees, people can come in or have a sample collected from their home.
Although aviation in India, with its big domestic market, is recovering faster than in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, which have no local business to speak of, the impact of the pandemic is still being felt. No-frills carrier SpiceJet posted a net loss of 569.6 million rupees in the quarter ended Dec. 31 compared with a profit of 732 million rupees a year earlier.
So much red link has prompted airlines around the world to look for new revenue streams as they burn through cash. Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd. last year rented out one of its Boeing Co. Dreamliners for sightseeing trips over Antarctica and sold items typically given away to premium passengers, including pajamas. Low-cost travel pioneer AirAsia Group Bhd. started an Amazon.com-style platform selling fresh fruit and vegetables.
British Airways to use big planes for European holiday boom - THE TELEGRAPH
BY Oliver Gill
British Airways is preparing to use some of its biggest planesto whisk holidaymakers off on their European summer holidays.
In response to huge pent-up demand, the airline could divert aircraft typically used for long-haul routes to short-haul destinations.
Boris Johnson has set May 17 as the earliest date that Britons will be able to jet off abroad. The precise timing will depend on the findings of a committee of industry leaders and Whitehall officials called the Global Travel Taskforce, which is due to report back to the Prime Minister by April 12.
Greece, the UK’s favourite holiday destination, as well as popular hotspots Cyprus, Portugal and Spain have indicated that they will be open from mid-May for Britons who have been vaccinated or can provide a negative Covid test.
Many of BA’s larger planes, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing 777 and Airbus A350, have been left unused at airports as travel to long-haul destinations has largely stopped.
The bigger aircraft have two aisles instead of one and could carry twice as many people. They are configured to have large business class and premium sections, however.
Sources told Bloomberg, which reported the plans, that a final decision to use the larger jets would depend on booking volumes when Mr Johnson re-opens the borders.
A spokesman for British Airways said: “We keep our operation under constant review.”
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is “hopeful” that Britons will be able to have summer holidays abroad.
He said that it made sense to wait until the Global Travel Taskforce reported back in April.
“I am hopeful but, as with everything to do with this virus, you can’t say for certain,” he added.
“There are a lot of issues that we need to work around but I am working with international partners, both governments and organisations, to try to make it happen. We can’t provide cast iron guarantees on it.”
The First Minister for Wales Mark Drakeford struck a different tone on Friday morning.
Mr Drakeford told the BBC that he was worried about foreign travel resuming as early as May 17. “I do not want to see all the hard work being undermined by the re-importation of the virus,” he said.
Separately, easyJet boss Johan Lundgren launched a stinging broadside on the UK Government over its handling of the pandemic and the travel industry.
“In the UK… we’ve had more deaths and the economic damage has been greater,” he told Travel Weekly.
“Now there is no doubt the roll-out of the vaccination programme has been a tremendous success. [But] the restrictions have been worse in the UK.
“It’s not great to be in the travel sector in the UK and while this was pointed out to the government, there is still not a dedicated support package for this industry. That is hard to accept. It is difficult to get your head around why that is the case.”
Shares in IAG, the owner of British Airways, closed 1pc lower at 209.8p.
Are vaccine passports a good idea? - THE ECONOMIST
They are likely to make the biggest difference to international travel
On march 7th, after six months of selling takeaways, the beer was once more flowing in the pizzeria at Bet Romano in Tel Aviv. The bar and restaurant upstairs were packed. Most patrons carried proof that they had received a double dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, but no one asked to see it. At nearby establishments that were trying harder to verify vaccination status, people queued with pieces of paper and smartphones. These contained authorisations from health-care providers; immunisation certificates from the health ministry; and the “green pass”, a government app that confirms vaccination and which is illustrated with a picture of a family frolicking across a verdant landscape.
Israel’s covid-19 vaccination programme has been the world’s fastest. Over half of adults have had at least one jab, and 90% of those over 50 have had both. Anyone aged 16 or over is now eligible for the vaccine. But rather than wait for herd immunity—in which resistance becomes widespread enough to curtail the spread of the virus—the government has, since February 21st, allowed the vaccinated to return to gyms, concert halls, theatres and other indoor venues.
The experiment is being watched around the world. Worried about stalled economies and restive citizens, governments have leapt on the idea of “vaccine passports” as a way to free at least some people from lockdowns. In January Joe Biden, America’s president, ordered his government to assess the idea. On March 8th the country’s guidelines about social mingling were updated to distinguish between the vaccinated and unvaccinated for the first time. The European Commission will put forward plans for a bloc-wide “digital green pass” on March 17th. Britain is considering a vaccine-passport scheme too. In some versions of the idea, the passports would include not just vaccination status, but results from infection tests, proof that the bearer had completed a period of quarantine, or exemptions from vaccination for health reasons.
Vaccine-related restrictions are not a new idea. Visitors to places where yellow fever is endemic have to prove vaccination with a “yellow card”. Immigrants to America must be vaccinated for 15 diseases listed by that country’s Department of Health before they can become permanent residents. So must children in all 50 states before attending public schools (though there are exemptions for the immuno-compromised and religious objections). In many places, similar rules apply to some health-care workers and to soldiers.
But when it comes to covid-19, not everyone is so keen. Policy experts argue that, in many countries, vaccination is moving quickly enough that passports will be only briefly useful. Civil libertarians and security researchers worry that governments may be tempted to misuse the data, and exploit the control they grant over people’s lives. Public-health experts say it is too early to know whether the idea is medically sound. Vaccines offer potent protection from sars-cov-2, the virus that causes covid-19. Although it looks very much as if they also significantly cut transmission, that is not yet certain. Any policy must grapple with questions of fairness and coercion; private approaches to risk versus communal ones; trade-offs between infection and economic activity; and the question of what lockdowns have done to people’s psyches.
Security is a good place to start, for if passports are to work they must be trustworthy. Researchers who examined Israel’s app found several flaws. Problems with the first version of the app meant that clever fraudsters could sell fake certificates online. The moving image in the latest version was supposed to improve security, but can still be copied. “While Israel is an exporter of high-tech, it doesn’t always adopt the same standards when it comes to its domestic needs,” says Ran Bar-Zik, an Israeli cyber-security consultant. Enforcement matters, too. In Tel Aviv there seems to be little effort to ensure that venues check paperwork. “If I have to put someone at the door to go through the entire process of approving every client, I won’t get any business,” says one bar-owner.
Nosy governments are another risk. Last year Singapore pledged that data from its contact-tracing app would be used for no other purpose. In January it said that, in fact, the police had been granted access for crime-fighting. That was enough to annoy even Singapore’s usually compliant citizens. Vivian Balakrishnan, a Singaporean minister, said he took “full responsibility” for what he called a “mistake”.
In China compulsory health apps use location data from smartphones to produce qr codes that determine whether someone is free to enter many indoor spaces and to travel without restrictions. Tracking data appear to be shared with police. The risk calculations are a black box and the code seems glitchy. Even after a period of mandated quarantine is over, the apps may not update to reflect that fact for days. Even so, they look likely to become a permanent fixture.
Incompetence and snooping could taint the whole idea of vaccine passports and provide grist to covid-conspiracists’ mill. But privacy worries are not insurmountable. David Chadwick, formerly a computer-science professor at Kent University, in England, is the boss of a spin-off company called Verifiable Credentials. Before the covid-19 pandemic, his firm was working on a privacy-focused scheme for workplace identity cards, parking permits, concert tickets and the like. “I wasn’t thinking about health applications at all,” he says. These days covid-19 is his priority.
The idea is to ensure there is no connection between the source of a person’s vaccination data and the entity requesting it. Individual users are linked securely with their smartphones using biometrics and some form of government-issue identity document, a process similar to registering for mobile banking. A user seeking entrance to a “covid-secure” venue would have entry rules transmitted to their phone at the door. The app would check those rules against the user’s data and spit out a simple “yes” or “no”—and nothing else. Specifics such as a person’s name, age, address, the date of their vaccination and the like would not be reported, limiting the opportunity for mischief.
In April 2020 Verifiable Credentials demonstrated that its prototype would be able to verify vaccine status and covid-test results, as soon as those things existed. Its app is being tested with dummy data at a cinema that actors are using as a rehearsal space, and with real data at a British hospital, where it has replaced existing paper-based methods. The firm is also working on a physical version for use by those without smartphones.
Even if privacy worries can be assuaged, public-health bodies fret about the perceived fairness of what vaccine passports would enable. Most countries have put the elderly at the head of the queue for vaccination, since they are most likely to die from covid-19. Passports raise the prospect that vaccinated pensioners will be allowed to roam freely, while the young—who have been confined to quarters largely to protect their elders—remain under lockdown.
In some countries those worries may be heightened by racial implications. Black Americans are more dubious about vaccines than white ones, and some who want jabs find it harder to get them. They are also, on average, younger than their white compatriots, which means they are further back in the queue. When vaccine roll-outs are fast and free, and priorities are set justly and transparently, questions of equity will be transient. But in countries where politicians queue-jump or herd immunity is years away, they may cause resentment.
And then there is the question of what to do with those who cannot or will not be vaccinated. Governments will be under pressure to grant exemptions, especially for medical contra-indications. But each unvaccinated person allowed into supposedly covid-safe spaces would make them less so. Another worry is that the unvaccinated could become less employable. A global survey by Manpower, a recruitment agency, published on March 9th found that a fifth of employers planned to start mandating vaccination for at least some roles, and another 14% were undecided. As soon as herd immunity has been reached, it makes little sense for employers to care about such matters—but some may, especially if customers keep asking. That could make vaccines close to compulsory.
The most fundamental criticism is that it remains unclear whether vaccine passports will even do the job they are supposed to. On February 5th a paper from the World Health Organisation (who) argued that vaccinated people should not be exempt from lockdown and quarantine rules. It said that using vaccine passports for border crossings would be “premature” (though it is so sure this is imminent that it is nevertheless drawing up suggestions for how best to do it). On February 17th the Ada Lovelace Institute, a think-tank that is tracking proposals for vaccine passports globally, concluded that they are “not currently justified”.
One reason is that, although existing vaccines seem very effective at preventing illness, it is not clear whether they completely prevent infection with the virus, or remove the ability to transmit it to others. (One paper published in June, before any vaccines were available, estimated that more than a third of those infected with covid-19 display no symptoms but can still infect others.) There are some encouraging signs. A leaked draft of a paper put together by Pfizer and Israel’s health ministry suggests that receiving both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine cuts asymptomatic cases of covid-19 by nearly 90%. Another paper, published by researchers at Cambridge University Hospitals nhs Foundation Trust, but not yet peer-reviewed, looked at asymptomatic health-care workers at a British hospital. It found that a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine cut asymptomatic cases by 75% after 12 days. But the evidence is not yet strong enough to convince wary public-health officials.
Another reason is that mutations in sars-cov-2 mean that whatever conclusions are arrived at today might change in future. Scientists hope that existing vaccines should be able to deal with the variants of the virus that have arisen thus far. But a novel variant against which they are less effective could emerge at any time. New vaccines would almost certainly be developed swiftly. But until they were deployed—a much bigger job—passport systems would be useless.
A final point is that the usefulness of a vaccine-passport system is inversely related to how quickly a country can vaccinate its citizens. Early in a vaccination programme, few people would benefit. Towards the end, the passports would be of little help. In countries such as Israel, where vaccination is proceeding rapidly, the span of time during which passports are useful could prove quite short. In those countries where vaccine roll-outs are slow, it may be needed as a crutch for longer (see map on previous page).
But precisely because countries are vaccinating at drastically different rates, covid passports could come into their own for international travel. Even as America, Britain, Israel and a few other countries sprint towards herd immunity, only 7% of eu citizens have had their first jab. In some poor countries vaccination is likely to continue until 2023 or 2024. Without a way to speed the vaccinated through airports, the world will remain locked down even if some individual countries do not.
Many countries are therefore poised to incorporate vaccine passports into their entry rules, says Nick Careen of the International Air Transport Association (iata), an airline-industry group. Ordinary people are desperate to see family and friends abroad, and to go on holiday. Within the eu, Greece is the strongest supporter of a bloc-wide vaccine passport. Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for a fifth of its gdp. Its hotel owners and restaurateurs hope that vaccinated tourists could help rescue their summer season.
Several nations have already cobbled together systems designed to allow at least a bit of travel to continue. They require a negative covid-19 test before setting off, and quarantine upon arrival. These work in only the narrowest sense. Quarantine deters all but the most desperate (or footloose) travellers. They can be hard to manage. After Britain tightened its rules in January, passengers arriving at Heathrow, its biggest airport, took many socially un-distanced hours to traverse the queues. If vaccine passports lack standardised verification procedures, Mr Careen says, the result could be “total chaos”.
iata hopes its Travel Pass project will come to the rescue. Under development before the pandemic, it aimed to speed up airport transit by making use of biometric information and secure digital identifiers on passengers’ phones. It relies on Timatic, iata’s database of visa and entry regulations, which is already used by travel agents, airlines and airports. On a normal pre-covid-19 day, the database needed updating a handful of times. At the height of the pandemic, as governments scrambled to keep out travellers from places with high infection rates and new variants, that spiked to above 200.
Travel Pass is being tested as a stand-alone app and as a chunk of code that airlines can use in their own apps. Several, including Emirates, Etihad Airways and Gulf Air, have signed up to test it. Other bits of the travel industry, such as cruise lines and resorts, could use it too, says Mr Careen. He hopes that one silver lining of the pandemic might be to speed the arrival of seamless, document-free travel. In ordinary times, he says, that would have required a battery of trials and tests with many different governments. Instead, the pandemic has persuaded countries of the virtues of co-ordinated standards, “practically overnight”.
Making passports work internationally, though, will be even harder than making them work within countries. iata says that testing laboratories and health-care providers will have to be certified, as travel agents currently are. Vaccination will take longest in poor countries, here such verification will also be hardest. Incentives to cheat will be high. Europol, the eu’s police agency, says fake covid-test certificates have already started to turn up at borders.
And some of the trade-offs visible inside countries are even starker when considered between them. One is between lowering infection rates and raising economic activity. Vaccinated British holidaymakers visiting Greek beaches will need locals to pour their retsina. Unvaccinated hospitality workers brought out of furlough will catch the disease from each other, if not from visitors.
The world’s poorest countries will have to choose between tourist cash and social mixing, on the one hand, and higher rates of infection, sickness and death, on the other—and not just this year, but for several years to come. “If you rely on tourism, you need to be really honest with your citizens about those additional health risks,” says Elliot Jones of the Ada Lovelace Institute. “There is a case for modelling the trade-offs, and asking people which ones they’re ok with.”
Edgar Whitley, a researcher in digital identity and privacy at the London School of Economics, agrees. When big new policy problems arise, he says, governments are attracted by technical fixes that promise a speedy return to the status quo ante. He thinks they would do better to eschew such “techno-naivety” and instead focus on clearer communication regarding risks, and on measures that would enable gradual reopening for everyone as the number of infections falls.
Perhaps the biggest unknown of vaccine passports will be the psychological impact they have. After a year in which few people have crossed a border, and some have barely left home, many may have become more risk-averse. Would a scheme that liberates vaccinated people to mingle with each other provide valuable, though temporary, reassurance on the road to herd immunity? Or would it slow down the return to normality by suggesting to the newly fearful that their fellow citizens are a permanent threat?
Lagos to close Falomo Bridge for six weeks - PUNCH
BY Joseph Olaoluwa
The Lagos State Government has announced the closure of the Falomo Bridge for repair works following the Federal Government approval for six weeks from Sunday, 14th March to Friday 30th April, 2021.
In a statement released by the state’s Ministry of Transportation on Friday, the Commissioner, Dr Frederic Oladeinde, stated that the repair works would run on a 24-hour shift in phases to enable the contractor complete repairs within the estimated set time and minimise the expected inconveniences for road users.
He further explained that the first stage of the repairs would cover the Victoria Island bound lane of the bridge which will be closed to traffic. According to him, motorists heading towards Victoria Island will be diverted to the Ikoyi bound lanes to create a counter-flow.
The commissioner also said while the Ikoyi bound lane would be closed down for the second stage of rehabilitation works, in a similar fashion, motorists will be diverted to other lanes.
He assured that sufficient signage would be put up to guide motorists as well as traffic management personnel deployed to help motorists navigate their ways home with ease.
Similarly, the ministry on Friday announced the closure of the Abule Nla and Brewery level crossings for construction on the rail track from 9:30pm on Friday to 6am on Saturday.
Also, the state government said it would close down Badia Junction and Gaskiya level crossings on the night of Sunday, March 14 and Monday, March 15 from 9:30pm to 6am respectively.
The transportation commissioner expressed the government’s readiness to reconfigure the Ikorodu roundabout in its bid to unlock traffic gridlock, checkmate the activities of roadside traders and other impediments
He explained the need to fast-track infrastructural development that would be commensurate with the growth rate of the area and in line with the state transport master plan.