Germany set to extend COVID-19 lockdown, draft proposal says - REUTERS
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is set to extend a lockdown to contain the COVID-19 pandemic into its fifth month, according to a draft proposal, after infection rates exceeded the level at which authorities say hospitals will be overstretched.
The recommendation is contained in a draft, seen by Reuters, prepared by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office ahead of Monday’s videoconference of regional and national leaders to decide on the next round of measures to deal with the pandemic.
At their last meeting early this month, the leaders agreed a cautious opening, overriding the objections of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said more infectious variants had made the pandemic hard to control.
The Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases said the number of cases per 100,000 population over a week stood at 103.9 on Sunday, above the 100 threshold at which intensive care units will start running out of capacity.
The draft says lockdown should continue until April 18 and that an “emergency brake” agreed at the last meeting will be applied to halt any further cautious opening measures in areas that exceed 100 per 100,000.
An earlier proposal, circulated by the Social Democrats, junior partners in Merkel’s coalition, that all returning travellers would face quarantine, even if they had not been in a coronavirus risk zone, was in brackets in the latest draft, meaning it is still under discussion.
The proposal also mentioned possible evening curfews for areas with high case numbers, though a precise curfew time was not mentioned.
The number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 13,733 to 2,659,516, the Robert Koch Institute said on Sunday, and the reported death toll has risen by 99 to 74,664.
The latest draft would also tighten obligations on companies: those who were unable to offer their employees the option of working from home would have to provide them with one COVID-19 test each week, or two if sufficient supplies were available.
Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Frances Kerry, Pravin Char and Barbara Lewis
EU announces travel authorisation system to screen threats to security and health from visa-exempt third countries - BRUSSLES TIMES
The European institutions reached last week a political agreement on the operation of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) which is due to enter into force by the end of 2022.
The work on the system (“ETIAS”) started in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels five years ago when border authorities at the external borders of the EU lacked any information on travellers exempted from the visa requirement.
A feasibility study was completed in November 2016 but it would take the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic for the European Parliament, Council and Commission to agree on the modalities of the system. The system will determine the eligibility of visa-exempt third-country nationals prior to their travel to the Schengen Area, and whether such travel poses a security, illegal immigration or high epidemic risk.
“Our police officers and border guards need to have the right tools to do their jobs – keeping our citizens safe and our borders secure,” said Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life (18 March). “Anyone who poses a migratory or security risk will be identified before they even travel to EU borders, while bona fide travellers’ journeys will be made that much easier.”
Once the sysetem is in place, non-EU citizens travelling to the Schengen area who are exempt from the visa requirement will need to register and obtain an authorisation before travelling. The system will cross-check travellers against EU information systems for borders, security and migration before their trip, helping to identify ahead of time people who may pose a risk.
According to the proposed regulation, a travel authorisation is by its nature distinct from a visa; it will not require more information or place a heavier burden on applicants than a visa does. Holding a valid travel authorisation should be a new entry condition for the territory of the member states. Mere possession of a travel authorisation should not, however, confer an automatic right of entry.
How the system will work
The new system consists of a large-scale information system, the ETIAS Information System, the ETIAS Central Unit and the ETIAS National Units. Each member state should establish an ETIAS National Unit responsible for examining applications and deciding whether to issue or refuse, annul or revoke travel authorisations.
To meet its objectives, ETIAS will provide an online application form. The verification of the application should preclude the use of travel documents which will expire in less than three months, have expired or were issued more than 10 years previously.
The verification should be undertaken before the applicant is invited to pay the fee, €7, which will be a one-off fee, and will be valid for 3 years and for multiple entries. The Commission promises that it will take only a few minutes to fill in the online application which in a vast majority of cases (expected to be over 95%) will result in automatic approval.
The applicant shall among others provide answers as to whether he or she has been convicted of criminal offences listed in the annex to the regulation over the previous 10 years (in the case of terrorist offences, over the previous 20 years) and whether he or she has stayed in a specific war or conflict zone over the previous 10 years and the reasons for the stay.
Most of the travel authorisations should be issued within minutes, according to the regulation, though a reduced number could take longer, especially in exceptional cases. In such cases, it may be necessary to request additional information from the applicant or to invite him or her to an interview.
Interviews should only be conducted as a last resort and when serious doubts remain regarding the information or documentation provided by the applicant. The exceptional nature of interviews should lead to less than 0,1 % of applicants being invited to an interview. The number of applicants invited to an interview should be subject to regular review by the Commission.
It is expected that the vast majority of applications will obtain a positive answer by automated means. No refusal, annulment or revocation of a travel authorisation should be based only on the automated processing of personal data in the applications.
Applicants who have been refused a travel authorisation should have the right to appeal. Appeals should be conducted in the member state that has taken the decision on the application and in accordance with the national law of that state.
The Brussels Times
Nigeria suspends Emirates flights over COVID-19 tests - REUTERS
ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria suspended the airline Emirates from flying into or out of its territory last week after the carrier imposed additional COVID-19 test requirements on passengers from the country, the aviation minister said on Monday.
Emirates said last week passenger flights to and from Nigeria had been suspended until further notice in line with government directives, but did not give details.
Aviation minister Hadi Sirika told a news conference that the airline had demanded passengers from Nigeria undertake three COVID-19 tests within 24 hours, leading the government to suspend its operations, with the exemption of cargo and humanitarian flights.
“To make us go through three tests within 24 hours does not make sense. Since they insist, their operations remain suspended,” Sirika said.
Last month Nigeria lifted a suspension of Emirates airlines flights imposed after the carrier sought additional COVID-19 tests for passengers from Nigeria.
In addition to requiring a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before flying from Nigeria, the airline added an extra requirement of having a rapid test four hours before departure.
Dutch airline KLM commenced flights in and out of Nigeria this month, the minister said.
Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Jan Harvey
U.S. air travelers top 1.5 million for first time since March 2020 - REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of U.S. air passengers screened topped 1.5 million Sunday for the first time since March 2020, as air travel continues to rebound from a pandemic-related drop, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Monday.
COVID-19 devastated air travel demand, with U.S. airline passengers down 60% in 2020. But with a growing number of Americans getting vaccinated, demand and advanced bookings have started to rise in recent weeks.
TSA said it screened 1.54 million people Sunday, the highest single day since March 13, 2020 and the 11th consecutive day screening volume exceeding 1 million per day.
Screening refers to security checks on passengers entering airports.
Still, U.S. air travel demand was down Sunday about 30% versus pre-COVID 19 levels. International and business travel demand both still remain weak.
For the last week, trade group Airlines for America said passenger demand was down 47% over pre-pandemic levels, while international travel demand was down 68%. The United States bars most non-U.S. citizens from travel who have been in Brazil, South Africa, China and most of Europe and many countries still restrict entry by Americans.
Last week, U.S. airline executives cited concrete signs of a domestic leisure travel recovery in expressing optimism for demand this summer and said losses were declining.
United Airlines expects to halt its cash burn in March, CEO Scott Kirby said last week, the first major carrier to say it could hit the industry’s milestone.
In January, United said an average daily core cash burn of $19 million in the fourth quarter would likely continue in the beginning of 2021.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Toby Chopra and Jane Merriman
NCDC: Travellers with fake COVID test results will be arrested - THE CABLE
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says travellers found to be in possession of fake coronavirus test results will be arrested and prosecuted.
Speaking during the media briefing of the presidential task force (PTF) on COVID-19 on Monday, Chikwe Ihekweazu, NCDC director-general, announced that a verification platform has been launched to confirm results.
TheCable had, in a two-part report, exposed how travellers paid government officials to obtain fake COVID-19 test certificates with positive diagnosis.
Following the report, the federal government sealed off a laboratory found to be issuing fake COVID-19 test results in Abuja.
Ihekweazu maintained that travellers who present fake COVID-19 results at airports will be prosecuted, adding that tests conducted by private laboratories for travel purposes will now be verified by airlines, embassies and countries.
“Many of you would have heard my previous comments around the verification platform for test results for travellers. That verification platform is now live,” he said.
“Last week, many returning travellers were turned back and handed over to security agencies because they were trying to travel with fake lab results.
“Sometimes, these results were procured by agents. But to be honest, everyone has to take responsibility for the test results in your hand.
“From now on, all tests by private lab for travel purposes will be verified by airlines, by embassies, by countries.
“We advise all Nigerians; everyone travelling should spare themselves the inconvenience and embarrassment by doing the test in one of the accredited labs, which you can find on our website.
“Before you travel, please check the destination country’s requirements if it includes negative PCR test. Do this in any of the accredited labs, and you will get the result that is verifiable through any of the airlines. It’s very important to do this.”
Covid: £5,000 fine for people going on holiday abroad - BBC
A £5,000 fine for anyone in England trying to travel abroad without good reason is due to come into force next week as part of new coronavirus laws.
The penalty is included in legislation that will be voted on by MPs on Thursday.
Foreign holidays are currently not allowed under the "stay at home" rule which ends on Monday.
But then the ban on leaving the UK at this time will become a specific law backed up by the threat of the fine.
Under the current plan for easing restrictions, the earliest date people in England could go abroad for a holiday would be 17 May.
However, another surge in Covid cases in continental Europe, as well as the slow rollout of vaccines across Europe, has cast doubt on the resumption of foreign travel.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said restrictions on travelling abroad were necessary to guard against the importation of large numbers of cases and new variants which might put the vaccine rollout at risk.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves told BBC Breakfast that Labour supported measures to keep the UK's borders secure and avoid the importation of new variants but said the government's "slowness to react" had contributed to the country's high death rate.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Monday the UK should be "under no illusion" that it will feel the effects of a rising number of cases on the continent.
One of his ministers, Lord Bethell, said England might put "all our European neighbours" on the "red list" of countries.
However, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there were no plans to do this.
People from those countries are currently not allowed to travel to the UK, with the exception of British nationals and people who are normally resident in the UK - but those two groups must pay to quarantine in a hotel if they do choose to come at the moment.
The "red list" was introduced as part of travel regulations aimed at stopping Covid variants entering the country and is regularly reviewed, meaning countries are added or removed depending on their Covid situation.
The government's global travel taskforce is considering a tiered or traffic light system for international travel when the ban on leaving the country is lifted.
The discussion is focusing on what restrictions would apply to travellers returning from destinations in the lowest level.
The intention is to publish the framework on 12 April, with decisions about which countries are in which tier to be taken later.
Testing for children who travel is being considered because coronavirus vaccines are not currently approved for under-18s.
The new coronavirus laws, due to be introduced on Monday, suggest anyone who leaves England for a destination outside the UK without a reasonable excuse, such as for work, education or medical treatment, could face a £5,000 fine.
Anyone travelling abroad has to fill in a "Declaration to Travel" form, stating a valid reason for leaving the country, such as education, work or childcare.
England's travel ban does not apply to those going to or from the common travel area of the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland unless that is not the final destination.
The UK's devolved nations have the power to set their own coronavirus restrictions.
The earliest date people from Scotland and Wales will be able to go on holiday abroad is, like England, 17 May, while Northern Ireland has not yet announced its own plans.
English seeking sunshine abroad face hefty new fines - REUTERS
By Sarah Young
LONDON (Reuters) - Travellers from England will face 5,000 pound ($6,900) fines in new legislation designed to deter non-essential trips and barricade the nation against imported COVID-19 infections.
The news was a disappointment to millions of people hoping for a summer holiday and sent travel stocks - including easyJet, British Airway-owner, Jet2 and TUI - down 2-4% in early trade on Tuesday.
Travel shares had also fallen on Monday.
The United Kingdom has had one of the worst COVID-19 tolls in the world, but deaths and infections are falling fast and a successful vaccination campaign is finally breathing confidence back into the population and the economy.
However, as a gradual easing of lockdown is set to begin from this weekend, the government is warning that people may have to sacrifice long-desired holidays abroad.
“We are seeing this third wave rising in some parts of Europe and we’re also seeing new variants and it is very important that we protect the progress that we’ve been able to make here in the UK,” health minister Matt Hancock told Sky News.
EXTENSION OF BAN?
The United Kingdom currently bans all foreign travel, except for work, education or health reasons. However, the government is to review that in April and possibly allow it from May 17.
The new travel fines were included in legislation applying until the end of June in case the ban is not eased, Hancock said, adding to other comments by officials hinting at an extension of the prohibition.
Hancock said it was too early to say for sure.
The legislation, which went to parliament on Monday, would be voted on during Thursday’s session and, if approved as expected, come into force on March 29th, he said.
It applies only to England, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may follow suit.
The European travel sector, which usually benefits from the millions of Britons who take trips abroad, are now bracing for a second lost summer.
Britain’s travel sector has lost more than 45,000 jobs and passenger numbers at the biggest airport, Heathrow, have fallen to their lowest since 1966 during the crisis.
The government’s review on April 12 is expected to introduce a risk-based traffic light system where countries are classified as “green” or “red”.
($1 = 0.7228 pounds)
Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by James Davey and Kate Holton
Here's How To Go Abroad Without Being Fined £5,000 Under New Coronavirus Rules - HUFFPOST
There is also a £200 fixed penalty notice for failing to fill in a travel declaration form.
Under new coronavirus laws coming into force next week, anyone leaving the UK without a reasonable excuse could face a fine of £5,000.
There is also a £200 fixed penalty notice for failing to fill in a travel declaration form – giving person details and reason for travel – for those planning to leave the country.
The catchily-titled Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021, come into force on March 29.
So what counts as a reasonable excuse? And are you going to be stuck on this increasingly and tiringly-familiar island of ours for the foreseeable future? Fortunately the answer to that is: Not necessarily.
First of all, the travel ban does not apply to those going to the common travel area of the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland unless that is not the final destination.
So a trip that crosses at least a little bit of sea is doable.
Exemptions also apply including for:
- those needing to travel for work
- those needing to travel for study
- students returning home during the Easter holiday
- those needing to travel for legal obligations or
- those needing to travel to vote
- if you are moving, selling or renting property
- for some childcare reasons
- to be present at a birth
- to visit a dying relative or close friend
- to attend a funeral
- for those getting married or to attend the wedding of a close relative
- for medical appointments
- to escape a risk of harm
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who deciphers the lockdown rules on Twitter for the public, said: “Previously, the ‘holiday ban’ which the government had advertised was assumed rather than explicit – because going on holiday wasn’t a reasonable excuse, it was assumed you couldn’t be outside of your home to do so. But now it is explicit.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the ban on leaving the UK without a reasonable excuse, included in new coronavirus laws coming into force next week, had not changed the road map plans for international travel.
He told Sky News the global travel taskforce would report its findings by the middle of April, with May 17 the earliest possible date in the road map for international travel without a reasonable excuse.
Hancock added: “Now, having said all of that, it is now too early to know where the global travel taskforce will come out and know what the decision will be for May 17.
“The reason for that is that we are seeing this third wave rising in some parts of Europe and we’re also seeing new variants.
“It is very important that we protect the progress that we have been able to make here in the UK.”
Protests will once again be a permitted exception to rules banning group gatherings under the laws if it is organised by a business, public or political body or other group and as long as organisers take the “required precautions”, which is likely to include measures like ensuring people wear face masks and are socially distanced.
It comes after campaigners, MPs and peers called on ministers to make clear protests were permitted amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at human rights group Liberty, said: “It is welcome that the next stage of lockdown contains the explicit exemption we’ve been calling for – this should have remained in place throughout the current lockdown, and it is unacceptable for it to wait until next week.”
The regulations, which will be voted on by parliament on Thursday, essentially replace the previous tier system with a series of “steps”, following the proposed dates of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown for England.
Step 1, from March 29, permits up to six people meeting outdoors but restricts indoor gatherings of two or more people. Some outdoor sports are permitted.
Step 2, which could come into effect from April 12, is when non-essential shops might reopen as well as businesses like hairdressers and hospitality venues serving customers outside. Weddings and wakes could then have up to 15 people.
Step 3, which the Government said may come into force from May 17, allows groups of six to meet inside and up to 30 people outside.
The need for the restrictions must be reviewed by April 12, and at least once every 35 days thereafter, the legal papers say.
The laws expire on June 30, unless they are scrapped or amended in the meantime.
New Visa On Arrival Policy Boosts Nigeria’s Rating - Babandede - NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
• As Reps frown at scarcity of passport booklets
The Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mr Muhammed Babandede, on Tuesday, affirmed that the newly introduced visa policy on arrival boosted Nigeria’s global rating on ease of doing business, among the comity of nations.
Mr Babandede who disclosed this while responding to questions during the investigative hearing at the opening of a two-day investigative hearing on ‘Incessant malpractices associated with Diplomatic postings and deliberate draining of resources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’, lamented that the service lacks the capacity to post officers in 105 countries due to the population of Nigerians in Diaspora.
“We are only in 47 locations but we consider them high volume locations and we do two functions; we issue visas and travel documents. When we came on board we introduced the visa on arrival policy. I’m glad to say the visa on arrival policy has contributed to Nigeria’s high ranking in the ease of doing business, the global ranking.”
On the issue of scarcity of Nigerian passport booklet, Mr Babandede who affirmed the passport issue has remained the biggest challenge, disclosed that “all the visa fees, passport fees paid abroad to Diaspora, it goes into Federal Consolidated Account.”
In his keynote address, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila observed that “it will be the greatest tragedy if what it shows falls far short of the heights to which we aspire and yet hope to attain” at the international scene, the Speaker disclosed that the House has received petitions and pleadings from Nigerians at home and abroad alleging varying degrees of malpractice and malfeasance in the Ministry’s operations and its subordinate departments and agencies.
While narrating his personal experience, Hon Gbajabiamila said: “Personally, let me say that there’s hardly a country I visited that there are no embarrassing stories in our missions. I visited many, right from my time as Minority Leader to House Leader and I can recall such stories.
He pledged the House resolve to work with all stakeholders responsible for fixing various challenges.
On his part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffery Onyema argued that he has over the years intervened whenever he receives “complaints or I see a video criticising treatment in any mission.”
He explained that the $100 charge imposed by the Ministry was for those who want their “biometrics done without an appointment. If you wait for your appointment, you will get it and not pay. But if you want it the same day then pay $100.”
While admitting that the Ministry erred on the re-introduction of administrative charges which had been suspended for a number of years, the Minister argued that the move became necessary to bridge the paucity of funds as a result of a delay in the release of appropriated budgetary allocation.
In his remarks, chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Buba Yakub explained that the probe was in tandem with President Muhammad Buhari’s avowed stand on zero tolerance for corrupt practices by public officeholders.
While stressing the need to beam searchlight on Consular services offered by Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Nigeria Immigration Service to citizens of Nigeria at home and in diaspora, Hon. Yakub underscored the need to ensure that the issues of posting of staff are done in accordance with laid down principles.
Drugs Trafficking: 24-yr-old visa clearance requirement policy’s for 8 countries - NDLEA - VANGUARD
By Kingsley Omonobi— ABUJA
The National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, has clarified that contrary to insinuations making the rounds that the visa clearance requirement had been introduced for Nigerians travelling abroad, the policy is only meant for persons travelling to eight countries described as ‘Source Countries’ notorious for drugs trafficking.
Aside from this, NDLEA disclosed that the policy was not initiated by the Nigerian government or its current leadership but at the behest of the ‘source countries’.
These were part of the content of a statement on Wednesday by Femi Babafemi, NDLEA Director, Media & Advocacy and entitled, “Disclaimer, Visa Clearance Requirements Only Applicable to 8 Countries”. It read: “The attention of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, has been drawn to some misinformation and misconceptions about a 24-year-old visa clearance policy, which requires Nigerians travelling to some countries to meet certain requirements before getting clearance from the NDLEA.
“The anti-drug law enforcement agency wishes to state as follows: that the policy was not newly created to impose levies on Nigerians travelling abroad, but has been in existence for over 24 years. “The policy does not apply to all Nigerians seeking to travel overseas, but only those travelling to eight countries usually referred to as ‘source countries’.
“The countries include Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Philippines and Russia. The policy is at the behest of the ‘source countries’, and not that of the NDLEA or Nigeria. “It’s designed as part of global efforts to fight the menace of drug trafficking.
The requirements for the visa clearance being mischievously circulated on social media are just a part of a three-page document, which provides other detailed information on the policy. “Nigerians can rest assured that NDLEA remains committed to its core goal of ridding Nigeria of illicit drugs and will not deviate from its constitutionally-assigned duties.”
Read more at: https://www.vanguardngr.com/20...