WHO: COVID-19 Cases Rising Nearly Everywhere Around World

The number of new coronavirus cases rose by 18% in the last week, with more than 4.1 million cases reported globally, according to the World Health Organization.

The U.N. health agency said in its latest weekly report on the pandemic that the worldwide number of deaths remained similar to the week before, at about 8,500. COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

The biggest weekly rise in new COVID-19 cases was seen in the Middle East, where they increased by 47%, according to the report released late Wednesday. Infections rose by about 32% in Europe and Southeast Asia, and by about 14% in the Americas, WHO said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said cases were on the rise in 110 countries, mostly driven by the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

“This pandemic is changing, but it’s not over,” Tedros said this week during a press briefing. He said the ability to track COVID-19’s genetic evolution was “under threat” as countries relaxed surveillance and genetic sequencing efforts, warning that would make it more difficult to catch emerging and potentially dangerous new variants.

He called for countries to immunize their most vulnerable populations, including health workers and people older than 60, saying that hundreds of millions remain unvaccinated and at risk of severe disease and death.

Tedros said that while more than 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally, the average immunization rate in poor countries is about 13%.

“If rich countries are vaccinating children from as young as 6 months old and planning to do further rounds of vaccination, it is incomprehensible to suggest that lower-income countries should not vaccinate and boost their most at-risk [people],” he said.

According to figures compiled by Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance, fewer than half of the 2.1 billion vaccines promised to poorer countries by the Group of Seven large economies have been delivered.

Earlier this month, the United States authorized COVID-19 vaccines for infants and preschoolers, rolling out a national immunization plan targeting 18 million of the youngest children.

American regulators also recommended that some adults get updated boosters in the fall that match the latest coronavirus variants.

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US Supreme Court Limits EPA in Curbing Power Plant Emissions

In a blow to the fight against climate change, the Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

By a 6-3 vote, with conservatives in the majority, the court said that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.

The court’s ruling could complicate the administration’s plans to combat climate change. Its proposal to regulate power plant emissions is expected by the end of the year.

President Joe Biden aims to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Power plants account for roughly 30% of carbon dioxide output.

The justices heard arguments in the case on the same day that a United Nations panel’s report warned that the effects of climate change are about to get much worse, likely making the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and more dangerous in the coming years.

The power plant case has a long and complicated history that begins with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. That plan would have required states to reduce emissions from the generation of electricity, mainly by shifting away from coal-fired plants.

But that plan never took effect. Acting in a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others, the Supreme Court blocked it in 2016 by a 5-4 vote, with conservatives in the majority.

With the plan on hold, the legal fight over it continued. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA repealed the Obama-era plan. The agency argued that its authority to reduce carbon emissions was limited and it devised a new plan that sharply reduced the federal government’s role in the issue.

New York, 21 other mainly Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the nation’s largest cities sued over the Trump plan. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan, and its decision left nothing in effect while the new administration drafted a new policy.

Adding to the unusual nature of the high court’s involvement, the reductions sought in the Obama plan by 2030 already have been achieved through the market-driven closure of hundreds of coal plants.

Power plant operators serving 40 million people called on the court to preserve the companies’ flexibility to reduce emissions while maintaining reliable service. Prominent businesses that include Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Tesla also backed the administration.

Nineteen mostly Republican-led states and coal companies led the fight at the Supreme Court against broad EPA authority to regulate carbon output.

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Instagram Hides Some Posts That Mention Abortion

Instagram is blocking posts that mention abortion from public view, in some cases requiring its users to confirm their age before letting them view posts that offer up information about the procedure. 

Over the last day, several Instagram accounts run by abortion rights advocacy groups have found their posts or stories hidden with a warning that described the posts as “sensitive content.” Instagram said it was working to fix the problem Tuesday, describing it as a bug. 

In one example, Instagram covered a post on a page with more than 25,000 followers that shared text reading: “Abortion in America How You Can Help.” The post went on to encourage followers to donate money to abortion organizations and to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strip constitutional protections for abortion. 

The post was covered with a warning from Instagram, reading “This photo may contain graphic or violent content.” 

Instagram’s latest snafu follows an Associated Press report that Facebook and Instagram were deleting posts that offered to mail abortion pills to women living in states that now ban abortion procedures. The tech platforms said they were deleting the posts because they violated policies against selling or gifting certain products, including pharmaceuticals, drugs and firearms. 

Yet, the AP’s review found that similar posts offering to mail a gun or marijuana were not removed by Facebook. The company did not respond to questions about the discrepancy. 

Berlin photographer Zoe Noble runs the Instagram page whose post referencing abortion was blocked for viewing. The page, which celebrates women who decide not to have children, has been live for over a year. Monday was the first time a post mentioning abortion was restricted by Instagram, although Noble has mentioned it many times before. 

“I was really confused because we’ve never had this happen before, and we’ve talked about abortion before,” Noble said. “I was really shocked that the word abortion seemed to be flagged.” 

The platform offers no way for users to dispute the restriction. 

The AP identified nearly a dozen other posts that mentioned the word “abortion” and were subsequently covered up by Instagram. All of the posts were informational in nature, and none of the posts featured photos of abortions. An Instagram post by an AP reporter that asked people if they were experiencing the problem was also covered by the company on Tuesday and required users to enter their age in order to view it. 

The AP inquired about the problem on Tuesday morning. Hours later, Instagram’s communication department acknowledged the problem on Twitter, describing it as a glitch. A spokesman for Instagram-owner Meta Platforms Inc. said in an email that the company does not place age restrictions around its abortion content. 

“We’re hearing that people around the world are seeing our ‘sensitivity screens,’ on many different types of content when they shouldn’t be. We’re looking into this bug and working on a fix now,” the company tweeted. 

Tech companies like Meta can hide details about how posts or keywords have been promoted or hidden from view, said Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor at Cornell University who studies social media. 

“This can all take place behind the scenes, and it can be attributed to a glitch,” Duffy said. “We don’t know what happened. That’s what’s chilling about this.

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Fears of Cholera Outbreak Surface in Ukraine

As Russia pounds Ukrainian cities to rubble, water and sewer systems have broken down in some places. The British Defense Ministry says Mariupol is at risk of a major cholera outbreak. Just how big the threat is, though, is not clear. Scientists disagree over where the strains of cholera that can cause a major outbreak come from, and whether they are present in Ukraine currently. Producer:  Steve Baragona

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Scientists’ Model Uses Google Search Data to Forecast COVID Hospitalizations

Future waves of COVID-19 might be predicted using internet search data, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the study, researchers watched the number of COVID-related Google searches made across the country and used that information, together with conventional COVID-19 metrics such as confirmed cases, to predict hospital admission rates weeks in advance.

Using the search data provided by Google Trends, scientists were able to build a computational model to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations. Google Trends is an online portal that provides data on Google search volumes in real time.

“If you have a bunch of people searching for ‘COVID testing sites near me’ … you’re going to still feel the effects of that downstream at the hospital level in terms of admissions,” said data scientist Philip Turk of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. “That gives health care administrators and leaders advance warning to prepare for surges — to stock up on personal protective equipment and staffing and to anticipate a surge coming at them.”

For predictions one or two weeks in advance, the new computer model stacks up well against existing ones. It beats the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “national ensemble” forecast, which combines models made by many research teams — though there are some single models that outperform it.

Different perspective

According to study co-author Shihao Yang, a data scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the new model’s value is its unique perspective — a data source that is independent of conventional metrics. Yang is working to add the new model to the CDC’s COVID-19 forecasting hub.

Watching trends in how often people Google certain terms, like “cough” or “COVID-19 vaccine,” could help fill in the gaps in places with sparse testing or weak health care systems.

Yang also thinks that his model will be especially useful when new variants pop up. It did a good job of predicting spikes in hospitalizations thought to be associated with new variants such as omicron, without the time delays typical of many other models.

“It’s like an earthquake,” Yang said. “Google search will tell me a few hours ahead that a tsunami is hitting. … A few hours is enough for me to get prepared, allocate resources and inform my staff. I think that’s the information that we are providing here. It’s that window from the earthquake to when the tsunami hit the shore where my model really shines.”

The model considers Google search volumes for 256 COVID-19-specific terms, such as “loss of taste,” “COVID-19 vaccine” and “cough,” together with core statistics like case counts and vaccination rates. It also has temporal and spatial components — terms representing the delay between today’s data and the future hospitalizations it predicts, and how closely connected different states are.

Every week, the model retrains itself using the past 56 days’ worth of data. This keeps the model from being weighed down by older data that don’t reflect how the virus acts now.

Turk previously developed a different model to predict COVID-19 hospitalizations on a local level for the Charlotte, North Carolina, metropolitan area. The new model developed by Yang and his colleagues uses a different method and is the first to make state- and national-level predictions using search data.

Turk was surprised by “just how harmonious” the result was with his earlier work.

“I mean, they’re basically looking at two different models, two different paths,” he said. “It’s a great example of science coming together.”

Using Google search data to make public health forecasts has downsides. For one, Google could stop allowing researchers to use the data at any time, something Yang admits is concerning to his colleagues.

‘Noise’ in searches

Additionally, search data are messy, with lots of random behavior that researchers call “noise,” and the quality varies regionally, so the information needs to be smoothed out during analysis using statistical methods.

Local linguistic quirks can introduce problems because people from different regions sometimes use different words to describe the same thing, as can media coverage when it either raises or calms pandemic fears, Yang said. Privacy protections also introduce complications — user data are aggregated and injected with extra noise before publishing, a protection that makes it impossible to fish out individual users’ information from the public dataset.

Running the model with search data alone didn’t work as well as the model with search data and conventional metrics. Taking out search data and using only conventional COVID-19 metrics to make predictions also hurt the new model’s performance. This indicates that, for this model, the magic is in the mix — both conventional COVID-19 metrics and Google Trends data contain information that is useful for predicting hospitalizations.

“The fact that the data is valuable, and [the] data [is] difficult to process are two independent questions. There [is] information in there,” Yang said. “I can talk to my mom about this. It’s very simple, just intuitive. … If we are able to capture that intuition, I think that’s what makes things work.”

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Egyptian Women in Work: Between Barriers and Dreams

In male-dominated Egypt, the workforce participation rate among women and girls ages 15 and older is an estimated 15%, falling below the Middle East-North Africa region’s average of 19%, according to the International Labor Organization. For VOA, photojournalist Hamada Elrasam traces a thread that binds the everyday struggles of mothers and young female professionals across Cairo: dreams of agency amid far-reaching, often gender-based barriers to participation. Words by Elle Kurancid.

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African Continental FTA Challenged by Bureaucracy, Poor Infrastructure

The African Continental Free Trade Area has been operating for more than a year with the aim of cutting red tape to expand inter-African trade and lift millions of people out of poverty. But the largest trade pact in the world, in terms of member countries, has seen slow progress and mixed results. Anne Nzouankeu reports from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in this report narrated by Moki Edwin Kindzeka.
Videographer: Anne Nzouankeu

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Biden Offers Alternative to China Development Juggernaut at G7 Summit

This week, the Group of Seven leaders launched a $600 billion global infrastructure initiative they say will compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Telfs, Austria, with reporting from Patsy Widakuswara in Washington.

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FDA Advisers Recommend Updating COVID-19 Booster Shots for Fall

At least some U.S. adults may get updated COVID-19 shots this fall, as government advisers voted Tuesday that it’s time to tweak booster doses to better match the most recent virus variants. 

Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration wrestled with how to modify doses now when there’s no way to know how the rapidly mutating virus will evolve by fall — especially since people who get today’s recommended boosters remain strongly protected against COVID-19’s worst outcomes. 

Ultimately, the FDA panel voted 19-2 that COVID-19 boosters should contain some version of the super-contagious omicron variant, to be ready for an anticipated fall booster campaign. 

“We are going to be behind the eight-ball if we wait longer,” said one adviser, Dr. Mark Sawyer of the University of California, San Diego. 

The FDA will have to decide the exact recipe, but expect a combination shot that adds protection against either omicron or some of its newer relatives to the original vaccine. 

“None of us has a crystal ball” to know the next threatening variant, said FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks. But “we may at least bring the immune system closer to being able to respond to what’s circulating” now rather than far older virus strains. 

It’s not clear who would be offered a tweaked booster — they might be urged only for older adults or those at high risk from the virus. But the FDA is expected to decide on the recipe change within days and then Pfizer and Moderna will have to seek authorization for the appropriately updated doses.

Current COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives globally. With a booster dose, those used in the U.S. retain strong protection against hospitalization and death but their ability to block infection dropped markedly when omicron appeared. And the omicron mutant that caused the winter surge has been replaced by its genetically distinct relatives. The two newest omicron cousins, called BA.4 and BA.5, together now make up half of U.S. cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Pfizer and Moderna already were brewing boosters that add protection to the first omicron mutant. Their combination shots, what scientists call “bivalent” vaccines, substantially boosted levels of antibodies capable of fighting that variant more than simply giving another dose of today’s vaccine. 

Both companies found the tweaked shots also offered some cross-protection against those worrisome BA.4 and BA.5 mutants, too, but not nearly as much. 

Many scientists favor the combination approach because it preserves the original vaccines’ proven benefits, which include some cross-protection against other mutants that have cropped up during the pandemic. 

The question facing FDA is the correct recipe change. Both companies said they’d have plenty of omicron-targeted combo shots by October, but Moderna said switching to target omicron’s newest relatives might delay its version another month. 

Further complicating the decision is that only half of vaccinated Americans have received that all-important first booster. And while the CDC says protection against hospitalization has slipped some for older adults, a second booster that’s recommended for people 50 and older seems to restore it. But only a quarter of those eligible for the additional booster have gotten one. 

Marks said that by tweaking the shots, “we’re hoping we can convince people to go get that booster to strengthen their immune response and help prevent another wave.” 

The logistics would be challenging. Many Americans haven’t had their first vaccinations yet, including young children who just became eligible — and it’s not clear whether tweaked boosters eventually might lead to a change in the primary vaccine. But the FDA’s advisers said it’s important to go ahead and study updated vaccine recipes in children, too. 

And one more complexity: A third company, Novavax, is awaiting FDA authorization of a more traditional kind of COVID-19 vaccine, protein-based shots. Novavax argued Tuesday that a booster of its regular vaccine promises a good immune response against the new omicron mutants without a recipe change. 

Advisers to the World Health Organization recently said omicron-tweaked shots would be most beneficial as a booster only because they should increase the breadth of people’s cross-protection against multiple variants. 

“We don’t want the world to lose confidence in vaccines that are currently available,” said Dr. Kanta Subbarao, a virologist who chairs that WHO committee.

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US Officials Announce More Steps Against Monkeypox Outbreak 

Reacting to a surprising and growing monkeypox outbreak, U.S. health officials on Tuesday expanded the group of people recommended to get vaccinated against the monkeypox virus. 

They also said they are providing more monkeypox vaccine, working to expand testing, and taking other steps to try to get ahead of the outbreak. 

“We will continue to take aggressive action against this virus,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, who has also been playing a role in how the government deals with monkeypox. 

The administration said it was expanding the pool of people who are advised to get vaccinated to include those who may realize on their own that they could have been infected. That includes men who have recently had sex with men at parties or in other gatherings in cities where monkeypox cases have been identified. 

Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body. 

The disease is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals. It does not usually spread easily among people. 

Last month, cases began emerging in Europe and the United States. Many — but not all — of those who contracted the virus had traveled internationally. Most were men who have sex with men, but health officials stress that anyone can get monkeypox. 

Case counts have continued to grow. As of Tuesday, the U.S. had identified 306 cases in 27 states and the District of Columbia. More than 4,700 cases have been found in more than 40 other countries outside the areas of Africa where the virus is endemic. 

There have been no U.S. deaths and officials say the risk to the American public is low. But they are taking steps to assure people that medical measures are in place to deal with the growing problem. 

One of the steps was to expand who is recommended to get vaccinated. Vaccines customarily are given to build immunity in people before they are ever infected. But if given within days or even a few weeks of first becoming infected, some vaccines can reduce severity of symptoms. 

A two-dose vaccine, Jynneos, is approved for monkeypox in the U.S. The government has many more doses of an older smallpox vaccine — ACAM2000 — that they say could also be used, but that vaccine is considered to have a greater risk of side effects and is not recommended for people who have HIV. So it’s the Jynneos vaccine that officials have been trying to use as a primary weapon against the monkeypox outbreak. 

So far, the government has deployed more than 9,000 doses of vaccine. U.S. officials on Tuesday said they are increasing the amount of Jynneos vaccine they are making available, allocating 56,000 doses immediately and about 240,000 more over the coming weeks. They promised more than 1 million more over the coming months. 

Another change: Until now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that vaccines be given after exposure to people whom health officials identify as close personal contacts of cases. But on Tuesday, CDC officials say they are expanding the recommendation to people who were never identified but may realize on their own that they may have been infected. 

“It’s almost like we’re expanding the definition of who a contact might be,” said the CDC’s Jennifer McQuiston. If people have been to a party or other place where monkeypox has been known to spread “we recommend they come in for a vaccine,” she said. 

The CDC’s expansion follows similar steps taken in New York City and the District of Columbia. 

 

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WHO: Monkeypox is Not a Global Health Emergency

A World Health Organization independent committee of experts says the spread of monkeypox in a number of countries around the world is worrisome but does not constitute what the WHO calls a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

In early May, the World Health Organization was alerted to an outbreak of monkeypox in countries outside Africa, where this deadly disease has been circulating for decades. Since then, more than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have been reported in more than 50 non-African countries. This has set alarm bells ringing as, until now, only sporadic cases of monkeypox have occurred outside Africa.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls the current outbreak an evolving health threat, noting the rapid spread of the disease into new countries and regions. He says the committee has agreed to reconvene another emergency meeting if appropriate.

WHO spokesman, Christian Lindmeier tells VOA the committee has drawn up a list of factors that could trigger a reassessment of the event.

“Evidence of an increase in the rate of growth of cases reported in the next 21 days, including significant spread to and within additional countries. Also, if we see an increase in endemic countries. So, evidence also of increased severity or a change in the viral genome associated with or leading to an end of transmissibility,” he said.

Monkeypox is a rare disease similar to smallpox. The virus causes rashes and flu-like symptoms. It is spread mainly through human contact with infected rodents but sometimes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

The disease is mainly found in Central and West Africa. This year, WHO reports there have been nearly 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox and around 70 deaths primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Cameroon.

Lindmeier says cases of Monkeypox have spread to the European region, to the Americas, as well as the Eastern Mediterranean and West Pacific regions.

“At this point, it is mainly in the newer countries affecting the community of the LGBTQ-Plus community of men having sex with men. But in the endemic countries, we have seen also children and women infected and deaths occurring in the weaker communities and weaker populations,” he said.

While questions regarding the monkeypox outbreak remain unresolved, WHO urges nations to remain vigilant and strengthen their ability to prevent transmission of the disease.

The WHO expert committee advises countries to step-up surveillance, improve diagnostics, and when appropriate to use therapeutics and vaccines. It also recommends affected communities to implement public health measures including contact tracing and isolation.

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NASA Completes Historic Rocket Launch in Outback Australia 

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has successfully completed its first rocket launch from a commercial space facility outside of the United States. A 13-meter rocket blasted off Monday from a site in the Australian outback.

A 13-meter sub-orbital rocket took off from the newly built Arnhem Space Centre in Australia’s Northern Territory Monday. Lift-off was delayed by about two hours because of strong winds and heavy rain.

The launch was the first of its kind in Australia in more than 25 years and the first of three scheduled NASA missions from the site.

Researchers hope the information gathered from the flights will help them understand how light from a star could affect the habitability of nearby planets. They have said that this type of study can only be carried out in the Southern Hemisphere.

The unmanned flight briefly scanned the Milky Way, measuring X-Ray emissions and analyzing the structure of stars.

Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, told Australian television that the launch is part of a project to boost the domestic space industry.

“When you build a satellite you have to go overseas to do it and so the fact that we are now seeing this build-up of launching from Australia this is, kind of, that final piece of the puzzle to having, you know, a really massive industry in this sector of space and then we see that that, kind of, the first group that says, yes, we want to do it, we want to be a part of the story is Nasa, you know, it just, kind of, gives the street cred[ibility] so to speak that you are on the right track from what you are thinking,” he said.

The Arnhem Space Center is the world’s only commercially owned equatorial launch facility.

The center is built on Aboriginal land. Tribal elders hope the project will provide jobs and opportunities for young First Nations people.

Officials said the center combines one of the “oldest cultures in the world with some of the most advanced technology ever.”

The next NASA rocket will be launched in the Northern Territory on July 4, and the third will take off on July 12.

About 75 NASA staff have travelled to northern Australia for all three launches.

Australia is working to increase its capabilities in space. This year, it announced a new defense agency that would work to counter China and Russia’s ambitions in space. Along with the United States, the two countries are reported to have tested weapons that could destroy a satellite.

The Australian Space Agency was created in July 2018 to “support the growth and transformation” of the nation’s space industry.”

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Sri Lanka Runs Out of Fuel

Sri Lanka has run out of fuel, according to a report Monday in the country’s Daily Mirror newspaper. 

The 1,100 tons of petrol and 7,500 tons of diesel the country has would not last a day, the newspaper reported, citing anonymous sources in the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Trade Union.

According to Reuters, which cited a top government official on Sunday, the country of 22 million people is down to just 15,000 tons of petrol and diesel to keep essential services running in  coming days. 

Without any deliveries of fuel, the newspaper said, Sri Lanka “will come to a complete standstill from this week, as even public transportation will come to a grinding halt.” 

The country’s energy crisis is compounded by a financial crisis. 

The Daily Mirror said Sri Lanka has been “blacklisted by international companies as it has defaulted on its debts and companies now require international bank guarantees for fresh orders.” 

However, Sri Lanka is sending two ministers to Russia, according to The Associated Press, for face-to-face negotiations to try to acquire the much-needed fuel. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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G-7 Summit to Address Global Threats

U.S. President Joe Biden comes to the Group of Seven summit with the war in Ukraine showing no signs of stopping and China’s ambition spreading. The White House says they are committed to countering these issues. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Telfs, Austria.

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Despite Strong Summer Start, Europe’s Aviation Industry Frets 

Air traffic is booming this summer, but after European vacations are over will passenger demand hold up?

The question was the focus of the annual congress of the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe in Rome this week, held at the cusp of the approaching peak season.

The summer period is shaping up to be by far the best since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis that has severely affected the airline industry since 2020.

Some airlines, such as Ryanair, and countries, in particular Greece, have already recovered or even exceeded their 2019 daily flight numbers, according to Eurocontrol, a pan-European air traffic agency.

Across the continent, air traffic was last week at 86 percent of the same period in 2019, Eurocontrol said, and expected to reach up to 95 percent in August under its most optimistic estimate.

And companies are filling seats for the coming weeks despite the sharp rise in ticket prices, long lines in various airports from Frankfurt to Dublin to Amsterdam and strikes by flight attendants, pilots or air traffic controllers.

But after that?

“Visibility is low because there is a lot of uncertainty,” said Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe.

“We’re now in a war economy in Europe, we have the prospect of a quite harsh recession, we have inflation at record levels, so how all of this is going to play into consumer sentiment… the jury’s still out.”

The director general for transport and mobility at the European Commission, Henrik Hololei, echoed that thought.

“We really need to tighten the seatbelt because there’s going to be a lot of turbulence,” he told delegates.

“We are entering… a period of uncertainty which we have never experienced in the last decade. And that of course is the biggest enemy of the business,” he said.

Too many unknowns

Hololei listed the war in Ukraine, high energy prices and shortages of energy, food and labor.

“We have also interest rates which are going up for the first time in a decade,” he said.

The price of jet fuel has doubled over the past year, with a refinery capacity shortage compounding the explosion in crude oil prices.

Fuel accounts for about a quarter of the operating costs of airlines, which have passed them on to consumers in ticket prices as they seek to refill coffers drained by the two-year health crisis.

Still, strong demand has returned, confirmed Eleni Kaloyirou, managing director of Hermes Airports, which manages the airports of Larnaca and Paphos in Cyprus, where the high tourist season extends into November.

“People want to take their holidays,” she said, acknowledging, however, “we do worry about next year.”

The general manager of Athens International Airport, Yiannis Paraschis, similarly expressed fears that “the increase in energy costs and inflation will consume a great part of European households’ disposable income.”

The head of Istanbul International Airport, Kadri Samsunlu, voiced concerns about inflation’s effect in Western Europe.

And if consumer confidence is damaged, “We don’t know what’s going to happen to the demand,” he warned.

The last unknown hanging over European air travel in the medium term is a possible new outbreak of coronavirus.

“COVID has not disappeared, and it is not a seasonal flu either,” Hololei warned.

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