Southeast Asian governments urged foreigners yesterday not to scrap vacation plans over tsunami concerns, saying the region is taking steps to ensure that its resorts and beaches are safe. \nTourism ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began a two-day meeting on Malaysia's Langkawi island on how to revive their industry from its latest setback, which followed earlier scares due to SARS, terrorism and avian influenza. \nMany foreign tourists died when the Dec. 26 tsunami swept coastlines in Asia and Africa, killing between 162,000 and 228,000 people in 11 countries. \n"There's a feeling of grief and sadness and fear among tourists right now, but our assurance is we're taking steps to make our beaches safer, like creating a tsunami early warning system," Malaysian Tourism Minister Leo Michael Toyad said. \nASEAN members will cooperate to promote their region as "one big tourism destination," inviting international travel writers to attractive destinations and sending video clips overseas to lure potential visitors, Toyad said. \nKrirk-Krai Jirapaet, Thailand's vice minister of tourism, said ASEAN hopes to offset the plunge in foreign tourists by boosting travel within the region by local citizens who understand that safety should not be a worry. \nThailand will likely lose about 30 billion baht (US$780 million) in tourism revenue following the tsunami, he said. \n"We need the psychological trauma to subside a little bit," he said. \n"We can't bring the tourists back by tomorrow. So we are aiming for this by the end of year, rather than next week or next month," he said. \nTourism is a big money-earner for Southeast Asia. It generated US$27.7 billion in 2002 for ASEAN -- excluding Brunei -- or 4.8 percent of its GDP. \nBefore the tsunami, the ASEAN Tourism Association expected nearly 50 million tourists to visit this year, with the number projected to rise to 56 million next year. \nIndonesian Tourism Minister Jero Wacik said his country expects six million visitors this year, up from 5.3 million last year.
Australian scientists have raised questions over the efficacy of the AstraZeneca and University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in establishing herd immunity, calling for a pause on its widespread rollout as the country recorded one new case of the virus yesterday. Opposition to the vaccine casts a cloud over Australia’s immunization plans, with 53 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab already on hand. “The question is really whether it is able to provide herd immunity. We are playing a long game here. We don’t know how long that will take,” Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology president Stephen Turner said. Turner added
A racing pigeon has survived an extraordinary 13,000km Pacific Ocean crossing from the US to find a new home in Australia. Now authorities consider the bird a quarantine risk and plan to kill it. Kevin Celli-Bird yesterday said he discovered that the exhausted bird that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on Dec. 26 last year had disappeared from a race in the US state of Oregon on Oct. 29. Experts suspect the pigeon that Celli-Bird has named Joe — after US president-elect Joe Biden — hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific. Joe’s feat has attracted the attention
China has possibly committed “genocide” in its treatment of Uighurs and other minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China said in a report on Thursday. The bipartisan commission said that new evidence had last year emerged that “crimes against humanity — and possibly genocide — are occurring” in Xinjiang. It also accused China of harassing Uighurs in the US. China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills, which others have called concentration camps. The UN says that
The Polish Supreme Court on Friday quashed a lower court’s green light for the extradition of a businessman to China for alleged fraud, a charge he has denied, saying that he is being targeted for supporting Falun Gong. Polish authorities took Chinese-born Swedish citizen Li Zhihui, now 53, into custody in 2019 on an international warrant issued by China for alleged non-payment in a business deal, Krzysztof Kitajgrodzki, his Polish lawyer, told reporters. Following the Supreme Court ruling, the case would return to a lower appellate court for review. Kitajgrodzki told reporters that it was still not a given that his client