A Tanna Island chief, 2015. Photographed by Graham Crumb, via Wikimedia Commons Images
World Health Day last Wednesday symbolised the continuing efforts to vaccinate populations around the world — if they can just get hold of the vaccine in the first place. It was important day for discussion and action. Then Friday rolled around and we learned that Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh had passed away aged 99. ‘That’s not travel news’, you might say. Think again.
And read on for a round-up of some of the travel news and global stories that have caught my eye, piqued my interest and worried me most over the past week.
- In late March the UN launched their Only Together campaign to lend more weight to calls for global equity in vaccine production and distribution. As the campaign name suggests, the UN is urging countries around the world, particularly the 10 richest countries who own 80% of the world’s vaccines, to join together more than they have so far. It wants them to meet the goal set by the UN / WHO co-led organisation COVAX, which aims for at least a third of the people in each participating country to be vaccinated by the end of 2021.
Around the world we are seeing the biggest vaccine rollout in history, but COVAX estimate they still need around $2bn worth of funding and vaccine doses to meet the goal.
- The first Global Travel Task Force report was released in the UK on Friday, alongside PM Boris Johnson announcing plans for a traffic light system for foreign travel. The idea of introducing red, amber and green statuses to holiday destinations is to avoid the chaotic scenes over summer last year as countries went from ‘yes you can visit’ to ‘leave now or face quarantine’ overnight.
- Taking tests remains key to current government plans, but with a view to looking at reducing their cost. You can read the report in full here, and this opinion piece from Ben Clatworthy at the Telegraph points out that while the news is welcome for travel operators and holidaymakers alike, there remains much to be cautious about.
As Travel Weekly reports, for travel not to be prohibitively expensive due to test costs, the UK will need to do something about the reality that it currently costs more than twice as much to arrange tests here than it does in many European countries in: £128 versus £62. Karen Dee, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, echoed what many in the industry are saying:
‘Without a cost-effective solution [free testing for those returning from green light countries], a summer holiday will be out of reach for many and damage an already badly hit aviation and travel industry even further’.
- The news of Prince Philip’s death on Friday led to a huge bloom of coverage that has surprised some and left others cold — I for one was saddened at the news (though, I mean, 99, what an innings!) and welcomed the chance to learn more about his life and career beyond the bits and pieces you pick up over the years and episodes of The Crown.
Amid the news reports and recollections (including this from wonderful former Archbishop of York John Sentamu), I realised just what an advocate the Duke of Edinburgh was for conservation and fighting climate change — he was involved in the founding of the WWF organisation, launching their first national appeal in 1961 and becoming president of the organisation from 1981 – 1996. He also toured the world to highlight the dangers such as poaching, pollution, deforestation:
‘We depend on being part of the web of life, we depend on every other living thing on this planet, just as much as they depend on us’.
As this BBC tribute details, Prince Philip showed a commitment to conservation and fighting climate change before it became mainstream. He pushed for the use of unleaded petrol in cars used by royal palaces and put sustainable farming practices in place, drove around in his own electric taxi and wrote books about conservation challenges, even presenting a series of related TV programmes. Over the decades he joined forces with David Attenborough too, a sprightly 94 and ¾ himself now.
It just goes to show that behind every sensationalist headline (Philip was heavily criticised for taking part in hunts over the years) there are usually far more nuanced and balanced stories and opinions to be found, including in this Independent article from yesterday.
- After news of the Duke’s passing, one area of the world I was keen to hear from is Tanna Island, one of the islands of the nation of Vanuatu, whose people have famously venerated the Duke of Edinburgh since his visit with the Queen in 1974. The local legends surrounding Prince Philip may stretch back to the 1960s, according to the man in the know, Kirk Huffman, an anthropologist and honorary curator at the National Museum at Vanuatu Cultural Centre — who I would wager, judging by all the articles published on the subject this weekend, has had an incredibly busy 48 hours.
The local legends? It was foretold that a pale-skinned son of a local mountain god ventured across the seas to look for a rich and powerful woman to marry. Whether they knew that as a child he arrived by sea in England as a refugee from Greece I can’t say, but he certainly did marry well.
Since Friday, many news pieces have speculated as to how the news would be received on Tanna Island, and whether they would move their focus onto Prince Charles. For now, islanders have responded to the news with heartfelt condolences to the Queen, with plans to hold a ceremony on Monday.
- The worsening crisis in Brazil is likely to keep Covid variants spiralling out of control which will affects global efforts to end the pandemic. President Bolsonaro continues his dangerous and despotic rule over the country, despite political opposition and noticeable dents in his popularity, even among his staunchest supporters.
Needless Covid denial and reckless attitudes to even the most basic ways of curbing the virus such as mask wearing threaten all of us and distract from other worrying global developments.
- In Myanmar (Burma), the number of people killed by the military junta since their coup on 1st February is climbing past 800, following reports of 80 or more people killed by soldiers in the town of Bago (near the country’s biggest city Yangon) on Friday.
- And going almost unmentioned by comparison, the situation in Tigray in northern Ethiopia is threatening to spill into a country-wide civil war. It started in November when the Prime Minister (Abiy Ahmed, of Nobel Peace Prize-winning fame…..) announced military strikes in the region to ‘restore the rule of law’ by ‘eliminating’ the influence of the local political party TPLF, after they had attacked army bases.
Recent accusations against government-led Ethiopian and Eritrean forces include that they have committed a wave of massacres, including of 182 people killed in door-to-door attacks in the town of Abi Addi in Central Tigray on 10th February. Victims ranged from infants to elders in their 90s.
While fighting the pandemic remains such a priority, we mustn’t lose sight of conflicts around the world intensifying in the shadows.
German civilians, fleeing the Soviet advance, pick their way across the River Elbe on a partially destroyed railway bridge at Tangermünde, May 1945 © IWM (KY 12151F)
- The inescapable result of global conflict is often displacement of huge numbers of people, as Imperial War Museums (IWM) – my former employer – has been exploring in their Refugee season. I am unlikely to be able to see their exhibition Refugees: Forced to Flee in person before it shuts on 23rd May (if anyone from IWM is reading this, could it be extended please?!) but there are some very thought-provoking on the season homepage.
- In other museum news, confidence in the Louvre’s Director Jean-Luc Martinez seems to be waning from some quarters, which led me to discover that in France, President Macron wields the power to extend or end his term!
- But kudos to Martinez for not caving in to Saudi Arabia’s demands surrounding a potential loan to the museum of the world’s most expensive painting, Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. The painting was snapped up in the world famous 2017 auction by journalist-murderer Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), it turns out — he forked out $450m for it. Problem is, after lab analysis the Louvre reported that it was only partly produced by Da Vinci. MBS tried to pressure them into pretending it to be ‘100% Da Vinci’, so they refused to exhibit it. Zut Alors!
- Have you watched Seapiracy on Netflix? The Telegraph published a piece analysing the various claims in the documentary but I have to confess I haven’t gotten around to watching yet, though it’s high up on my list. I learned lots about the harm we’ve caused to ours seas and waterways in David Attenborough’s book A Life on Our Planet, which I wrote about in this long form article from 2nd March.
- If you’ve already watched Seaspiracy, I can wholeheartedly recommend catching this BBC series on Cornwall’s fishermen (pictured). It’s been incredibly illuminating on the state of fishing in Cornwall (and by association, the UK), particularly during the pandemic. Each episode comes from a different fishing port, highlighting different aspects and challenges — from fish stock sustainability and housing prices by the sea to tourism and vessel licences. Really absorbing.
- Last but never least, from tomorrow (Monday 12th April), the much-awaited further relaxation of Covid restrictions in England means non-essential shops, libraries, hair salons, gyms, outdoor attractions and hospitality venues, and self-contained staycations are a go-go. Restriction relaxations in Wales have come forward to the 12th too, while in Scotland more relaxations are on their way at the end of the month.
I’ll be celebrating with a trip to the library on Tuesday. Have a good week!