Canada COVID-19 Punjab

Innovative startup donates 10,000 masks to schools amidst pandemic

Harmanjot Singh, an optimistic student from Kapurthala who had applied for a two-year business diploma at Northern College, conveyed his dismay…reports Anatariksh Singh/ Khalsavox

Canada’s Northern College, Scarborough campus, has thrown a wrench into the plans of numerous Indian students, primarily from Punjab, leading to widespread disappointment and uncertainty. Just a month prior to the eagerly awaited September term, the college unexpectedly revoked admission offers, sending students into a state of chaos. These hopeful individuals had painstakingly organized their Canadian venture, arranging accommodations, purchasing flight tickets, and readying themselves for an exciting new phase of life. The official reason cited for this disruptive action was an unexpectedly overwhelming influx of applications received by the institution.

Sunil, a Canada student visa expert at Pyramid e-Services, an immigration agency in Jalandhar, disclosed that the college had been inundated with an unprecedented avalanche of responses. “The college had issued more offer letters than available spots, assuming that not all students would successfully secure embassy clearances and visas. However, the rejection rate turned out to be surprisingly low this time, leaving the college with no choice but to retract admissions,” he elucidated.

In an effort to mitigate the fallout, the college has promised a full refund of students’ fees. Additionally, they have provided students with the option to obtain offer letters from alternative educational institutions, allowing them to transfer the corresponding fees to their new choice.

Harmanjot Singh, an optimistic student from Kapurthala who had applied for a two-year business diploma at Northern College, conveyed his dismay. Having already committed substantial resources, including a non-refundable ticket worth Rs 1.12 lakh for an August 29 departure, he and his peers were taken aback by the college’s last-minute decision. The news was delivered via email, revealing the unfortunate lack of available seats at the college.

Beyond its immediate impact on the students, the sudden withdrawal of admissions has triggered significant concern within Canada’s Sikh community. Various advocacy groups, including the World Sikh Organisation of Canada, have joined forces to protest the college’s actions and demand a reconsideration of the decision.

Parents of the affected students have also voiced their grievances, highlighting the logistical and financial predicaments stemming from this abrupt change of plans.

With a mere month left before the anticipated September term, the college’s eleventh-hour cancellation of admissions has left students stranded in uncertainty. These young minds had already invested substantial funds into accommodations and airfare, all set for their imminent Canadian journey.

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-Top News UK News

Hancock says UK’s pandemic strategy was wrong

Hancock said a “huge error in the doctrine” in place before Covid arrived in early 2020 meant a lack of resources into testing and contact tracing to prevent the spread of any virus…reports Asian Lite News

Matt Hancock has admitted that the UK was not properly prepared for the Covid pandemic – claiming officials were more concerned with counting body bags than preventing the spread of the virus.

Speaking at the Covid inquiry on Tuesday, the former health secretary described planning failures as an “absolute tragedy” and repeatedly insisted that the government’s approach had been “completely wrong”.

He conceded that pre-pandemic plans to protect care homes had been “terrible”, saying the care sector was in “nowhere near good-enough shape” when Covid struck.

Hancock also revealed that the UK came “within hours” of running out of vital medicines for intensive care units at the height of the pandemic – but said planning for a no-deal Brexit meant hospitals were able to cope.

Hancock apologised directly to the families of Covid victims – dramatically turning to address the bereaved in the public seating area. “I’m profoundly sorry for each death,” he told them. “In understand why for some it will be hard to take that apology from me – I understand that. I get it. But it is honest and heartfelt.”

Lorelei King, 69, showed Hancock a poster featuring her husband Vincent Marzello, who died in a care home in March 2020 at the age of 72, alongside the then-health secretary. “You shook my husband’s hand for your photo op,” the poster was captioned.

The senior Tory began the hearing by strongly condemning the underlying “doctrine” of the government was that it “would not be possible to stop a pandemic”, revealing that planning revolved around finding “enough body bags” and “burying the dead”.

Hancock said a “huge error in the doctrine” in place before Covid arrived in early 2020 meant a lack of resources into testing and contact tracing to prevent the spread of any virus.

“The attitude the doctrine of the UK was to plan for the consequences of a disaster – can we buy enough body bags, where are we going to bury the dead. And that was completely wrong,” he said.

“Large scale testing did not exist, and large-scale contact tracing did not exist, because it was assumed that as soon as there was community transmission it wouldn’t be possible to stop the spread, and therefore what’s the point in contact tracing. That was completely wrong,” he told the inquiry.

In written evidence Hancock told the inquiry that he was advised when he came into the role of health secretary in July 2018 that the UK was “a world leader” in preparations for a pandemic.

He told the inquiry on Tuesday that the advice was based on a very positive assessment of the UK’s readiness by the World Health Organisation [WHO]. “When you’re assured by the leading global authority that the UK is the best prepared in the world, that is quite a significant reassurance”, said Hancock. “That turned out to be wrong.”

Challenged on why he did not enforce changes at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Hancock pointed the finger at civil servants, telling the inquiry’s lawyer: “There was no recommendation to resolve those problems.”

Hancock admitted that he did not attend any meeting of a sub-committee of the National Security Council that was responsible for pandemic planning. Hancock also revealed that the government’s influenza pandemic strategy was never updated after 2011.

On the period between his arrival in July 2018 and Covid’s arrival in early 2020, he added: “In hindsight wish I’d spent that short period of time … changing that entire attitude about how we respond to a pandemic.”

The ex-health secretary said he was told by officials that the UK had significant plans in place for protective personal equipment (PPE). “The problem was it was extremely hard to get it our fast enough when the crisis hit,” he said.

On testing, he said: “We developed a test in the first few days after the genetic code of Covid-19 was published. The problem was there was no plan in place to scale testing that … we could execute.”

Hancock also said he had “pushed hard” on the lack of UK vaccine manufacturing before Covid hit. “I thought in a pandemic scenario … it would be hard to get hold of vaccine doses if they were physically manufactured overseas no matter what our contracts said,” he told the inquiry.

ALSO READ-India open to FTA talks with Africa, says Goyal

-Top News UK News

‘Austerity left Britain unprepared for pandemic’

Report reveals that public services capacity was damaged by “steep cuts” to almost every part of the public sector…reports Asian Lite News

Years of austerity left the UK hugely unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report.

The Trades Union Congress said funding cuts left health and social care “dangerously understaffed” and reduced its capacity to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Multiple years of pay caps and pay freezes undermined safe staffing levels in health and social care, which impeded recruitment and increased staff turnover, the report said.

Public services capacity was damaged by “steep cuts” to almost every part of the public sector, it added.

When the pandemic began in 2020, spending per capita was lower than in 2010 in social care, transport, housing, childcare, schools, higher education, police, fire services, and environmental protection, according to the TUC, the federation of trade unions.

It claimed this limited the ability of public services to contribute effectively to civil contingencies and to continue essential activities effectively, such as children’s education.

The report added that during the pandemic, when workplace risks multiplied, workplace inspections and enforcement notices fell to an all-time low.

Funding for the Health and Safety Executive was 43% lower in 2021/22 than in 2009/10 in real terms, with staff numbers cut, it claimed.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “To learn lessons and save future lives, we must take an unflinching look at the choices made by our leaders in the years before the pandemic.

“In the NHS and social care, funding cuts put staff levels in the danger zone. Cuts to social security pushed many more people below the poverty line, leaving them more vulnerable to infection, and cuts to health and safety left workers exposed to rogue employers who cut corners and put their lives at risk. Austerity cost the nation dearly. It left us hugely unprepared for the pandemic, and it left far too many workers unprotected. The consequences were painful and tragic. The inquiry is our chance to learn the lessons – and to understand why we have to rebuild our public services so that they are strong enough to protect us in a future crisis.”

The report was published ahead of a joint press conference with the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group on Monday about the lessons they believe must be learned through the UK COVID-19 inquiry.

David Cameron and George Osborne, prime minister and chancellor during the austerity years, have been called to provide evidence to the inquiry.

The British Medical Association has described austerity previously as “Covid’s little helper”. Prof Sir Michael Marmot, a health inequalities expert who will provide evidence to the inquiry, said in late 2020: “We were in a very bad state – and then came the pandemic.”

At 325 deaths per 100,000 people, Britain’s Covid fatality rate was lower than that of the US and several eastern European countries. However, the rate was higher than in France, Germany and Spain, according to research by Johns Hopkins University. It places the UK 20th out of 204 countries for the highest number of Covid deaths per 100,000 population, although data gathering methods and reliability vary.

The TUC said: “Safe staffing levels in health and social care were undermined by multiple years of pay caps and pay freezes, which impeded recruitment and increased staff turnover. This left both health and social care dangerously understaffed when the pandemic began.”

In care homes, where tens of thousands of people died from Covid, the turnover rate for staff in England increased from 22% in 2012-13 to 31.8% in 2019-20, the TUC said.

The Covid inquiry’s examination of the UK’s preparedness will focus on pandemic planning exercises and how lessons were learned from those, but could also offer an early opportunity to learn lessons for social care. The main module looking into what happened in care homes will not start taking evidence until at least spring 2025.

The response of Britain’s healthcare systems will be examined in a module taking evidence from autumn 2024.

The TUC said: “In 2019, capital investment in the UK health sector was 10% below 2010 levels. This forced NHS providers to close hospitals and delay equipment upgrades.”

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, which represents thousands of families, said: “Austerity should be front and centre of the inquiry.” But the group added that it would wait to see what the evidence showed before reaching a judgment.

The TUC’s lobbying for a focus on austerity is an early sign of political battles to come over the inquiry’s emphasis as it progresses through modules tackling everything from Downing Street’s lockdown decisions, to the handling of science and the performance of the NHS.

ALSO READ-UK govt to launch legal bid to stop Covid inquiry on Johnson  

COVID-19 Interview Lite Blogs

Air Cargo Industry’s Remarkable Boom Amid Pandemic

Pandemic-hit years turned out to be the best years in the history of the air cargo industry, says V.K. Mathews of IBS Software. An Interview by Abhish K. Bose.

VK Mathews is the Founder and Executive Chairman of the IBS Software (, one of the leading travel technology companies in the world. Mr Mathews founded IBS Software 25 years ago, in Trivandrum, India, with a vision to redefine the future of travel through technology innovation. Today, IBS is a global corporation, serving over 200 clients worldwide, which include some of the best and biggest airlines, busiest airports, leading cruise lines, top oil & gas companies and renowned hotel groups in the world. IBS’ business operation spreads across all geographies, employing over 3,500 professionals from 30 nationalities.

Unlike the IT services company that make up an overwhelming majority of the Indian IT landscape, an IT product SaaS company like IBS Software is at the higher end of the value chain, where they are the architects, designers and builders of technology products which typically address the needs of the industry 10-20 years ahead. IBS Software employs a platform-based, SaaS service model to comprehensively address the technology needs of the travel and transportation industry. Its innovative software solutions are used by industry leading corporations; 10 of the 15 largest airlines, 4 of the 5 largest oil and gas companies and over 80 of the largest hotel chains in the world use IBS’ software platforms for managing their mission critical operations.

In one of the largest PE investments in an Indian IT product company, Apax Partners LLP invested USD 450 million in IBS Software in May 2023 for a minority shareholding, valuing the company at USD 1.50 billion. 

VK Mathews is a thought leader in the global aviation industry and is a speaker at various international travel events and seminars. He was the Executive Council member of NASSCOM, past Chairman of Confederation of Indian Industries (Kerala State) and the current Chairman of the Group of Technology Companies (GTech), Kerala. He has received several awards from the government, media and trade associations including Management Leadership Award, Businessman of the Year Award, IT Man of the Year Award, Millennium Leadership Award and Enterprise Excellence Award. 

VK Mathews holds a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and had executive management education from Harvard Business School, Boston, USA.  Asian Lite’s Abhish K. Bose meets VK Mathews and discusses on his experiences as an entrepreneur.

Excerpts from the interview:

Abhish K. Bose: Could you shed some light on your early days, both as a student and as an employee? 

VK Mathews: I was born into a traditional, middle class family in Kizhakkambalam, near Kochi in central Kerala. I had my schooling and pre-university education in private institutions in the district. I liked science and math, so it was no surprise that I enrolled for engineeringstudies. When I graduated, good engineers were at a premium and jobs were available, but I wanted to pursue higher studies and thus enrolled for M Tech in Aeronautical Engineering in IIT, Kanpur, where I had taken computer science courses and also had to do a lot of computer programming work as part of my thesis work.

I started my professional career as a computer science faculty in the Indian Army. Later, I joined the IT division of Air India, and was part of the team that first implemented Air-India’s computerised passenger reservations systems world-wide. Two plus years later, I joined the Emirates Group in 1984 in Dubai, and remained with the group for about a decade and half. It was a defining period of my career, when I had the opportunity toformulate and implement IT strategies for the airlines’ global operations and support its ambitious growth plans. At the time of leaving, I was the General Manager-IT for the airline. 

Abhish K. Bose: You launched an IT firm in 1997 by abandoning a lucrative job. Could you explain the travails you faced initially?

VK Mathews: As with any entrepreneurial venture, the initial days were tough, both for securing contracts from airline customers and for equipping the team to be technically and culturally ready for serving a global clientele. Investing the entire life savings to start an IT company, and that too in Kerala, had inherent risks. The risk was higher because IBS was specializing in modern technology, when most of the demand was for legacy technology work, especially because of the booming Y2K demand. IBS was treading a lonely track as a product company, when all of the Indian industry was in IT services – it was narrated by competitors as similar to an attempt to selling Ambassador cars in competition with the Mercedes and BMWs. In a product business, we have to invest heavily in R&D to build products without any guarantee of market success. The major challenges for a product company are product fitness for market acceptance, domain expertise to build next-gen products and funding for R&D and global sales and marketing. 

IBS was also confronted with a host of external challenges; the internet bubble burst of 2000, Swissair Group, which was our biggest customer and a JV partner going bankrupt in 2002, the airline industry slowing down due to 9/11, spread of SAARS virus in 2004 and the global financial crisis in 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic now. 

Abhish K. Bose: The IBS started off as a software solutions provider in the aviation sector. Could you elaborate a bit on the services being provided to this sector?     

 Abhish K. Bose: Apart from the aviation, do you serve other sectors too? 

VK Mathews: Yes, our portfolio of products covers the entire travel industry. On the non-aviation side, our software platforms are used for managing certain mission critical operations of oil and gas majors, cruise lines, hotels and tour operators. On the consulting and digital transformation side, we help our travel industry customers system integration and implementation services, apart from business process consulting and change management services. 

VK Mathews: IBS Software is an enterprise SaaS company for the travel industry, providing end-to-end technology support – that are reliable, scalable, functionally superior, easy to use and cost-effective – across all process areas – airline passenger services, cargo and logistics operations, flight and crew operations, airport operations and aircraft maintenance engineering. No other company in the world offers this range of IT products and such a broad portfolio of solutions to the aviation industry as IBS Software.

Abhish K. Bose:  How do you assess the individualistic software services demands of your clients and how do you design the software? Is it based on the specific needs of the clients? Could you explain a little?

VK Mathews: We are a vertical SaaS Company for the travel industry and our platforms are built for the customer community at large. We don’t customize our products for addressing the specific requirements of customers. We encourage customers to use the platform and take advantage of the best in class processes that the system supports. The individualistic requirements of customers, if any, are addressed by configuring the product (than customizing it) to support differentiated business processes that will give the expected competitive advantage to the customer in question. Customization is expensive and difficult to maintain. Customization will move the customer away from the core product and thus will not be able to benefit from the huge R&D efforts that go into the product.

IBS is more than a technology vendor; we are a trusted partner to our customers. We help our customers achieve their business goals by facilitating business innovation and supporting such innovative business processes using next generation systems. This way IBS helps and facilitates their business transformation. We invest in developing the product continuously to be at the innovative forefront, with the help of our own domain specialists, industry experts and taking inputs from our customers. 

Abhish K. Bose: The Covid 19 pandemic had paralyzed business in an unprecedented manner. How did it affect your company? 

VK Mathews:  The travel industry was one of the worst hit by the pandemic. For almost a year passenger airlines were grounded as international travel was halted. This meant that the belly capacity of passenger planes became unavailable for cargo transportionm, resulting in increased freight rates. In fact, the years 2020, 2021 and 2022 turned out to be the best ever years in the history for the air cargo industry. The full annual revenue was achieved within six months, not on account of increased cargo volumes, but on account of increased pricing and yield. 

(ANI Photo)

This came as a blessing for a lot of airlines which were otherwise bleeding. It helped us shore up our revenue as we are the leading suppliers of air cargo management platform globally. Since, our systems are mission critical for airlines to operate, and since companies were relying heavily on technologies to survive during the pandemic, we were able to recover much faster than our target segment. 

Abhish K. Bose: The pandemic has brought about the work from home culture. There has been a unanimity among the IT firms in adhering to this practice post pandemic. How is this going to transform the employer employee relations, and the financial investments in the sector?

VK Mathews: Indian IT companies were one of the early adopters of the remote work model to tide through the pandemic and some of the companies continue to function in that manner even today. While Work from Home (WFH) does have its advantages – especially in giving flexibility for employees – it has several challenges as well. Inducting new employees, especially freshers, developing and maintaining the organizational culture, brainstorming, innovation and cocreation, creating the sense of community and culture are all important aspects of our business life. A combination of WFH and WFO as a hybrid model should be the way forward. It will however be a fundamental requirement for employees to stay accessible to the office and be able to attend to office as needed on short notice. This will become a norm and may cause a round of inevitable churn and realignment, considering that a lot of employees relocated to their native places during the pandemic and some of them still continue to stay remotely, out of reach from their offices. I don’t think there should be and there will be any significant transformation in the employer-employee relationship nor the extent of financial investments merely on account of the new work model adopted.

Abhish K. Bose: How are you maintaining your relationship with your employees in the firm? The IT sector is a high work pressure sector and what are the facilities that you provide to the employees so as to relieve their mental pressure?

VK Mathews: IBS is an equal opportunity employer. The company aims to attract, develop and retain the best talent by offering unique work experiences, world class facilities, industry indexed compensation benefits and excellent welfare schemes. Employees enjoy facilities like paid holidays, working from home option, flexi timing, and personal day off. Concierge services are provided to relieve employees of personal errands and payments. An in-house recreation team “Reflections”, takes care of fun, frolic and games at workplace all year round.

With the right mix of fresher’s, experienced professionals, technical and non-technical cadres, IBS has a diverse workforce from different backgrounds with varying levels of expertise and skill sets. On IBS rolls are people belonging to 30 different nationalities bringing in a potpourri of culture, tradition and customs. Employees are encouraged to respect geographical sensitivities, venerate religious sentiments, revere local conventions and embrace diversity in all forms. By appreciating differences amongst themselves, IBS employees quickly imbibe a global perspective, become well rounded and ultimately develop into better human beings.  9. The IBS has acquired eight IT companies from various countries including the U.S, Europe, Canada and India. Is there any further expansion in the offing? We look at both organic and inorganic options for pursuing growth. If we see synergy in acquiring firms or businesses, we will certainly consider it.

Abhish K. Bose: Apax funds will acquire Blackstone’s minority stake in IBS Software for about $450 million. What are your views on this acquisition?

VK Mathews: Apax is a leading global private equity firm that has worked to inspire growth and transform businesses. With a heritage of over 50 years, Apax has more than $65 billion of assets under its management. They have vast experience in partnering with best-in-class SaaS companies and I believe, Apax is the right partner for us in our next phase of growth. 

This investment is an endorsement of our business strategy and a testament to our commitment and contribution to the industry. We have a shared vision with Apax for the future of our business.

Abhish K. Bose: The IT field is of stiff competition. What is your approach towards your rivals? Is there a place for camaraderie?

VK Mathews: Of course there is room for camaraderie, mutual respect and friendship between competing IT companies. In India, NASSCOM is a testimony of this. We come together on industry issues, policy advocacy and hold retreats and networking meetings exchanging insights, even while bidding for the same global contracts. The competition is healthy and professional. That is the beauty of the IT industry in India.

Abhish K. Bose: From a humble beginning in 1997, you have come of age in 25 years. What is your vision over the course of the next two decades?

VK Mathews: Today, we are a leading vertical SaaS software company for the travel industry globally, managing mission-critical operations airlines, airports, tour & cruise, hospitality and energy resources industries. We will continue to invest significantly in R&D not only to maintain functional and technical superiority of our products, but also to facilitate business process innovation continuously.

In a world of disruptive innovations and new business models, the boundaries of business and technology are fast fading and we believe that we have a defining role to play in it. We have created highly valuable software assets, earned the trust of the industry by fulfilling our promises and, more importantly, nurtured a world class team that can deliver transformational solutions to the industry.

It is our vision to redefine the future of travel through technology innovation. We remain  prepared, passionate and deeply committed to realizing this vision.

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-Top News Arab News UAE News

Tourism recovery soon to reach 65% of pre-pandemic levels

Middle East saw international arrivals more than triple (+225%) year on year in January-September 2022, climbing to 77% of pre-pandemic levels….reports Asian Lite News

An estimated 700 million tourists travelled internationally between January and September, more than double (+133%) the number recorded for the same period in 2021. This equates to 63% of 2019 levels and puts the sector on course to reach 65% of its pre-pandemic levels this year, in line with UNWTO scenarios. Results were boosted by strong pent-up demand, improved confidence levels and the lifting of restrictions in an increasing number of destinations.

Highlighting the speed at which the sector has recovered from the worst crisis in its history, the latest World Tourism Barometer from UNWTO reveals that monthly arrivals were 64% below 2019 levels in January 2022 and had reached -27% by September. An estimated 340 million international arrivals were recorded in the third quarter of 2022 alone, almost 50% of the nine-month total.

Europe continues to lead the rebound of international tourism. The region welcomed 477 million international arrivals in January-September 2022 (68% of the world total), hitting 81% of pre-pandemic levels. This was more than double that of 2021 (+126%) with results boosted by strong intra-regional demand and travel from the United States. Europe saw particularly robust performance in Q3, when arrivals reached almost 90% of 2019 levels.

At the same time, the Middle East saw international arrivals more than triple (+225%) year on year in January-September 2022, climbing to 77% of pre-pandemic levels.. Africa (+166%) and the Americas (+106%) also recorded strong growth compared to 2021, reaching 63% and 66% of 2019 levels, respectively. In Asia and the Pacific (+230%) arrivals more than tripled in the first nine months of 2022, reflecting the opening of many destinations, including Japan at the end of September. However, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific remained 83% below 2019 levels. China, a key source market for the region, remains closed.

Tourism resumes in Istanbul

Several subregions reached 80% to 90% of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-September 2022. Western Europe (88%) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (86%) saw the fastest recovery towards 2019 levels. The Caribbean, Central America (both 82%) and Northern Europe (81%) also recorded strong results. Destinations reporting arrivals above pre-pandemic levels in the nine months through September include Albania, Ethiopia, Honduras, Andorra, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador and Iceland.

In the month of September arrivals surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the Middle East (+3% over 2019) and the Caribbean (+1%) and came close in Central America (-7%), Northern Europe (-9%) and Southern and Mediterranean Europe (-10%).

Meanwhile, some destinations recorded notable increases in international tourism receipts in the first seven to nine months of 2022, including Serbia, Romania, Türkiye, Latvia, Portugal, Pakistan, Mexico, Morocco and France. The recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from major source markets, with strong results from France where expenditure reached -8% through September, compared to 2019. Other markets reporting strong spending in the first six to nine months of 2022 were Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United States, Qatar, India and Saudi Arabia.

The robust recovery of tourism is also reflected in various industry indicators such as air capacity and hotel metrics, as recorded in the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker. Air seat capacity on international routes (measured in available seat-kilometres or ASKs) in January-August reached 62% of 2019 levels, with Europe (78%) and the Americas (76%) posting the strongest results. Worldwide domestic capacity rose to 86% of 2019 levels, with the Middle East (99%) virtually achieving pre-pandemic levels (IATA).

Meanwhile, according to STR, global hotel occupancy rates reached 66% in September 2022, from 43% in January. Europe led the way with occupancy levels at 77% in September 2022, following rates of 74% in July and August. The Americas (66%), the Middle East (63%) and Africa (61%) all saw occupancy rates above 60% in September. By subregion, Southern Mediterranean Europe (79%), Western Europe (75%) and Oceania (70%) showed the highest occupancy rates in September 2022.

The challenging economic environment, including persistently high inflation and soaring energy prices, aggravated by the crisis in Ukraine, could weigh on the pace of recovery in Q4 and into 2023. The latest survey among the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows a downgrade in confidence levels for the last four months of 2022, reflecting more cautious optimism. Despite growing challenges pointing to a softening of the recovery pace, export revenues from tourism could reach USD 1.2 to 1.3 trillion in 2022, a 60-70% increase over 2021, or 70-80% of the USD 1.8 trillion recorded in 2019.

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-Top News World News

G20 to collect $1.5 bn to prevent, prepare for future pandemics

The fund will be housed by the World Bank, while the WHO will advise the implementation and allocation of the money….reports Asian Lite News

The Group of 20 (G20) expects to collect no less than $1.5 billion by the end of this year to build infrastructure to prevent and prepare for potential pandemics in the future, said Budi Gunadi Sadikin, Indonesian Health Minister and the current G20 host.

The commitment to establishing the fund, called the Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF), was agreed upon by the Health Ministers of G20 members, along with the World Bank and the World Health Organisation (WHO), at the first Health Ministerial Meeting (HWG) held on June 20-21 in Indonesia’s Yogyakarta.

Sadikin told a press briefing on Thursday that as of now, several countries and a few charity foundations had pledged to donate a total of $1.1 billion, Xinhua news agency reported.

The fund will be housed by the World Bank, while the WHO will advise the implementation and allocation of the money.

The Indonesian Health Minister elaborated several allocation plans for the fund, including building and improving access to emergency medical countermeasures, establishing a global network of genomic surveillance labs, and building global research and manufacturing hubs.

Sadikin added that the money will be used to produce emergency tools needed for timely and equitable responses to future pandemics, including vaccines, therapeutics, medicines, personal protective equipment, and testing kits, that will be equally distributed to all countries once another pandemic strikes.

The Minister said the G20 members agreed that they needed some connected sequence laboratories to identify and share genome sequence data from pathogens that can cause outbreaks.

“By having such connected labs we can anticipate or overcome an outbreak better. We will be able to get information faster with stronger data sharing mechanisms, then diagnose faster, then we can produce vaccines faster.”

He added that the G20 forum agreed to build several additional global research and manufacturing hubs in Southern countries for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

Most of the countries in the Global South are underdeveloped and developing countries, which faced more difficulties in facing the pandemic and obtaining access to vaccines.

Sadikin said that the ideal countries to build the hubs were those with large population.

“So, the Global South countries can develop and supply vaccines to their population in a more timely and equitable way.”

Local media reported that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus directly attended the HWG, and he estimated that the financial need for strengthening global health security reached $31 billion per year.

“WHO and the World Bank have estimated that we need $31 billion every year to strengthen global health security. Two-thirds of that amount could come from existing resources, but that leaves a gap of $10 billion per year,” he said.

Ghebreyesus suggested that the FIF be supervised by a Council and an Advisory panel that would be supported by the Joint Secretariat of the World Bank and WHO, which is based in Washington.

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Lite Blogs Sports

Be sportive to get rid of Pandemic blues

This is India’s most extreme Giant Swing. You are fitted with a seat and chest harness which is connected to the fixed wire ropes…reports Asian Lite News

Adventure sports have always been an escape from mundane life.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a worldwide lockdown as restrictions forced people to stay indoors. The global health crisis had a huge impact on the adventure sports market, as the aviation and hospitality sectors also bore the brunt. However, with the adventure sports activities gradually opening now, it is time to set yourself free!

India is home to some stunning destinations, which in the last few years have been developed to house some thrilling adventures. Niharika Nigam, Director, Business Development at Jumpin Heights shares adventure sports activities that will help you beat the pandemic blues and get your adrenaline pumping while exploring some gorgeous landscapes in the most novel ways possible!

Bungy jumping: Quite popular among adrenaline junkies, this extreme adventure sport will make you forget all your worries as you see the world ‘upside down’ (literally!).

Rishikesh in Uttarakhand touted as the adventure capital of India is home to India’s highest Bungy platform standing mighty tall at a height of 83 meters. After operating over 1 lakh jumps there – a global record for adventure tourism in India, they have recently opened their second location in Goa with a whole different vibe of bungy jumping over Mayem Lake in North Goa.

Run by ex-Army officers, and with jump masters trained extensively under experts from New Zealand, they follow Australia and NZ safety standards for Bungy operations. Besides, Rishikesh and Goa offer safe and professionally conducted bungy jumping amidst breathtaking views. So explore the valleys of Rishikesh or the azure lake of Goa while jumping into their infinity! Take that ‘leap of faith’ and earn some serious bragging rights!

Giant Swing: This is another extreme adventure, and it can be done solo as well as with two people in tandem. You can try this exhilarating activity with your friend, spouse, sibling, or family members and have once in a lifetime memory to be cherished for a long time! Jump is done from the same Bungy platform in Rishikesh. This is India’s most extreme Giant Swing. You are fitted with a seat and chest harness which is connected to the fixed wire ropes.

On jump, after an initial free fall, the ropes will smoothly swing you like a pendulum as you are left suspended in the mid-air. This adventure sport allows you to enjoy double the freefall of the Bungy, with considerably more speed, and almost as much fear.

Flying Fox: Imagine yourself taking in the bird’s eye view of the scenery around you, while being harnessed to the wire on a zip line. Asia’s longest flying fox is in Rishikesh where you can fly at 140kph. Accelerate up to speeds of 160 kmph and feel the air gushing past, while you are lowered down to just 7 meters above the river level.

River rafting: Summer is here, with scorching heat increasing day by day, and what would be better than river rafting in white waters at Rishikesh or Manali! The excitement and adrenaline rush you get while riding and tumbling down the white waters is simply unmatched! Since it is a team sport, it is great for mental health as well as overall well-being. And basically having a splendid day out in the river!

In addition to this, there is paragliding, skiing, and trekking – all available in the country – which can help rejuvenate your senses.

These adventure sports can be enthralling but physically demanding as well. It is advised you do not go for these activities under peer pressure or in questionable settings. Ensure your safety by researching the organisation handling these sports. Make sure they have solid rescue operations and safety procedures in place. Be certain of the expertise of their experts and know your own limits. It is also important to do your own research and see what criteria each of these sports demands.

The pandemic took a toll on overall physical and mental health as lockdown meant a sedentary and restricted life for most of us. Adventure sports can make you feel alive again and help you challenge yourself as these activities are a true test of mental strength. After all, “A life lived without adventure is a life wasted.”

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-Top News Dubai UAE News

Dubai’s fight against pandemic documentary launched

The Government of Dubai Media Office (GDMO), in partnership with Discovery, today announced the launch of a two-part documentary COVID-19: Dubai, chronicling Dubai’s journey in combating the COVID-19 pandemic…reports Asian Lite News

The documentary, featuring two 45-minute episodes, highlights the emirate’s robust response to the pandemic and its effective health measures, which ultimately enabled the city to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact on the community.

The documentary features conversations with the emirate’s pioneering leadership and heroes from the frontline who went above and beyond their call of duty to protect the health and safety of the community. It also follows home-schooled children and their parents and shares the highs and lows of the business community, as Dubai navigates its way through an unprecedented crisis demonstrating how, against the odds, adversity became a catalyst for its ever-progressive society.

The documentary takes an intimate look at the human stories from a diverse selection of Dubai residents, as they adjust to the ‘new normal’ and face their challenges charged with innovation and inspiration.

Mona Al Marri, Director-General of the Government of Dubai Media Office: “We are pleased to collaborate with Discovery to share Dubai’s remarkable journey and proactive approach in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. From the very onset of the pandemic, Dubai set an example for the world in responding swiftly and effectively to protect lives and livelihoods, and limiting COVID-19’s impact on the society and economy. Through each episode, the documentary depicts the resilience of the emirate and its community, and showcases how each and every member of society has been part of the story of Dubai’s success in overcoming the crisis.”

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Lee Hobbs, Senior Vice President of Pay TV, Global Brands and discovery+ for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Warner Bros. Discovery, said, “The world’s battle against COVID-19 has been relentless, with efforts continuously evolving as time goes on. Dubai has been unique in its approach, facing the pandemic head-on and being amongst the first in the world to undergo an extensive vaccination programme. The documentary celebrates the heroes of the pandemic, from those on the frontline, to the family heroes who took on homeschooling and caring for others.”

Filmed and produced in Dubai, the new documentary will air exclusively on Discovery, on 7th May and 14th May 2022 at 22:00 UAE time and from mid-May on discovery+, in a branded environment on Jawwy TV and STARZPLAY.

Viewers can also follow the action on Discovery’s Facebook @DiscoveryChannelArabia.

COVID-19 India News News

Shanghai almost out of food amid tight lockdown

The pandemic situation in Shanghai is still deteriorating according to reports, and the number of infected people is still high under the “zero lockdown” policy

As Shanghai’s COVID-19 lockdown leaves residents struggling to access essentials, residents of the mega Chinese city are almost out of food and they are reeling under an acute food crisis.

They say that they “only eat one meal a day” and “don’t know how to live until May”, The HK Post reported. According to the report, the epidemic situation in Shanghai is still deteriorating, and the number of infected people is still high under the “zero lockdown” policy.

On April 3, the Chinese government announced the deployment of thousands of military personnel to Shanghai to assist in the mandatory testing of all 25 million residents for the virus that causes COVID-19. Later, Shanghai authorities said the city would indefinitely remain under lockdown – meaning that residents are not allowed to leave their homes – as it reviews results of the mass Covid testing.

Analysts have said China would not risk relaxing its zero-Covid stance before then, over fears of a destabilizing outbreak. Meanwhile, health experts have warned the virus could overwhelm health care systems, and put the elderly, who lag in vaccinations, at risk, CNN reported.

But even as Beijing sticks to its zero-tolerance approach, it is facing the possibility of multiple major outbreaks as Omicron spreads, the report added.

According to the authorities, Shanghai has had more than 130,000 COVID cases since 1 March, yet nobody has died and there is only one seriously ill person. Such statistics fly in the face of the rest of the world’s experience with COVID.

Wu Zunyou of China’s Center for Disease Control said death rates were minimal because of efforts to curb outbreaks early and China’s high vaccination rate. “Compared with overseas, our country’s COVID-19 death rate is low because of the various measures to prevent or reduce deaths.”

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When reporting deaths, there are strong incentives in China not to attribute them directly to COVID if alternative underlying conditions are available. Because of official obfuscation, it is simply impossible to know how many have died from COVID there. China also spends lots of time blaming imported frozen food and mail for spreading COVID.

Beijing claims a Zero-COVID policy must be followed because “Omicron can generate a higher mortality rate than Delta during the epidemic”. This assertion is verifiably false. Perhaps other reasons are more pertinent to the CCP’s choice of a Zero-COVID policy.

Classified management of city areas

Shanghai on Monday divided the whole city into areas belonging to three categories as part of targeted efforts to overcome a local Covid-19 resurgence.

It has designated 7,624 closed-off management areas, 2,460 restrictive control areas and 7,565 prevention areas, reports Xinhua news agency citing local authorities as saying.

The closed-off management areas refer to residential communities, villages, work units, or venues with Covid-19 infections reported in the past seven days.

People in these areas will undergo seven days of closed-off management plus seven days of health monitoring at home. Door-to-door services will be provided where needed.

The restrictive control areas are those without reported infections in the past seven days, within which people will observe seven days of health monitoring at home.

People who have an urgent need to go to the hospital, among other emergencies, in the aforementioned two areas can exit their respective areas for these purposes, with their movements under closed-loop management.

Those areas without reported infections over the past 14 days are labelled as prevention areas, where people are allowed in principle to move inside their respective sub-district or town with strict restrictions on the scale of gathering, but are banned from entering the other two types of areas.

The classification of each area can be adjusted in response to any changes in the situation within, according to the press conference.

Between Sunday and Monday, Shanghai registered 914 confirmed local Covid-19 cases and 25,173 asymptomatic infections, according to the National Health Commission.

Education India News

Pandemic severely affected education system, says Minister

This information was shared by the Minister of State for Education, Subhas Sarkar in the Lok Sabha on Monday…reports Asian Lite News

Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Monday said in Lok Sabha that the education system in the country got severely affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, the ministry of education is trying to bring many new changes on the bases of New Education Policy (NEP).

The NEP-2020 also envisions setting up of a Higher Education Commission of India as an umbrella body with four independent verticals to perform distinct functions of regulation, accreditation, funding, and academic standard setting. Accordingly, the Ministry is in the process of drafting a Higher Education Commission of India Bill.

The NEP-2020, inter-alia, envisions setting up of Model public Universities for holistic and multidisciplinary education, at par with IITs, IIMs, etc., called MERUs (Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities) which will aim to attain the highest global standards in quality education.

This information was shared by the Minister of State for Education, Subhas Sarkar in the Lok Sabha on Monday.

The NEP further states that all programmes, courses, curricula, and pedagogy across subjects, including those in-class, online, and in ODL modes as well as student support will aim to achieve global standards of quality, the minister added.

The Ministry of Education has announced NEP 2020 on July 29, 2020 after obtaining approval of the Union Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has said it has notified the UGC (Open and Distance Learning Programmes and Online Programmes) Regulations, 2020 on September 4, 2020, and further an amendment on July 1, 2021.


These regulations lay down the minimum standards of instruction for the grant of degrees through Open and Distance Learning mode and online mode.

The UGC has further informed that in view of the recommendation of National Education Policy (NEP)-2020 to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3 per cent (2018) to 50 per cent by 2035 and to further promote Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and online education, the UGC has constituted an Expert Committee to review existing ODL and Online regulatory framework while ensuring quality, driven by simplified recognition system and processes.

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