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Around the globe, virus cancels spring travel for millions

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Around the globe, virus cancels spring travel for millions

FRANKFURT, Germany — They are the annual journeys of late winter and early spring: Factory workers in China heading home for the Lunar New Year; American college students going on road trips and hitting the beach over spring break; Germans and Britons fleeing drab skies for some Mediterranean sun over Easter.

All of it canceled, in doubt or under pressure because of the coronavirus.

Amid fears of new variants of the virus, new restrictions on movement have hit just as people start to look ahead to what is usually a busy time of year for travel.

It means more pain for airlines, hotels, restaurants and tourist destinations that were already struggling more than a year into the pandemic, and a slower recovery for countries where tourism is a big chunk of the economy.

Colleges around the U.S. have been canceling spring break to discourage students from traveling. After Indiana University in Bloomington replaced its usual break with three “wellness days,” student Jacki Sylvester abandoned plans to celebrate her 21st birthday in Las Vegas.

Instead she will mark the milestone closer to home, with a day at the casino in French Lick, Indiana, just 50 miles (80 kilometers) away.

“I was really looking forward to getting out of here for a whole week. I wanted to be able to get some drinks and have fun — see the casinos and everything — and honestly see another city and just travel a little,” she said.

“At least it’s letting us have a little fun for a day in a condensed version of our original Vegas plans. Like, I’m still going to be able to celebrate. … I’m just forced to do it closer to home.”

Flight cancellations will keep Anthony Hoarty, a teacher from Cranfield in England, from spending Easter with his family at their bungalow on the Greek island of Crete, a trip already postponed from last October. A trip to Mauritius last Easter also fell victim to COVID-19. “It’s the uncertainty,” he said. “You can’t plan things. It’s not knowing if the government is going to change its mind, if the other countries in Europe are changing their mind about travel.”

“I love going to our house – I’d walk if I could,” he said.

They could holiday in Britain but with most people grounded, places may be booked up or expensive: “The chances of us doing anything are pretty remote, actually.”

At bus and train stations in China, there is no sign of the annual Lunar New Year rush. The government has called on the public to avoid travel following new coronavirus outbreaks. Only five of 15 security gates at Beijing’s cavernous central railway station were open; the crowds of travelers who usually camp on the sprawling plaza outside were absent.

The holiday, which starts Feb. 12, is usually the world’s single biggest movement of humanity as hundreds of millions of Chinese leave cities to visit their hometowns or tourist spots or travel abroad. For millions of migrant workers, it usually is the only chance to visit their hometowns during the year. This year, authorities are promising extra pay if they stay put.

The government says people will make 1.7 billion trips during the holiday, but that is down 40% from 2019.

Each news cycle seems to bring new restrictions. U.S. President Joe Biden reinstituted restrictions on travelers from more than two dozen European countries, South Africa and Brazil, while people leaving the U.S. are now required to show a negative test before returning.

Canada barred flights to the Caribbean. Israel closed its main international airport. Travel into the European Union is severely restricted, with entry bans and quarantine requirements for returning citizens.

For air travel, “the short-term outlook has definitely darkened,” said Brian Pearce, chief economist for the International Air Transport Association. Governments have poured $200 billion into propping up the industry.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization says international arrivals fell 74% last year, wiping out $1.3 trillion in revenue and putting up to 120 million jobs at risk. A UNWTO expert panel had a mixed outlook for 2021, with 45% expecting a better year, 25% no change and 30% a worse one.

In Europe the outlook is clouded by lagging vaccine rollouts and the spread of the new variants.

That means “there is a growing risk of another summer tourist season being lost” said Jack Allen-Reynolds at Capital Economics. “That would put a huge dent in the Greek economy and substantially delay the recoveries in Spain and Portugal.”

Travel company TUI is offering package vacations in the sun in Greece and Spain, but with broad cancellation provisions to attract cautious customers. Places that can be reached by car, such as Germany’s North Sea islands and the Alps, are benefiting to some extent because they offer a chance to isolate. The German Vacation Home Association says the popular locations are 60% booked for July and August already.

Thailand, where about a tenth of the population depends on tourism for its livelihood, requires a two-week quarantine for foreigners at designated hotels costing about $1,000 and up. So far, only a few dozen people a day are opting to visit. Tourist arrivals are forecast to reach only 10 million this year from 40 million in 2019.

Gerasimos Bakogiannis, owner of the Portes Palace hotel in Potidaia in Greece’s northern Halkidiki region, said he is not even opening for Western Easter on April 4 but will wait a month for Greek Orthodox Easter on May 2 — and, he hopes, the start of a better summer.

“If this year is like last year, tourism will be destroyed,” he said.

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Museums are safest indoor activity, study finds

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Museums are safest indoor activity, study finds

For people fatigued with quarantine amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study from Germany recommends what to do after getting out of the house.

Don’t go out to eat or get a haircut, don’t go shopping for food or go to the gym —  go to a museum.

According to the Berlin Institute of Technology (TU Berlin) in Germany, the risk of COVID-19 infection via aerosol particles is far lower in museums than in supermarkets, restaurants, offices and on public transportation.

Variables considered were the quality of the airflow, the type of activity carried out in the space, and the dose of aerosol particles inhaled by people in a room.

“What is clear from the study is that it is above all the situations in which we like to be that are unfavorable,” said Martin Kriegel, who helped lead the study. “Situations in which many people come together in a confined space: there you can not ventilate sufficiently, it will always be an unfavorable situation.”

Outdoor activities all increased last year in the face of canceled indoor events and cautions about the dangers of catching the virus while around other people inside.

The study said food shopping, dining indoors or exercising in a gym are at least twice as risky as visiting a museum to view art.

Museums, however, haven’t been considered essential to the populace.

Celeste DeWald, the executive director of the California Association of Museums, told the New York Times earlier this month: “It’s frustrating to see crowded shopping malls and retail spaces and airports, yet museums are completely closed and many have not been able to reopen at all for the last 10 months. […] There is a unique impact on museums.”

Critics think museum closure is a political matter.

In a column for the Los Angeles Times, art critic Carolina A. Miranda called California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s policies “absurd.” Museums in the Golden State remain closed to visitors.

“The wildly uneven criteria speak more to the powerful, well-funded lobbies helping shape public health policy than to anything resembling science or even common sense,” Miranda wrote. “At a moment in which it is possible to get a tattoo or paw the goods at Chanel in Beverly Hills, it should be possible to visit a museum. Period.”

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New version of first-ever African-American screen kiss discovered in Norway

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New version of first-ever African-American screen kiss discovered in Norway

A new version of the first known on-screen kiss between two African-American actors has been discovered in the collections of the National Library of Norway.

The 1898 film, directed by US film industry pioneer William Selig, stars vaudeville actors Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown and shows them courting and kissing in front of a cloth backdrop.

The only previously known copy of ‘Something Good – Negro Kiss’ was acquired from a collector in Louisiana in 2017 and added to the US Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2018 for its cultural value.

It depicts a tender scene between two African-American actors at a time when caricatures of Black life were more common.

The version identified by Norway’s National Library differs in that it is longer and the actors are filmed from a greater distance.

“It is more complex, there is more of a prelude before the kisses, with wooing, refusal and negotiation,” said Eirik Frisvold Hanssen, head of the National Library of Norway’s film section.

It was taken to Norway by a young Norwegian man, who likely bought a copy at the time in the United States and brought it back home, the National Library said. It is among the oldest films in the library’s collections.

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German police carry out dozens of dawn raids on far right crime network

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German police carry out dozens of dawn raids on far right crime network

BERLIN – Hundreds of police in Germany carried out dawn raids on 27 homes and business premises on Friday, including a lawyer’s office, in an operation targeting members of far right groups suspected of drugs and weapons trafficking, public broadcaster MDR said.

Prosecutors told the broadcaster that eight people, aged from 24 to 55, had so far been arrested in the raids which were carried out by 500 police officers. The suspects were members of the neo-Nazi groups Turonen and Garde 20, MDR said.

Authorities said the two gangs have for years been kingpins in the drugs trade in the eastern state of Thuringia, running a network that distributed crystal meth and weapons.

The offices of a lawyer in the central state of Hesse were also raided.

MDR said that its own investigations had revealed that the raids were the result of two years of tapping and bugging operations by security services.

The Turonen and Garde 20 are recognizable by their wearing of black clothes with far right nationalist insignia on them. They have become major players in the promotion of far right heavy metal concerts, at which neo-Nazi bands from Germany and other countries perform.

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