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IMF to help countries buy vaccines

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.Ludovic Marin/Associated Press

VENICE, Italy — The International Monetary Fund took a step Friday toward easing widening global inequality and helping poornations access vaccines, saying that its executive board approved a plan to issue $650 billion worth of reserve funds, whichcountries can use to purchase vaccines, finance health care and pay down debt.

The decision comes at a pivotal moment as COVID-19 infections continue to spread among populations that have not been inoculatedand as more contagious variants of the virus are posing new health threats. The pandemic has drained the fiscal resourcesof poor countries over the past year, and the IMF projected this week that faster access to vaccinations for high-risk populations could save 500,000 lives in the next sixmonths.

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The new allocation of so-called Special Drawing Rights would be the largest such expansion of currency reserves in the IMF’s history. If given final approval by the IMF’s board of governors, as is expected, the reserves could become available by the end of August.

“This is a shot in the arm for the world,” Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, said in a statement. “The SDR allocation will help every IMF member country — particularly vulnerable countries — and strengthen their response to the COVID-19 crisis.”

Georgieva made the announcement as finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of 20 nations were gathering in Venice, Italy, to discuss international tax reform, climate change and the global economic response to the pandemic. The IMF, established in 1944 to try to broker economic cooperation, has warned of a two-track economic recovery, with poor countriesbeing left behind while advanced economies experience rapid expansions.

(New York Times)

British airlines challenge travel restrictions

LONDON — A group of British airports and airlines took the UK government to court Friday, demanding it disclose the evidence behind its coronavirus travel restrictions that they say is ruining their business.

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Manchester Airports Group, which owns Manchester, Stansted, and East Midlands airports, brought the case along with airlines Ryanair, Virgin Atlantic, and easyJet, travel business Tui, and British Airways’ parent company, IAG. The travel businesses say the government’s “traffic light” system of classing countries as low, medium, or high risk, is not transparent.

Only 27 countries and territories are on the “green list” which allows British residents to travel there without having to quarantine on return. Arrivals from dozens of “amber list” countries have to self-isolate at home for 10 days, while people arriving from “red list” countries including India and Brazil must quarantine in a government-approved hotel.

The government says it will lift the self-isolation requirement for fully vaccinated Britons returning from amber list countries on July 19. (AP)

Spain pushes back after France urges caution

LISBON— Spain’s top diplomat pushed back Friday against French cautions over vacationing in the Iberian peninsula, as southern Europe’s holiday hotspots worry that repeated changes to rules on who can visit is putting people off travel.

On Thursday, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, Clément Beaune, advised people to “avoid Spain and Portugal as destinations” when booking their holidays because the French government is considering restrictions on travel to the Iberian neighbors, where COVID-19 infections are surging.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said the current surge is not translating into more hospitalizations and urged people to be “proportionate” in their response to pandemic trends.

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“This is a time for prudence, not for panicking,” she said at a press conference in Madrid. “There is no reason at the moment to ask people to cancel their vacations.”

Visiting French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian urged people to have a COVID-19 jab before travelling.

“The vaccine is the door to Spain,” he said.

Millions of tourists arriving every year in Spain and Portugal are crucial for the Iberian countries’ economies and jobs. Both hope tourism will help drive an economic recovery after the pandemic.

French tourists staying away would be a major blow.

Germany on Friday labelled the whole of Spain as a “risk area,” potentially discouraging travel there.

Portugal has also been clobbered by changing rules.

Last month, Portuguese companies cheered when the country was placed on the UK’s “green list,” permitting British touriststo skip quarantine when returning home. Three weeks later, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections, Portugal was axed from thelist and the British market dried up.

There are hopes this could change again after July 19, when the British government scraps the requirement for people going abroad to quarantine, as long as they are fully vaccinated.

Germany this week eased its recent strict restrictions on travel to Portugal, which had disheartened the Portuguese tourism sector. Now, a negative test is enough for Germans returning from holiday to avoid quarantining.

Portugal, like Spain, was expecting this summer to be less bad than last year. The French minister’s comments have changed that outlook, according to Viegas.

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“There’s no doubt that demand will fall now,” he told the Associated Press. (AP)

South Korea tightens social distancing

South Korea is raising social distancing in Seoul to its highest level, banning gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m. and ordering night-time entertainment businesses to close, as coronavirus cases surge in the capital.

The country next week will move social distancing rules to the top level of 4 for Seoul, where the majority of new cases in recent days has emerged with widespread outbreaks at restaurants, bars, and shopping malls, officials said Friday.

The latest surge is a setback for a country that has been lauded as a model for containing the outbreak without a lockdown. South Korea has resisted taking harsh measures as it has tried to prevent severe damage to the economy by managing outbreaks with targeted quarantine restrictions.

South Korea, where about 11 percent of its population is fully vaccinated, is among a number of countries facing a surge in infections with inoculation rates well below those in advanced economies such as Germany, the US and the UK, where more than 40 percent of their populations are fully vaccinated. Japan, with a full vaccination rate of only 15.6 percent, reimposed a state of emergency in Tokyo due to a surge coming about two weeks before it hosts the Olympics.

The measures to be imposed for the greater Seoul area would be the strictest since the South Korean government restricted businesses in the city of Daegu after an outbreak at a mega church early last year led to the country’s first major surge.

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The restrictions will take effect July 12 and last for two weeks, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a televised address. The country on Friday reported another day of record cases with 1,316, up from the previous record of 1,275 a day earlier, and 826 a week ago. (Bloomberg)