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The political economy of UK-mandated quarantine – African Arguments

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UK travel rules are another example of Northern hegemons’ disingenuousness on Covid.

Anyone who has survived British government-mandated quarantine after returning from a so-called “red list” country will admit the same thing: it’s the pits.

People have likened the experience to incarceration, but while convicts’ civil liberties are severely curtailed because they break what we might deem a social contract, the only “crime” people like me have committed is that we remain at the receiving end of a geopolitical race to the bottom. From refusing to grant South Africa and India intellectual property waivers to manufacture affordable Covid-19 jabs to hoarding vaccines, hegemons of the so-called Global North continue to play a disingenuous game of might makes right.

The UK’s travel rules are another example. Under the pretext of safeguarding public health, the UK has conjured up a scam that enables it to recover Covid-era financial losses. It does this while stigmatising countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and extorting money from their citizens on a massive scale. Britain responded to international censure by “simplifying” its indefensible traffic light system beginning yesterday, but my experience in quarantine demonstrates why its red list must be completely eliminated.

The UK’s attempts at projecting a post-Brexit Global Britain rang hollow as I stood for hours in the immigration line at Heathrow Airport in mid-September, surrounded by predominantly black, brown and other people of colour who had travelled from similarly designated red list countries.

After ten weeks of conducting research in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the latter being the only West African state on the red list at the time, I was naturally fatigued. Sympathetic friends had suggested I pass through a non-red listed country for the required ten days before flying back to London, but that would have added two weeks to an already gruelling trip, not to mention the cost of additional days abroad. Instead, I secured a virement of research funds from my university to cover the astronomical £2,285 quarantine fees, more than the average UK monthly salary, and steeled myself for a period of confined indignity.

I couldn’t help wondering what kinds of personal sacrifices my fellow travellers – many of whom looked like students I would be teaching in the new academic year – had made to endure this level of scrutiny. I wondered how many people had never even made it to the UK because of the prohibitive nature of quarantine. Was my need to expedite returning to the UK worth all the inhumane poking at and prodding of my passport, negative Covid-19 test results, passenger locator forms, quarantine registration documents and receipts? “Choosing” quarantine felt like a cross between compulsion and foolery.

After waiting in multiple queues surrounded by security at every turn, I finally got dropped off at a non-descript hotel near Heathrow eight hours after landing. Another hour of filling out paperwork ensued, including the façade of selecting daily meals from bland menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Accompanied by an escort who substituted as a bellhop, I entered my assigned cell of a room and immediately noticed the muddy-grey-brown stain on the dingy blue carpet, the wall-sized window sealed at all four edges with nary an opening for ventilation.

It struck me as curious that while all quarantine hotels are not created equal – a Brazilian friend at another location had better-quality food, for instance – the UK has standardised the outsourcing of quarantine implementation. This form of cowardice has pitted black and brown people against each other, with Global South nationals executing irrational policies they did not create. I suspect that while Britain has profited from the lucrative enterprise of detaining people who look like me, the South Asian quarantine workers I encountered get paid a pittance for doing the government’s dirty work. This reeks of a racist, colonial system of divide and rule.

Countries in the Global North have done everything in their power to manufacture a multi-tiered system of domination that reproduces Covid-induced inequalities, yet this has not gone unnoticed. While the US has been admonished for double speak – pledging millions of dollars in support of vaccine equity while practicing vaccine apartheid – the UK’s draconian quarantine measures have been aptly pilloried.

For instance, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director John Nkengasong denounced the UK’s failure to approve any vaccination programme in Africa, meaning that even fully-vaccinated African nationals must quarantine on arrival. And the UK had to reverse its policy of disregarding Covishield, the Indian-manufactured version of AstraZeneca, after strongly worded accusations of discrimination and racism. With its nationals still not being treated the same as those from other countries, India recently fired back by imposing a 10-day quarantine on British nationals. These are reciprocal requirements that I believe all countries in the Global South should adopt in a show of South-South solidarity.

With the recent UN General Assembly rhetoric of “building back better” and vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by September 2022, the UK’s red list undermines the principles of evidence-based policymaking and international cooperation in times of crisis. In a glaring display of bigotry, the US had more cases of Covid per capita during my time in quarantine than Sierra Leone, yet the former was placed on Britain’s amber list while the latter ended up on the red list. Such opaque cherry picking based on power differentials has got to stop.

The UK must abolish its illogical red list and require travellers who can show proof of negative Covid test results to self-isolate for ten days upon arrival, no matter where they have previously travelled or resided. This will broadcast Global Britain as just and worthy of visitors from all walks of life, rather than a self-appointed regulator of the so-called Global South.


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Economy

Shekel surplus weighs down Palestinian economy – FRANCE 24

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Issued on: 17/10/2021 – 05:06Modified: 17/10/2021 – 05:04

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Palestinian businesses flush with too much Israeli cash: it may not be the most talked about aspect of the occupation, but experts warn it is a growing concern for the Palestinian economy.

Palestinians in the West Bank use the Israeli shekel but, beyond that commonality, the two financial systems are dramatically different.

In Israel, as in many advanced economies, digital payments are rapidly growing, taking the place of transactions once done with bills and coins.

But in the West Bank, a territory under Israeli military occupation since 1967, cash is still king.

Tasir Freij, who owns a hardware store in Ramallah, told AFP he now has to pay a two percent commission to deposit paper money because his bank is reluctant to receive it.

“This is a crisis… and we are feeling its effects,” Freij told AFP.

Much of the paper money is brought in by the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work inside Israel or Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and who get their wages in cash.

Experts and business people say the buildup of hard currency risks stifling the Palestinian financial system.

Palestinian men exchange currencies in the West Bank city of Ramallah; the local  shekel surplus has seen its value fall against major global currencies
Palestinian men exchange currencies in the West Bank city of Ramallah; the local  shekel surplus has seen its value fall against major global currencies
Palestinian men exchange currencies in the West Bank city of Ramallah; the local shekel surplus has seen its value fall against major global currencies ABBAS MOMANI AFP

Freij fretted that buying goods from abroad typically requires converting shekels into foreign currencies, especially dollars or euros, but the abundance of shekels in the market has forced him to accept painfully unfavourable rates.

– ‘Dumping ground’ –

The Palestinian Monetary Authority, which functions as the central bank in the West Bank, has warned that paper shekels are building up because it has no way to return the hard currency to Israel.

PMA governor Firas Melhem told AFP that the cash buildup was “a very worrying problem,” causing headaches for banks and businesses.

“If the problem is not resolved quickly, the Palestinian market will turn into a dumping ground for the shekel,” he added.

The shekel was established as the official currency in the Palestinian territories as a result of economic protocols known as the Paris agreements that followed the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Much has changed since those 1994 agreements.

As they lean more on digital transactions, Israel’s banks no longer want to reabsorb paper cash that accumulates in the West Bank but does not circulate rapidly through the Israeli economy.

The Bank of Israel cited security as another reason.

“We stress that uncontrolled cash transfers could be misused, especially for money laundering and terror funding, and would not be in compliance with international standards on the prohibition of money laundering and terror funding,” the bank told AFP in a statement.

– Solutions? –

Palestinian banks have tried to encourage customers to moderate their cash deposits, but that risks limiting the capital available to banks, which would lower their ability to offer loans.

The cash surplus predicament has fuelled renewed calls from some Palestinian experts in favour of ditching the shekel, either in favour of a unique Palestinian currency or that of another nation, including the Jordanian dinar, which also circulates in the West Bank.

The Palestinian Monetary Authority is also pushing the Bank of Israel to take back more hard currency.

But Melhem stressed that Palestinians also needed to “keep up with developments in financial technologies,” and move towards more cashless payments.

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Saudi Arabia’s PIF launches offshore platform tourism project

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Saudi Arabia‘s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, announced on Saturday the launch of “THE RIG”, which it said would be the world’s first tourism destination on offshore platforms.

The fund, the engine of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman‘s economic transformation plans for Saudi Arabia, manages a portfolio worth $400 billion.

It added in a statement that the project was located in the gulf and spanned an area of more than 150,000 square metres.

It said the project would feature a number of attractions, including three hotels, restaurants, helipads, and a range of adventurous activities including extreme sports.

The funds did not disclose the value of the project.

 

(Reported by Saeed Azhar; Writing by Moataz Abdelrahiem; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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The World Needs 16 Billion Covid Shots: New Economy Saturday – Bloomberg

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Wanted: 16.5 billion vaccine doses.

That’s the number urgently needed to inoculate the world against Covid-19—on top of the roughly 6.5 billion doses already administered. This according to Chad P. Bown, a trade specialist at the Peterson Institute of International Economics, and Thomas J. Bollyky, the Director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Vaccinating the planet’s entire population is a moral imperative. The fact that only 3% of adults in low-income countries have been immunized is catastrophic. Putting more needles into arms is also a broader public health priority: the longer it takes to immunize everyone, the greater the risk deadlier variants will emerge.

As a result, full vaccination is clearly an economic necessity, too. But 19 months into a horrific pandemic that’s killed millions, impediments remain.

#lazy-img-380057754:beforepadding-top:66.64999999999999%;DRC-GOMA-COVID-19-VACCINATION
A medical worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Oct. 8. Developing nations lag far behind wealthy countries when it comes to vaccination—posing ​​​​a moral and economic emergency for the world.
Photographer: Xinhua News Agency 

This Week in the New Economy

 

The International Chamber of Commerce estimates the global economy stands to lose as much as $9.2 trillion as a result of unequal vaccine access.

But vaccines are also a trade issue. Like cars, laptops and smartphones, their production relies on intricate networks of cross-border supply chains. This system of dispersed manufacturing has worked remarkably well for places where global vaccine production is concentrated: India, the U.S., the European Union, the U.K. and China.

But these countries have prioritized their own people over the global good.

So-called “vaccine nationalism” was perhaps understandable when the first shots arrived. Producer countries naturally scrambled to protect their own hospital workers and the elderly.

The practice became less defensible when these countries started vaccinating low-risk populations. And that inequity is arguably intolerable now that those same rich nations are offering boosters while millions of healthcare workers in poorer countries haven’t received their first shot.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, denounces this state of affairs as “vaccine apartheid.”

#lazy-img-380057974:beforepadding-top:66.68181818181817%;TOPSHOT-SWITZERLAND-HEALTH-VIRUS-WHO
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

If producer countries won’t share their existing output, then they must ramp up production, argue Bollyky and Bown (a member of the Bloomberg New Economy Trade Council).

“The mathematics are simple but stunning,” they write. Apart from Johnson & Johnson, available vaccines require a two-dose regimen. That adds up to 14 billion doses for a global population of seven billion. Taking into consideration third doses, stockpiling and inevitable waste, and the world needs a total of 23 billion doses for full vaccination. Given that 6.5 billion have already been delivered, that means an extra 16.5 billion are required.

To achieve the additional output, Bown and Bollyky are calling for a “Covid-19 Vaccine Investment and Trade Agreement” among countries in the vaccine supply chain.

Members would set a framework to subsidize the full supply chain and work with COVAX, the nonprofit that distributes vaccines to mostly poor countries. Countries that restricted exports would be penalized through limits on their vaccine inputs. Transparency would keep the system honest.

“Trade ministers should do their part to ensure that everyone everywhere has access to Covid-19 vaccines,” Bown and Bollyky warned. “The threat that new and more devastating virus variants could emerge—against which existing Covid-19 vaccines would be ineffective—means that no one is safe until the pandemic is under control.”

__________________________________________________________

The fourth annual Bloomberg New Economy Forum will convene the world’s most influential leaders in Singapore on Nov. 16-19 to mobilize behind the effort to build a sustainable and inclusive global economy. Learn more here.

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