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Business is ‘more confident than ever’ in China’s travel recovery



SINGAPORE — Online travel agency is “more confident than ever” that China’s domestic tourism will recover in the long run, chief executive Jane Sun said on Thursday.

That’s despite fresh lockdowns in the country as new coronavirus cases emerge.

“In the long run, we are very optimistic about the recovery,” Sun told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.” is one of China’s largest online travel sites.

She said China saw “very strong recovery” during the country’s last holiday season in October and that it’s taking steps to administer vaccines in high risk areas.

Communities are also more experienced in identifying and isolating cases in order to control the virus, she said.

“With all these factors, we’re more confident than ever that in the long run, the domestic travel business will be recovering,” said Sun.

Local tourism in China bounced back when the virus situation stabilized, and September’s domestic flights grew from the year before, according to Reuters.

Tourists take photo of icefall at Tianlongchi scenic area on January 9, 2021 in Pingdingshan, Henan province of China.

Shi Guangming | Visual China Group | Getty Images

Sun noted that coronavirus outbreaks appear to worsen in colder months, but said there have already been “positive moves” in 2021, compared to last year.

“We are hoping that the winter season is the low point,” she said. “When we move into the spring season and summer season, the recovery will continue.”

Separately, she outlined consumer trends that emerged in the industry following the pandemic.

Travelers now pay more attention to safety and hygiene, and is working with airlines, hotels and tour operators to ensure they take the necessary measures.

Additionally, tourists prefer packages that offer free cancellation and want to travel with just close family members or good friends, rather than in large groups.

“Smaller tailor-made tours have enjoyed more than 50% year-over-year growth,” Sun said.

— CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng contributed to this report.

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Why ultra-low cost carrier Spirit Airlines is falling behind




Spirit Airlines, the no-frills carrier known for bright yellow planes, brash style and low fares, has helped revolutionize the way we pay for travel. To offset its bare-bones fares the carrier charges for everything from carry-on bags to bottles of water. 

As of 2019, Spirit Airlines had 13 consecutive years of profitability. Since then, however, the airline has fallen on tough times.

With the coronavirus pandemic causing passenger traffic to plummet, Spirit announced third quarter total operating revenue of $402 million, a 60% drop from a year earlier.

To keep passengers safe and onboard, Spirit requires face coverings for passengers and crew, uses foggers to disinfect the aircraft and has waived some change fees. But is it enough? And will Spirit Airlines be able to bounce back from the economic fallout battering the airline industry?

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UAE on track to vaccinate half its population by end of March




DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates is on its way to having half of its population vaccinated against the coronavirus before a deadline it set for itself at the end of March, according to the country’s health authorities. 

The small desert sheikhdom of 10 million began deploying its vaccination campaign for the public toward the end of last year, after making China’s Sinopharm vaccine available to frontline health workers and government officials from September. And in terms of vaccination rates, the UAE’s national program is now the second highest in the world after Israel

More than 1.8 million people have already received the Sinopharm vaccine, which is available for free to all citizens and residents. That’s more than quadruple the per capita vaccination rate in the U.S. And the U.S. and German-developed Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being rolled out in Dubai, currently in its first phase which is reserved for people over the age of 60, those with pre-existing health conditions, and frontline workers. 

A health worker shows a dose of China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in the Jordanian capital Amman on January 13, 2021.

Khalil Mazraawi | AFP | Getty Images

Both vaccines require two jabs spaced apart by 28 days, and 28 days after receiving the second shot, patients are no longer required to quarantine, but will still have to wear masks and practice social distancing, the country’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority has said 

And while taking the vaccine is optional, NCEMA says, it’s strongly encouraged. Government employees in Abu Dhabi who choose not to take one of the vaccines will be required to take a PCR test every two weeks. 

“We’re very pleased with the progress we’ve made,” Omar Ghobash, the UAE’s assistant minister for culture and public diplomacy, told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Sunday. “Obviously there are people who are still getting sick, and unfortunately passing away, but overall we think that we’ve managed to find the balance between health and safety on the one hand and economic viability on the other hand.”

Sinopharm’s developers say its vaccine is 86% effective while the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has a 95% effectiveness, though some medical professionals have expressed skepticism over the Chinese-made vaccine due to the lack of published data surrounding its development and trials. In November, UAE leaders including Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum tweeted images of themselves getting the Sinopharm shot. 

Vaccinations push ahead amid spike in cases

Woman sunbathers sit along a beach in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on July 24, 2020, while behind is seen the Burj al-Arab hotel. After a painful four-month tourism shutdown that ended earlier in July, Dubai is billing itself as a safe destination with the resources to ward off coronavirus.

KARIM SAHIB | AFP via Getty Images

Still, it appears that for now at least, the party city and regional commercial capital of Dubai will push on with its vaccine campaign while keeping its tourism-dependent economy open. 

Neighboring oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, has been much more conservative, requiring a series of negative PCR test results over the span of several days for anyone who wants to enter the emirate — even from other emirates in the country.  

As for Dubai, mask wearing remains required in all public venues, excluding activities like eating or engaging in strenuous exercise, and authorities remind residents to socially distance. The emirate’s openness, which increased gradually from the summer, had followed a period of one of the strictest lockdowns in the world in March and April. 

By New Year, Dubai’s government was allowing residents to hold gatherings inside their homes of up to 30 people. Hotels once nearly entirely empty are seeing upward of 70% occupancy rates as tourists escape their own countries for a sense of normality and warm weather.     

“They are balancing personal responsibility with an economy that needs to go forward,” Ghobash said of the country. 

“Vaccinating the largest possible percentage of society” is the country’s aim, the NCEMA tweeted earlier this month, in order to “access the acquired immunity resulting from vaccination, which will help reduce the number of cases and control the disease.”


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World’s ‘moral failure’ WHO says




Healthcare workers administer the COVID-19 vaccine to residents living in the Jackson Heights neighborhood at St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church on January 10, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.

Octavio Jones | Getty Images

LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization said Monday the equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines is at “serious risk.”

Warning of a “catastrophic moral failure,” WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “the recent emergence of rapidly-spreading variants makes the rapid and equitable rollout of vaccines all the more important.”

But he added that this distribution could easily become “another brick in the wall for inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots.”

“As the first vaccines begin to be deployed, the promise of equitable access is at serious risk,” he said, speaking at a session of the WHO’s executive board.

While more 39 million doses of several different vaccines have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries, he said, just 25 doses had been given in one lowest-income country.

“I need to be blunt, the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.”

Beginning his speech, Tedros had emphasized that the development and approval of safe coronavirus vaccines less than a year after the virus’ emergence in China, in late 2019, was a “stunning achievement and a much needed source of hope.”

However, he added that “it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries.”

“There will be enough vaccine for everybody, but right now we must work together as one global family to prioritize (those) most at risk of serious diseases and death in all countries.”

Without naming names, Tedros said some countries and companies speak the language of equitable access but continue to prioritize bilateral deals, bypassing COVAX, which is driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the line. “This is wrong,” he said.

COVAX is a global scheme co-led by an international vaccine alliance called Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and also the WHO. It was established to ensure equitable vaccine access for every country in the world. It aims deliver 2 billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification by the end of 2021.

The WHO called on wealthier countries that had pre-ordered millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines, such as the U.S., U.K. and Europe, to share a portion of those vaccines with COVAX, so it can then redistribute these to poorer countries.

Wealthier nations have been accused of “hoarding” more vaccines than they need, although the supply of vaccines is still in its early days as mass inoculation drives — which began in the West in December — are mainly still in their first distribution stage.

Tedros called on countries with bilateral deals with vaccine makers, and on controls for supply, to be “transparent with COVAX on volumes, pricing and delivery dates,” and to share their own doses with COVAX once they have vaccinated their own health workers and older populations.

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