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Coronavirus: Vacations in Spain: Where can I travel from and what are the requisites for entry to the country? | Travel

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Spain reopened its borders to global travelers on Monday, and tourists from any part of the world will be able to visit the country during the summer high season. That was the announcement made by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on May 21 at the Fitur tourism fair in Madrid – but there is plenty of small print for those traveling to Spanish shores, depending on who they are and where they are coming from. There are different requirements according to the reason for the trip – essential travel or for leisure – the place of origin – from inside or outside the European Union – and even the type of tourist – whether or not they have been vaccinated.

The new measures are aimed at facilitating international mobility now that the coronavirus vaccine campaigns are progressing across the world. The EU’s Digital Covid Certificate will also assist with this process, a scheme that will be fully in force by July 1 but is already being used in a number of member states (the majority of Spanish regions are already issuing them, for example).

Below are the main questions and answers for tourists who want to visit Spain in the coming months.

Can you visit Spain for a leisure trip from other EU countries?

Yes, you can. This kind of travel, in fact, was only restricted during the toughest part of the pandemic – the three-month lockdown that began in March 2020. After this phase, once the internal borders of the EU were reopened, they have not been closed again apart from a few exceptions. That led to a paradoxical situation that lasted for months, whereby a German national could travel to the Balearic Islands or Andalusia, while residents of Spain could not leave their own region due to the perimetral lockdowns in force.

Are there any restrictions for these European travelers?

It depends on the case. From the green-light areas designated by the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) you can travel without any barriers – but in practice there are few European territories that are on this level. The majority – except some zones in Finland, Norway, Iceland and Malta – will have to present an additional requirement for entry: a vaccination certificate, a negative PCR or antigen test carried out in the 48 hours prior to arrival, or a certificate showing the bearer has contracted, and recovered from, Covid-19. Any of these documents should be in Spanish, English, French or German, or alternatively translated into Spanish by an official body. Minors under 12 are exempt from these requirements.

Are any vaccines accepted, and is one dose enough?

No. Firstly, the vaccines administered must have been approved by either the European Medicines Agency (EMA) or the World Health Organization (WHO) – i.e. Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Janssen, Sinopharm or Sinovac-Coronavac. What’s more, proof of vaccination will only be valid once 14 days have passed since receiving the full doses required for the vaccine to offer full protection – two doses in all cases but the Janssen medication, which only requires one. The vaccination certificate must have been issued by the appropriate authorities in the country of origin and must include name and surname, date of vaccination (indicating the day the last shot was administered), type of vaccine, number of doses, country of issue and the details of which body issued the certificate.

How do you prove that you have had and overcome Covid-19?

In this case, the recovery certificate must be issued by the competent authority or by a medical service at least 11 days after the first positive PCR test has been carried out. These natural antibodies against the virus are considered to be valid for 180 days, which is the time that this certificate will allow people to travel within the EU. The document must include the bearer’s full name, the date the test was taken, the type of test and the country of issue.

From which non-EU countries can you travel without restrictions?

There is a list of countries whose residents are not affected by the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel to the European Union. That’s to say, areas from which you can travel with no barriers due to their current control of the pandemic. These countries or territories are: Australia, South Korea, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Rwanda, Singapore, Thailand, China, Hong Kong and Macao. In these cases, it is not necessary to present evidence of a negative coronavirus test, vaccination or having overcome the disease. It should be noted that in the case of the United Kingdom, Spain remains on the government’s “amber list.” This means travelers returning to the UK from Spain must take a coronavirus test before travel, quarantine for at least 10 days on return, and take two home PCR tests that must come back negative before quarantine can end.

And from the rest of the non-EU countries, can people visit Spain for tourism?

The reopening of the country on Monday was designed for these countries. Specifically, all travelers who have been fully vaccinated with one of the medications approved by the EMA or the OMS two weeks prior to arrival. Tourists who cannot prove they are immunized under these conditions are excluded, even if they have a negative test, have been vaccinated with a different medication, or can prove they have overcome Covid-19.

What about minors who have not been vaccinated?

The under-12s who are traveling with an adult who has had a vaccine that’s been approved by the EMA or the WHO can enter Spain with no restrictions.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. The government has kept an ace up its sleeve for when new variants of the virus emerge and can thus exclude countries where these strains are circulating out of control. For example, the government order specifies that risk countries are subject to quarantine. Currently, only India is in this situation, meaning that tourists cannot come from there to Spain even if they are fully vaccinated.

In practice, arrivals from Brazil and South Africa are also barred. The exceptions are for Spanish or Andorran nationals, residents of those two countries, or passengers in transit to a non-Schengen area country with a layover of less than 24 hours (without leaving the airport transit area), as well as airline personal necessary for air transportation activities.

Are there any ways you can travel to Spain from outside the EU if you are not vaccinated?

Not if the trip is for leisure or tourism. There are only a few exceptions that can justify the journey: if you are a habitual resident of the EU, Schengen-associated states, Andorra, Monaco, the Vatican or San Marino and you are traveling to that destination; if you are the holder of a long-term visa issued by a Schengen member state or associated state and are traveling to that country; healthcare professionals, including researchers and professional senior carers who are returning to their jobs; transportation, marine and aeronautical personal who are needed for air transportation activities; diplomatic and consular staff, as well as personnel from international, military or civil protection organizations, and members of humanitarian organizations who are working; students who are studying in Schengen member states and associated states and have the corresponding permission or visa for a long stay, provided they are traveling to the country where they are studying, and that they enter during the academic term or during the 15 days prior to its commencement; highly skilled workers whose work is essential and cannot be postponed or done remotely, including high-level sportsmen and sportswomen taking part in high-level sporting competitions in Spain; people who are traveling for essential and documented family reasons; and people who can provide evidence of force majeure or essential need.

If you have any doubts about these requirements, the full text of the Official State Bulletin (BOE) can be read here in Spanish.

Is there any official documentation to be filled out?

Yes, in all cases independently of origin, whether you arrive by air or sea, and for the under-12s too. All travelers must fill out a health control form, which can be found at www.spth.gob.es or the Spain Travel Health app. The QR code that will be created on filling out the form must be shown before boarding, as well as on arrival.

Do passengers on cruise ships have to fill out the same obligatory documentation?

Passengers on international cruises should not use the Spain Travel Health application. In that case, the necessary information is collected via the EU Digital Passenger Locator Form.

What controls are there when you arrive in the country by land?

When entering by land from risk zones in France, travelers should carry one of the aforementioned tests: vaccination certificate, negative coronavirus tests or a certificate of recovery from Covid-19.

English version by Simon Hunter.



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Climate change: Floods, fires, smog: AI delivers images of how climate change could affect your city | USA

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A simulation of New York's Times Square affected by flooding.
A simulation of New York’s Times Square affected by flooding.

The full brunt of the devastating effects of climate change is still a long way off. If we don’t experience the impact directly, it’s difficult to fully internalize the extreme seriousness of the climate crisis.

That’s why a team at the Mila-Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, led by Professor Yoshua Bengio, wants to bring it home – right to your doorstep in fact. His team has developed a tool that makes it possible to visualize the effects of floods, wildfires and smog anywhere in the world. Their simulation does this by making use of a generative adversarial network (GAN), a type of machine-learning algorithm. GANs can also produce things such as deepfake images, which are digitally composed of millions of images to create realistic photos of something (or someone) new.

For two years, 30 scientists have worked on the project, which is named after thispersondoesnotexist.com, a website portfolio of deepfake faces. Bengio’s version is called “This Climate Does Not Exist.” All a user has to do is type in an address or select a marker on Google Street View, and then indicate what kind of catastrophe they want to see: flood, wildfire or smog. The algorithm works its magic and returns the image with the requested effect. These images are not intended to be an accurate portrayal of what would happen at each specific location if no action on climate change is taken, but rather are a recreation of the worst possible effects in the scenario of the user’s choice.

The realism is particularly striking in the flooding option, which was the most difficult for Bengio’s team to produce. The algorithm takes the location proposed by the user, automatically places a layer of water on it and then adapts it to the environment of the image itself. The result is hyperrealistic.

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Cibeles Square in Madrid, before and after a hypothetical flooding created by ‘This Climate Does Not Exist.’ The original image is from Google Street View. This Climate Does Not Exist

“One of the most important challenges has been getting the algorithm to simulate flooding in a wide variety of images,” explains Alex Hernandez-Garcia, one of the project’s lead researchers. “One module of the algorithm is in charge of detecting which parts of the image should be covered with water and another module is in charge of generating the water texture by incorporating the context of the image, for example, the reflection of buildings. Finally, these results are combined to generate the final image.”

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The Capitol in Washington DC laboring under the effects of a toxic cloud and flooding, in a simulation created by the team at MILA. The original image is from Google Street View. This Climate Does Not Exist

To detect which parts to cover with water and which to leave unscathed, Hernandez-Garcia and his colleagues combined several artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning techniques. “We generated a virtual city that allowed us to make a series of images with and without water. We also adjusted an algorithm that was able to make good predictions in that virtual world, detecting the different parts of a scene: the ground, cars, buildings, trees, people and so on,” he explained. “However, the algorithm must be able to make good predictions based on real images [those from Google Street View].” For the latter, they used generative adversarial networks.

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Mexico City’s enormous Constitution Square, popularly known as El Zócalo, might look like this in a scenario of wildfires and flooding. The original image is from Google Street View. This Climate Does Not Exist

The process is completed in a few seconds, and before displaying the image to the user some information is provided about the causes and consequences of the selected weather phenomenon, and its relationship to climate change. For example, if a flood is chosen, it indicates that flash floods kill about 5,000 people a year, that sea levels are expected to rise by two meters by the end of the century and that this major disruption to the planet will forever alter the lives of at least one billion people by the end of 2050. “If we do nothing, soon we will face major climate catastrophes,” says Professor Bengio, the institute’s scientific director. “This website makes the risks of climate change much more real and personal to people,” he argues.

Generative adversarial networks

The quality of AI took a giant leap forward about a decade ago with the emergence and consolidation of machine learning and deep learning. These techniques are based on training a machine so that it is capable of performing complex tasks after reaching certain conclusions on its own. For example, if you want the algorithm to distinguish between blueberry muffins and chihuahuas, the programmer will feed it a series of examples of each category, followed by thousands of images that are not pre-sorted. The machine will establish which is which, and when it gets it wrong and is made aware of the error, will refine its criteria.

Bengio won the 2018 Turing Award, considered the Nobel Prize of computer science, along with Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun, for their contribution to the development of neural networks. This is a further step in machine learning that attempts to mimic the functioning of the human brain: applying several simultaneous layers of processing to increase performance. Neural networks are behind the most complex classification systems, such as voice assistants or advanced prediction models.

Generative adversarial networks (GANs) go even further. They were invented at the Mila-Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute in 2014 and are capable of generating new content that looks faultlessly real to the human eye. GANs are behind the increasingly sophisticated deepfake videos of Tom Cruise or Donald Trump now circulating online, in which politicians or celebrities say or act in whichever way their creator likes. They work thanks to competition between two neural networks: one tries to produce images that are as realistic as possible and the other tries to detect whether they are real or a fabrication. This tension is replicated thousands or millions of times and during this process, the generating network learns to create more and more successful images. When the first network succeeds in fooling the second, we have a winning image. From there, a perfectly rendered image of New York City’s Times Square inundated by flooding is just a click away.

The Quebec lab is now using a new type of GAN they have developed to generate the climate change images seen on their website. “In general, the limited availability of images and the need to adapt the algorithm to a multitude of situations have been the main technical challenges we have faced,” says Hernandez-Garcia.

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Assad regime ‘siphons millions in aid’ by manipulating Syria’s currency | Global development

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The Syrian government is siphoning off millions of dollars of foreign aid by forcing UN agencies to use a lower exchange rate, according to new research.

The Central Bank of Syria, which is sanctioned by the UK, US and EU, in effect made $60m (£44m) in 2020 by pocketing $0.51 of every aid dollar sent to Syria, making UN contracts one of the biggest money-making avenues for President Bashar al-Assad and his government, researchers from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Operations & Policy Center thinktank and the Center for Operational Analysis and Research found.

Hit by new US sanctions and the collapse of the banking system in neighbouring Lebanon, cash-strapped Damascus is relying increasingly on unorthodox methods for raising funds – money either pocketed by officials in Damascus for their own personal wealth, or put towards the 10-year-old war effort.

Researchers analysed hundreds of UN contracts to procure goods and services for people living in government-held areas of Syria, where more than 90% of the population are living in poverty since the Syrian pound, or lira, crashed last year.

While the central bank’s official exchange rate has improved this year to SYP2,500 to the US dollar, the black market rate is SYP3,500. Legitimate traders and consumers prefer to use the black market rate, as they receive more Syrian pounds for foreign currency.

Since the UN is forced by the Syrian government to use the official rate, half of foreign aid money exchanged into Syrian pounds in 2020, when the rates were hugely divergent, was lost after being exchanged at the lower, official rate.

“This shows an incredibly systematic way of diverting aid before it even has a chance to be implemented or used on the ground,” said Natasha Hall, of the CSIS, a Washington-based thinktank that helped compile the research.

Syrian central bank staff stack wads of Syrian pounds in Damascus
Syrian central bank staff count SYR1,000 notes, featuring Hafez al-Assad, ex-president and father of Bashar, in 2010. The government makes millions exploiting the gap between the official and black market rate for the currency. Photograph: Hussein Malla/AP

“If the goal of sanctions overall is to deprive the regime of the resources to commit acts of violence against civilians and the goal of humanitarian aid is to reach people in need then we have this instance … where aid is at complete contradiction to those two stated goals.”

After 10 years of civil war in Syria, international donor fatigue, already seen in decreasing aid pledges, has turned to more overt political re-engagement with Assad’s regime.

Without the US playing a strong role in finding a political solution in Syria, which Washington still publicly advocates, Arab nations – including the US-allied Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – have recently restarted diplomatic talks, reopened borders for trade and signalled renewing economic cooperation.

The US allows Damascus to play a major role in funnelling Egyptian gas to Lebanon to power the country’s fuel-depleted power plants. Interpol allowed Syria to rejoin its network even as the fate of dissidents captured throughout the war remains unknown.

Examining 779 publicly available procurements for 2019 and 2020, listed on the UN Global Marketplace database, researchers found that up to $100m was lost in the exchange rate.

If salaries, cash-aid programmes and other funding streams not made public were included, the bank could be making hundreds of millions of dollars, according to researchers.

The funding has been channelled through various UN agencies – the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); the World Food Programme; the UN Development Programme; the UNHCR; the Food and Agriculture Organisation; and Unicef.

The UN’s financial tracking system told the researchers it did not monitor the amount of money exchanged into Syrian pounds as “tracking such information was beyond the scope of their mission”.

More than 350,000 people have died in Syria over the past decade, and governments have donated on average $2.5bn a year to the UN’s Syria programmes since 2014.

In 2016, the UN was accused of aiding the regime by diverting billions of dollars in aid to government-held regions while leaving besieged areas without food and medicine.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned that UN agencies and governments risked complicity in human rights violations in Syria if they did not ensure transparency and effective oversight.

Last year, the US announced an additional $700m in humanitarian assistance for Syria. The UK government has given £1.59bn in aid to Syria between February 2012 and June 2021.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “The UK does not provide any aid through the Assad regime … Robust processes are in place to ensure that our aid reaches those who need it most.”

Hall said there was a “reticence” about investigating how much aid had been diverted. She said donors were well aware of the problem. “I think it is about [them] choosing certain battles to fight. It’s just not clear to me that any battles are being fought when it comes to aid in Syrian government-held areas today,” she said.

“There’s really no way for us, as independent consultants, to know the full extent of how aid is spent inside the country … We just wanted to flag that, even through this limited portal to understanding how much is spent, it’s already tens of millions of dollars which is hoarded.”

She believes the UN should negotiate a preferential exchange rate with the Syrian government – – to at least reduce the amount siphoned off.

Sara Kayyali, of HRW, said “there was no due diligence in terms of human rights” within UN procurement to avoid bankrolling Syria.

“This should be a wake-up call to the UN … they need to revise the way they provide aid and revise how they consider their obligations to respect human rights in light of this, because it’s difficult to justify this idea that hundreds of millions of dollars are going to an abusive state apparatus,” she said.

Danielle Moylan, a spokesperson for the UN agencies mentioned, said: “The UN welcomes all independent scrutiny of humanitarian operations in Syria. Our foremost priority has, and always will be, assisting the people in need in Syria, guided by humanitarian principles, accountability to the affected populations, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness.

“The majority of UN’s procurement for our humanitarian response in Syria is made in international and regional markets and therefore not affected by the Syrian exchange rate. Otherwise, as is the case in any country, the UN in Syria is required to use the official exchange rate,” Moylan said.

“In the past, the UN and humanitarian partners have negotiated a ‘preferential’ exchange rate for humanitarian operations [and] continues to engage the Central Bank of Syria on the issue of ‘preferential’ exchange rates.”

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Alexei Navalny wins 2021 Sakharov Prize

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The European Parliament announced that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has won the Sakharov Prize for defending human rights. The parliament’s president David Sassoli wrote on Twitter: “Alexei Navalny is the winner of this year’s #SakharovPrize. He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin’s regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life. Today’s prize recognises his immense bravery and we reiterate our call for his immediate release.”

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