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State not in a position to restore Common Travel Area due to Indian variant

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said Ireland is “not in a position to restore the Common Travel Area yet” due to “real concerns” about the spread of the Indian variant of the Covid-19 virus in Britain.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Mr Varadkar said international travel within the EU would resume in mid-July under the new digital green pass system but that the full re-opening of travel with the Britain was not possible in June because of concerns around the prevalence of the Indian variant which now accounts for more than 50 per cent of cases in Britain.

He said there would be a phased return to international travel through the summer months but that it was “not going to be international travel as you knew it”. “There will be restrictions, requirements around vaccines and testings,” he said, adding there would also be different rules in place for different countries.

Mr Varadkar confirmed that Belgium, France and Luxembourg were being taken off the mandatory hotel quarantine list but cautioned that any person booking a holiday abroad should recognise that the Covid-19 situation could change and result in their destination becoming a red zone.

Mr Varadkar said he remained confident about the pace of the vaccine rollout despite the significant shortfalls in the supply of vaccines, including potentially a big reduction in the expected numbers of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

While the State will not meet the initial target of making the vaccine available to 82 per cent of adults by the end of June, it will still reach “the mid 70s percentage”, said the Tánaiste. The shortfall would be made up in July, he added.

“We now expect by the end of the July that 2.5 million people will be fully vaccinated,” he said. “That’s more than 60 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.”

Asked to explain the Government’s decision to reopen hotel dining ahead of indoor dining in restaurants and pubs, Mr Varadkar said the decision was “really more practical rather than scientific”.

“The gap between indoor and outdoor dining will not be big, it’s only a matter of a few weeks,” he said. He added that un-vaccinated people would be able to attend outdoor sporting and cultural events from August as the re-opening continues, with the focus remaining on social distancing and good hygiene. Proof of vaccination will only be required for travel, he said.

Asked whether he believed there would be a fourth wave of the virus, Mr Varadkar said it was a question of how big another wave could be and what impact it would have on hospitalisations and deaths.

“Even with that variant in Britain they’re not seeing a huge increase in hospitalisations and deaths because the vaccines are effective, he said. “But still a lot of people in Ireland are not vaccinated so that’s why we’ll be relatively cautious.”

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, said the management of queuing and crowds in airports would be very important as international travel reopens in July.

The minister stopped short of confirming that international travel would resume on July 19th, saying the details would be announced following today’s cabinet meeting, but said the changes would come into effect “in that sort of time frame”.

He noted that the EU would introduce its digital green pass system from July 1st and allow six weeks for member states to fully implement the certificate. Asked whether the IT infrastructure was in place to turn around the new pass system by mid-July, Mr Ryan said preparations were underway to “make sure it’s absolutely operational”.

He cautioned that a lot of work was needed to “minimise disruption of long queues” at airports, similar to those seen in Heathrow when flights were reintroduced.

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Shocking news, Irish people may be sanest in Europe

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Ireland is running low on loopers. If we don’t watch out, we could emerge from the pandemic with our reputation for wildness completely shredded. We are in danger of being exposed as the sanest people in Europe.

Vaccines go into the arm, but also into the brain. They are a kind of probe sent into the national consciousness. In Ireland’s case, the probe has discovered exciting evidence of intelligent life.

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Vienna school under fire for sex ed class using doll for children as young as six

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According to Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper, a teacher used a doll to explain “how sex works” to the children, while also encouraging them to use their hands and fingers on the doll. 

She said she wanted to “enlighten” the children about aspects of sex education. The children in the class were between the ages of six and ten. 

The teacher also explained to the children that “condoms should be used if you don’t want to have babies”, the newspaper reports. 

One boy was told to remove the clothes of the doll but refused before being told that he had to do so. 

The boys parents removed him from the school, saying that he was “overwhelmed” after the class and had started touching his sister inappropriately. 

“We have never seen our son like this before, he was completely overwhelmed” the parents said anonymously, “we are taking him out of the school.”

“We can already see the consequences. 

“A few days after these disturbing lessons, a classmate came to us to play. Like many times before, the boy also played with our ten-year-old daughter. This time he suddenly wanted to pull her pants down.

Peter Stippl, President of the Association for Psychotherapy, said that while sex education was crucially important, it needed to be age appropriate in order to be effective. 

“(This type of sexual education) scares the children! They get a wrong approach to the topic and their natural limit of shame is violated,” he said. 

“Sex education must always be age-appropriate and development-appropriate. Many children are six, seven or eight years old – or even older – not interested in sexual intercourse.

“We should never explain sexuality in schools in isolation from love and relationships. It makes you feel insecure and afraid. It harms the development of children.”

The Austrian Ministry of Education will now set up a commission to determine who will be allowed to teach sex ed in schools. 

The city of Vienna is also investigating the specific incident. 



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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture

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Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.



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