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Japan to reopen borders after pandemic

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Japan will open its doors back up to vaccinated foreign tourists, after more than two years of closed borders due to the Covid pandemic.

Tourists will be able to visit the country without a visa, and will no longer need to go through a travel agency, from 11 October.

A cap on daily arrivals will also be lifted.

Visitors will still need to prove their triple vaccination status and submit a negative Covid test result to enter.

The anticipated influx of travellers will be a welcome boost to government and local businesses, and comes as the Japanese yen has slid to its slowest point against the US dollar in six months.

“Japan will relax border control measures to be on par with the US,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The country has allowed visitors since June, but they had to be part of tours.

Mr Kishida also announced a domestic travel incentive scheme that will give discounts on travel, theme park prices, sporting events and concerts. Japanese residents and citizens will be eligible for a 11,000 yen (£69; $77) subsidy.

Similar programmes have been introduced in other countries’ re-openings to encourage locals to spend and stimulate the economy. However, like elsewhere, the rise in cost of living has been a dominant concern for locals.

The world’s third-largest economy was one of the last Asian powerhouses to keep its borders closed due to Covid health concerns.

Its death rate is the lowest among the world’s wealthiest nations, while the country’s vaccination rate is among the highest.

Japan also never mandated lockdowns or mask wearing, but many locals readily adopted protections.

Japan saw nearly 32 million foreigners visit in 2019, the last year prior to the pandemic. And the restrictions on travellers in recent months had precluded many foreigners from visiting, reports showed.

(BBC News)

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Priyanka Gandhi to finally make electoral debut

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Priyanka Gandhi, sister of India’s main opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, is set to contest her first election, ending decades of anticipation by her supporters.

Ms Gandhi is a descendant of the Nehru-Gandhi family, India’s most famous political dynasty, and her electoral debut will be closely watched.

The 52-year-old will contest the Wayanad seat in the southern Indian state of Kerala after her brother relinquishes it.

A win for Ms Gandhi would mean the presence of all three Gandhi family members in the Indian parliament.

Her mother Sonia Gandhi, former president of the Congress party, is an MP in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the parliament.

Her brother Mr Gandhi won the recent parliamentary elections from both Wayanad and Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli seats.

Mr Gandhi, who has represented Wayanad as an MP since 2019, is giving it up as he can only retain one parliamentary seat under Indian law. On Monday, he thanked the people of Wayanad for their “love, affection and support”.

A date for the by-election is yet to be announced but Ms Gandhi says she is “not nervous at all”.

“I am very happy to be able to represent Wayanad and I will not let them feel his [Rahul Gandhi’s] absence,” she said on Monday. “I will work hard and I will try my best to make everyone happy and be a good representative.”

The by-election will mark the end of a decades-long wait by Congress supporters for Ms Gandhi’s involvement in electoral politics.

(BBC News)

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Railway collision in India kills 15, injures several

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A freight train smashed into the rear of a stationary passenger train in India’s West Bengal state on Monday, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens, police said, in an accident that railway authorities blamed on a disregarded signal.

Media showed images of the pile-up, with containers from the goods train strewn nearby, and one carriage left nearly vertical after the accident, which comes just over a year after a signalling error caused one of India’s worst rail crashes.

At least 15 bodies have been pulled from the mangled carriages, Abhishek Roy, a senior police official in the eastern state’s district of Darjeeling, the site of the accident, told Reuters.

Nearly 30 people were injured and rescue teams from the police and national disaster response force were working with doctors and residents of the area to clear debris from the derailed carriages, Roy added.

The goods train hit the Kanchanjunga Express travelling to Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, from the northeastern state of Tripura, driving three carriages of the passenger train off the rails.

It was not immediately clear how many passengers were on board at the time.

Rescuers used iron rods and ropes to work free one carriage of the passenger train that had been swept upwards to lodge on the roof of the freight train by the impact of the collision.

The dead included the driver of the freight train and a guard on the passenger train, Jaya Varma Sinha, the head of the railway board that runs the countrywide network, told reporters.

The accident happened after the driver of the freight train disregarded a signal and hit the rear end of the express train, Sinha added.

Rescue work has been completed, Sinha said, while authorities were working to restore traffic, although the damage had been less extensive than initially feared.

“The guard’s compartment in the passenger train was badly damaged,” he added. “There were two parcel vans attached ahead of it which reduced the extent of damage to passengers.”

Nearby residents heard a loud crash and saw the pile-up upon going to investigate, several told the ANI news agency, in which Reuters has a minority stake.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered condolences on the loss of life in the accident and said Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw was on his way to the site.

About 288 people died a year ago in the neighbouring state of Odisha, in India’s worst rail crash in more than two decades, caused by a signal failure.

(Reuters)

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Beijing offers two new pandas to Adelaide Zoo

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Premier Li Qiang visited the Adelaide Zoo for China-Australia cooperation on panda protection and research on Sunday, saying the cooperation between the two countries can cross the vast Pacific Ocean, transcend differences, and achieve win-win results.

Li was accompanied by Governor of South Australia Frances Adamson, Premier of South Australia Peter Malinauskas, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell.

Adelaide Zoo is the only Australian zoo that keeps giant pandas.

At the Panda Pavilion in Adelaide Zoo, Li heard reports by both Chinese and Australian experts on the cooperative giant panda conservation project between the two countries and the keeping of giant pandas in Australia.

Li said that Adelaide Zoo has the only pair of giant pandas in the Southern Hemisphere, Wang Wang and Fu Ni. He said he is glad to see that although far away from their homeland, Wang Wang and Fu Ni have been well looked after and settled down to live a happy life in Australia.

He said the two pandas have become envoys of friendship between China and Australia, and a symbol of the profound friendship between the two peoples.

Li said the success of the project indicates that with the dedicated care of both sides, the China-Australia cooperation can cross the vast Pacific Ocean, transcends various differences, make accomplishments to each other and achieve win-win results.

The Chinese government has taken a host of measures over the years to conserve giant pandas and achieved remarkable progress, making a positive contribution to the global endeavor to protect bio-diversity and endangered wildlife, he said.

Noting that Wang Wang and Fu Ni will return to China this year as agreed by the two sides, Li said China is ready to continue cooperation with Australia on panda protection and research, and hopes that Australia will always be a friendly home for giant pandas.

Local primary school pupils sang songs on panda in Chinese for Li, who had a cordial chat with them.

Li invited them to visit China to see the birthplace and habitat of giant pandas, appreciate China’s landscape and Chinese culture, and try to become little envoys of the friendship between China and Australia.

(CCTV+)

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