UK resumes flights to Sharm El-Sheikh

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Flights will resume from Gatwick, Edinburgh and Birmingham airports, with five flights weekly from this month to May 2020.
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Flights will resume from Gatwick, Edinburgh and Birmingham airports, with five flights weekly from this month to May 2020.
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Flights will resume from Gatwick, Edinburgh and Birmingham airports, with five flights weekly from this month to May 2020.
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Flights will resume from Gatwick, Edinburgh and Birmingham airports, with five flights weekly from this month to May 2020.
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Updated 18 February 2020

UK resumes flights to Sharm El-Sheikh

  • Experts say return of British tourists ‘very significant’

CAIRO: The Egyptian resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday received the first British passenger flight since 2015 when a Russian airliner was bombed, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.

The British Foreign Office announced last November it had lifted the suspension.  Flights will resume from Gatwick, Edinburgh and Birmingham airports, with five flights weekly from this month to May 2020.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation said that Sharm El-Sheikh Airport received two TUI European-operated flights, the first British charter flights to the Egyptian Red Sea in five years. The first flight arrived from Gatwick with 184 passengers on board, while the second arrived from Manchester with 190 passengers.

Tourism experts predicted that the return of British flights would increase hotel occupancy in Sharm El-Sheikh since the resort destination had a large hotel room capacity and was ready to receive British tourists as well as tourists from around the world.

Before the travel ban, 906,000 British tourists spent 9.5 million nights in Egypt, with more than 600,000 British tourists spending their holiday in Sharm El-Sheikh. Experts expected that number to go up after the return of flights. They expect more than one million British tourists to visit Egypt in 2020.

"We are all thrilled with the return of British tourism to Egypt,” Hossam El-Shaer, head of the Tourism Companies Federation, said. “The total number of British tourists who arrived in Egypt in 2010 was more than one million. Hence, their return means they will return in the same numbers and they very much have an impact on tourism in Egypt.”

El-Shaer added that while British tourists stopped going to Sharm El-Sheikh they continued to visit another Egyptian resort city, Hurghada. 

“However, Sharm El-Sheikh is very significant to them since it is their prime destination. With the resumption of flights, around one million British tourists are expected to arrive in Sharm in El-Sheikh and other destinations in Egypt by 2021. This is a good percentage of the total number of tourists who come to Egypt, around 13 million annually.”

British tourism had previously focused on cultural tourism but it was following the global trend toward beach and leisure tourism. “Therefore, their return to Sharm El-Sheikh is very significant,” he said.

Tamer Makram, head of the South Sinai Investors Committee, said that Sharm El-Sheikh had been ready “for a long time” to receive British tourists, from resorts to infrastructure and security. He expressed hope that Russian tourists would also return soon.

He said the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities had formed special committees and that the ministry would follow up on the committee’s observations.

“There are no longer any observations in terms of security, health and food safety as a result of the huge efforts exerted in this regard,” Makram added.

Egypt’s parliament hailed the return of British tourism. MP Yasser Omar, secretary of the Planning and Budgetary Committee, said the British flights showed that Britain had started to “correct misconceptions” about safety and security in Egypt which would encourage other countries to resume their flights to Sharm El-Sheikh. 

He added that Britain took the decision only after it was sure that high-level airport safety and security measures were taken in Egypt which conformed to international standards.

Omar said more tourists would come to Egypt, especially Russians as they represented the majority of tourists to the country.

MP Amin Massoud called for flights between Sharm El-Sheikh and Liverpool as a way of capitalizing on the popularity of footballer Mohamed Salah to promote Egyptian tourism, following the same approach with Egyptian players Mahmoud Trezeget and Ahmed El-Mohamady who play for Aston Villa.

Massoud said Britons made up the largest contingent of European tourists to Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada. Therefore, he added, the ministries of aviation and tourism should make use of Egyptian players who were popular in the UK to promote tourism in Egypt.


With virus, cherished Mideast traditions come to abrupt halt

Updated 46 min 41 sec ago

With virus, cherished Mideast traditions come to abrupt halt

  • In a region where life is often organized around large families, communal meals and tribal rules, social distancing can be difficult
  • The virus has also upended plans for weddings — often extravagant affairs in the region, with hundreds of invitees

BAGHDAD: Under the sign “Take out only” and a tall bottle of antiseptic by his side, Mazin Hashim, 54, rearranged the coals heating a water pipe outside his famed cafe in Baghdad.
He put up the placard to satisfy recent government restrictions on movement and gatherings that are aimed at slowing the outbreak of the new coronavirus. Once inside, however, thick white plumes of fragrant smoke choked the air as over a dozen young men whiled away the hours in defiance of the directives.
As the pandemic continues to spread, governments across the Middle East are clamping down on the region’s cherished traditions: No more massive weddings and celebrations. Restrictions on sales of qat, a mild plant narcotic chewed in groups in Yemen. No more evenings spent mostly by men in traditional coffee shops across the region. And most importantly, no more smoking of the beloved shisha, or water pipe, in public places.
In a region where life is often organized around large families, communal meals and tribal rules, social distancing can be difficult.
In Iraq, clarion calls sound twice a day to remind people to adhere to the ban on public gatherings. But that has little impact at Hashim’s shisha parlor, second home to 29-year-old Mustafa Ahmed who comes every day to meet friends and seek solace from the monotony of domestic life.
Not even at the height of Iraq’s sectarian wars was he made to spend seven straight days at home. He and his friends smoked shisha at Hashim’s instead.
“It’s normal for us to come here during times of crisis,” said Ahmed. “The only difference this time is we are hiding from the police.”
Safety tips being traded by many in Iraq often fly in the face of global appeals by experts to avoid physical contact and keep a safe distance from others.
Iraq’s revered Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, whose opinion is sought by many, said it was necessary to avoid shaking hands, hugging and kissing except when the “necessary precautions” were taken, including sterilization, masks and gloves.
But Hashim said his acquaintances routinely ignore even such warnings. In Iraq, the custom is to plant one kiss on each cheek. That is why he keeps the bottle of antiseptic nearby.
“Whenever someone greets me I quickly wipe my hands and face with it,” he said.
Down the street from Hashim, Tony Paulis, 60, said he tried to promote social distancing with a poster outside his barbershop door. It has an “X” over an image of two men leaning in for a greeting, and a warning message: “Please limit yourselves to handshakes and do not kiss given the current difficult situation.”
The attempt was futile. “Iraqis aren’t scared of coronavirus, but they should be,” he said.
At least 40 people have died in Iraq from the coronavirus, which causes mild or moderate symptoms in the majority of people but can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.
Checking out with a kilo (two pounds) of oranges from the local grocer in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood, Najm Abdullah Saad, 70, said the curfew was wreaking havoc on his marital life.
“Going out to smoke shisha every night was my escape,” he said.
Shisha-smoking isn’t the only public pastime affected.
In Yemen, which has already endured five years of civil war, the chewing of qat is a daily activity that brings groups together to exchange gossip and debate.
Authorities in Yemen’s southern city of Aden have banned qat markets to prevent the spread of the virus. However vendors have found ways to keep selling it, either with help from armed factions controlling the city, or in the outskirts.
In the north, which is controlled by the Houthi militia, authorities said they plan to move crowded qat markets to open areas and ban gatherings of more than eight people.
The measures might be hard to implement as the country has busy markets in almost every city and town. At around noon every day some 90% of Yemeni men converge on local markets to buy qat, according to Houthi health ministry spokesman Youssef Al-Hadhri. He said markets will remain open since they become crowded only a couple of hours a day.
“It’s not dangerous,” he insisted, despite growing fears that an outbreak could prove devastating to the Arab world’s poorest country.
The Lebanese port city of Sidon, south of the capital Beirut, is mostly deserted. It once bustled with people flocking to its traditional coffee shops where elderly men gathered to smoke cigarettes and play cards and backgammon. Those closed after the Lebanese government ordered a lockdown last week.
Qassem Bdeir, a fisherman, sat with a group of friends near a hidden segment of the port, discussing the situation, each seated a meter away from the other.
“We used to meet at the coffee shop after a day’s work to talk and play cards. Now there’s no work, and we steal these few moments to talk and commiserate sitting away from each other before we go home to lock ourselves up,” he said.
The virus has also upended plans for weddings — often extravagant affairs in the region, with hundreds of invitees.
In Beirut, Bassam Makki, the 42-year-old owner of a jewelry shop had been in the final stages of planning his wedding when the pandemic started. He and his fiance took out a loan and planned a celebration for 130 people at a four-star hotel in Beirut. The party, which had been scheduled for April 10, has been canceled.
“I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” he said, trying to offer a smile.
Others pressed ahead with weddings.
Rawan Mohammed found an open tract of agricultural land outside the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk for his wedding after the Kurdistan Regional Government closed wedding halls as part of preventive measures.
“We told everyone at the beginning, they can come by to tell us congratulations and take pictures, but without handshaking or hugging,” he said.

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