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COVID tourism impact could top $4 trillion: UN

The joint report by the UN's World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) found that the lack of widespread vaccination in developing countries was leading to mounting economic losses.

June 30, 2021 / 02:39 PM IST

The economic impact from the plunge in tourism since the pandemic emerged last year could top $4 trillion, a UN report said Wednesday.

The joint report by the UN's World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) found that the lack of widespread vaccination in developing countries was leading to mounting economic losses.

"Tourism is a lifeline for millions, and advancing vaccination to protect communities and support tourism's safe restart is critical to the recovery of jobs and generation of much-needed resources," UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said in a statement.

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He noted that many developing countries are highly dependent on international tourism.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic brought international air travel to a near halt for much of last year as many countries refused to allow non-essential travel.

That punched a $2.4 trillion hole in the tourism and related sectors last year, and the report warns a similar loss may occur this year depending on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

With COVID-19 vaccination rates wildly uneven -- with some countries having inoculated less than one percent of their population while others have topped 60 percent -- will see the economic damage concentrated in those countries with low vaccination rates.

The report found "the asymmetric roll-out of vaccines magnifies the economic blow tourism has suffered in developing countries, as they could account for up to 60 percent of the global GDP losses."

It noted they already suffered the biggest drops in tourism arrivals last year, estimated at between 60 percent and 80 percent.

Although the tourism sector is expected to recover faster in countries with high vaccination rates, like the United States, the UNWTO doesn't expect international tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 at the earliest.

The 63-75 percent drop in international tourism this year from 2019 levels forecast by UNCTAD is expected to cause between $1.7 and $2.4 trillion euros in lost economic activity.

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AFP
first published: Jun 30, 2021 02:39 pm
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