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What it’s like to travel from the U.S. to Hong Kong right now

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Hong Kong (CNN) — A few months ago, I boarded a plane from New York City (where I was visiting my partner and siblings) to Hong Kong (where I’m from).

The last time I was in the United States was in January; the first known local case of Covid-19 had just been detected in Seattle and the virus was beginning to spread across the West Coast. The World Health Organization hadn’t yet declared the coronavirus a pandemic.

By October 2020, the States passed a bleak milestone of recording more than 210,000 coronavirus-related deaths — the most in any country in the world.

Hong Kong is one of many places that have barred Americans from entering. But, as a Hong Kong resident, I was allowed to go home, under the condition that I would undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a hotel. I had to choose a place from a list of 17 hotels pre-selected by the Hong Kong government — and pay out of pocket.
Hong Kong’s Department of Health has designated the U.S. and other countries including Pakistan, India, South Africa, the UK and Russia “high risk.” Travelers coming in from these countries have to present a set of documents at arrival. These include a hotel booking, a nucleic acid test report showing that the passenger has tested negative for Covid-19 no more than 72 hours before departure, a signed document issued by the laboratory administering the test, and a certificate from the clinic or laboratory proving that its respective government recognizes it.

Unlike in Hong Kong, where almost any healthcare provider can test and return results to patients in a few hours, finding a hospital or clinic with a similarly speedy turnaround in New York — let alone in the U.S. as a whole — was trickier. Public hospitals in Hong Kong can test patients for $22.50; testing in private hospitals is more expensive ($300 but include detailed lab reports). Without health insurance, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test — the “gold standard of Covid-19 testing” and most popular among travelers — could cost up to $300 in the States.

After days of research — digging around on Google, calling clinics and relying on friends and family for information, I found a hospital that was familiar with the Hong Kong government’s requirements. I scheduled a virtual consultation with a doctor who gave me the green light to book a PCR test. This doctor would, later on, sign and stamp the documents for my flight home.

Karina Tsui, mask on, prepares to fly from the United States to Hong Kong.

Karina Tsui

72 hours before flying

When I arrived for my test appointment at a Manhattan hospital, I was told to follow signs leading to a makeshift “testing center”. A nurse was there, anticipating my arrival, and explained how the procedure would pan out. She reassured me that I would get my results in 24-48 hours. Then, without much warning, she stuck a long cotton swab up my right nostril, wriggled it around for seven seconds and stored the sample in a plastic container.

I was in and out of the hospital in less than five minutes. Because I bought travel insurance from Atlas America ahead of time, I didn’t need to pay a cent. Twelve hours later, I received a report indicating that I had tested negative for SARS-COV-2.

Day of the flight

Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy airport was always a buzzing transit hub where businesspeople, students and tourists congregated in preparation for long-haul journeys across the world. On the day of my flight home on August 31, the terminal was deserted.

At Cathay Pacific‘s check-in counter, there were more people behind the desks than in front. All Cathay staff members wore surgical masks; some had protective goggles on as well. A staff member greeted me before I could make my way to the counter to check my documents. I felt my chest tighten as I worried that I might’ve missed something and wouldn’t be allowed on the flight.

The Covid testing area at Hong Kong International Airport.

The Covid testing area at Hong Kong International Airport.

Karina Tsui

Since the pandemic started, Cathay Pacific has significantly reduced their flight count from the US to Hong Kong. I was scheduled to fly on the only direct flight to Hong Kong that day. Unlike most people I knew, who flew into Hong Kong and were transferred to the city’s Asia World-Expo Centre for mandatory testing, passengers on my flight would make our way to Hong Kong International Airport’s Terminal 2 — a terminal that, before the pandemic, exclusively operated Asia-bound flights.

Members of Hong Kong’s Department of Health guided us through various stations where we would fill out forms, receive a wristband with a tracking device in it and conduct a self-test.

Since our flight arrived in the afternoon, we could wait for our test results in a government-subsidized hotel. Those arriving in the morning would have to wait for results at the airport — sometimes taking up to eight hours.

Boarding and flight experience

There were eight airport staff standing by the security checkpoint — although there were only two travelers passing through. Before Covid-19 caused disruption to travel, security screenings at JFK would typically take 20-30 minutes — this time, the whole process lasted less than three.

An eerie silence filled the halls leading to the boarding gates. I passed by duty-free shops clad with shutters. Only one or two coffee shops and bookstores were open. The sound of my footsteps echoed against the steel walls.

A member of the crew took our temperatures as we boarded the aircraft. I counted 13 passengers total, meaning that the Airbus 350-1000 was just at 3% capacity. With so few people on board, those of us in Economy class each had a row to ourselves. Just before takeoff, the captain announced that everyone would have to fill out a digital health declaration form.

On board, all flight attendants wore masks and protective glasses and kept a safe distance from passengers. Bathrooms were cleaned every hour, and bottles of water distributed just as frequently. All passengers were given the same two hot meals, plus there were the usual snacks — including my favorite, Cup Noodles — upon request.

Tsui sported a face shield for extra protection.

Tsui sported a face shield for extra protection.

Karina Tsui

Landing in Hong Kong

When we touched down in Hong Kong, I felt the same sense of relief and excitement as I always do when I come home, despite knowing that the next 14 days would bring about so much uncertainty.

At the airport, signs guided travelers from high-risk countries to a testing site at Terminal 2. Along the way, airport security staff checked health declaration forms, ensuring that all details like local ID card numbers, phone numbers and hotel quarantine addresses were properly filled out. Each passenger was given a personalized QR code to pass through each station efficiently.

A member of the Department of Health called my phone number to check if it was working — she told me it was so authorities could contact me during quarantine. Another staff member tagged me with a secure wristband with a tracker, the tracker would then connect to an app called “Stay At Home,” which I was asked to download on my phone.

Each person on my flight was given a self-test kit and instructed to go to a private booth to spit into a plastic container. We were given leaflets outlining step-by-step directions, from how to properly extract “deep throat saliva” (by making a “kuuragh” sound) to how to thoroughly sanitize and secure sample containers. After all passengers completed their tests, we picked up our checked luggage and were taken to a government-subsidized hotel for one night.

The hotel was clean, and we were given both dinner and breakfast for free. At 10 a.m. the next morning, I received a call from the Department of Health saying that I had tested negative for coronavirus and could make my own way to the hotel I booked for the remaining time of quarantine.

To my surprise, there were taxis lined up outside the quarantine hotel. Drivers didn’t seem to mind that we could potentially carry the virus. I took a taxi across the harbor to my hotel in Causeway Bay. Rolling down the car windows, I savored the final few moments “outside” — feeling the Hong Kong humidity and sunshine on my skin.

The view from Tsui's hotel room in Hong Kong.

The view from Tsui’s hotel room in Hong Kong.

Karina Tsui

At the hotel

My room at the Park Lane Hotel was 340 square feet and included all the usual amenities of a room at a four-star hotel — a flat-screen TV, a large desk, reading chair, a mini fridge (which was empty), water bottles, a bath and shower.

There was just enough space on either side of my bed to stretch out and exercise. I had a view of Victoria Park, the green lungs of the busy commercial district below me. Like many of the high-rise buildings around Hong Kong, my windows were locked for safety reasons.

Certain rules were nonnegotiable. For the duration of my quarantine, no one was allowed in or out of my room. Family and friends could drop off items, but they would have to leave them at reception for hotel staff to bring up. Everything from food and water to fresh sheets and towels were left outside my door — I was not allowed to have any interaction with anyone.

As part of the hotel package, I was sent breakfast and coffee every morning but otherwise, my meals were ordered via Deliveroo or dropped off at reception by family and friends.

For the first few days, as I was adjusting to jet lag, I spent early mornings watching the sunrise and seeing people slowly trickle into the park. There was a dance troupe rehearsing the same routine every morning, a group of older men practicing tai chi at the rear end of the park. Most schools were still closed, so children spent hours playing on the lawn in the afternoons.

This testing kit was sent to Tsui's room.

This testing kit was sent to Tsui’s room.

Karina Tsui

No place like home

Hong Kong was beginning to bounce back after the government imposed strict lockdown measures in response to a third wave of infections. Being confined and seeing the city from one perspective allowed me to take in moments that would otherwise go unnoticed. I felt lucky to be in the position I was in.

Throughout the two weeks, I made a conscious effort to stick to a routine — to move my body, stimulate my mind and stay in touch with the outside world through conversations with friends and family. I was sent coloring books and puzzles to keep me occupied during my down time. I listened to podcasts and slowly made my way through a few books.

But to say that the entire quarantine experience was as romantic as the quiet moments would minimize just how much the pandemic is a mental fight as it is physical. There were times when I felt like I lost control — not being able to prepare a meal for myself, for instance, or manage the portions of my food without being wasteful.

As per strict government regulations, all my food was sent to me in single-use plastic and as the days went by, I felt increasingly paranoid about how much waste I was producing. Every afternoon, I would receive a “wellness call” from the hotel manager, and while the check-in was much appreciated, even he couldn’t help me with my concerns for the environment.

Journaling was a cathartic and mindful way to blow off steam, as was talking to friends for hours and keeping up with writing and other creative projects. Two days before my release, I was sent another self-test kit and tested negative. I received a text from the Department of Health on my last day and, at 11:59 p.m., I was allowed out of my room. I saw a familiar face at the check-out counter — a woman who had been on my flight from New York what seemed like centuries ago.

I am the first of my friends in Hong Kong to go through the process of hotel quarantine, but as we approach the holiday season, I have no doubt that I won’t be the last. While it was difficult at times, I was lucky to be in a comfortable space and thanks to technology, I never felt like I was alone.

Despite the whirlwind process, I’m grateful that the Hong Kong government is taking extra precautions to keep residents safe. Even as we edge towards the precipice of a potential “fourth wave” of infections in Hong Kong, I feel that I’m in one of the safest places in the world.

Karina Tsui is an independent journalist covering politics and arts in Hong Kong. She was previously a reporter at Monocle.



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FBI says Iran and Russia have US voter information

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In many states, voter data is available upon request, though each state has different requirements on who can request voter information, what data is available and how this data might be used, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.



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Trump’s lawyer Giuliani dismisses ‘compromising’ clip from new Borat film

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Rudy Giuliani describes as a “fabrication” a scene appearing to show him with hands down his trousers.



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Pope endorses civil union laws for same-sex couples

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The Pope made the historic remarks in “Francesco,” a new documentary film directed by Russian filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, that premiered at the Rome Film Festival on Wednesday.

“Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it,” the Pope said in the film, the Catholic News Agency reported.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the Pope said.

The film also explores the Pope’s work and views in other issues, including climate change, migration and economic equality, according to the film’s website. It is set to premiere in North America on Sunday during the SCAD Savannah Film Festival.

Francis has suggested in past interviews that he is not against civil unions, but this is the first time as Pope that he has directly come out in favor of them.

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis advocated for same-sex civil unions as an alternative when Argentina was discussing whether to legalize same-sex marriage.

Francis’ comments differ from his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who made the news when he labeled homosexuality “an intrinsic moral evil.”

Jesuit Father James Martin, who has advocated for the church to welcome LGBTQ people, said bishops from many countries, including some in the United States and Poland, who are “violently against” civil unions will have to rethink their positions.

“He’s creating a new space for LGBT people … He’s saying it on the record and he’s being very clear. It’s not simply that he’s tolerating it — he’s supporting it,” Martin told CNN’s Christine Amanpour on Wednesday.

In the US, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, asked for more clarification, saying the Francis’ comments contradict the church’s teachings on same-sex unions.

“The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships,” Thomas said in a statement. “Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and must have their personal human rights and civil rights recognized and protected by law. However, the legalization of their civil unions, which seek to simulate holy matrimony, is not admissible.”
Ed Mechmann, director of public policy for the Archidiocese of New York, described the Pope’s comments as a serious mistake that can lead to a lot of confusion.

“In this case, I think we have to recognize that the Holy Father has plainly erred,” Mechmann wrote in a blog post. “Catholics cannot promote the legalization of same-sex unions. But we also have to be clear that he isn’t changing the teaching of the Church on homosexuality or same-sex unions in any way.”





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Nagorno-Karabakh: The Armenian-Azeri ‘information wars’

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There are false videos that have gone viral. Some are doctored or old footage that has thousands of views.



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Trump administration notifies Congress of $1.8B in proposed weapons sales to Taiwan

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The notice released Wednesday says the State Department has approved the sales to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States of 135 Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) missiles and related equipment estimated for more than $1 billion, 11 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) M142 Launchers and related equipment for an estimated $436.1 million and six MS-110 Recce Pods and related equipment for an estimated $367.2 million.

“This proposed sale serves U.S. national, economic, and security interests by supporting the recipient’s continuing efforts to modernize its armed forces and to maintain a credible defensive capability,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency announcement said.

A State Department spokesperson told CNN that “consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States makes available to Taiwan defense articles and services necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. The United States also maintains the capacity to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of Taiwan.”

“Taiwan intends to use its own funds for these purchases, which, if concluded, the proposed sale of these systems will enhance Taiwan’s defensive capability,” the spokesperson said. “The proposed sale of these systems will counter modern threats to Taiwan by increasing the operational range and capabilities of its F-16s and enhancing Taiwan’s close, medium, and long range artillery capabilities.”

CNN reported last week that Congress had received informal notification of these sales as well as two additional intended sales of unarmed Reaper drones and Harpoon missiles. The latter two have yet to be formally notified.

A Chinese Embassy spokesperson told CNN last week that “China consistently and firmly opposes US arms sales to Taiwan and has firm resolve in upholding its sovereignty and security” and urged the US to “fully recognize the highly harmful nature of the arms sales to Taiwan and stop arms sales to and military ties with Taiwan, lest it should gravely harm China-US relations and cross-Strait peace and stability.”

CNN has reached out to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office for comment.

Washington has long provided arms to the island under the terms of the 40-year-old Taiwan Relations Act, and there is bipartisan support for supplying Taiwan with weapons.

“The United States maintains an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and considers the security of Taiwan central to the security and stability of the broader Indo-Pacific region,” the State Department spokesperson said. “Our longstanding policy on defense sales to Taiwan remains consistent across seven different U.S. administrations, and contributes to the security of Taiwan and the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

There has been an increase in arms sales to Taiwan during the Trump administration as the US has grown closer to Taipei and tensions have risen with Beijing.

“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure targeted at Taiwan and to engage in meaningful dialogue with the democratically elected Taiwan representatives,” the spokesperson said.

The administration previously approved several major arms sales to Taiwan valued at more than $13 billion in total, including dozens of F-16 fighter jets, M1A2T Abrams tanks, portable Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and MK-48 Mod6 torpedoes.

In addition, the administration has sent a number of high-profile officials to Taiwan in recent weeks, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Keith Krach, the State Department under secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment.



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Michael Jackson: Court dismisses lawsuit from accuser James Safechuck

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Jackson vehemently denied the abuse. Mr Safechuck (a child at the time)

reportedly gave a witness statement defending Jackson when allegations against the singer first emerged in 1993.



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Coronavirus: Spain passes one million Covid-19 cases

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Since its first diagnosed case on 31 January,

Spain has now recorded a total of 1,005,295 infections.



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President calls for calm after protesters shot in Nigeria

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Following a night of violence which sparked global outrage, eyewitnesses say the city descended into chaos on Wednesday.

Videos posted on social media and local television coverage showed a number of buildings on fire, including the Lagos Theater and at least one bank branch. Some police stations were also attacked, and video also showed the High Court of Lagos on fire.

Human rights group Amnesty International said that after an on-the-ground investigation it had found that twelve people were killed during protests in two locations in Lagos on Tuesday.

It said that “evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, video footage and hospital reports” confirmed that over a period of about two hours “the Nigerian military opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully calling for good governance and an end to police brutality.”

The army has dismissed reports that protesters were shot dead as “fake news.” The Nigerian Army and police did not return requests for comment.

Eyewitnesses told CNN shots rang out during a peaceful protest at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos as activists chanted the national anthem and asked for police brutality to end.

Daily protests have been held across the country for close to two weeks, over widespread claims of kidnapping, harassment, and extortion by a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

Eyewitnesses told CNN that a number of protesters were killed by security forces.

Akinbosola Ogunsanya, a talk show host on Afrosurge Radio, said the shooting began shortly after the lights at the tollgate were switched off. “Members of the Nigerian army pulled up on us and they started firing,” he said. “I just survived, barely.”

CNN couldn’t independently corroborate the witness accounts.

Multiple witnesses told CNN they saw the army take the bodies away.

Protesters in Lagos on Tuesday.

Christopher Yakubu, 27, who told CNN he fell and injured his leg while trying to escape the gunfire, showed CNN a video of his injury. “I heard rapid shots. I couldn’t count them. I counted 5 bodies,” he said. “Later I saw that the Nigerian Army took the bodies in their own van. We couldn’t take videos,” he said.

Another protester also said he witnessed the bloodshed.

“They killed more than 7 people and got away with their bodies to cover up evidences,” said Deji Jokodola.

On Tuesday, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu imposed a 24-hour curfew and deployed anti-riot police to the city.

In a televised statement on Wednesday morning, Gov. Sanwo-Olu insisted nobody had been killed at Lekki toll gate: “Whilst we pray for the swift recovery of the injured, we are comforted that we have not recorded any fatality.”

Later in the day, he tweeted that one person had died at Reddington Hospital due to “blunt force trauma” to the head. He said it was an isolated case and said he was investigating whether the dead person was a protester. CNN reached out to the Governor’s office, but did not receive a reply.

Eyewitness reports

The Governor’s comments directly contradict statements from several eyewitnesses who said they had seen multiple casualties at the protest.

Speaking to CNN from the scene of the shooting, Temple Onanugbo said he saw “multiple bodies laying on the ground,” when he arrived to help those injured. He said he heard what he believed were bullets being fired from his home nearby and that the sound lasted “for about 15 to 30 minutes.”

Protesters gather at the front of Alausa, the Lagos State Secretariat.

“I was on Instagram Live when the shooting started,” Henry Pundit, a filmmaker, told CNN. “They were coming to us with multiple gun shots. We went on the ground and held our flag. We were crying, some were running.”

Eyewitnesses said the violence continued into Wednesday morning, and that it appeared to have spread beyond the original protest site.

Franklin Alex spoke to CNN while hiding in his home in Ebute Metta, about 9km (10 miles) from the Lekki toll gate. He said the police had been on his street earlier on Wednesday morning, and that three people had been killed. He added that officers at four police stations nearby were firing at protesters.

“The police are shooting at people that are not armed, though some of them have bottles and stones, but the police are using very sophisticated weapons on them,” he said. “They are moving from street to street, I could count about 17 of them, all armed, all shooting.”

24-hour curfew imposed on Lagos amid anti-police brutality protests in Nigeria
Amnesty International Nigeria tweeted that it had received “credible but disturbing evidence” of “excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters.”

Gov. Sanwo-Olu asked for all forms of protest to end immediately and ordered an investigation into the incident. “Yesterday’s events were no doubt some of the darkest gradients of our history as a state and as a people,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the governor imposed a 24-hour curfew on Lagos — which has an estimated population of more than 20 million people — including the closure of all its schools.

The lockdown means that only essential service providers and first responders have permission to be on the streets.

SARS was disbanded on October 11 and a new police unit to replace it will be trained by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Reuters reported Sunday.

Protesters are demanding further protections against the police, including independent oversight and psychological evaluation of officers.

International condemnation

On Wednesday, US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden urged President Buhari and the Nigerian military to halt “the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria which has already resulted in several deaths.”

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was “deeply concerned by the recent violence and continued clashes in Nigeria,” and “alarmed by widespread reports of civilian deaths.”

“We call for an end to violence,” Raab added. “The Nigerian government must urgently investigate reports of brutality at the hands of the security forces and hold those responsible to account.”

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Buhari to do something to end the violence. “I’m calling on @mbuhari and the @hqnigerianarmy to stop killing young #EndSARS protesters. #StopNigeriaGovernment,” she said in a tweet.

Protesters gather at Alausa Secretariat in Ikeja, Lagos State.

Manchester United’s Nigerian soccer player Odion Ighalo said he was “ashamed of this government” in an Instagram post. “I’m calling on the UK government, calling all those leaders in the world to please see what is going on in Nigeria and help us.”

Death and severe injuries amid the protests have been reported since the weekend.

Videos on social media show dozens of cars belonging to protesters burning, which Amnesty International Nigeria confirmed on Twitter.

“While we continue to investigate the killings, Amnesty International wishes to remind the authorities that under international law, security forces may only resort to the use of lethal force when strictly unavoidable to protect against imminent threat of death or serious injury,” the human rights group tweeted.

Sports stars take to social media to condemn police brutality in Nigeria

Other videos show a mass breakout of hundreds of prisoners from the Benin Correctional Center in Edo state in southern Nigeria. It is uncertain who is to blame for the breakout, with protesters claiming it was staged by police. The Nigeria police force said in a tweet that protesters carted away arms and ammunition from the armory before freeing suspects in custody and setting the facilities alight.

Edo state governor Godwin Obaseki imposed a curfew on Monday, tweeting about “disturbing incidents of vandalism and attacks on private individuals and institutions by hoodlums in the guise of #EndSARS protesters.”

Riot police have been deployed across the country. According to a tweet from the Nigerian police force on Tuesday evening, the Inspector-General of Nigeria’s Police has ordered the immediate nationwide deployment of anti-riot police officers “to protect lives and property of all Nigerians and secure critical national infrastructure across the country.”





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Egypt adds restaurant at ancient pyramid site

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Egypt has unveiled new visitor facilities on the plateau outside Cairo where the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Great Sphinx are situated, the country’s most visited heritage site and the sole remaining wonder of the ancient world.

Developers late on Tuesday night opened a new restaurant, “9 Pyramids Lounge”, which covers an area of 1,341 square meters and overlooks the Giza pyramids. There will also be a fleet of new environmentally-friendly buses to guide tourists around the plateau.

“One of the problems always faced is that people say there are no special services for tourists, that there is no cafeteria, no restaurant, nothing that can be offered to visitors,” said Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The new facilities are all easily taken part and reassembled so as to protect the antiquities and Waziri said the open-air restaurant offered “a panorama view that cannot be matched anywhere in the world.”

Tourism accounts for up to 15% of Egypt’s national output. However, officials have said previously the sector is losing around $1 billion each month after largely shutting down for several months from March due to the spread of coronavirus.

The changes at the plateau are part of wider efforts to develop key tourist sites in the country. Next year the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is set to be the world’s largest archaeological museum, is due to open just beyond the Giza Pyramids.

Egyptian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, the plateau’s main developer, said the 301 million Egyptian pound ($19.23 million)project is part of a greater plan to develop the UNESCO world heritage site and streamline tourists’ experience.

“We will organise the salespeople,” said Sawiris. “We will not deprive them of their income but we will put them into suitable, nice places.”



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