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first_imgHome » News » COVID-19 news » UPDATED: Property sales and rental markets to reopen today previous nextCOVID-19 newsUPDATED: Property sales and rental markets to reopen todayChanges to travel restrictions within amendment to current legislation give green light for home moves to restart, and agents to restart viewing, sales and rentals.Nigel Lewis12th May 2020030,125 Views The government has given the green light to property sales and rentals restarting following a change to the main legislative instrument used to restrict travel during the Coronavirus crisisYesterday Parliament published several amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.This includes the addition of five short paragraphs that allow both agents and members of the public to travel to view properties and move home.Although only a technical change to the Coronavirus law, this effectively re-opens the sales and rental markets.“It’s great news for consumers and the industry that the housing market is being opened up and people can let, rent, buy and sell properties again,” say David Cox, Chief Executive of ARLA Propertymark and Mark Hayward, Chief Executive of NAEA Propertymark in a joint statement.“The new regulations provide clarity to agents and will allow them to deal with pent-up demand from consumers.“It’s also a step to reinvigorating the housing market and will be a boost to the economy.“Safety of course will be paramount, and we would encourage everyone to ensure that they follow Government guidelines closely to protect others and themselves.”The new regulations allow members of the public to visit sales or lettings agencies, developers’ sales offices, show homes, view properties for sale or rent, prepare properties prior to moving in and move home.Agents are also allowed to visit any rental or sales property to get them ready for sale, which means appraisals, valuations and photography.Read the amended legislation in full.Read about the safety rules agents will have to follow.Industry reaction so farLucy Pendleton, James Pendleton“It’s a brave new world but the viewings must go on. We’ve got all the necessary PPE ready to go, and buyers and sellers keen to start viewing straight away. We’re just waiting to hear what the government’s detailed guidelines are.“Agents have been desperate to get back to business, and an explicit mention for the sector in the government’s lockdown strategy on Monday was noticeable by its absence. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief when news that agents could get back to work trickled out late yesterday afternoon.“It’s fantastic news that agents aren’t going to have to wait until July to start showing properties properly again, as we will find out sooner rather than later whether some of the more dire predictions for the housing market will come true. In London, we have seen absolutely no sign of the conditions that would normally precipitate a marked fall in prices. We expect a similar picture to be playing out across the country.“Lack of supply exacerbated by sellers delaying their moves until after the pandemic has eased significantly is going to put a floor under prices, much like it did during the Brexit negotiations. Borrowing rates are extremely low too and that’s going to boost buying power.”Tom Mundy, COO, Goodlord“It’s a huge relief to know that property viewings and moves will be permitted once more from this week. The whole industry has been on hold, with demand in the rental market building up as a result, meaning this news will be music to the ears of letting agents and tenants.“Our Lettings Activity Tracker showed a steady increase in market activity during the first week of May, demonstrating that some of that pent up demand was already beginning to leak out. This announcement therefore comes at the right time.“Some important questions remain, however, about how we ensure the safety of everyone concerned as we get the industry moving again. We very much hope the Government releases more detailed advice around social distancing and how to protect tenants, prospective tenants, and agents – particularly when it comes to viewings.“In the meantime, everyone in the industry must use a common sense approach to make things as safe as possible and to offer digital options for all parties wherever practicable.”Jonathan Hopper, CEO of Garrington Property Finders“Afterthought or an aftershock? It matters not. The eleventh-hour firing of the starting gun for estate agents will re-energise the property industry.“For the next few days at least, the new motto for the sector will be ‘education education education’ as agents take a crash course in how to conduct socially distant viewings safely.“The real question is what sort of market they will find as they pull up their shutters. The lockdown may have halted conventional viewings, but there are plenty of signs that some would-be buyers have used the past six weeks to window shop in earnest.Andy Marshall, Chief Commercial Officer, Zoopla“We’re delighted that the Government has recognised the need to restart the property market, permitting estate agents to operate – within the parameters of common sense social distancing. Now is the time to get the market moving and to restore it to full health.“With 373,000 transactions held up in the pipeline, amounting to £82bn in property value and £1bn of agent revenue, the Government’s move is set to be a catalyst for the broader economy. The multiplier effect of estate agency will stimulate cashflow for a network of industries, from removal firms to decorators to solicitors, benefiting the economy at both a local and national level.“This is where our two payment plans for agents will come into their own; for at least the next five months, our customers who have subscribed to one of our offers will be able to rebuild their revenue pipeline without a financial outlay for portal use. We welcome the opportunity to discuss plan options with any agents who had not already signed up.”Iain Mckenzie, CEO of The Guild of Property Professionals“It is vital that the sector continues to ensure that they act within a responsible and safe manner ensuring that Government health guidelines are adhered to at all times.  Most estates agents have the tech tools, processes and services in place to carry out the home buying process virtually through means of video viewings and valuations, and electronic contracts and documentation.Added to this, The Guild’s compliance offer, Paul Offley, has produced a 6-point return to work safely guide for estate and lettings agents to operate within a safe manner.”Dominic Agace, Chief Executive of Winkworth“This is great news. We have a socially distanced work environment plan to manage the business and can implement it quickly to ensure that we can go back to full operations. This will enable our customers to move on to the next stage in their lives, releasing the anxieties caused by the lockdown.” The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 coronavirus Mark Hayward David Cox May 12, 2020Nigel LewisWhat’s your opinion? Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.Please note: This is a site for professional discussion. Comments will carry your full name and company.This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.Related articles BREAKING: Evictions paperwork must now include ‘breathing space’ scheme details30th April 2021 City dwellers most satisfied with where they live30th April 2021 Hong Kong remains most expensive city to rent with London in 4th place30th April 2021last_img read more


first_imgLuminary Bakery provides training and jobs for women who are struggling with single motherhood, have faced domestic violence or homelessness, or who have a criminal record.Originally located at the back of Husk Coffee Shop in east London’s Limehouse, the social enterprise is now planning to move to a larger space in Stoke Newington, in the north east of the city. The new space will have a larger kitchen, a café area, a special area for mothers and children, and a downstairs training room for students.Founder Alice Boyle is currently raising money through crowdfunding website Kickstarter, in order to pay for the building work needed to open the new space. So far they have just over £3,000 of their £15,000 target.Realising their dreamsThey said: “By investing in and releasing them to realise their dreams, through training, employment and community, we aim to break the generational cycles of abuse, prostitution, criminal activity and poverty.”As an extra incentive, donators are being offered free baked goods if they pledge £10, and a host of other lures, including bread-making masterclasses for those who pledge £250.last_img read more


first_imgFor fans of the Allman Brothers, the last two years have felt just a little off without the band’s annual run at the Beacon Theatre. While all of the band’s esteemed members have kept themselves busy, it’s hard to imagine any musician not wanting to reunite with the ABB members should the opportunity arise.According to bassist Oteil Burbridge, that reunion may not be too far off. Burbridge spoke to JamBase about his role in Dead & Company, The Aquarium Rescue Unit, and more, but there was an intriguing question about the ABB that has our eyebrows raised.When asked if Burbridge missed the Allman Brothers band, he responded, “Honestly, not really. It needed to end when it did. It wasn’t feeling good anymore by that point. At least not to me anyway. I also get to play with Butch [Trucks], Jaimoe, Marc [Quiñones] and Jack Pearson pretty regularly so I still play those songs, it’s still in my life. We obviously needed a break from each other. Everyone is still on the road playing just not with each other, so you do the math.”Then, Burbridge spoke about a potential reunion spearheaded by founder Gregg Allman, though it seems there has been little follow up in a couple months. “Gregg [Allman] texted all of us right before the last Wanee about trying to put something together next year but I haven’t heard anything since then. I told him that I was down for it. I guess enough time has passed for him.”We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed for these great musicians to get back together and play the classics, if only for one more time. You can see the full interview here.last_img read more


first_imgThe smartphone is dead? Long live the smartphone!In the fast-moving world of high tech, you’re up one day and down the next. Desktop computers were bumped aside by laptops, and tablets are now returning the favor, grabbing laptop market share. Basic cellphones gave way to feature phones, which now fill the middle of the market, having ceded the high end to smartphones.Since the only unchangeable thing in the tech industry is change, some observers are wondering not if smartphones will get knocked off their perch, but when, and looking toward Google Glass and a wave of smartwatches as potential successors. Business watchers, meanwhile, are worried by the possible disruption of the business model, and an end to the dominance of Apple and Samsung as multiple other players enter the fray.Woodward Yang, the Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a University Fellow at Harvard Business School, has had his finger on the pulse of the industry since his work developing the CMOS image sensors common in cellphone cameras; more recently, his expertise was sought in Apple’s patent infringement lawsuit against Samsung over technology created for — you guessed it — smartphones. The Gazette asked him about prospects near and far in personal tech.  GAZETTE: The smartphone seems to have comfortably reached the top of the market, but with technology disappearing as fast as it appears today, this can’t last. What do you see happening next?YANG: The smartphone is now a burgeoning business for big players and the two big players are Apple and Samsung. They’re fighting over it, but what’s happening is that the features and functions have become more commoditized.It’s classic in what you see with technology. It rises very fast, it becomes more mature, it becomes a commodity, and as it becomes a commodity, more and more people can do it.But what’s happened is that the technology — [though it’s] quite sophisticated —has become so commoditized, now almost anybody can just buy the parts and put together a reasonable system. So Huawei does this, HTC does this, while Google provides the key Android software. They just have to put the pieces together now. This has even happened in the automobile industry and especially with electric vehicles.GAZETTE: Do you see a disruption in this technology coming?YANG: That’s exactly what you see. As the technology matures, you get a disruption. It’s not a disruption of technology, though, but a disruption of the business, the high-margin business.The high margins that Apple and Samsung get on the smartphones are going to be eaten away by companies like HTC, Huawei, and others to be named. They’re going to introduce smartphones that are almost as good and most people are not going to be able to tell the difference.So Apple and Samsung, and maybe Motorola-Google, are trying to innovate to make sure your smartphone stays special and doesn’t become a commodity. They’re going to do that by trying to create a web of devices — like a smartwatch, the Google Glasses, the iCloud, and Samsung can connect to your TV.That’s what they’re trying to do, so you feel like you’re getting extra value for your phone. That’s what people are talking about. It’s a classic thing that happens to tech all the time. This is the motivation behind the relentless innovation in tech and the differentiation that it gives your products so that you can command higher margins and larger market share.GAZETTE: Have you seen earlier disruptions, where new technology wipes out old?YANG: I’ve seen this happen several times already. I did a lot of the fundamental work on the CMOS [complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor] image sensor, that little camera inside your phone. It actually wasn’t very good technology. CCD [charge-coupled device] was a better technology — this was about 20 years ago.CMOS came out and for various reasons started to replace CCDs. CCD cameras were big and bulky, used a lot of power, and were expensive, which was fine when it was a video camera. CMOS cameras are smaller, use less power, are cheaper, and now it is even possible to put two or three cameras into your cellphone.As that happened, it not only eclipsed CCDs, but it literally crushed film photography. I was on the science and technology board of Polaroid and warned them for many years in the late 1990s, “You guys are going to get your lunch eaten by CMOS image sensors.” They said, “No, we still have a good margin on Polaroid instant cameras and film and we can’t just throw away that business.”GAZETTE: Do you see anything similar happening with the smartphone?YANG: I’ve lived through this enough times that I realize nobody really knows what’s going to happen. All I can tell you is that what’s going to happen is probably not what you expect.But that’s in the long run. In the short run, people are still going to have smartphones. The business is going to get more complicated, you’re going to see new entrants coming in with smartphones.Whether Samsung, Apple, Motorola-Google, and Nokia-Microsoft will be able to innovate to the next stage, I don’t know. But I think you’re going to see this further evolution. The idea that a smartphone just does your phone stuff, a little Internet browsing, and email — if that’s your definition of smartphone, it’s going to change. Your smartphone is going to do more and more things.GAZETTE: What about things like Google Glass and smartwatches?YANG: In the short run, I don’t think they are any [danger to] smartphones. What people don’t talk about is those form factors aren’t big enough for the processor, data storage, cellular communications circuitry, and especially the battery, so you still need a smartphone. The watch still connects to your smartphone, and I believe the glasses will still need to connect to your smartphone, because you still need someplace to store the data and provide a communications link to the Internet and the rest of your stuff.People predict the demise of things, but it doesn’t happen as immediately as people think. It takes a long time to dismantle something. But once it starts to happen, it can happen very rapidly.Digital cameras were around a long time together with film cameras. And all of a sudden — I think it was within a span of five years — nobody bought a film camera anymore. So they’re kind of a traveling along slowly and boom, it’s gone. I think laptops and desktops were going along pretty smoothly, and all of a sudden people stopped buying desktops. And so that’s the kind of thing that happens.Feature phones, the ones replaced by smartphones, were going along with smartphones, which had been around since 2000. They were always there, but never took off. A few years after Apple introduced their first iPhone was when smartphones just started to take off.I don’t like to talk about “cool gadgets.” I prefer to talk about: What is the job that needs to be done? Why did smartphones take off? Because I have this necessity to be connected to my email as well as be able to talk to people. And I have necessity every now and then to look at stuff on the Internet, which is annoying, by the way, because it’s such a small screen. But sometimes, out of necessity, I have to look for my reservation code number, for example, because I have to check in at the airport.Because of that, I choose to buy a smartphone, since it is able to do those jobs. You can think of all sorts of other jobs and once people think [a technology] is important enough and does that job well enough, people will elect to use that device. In the end, it’s people using the technology to do a job. People buy it to do a job.last_img read more


first_imgThe Council of Representatives (COR) voted to approve the nominee for president of The Shirt Project 2011 and discussed Alcohol Awareness Week, which is co-sponsored by student government, at its meeting Tuesday. Senior Christian Gigante, president of The Shirt 2010, gave members an update on the successes of last year’s Shirt, which has sold 145,000 shirts so far, approaching the record 155,000 shirts sold in 2006. The profit from The Shirt sales benefits various campus clubs and organizations, the rector funds and The Shirt Project Fund, which assists students with serious accidents or illnesses, Gigante said. “That number, hopefully, will be close to $700,000 which is pretty exciting,” Gigante said. Gigante, who is responsible for the preliminary choice of the new president, introduced junior Lauren Marzouca, the nominated student. Marzouca, a pre-professional major from McGlinn Hall, said she was excited to be president of the Project because she feels students should be reminded of where the money from the Project goes. “I want to be president because I don’t think people really know where the money goes. The money goes back to the students and people who need it,” Marzouca said. “It means something more than just another T-shirt.”last_img read more


first_imgThe Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) sponsored a showing of and panel discussion on the CNN documentary “The Hunting Ground” on Thursday evening in O’Laughlin Auditorium on Saint Mary’s campus.Saint Mary’s College President Carol Ann Mooney introduced the film, which deals with sexual assaults on college campuses including Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame.“The film promotes action and an important message and voices that need to be heard,” Mooney said. “I am very proud that two Saint Mary’s women and a Saint Mary’s father were willing to be featured.”Erin Rice | The Observer In addition to Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, several other schools were also featured in the documentary, including University of Southern California, Harvard, Dartmouth, North Carolina and Yale, among others.Lt. Pat Cottrell, a retired official of Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP), was featured in the documentary to talk about sexual assaults on Notre Dame’s campus specifically.Cottrell said NDSP preferred to keep its crime statistics as low as possible.Cottrell said this problem was magnified as his bosses would say they had empathy for victims of crimes but did not really support them. Additionally, Cottrell said NDSP could not contact any athlete or athletic staff directly, regarding of any accusation, without first going through University officials.Paul Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications for the University, said Cottrell’s assertion was false.“‘The Hunting Ground’ … was wrong in unsupported and inaccurate assertions that the University sought to suppress crime statistics and shield athletes from investigators,” he said in a statement.Rachel Hudak, a former Saint Mary’s student, was featured in the documentary regarding a sexual assault that allegedly happened on Notre Dame’s campus. Hudak said Mooney disregarded her sexual assault complaint in a meeting.Tom Seeberg, father of Lizzy Seeberg, a former Saint Mary’s student who committed suicide after an alleged sexual assault by a Notre Dame football player, spoke on his daughter’s behalf.Seeberg said Lizzy reported the alleged assault the day after it happened and received a threatening text from another football player.Mooney spoke after the film and said students may wonder why she did not agree to be interviewed by CNN for the movie.“I hope you know that student privacy is of the utmost importance,” Mooney said. “You may also be wondering about Rachel’s comment, and I remember our conversation very differently than she does. It is through her pain that she remembers. I am, and was then, very sorry I cannot take her pain away.”Response to the filmFive panelists spoke after the documentary, including Karen Johnson, vice president of Student Affairs at the College, Connie Adams, director of BAVO, Stacy Davis, chair of the Gender and Women’s Studies department, senior Payton Moore and Brian Young, commander of the St. Joseph County Special Victims Unit.Adams said two key areas stand out most to her after watching the documentary. The first area, she said, was the theme of survivors that feel alone.“We as a community can respond in a compassionate way,” Adams said.The second theme in the film is activism, she said.“They are so many ways we can take on this issue,” Adams said. “We can really assume that call to action.”Davis said there was a horrible repetitiveness in the documentary of schools covering up sexual assaults.“My first response was anger,” Davis said. “Then I realized you all have an incredible opportunity because all schools want to get paid and stay open. It was a good thing that [the documentary] shamed schools, so that you [students] are treated fairly.”Reporting sexual assaultJohnson said the number of reported campus assaults depends on where the assault is reported. She said there are between four to six reports of sexual assaults annually that come across her desk in Student Affairs.“If they report at Notre Dame, our office doesn’t get that information,” Johnson said. “It’s really important to know that we work with the Title IX coordinator at Notre Dame, and that’s as far as we can work with them. What we do here is to provide as much support regardless of where they were assaulted. Things can change if we all work together to make that happen.”Adams said it is important to listen to the student’s needs through the healing process.“When we’re talking about violence, we’re talking about taking power away,” Adams said. “The support has to be about getting that power back, and the support we have on campus is to empower the students.”As an alumna of Saint Mary’s, Adams said she has seen growth returning to the campus as the director of BAVO. The office began in the spring of 2010, and it has continued to evolve and grow since then, especially in regards to student activism, she said.Young said he was struck by the lack of compassion on the part of law enforcement in the documentary. He said St. Joseph County SVU will work with a student as soon as an incident is reported to the department.“We work with the victim and want to be considerate to what has happened and certainly compassionate towards what she’s going through,” Young said.Johnson said she also works closely the Title IX coordinator at Notre Dame.“We can’t dictate to Notre Dame what the outcome of a case should be, but we can only support our students. The hard part for all of us is that we are two separate legal entities, and therefore the best I can do is meeting and going through the processes,” she said.The panel concluded without answering all audience questions. Moderator Frances Kominkiwicz said all questions submitted by members of the audience will be answered in a written document on the BAVO webpage and sent out in an email.Tags: BAVO, NDSP, Notre Dame, saint mary’s, The Hunting Ground, Title XIlast_img read more


first_imgShare:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window) Governor Andrew Cuomo presents his fiscal year 2021 Executive Budget in Albany. Photo by Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.ALBANY — A $14.5 billion cut to education is not sitting well with the New York State United Teachers.NYSUT issued a statement blasting the cuts, saying the cuts are aimed at balancing the state budget and could cost students.NYSUT denounced plans to cut funding for school districts and public higher education in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. As public schools, colleges and universities prepare for the start of a new school year, the state’s most recent financial plan includes the withholding of funds in order to balance the budget. In response to a projected $14.5 billion budget shortfall, school districts were notified that any funding tied to a statutory due date will be reduced by at least 20 percent. These cuts could gut programs that students depend on and result in layoffs around the state.“We know that however schools and colleges open this year, it will require many additional expenses. Without funding to cover the massive costs of PPE, barriers, cleaning supplies and more, local school districts and campuses will not be able to meet the goal of safely reopening schools for all,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “Everyone wants our schools and colleges to reopen safely, but it must be done in a way that helps ensure the coronavirus does not spread or infect educators, students or staff.” “The last thing New York should be doing right now is cutting education funding. If the Federal government fails to provide those resources, New York lawmakers need to take action by taxing the ultrawealthy and using rainy day funds and borrowing authorities to provide our schools the resources they need to reopen safely.”last_img read more


first_imgAs winter still chills the bones, spring seed catalogs are warming mailboxeseverywhere. Mixed with offers of amazing azaleas and zippy zinnias are more unusual items:bugs. Good bugs. Earthworms, ladybugs and nematodes. Why buy bugs from a catalog? “People buying predators such as lady beetles are often disappointed,” saidBeverly Sparks, a University of Georgia Extension Service entomologist. “They buy them and release them in their garden area,” she said. “And whenthey go back in 30 minutes the beetles are dispersed.” The problem is not getting these beneficial creatures into your garden. It’sgetting them to stay put. “We recommend that people observe their garden and see if they have theinsects there,” Sparks said. “Then preserve them. Don’t buy them and bring them in.” But the beneficial bug game is a real “Catch-22.” “It’s a trick,” Sparks said. “They’re predators, so insects have to be around orthe beneficial ones will leave.” If you don’t have bad bugs, you probably won’t have good bugs either. If you have sprayed for insects using a lingering insecticide, you will also killyour beneficial insects. Beneficial insects such as lady beetles are easy to spot. Nematodes, on the otherhand, are much harder. “There are plant-parasitic nematodes and insect-parasitic nematodes,” Sparkssaid. “You won’t necessarily see the nematodes themselves but can see evidence ofthem.” If you closely examine bodies of dead insects found in the soil, you may see thetiny parasitic nematodes. “One problem with buying nematodes to use in your garden is that they attackmost soil-dwelling insects whether they’re beneficial bugs or pests,” Sparks said. You can test for an abundance of earthworms by digging through the soil. Youshould find either the worms themselves or the channels they dig. If you have goodsoil, you’ll have earthworms. If you don’t have good soil, earthworms won’t stay evenif you put them there. To keep your natural supply of beneficial insects, remember that they need asupply of pests to feed on. “If they don’t have a ready food supply, lady beetles will fly away,” Sparkssaid. “Nematodes naturally occur in the soil and can’t move great distances as ladybeetles do.” If you have pests in your garden, the area will attract beneficial insectsnaturally. Bringing in the insects when the pests aren’t there for the predators to feedon won’t be much help.last_img read more


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first_imgA construction boom in recent years has added shopping malls, apartments and luxury hotels, some offering spectacular views of the sacred Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque towards which Muslims around the world pray. But most premises have lain empty since the pandemic reached the kingdom.The virus, which hit Mecca hard, has also battered pilgrimage-reliant businesses that support hundreds of thousands of jobs, from travel agents to street barbers and souvenir shops.Many have reported sweeping layoffs, pay cuts or delayed salaries. Vacant religious sites. Abandoned pilgrim tents. Lifeless hotels. A stunning emptiness — and fears of economic ruin — haunt the usually bustling city of Mecca after Saudi authorities curtailed the haj pilgrimage over coronavirus.Islam’s holiest city usually hosts millions of pilgrims for the annual rite, but the kingdom has barred overseas visitors from this year’s event, scheduled for late July.The haj and the lesser umrah pilgrimage together rake in some $12 billion, keeping the economy humming in Mecca, home to two million people and marble-bedecked skyscrapers towering over Islam’s most sacred sites. “Zero sales, zero income,” said Ahmed Attia, a 39-year-old Egyptian who works for a travel agency in the city.”We’re not used to seeing Mecca empty. It feels like a dead city. It’s devastating for Mecca.”A tsunami of cancellations has also battered overseas haj operators who organize travel logistics for pilgrims, many of whom invest their life savings in the five-day ritual.Saudi authorities had already in March suspended the umrah pilgrimage, which can be performed at any time.Then, in a hugely sensitive but long-awaited decision, they said they would only allow around 1,000 pilgrims already present in the kingdom to perform the haj.That is a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million pilgrims who attended last year.”It will be a symbolic event, a photo-op that allows the kingdom to say ‘we didn’t cancel the hajj as many expected’,” said a South Asian official in contact with haj authorities.Saudi Arabia has stressed that the watered-down haj will be open to people of various nationalities.But the selection process for the few spots is expected to be hotly contested, as some Mecca residents expect to be given priority over outsiders.”I have gone to haj before and hopefully this year, with God’s will, I will be among the first pilgrims,” said Marwan Abdulrahman, a Saudi living in Mecca.Many feared the pilgrimage, which packs colossal crowds into small religious sites, could have been a massive source of contagion.The novel coronavirus has hit the kingdom with the highest number of cases in the Gulf — more than 178,000 confirmed infections including 1,511 deaths.But scaling the pilgrimage back will deepen the kingdom’s economic slump, analysts say.The move follows a sharp downturn in oil prices and coronavirus-led losses, which triggered austerity measures including the tripling of a value added tax and cuts to civil servants’ allowances.The haj decision “does compound Saudi Arabia’s economic difficulties”, Richard Robinson, a Middle East analyst at Oxford Analytica, told AFP.On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund warned the kingdom’s GDP will shrink by 6.8 percent this year — its worst performance since the 1980s oil glut.The Saudi Binladen construction group, a bellwether known for vast mega-projects, has missed salary payments for thousands of workers in recent months, according to a source close to the company and employees complaining on social media.The Arabic hashtag “Delays in Binladen salaries” has gained traction as the slowdown impacts the firm behind a series of critical projects, including a $15 billion skyscraper hotel complex that towers over Mecca’s Grand Mosque.The company is seeking to charter a number of private jets to send many of its laid-off South Asian labourers home, according to the source.The company did not respond to a request for comment.The downturn has also disrupted Riyadh’s ambitious plans to build a tourism industry from scratch, a cornerstone of the Vision 2030 reform programme to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil.”The government has singled out tourism as a key area for growth under its diversification strategy, and the loss of haj revenues could set the sector back through lost investment or bankruptcies,” said Robinson.The kingdom began offering tourist visas for the first time last September in moves to open up one of the last frontiers of global tourism.”While Saudis are looking to diversify tourism revenues beyond religious tourism, their efforts still build from the haj,” said Kristin Diwan of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.”Not having it at this time of disruption in oil markets is a blow.”Topics :last_img read more