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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Taxpayers face 156m bill for Thomas Cook collapse

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Taxpayers face £156m bill for Thomas Cook collapse Taxpayers will fork out at least £156 million due to the collapse of Thomas Cook, a report by the Whitehall spending watchdog has found. The National Audit Office said the Department for Transport (DfT) has agreed to pay an estimated £83 million towards the total cost of repatriating the travel giant's customers who were not covered by the Atol scheme. Other Government costs include £58 million in redundancy and related payments to Thomas Cook's former employees, and at least £15 million for liquidating the business. The NAO added that "the final cost may not be known for some time", partly due to invoices for repatriation costs still being received. Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Commons' Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said "lessons need to be learnt and future risks understood". She went on: "The repatriation looks set to cost the taxpayer £83 million and there are other costs associated with insolvency of at least £73 million. "Government looks set to foot the bill, with industry off the hook. The resources to cover other airlines going bust is now very limited. New regulations are urgently required." When Thomas Cook collapsed on September 23 last year, the DfT instructed the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to repatriate all 150,000 holidaymakers who were overseas. This included the roughly 83,000 who had not booked a trip with Atol protection, which meant they were not automatically entitled to be flown home free of charge. The DfT is reimbursing the cost of repatriating those passengers. A spokeswoman for the department said: "Due to the unprecedented scale of the operation, other airlines did not have enough capacity to repatriate those abroad. "Without this effort, stranded passengers couldn't be guaranteed a safe journey home, causing stress and disruption to families, which would have had a knock-on effect on the wider economy with so many employees abroad." A total of 746 flights from 54 airports were involved in what was known as Operation Matterhorn. The NAO report warned there could be further costs to taxpayers if another large travel company collapses in the near future. That is because the Government has agreed to stand behind the fund that covers Atol-protected passengers if it runs out of money. The CAA told the NAO that the exposure to the fund of the Thomas Cook repatriation and refunds will be £481 million and "there will be relatively limited resources left" once all costs have been met. In December last year the Government announced plans for new airline insolvency legislation, which would allow carriers to keep their planes flying long enough to repatriate passengers. The collapse of Thomas Cook led to 9,000 jobs being lost, with many ex-workers still unemployed. The Government was accused of not doing enough to help what was the world's oldest travel company. Published: 19/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Murder probe launched after man punched by biker dies

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Murder probe launched after man punched by biker dies A murder probe has been launched after the death of a man who was punched by an off-road biker following a confrontation. Thady Joe Higgins had remonstrated with a man riding anti-socially moments before he was attacked in the Radford area of Coventry on Tuesday night, West Midlands Police said. The 41-year-old, of Bedford, suffered a head injury and was pronounced dead on Wednesday. Mr Higgins had been visiting family before he was assaulted in Links Road between Jubilee Crescent and Telfer Road at around 6.45pm. Paying tribute to him, Mr Higgins's family described him as a "gentle giant" who "didn't have an aggressive bone in his body". Police said a 37-year-old man arrested in connection with the incident has been released without charge. An off-road bike has been seized by the force for forensic examination. Detective Inspector Justin Spanner, said: "Sadly there was nothing that could be done to save Mr Higgins' life and my condolences go out to his family and friends. "We need to find who attacked Mr Higgins and I'd urge anyone with information to contact the police. They can do that anonymously without leaving their name or contact details. "People in the community know who is responsible. I should stress that if we find that anyone is helping him evade capture they will also be arrested for assisting an offender and may well find themselves in prison. "If anyone was in the Jubilee Crescent area of Radford between 6pm and 7pm on Tuesday - especially anyone who filmed the incident or took photos - I would ask them to call us. "Similarly, if anyone has CCTV or dash-cam footage then I'd urge them to get in touch." The force have urged any witnesses to the incident to message them via Live Chat on their website or call 101 quoting log 2824 from March 17. Published: 19/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Queen ready for move to Windsor Castle

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Queen ready for move to Windsor Castle The Queen is leaving London for Windsor Castle on Thursday, as she socially distances herself amid the coronavirus pandemic. She is heading for the sanctuary of her Berkshire home a week earlier than she normally would at this time of year, and is expected to remain there beyond the Easter period. The Queen, 93, carried out official duties the day before her planned departure, but held her weekly audience with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the phone. The monarch had planned to meet Mr Johnson face to face as usual. Her Wednesday audience with the PM will, for the foreseeable future, take place on the phone. The monarch did, however, hold two face-to-face audiences at the Palace. She greeted Captain Angus Essenhigh, who is the new commanding officer of the Royal Navy warship HMS Queen Elizabeth, and his predecessor Commodore Stephen Moorhouse, in her private audience room. There were no handshakes, only bows, as they chatted on separate seats around the fireplace. The Queen also had an audience with Louise Tait, who was relinquishing her appointment as the Scottish communications secretary, the Court Circular - the daily record of official royal engagements - showed. On Thursday, the Queen was meant to be carrying out an away-day of engagements in Cheshire, but the visit to Crewe and Macclesfield was postponed last week. The Queen, who is understood to be in good health, will be based at Windsor with a reduced number of staff. The castle is her favourite home when she is not away during the summer and at Christmas. She will be following appropriate advice from her medical household and the Government. Mr Johnson has called on everyone in the UK, particularly the over-70s, to avoid all non-essential contact and travel as part of unprecedented peacetime measures aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19. The Queen, the nation's longest reigning monarch, will celebrate her 94th birthday next month, and the risk of more severe symptoms from the coronavirus is greater for the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. Buckingham Palace has said public royal events with large numbers of people in the coming months would be cancelled or postponed. The annual Maundy Service, where the Queen hands out Maundy money on the Thursday before Easter, was due to take place at St George's Chapel in Windsor, but has been cancelled. The Buckingham Palace garden parties have also been called off, and investitures will be rescheduled. Princess Beatrice has cancelled her royal wedding reception in the palace gardens in May, but is still planning to wed in a small private ceremony if possible. The Queen is not the only member of the royal family affected by the Government's advice on social distancing. The Prince of Wales is 71 and the Duchess of Cornwall is 72. Other working royals include the Queen's cousins the Duke of Gloucester, 75, the Duke of Kent, 84, and Princess Alexandra, 83. The Duke of Edinburgh, 98, has been spending most of his time at Wood Farm, a cottage on the Sandringham estate. The Princess Royal, who turns 70 in August, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and the Earl of Wessex had engagements planned on Wednesday, including a visit by Anne to Guy's Campus at King's College London. But they appear to have been cancelled or postponed as there was no sign of them in the Court Circular. Published: 19/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Dozens of London underground stations could close due to pandemic

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Dozens of London underground stations could close due to pandemic Dozens of stations on the London Underground network could be closed from Thursday following the outbreak of Covid-19. Up to 40 stations which do not interchange with other lines could be closed, while the Waterloo and City line and Night Tube services will not run from Friday. Buses in the capital will be reduced and people are being urged "not to use public transport for anything other than essential journeys". London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: "People should not be travelling, by any means, unless they really, really have to. Londoners should be avoiding social interaction unless absolutely necessary, and that means they should be avoiding using the transport network unless absolutely necessary. "London will get through these extraordinarily challenging times, and ensuring the capital's critical workers can move around the city will be crucial. "Frontline staff across our health and care service - as well as those ensuring Londoners stay safe and can access food and other essentials - should be commended for their hard work. "We owe it to them to do whatever we can to help them do their jobs effectively. "I'm urging Londoners to only use public transport for essential journeys. Everyone should follow this and the other advice to help keep themselves and each other safe." TfL said it would also be gradually reducing the frequency of services across the network from Monday, "to provide a service for critical workers to get to where they need to - ensuring that remaining services are not overcrowded". London Overground, TfL Rail, the DLR and London Trams will also be running fewer services from next week. Transport Commissioner Mike Brown said: "The advice from Government is clear - people should now only be making journeys that are absolutely essential. We and our staff are doing everything we can to ensure that people who need to make essential journeys can continue to do so." Passengers are being urged to check their journey on the Transport for London site before they travel. Published: 19/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Virus epicentre in China reports to no new covid 19 cases

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Virus epicentre in China reports to no new covid-19 cases China has recorded no new cases of Covid-19 in the virus epicentre Wuhan or in the surrounding Hubei province, officials said. Wuhan had previously reported thousands of new cases of coronavirus infection daily, overwhelming its health care system. The country's health ministry said early on Thursday that results over the past 24 hours showed 34 new cases, all detected in people arriving from abroad. Eight new deaths were reported, all in Wuhan. Of those new cases of infection, 21 were in Beijing, nine in the southern manufacturing centre Guangdong, two in Shanghai and one each in coastal Zhejiang and Heilongjing in the far north-east. China has only just begun loosening strict travel restrictions within the country, but has stepped-up 14-day quarantine regulations on those arriving in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere from overseas, amid expectations of a new influx of students and others returning home. The country has now recorded a total of 80,928 confirmed virus cases with 3,245 deaths. Another 70,420 people have been released from hospital and 7,263 remain in treatment. Earlier, US President Donald Trump invoked the Defence Production Act of 1950 to steer industrial output and overcome shortages of face masks, ventilators and other supplies as hospitals braced for an expected onslaught of cases. The invocation came as Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida announced that he was the first member of Congress to test positive for the virus. Other members of Congress have self-quarantined, but none have reported positive test results. Prior to invoking the emergency measure, Mr Trump insisted that calling Covid-19 the "Chinese virus" would not put Asian Americans at risk of retaliation, despite growing reports they are facing virus-related discrimination. Since coronavirus infections started appearing in the United States in January, Asian Americans have shared stories ranging from minor aggression to blatant attacks from people blaming them for the pandemic, which has killed more than 130 people in the United States. Even before cities began shutting down all restaurants to stop the spread of the virus, Chinese restaurant owners were already experiencing steep declines in business because of racial stigma. Asked why he keeps calling the coronavirus the "Chinese virus" when scientists say the disease does not respect borders and is not caused by ethnicity, President Trump told reporters at the White House that he does not consider it a racist remark. "It's not racist at all," President Trump said, adding that he calls it the "Chinese virus" because he wants to be accurate. He indicated his terminology was a warranted pushback to Chinese officials who have been suggesting the US military might have introduced the virus to Wuhan, the Chinese city where it was first reported in late 2019. "China had tried to say at one point - maybe they stopped now - that it was caused by American soldiers," President Trump said. "That can't happen. It's not going to happen, not as long as I'm president. It comes from China." Beijing has complained, but Trump administration officials continue to link the virus to China. Mr Trump was asked whether using a term like "Chinese virus" puts Asian Americans at risk. "No, not at all. Not at all," he replied. "I think they probably would agree with it 100%. It comes from China." After the news conference, the White House defended the president's language, saying that previous epidemics, such as the Spanish flu and West Nile Virus, were named after geographic locations. They labelled the controversy a "fake media outrage". Meanwhile, the economic fall-out from the crisis continues to grow amid reports that Detroit's Big Three car manufacturers are shutting down their factories across North America, while on Wall Street stocks slumped again and the Dow lost more than 1,300 points. Published: 19/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Emergency coronavirus legislation to be published ahead of school closures

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Emergency coronavirus legislation to be published ahead of school closures Emergency legislation to tackle the coronavirus outbreak will be published in Parliament after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the closure of schools and cancellation of exams. Health Secretary Matt Hancock will table the Emergency Coronavirus Bill setting out measures aimed at slowing the spread and supporting the NHS and workers in the Commons on Thursday. The legislation will be presented as the Army prepares to help out in the crisis and Londoners faced the prospect of greater restrictions, with the capital suffering a faster spread of Covid-19. So far, 104 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK and tens of thousands of people are thought to be infected. Analysis from Edge Health suggested the NHS will face substantial pressures on critical care beds as the outbreak continues. According to their modelling, there will be a shortfall of 2,900 beds in the Midlands at "peak Covid-19 ventilator demand", while the south west has the fewest critical care beds and will need a 600% increase, or 1,900, to meet demand. Schools across the UK were preparing to close to all pupils except those of key workers in a bid to halt the disease's spread. English schools will shut their gates on Friday until further notice, as will nurseries, colleges and childminders. GCSEs and A-levels in both England and Wales will be cancelled - although the Prime Minister said there are plans for students to receive qualifications. In Scotland and Wales, all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday. A decision on whether exams will sit in Scotland has not yet been taken. Schools in Northern Ireland will shut and it is expected pupils will not sit summer exams. Universities have called for clarity on the implications of cancelling exams with Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, saying: "Students should not lose out on the opportunity to go on to university this year because of the challenges posed by the pandemic. "We are committed to working closely with the government, UCAS, examination regulators and school leaders on the practical implications of this and hope there will be clarity on this for students, parents, teachers and university admissions staff as soon as possible." Mr Johnson said measures taken so far were helping to slow the spread of the disease, but he did not rule out tougher measures being enforced down the line. The PM also did not rule out stricter controls being imposed on London ahead of the rest of the nation, with fears of a lockdown being imposed like in other nations. Transport for London (TfL) announced up to 40 Tube stations would be closed on Thursday and a reduced service would run on the rails from Friday. London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned Londoners they should not be travelling unless they "really, really have to", but insisted the network must remain open to aid frontline health workers. Meanwhile, the number of troops in a heightened state of readiness will be doubled to 20,000 while Reserves were to be placed on standby to support public services in a new "Covid support force". The Ministry of Defence was also planning to put 150 military personnel into training to drive oxygen tankers around the country to support the NHS. A number of supermarkets are continuing to limit the number of products customers can buy in stores as they try to battle the huge demand from the Covid-19 outbreak. Panicked shoppers spent an extra £57.3 million on items for "stockpiling" including medicines, handwash and canned food in the first week of March compared to the previous week as pandemic panic set in, reported The Grocer citing data from Nielsen Scantrack. Mr Hancock's emergency legislation will also include plans to hand police powers to arrest and isolate people to protect public health but will be time-limited for two years. Labour is not expected to force a vote on the legislation, allowing it to pass through Parliament swiftly with some MPs in self-isolation and concerns about others gathering in the House. But leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote a list of conditions to the PM which he said would need to be considered to gain public support. Mr Corbyn said the legislation must be renewed by a fresh vote in Parliament every six months in order to prevent too much power being handed to the Government. He also said rent suspension must be introduced, called for the ban on evictions to last six months and for jobs and incomes to receive greater protection. Some hospitals have begun stopping all non-essential visits to patients, while the FTSE 100 continued its downward slump as the financial impact of the crisis failed to cease. The cultural impact also continued, with filming on EastEnders and BBC Studios dramas including Casualty, Doctors, Holby City, Pobol y Cwm and River City was postponed. However, there was a glimmer of hope in a day of bleak developments when the PM hailed a "game-changer" test was "coming down the track." It would test for antibodies to the virus and be able to tell if someone has been infected and recovered, allowing them to return to work. Published: 19/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub

EFL to help out cash strapped clubs

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EFL to help out cash-strapped clubs The EFL has announced a £50million short-term relief package to assist cash-strapped clubs during the coronavirus crisis. Domestic professional football was brought to a halt on Friday in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19, with the sport pencilled in for a return in early April. Few around the game expect the leagues to resume at that point and the EFL has moved to help clubs struggling with the ramifications of that suspension. Finance was key among the topics discussed at Wednesday's EFL board meeting, when a plan to help ease the financial burden was agreed. In a statement, the competition said: "As part of the league's continued contingency planning, the board heard the comments and observations from EFL clubs, before discussing a number of issues including the current financial position and implications, insurance, regulatory matters and broadcasting arrangements. "Discussions centred on financial relief for clubs in the short term and while there is no one single solution, measures are to be put in place to immediately assist with cash flow via a £50million short-term relief package." Such news will be a welcome shot in the arm to teams, with Covid-19 leaving League One and League Two clubs facing a reported £50million black hole. The EFL board continues to review the threat and impact of the pandemic through a dedicated taskforce, but underlined that finishing the season is key. "The primary objective, in order to protect competition integrity, is to deliver a successful conclusion to the 2019-20 season, subject to the overriding priority around health and well-being," the statement read. "Plans continue to be developed on the agreed principle that it is in the best interests of the EFL and clubs to complete the current season at the appropriate time. "The EFL is continuing regular dialogue with the government and relevant health authorities and, as and when more information is known regarding the scale and extent of the coronavirus outbreak in this country, a decision will be taken on the resumption of the league's fixtures. "Conversations will continue with the EFL's counterparts at the FA, the Premier League, the PFA and the LMA to ensure football achieves a joined-up and collaborative approach." As it stands the EFL is due to resume on April 3, but the league has hinted at further suspension by announcing the Leasing.com Trophy final two days later will be postponed. The EFL said of the April 5 clash between Salford and Portsmouth: "Over 50,000 tickets have been sold for the showpiece final, and the EFL does not want to be in a position whereby many thousands of supporters are forced to change their plans at late notice, so the decision has been taken in the best interest of all parties." Published: 19/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Schools across UK to be closed amid coronavirus outbreak

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Schools across UK to be closed amid coronavirus outbreak School closures will be enforced across the UK in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs that schools in England would be closed from Friday until further notice for all pupils, except the children of key workers and the most vulnerable. It came after Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland announced similar measures on Wednesday. The decision was welcomed by teachers' unions who have called for schools to be closed amid staff shortages - with some reported having a third of staff off sick, or self-isolating because of Covid-19. Mr Williamson told MPs he wanted to provide parents, students and staff with the "certainty they need" as he announced the closures. "After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon they will remain closed until further notice," he said. "This will be for all children except to those of key workers and where children who are most vulnerable." Mr Williamson continued: "I know the situation has become increasingly challenging. "I've said before that if the science and the advice changed, such that keeping schools open would no longer be in the best interest of children and teachers, that we would act - we are now at that stage." Schools supporting key workers' children will be expected to remain open during the Easter holidays, while officials are considering who is classed under this category. Staff and pupils may be required to work at or attend schools other than their own. Addressing a Downing Street press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "exams will not take place as planned in May and June" after the school closures were announced. The Welsh government said on Wednesday that all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday at the latest, while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced schools in Scotland will also close by the end of the week. Stormont officials said schools are to close across Northern Ireland from Monday - with the potential to remain that way until summer. Responding to the announcement, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said the country faces a "truly unprecedented and grave situation". He said: "Today's decision is a vote of confidence in how schools have responded so far. Schools can be confident they are doing a good job. "Now, they should also be entitled to expect the necessary support from other organisations with civic responsibilities. "The situation is moving very quickly, and we have more questions than answers at the moment. "Whilst NAHT and its school leader members stand ready to assist with this response, there are many complicated issues to address immediately as a result of the government's announcement today. "This will be our focus in the next few days, to assist our members with this enormous task and to work alongside the DfE to make this work on the ground. "It will not be easy, but the scale of the crisis means that many solutions will have to be tried even though they are less than perfect." Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, welcomed the "clarity" that SATs, GCSE, AS- and A-Level exams will also be cancelled. "This offers some degree of reassurance to teachers, their students and parents," he said. "Now, more than anything else, the Government needs to concentrate on ensuring that children in food poverty are fed properly - these children are not just those on free school meals." Published: 19/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Ryanair have announced the majority of its flights will be suspended from Thursday

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Ryanair have announced the majority of it's flights will be suspended from Thursday Over 80 percent will be grounded Ryanair has announced it may suspend all flights except those providing "essential connectivity", due to the coronavirus. More than four out of five flights will be cancelled between Thursday and March 24. After that period "we expect that most if not all Ryanair Group flights will be grounded", the airline said. An exception will be "a very small number of flights to maintain essential connectivity, mostly between the UK and Ireland". Published: 18/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Schools are to close in Scotland and Wales by the end of the week

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Schools are to close in Scotland and Wales by the end of the week Northern Ireland and England have yet to make a firm decision Schools in Scotland and Wales are to close in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, amid speculation that similar measures could be announced in England. The Welsh government said on Wednesday that all schools will close for an early Easter break by Friday at the latest. Minutes later First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced schools in Scotland will also close by the end of the week. Those announcements came after Boris Johnson told the House of Commons during Prime Minister's Questions that further decisions on school closures were "to be taken imminently". He said: "The House should expect further decisions to be taken imminently on schools and how to make sure we square the circle both of making sure we stop the spread of the disease but also making sure we relieve, as much as we can, pressure on our NHS." Ms Sturgeon said schools have now lost too many staff to continue as normal. She said she wanted to reassure teachers and school staff that the government would work with them as they know what is best for children. The First Minister said the Scottish Government is still working out the finer detail of what this will all mean. Welsh minister for education Kirsty Williams said plans were being made for schools in Wales to be repurposed to help people "involved in the immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak". She said: "I can announce we are bringing forward the Easter break for schools in Wales. Schools across Wales will close for statutory provision of education at the latest on 20 March 2020. "I have been clear up to now that the continuity of education and the wellbeing of our learners has been at the heart of my decision-making. This will always be the case. "From next week, schools will have a new purpose. They will help support those most in need, including people involved in the immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak." Published: 18/03/2020 by Radio NewsHub