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Travel News

Dubai travel: Flights from Nigeria starting August 29, says Emirates - KHLEEJ TIMES

AUGUST 21, 2021

Earlier this month, authorities had announced that UAE residents stranded in six restricted countries could return to the emirates.

Flights from Nigeria are available for booking from August 29, according to Dubai-based carrier Emirates.

Earlier this month, authorities had announced that UAE residents stranded in six countries from where passenger entry was suspended — including Nigeria — could return to the emirates.

However, Emirates later announced that flights to and from Nigeria would remain suspended until August 20.

"Customers who have been to or connected through Nigeria in the last 14 days will not be permitted on any Emirates flights bound for Dubai. Affected flight bookings have been cancelled," the airline had said at the time.

Responding to a social media user on Saturday, a customer service representative stated, "The first flight available from Nigeria is on the 29th of August."

Saudi okays IATA pass for travellers - THE GUARDIAN

AUGUST 21, 2021

By Wole Oyebade


The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has welcomed the decision of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to accept IATA Travel Pass to confirm pre-departure COVID-19 test results for departing and arriving passengers starting from September 30, 2021.

Travellers to/from Saudi will have the choice of using either the IATA Travel Pass or Tawakkalna, the country’s national health app, owned and developed by Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA).

IATA and KSA are working comprehensively to restore international travel conveniently and safely. Saudi Arabian Airlines has been a trial partner in the development of the IATA Travel Pass. And work is progressing with GACA and Tawakkalna for IATA Travel Pass to be a vehicle for pre-arrival clearance for KSA.

IATA Travel Pass will simplify and enhance compliance with health requirements for travellers entering the Kingdom and contribute to the safe restart of the travel and tourism industry, which is an important contributor to the Kingdom’s economy.

Portugal to Ease Restrictions on Size of Groups at Restaurants - BLOOMBERG

AUGUST 21, 2021

(Bloomberg) -- Portugal will ease limits on the size of groups that can be seated at restaurants as it takes the next step in a plan to gradually lift restrictions put in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Restaurants will be able to host groups of as many as eight people indoors and 15 people in outdoor seating from Monday, Presidency Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said at a press conference in Lisbon on Friday. That’s up from existing limits allowing groups of as many as six people indoors and 10 people outdoors. The government is also lifting capacity restrictions on public transport.

Portugal accelerated its Covid-19 inoculation campaign amid a new surge of cases in June, and more than 70% of the population has now completed vaccination, according to the government.

Egypt Promises Prompt Attention To Nigerian Visa Applicants - LEADERSHIP

AUGUST 21, 2021

The Egyptian embassy has promised Nigerian visa applicants to the country prompt treatment of visa applications. This was disclosed by the Arab Republic of Egypt’s ambassador to Nigeria Mr. Sherif Naguib when a delegation of the Nigeria Association of Tour Operators (NATOP) led by the President, Hajia Bilkisu Abdul paid a courtesy visit  to the embassy.

The NATOP President said the visit was to acquaint the embassy with the leadership of the association and also called on the embassy staff to treat visa applicants either on tourist visits or transit with respect and decorum.

However, while welcoming the visitors, the ambassador who was represented by the Deputy Head of Mission (Counsellor), Mr. Tarek Mahfouz thanked the NATOP team for the visit promising that the embassy was ready to collaborate with the association.

Mahfouz said the Arab Republic of Egypt welcomes genuine Nigerian tourist visitors and was ready to promptly treat their authentic document.

He also advised to also go beyond site tours in Egypt and also explore the health tourism potentials of the country.

Vetifly introduces fast, secure travel around Nigeria - THE GUARDIAN

AUGUST 21, 2021

To curb the challenges that come with the end-to-end movement of humans and cargo in Nigeria, Vetifly has launched its on-demand mobility services in Lagos and across the country via helicopters, premium cars, others, in order to save prime travel time.

  
This was conceived to save travellers up to 80 per cent of their typical travel time across the country especially due to the notoriety of Lagos and some other cities in the country for being largely congested with gridlock, such that keeps travellers stuck on the road.

Speaking on the launch, Vetifly’s Country Manager in Nigeria, Abiodun Olawale-Cole, explained that the service showcases how technology can solve the logistics frictions largely associated with populated states. “From trucking to carpooling, to helicopter operations, algorithms can optimise many things, even as we wait for the government to deepen our infrastructural capabilities. So, the idea is to help Nigerians who cannot afford to be stuck in traffic, reclaim their time to move smarter and quicker.”

The services would allow anyone to book up to 90 days into the future, and on an on-demand basis, as well as the option for helicopter seat-sharing, or charter along key routes starting between Ikeja and Victoria Island, with plans to add more routes to cover Lagos, and eventually most cities of the country. Also, Vetifly will provide white-glove services catering to the peculiar needs of corporations.    He added that considering how human life is measured in minutes and seconds; time lost could never be regained, hence the need for vetifly to develop a first-of-its-kind service that enables swift modes of travelling via air, water, and land.

“To efficiently offer these unique services, Vetifly has collaborated with the best operators of helicopters, premium cars, boats, etc. in Nigeria who are licensed by the appropriate regulatory agencies. This service would allow anyone to book a helicopter ride with the option of adding a premium car pickup and drop-off.”    Olawale-Cole further said: “At the core of Vetifly’s ethos is passenger safety and security, as it is required that all operators implement a variety of measures to ensure the security of all passengers. This includes mandatory passenger identification checks at helipads, safety briefings, and protocols. Also, we work with all operators to ensure that they abide by the guidelines laid down by regulators in their domain, including ensuring that operators operate modern, well-equipped helicopters, cars, boats, etc. that are operated and maintained in accordance with all applicable regulatory and Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) requirements.”

Tourism As Private Business Regulated By States, Not Federal Govt - LEADERSHIP

AUGUST 21, 2021

The Nigerian tourism industry in the last few years has been clog and hampered by issues of law, rights of control, regulation and taxing between the tiers of government.  The initial lack of clarity on the constitution vis-à-vis states and federal government administrative organs of tourism led to so many conflicts between these tiers of government.

Industry practitioners were the worst for it as they are forced to engage with both the local, state and the Federal Government for them to operate effectively. Because of this lack of clear cut guidelines and demarcations on the positions of these tiers of government and their roles in the tourism industry, practitioners were forced to navigate through different landmines in order not to truncate their business activities.

In 2017, the case between the Attorney General of the Federation and the Lagos State government at the Supreme Court gave an unequivocal ruling on this. Despite this, the problem of tourism industry and the issue of regulation and taxes are not fully clear.

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The Supreme Court was asked to clarify whether matters pertaining to tourism fall under the exclusive legislative list of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999;

The apex was asked whether the Lagos State House of Assembly and the Lagos State Government can enact and promulgate laws on matters within the exclusive legislative list; whether the Lagos State House of Assembly and the Lagos State government can enact and promulgate laws which directly conflict with the provisions of an existing law of the National Assembly and if it can supersede the National Assembly law.

The Supreme Court delivered its Judgment in support of the Lagos State government stating that   the NTDC Act went beyond its powers as stated in the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution which is to regulate “tourist traffic”. This effectively challenged the constitutionality of the NTDC’s powers to unilaterally regulate and control of hotels and tourism in Nigeria. The court therefore validated the respective laws of Lagos State.

The Chairman, Board of Trustees of Federation of Tourism Associations of Nigerian (FTAN), Chief Samuel Alabi, a lawyer, revisits these challenges on these problems in the tourism industry and gave a clear pathway on the way forward.

Despite this landmark ruling four years ago, tourism is still hampered by the issues of policies and effective control.  There is still no clear cut answer on the best way to move the tourism industry forward.  Operators are still bugged by multiple taxations. The tiers of governments with private sector operators still need  clearly and effectively demarcated boundaries of operation and areas of synergy and cooperation among the tiers of government.  The lack is stifling the growth of tourism in country and even the apex tourism body, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) is not too sure its footing on the issues of statutory responsibilities.

Chief Samuel Alabi believes currently the industry is coming back from death after the fatal blow it was dealt with by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020: “The current state is better than 2020, but worse than 2019. We are all aware of the deadly blow dealt on the sector by COVID-19. We are just getting out of it at a millipede speed. Unfortunately, we still have uncertainties as it relates to strain of the pandemic, the Delta variant. I can tell you that we are gradually coming out of the crisis, but we still have a long way to go.

He tackled the understanding between the roles of the different tiers of government as regards of tourism administration and control in Nigeria.

He said: “Sometimes in 2013, in the heat of a certain level of misunderstanding between the Federal and Lagos State Government, there was some court action that ended up at the Supreme Court in which the apex court made a pronouncement as regards to the issues of regulation and collection of levies and classification of hospitality outfits in the country. The case dragged on until 2017 when the Supreme Court gave a verdict on the case. Let me quickly clarify to you that the Supreme Court’s decision of 2017 only confirmed the constitutional provisions of the 1999 constitution. You know people are quick to make comparison with what is happening in Ghana, the Gambia and some other countries    in the world. But they have forgotten that each country has its own grand norm which is the constitution. It is the constitution of the country that specifies the type of government of the day that would be run.

“For instance, the Gambia and Ghana are unitary governments. They are not operating a federal system of government.

“The remarkable difference between a federal system of government and a unitary system of government is the division of legislative powers. In the federal system of government, some powers would be reserved exclusively with the federal legislative arm, while some items would be left for both levels of government: state assemblies and federal legislative arms to legislate on. However, where there are conflicts, the law of the federal level will prevail over the law of the state.

“Then we have the lists that not stated at all. They are not listed; the constitution is silent. It means that is residual. Those non listed item are meant for states.

“So, in the unitary system of government, there is no such, legislation will come from the centre. All the other provinces will be passing by-laws based on the enabling law at the centre . But in the federal system of government, to extent of its permissible powers granted to that level of government, that level of government can pass a valid law.

“Bringing it home and under the 1999 constitution, there was nowhere the issue of tourism, and let me quickly add the issue of culture was mentioned, because that is future conflict, was mentioned in the exclusive legislative list. It is equally not mentioned under the concurrent legislative list.  Therefore, those two items are residual in nature. They are basically within the power of a state to legislate, regulate on issues, matters and activities relating to those items.

“Therefore in the heat of dual registration campaign the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and the Lagos State ministry tourism, I was the president of FTAN at that time. The NTDC   encouraged the then Attorney General of the Federation to file an action against the Attorney General of Lagos State in respect of concurrent registration of hotels or tourism establishment by the Lagos State government. We all knew then where the case would end because of the stipulation of the constitution. So, quite naturally, in accordance with the tenet of the constitution, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Lagos State by saying the regulation of tourism business is a residual matter and therefore left for states to regulate.

“The Federal Government in the case tried to make allusion to ‘tourist traffic’ because tourist traffic is on the exclusive legislative list, but the court pointed that cannot be tourism. We all know what tourist traffic is. Tourist traffic involves tourist visas, people coming into Nigeria, that is tourist traffic. Therefore, if anybody is coming into Nigeria, Lagos State has no time to contend with the Federal Government that they are going to issue visas. So, that still remains in the ambit of the Federal Government’s control.

“From the day of that judgment, it is now clear that have exclusive right to regulate tourism. May I also add that the issue of taxation was not mentioned there. The Supreme Court did not validate any tax, because what was before the court was power to regulate tourism sector.

“Of course, reading from there, the Lagos State government came up with ingenious laws. They changed it from sales tax to hotels and restaurant consumption tax, changing the sales tax that was meant for all the sectors and limiting it to hotels occupancy and consumption tax law in view of the previous appellate court decision nullifying sales tax.

“So, as we have it now, tourism is a state matter and that was given in the of  Hotel Owners and Managers Association (HOMA) against the Attorney General of the Federation and the Attorney General of the Federation and recently in the case between the Rivers state government and the Attorney General of the Federation where the Federal High Court   clearly stipulated that VAT being an extension of hospitality business tax  cannot be collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).”

While the Supreme Court ruling helped to galvanise the Lagos State government into formulating a road map for tourism development in the state, other states tend to be looking at the Federal Government for direction.  This has not helped the course of tourism as the industry is almost non-existent in most states.

He said: “You see, any time I hear people talking like this, what really comes to my mind is that these people misconstrue hotels as the sole sector of tourism.    Tourism is a site affair. If you remove your mind from the standardization of hotels, you will see that there is no basis that states at their own levels should not grow their products.

“That is a matter of political policies not a matter of law. A right could be given by a father to a son to inherit a particular property; the child may not take over the property. So, you cannot now blame the father    for not doing the right thing.

“Nigerians are making a mistake. The mistake is that we are used to military regime where power devolves from centre down the line. It is not so. This is a civilian administration that is guided by the constitution.

“Education is a typical example of the devolution of power. Ghana, the Gambia and Nigeria all belongs to ECOWAS. The National House of Assembly of Ghana does not control the education of Nigeria. So also Nigerian government, no matter how powerful it might be, it is not controlling that of the Gambia. Yet, we all sit for the same WAEC. That same WAEC is known internationally as of the same standard and of the same body. The level of the lecturers or the competence of the lecturer in the Gambia, or their classrooms may not be like Nigeria, may not be like Sierra Leone, and may not be like Lagos. The fact is that at the end of it all there is a moderation that all of them consented to or willingly make the certificate to be generally acceptable not only in their respective countries, but all over the world.

“What the Federal Government  should do is to convey a meeting where all states will compare notes; where they will have general guideline that could be persuasive on states on how to jump-start, on how to grow tourism business in their respective states. But if anybody thinks somebody will sit in Area Three in Abuja and be controlling tourism in Maiduguri, controlling tourism activities in Sokoto State, controlling tourism activities in Ogun, it cannot work. Tourism is a business of site. It is not a business of online. It is a thing that must be consumed and it best left with the state government.

“The drafters of the 199 constitution didn’t make mistake in not including tourism because they know quite well that one man in Area Three in Abuja, there is no way he can control all the tourism activities in Nigeria.

“I also hinted at the initial stage culture is equally not on exclusive legislative list. I’m sure if HOMA seriously feels that there should not be intervention from the NCAC, sure we are going to win because it is not on the exclusive list. Culture is peculiar to different persons in Nigeria. In fact in some states, culture might be different in like 10 places depending on the ethnicity of those concerned. How can it now be on the exclusive legislative list? How can it now be controlled from the centre? The answer is surely no and it should be treated as such.”

On the current efforts by some states to grow tourism Alabi said: “Let me talk about Lagos State because I operate in Lagos State. I can say that Lagos has justified the return of jurisdiction to them. Just last month of thereabout, the Lagos State Tourism Master-plan was unveiled. So, that is one. Also, a lot of things have been done by the Lagos State government to boost tourism. Whether other states are now copying them is what I don’t know because it is now a state affairs and Lagos State has done a lot to show that tourism is fully developed in Lagos State.”

On the bill by NTDC to correct the lapses of the current NTDC act, the FTAN BoT chairman said: “I read the bill ‘The Nigerian Tourism Development Authority…’ they didn’t call it corporation, and I asked myself, who counseled them to do that, because tourism now, at the Federal level, is now Federal Capital Territory (FCT) affairs.  The Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) should be bold enough to fight the NTDC and join the National Assembly to stop further allocation to the NTDC because the money rightly belongs to FCDA department of tourism. Tourism is no longer federal affairs. It is state or FCDA as we know it.”

Unease As Federal Govt Plans Return Of Toll Gates - LEADERSHIP

AUGUST 21, 2021

In this report, TUNDE OGUNTOLA takes a look at the proposed plan to reopen toll gates, amidst efforts to address the nation’s infrastructure deficit.

The planned reintroduction of tollgates is coming 18 years after the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo dismantled all toll gates on federal roads throughout the country in 2003 over widespread allegations of corruption and exploitation.

Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting a fortnight ago in Abuja, announced that the council had approved the ministry request to reintroduce toll gates on selected dual carriageways across the country.

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Speaking exclusively with LEADERSHIP in Abuja, the immediate past NURTW Lagos State Council Chairman, Alhaji Tajudeen Agbede, said he was optimistic that the return of toll gates would help enhance security on the highway.

Agbede urged the government to leverage the use of technology on tolls collection to ensure transparency and accountability.

The national president, National Freight Hauliers Association, Chief Jackson Malam Bent while speaking with LEADERSHIP in Abuja, said toll gates are used in almost all countries globally.

Bent said if the country must have good road funding outside the nation’s budget must be prioritised.

He said revenue generated from toll gates should be used to maintain roads in the country, to avert potholes. He, however, lamented that corruption killed the tollgate prior to now.

Bent said the return of toll gates would lead to improved security as there will be a more advanced security system via the use of surveillance cameras. He said overweight trucks and lorries would be flagged to alight after weighting the trucks to avert pressure on the roads.

He said the tollgate would also provide areas where drivers can rest and even take their baths. Tired drivers can even lodge there to avert an accident.

“Toll gates must be managed by a credible accountable organisation, as well as an organisation that will directly feel the impact of the success of the system. We are expecting the mandate to do this.

“Corruption led to the closure of the toll gates before now. Money generated from tollgates can help repay our foreign loan and maintain the nation’s road. If we get the mandate to operate, it will be manned in line with global standards.

He added that contractors should not be allowed to operate tollgates.

Also, the former director-general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) Dr Muda Yusuf while speaking with LEADERSHIP corroborated Bent’s statement said the need to generate funds outside budgetary allocations is inevitable.

“The best practice in most parts of the developing world is to create frameworks to generate revenue outside of the normal budgetary allocations for the development of road infrastructure. The tolling proposition is, therefore, a welcome idea,” he said.

Yusuf, who is an economist added that the exemption clause for paramilitary and other organisations should be reviewed as the risk of abuse is high.

 

Is FG Getting It Right On Borrowing To Finance Infrastructure?

Findings clearly show that if given a choice, investors prefer countries whose infrastructure is more developed. Hence, rapid infrastructure development is one of the most basic ways countries can take advantage of economic opportunities.

For instance, the access roads for both Tincan Apapa Port in Lagos, where serious grid traffic is occasioned by too many vehicles competing for road space, with several trucks parked on both sides has stressed the need for Onne Port to be functional to pave way for easy transportation of goods to the north and other parts of the country.

For over two decades a trip through many of the highways, especially for commuters in the southern part of the country, confirms to any commuter that there are no better highways to hell, stressing the need for the rehabilitation of these roads.

To change the narratives as part of efforts to revamp the nation’s economy, President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has from all indications driven the efficiency of the project and embarked on a borrowing plan to augment the budgetary allocation slated for the road project. The borrowing has become vital for the government because when the road is fully completed, it will boost the trade and movement of goods and services smoothly from one place to another.

According to information from the Ministry of Works, the government is changing the narrative in the area of road infrastructure with the construction of 5.4km of Abuja-Keffi expressway and dualisation of Keffi-Akwanga-Lafia-Makurdi Road (Phase I) and construction of Lafia Bypass road, and dualisation of the 9th Mile (Enugu)-Otukpo-Makurdi road project (phase II) which is under construction.

To finance the infrastructure project, it would be recalled that the Senate approved President Buhari’s request for ongoing external loans to the tune of $8,325,526,537 (USD) and €490,000,000 (Euros) under the 2018-2020 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan.

The approval followed the consideration of a report on the 2018-2020 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan by the Committee on Local and Foreign Debt.

In his presentation, the chairman of the Committee, Clifford Ordia, said the panel noted with utmost importance the concerns of Nigerians about the level and sustainability/serviceability of the borrowings in the last decade.

He explained that due to the shortfall in the annual revenues as well as the need for rapid infrastructural and human capital development, “we have had to pass a deficit budget every year, requiring us to borrow to finance the deficit in our budget.”

Ordia noted that out of the total borrowing request of $36,837,281,256 contained in the re-forwarded request of Mr. President, a sum of $26,154,536,533 is for funds proposed to be borrowed from various financial institutions from the Peoples Republic of China.

He continued, “These projects have a great multiplier effect on stimulating economic growth through infrastructure development, job creation, and poverty alleviation, stimulation of commercial and engineering activities and the consequent tax revenues payable to government as a result of these productive activities.”

However, the road project tagged Phase I in Lafia, Nasarawa State, and Makurdi in Benue State. The two cities have a large population and are developing rapidly. In Phase I of the Keffi-Makurdi road project, except the urban section of Lafia road is four lanes, the other sections are two lanes.

During the construction process of Phase I, under the condition of limited financial resources, the basic requirements of improving national trunk roads A234 and A3 will be from two lanes to four lanes.

Recall that since the start of the Phase I Project in 2012, with the rapid growth of the economy, the traffic volume of A3 road is increasing, and the urban population and scale of Lafia are gradually expanding. At that time, the traffic bottlenecks of the Lafia section of A3 road and the imperfect road network of Lafia city were becoming more serious.

The urgency of the construction of the Lafia Circle Road has also attracted increasing attention from the local government council.

Also, during the Phase II Project, professionals studied how to solve the congestion of A3 roads and how to expand the urban road network for the future development of the city.

The necessity to construct the Lafia Circle City Road Section was to improve the national trunk road network in Nigeria and improve the transportation capacity of the main roads.

The North-South direction mainly has ‘four verticals’ constructed by the four vertical trunk roads of A1-A4. The east-west direction is mainly the ‘seven horizontal highways connecting the four vertical trunk highways of A1-A4. The ‘four verticals and seven horizontals’ road network basically covers the major states and major cities in Nigeria. The project is a section of the vertical trunk highway A3 in the Nigerian national trunk highway network and is connected to the national horizontal trunk highways A233 and A344. A3 road starts with Port Harcourt in Rivers State and ends at the vertical national trunk road in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, radiating Abuja horizontally.

Basically, the implementation of the project will directly assume the function of the main roads of transportation in four states which include Nasarawa, Benue, Kogi and Enugu to effectively improve the regional traffic conditions, improve the construction of the national highway network in Nigeria, and enhance the service within the A3 road areas.

Secondly, there is a need to build a transportation corridor for the ‘Golden Strip’ economic zone; construct the national high-grade road network which with the capital city of Abuja as the centre will connect Lagos in the Southwest, Port Harcourt in the South-south region and Kano in the North.

At the moment, the implementation of the project is not only necessary but also very urgent. Also in the planning of the ‘Golden Strip’ economic regional traffic corridor, the Abuja-Lagos section has completed the transformation from two lanes to four lanes, except that the 28km of the Ogbomoso-Atiba section and the 326km of the Lokoja-Ilorin section have not been transformed from two lanes to four lanes.

Abuja and Lagos belong to two central cities in Nigeria. There are currently two main passages between Abuja and Lagos, which are the Lokoja-Ilorin-Lagos and Lokoja-Benin-city-Lagos respectively, both are two-lane highways, with a total capacity of equivalent two-way four-lanes. The Abuja-Kano section currently has the only main passage, and the current road has completed the four-lane renovation and upgrading. Abuja-Port Harcourt also has only one main passage. In addition to the Keffi-Makurdi section, which has been launched, the Enugu-Port Harcourt section has basically completed the four-lane upgrading and reconstruction.

On November 12, 2020, during the 70th Session of the Trans Sahara Road Liaison Committee (TRLC), the minister for Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola led ministers from Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Niger and Chad to visit the construction site of the road project where he told the ministers that the roads are expected to serve 37 regions in Africa and connect 74 urban centers as well as 60 million people across the six countries that are members of the committee. This confirms the role and commitment of the Federal Government since the commencement of the project.

Delta Worsens in Australia, N.Z.; Victoria Expands Lockdown - BLOOMBERG

AUGUST 22, 2021

(Bloomberg) --

Outbreaks of the Covid-19 delta variant became more widespread in New Zealand and the Australian state of New South Wales, while neighboring Victoria expanded its lockdown beyond the city of Melbourne and introduced measures to protect children.

New South Wales recorded 825 new cases on Saturday, the state government said, an almost 30% increase on the 642 cases reported Friday. Another three people died from the virus. Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters that concern remains high in relation to western New South Wales, where the outbreak is spreading into vulnerable indigenous communities.

In New Zealand, a further 21 local cases were recorded, 18 of those were in Auckland and three in Wellington. Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said all cases were genomically linked to the first case reported in Auckland on Tuesday.

The outbreaks are placing unprecedented pressure on the so-called Covid Zero strategy pursued by both Australia and New Zealand since the start of the pandemic. By closing borders and eliminating cases of community transmission leaking into their countries through strict lockdown measures, the nations have avoided the waves of deaths seen in most other countries.

Now, the highly-infectious nature of the delta variant of the coronavirus is starting to make some authorities’ hopes of maintaining their Covid Zero status in the long-term look unfeasible. Focus is instead turning on boosting tardy inoculation rates, said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Victoria, whose state capital Melbourne is in its sixth lockdown, announced 61 cases, according to a tweet from the state’s health department. 

State Premier Daniel Andrews said regional Victoria will enter lockdown from 1 p.m. local time Saturday due to the large number of mystery infections and a surge of new cases and exposures sites outside of metropolitan Melbourne. Curfew restrictions will not apply beyond Melbourne.

“This is not where we wanted to be as a community. It’s not a decision we wanted to make after Victorians have sacrificed so much, but we have no other option,” Andrews said in a statement. “Cases need to be lower and vaccination rates need to be higher.”

Andrews also announced measures to slow the rate of transmission in young people, where the rates of infection continue to rise. All childcare centers across the state will be closed except to children of authorized workers and vulnerable children. Victoria’s public health team also strongly recommended that primary school children wear masks.

The expansion of Victoria’s lockdown follows Sydney’s, which was extended until at least the end of September and with a mandate for masks to be worn outside from Monday -- except when exercising -- in all regions throughout the state.  In New Zealand, where authorities have linked Sydney’s outbreak to 51 local cases, the country’s initial three-day nationwide lockdown was extended until at least Tuesday.

Roaming charges return: how will the dreaded charge affect UK travellers? - THE GUARDIAN UK

AUGUST 22, 2021

If you are planning a winter holiday elsewhere in Europe this year, get ready to pay more to use your mobile phone while away – as roaming charges are about to make a very unwelcome comeback.

Having repeatedly indicated in the run-up to Brexit that they had no intention of reintroducing roaming charges for UK customers heading to mainland Europe, EE and Vodafone have recently announced that customers will start paying to use their phones in the EU from January onwards.

Meanwhile, the rival operators O2 and Three have also told their UK customers that they face new fair usage data restrictions while elsewhere in Europe.

Collectively, the moves have left experts wondering whether this heralds a return to the hefty roaming bills that ruined more than one holiday in the past.

In 2017, mobile networks in EU countries were banned from charging customers extra to use their phones in other member countries. The right to make calls, send texts and, most importantly, use data allowances anywhere in Europe – as if at home – was one of the most popular pieces of European legislation in the UK.

However, the Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU failed to include continued protection against roaming charges, meaning the legislation that prevented the phone companies from applying them no longer applied here. Eight months on, and the first charges have started reappearing. Ofcom, the regulator, told Guardian Money it has no powers to prevent it happening.

Here’s what we know so far.

EE

From next January, many EE customers heading to any one of the 47 countries that EE deems to be in Europe will face a new £2-a-day flat fee, which will allow them access to their UK bundle of calls, data and texts while away.

The charge will initially only be paid by customers who either joined EE as a new customer, or upgraded to a new contract, on or after 7 July 2021. Customers who signed a new two-year contract before that date will be able to carry on as before – in effect, until their deal expires.

EE says that alternatively, customers will be able to sign up for its Roam Abroad add-on, which includes roaming in the EU, for £10 a month, and then they won’t have to pay the £2 daily charge. But if they fail to opt out once home, they will be charged each month.

None of this applies to visitors to Ireland, who will continue to be able to use their call and data allowances as if at home. The company says it has introduced the charges to “support investment into our UK-based customer service and leading UK network”.

Vodafone

It is a very similar story at Vodafone. From 6 January 2022, new and upgrading customers who signed up after 11 August this year will be subject to a new £2 daily charge to roam as at home in its 49 European destinations.

However, its customers can opt to prebuy an eight-day or 15-day Roaming Pass for £8 and £15 respectively, effectively reducing the cost to £1 a day. Vodafone says the £2 daily charge will apply to about 75% of pay monthly plans, with the rest including roaming as standard.

Vodafone is also keeping free roaming to Ireland, subject to the fair usage cap on data, which is 25GB and applies in all destinations.

“Existing customers will not be impacted by these changes while they remain on their current price plan,” a spokesman for Vodafone says.

O2 and Three

Although both firms have said they currently have no plans to introduce the kind of charges seen above, O2 has said it will impose an extra “fair use” charge if customers use more than 25GB of data in a month while abroad. Meanwhile, Three has cut its fair use data limit from 20GB a month to 12GB a month while in Europe, with a £3 charge per extra gigabyte if customers need to use more data.

While most people won’t notice the restriction, those who spend a lot of time on YouTube or streaming sites could easily fall foul of a 12GB limit, although as per government rules, users will receive a warning text when they reach 80% and 100% of their data allowance.

What about the rest?

Presently, you can expect to carry on using your phone as you did before. BT Mobile, Plusnet, Tesco Mobile, iD Mobile, Sky Mobile, giffgaff and Virgin Media have all said recently that there are no plans to reintroduce EU roaming charges. How long that position lasts is anyone’s guess.

In the aftermath of Brexit, mobile users were led to believe there were no immediate plans to bring back roaming charges
Uswitch's Ray Ali

Ray Ali, a mobiles expert at Uswitch.com, says the reintroduction of roaming charges across the board would be a “massive blow” for customers.

“In the aftermath of Brexit, mobile users were led to believe there were no immediate plans to bring back roaming charges. But with both EE and Vodafone announcing the reintroduction of charges for customers travelling in the EU, the house of cards is beginning to fall down.

“It’s unlikely that all providers will make this decision at the same time, though, as some, such as Three, use free roaming as a major selling point for potential customers. Some providers piggyback off other larger networks – so if O2, for example, decides to bring back charges, it could create a domino effect for those operating through their network, such as giffgaff and Tesco Mobile.”

Long-term stays in the EU – you could still be charged

The EU’s “roam like at home” legislation was very much aimed at short stays. To prevent people who live elsewhere in Europe using UK services, most UK providers will only allow customers free roaming for up to six months, and will charge them to make calls and use data if they exceed this limit.

Lots of people who used to regularly return to the UK but have found themselves stuck abroad because of Covid-19 – such as some workers and students – have found roaming charges appearing on their bills this year: up to 25p a minute to make calls and 10p to send texts.

What about the rest of the world?

The charges to make calls and access data in the rest of the world never went away and can be eye-watering – up to £7 for an MB of data, and £3-£5 a minute to make or receive a call. If you are not careful, your mobile bill could set you back more than your flight.

Morocco is a country that often catches out first-time visitors. For example, for Morocco, Virgin Media charges £5 a minute to call the UK, or £1.50 a minute to receive a call. Sending a text is 60p a message, and data is £5 per MB downloaded.

U.K. Covid Testing Companies Face Removal Over Misleading Prices - BLOOMBERG

AUGUST 23, 2021

BY  Sara MarleyBloomberg News


Bloomberg) -- Almost a fifth of companies advertising Covid-19 tests for travelers returning to the U.K. from abroad face removal from the government’s list of providers over misleading prices, the health department said.

Some 82 private travel testing companies will be issued a two-strike warning and could be removed from the government’s website, Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said on Monday in an emailed statement. 

Javid earlier this month asked the U.K.’s competition watchdog to probe testing companies in order to help stamp out any “exploitative behavior” by rogue firms. Monday’s action marks a clamp-down on “cowboy” practices, Javid said. His department said that as part of the ongoing review, “regular spot checks will be introduced from this week to make sure companies are complying with the rules.”

The GOV.UK site will also be updated this week to reflect the true cost of travel tests this week, it said. Fifty-seven companies will be removed from the list because they no longer exist or don’t provide relevant services.

People returning to England from a countries deemed at lower risk must take a Covid-19 test before departure and book a test for day two after arrival. People headed to and from the U.K. by air spent at least 380 million pounds ($520 million) on tests in the first six months of the year, based on a Bloomberg analysis of passenger traffic data from the Civil Aviation Authority and London Heathrow airport.

SEE HOW MUCH YOU GET IF YOU SELL

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