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The move comes after a 66% increase in newly reported Covid-19 cases in France over the past week. (PA)


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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has insisted Britain “had to act” to impose coronavirus quarantine measures on people coming to the UK from France — and said holidaymakers had gone abroad with their “eyes open”.

The Cabinet minister said there was “no perfect way” to announce changes to travel advice as he revealed that an estimated 160,000 British travellers in France would be affected by the new requirement to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in the UK from Saturday morning.

And he batted away a call for extra financial support for those unable to work from home, saying there had always been a “significant chance of this happening”.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced on Thursday night that six more destinations including France and the Netherlands are being removed from the UK’s safe travel list and will be hit by quarantine measures.

The changes, taking effect from 4am on Saturday, also cover Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos Islands and Aruba.

The move comes after a 66% increase in newly reported Covid-19 cases in France over the past week, and a 52% spike in the weekly incidence rate per 100,000 people. 

Meanwhile the Netherlands has seen what the FCO called a “consistent rise in newly reported cases” over the past four weeks, and a 52% rise in newly reported cases in the past week alone.

Even bigger spikes have been recorded in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Aruba and Malta.

Explaining the move on Friday morning, the Transport Secretary, who had to quarantine himself after a holiday to Spain was cut short, told the Today programme it had “not been the easiest of summers to take holidays abroad”.

He said the Government estimated “about 160,000 holidaymakers in France” would be affected by this.

But he said: “I’m afraid it is one of these summers where no one controls this virus, even less so outside of the United Kingdom. 

“And I suppose we went into it with our eyes open and unfortunately in the case of France, as the French Prime Minister Jean Castex said this week, France is going the wrong way with coronavirus.”

Defending the amount of notice given to holidaymakers, Mr Shapps said the UK had been “hoping” to avoid imposing restrictions on those travelling from France.

“A lot of people will have gone in knowing that there was a significant chance of this happening” – Grant Shapps

But he said the 66% increase in cases in the last week meant “we must act”.

“That information… came out last night, which is why we acted last night.

“And we’ve done it, as we did with Belgium last week, where we did allow until 4am Saturday, and that just provides a little bit of time.

“I appreciate that there is no perfect way to do this. No one wants to be having to live alongside this virus, I’m afraid.”

‘EYES OPEN’

The Transport Secretary was also pressed on calls for the Government to do more to support workers who will now find themselves unable to head in because they are in self-isolation.

Senior Conservative MP David Davis this week said the Government should offer sick-pay style compensation to those affected if Britain shifts its quarantine policy while they are out of the country.

But Mr Shapps said: “I think people this year will have gone away knowing that there was a significant risk. And because of that, people will have gone with their eyes open.”

1597463234 39 Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defends short notice for France quarantine

He added: “A lot of people will have gone in knowing that there was a significant chance of this happening and actually a lot of people I know will have amended their holidays to sort of take account of it, perhaps going a bit earlier, knowing that there was a chance of quarantine or indeed may have already come home or come home during the day today.”

‘BLUNT TOOL’

Responding to the announcement, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “While we support evidence based measures at the border, it’s vital that the Government has a joined-up strategy, and recognises the impact of this on travel-related businesses.

“It is vital that a sector-specific deal is put in place urgently.

 

“That the Government has still not put in place an effective track, trace and isolate system has made matters far worse and made it more likely that we are reliant on the blunt tool of 14-day quarantine.

“The Government should publish all of the scientific evidence its decisions are based on and details of any work being done to reduce the time needed to isolate through increased testing and other measures.”

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael meanwhile said: “It’s right that the Government is taking steps to minimise the risk of COVID-19 by updating the ‘travel corridor’ as the situation overseas evolves.  

“However, the Foreign Office must acknowledge the significant disruption and disappointment this will cause. All impacted customers must have the chance to reschedule or be offered a full refund, and the Government must underwrite these commitments.”

Under the Government’s quarantine policy, which has been criticised by the travel industry, Brits will still be able to travel to the destinations advised against.

But they are not allowed to leave the place they are staying for the first 14 days in which they are back in the UK.

Those who are travelling to the UK for less than two weeks are expected to self-isolate for the duration of their stay.

Fines up to £3,200 can also be imposed on anyone who does not accurately declare contact details of the place they will be staying to UK authorities.

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Nearly 100 whales die in mass stranding in New Zealand

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Some 97 whales and three dolphins died in the stranding, which conservation department staff were alerted to around midday local time on Sunday.

A power outage and the remote location of New Zealand’s most eastern islands, around 500 miles east off the country’s South Island, meant Department of Conservation rangers did not arrive at Waitangi West Beach until 3 p.m., officials said.

“Only 26 of the whales were still alive at this point, the majority of them appearing very weak, and were euthanized due to the rough sea conditions and almost certainty of there being great white sharks in the water which are brought in by a stranding like this,” biodiversity ranger Jemma Welch said in a statement.

Pilot whales — small, toothed whales with a bulging forehead, a short snout and pointed flippers — are sociable creatures, and live in groups of dozens, hundreds or even thousands.

Two more whales were stranded on Monday and also had to be euthanized, the Department of Conservation said, adding that the whales will be left to decompose naturally.

Sri Lanka rescues 100 beached whales after mass stranding

Representatives from the Indigenous Hokotehi Moriori Trust and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi Trust performed a karakii/karakia — a prayer, or incantation — to honor the spirit of the whales on Sunday, the department added.

Mass strandings are common on the Chatham Islands, according to the department, which said that up to 1,000 animals died in a stranding in 1918.

In September, more than 450 pilot whales beached in Tasmania, Australia, in that state’s largest ever beaching. At least a third died during rescue attempts.

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Rubio calls Biden’s national security team ‘polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline’

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In recent days Biden has announced plans to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of State and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — jobs whose occupants require Senate confirmation. The president-elect has also named Jake Sullivan as his national security adviser, a White House role on which the Senate has no say.

Blinken, Thomas-Greenfield and Sullivan join a handful of other high-profile nominees — former Secretary of State John Kerry among them — who have thus far been light on surprises and heavy on experienced hands and veterans of the Obama administration. Biden has not yet announced his pick for Defense secretary, a centerpiece of the national security apparatus, despite widespread speculation that the job would go to Michèle Flournoy.

Rubio ran for president in 2016 and remains one of the GOP’s highest-profile lawmakers. The Florida senator, a child of Cuban immigrants, has been especially vocal on issues related to foreign policy, and his concern about the U.S. relationship with China dovetails with one of the Trump administration’s basic international relations tenets.

Biden has vowed to counter China’s growing influence on the world stage while breaking from President Donald Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign affairs — especially with regard to the United States’ traditional allies, whom Trump at times has alienated and cajoled.

But the president-elect has to walk a fine line with his choices for administration posts that need Senate approval given the razor-thin margins in the chamber and the likelihood that nominees will need to garner Republican support to win confirmation. Some Republican senators have recently indicated a willingness to sign off on Biden’s Cabinet selections — while warning they will sink nominees they believe to be out of the political mainstream — potentially defusing what would be an early standoff in Biden’s presidency.

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The Finance Watchdog Says There’s “Evidence” Neither Ministers Or Businesses Are “Fully Prepared” For Brexit

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak made no mention of Brexit in his economic update


3 min read

The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned there is “evidence” that ministers and businesses are not prepared for “imminent changes” to the economy from Brexit.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has come under fire for failing to mention the potential impact of Brexit on the nation’s finances during the spending review, despite the OBR warning a no-deal outcome was a “material risk”.

The watchdog, which modelled a 11.3% contraction of the economy, said the figures were based on a presumption that ministers would strike a free trade deal with Brussels ahead of the 31 December deadline.

But it said the “unresolved nature” of the talks meant that “other outcomes are possible, including that no agreement is reached and the UK defaults to trading with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms from 1 January 2021.”

The finance watchdog concluded that under that scenario the UK’s GDP would be reduced by a further 2% in 2021, “due to various temporary disruptions to cross-border trade and the knock-on impacts”.

It added: “As these abate, the longer-term effects of lower trade instensity continue to build such that output is 1.5% lower than our central forecast after five years, and 2% lower in the long run…”

The analysis also found that a no-deal scenario would see borrowing likely rise by a further 0.5% of GDP from 2021-22.

And under its worst case scenario, which would also see vaccines failing to control the pandemic, the OBR predicted the additional impacts of a no-deal would lead to national debt reaching 126.3% of GDP by 2025-26.

“The degree of near-term disruption to economic activity associated with defaulting to WTO terms depend in part upon the preparedness of the Government and businesses to manage any additional administrative, regulatory, and customs requirements,” the report said.

“While both have had more time to prepare than when we last considered these issues in our [earlier report], they have also been distracted by the need to deal with the disruption caused by the virus.

“This is likely to have taken up personnel and resources at some businesses that would have otherwise been used to prepare for a no deal Brexit, while also running down cash reserves and inventories making them more vulnerable to shocks,” it went on.

Meanwhile, pointing to work carried out by business groups, the OBR said there was “evidence” that ministers and businesses were still not prepared for Brexit related disruption, even if a deal is signed.

The watchdog added: “We continue to assume that the UK and EU conclude a free-trade agreement (FTA) and that there is a smooth transition to the new trading relationship after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. However, there is evidence that neither the government nor businesses are fully prepared for the imminent changes even if a deal is agreed.”

Hitting out at Mr Sunak’s failure to address Brexit during his economic update, shadow chancellor Anneliesse Dodds, said: “In less than 40 days, we’re due to leave the transition period. Yet the chancellor didn’t even mention that in his speech.

“There’s still no trade deal. So does the chancellor truly believe that his government is prepared and that he’s done enough to help those businesses that will be heavily affected?”

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