Abbott baby formula maker to restart production amid US shortage

( via – – Tue, 17th May 2022) London, Uk – –

Michigan plant had been under investigation for safety concerns and it will take over a month to begin shipping product

The baby formula maker Abbott has reached an agreement with US health regulators to restart production at its largest domestic factory amid a nationwide formula shortage that has left shelves bare and parents scrambling.

Monday’s agreement with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amounts to a legally binding agreement between regulators and the company on steps needed to reopen the plant in Sturgis, Michigan, which had been under investigation for safety concerns.

However, it will be well over a month before any new products ship from the site to help alleviate the situation. After production resumes, Abbott said it will take between six and eight weeks before the formula will begin arriving in stores.

Abbott is one of just four companies that produce roughly 90% of US formula, and its brands account for nearly half that market.

The company didn’t set a timeline to restart production or offer further details about the terms of the deal.

The FDA announced additional steps to ease the supply chain crunch, saying it was was streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to begin shipping more formula into the US.

“The FDA expects that the measures and steps it’s taking with infant formula manufacturers and others will mean more and more supply is on the way or on store shelves moving forward,” FDA commissioner Robert Califf told reporters.

Califf said the US will prioritize companies that can provide the largest shipments and quickly show documentation that their formulas are safe and compatible with US nutrition standards. The policy is structured as a temporary measure lasting six months.

It comes as Joe Biden’s administration faces intense pressure to do more to ease the shortage that has left many parents hunting for formula online or at food banks.

Abbott’s plant came under scrutiny early this year after the FDA began investigating four bacterial infections among infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant. Two of the babies died.

The crunch intensified when, in February, the company halted production and recalled several brands of powdered formula, squeezing supplies that had already been tightened by supply chain disruptions and stockpiling during Covid-19. The shortage has led retailers such as CVS and Walgreens to limit how many containers customers can buy in each visit.

Outrage over the issue has quickly snowballed and handed Republicans a fresh talking point to use against Biden ahead of November’s midterm elections.

After a six-week inspection, FDA investigators published a list of problems at the Abbott factory in March, including lax safety and sanitary standards and a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant.

The Chicago-based company has emphasized that its products have not been directly linked to the bacterial infections in children. Samples of the bacteria found at its plant did not match the strains collected from the babies by federal investigators. The company has repeatedly stated it is ready to resume manufacturing.

Former FDA officials say fixing the type of problems uncovered at Abbott’s plant takes time, and infant formula facilities receive more scrutiny than other food facilities. Companies need to exhaustively clean the facility and equipment, retrain staff, repeatedly test and document there is no contamination.

Pediatricians say baby formulas produced in Canada and Europe are roughly equivalent to those in the US. But traditionally, 98% of the infant formula supply in the US is made domestically. Companies seeking to enter the US face several major hurdles, including rigorous research and manufacturing standards imposed by the FDA.

Steven Davis, a San Diego father, has faced heart-wrenching challenges finding formula for his medical fragile daughter, who was on an Abbott formula but has had to switch with the recall and subsequent shortages in other brands.

Zoie Davis was born 19 months ago with no kidneys, a rare life-threatening condition that requires dialysis and a feeding tube until she weighs enough for a kidney transplant. She’s 4lb shy of that milestone, said Davis, a mortgage lender.

“Her life is dependent on her weight gain,” he said.

Davis said he used an organic brand from overseas until costs and customs hurdles made that too difficult. Friends and strangers from out of state have sent him other brands, but each time she switches it requires more blood tests and monitoring, Davis said.

Despite her challenges, Zoie is walking, talking and “doing pretty good” on other developmental milestones, Davis said.

“She’s a shining light in my life,” he said.

The shortage is weighing particularly on lower-income parents such as Clara Hinton, 30, of Hartford, Connecticut, who has a 10-month-old daughter, Patience, who has an allergy that requires a special formula.

Hinton, who has no car, has been taking the bus to the suburbs, going from town to town, and finally found some of the proper formula at a box store in West Hartford. But she said the store refused to take her food stamps card, and she recently ran out of formula from an already opened can she got from a friend.

“She has no formula,” she said. “I just put her on regular milk. What do I do? Her pediatrician made it clear I’m not supposed to be doing that, but what do I do?”

Tour of The EcoVillage of Ithaca, Could Communal Living Be The Future

Source: Flock Finger Lakes

The EcoVillage at Ithaca was established in 1991 and has become a mature communal village with three neighborhoods developed on 10% of the land with 90% of the land devoted to farmland and natural areas. Given that we're interested in communally living at Flock, we took quite a bit of notes from the EcoVillage, which is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year.

Why Kombucha Makers Spend Millions to Make the Drink Less Boozy

Source: BI

Anywhere from 1% to 3% alcohol by volume naturally occurs in kombucha. That’s because the tea is fermented. But the current law says producers can never go over the legal limit of .5% ABV. Except, controlling the alcohol levels is expensive and complicated. Producers have to redo their recipes, get a distillery license, or pay extra taxes. If they don't, they could risk penalties or get their product pulled from shelves. Could a proposed Act to raise the limit make things easier on producers?

Valneva approved to be UK’s sixth Covid vaccine

( via – – Thur, 14th April 2022) London, Uk – –

Medicines regulator says it is first in world to approve Valneva product

A Covid-19 vaccine developed by Valneva has been given regulatory approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The UK’s independent medicines regulator is the first in the world to approve the Valneva product, MHRA said.

It is the sixth Covid vaccine to be granted an MHRA authorisation.

The approval comes as the number of deaths involving coronavirus registered each week in England and Wales continues to rise, although levels remain well below those reached during previous waves of the virus.

By PA Media

The rise (and fall?) of the Covid testing industry

Source: CNBC

The multi-billion dollar Covid-19 testing industry emerged practically overnight to meet sudden demand for coronavirus tests. But with Covid-19 testing requirements now easing, what does its future look like? —–

The Covid-19 testing industry sprung up almost overnight. There was an overwhelming demand for tests around the world, and entrepreneurs reacted quickly – pouring money into hiring staff, securing supplies and building laboratories.

Together with more established players, testing capacity ballooned and a brand-new industry was born. Qured is one of those newcomers. It was launched in 2017 as a doctor-on-demand service, but in 2020, the company spotted an opportunity it couldn't ignore.

“It was really demand from our patients, which drove our pivot towards Covid testing,” said Alex Templeton, CEO and co-founder of Qured. Initially, Qured focused on helping businesses bring their staff back to work safely, but it was an innovation in rapid self-testing for travel that put Qured on the map.

“We just started thinking about how to validate that it's you who's done it, that you've swabbed correctly. We figured out that a video call was the way to really solve this,” Templeton said.

This innovation resonated with British Airways, and in February 2021 the carrier launched a partnership with Qured. From there, growth exploded, with the company striking deals with American Airlines and Heathrow Airport, as well.

Heathrow Airport drops mandatory face mask rules for passengers

( via – – Wed, 16th Mar 2022) London, Uk – –

The UK's largest airport has dropped mandatory face masks for passengers.

Heathrow Airport no longer requires people to wear them in its terminals, railway stations or office buildings but will continue to recommend they do so.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are the latest airlines to relax their policies on face coverings.

Passengers must still wear them on board flights if the country they're travelling to requires it.

‘Plan B' measures ended in late January, meaning masks were no longer legally required on some public transport and in shops.

However Heathrow, which handles a large number of international flights, had kept the rule that face coverings must be worn, until this week.

Heathrow's chief operating officer, Emma Gilthorpe, said the airport was pleased to move away from mandatory face mask requirements.

She said: “While we still recommend wearing them, we can be confident the investments we've made in Covid-secure measures – some of which aren't always visible – combined with the fantastic protection provided by the vaccine will continue to keep people safe while travelling.”

Heathrow said that if there was a significant rise in infections or a future variant of concern, it would not hesitate to bring the mandate back.

The airport said face coverings would remain available for people who still want to wear them.

Virgin Atlantic said it was also changing its face mask policy from Wednesday, making it a personal choice for customers and crew to wear them on board.

This will only happen on services where international regulations on mask-wearing do not apply.

For now, that means flights between Heathrow and Manchester and destinations in the Caribbean such as Barbados, St Lucia and Antigua.

The airline said customers may be asked to wear a mask when getting on and off planes and at destination airports.

It highlighted that on routes to or from the US, masks would still be required until at least 18 April.

Virgin Atlantic's chief customer and operating officer, Corneel Koster, said its policy would be introduced gradually. He encouraged passengers to respect each other's choices.

From Wednesday, British Airways (BA) customers will only have to wear a face covering on board flights if the destination they're travelling to requires it.

BA's chief operating officer, Jason Mahoney, said the move was “welcome” and “a positive step forward”.

Earlier this month, the airline and tour operator Jet2 relaxed its rules on face coverings for flights to and from England and Northern Ireland. Since Friday, Tui has done the same.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has said he would like to see the end of mandatory face masks by April or May. He added that cabin crew were being consulted.

The aviation industry is hoping that the easing of travel restrictions will lift the curtain on a busy summer, after two years of major disruption due to the pandemic.

From Friday, all travellers will be able to enter the UK without filling in a passenger locator form or taking Covid tests.

Holidaymakers will still need to be aware of, and follow, and rules where they're going.

On Friday Heathrow's chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the recovery of aviation “remains overshadowed by war and Covid uncertainty”.

The airport's passenger numbers last month were still nearly 50% down on pre-pandemic levels.

However the airport is recruiting 12,000 staff to try and cope with demand during the summer peak.

By By Katy Austin

Caretech sibling founders plot bid to take social care group private

( via– Mon, 7th Mar 2022) London, Uk – –

Farouq Sheikh and his brother Haroon are assembling the financing needed to mount a takeover bid for the company they founded in 1993, Sky News learns.

The of Caretech are plotting to make an offer for the social care group that would see it delisted from the London Stock Exchange.

Sky News has learnt that Farouq and Haroon Sheikh, who set up Caretech in 1993, are in talks to secure the financing required to launch a takeover bid for the company.

City sources said the discussions were at an early stage, although Caretech's independent board members are said to have been notified of the co-founders' intentions.

The brothers, who are executive chairman and chief executive respectively, own a minority stake in the business themselves but need to raise hundreds of millions of pounds to make a formal offer.

Caretech provides social care and education services for adults and children, principally on behalf of local authorities, to which it charges fees.

Its specialist hospitals and residential homes look after adults with autism and brain injuries, while it also operates schools and fostering agencies for children.

In December, the company reported underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of more than £100m on revenues that were up by more than 13% to almost £490m.

If the brothers proceed to a formal offer, it would be the latest in a string of “public-to-private” transactions and provide an indication that deal-making activity in the City is not being brought to a halt by market uncertainty caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

One source suggested that a stock exchange announcement was likely to be made by the company confirming the approach on Monday morning.

Caretech had a market capitalisation at Friday's close of £664m, having seen its shares rise by just over 10% during the last 12 months.

The value of a formal offer from the co-founders is unclear, although it is expected to be at a substantial premium to the current price.

Caretech declined to comment.

By Mark Kleinman

McDonald’s pig policy fight escalates with billionaire Carl Icahn board nominations

( via – – Mon, 21st Feb 2022) London, Uk – –

Billionaire Carl Icahn has stepped up his fight with McDonald's over the welfare of pigs used in its food chain.

Mr Icahn, whose no-nonsense reputation for shaking-up companies made him a Wall Street legend, wants to put two people on McDonald's board.

He owns only 200 McDonald's shares but, reportedly spurred on by his animal welfare activist daughter, that gives him leverage to agitate for change.

McDonald's says it has led the way in improving animal welfare standards.

The battle centres on claims about pregnant sows being kept in small crates, a practice Mr Icahn said was “obscene”.

He said McDonald's had not lived up to a promise to phase out the sourcing of pork from pigs housed in so-called gestational crates, a practice targeted by animal rights activists.

Mr Icahn had asked all McDonald's pork suppliers in the US to move to “crate-free pork”, along timeframes he had set.

Now Mr Icahn has proposed that Leslie Samuelrich and Maisie Ganzler stand for election at the 2022 annual meeting, a statement by the fast food giant said.

Activist investors such as Mr Icahn – one of a handful of feared corporate raiders said to have been the model for Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street – normally focus on companies they believe need restructuring.

But he told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that he was moved to do something at McDonald's by his daughter, an animal lover who has worked for the Humane Society.

McDonald's pledged to stop ordering pork from suppliers putting pregnant pigs in crates back in 2012. The firm said it had “led the industry” since then and about a third of US pork suppliers have moved to group housing systems.

It said it expected to source 85% to 90% of its pork from these suppliers by the year's end. All of the pork it buys will come from these suppliers by 2024.

McDonald's said in a statement on Sunday that it would continue to work with the industry to improve standards, but that some of Mr Icahn's demand were unreasonable.

The chain also noted that Mr Icahn was the majority owner of Viskase, which makes and supplies packaging for the pork and poultry industry.

It added that he had “not publicly called” on Viskase to make similar commitments. Mr Icahn did not immediately respond to a BBC request for comment.

As the founder and controlling shareholder of Icahn Enterprises, Mr Icahn has a net worth of $16.8bn (£12.3bn), according to Forbes.

He previously spent several months advising former US President Donald Trump on regulatory reform, before stepping down amid controversy.

However, he is unlikely to succeed with the nominations, observers said.

“Mr Icahn's profile means McDonald's feels a need to respond even though his stake is so small,” Mak Yuen Teen, a professor at NUS Business School in Singapore, told the BBC.

“It does seem that McDonald's has been rather slow in fulfilling this particular commitment made 10 years ago. It's only now that it's accelerating the fulfilment when activists are publicly highlighting it.”

McDonald's said it sourced only approximately 1% of US pork production, and that it did not own any sows, or produce or package pork in the country.

It said the board would evaluate Mr Icahn's nominees “as it would any other candidates”.

UK GP practice takeover by healthcare giant Centene lands in high court

( via – – Tue, 1st Feb 2022) London, Uk – –

Judicial review hearing could overturn Centene takeover branded by opponents as ‘NHS privatisation by stealth’

A dispute over the takeover of one of the UK’s biggest GP practice operators by the US healthcare giant Centene Corporation reached the high court today, in a case which could overturn approval for a deal condemned by campaigners as “privatisation by stealth” of the NHS.

The request for a judicial review, which will be heard in the high court in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, was crowdfunded by a coalition of NHS campaign groups and the Unite union. It is being brought by Anjna Khurana, an NHS Patient and Islington councillor. She claims she is one of 375,000 patients across London who were only informed of the takeover of their GP surgeries after the event.

Health campaign groups Keep Our NHS Public, 999 Call for the NHS and We Own It have joined Unite in bringing the case. Two crowdfunding campaigns by Khurana have raised more than £77,000 from the public.

A year ago, Operose Health, a UK subsidiary of Centene, acquired the privately owned AT Medics, which was set up in 2004 by six NHS GPs and ran 37 GP practices across 49 sites in London. The merger created the largest private supplier of GP services in the UK.

The group now serves 570,000 patients across 67 practices, and employs 1,500 healthcare professionals, including 350 GPs. Alongside GP practices, Centene’s UK interests include Circle Health Group, , one of Britain’s biggest private hospital operators.

A coalition of doctors, campaigners and academics has voiced concerns in a letter sent last year to the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, describing the takeover as “an example of the privatisation of the NHS by stealth”, and asking him to order an investigation by the Care Quality Commission.

They claimed at the time the change of control was approved for eight practices in the London boroughs of Camden, Islington and Haringey in a virtual meeting on 17 December that lasted less than nine minutes, during which no mention was made of Centene and not a single question was asked.

Approval was granted by the North Central London clinical commissioning group (NCL CCG), a local NHS body that purchases health services from GPs, hospitals and others using taxpayer funds.

The judicial review will focus on the lack of consultation of patients, and will ask the court to squash the decision by NCL CCG. Since the news broke, hundreds of patients, councillors and members of the public have written letters and protested outside surgeries.

Khurana said: “Like everyone else, I want to feel I can rely on my GP to be on my side. That is what we get with the NHS. But without my knowledge, my surgery has been sold to a giant American healthcare company, one with a very poor reputation. How can that be right? I needed to stand up and make my voice heard. So many people have been in touch to let me know they support me that I know I am not alone. We cannot allow this stealth privatisation of the NHS to carry on.”

The court will rule whether, in making their decision, the NHS Commissioners acted unlawfully in three respects: misdirection – they failed to consider all the implications of the takeover because they assumed they had no choice but to accept and approve the proposal; lack of due diligence – they failed to give due consideration to the risk to patients, if the GP contracts they agreed to transfer to Operose Health turned out not to meet its parent company Centene’s profitability targets; and lack of consultation/involvement of patients.

Dr Louise Irvine, a London GP and member of Keep Our NHS Public, said: Of course patients are worried. When a large American corporation like Centene takes over this many GP practices we have to question their motive. It’s a deeply worrying situation and I am delighted that the high court has seen the important public interest in this case.”

Doctors in Unite supported a protest outside the high court at the Royal Courts of Justice, with more protests planned on Wednesday.

The Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “This is a landmark case in the fight against the accelerating pace of privatisation of the NHS in England. Unite, with 100,000 members in the health service, fully supports the judicial review. We will not allow our GP services to be hived off to profit-hungry American private healthcare companies.”

An Operose Health spokesperson said: “It is not appropriate for us to comment as the judicial review is between an individual and the North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group over issues of process.”

By Julia Kollewe

Sainsbury’s asks shoppers and staff to keep wearing masks

( via – – Wed, 26th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Sainsbury's has said it will continue asking customers and staff in England to wear masks in its shops when Plan B rules end on Thursday.

The supermarket chain said safety remained its “highest priority”.

The legal requirement for face coverings in public places and Covid passports will be dropped after infections peaked nationally.

The government has advised people to still wear masks in enclosed or crowded spaces and when meeting strangers.

The BBC has contacted other big supermarkets to ask if they also plan to keep the policy.

Morrisons said it would continue to follow the latest government guidance, so will not take the same stance as Sainsbury's.

In a statement to the BBC, Sainsbury's said it would ask customers and staff in England to “continue to wear a face covering in our stores if they are able to”.

“In Scotland and Wales face coverings remain mandatory for those who can wear them in our stores, in line with the latest government restrictions,” the supermarket added.

“We continue to have a range of safety measures in all of our stores, including screens and sanitising stations.”

When the previous mask-wearing mandate ended in July last year, Sainsbury's and its rival Tesco both asked shoppers to continue wearing face coverings.

At the time, Sainsbury's said its strategy reflected feedback from customers and colleagues, the majority of whom supported keeping the policy in place.

When the government re-imposed a mask mandate in November to battle Omicron, unions warned that shop workers had no power to make customers wear them.

Those who tried were also sometimes subject to abuse, with the shop workers' union Usdaw warning that it attracted “so much aggression” from a minority of customers.

Why use a face covering?

Scientific evidence has suggested coronavirus transmission mainly happens indoors where people are closer together.

Covering the nose and mouth can help reduce the spread of virus droplets from coughs, sneezes and while speaking.

The main purpose is to protect others although there is some evidence masks offer protection to wearers.

Unilever shares fall as it defends £50bn takeover approach for healthcare arm GlaxoSmithKline

( via– Mon, 17th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

The company behind products such as Marmite and Dove soap has been refocusing its strategy but investors seem unimpressed at its spurned attempts to buy a stable of consumer healthcare brands from the drugs firm.

Shares in consumer goods giant Unilever have fallen after it defended its £50bn takeover approach for the consumer healthcare arm of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), describing the business as a “strong strategic fit”.

The group, whose products range from Domestos bleach and Dove soap to Marmite and Hellman's mayonnaise, said the GSK deal would help it beef up its presence in key sectors as it seeks to refocus on stronger growth areas.

GSK disclosed over the weekend that it had spurned a series of offers from Unilever towards the end of last year for the arm of its business that includes Aquafresh toothpaste and Panadol painkillers.

It said the offers “fundamentally undervalued” the business – in which US drugs giant Pfizer holds a 32% stake – and its prospects.

But reports suggest Unilever could try to sweeten the deal and in a statement to investors it showed little sign that its enthusiasm for the takeover had waned.Advertisement

It said a deal would add GSK's brands in oral care and vitamins, minerals and supplements to its own presence in those sectors and “create scale and a growth platform for the combined portfolio in the US, China and India, with further opportunities in other emerging markets”.

Investors were unimpressed, sending Unilever's shares 6% lower in early trading on Monday, while GSK added 5%.

Victoria Scholar, head of investment at Interactive Investor, said: “It looks as though a deal is very much still on the cards despite GSK rejecting three offers including the latest £50bn approach.

“Unilever will have to raise its bid to somewhere around £55bn and move fast in order to avoid a bidding war from rival private equity buyers who are likely to be eyeing up counter offers.”

Unilever has been targeting a refocused strategy after a corporate makeover which ended its Anglo-Dutch dual structure in 2020, making it a single London-based group, Unilever plc.

That concluded that it should expand its presence in health, beauty and hygiene, which offer higher rates of growth, while spinning off lower growth businesses.

It has already agreed deals to sell its tea business, including PG Tips and Brooke Bond, and its spreads brands including Flora.

In its update on the GSK approach, Unilever said that it was preparing to announce “a major initiative to enhance our performance” later this month.

“After a comprehensive review of our organisation structure, we intend to move away from our existing matrix to an operating model that will drive greater agility, improve category focus, and strengthen agility,” the company said.

The takeover offer comes amid plans for a spin-off of GSK's consumer healthcare business, chaired by former Tesco boss Sir Dave Lewis, later this year.

That would see the division, which notched up more than £10bn in sales in 2020, listed as a separate company on the London stock exchange.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

Ovo Energy expected to axe 1,700 employees a quarter of its workforce

( via – – Thur, 13th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Ovo Energy, the UK gas and electricity provider, has told staff it plans to cut a quarter of its workforce.

The firm is expected to axe 1,700 employees from a total 6,200 workers.

The cuts, first reported by Sky News, are understood to be linked to its acquisition of SSE three years ago and the integration of the firm into Ovo.

It is understood the cuts will be made through voluntary redundancy. Ovo has also told staff it will raise minimum pay across the firm to £12 an hour.

Unite, the union, said it had warned in 2020 about Ovo's takeover of SSE's retail business and the possible impact on jobs.

On Thursday, Unite's general secretary Sharon Graham said: “We will do everything in our power to defend our members' jobs.

“We will not sit by and watch our members being made to pay the price of the pandemic.”

The job cuts come just days after Ovo was forced to apologise for telling customers to cuddle their pets to keep warm.

Ovo Energy's chief executive Stephen Fitzpatrick blamed a “bad day” for “ridiculous” advice to customers on how to stay warm amid soaring energy bills.

The cuts are understood to relate to the SSE deal.

However, the energy sector has been struggling with higher wholesale gas prices since last September and the UK's price cap for households means firms have been unable to pass on the rising costs to retail customers.

It has led to more than 20 smaller energy businesses going bust.

Regardless of the cap, households are set to see a significant rise in energy costs this year when the regulator Ofgem reviews the ceiling on gas and electricity bills.

Mr Fitzpatrick has been lobbying the government to help reduce a rise in bills which would come into force in April. He has said that the rise in wholesale gas prices and its impact on people will be “an enormous crisis for 2022”.

On Wednesday, however, his company Ovo offered slightly more controversial guidance on how to cut bills to SSE Energy customers – suggesting they do “a few star jumps” or hug a pet “to stay cosy”.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he was sorry and was “really embarrassed” by the “ridiculous” advice emailed to customers on “simple and cost-effective ways to keep warm this winter”.

“We're a large company and somebody had a bad day,” he said.

The guidance has since been removed from the website.

Pre-departure testing to be scrapped for travellers returning to the UK

( via– Wed, 5th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Airlines UK and Manchester Airports Group say current restrictions come at a huge cost to the travel industry and are holding back its recovery.

Pre-departure testing will no longer be required for travellers returning to the UK, the government is expected to announce later.

Sky News understands that the review of travel restrictions today will result in the removal of the restriction put in place a month ago to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant.

Recent figures showed one in 25 people in England had COVID-19 just before Christmas.

Currently, fully vaccinated travellers into the UK must take a pre-departure test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival test.

Those who are not fully vaccinated must self-isolate for 10 days after they arrive.

Last month, the government removed all 11 countries on its travel “red list”, partly reversing the tightening of restrictions in order to contain the spread of Omicron from abroad.

Airlines UK said at the time that costly testing and isolation measures imposed on travellers ought to be removed too for the same reason and has now reiterated that plea.

The trade body and MAG – which operates Manchester, London Stanstead and East Midlands airports – cited research they had commissioned from consultancy Oxera and analytics firm Edge Health to make the latest call.

They said the research showed the removal of all testing requirements on international travel this month would not impact the spread of Omicron in the UK.

It also found that the introduction of pre-departure and day two PCR testing in late November and early December respectively had little impact on the spread of Omicron in the UK, compared to a scenario where the policy of a single day two antigen test remained the same.

The companies said the tightening of travel restrictions hurt the sector last month, with MAG estimating a 30% hit to its recovery in passenger numbers.

They said separate research commissioned by Oxera at the time showed that extra testing in response to Omicron reduced the UK aviation sector's contribution to the economy by £60m a week.

MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish and Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said in a joint statement that the health secretary had already acknowledged that the value of any form of restrictions was significantly reduced once Omicron became dominant.

“This latest research by Oxera and Edge Health clearly supports the position that travel testing requirements can be removed in full without impacting overall case rates and hospitalisations in the UK,” they said.

“It should give the UK government confidence to press ahead with the immediate removal of these emergency restrictions, giving people back the freedom to travel internationally to see loved ones, explore new places and generate new business opportunities.

“Travel restrictions come at huge cost to the travel industry, and to the UK economy as a whole, placing jobs at risk and holding back the recovery of one of our most important sectors.

“It is therefore vital they do not remain in place a day longer than is necessary.”

Fears over the Omicron variant and tighter restrictions imposed before Christmas have already been revealed to have had an impact on demand for Tui and Ryanair.

But hopes that conditions will ease – in the light of suggestions that Omicron will be cause less serious illness than other variants – have in recent days created a more optimistic outlook for the aviation sector.

Shares in British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG) and other airlines rose sharply on Tuesday helping London stock indices enjoy a strong bounce on the first day of new year trading.

Work-from-home guidance reintroduced in England

( via – – Mon, 13th Dec 2021) London, Uk – –

People in England should now work from home if they can, as part of the government's Plan B guidance to curb the spread of Omicron.

The change brings England in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But some businesses in city centres fear the move means they will lose customers in the run up to Christmas.

Rules on face masks have already been tightened, and Covid passes will be required to get into nightclubs and other large venues from Wednesday.

Despite the new rules, Boris Johnson said on Sunday the UK faced an “Omicron emergency”, with a “tidal wave” of the new variant coming.

In a televised address, he said boosters would be offered to everyone over 18 in England from this week, with the aim of giving a jab to everyone who wants one by the end of the month.

Extra measures – known as Plan B – were announced last week amid growing concern over Omicron, which is spreading rapidly and is expected to become the dominant variant in the UK this week.

MPs are expected to vote on the new measures on Tuesday.

One of the three votes will be on Covid passes, and could be opposed by about 60 Tory MPs. However, all three votes are expected to pass as Labour is backing the government.

It comes after a tough fortnight for Boris Johnson, who faced questions about several Christmas parties reportedly held by Downing Street last Christmas, despite Covid rules banning them. An inquiry has been launched into four alleged gatherings, including one in the Department for Education.

Analysis by: Caroline Davies

Today's change of advice will frustrate some companies keen to keep their staff in the offices and many city centre businesses may also despair that they will lose customers in the build up to Christmas.

With hospitality still open, many restaurants, bars and pubs will hope that they can still persuade the public to make the trip to town.

Other companies will find the change less jarring, returning to at home ways of working that are already tried and tested; many workers were not back full time in the office anyway.

The question that's likely to be in many people's minds as they commute the few paces to their laptop today will be how long will they be working from home this time.

Just under 36% of staff in Britain did some work from home in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics.

By the last week of November, many people were yet to go back to the office full-time – but seven in 10 travelled to work at least once.

The Treasury said it was acting early to control the spread of the virus while avoiding unduly damaging economic and and social restrictions – and that measures like business rates relief would help companies into next year.

But British Chambers of Commerce director Shevaun Haviland has warned that retail and hospitality businesses, which she says are the most exposed to the new measures, are not being sufficiently supported by the government.

Ms Haviland has written to the chancellor to request a return to charging a reduced 5% rate of VAT for hospitality and tourism businesses, 100% business rates relief for the retail sector, and grant funding to help the hardest hit firms.

And Sir John Timpson, chairman of the shoe repair and key-cutting chain, also warned the survival of city centre businesses was being threatened by the government's work-from-home guidance.

Sir John told the BBC the arrival of Omicron had already led to a 5% drop in business over the last couple of weeks, and said that could easily turn into a 10% fall by the new year, when people would normally return to work after a Christmas break, but may now stay at home.

“Once we get beyond Christmas, you're going to find that city centre businesses go back to where they were at the beginning of the Covid problem in March 2020,” he said.

Rebooking and refund policies updated by travel firms after tightening restrictions

( via– Mon, 29th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

From Tuesday all arrivals into Britain will have to take costly day two PCR tests and remain self-isolating until they receive a negative result.

EasyJet and TUI have updated their policies on rebooking flights and holidays after travel rules were changed to prevent the spread of the Omicron COVID variant.

From 4am on Tuesday all arrivals into the UK will have to take a costly PCR test on day two – with the cheaper lateral flow tests no longer valid – and self-isolate until they receive a negative test result.

The Scottish and Welsh governments have called for the rules to be tightened further.

Easyjet said its policies on allowing customers to change flight plans had been extended from the end of this year into 2022.

It will mean that until 31 March, bookings can be changed for free up to two hours before departure.

A separate “travel restriction protection” policy allowing a refund where a holiday is affected by a lockdown travel ban or hotel quarantine is being extended to the end of December 2022.

Meanwhile customers with package trips booked through its easyJet holidays business have until midnight on Tuesday to cancel online for credit if they wish so they can make an immediate rebooking “to give customers greater flexibility about their travel plans given the uncertainty”.

TUI said that any customers due to travel up to and including 19 December could amend their holiday free of charge but said it was not able to offer refund credit notes.

A spokesperson for British Airways said its “book with confidence” policy, available since the start of the pandemic and allowing fee-free changes to flights up to the end of August, continued to apply.

Passengers whose flights are cancelled are entitled to full refunds.

A spokesperson for Thomas Cook said it was “working with customers due to travel in the coming weeks to understand what they'd like to do”.

“Many are keen to go ahead and will do the PCR tests on return, others are looking to move the holiday further out,” the spokesperson added.

Thomas Cook passengers booked to go to Switzerland – which is imposing a 10-day quarantine on UK visitors effectively wiping out many breaks – will be offered a full refund or switch to a later date.

The introduction of the compulsory PCR tests has been described as a “huge blow” to the travel industry as it struggles to get back on its feet after more than a year and a half of restrictions.

Matthew Fell, the CBI's chief policy director, said: “For sectors like international travel, which have operated under the longest restrictions, the reintroduction of PCR testing will come as a blow just as bookings return.

“If further restrictions are needed, limiting firms' ability to trade their way to recovery, government will need to consider further support.”

Stock markets across the world fall sharply after discovery of new Covid variant

( via – – Fri, 26th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Stock markets across the world have fallen sharply after the discovery of a new Covid variant raised fears over the economic recovery.

US stock markets opened lower after big falls in Europe, with London's FTSE 100 share index down nearly 3% and similar moves seen in Germany and France.

Shares in airlines and travel firms were among the hardest hit.

The UK and other nations have introduced a ban on flights from six southern African countries.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said scientists were “deeply concerned” about the new Covid strain and its potential to evade immunity.

The UK has temporarily banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini starting from midday on Friday until 04:00 on Sunday.

All six counties are being added to the UK's travel red list. It means that any British or Irish resident arriving from the countries after 04:00 on Sunday will have to quarantine in a hotel, with those returning before that being asked to isolate at home.

The FTSE 100 index is trading sharply lower, with British Airways-owner IAG leading the fallers as its share price tumbled by 14%. Rolls-Royce, which makes engines for planes. also saw its shares drop, down more than 10%.

EasyJet was one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 250 index, with its shares down 10%, as was Whizz Air. Travel firms such as cruise operator Carnival and Tui also recorded sharp declines.

“Fear has gripped the financial markets with the travel industry flying into another violent storm,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“With Europe still battling with the surge of a fourth wave of the virus, there are now fears that the highly mutated Covid strain discovered in states in Southern Africa will prompt fresh shutdowns around the world in an attempt to stop its spread, leading to another drag on recovery.”

In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened down 2.2% while the technology-heavy Nasdaq dropped by 2.5%. The S&P 500 index was 1.5% lower.

Despite the fall in the FTSE 100 on Friday, the index is still trading nearly 12% higher than it was a year ago.

A number of other countries – such as Germany, Italy and Israel – have banned flights from the six southern African nations.

Both Germany and France's leading stock market indexes fell by more than 3% on Friday.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that other EU nations should also “activate the emergency brake” to stop travel from these countries.

Overnight stock markets in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia also fell as did indexes in India and South Korea.

Oil prices also declined on fears the new Covid strain could lead to restrictions and dampen demand. Brent crude extended earlier declines to fall by 5.86% to $77.43 a barrel by early afternoon.

“The drop in the oil price is the market's way of saying it is worried about a reduction in economic activity,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

In London, shares in oil giant BP dropped by 6.2%% while rival Shell also saw its share price fall by more than 4.6%.

But Mr Mould added: “The flipside of falling commodity prices is that a weaker oil price should provide some relief in terms of inflationary pressures.

“That may cause central banks to be more cautious towards raising rates in the near-term, however it does depend on whether the new Covid strain causes significant disruption or can be contained as best as possible in a rapid manner.”

Mr Javid said more needed to be learned about the new Covid variant. Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana so far.

However, he said the variant had a significant number of mutations, “perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant”.

He said that adding the six countries to the red list was about “being cautious and taking action and trying to protect, as best we can, our borders”.

BA said: “We'll be contacting affected customers with information about their flight.”

It added it was advising passengers to monitor the latest travel advice with the UK government and on the BA website.

Virgin Atlantic said its flights from Johannesburg to London Heathrow would be cancelled between midday on Friday to early on Sunday morning.

“We're currently reviewing our schedule of South Africa operations for the coming week,” it added.

The carrier said any customers booked to travel to or from South Africa with Virgin Atlantic should check on the company's website. If they have booked through third parties or agents, they should get in touch with them.

Ryanair boss warns of passengers delaying bookings over growing pandemic worries

( via– Wed, 24th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Michael O'Leary spoke of his fears that passengers would delay bookings because of worries about growing pandemic restrictions in many countries across Europe.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary has warned of a “fraught period” ahead for airline bookings in Europe as a resurgence in coronavirus cases in many countries threatens consumer confidence.

Michael O'Leary told an online event he feared would-be travellers delaying bookings for breaks next summer too given the growth in COVID-19 restrictions over the past week on the continent.

He made his remarks just three weeks after reporting a strong recovery in bookings for Ryanair – Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers.

The no-frills carrier reported its first quarterly profit since the final three months of 2019 over the three months to September as a relaxation of travel curbs prompted sun-seekers and families to chance their arms.

Mr O'Leary said then that he expected a “tough” winter ahead despite low pricing due to the fact there was little visibility on demand and costs were rising as fuel bills shot up.

On Tuesday, he rued the return of pandemic-related complications that have seen a return to restrictions in various countries and even lockdown conditions in Austria.

“Up until last weekend, things were going great”, he told the contributors. “Volumes were back running at about 100% of our pre-COVID price volumes.

By James Sillars

Holidaymakers urged to use £132m worth of unspent vouchers

( via – – Mon, 22nd Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Holidaymakers are being urged to use £132m worth of unspent vouchers issued during the pandemic before they lose financial protection.

The credit notes were offered by travel firms as alternatives to cash refunds when holidays had to be cancelled.

The vouchers, backed by the Atol insurance scheme, can be used towards new holidays or exchanged for cash.

But the regulator said the refund protection against firms going bust will end on 30 September 2022.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also said travel firms would not longer be able to issue the Atol-protected cover after 20 December. The refund credit notes (RCNs) were issued from March last year, the month of the first UK coronavirus lockdown.

Michael Budge, head of Atol, which is run by the CAA, said: “With over £130m of Atol refund credit notes yet to be redeemed, and international travel opening up again, we want to remind consumers to redeem any unused credits to make sure they do not lose out.”

He said RCNs were a fantastic tool to reassure consumers and support the industry.

Many travel firms faced ruin if they were forced to hand back huge refunds in cash after large swathes of the industry closed down. But travellers were outraged at being offered credit notes instead of cash refunds, fearing that if firms went bust they would lose money.

In July 2020, the CAA decided to cover credit notes under the Atol scheme, and £131.7m of them remain unspent.

“The decision to end the scheme reflects the changing of international travel restrictions with significantly increased demand from consumers over recent months due to the opening up of more destinations.” Mr Budge said.

Under the Atol scheme, if a firm goes out of business holiday costs will be refunded. If it happens when travellers are abroad they will be able to finish their holidays and fly home.

All tour operators selling package holidays by air must hold an Atol licence.

AstraZeneca to take profits from Covid vaccine

( via – – Fri, 12th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

AstraZeneca has started to move away from providing its Covid-19 vaccine to countries on a not-for-profit basis.

The drugs giant has signed a series of for-profit agreements for next year, and expects to make a modest profit from the vaccine this quarter, it said.

The company had previously said it would only start to make money from the vaccine when Covid-19 was no longer a pandemic.

Its chief executive Pascal Soriot said the disease was becoming endemic.

The jab will continue to be supplied on a not-for-profit basis to poorer countries.

Mr Soriot had previously said, “We decided to provide it at no profit, because our top priority was to protect global health.”

He told the BBC he had “absolutely no regrets” about not making a profit when competitors had been, despite having to deal with political criticism in various countries.

He said the vaccine had saved a million lives around the world.

“I absolutely don't regret it,” he said. “We are proud as a company of the impact we have had – we've saved millions of hospitalisations. The [AstraZeneca] team continues to do a stellar job.”

He said that the contracts that had been signed are for next year, and told reporters that the virus was now becoming endemic.

“We started this to help, but we said we would transition [to making a profit].”

Other vaccine manufacturers including Pfizer and Moderna have been making profits from their vaccines.

A normal profit margin in the drugs industry is up to 20%, but Mr Soriot said AstraZeneca, which charges $5 per shot for the Covid vaccine at cost price, would not be making as much profit as that.

In its financial results, AstraZeneca said, “The company is now expecting to progressively transition the vaccine to modest profitability as new orders are received.

It said: “Covid-19 vaccine sales in [the fourth quarter of 2021] are expected to be a blend of the original pandemic agreements and new orders, with the large majority coming from pandemic agreements.”

By the end of September, AstraZeneca and its sub-licensees had supplied 1.5 billion doses.

UK travellers can now visit the US as borders reopen in almost 2 years

( via – – Mon, 8th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

UK visitors are now able to travel to the US for the first time in nearly two years.

The border reopened at 05:01 GMT and the first flights took off from Heathrow at 08:50. All UK visitors over 18 have to provide proof of vaccination to enter the US.

American travellers have been able to travel to the UK since 28 July.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has called this a “significant moment” for UK-US travel.

Transatlantic flights, he added, are “at the heart of UK aviation”.

In addition to the UK, the travel ban is being lifted for people from Brazil, China, India, Ireland, South Africa, Iran and the Schengen countries – a group of 26 European nations.

Until Monday, only US citizens, residents and a small selection of other exempt groups have been allowed entry to the US from the UK.

The new rules apply to all individuals that have received vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and vaccines Listed for Emergency Use (EUL) by the World Health Organization.

The White House's assistant press secretary, Kevin Munoz, confirmed on 15 October that double vaccinated foreign nationals would be able to visit the US from 8 November.

The UK has been on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s highest risk category for Covid, level 4 or “very high” since 19 July.

The CDC said that vaccines approved by the US FDA and WHO's EUL vaccines will be accepted. Therefore, travellers that have received one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the following vaccines will be allowed to enter the US:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • AstraZeneca,
  • Covaxin
  • Covishield
  • BIBP/Sinopharm
  • Sinovac

Travellers must provide proof of vaccination via their vaccine passport. Certificates including the NHS Covid Pass are accepted.

As well as being double vaccinated, travellers will have to provide proof of either a negative Covid test result – taken no more than three days before travelling – or show that they have recovered from the virus in the previous three months.

Children are exempt from the vaccination requirement, but all those aged between two and 17 will have to take a Covid-19 test three to five days after arrival.

Fully jabbed American visitors travelling to the UK need to take a test on or before the second day of their arrival.

After a difficult 21 months, airlines have increased UK-US flight schedules to meet the higher demand.

To celebrate the end of the travel ban, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic had a synchronised departure at 08:50 GMT from London Heathrow.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BA chief executive, Sean Doyle said: “We must now look forward with optimism, get trade and tourism back on track and allow friends and families to connect once again.”

‘Missed two weddings'

One woman who had not seen her parents, brother or sister in nearly two years as they live in California, said the ban had been a “nightmare” for her family.

Nadine Beasley missed the weddings of both her siblings, which had been scheduled to take place at the same time so she could attend with her husband and nine-year-old daughter.

“Obviously the pandemic scuppered that,” she told BBC Breakfast.

Unfortunately for Mrs Beasley, her brother's wedding took place in May and her sister's was just over a week before the ban was lifted.

She has finally been able to book a flight to December to see them, but said the opening up of travel left her with with mixed feelings, as it felt a bit “too late for us”.

Mrs Beasley said: “I bawled my eyes out and I think it was a mixture of elation and also frustration and honestly a bit of grief.

“Grieving the loss of knowing I've missed out on massive life events with everybody.”

What are the rules for travelling back to the UK?

Before travelling, fully jabbed passengers entering the UK no longer have to take a Covid test before travelling.

This applies to all individuals that have been vaccinated in the UK, the EU, the US and several other countries – Brazil, India, Pakistan and South Africa are some of the countries included in the list.

However, passengers have to prove they have been vaccinated before travelling. In addition to this, they have to take a lateral flow test two days after arrival in the UK.