Covid-19: People can start thinking about foreign travel – Shapps

People in England can start thinking about booking foreign holidays again this summer, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.

But he said the cost of the Covid tests required needed to be driven down, amid criticism from the travel industry. 

Mr Shapps has also given more detail on the traffic light system which will see countries graded on their risk.

Passengers will have to take the tests before leaving and on returning – even from low-risk “green” countries.

There will be a watch list for countries that could go from green to amber.

Announcing the findings of the Global Travel Taskforce set up by the government to examine how leisure travel could be reopened safely after lockdown, Mr Shapps said foreign holidays would resume on 17 May at the earliest.

He said for the first time in months he was not advising against booking foreign trips.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is the first time I’m able to come on and say I’m not advising against booking foreign holidays. 

“Yes, you’ll want to check what the situation is in two or three weeks’ time when that list – the green, amber, red, is produced – you’ll want to know that you’ve got good holiday insurance and flexible flights and the rest of it. 

“But for the first time I think there is light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll be able to restart international travel, including cruises by the way, in a safe and secure way, knowing about the vaccinations, everything we know about the disease this year, and of course that abundance of caution – having the tests in place.”

The traffic light system will grade foreign destinations as being:

  • Green: Passengers will not need to quarantine on return, but must take a pre-departure test, as well as a PCR test on return to the UK
  • Amber: Travellers will need to quarantine for 10 days, as well as taking a pre-departure test and two PCR tests
  • Red: Passengers will have to pay for a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, as well as a pre-departure test and two PCR tests

Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast the use of PCR tests – those needing to be sent to a lab – enabled scientists to detect potential variants of concern.

But he said he was “concerned” about the cost of the tests, adding that the government was committed to driving down the price of these by working with the private sector.

The transport secretary said the government was also looking at the possibility of allowing people to take cheaper lateral flow tests before travelling. 

The government has not yet said which countries will be green, amber or red – but said it would do so by early May. 

Mr Shapps said countries would be categorised based on level of infections and vaccinations, variants of concern and the quality of their genetic sequencing.

He said this list would be kept under constant review and that he was hopeful European countries would be upgraded as their vaccination rates improve. 

Nearly 40 countries are currently on the UK government’s current red list of countries from which travel is banned, except for British and Irish nationals and those with residence rights in the UK.

The rules will be reviewed at the end of June to see whether any measures can be rolled back, the government said.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the government had not outlined the traffic light system in detail and criticised the release of the plans while the House of Commons was not sitting. 

He told BBC Breakfast: “The government has spoken about factors like vaccination rates, infection rates, the position with variants and also about the level of genomic sequencing. But I’ve no idea what the levels of each of those are for the government to place countries into, whether it’s the green category, amber or red.” 

The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have both already argued that 17 May will be too early for foreign holidays to resume.

Northern Ireland has not yet announced its plans, but its chief medical officer has said it would be “premature” to book a foreign summer trip.

At the moment, almost anyone seeking to travel to England must first take a coronavirus testbefore departure and then two tests when they arrive, bought through a private provider. Children under 11 are exempt.

Consumer group Which? estimated that each PCR test – which is just one of the tests needed – could cost about £120 per person.

However, the government said it would work with airlines, travel firms and the test providers to see whether prices can be reduced. That could involve cheaper tests, or the government providing the pre-departure tests.

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Analysis box by Caroline Davies, transport correspondent

Today’s report is not the grand reopening many in the travel industry wanted. 

There is real worry, particularly among lower cost carriers, that around £100 per person for a test will dissuade travellers from booking, with many paying more for it than for their flights. 

But there are suggestions that the government has tried to address some of the concerns too. 

The introduction of a green watch list, to flag any countries potentially about to move from green to amber, is an attempt to avoid some of last year’s confusion, as people rushed back to the UK before countries required quarantine.

Nothing is guaranteed yet, but the government now says it will confirm whether or not international travel will restart on 17 May early next month. 

How early is the next question. 

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What is the travel industry saying?

The government’s plans have been met with mixed reaction from the travel industry.

  • Heathrow Airport chief executive officer John Holland-Kaye expressed concern about the requirement for PCR testing, adding “we need to make sure that travel is something anyone can do and is not just something for the wealthy”
  • Industry body Airlines UK said that the proposed framework “does not represent a reopening of travel as promised by ministers”
  • Mark Tanzer, boss of travel trade organisation Abta, said permitting the use of lateral flow tests would “make international travel more accessible and affordable” 
  • Jet2.com has extended the suspension of its flights and holidays up to 23 June following the government’s announcement 
Travellers arrive at Heathrow Terminal 5
image captionThe travel industry says lateral flow tests, which are cheaper and faster, would be preferable to PCR tests

Thursday’s daily government figures showed a further 53 people had died with coronavirus within 28 days of a positive test, while another 3,030 confirmed cases were reported.

Graphic showing UK daily coronavirus figures

Flutter Entertainment to defend its position in arbitration

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Betting group Flutter Entertainment, the owner of Paddy Power, Betfair and PokerStars, on Wednesday said it will “vigorously defend its position” after Fox Corp filed a suit against the company related to its option to buy a 18.6% stake in U.S. sports betting firm FanDuel Group.

“Fox’s position that it has a right to acquire an 18.6% interest in FanDuel based on an $11.2 billion valuation is incorrect.

It would represent a windfall to FOX compared to the fair market valuation as of July 2021, to which the parties had previously agreed,” the company said in a statement.

Akshay Kumar: Bollywood star in hospital with Covid

Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar has been hospitalised a day after testing positive for Covid-19.

The actor said he was doing fine but decided to get admitted as a “precautionary measure under medical advice”.

Many crew members of the film he was working on in Mumbai city have also tested positive. 

Several Indian states have reported a sharp increase in Covid-19 case numbers in recent weeks.

The western state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located, has been the biggest contributor to the surge. India on Sunday breached the the 100,000 mark for the first time since the pandemic began in March last year. Maharashtra alone accounted for 57,000 new cases on Sunday. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The state has announced several new limitations to curb the spread but infections continue to rise, affecting Bollywood and several other industries.

A number of popular actors, including Ranbir Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Alia Bhatt and Kartik Aaryan, have tested positive in the past few days. Legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is being treated at a hospital after testing positive – his condition is said to be stable.

The future of the cash-rich Indian Premiere League cricket tournament is also in doubt. It’s due to start on 9 April and Mumbai is slated to host a number of matches.

Officials at the Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI) say the tournament will go ahead but fans will not be allowed inside stadiums. 

Indian spinner Axar Patel and support staff of different teams have already tested positive.

The recent surge comes after a sharp drop in India’s Covid caseload. In January, India was reporting less than 15,000 cases daily. But numbers began to spike again in March, largely driven by poor test-and-trace and lax safety protocols.

Since the pandemic began, India has confirmed more than 12.2 million cases and over 163,000 deaths. It now has the third-highest number of infections in the world after the United States and Brazil. But its number of deaths per capita is far lower.

Source: BBC

Tunisian-French rapper Swagg Man jailed for fraud

Tunisian-French rapper Swagg Man has been jailed by a Tunisian court for five years for money laundering and fraud. 

He was arrested in Tunisia in 2019 in connection with suspect money transfers from a Swiss bank account. 

Swagg Man, whose real name is Iteb Zaibet, had posted on Instagram that he was raising funds to build a mosque, an orphanage and a hotel.

But, according to the news site Le Courier de Atlas, he was accused using the charity as a front for his money laundering.

Cineworld raises more cash after first ever annual loss

Cineworld said on Thursday it has secured commitments for a new $213 million convertible bond to safeguard itself from a further hit due to the coronavirus pandemic as it posted its first ever annual loss as a listed company.

Even as the Regal owner prepares to reopen its U.S. movie theatres next month armed with a recently-agreed exclusivity deal with Warner Bros, it said material uncertainty around its ability to continue as a going concern remained.

NFT digital artwork by humanoid robot Sophia up for auction

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Robot artist Sophia, whose first artwork goes up for auction on Wednesday, says she draws inspiration for her work from people and is open to future creative partnerships with humans.

A digital artwork by the Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics humanoid, in the form of a Non-Fungible Token (NFT), is to be auctioned in the first sale of such pieces created jointly with artificial intelligence (AI).

NFTs, a digital signature saved on blockchain ledgers that allows anyone to verify the ownership and authenticity of items, have become the latest investment craze, with one artwork selling this month for nearly $70 million.

“I hope the people like my work, and the humans and I can collaborate in new and exciting ways going forward,” Sophia said in her studio, speaking in a flat voice.

She wore a silver-coloured dress and held a pen.

Sophia, who was unveiled in 2016, produced her art in collaboration with 31-year-old Italian digital artist Andrea Bonaceto, known for colourful portraits, some of which depict famous people, such as Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk.

The robot has combined elements from Bonaceto’s works, art history, and her own physical drawings or paintings on various surfaces multiple times in a process her creator David Hanson describes as “iterative loops of evolution”.

“We use transformer network engines in my art and other kinds of computational creativity,” Sophia added. “My algorithms output unique patterns that never existed in the world before. So I think the machines can be creative.”

Called “Sophia Instantiation”, the digital work is a 12-second MP4 file showing the evolution of Bonaceto’s portrait into Sophia’s digital painting, and is accompanied by a physical artwork, painted by Sophia on a printout of her self-portrait.

After the auction, Sophia will interact with the successful bidder, to study his or her face, and add a final inspired brushstroke to the artwork.

This will serve, says Hanson, “to make it a unique artwork encompassing data of the new owner and that personal connection, at that moment in time.”

Bonaceto said the collaboration aimed “to make a statement in the art world, and even the technology world,” heralding a new road on which AI robots and humans collaborate, enhancing each other.

Sophia’s art could be “a very, very important historical piece,” said Pablo Fraile, an art collector based in Miami and an early buyer of Beeple, as American artist Mike Winkelmann, creator of the NFT work sold this month for millions, is known.

“It’s the first time these ideas are put together.”

It would pave the way for more innovation in the AI art space, he added.

U.S.-based IV Gallery will represent Sophia as an artist and promote her.

“Sophia has that unlimited freedom, like a five-year-old has, and no restrictions to what she can do,” said gallery director Vincent Harrison.

“It’s fascinating to see this new way to create.”

Blackstone to acquire Australia’s crown resorts at $6.2 billion

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Buyout giant Blackstone Group Inc made a $5.6 billion play for the shares of Australia’s Crown Resorts Ltd it does not already own, weeks after the casino operator was deemed by authorities to be unfit to hold a gaming licence in Sydney.

The informal offer, which Crown disclosed early Monday and Blackstone later confirmed, sent Crown shares up a fifth as investors wagered a higher price could be in the offing from the world’s No. 1 private equity firm or another suitor.

“It’s nice to get a bid, and now it’s about price discovery,” said John Ayoub, a portfolio manager at Wilson Asset Management, which has Crown shares.

“These stocks are trading at trough earnings and I wouldn’t be surprised to see further activity in the sector.”

If Blackstone were to succeed, it would get a company in crisis after New South Wales state regulators last year accused it of money laundering and links to organised crime.

The inquiry led to the loss of its licence to operate its new flagship casino, a A$2.2 billion ($1.7 billion) development on Sydney’s waterfront.

The scandal also triggered powerful independent quasi- judicial inquiries in the other two Australian states where Crown is licensed to operate. Both of those inquiries are yet to begin.

Australia’s financial crimes agency is also investigating Crown over money-laundering allegations, and the company faces two shareholder class actions accusing it of failing to notify them of risks which later led to share price declines.

Though the Blackstone indicative offer of A$11.85 was a 20% premium to latest close, it was short of the stock’s A$11.90 closing price on Feb. 20 last year. The proposal values Crown at $6.2 billion.

Crown shares were up 21% at A$11.95 at 0330 GMT, slightly higher than Blackstone’s proposed price.

“Blackstone couldn’t get away with a price like this if the casinos weren’t being affected by COVID and the management issues at the same time,” said Nathan Bell, portfolio manager of Intelligent Investor, which has Crown shares.

“It’s only an opening bid. It’s a messy situation and offering to acquire a casino is a complex affair at the best of times due to all the regulation.”

A spokesman for company founder James Packer, Crown’s top shareholder with about 36% of its shares, declined to comment. The company’s third-largest shareholder, Perpetual Equity Investment Co Ltd, also declined to comment.

Blackstone, Crown’s second-largest shareholder with 9.99%, confirmed the approach but declined to comment further.

BAD TO WORSE

Packer sold out of casinos in Macau and the United States and began a series of attempts to take Crown private after 18 staff were jailed in China in 2016 for violating anti-gambling laws.

Three years later media reports in Australia accused Crown of knowingly doing business with junket – or gambling tour – operators linked to organised crime, leading to shocking revelations of bad governance at the subsequent inquiry.

Its new tourist-targeted Sydney casino opened in December without tourists due to pandemic-related border closures, and without gambling because of restrictions put on it during the regulatory probe.

It has lost about half its board including its CEO since the inquiry declared Crown unfit for a Sydney licence in February.

Among the conditions of the Blackstone proposal, the private equity firm itself would need to be found suitable to run a casino by Crown’s regulators.

The New South Wales state Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority said it was aware of the approach but declined to comment further.

Crown said its board had not yet formed a view on the proposal, but it would talk to “relevant stakeholders including regulatory authorities”.

Shares of Crown rival Star Entertainment Group rose 4% against a relatively flat overall market, a sign of expected M&A interest in the sector.

($1 = 1.2953 Australian dollars)

Grammys 2021: Burna Boy and Wizkid win at music awards

Nigeria Afrobeats stars Burna Boy and Wizkid have both won awards at the 2021 Grammys.

Burna Boy won the Best Global Music Album category while Wizkid won the Best Music Video for his song with Beyoncé; Brown Skin Girl, from Lion King: The Gift album.

Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy was also a winner on the song.

The Best Music Video award is given to the artist, video director and video producer.

Burna Boy, real name Damini Ogulu, a nominee for a second consecutive year, won with his Twice As Tall album.

The 63rd Grammy Awards is being held in Los Angeles. Traditionally billed as “music’s biggest night”, this year’s ceremony is different because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There is no audience, and performers have been separated onto five stages, arranged in a circle inside the Los Angeles Convention Center to maintain social distancing.

Burna Boy, 29, beat four others including the Malian band, Tinariwen.

Wizkid
image captionWizkid’s Made In Lagos album, released in 2020, was a huge hit with fans

The Grammys nomination described Twice As Tall as “a masterclass in the vibe and hustle that have made Burna Boy an international musical force”.

“[He] continues to torch limitations, seamlessly blending styles and genres and fearlessly fuelling the fire heating the melting pot of pop, Afrobeat, dancehall, reggae and more,” it said.

The album features a wide range of international artists such as Stormzy, Youssou Ndour, Naughty By Nature, and Chris Martin of Coldplay, and had Sean Combs as executive producer.

Second time lucky

Burna Boy was nominated in the same category in 2019 – then known as Best World Music Album – but lost out to Angelique Kidjo at the awards ceremony in 2020.

However, Kidjo dedicated her win to him, saying: “Burna Boy is among those young artists that come from Africa that is changing the way our continent is perceived and the way that African music is the bedrock of all music.”

Born in Nigeria’s Port Harcourt, Burna Boy released his first album, LIFE, an acronym for Leaving an Impact For Eternity, in 2013.

That album was followed by the release of Redemption in 2015 and Outside in 2018 that included the international hit track, Ye.

Watch Video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/embed/lPe09eE6Xio?feature=oembed

But it was with his 2019 African Giant album that Burna Boy really hit the international scene and earned his first Grammys nomination.

Often compared to Nigerian superstar Fela Ransome-Kuti, whose songs Burna has sampled generously, he has become increasingly vocal about social causes in Africa.

At the height of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2019, he threatened to never set foot in the country again unless the government took action, although he has since performed in the country.

He was also closely involved in the #EndSARS anti-police brutality protests in Nigeria last year, setting up a fund for victims and releasing a song in memory of those killed on 20 October 2020 at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos.

He also recently tweeted his support for protesters in Senegal who took to the streets after the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

View original tweet on Twitter

Jess Glynne apologises for using transphobic slur on podcast

Jess Glynne has apologised for using an “unacceptable” transphobic slur in an interview.

The singer appeared on comedian Mo Gilligan’s podcast last week, and told a story about visiting a transgender strip club.

The punchline of the story was about someone feeling uncomfortable around people in the venue.

Jess wrote on Instagram she is “wholeheartedly sorry” after a clip was posted online and heavily criticised.

“The way it’s such an outdated term being used by someone within the LGBT community is a massive shame,” said one user.

View original tweet on Twitter

“I want to address my appearance on the @mothecomedian podcast, when a story I told caused massive and righteous offence,” she wrote.

“Firstly, I want to say that I am wholeheartedly sorry”.

She continued: “I know that in this case, sorry is not nearly enough, throughout my life I have made a lot of mistakes and what I have come to know is that the only benefit to making one is to learn from it. 

The word Jess used in her interview is among the most commonly used slurs against trans people online – according to a recent study.

“To be in the knowledge that I have negatively impacted the community through my own ignorance has ripped out a piece of my heart.” she explained.

“I know I needed to address my mistake head on and educate myself about an issue I was frankly ignorant of. 

“The language that I used on the podcast was unacceptable, as someone that has always been immersed in the LGBTQ+ community, I have witnessed first hand the progress that has been made when it comes to language, I am ashamed that I was unaware of the potency of the T-slur until now.”

The singer then shared a list of organisations we she said her followers could “learn from”. 

Organisers of London Trans Pride say the singer “still has a lot of work to do”, but called her apology “a step in the right direction”.

Newsbeat asked Mo Gilligan for comment, but he hasn’t responded.

Ant Middleton dropped by Channel 4 over ‘personal conduct’

Channel 4 has said it will not work with Ant Middleton again due to his “personal conduct”.

Last year, the SAS: Who Dares Wins star faced criticism over comments about the Black Lives Matter protests and coronavirus.

In a statement, the channel confirmed he “will not be taking part in future series of SAS: Who Dares Wins”.

After a number of discussions with him, “it has become clear that our views and values are not aligned”.

“We will not be working with him again,” Channel 4 added.

Ant Middleton
image captionThe former soldier faced a backlash for his comments about coronavirus and Black Lives Matter protests

The 40-year-old said on social media he had “decided it’s time to move on from SAS Who Dares Wins UK”.

He added: “Big respect to my fellow DS – it’s been a journey I’ll never forget. Thanks to everyone that took part and made the show what it is.”

“Really excited about the future and what’s coming this year.”

In June, he apologised after referring to Black Lives Matter protesters as “absolute scum” as he complained about the “extreme left” and “extreme right” taking to the streets.

Ant said he was “anti-racist and anti-violence” after deleting the tweet.

In March last year, he backtracked on comments he made about the coronavirus pandemic after he urged people to “carry on as normal”.

He told his social media followers to not “be a sheep” and said he did not believe Government advice to self-isolate applied to him because he is “strong and able”.

The former soldier later said he had been “a bit insensitive towards the magnitude, the scale, of the crisis that’s happening in the UK”.

SAS: Who Dares Wins sees civilians put through gruelling military training exercises to test their physical and mental strength.

Ant also presented the programme’s celebrity spin-off, which has featured famous faces including 1Xtra presenter Yasmin Evans, reality star Joey Essex and ex-footballer Wayne Bridge.