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Ryanair still ‘processing refunds from flights cancelled at the end of February’

As millions of grounded Ryanair passengers wait for refunds, one of the airline’s top executives has defended its policies.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Europe’s biggest budget carrier has cancelled more than 200,000 flights, affecting around 30 million journeys.

When an airline grounds a flight, European air passengers’ rights rules –– known as EU261 – stipulate full cash refunds must be provided within a week of the departure date.

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No carrier is believed to be meeting the deadline. But Ryanair has angered travellers by promising swift refunds – and then retracting the vow and seeking to persuade passengers to accept vouchers instead.

Steve Ashton from Dorset said his request for a £141 refund was made and acknowledged on 21 March.

“I was told my refund would be back on my card within five working days. Nothing arrived, then I received an email saying due to overwhelming requests my refund would be with me in five more days.

“Then 28 working days, and on the 29th day an email arrived saying I have been given a travel voucher. This is absolutely no good as through other issues I cannot fly anyway.

“I really am disgusted with the way Ryanair has been treating its customers over refunds.”

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said the number of cancelled flights had increase 10,000-fold, and handing money back was taking at least two months: “We are still processing refunds for those flights cancelled at the end of February.

“We’re still saying ‘Have a refund if that’s what you want, have a free move of the days of the flight if you want,’ and now we’re introducing a third option which is: have a voucher.

“I think it was slightly misinterpreted what we did at the start of the week. We are playing this with a very straight bat.”

“We’ve got a team that process these cancellations and these refunds. That team is now having to social distance across the office locations that they’re operating from. The capacity of refunds we’re able to produce has has been reduced while the volume has gone up by 10,000 times.

“Free moves and vouchers are fully automated, so the customer that clicks on a voucher or free move can do this and self-serve themselves on the Ryanair website.

“But taking a refund, that’s money going back out the door, it works across the customer service and the finance team so it takes manual intervention.

“If someone wants a refund, they’ll definitely get a refund. It’s just going to take a lot longer than we would like. It’s going to take months. There’s nothing we could do about that and we’re asking them to bear with us.”

A spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said: “While we recognise these are unprecedented circumstances, it is important that consumers are aware of their rights and that the Civil Aviation Authority will take the necessary action to protect consumers.

“With this in mind, we have published guidelines regarding airlines’ responsibilities on refunds and cancellations and we continue to actively monitor this situation as it develops.“

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French quarantine islands return to use outside port of Marseille

On France’s Frioul archipelago, there’s an eerie sense that history is repeating itself.

The Mediterranean islands 4 kilometers off the teeming southern port city of Marseille served as a quarantine center during deadly epidemics in centuries past, helping to shield the French mainland from infection.

Now, amid the coronavirus lockdown and with no tourists, the few residents on the islands again feel cut off, left to fend largely for themselves.

“We are not experiencing quite the same quarantine as Frioul has seen in its past, but people are definitely afraid of this virus,” said Patrick Tellier, the only nurse on the archipelago that once housed sick crews during the Great Plague of Marseille in 1720 and in 1821 during a yellow fever epidemic.

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Flying during coronavirus is nothing like it used to be. Who's doing it?


When Bill Nord’s boss asked for a volunteer last week to fly to Denver for an assignment, Nord accepted, telling himself that a round trip from Santa Ana in the middle of a pandemic “sounds like an adventure.”

a passenger seat of a car: A flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Boise, Idaho, was carrying only four people on March 31.

Nord, a 56-year-old inspector who certifies that foods and products are organic, planned to wear a mask during the flight. Plus, he is in good shape from bike riding along the beach.

But his confidence was shaken when he heard another passenger on the nearly empty plane cough repeatedly. “Oh, no,” he recalls thinking. “I’m taking a real chance.”

The coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 600,000 people in the U.S. has pushed the demand for air travel down by 95% in the past week, compared to the same time last year, according to a trade group for the country’s airlines.

That remaining 5% includes people like Nord, who feel it is relatively safe to fly or decide they must risk their health to travel for a work assignment or a family obligation.

Airline passengers who are braving confinement in a plane cabin include an elderly woman moving to an assisted living facility in Tuscon, Ariz., to be closer to her family; a parent heading to help his daughter move back home after college dorms closed; a father-to-be picking up his new baby from a surrogate mother in Arkansas and vacationers cutting short trips abroad to ride out the crisis at home.

Other airline passengers include pilots and flight attendants commuting home after completing work shifts and medical staff traveling to hard-hit regions of the country to help treat victims of the outbreak.

 

Those who have flown in the past few weeks describe the experience as a mixture of anxiety over the increased risk of being exposed to the virus and amazement over the sight of nearly abandoned airport terminals and almost empty airplane cabins.

“The airport was about as empty as the planes were,” said Dennis Raveneau, a retired teacher and actor who recently returned to Dallas from a vacation in Paris. “There were no crowds at all.”

Most Americans are under stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the virus, but commercial flights continue to crisscross the skies for several reasons.

A provision of the federal government’s $2 trillion stimulus bill requires airlines to continue flying to the cities they previously served if they want to qualify for federal grants. Airlines are also flying to transport cargo across the country.

Dramatically cutting air service would also mean storing planes in remote desert airports, an expense airlines want to avoid.

“Our elected officials want us to provide safe air travel through this crisis, and they want us to be up and flying when demand for travel picks up again,” American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker said in a recent video message to his employees.

GALLERY: Haunting photos of empty airports and planes amid the coronavirus outbreak (provided by INSIDER)

  The newly passed CARES Act requires airlines to maintain  certain levels of pre-March 2020 air service even as passenger  demand dwindles.    Despite the raging pandemic and stay at home orders, air  travel remains the quickest form of transportation and is used by  medical professionals and other essential workers to get where  they're needed.     With non-essential travel limited, airports have become  deserted and aircraft are flying with only handfuls of passengers  if any.        Visit   Business Insider's homepage for more stories.     Nowhere has the effect of COVID-19 been more pronounced in the US  than the country's transportation system, especially its largest  airports and the aircraft still flying.   Once vibrant, bustling centers for the facilitation of travel  have been reduced to ghost towns operated by skeleton crews  serving the few remaining flights that have yet to be cut by  airlines.   Provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security  Act, or the CARES Act, require of the airlines that apply for  federal aid maintain minimal air service.    The law requires that airlines "maintain scheduled air  transportation service as the Secretary of Transportation deems  necessary to ensure services to any point served by that carrier  before March 1, 2020."   Especially in a time of crisis, airlines fly crucially needed  cargo and maintain national connectivity, as stated in the  newly-adopted law.   "The Secretary of Transportation shall take into consideration  the air transportation needs of small and remote communities and  the need to maintain well-functioning health care and  pharmaceutical supply chains, including for medical devices and  supplies," the CARES Act includes.    Take a closer look at the current state of airports and aircraft  amid a pandemic.

A union representing about 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines wrote to the U.S. Department of Transportation on March 31, urging the agency to halt all leisure air travel, limiting all passenger flights to essential services, such as flying medical supplies and first responders to hard-hit areas of the country.

Airline representatives say it is difficult to tell how many passengers are now flying out of necessity and how many are still traveling for leisure.

Passengers on recent flights say they have been allowed to spread out in the cabin — an airborne version of social distancing. Most airlines have either stopped serving food or offer only a box lunch to cut back on the contact between passengers and flight attendants.

“They pretty much sit there and watch movies on their computer and sleep because they have an entire row to themselves,” said Rock Salomon, an American Airlines flight attendant based in Boston. “My last trip to Phoenix had less than 20 passengers on each leg.”

Those who have been flying during the pandemic are finding air fares down 29% or more, with nonstop, round trip tickets from Los Angeles to Miami now selling for as little as $153.

Airlines don’t require passengers to wear masks and gloves on planes but encourage travelers to abide by the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last month, the nation’s largest airlines gave flight attendants the go-ahead to wear gloves and masks while serving passengers.

Although dozens of flight attendants, ticket agents, TSA agents and CDC health screeners have tested positive for the virus, it is unclear how many travelers could have contracted the virus while flying on a commercial plane.

Still, some passengers say they felt anxious flying in close quarters with strangers who could be infected with the coronavirus.

Andrea Perdue returned not long ago from attending a wedding in Chile that was planned last year. The Los Angeles translator said she felt nervous about her flight when officials at the airport in Chile took the temperatures of all the passengers and asked them to sign a document saying they had no symptoms.

“On the way back to L.A., the situation was much more tense,” she said. “The flight still had a lot of passengers but most were wearing masks.”

Danny Roman, who runs a tour company in Los Angeles, is worried about a flight he is taking in two weeks to Arkansas to adopt a baby that a surrogate mother is expected to deliver.

“So, I have to get in two planes to get there,” he said. “Having my baby and then flying back with my newborn is absolutely terrifying.”

Other travelers who flew recently said they felt relatively safe because they took precautions before boarding.

Kevin Jones, a film professor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, flew back to his home in Los Angeles last week after face-to-face classes were replaced with online courses.

He said about 40 people were on the last leg of his Delta Air Lines flight to Los Angeles but no one sat within a few rows of him. Jones wore gloves and a surgical mask the entire way. After taking a nap on the flight, he said he woke to find a box lunch and a small bottle of hand sanitizer in the seat next to him.

“Loading and unloading a plane when no one is on is pretty easy,” he said. “When I went to the baggage claim there was no wait. My bag was right there when I got there.”

Raveneau, the retired teacher, said he and his wife cut their vacation in Paris short to ride out the pandemic at home. He said he wasn’t nervous about the flight back home because he and his wife both had N95 respirator masks.

But when they landed in Dallas, Raveneau said he became unnerved when Texas state troopers who wore no gloves or masks rounded up the passengers on his flight in a small room to fill out customs and medical forms.

Raveneau, who vacations in Paris annually, has no plans to fly soon. “We are going to stay put for a while,” he said.

Nord, the organic food and products inspector, said he would still consider flying for work in the future, despite the scare with the coughing passenger on his last flight to Denver to inspect a CBD production facility.

“I wouldn’t jump at it,” he said of another out-of-town work assignment. “I’d take a deep breath first and maybe wait until June or July.”

———

©2020 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

WATCH; Skyscanner sees uptick in interest for late 2020 flights (provided by Bloomberg)


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Covid 19 coronavirus: German zoo to feed animals to each other

With visitors shut out over what should have been a busy Easter weekend, funds and foodstuffs are dwindling at a north German zoo as the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to bite.

The animal park in Neumünster, 50km north of Hamburg, has said it may have to begin feeding some animals to others to survive.

Zoo Director Verena Kaspari told Die Welt reporters that this ‘modest proposal’ would have to be brought into action by the middle of May if the park continued to be shut.

“The problem of having to feed meat eating animals is nothing new. But even if business stops we need to feed our carnivorous animals are to survive.”

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Newlyweds trapped on honeymoon in the Maldives after coronavirus lockdown

Olivia and Raul De Freitas are currently on their honeymoon, at a five-star resort, in the Maldives, a nation composed of more than a thousand tiny, idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean, like a trail of smashed crystals scattered on a slab of blue glass. For years the subject of fantasy photo spreads in glossy magazines, featuring luxe bungalows on stilts, in unreal aquamarine water, it was an obvious choice for their romantic getaway.

The couple arrived just married from South Africa, where they are citizens, on Sunday, 22 March, planning to stay for six days. For a 27-year-old teacher and a 28-year-old butcher, the holiday “was an extravagance,” Ms De Freitas said. But since they hadn’t lived together before exchanging vows, it would be a short, firecracker of a launch to their marriage.

Still, they had some concerns about the trip, considering the mounting travel restrictions imposed in light of the new coronavirus outbreak around the world. But nothing specific that would affect them had been announced, and their travel agent assured them that, whatever policy was forthcoming, all South African citizens would be allowed back home. Go ahead and have a great time, they were told.

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By Wednesday, they received notice that their country’s airports would all be closed by midnight Thursday. Flights back to South Africa are five hours to Doha, Qatar, a three-hour layover, and then nine hours to Johannesburg – so even if they scrambled, and even if they could get a flight, the complexities of leaving their remote island ensured they’d never make it home in time.

As much of the world rapidly ground to a halt, the few other guests still at the resort last week escaped to their respective countries. The last of them to leave, Americans, had to wrangle permission for a flight to Russia, before returning to the United States.

The couple considered taking the hour-and-a-half speedboat ride to the main island and trying their luck at the airport. But the Maldives had also announced their own lockdown around the same time, banning any new foreign travellers. If they left the resort, they might not be allowed back in. So, they stayed.

Mr De Freitas, described by his wife as the calm one, took the strange turn of events in stride. This would all get sorted out, and, besides, they were in paradise. Ms De Freitas, naturally, shared some of her husband’s delight, but sensed a logistical nightmare worthy of Kafka was about to ensue.

They reached out to the South African Consulate in the Maldives, and the closest South African Embassy, in Sri Lanka, for help. A representative told them, via WhatsApp, that there were around 40 other South Africans spread among the Maldives, and that their option home would be to hire a chartered jet, at their own expense, for $104,000.​

Everyone could split the cost, the message noted, but the government had only connected with around half of the 40 people; of those 20, many were unable or refusing to pay. The fewer the number of people on board, the more expensive each share would become. Even so, after several days of discussions between South African representatives and the Maldivian Foreign Ministry, the flight still hasn’t been approved.

By Sunday, they were the only guests at their resort, the Cinnamon Velifushi Maldives, which normally is at capacity this time of year, catering to some 180 guests. (“Room rates start at $750 a night,” its website still says.) The resort comprises the entirety of its speck of an island. There is nowhere to go. The couple reign like benign yet captive sovereigns over their islet. The days are long and lazy. They sleep in, snorkel, lounge by the pool, repeat.

The resort’s full staff are at hand, because of the presence of the two guests. Government regulations won’t allow any Maldivians to leave resorts until after they undergo a quarantine that follows their last guests’ departure. Accustomed to the flow of a bustling workday, and the engagement with a full house of guests, most of the staff, having grown listless and lonely, dote on the couple ceaselessly. Their “room boy” checks on them five times a day. The dining crew made them an elaborate candlelit dinner on the beach. Every night performers still put on a show for them in the resort’s restaurant: Two lone audience members in a grand dining hall.

At breakfast, nine waiters loiter by their table. Hostesses, bussers and assorted chefs circulate conspicuously, like commoners near a celebrity. The couple has a designated server, but others still come by to chat during meals, topping off water glasses after each sip, offering drinks even though brimming cocktail glasses stand in full view, perspiring. The diving instructor pleads with them to go snorkeling whenever they pass him by.

There’s something forlorn, unsettling even, about wandering an empty space that’s supposed to be full. Reclining alone, amid the silent, abandoned bank of beach chairs, the equatorial sun shimmers off the sea to the horizon, browning skin and bleaching driftwood. “We’ve started playing a lot of table tennis and snooker,” Ms De Freitas said. Mr De Freitas has also taken to joining staff soccer games in the afternoons.

Somewhere, beyond all this, the world roils. After an early panic and local quarantine around an ill tourist, there have been fewer than two dozen reported total cases of the new coronavirus on Maldivian islands; the majority of people diagnosed have recovered already.

Most recently, they’d heard that flight permissions are supposed to be sorted out by Monday, 6 April. That was an extension from 1 April, so these dates seem to merely be optimistically pencilled in. No matter: The latest wrinkle, they were told, is that the Maldivian airline crew assigned for the charter won’t fly anyway, needing to rest for a day before their return flight to the Maldives. But the South African government said if they deplane they’ll be quarantined there for 14 days. This is, apparently, a deal breaker. And a flight originating from their home country is not being offered as an option.

The lockdown in South Africa is supposed to last until 16 April. But, like everywhere, decrees about travel and movement are continually changing.

“It’s incredible that we get this extra time,” Ms De Freitas said. But the financial toll is weighing on them, heavily. Though the couple has been paying a generously discounted rate, the bill grows ever larger. Each day that ticks by is a chip taken out of their savings that had been set aside for a house down payment.

To their escalating endless honeymoon debt, they can add the unknown price of two tickets on what may likely be a near-vacant 200-seat jet. “Everyone says they want to be stuck on a tropical island, until you’re actually stuck,” Ms De Freitas said. “It only sounds good because you know you can leave.”

On Sunday, 5 April, according to the couple, they were given an hour’s notice by the embassy, communicating via WhatsApp, to pack their bags. After saying their goodbyes and thank yous, they were taken by speedboat to another five-star resort, where South Africans in the Maldives, about two dozen in all, are being consolidated. The local government told them it would subsidize a large portion of the cost of their stay.

Their return date home? Still unknown.

As for their original hotel’s staff, they have been told they must remain for two weeks after the guests’ departure. According to the hotel management, they have been, and are still being, paid.

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UK travellers furious at £1,000 repatriation flights from Philippines amid coronavirus crisis

UK citizens have criticised the government’s £75m repatriation programme as too little, too late and too expensive.

British tourists seeking to fly home from the Philippines must pay £1,000 for a repatriation flight – four times more than travellers flown home from Peru.

In normal times, connecting flights via Istanbul cost around £350 one way.

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The Foreign Office has organised two charter flights from the Filipino capital, Manila, to London Heathrow, to bring back holidaymakers stranded when the country banned international flights in response to the coronavirus crisis.

They will use Philippine Airlines rather than any of the UK carriers that have agreed to repatriate British citizens.

One aircraft is scheduled to depart at noon on Tuesday 7 April, with a second an hour later.

Connecting flights will operate from Cebu, Bohol, Puerto Princesa and Siargao for British travellers in this locations.

But some UK citizens say the price is too high. Paul Swords tweeted: “Cannot afford it, thank you and good night.”

Dan Gadsden wrote on Twitter: “Russia repat flights €100, Germany €200, France €250. All direct from Cebu.

“Follow the precedent set here and subsidise, people cannot afford £1,000.”

Before the £75m airline was announced, travellers from Peru were offered connecting flights from Cusco and Arequipa to Lima, together with nonstop flights on British Airways to Heathrow.

They were not required to pay in advance and instead signed an agreement to repay £250 on arrival in the UK.

The rate per mile from Lima to London was 4p. In contrast, travellers from Manila must pay 15p per mile.

Novem Abellana tweeted: “How about me, an NHS Nurse? I departed Manchester on 9 March and arrived in Cebu on 10 March, the date it was declared pandemic. I had booked two flights for 28 March, but all were cancelled, still waiting refund. “Please include me if there are any repatriation, and make it free/cheap.”

Passengers from India – from where seven rescue flights will be operating in the next week – are being asked to pay up to £681 one way, a rate of 14p per mile.

The Independent has asked the Foreign Office for a response.

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‘Desperate’ UK travellers stranded abroad beg government for help getting home

As another Air France flight heads for Delhi to rescue French nationals from India, anger is growing about the slow pace of the British repatriation effort.

While Air France has flown more than 200 rescue missions since the coronavirus crisis began, the UK has yet to reach double figures in government-sponsored repatriation flights.

Four British Airways jets have brought UK citizens back from Lima in Peru; three flights were operated by Wamos in the early days of the crisis, from China and Japan; and single flights have operated from both Accra and Tunis in Africa.

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On Monday the foreign secretary announced a £75m airlift for stranded British travellers. The Foreign Office said: “Special charter flights will operate in some countries to help British tourists and short-term visitors and their families to return to the UK.”

Yet two days on, plans for charter flights appear sketchy.

UK citizens in India are particularly concerned because of the ban on international flights, harsh lockdown and restrictions on internal travel.

One British traveller, Sundeep Patel, tweeted: “We are desperate to get back to the UK.

“We were due to fly back on 20 February but my elderly father fell seriously ill and sadly passed away.

“Really worried about my elderly mum who is at risk.”

Taran Kaur tweeted: “The majority of Brits are stuck in Punjab and can’t travel to Delhi. Please arrange flights from Amritsar to UK.”

Ravi Rehal tweeted:“Still don’t understand how British nationals were evacuated from Peru so quickly.”

The UK government is seeking to bring travellers back on normal scheduled flights where possible and has overseen the repatriation of more than 150,000 British travellers from Spain – as well as 12,000 from Egypt, 9,000 from Morocco and 4,000 from Jamaica.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We recognise British tourists abroad are finding it difficult to return to the UK because of the unprecedented international travel and domestic restrictions that are being introduced around the world – often with very little or no notice.

“The government has partnered with a number of airlines who have committed to work together to get Brits back to the UK and up to £75m has been made available for charter flights were commercial options are no longer available.

“We’ll continue working around the clock to bring people home.”

While anxious travellers and their families wait for news, scammers have started to capitalise on the information vacuum by seeking money for non-existent flights.

The British High Commission in Delhi has warned: “We are aware of false rumours of flights circulating. Don’t get taken in by scams.”

The Independent is aware of clusters of stranded British travellers in Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Bolivia and islands in the Pacific.

The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, said:  “The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has left tens of thousands of British citizens stranded and in need of urgent consular support.

“In some cases these individuals are key workers; police officers, nurses and doctors, who are desperate to return to their lives in the UK and to aid in our effort to combat the spread of coronavirus. Sometimes they are people who are running out of essential medication.

“At moments of acute crisis like this, the FCO’s role representing and protecting Britons abroad becomes more important than ever.”

The committee is seeking views on accessing and using consular services during the crisis.

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Austrian ski resort could be sued by 2,500 tourists who caught coronavirus

Around 2,500 people have signed up to potentially join a class action lawsuit against an Austrian ski resort after contracting coronavirus following a holiday there.

Ischgl in the Tyrol region is already under investigation after hundreds of cases were traced back to the resort.

Authorities in Ischgl have been accused by the Austrian Consumer Protection Association (VSV) of acting too late in taking steps to stem the outbreak.

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The VSV invited holidaymakers who’d been affected to register on its website. In just five days, 2,500 visitors have signed up, 80 per cent of whom are German, reports CNN.

The website says that those who visited the ski resorts of Ischgl, Paznauntal, St Anton, Sölden and Zillertal on or after 5 March and were diagnosed with Covid-19 a short while later “may be entitled to claim damages against the Tyrolean authorities”, provided the association can provide evidence of negligence.

‘’The global coronavirus pandemic qualifies as force majeure and nobody can be held responsible for any damage suffered,” says the VSV.

“However, keeping ski resorts open, even though authorities knew or should have known of a threat of mass infection, is certainly a reason to consider claims for damages.

“The VSV has therefore submitted a description of the facts to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Vienna against the Tyrolean authorities.’’

Following the submission of the VSV’s report, the Tyrol Criminal Police Office has been commissioned by the public prosecutor’s office to undertake ”investigations on suspicion of negligent endangerment of people by communicable diseases,“ part of which concern the allegation that a catering company covered up a worker’s positive coronavirus test in February.

The office of Tyrol Governor Günther Platter told CNN that “it will be important afterwards to put all measures worldwide – and also in Tyrol – to the test to see where mistakes have been made and, on the other hand, which structures need to be changed.’’

However, it is focusing on “management of the crisis” at present.

Ischgl remained open for a full week after Iceland warned Austria that it was seeing a high number of coronavirus cases from skiers returning from the resort.

Platter’s office said the Tyrolean health authorities immediately contacted Ischgl’s doctor and ordered hotels to compile lists of Icelandic guests, plus “issued a directive to test all persons with flu-like symptoms for corona”.

The resort finally closed for the season on 13 March.

It follows a family from East Sussex’s claims that they may have been Britain’s first coronavirus victims after a visit to Ischgl in January.

Daren Bland, a 50-year-old IT consultant, travelled there on 15 January with three friends and said he fell ill when he returned to the UK with symptoms that matched Covid-19.

He added that he passed the infection to his wife and children, with his daughter developing a temperature and persistent cough during her illness.

If confirmed, the cases would show that transmission of Covid-19 within the UK occurred more than a month before the first reported case on 28 February.

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Qantas flight diverted to Sydney after baggage handlers test positive

A Qantas flight was forced to make a mid-air U-turn on 31 March after baggage handlers working for the airline tested positive for coronavirus.

Flight QF741 left Sydney at 3.34pm local time, and was due to reach Adelaide at 5.15pm.

However, about an hour into the flight, news broke that six Qantas baggage handlers based in Adelaide had tested positive for Covid-19.

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There were no other Qantas staff available to service incoming flights, news.co.au reports. This prompted the flight to be diverted back to Sydney, where it landed just after 6pm. 

A number of flights due to depart Adelaide were also cancelled at short notice.

In a statement posted to its Twitter account, Adelaide Airport said: “We have this afternoon been advised of cases of COVID-19 involving Qantas employees working in the baggage handling area away from public areas.

“We are assisting SA Health by notifying other stakeholders who work within the terminal precinct, as well as informing and supporting our own staff.

“SA Health has advised that other areas of the terminal, including public areas, are unaffected at this time.

“SA Health has advised any passengers who arrived on flights in the past 24 hours to wipe their baggage and monitor their health.”

Flights out of the airport from 1 April are currently scheduled to operate as normal.

Confirming the incident, the South Australia Health Department said in a statement: “We are currently investigating six cases of COVID-19 in Qantas baggage handlers at Adelaide Airport.

“We are working closely with Qantas to ensure flights are not disrupted and the carousel area is fully cleaned.”

There are currently 337 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state of South Australia, and 4,557 across the entire country.

Australia is already restricting entry for foreigners and is increasingly restricting domestic travel.

Despite this, The Independent was still able to book a last minute Australian cruise with Cunard.

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Relax cancelled holiday refund regulations or holidaymakers will be hit harder, say ABTA

“Catastrophic damage to the UK travel industry, and widespread consumer detriment” – that is the warning from Abta about the effect of the coronavirus crisis on holiday firms.

The travel trade association’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, is demanding government action to ease consumer regulations in favour of the industry.

Millions of holidays in March, April and May have been cancelled because of the worldwide shutdown. Under the Package Travel Regulations, travellers are entitled to a full refund within two weeks.

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Abta is asking for that time limit to be extended to four months, with government backing to protect holidaymakers if their travel firm goes bust. The association also wants a government-backed emergency consumer hardship fund to help fulfil refunds when hotels or airlines cannot or will not hand back money to tour operators.

Many travel businesses are refusing refunds to customers, often claiming incorrectly that the rules have been eased. They insist they are only obliged to provide travel vouchers.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak began, there have been no changes to consumer protection. But Mr Tanzer said there must be – as “normally successful travel businesses employing tens of thousands of people are facing bankruptcy”.

The Abta chief executive said: “The global pandemic has put enormous financial strain on tour operators and travel agents, with businesses seeing a collapse in sales while facing immediate repatriation costs and refund demands for cancelled holidays on a scale that is unmanageable. 

“Existing regulations are entirely unsuited to deal with this situation. These businesses are themselves waiting for refunds from hotels and airlines.

“Without this money, they simply do not have the cash to provide refunds to customers within 14 days. Customers with cancelled holidays will face lengthy delays in getting money back if travel firms are forced into bankruptcy.”

Abta has also called on the government to take “strong enforcement action” against airlines that withhold refunds due following the cancellation of flights.

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