- Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is flying to Qatar for a two-day official visit
- He is due to meet the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Interior Minister
- Meanwhile commuters at home face the steepest rail fare rises in five years
Published: 07:04 EST, 2 January 2018 | Updated: 10:08 EST, 2 January 2018
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling flew out to Qatar on government business today, leaving behind millions of commuters facing the steepest rail fare hikes in five years.
Downing Street defended Mr Grayling's decision to fly out of Britain as workers returned to work after the Christmas holidays today.
Neither Mr Grayling nor any of his deputies appeared in public today to defend the controversial 3.4 per cent average fare increase that has hiked season tickets by up to £2,500.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling (file image) flew out to Qatar on government business today, leaving behind millions of commuters facing the steepest rail fare hikes in five years
The Transport Secretary will find warm sunny skies when he gets off the plane for talks with Qatar's Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Interior Minister.
He is also due to see the chief of Qatar Airways and is not expected back in Britain before Thursday.
Asked the Prime Minister felt it was appropriate for Mr Grayling to be out of the country, Mrs May's official spokesman said: 'The fare rises we have known were coming for a while.
'The Transport Secretary and Department for Transport have been responding and have issued a full response to those fare increases.'
The spokesman said the Rail Delivery Group, which is not responsible for setting fares, was leading the response today.
Mr Grayling has been subject to reshuffle speculation and Mrs May's spokesman was challenged to say whether he would keep his job.
He said: 'Chris Grayling is working hard and doing a good job as Transport Secretary.'
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: 'The Secretary of State is currently on a pre-planned visit to Qatar to promote the UK overseas, support British jobs and strengthen the important relationship between the two countries.
'This trip has been specifically arranged to take place outside of Parliamentary time.
'The Secretary of State has repeatedly answered questions on this issue, ever since fare increases were first announced by the industry in August.'
The London Labour Party staged a protest at King's Cross station today, calling the fare hikes the 'Great Tory Train Robbery'
Members of the Labour party were campaigning outside Ely station, talking to commuters about the hike
Campaigners held a protest against rail fare increases outside King's Cross station in London today
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: 'The Secretary of State for Transport's failure to publicly explain to rail passengers why they are being hit with crushing fare increases today smacks of a man running scared.
'Passengers and taxpayers deserve better than a failing Transport Secretary who refuses to defend his track record.'
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said: 'Rail passengers are shivering on platforms angered by the biggest fare increase in years while Chris Grayling is off globetrotting.
'It's very difficult to see what useful function he can perform in Qatar and Turkey that our excellent trade officials could not.'
Mrs May's spokesman defended the rise in a briefing, insisting the use of the RPI index to set the figure was 'consistent across the railway industry'.
He said: 'RPI is used to account for inflation in the cost of running train services and is used to index some charges.
'But the Government carefully monitors how rail fares and average earnings changes and keeps the way fare levels are calculated under review.'
The spokesman said 97 pence in every pound spent on tickets was ploughed back into railway investment.
As they faced a sharp increase in their tickets this morning, passengers hit out at companies for 'punishing them and lying'
Other rail users today complained about 'rip off' fares in Britain are
Average ticket prices across Britain have gone up by 3.4 per cent with rail commuters paying up to £2,500 more for a season ticket to work than they were at the beginning of the decade.
Furious passengers have shared their outrage on social media and hit out at rail franchises where some bosses are set to earn huge seven-figure packages.
A report has also revealed how rail passengers in Britain are spending up to five times as much of their salary on fares as other Europeans.
Commuter groups and opposition MPs are staging protests at 40 stations across the country today, including King's Cross station – where the London Labour party labelled the fare hikes 'The Great Tory Train Robbery'.
As people are hit with the biggest fare increases in five years, a report reveals the cost of some season tickets has soared by as much as 50 per cent since 2010.
The analysis by the Labour party of more than 180 routes found the average commuter will be paying £2,888 for their season ticket – £694 more than in 2010.
The highest increase in cash terms is on a Virgin Trains season ticket between Birmingham and London Euston, which has risen by £2,536 since 2010 and now costs £10,564.
The biggest percentage increase was between Tame Bridge Parkway near Walsall and Nuneaton, where the cost of a season ticket has risen 50 per cent or £968 to £2,916.
A separate report found rail passengers in Britain are spending up to five times as much of their salary on fares as other Europeans
Sydney seaplane crash: Exhaust fumes affected pilot, report confirms
The pilot of a seaplane that crashed into an Australian river, killing all on board, had been left confused and disorientated by leaking exhaust fumes, investigators have confirmed.
The Canadian pilot and five members of a British family died in the crash north of Sydney in December 2017.
All were found to have higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, a final report has found.
It recommended the mandatory fitting of gas detectors in all such planes.
British businessman Richard Cousins, 58, died alongside his 48-year-old fiancée, magazine editor Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, and pilot Gareth Morgan, 44. Mr Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass.
The family had been on a sightseeing flight in the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane when it nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River at Jerusalem Bay, about 50km (30 miles) from the city centre.
The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) confirmed the findings of an interim report published in 2020.
It said pre-existing cracks in the exhaust collector ring were believed to have released exhaust gas into the engine bay. Holes left by missing bolts in a firewall then allowed the fumes to enter the cabin.
“As a result, the pilot would have almost certainly experienced effects such as confusion, visual disturbance and disorientation,” the report said.
“Consequently, it was likely that this significantly degraded the pilot’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”
The ATSB recommended the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors in piston-engine aircraft that carry passengers.
It previously issued safety advisory notices to owners and operators of such aircraft that they install detectors “with an active warning” to pilots”. Operators and maintainers of planes were also advised to carry out detailed inspections of exhaust systems and firewalls.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55862128
Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021, says top official
Australia is unlikely to fully open its borders in 2021 even if most of its population gets vaccinated this year as planned, says a senior health official.
The comments dampen hopes raised by airlines that travel to and from the country could resume as early as July.
Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy made the prediction after being asked about the coronavirus’ escalation in other nations.
Dr Murphy spearheaded Australia’s early action to close its borders last March.
“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.
“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that he believed quarantine requirements for travellers would continue “for some time”.
Citizens, permanent residents and those with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Qantas – Australia’s national carrier – reopened bookings earlier this month, after saying it expected international travel to “begin to restart from July 2021.”
However, it added this depended on the Australian government’s deciding to reopen borders.
Australia’s tight restrictions
The country opened a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand late last year, but currently it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia.
Australia has also discussed the option of travel bubbles with other low-risk places such as Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.
A vaccination scheme is due to begin in Australia in late February. Local authorities have resisted calls to speed up the process, giving more time for regulatory approvals.
Australia has so far reported 909 deaths and about 22,000 cases, far fewer than many nations. It reported zero locally transmitted infections on Monday.
Experts have attributed much of Australia’s success to its swift border lockdown – which affected travellers from China as early as February – and a hotel quarantine system for people entering the country.
Local outbreaks have been caused by hotel quarantine breaches, including a second wave in Melbourne. The city’s residents endured a stringent four-month lockdown last year to successfully suppress the virus.
Other outbreaks – including one in Sydney which has infected about 200 people – prompted internal border closures between states, and other restrictions around Christmas time.
The state of Victoria said on Monday it would again allow entry to Sydney residents outside of designated “hotspots”, following a decline in cases.
While the measures have been praised, many have also criticised them for separating families across state borders and damaging businesses.
Dr Murphy said overall Australia’s virus response had been “pretty good” but he believed the nation could have introduced face masks earlier and improved its protections in aged care homes.
In recent days, Australia has granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. The contingent – which has recorded at least nine infections – is under quarantine.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55699581
Covid: Brisbane to enter three-day lockdown over single infection
The Australian city of Brisbane has begun a snap three-day lockdown after a cleaner in its hotel quarantine system became infected with coronavirus.
Health officials said the cleaner had the highly transmissible UK variant and they were afraid it could spread.
Brisbane has seen very few cases of the virus beyond quarantined travellers since Australia’s first wave last year.
It is the first known instance of this variant entering the Australian community outside of hotel quarantine.
The lockdown is for five populous council areas in Queensland’s state capital.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the measure on Friday morning local time, about 16 hours after the woman tested positive.
Ms Palaszczuk said the lockdown aimed to halt the virus as rapidly as possible, adding: “Doing three days now could avoid doing 30 days in the future.”
“I think everybody in Queensland… knows what we are seeing in the UK and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain,” she said.
“And we do not want to see that happening here in our great state.”
Australia has reported 28,500 coronavirus infections and 909 deaths since the pandemic began. By contrast, the US, which is the hardest-hit country, has recorded more than 21 million infections while nearly 362,000 people have died of the disease.The lockdown will begin at 18:00 on Friday (08:00 GMT) in the Brisbane city, Logan and the Ipswich, Moreton and Redlands local government areas.
Residents will only be allowed to leave home for certain reasons, such as buying essential items and seeking medical care.
For the first time, residents in those areas will also be required to wear masks outside of their homes.
Australia has faced sporadic outbreaks over the past year, with the most severe one in Melbourne triggering a lockdown for almost four months.
A pre-Christmas outbreak in Sydney caused fresh alarm, but aggressive testing and contact-tracing has kept infection numbers low. The city recorded four local cases on Friday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has pledged to start mass vaccinations in February instead of March as was planned.
Lockdown interrupts ‘near normal’ life in Brisbane
Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Brisbane
At 8:00 today I popped to the local supermarket for some bread, milk – and because it’s summer here – a mango. I was pretty much the only customer.
When I went past the same shop a couple of hours later it was a different story – 50 people standing in the drizzle – queuing to get inside as others emerged with bulging shopping bags. “Heaps busier than Christmas,” a cheery trolley attendant told me. “It’s off the scale”.
Despite the “don’t panic” messages from authorities, pictures on social media show it’s a pattern being repeated across the city.
While shutdowns are common around the world, the tough and sudden stay-at-home order for Brisbane has caught people on the hop here after months of near normality.
But while such a rapid, hard lockdown off the back of just a single case of Covid-19 will seem crazy in some parts of the world, I’ve not come across too many people complaining.
And I don’t think that’s just because Aussies love to follow a rule. This is the first time the UK variant of the virus has been detected in the community in Australia.
And nobody here wants Brisbane to go through what Melbourne suffered last year. Even if it means going without mangoes.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55582836
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