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Michael Gove urges Tory rebels to BACK Boris’s new tier rules as PM faces Commons fight

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Mr Gove is seeking to head off an escalating backbench rebellion, with Sir Graham, chairman of the 1922 Committee, vowing to vote against the introduction of a new localised tier system once the lockdown comes to an end on December 2, claiming it represented an unreasonable infringement on civil liberties. Writing in The Times, Mr Gove said the decision to impose the lockdown in November had presented Boris Johnson and his cabinet with a “Devil’s dilemma”.

We had to act because if we did not our health service would have been overwhelmed

Michael Gove

However, he said the Government had chosen to take drastic action, just as Emmanuel Macron in France, Micheál Martin in Ireland, Mark Rutte in the Netherlands and Angela Merkel in Germany had done.

He explained: “We had to act, as they did, because if we did not our health service would have been overwhelmed.”

Mr Gove likened the pre-lockdown situation to “a tap filling a bath faster and faster with every day that passed”.

He said: “Lockdown first slowed the pace at which the bath was filling up, then stabilised it. Slowly, it has begun to lower the water level.

“But as we exit this lockdown the level is still high and it would not take too much, or too rapid an increase, for us to risk it overtopping again.”

As a result, the Government had opted to set out “new, stronger tiers”, Mr Gove said.

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He added: “Bluntly, our previous tiers were not as effective as we had hoped. In general, infections continued to rise in Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas and even the bare, basic, old Tier 3 wasn’t enough.

“These are, of course, uncomfortable truths. Not least for those of us who argued that these measures, on their own, would be enough. But we cannot ignore the evidence.”

In a pointed message likely to be aimed at would-be Tory rebels, he warned: “When the country is facing such a national crisis, the truth is that all of us who have been elected to parliament, not just ministers, must take responsibility for difficult decisions.

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“COVID-19 is no respecter of constituency boundaries and the hardships we are facing now are unfortunately necessary to protect every single one of us, no matter where we live.

“In any analysis of this government’s, or any government’s approach, the cost of lockdown and restrictions cannot be reckoned against the status quo ante, but only against the cost of inaction, or inadequate action, and the overwhelming of the NHS.”

Mr Gove’s arguments are unlikely to cut much ice with Sir Graham, who outlined his concerns in an op-ed published in today’s Daily Mail.

In it, he wrote: “In practice, the new regime is just as heavy-handed as lockdown, leaving 99 percent of the population under arbitrary state control.

“Riddled with contradictions and unsupported by compelling scientific evidence, these restrictions will cause immense further damage to the economy, cripple our civil liberties and worsen the nation’s health.

“In short, they threaten to destroy the social fabric that makes up Great Britain.

“That is why I shall be voting against their implementation when Parliament decides on the issue on Tuesday.”

Given Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, a rebellion of more than 40 Tory MPs would leave the Prime Minister reliant on Labour to approve the new system.

Tory MP Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the recently formed Covid Recovery Group, is among those who has indicated he is likely to follow Sir Graham’s lead in voting against the new system.

Speaking to Express.co.uk in May, he said: “On the economy, I am gravely concerned.”

He explained was already witnessing the fallout in terms of self-employed people, as well as those working in the hospitality sector, creative professionals, and the mental health impact.

He added: “Every day the economic and clinical reasons for relaxing the lockdown become more evident.”

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COVID-19: World Health Organisation needs ‘more than a press release’ on Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine trial

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it needs “more than a press release” about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in order to evaluate trial results.

Speaking at a WHO news conference on Friday, its immunisations director Dr Katherine O’Brien said: “What we have seen is a press release.

“And what is really the next most important step is that the data needs to be evaluated based on more than a press release.”

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was revealed on Monday to have an efficacy of up to 90% when half a dose was given, followed by a full one.

Dr O’Brien added: “There’s only – first of all – a limited amount that can be said in a press release.

“And secondly it really needs to be reviewed in terms of the data and questions asked about the data that may come up in the course of the review.

“It’s difficult to weigh-in on this.

“I think what we can emphasise though is that from what we understand about the press release there is certainly something interesting that has been observed.

“But there are many reasons that could underlie the differences that were observed.

“And so certainly more information is needed and that includes evaluations of the immune response in the trial as well.

“So I think it’s too early for us to say anything about what we make of the data.

“And what is needed next – what we really need to see – is more than a press release and to really see the data and have a chance to ask the questions that are needed.”

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When the circus can't leave town – French family show stranded in Belgian car park

GEMBLOUX, Belgium (Reuters) – The exotic animals are confined to small paddocks, the acrobats have been grounded, and the clowns aren’t able to make an audience laugh anymore.

Floye Dubois, 19, a juggler at the Zavatelli Circus owned by the French family Dubois, practices in a parking lot where the circus, together with two other Armanzo and Anderland, also owned by the same family, has been maintained under lockdown for about a year, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Gembloux, Belgium November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The coronavirus has brought the curtain down on the Zavatelli Circus, at least for the time being.

Unable to travel or perform across Europe, the French family-run operation is waiting out the pandemic in a car park in the southern Belgium town of Gembloux – and quickly running out of funds to feed its animals.

“For us, the confinement is very difficult because we are not working. We have no cash flow,” said circus director Kevin Dubois.

The Zavatelli Circus typically pitches its 600-seater Big Top in 30 cities each year. But since March, when COVID-19 cases began rising in Europe, it has only been able to perform with a reduced capacity, or not at all during Belgium’s spring and autumn lockdowns.

The show features jugglers and acrobats, a conjuror, clowns and a tightrope-walker, and a menagerie including camels, llamas, buffaloes and ponies.

Now the staff are living in trailers in the car park, stopping their skills from going rusty with outdoor pratice sessions in the crisp Autumn air.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

The animals are kept in enclosures under red-and white striped awnings, with straw strewn over the car park’s ground.

“Frankly, it is becoming an issue because we have 60 animals to feed,” Dubois said.

The cost of food for the animals runs to about 500 euros ($600) per week. There are also 23 circus staff to support.

“We don’t know how to make ends meet,” he said.

The Zavatelli Circus is one of three family operations that date back to 1800 and was once known as the Cirque de Paris.

The two others, Armanzo and Anderland, owned by the same family, are also on the rented site in Gembloux, about 50 km (30 miles) south of Brussels.

While the circus could return home to France, it would not be permitted to perform there either.

Belgium, like France, is under its second lockdown since the coronavirus epidemic hit Europe in February. Although shops are expected to reopen soon, cultural operations such as circuses in Belgium must remain closed until further notice.

Dubois lamented the lack of state financial support.

“We have not received any financial assistance (from the authorities). A lot of people gave us bread, carrots, they bring us seeds, hay. But in terms of money, we did not get anything,” Dubois said.

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Coronavirus hope: Boris Johnson promises EVERY area can escape tough Covid restrictions

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The Prime Minister told the country it has control of its destiny when the tier system returns next Wednesday. He said: “Your tier is not your destiny. Every area has the means of escape. And I have no doubt that together we can get through this winter, suppress the virus until vaccines come to our aid, and then reclaim our lives and all the things that we love.”

The tiers, which differ to the system in place before the current national lockdown, mean more than 55 million people in England will be put into the top two tiers from December 2.

Around 32 million people will be under Tier 2 while 23 million will go into the toughest Tier 3.

Just 713,573 residents in the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will live under Tier 1, which has the most relaxed restrictions.

Meanwhile, official figures showed a 25 percent reduction in cases in the last week. However, a further 498 deaths were recorded yesterday, along with 17,555 new lab-confirmed cases.

And just 60 percent of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were reached through the system in the week ending November 18.

The Prime Minister warned people not to be complacent and that the dangers had not gone away.

He said: “If we ease off now, we risk losing control of this virus all over again, casting aside our hardwon gains, and forcing us back into a NewYear national lockdown with all the damage that would mean.”

He also revealed that the Ministry of Defence has put 14,000 troops on standby to rollout rapid testing in areas in Tier 3.

It would help them move to a lower level, he explained.

“Now testing on this scale is untried but in due course, if it works, where people test negative it may also be possible for families and communities to be released from certain restrictions even if their home area stays in Tier 3.”

The tier allocations will be reviewed on December 16, then every week after that.

Mr Johnson admitted the new rules “will bring a great deal of heartache and frustration”, especially for pubs and restaurants.

But he said their temporary closure in some areas is the price that must be paid to keep schools open.

And the CBI said the changes would let some parts of the economy “look towards a recovery”.

UK policy director Matthew Fell said: “It gives our high streets a chance to rescue some of the vital festive trading period. But for other businesses, the restrictions in Tiers 2 and 3 will leave their survival hanging by a thread. Hospitality will remain frozen.”

Most of northern England as well as Kent, large parts of the Midlands and pockets of the South-west will be in Tier 3.

London and most of the South-east, South-west and East of England will be in Tier 2.

MPs are to vote on the new system on December 1, the day before it comes into force. It will not be in place during the Christmas “bubble” of December 23 to 27, when up to three households will be able to meet under the same roof.

Yesterday England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty urged families not to hug to help protect lives. He said: “Would I encourage someone to hug and kiss their elderly relatives? No, I would not. It’s not against the law, and that’s the whole point.

“You can do it within the rules that are there but it does not make sense because you could be carrying the virus and, if you’ve got an elderly relative, that would not be the thing you want to do in the period where we’re running up to a point where actually we might be able to protect older people.”

The Government has promised to publish an impact assessment of the measures to show the evidence for the new rules. But some Tory backbenchers warned they would vote against the plans. Steve Baker, leader of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptics, said: “The authoritarianism at work today is truly appalling. But is it necessary and proportionate to the threat from this disease?”

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, said: “I have severe reservations on so many different levels.”

Former minister Tobias Ellwood, who is the MP for Bournemouth East, said he couldn’t understand why the town was in Tier 2.

He said: “With only 160 cases per 100,000 people I’m puzzled to see us placed in this tier which will cause further hardship for our hospitality industry. I will not be supporting the Government’s motion to introduce this next week.”

Former ministers Dr Liam Fox and John Penrose, who represent North Somerset and Weston-super-Mare, said the decision to place them in Tier 3 “isn’t right nor fair”.

Tory Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling in Kent, said: “We went into lockdown at Tier 1 and came out at Tier 3.”

West Worcestershire MP Harriett Baldwin said: “Over 23 million of us were living under Tier 1 restrictions before the lockdown – it will be under one million in December.There is no logic in having a month of lockdown only for people to have to live under an even more severe set of restrictions afterwards.”

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South Korea braces for bed shortages as coronavirus cases near nine-month high

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported more than 500 new coronavirus cases for the second consecutive day on Friday, a level not seen in nearly nine months, as a third wave of infections spreads nationwide and authorities scrambled to provide more hospital beds.

People wait for their bus at a bus stop amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Seoul, South Korea, November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The daily tally of 569 came a day after the numbers hit the highest level since March 6, when South Korea was reeling from the first major COVID-19 epidemic outside China.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun warned that daily infections could swell to 1,000 and bring a greater crisis including hospital bed shortages if social distancing measures and other restrictions failed to stop the contagion.

“The situation is extremely serious and acute, as all of the 17 metropolitan cities and provinces and especially all the 25 districts in Seoul are reporting new cases,” Chung told a meeting on COVID-19 responses.

The government reimposed strict social distancing rules on the capital Seoul and surrounding regions this week – restricting dining out, religious services and nightly entertainment. The move came only a month after similar restrictions were eased as a second wave of infections ebbed.

While South Korea’s early outbreaks emerged from a specific religious group or region, the latest sprang from a multitude of clusters in and around the capital Seoul and is now spreading across the country, making it harder to trace and contain.

Of the latest cases, 525 were domestically transmitted and more than 64% of those were from the Seoul metropolitan area, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

The portion of new cases reported in the greater Seoul area has fallen steadily from about 85% early this month as the outbreak spread to other provinces such as South Gyeongsang and Gangwon. All 17 metropolitan cities and provinces reported new cases on Thursday for the first time in months.

Chung urged authorities to secure more hospital beds to prevent shortages. The health ministry said there were sufficient beds available for now, but there could be shortfalls in two to three weeks if cases continued to spike.

The earlier waves quickly depleted hospital facilities, with the number of remaining beds for critical cases in the greater Seoul area, a metropolis of 26 million people, once plunging to near single digits.

As of September, South Korea had about 500 intensive-care beds for its 52 million people. The government vowed to double the number by next year, including more than 110 this year.

The ratio is near the average of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, but in previous waves of infection many of those beds were used by less serious cases or patients with other ailments.

South Korea has reported total infections of 32,887, with 516 deaths.

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South Korea foils North Korea attempt to hack COVID-19 vaccine makers: media

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s intelligence agency foiled North Korean attempts to hack into South Korean companies developing coronavirus vaccines, the News1 agency reported on Friday, citing a member of the parliamentary intelligence committee.

Lawmaker Ha Tae-keung said after being briefed by the National Intelligence Service that the agency did not specify how many and which drugmakers were targeted but said there was no damage from the hacking attempts, News1 said.

Last week, Microsoft said hackers working for the Russian and North Korean governments have tried to break into the networks of seven pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers in South Korea, Canada, France, India and the United States.

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Once Australia's COVID-19 hotspot, Victoria goes 28 days without an infection

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s second-largest state, Victoria, once the country’s COVID-19 hotspot, said on Friday it has gone 28 days without detecting any new infections, a benchmark widely cited as eliminating the virus from the community.

FILE PHOTO: People walk past a cafe after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions were eased for the state of Victoria, in Melbourne, Australia, October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

The state also has zero active cases after the last COVID-19 patient was discharged from hospital this week, a far cry from August when Victoria recorded more than 700 cases in one day and active infections totalled nearly 8,000.

The spread of the virus was only contained after a lockdown lasting more than 100 days, leaving some 5 million people in Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, largely confined to their homes.

While the lockdown has seen infections wane, it slowed Australia’s economic recovery from its first recession in three decades after large swathes of the country’s economy were shut down in March.

Australia’s economy shrank 7% in the three months to the end of June, the biggest quarterly decline since records began in 1959. The unemployment rate hit a 22-year high of 7.5% in July as businesses and borders closed to deal with the coronavirus.

The slowdown in cases, however, has seen Australian states and territories remove social distancing restrictions.

Australia’s southern island state, Tasmania, on Friday became the latest to open its border to Victoria, reuniting families who had been apart for months.

“It has been very difficult, but we are going to make up for it. We are going to go to the beach and have beautiful Tasmanian seafood and some pinot noir,” Allison Park, a Victoria resident visiting family in Tasmania, told reporters in the city of Hobart after arriving on a plane from Melbourne.

Victoria is the last state to gain access to Tasmania, which closed its borders in March.

COVID NORMAL

While Australia is removing restrictions in contrast to other countries in Europe, which are imposing curbs to counter a surge of infections, local lawmakers have said only an effective vaccine will restore longstanding normalcy.

Australia has secured access to four vaccine candidates, but its best hope for a quick vaccination programme lies with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is already being manufactured locally.

The Australian Government has committed to buying 33.8 million doses of the vaccine.

A speedy roll-out of the AstraZeneca came under the microscope, however, when the company said it will likely run an additional global trial to assess the efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine.

Still, Australia’s Minister for Health Greg Hunt said this would not delay Canberra’s expected timetable to begin vaccinations from March.

Australia’s nearly 28,000 COVID-19 infections recorded to date, according to health ministry data, are far fewer than many other developed countries. Victoria accounts for more than 90% of the country’s 905 deaths.

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We've been forgotten in COVID-19 easing, say French restaurants

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – Restaurant owner Jean Avarello is struggling to understand why in the next few weeks the shops and theatres near him in the French city of Marseille will be allowed to reopen after a COVID-19 lockdown, but he has to stay shut.

Slideshow ( 5 images )

“That’s not okay,” Avarello said on Thursday as he took part in a protest in Marseille involving several thousand people from the restaurant, bar and nightclub sector against the government order to keep them shut. “We feel we’ve been forgotten.”

Demonstrators gathered at the city’s old port, then marched to the office of the prefect — the most senior representative of central government in the region — where they were granted a meeting to convey their views.

Outside, protesters set off flares and smoke bombs, and one person, dressed in a chef’s tunic and toque, carried a mock-up of a gravestone with the inscription: “Here lies my restaurant.”

France will this weekend start a phased easing of its lockdown, imposed to curb a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is now starting to abate, and non-essential shops will re-open this weekend, while museums and cinemas can welcome back visitors from Dec. 15.

However, the hospitality sector has been told the earliest it can re-open is Jan. 20. Officials cited concerns that cafes and restaurants, where people remove masks to eat, could allow the virus to propagate again.

Avarello, owner of a restaurant called Le Cottage in a Marseille suburb, said he had already furloughed his employees at the restaurant, and was unsure how long he could keep going without revenue before he would have to close the business.

“Tomorrow, if I can’t pay my rent and I cannot pay off my loans, I will have no choice but to put the key under the door,” he said.

Asked what he wanted from the government, he said: “So we can reopen, that’s all.”

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Nigel Farage predicts ‘mass rule breaking’ as ‘lockdown in all but name’ announced

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As of December 2, England will be out of the current lockdown but today, the Government announced which areas will be stuck with harsh restrictions due to the tier system. The likes of London has been placed in high alert while Greater Manchester is in Tier 3.

But Nigel Farage has lashed out at the government’s plans claiming the tier system is “lockdown in all but name”.

The leader of the Brexit Party tweeted: “This is lockdown in all but name. 

“I think that mass rulebreaking is coming.”

His comments come just minutes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the new Tier system for when the country comes out of lockdown next week.

Announcing the new system, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “these are not easy decisions, but they have been made according to the best clinical advice”.

He told MPs: “Thanks to the shared sacrifice of everyone in recent weeks, in following the national restrictions, we have been able to start to bring the virus back under control and slow its growth, easing some of the pressure on the NHS.

“We will do this by returning to a regional tiered approach, saving the toughest measures for the parts of the country where prevalence remains too high.

“Regardless of your tier, I ask everyone – we must all think of our responsibilities to keep the virus under control we should see these restrictions not as a boundary to push but as a limit on what the public advice says we can safely do in one area.”

Mr Farage is not the only person to object to the new measures set to come into effect from next week.

Labour MP for Warwick and Leamington, Matt Western, also criticised the new tier system.

He wrote on Twitter: “London in Tier 2. Warwick and Leamington (together with the whole of Warwickshire) in Tier 3… how?

“And don’t understand why we’re group with Coventry and Solihull.

“This will be seriously damaging to our local economy.”

One person wrote on Twitter: “Nobody is obeying the rules that I can see, most of the silent majority I know are going along with this for a quiet life and behind the scenes doing largely what they want.

“They know it’s absurd nonsense and the threat is low to non-existent.”

Others claimed people ignoring the rules is already going on with one person saying: “If you’re in London you know that it’s already going on.

“It’s normal life but just with no businesses.

“An economically disastrous situation and no tangible gain.”

Another person wrote: “Our city centres have become soulless, joyless sad places, with few people about.

“The COVID madness is fragmenting our society.

“Lockdowns and restrictions are destroying lives and livelihoods, and sucking the joy out of being alive.

“All to fight a virus with an IFR of around 0.3 percent.”

Others remarked how they have gone into a higher tier despite the last month in lockdown.

One Twitter user said: “Definitely! They can do one.

“Come out of a month long lockdown in a higher tier than we went in! JOKE!”

Someone else echoed: “It’s s**t!

“Rugby in tier two a month ago, four weeks lockdown, now in tier three!

“Lockdown didn’t work then!!”

Others pointed out London was placed in Tier 2 despite having a higher R rate than other parts of the country. 

More to follow.. 

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Reduced to meeting online, airlines vow to keep fighting

PARIS (Reuters) – For an industry that prides itself on bringing people together, it was a particular humiliation for airlines to have to resort to video conferencing for their annual industry meeting this week – and not one they are ready to repeat.

FILE PHOTO: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac attends an interview with Reuters on the consequences of the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Geneva, Switzerland, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Brought to their knees by the COVID-19 pandemic and struggling to convince governments to replace quarantines with testing, airlines turned to veteran IAG boss Willie Walsh to lead industry association IATA from next April.

“My style will be different from what has gone before me,” said Walsh, known to British Airways unions as something of a bruiser, as he thanked outgoing IATA chief Alexandre de Juniac.

“I too am a businessman and I too understand how governments operate, but I’m even more unhappy and more critical of how they get things done (and) how they’ve failed to get things done.”

Without a doubt, this will be Walsh’s biggest challenge yet.

In three days of media briefings around the meeting, IATA further downgraded its financial outlook for the sector as a second wave of coronavirus cases in Europe and the United States points to more heavy losses and bankruptcies.

That may test Walsh’s aversion to bailouts and subsidies. Little was said about further aid at the meeting, which ended on Wednesday, though de Juniac called days earlier for $80 billion in support on top of the $160 billion received.

Despite vaccines promising eventual relief, executives worry they might reduce the immediate pressure on policymakers to reopen travel safely.

In the short term, meanwhile, they are having to roll out apps designed to manage health certificates and the broader chaos.

Governments may also use air travel to encourage vaccine uptake – drawing airlines into a political minefield. Australia’s Qantas said it expected to require all passengers to show vaccination certificates.

“We know in some countries we have some difficulties to convince the population to be vaccinated,” de Juniac told Reuters before the meeting – warning that any general requirement could effectively bar people from travel.

For airlines that survive COVID-19, intense environmental pressures still lie in wait, as several executives observed; “flight-shaming” has not gone away.

In Europe, the industry is battling new green taxes and regulation while facing higher investment demands for cleaner aircraft and fuel technology development.

Bailouts and borrowing have swollen global airlines’ debt by more than half to $651 billion, IATA Chief Economist Brian Pearce said – a mountain that will undermine their ability to fund more efficient new aircraft, let alone green innovation.

Underlining the financial strain, Norwegian Air became the latest crisis casualty when it filed for Irish bankruptcy protection days before the meeting.

“Airlines are setting themselves up for horrendous balance sheet structures,” said James Halstead, managing partner at consulting firm Aviation Strategy, who believes airlines will continue to struggle to influence policy.

“The people in the driving seat are health authorities – it’s a massive health crisis, so they don’t want people moving around,” Haltead said. “The feeling is that aviation can be tackled later.”

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