Govt begins test bookings on railway e-ticketing platforms - PUNCH
BY Okechukwu Nnodim, Abuja
The Federal Government on Wednesday announced the commencement of test bookings on e-ticketing platforms of the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who announced this via his verified Twitter handle, also stated that the government would fully inaugurate the service next week.
Although he made no mention of the exact date when the service would be inaugurated next week, many of his Twitter followers expressed hope that the e-ticketing service would eradicate touts at train stations.
Amaechi further stated that the e-ticketing service would begin with the Abuja-Kaduna railway route.
â€œYes, we have commenced test bookings on the NRC e-ticketing platform, starting with the Abuja-Kaduna rail line. Next week, weâ€™ll launch fully. Check it out and make bookings,â€ the minister tweeted.
Train services in Nigeria have been witnessing large passenger volumes; for instance, the minister recently stated that about 4,000 passengers were conveyed daily on the Abuja-Kaduna rail line.
The Abuja-Kaduna train service had also recorded increased turnout of travellers as a result of the incessant criminal activities perpetuated by bandits on the Abuja-Kaduna road.
Passengers had repeatedly called on the government to introduce e-ticketing service in the rail transport sector following the widespread racketeering in many train stations, particularly on the Abuja-Kaduna service.
Reacting to the e-ticketing announcement, a Twitter user, Stanley Osula, said, â€œCongratulations sir; this will help remove middlemen and touting. Can we have the website/app secured please?â€
Another Twitter user, Adedayo Hakeem, asked, â€œSir, what are the plans in place so that seats booked online will not be re-allocated at the station?â€
Also, a passenger simply identified as Jamyl, said, â€œThanks for the information. I sincerely hope this e-ticket platform will not be sabotaged to frustrate customers to reverting to the old ways of buying from touts.â€
Nigerian diplomat's family sues Boeing over 737 Max crash - AFP
CHICAGO — The family of a longtime Nigerian diplomat killed in the 2019 crash of a Boeing 737 Max in Ethiopia has joined litigation against the company in U.S. federal court.
Lawyers for heirs of Abiodun Bashua accused Boeing of negligence in development of the Max.
The 67-year-old Bashua had held many foreign service jobs for Nigeria and worked with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa over a 40-year career. He was among the 157 people killed when a Max operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa.
â€œThinking of him sitting in a plane, a place he was very comfortable ... watching a bunch of people falling to the ground and knowing that they were about to perish, knowing that for the first time in a long time he could not do anything about it, is one of those memories that haunts me today,â€ one of his sons, Lekan Bashua of Chicago, said Wednesday during a news conference organized by the familyâ€™s lawyers.
The Bashua family lawsuit, which also named Boeing contractors Rosemount Aerospace and Rockwell Collins Inc., was filed last month in U.S. district court in Chicago, where lawsuits filed by dozens of families have been consolidated into two cases — one for the Ethiopian crash and the other for a 2018 Max crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.
Most of the other lawsuits were filed in 2019. Lawyers said it took longer for the extended Bashua family to decide on its legal team.
In a statement, Chicago-based Boeing said, â€œWe will never forget the lives lost on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. We are committed to continuing to engage with the families in an effort to resolve the claims.â€
The Associated Press
Greece seeks to send 1,450 migrants back to Turkey - REUTERS
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece is pushing to return 1,450 people currently in migrant reception centres on Lesbos and other Aegean islands to Turkey, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Thursday, calling on Ankara to respect asylum agreements with the European Union.
Mitarachi said Greece had submitted a request to the European Commission and EU border agency Frontex for the immediate return of the migrants, who he said had arrived from Turkey and whose asylum applications had been rejected.
The move comes ahead of a planned resumption of talks to resolve longstanding territorial disputes between Greece and Turkey following months of tensions between the two NATO allies in the Aegean.
Migrant returns to Turkey, under a 2016 EU-Turkey agreement, largely dried up last year due to the coronavirus crisis. But Mitarachi said conditions were now in place for them to resume thanks to new technology and COVID-19 testing procedures.
â€œWe expect Turkey to step up its efforts ... First, to prevent the passage of boats departing from its shores bound for our country and European Union. And second to accept the return of migrants,â€ Mitarachi said.
He said most of the 1,450 individuals slated for return were on the island of Lesbos, where a fire last year destroyed the main camp housing irregular migrants, while others were on the islands of Kos, Samos and Chios.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees used Greece as their entry point to Europe through Turkey in 2015 and 2016, until the deal between Ankara and the EU reduced the flow across the Greek and Turkish land and sea borders.
Turkey hosts more than three million refugees and migrants, many from neighbouring Syria, while tens of thousands are waiting in Greece for asylum applications to be processed, mostly in camps where conditions have been described as dire.
Reporting by James Mackenzie, Editing by William Maclean
Norwegian Air to end long-haul flights, focus on Europe - ASSOCIATED PRESS
COPENHAGEN — Low-cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle said Thursday it will focus on European destinations and close its long-haul operations as it struggles with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and debt restructuring.
The airline said it will â€œfocus on its core Nordics business, operating a European short haul network with narrow body aircraft. Under these circumstances a long-haul operation is not viable for Norwegian and these operations will therefore not continue.â€
The plan affects its flights to the United States and means it will cut its fleet from 140 aircraft to about 50.
Norwegian also wants to reduce its total debt to around 20 billion kroner ($2.36 billion), and plans to raise 4-5 billion kroner ($473 million-590 million) in new capital, including through a rights issue and a private placement of shares. The plan must be approved by an Irish bankruptcy court.
Like other airlines, its fleet is now mostly grounded as the pandemic has caused a near-total halt to global travel.
In November, Norwegian said it was seeking restructuring and bankruptcy protection in Ireland, where its fleet is held, saying it was in the interest of its stakeholders.
Earlier that month, the Oslo-based company said it was facing a â€œvery uncertainâ€ future after the Norwegian government turned down its request for additional financial support. The government said that the airline had been struggling financially even before the pandemic and that aid should be targeted first at healthy businesses.
After that, Norwegian announced it had to lay off another 1,600 staff and ground 15 of the 21 planes it had been flying with.
In May, the carrier got 3 billion kroner ($354 million) in loan guarantees from the government as part of its restructuring plan. But the second call for aid was turned down on Nov. 9.
The Associated Press
Brazil Covid variant: Travel to England banned from 15 South American countries and Portugal - MIRROR
Visitors will be banned from travelling to England from a number of South American countries - but ministers have been slammed for announcing it a full day after Boris Johnson said he was worried.
Travel to England will be banned from 15 South American countries as well as Portugal, as fears mount about a new Covid variant that began in Brazil.
The government announced it was taking an "urgent decision" to ban flights from tomorrow over the variant - which it's feared might make vaccines less effective.
Arrivals will be banned from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela from 4am.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said travel to the UK from Portugal would be suspended "given its strong travel links with Brazil."
British and Irish Nationals, longer-term visa holders and permanent residents can still enter, but must self-isolate for 10 days on arrival along with their household.
But ministers were slammed for announcing the changes 24 hours after Boris Johnson said he was concerned.
They also bizarrely delayed separate plans, to make all arrivals to England be in possession of a negative test, by three days.
The requirement for a negative test within 72 hours of travel had been due to start at 4am tomorrow, but is now 4am on Monday.
No10 later claimed it was a simply "grace period" in which travellers wouldn't be fined for failing requirements in the first three days.
Asked when Boris Johnson first became aware of the Brazil variant, his spokesman said: â€œWe were made aware of the Brazilian variant recently - I donâ€™t have a specific date.â€
Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper slammed the testing delay as "truly shocking and incompetent".
She said: "Other countries - including France and Spain - already introduced this months ago.
"But the UK Government left it late and then failed to get the guidance done in time - even though there are real and immediate concerns about new variants circulating from South Africa and Brazil that could undermine the vaccine programme.
"The Government needs to get a grip.
"Other countries have had mandatory PCR testing, proper quarantine and other border measures in place for months while we continue to let people arrive and get on public transport home without any checks whatsoever.
"There is no excuse for these endless delays. We need action to prevent new variants spreading to make sure they donâ€™t undermine the vital vaccine programme.â€
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: â€œThe Government has lacked a comprehensive airport testing policy through this pandemic and now it is slipping into utter chaos.
"Issuing statements in the middle of the night, because their proposals are unworkable, causes ever greater challenges for travellers and industry.
"This chronic failure is also putting us at risk yet again, from strains such as those that emerged in South Africa and Brazil. As ever, ministers are too slow to act and itâ€™s putting people at serious risk.â€
It comes after travel to England from a host of southern African countries was banned due to a separate strain from South Africa.
Any visitor who has visited or transited through Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Seychelles and Mauritius in the last 10 days cannot come to England.
Again, there are exemptions for British nationals.
Boris Johnson yesterday said he was â€œconcernedâ€ about the Brazil strain, already detected in Japan.
And Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said â€œwe donâ€™t knowâ€ if it or the South African strain will have any resistance to a vaccine.
Sir Patrick told ITV's Peston last night: "No evidence yet for the UK version that it makes a difference in terms of how the immune system recognises it.
"And if you've been exposed to the old variant or you've had a vaccine it looks like that's going to work just as well with this new variant for the UK one.
"South African one and Brazilian one we don't know for sure - there's a bit more of a risk that this might make a change to the way the immune system recognises it, but we don't know."
The Covid-O (Operations) Committee met at lunchtime to discuss a ban.
Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said "practical measures" were being worked on.
She told Sky News: "This variant has been spotted and it is not unusual for viruses to develop variations in their strains.
"But in terms of the UK, we are monitoring it very, very carefully, we have a world-leading team of scientists working on the different forms of the virus.
"And as the Prime Minister said yesterday, in terms of practical measures, they are being worked on at the moment and no doubt we will hear more in due course as to measures to help deal with that."
Defending the Government's handling of the arrivals system before today's announcement, she went on: â€œPeople flying into the UK, whether from South America or elsewhere are required to have a 10-day quarantine period when they land in the UK.
"That is mandatory. In terms of the decision on travel measures, it takes a little bit of time.
"What we need to ensure is that when we make these very, very important decisions that have a huge impact on people's personal lives, but also businesses, we have got to have a little bit of time to let that bed in."
Covid-19: New test rule for England arrivals pushed back to Monday - BBC
Pre-departure Covid-19 testing will now be required for everyone travelling to England from 04:00 GMT on Monday.
The rules had been due to come into force on Friday, but the government said people needed time "to prepare".
Those arriving by plane, train or boat, including UK nationals, will have to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country they are in.
Anyone arriving from places not on the UK's travel corridor list must still self-isolate for 10 days.
The Scottish government is planning to impose the same rules and has had to defer them coming into effect as a result of changes in England.
"This meant Scotland was also obliged to delay implementation as we need sight of their final regulations in order to properly draft and approve the relevant Scottish regulations," a spokeswoman said.
It is expected the requirement will come into force in Scotland at 04:00 GMT on Monday as well. Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to announce plans for pre-arrival testing in the coming days.
Announcing the deferral on Twitter, Transport Secretary Mr Shapps said: "To give international arrivals time to prepare, passengers will be required to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test before departure to England from Monday 18 January at 4am."
He also reminded travellers to fill out the Passenger Locator Form - used in track and trace - and added that those without proof of a negative test faced a fine of Â£500.
Problems with testing availability and capacity mean some countries will initially be exempt.
For instance, the requirement will not apply to travellers from St Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda until 04:00 GMT on 21 January.
Travellers from Falkland Islands, Ascension Islands and St Helena are exempted permanently.
Hauliers are exempt to allow the free flow of freight, as are air, international rail and maritime crew.
The government has said all forms of PCR test will be accepted, as will other forms of test with "97% specificity, 80% sensitivity".
New strain in Brazil
The move comes as a further 1,564 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid test - the biggest figure reported in a single day since the pandemic began.
Wednesday's figure brings the total number of deaths by that measure to 84,767.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said there had now been more deaths in the second wave than the first.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "concerned" about a new coronavirus variant that is believed to have emerged in Brazil.
He acknowledged it was not yet clear how effective existing vaccines would be against the latest new variant.
Mr Johnson said the UK was taking steps to make sure it was not brought into the country.
A government Covid committee is meeting on Thursday to discuss the possibility of stopping flights from Brazil.
Arrivals from Brazil already have to self-isolate for 10 days.
Third Mainland Bridge reopens Feb. 15, says Fashola - NAN
The Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola on Thursday reaffirmed the Federal Governmentâ€™s commitment to the speedy completion and reopening of the Third Mainland Bridge to traffic on Feb. 15.
Fashola, during an inspection of the bridge, assessed ongoing construction work as well as the planned diversion shifts on the bridge which will take effect from Friday, Jan. 15 to Feb. 13.
The Minister expressed hope that work on the bridge would be completed and reopened to traffic on Feb. 15 to enable the government to begin work on the Falomo Bridge.
He explained that work on the Falomo Bridge was being delayed to avert the gridlock that may ensue.
â€œOn Third Mainland Bridge most of our work is almost done, we lost two weeks during the civil protest and our completion date earlier was towards the end of January, that has slipped.
â€œWe are hoping that by 15th of February we should be done and the bridge should be opened to the public.
That is one of the reasons why I also came to see how far and when this bridge will be opened to the public because this is delaying our work on Falomo Bridge.
â€œWe have done some work on Falomo Bridge. We are going to have to close Falomo Bridge as soon as this is done so that we can also replace the expansion joints there.
â€œAll the other preliminary work has been done there, but we left it in order to reduce the inconvenience to commuters in and around Lagos.
â€œSo, the Eko Bridge that was closed is opened now, this one (Third Mainland Bridge) is going to be opened by Feb. 15,â€™â€™ he said.
The Minister added that the closure of the Falomo Bridge will happen in consultation with the Lagos State Government.
The Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, which was going through series of repairs, had to be partially shut on July 24 for another round of rehabilitation works.
Traffic was partially diverted on a stretch of 3.5km where construction is ongoing between Adeniji Adeniji Ramp and Ebute Meta, while different time belts were allotted for traffic diversions on the bridge.
The 11.8km bridge is the longest of the three bridges connecting Lagos Island to the Mainland.
The bridge starts from Oworonshoki, which is linked to the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and ends at the Adeniji Adele Interchange on Lagos Island.
Constructed in 1990, the bridge was adjudged as the longest in Africa until 1996 when the Oct. 6 Bridge in Cairo, Egypt was completed. (NAN)
France toughens COVID-19 testing rules for non-EU travellers - REUTERS
PARIS (Reuters) - France has announced that people travelling from non-EU countries will no longer be able to get into the country by presenting a negative result from a quick, readily-available COVID-19 test.
The new rules, which come into force from Jan. 18 and are set out in a French government document, say people will no longer be able to use antigen, or lateral flow, tests that can deliver results within minutes.
Those quicker tests have been heavily used by truck drivers transporting goods across the Channel between Britain and France.
For the past several weeks, France has been requiring people who enter France from Britain to prove they donâ€™t have COVID-19.
It was not immediately clear what impact the new testing rules would have on cross-Channel goods transport, which has already been affected by Britainâ€™s departure from the European Union.
British Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on Friday that hauliers could use the lateral flow tests. There was no mention of an exception for truckers in French government guidance published to date.
If lateral flow or antigen tests are not accepted, travellers will have to seek PCR tests.
They can take several days to produce the results, and are less widely available in Britain for people who donâ€™t have a medical justification for getting tested.
Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alex Richardson
Passenger Traffic, Air Fares Drop after Yuletide - THISDAY
BY Chinedu Eze
Air fares have started coming down after the Yuletide celebration as passenger traffic has dropped at the airports.
THISDAY checks revealed that there has been reduction in passenger traffic on many of the routes, but the Abuja-Lagos; Lagos-Abuja and Abuja-Owerri; Owerri-Lagos routes still record high traffic, even. However, the cost of economy class has come down to N27, 000 from the over N60, 000 sold during the Yuletide.
Spokesman of Arik Air, Adebanji Ola, told THISDAY that airfares have marginally come down, but still relatively high compared to this time the previous years. He attributed this to the weakening exchange rate against the dollars. He said as long as the value of the dollar remains high compared to the naira, airfares would still be high as aviation expenses are denominated in dollars.
â€œYes fares have come down but they are still very high because the exchange rate to the dollar is still very high. That was the major reason that drove up airfares during Christmas season. â€œYes, there was high demand of tickets, which pushed the fares to upper bucket after the lower bucket was exhausted due to demand, but fares will still be high. What we have now is marginal decrease,â€ he said.
The Arik Air Communications Manager also said that the removal of 7.5 per cent VAT from aviation also helped to drive down the fares. â€œWe have removed VAT from our fares, but fares are still relatively high until naira gains value against the dollar,â€ he said.
Travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, told THISDAY that the cost of operations for airlines is in dollars, except staff, which is not a high margin of expenses, as maintenance, training, spares, insurance and aircraft acquisition are expended in dollars. The federal government on January 1, 2021, suspended the deduction of 7.5 per cent VAT on airfares and other air transport services.
The decision, which was contained in the 2020 Finance Act recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, became effective on January 1, 2021, elicited commendations from aviation industry operators who said that it would go a long way in reducing the cost of operation and also lead to reduction in airfares.
Head of Communication, Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa told THISDAY that government deserves commendation for the decision, but noted that while this could lead to slight reduction in fares, the major problem airlines are facing currently is the high exchange rate of the dollar. He said if government could ensure a stable exchange rate for airlines it would go a long way to sustain their operations.
â€œThe removal of VAT is good. That will help to reduce cost of tickets as fares have returned to normal after the Yuletide. But we are not rejoicing because the dollar is still very high and everything we do is in dollars while we sell tickets in naira. This is a problem. We wish that government could fix dollar exchange at lower rate for the airlines. This will help them to survive,â€ Ezenwa said. Passengers are also paying more for passenger service charge (PSC) as the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Bi-Courtney Aviation Services (BASL) have increased their PSC.
Qatar Resumes Flight Service to Riyadh - THISDAY
Qatar Airways said it has resumed flights to Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a daily service. QR1164 from Hamad International Airport to King Khalid International Airport took off in Doha at 13:45 local time and landed safely at its destination at 15:10. The flight was operated by Qatar Airwaysâ€™ Airbus A350-1000. The airline said later this week, it would resume flights to Jeddah today with (QR1188 departing DOH at 18:50) and to Dammam tomorrow (QR 1150 departing Doha at 17:10).
â€œPassengers from KSA can once again enjoy the award-winning Qsuite, featuring sliding privacy doors and the option to use a â€˜Do Not Disturb (DND)â€™ indicator. The Qsuite seat layout is a 1-2-1 configuration, providing passengers with one of the most spacious, fully private, comfortable, and socially distanced products in the sky.
â€œThe national carrier of the State of Qatar continues to rebuild its network, which currently stands at over 110 destinations with plans to increase to over 125 by the end of March 2021. A multiple award-winning airline, Qatar Airways was named â€˜Worldâ€™s Best Airlineâ€™ by the 2019 World Airline Awards, managed by Skytrax. It is the only airline to have been awarded the coveted â€˜Skytrax Airline of the Yearâ€™ title, which is recognised as the pinnacle of excellence in the airline industry, five times,â€ the airline said.