Im stranded at Madrid Airport

Passenger Lisbet Stone says she is stuck in Madrid Airport after airline officials said her coronavirus test result was out of date.

From Monday, travellers arriving in the UK, whether by boat, train or plane, have to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test to be allowed entry.

The test must be taken in the 72 hours before travelling and anyone arriving without one faces a fine of up to £500.

Mrs Stone originally travelled to Cuba in February 2020 to see family.

The British Cuban dual national was unable to fly home to the UK when Cuba closed its borders in March.

The family say she had several previous flights cancelled before finally being able to leave this weekend. She hasn’t been able to see her four children or her husband Trevor in 11 months.

While Mrs Stone has been caught out by the new restrictions for incoming travellers, the first day appeared to go smoothly.

But passengers arriving into London’s Heathrow airport on Monday said they had been met with “substantial” queues at passport control and one couple complained they had “felt unsafe” due to what they described as poor social distancing.

Mrs Stone left Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, on Sunday night to fly back to the UK via Madrid.

She took a Covid test on Thursday to be guaranteed a result by Saturday. It was negative and Mrs Stone was able to board the plane from Cuba.

However, on arrival at Madrid-Barajas Airport, Mrs Stone says she was stopped from boarding the next leg of her journey to London Gatwick by Air Europa staff, because her test had been taken more than 72 hours before the final flight.

“She’s crying her eyes out,” says Trevor Stone, her husband. “I feel absolutely helpless. She doesn’t have any Euros as she wasn’t meant to stay in Spain. The authorities have given her no help whatsoever, we are just trying to understand what to do.

“She took her test 72 hours before the start of her journey, but had to take a connecting flight onwards. There would be no other way to do it, it is not physically possible.”

In the meantime, Mr Stone says he has been home-schooling their four children on his own through the pandemic.

“We are just desperate to get her home – I’m so worried about her and after 11 months, she really wants to see her children,” he added. “We haven’t done anything wrong, I don’t know what to do or who to turn to.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “Passengers travelling to the UK must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test which meets the performance standards set out by the government in the guidance published on gov.uk.

“The type of test could include a PCR test or antigen test, including a lateral flow test. Anyone who cannot provide the necessary documentation may not be allowed to board their flight.”

Air Europa and Madrid Airport have been approached by the BBC for comment.

Covid in Wales: No grant despite NHS app isolation request

A man denied a £500 grant after being told to isolate by the NHS phone app has said it was a “kick in the teeth.”

In Wales, the self-isolation support scheme for low-earners is still not available to people who are notified by the app.

Taxi driver David Miller lost 10 days of work by isolating and had no grant.

The Welsh Government said it is assessing a potential change to the app that would “support” users to apply for the grants.

The self-isolation support scheme is intended to help with loss of earnings for those told to self-isolate who cannot work from home.

It is also for parents and carers on low incomes with children who are self-isolating.

In December it was reported that the NHS Track and Trace app for Wales and England had been updated to allow people notified that they must isolate to claim the £500.

But while users in England notified by the app can claim the payments after going through an identity-verification process, people in Wales cannot.

Mr Miller, from Pembroke, received a notification on the NHS app on Boxing Day telling him to self-isolate for 10 days.

As a recipient of housing benefit he should have been able to claim the £500 grant to offset his loss of earnings.

But when he applied via his local authority he was told they could not pay him.

“It was a kick in the teeth really. I’ve had no help since the pandemic started, financially, from the government.

“They ask you to self-isolate to protect others and then you get no financial support so you have got to make a choice of shall I go out and put people at risk because I need to pay my bills or should I struggle financially and stay home?

“My choice is listen to the app, stay at home, self- isolate.”

But Mr Miller thinks without the financial support, others are not making the same choice

“I have a lot of friends in the taxi trade who wouldn’t download the app because of that.

“I know people will not adhere to it, I know that for a fact because I’ve spoken to them.

“They can’t do it financially.”

A mother-of-two from Carmarthenshire, who didn’t want to be named, told BBC Wales Live she lied to her doctor to get a sicknote after missing out on the £500 grant.

She had to stay home to look after her son who had been told to isolate, meaning she would lose nearly £500 in wages.

She wasn’t eligible for the grant as she is not on benefits, and she would have had to take unpaid leave if she did not have a doctor’s note.

“It’s horrible. I still feel really guilty about it now, but needs must.

“When you have to feed your children you do what you have to do.”

The Welsh Government has told Wales Live more than 5,000 payments have been made since the scheme’s launch.

During that period around 300,000 positive cases – and their close contacts – were identified by the Test, Trace, Protect system.

The charity Resolution Foundation said the figures and its own research showed the payment was “not reaching enough people”.

It has called for a bigger scheme that would operate in a similar way to the job retention furlough programme.

Maja Gustaffson, from the foundation, said: “Not supporting the people who fall ill or risk spreading the virus further is going to be devastating for everyone.

“Investing in people so that they can do the right thing will be money well spent.”

The Welsh Government said: “We continue to work with NHS Digital to identify what improvements can be made to the app to support users in applying for Self-Isolation Support Scheme in Wales.

“We have identified a digital solution which we are currently assessing to ensure it doesn’t compromise existing app design and functionality.”

You can see more on this story on BBC One Wales on Tuesday 19 January at 22:35.

Girls lost football travels over Irish Sea to Wales

A child’s Gaelic football managed to bypass new Brexit border checks after travelling from Ireland to Wales by sea.

The ball – owned by 10-year-old Aoife – was kicked into the sea near Waterford, Ireland, on 10 January.

As the tide was going out Aoife’s father was not able to recover the ball and could only watch it float away, thinking it was lost forever.

But just a week later it turned up, washed ashore on a Ceredigion beach.

Local resident Aline Denton found it on Llanrhystud beach between Aberystwyth and Aberaeron.

It had travelled more than 200km (124 miles) from Woodstown beach near Waterford across the Irish Sea before getting washed up on the beach in west Wales.

Ms Denton, who lives near the beach, was out walking on Sunday on her daily lockdown exercise.

As a volunteer with the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, she was picking litter and cleaning the beach as she walked when she came across the ball.

She took a photo of the white ball – which had Aoife’s full name written on it in pen – and posted it on social media asking if anyone knew Aoife, adding: “Her football’s just washed up on Llanrhystud beach – west Wales! Wonder how long it’s taken to get here from Ireland?”

Ms Denton said: “At first I only posted the message privately for my friends to see, just out of interest.

“But then an ex-colleague who lives in Ireland said he’d share the post with the Gaelic Football Association. After that it really took off and within five hours we’d found Aoife.”

Later in the day she updated her Facebook post to say: “Brilliant news!! The post has reached Aoife’s dad.

“Aoife lost her football near Waterford seven days ago. Thanks to everyone who shared the post!”

Aline said: “It has really taken me by surprise how this has taken off. It’s all over the media in Ireland apparently. It’s resonated with so many people.”

Ms Denton has found things from Ireland while cleaning the beach before, but never a personal item like the football.

She said: “The ball hasn’t deflated, there are one or two small chunks taken out of the ball, maybe where it has been bashed against rocks but it seems fine.

“It was really exciting and nice to make contact with Aoife’s father, especially because Aoife was so excited to see that the ball had reached Wales.

“Some of the messages on Facebook were funny with people saying that the ball had travelled further than they had for a long time, and others mentioning Tom Hanks and the film ‘Castaway.'”

Ms Denton now plans on posting the ball back to Ireland so that it can be returned to Aoife.

Drunken e-scooter rider banned from driving

A woman is thought to be the first person in the UK to be found guilty of drink-driving while using an e-scooter.

Kyah Jordan, 20, was almost three times over the limit when she went through a red light and almost crashed into an unmarked police car, a court heard.

Magistrates heard she had been drinking double shots of rum before riding the e-scooter through Newport on the Isle of Wight in December last year.

She was banned from driving for two years and given a community order.

Magistrates said the e-scooter was classed as a “motor vehicle, the same as a moped, the same as a bus”.

The court heard Jordan had been drinking with friends before they decided to pick up a publicly-available e-scooter from a nearby supermarket.

Prosecutor Liz Miller said that at about 22:30 GMT police in an unmarked armed response vehicle noticed Jordan, who had never ridden an e-scooter before, run a red light before “narrowly” missing them.

Police said after the incident the driver of their vehicle “would have been injured without doubt” if there had been a crash.

After chasing the e-scooter on foot, police stopped Jordan and breathalysed her, which revealed she had 97mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath – the legal limit is 35mg.

Henry Farley, defending, said Jordan could not have posed a danger to anyone because she was travelling slowly on the scooter, which was limited to 12.5mph.

He said she “didn’t recall” a near-miss but said she admitted she had been “naive” to use the vehicle.

As well as a driving ban, Jordan was handed a community order of 12 months and ordered to carry out 40 hours of unpaid work.

The Beryl e-scooter scheme was introduced on the island in December ahead of a 12-month trial. Twenty-five of the vehicles were initially available with plans to add a further 125.

Residents wishing to use the scooters download an app, input their driving licence details and set off.

M1 deaths: Coroner calls for smart motorway review

A coroner has called for a review of smart motorways after an inquest heard the deaths of two men on a stretch of the M1 could have been avoided.

Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, died when Prezemyslaw Szuba crashed his lorry into their vehicles near Sheffield on 7 June 2019.

Coroner David Urpeth said smart motorways without a hard shoulder carry “an ongoing risk of future deaths”.

Highways England said it was “addressing many of the points raised”.

Mr Urpeth recorded a verdict of unlawful killing at Sheffield Town Hall. He added he would be writing to Highways England and the transport secretary asking for a review.

The inquest heard the deaths of the two men may have been avoided had there had been a hard shoulder.

More stories from around Yorkshire

On the stretch of the M1 where the crash took place, the hard shoulder has been replaced by an active lane.

Szuba, 40, from Hull, was jailed last year after admitting causing their deaths by careless driving.

He was speaking from prison to the inquest.

Answering questions over the phone, Szuba told the hearing he accepted he was driving without paying proper attention.

“I have already accepted that at my trial,” he said, but added: “If there had been a hard shoulder on this bit of motorway, the collision would have been avoidable.

“I would have driven past these two cars as it would be safer and they would have been able to come home safely and I would be able to come back home.”

Szuba said he had only three to five seconds to react, and asked if he would have avoided the crash had he been paying attention, he said: “It’s difficult to say after everything now.”

Sgt Mark Brady, who oversees major collision investigations for South Yorkshire Police, told the hearing: “Had there been a hard shoulder, had Jason and Alexandru pulled on to the hard shoulder, my opinion is that Mr Szuba would have driven clean past them.”

But he accepted the primary cause of the crash was Szuba’s inattention to the road.

The crash happened after a collision between a Ford Focus driven by Mr Mercer, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, and a Ford Transit driven by Mr Murgeanu, who was living in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, but was originally from Romania.

When Mr Mercer and Mr Murgeanu got out to exchange details they were hit by the lorry, and both died at the scene.

Mr Mercer’s wife Claire has campaigned against smart motorways since her husband’s death, and was at the hearing on Monday.

In a statement, Highways England said it was “determined” to do everything it could to make roads as safe as possible and was already addressing many of the points raised by the coroner “as published in the Government’s Smart Motorway Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan of March 2020”.

“We will carefully consider any further comments raised by the coroner once we receive the report,” it added.

Northern Irelands latest draft budget difficult says Conor Murphy

The finance minister has announced a “difficult” draft budget for the next financial year.

The amount of money the executive receives was set by the Treasury’s Spending Review in November.

Conor Murphy said it had not delivered the required level of support “to kick start our economic recovery from Covid-19 and Brexit”.

“It is difficult and effectively a standstill of our 2020-21 budget position,” he added.

The draft budget is broadly flat in cash terms for government departments, setting aside additional funding to deal with Covid-19 and as part of the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

The executive’s response to Covid-19 has been allocated £538m, compared to more than £3bn received last year.

More than half of that funding – £380m – will go to the Department of Health, while £30.6m will go to the Department of Education to help low income families and £700,000 towards higher education.

The remaining £126.9m has yet to be allocated.

“With increased demands on public services, and taking account of inflation, it will be a challenge merely to deliver existing services at their current levels,” Mr Murphy said.

“Choices will have to be made, public services will have to be prioritised.”

Money for welfare reform mitigations and special education needs has been prioritised.

But funding packages for measures outlined in the confidence-and-supply agreement, the NI Protocol, the New Decade, New Approach and city deals have yet to be confirmed by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

No funding has been set aside for victims pensions payments, only the administrative cost of the pensions.

Flagship infrastructure projects like the A5, the A6 and Casement Park, as well as the schools estate and social housing, will get £1.75bn of capital spending.

“Next year we intend to freeze the regional rates for both households and businesses,” Mr Murphy said.

“I would urge councils to play their part and do the same in respect of their district rates.

“I also intend to provide £150m of additional business rates support in 2021-22.”

Consultation on the draft budget has now opened and will run until 25 February, with a final budget to be put to the assembly before April.

On the issue of victims’ pensions, a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office said: “The UK government legislated for this scheme in the absence of the executive.

“This remains a devolved matter and, as such, funding has to come from the block grant.”

They added the government has “provided unprecedented levels of additional funding to the Northern Ireland Executive this year, totalling more than £6bn”.

Covid: What is universal credit – and what other benefits are available?

Labour and some Conservative MPs are calling on the government to keep a temporary increase to universal credit.

The benefits payment was boosted by £20 a week at the start of the pandemic to help people who were struggling to cope financially.

The increase is due to stop at the end of March.

Universal credit is claimed by more than 5.5 million households. The payment was increased by £20 a week in April 2020 as part of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s early Covid economic response.

The government says the boost was only designed as a temporary response to help those unable to work or struggling due to the lockdown.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation – a charity which researches poverty – says millions of households face an income loss equivalent to £1,040 a year, and that 500,000 more people will be driven into poverty.

The government says it has made £280bn available to the most vulnerable families, and that additional help will be set out in the March Budget.

Universal credit is a benefit for working-age people, which was introduced to replace six benefits and merge them into one payment. The old ones are:

Most people who would have made a new claim for these benefits, must now make one for universal credit, which was designed to make claiming benefits simpler.

Making a claim for universal credit stops payment of any existing legacy benefits, so it is worth getting advice before doing so.

You can claim on the phone – or online.

A single universal credit payment is paid directly into claimants’ bank accounts. It is paid every month in England and Wales, but there is the option of payment every two weeks in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It can be claimed when you are in or out of work.

Universal credit may not be appropriate or available for everyone. Claiming it can affect other benefits, and it is vital to get some advice – available for free – before applying.

Universal credit has been the source of considerable debate from the start.

Firstly, it is complicated to work out exactly what you might receive. Some people, such as those with £16,000 or more in savings, will not be eligible at all.

Others may find what they receive depends on their circumstances, including any income their family has, as well as housing and childcare costs.

One contentious issue is that it usually takes five weeks from the date of claiming to receiving a first payment, although claimants may be able to get an advance loan.

An application for universal credit may put a stop to any tax credits you receive, even if it proves to be unsuccessful.

You may be able to claim a reduction in council tax when on universal credit, and get help with childcare costs. There is also support to pay the rent, which works in different ways across the UK. In time, there may also be assistance in paying the mortgage, although there are some strict criteria involved.

The main benefit for anyone losing their job after a period in work is new-style jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).

This is worth £58.90 a week, if you are under 25, or £74.35 a week if you are 25 or over.

You can get this for up to six months and it will be paid into your bank, building society, or credit union account every two weeks. Unlike universal credit, your partner’s or spouse’s income will not affect your claim.

You may be able to claim new-style JSA as well as universal credit.

There is a host of free guidance and advice available, including:

Extensive research has revealed the links between financial difficulties and mental health issues.

Support is available for both, and research also shows that ignoring any serious financial matters could make both factors worse.

EasyJet sees summer holiday bookings surge 250%

EasyJet says summer holiday bookings for this year are up 250% on last season, fuelling the airline industry’s hopes of pent up demand for when lockdown restrictions ease.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren told the BBC it offers confidence for the travel market post-coronavirus.

“We know that people want to go on holiday as soon as they can,” he said.

May is currently proving to be the most popular month for holidays, Mr Lundgren added.

Tougher lockdown rules across Europe, the closure of air corridors, and uncertainty about travel now the UK has left the EU, have piled more pressure on the airline industry at the start of 2021.

Last year airlines, including EasyJet, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, announced thousands of job cuts and scrapped some routes. Last week, airline Norwegian cut 1,000 jobs at Gatwick Airport and abandoned its long-haul operations.

“We know there is pent up demand – we have seen that every time restrictions have been relaxed, and so we know that people want to go on holiday as soon as they can,” Mr Lundgren told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

“We have been pleased to see that some customers are making plans for their summer holidays now, with EasyJet holidays bookings for summer 21 up 250%, compared to the same time last year, and with May currently proving to be the most popular month for holiday bookings at the moment.”

Mr Lundgren told the BBC the vaccination programme underway in the UK and Europe was “undoubtedly the key to unlocking travel again”. The airline was ready to ramp up its flying schedule as soon as customer confidence returned, he added.

Pre-departure coronavirus tests were part of this confidence process, but were to some extent “prohibitive”, he said.

With most tests at least costing £75, rising to £150 in some places, it makes flying much more expensive. “We would like to see the prices comes down,” Mr Lundgren said.

On Monday, new rules for travellers entering the UK came into force. Arrivals are required to take a negative coronavirus test up to 72 hours before departure and self-isolate for up to 10 days after entering the UK.

Some of the earliest arrivals at London’s Heathrow Airport said it had taken more than an hour to be processed, due to “substantial” lines at passport control.

The aviation industry called for ministers to ensure they have a plan in place for when restrictions can be eased.

Travel corridors were a lifeline for the travel industry when they were introduced in summer 2020, as struggling firms saw a spike in bookings for destinations added to the list.

Karen Dee, chief executive of trade body the Airport Operators Association, supported the decision to remove them but stressed the need for “a clear pathway out”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve had the worst year in the entire history of our industry, so the sooner we can get flying again safer, the better.”

Mr Lundgren said the loss of travel corridors will not have a “significant impact” on his airline in the short term, as flight numbers were already limited due to the pandemic.

“We know that there’s a big difference between people’s willingness to sacrifice to go and travel if you have to quarantine for 10 days or 14 days, down to five days or even three days,” he said.

“So it’s really, really important that, as part of the plan for recovery, the government also has the plan to unwind these restrictions that are in place.”

EasyJet: Jump in bookings fuels post-Covid confidence

EasyJet says summer holiday bookings for this year are up 250% on last season, fuelling the airline industry’s hopes of pent up demand for when lockdown restrictions ease.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren told the BBC it offers confidence for the travel market post-coronavirus.

“We know that people want to go on holiday as soon as they can,” he said.

May is currently proving to be the most popular month for holidays, Mr Lundgren added.

Tougher lockdown rules across Europe, the closure of air corridors, and uncertainty about travel now the UK has left the EU, have piled more pressure on the airline industry at the start of 2021.

Last year airlines, including EasyJet, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, announced thousands of job cuts and scrapped some routes. Last week, airline Norwegian cut 1,000 jobs at Gatwick Airport and abandoned its long-haul operations.

“We know there is pent up demand – we have seen that every time restrictions have been relaxed, and so we know that people want to go on holiday as soon as they can,” Mr Lundgren told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

“We have been pleased to see that some customers are making plans for their summer holidays now, with EasyJet holidays bookings for summer 21 up 250%, compared to the same time last year, and with May currently proving to be the most popular month for holiday bookings at the moment.”

Mr Lundgren told the BBC the vaccination programme underway in the UK and Europe was “undoubtedly the key to unlocking travel again”. The airline was ready to ramp up its flying schedule as soon as customer confidence returned, he added.

Pre-departure coronavirus tests were part of this confidence process, but were to some extent “prohibitive”, he said.

With most tests at least costing £75, rising to £150 in some places, it makes flying much more expensive. “We would like to see the prices comes down,” Mr Lundgren said.

On Monday, new rules for travellers entering the UK came into force. Arrivals are required to take a negative coronavirus test up to 72 hours before departure and self-isolate for up to 10 days after entering the UK.

Some of the earliest arrivals at London’s Heathrow Airport said it had taken more than an hour to be processed, due to “substantial” lines at passport control.

The aviation industry called for ministers to ensure they have a plan in place for when restrictions can be eased.

Travel corridors were a lifeline for the travel industry when they were introduced in summer 2020, as struggling firms saw a spike in bookings for destinations added to the list.

Karen Dee, chief executive of trade body the Airport Operators Association, supported the decision to remove them but stressed the need for “a clear pathway out”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve had the worst year in the entire history of our industry, so the sooner we can get flying again safer, the better.”

Mr Lundgren said the loss of travel corridors will not have a “significant impact” on his airline in the short term, as flight numbers were already limited due to the pandemic.

“We know that there’s a big difference between people’s willingness to sacrifice to go and travel if you have to quarantine for 10 days or 14 days, down to five days or even three days,” he said.

“So it’s really, really important that, as part of the plan for recovery, the government also has the plan to unwind these restrictions that are in place.”

British Virgin Islands corruption inquiry launched

A British judge is to run an independent inquiry into corruption claims in the British Virgin Islands.

The British overseas territory in the Caribbean has long faced allegations of state corruption including reports that £5m of public money was spent on an airline that did not exist.

The inquiry is expected to report in six months.

The BBC has been told the government thinks the islands’ authorities cannot cope with the size of the problem.

With the support of the UK Foreign Office, the British Virgin Island’s governor Augustus Jaspert, has ordered an independent commission of inquiry to be held by judge, Sir Gary Hikinbottom.

The judge will investigate allegations of misuse of taxpayers’ money, concerns about government procurement, political interference in public appointments and what has been called a climate of fear in public service.

There are also claims a £30m fund for families struggling with Covid has been channelled to politicians’ allies.

Other allegations include £700,000 spent on one school fence and a policeman found with cocaine worth almost £200m.

In a written statement Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “a consistent and deeply troubling array of concerns have been put to the governor by local institutions and the community” and that the UK was “extremely concerned”.

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