Former Australia Post chief executive, Christine Holgate, has lodged an explosive submission to the Senate inquiry into her sacking for the decision to award executives Cartier watches as bonuses.
“It is almost five months since the events of October 22nd, 2020, when, for no justified reason, I was humiliated in Parliament and then unlawfully stood down by the Australia Post Chair from a role I was passionately committed to,” the submission begins.
”Time after time he has made statements that I had agreed to stand down when I had done no such thing.”
Holgate said she offered to resign, but alleged Australia Post then leaked the letter to the media, before sending a counter-offer which is “itself confirmation that no agreement had been reached”.
Holgate said the gift of Cartier watches was “legal, within Australia Post’s policies, within my own signing authority limits, approved by the previous chairman, expensed appropriately, signed off by auditors and the CFO, [and] widely celebrated within the organisation”.
Holgate accused Di Bartolomeo of “seriously misleading” evidence to the Senate on 9 November, including about his knowledge of a BCG report into the incident.
Travel agents and hotel operators have welcomed details of the two way travel bubble with New Zealand, but have warned “there will be very little real benefit” for the sector in the short term.
This is because most of the initial travellers from 19 April are expected to be low-spending tourists visiting family and friends, as Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive, Margy Osmond, told the Guardian.
Accommodation Association of Australia has backed that prediction up, with its chief executive Dean Long reigniting calls for post-jobkeeper wage support for CBD hotels in Melbourne and Sydney that are still reeling from a drop off in international tourism and business travel.
The Association said Sydney is currently the worst performing city market in Australia with revenue declines of 67% and forward booking rates of less than 10% for the next 90 days and that Melbourne is similarly decimated.
The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction but the reality is while it’s good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there’s very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels. With the end of jobkeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia’s international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them is negligible. There’s no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence but it doesn’t erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it’s great news for our travel sector but not so good for tourism.
Australian Federation of Travel Agents chair Tom Manwaring said many of his members were already seeing “increased interest in booking NZ albeit primarily to visit friends and family”.
It’s not a massive increase in business and our sector still desperately needs support but it is a much needed step in the right direction.” However, we urge both the Australian and the New Zealand governments to do all they can to ensure now the corridor is open that it stays open. This is important both in terms of consumer confidence in booking travel and from a workload perspective for travel agents who are still working hard on repatriating the outstanding $4bn still owed to Australians by airlines, hotels and tour operators on Covid-impacted travel and managing re-bookings and cancellations as a result of state restrictions.
PNG man dies of Covid in Queensland hospital
Queensland Health has confirmed a 77-year-old Papua New Guinea/UK man died at Redcliffe hospital yesterday from complications due to Covid-19.
It says in a statement:
He was a dual Papua New Guinea/UK national who was transported by Medivac from PNG to Queensland on 28 March, as his condition was worsening.
Since that day, he has been in ICU at Redcliffe hospital and unfortunately passed away yesterday.
Queensland Health offers its sincere condolences to his family during this time.
Queensland recorded no new cases of Covid-19 over the past 24 hours.
Here is a market’s update courtesy of AAP.
Technology and travel stocks have helped the Australian share market post a solid start to the holiday shortened week.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed up 57.2 points, or 0.84%, to 6885.9 on Tuesday, the first trading session after the Easter break.
The All Ordinaries closed 69.7 points, or 0.99% higher, at 7133.90.
Technology shares led the broad-based gains, while travel-focused stocks also jumped on news of a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand.
The Australian dollar was buying 76.55 US cents at 1615 AEST, sharply higher from 75.47 US cents at last Thursday’s close.
Rounding out the press conference, Morrison returns to the vaccine rollout, saying:
Australia is not experiencing the dire, fatal consequences so many other countries are experiencing, and neither is New Zealand whose vaccination program is, I would say, at a lower level than Australia’s is now.It is not a criticism, it is just that they do not have access to domestic vaccine production.
Morrison is asked if he’d support a minimum global tax rate, as proposed by US treasury secretary Janet Yellen.
He doesn’t answer directly, but says “Australia’s overall [corporate tax] system is proving to be incredibly competitive and a lot more competitive” than some analysis suggests.
Question: Given the hold ups [with the CSL vaccines], how many people would you expect to be vaccinated by the end of April?
A couple of things – there is no hold up. The release of vaccines has always been based on them completing those processes, so the fact that they actually have to get approved by the relevant authorities and do the batch testing, is not a hold up, it is a necessary part of the process to guarantee Australian safety, so to describe it as a hold up would be incorrect.
On not meeting the four million target, he says:
The simple explanation of that is three million – 3.1m vaccines – that never came to Australia. That is the reason. In early January, we anticipated we would have the 3.1m vaccines. Those vaccines were not supplied to Australia, and that explains the difference between the numbers you are referring to, and we made that very clear back in February.
Morrison says a lack of supply is the reason why chemists are not more involved in the rollout, though he says it was never the plan that they would be “involved in vaccination program at this point”.
So there has been no slippage, there has been no delay, and the medical advice is it is not the time for pharmacists be involved at this point. There has always been a plan to involve them at the later point with a more general population, and that is still the plan.
Morrison is asked about the possibility of international travel to other countries beyond New Zealand.
“I can’t really speculate on it. I don’t think that’s fair,” he says.
At this point, the evidence is not strong enough to give us a good pointer about when we will arrive at that point.
Morrison says he can’t outline what’s next as far as travel bubbles go.
“We have looked at places like Singapore and Japan and South Korea, and countries like this, but at this stage we are not in a position to move forward on any of those at this point,” he says.
Morrison expects travel to Australia to increase with the travel bubble because New Zealanders will not have to submit to quarantine when they return.
Asked what he’d say to Australians disappointed with the speed of the rollout, Morrison says:
And it is true that at this stage of our rollout, it is actually better than where Germany was, better than where New Zealand was, better than where South Korea and Japan was, and so I think there will be some important context in the weeks ahead as we see the significant ramp up of the distribution network.
Morrison says “the challenges Australia have had has been a supply problem”, “pure and simple”.
There were three million doses that never arrived, he adds.
Morrison is asked for some vaccination data. He says:
The figures I have of the 5 April is 854,983. Of that, there are some 280,943 that have been done through the GP clinics and the GP respiratory clinics and other federal agencies.
That is in addition to those that have been done through age and disability facilities, which is around the 112,830.
Morrison supports data being provided more regularly, he says, and will discuss that with state and territory leaders at national cabinet.
All flights from South Africa will be stopped, with people who have been in or transited through South Africa in the last 10 days are no longer allowed into the UK, other than British or Irish nationals who must self isolate.
Mr Hancock claimed the new variant is even more contagious than another new strain detected in Kent and London earlier this month, which scientists say is up to 70 per cent more easily spread.
It has led to millions being plunged into Tier 4 at the “eleventh hour” before Christmas, or on Boxing Day, to manage “out of control” cases.
Professor Lawrence Young, a molecular oncologist, University of Warwick, told The Sun: “If this strain is as transmissible as suggested by the data that has come out of South Africa, then just identifying a few cases recently, it’s probably just the tip of the iceberg, I suspect.
“You can identify it in a couple of people… but they’ll be more, for sure.
“Some cases will be from people spreading it in the UK, and some will be from other introductions from South Africa.”
Prof Young said there is “still a lot we don’t know” about the variant from South Africa, and whether it is more transmissible, or simply been able to grow “in the right place, at the right time”.
Scientists in South Africa say the variant is still being analysed, but the data are consistent with it spreading more quickly. It accounts for around 90 per cent of new cases.
Prof Young said: “If this has become the dominant infection in South Africa, and it’s been there certainly for a couple of months, and how many have travelled between the UK and South Africa in that time now? Quite a lot I would’ve thought.”
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said it’s “quite possible” there are undetected cases in the UK, but it will “probably be a number of weeks before we know for certain”.
Speaking of the quarantine measures imposed yesterday, Prof Hunter said: “It might already be too late, but we just don’t know.
“If [these two] are the only infections, yes it might be enough. But if it has already spread elsewhere in the UK and we just don’t know it, the answer is probably no, it won’t be sufficient.”
What is the new strain from South Africa?
The new variant is called 501.V2 and it was announced by the South African government on December 18.
At this stage, its symptoms do not appear to be different to that caused by the original Covid strain.
The most common signs of Covid to look out for are a loss of taste and smell, a persistent cough, and a high temperature.
Scientists are investigating whether the new strain causes more severe disease. But it does seem to be infecting more young people than the original strain, according to South African’s health minister Zweli Mkhize.
Dr Andrew Preston, University of Bath, said: “The ‘South African’ variant is distinct from the UK variant, but both contain an unusually high number of mutations compared to other SARS-CoV-2 lineages.”
“Some of these mutations change the S protein, which is cause for concern,” Dr Preston said.
The spike protein is on the outer surface of the viral particle. It is a focus for coronavirus vaccines, and so if it changes, it could affect how vaccines work.
New strains may make vaccines less effective, because the immune system does not recognise the new variant when it infects the body. This is “highly unlikely” to affect the vaccines that are being rolled out in the UK right now.
The mutations in this virus also mean it’s possible it can reinfect a person who has already recovered from Covid-19.
All of these things are being studied closely.
Mutations are normal in any evolution of a virus over time. Already thousands have been found in SARS-CoV-2 within one year.
What makes the latest two from the UK and South Africa so interesting is the speed at which they became “prominent”, causing lots of cases and suddenly.
The two confirmed cases -in London and the North West – were close contacts of people who had recently travelled to South Africa.
Those travellers would have had Covid-19, possibly without showing symptoms.
It is not clear if this was while they were in the UK, and if they have passed it onto other people who have gone undetected.
Infectious diseases expert Dr Susan Hopkins told the Downing Street press conference yesterday that health chiefs were “pretty confident” the measures that have been taken will help to control the spread.
TRAVEL ALLOWS STRAINS TO SPREAD
Experts said it’s likely there are more cases of the South Africa variant on the basis that the UK one has already reached several other countries.
Prof Hunter told The Sun: “It wouldn’t surprise me if it was circulating, in the way the English one is circulating already in many European countries.”
Prof Young said: “This so-called UK variant is now in Belgium, Gibraltar, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark. It’s all over the place. Today it’s been reported in Israel.
“It’s because of travelling. I know it is difficult, but if you don’t restrict travel, and you’re not strict about quarantining people, this is what you end up with.”
The UK has repeatedly seen introductions of other strains from across the world which have quickly become dominant, and caused cases to soar.
Prof Young said: “One of the things we’ve not been so good at is border control. When you look at countries that have been successful, one of the things they did very early on is shut their borders.
“We were very slow to do that, hence we allowed a lot of introductions of the virus into the UK from overseas.
“That’s what happened in the first wave, and it looks like that also contributed to fuelling this second wave.”
What’s happening in South Africa?
501.V2 accounts for up to 90 percent of South Africa’s new cases.
Daily confirmed infections are reaching 9,500 per day, on average.
It’s the highest it’s been since the peak of the first wave in July, when almost 13,000 cases were being diagnosed a day.
The country saw a dip in cases between September and mid-November before a sudden spike, which the health minister Mr Mkhize said was “being driven by this new variant”.
Latest figures suggest the South African strain was behind a record number of people being hospitalised there.
South Africa has recorded the highest number of coronavirus infections on the African continent, approaching the 950,000 mark, with over 25,000 related deaths so far.
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WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert, warned that the travel-heavy Thanksgiving holiday could make the current surge in Covid-19 cases even worse as the nation heads into December.
Appearing on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” Sunday, Fauci said that public health officials “tried to get the word out for people, as difficult as it is, to really not have large gatherings” during the holiday due to concerns that the celebrations could exacerbate the coronavirus spread.
“What we expect, unfortunately, as we go for the next couple of weeks into December, is that we might see a surge superimposed on the surge we are already in,” he said.
“I don’t want to frighten people except to say it’s not too late at all for us to do something about this,” he added, urging Americans to be careful when they travel back home and upon arriving, and to take proven steps like social distancing and wearing masks.
It can sometimes take two weeks for infected people to develop symptoms, and asymptomatic people can spread the virus without knowing they have it. So Fauci said the “dynamics of an outbreak” show a three-to-five-week lag between serious mitigation efforts and the actual curbing of infection rates.
While the first wave of vaccinations could start in America within a matter of weeks, Fauci said that, for now, “we are going to have to make decisions as a nation, state, city and family that we are in a very difficult time, and we’re going to have to do the kinds of restrictions of things we would have liked to have done, particularly in this holiday season, because we’re entering into what’s really a precarious situation.”
Covid-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. have been accelerating in recent weeks. There have been more than 4 million cases and 35,000 deaths attributed to the virus in the month of November alone. Overall, America has had 13.3 million coronavirus cases and 267,000 deaths attributable to the virus, according to an NBC News analysis.
Despite a mid-November warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraging Americans not to travel during Thanksgiving, air travel broke pandemic records, with 6.8 million people traveling through airports in the seven days ahead of the holiday.
Fauci said that he is concerned about the nation’s hospitals, noting that he received calls last night from colleagues across the country “pleading for advice” amid the “significant stresses on the hospital and health care delivery systems.”
While he explicitly said he was not calling for a national lockdown, Fauci said at the local level, Americans could “blunt” the surge’s effects on the hospital system by taking mitigation steps “short of locking down so we don’t precipitate the necessity of locking down.”
The surge in cases comes amid promising news about a coronavirus vaccine, with both public health officials and the federal government planning to begin the first wave of vaccinations in December. Fauci said that while the “exact” recommendations for scheduling groups to receive vaccinations have not been finalized, “health care workers are going to be among” those first in line for the vaccines.
He pointed to the country’s success in distributing annual flu vaccines as “the reason we should feel more confident” about the ability to send the needed vaccine across America.
“The part about 300 million doses getting shipped is going to get taken care of by people who know how to do that,” he said. “The part at the distal end, namely, getting it into people’s arms, is going to be more challenging than a regular flu season, it would be foolish to deny that. But I think it’s going to be able to get done because the local people have done that in the past. Hopefully, they’ll get the resources to help them to do that.”
Good news about Covid-19 vaccines has been on the uptick this month, and with it, a bump in inquiries to travel agencies about what these medical advances might mean for travel in 2021.
The calls don’t always lead to bookings, advisors said, and although the good news is tempered in part by spiking cases around the country, consumer response to the vaccine news appears to both reflect high levels of pent-up demand and herald the nascent return of broad consumer confidence to travel.
On Nov. 9, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that preliminary data indicates their vaccine is more than 90% effective. A week later, Moderna on Nov. 16 said preliminary analysis found its vaccine was more than 94.5% effective. And just before Thanksgiving, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford said preliminary data found their vaccine up to 90% effective.
“Within an hour of Pfizer announcing their vaccine, we started getting calls,” said Helen Papa, owner of TBH Travel in Dix Hills, N.Y. “Within an hour. It was amazing.”
Cruise lines also saw some positive effects attributable to vaccine news. During Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ most recent financial earnings call, the day after Pfizer’s news, president and CEO Frank Del Rio said bookings in the previous 24 hours were “pretty good; better than the previous four or five Mondays.”
“And that’s, I think, attributable to the vaccine news,” he said. “We did not have any particular promotion or did any outsized marketing.”
Similarly, Royal Caribbean Group chairman Richard Fain addressed the question of positive news about vaccines during Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld, which was held virtually earlier this month.
“I don’t think it will surprise anybody that when the news is scary, people tend to go back into their cocoons,” Fain said. “As the news gets to be more positive they come out. What’s encouraging is how quickly it responds.”
After both the Pfizer and Moderna news broke, Skyscanner found that searches for travel from the U.S. to Mexico surpassed their weekly volume from last year, up 10%. Skyscanner attributed that increase to the vaccine news, as well.
For Papa, some of the inquiries she received at TBH have turned into bookings. Clients are “cautiously optimistic,” she said.
On the other side of the country from Papa, Coastline Travel Advisors in Garden Grove, Calif., also received a number of emails and calls from clients following vaccine announcements, according to president Jay Johnson.
While there has been a general sense of optimism and more confidence in travel’s return by next summer, he said, the influx of inquiries has not yet resulted in new business.
“There is without a doubt a huge amount of pent-up demand to travel in 2021,” Johnson said. “All we need now is confirmation that the vaccines work and a lowering of cases. Then, we’ll be off and running.”
Avenue Two Travel in Villanova, Pa., saw an uptick in both calls and bookings as a result of the positive vaccine news, but that was tempered by the rising number of cases around the country, said CEO Joshua Bush.
Avenue Two has seen steady, week-over-week increases in travel since mid-August, thanks to domestic travel and clients dreaming about 2021 travel, Bush said. In addition to closer-in domestic bookings, Avenue Two has even been booking things like world cruise segments and expedition trips. Overall, business is down about 70% year over year, but better than the 95 to 97% it was down when the pandemic first hit.
The week before Pfizer had announced its vaccine’s effectiveness, business was “absolutely dead,” which Bush attributed to the unsettled U.S. presidential election.
But the week of Nov. 16, Bush said, “with the election result [more widely accepted] and the vaccine … we are on track for our best week this year since Covid.” Those bookings were for both the holiday season and 2021 as travelers are getting more optimistic about a vaccine.
At the same time, the good news is offset by the surge in cases and deaths around the world, especially in the U.S.
“We’re hitting milestone death numbers,” Bush said. “We’re hitting milestone cases on individual days. That is really kind of tamping down the news that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We’re definitely in this still.”
In some places, though, travelers have shown less concern about traveling during the pandemic, and the news of the vaccines was akin to a nonevent. Jeanne Polocheck, owner of Well Traveled Texan in Houston, said her Texas-based clients largely kept traveling during the pandemic. Things had initially slowed early this year, but by Memorial Day clients were out and about again, a trend that has continued. Domestic spots and Mexico have been popular.
She didn’t even get one phone call from a client about vaccines.
A potential stumbling block to the recovery of travel is the resistance among some people to being vaccinated. A Gallup poll conducted between Oct. 19 and Nov. 1, before the vaccine trial results were announced, indicated 58% of adult respondents were willing to get a vaccination, a rise from 50% in September.
Lingering and significant reluctance to be vaccinated will likely present hurdles to overcome with regard to travel in the future, said Ensemble Travel Group CEO David Harris.
He pointed to the flu vaccine: It’s been available for decades, but a portion of the population skips it each year.
However, he is more hopeful about a Covid vaccine, given how serious the impact of the virus has been. While a vaccine will never be 100% effective, it could go a long way to the resumption of travel, he said, by giving confidence to governments to relax requirements for quarantines and other deterrents to travel.
“Those should, in theory, be relaxed if you get traction from an effective vaccine,” he said.