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Anxious passengers 'unlikely' to see refunds after airlines end physical distancing – CTV News

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TORONTO —
WestJet and Air Canada will soon begin selling every seat on their flights again, ending their attempts at physical distancing — a decision that has left many passengers demanding refunds.

Starting July 1, passengers will no longer be spaced apart on flights as the airlines begin offering the middle seats for sale, once blocked off in an effort to space passengers due to COVID-19.

But customers who purchased a ticket expecting not to have anyone sitting in the adjacent seat are unlikely to see a refund if they choose not to fly in light of the decision, according to Gabor Lukacs, President of Air Passenger Rights, an advocacy group for flyers.

“I would say passengers who were misled to believe that there would be no one in the middle seat have every right to a refund,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

“[But] I don’t anticipate airlines to voluntarily part from their money, which is why I don’t recommend flying with any Canadian airlines at the moment.”

Under contract law, Lukacs said, passengers should have grounds for complaint, since they expected a different experience when they purchased their tickets than what the actual experience will be. However, he doubts anyone will be able to convince an airline to hold up their end of the bargain.

“They are not refunding tickets for cancelled flights,” he pointed out, adding that he anticipates airlines will “give passengers a hard time” if they try to get a refund over the change in seat policy, even though airlines have “renege[d] on their promise not to seat anyone else next to them.”

Passengers will still be given pre-boarding temperature checks, and masks will be mandatory. But experts note, despite these measures, consumers are still taking a risk.

“We do the best screening we can, wear the best masks we can, we keep them on all night long when we’re on an overnight flight and things like that,” Dr. Ronald St. John, Director General of Public Health Agency of Canada, told CTV News.

“And we hope that the risk is minimal. It won’t be zero.”

Ticket holders uncomfortable with boarding a packed plane can rebook for free, the airlines say.

Normally, if an airline cancels a flight themselves, that’s the one time that a passenger can be guaranteed a refund, unless they want to ask for a credit instead.

However, Canadian airlines have come under fire during the pandemic for refusing refunds to customers in many cases and offering only vouchers instead.

“After stealing passengers’ money, Canadian airlines are now set to play Russian roulette with passengers’ lives to make a buck,” Lukacs said.

Several airlines operating out of the U.S. are also saying goodbye to physical distancing.

American Airlines is set to start selling every seat on their flights come July 1, and United Airlines has been flying without physical distancing for at least a month and a half. A photo of a plane packed with passengers, allegedly a United Airlines flight, picked up a lot of traffic and outrage when posted on Twitter in early May.

While Transport Canada recommends physical distancing on flights to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s not law.

On WestJet’s website, the airline states that they decided to end the blocking off of adjacent seats because they are following the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) guidance for global health and safety.

They say IATA’s guidelines support removing physical distancing because they are already providing other protections against the virus, such as HEPA filters to clean recirculated air, airflow being directed up instead of forward or backward, and “the physical barrier of seat backs.”

The IATA, Lukacs pointed out, is not a health organization, but an airline association, which he says is serving the financial interests of airlines.

“I’m not hearing a clear, obvious explanation from the airlines, nor have I seen any scientific research that would justify what the airlines are doing,” he said. “What the airlines are doing puts not only the passengers themselves at risk, but also anyone who comes into contact with them at the destination.

“There is a reason why there is a requirement for social distancing at the airport terminal, on buses, […] even outside,” he added. “What would be more better in terms of safety than being outside? When you have lots of fresh air surrounding you, constant circulation of air — and they still tell you to stay two meters away from another person.”

The decision to end physical distancing on flights is not one that customers are taking lightly.

Many have flooded social media with complaints and concerns, calling for explanations — and refunds — from Air Canada and WestJet.

“I just read that @WestJet has cancelled their seat distancing policy? Is this true? I booked my senior citizen mom on one of your flights because of this policy,” one Twitter user wrote. “I hope you plan to offer a full refund because this is NOT acceptable. Profit over people seems to be the protocol.”

Another user wrote that they had waited for three hours on hold to talk to WestJet representatives, only to receive no help.

“[They] informed me that no refunds would be forthcoming and no special seating accommodations would be made for INFANTS who CANNOT WEAR MASKS,” Twitter user Alex Willis wrote. “Disgraceful. I hope @GovCanHealth @transportc have a reasonable explanation for this.”

Lukacs emphasized that the onus for this situation is not just on the airlines themselves, pointing out that the government could step in to require refunds, or mandate physical distancing on flights.

“The problem is not simply the airlines. The problem is the federal government,” he said.

“The federal government is abdicating its role as protecting the public health in this situation. The real problem I’m seeing is that the federal government is allowing this to happen.”

His advice? Don’t risk it.

“For this summer, it should be a staycation. You can have a wonderful vacation at home or perhaps in your own province.” 

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China's economy grows 3.2% in second quarter – MarketWatch

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BEIJING–China’s economy in the second quarter expanded 3.2% from a year earlier, rebounding from a historic coronavirus-induced contraction in the first three months of the year, as Beijing managed to largely bring the virus under control and restore economic activity.

Following the historic 6.8% on-year economic contraction in the first quarter, China is now the first of the major world economies to post positive growth after the Covid-19 pandemic began to ravage the global economy earlier this year.

The result beat a median forecast of a 2.6% increase expected by economists polled by The Wall Street Journal.

China’s gross domestic product in the second quarter rose 11.5% from the first quarter, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics Thursday. In the first half, the Chinese economy dropped 1.6% from a year earlier.

China’s policy makers omitted setting a growth target for 2020 after the economy ground to a near halt in the first quarter due to the coronavirus outbreak. Chinese leaders pledged to stabilize the job market and create more jobs instead this year.

China’s urban surveyed jobless rate dropped to 5.7% in June, compared with 5.9% in May.

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Coronavirus: Chinese economy bounces back into growth – BBC News

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China’s economy grew 3.2% in the second quarter following a record slump.

The world’s second biggest economy saw a sharp decline in the first three months of the year during coronavirus lockdowns.

But figures released on Wednesday show China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) returned to growth during April to June.

The numbers are being closely watched around the world as China restarts its economy.

The figure is higher than experts were predicting and points towards a V-shaped recovery – that is, a sharp fall followed by a quick recovery.

It also means China avoids going into a technical recession – signified as two consecutive periods of negative growth.

The bounce-back follows a steep 6.8% slump in the first quarter of the year, which was the biggest contraction since quarterly GDP records began.

The country’s factories and businesses were shutdown for most of this period as China introduced strict measures to curb the spread of the virus

The government has been rolling out a raft of measures to help boost the economy, including tax breaks.

Is this a V-shaped recovery?

Analysis by Mariko Oi, BBC News, Singapore

The Chinese economy managed to grow stronger than expected as the economy emerged from the lockdown.

All the stimulus measures announced by the authorities seem to be working – with factories getting busier, evident in growth in the industrial production data.

But one sector that hasn’t recovered as quickly as they had hoped is retail sales.

They still fell in the second quarter – and getting people spending again will remain a challenge.

And just as the economy starts to recover, tensions with the US are flaring up – especially over Hong Kong.

That is why some economists are reluctant to call it a V-shaped recovery just yet.

A research note from Deutsche Bank said the “V-shaped recovery” was “largely completed”.

“Consumer spending is still below its pre-Covid path, but the remaining gap is largely concentrated in a few sectors – travel, dining, leisure services– where rapid recovery is unlikely,” it added.

In May, China announced it would not set an economic growth goal for 2020 as it dealt with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

It is the first time Beijing has not had a gross domestic product (GDP) target since 1990 when records began.

For the first six months of the year, China’s economy fell 1.6%, its National Bureau of Statistics said.

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21 more cases of COVID-19 reported in B.C. – CTV News VI

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VICTORIA —
Another 21 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in British Columbia, health officials announced Wednesday.

The total includes 19 new positive tests for the coronavirus and two additional epidemiologically linked cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in B.C. since the pandemic began to 3,149.

There have been no additional deaths from the virus over the last 24 hours, leaving the provincial death toll at 189.

There have now been 2,753 recoveries from the virus in B.C., leaving the province with 207 active cases. Of those, 14 people are hospitalized and five are in intensive care.

Wednesday’s update from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix came in the form of a news release. It comes after a surge in new positive tests reported over the weekend, many of them related to private parties in the province’s Interior.

The 21 additional cases announced make Wednesday the sixth day out of the last seven in which the provincial case count grew by at least 20. Tuesday, when 13 new cases were reported, was the only day in the last week not to cross that threshold.

Dix and Henry addressed these increases in their joint statement Wednesday.

“We are concerned about the increase in new cases in recent days as COVID-19 continues to silently circulate in our communities,” the pair said. “As we spend more time with others, we need to find our balance with COVID-19. We need to minimize the number of cases, manage new cases as they emerge and modify our activities accordingly.”

The officials noted that many of B.C.’s early cases of the coronavirus were found in long-term care and assisted-living facilities, the recent growth in the provincial caseload has happened mostly in the broader community.

There continue to be three ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19 in health-care facilities, including two in seniors’ care homes and one in an acute care unit. There is also one ongoing “community outbreak,” according to Dix and Henry.

Most cases of COVID-19 in B.C. have been located in the Lower Mainland, with 1,659 in the Fraser Health region and 1,023 in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region.

Elsewhere in the province, there have been 216 cases in Interior Health, 135 in Island Health and 65 in Northern Health.

An additional 51 cases of COVID-19 reported in B.C. have been found in people who reside outside Canada, according to Wednesday’s update.

Henry and Dix will deliver their next live briefing on Thursday.

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