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SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesDigambar Singh says he has been chasing Byju’s, an online tutoring firm and the world’s highest-valued edtech start-up, for a refund for months now. Mr Singh, an accountant, says he paid 5,000 rupees (£48; $66) up front and borrowed an additional 35,000 rupees – a loan he claims was facilitated by Byju’s – to buy a two-year math and science programme for his son. “A sales representative came to my home and asked my son all kinds of difficult questions which he couldn’t answer,” Mr Singh said. “We were completely demotivated after their visit.” He told the BBC he felt shamed into buying the course. But he claims he didn’t get the services he was promised – including face-to-face coaching, and a counsellor who would call and update him on his son’s progress – and that after the initial months Byju’s stopped answering his calls. Byju’s called his allegations “baseless and motivated” and told the BBC Mr Singh “was spoken to several times in the follow-up period”. They said they had a “no questions asked” 15-day refund policy for their product, if a student opts for learning material with an accompanying tablet, and an “anytime” refund policy for their services. The company said Mr Singh asked for a refund two months after the product was shipped. But after the BBC brought Mr Singh’s case to their attention they gave him the refund he was after. Online classes expose India’s digital divideCovid in India – children have forgotten how to read The BBC spoke to many parents who said the services they were promised – one-on-one tutoring and an assigned mentor to assess the child’s progress – never materialised. In at least three different cases, India’s consumer courts have ordered Byju’s to pay damages to customers in disputes related to refunds and deficiency of services. Byju’s told the BBC that they had reached a settlement in these legal cases, and their grievance redressal rate was 98%. But a BBC investigation based on interviews with former Byju employees and customers has revealed several allegations. Disgruntled parents allege they were misled by sales agents. They said they were lured into contracts by agents who convinced them of an urgent need only to go incommunicado a few months after the sale, making it difficult to get a refund. Once a sale is done, agents would be “least bothered” to follow up, a former Byju’s employee said.Former employees complained of “pushy managers”, claiming there was a high-pressure sales culture that emphasised aggressive targets. There are also hundreds of complaints in online consumer and employee forums against the company. Image source, Getty ImagesByju’s denied using aggressive sales tactics and said “only if the student and parent sees value in our product and develop trust do they purchase it”. They added that their “employee culture does not permit any misbehaviour or bad behaviour towards parents” and that “all rigorous checks and balances are in place to prevent misuse and abuse”.Founded by Byju Raveendran in 2011, Byju’s is funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and major private equity firms such as Tiger Global and General Atlantic. With schools being closed for more than a year-and-half, the pandemic forced millions of Indian students to turn to online classes. And the sudden switch made anxious parents like Mr Singh – who traditionally see education as an essential ticket to upward mobility – a crucial market for Byju’s. So the firm’s ascent since the pandemic began has been nothing short of meteoric. It claims it added more than six million paying users, with a 85% renewal rate. The BBC spoke to several students and parents who vouched for the quality of Byju’s learning content – in a country where rote learning is often the norm, Byju’s has been credited for deftly using technology to create immersive, engaging lessons. It also claims to have the industry’s highest net promoter score (NPS), which measures customer experience and predicts business growth. Byju’s has raised more than $1bn since March 2020 and gone on an acquisition binge, mopping up a dozen competitors to become an umbrella holding company for firms offering everything from coding classes to coaching for competitive exams. It’s possibly the most visible brand on Indian TV, with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan driving its flashy ad campaign as brand ambassador. Image source, Getty ImagesBut some education experts have questioned whether the company’s rapid growth is a result of hard sales tactics that have fed into parents’ insecurities, and added to their debt burden. Parents claim the tactics included incessant cold calls and sales pitches whose effect was to convince them that their child will be left behind if they don’t by a Byju’s product. Given that even Byju’s basic courses start at around $50 – unaffordable to most Indians – the company often pushed its product irrespective of whether the child needed it or the family could afford it, a former employee said. “It does not matter if he is a farmer, a rickshaw puller. The same product is sold for a range [of prices]. If we see that a parent cannot afford it, we charge them the lowest price in that range,” said Nitish Roy, a former business development associate at Byju’s, told the BBC. Byju’s said they have “different products at different price points based on customers’ needs and affordability” and do not change prices in “the manner suggested”. It also said sales executives have no control over pricing. Several current and former employees also told the BBC they were often pushed to meet unrealistic targets. Two recorded telephone conversations which appear to show furious managers humiliating sales people for not meeting their targets surfaced online late last year and in January this year, Byju’s told the BBC the conversations took place 18 months ago and it took necessary steps to rectify the situation, including terminating the contract of those managers. In a statement to the BBC, Byju’s said “there is no room for abusive, offensive behaviour in our organisation. The affected employee in the case referred by you continues to remain with us and enjoys management’s confidence”. Image source, Getty ImagesBut more than one employee told the BBC that the pressure to make a sale was so high that it took a toll on their mental health. One sales executive said he developed anxiety, and his blood pressure and sugar shot up during the year he worked at Byju’s. Several employees said 12-15 hour work days were a regular feature of their job, and staff who couldn’t clock 120 minutes of “talk-time” with potential customers were marked absent, resulting in loss of pay for that day. “That would happen to me at least twice a week. I’d have to make at least 200 calls a day to be able to hit the target,” a former employee said. He added that the target was incredibly difficult to meet because he would be given few leads to chase and an average call would often last less than two minutes. But Byju’s said it was incorrect to suggest that it “either docks salaries or marks people absent if they fail to hit the target in the first instance”. “All organisations have rigorous but fair sales targets and Byju’s is no exception,” the firm said. They added that mindful of employees’ health and comfort, they offered a robust training programme. “We have thousands of employees across our group companies and even in the case of a one-off incident, we immediately evaluate and take strict actions against mistreatment.”But Mr Roy, who now teaches orphans in a school in Mumbai city, says he left Byju’s earlier this year after a two-month stint because he was deeply uncomfortable with how the company operated. “It started as a noble concept, but has now become a revenue-generating machine,” he added. Image source, Getty ImagesPradip Saha, co-founder of Morning Context, a media and research company that reports extensively on India’s start-ups says much of this “boils down to the pursuit of growth at a rapid pace”. He said this was not a problem peculiar to Byju’s, but the edtech sector as a whole. Despite mounting criticism, he said, he doesn’t see drastic change around the corner. “Most of these complaints are anecdotal. And only a handful of them find a platform, if at all. When you put these complaints against the revenue that these start-ups are generating, it becomes a no-brainer.” But the clamour for regulation is growing. Dr Aniruddha Malpani, a doctor, angel investor and vocal critic of Byju’s business model, told the BBC the time is rife for a Beijing-style crackdown on edtech start-ups in India. China recently mandated that online tutoring firms must turn not-for-profit.  The solution already exists, Dr Malpani believes. He says the Indian government should replicate the “Netflix model” to regulate the sector, referring to a monthly subscription model that has no minimum lock-in period. “This would align interests immediately, because then, you make money by delighting your students on an ongoing basis.” The Indian government is yet to step in – but it may soon need to as parental grievances rise. Dr. Malpani says he is preparing to petition the courts asking the government regulate the sector. “You see all these headline numbers, with so many millions raised and the world’s most valuable ed-tech start up… All these are pointless vanity metrics,” Dr Malpani said.   “I think at some point we can’t afford to forget that education like health care is a public good.” You might also be interested in:This video can not be playedTo play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesDonald Trump’s deal to float his social media firm on the stock market is being investigated by Wall Street watchdogs.Regulators are probing Digital World Acquisition Corp, the firm set to merge with Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG). According to a filing on Monday, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requested documents about its investors and trading.TMTG plans to launch a social media app called Truth Social early next year. The filing states that the SEC also asked to see information detailing the relationship between Digital World and TMTG.It also said that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is probing the deal as well.The BBC has contacted the SEC and TMTG for comment.Trump social media firm says it has raised $1bn Steve Bannon pleads not guilty to contempt chargeRights groups condemn Trump migrant policy returnThe SEC was requested by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren last month, to investigate the proposed merger of the two firms for potential violations of securities laws. Digital World is a so-called special purpose acquisition company (Spac) or “blank cheque company”. Spacs, which became a major story in the US stock market at the start of this year, are shell companies that are set up with the sole purpose of merging with a private firm to take it public. However, they have lost much of their lustre after some of the companies that merged with them failed to deliver on their ambitious financial projections.On Saturday, Mr Trump’s firm said it had secured $1bn from “a diverse group of institutional investors” without revealing who they were. According to reports, the social media venture is now valued at almost $4bn. The former US president is still banned from Twitter and Facebook following the 6 January attack on the US Capitol.At the time he was banned Mr Trump had 89 million followers on Twitter, 33 million on Facebook and 24.5 million on Instagram, according to a presentation on his company’s website.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingHong Kong is one of the world’s biggest aviation hubs but also has some of the strictest coronavirus regulations in the world. Two pilots tell the BBC how these rules are affecting their mental health and putting a strain on their personal lives. “You’re just in a perpetual state of quarantine.” Pierre*, a pilot with the city’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific, has spent almost 150 days in isolation in this year alone, he says. Though Hong Kong has recorded barely any local coronavirus cases in recent months, the city has imposed an extensive testing and quarantine regime, in line with mainland China’s zero Covid policy. Pilots are not exempted from these rules – which means they spend an exceptionally large portion of their time either working or in quarantine. These tough measures start at the airport. All international inbound travellers have to take Covid-19 tests on arrival at Hong Kong airport and quarantine even if they test negative. They need to wait for their test results – which are made available on the same day – before they can proceed with immigration procedures. “[Aircrew] have been on an aeroplane for upwards of 25 hours, sometimes closer to 30 hours if there are any delays,” says Clark*, another Cathay Pacific pilot.”They have to sit on a plastic chair and can’t sleep, waiting for the tests. The whole process takes about four hours from the time you’ve landed to the time you get home.” If they test negative, they get to go home – but they’re still not free.In the first three days after arriving in Hong Kong, aircrew must remain at home. They can only leave for a maximum of two hours a day, and only to get tested for Covid or for essential activities. Crew members then have to “avoid unnecessary social contact” for a further 18 days and continue daily testing. “I don’t think this is in any way fair or justified,” said Clark. “Totally unacceptable.” When the pilots test positive, or in Pierre’s case, are marked as a close contact of a positive case, they will be sent to hospital or a quarantine facility – like the controversial Penny’s Bay centre that has been criticised for its living conditions. Pierre said being in Penny’s Bay was like being in “solitary confinement” in a cramped room that “got zero sun”. “I couldn’t even see any plants, not a single blade of grass,” he said. The families of positive cases and close contacts have also been forced to stay at the facility, and they have included children and pregnant women.Foreign aircrew flying into Hong Kong are also subject to these rules. Following reports that more British Airways crew were being quarantined at Penny’s Bay, the airline recently suspended flights to Hong Kong saying they were “reviewing operational requirements for this route”. But the restrictions don’t end even when the Cathay pilots are overseas. Aircrew have to stick to the airline’s strict isolation rules while on layovers in other countries. “You go directly from your room to the aeroplane. Fly, and then go directly back to your room and you’re locked up in your room until you leave again,” said Pierre. Once at the hotel they must stay in their room for the duration of the layover, including meal times. “Food gets delivered to your room, you open your door, get the food, eat it in the room by yourself,” he said. “There’s a security guard outside your door. So you, literally, can’t step into the hallway. We are in quarantine from when we show up at work until we get back to Hong Kong.” Resignation and retirement In response to a request for comment on the pilots’ grievances, Cathay Pacific reiterated its support for the Hong Kong government’s quarantine measures, saying: “The safety and wellbeing of our customers, employees and the community remain our absolute priority. “We regularly remind our aircrew of the critical importance of complying with anti-pandemic measures both in Hong Kong and overseas.” On the conditions at Penny’s Bay quarantine centre, Cathay Pacific said it was doing its best to “help everyone affected”, reiterating that Penny’s Bay is a “designated government facility”. “We have scaled up our support, drawing on resources from across the group to get everything from electrical appliances, amenities and additional food supplies to those in the facility to help make their stay as comfortable as possible.” Cathay Pacific said that it acknowledges the “burden” that had been placed on their aircrew. “A pilot who feels unfit to fly in any way can express that to the management team without jeopardy and is legally protected in their right to declare themselves unfit for duty,” the company said.The airline also said that in recent weeks it had seen an impact on “current sentiment” in how aircrew felt about their jobs. But this is cold comfort for some employees. The Cathay pilots told the BBC that they have applied or plan to apply for stress leave due to the impact their jobs have have had on them psychologically and the strain put on their personal lives. “It’s almost a certainty that I’ll be resigning in the spring… I’m leaving without an actual job and just resigning,” said Clark. “I would say, probably, 80% of those that I fly with are actively looking for work elsewhere… It’s all we talk about.” *The names of the pilots have been changed to protect their identities.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Mathew O’TooleOn Tuesday all international arrivals to the UK will need to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test to tackle the new Omicron variant.The change comes into force from 04:00 GMT, with travellers over the age of 12 having to submit evidence of a negative lateral flow or PCR test that has been taken a maximum of 48 hours before the departure to the UK.The news dismayed the travel industry, but for travellers about to leave the UK the extra cost, confusion and inconvenience about getting tested before returning now overshadows their trips. Some are even considering cancelling because there is no guarantee the rules won’t change yet again.Matthew O’Toole has no intention of cancelling his one-day visit to Portugal – but he’s still not entirely sure of the rules, nor the likely disruption and extra costs.He’s collecting his young daughters to spend Christmas in the UK, with the plan being that the girls travel from Spain with their mother across the border to Faro airport. He told the BBC: “The girls live near Portuguese border, so it’s easier for me to go from Gatwick and fly to Faro. I go to the airport, hang about, the girls get dropped off with me, we go back with them same day.”I haven’t had them here since Christmas 2019. I saw them one week in August this year,” he said.UK Covid red list criticised as ‘travel apartheid’Do travel bans work against Covid?Covid map: Where are cases the highest? This time he’s planning to collect them on 21 December and return them on 2 January. Mr O’Toole said that while a review of the rules is possible in the next couple of weeks, that is no help for his planning.”We’re up in the air on the tests. I have to test to go to Portugal and then we all have to test to get back into the UK. I have to do tests that I am fit to fly even though [I return] on the same day.”There’s also talk of a test to cross the border from Portugal to Spain. It’s going to cost a fortune, I just wish there was more guidance,” Mr O’Toole said.Another family facing a possible big increase in costs – which could scupper their holiday plans – is Annette Mitchell and her children.Image source, Annette MitchellShe’s booked a holiday to New York with her teenagers, departing on 6 January. Annette has already book pre-Covid tests ahead of departure at a cost of £105, she told the BBC. Then there was the introduction of tests in arrival in the UK, which are booked and paid for at Heathrow Airport – another £205.”Already the trip is expensive without added costs,” she said. “Now we are being told to test before we return to the UK. The only tests in the US are a cost of $200 each – that’s what it says on the Virgin Atlantic website.”So a total of $600 (£453). That’s another holiday,” Annette said.She’s wondering if they can now afford to go, something that’s not only upsetting her, but also the children. “It’s so stressful because we can’t afford paying another $200 per person.”Duncan Binnie is another person who’s festive plans have been thrown into disarray. A Briton, he now lives just outside Paris and plans to return to the UK to see his children over Christmas.Image source, Duncan BinnieHe told the BBC: “They’re being very careful in France – I would almost call it panicking. We’ve done the vaccinations, we’re home working, isolating, done the lockdowns.”I was due to come home later in the month but I’m moving all my travel forward.” He fears France could impose tougher restrictions along with the UK.”I haven’t seen my two children in two-and-a-half years. The last time I saw my daughter was for her 18th birthday and now she’s 20 years old,” Mr Binnie said.To protect himself ahead of his trip he’s particularly careful. “I’ve not been to office in over a week and stayed off transport. “I’ve had to pay for testing, as in France if you’re symptom-free you must pay. Whereas, if you have symptoms, it’s free.”He’s worried about being stuck in the UK if tougher rules are introduced in France. “But I need to see my children, and I don’t mind having to pay extra to do that.”He added: “I feel like we’re getting penalised when we shouldn’t be. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices over the past two years; I just want some normality.”

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesThe boss of a US firm has been deluged with criticised after he fired around 900 of his staff on a single Zoom call.”If you’re on this call you’re part of the unlucky group being laid off,” said Vishal Garg, chief executive of mortgage firm, on the call, later uploaded to social media.Comments on social media said it was “cold”, “harsh” and “a horrible move”, especially in the run up to Christmas.”Last time I did [this] I cried,” Mr Garg told the staff on the call.”I wish the news were different. I wish we were thriving,” he said. This time his tone was measured and he referred to notes on the desk in front of him. Mr Garg said staff performance and productivity, and market changes lay behind the mass-firing of what he said was 15% of’s workforce.He didn’t mention the $750m (£565m) cash infusion received from investors last week. The BBC has contacted for a response. ‘My billion pound company has no HR department’The big company Christmas party is off this yearApple employees make US labour watchdog complaintsAfter the firing Fortune magazine confirmed that Mr Garg was the author of a previously written anonymous blog post in which he accused sacked staff at his firm of “stealing” from their colleagues and customers by being unproductive and only working two hours a day, while claiming for eight or more. The company, which aims to use technology to make the housebuying process “faster and more efficient”, is backed by Japanese conglomerate Softbank and is worth around $6bn (£4.53bn).Mr Garg’s management style has been criticised before, after an email that he sent to staff that was obtained by Forbes last year.In the email, Mr Garb wrote: “You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS… SO STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.”Not empatheticGemma Dale, lecturer in employment law and business studies at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK said this was “no way to lead an organisation”.A mass-firing like this would not be legal in the UK, she said. “Just because you can do this in America, doesn’t mean you should,” she added. “There are ways to do these things which, even in difficult conditions, are empathetic and decent.” It could harm the firm as well as its staff she said as “existing employees will look to how the company treats people as a signal to how it will treat them in the future”. “There are proper channels through which to deal with staff who aren’t meeting the required standards or amounts of work and while employers are within their right to take the appropriate action, there is a right way to do these things both morally and legally”.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, GoogleA cyber attack has hit more than 300 Spar convenience stores across the north of England with some forced to close their doors.The attack on Sunday targeted James Hall & Company in Preston, Lancashire, which operates Spar’s tills and IT systems.Shops have not been able to take card payments with those remaining open taking cash only.A spokesman for Lancashire Police said the force was investigating. A Spar spokesman said: “We are working to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.”We apologise for the inconvenience this is causing our customers and we are working as quickly as possible to resolve the situation.”AnalysisJoe Tidy, BBC News cyber security correspondentThis isn’t the first time a supermarket chain has been brought to its knees by a cyber attack.In July hackers caused 500 Co-op stores in Sweden to close as tills and self-service machines were taken down.Similarly, it was the supermarket’s IT supplier that was hit with ransomware.The question for James Hall is now the one all cyber attack victims dread – shall we pay criminals to get our shops back online?But of course for the hundreds of thousands of Spar customers affected by the hack the more pressing question is when will their local stores open again.Why not follow BBC North West on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? You can also send story ideas to Constabulary – Lancashire Police – Report a Crime Online – Crime Prevention Advice – Local NewsThe BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesUber has said it may soon have to start charging its UK customers VAT at 20%, after a High Court judgement, pushing up the cost of rides.It comes after a judge ruled that UK private hire taxi operators must make contracts with their customers.It could have far-reaching consequences for the industry and Uber said it expected others to follow suit. It follows a separate judgement this year which found Uber drivers should be treated as employees not contractors. At the time, Lord Justice Leggatt suggested this ruling meant that a private hire operator such as Uber had to enter into a contract with its customers when it accepted a booking, rather than the passenger only having a contract with the driver of the vehicle. Uber raises London fares by 10%Uber to pay $9m in sex-assault report settlementUnlike most private drivers, Uber is a VAT-registered business, so this would oblige the ride-hailing firm to start charging the tax. Uber went to the High Court seeking to challenge this suggestion – and the High Court has now upheld it. A spokesperson for Uber said: “Every private hire operator in London will be impacted by this decision, and should comply with the Supreme Court verdict in full.” A spokesperson for Transport for London which regulates private hire operators in London said it “notes” the judgement. “All operators will need to carefully consider the Court’s judgment and take steps to ensure that they comply with it, including considering whether any changes to their way of working are required,” he added. ‘Transform the minicab industry’ The case referred to the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 which only applies in the capital, but Uber and the App Drivers and Couriers Union, which was a defendant in the case, both expect the ruling to be followed by licencing authorities across the UK. James Farrar, general secretary of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), said: “Rather than fix its broken business model, Uber was determined to double down on misclassification at the cost of worker rights, passenger safety and the avoidance of VAT. “Our victory will now make misclassification unlawful, transform the London minicab industry for the better and finally eradicate sector wide worker rights abuses.”

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesThe government’s website to find Covid travel tests “is not serving its purpose”, a trade body says, amid warnings about misleading prices. Companies with misleading prices are “constantly reappearing” on the website, the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation (LTIO) said.Travellers are also being “exposed to extortionate prices”, according to consumer body Which?.The government said it monitored issues raised about testing firms.The LTIO, which works with the government to ensure the UK testing industry has high ethical and professional standards, said the government had failed to “enforce accuracy” on its providers list.”The advantage of displaying prices on the site is to help consumers make an informed choice when purchasing a test, yet given the government’s failure to enforce accuracy, the website is not serving its purpose,” said the trade body, which represents testing companies and laboratories. “The LTIO believes passengers would be better off if the pricing function was removed entirely. This would put a stop to misleading companies constantly reappearing on the site with incorrect prices.”What are the UK’s new travel rules?Concerns over the price of tests have been raised after the government announced that people arriving in the UK would need to take a PCR test before the end of their second day – on top of a pre-flight test.Which? told the BBC that travellers were being “badly let down by a dysfunctional PCR testing market”, which had left them “exposed to extortionate prices and unreliable providers”.The Department for Health said the average price of PCR tests from the 400-plus firms listed was “now under £45 with many available for £20”.However, the BBC found that although PCR tests can be bought for between £15 and £20 via the government website, people often have to travel to a specific location, which could be many miles away, to take one.The majority of postal service and home-testing kits currently cost between £59 to £79.Several companies advertising cheaper tests on the government’s website show increased rates after clicking through, while some other websites pricing tests at £20 do not appear to exist after clicking through.It is understood some firms advertising tests for as low as £1 have also been struck off the site.Image source, ReutersIn August, Health Secretary Sajid Javid asked the competition watchdog to investigate “excessive” pricing and “exploitative practices” among PCR Covid test firms.The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) responded by making recommendations, which included that the government should to set up a monitoring and enforcement programme for test providers.The watchdog also said rules should be put in place to prohibiting the advertising of “limited quantity” prices, to address so-called “bait pricing”, as well as making sure firms include all unavoidable costs such as delivery or administration charges.The government has not responded to the BBC when asked what recommendations have been adopted.By offering very cheap tests, providers can get to the top of the government’s list. Their websites are the ones many customers will click on first, and they may end up getting more business as a result.But if you actually want a Day 2 PCR test for £15-20, you’re likely to be disappointed. They will only be available at a single specific location, you may struggle to get an appointment, and some of the cheap rates do not seem to exist at all.I looked for tests in the south east of England. But to get the cheapest ones, I would have had to travel to places like East Kilbride (400 miles away), or Bolton (230 miles away). A couple offered tests in London, but they were booked up for weeks to come.The reality is that most passengers will end up paying the rates you see when you actually go to a provider’s website – with most headlining prices between £59 and £79 for a test delivered and returned by post. The government’s claim that tests are available for £20 isn’t untrue – but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.Which? travel editor, Rory Boland, said: “The official list of providers still features companies promoting misleading prices and we are yet to see the government take any meaningful action following the CMA’s audit of the private testing system.”He urged the government to implement the CMA’s recommendations to “ensure safe, reliable and affordable tests are available for all travellers”.He also encouraged passengers to check reviews of providers and “only book with those that have a good record of providing test kits and processing results on time”.The Labour Party has also demanded the government takes action to tackle “eye-watering” prices for test, and to consider a price cap on tests, following France and Belgium.Louise Haigh, shadow transport secretary, called the testing costs for people flying home for Christmas “scandalous””Ministers are sitting on their hands while people who want to do the right thing are paying the price for this broken market,” she added.A statement from the Department for Health said it would continue to work with the UK Health Security Agency to “monitor issues raised by the public and take rapid action if appropriate, including striking companies from the list”.”We’ve been clear that it is unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers,” it added.”The government has taken action to drive down the cost of tests for international travel, with the average price of a Day 2 test now under £45 with many available for £20.”

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesAll New Yorkers will need to be vaccinated if they want to go to work, the city’s mayor has announced.Public sector employers already have to be inoculated, but the mandate will now be extended to all private sector employees, Bill de Blasio told MSNBC.The policy will take effect on 27 December, he said.”We in New York City have decided to use a pre-emptive strike,” said Mr de Blasio, who leaves office in early January.”We’ve got Omicron as a new factor, we’ve got the colder weather which is going to really create new challenges with the Delta variant, we’ve got holiday gatherings,” he said.”Vaccine mandates are the one thing that breaks through.”He said New York would be the first US city to mandate vaccines for private sector workers.A mandate for public sector workers which came into force earlier this autumn met vocal resistance, and led some employees to leave their jobs. However, rates of vaccination rose in response to the policy.New York allows revellers for New Year festivitiesBiden tightens travel rules amid new Omicron casesTen cases of the new Omicron variant, which is thought to be more transmissable than previous strains of Covid, have been identified in New York City and the immediate surrounding region.One person attended an anime convention in Manhattan on 23 November, mixing indoors with hundreds of other attendees.Mr de Blasio said it should be assumed that there was already community spread of the variant in New York.Describing the mandate for private sector workers as a “first in nation” strategy, he urged other cities to follow suit.”This would be my advice to mayors, governors, CEOs all over the country – use these vaccine mandates. The more universal they are, the more likely employees will say, OK it’s time I’m going to do this, because you can’t jump from one industry to another or one company to another. It’s something that needs to be universal to protect all of us.”Mr de Blasio said he expected to receive cooperation from New York’s business community, in the same way they had adopted and enforced vaccination requirements for eating indoors at restaurants, events and gyms.President Biden’s nationwide policy to mandate vaccines for the private sector has been stalled by opposition in Congress and the courts.

SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, EPAFears about the future of Chinese property giant Evergrande Group have returned amid news it could default on its latest debt repayment.Shares in the company, whose crisis has rippled through the wider property and banking sectors, plunged up to 20% on Monday to a record low.In a statement over the weekend, Evergrande said it could not guarantee “to perform its financial obligations”.It has liabilities of £300bn (£226bn), including to firms outside China.There were reports the property developer’s billionaire founder Hui Ka Yan was summoned by Chinese officials to explain the latest situation.Evergrande’s statement said: “In light of the current liquidity status of the group, there is no guarantee that the group will have sufficient funds to continue to perform its financial obligations.”The company received a demand to perform its obligations under a guarantee in the amount of approximately $260m. “In the event that the group is unable to meet its guarantee obligations or certain other financial obligations, it may lead to creditors demanding acceleration of repayment.”Conita Hung, investment director at Tiger Faith Asset Management, said that despite Evergrande trying to sell assets for months in an attempt to repay debts, the latest statement suggested the company was going to “surrender and need help”.”This sends a very bad signal,” she said, adding that Evergrande’s problems will take years to resolve even with help from the Chinese government.Over the weekend, the central bank, banking and insurance regulator and securities regulator also released statements, saying risk to the property sector could be contained.What is Evergrande and is it too big to fail?Evergrande sells streaming firm stake for $273mChina’s booming housing and commercial property market prompted Xi Jinping’s government in Beijing to restrict reckless lending to a sector that some experts feared faced collapse.Evergrande was one of a number of developers starved of cash due to the regulatory curbs on borrowing, but this led to offshore debt defaults, credit-rating downgrades and sell-offs in developers’ shares and bonds.To stem the turmoil, in October regulators urged banks to relax lending for developers and allow property firms to raise more money from investors.On Monday, smaller property developer Sunshine 100 China Holdings said it had defaulted on a $170m debt payment “owing to liquidity issues arising from the adverse impact of a number of factors including the macroeconomic environment and the real estate industry”.