‘Do not book overseas holidays’, pleads Sturgeon

Eufemia Didonato

The Isle of Skye, in the Hebrides, could be one of Scots’ few overseas travel options this half term - Getty
The Isle of Skye, in the Hebrides, could be one of Scots’ few overseas travel options this half term – Getty

Nicola Sturgeon has told Scottish families not to book overseas holidays for October half term, as the nationwide shutdown begins. 

“Please think of the October break as an opportunity to further limit social interaction,” she urged in Tuesday afternoon’s Scottish Parliament address.

“And, given that this is a global pandemic, please do not book travel overseas for the October break if it is not essential.”

Though Scotland’s borders remain open, and the First Minister’s comments are not enshrined in law, tourism businesses have warned the remarks are a “nail in the coffin” for the “entire” travel sector. 

Mike Tibbert, vice president of the Scottish Passenger Agents Association, issued a damning statement in response to Sturgeon’s plea: “We seem to have government announcements actively designed to destroy travel jobs and the whole industry,” he said.

“Without immediate and targeted stimulus for the travel sector, Scotland will lose its global connectivity as airlines cut routes.

“It’s no idle warning. It is probable, that loss of connections would cause irreversible long-term damage to our whole economy.”

And the question remains: will holidaymakers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland be urged to cease travelling too?

Scroll down for more of today’s top travel stories

01:42 PM

Austrian government sued for Covid-19 outbreak in ski resorts 

A consumer rights group in Austria has filed four civil lawsuits against the Austrian government over the outbreak of coronavirus in the popular ski resort of Ischgl, writes Lucy Aspden.

The outbreak in Ischgl was the country’s biggest: hundreds of Austrians are thought to have contracted the virus there, plus thousands of foreign visitors including the UK’s patient zero.

The private Consumer Protection Association (VSV) argue that authorities in the province of Tyrol reacted too slowly to the outbreak, mishandled the response and possible gave in to pressure from the tourism sector not to act – while initially it was reported that the first case was detected in Ischgl on March 7, Austria’s public health agency has since said it believes it was much earlier, on February 5.

Ischgl’s apres-ski bars are thought to have been the breeding ground for the virus – forcing resort bosses to announce that the region will be cleaning up its act and focusing on “greater quality” rather than “party tourism” this winter.

Damages up to €100,000 are being sought by the claimants, who are from Germany and Austria.

01:30 PM

Princess Cruises shrinks fleet size and cancels cruises

California-based cruise operator Princess Cruises has announced the sale of two of its ships, Sun Princess and Sea Princess, to undisclosed buyers, Kaye Holland reports.

Both vessels had recently been based in Australia and attracted a significant number of Australian and New Zealand holiday makers.

The sale of the two ships and their imminent departure from Princess Cruises’ fleet means a raft of plans have now been cancelled including 55 cruises from Australia and 14 international sailings.

Princess Cruises said passengers booked on the ships would be notified and offered alternative cruises or full refunds.

Read the full story here.

01:25 PM

Singapore to pilot travel pass for senior executives 

Singapore will pilot a new travel pass for senior executives in the city-state who need to travel regularly for business, authorities said today, as they further eased some coronavirus-related restrictions.

The number of passes will be limited initially, and travellers must stick to their declared itinerary, the Government said. Upon return, pass holders must self-isolate while awaiting results of a swab test, instead of undergoing the mandatory 14-day quarantine at home or at a hotel.

The country has recorded over 57,000 coronavirus cases overall, mostly among workers living in dormitories. The vast majority of those infected have since recovered.

The regional travel hub is home to the Asian headquarters of many global companies whose executives have long relied on the city-state’s connectivity. It has reciprocal business travel arrangements with a handful of countries, including China, Japan and neighbouring Malaysia.

As it stands, UK citizens aren’t permitted entry into Singapore.

01:10 PM

Travel restrictions ravaged Spain’s tourism industry, latest data shows

Travel restrictions around Europe aimed at curbing the coronavirus have ravaged Spain’s tourism industry during the crucial month of August, depriving it of millions of tourists.

The occupancy rate in Spanish hotels fell 64 per cent last month from a year ago, data from the National Statistics Institute showed today.

In the first eight months of the year, hotel bookings slumped 70 per cent from the same period in 2019.

Hotel bookings by British tourists plummeted over 91 per cent in August, meaning the country lost about 1.1 million British visitors alone, while bookings from Germany were down 80 per cent, the data showed. The Balearic islands lost 86 per cent of their foreign tourists compared with a year earlier.

The tourism sector accounts for about 12 per cent of the Spanish economy, providing more than one job in eight. Spain, one of the world’s most visited countries, received more than 80 million foreign visitors each year, mainly from European countries.

Here’s what their current caseload looks like:

Coronavirus Spain Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus Spain Spotlight Chart – Cases default

01:05 PM

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01:00 PM

Sir Rocco Forte: ‘We’re being governed by an oddball scientist and a doctor who got it wrong’

Leading British hotelier Sir Rocco Forte has spoken out on the continuing chaos and confusion in the hospitality industry over the Government’s Covid-19 policy. He tells Telegraph Travel:

“[Occupancy] is already very poor because there’s not much international travel, and essentially what business we’re doing is in the bars and restaurants. These new restrictions make it even more difficult to operate. We’re now having to consider closing down again.We’re already in consultation with 80 people about redundancy, and we’ll maybe have to start talking to more. I don’t want to scare people, but I don’t know, this Government has completely lost it.We’re being governed by an oddball scientist and a doctor who got it wrong all the way up to now. It’s a nightmare. No thought is given to the economy and the future and the livelihoods that will be lost in the future.”

Do you concur? Let us know in the comments box below.

12:45 PM

The dark and depressing island that might be used to quarantine Australians

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has suggested quarantining overseas arrivals in a refugee centre on Christmas Island, the State’s most far-flung territory, closer to Bali than Perth.

Australia closed its national borders on March 20, its state borders soon after, and since March 28 all residents returning to Australia have had to spend two weeks quarantined in a hotel room in one of its cities.

On one hand, Christmas Island is one of Australia’s most beautiful locations; a remote, jungle-draped island ringed by empty beaches and virgin reefs, and home to a crab phenomena that astonished Sir David Attenborough. Yet very few tourists visit Christmas Island, a mysterious place with a dark history…

Ronan O’Connell has the full story.

12:26 PM

Your lunchtime read: EXCLUSIVE – Lack of testing capacity could devastate winter holiday plans

One of the UK’s leading laboratories offering Covid-19 tests says it can no longer prioritise tests for leisure travel, due to demand outstripping capacity, Greg Dickinson reports.

In recent weeks, the country’s Covid-19 testing capacity has been stretched as students return to school and positive cases continue to rise. Yesterday, the UK recorded 4,926 cases – the highest tally since May.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of countries, such as Cyprus and Barbados, are demanding evidence of a negative PCR test for entry, but now holidaymakers could face disappointment as labs sideline testing for leisure travel.

A spokesperson from the Doctor’s Laboratory, the largest independent provider of clinical laboratory diagnostic services in the UK, told Telegraph Travel:

“Covid-19 PCR testing has significantly increased in recent weeks in line with increasing infection rates and hospital admissions, and as a result testing is now outstripping laboratory capacity. Priority is therefore being given to clinical and work-related testing.”

Read the full story here.

12:15 PM

Dubrovnik as it once was – an empty wonder that’s worth the quarantine

If you’ve always fancied seeing this Croatian city but been put off by the crowds, now is your chance, writes Mary Novakovich.

“The old town’s elegant main thoroughfare, Stradun – usually a sweaty sea of humanity and selfie sticks – had only a few dozen people strolling on its shiny marble slabs in the hot August sun. Apart from an out-of-season visit I made one November, I’d never seen the city so empty. No cruise ships, and no coachloads of day-trippers.”

Read what else she found here.

12:05 PM

Fed up of our restrictions? Spare a thought for North Sumatra

These men are not doing push-ups for fun. It is their punishment for failing to wear a mask in public, as ordered by the ‘public order agency officer’ who is standing over them; captured in the North Sumatran capital of Medan,  Indonesia.

medan - ap
medan – ap

11:50 AM

Australia’s Covid hotspot could ease restrictions as cases slow

Australia’s coronavirus hot spot of Victoria is considering easing curbs sooner than previously flagged, the state’s premier said today, as the two-week average of new infections in the city of Melbourne dropped below 30.

Melbourne, Australia’s second most populous city, has been the epicentre of the country’s second wave of Covid-19. The city has been under a hard lockdown, including a nightly curfew, since August 2. The state reported 15 new cases and five deaths on Wednesday.

The 14-day average in Melbourne dropped below the 30-50 band, which the state set as a precondition for allowing around 100,000 people to return to work in construction, manufacturing, warehouses and child care from September 28.

melbourne - afp
melbourne – afp

“We are winning this battle and we will prevail. It’s just a matter of us staying the course – not letting our frustration get the better of us,” state premier Daniel Andrews told reporters.

Andrews said if the average holds below 30 ahead of this Sunday’s review of restrictions, it was possible further curbs could be eased, but he declined to say what those might be.

Read more: Broken hearts and hashtags: Meet the stranded Australians who can’t go home

11:35 AM

Thomas Cook: ‘Brits need a holiday – and they want one’

Just last week, Thomas Cook relaunched as an online-only tour operator. Today, a rep weighed in on the confounding nature of the UK’s differing rules in England, Scotland and Wales, stating:

“With some Welsh districts banned from travel and the Scottish Government advising caution in booking overseas holidays, it’s clear we are increasingly shifting to a regional and local approach. We would encourage the governments of the UK to provide more joined-up responses to overseas travel – we, for example, don’t sell flights from Scotland to Greece but we could not be expected to stop a Scottish family from flying from Newcastle. Similarly, with Welsh restrictions and Bristol or Birmingham airports.  Brits need a holiday – and they want one. The government should follow other countries in introducing more testing at airports and before and after travel to give people confidence that they can get away safely.”

11:20 AM

Greece considers lockdown for Mount Athos after priests flout Covid rules

Greece’s supreme court on Tuesday ordered prosecutors across the nation to arrest and potentially jail people who flout the country’s mandatory mask rule, hoping to stamp out a rising tide of objectors, including priests, resisting the use of face covers, reports  Anthee Carassava.

The surprise decree marks the toughest measure yet to be imposed as Greece grapples with a roaring comeback of the deadly virus after infections in the past month alone quadruple, surging to over 16,000 amid harrowing forecasts compiled by the World Bank that the death toll could soar to over 6,500 by the end of the year.

Coronavirus Greece Spotlight Chart - cases default
Coronavirus Greece Spotlight Chart – cases default

It comes after 10 monks in Greece’s most secluded monastic community tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting authorities to consider imposing a lockdown on the 2,000-year-old northern peninsula, a sacred spiritual retreat. 

Health officials contacted by The Telegraph said at least one of the infected monks, aged 85, had been transferred to a local hospital for urgent medical attention. The rest, including a hermit in a cave nestled on the southern tip of the craggy peninsula, were ordered to remain in isolation.

Read the full story here.

11:05 AM

Is now the perfect time for an African safari?

One operator argues the case. Alice Gully, co-owner of Aardvark Safaris tells us: 

“We have clients currently travelling in Africa, seizing the opportunity to experience phenomenal wildlife areas without any crowds.  I can see the measures put in place across the UK yesterday potentially shaking consumer confidence.

“However I hope that those wanting to travel to Africa, who have previously been put off by the 14-day quarantine period will now realise that there has never been a better time to travel. There is little difference between the required quarantine requirements and current UK restrictions.’  

“Travel to Africa requires a negative PCR test within three days of arrival and there are effective and reassuring protocols in place both on arrival and in the safari camps and lodges themselves.  There is no better way to socially distance and get away from it all while the things take time to improve here.”

10:55 AM

Italy is ramping up its airport testing programme

Italy has made testing compulsory for travellers entering from parts of France that have a high number of  Covid-19 cases. Here’s how it looks in action:

airport test - reuters
airport test – reuters
swab - reuters
swab – reuters

Our Test4Travel campaign launched at the beginning of this month, and calls for airport testing on all arrivals by Christmas.

10:45 AM

‘Think carefully’ about travel to and within Wales, says First Minister

The First Minister of Wales asked people in the country to “think every time they make a journey” and avoid unnecessary travel.

Mark Drakeford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If it’s a necessary journey then of course you must make it.

“But if its a journey that can be avoided you will be safer and other people will be safer the fewer journeys you make and the fewer people you meet.”

Mr Drakeford said he was not saying “no holidays”, adding: “It’s very possible to have a holiday in Wales without travelling very far at all.”

Mr Drakeford was asked whether people in England should make non-essential journeys into Wales, and said: “Well if it’s not an essential journey, I’d ask people to think very carefully about not making it.

newport - getty
newport – getty

10:30 AM

New ONS data shows falling public optimism

More than 50 per cent of people thought life would be back to normal within six months when the UK first went into lockdown, a new report has found.

But the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that by late August more than a third of those surveyed said the pandemic would last more than a year.

On April 1, 52 per cent of people said they thought life would be back to normal in less than six months compared to nearly 11 per cent who said it would be more than a year.

But by August 28 the proportion who felt it would be less than six months had fallen to 14 per cent, while 37 per cent said it would be more than 12 months.

The data, published today, comes from the weekly Opinions and Lifestyle Survey. Here’s how we compare with our countries:

10:17 AM

Kuoni CEO: ‘Six more months? A harsh one-two punch for travel companies like mine’

Just as the travel industry was starting to recover, Boris has delivered a new and unnecessary blow, writes Derek Jones, CEO of luxury travel operator Kuoni:

The travel industry, already on its knees following the ban on all overseas travel in April and the haphazard, last minute implementation of quarantine throughout the summer, is now bracing itself for at least another six months of restricted movement. Faced with the one-two punch of refunding existing bookings while new bookings were grinding to a halt, travel businesses have been left reeling. Every new step to limit the viral infection rate has seen the opportunity to holiday abroad disappear further into the horizon.For far too many previously successful companies, the cash has run out and tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost; and with the end of furlough looming and a long, vacationless winter ahead, many more are set to follow. Only decisive government intervention and sector specific support will save them now.

Read his proposed solution here.

09:54 AM

‘Six-month shutdown will kill Christmas for self-catering properties’

“We’ve cancelled £14,000 worth of bookings since the Rule of 6 came into force last week, and expect to cancel many more since Boris’s announcement yesterday,” writes Jo Carroll, owner of self-catering holiday business Winchcombe Farm in Warwickshire. She continues:

“It will ‘kill’ Christmas for many large self-catering providers, after a terrible year, where we’ve already lost half of the main summer season.

“We have 5 luxury holiday lodges – 3 of which sleep more than 6 people. We are about to launch a lodge that sleeps nine, which we built during lockdown and the commercial viability of this will be greatly compromised by the ruling. We are the only sector where the guests can choose exactly who they want to share their space with. You cannot do that in a pub, restaurant, hotel of for goodness sake on an aeroplane.

“You also get the ludicrous situation that can arise – a wedding reception (of 15 guests now) can have a great time together all day, but cannot stay together on the night in self-catering, but can in a hotel. You can have breakfast with five different people, lunch with another five different people and dinner with yet another five different people…”

09:35 AM

Is your staycation illegal? How the new rules affect UK holidays

Across the UK, there are increased restrictions on hospitality and groups gatherings. In some places, the rule of six applies; in others, there is a blanket ban on socialising. It’s confusing, yes, but it’s also vital to be clued-up before you travel – especially as hefty fines have also been threatened for those ignoring orders. 

But what does this mean for your staycation? And who exactly will police your holiday, if it is now illegal? Our guide to the new rules reveals how they will affect your UK holiday

09:23 AM

‘There cannot be one rule for holidaymakers and another for airlines’

“While the advice for people in Scotland not to book holidays abroad over the October break may be sensible to prevent further spread of the virus, it does not help those who have already booked a holiday,” says Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel. He continues:

“Many people [will have booked their half-term holidays] several months ago. These people face losing out as airlines remain free to ignore the advice and pocket customers’ money.

“There cannot be one rule for holidaymakers and another for airlines. If people are being asked not to travel, then airlines should be made to provide rebooking at no additional cost or refund options to their customers, to prevent them from being left out of pocket or putting public health at risk by taking a holiday they can’t afford to cancel.”

09:08 AM

Visitor numbers down by 90 per cent, say Wales tourist attractions

Tourist attractions across Wales have recorded a drop in visitor numbers of up to 90 per cent this year, says the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions (WAVA).

Representing attractions such as the Snowdon Mountain Railway, National Showcaves Centre for Wales and Gower Heritage, WAVA surveyed its members about the toll of nationwide summer shutdowns. 

Nearly 40 per cent of businesses recorded a drop off in visitor numbers , compared with the same period last year. In some instances, the loss in footfall was 90 per cent. 

Half of WAVA members are showing falls of visitor numbers of between 40-80 per cent. 88 per cent are planning redundancies.

“In Wales, the First Minister has stated ‘Only essential travel should be undertaken’,” says Ashford Price of the National Showcaves Centre for Wales. “For some this will mean the end of the tourist season, with six months of no income until Easter 2021.

“Without the furlough scheme now being extended it is probable that some attractions will struggle to survive.”

08:59 AM

When will cruise ships start sailing again?

Cruise lines around the world are starting to set sail, and the FCDO has given a green light to river cruises. They are considered lower risk than their ocean counterparts, due to shorter itineraries and fewer passengers on board – meaning new health and safety protocols are easier to manage.

Our Cruise team has the latest cruise advice for Britons hoping to set sail soon – including the cruise lines that have recommenced operations, and the refunds available for guests booked on cancelled cruises.

08:46 AM

There’s only one thing that can save our travel industry now

The furlough scheme, which is due to end next month, is the only thing which is currently allowing many tour operators and hotels to continue to function, writes Nick Trend. Beyond that, there are only two things which will now save the hundreds of thousands of jobs and the huge amount of expertise it sustains.

Either the government extends this sort of direct financial support, or people need to feel confident enough to start travelling again. 

For this to happen, we need a fundamental reform of the current quarantine system which is such a huge disincentive to bookings. A programme of testing all passengers on arrival at UK airports – as proposed in our Test4Travel campaign launched at the beginning of this month – would not be some wildly ambitious moonshot programme which depends on the development of new science and massive infrastructure.

A reliable test that can produce a result in 40 minutes already exists and would cost the consumer less than £40. It would be an efficient and manageable way of significantly reducing the time people returning from abroad have to spend in isolation.

Read Nick’s piece in full.

08:27 AM

‘We saw an almost instant surge in cancellations of bookings’

Though yesterday’s law change has hit hospitality venues hardest, the self-catering holiday sector is still reeling from the ‘rule of six’. 

“Following the government amendment we saw an almost instant surge in cancellations of bookings into our larger properties,” says Alex Wilson, director of self-catering booking site Host Unusual. “This amounts to 16 per cent of our booking arrivals in the coming 3 months, so it has had a detrimental impact on us as a business.

“Property owners, too, with just one 8+ occupancy property have suffered badly, having been forced to cancel up to 60% of their bookings. Many have been saved by parties reducing the size of the group, but it doesn’t detract from the rather arbitrary nature of the rules hitting some businesses harder than others.”

08:16 AM

“The entire winter ski season could be impacted.”

The latest travel restrictions have dealt yet another blow to ski holidays. Consumer confidence is at an all-time low, and experts fear that the new rules – which could remain in place for six months – will have devastating consequences for the entire ski season.

James Gambrill, CEO of the Mountain Trade Network, with members including the world’s top ski resorts and operators, said:

“Yesterday’s announcements from the government – which are in many cases a u-turn from recent instructions for the public to return to workplaces, and so on – will again significantly erode consumer confidence. We know from our research that uncertainty is the biggest factor for consumers when considering booking, and this will most likely just push that decision to a later date.

“Early-season skiing would look to be a very likely victim, though with the suggestion that these restrictions – and therefore uncertainty – could last six months, takes us right through to the end of March 2021. Therefore, virtually the entire winter ski season could be impacted.”

However, airport testing and desire to escape to the mountains could be the ski season’s saviours.

“How will consumers respond to the new rules? Much depends on the ongoing situation in France, Austria and Switzerland as well as in the UK. Italy looks to be remaining stable but then the threat is also emerging of the UK being placed on other countries’ quarantine lists as our cases rise – raising another issue for UK skiers to grapple with, though on-arrival testing in Alpine nations could solve that.

“The yearning for many skiers to travel will certainly not have been diminished by these announcements, and no doubt the desire will in many cases have only increased with an escape to the fresh air and outdoor space of the mountains more enticing than ever.

“If the restriction allows, expect to see surges of late bookings, but perhaps not before the start of the season in December when the reality of what may be possible this season hopefully becomes clearer.” 

08:08 AM

Scotland’s travel sector is in “real and immediate jeopardy” 

Mike Tibbert, vice president of the Scottish Passenger Agents Association, speaks of the catastrophic effects of Sturgeon’s announcements on the travel industry:

“This year has been catastrophic for travel agents and the entire travel sector, and [yesterday’s] comments could well be the final nail in its coffin.

“It’s utterly short-sighted to consider that this story ends with our members having had no 2020 income, but the stark facts are that, without immediate and targeted stimulus for the travel sector, Scotland will lose its global connectivity as airlines cut routes.

“It’s no idle warning. It is probable that loss of connections would cause irreversible long-term damage to our whole economy. “Yet there appears to be no support either at ground or strategic level to prevent this. Indeed, we seem to have government announcements actively designed to destroy travel jobs and the whole industry when there are destinations which it is safe to travel to such as Turkey.

“It’s clear that the financial model of the travel industry is neither understood nor differentiated from the domestic hospitality and tourism sector. “Travel agents have had virtually no income at all in 2020, as, even for holidays booked prior to the initial lockdown, travel agents will have had no income at the time of booking.

“Many have had negative income due to the level of refunds and the credit card charges they have been obliged to process; some of these before they were refunded by the airline or travel operator.

“Increased job losses are on the horizon for the whole sector.”

07:55 AM

Could this be the key to unlock cruise holidays?

Testing of all passenger pre-cruise is “a travel industry first," says CLIA
Testing of all passenger pre-cruise is “a travel industry first,” says CLIA

As the USA’s major operators look to restart sailing, testing will be compulsory for all cruise passengers and crew prior to boarding.

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry body that represents 95 per cent of the world’s cruise capacity, has announced extensive health and safety protocols for its members, and has described its introduction of mass testing “a travel industry first”.

The news could pave the way for a similar road map to cruising being revealed by CLIA’s British arm. The Telegraph understands that discussions are ongoing between various Government agencies and CLIA over the easing of official advice that currently advises against all travel on ocean-going cruise ships.

Ben Parker has the latest. 

07:48 AM

‘We’ve avoided a national lockdown – now let’s transform our entire strategy’

“Throughout this entire crisis I have tried to be as fair and reasonable as possible,” writes Professor Karol Sikora, “but for some time I have had deep reservations about the consequences of further severe restrictions. So when Ministers started to openly discuss it could be time for a second lockdown I decided it was time to get off the fence.

“A group of us from across academia, medicine and other areas penned a letter to the PM and his team calling for a fundamental rethink about our Coronavirus strategy.

The British public have more sense than some give us credit for. If the restrictions are fair and proportionate, far more people will follow them. Trust and common sense have to work both ways.”

Read the Professor’s full comment here.

07:37 AM

“Customers are expecting the next ski season to be cancelled”

Richard Sinclair, founder of SNO Ski Holidays, tells Telegraph Travel:

“Unfortunately, because Covid-19 blew-up when it reached ski resorts last winter, customers are expecting the next ski season to be cancelled after a first fortnight of spiralling cases and resort closures.

“With cases already rising now, even before the autumn – never mind winter – the increasing of government restrictions only serves to confirm travellers’ fears.

“With the government now talking in terms of another six months, it’s crazy that they aren’t extending furlough for the sectors hardest hit by their Covid restrictions. The government should extend furlough for travel firms until confidence returns. It’s crazy that they should have spent so much, now simply to give up and lose all those jobs and great firms.”

07:28 AM

Yesterday’s biggest travel stories

  • Boris Johnson announces new national restrictions including a 10pm curfew for hospitality

  • Half of UK tourism companies ‘not confident’ of short-term survival

  • Inconsistent UK guidelines create increased operational challenges for travel industry

  • No changes have been made to FCDO advice today despite new rules

  • Airport testing could tackle Covid transmission rates, say Government advisers

  • Eurostar’s ski train will not run this winter

Now, on with today’s news.

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