The government has warned more than 100 of the most complained-about UK travel companies that they must comply with consumer laws over refunds for cancelled holidays or face legal action.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has received 17,500 complaints from the public about companies that sell package holidays over failures to give refunds and inform consumers of their statutory rights during the coronavirus pandemic.
The watchdog has written an open letter to the companies with the most complaints warning them that they must comply with the law or else face action from them or local trading standards offices.
Brazil 67,964 deaths, 1,713,160 cases
President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the disease as a “little flu” as it rampaged through his country and mocked measures such as wearing masks. Two health ministers have quit and Brazil's outbreak is the second-deadliest in the world.
India 21,129 deaths, 767,296 cases
India brought in a strict nationwide lockdown in March that slowed the spread of the virus but did not bring it under control. As the country began easing controls, cases surged and it now has the third highest number. Mortality rates are low, but it is unclear if this reflects reporting problems or a relatively resilient population.
Iran 250,458 cases, 12,305 deaths
Iran had one of the first major outbreaks outside China. A lockdown slowed its spread but after that was eased in April, cases rebounded. Several senior officials have tested positive, and the government has strengthened controls, including making masks obligatory in public places.
Israel 33,947 cases, 346 deaths
Israel had an early travel ban and strict lockdowns, and in April the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared the country an example to the world in controlling Covid-19. But cases that in May were down to just 20 a day, skyrocketed after the country started opening up. Partial controls have been brought back with warnings more could follow.
Mexico 275,003 cases, 32,796 deaths
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador joined other populists from across the political spectrum in dismissing the threat from coronavirus; when schools closed in March he shared a video of himself hugging fans and kissing a baby. The outbreak is now one of the worst on the continent.
Philippines 51,754 cases, 1,314 deaths
A strict lockdown from March to June kept the disease under control but shrank the economy for the first time in 20 years. Cases have climbed steadily since the country started coming out of lockdown, and President Rodrigo Duterte has said the country cannot afford to fully reopen because it would be overwhelmed by another spike.
Russia 706,179 cases, 10,825 deaths
Coronavirus was slow to arrive in Russia, and travel bans and a lockdown initially slowed its spread, but controls were lifted twice for political reasons – a military parade and a referendum on allowing Putin to stay in power longer. Despite having the fourth biggest outbreak in the world controls are now being eased nationwide.
Serbia 17,342 cases, 352 deaths
Cases are rising rapidly, hospitals are full and doctors exhausted. But the government has rowed back from plans to bring back lockdown controls, after two days of violent protests. Critics blame the sharp rise in cases on authorities who allowed mass gatherings in May and elections in June. Officials say it is due to a lack of sanitary discipline, especially in nightclubs.
South Africa 224,664 cases, 3,602 deaths
South Africa has by far the largest outbreak on the African continent, despite one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Sales of alcohol and cigarettes were even banned. But it began reopening in May, apparently fuelling the recent rise in cases which have more than doubled over the last two weeks.
US 132,310 deaths, 3,055,491 cases
The US ban on travellers from overseas came too late, and though most states had lockdowns of some form in spring, they varied in length and strictness. Some places that were among the earliest to lift them are now battling fast-rising outbreaks, and the country has the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths. Opposition to lockdowns and mask-wearing remains widespread.
Source: Johns Hopkins CSSE, 9 July
The open letter comes as thousands of holidaymakers struggle to get their money back for cancelled holidays with some companies stalling claims by passing on the liability to other firms.
“Intelligence suggests that businesses may not be providing the refunds required by consumer law when package holiday contracts are terminated as a result of Covid-19,” the letter from the CMA director, Cecilia Parker Aranha, states. “The CMA expects that consumers who are entitled to refunds will be paid those refunds, and that businesses will comply with consumer law.”
The thousands of complaints centre around the failure to provide refunds no later than 14 days from the termination of a holiday and companies engaging in unfair practices such as giving misleading information about people’s statutory rights.
Some consumers have been charged a fee for trying to cancel their holiday even though they are entitled to a full refund, while others have been told to request a refund by phone but are then unable to contact the company.
The CMA told the businesses, which have not been named, that they must act immediately to bring themselves in line with the law. “While the CMA is not beginning enforcement action against your company at present, we continue to monitor the complaints and intelligence that we are receiving,” the letter said.