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Coronavirus latest: Argentina becomes fifth country to record 1m cases

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Updated at 10/20/2020, 11:08:43 AM BST

Stefania Palma in Singapore

Singapore Airlines will next month resume non-stop flights between the city state and New York to cater to cargo traffic as well as a growing number of transfer passengers travelling via the island.

The airline on November 9 will launch non-stop services between Singapore and John F Kennedy International Airport in “an important step in the rebuilding of our global network”, Lee Lik Hsin, commercial executive vice president at Singapore Airlines, said in a statement.

The company said it expects “significant cargo demand” from technology, pharmaceuticals and e-commerce businesses based in the New York metro area.

Airlines worldwide have slashed capacity in the face of tight travel restrictions aimed at fighting the spread of coronavirus.

“We will continue to ramp up existing services and reinstate other points as the demand for both passenger and cargo services return,” said Mr Lee.

Resuming links with international markets will be critical to helping revive Singapore’s small, open economy that has fallen into a technical recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of gross domestic product contraction.

Harry Dempsey in London

Swiss watch exports were depressed for the eighth consecutive month in September versus last year but the fall was softened by surging sales of luxury wristwatches in a resilient Chinese economy.

The number of watches sold fell by a quarter to 1.3m in September compared with the same month a year earlier, with an export value to SFr1.6bn ($1.76bn), down 12 per cent year-on-year, data from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry showed.

However, exports to China grew almost 80 per cent over the same month a year earlier to SFr289.7m in a further sign of the growing stature of Chinese luxury consumers as its economy fares better than other major economies, having quickly controlled coronavirus.

Hong Kong had been the world’s largest market for Swiss watches for about a decade until protests in the territory dented sales in the latter half of 2019, with the pandemic helping to lift China to become the most important market for the luxury item.

Swiss watch exports have gradually improved since hitting a trough in April of SFr329m but monthly exports have been lower since February when the pandemic began to rock the global economy.

Sarah Provan

Finnair plans to cut more than 10 per cent of its workforce over the next five months as it struggles to counter the damage wrought on the industry by the coronavirus crisis.

The Scandinavian airline has 600 jobs in Finland in its sights and 100 elsewhere of its 6,500-strong workforce. It plans to carry the redundancies out by the end of March, it said in a statement on Tuesday.

The group said it has concluded a consultation process it began last month with its employees as it sought to put in place its plans to cut up to 1,000 jobs, to make other structural changes and to lay off additional temporary workers.

“The corona pandemic has been completely unfair to our industry and unfortunately many Finnair employees now must experience its financial implications personally,” said chief executive Topi Manner. “The changes are, however, necessary and inevitable.”

In addition to the redundancies, Finnair is laying off temporary workers, which affects most of its employees in Finland. These cuts are likely to continue for a “long time”, Finland’s largest airline said, as the industry is expected to take years to recover.

Finnair last month became the first European airline to sell a bond since the pandemic struck, paying a double-digit rate of interest to raise higher-risk debt with equity-like features. The debt has a perpetual maturity, meaning that it never has to be repaid, and would rank behind the rest of Finnair’s debt in a bankruptcy.

George Hammond in London

Bellway profits have fallen by two-thirds this year as a result of coronavirus, which forced the housebuilder to mothball operations for months.

The FTSE 250 company said pre-tax profits had fallen 64.3 per cent in the year to July 31 compared with the previous 12 months, from £663m to £237m.

Announcing its annual results on Tuesday, Bellway said that revenues were down 31 per cent to £2.25bn, with the number of homes it built falling by a similar proportion to 7,522.

The pandemic forced builders to down tools earlier this year, and Bellway set aside £19m to cover the cost of extra health and safety measures and site closures. But the market has returned since a reopening in May, with Bellway reporting higher levels of forward orders than last year and recovering demand.

“The temporary stamp duty holiday, effective from 8 July, and the subsequent resurgence in the second-hand market, have since helped to boost customer confidence,” said the company.

Andy Bounds in Manchester and Sarah Provan in London

Greater Manchester is seeking an extra £90m in financial aid in return for tighter coronavirus restrictions as a noon deadline for talks with the UK government approaches.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has threatened to impose the “tier 3” category of restrictions unilaterally to curb a rise in infections that could overwhelm hospitals.

The government said that within two weeks all critical-care beds in Greater Manchester will be taken by Covid-19 patients and insists that it has offered local leaders a “good package” of £22m.

“The real risk is by the first week of November in the current trajectory there will be no ICU places left in Greater Manchester,” said Nadhim Zahawi, a business and industry minister. “All will be occupied by Covid patients,”. He added that over the next couple of weeks the region is in danger of a greater level of infections than in March and April.

The tighter rules would require all pubs to shut that cannot operate as restaurants, and stop households from mixing indoors or outside. Betting shops, casinos, bingo halls, adult gaming centres, and soft play areas are likely to close but not gyms, according to a letter from communities secretary Robert Jenrick, seen by the Financial Times.

But Andy Burnham, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, struck a defiant note on Tuesday morning, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the deadline was “slightly provocative”. The mayor believes the region needs £15m a month to support those who would not be able to work and analysts believe restrictions would last until April, although they would be reviewed every four weeks.

“There is more to come if Andy wants to negotiate it to commensurate with what we have done with the Liverpool region and Lancashire,” said Mr Zahawi on Sky News on Tuesday. Those two regions received £30m extra for entering tier 3, which would equate to £56m for Greater Manchester, which has a higher population of 2.8m.

Mr Burnham and Richard Leese, leader of Manchester city council, on Monday said the government had removed from negotiations a previously discussed “hardship fund” that would have topped up furlough payments to those deprived of work by any tougher restrictions.

“The government could have a deal if it better protects low-paid people. It is choosing not to do that,” Mr Burnham told the Financial Times. The local leaders also accused the government of using “selective statistics” on hospital occupancy rates to bolster the case for tougher rules.

Mr Zahawi said regional lockdowns remained “the best way to deal with the resurgence of Covid 19”.

Harry Dempsey in London

Clare Gilmartin will step down as Trainline chief executive at the end of February next year after leading the train ticket platform to a public listing during her seven-year tenure. Chief operating officer Jody Ford, who previously headed up Moonpig parent Photobox Group, will take over the reins.

Dettol producer Reckitt Benckiser benefited from the pandemic-induced demand for cleaning products, disinfectants and hand sanitisers that pushed up like-for-like sales for its hygiene division by 20 per cent to £1.5bn in the third quarter. The consumer goods group’s health division recorded strong growth due to the global health crisis, prompting an upgrade to its full-year forecast for like-for-like net revenue to grow by low double-digits.

Hargreaves Lansdown has allowed Peter Hargreaves, co-founder of the UK’s largest investment platform, to appoint his own non-independent, non-executive director to the board.

Homebuilder Bellway suffered an almost two-thirds drop in pre-tax profit to £236.7m in its financial year ending July, as the coronavirus pandemic hampered the construction of new homes and pushed up costs to make its building sites safe. The outlook was brighter, it said, pointing to a sharp increase in overall reservations in the nine weeks since the start of August and a record forward order book.

Co-op Bank promoted chief financial officer Nick Slape to the role of chief executive, its sixth boss in under a decade after Andrew Bester resigned less than halfway through implementing the retail bank’s turnaround plan.

Sam Jones in Zurich

UBS plans to set aside $2.5bn to return to shareholders next year as a surge in third-quarter profits and revenues confounded expectations that the pandemic would disrupt global lending. 

The Swiss bank, the world’s largest wealth manager, reported third-quarter profits attributable to shareholders of $2.1bn, up 99 per cent year on year. It recorded a 21.9 per cent return on tier one capital. 

Revenues for the quarter were $8.9bn, up 25 per cent from the third quarter of 2019, driven by a strong rise in trading revenues in investment banking and strong underlying performance in its core wealth management division, the bank said on Tuesday. 

UBS said it had realised credit losses of just $89m in the three months to September, largely related to coronavirus — far less than the $201m in losses analysts had expected. 

Read more here

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India’s annual autumn festival season — normally a period of hectic socialising and community celebrations — got off to a muted start, as authorities sought to prevent the revelry from facilitating the spread of coronavirus.

Across India, Bengalis have begun the celebration of their annual Durga Puja festival, the biggest holiday in the Bengali year, when crowds normally flock to elaborate tents to pay homage to the goddess Durga.

In Bengali communities, neighbourhoods vie to set the most creative puja pandals, with the goddess placed in elaborate scenes, often reflecting contemporary themes or popular culture.

Typically these tents draw hundreds of thousands of visitors over the days of the festival, who come to admire the handiwork and enjoy the spectacle.

But this week, the Calcutta High Court ordered that the 34,000 puja pandals in the state of West Bengal be closed to visitors in light of the pandemic to prevent a surge of Covid-19 cases.

In their ruling, the court said that only members of the committee that developed the pandal and an appointed priest would be allowed into them, putting a dampener on the celebration.

“When students…have been prevented from attending educational institutions for more than six months, and several students stand to lose a year, it is incongruous that Puja festivities would continue as in previous years,” the court ruled.

West Bengal’s government had announced measures intended to allow the celebration to go on with rules intended to ensure social distancing. But the court expressed scepticism that the goal of social distancing could be achieved without more detailed measures for enforcement.

India has so far reported 7.6m coronavirus infections, and more than 115,000 deaths.

Daily new infections have been declining since a peak in mid-September, but public health experts have warned of the high risk of a new surge in the aftermath of the bust festival season.

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Argentina has become the fifth country to record more than 1m coronavirus infections after it added almost 13,000 cases on Monday.

The South American country reported 12,982 new cases on Monday, taking its overall tally to 1,002,622.

The US leads the global count of coronavirus cases with more than 8m, followed by India with 7.6m, Brazil with 5.3m and Russia’s 1.4m, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Argentina also reported 451 new deaths, taking Covid-related fatalities to 26,716 or the ninth-highest in the world.

Delphine Strauss in London

The Covid-19 pandemic has ended a decade’s growth in the flow of migrants around the world, while leaving foreign-born workers at much greater risk of infection, unemployment and educational disadvantage, the OECD said on Monday.

Immigrants and their children now account for more than one in five people across the 37 economies tracked by the international organisation. But the number of residency permits granted by OECD countries in the first half of 2020 was less than half the level seen a year earlier, as many governments closed borders and stopped processing applications.

“It is very clear that 2020 will be marked by a historic decline in migration,” said Jean-Christophe Dumont, head of the OECD’s migration division. The picture has been similarly stark in countries outside the OECD that have big migrant populations: in Saudi Arabia, the number of permits granted dropped from around 550,000 in the first half of 2019 to a mere 55,000 in the first half of 2020.

Read more here

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s leader said her government was examining allowing more people to attend wedding ceremonies and permitting the city’s residents to return from mainland China without undergoing quarantine.

Carrie Lam said on Tuesday conditions were not yet right to remove restrictions on the size of groups, which is currently set at four, but that the number of people able to attend wedding ceremonies might be increased and limits on local tours are also being assessed. Any changes will be announced later on Tuesday.

Pointing to a recent agreement for a travel bubble with Singapore, Ms Lam said a similar deal with mainland China was still being examined.

“We are still working on it, we hope there will be mutual exemption on 14-day quarantine for both sides when conditions have been met. Or to allow Hong Kong residents to return to Hong Kong without the 14-day quarantine,” she said.

Hong Kong has reported 12 new local coronavirus infections over the past week, with no new clusters. The number of cases with unknown origins has also fallen.

Ms Lam said the government was examining whether it would be possible to make coronavirus testing compulsory for people with symptoms, but she described such a move as “very delicate” as it touches on human rights issues.

Ms Lam said she did not yet have a date to visit Beijing to discuss the mainland government’s input into her delayed policy address.

The chief executive last week shelved her annual address and said she would seek assistance from Beijing to aid the territory’s recovery from the pandemic and months of protests.

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

The Australian state of Victoria reported one new coronavirus case on Tuesday morning in a man who had previously tested positive.

This could “potentially be a day of zero [cases] and it’s a long time since we had a day of zero”, said Daniel Andrews, Victoria’s premier.

The state last reported a day of no new cases in early June.

“The one [case] may not necessarily be an infectious person or an active case, that’s a matter for the expert panel of doctors,” Mr Andrews said.

Victoria’s health department reported that there had been no new deaths linked to Covid-19 as the state slowly relaxed restrictions imposed in July to control an outbreak of coronavirus.

New rules introduced from Sunday allow residents in Melbourne to travel as much as 25km from their homes, up from 5km previously, but they must remain in the city limits. The two-hour limit on exercise outside the home was also removed, allowing people to go out for as long as they wish and to visit friends and family.

Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average of cases dipped to 6.4.

Andy bounds in Manchester

When Greater Manchester’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham used a press conference last Thursday to denounce government pressure to agree to tighter coronavirus restrictions, passers-by broke into spontaneous applause.

His rallying cry in defence of northern England against a Conservative government in London was still echoing around St Peter’s Square in Manchester — the scene of the media briefing — on Monday as talks between Mr Burnham and communities secretary Robert Jenrick broke up without an agreement on the mayor’s conurbation entering so-called tier 3 restrictions amid threats of a high-noon deadline on Tuesday.

“It is the first time in my life I have agreed with Andy Burnham,” said Richard Monkhouse, 74, a retired businessman. “I think there is very little understanding down in London about how things are here. It is about time somebody stuck up for us. Give us the reasons if you are going to do this and support us through it.”

Read more here

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific stocks were mixed on Tuesday after falls on Wall Street as the prospects for a new stimulus package before the presidential election continued to fade.

Japan’s Topix was down 0.3 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea edged 0.1 per cent lower and the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia was flat.

Overnight on Wall Street, the S&P 500 ended down 1.6 per cent while the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite shed 1.7 per cent as talks over a new US stimulus package were yet to reach an agreement. Rising coronavirus cases in the US and Europe also weighed on sentiment.

S&P 500 futures were up 0.6 per cent.

Peter Wells in New York

The US reported more than 57,000 new coronavirus cases on Monday, in line with its average over the past week, which in turn is at its highest level since early August.

States collectively reported 57,148 new cases, according to Covid Tracking Project data, up from 48,922 on Sunday and compared with 43,124 on Monday last week.

The latest numbers, as well as a handful of 60,000-plus case days last week, have pulled the national seven-day average to 57,213 new infections a day. That is the highest the rate has been since August 4, when the summer surge — mostly in sunbelt states — was in full swing.

Among the biggest one-day increases were Michigan (5,004) and Kansas (2,113), which had record increases, but were making up for a lack of reported data over the weekend. Tennessee had a record increase of 3,317.

Wisconsin’s health department performed “routine maintenance and updates” on its data reporting system that resulted in no daily snapshot over the weekend. As authorities resumed more normal service on Monday, they warned of “larger totals over the next few days” as the backlog is cleared.

Covid Tracking Project tallied 7,915 confirmed and probable cases for Wisconsin on Monday following two days without data, which in turn boosted the national figure.

That compared with 3,777 confirmed cases on Monday and a record 3,928 new confirmed cases on Sunday, as ascribed by Wisconsin’s health department.

The number of coronavirus patients in US hospitals hit 37,744 on Monday, the highest level since late August amid a summer outbreak.

The national death toll rose by 456, up from a six-day low of 393 yesterday, and about two-thirds of its average daily rate over the past week.

Monday figures tend to be lower than other days of the week due to weekend delays in reporting.

Negotiating teams for Nancy Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin were working “around the clock” to see if they could strike a deal for more fiscal stimulus before the November election, a senior Democratic congressional aide said on Monday after the latest call between the Democratic House speaker and the US Treasury secretary.

IBM on Monday warned of continued uncertainty over the strength of global IT demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, as it again withheld financial guidance at the start of its all-important fourth quarter.

More than 1m travellers passed through US airport checkpoints on Sunday, making it the first day that threshold has been crossed since March, when coronavirus lockdowns began.

The government’s chief scientific adviser has thanked members of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) for their work throughout the pandemic and has called into question the long-term viability of the group.

Ireland has intensified coronavirus restrictions, closing all “non-essential” retailers and curtailing the hospitality sector in a move that will lead to significant job losses.

Wales will begin a two-week national lockdown from Friday, first minister Mark Drakeford said, as the devolved nation seeks to control a rise in coronavirus cases.

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