EU leaders gather in person on mammoth plan; Hong Kong, Tokyo may tell cautionary tale

CORONAVIRUS ALERT 07/17/2020

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In top stories today:

  • European leaders gather in person for the first time in months to pore and haggle over a mammoth stimulus plan on coronavirus. Infections in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and the Australian state of Victoria may be a cautionary tale that the worst is ahead of us, while children figure among a rise in US infections.
  • European Union leaders gather in Brussels on July 17 for an in-person summit that will last at least two days to pore and wrangle over a budget and coronavirus recovery package of an estimated 1.75 to 1.85 trillion euros, ABC News said, carrying an Associated Press report. The Netherlands heads a group of four so-called frugal countries among the twenty-seven-member bloc who balk at grants for the most affected countries and want strict governance criteria on how the money will be spent, ABC News reported.
  • QUOTE: “The differences are still very, very big and so I can’t predict whether we will achieve a result this time,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said as she arrived at the Europa summit site, The Associated Press reported. “So I expect very, very difficult negotiations.”
  • The worst of the coronavirus pandemic may be ahead of us, not behind, Bloomberg said. A new outbreak in Hong Kong is worse than previous waves of infections, while a similar scenario is building up in Japan and Australia, the newswire reported. About a third of new infections in Hong Kong are of unknown origin, which indicates widespread and hidden chains of transmission; Tokyo and the Australian state of Victoria both posted record daily increases in new cases on July 17, Bloomberg reported.
  • QUOTE: “Does 1.75 trillion euros (two trillion dollar) seem like a lot of money to you?” European Council President and summit host Charles Michel said on July 16, ABC News reported. “Believe me, it does to the European heads of state or government too.”
  • The United States posted a record daily increase in coronavirus cases of more than 77,000 on July 16, as officials in Georgia and Louisiana squabble over the use of face masks to contain the spread of the virus, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • The daily figure shatters the previous US record, and Florida, South Carolina, and Texas reported their biggest one-day increases too on July 16, Reuters reported. Congressional leaders go back to Washington on July 20 but Democrats and Republics are two trillion dollars apart on what measures to take to minimize the pandemic’s toll, the newswire said separately.
  • Top US infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci urged young Americans to take coronavirus seriously, saying failing to do so could contribute to the spread of infections, CNBC reported. Florida has reported that a third of the children tested there are positive, while in California and Mississippi children account for almost 10 percent of cases, Bloomberg said.
  • QUOTE: “You have to have responsibility for yourself but also a societal responsibility that you’re getting infected is not just you in a vacuum,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a July 16 interview, CNBC reported. “You’re propagating the pandemic.”
  • India became the third country to exceed one million cases of coronavirus after it recorded almost 35,000 new cases in a day, CNBC said, citing a Reuters report. The other two are the United States and Brazil, CNBC added, with Reuters describing the three as the “grim coronavirus club.” Still, that many cases is low for a nation of about 1.3 billion people and India is probably months away from reaching a peak of infections, epidemiologists told Reuters, CNBC reported.
  • Russia already has a deal with AstraZeneca to manufacture a vaccine that the UK pharmaceutical giant is developing with the University of Oxford and so has no need to steal vaccine data, Reuters said, citing an exclusive interview on July 17 with Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States said on July 16 that Russian-backed hackers were trying to steal research on treatment and vaccines, the newswire added.
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  • Meanwhile in Spain, authorities in Barcelona urged residents to stay at home, Bloomberg reported. That was short of a formal lockdown, with officials asking too that people not gather in groups of more than ten so as to halt an increase in infections, Reuters reported.

WATER, SURGERIES

  • “Pandemic adds to the drain on bottled water” runs the headline to a Financial Times article, which says the industry is increasingly considered as the “new tobacco” amid growing concern by consumers and investors about the use of plastics. Danone, for instance, forecast a 30 percent decline in second-quarter sales of water, the newspaper reported.
  • QUOTE: “I thought I wouldn’t be able to get used to the taste of tap water compared with bottled, but I did, within a month,” said Parisa Wright, 40, a lawyer in London, the Financial Times reported. Coronavirus “has given people time at home to consider what they have around them… and look at what changes they can make.”
  • Second-quarter profit at Johnson & Johnson fell 35 percent as coronavirus forced hospitals to put off elective surgeries and more Americans stayed at home, CNBC reported. The company also said it will start phase-one trials next week of its COVID-19 vaccine on more than one thousand people aged between 18 and 55, as well as aged 65 years and older, CNBC added.
  • QUOTE: “Masks have become a political issue, not a health issue,” said Richard Johnson, chief executive of Footlocker, which will not make it compulsory for customers to wear masks at its hundreds of US outlets, in contrast to the stance taken by Walmart, Kroger, and others this week, the Financial Times reported. “I’m not willing to put my [employees] at risk” of having to enforce a compulsory mask policy.
  • The National Health Service in England will get three billion pounds in additional funding to prepare for a possible second wave of coronavirus infections, as the virus could become “more virulent” in the winter, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, the BBC reported.
  • Restrictions will ease further as Johnson plans for a “significant return to normality” by Christmas including more discretion for companies to bring people back to workplaces if safe to do so, the broadcaster said in a separate article. But Johnson’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, insisted on July 17 that government advice on working from home if possible should stand, the Financial Times said.

MINK CULL

  • More than 90,000 mink at a farm in Aragón, a province in north-eastern Spain, will be culled, the BBC reported. A coronavirus outbreak was discovered after a worker’s wife tested positive in May, with her husband and six other farmworkers then getting infected too, the broadcaster reported. Tests on July 13 showed that 87 percent of the mink, which are bred for their fur, tested positive, the article said.
  • British Airways brought forward plans to retire its entire fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft as coronavirus affects demand for air travel, CNBC reported. Currently the largest operator of the iconic “jumbo jet,” the UK flag carrier had planned to phase out the fleet by 2024, but it will now do so straight away and use Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 planes instead, CNBC said.
  • QUOTE: “It is unlikely our magnificent ‘queen of the skies’ will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again due to the downturn in travel caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic,” the airline said, CNBC reported.   
  • Airlines don’t have an easy choice between hunkering down and risking loss of market share later, or spending scarce cash on getting airborne again despite coronavirus health risks, The Wall Street Journal reported. American Airlines has brought back about half of the 410 airliners it parked in the spring when demand for travel plummeted, and this week it’s offering twice as many seats as United Airlines and almost 50 percent more than Delta Airlines, the Journal said, citing data provider OAG.
  • QUOTE: “Let’s go fly, for God’s sake,” Doug Parker, Chief Executive of American Airlines said in an interview last week, The Wall Street Journal reported. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll pull it back.”
  • The Washington Post published a round-up of what’s open and what restrictions are still in place in sixteen cities around the world, from Beijing to Berlin, Madrid to Moscow.
  • Virtually all flights to and from Urumqi, capital of China’s far-western Xinjiang region, have been canceled due to a coronavirus outbreak, with other measures including stopping the single metro line and many bus services, the BBC reported. The city has six confirmed cases and a further eleven that are asymptomatic, but health authorities in China take even small clusters very seriously, the BBC said.
  • “How the financial shockwave is affecting jobs and money” runs a headline to a BBC article, which sets out the pandemic’s impact on jobs and money in the United Kingdom, from spending and saving patterns to levels of personal debt including on credit cards.
  • Japan will press ahead with a controversial campaign to promote domestic tourism in spite of concerns that it may spread infections throughout the country, although travel to and from Tokyo will now be excluded following a spike in cases there, the Financial Times reported.
  • Many residents in the rundown Navotas neighborhood of Manila, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, fear harsh treatment by the police after the Philippines government said officials would escort those with mild or no symptoms from their homes to isolation centers, Reuters reported. An anti-drug campaign at the height of the nation’s war on narcotics became associated with thousands of killings, the newswire said. Infections have tripled in the Philippines since the start of June, the article added. 

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