Britain Eases Lockdown As Asia Outbreaks Fuel Concern

FILE:  (Photo by Hollie Adams / AFP)

 

Britons hugged their loved ones and streamed into pubs, gyms and other indoor venues on Monday as the country eased pandemic restrictions, but Asia faced more misery with new variants and a cyclone disrupting the fight against a Covid-19 wave ravaging India.

As the United States and Britain move away from harsh restrictions thanks to rapid immunisation campaigns, new strains have forced several countries in Asia to shut schools and impose travel bans, highlighting the persistent global threat posed by the pandemic.

With known global infections approaching 163 million and the rise of new variants complicating the fight, governments still pushed ahead with easing restrictions — a moving step for some.

“I actually feel a wee bit emotional saying this… you can hug your loved ones again,” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said as businesses reopened in what The Sun tabloid dubbed “Freedom Monday”.

– ‘Nice to be back’ –

Across England, Wales and most of Scotland, people on Monday could once again grab a drink, a bite and dine inside pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Cinemas, museums and sports venues also opened their doors for the first time in months.

People were able to once again visit each other at home — and to head to Portugal, where the British are normally the largest tourist contingent.

“It’s nice to get away and be back here,” said Barry Thompson, a 63-year-old retired policeman from Manchester who landed in the southern town of Faro with his wife and son.

“We’re very excited.”

In another sign of life returning to normal in Europe, Disneyland Paris announced it would reopen on June 17.

But authorities have urged caution and warned that with new variants spreading, restrictions could be reintroduced.

– India hit by storm –

The pandemic has claimed more than 3.3 million lives worldwide, and one of the worst outbreaks is in India, where at least 4,000 people are dying from Covid-19 every day.

India was already dealing with limited medical infrastructure and scarce vaccine supplies, when a major cyclone in the Arabian Sea packing ferocious winds bore down on the South Asian nation.

Gujarat state moved all Covid-19 patients from hospitals within five kilometres (three miles) off the coast where the storm is expected to hit.

Authorities there were also scrambling to ensure there would be no power cuts at designated Covid-19 hospitals and oxygen plants in the districts under threat from the storm.

Nearly 600 patients in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, were also moved to “safer locations”.

The variant behind the explosive outbreak in India has spread to at least 44 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

They include Singapore, where a growing number of cases has prompted the government to tighten restrictions, including closing schools.

“A lot of people have taken for granted the past few months of peace and stability, but this is a wake-up call,” said Anthony Chang, a hawker stall owner in the city-state.

And authorities in Taiwan, which emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic last year, announced a suspension of classes in schools from Tuesday in Taipei and adjacent New Taipei City as the island battled a surge in infections. The island also banned all foreigners, except residents, from entry or transit for a month.

In South Africa, the continent’s worst-hit country on the cusp of a third wave, authorities on Monday launched a large-scale vaccination campaign aiming to immunise five million people over the age of 60 by end of June.

– UNICEF vaccine warning –

The persistent threat of the coronavirus is casting a shadow on the already delayed Tokyo Olympics, due to begin in less than 10 weeks even with parts of Japan under a state of emergency.

Organisers have insisted that they will go ahead despite the risk, but the opposition was brought into focus Monday when a new poll showed 80 percent of Japanese were against hosting the Games this year.

Japan’s vaccine rollout has been slow despite its wealth, but concerns are growing that poorer nations will be left even further behind because of vaccine inequality.

“We are concerned that the deadly spike in India is a precursor to what will happen if those warnings remain unheeded,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said Monday.

In France, pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi reported positive results for a Phase 2 trial of a Covid vaccine it is developing with Britain’s GSK, which will enable a late-stage trial to start in the coming weeks.

AFP

Self-Made South Korean Billionaires Promise To Give Half Away

A collage of two S-Korean billionaires (Kim Bong-jin
A collage of two S-Korean billionaires (Kim Bong-jin and Kim Beom-su)

 

Two self-made South Korean billionaires have pledged in as many weeks to give away half their fortunes –- a rarity in a country where the business is dominated by family-controlled conglomerates and charity often begins and ends at home.

Kim Beom-su, the founder of South Korea’s biggest messaging app KakaoTalk, announced this month he will donate more than half his estimated $9.6 billion assets to try to “solve social issues”.

Shortly afterward, Kim Bong-jin of food-delivery app Woowa Brothers and his wife, Bomi Sul, became the first South Koreans to sign the Giving Pledge. The philanthropic initiative was set up by Bill and Melinda Gates, alongside Warren Buffett, for billionaires to give away at least half their wealth.

Both Kims contrast with most of South Korea’s ultra-wealthy, who are largely descendants of the founders of the chaebol, the sprawling, usually family-run conglomerates that powered the country’s post-war boom and still dominate the economy.

Unlike the chaebol heirs who inherited their wealth, power, and connections, the two Kims were born to working-class families.

In his Giving Pledge statement, Kim of Woowa Brothers described his “humble beginning” on a small island.

His parents ran a small restaurant, where he slept at night, and as a teenager he gave up his dream of attending an art high school, enrolling instead in a cheaper vocational school.

Wealth, he said, had value when it was used for “the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society”.

Rather than keeping the entirety of their fortune, Kim and his wife said in their statement: “We are certain that this pledge is the greatest inheritance that we could provide for our children.”

Neither of the billionaire Kims has so far provided a precise timeline for their pledged donations, or detailed the recipient organisations.

Tech industry

More than 200 super-wealthy from around the world have signed the Giving Pledge, according to its website.

But it has previously been criticised for not being legally binding, and it acknowledges it is only a “moral commitment”.

It has struggled to make headway in East Asia, listing only a handful of donors from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and none from Japan.

Like many East Asian societies, South Korea remains largely family-oriented, with financial ties extending well into adulthood as parents help finance higher education and housing, and little sense of obligation to give to non-relatives.

South Korea ranks 57th in the Charities Aid Foundation’s most recent World Giving Index — with Japan at 107 and China at 126.

Public philanthropy has a limited history among super-wealthy South Koreans, while the chaebols’ founding families often maintain their grip through complex webs of cross-holdings between subsidiaries.

“When the country was just reeling from the war, the priority was survival, not philanthropy, and working with your own family members was seen as the most efficient way of running a business,” Jangwoo Lee, a business administration professor at Kyungpook National University, told AFP.

But both Kim Beom-su and Kim Bong-jin have been at the forefront of South Korea’s social media and mobile tech industries boom, each founding their company in 2010 and rapidly accumulating a fortune.

Kakao’s flagship messaging application is installed on more than 90 percent of phones in the country.

Woowa owns South Korea’s biggest food delivery app, with more than 10 million monthly users — around 20 percent of the population.

The children of Kakao’s Kim have been appointed to positions in his holding company, but professor Lee said chaebol-style succession was effectively obsolete for such firms.

“Family-oriented management strategies may have worked for manufacturing businesses, but we have now entered an era where newly emerging enterprises do not really benefit from such ways,” he said.

“These are creative and unpredictable industries, and they need specialists, not family members, in leadership in order to thrive.”

That could give their owners more flexibility with their assets.

Art museum

According to the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, most donations under the Giving Pledge have gone to private foundations controlled by donors’ relatives, or donor-advised funds, enabling the givers to “retain significant managerial control over millions of philanthropic dollars” while generating “hefty tax reductions”.

South Korean law also offers donors some tax benefits, depending on the beneficiaries and how giving is structured.

Some chaebol families have engaged in high-profile philanthropy.

Hyundai Motor’s honorary chairman Chung Mong-Koo endowed an eponymous foundation with his personal assets and the Samsung group — South Korea’s biggest conglomerate — founded the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, home to an extensive collection of antiquities and modern works.

But critics say South Korea is becoming an increasingly unequal society.

Kakao’s Kim was among those who grew up poor. Neither of his parents attended high school, and they took multiple blue-collar jobs to make ends meet, leaving him to be cared for mostly by his grandmother.

All eight members of the family shared a single room, and later he sometimes could not afford to buy lunch as a student at the prestigious Seoul National University.

Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean Studies at the University of Oslo, said the South Koreans’ moves were a “display of public-mindedness on the part of the self-made rich men”.

“Meritocratic billionaires have something that rich heirs do not.”

AFP

Myanmar Anti-Coup Protests Grow As Army Broadens Internet Crackdown

People take part in a noise campaign on the street after calls for protest against the military coup emerged on social media, in Yangon on February 5, 2021. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP)

 

Myanmar saw its largest anti-coup protests yet on Saturday with young demonstrators spilling on to the streets to denounce the country’s new military regime, despite a nationwide internet blackout aimed at stifling a growing chorus of popular dissent. 

Around 3,000 demonstrators gathered on a road near Yangon University, most holding up the three-finger salute that has come to symbolise resistance to the army takeover.

“Down with the military dictatorship!” the crowd yelled, many donning red headbands — the colour associated with ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

 

Riot police block a street as protesters gather for a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on February 6, 2021. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP)

 

A protester holds up a sign during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on February 6, 2021. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP)

 

Riot police block a street as protesters gather for a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on February 6, 2021. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP)

 

A large riot police contingent blocked nearby roads, with two water cannon trucks parked at the scene.

Protesters left the area without confrontation but are expected to gather again in another part of the commercial capital later on Saturday.

“We are here to fight for our next generation, to free them from a military dictatorship,” one woman at the rally told AFP. “We have to end it now.”

The demonstration came as Myanmar was plunged into its second nationwide internet blackout this week, similar in magnitude to an earlier shutdown that coincided with the arrest of Suu Kyi and other senior leaders on Monday.

 

A protester holds up a sign with the images of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi (R) and president Win Myint during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on February 6, 2021. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP)

 

A woman dances as people take part in a noise campaign on the street after calls for protest against the military coup emerged on social media, in Yangon on February 5, 2021. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP)

 

People take part in a noise campaign on the street after calls for protest against the military coup emerged on social media, in Yangon on February 5, 2021. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP)

 

Those dawn raids brought a sudden halt to Myanmar’s brief 10-year experiment with democracy, and catalysed an outpouring of fury that has migrated from social media to the streets.

Online calls to protest the army takeover have prompted increasingly bold displays of defiance against the new regime, including the nightly deafening clamour of people around the country banging pots and pans — a practice traditionally associated with driving out evil.

Some have shown their opposition by gathering for group photographs with banners decrying the coup and flashing a three-finger salute earlier adopted by democracy protesters in neighbouring Thailand.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said a special envoy to the country had made “first contact” with Myanmar’s deputy military commander to urge the junta to relinquish power to the civilian government it toppled.

“We will do everything we can to make the international community united in making sure that conditions are created for this coup to be reversed,” he told reporters on Friday.

State media in Myanmar reported Saturday that junta figures had spoken with diplomats the previous day to respond to an international outcry and asked them to work with the new leaders.

“The Government understand the concerns of the international community on the continuation of Myanmar’s democratic transition process,” International Cooperation Minister Ko Ko Hlaing said in the meeting, according to the report.

– ‘Freedom from fear’ –
As protests gathered steam this week, the junta ordered telecom networks to freeze users out of access to Facebook, an extremely popular service in the country and arguably its main mode of communication.

The platform had hosted a rapidly growing “Civil Disobedience Movement” forum that had inspired civil servants, healthcare professionals, and teachers to show their dissent by boycotting their jobs in civil service and hospitals.

The military widened its efforts to stifle dissent on Friday when it demanded new blocks on other social media services including Twitter.

Norway-based Telenor said its local phone company had been instructed to cut access to the platform late on Friday, adding it had “challenged the necessity” of the directive.

An apparent ministry document ordering the blockade — seen by AFP but not verified — said Twitter and Instagram were being used to “cause misunderstanding among the public”.

Some internet-savvy users had managed to circumvent the social media block by using VPN services but by midday, online traffic had slowed to a standstill.

“People in Myanmar have been forced into a situation of abject uncertainty,” said Ming Yu Hah of Amnesty.

“An expanded internet shutdown will put them at greater risk of more egregious human rights violations at the hands of the military,” she added.

An immensely popular figure despite a tarnished reputation in the West, Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since the coup, but a party spokesman said Friday she was under house arrest and “in good health”.

US President Joe Biden was among world leaders this week to demand the generals “relinquish power… release advocates and activists and officials they have detained, lift the restrictions in telecommunications, and refrain from violence”.

COVID-19: US Posts Record Daily Cases As Millions In Asia Enter Fresh Lockdowns

Medical officials collect a nose swab sample to test for the COVID-19 coronavirus at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon on December 19, 2020 after some cases of local infections were detected and linked to a vendor at the market. Jack TAYLOR / AFP

 

The United States logged a record new daily virus caseload as Joe Biden slammed the Trump administration’s vaccine roll-out as a “travesty” and millions in Asia woke up to new lockdowns.

Almost 1.9 million people have now died from the virus, with new variants sending cases soaring and prompting the re-introduction of curbs on movement even as some countries begin mass inoculation campaigns.

Almost 290,00 new cases were reported in the US within 24 hours Friday according to Johns Hopkins University, a day after the world’s worst-hit country recorded a daily record of nearly 4,000 deaths.

“Vaccines give us hope, but the roll-out has been a travesty,” Biden told reporters, warning distribution of the vaccine would be “the greatest operational challenge we will ever face as a nation.”

On Saturday the streets of the Australian city of Brisbane were quiet as its more than two million residents were ordered back into lockdown after authorities detected a single infection of a new strain from Britain, which is thought to be more infectious.

“Quite surreal, like something from a movie set,” local man Scott told AFP in Brisbane’s deserted downtown.

“It’s necessary. Hopefully we will get through the next few days without any cases, that will allow us just to start to get back to normal.”

In China, where the original coronavirus first emerged in late 2019, authorities also tightened restrictions on two cities near Beijing to stamp out a growing cluster.

The new week-long stay at home orders affecting about 18 million people in Shijiazhuang and Xingtai come as cases spike ahead of the Lunar New Year, when hundreds of millions criss-cross the country to visit family and friends.

On Saturday Beijing’s National Health Commission said authorities had so far given out more than nine million vaccine doses, but warned the upcoming holiday would “further boost the risk of transmission.”

As the race to inoculate heats up, the World Health Organization urged rich countries to stop cutting their own deals with manufacturers to snap up the first wave of vaccines.

“Fifty percent of the high-income countries in the world are vaccinating today,” said Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO co-led vaccine procurement and distribution effort.

“Zero percent of the low-income countries are vaccinating. That is not equitable.”

The comments came as the European Union said it had agreed an option for a further 300 million jabs from Pfizer/BioNTech, doubling its supply of the vaccine.

China also said Saturday that preparations were still ongoing for a WHO mission to Wuhan to investigate the origins of Covid-19, following a rare rebuke from the UN body over a delay to the long-planned trip.

“As long as these experts complete the procedures and confirm their schedule, we will go to Wuhan together to carry out investigations,” National Health Commission vice minister Zeng Yixin told reporters.

Records keep falling

Despite nearly a year of intermittent restrictions across the globe, many countries are still recording record coronavirus numbers, including Britain which on Friday announced new highs of 1,325 deaths and 68,053 cases over 24 hours.

Fears have been rising over the new virus variants that emerged in Britain and South Africa, but BioNTech brought some relief on Friday, saying its vaccine was effective against a “key mutation” found in the strains.

In Brazil, which has the second-highest death toll after the US, two vaccine makers — China’s Sinovac and AstraZeneca/Oxford — applied for approval for their jabs.

Meanwhile Iran said it was banning the import of any US and British-produced vaccines doses, with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying they were “completely untrustworthy”.

“It’s not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations,” he said.

Africa was spared the worst of the pandemic’s first wave, but has seen a sharp surge in recent weeks, with Senegal recording its highest death and infections figures — eight and 296, respectively — on Friday.

At a hospital in Nigerian megacity Lagos, managing director Ngozi Onyia likened the surge in cases there to a “tsunami”.

“I’m making tough calls — who to take into the treatment centre, who to put on one of our four ventilators — ethical decisions I’ve never had to make in 38-plus years,” she said.

But there was relief in Spain, where a baby — three-month-old Petru — left the hospital after spending nearly all his short life fighting Covid-19.

 

AFP

Cathay Pacific Reports First-Half Loss Of US$1.27 Billion

(FILES) This file photo taken on August 12, 2019 shows the Cathay Pacific check-in area empty as all flights have been cancelled after protesters occupied Hong Kong’s international airport during continued unrest in the territory. – Troubled Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific said it lost 1.27 billion USD in the first half of this year, the latest major airline to reveal how badly the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has eviscerated its business. (Photo by VIVEK PRAKASH / AFP)

 

Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific said Wednesday it lost HK$9.9 billion (US$1.27 billion) in the first half of this year as the coronavirus pandemic sent passenger numbers tumbling, eviscerating its business.

Before the pandemic, Cathay Pacific was one of Asia’s largest international airlines and the world’s fifth-largest air cargo carrier. But it has been battered by the evaporation of global travel.

“The first six months of 2020 were the most challenging that the Cathay Pacific Group has faced in its more than 70-year history,” chairman Patrick Healy said in a stark statement announcing the results.

“The global health crisis has decimated the travel industry and the future remains highly uncertain, with most analysts suggesting that it will take years to recover to pre-crisis levels.”

The airline said it carried 4.4 million passengers in the first six months of 2020 — a 76 percent plunge on-year — as the coronavirus burst out of central China and spread around the world.

At the height of the global lockdowns in April and May, Cathay Pacific’s entire fleet was averaging just 500 passengers a day.

Cargo remained the lone bright spot, rising nine percent on-year to HK$11.2 billion. Demand was driven up by a squeeze on space for cargo, which is often carried in the holds of passenger planes.

Despite the grim results, Cathay’s share price rose 12 percent on Wednesday, its biggest one-day jump since 2008.

Bloomberg News said the rally was caused by a tweet by China’s state-run tabloid Global Times saying Hong Kong’s airport may soon restart transfer flights to the mainland.

The paper gave no source for its tweet but investors were buoyed because transfer flights could give Cathay some much-needed extra passengers.

Unlike other big international carriers, Cathay has no domestic market to fall back on, and it was already under pressure after months of huge protests in Hong Kong last year caused passenger numbers to plunge.

It was also punished by Beijing last year when some of its 33,000 employees expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

– Rescue package –

Healy said 2020 had started promisingly, with signs that demand was beginning to return after the sometimes-violent protests had put travellers off visiting the financial hub.

But then the pandemic struck.

In response to the health crisis, Cathay Pacific has tried to save cash by reducing capacity, cutting executive pay, introducing voluntary leave schemes and slashing other non-essential costs.

It has so far refrained from any large-scale job cuts.

Hong Kong’s government also came to its rescue earlier this year with a HK$39 billion recapitalisation plan.

The deal allowed Cathay Pacific to raise some HK$11.7 billion in a rights issue on the basis of seven rights shares for every 11 existing shares held.

Preference shares were sold to the government via Aviation 2020, a new company it owns, for HK$19.5 billion and warrants for HK$1.95 billion, subject to adjustment.

In return, Aviation 2020 received two “observers” to attend board meetings.

Healy predicted little optimism for business picking up any time soon, quoting the International Air Transport Association as saying global travel is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024.

And he said Asia-Pacific airlines were likely to suffer for longer given spiralling tensions between the United States and China.

“With a global recession looming, and geopolitical tensions intensifying, trade will likely come under significant pressure,” he said.

“And this is expected to have a negative impact on both air travel and cargo demand.”

AFP

Asian Stocks Extend Gains As US Jobs Trump Virus Worries

People wait to cross a street in front of a stock indicator displaying share prices of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on January 9, 2020. Behrouz MEHRI / AFP

 

 

Asian investors welcomed a forecast-busting US jobs report to send regional equities higher on Friday, though an acceleration in virus infections across the world’s top economy tempered big gains.

While the US registered more than 50,000 new cases for a second straight day and authorities across the country reimposed containment measures, traders backed up with a wall of government and central bank cash chose to look to the positives.

And a near-five million jump in employment in June, combined with promising vaccine tests, provided the platform for another market rally that saw the Nasdaq clock up yet another record.

The jobs report showed people returning to jobs in hard-hit and crucial sectors such as leisure and hospitality, which accounted for just under half of the increase.

The US advances, and a strong performance in Europe — where countries are pressing ahead with lockdown easing — gave Asia a strong lead, which investors picked up on.

Hong Kong rose 1.2 percent after climbing almost three percent Thursday, while Tokyo finished 0.7 percent higher and Shanghai jumped two percent.

Sydney climbed 0.4 percent and Seoul put on 0.8 percent, while there were healthy advances in Taipei, Seoul, Wellington, Singapore and Mumbai. Manila reversed early losses.

London, Paris and Frankfurt all rose at the open.

 

Recovery to ‘level off’

“There’s still a general positive sentiment about how quickly we’re seeing the recovery,” said Chris Gaffney at TIAA Bank.

“But we do think you’re going to see the recovery level off, especially if we continue to see higher case numbers on the virus.”

Analysts warned that while the employment data were good, jobless claims were still elevated — at 1.43 million last week, which was slightly better than the week before but missed expectations.

They pointed out that the latest spike in infections and the reclosure of some businesses around the US, particularly in the Sun Belt, could set the recovery back.

“The non-farm payrolls report is a mid-June snapshot, which might have been the ‘sweet spot’ of near-term employment optimism as the virus situation in the US has deteriorated sharply since,” warned AxiCorp’s Stephen Innes.

“It would be tough to take the better-than-expected… payrolls numbers and extrapolate that there will be a V-shaped recovery in the US,” he added. “The economy has brought back only about 30 percent of the jobs lost.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow injected some nervousness into trading floors by telling Fox Business Network that the US was “very unhappy with China”.

He added that there were “going to be export restrictions, particularly with respect to military, national security and some sensitive high technology”.

 

Key figures around 0720 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 percent at 22,306.48 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 1.2 percent at 25,418.19

Shanghai – Composite: UP 2.0 percent at 3,152.81 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 6,258.79

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.9 percent at $40.30 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.8 percent at $42.79 per barrel

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1242 from $1.1239 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: UP at 107.52 yen from 107.48 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2475 from $1.2466

Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.08 pence from 90.15 yen

New York – Dow: UP 0.4 percent at 25,827.36 (close)

 

 

 

-AFP

Most Asian Markets Up On Economy Hopes Despite COVID-19 Spike

A passenger wearing a facemask (R) uses her phone as she stands near a luggage at Tianhe Airport in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on May 29, 2020. Hector RETAMAL / AFP

 

Markets mostly rose in Asia on Wednesday as investors looked past spiking coronavirus infections and warnings of a US surge in the disease, with eyes on the economic recovery as countries press ahead with the easing of lockdowns.

Traders took their lead from another rally on Wall Street, which was lifted by a forecast-beating jump in US consumer confidence, while eyes were also on the release later this week of key jobs data out of Washington.

And while equities are considered unlikely to kick on unless there is a major vaccine breakthrough, analysts said the trillions of dollars in government and central bank support continues to provide a boost.

In the United States, Donald Trump’s top virus expert warned Congress that new daily cases could more than double unless officials step up efforts to control the pandemic.

“Clearly, we are not in total control right now,” Anthony Fauci said. “I would not be surprised if it goes up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around.”

He warned that a jump in infections in Texas and Florida was driving the daily national total to more than 40,000, and they need to be tamped down quickly to avoid dangerous surges elsewhere in the country, adding that the final death toll could be “very disturbing”.

His comments came as some states reimposed measures only recently lifted, while reports of new clusters in several countries including Australia, Germany and Japan fuelled worries of a second wave.

Still, there was a feeling that a return to widespread lockdowns seen earlier in the year was unlikely.

“The next couple of weeks may tell us much about how the rest of the pandemic develops as the renewed wave of the virus in some US states is starting to weigh on economic activity,” said AxiCorp’s Stephen Innes.

“But the restoring lockdowns so far are mostly concentrated on the service sector of the southern and western states. It certainty prolongs the rebound of the service sector, but the impact is much less than the first lockdown in March.”

– ‘Fear of missing out’ –

Innes added that some metrics indicated the death rate was much lower in the US.

“The optimist in me looks for potential drivers, including better medical treatment, healthcare systems that are no longer overwhelmed, younger patients, and mutation of the virus,” he said.

Shanghai gained 1.4 percent with investors taking heart from the easing of some recently reimposed lockdowns as hopes grew that a recent outbreak in Beijing had been brought under control.

Mumbai also rose more than one percent, while Sydney and Singapore both put on 0.6 percent. Taipei and Manila were also higher.

Tokyo shed 0.8 percent after a closely watched Bank of Japan survey showed that confidence among the country’s biggest manufacturers had hit its lowest level since 2009 during the global financial crisis.

There were also losses in Seoul, Jakarta, Bangkok and Wellington.

In early trade, London, Paris and Frankfurt edged up slightly.

Hong Kong was closed for a holiday, though investors were keeping tabs on the city on the anniversary of the handover to China and after Beijing imposed a sweeping security law to prevent further unrest in the financial hub.

Markets have surged about a fifth from their March lows, thanks to the easing of lockdowns, improving economic data and the huge financial support.

Rodrigo Catril, of National Australia Bank, said that the worry of missing out on further gains is playing a role in continued support for prices.

“The fear of missing out, along with the need to put cash to work against a stimulus deluge backdrop, continues to be the overwhelming force, notwithstanding worrying virus infection rates and warnings from experts,” he said in a note.

Oil prices jumped more than one percent as investors cheered news that Saudi exports had tumbled in June, indicating it was sticking to a massive output agreement with other major producers including Russia.

It shipped 5.7 million barrels a day last month, compared with 6.2 million in May, a drop equivalent to seven full supertankers over the month.

– Key figures around 0720 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.8 percent at 22,121.73 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 1.4 percent at 3,025.98 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: Closed for a holiday

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.1 percent at 6,175.65

West Texas Intermediate: UP 1.4 percent at $39.81 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.3 percent at $41.79 per barrel

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1227 from $1.1234 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 107.64 yen from 107.97 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2388 from $1.2391

Euro/pound: UP at 90.62 pence from 90.65 yen

New York – Dow: UP 0.9 percent at 25,812.88 (close)

— Bloomberg News contributed to this story —

AFP

Markets Mixed As Investors Track Second Wave, New Lockdowns

People walk through a shopping area in Tokyo on May 12, 2020. Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP.

 

Equities were mixed Wednesday in Asia after a healthy run-up the day before as traders weigh positive data suggesting economies are recovering against signs of a second wave of infections and the reintroduction of some lockdowns.

While governments and central banks have provided a wall of cash to support markets, investors are walking a tightrope between hopes the easing of restrictions will lead to a rebound and the possibility that looser measures will inflame the pandemic again.

After a rally across most regional bourses Tuesday, Wall Street and Europe followed suit after figures pointed to a big improvement in eurozone private-sector activity in June as well as a jump in US new home sales.

Meanwhile, several countries continued to loosen up, including in Britain where pubs, restaurants, hotels and cinemas were told they could open again from July 4.

“Through the lens of survey data, at least for now, the world’s essential economies are seeing a V-shaped and coordinated rebound that looks set to (continue) through the summer in the northern hemisphere,” said Stephen Innes at AxiCorp. “Fingers crossed a second wave super spread does not land in our lap.”

However, there are growing concerns of a relapse in some countries that had been opening up, with Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike on Wednesday warning a number of new cases had been found at one workplace.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Crisis Sinks Global Economy In 2020, Collapsing GDP 4.9% – IMF

That comes after Germany reimposed containment measures in two western districts — home to almost 640,000 people — after an outbreak at a slaughterhouse infected more than 1,500 workers.

Portugal has also announced new restrictions in and around Lisbon.

And leading US health officials headed by top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci warned of “historic” challenges, adding: “COVID-19 activity will likely continue for some time.”

Fauci warned the next two weeks would be “critical to our ability to address… surgings” in Florida, Texas and other states.

Tokyo and Singapore each lost 0.1 percent, Hong Kong dipped 0.5 percent and there were also losses in Manila.

Sydney added 0.2 percent, Shanghai gained 0.3, Mumbai added 0.5 percent and Taipei put on 0.4 percent with Wellington and Jakarta more than one percent higher.

Seoul climbed 1.5 percent with help coming from a report that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has suspended plans for military action against the South in an apparent easing of tensions just over a week after Pyongyang blew up a liaison office.

London, Frankfurt and Paris were all in the red in early trade.

While equities have been on a generally upward trajectory, gold — a key safe haven in times of uncertainty — has also been on the up as the relatively weak dollar makes it cheaper to buy, while investors are also keeping an eye on a fall-back in case the crisis erupts again.

The yellow metal is up around 17 percent since the end of December and sitting at a seven-and-a-half-year high of $1,775.

“Historically the metal has rallied when stocks have sold off as funds typically flowed towards assets that are deemed to be lower risk,” said CMC Markets analyst David Madden.

“The rise of the US dollar as a risk-off play has distorted the old relationship between gold and attitudes towards risk. Recently we have seen gold and stocks move higher in tandem.”

– Key figures around 0810 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1 percent at 22,534.32 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.5 percent at 24,781.58 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 2,979.55 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.8 percent at 6,271.71

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.1 percent at $40.39 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.3 percent at $42.77 per barrel

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1293 from $1.1308 at 2050 GMT

Dollar/yen: UP at 106.61 yen from 106.53 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2480 from $1.2520

Euro/pound: UP at 90.48 pence from 90.30 pence

New York – Dow: UP 0.5 percent at 26,156.10 (close).

AFP

 

Surge In Child Mortality Forecast In Pandemic-hit Developing Countries

Children learn how to wash hands for prevention of the COVID-19 as local NGO Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) installs hand washing stations at Kibera slum in Nairobi, on March 18, 2020. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

 

Deaths from preventable disease in children under five could rise by almost 45 percent over the next six months as the COVID-19 pandemic diverts scarce health resources in developing countries, a UN report said Tuesday.

Poorer nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America could see an additional 1.2 million infants die over the period, according to the study published by The Lancet Global Health.

About 56,700 more maternal deaths could also occur in six months, beyond the 144,000 deaths that already take place in the same 118 countries, a rise of about 40 percent.

The findings were based on a computer model that calculated the impact of a reduction in family planning, antenatal and postnatal care, child delivery, vaccinations and preventive and curative services.

“Under a worst-case scenario, the global number of children dying before their fifth birthdays could increase for the first time in decades,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.

“We must not let mothers and children become collateral damage in the fight against the virus. And we must not let decades of progress on reducing preventable child and maternal deaths be lost.”

The greatest number of additional child deaths would come from under nourishment, and a reduction in treatment of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia.

The study found that the 10 countries that could have the largest number of additional child deaths were Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania.

READ ALSO: New Resolution On Pandemic Truce Presented To UN Security Council

UNICEF said it was especially alarmed at the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

This included tens of million of children missing out on measles vaccinations, and some 370 million children who normally rely on school meals having to look for other sources of food.

UNICEF said it was launching a new global campaign called “#Reimagine” to prevent the pandemic becoming a lasting crisis for children.

The organization is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector to respond.

AFP

Europe Emerges From Confinement, But Asia Infections Spike

hong-kong
People wearing face masks as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus cross a street in the Causeway Bay shopping district in Hong Kong on May 1, 2020. DALE DE LA REY / AFP.

 

Swathes of Europe began the long process of re-opening from coronavirus lockdowns on Monday, but the first new infections in weeks at China’s ground zero offered a sobering reminder of the dangers of a second wave of cases.

The mixed fortunes illustrated the high-wire act governments face across the globe as they try to get economies moving while keeping in check a pandemic that has now killed more than 280,000 people.

As Britain plotted a path to normality and France and Spain basked in relaxation of restrictions, the Chinese city where the pandemic was born reported a second day of new cases after a month without sign of the virus.

And neighbouring South Korea announced its highest number of infections for more than a month driven by a cluster in a Seoul nightlife district.

With millions out of work and economies shattered, governments are desperate to hit the accelerator, but most are choosing a gradual approach as fears about a resurgence of the virus linger.

READ ALSO: AIDS Deaths Could Double In Sub-Saharan Africa Due To COVID-19 – UN

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was too soon for the country to lift its lockdown but he offered hope by unveiling a “conditional plan” to ease curbs in England during the months ahead.

Johnson said the restrictions had brought “a colossal cost to our way of life” but it would be “madness” to squander the nation’s progress by moving too early.

Almost seven weeks after a nationwide stay-at-home order was put in place, more than 31,800 have died in Britain — a figure second only to the United States.

Elsewhere in Europe, however, officials have been emboldened by declining death rates, with France’s toll dropping to 70 on Sunday — its lowest since early April — and Spain’s daily fatalities falling below 200.

The French were able to walk outside without filling in a permit for the first time in nearly eight weeks on Monday, while teachers began returning to primary schools and some shops were set to re-open, causing a surge in the numbers using the Paris metro.

“If it’s like this at 6:00 am, imagine how it’s going to be in two hours — this is going to be impossible,” said one rider named Brigitte early Monday morning on a crowded train.

Many Spaniards, meanwhile, made plans to meet friends and family at outdoor bars and restaurants, although virus hotspots such as Madrid and Barcelona remain under wraps.

Germany too has set in motion the re-opening of shops, eateries, schools and gyms, but the process was thrown in doubt Sunday by official data indicating the virus appears to be picking up speed again.

Chancellor Angela Merkel only days ago declared the country could gradually return to normal, but the figures showed the reproduction rate of the virus had exceeded the critical figure of 1.0, meaning one person infects on average more than one other.

As recently as Wednesday, the number had stood at 0.65.

– Second wave fears –

With governments across the world trying to avoid a second wave, Asian nations that were among the first engulfed by the virus but have since brought it to heel are being keenly watched.

Much of China has begun to get back to a form of normality, and on Monday Shanghai Disneyland threw open its gates following a three-month shutdown.

“We are very much looking forward to the first day of re-opening and wondering what’s the difference inside today compared to before,” said one eager visitor named Kitty.

But enthusiasm in China was tempered by news on Sunday that one person had tested positive for the virus in Wuhan. There were five more cases on Monday.

Local health officials said the new infections were all from the same residential compound in the city and were mostly older people.

South Korean officials ordered nightclubs and bars closed after a fresh burst of transmission linked to an entertainment district in the capital.

At first it was thought to have been triggered by a 29-year-old man who tested positive after spending an evening at five clubs and bars in the Itaewon in early May.

But officials said there appeared to be multiple origins for the cluster, with Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun adding they are struggling to trace “thousands of people” who visited the area.

Cautious re-opening nevertheless continues around Asia, with one of the world’s largest train networks set to gradually restart operations from Tuesday as India eases its lockdown despite the nation reporting its biggest single-day jump in cases.

The vast rail system — which usually carries more than 20 million passengers a day — was halted in late March, leaving millions of rural migrant workers unable to return home after losing their jobs in cities.

– ‘Be vigilant’ –

New Zealand, meanwhile, will phase out its lockdown over the next 10 days, although some restrictions will remain.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned “none of us can assume COVID is not with us”, but said the country had only 90 active cases after a seven-week lockdown.

“Your efforts, New Zealand, have got us to this place ahead of most of the world and without the carnage that COVID has inflicted in many other places,” she said in a televised address.

“But there are risks ahead, so please be vigilant.”

Extended periods at home have given some people a chance to gather testimony on life in confinement, with the Museum of London launching an appeal for items that reflect the experience.

“When we knew there was going to be a lockdown, we started straight away talking about what we needed to collect something for the future,” Beatrice Behlen, the museum’s senior curator, told AFP.

“It could be something that gives you comfort — one example mentioned often is maybe your favourite slippers — you’ve been wearing them every day.”

AFP

Indonesia Bans Air, Sea Travel Until June Over COVID-19 Fears

Health officials take samples of saliva and nasal fluid from a resident (L) to test for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Tangerang on April 2, 2020. FAJRIN RAHARJO / AFP.

 

Indonesia will ban all air and sea travel until June, officials said Thursday, in an apparent effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus during the holiest period on the Islamic calendar.

The temporary ban takes effect Friday, the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan for the Muslim-majority country, and lasts until June 1.

It comes a day after the government, fearing an explosion in virus cases, banned the annual exodus for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, when millions travel to their hometowns and ancestral villages.

The latest measure will not apply to emergency, diplomatic or cargo transport, the government said.

The repatriation of Indonesian citizens from abroad and foreigners living in the Southeast Asian archipelago will also be exempt.

READ ALSO: UEFA Give Women’s European Championship New Slot In 2022

“It applies to both domestic and international commercial travel but there are some exceptions,” Transportation Ministry spokeswoman Adita Irawati told AFP.

The country’s biggest airlines Garuda and Lion Air had already scaled backed their commercial flights as the tourism market shrivelled up.

But the ban on sea travel could hamper the movement of millions in a country of some 17,000 islands where passenger ferries are a key mode of transportation.

The government had already called on residents of major cities, including the capital Jakarta, to stay put.

As of Thursday, Indonesia had confirmed 7,775 cases of COVID-19 and 647 deaths.

But the toll is widely believed to be much higher in a country with one of the lowest testing rates in the world.

AFP

Asian Champions League Games Postponed Over Coronavirus

FILES) This file handout illustration image obtained February 3, 2020 reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.  AFP

 

Six Asian Champions League games were postponed over the coronavirus on Thursday as the Asian Football Confederation wrestles with the deadly outbreak.

Four Iranian clubs were affected by the postponements, which came as the regional body announced emergency talks over the epidemic.

Next month’s World Cup qualifiers could also be disrupted, and the women’s Olympic playoffs involving China, South Korea, Vietnam and Australia will be rescheduled.

“These are unprecedented and challenging times, but the AFC is working tirelessly to monitor the situation,” AFC general secretary Windsor John said in a statement.

The Champions League has been hard hit by the outbreak, with Chinese clubs mostly sidelined until April and one game in South Korea set to take place behind closed doors.

Next week’s four games involving clubs from Iran — which has the highest toll outside China, with 22 dead — have all been postponed.

FC Seoul’s home game against Chiangrai United of Thailand will also be played at a later date, as will the April 6 match between Saudi club Al Nassr and Sepahan of Iran.

The AFC’s East zone members will meet in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, while the West Asia countries will hold talks on Monday and Tuesday.

COVID-19 has disrupted a wide range of sports competitions including Formula One, Six Nations rugby and Europe’s Champions League football.

The rescheduling of the women’s Olympic qualifiers is just the latest setback for a tournament that has weathered several setbacks.

The qualifying tournament, originally scheduled for virus epicentre Wuhan, was moved to Nanjing and then Sydney as the health emergency grew.

China’s team were quarantined in Australia after arriving for the tournament, and even after reaching the playoffs their home leg against South Korea was moved to Sydney.

AFP