Coronavirus latest: Italian borrowing costs hit lowest level in more than four months

7/20/2020, 8:45:12 AM

Virus cluster found at NHS contact tracing centre in Scotland

Mure Dickie in Edinburgh

A cluster of coronavirus cases has been found at a Scottish call centre carrying out test-and-trace work for NHS England, Scotland’s deputy first minister said on Monday.

The discovery of six cases at the facility operated by US outsourcing company Sitel in North Lanarkshire near Glasgow comes amid a rise in reported weekend infections of Covid-19 in Scotland.

John Swinney, the deputy first minister, said the Sitel call centre has been closed and “extensive” tracing of contacts of staff was under way and there would be examination of whether procedures for stopping the spread of the virus had been properly followed there.

“If there has been transmission within the building (or) facility, then something has gone wrong,” the deputy first minister told BBC Radio Scotland.

Official data suggests prevalence of Covid-19 in Scotland is much lower than in England. Government modelling last week estimated that 700 people in Scotland had the virus.

However, the Scottish government has repeatedly warned that the easing of lockdown rules including the reopening of pubs and restaurants have created new risks of transmission. On Saturday, 21 new confirmed infections of Covid-19 were reported, the largest daily increase since June 21, followed by 23 more reported on Sunday.

7/20/2020, 8:17:53 AM

Italian borrowing costs hit lowest level in more than four months

Tommy Stubbington in London

Italian borrowing costs fell to their lowest since early March on Monday as signs that EU leaders are edging towards a deal on a pandemic recovery fund fuelled a rally in riskier eurozone government debt.

Italy’s 10-year bond yield fell 0.06 percentage points to a four-and-a-half month low of 1.12 per cent, as investors bought their debt pushing up prices and lowering yields. Greek, Spanish and Portuguese bond yields also dropped, despite the gridlock in negotiations over the weekend.

Investors were “taking heart from the apparent progress towards an EU agreement”, with talks set to resume in the afternoon, strategists at Rabobank said.

A group of so-called “frugal” countries informally led by the Netherlands is resisting plans to allow the European Commission to borrow unprecedented sums to support the countries hardest-hit by the pandemic, a step which would bolster the finances of weaker eurozone members.

Analysts at Commerzbank said a further setback in Monday’s talks should not spark a major sell-off for riskier eurozone bonds.

They said:

For one, market expectations going into summit were subdued. More important, even a failure to reach an agreement this afternoon would not terminate the recovery fund as disagreements…can still be solved during the summer.

7/20/2020, 8:09:35 AM

Renault first-half car sales slide but point to June pick-up

David Keohane in Paris

Renault sales dropped by more than a third in the first half as the coronavirus pandemic hammered demand for cars worldwide.

Electric vehicle sales rose by a half while June brought some relief, the French carmaker said on Monday.

The group, which is 15 per cent owned by Emmanuel Macron’s government, sold 1,256,658 vehicles in the first six months, a drop of 34.9 per cent. Renault on Monday pointed to “a strong commercial recovery in June”.

Sales in Europe were down 41.8 per cent, in a market down 38.9 per cent, said Renault, but again sales “picked up” in June. Sales of its electric Zoe car rose 50 per cent in the first half.

Renault was “particularly affected” in Russia, India, Brazil and China.

The pandemic follows a tumultuous year for Renault, with the arrest of boss Carlos Ghosn at the end of 2018 rocking the carmaker and shaking its alliance with Japan’s Nissan.

Luca de Meo took the reins as chief executive at the end of last month, taking over a group that has recently put in place a €2bn cost-cutting plan and taken on €5bn state-backed credit line to see it through the Covid-19 pandemic.

7/20/2020, 7:38:45 AM

Drug results show positive signs in treatment of Covid-19 patients

Anna Gross in London

An immunosuppressant drug produced by biotech company Synairgen has shown positive results in reducing the severity of Covid-19 in hospitalised patients.

Patients who received interferon beta, which is commonly used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and thyroid dysfunction, were twice as likely to recover from Covid-19 than the placebo control group, the company said on Monday.

Recipients of the drug were 80 per cent less likely to develop a more severe version of the disease while breathlessness was “markedly reduced”, the results showed.

Synairgen, which was spun out from Southampton University, conducted its trial on 101 patients from nine specialist hospital sites in the UK between March 30 and May 27. Three subjects in the study who received placebo died, while no-one who received interferon beta did.

The results of the study are still awaiting peer reviews and publication.

Synairgen’s share price rose 174 per cent to 100p in early Monday trading.

7/20/2020, 7:20:57 AM

GSK scoops up 10% of German vaccine producer CureVac for £130m

Donato Paolo Mancini in London

GlaxoSmithKline is to buy a 10 per cent stake in CureVac, the German vaccine manufacturer that had entered the crosshairs of Donald Trump for its experimental coronavirus jab.

Under the deal, GSK will invest £130m, an upfront cash payment of £104m and a one-off, reimbursable payment for vaccine capacity reservation of £26m to CureVac, covering up to five mRNA-based vaccines and monoclonal antibodies targeting infectious diseases.

The agreement does not include CureVac’s existing Covid-19 and rabies vaccine programmes. CureVac will be eligible to receive up to £606m in various milestone payments, as well as tiered royalties on revenues, said the companies.

The mRNA technology, when harnessed in vaccines, allows the body to fend off infections by expressing proteins that are called antigens. Some efforts to investigate a Covid-19 vaccine also rely on this technology.

Last month, Berlin said it plans to invest €300m for a 23 per cent stake in CureVac, a move that was disclosed on the day the private biotech said it was planning an initial public offering. The company had attracted the interest of the White House in March, German media reported, after an executive met with Mr Trump.

7/20/2020, 7:06:15 AM

Cat Rutter Pooley’s City Bulletin: Covid-19 vaccines, Amigo, gold

Two developments on Monday tie Britain to international players in the Covid-19 vaccine race. First, the UK has become the first country to secure supply of a potential vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and US pharma group Pfizer. Britain has signed up for 30m doses to be delivered over the next two years, plus another 60m doses of a different vaccine from Valneva of France.

Second, FTSE 100 group GlaxoSmithKline plans to take a 10 per cent stake in BioNTech rival CureVac, another German biotech developing a vaccine. GSK will invest £130m (€150m) for the equity stake, a month after the German government spent €300m on a 23 per cent share in CureVac following reports it had attracted interest from the Trump administration.

GSK and CureVac are set to collaborate on the special type of technology used by CureVac – mRNA technology – that can help develop vaccines more quickly than traditional methods. GSK will pay £104m in cash upfront, and could make regulatory and commercial milestone payments of up to €700m depending on product sales. The collaboration won’t cover CureVac’s existing Covid-19 mRNA and rabies vaccine research programmes.

Finally, Synairgen, a small drug development group reported positive results from a clinical trial of its drug SNG001. Patients who received the treatment had a 79 per cent lower risk of developing severe disease, and were more than twice as likely to recover from Covid-19 compared with those on the placebo, Synairgen said.

Other news in brief

The FCA test case on business interruption insurance kicks off in court today. Insurers have resisted paying out for Covid-related disruption under the policies. The court case will decide whether they are right to do so.

The coronavirus crisis has cost investors £22bn in lost dividends, with about three-quarters of groups that usually pay a dividend in the second quarter either cancelling payouts or cutting them back. Only £16.1bn of dividends were paid in the second quarter, the lowest quarterly dividend figure since 2010 and almost 60 per cent below the amount paid out in the same period last year.

Gold rush: A $5.3bn Canadian gold producer is planning a London listing to capitalise on soaring gold prices. Yamana, listed in Toronto, has applied for a standard listing on the London Stock Exchange. The gold price is up almost 20 per cent this year, while Yamana’s shares have climbed more than 40 per cent.

Guarantor loan provider Amigo Holdings has long-delayed results out today, along with a new chairman. It swung to a loss after a sharp rise in complaints

7/20/2020, 7:04:31 AM

Euro jumps as EU leaders edge closer to recovery fund agreement

The euro hit a four-month high against the dollar after EU leaders appeared to edge closer to an agreement over the size of a new coronavirus recovery fund.

After three days of haggling about the recovery fund, which has pitted the leaders of richer countries against those nations hardest hit by the pandemic, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz both expressed optimism about breaking the logjam.

Overnight negotiations broke up at 6am on Monday morning after Charles Michel, president of the European Council, floated a new figure of €390bn in grants for stricken countries. This was lower than proposals going into the summit but higher than earlier demands from an alliance of so-called “frugal” nations including the Netherlands.

The euro strengthened by 0.3 per cent to $1.146, its highest level against the dollar since early March. Against sterling, the euro jumped 0.53 per cent to 91.36p.

7/20/2020, 6:09:17 AM

UK is first to sign up for potential German vaccine

Joe Miller in Frankfurt

Britain has become the first country to secure supplies of a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and US pharmaceutical maker Pfizer, signing an agreement for 30m doses to be delivered over the next two years.

The companies’ coronavirus vaccine is one of 23 currently being evaluated in clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization, and will soon be tested on 30,000 volunteers, following positive preliminary data.

BioNTech and Pfizer, which aim to have “some form of regulatory approval” in the US for their vaccine by October, have previously said they have the capacity to manufacture 100m doses by the end of the year, and more than 1.3bn by the end of 2021.

Read more here

7/20/2020, 6:09:02 AM

Julius Baer first-half profit surges 43% on focus of ultra wealthy clients

Owen Walker in London

Heavy trading by ultra wealthy clients helped Julius Baer push profits up by nearly a half to a record in the first six months of the year.

The Swiss private bank reported a 43 per cent rise in net profit to SFr491m ($514m) on Monday, while earnings per share rose 45 per cent to SFr2.28.

“With the full economic impact of Covid-19 still ahead of us, we are confident that we are well prepared for a challenging second half of the year,” said Philipp Rickenbacher, chief executive of Julius Baer.

In February Mr Rickenbacher, who became chief executive last year, unveiled a shift in emphasis for the bank away from asset gathering. The strategy included 300 job cuts and plans to end relationships with clients that were no longer profitable.

Just weeks later, Julius Baer was hit by sanctions from Finma, the Swiss markets regulator, tied to its connections in alleged cases of corruption between 2009 and 2018, involving Petróleos de Venezuela, a state-owned energy group, and Fifa, international football’s governing body.

7/20/2020, 5:50:20 AM

Developing nations squeezed as virus fuels public spending

Jonathan Wheatley in London

Some of the world’s largest developing economies are set to face a fiscal crisis in the coming years unless they can roll back huge increases in public spending enacted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, analysts have warned.

The economic downturn caused by the pandemic, combined with rising healthcare spending to tackle the spread of the virus, have caused budget deficits to soar in many countries. They will have to face the choice of risking public unrest by cutting back on spending, or negotiating with investors to restructure their debts.

In some countries — including India, Malaysia, Poland, Qatar, South Africa and Thailand — pandemic-related public spending has topped 10 per cent of gross domestic product.

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7/20/2020, 5:31:07 AM

Australian state records drop in new Covid-19 cases

Victoria has recorded a drop in coronavirus cases, raising hopes that a surge in Melbourne has peaked.

The Australian state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, confirmed 275 new cases on Monday, down from 363 the previous day, adding that an elderly woman died overnight.

The state on Monday began an official inquiry into breaches of a hotel quarantine regime, which was suspected of causing the recent surge.

There have been 1,283 cases recorded in Victoria in the past four days, compared with single or double-digit daily rises in other states.

More than 5m people in and around Melbourne have been put into lockdown.

Police on Sunday night fined 20 people for lockdown violations in a Melbourne flat after a noise complaint was received.

The illegal partygoers were removed from the residence, a short-term rental, and each was issued a fine of A$1,652 (US$1,154), according to a Victoria Police statement.

7/20/2020, 5:10:12 AM

UK universities start to cull thousands of academics

Bethan Staton in London

British universities are cutting the jobs of thousands of academics on short-term contracts as the sector prepares to make sweeping cuts in the wake of coronavirus.

Institutions across the country have dropped hundreds of hourly posts and left temporary contracts to expire, leaving academics facing unemployment and depleting the capacity of departments to run courses and support students.

Universities are expecting a sharp drop in income as the number of foreign students falls owing to the pandemic.

Read more here

7/20/2020, 4:49:24 AM

Actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan hospitalised for Covid-19

Benjamin Parkin in New Delhi

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, an Indian film star and former Miss World, has been hospitalised for Covid-19 alongside her eight-year-old daughter, according to local media, the latest members of “Bollywood’s first family” caught up in India’s escalating coronavirus outbreak.

Last week septuagenarian Amitabh Bachchan, arguably Bollywood’s biggest star, was hospitalised with coronavirus along with his actor son Abhishek, Ms Rai’s husband.

While Ms Rai, 46, and her daughter initially quarantined at home after also testing positive, wire agency ANI and other outlets report that they too checked into a hospital in Mumbai over the weekend.

The outbreak among some of India’s most cherished icons has shocked the public, underscoring coronavirus’ uncontrolled and destructive spread through the country. The family were previously said to have mild symptoms despite their hospitalisation.

India added a high of 40,000 new infections over the past 24 hours to total 1.1m, the third highest of any country.

7/20/2020, 4:29:36 AM

S Korea’s Celltrion releases antibody treatment trial timeline

By Song Jung-a in Seoul

Celltrion, South Korea’s leading biopharmaceutical company, plans to start production of its antibody treatment for Covid-19 in September as the global race to develop drugs to combat the worsening pandemic intensifies.

The company is investing about Won300bn ($250m) to develop the treatment, which it aims to commercialise early next year.

The company will begin human trials of the treatment this week after South Korea on Friday approved an early stage of clinical trial of the experimental drug. Celltrion said 32 healthy volunteers have applied for the initial test at a local hospital after animal tests last month showed up to 100-fold reduction in viral load.

It aims to complete the first-phase trial, which will be conducted in South Korea and the UK, by September and expand the second-phase clinical trial for 200-300 people and third-phase trial for 2,000-3,000 people. The second and third-phase trials will be conducted globally for patients with mid and moderate symptoms and the company expects primary results by the end of this year.

“We aim to complete all clinical trials and win regulatory approval by the end of the first half of next year,” said company chairman Seo Jung-jin at an online press conference on Monday. “The keys will be how much we can reduce the production cost and how much capacity we can have.”

Global pharmaceutical companies are in a heated race to develop Covid-19 vaccines and treatments as the coronavirus has infected about 14m people and killed more than 580,000 globally.

Celltrion’s move to in-human trials follows similar advancements by US rivals Eli Lilly and Regeneron and comes as a handful of other groups – including Amgen, AstraZeneca, AbbVie and GSK – are expected to also start testing treatments on humans in the third quarter.

Mr Seo said its early production of the potential treatment before regulatory approval is to have its capacity ready for mass production. He expects the company’s capacity to be able to address 6m patients a year.

7/20/2020, 4:09:36 AM

Yamana plans London listing as Covid-19 drives up gold

Neil Hume in London

One of Canada’s biggest gold producers plans to list in the UK as the precious metal’s price soars as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yamana Gold, with a market value of $5.3bn, expects its shares to start trading on the London Stock Exchange in the next couple of months.

Peter Marrone, Yamana’s founder, said its attractions to investors would include its focus on the Americas, where it has five operating mines — including Cerro Moro in Argentina, pictured — and its record of paying almost $1bn in dividends since 2007.

Gold has risen almost 20 per cent this year to a nine-year high of more than $1,800 an ounce, boosted by nerves over the spread of Covid-19 and the outlook for global trade.

Read more here

7/20/2020, 3:48:32 AM

India records more than 40,000 new cases in past day

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India has recorded more than 40,000 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, a new all-time high, pushing the country’s total caseload to more than 1.1m cases as the virus continues to spread into rural areas.

Total confirmed coronavirus deaths in India have now exceeded 27,500, including 675 deaths reported on Sunday.

The Indian capital, New Delhi, which has been a major hotspot for the virus with more than 122,000 cases, has shown early indications that the city’s caseload is plateauing, with daily recoveries now exceeding new cases.

However, the virus is now spreading deeper into other states, including the under-developed state of Bihar, where the health infrastructure is exceedingly fragile.

In India’s tech hub of Bangalore — where infections are surging — hospitals are being overwhelmed by new cases.

Public health experts say the true magnitude of the epidemic and its toll is undoubtedly far higher than the official numbers, given the low rate of coronavirus testing. India’s testing rate for coronavirus is among the lowest of any major economy.

7/20/2020, 3:26:36 AM

Pandemic drives business schools to overhaul curricula

Andrew Jack in London

Andrea Galeotti, a professor at London Business School, co-developed a presentation called Leading Through a Pandemic, while at Wharton business school, Mauro Guillén launched a course for academic credit on the impact on business of coronavirus.

Academics disagree on the extent to which the current crisis marks a radical turning point for capitalism, but business schools are rushing to adapt their research and overhaul their curricula to meet the demand for new skills and insights that the post-coronavirus world requires.

Read more here

7/20/2020, 3:05:01 AM

UAE reit considers delisting as regulator investigates

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

A Dubai-based real estate investment trust is considering delisting amid the worsening property downturn as the emirate’s financial regulator opened an investigation into its manager.

The Dubai Financial Services Authority said on Sunday that it began a probe into the management by Equitativa Dubai of Emirates REIT in late May. The reit’s board said it was considering delisting from Nasdaq Dubai as part of a “review of strategic options”.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the trade and tourism-focused emirate is expected to heap more pressure on occupancy as firms cut staff and downsize office space.

Read more here

7/20/2020, 2:44:33 AM

Stocks slip as EU leaders struggle to agree on recovery fund

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

Global stocks fell on Monday after EU leaders failed to break a logjam over the size of a coronavirus recovery fund and as new infections in the US continued to rise.

Japan’s benchmark Topix index shed 0.4 per cent in early trading in Asia-Pacific, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.5 per cent and South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.7 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 1 per cent.

EU leaders on Sunday failed to agree the size of a recovery fund on the third day of a summit that saw an offer from richer countries of €350bn in grants coupled with another €350bn in loans rebuffed by the nations that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Countries including France, Germany and Italy are determined to ensure grants of no less than €400bn.

China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks rose 0.3 per cent, however, after Beijing announced that cinemas in the country would open with limited capacity. State media reported on Sunday that almost half a million tickets had been pre-sold ahead of the reopenings.

7/20/2020, 2:33:19 AM

Saudi Arabia coronavirus cases top 250,000

Saudi Arabia’s Covid-19 caseload passed 250,000 during the weekend, according to the kingdom’s health ministry.

An official statement announced on Sunday that 2,504 new confirmed cases of coronavirus had been reported, bringing the total number in the country to 250,920 cases, including 50,699 active cases undergoing treatment.

There have been 2,486 deaths, according to ministry data.

The official Saudi Press Agency said on Monday that Muslims approved to make the Hajj pilgrimage this year would begin seven days of self-isolation before departing for Mecca.

Fewer than 10,000 pilgrims would be permitted this year, compared with about 2.5m in 2019.

Workers have been disinfecting around the Ka’bah, the sacred shrine in Mecca, in preparation for visitors, pictured.

7/20/2020, 2:12:22 AM

Argentina president pleads for understanding over $65bn debt

Benedict Mander in Buenos Aires

Alberto Fernández, Argentina’s president, has made an impassioned appeal for the world to accept that — with an economy devastated by coronavirus — he cannot budge from his final offer to restructure $65bn of foreign debt.

Weighed down by $323bn of borrowing, Argentina was already in a deep recession before the pandemic and in May the South American country defaulted for the ninth time in its history — although no creditors have attempted to sue it yet.

Mr Fernández told the Financial Times that “anything more would put our ability to (pay our debts) at risk, and I don’t want to swindle anybody”, as he dismissed bondholders’ demands for additional sweeteners before an August 4 deadline.

Read more here

7/20/2020, 2:02:25 AM

China reports 17 coronavirus cases in Xinjiang region

Health authorities in China reported 17 new coronavirus cases in its Xinjiang autonomous region to the end of Sunday as officials battle an outbreak in the region.

The new cases in the western region that is home to most of China’s Uighur ethnic group take the total number of infections recorded since Wednesday to 47.

Officials have imposed what were described as “wartime” restrictions on Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital.

The restrictions involve sealing of some residential compounds and a ban on travelling outside the city, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.

The new Xinjiang cases and five imported cases take China’s total number of people reported to have contracted Covid-19 to 83,682.

Beijing, which saw an outbreak at a wholesale food market in early June, has now recorded 14 days without a locally-transmitted coronavirus case.

7/20/2020, 1:50:56 AM

UK companies slash dividends 57% as finances crash

Daniel Thomas and Attracta Mooney in London

British companies cut payouts to shareholders by £22bn last quarter as they raced to shore up their finances in the face of the economic crash caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Only £16.1bn of dividends were paid in the second quarter this year, with 176 companies cancelling payouts and 30 more cutting them back — representing about three-quarters of companies that normally pay a dividend in the period.

This was significantly more than during the last financial crisis, when two-fifths of companies cut or cancelled payouts at the worst point, according to a report by Link Group, an investor services business.

Read more here

7/20/2020, 1:30:47 AM

China cinemas sell 496,000 tickets for reopening

China will ease some restrictions on conferences and cultural events from Monday, state-run media reported.

Cinemas will open Monday with limited capacity. According to the English-language Global Times, 496,000 tickets had been pre-sold nationwide by 6.30pm on Sunday.

Conferences with up to 500 participants will be allowed, the official Xinhua news agency reported, while exhibitions, sports events and live performances are expected to reopen gradually after risk appraisal.

The country’s professional football league will also resume this week.

7/20/2020, 1:16:27 AM

Car, plane manufacturers warn of UK ‘jobs bloodbath’

Daniel Thomas and Jim Pickard in London

More than half of UK manufacturers expect to make job cuts over the next six months as large employers across automotive, aerospace and other core industries brace themselves for a sustained downturn in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UK will lose high value skills in what is being called a “jobs bloodbath” by manufacturing trade group Make UK, whose members reported that their redundancy plans were ramping up as the prospects for a return to normal trading faded.

The warning comes amid gloomy predictions of the worst employment market since the 1980s, with millions of jobs at risk as companies aggressively cut back their operations to survive the downturn caused by the lockdown.

Read more here

7/20/2020, 12:53:19 AM

Japan’s exports fall faster-than-expected 26.2% in June

Japan’s exports fell at a faster rate than forecast in June, official figures showed on Monday as shipments to North America fell by almost a half.

Japan’s exports dropped by 26.2 per cent year on year in June, according to the Ministry of Finance. That reading was lower than a Reuters poll of economists that forecast a 24.9 per cent fall.

The June figure was a slight improvement on May’s 28.3 per cent fall when Japan was subject to government restrictions designed to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Exports to North America fell by 47.1 per cent year on year in June while those to western Europe dropped by 30 per cent.

Shipments to Asia fell at a slower pace, down 15.3 per cent as exports to China were unchanged.

Imports declined by 14.4 per cent, slightly better than the estimated 16.8 per cent fall.

The country recorded a ¥‎268.8bn ($2.5bn) trade deficit.

7/20/2020, 12:27:18 AM

Unions fear job losses in Tata Steel rescue plan

Michael Pooler and Jim Pickard in London

Union leaders have warned of potentially significant job losses if the owner of Britain’s biggest steelworks converts its furnaces to electric power in order to secure hundreds of millions of pounds of emergency state aid.

Tata Steel has been in talks for months over a coronavirus relief package under the government’s Project Birch for its UK operations, centred on the Port Talbot plant in south Wales that accounts for almost half its 8,000-strong workforce.

But ministers are imposing strict conditions on rescue deals, such as limits on executive pay and tough environmental targets in order to help the UK hit its 2050 “net zero” carbon target.

Read more here

7/20/2020, 12:11:53 AM

Asia-Pacific stocks struggle for direction as EU leaders in logjam

Asia-Pacific stocks lacked direction at the start of trading on Monday as EU leaders struggled to break a logjam over a coronavirus recovery package.

In Japan, the Topix was flat, the Kospi in South Korea added 0.1 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia dipped 0.1 per cent.

EU leaders had yet to agree to a recovery deal for the bloc after their summit was extended into a third day as a “frugal” alliance of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden sought to scale back the proposed grants portion of the package.

On Friday, the S&P 500 ended the day 0.3 per cent higher to notch its third consecutive weekly gain.

S&P 500 futures were up 0.2 per cent.

7/19/2020, 11:38:54 PM

Canada bans Toronto Blue Jays baseball home games

The Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball team will not be able to stage home games due to the Covid-19 restrictions enforced in Canada.

“Based on the best-available public health advice, we have concluded the cross-border travel required for MLB regular season play would not adequately protect Canadians’ health and safety,” immigration minister Marco Mendicino said in a weekend statement.

Summer training has begun in Toronto for the Jays, including, pictured from left, first baseman Vladimir Guerrero, shortstop Bo Bichette and first base coach Mark Budzinski.

The Blue Jays have been the only Canada-based MLB team since the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals after the 2004 season.

7/19/2020, 11:18:45 PM

Florida tops tally as US records 64,000 new cases

The US added 64,000 new coronavirus cases on Sunday as Florida, Texas and California continued to lead infection tallies.

Florida recorded a further 12,478 cases on Sunday with California reporting 9,329 new infections and Texas recording 7,300 cases, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Tallies for Sundays are often lower than other days because of slower reporting on weekends.

The three states have been hit by rising coronavirus cases in recent weeks, forcing restrictions designed to halt the spread of the virus to be reimposed.

There were 523 new deaths linked to Covid-19 reported on Sunday, which was the highest Sunday total since the end of May.

The spike in coronavirus cases is stretching laboratories and piling pressure on President Donald Trump to approve new federal funding for testing.

7/19/2020, 11:04:36 PM

EU leaders struggle to break recovery fund logjam

Sam Fleming, Mehreen Khan and Jim Brunsden in Brussels

EU leaders haggled over how far to cut the size of a recovery fund worth hundreds of billions of euros over a fraught dinner on the third day of a marathon summit, after an offer of grants from richer northern capitals was immediately rebuffed by southern countries.

A “frugal” alliance of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden told other EU states they wanted to scale back proposed grants from €450bn to €350bn, coupled with another €350bn of loans, in a recovery package worth €700bn to help fight the coronavirus.

The offer was backed by Finland but received a cool response from nations that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Read more here

7/19/2020, 10:07:11 PM

More than 70% of Britons back mandatory masks, says poll

More than 70 per cent of British adults support the mandatory wearing of face masks in shops, a recent opinion poll indicates.

Overall, 71 per cent support compulsory use of face coverings. Nearly two-thirds of UK adults believe face masks are an effective way to contain the virus and almost half already wear a mask when going to the supermarket.

Approval of the UK government’s handling of the outbreak edged upwards, with 38 per cent approving — the highest rating since mid-May — compared with 43 per cent disapproving.

“The consistent trend of polling on public safety measures during the coronavirus crisis has been that the public are much more safety-first than we think,” said Adam Drummond, head of political polling at Opinium, which surveyed 2,003 UK adults from July 15-17.

“Complaints that public health measures trample on ancient sacred liberties are an extremely niche concern,” he added.

7/19/2020, 10:06:48 PM

Trump plays down pandemic, calls Fauci an ‘alarmist’

Donald Trump, the US president, again played down the extent of the coronavirus pandemic in a Sunday television interview, repeating an earlier assertion that the virus would eventually disappear.

He claimed the US has the “lowest mortality rate” in the world from the coronavirus, although data indicate the world’s largest economy has one of the worst death rates.

Asked about a daily death toll of about 1,000 people, Mr Trump responded: “It is what it is.”

He described Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director since 1984, as “a little bit of an alarmist” but added he had a good relationship with the epidemiologist.

Mr Trump insisted the pandemic was overblown, defending earlier comments that it would vanish of its own accord. “I’ll be right eventually,” he told Fox Business News. “It’s going to disappear and I’ll be right.”

7/19/2020, 10:06:26 PM

Toronto mayor seeks restaurant reopening safeguards

The mayor of Canada’s largest city said on Sunday he has urged the Ontario provincial government to include additional safeguards for a gradual reopening to prevent a new surge of Covid-19 infections.

Toronto mayor John Tory, in a letter to Ontario premier Doug Ford, called for six extra conditions for bars and restaurants before the city could move to a more relaxed stage of reopening.

He said the rules should require patrons to be seated at all times unless using a toilet or paying the bill, not just while actually eating or drinking; require restaurants and bars to keep a customer log; reduce maximum capacity to ensure physical distancing can be “easily” maintained; enforce a midnight closure; require staff screening protocols; and implement mandatory face-covering requirements for staff and patrons.

“We have seen in other jurisdictions that further reopening can lead to increased outbreaks of Covid-19 and growing case count numbers,” Mr Tory told the premier. “We do not want to go in that direction.”

7/19/2020, 10:06:02 PM

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Hong Kong said on Sunday it would ramp up testing at border checkpoints in a bid to check a new wave of coronavirus infections. Truck drivers and students, as well as air crew and shipping personnel, would be subject to greater scrutiny, authorities said. A government spokesman said exemptions to an entry ban were needed to “maintain … operation of the society and the economy, and to ensure an uninterrupted supply of all daily necessities”.

Singapore continues to record hundreds of positive coronavirus cases daily in foreign worker dormitories, even as few Covid-29 infections are found elsewhere in the city-state. The health ministry on Sunday reported an additional 257 cases, with all but eight found among migrant labourers living in group accommodation.

British prime minister Boris Johnson contradicted his own chief scientist on Sunday by playing down the idea of another nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus. Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, the prime minister said he did not think the UK would be in the same position as it was in March, when the first lockdown was imposed. Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said on Friday that another national lockdown was possible.

Nigeria’s foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said on Sunday he had tested positive for coronavirus. He said he underwent his fourth Covid-19 test on Saturday “at the first sign of a throat irritation”. The 64-year-old Mr Onyeama wrote on Twitter: “Unfortunately this time it came back positive. That is life! Win some lose some. Heading for isolation in a health facility and praying for the best.” He has been foreign minister since 2015.

A legal fight has broken out between EssilorLuxottica, maker of Ray-Ban and Oakley glasses, and retailer GrandVision, its €7bn Dutch takeover target. EssilorLuxottica said on Saturday it had started legal proceedings in the Netherlands to access information allowing it “to assess the way GrandVision has managed the course of its business during the Covid-19 crisis, alleging it had breached its obligations under the merger agreement.

The fate of thousands of small UK businesses affected by coronavirus will be at stake this week when regulators take on the insurance industry at the High Court in a legal battle worth potentially billions of pounds. Judges will be asked to make decisions on the thorny issue of how much insurers will have to pay out to companies under their business interruption policies to meet claims for Covid-19-related losses.

The head of India’s largest bank said the country’s escalating coronavirus outbreak risks jeopardising a years-long clean-up of the financial system if authorities and lenders aren’t ready to support struggling sectors such as aviation or hotels. Rajnish Kumar, chairman of the State Bank of India — India’s largest lender with more than $500bn in assets — said public—sector banks may require further capitalisation by the government.

Seven more plaintiffs have joined a lawsuit against a US education department decision to force state schools to share Covid-19 relief funds with private schools. The city of New York, Hawaii, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Chicago, and the Cleveland and San Francisco school districts are plaintiffs joining a suit filed by the California and Michigan attorneys general. Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia joined earlier.