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COVID ‘firepower’: Britain imposes six-month curbs against second wave
22 September 2020, 10:29 PM

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the British people on Tuesday to work from home where possible and ordered restaurants and bars to close early to tackle a fast-spreading second wave of COVID-19, with new restrictions lasting probably six months.

After scientific warnings that deaths could soar without urgent action, Johnson stopped short of imposing another full lockdown, as he did in March, but warned that further measures could come if the disease was not suppressed.

“We reserve the right to deploy greater firepower, with significantly greater restrictions,” he told parliament following emergency meetings with ministers and leaders of the United Kingdom’s devolved governments.

Just weeks after urging people to start returning to workplaces, Johnson advised office workers to stay at home if they could. He ordered all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality sites to close at 10 p.m. from Thursday, with only table service allowed.

In a prime-time televised plea to citizens, Johnson said the winter would be hard but that his strategy would keep the economy moving while containing COVID-19 contagion.

“We must take action now…This way we can keep people in work, we can keep our shops and our schools open, and we can keep our country moving forward while we work together to suppress the virus,” he said.

It was unclear if the measures would be enough to curb Britain’s second wave, which government scientists warned could reach 50 000 new cases per day by mid-October.

Masks will be required in more settings, there will be tougher enforcement of rules, and the military could be brought in to help free up the police, Johnson said.

Schools and universities are to stay open.

A poll by YouGov of 3 436 British adults found that 78% supported the measures, although 45% said Johnson should have gone further while 32% said he had got the restrictions about right.

Brazen rule-breakers

Businesses breaking COVID laws face penalties of up to 10 000 pounds (R 213 793, 60) or even closure, while individuals may be fined 200 pounds (R 4 274,76) for not wearing a mask when required.

Johnson said it was frustrating for the law-abiding majority to see a few “brazenly defying the rules”.

Asked in parliament why Britain’s figures were worse than Germany and Italy, Johnson said: “There is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world and that is our country is a freedom-loving country…It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary.”

In the televised address, he said that there had been too many rule breaches, and that even those who were willing to take chances with the virus would be endangering others.

“Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour,” he said.

The United Kingdom already has the highest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe – 41 825 – while it is borrowing record amounts to pump emergency money through the damaged economy.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey warned that the “very unfortunate” escalation of COVID-19 cases threatened the economic outlook and said the central bank was looking hard at how it could support the economy further.

Pub operator JD Wetherspoon said it could cut 400-450 jobs at sites at six airports, including London’s Heathrow and Gatwick, because of the large drop in passengers.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer urged the government not to end a furlough scheme at the end of October, accusing it of losing control of the coronavirus crisis.

Scotland will introduce additional nationwide restrictions on household gatherings that go further than Johnson’s new rules for England, its First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

Oil rises as US storm eases, but demand worries linger
22 September 2020, 5:00 AM

Oil rose in early trade on Tuesday, paring sharp overnight losses, as the latest tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico lost strength, but worries about fuel demand persisted with flare-ups around the globe in coronavirus cases.

US West Texas Intermediate crude futures for October, due to expire on Tuesday, rose 26 cents, or 0.7%, to $39.57 a barrel at 0224 GMT.

The more active November contract  rose 15 cents, or 0.4%, to $39.69.

Brent crude futures rose 13 cents, or 0.3%, to $41.57 a barrel.

Crude prices started to recover as Texas refineries stayed open despite forecasts of heavy flooding, with Tropical Storm Beta expected to keep losing strength, allaying worries about US refinery demand for feedstock.

Both oil benchmarks fell around 4% on Monday, hit by rising concerns that an increase in coronavirus cases in major markets could spur fresh lockdowns and hurt demand. That raised the possibility that Libyan oil could return when it isn’t needed.

“We had a pretty punchy risk-off session (overnight) … on fears around the risk that a COVID resurgence starts to have negative impacts on demand again,” said Lachlan Shaw, National Australia Bank’s head of commodity research.

Markets are nervous about demand in places like the United Kingdom, where fresh restrictions are being imposed. US health officials are also warning of a new wave in the coming winter.

“When the virus resurges, governments lock down, impose restrictions, and individuals and businesses start to retreat. It’s all bad for demand,” Shaw said.

Traders will be watching out for the American Petroleum Institute’s data on US oil inventories due later on Tuesday.

US crude oil and gasoline stockpiles likely fell last week, while inventories of distillates, including diesel, were seen climbing, a preliminary Reuters poll showed.

‘Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism’ – UN officials, world leaders
22 September 2020, 4:40 AM

Senior United Nations officials and world leaders have called for an inclusive multilateralism drawing on all sectors of society as the world body marked its 75th anniversary during a hybrid commemorative event at UN Headquarters in New York.

The event, which included remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa, kicked off the High Level segment of the 75th session of the General Assembly under the theme “The future we want, the United Nations we need – Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism”.

Member states also adopted a political declaration vowing to strengthen international cooperation and to leave no-one behind.

A day to commemorate the UN’s successes in the more than 75 years since its birth in San Francisco in 1945. Established in the aftermath of two world wars, it has prevented a third world conflict but faces down a different set of challenges in the 21st Century.

UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres says: “Twenty-five years since the Beijing Platform for Action, gender inequality remains the greatest single challenge to human rights around the world. Climate calamity looms. Biodiversity is collapsing. Poverty is again rising. Hatred is spreading.  Geopolitical tensions are escalating.  Nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert.  Transformative technologies have opened up new opportunities but also exposed new threats.  The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the world’s fragilities. We can only address them together.”

The political declaration agreed to through consensus talks about leaving no-one behind, protecting the planet, preventing conflicts and placing women and girls at the centre among others – but aspirational documents and implementation often provide two differing realities.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa says: “To realise a just and humane world, the UN must be fit for purpose, adequately funded and representative in its decision-making structures. We must ensure that the sovereign equality of nations is protected. Unilateral coercive measures and violations of international law must be dealt with firmly and consistently.  We must strengthen the UN’s coordination with regional bodies such as the African Union, to ensure our efforts are complimentary and mutually reinforcing.”

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa says international partnerships are key to building a unified UN:

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta says: “COVID-19 has exposed the global vulnerabilities of the UN and of our societies as well as our economies. In this regard now more than ever we are called on to reflect on the words of the UN Charter that urged us to employ international machinery for economic and social advance of all. It is indeed a call for meaningful international partnerships and multilateral cooperation to build back better together.”

US President Donald Trump was absent from the commemorative event where China’s leader Xi Jinping affirmed Beijing’s commitment to the UN system.

“The sudden attack of COVID-19 is a great test for the entire world. In the face of new realities and challenges we must do some serious thinking. What kind of UN is needed for the world, how should the organisation play its role in the post-COVID era. The UN must stand firm for justice, mutual respect and equality among countries, big or small, represent the progress of our times and it is the foremost principle of the UN Charter.

The annual UN General Debate begins on Tuesday.

Asian stocks fall on concerns about fresh lockdowns, banking sector
22 September 2020, 3:11 AM

Asian shares opened weaker on Tuesday on concerns about new pandemic lockdowns in Europe and after reports about financial institutions allegedly moving illicit funds hurt global banking stocks.

JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of New York Mellon Corp on Monday fell 3.1% and 4.0%, respectively, while HSBC Holdings Plc and Standard Chartered Plc hit 25-year-lows on reports that they and others moved funds despite red flags about the origins of the money.

“The question is whether or not the residue of that impacts the performance of regional financials,” said CommSec market analyst Tom Piotrowski in Sydney. “Certainly, HSBC shares will be looked at very closely as far as the Asian session is concerned.”

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.84%, the S&P 500 lost 1.16%, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.13%.

US stocks have tumbled over the past three weeks as investors dumped heavyweight technology-related stocks following a stunning rally that lifted the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq to new highs.

Emerging market stocks lost 1.64%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 1.26% lower.

In Asia, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 declined 0.5% while South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.9%. Japan is closed for a public holiday.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index futures were down 0.36%.

E-mini futures for the S&P 500 rose 0.10%.

The dollar index rose 0.639% as the euro dipped 0.03% to $1.1766.

New pandemic measures in the UK set off declines in airline, hotel and cruise companies in both European and US markets, spurring fears about further restrictions.

A new round of pandemic business restrictions would threaten a nascent recovery and further pressure equity markets.

The US Congress has also for weeks remained deadlocked over the size and shape of another coronavirus-response bill, on top of the roughly $3 trillion already enacted into law.

The death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared to make the passage of another stimulus package in Congress less likely before the November 3 presidential election, sparking large declines in the healthcare sector.

US President Donald Trump said he would put forward his nominee on Friday or Saturday and called upon the Senate, controlled by his fellow Republicans, to vote on confirmation ahead of the election.

Investors were also keeping a close eye on China tensions.

China’s ByteDance and Oracle Corp, also on Monday, issued conflicting statements on Monday over the terms of an agreement they reached with the White House over the weekend to allow TikTok to continue to operate in the United States.

ByteDance was racing to avoid a crackdown on its popular short-video app after the US Commerce Department said on Friday it would block new downloads and updates to the app.

Taiwan said on Monday its armed forces have the right to self-defence and counterattack amid “harassment and threats”, in an apparent warning to China, which last week sent numerous jets across the mid-line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

In commodity markets, US crude rose 0.92% to $39.67 per barrel while Brent was flat at $41.44.

Spot gold added 0.2% to $1,917.06 an ounce. US gold futures % to $1,901.20 an ounce.

Mexico nears 700 000 COVID-19 cases, real toll unknown
22 September 2020, 2:43 AM

Mexico closed in on a total of 700 000 confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, though authorities acknowledge the true number of infections in the country ranked No. 6 in COVID-19 cases globally is higher.

Mexico has the fourth highest number of deaths attributed to the pandemic.

On Sunday, the Health Ministry reported 3 542 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country, bringing the total to 697 663 as well as a cumulative death toll of 73 493.

But authorities including Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, who has been the public face of the government’s coronavirus strategy, has conceded that the real number of cases in the country is significantly higher.

Lopez-Gatell argues that the outbreak in Mexico has shown signs of slowing over the past couple months, however.

“We’ve now seen seven consecutive weeks of a downward-sloping trend,” he said at a news conference Sunday,referring to the rate of infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was criticised early on for minimizing the health crisis, still encouraging families to go out to restaurants even as other countries were imposing lockdown measures.

He has very rarely used a mask in public.

 

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