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Canada, US are likely to extend travel restrictions until June 21
14 May 2020, 4:47 AM

Canada and the United States appear likely to extend a ban on non-essential travel until June 21 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, a Canadian government source and a top US official said on Wednesday.

The two neighbors had agreed on April 18 to extend border restrictions until May 21 as cases of the disease continued to rise in both nations.

Canada is now pressing for the measures to remain for another month.

“It’s too early to lift the restrictions, so we’re working toward an extension,” said one Canadian government source, describing the talks with Washington as positive.

Chad Wolf, acting US Department of Homeland Security secretary, said later on Wednesday that restrictions across the borders with Canada and Mexico would likely be extended.

Speaking to reporters in San Diego, Wolf said officials from Canada and Mexico were willing to continue the measures “at least in the short term.”

Separately, a Mexican government source said an extension for a limited period seemed likely.

On Tuesday, the chief Canadian public health officer said the United States – where cases are increasing steadily – presented a risk.

News of the request for a 30-day extension was first reported by Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.

The agreement allows the flow of goods across a border that stretches 5,525 miles (8,891 km) and is a crossing point for one of the world’s largest bilateral trading relationships.

The United States takes 75% of all Canadian goods exports.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said talks about the border “are going well and we’re confident about being able to continue to keep Canadians safe.”

The total Canadian death toll edged up by just over 3% to 5 209 from 5 049 on Tuesday, official data showed on Wednesday.

The data are another sign the outbreak in Canada is slowing whereas the situation in parts of the United States is more challenging.

 

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said on Tuesday the coronavirus “could take off rapidly” unless extreme caution was exercised about relaxing the ban.

“The United States being one country that still has cases and is still trying to manage outbreaks … presents a risk to Canada from that perspective.”

Australia poised for surge in coronavirus-fuelled unemployment
14 May 2020, 4:26 AM

Australia is expected to post its biggest ever monthly rise in unemployment on Thursday because of coronavirus lockdown measures, even as the country begins to gradually ease those social distancing rules.

The jobless figures from the country’s statistics office will provide a stark illustration of the pandemic’s effect on the national economy, which had experienced an unbroken run of growth for more than two decades.

A Reuters poll of 16 analysts has forecast the loss of 575 000 jobs in April, an unprecedented number that would take the unemployment rate to 8.3%, the highest level since 1997.

“It will be a horrible set of numbers,” said Gareth Aird, senior economist at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

“Employment will fall sharply, hours worked will plummet, the unemployment rate will spike and the participation rate is set to drop.”

And worse is expected, with the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) last week forecasting unemployment to hit about 10% as the local economy shrinks by 8% in the year to June.

Australia imposed strict social distancing measures in March to tackle the pandemic, closing its borders to all non-citizens and ordering people to stay home unless on essential business. Pubs, sports centres, libraries and other public buildings were closed while cafes and restaurants were restricted to takeaway services.

Many shops and other businesses not explicitly ordered to close did so anyway in response to a drop off in demand as people stayed home.

Officials have credited the lockdown measures with constraining the spread of the virus. Australia has recorded about 7 000 COVID-19 cases, including 98 deaths, significantly below the levels reported in North America and Europe.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, on Thursday reported just four new cases ahead of the lifting of some restrictions on Friday.

“The increase in activity does mean extra cases,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said as the state’s 7 million residents prepared for the ability to leave their homes without a reason.

The federal government has a three-step plan to remove all social distancing restrictions by July, but the implementation is largely down to individual state and territory leaders.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said earlier this week that easing restrictions would increase gross domestic product by A$9.4 billion ($6.10 billion) each month.

China reports 3 new COVID-19 cases, down from 7 a day earlier
14 May 2020, 3:46 AM

China reported 3 new coronavirus cases for May 13, down from 7 cases a day earlier, the country’s Health Commission said.

All of the new cases were locally transmitted – two in the northeastern Liaoning province and one in Jilin province that borders Liaoning, the National Health Commission said in a statement on Thursday.

The number of new asymptomatic cases rose to 12 from 8 a day earlier.

The total number of cases now stands at 82 929 while the death toll remained unchanged at 4 633.

Meanwhile, China-linked hackers are breaking into American organisations carrying out research into COVID-19, US officials said on Wednesday, warning both scientists and public health officials to be on the lookout for cyber theft.

In a joint statement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security said the FBI was investigating digital break-ins at US organisations by China-linked “cyber actors” that it had monitored “attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property(IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research.”

The statement offered no further details on the identities of the targets or the hackers.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington condemned the allegations as “lies.”

“The FBI issued a warning based on presumption of guilt and without any evidence,” the embassy said in a written statement, adding the US accusation “undercuts the ongoing international cooperation against the pandemic.”

 

Brazil passes France in coronavirus cases to become 6th worst-hit country
14 May 2020, 2:28 AM

Brazil registered a record number of new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, surpassing France’s tally to become the sixth-worst hit country, as the disease sends the economy toward its worst year since at least 1900.

The government confirmed 11 385 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing its total count to 188 974 cases of the coronavirus since the outbreak began.

Early on Wednesday, France revised its total number of confirmed and suspected cases down 0.3% to 177 700.

The pandemic has battered Brazil’s economy as residents shelter at home and many state and local governments instructed most businesses to close to slow the spread of the virus.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has locked horns with state governors for weeks over the lockdowns, saying they are causing more damage through lost jobs than the disease itself.

On Wednesday, the Economy Ministry predicted the Brazilian economy would contract 4.7% in 2020, the biggest annual fall since records began more than a century ago.

The Ministry estimates every additional week of quarantine measures costs the economy 20 billion reais ($3.40 billion).

“It will reach the point where hungry people take to the streets,” Bolsonaro said on Wednesday.

He escalated the fight this week by declaring gyms and beauty salons as “essential” services that can open for business, threatening legal action against local governments that don’t comply.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state and with the most cases of the virus, will not comply with Bolsonaro’s decree, Governor Joao Doria said on Wednesday, echoing comments made by at least 10 other governors.

The five countries that have registered more infections than Brazil are the United States, Spain, Russia, the United Kingdom and Italy.

Brazil recorded 749 new deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the overall toll to 13 149.

SAA administrators will not sell assets without involving govt: Memorandum
14 May 2020, 1:46 AM

Administrators at state-owned South African Airways (SAA) will not sell assets for an interim period without involving the government, a memorandum signed by one of the administrators and the Public Enterprises Ministry showed.

The memorandum, which was seen by Reuters, also said the administrators and the Ministry had agreed that the objective of SAA’s bankruptcy protection process was to have a restructured SAA or a new company with no reliance on public finances.

A Public Enterprises Ministry spokesperson confirmed the memorandum was an authentic document.

The administrators were not immediately available for comment.

SAA’s administrators, appointed in December to try to rescue the firm, have said previously that a wind-down or liquidation of the loss-making airline were likely outcomes.

Senior officials at the Public Enterprises Ministry have criticised the administrators for not coming up with a “business rescue plan” for SAA sooner and recently hired an aviation consultancy to advise them.

The “interim period” during which the administrators will not sell assets without consulting the ministry lasts until June 30 at the latest, the memorandum said.

SAA has not made a profit since 2011 and has received bailouts worth more than 20 billion rand ($1.1 billion) over the past three years. It is running low on cash after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to halt all commercial passenger flights and the government told the administrators it would not provide further funding.

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