Coronavirus: Controversial border plans are ‘essential’ to save lives, Patel says

Ordering people arriving in the UK to quarantine for 14 days is “essential” to save lives, Home Secretary Priti Patel has said as she set out details of the government’s controversial border plan.

From Monday, all those travelling to the UK – apart from a short list of exemptions including road hauliers – will have to self-isolate for two weeks.

They will also be required to complete an online locator form to supply contact details, travel details and the address of where they will self-isolate.

UK border officials will perform “spot checks” to ensure travellers have completed the forms, and those who fail to do so could be fined £100.

Those who breach the 14-day self-isolation requirements could also be punished with a £1,000 fixed penalty notice in England, or potential prosecution and an unlimited fine.

The government has pushed ahead with the imposition of quarantine measures at the UK border despite criticism of the plans from senior Conservative MPs, who fear the impact on the already struggling aviation and tourism sectors.

Critics have also questioned why quarantine measures are being introduced now and not at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Defending the policy in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Ms Patel said the UK was “now more vulnerable” to new coronavirus infections being brought in from abroad as international travel picks up from its record low.

The home secretary added: “These measures are backed by the science, supported by the public, and essential to save lives.

“We know they will present difficulties for the tourism industry, but that’s why we have an unprecedented package of support, the most comprehensive in the world, for both employees and businesses.

“But we will all suffer if we get this wrong. That’s why it’s crucial that we introduce these measures now.”

Ms Patel confirmed the first review of the quarantine measures would take place in the week beginning 28 June, with the government considering “international travel corridors” to allow future quarantine-free travel from destinations deemed safe.

She said: “Across government and with the sector we continue to explore all options for future safe travel.

“Any international approaches will be bilateral and agreed with the other countries concerned.

“We need to ensure that those countries are deemed to be safe.

“We are not alone in our fight against this disease, or in the measures we have taken to stop it.”

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Singapore factory activity rebounds from 11-year low but stays in contraction mode

SINGAPORE – A gauge of manufacturing conditions in Singapore bounced off its worst level in 11 years, but remained within the contraction territory.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was at 46.8 points in May, up 2.1 points from 44.7 in April which was the lowest reading since November 2008 during the global financial crisis.

A reading over 50 indicates expansion, while one below 50 points shows contraction.

This is the fourth month of contraction for the overall manufacturing sector, the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM), which compiles the index, said on Wednesday (June 3).

The electronics sector PMI recorded an increase of 3.4 points from April to post a slower contraction at 46.2 – marking the fourth month of contraction.

Ms Sophia Poh, SIPMM’s vice-president of industry engagement and development, said: “Despite weaker supply chain operations arising from last month’s extended local circuit breaker measures, the latest improved PMI readings indicate the resilience of the local manufacturing sectors.

“Going forward, manufacturers are cautiously optimistic of a gradual recovery towards the latter half of the year.”

The overall manufacturing PMI for May reflects the first expansion in the inventory index after three consecutive contractions. The finished goods index also expanded after shrinking for two straight months.

DBS Bank’s senior economist Irvin Seah said: “This is definitely the first glimmer of hope amidst an otherwise very gloomy economic climate.”

The PMI rebound could be a significant turning point for the economy if subsequent non-oil domestic export and industrial production figures follow suit, Mr Seah noted.

However, slower contractions were recorded for the indexes of imports, input prices and order backlog.

The supplier deliveries posted a faster rate of contraction. The employment index contracted for a fourth straight month.

Mr Barnabas Gan, UOB Group’s economist, said the manufacturing sector is still weighted down by ongoing supply chain disruptions and negative demand shocks from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The PMI readings suggest further headwinds against Singapore’s manufacturing environment, with key manufacturing sectors, save for biomedical manufacturing, in the doldrums for the year ahead, Mr Gan said.

He said pharmaceutical production and exports may continue to support Singapore’s overall manufacturing and trade environment.

“Singapore is well-positioned to produce and export medical necessities, which implies that the pharmaceutical industry can act as a support to the overall manufacturing environment,” Mr Gan noted.

Mr Seah said that while the biomedical cluster is likely to support gross domestic product performance and help overall manufacturing to outperform some other sectors despite weak global demand, positive spin-offs to the rest of the economy, such as a boost to employment, are limited.

Pharmaceutical exports accounted for only 9.9 per cent of Singapore’s non-oil domestic exports in 2019, while the biomedical cluster was weighted at just under 20 per cent of total industrial production.

Mr Gan said: “Beyond the pandemic, we would also need to account for incremental headwinds stemming from the renewed US-China trade tensions that may intensify in the months ahead.”

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Coronavirus: Government-backed loans to support virus-hit businesses top £31bn

Three government-backed loan schemes for UK businesses have paid out more than £31bn to date, according to updated Treasury data on taxpayer support for firms and workers’ wages.

The latest figures showed almost 750,000 companies had seen loans approved by Sunday 31 May under the emergency COVID-19 funding initiatives; the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) and Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS).

The data showed that £31.3bn had been paid out by banks – up from £27.5bn a week ago.

The growth continued to be led by demand for the BBLS, in which sums – 100% guaranteed by the government – can be borrowed up to a maximum of £50,000.

The Treasury said £21.3bn had been dispersed by lenders to 699,354 companies.

The total number of applications for bounce back loans stood at more than 873,000.

A sum of £8.9bn had been lent to nearly 46,000 companies under CBILS, and a further £1.1bn to 191 companies as
part of CLBILS, the figures showed.

It was also confirmed that the number of workers’ wages being supported by the Job Retention Scheme, also known as the furlough scheme, which is aimed at limiting the lockdown’s impact on employment, had topped 8.7 million – up from 8.4 million a week earlier.

The Treasury put the cost at £17.5bn to date.

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Coronavirus: Marvel comics artist creates ‘superhero’ masks for children flying with easyJet

A Marvel comics artist has designed “superhero” face mask covers for children flying with easyJet.

The move aims to help youngsters feel more relaxed on journeys after the airline resumes flights later this month with strict safety protocols in place for passengers and crew to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The face mask covers have been created by Irish illustrator Will Sliney, who has worked on Spider-Man and Star Wars comics.

They feature lion and pilot designs, and are to be worn over the top of a young traveller’s own face mask.

EasyJet said it would make thousands of the items available on selected routes when it restarts its operations.

The no-frills carrier announced last month that wearing face masks on aircraft would be mandatory for all customers, cabin and ground crew.

Other measures include no onboard food service, enhanced deep-cleaning of aircraft and the provision of disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser.

Captain David Morgan, easyJet’s director of flight operations, said: “We have teamed up with a comic illustrator to create some bespoke children’s face mask covers as we know the airport environment could feel different and possibly daunting for younger travellers when flying initially resumes.”

Sliney added: “Flying with face masks is going to be a new experience for everyone, especially young children, so I hope these fun designs, inspired by comic book characters, help to encourage kids to wear their masks onboard.

“I have used a combination of a lion animal character and a futuristic pilot to create a set of mask covers to bring out the inner superhero in all young flyers.”

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U.S. Senate leader hopes for quick passage of House coronavirus small business bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday he hoped the Senate would soon pass legislation already passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives easing terms of the coronavirus small-business loan program.

“I hope and anticipate the Senate will soon take up and pass legislation that just passed the House, by an overwhelming vote of 417 to one, to further strengthen the Paycheck Protection Program so it continues working for small businesses that need our help,” McConnell, a Republican, said.

Under the House-passed bill, businesses receiving forgivable loans under this new program would have 24 weeks, instead of the current eight weeks, to utilize the loans intended to help keep businesses operating and retain employees.

The legislation also contains other changes to provide more flexibility to the program as small businesses try to reopen following months of closures or curtailed operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Restaurants and hotels are among the largest beneficiaries of the Paycheck Protection Program created in late March.

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WHO and other experts say no evidence of COVID-19 losing potency

LONDON/MILAN (Reuters) – World Health Organization experts and a range of other scientists said on Monday there was no evidence to support an assertion by a high profile Italian doctor that the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic has been losing potency.

Professor Alberto Zangrillo, head of intensive care at Italy’s San Raffaele Hospital in Lombardy, which bore the brunt of Italy’s COVID-19 epidemic, on Sunday told state television that the new coronavirus “clinically no longer exists”.

But WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove, as well as several other experts on viruses and infectious diseases, said Zangrillo’s comments were not supported by scientific evidence.

There is no data to show the new coronavirus is changing significantly, either in its form of transmission or in the severity of the disease it causes, they said.

“In terms of transmissibility, that has not changed, in terms of severity, that has not changed,” Van Kerkhove told reporters.

It is not unusual for viruses to mutate and adapt as they spread, and the debate on Monday highlights how scientists are monitoring and tracking the new virus. The COVID-19 pandemic has so far killed more than 370,000 people and infected more than 6 million.

Martin Hibberd, a professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said major studies looking at genetic changes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 did not support the idea that it was becoming less potent, or weakening in any way.

“With data from more than 35,000 whole virus genomes, there is currently no evidence that there is any significant difference relating to severity,” he said in an emailed comment.

Zangrillo, well known in Italy as the personal doctor of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said his comments were backed up by a study conducted by a fellow scientist, Massimo Clementi, which Zangrillo said would be published next week.

Zangrillo told Reuters: “We have never said that the virus has changed, we said that the interaction between the virus and the host has definitely changed.”

He said this could be due either to different characteristics of the virus, which he said they had not yet identified, or different characteristics in those infected.

The study by Clementi, who is director of the microbiology and virology laboratory of San Raffaele, compared virus samples from COVID-19 patients at the Milan-based hospital in March with samples from patients with the disease in May.

“The result was unambiguous: an extremely significant difference between the viral load of patients admitted in March compared to” those admitted last month, Zangrillo said.

Oscar MacLean, an expert at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research, said suggestions that the virus was weakening were “not supported by anything in the scientific literature and also seem fairly implausible on genetic grounds.”

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Marriott opens all hotels in China, sees steady U.S. recovery: CEO

(Reuters) – Marriott International (MAR.O) has reopened all its hotels in China and is seeing a steady recovery in the United States, its biggest market, Chief Executive Officer Arne Sorenson said on Monday.

Shares of the hotel operator, which owns the Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis luxury brands, rose as much as 8.1% to $95.64 in afternoon trading after Sorenson said the occupancy rate in China was 40% currently, up from 7% to 8% in February, when COVID-19 started spreading.

“It’s not just leisure travel growing, but it is business travel. Chinese are flying again,” Sorenson said at a Goldman Sachs conference.

In the United States, Marriott’s hotels that remained open crossed the 20% occupancy threshold and continue to see an improvement, Sorenson said.

“The (U.S.) hotels that are performing strongest are those that are most dependent on drive to business.”

The company had an occupancy rate of about 12% in North America in April, with 16% of its hotels closed temporarily.

However, Sorenson warned that it could take Marriott a few years to get back to levels of occupancy seen in 2019, when its global occupancy rate was 71%.

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Asia's factory pain worsens as China's recovery fails to lift demand

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asia’s factory pain deepened in May as the slump in global trade caused by the coronavirus pandemic worsened, with export powerhouses Japan and South Korea suffering the sharpest declines in business activity in more than a decade.

A series of manufacturing surveys released on Monday suggest any rebound in businesses will be some time off, even though China’s factory activity unexpectedly returned to growth in May.

China’s Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) hit 50.7 last month, marking the highest reading since January as easing of lockdowns allowed companies to get back to work and clear outstanding orders.

But with many of China’s trading partners still restricted, its new export orders remained in contraction, the private business survey showed on Monday. China’s official PMI survey on Sunday showed the recovery in the world’s second-largest economy intact but fragile.

Japan’s factory activity shrank at the fastest pace since 2009 in May, a separate private sector survey showed while South Korea also saw manufacturing slump at the sharpest pace in more than a decade.

Capital Economics said the region’s manufacturing sector is in deep recession.

“Industry is likely to have seen an initial jump from the easing of lockdown restrictions. And things are likely to continue improving very gradually over the coming months as external demand recovers,” Capital Economics wrote. “But output is still likely to be well below normal levels for many months to come as domestic and global demand remain very depressed.”

Taiwan’s manufacturing activity also fell in May. Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines saw PMIs rebound from April, though the indices all remained below the 50-mark threshold that separates contraction from expansion.

Official data on Monday showed South Korea extending its exports plunge for a third straight month.

Asia’s economic woes are likely to be echoed in other parts of the world including Europe, where economies continue to suffer huge damage in factory and service sectors.

With many countries starting to ease lockdown restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the virus, which has infected over 5.5 million people globally, equity markets are rallying on hopes for a swift return to health and prosperity.

But the trough in global economic activity will be deeper and the rebound is likely to take longer than previously predicted as the pandemic spreads in waves.

The International Monetary Fund warned last month the global economy will take much longer than expected to recover fully from the virus shock, suggesting a downgrade to its current projection for a 3% contraction this year.

A U.S.-China spat over Hong Kong’s status and Beijing’s handling of the pandemic could sour business sentiment and add to already huge strains on the global economy.

The final au Jibun Bank Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to a seasonally adjusted 38.4 from 41.9 in April, its lowest since March 2009.

South Korea’s IHS Markit purchasing managers’ index (PMI) edged down to 41.3 in May, the lowest since January 2009 and below 41.6 in April.

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UK foreign minister defends lockdown easing as the 'right step'

LONDON (Reuters) – British foreign minister Dominic Raab defended on Sunday the government’s “careful” loosening of the coronavirus lockdown, saying it was the “right step to be taking at this moment in time”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under fire from some scientists for easing a lockdown put in place 10 weeks ago, with several saying it was a premature and risky move in the absence of a fully functioning system to track new outbreaks.

With Britain experiencing one of the world’s highest death rates from COVID-19, the government says it is easing the stringent lockdown “cautiously” to balance the need to restart the economy, but also to try to prevent another increase in the number of infections. Some say Britain is not prepared.

“We are confident that this is the right step to be taking at this moment in time,” Raab told Sky News. “We are taking those steps very carefully, based on the science but also based on our ability now to monitor the virus.”

From Monday, up to six people will be able to meet outside in England, some school classes will restart, elite competitive sport can resume without fans and more than 2 million people who have been “shielding” will be allowed to spend time outdoors.

Johnson is under pressure from some in his governing Conservative Party and businesses to start re-opening the economy, after spending billions to help protect companies and workers from the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

At the heart of the strategy to ease the lockdown is a system to test and trace those people who have come into contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The government said on Sunday it had met its 200,000 capacity testing target, including the means for 40,000 antibody tests a day, a day early, a move health minister Matt Hancock described as “an important milestone”.

Ministers also say the tracing system is already working, but some scientists say it is too early to say whether it is fit for purpose. [L8N2DC056]

Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group who sits on the government’s scientific advisory group, said he shared other scientists’ “deep concern.”

“I think I share with all my scientific colleagues, or virtually all my scientific colleagues, a deep concern that we need to go with great caution,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, adding there was still a large number of cases in Britain.

“I think unlocking too fast carries a great risk that all the good work that has been put in by everyone to try to reduce transmission may be lost. So we do need to proceed with great, great care at this point.”

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has offered the nation slightly different guidance to that in England, agreed with scientists that the easing must be “very cautious”.

“I agree with the opinion that has been expressed over the weekend that we’ve got to be very cautious,” Sturgeon told Sky News. “This virus hasn’t gone away, there is still a significant risk that it could run out of control again.”

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UK taking 'right steps' to ease virus lockdown, says foreign minister

LONDON (Reuters) – British foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday the “careful” easing of the coronavirus lockdown was now the “right step” to take, shrugging off criticism for moving too quickly to allow people more social contact.

“We are confident that this is the right step to be taking at this moment in time,” Raab told Sky News. “We are taking those steps very carefully, based on the science but also based on our ability now to monitor the virus.”

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