U.S. auto industry to begin reopening plants in recovery from pandemic

(Reuters) – The U.S. auto industry is slowly returning to life, with vehicle assembly plants scheduled to reopen on Monday and suppliers gearing up in support as the sector that employs nearly 1 million people seeks to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

General Motors Co (GM.N), Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) (FCHA.MI) (FCAU.N) all have been preparing for weeks to reopen their North American factories in a push to restart work in an industry that accounts for about 6% of U.S. economic activity.

For the automakers and their suppliers, many of which began reopening their plants last week, the restart is critical to ending the cash drain caused by a two-month shutdown that was forced on them by COVID-19. The emphasis will be on getting assembly lines again producing such profitable vehicles as the Chevrolet Suburban SUV, Ford F-150 pickup truck and Jeep Wrangler SUV.

“Ultimately we’re in this together. Because if we don’t build trucks, Ford Motor Company is gone,” said Todd Dunn, president of UAW Local 862, which represents more than 14,000 hourly workers at Ford’s two Kentucky assembly plants.

President Donald Trump on Thursday will tour a Ford manufacturing plant in Michigan that has been repurposed to make ventilators and personal protective equipment, according to the White House.

The Kentucky Truck Plant, which builds the larger Super Duty pickups as well as the Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs, will restart with two shifts, Dunn said, while the nearby Louisville Assembly Plant, which builds the Escape and Lincoln Corsair SUVs, resumes with only one shift.

A Ford spokeswoman said plants that were running on three shifts before the shutdown will reopen with two, and those that were operating with two shifts will restart with one.

GM is reopening a number of plants on one shift on Monday, including 1,600 hourly workers making heavy-duty pickup trucks in Flint, Michigan, and 1,600 workers manufacturing pickups in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The reopening will be a closely watched test of whether workers across a range of industries can return to factories in large numbers without a resurgence of infections.

Auto companies have rolled out a series of safety measures to protect workers, including the use of temperature monitors for those entering plants, personal protective equipment such as face masks and shields, revamped and deep-cleaned factory floors that emphasize social distancing and more.

The UAW’s Dunn said one question will be how many workers punch in at his local’s production facilities on Monday given a lack of daycare in Kentucky, where schools are closed, as well as fear among those with underlying health conditions who are at greater risk of infection. He said Ford has been hiring temporary workers to cover for any absenteeism.

Another issue automakers will have to watch closely is the financial health of suppliers. As most suppliers get paid on average 45 days after they deliver parts, some will struggle to stay afloat as the industry slowly reopens.

“Once you are up and running safely, the financial liquidity issue becomes a very significant concern for many suppliers,” said Julie Fream, president of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association.

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WHO exposed: How health body changed pandemic criteria to push agenda

The 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic (H1N1) swept the globe, lasting some 20 months. It was the second of two pandemics involving the H1N1 influenza strain – the first having hit during 1918-20 in what is now known as the Spanish Flu pandemic.

In the years following the pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) faced fierce criticism over its handling of the situation.

Some medical experts doubted whether the H1N1 outbreak was really a pandemic at all.

Dr Wolfgang Wodarg, a German doctor and former member of parliament, had been watching the spread of swine flu in Mexico City – where the virus was first recorded – and was puzzled at the reaction of the WHO.

In 2010, he said: “What we experienced in Mexico City was a very mild flu which did not kill more than usual – which killed even fewer people than usual.

“This was suddenly, a fast-spreading mild flu, a pandemic.

“But this is not the definition of a pandemic I learned, which has to be severe, with a much higher than usual death rate.”

Dr Wodarg eventually launched an inquiry into the Swine Flu pandemic and the WHO’s dealings with the pharmaceutical industry in the lead up to the N1H1 pandemic.

At a council meeting, Mr Wodarg declared that “all the business deals that had been prepared between individual countries and the pharmaceutical companies were about to be triggered by the WHO”.

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He added: “The relevant contracts were mostly confidential and the companies insist they should never be published.”

In the months leading up to the WHO’s declaration of the pandemic as a “level 6” contagion – the highest possible level – many countries including Italy, Germany, France and the UK made secret agreements with pharmaceutical companies.

These contracts obliged the countries to buy Swine Flu vaccinations only if the WHO raised the pandemic to a level 6.

During the 2018 documentary “TrustWHO”, filmmaker Lillian Franck unearthed footage that showed WHO delegates six weeks before the level 6 pandemic was issued as having described Swine Flu as a “moderate” situation.

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This description was given six weeks before the WHO changed its criteria for a level 6 pandemic, deleting “severity of illness” from the requirement of a pandemic phase.

It was thus made easier to enter the world into a serious global pandemic.

Ms Franck spoke to German Velasquez, a former WHO Director in the Public Health Department, who served during the Swine Flu pandemic.

He said: “It was publicised around the world, that the criteria for declaring a pandemic were changed and at the same time the old guidelines vanished from the WHO website.”

Ms Franck asked: “Could they have declared the pandemic level 6 also with the old definition?”

Mr Velasquez: “No, because the severity, the number of deaths, would have been a factor.

“Since that was no longer one of the criteria, it made it easier to declare a pandemic.”

As a result of the pandemic entering a level 6 phase, the European Council later concluded that: “According to analysts, the WHO initiated spending on health measures around $18billion (£14billion) worldwide.”

Ms Franck also spoke to Mr Wodarg and he revealed how the WHO had grown into a culture of secrecy and “clandestine” operations.

He said: “The situation was evaluated correspondingly by the Council of Europe.

“Reprimand was issued.

“The lack of transparency, the role of the experts who were being paid by the pharmaceutical industry.

“Then changes were demanded but the WHO didn’t respond to the Council of Europe – the WHO turned up for the first hearing and then didn’t come again.

“It didn’t have to, it wasn’t obliged to supply us with any information.

“We can’t demand to confiscate the files, look through them; it is impossible, there isn’t anybody who can do those things.

“And there’s no investigating commission like in Parliament where the MPs can go and say something has to stop and then everybody has to turn up and show their files, there’s nothing like that.

“The WHO can operate in a very clandestine fashion.”

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UK lockdown could be relaxed within WEEKS if EVERYONE plays part

Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said that if people stick to official government advice then numbers would fall – relieving pressure on the NHS. Offering a glimmer of hope to worried families he told the BBC: “If we all adhere to the measures then there is reason to believe they will begin to flatten the curve and we could see the evidence coming through that the NHS is being able to cope with the situation as best as possible. If that is the case then there may be the potential to relax measures in a sensible way in accordance with medical advice in the weeks and months that would follow that.”

But he warned that the next two weeks will be “critical” as Britain surges towards the peak of the outbreak.

“It’s likely the numbers will get worse in the coming days before they get better,” Mr Jenrick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Some experts have indicated that the worst period of the COVID-19 epidemic could strike between April 6 and April 20.

This is when most deaths are likely to occur.

And Mr Jenrick said the deaths of a 13-year-old and a 19-year-old with coronavirus is a reminder that the disease affects everyone.

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He told BBC Breakfast: “Every death is a tragedy, but two young people dying is even more sobering.

“It does remind us all that this is a virus that’s indiscriminate.

“It doesn’t just affect the elderly, or those who are extremely vulnerable because of their pre-existing conditions, although those people do need to take particular care.

“It can affect all of us and I think many young people have felt, or some young people have felt, almost invincible, and you saw that in some of the scenes a couple of weeks ago of young people out enjoying themselves when we first started to implement some of the social distancing measures.

“I think now everybody in the country understands and appreciates the seriousness of the situation, and is following the medical advice, which is to stay at home, by doing so protect the NHS and help to save lives.

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New York coronavirus Fears as ‘freight train’ virus to devastate US – shock chart

The state itself has recorded 210 deaths at the time of writing, a third of the US’ total. There have also been a confirmed 25,000 cases, with state officials warning of an impending crisis which will soon rapidly spread across the country. Although only recently hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, New York is on a trajectory worse than Madrid and the Italian region of Lombardy – the heart of the country’s outbreak – according to date from the Financial Times.

With cases in New York threatening to spread worldwide, the WHO also admitted the US could soon become the epicentre of the coronavirus.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday: “One of the forecasters said to me: ‘We were looking at a freight train coming across the country.’

“We’re now looking at a bullet train.

“The apex is higher than we thought and the apex is sooner than we thought.”

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Mr Cuomo also accused the government of not sending enough equipment needed to stop the crisis.

An estimated 400 ventilators were sent to New York from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A further 2,000 more will be sent by Wednesday US Vice President Mike Pence confirmed, although Mr Cuomo stated that was still not enough.

However, the Governor criticised that small number and insisted many more will be needed if they are to contain the crisis.

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He said: “We need federal help and we need the federal help now.

“New York is the canary in the coal mine, New York is happening first, what is happening to New York will happen to California and Illinois, it is just a matter of time.”

Deborah Birx, the co-ordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force has also revealed an estimated one in every 1,000 New Yorkers have been exposed to the virus.

She also indicated those leaving the country’s most populated city could create new clusters of the virus.

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“To everyone who has left New York over the past few days, because of the rate of infection, you may have been exposed before you left.

“We are starting to see new cases across Long Island that suggests people have left the city.”

Due to the crisis in New York, other states have moved to block entry for those who have travelled from the state.

On Monday, the Governor of Florida, Ronald DeSantis signed an executive order requiring those from New York to self-isolate for two weeks.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said: “What we’re seeing now is that, understandably, people want to get out of New York.

“They’re going to Florida, they’re going to Long Island.

“We don’t want that to be another seeding point for the rest of the country, wherever they go.”

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