Coronavirus: Daily COVID-19 deaths in Spain, France and Italy continue to fall

The number of coronavirus deaths in Spain has fallen for the third day in a row – a glimmer of hope in the hard-hit country where more than 12,400 have died.

The fall is part of a pattern in other European countries which imposed a stringent lockdown several weeks ago, with France and parts of Italy also seeing falls in the number of daily deaths.

France on Saturday saw its daily death toll fall to 441 from 588 on Friday.

Italy, on the same day, registered 681 deaths having reported 766 deaths the day before.

Sky’s Alex Rossi, in Madrid, said there was “muted optimism” as a result of the Spanish figures.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told the nation on Saturday: “We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The number who have died in Spain now has reached 12,418. The number reported as having died in Italy on Saturday was 15,362 with 7,560 in France.

Despite the lockdown appearing to reduce the number of deaths, authorities have made it clear they have no immediate intention of lifting the restrictions.

Mr Sanchez said on Saturday he would ask parliament to extend his country’s lockdown by 15 days until 26 April.

He added a team of experts was also studying how restrictions could be gradual loosened to reactive the country’s economy.

Meanwhile, Italy’s virus-ravaged Lombardy region is now requiring residents to wear a protective mask when they go outside.

It follows similar orders in recent days in two other northern regions, hard-hit Veneto and Alto Adige, which require protective masks for residents if they go shopping in stores and markets.

All of Italy is under a nationwide lockdown and Lombardy has passed particularly tight restrictions on movement and business operations.

It comes amid a growing appreciation that the official death toll may be masking the true number dying.

Interviews by Reuters with families, doctors and nurses in Lombardy indicate that scores are dying at home as symptoms go unchecked and medical professionals are unable to visit the sick before they pass away.

In Bergamo province, where Sky News witnessed horrific scenes in the main hospital and where the mayor told Stuart Ramsay he was convinced the death toll was higher than that being reported, a recent study of death records found the true number could be more than double the official tally of 2,060, which only tracks hospital fatalities.

In France, the centralised state has allowed authorities to take extraordinary measures in an attempt to save lives.

Europe’s biggest food market, in Rungis, south of Paris, is being transformed into a morgue.

The country’s high-speed train network has been whooshing critically ill COVID-19 patients and the breathing machines to locations where they can be looked after better.

TGV trains are just one part of France’s nationwide mobilisation of trains, helicopters, jets and even a warship, to relieve congested hospitals.

Nearly 7,000 patients are in intensive care in France, pushing hospitals to their limit and beyond.

In Germany, which has been reporting a lower fatality rate than other European countries, the official toll rose by 184 to 1,342.

But, health authorities reported that the number of new infections rose by 5,936 in the past 24 hours to
91,714 on Sunday, the third straight drop in the daily rate of new cases.

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Coronavirus: New Labour leader Starmer pledges to work ‘constructively’ with government over COVID-19

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to work “constructively” with the government over the coronavirus pandemic.

Sir Keir, who was elected Jeremy Corbyn’s successor on Saturday, has accepted an offer from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to attend a COVID-19 briefing next week.

The pair spoke on the phone earlier.

A spokesperson for the Labour leader said: “Keir offered to work constructively with the government on how best to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, accepted the prime minister’s offer to meet next week and agreed arrangements for Privy Council briefings and discussions.”

In his victory speech, Sir Keir said Labour had a “shared purpose” with the government in getting the country through the coronavirus pandemic.

He added: “Under my leadership, we will engage constructively with the government, not opposition for opposition’s sake. Not scoring party political points or making impossible demands.

“But with the courage to support where that’s the right thing to do.

“But we will test the arguments that are put forward.

“We will shine a torch on critical issues and where we see mistakes or faltering government or things not happening as quickly as they should we’ll challenge that and call that out.

“Our purpose when we do that is the same as the government’s, to save lives and to protect our country, a shared purpose.”

Mr Johnson wrote on Twitter: “I have just spoken to @Keir_Starmer & congratulated him on becoming Labour leader.

“We agreed on the importance of all party leaders continuing to work constructively together through this national emergency.

“I have invited him and other opposition leaders to a briefing next week.”

The PM has written to opposition party leaders, telling them “we have a duty to work together at this moment of national emergency”.

The letter states: “Therefore, I would like to invite all leaders of opposition parties in parliament to a briefing with myself, the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser next week.

“I want to listen to your views and update you on the measures we have taken so far, such as rapidly expanding testing and providing economic support to businesses and individuals across the country.

“The government I lead will act in the national interest at all times and be guided by the best scientific evidence, and of course we will continue to engage constructively with all political parties on the national effort to defeat this pandemic.

“I have no doubt that – as we have so many times in the past – the people of the United Kingdom will rise to this current challenge, and we will beat coronavirus together.”

Sir Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “At this moment of national crisis, the role of all opposition parties must be to support measures to tackle the coronavirus, whilst also standing up for the most vulnerable by properly scrutinising the government.

“I look forward to working with Keir Starmer on that task.”

The UK has been in lockdown for more than 10 days, after the government announced stringent measures to try and limit the spread of COVID-19.

A leading scientist and government adviser has said social distancing measures could be relaxed within weeks if there are signs the epidemic is slowing.

Imperial College London Professor Neil Ferguson said the UK’s epidemic was expected to plateau in the next week to 10 days, but said people’s behaviour was critical to determining what happens next.

The Department of Health and Social Care said on Saturday that 708 more people had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total deaths in the UK to 4,313.

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UPDATE 4-Five Canadian banks cut credit card interest rates to ease coronavirus impact

(Adds details of Scotiabank rate reduction)

TORONTO, April 4 (Reuters) – Bank of Nova Scotia, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, National Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce said on Friday they are cutting interest rates on credit cards to provide relief to customers affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

Late on Friday, Scotiabank said it would reduce credit card interest rates to 10.99% for personal and small business clients who have been approved for, or seek, payment deferrals.

Earlier, in separate statements, TD Bank said it will cut credit card interest rates by 50% for customers experiencing hardship, and Royal Bank said it will reduce the charges by the same extent for clients receiving minimum payment deferrals.

National Bank will allow credit card customers to defer minimum payments for up to 90 days and reduce annual interest rates to 10.9% for these clients, it said.

CIBC too will reduce interest rates to 10.99% on personal credit cards for users who request to skip a payment, Canada’s fifth-largest lender said. (reut.rs/3aHZM9Q)

Most Royal Bank, TAD, Scotiabank and CIBC credit cards charge 19.99% interest on purchases. Most National Bank cards charge 20.99%.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had urged banks to help alleviate the burden credit card interest rates placed on Canadians. Friday’s moves are the latest in a raft of measures announced by the banks to ease the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on customers.

Canada’s six biggest banks unveiled a mortgage-relief plan two weeks ago to allow homeowners to defer or skip mortgage payments for up to six months as businesses come to a grinding halt due to the pandemic.

National Bank said it will refund additional interest accrued on the deferred mortgage payments. The lender will also waive fees for transfers and stop payments on checks and pre-authorized debts, and will not charge overdraft fees on checking and high-interest savings accounts, it said.

Since the mortgage-relief plan was announced, the banks have received nearly half a million requests that have been completed or were being processed. (Reporting by Bharath Manjesh in Bengaluru and Nichola Saminather in Toronto Editing by Matthew Lewis, Cynthia Osterman, Sandra Maler and Diane Craft)

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B.C. businesses ‘in need of life support’ due to coronavirus fallout

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate businesses across B.C.

A recent poll found that in the last two weeks alone, approximately half of the 1,900 employers surveyed saw revenue decreases of 75 per cent or more, while two-thirds recorded declines of 50 per cent or more.

“There’s no doubt governments want to find the right solution for businesses, but our members are saying, ‘time is of the essence,’” said Val Litwin, CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, which, along with BC Business Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, commissioned what is to be a series of bi-weekly “pulse checks” on the business community.

Nearly one-third of businesses are planning to cancel contracts, or have had contracts or tenders cancelled, the survey found.

“Each passing day represents a critical juncture for many employers, as they are making difficult decisions and waiting for government support to arrive,” Greater Vancouver Board of Trade CEO Bridgitte Anderson said.

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“We need a bridge to the other side of this crisis that will help to hasten the economic recovery when the public health emergency subsides.”

More than 50 per cent of the survey respondents said they’re worried they won’t be able to pay off debts or that they won’t financially be able to restart once the pandemic ends.

About a quarter of respondents said they’re looking at shifting to online, digital, or e-commerce options, or have moved there already.

In releasing the survey results, the business advocacy groups listed their top recommendations to government, including providing direct payments to affected businesses; an immediate reduction in rates for employment insurance, company taxes, personal tax, GST, other government imposed levies or charges; and a further reduction of tax rates and defer payments for both B.C. businesses and homes.

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U.S. airlines apply for U.S. payroll help but terms still unclear

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Major U.S. airlines applied on Friday for payroll grants from the U.S. Treasury meant to keep workers employed during a sharp downturn resulting from the coronavirus outbreak, but while talks over the terms were expected to continue in coming days some warned the funds would not be enough to help them through their toughest crisis ever.

American Airlines Group Inc, United Airlines Holdings Inc, Delta Air Lines Inc, Southwest Airlines Co, JetBlue Airways Corp and Hawaiian Airlines each said they submitted grant applications, but did not disclose details or terms.

Treasury asked companies to propose financial instruments such as warrants or equity options as possible taxpayer compensation for up to $32 billion in payroll grants for airlines, cargo carriers and airport contractors under the CARES Act passed by Congress last week.

Treasury set a 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) Friday deadline to expedite the grants. There is a second final deadline on April 27.

The airline industry and some lawmakers have pushed back on the possibility of the government taking an equity stake in exchange for the grants, which companies and unions argue are strictly to protect workers.

Southwest said on Friday that government support is just one possible source of capital it is evaluating as it discusses the terms of the grants.

In memos to employees, Delta and JetBlue executives warned that government funds would not be enough to help them weather an unprecedented crisis in which they are spending more cash every day than they are bringing in.

Companies were allowed to ask Treasury for the amount they paid in salaries and benefits in the second and third quarters of 2019, and must agree to keep their workforce until Sept. 30 and maintain a certain level of air service.

American Airlines, with the largest number of full-time employees among U.S. airlines, at 133,700 in 2019, had said it would seek up to $6 billion in grants and $6 billion in government loans under a separate $32 billion funding option for the sector.

American’s stock hit a record low on Friday. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc, which is among the largest shareholders of the top U.S. airlines, said it sold about 18% of its Delta stake and 4% of its Southwest holding.

Among cargo carriers, FedEx Corp said it could benefit from certain government relief options after outlining other steps it is taking to save cash and boost liquidity, including slashing its chief executive officer’s pay and drawing down $1.5 billion from a credit facility.

Cargo carriers are suffering from disruption to global supply chains and high-margin business-to-business demand, even as ground-package delivery services increase.

Airlines have also raised debt and taken a series of cost-cutting measures as they ground an unprecedented number of planes and implement new policies on ticket refunds and exchanges in an effort to encourage passengers to book flights.

Related Coverage

  • U.S. warns airlines to quickly refund tickets after canceled flights

Passenger airlines are eligible for $25 billion in cash grants, cargo carriers $4 billion, and airport contractors like caterers and airplane cleaners $3 billion, and an equal amount in loans.

Other airlines across the world are seeking government aid as they brace for a prolonged downturn, with Air France-KLM in talks with banks to receive up to 6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) in loans guaranteed by the French and Dutch governments, sources told Reuters.

Planemakers are also preparing for a slump in demand. Reuters reported on Friday that Airbus SE is studying a sharp cut in output of its top-selling A320 jet series.

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In Communist-run Cuba, the private sector helps the needy as coronavirus spreads

HAVANA (Reuters) – Upmarket restaurants are delivering free meals to the elderly, while a fashion firm donates face masks. A business consultancy calls on its clients to donate hygiene products and artisanal soap shops gift their wares to low income households.

In Communist-run Cuba, the fledging private sector is rushing to set up solidarity initiatives for those most vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak, demonstrating the state no longer has a monopoly on helping the neediest.

Sometimes the two are even joining forces to combat the common invisible enemy.

Saverio Grisell, the Italian co-owner of restaurant Bella Ciao, which usually teems with expats, tourists and affluent Cubans, says he discussed how he could help with the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).

“The president of my CDR gave me a list of 29 elderly people and I decided to give them a meal for free every day,” he said.

Cuba, which has so far confirmed 269 cases of the new virus, has one of the oldest populations in Latin America. The virus appears to be particularly deadly for the elderly, who throughout are the world are seeking ways to stay safely at home rather than go outside and risk contagion.

The CDR now helps Bella Ciao deliver its pizzas and pastas directly to the homes of the elderly.

“It’s a small gesture of solidarity,” Grisell said, noting that it paled in comparison with the help Cuba sent to his home country of Italy last month in the form of medical staff.

Cuba has also long provided subsidized food at eateries for the elderly nationwide, and is now dishing out free meals for those on low incomes.

“It’s admirable,” said Ines Perez, 75, digging into a plate of donated Bella Ciao spaghetti. “Let’s hope everyone comes onboard and cooperates in the same way to overcome this difficult moment.”

SOLIDARITY: A CUBAN VALUE AND GOOD POLITICS

Private restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, beauty salons, gyms and shops have flourished in Cuba since former President Raul Castro started inching open the economy with market style reforms a decade ago.

However, fears those reforms went too far and have fostered too much inequality have prompted a crackdown in recent years on the sector, which now employs around 600,000 people.

As such, Cuban private businesses likely demonstrate more solidarity than elsewhere not just because it is a value embedded in the culture but also “because it is good politics to exhibit a ‘socialist’ or ‘cooperative’ orientation,” according to Cuba expert Ted Henken at Baruch College in New York.

Whatever their motivation, the solidarity initiatives are going down well – state-run website Cubadebate even did an article on the Bella Ciao project – and show no sign of abating as the number of coronavirus cases slowly mounts.

These days, for example, fashion brand Dador is putting its sewing machines to an altogether different task than their usual one of conjuring up limited edition garments for the runway and its Old Havana store.

Now they are making face masks out of colorful and often patterned cloth.

Co-founder Lauren Fajardo said they had already collaborated with one group that provides assistance to the elderly, donating 160 masks.

“We’d like to focus on getting people masks who need them most,” she added. “Elderly people for example, people in neighborhoods that are very crowded and those who don’t have the option to just stay home because they have to work or find food.”

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Delta, other airlines apply for U.S. payroll grants for crisis help

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) and JetBlue Airways Corp JBLU.O> said on Friday they had applied for U.S. payroll grants meant to keep workers employed while airlines ride out their toughest crisis in history due to the coronavirus, but warned the funds are “not enough.”

The U.S. Treasury had asked passenger and cargo carriers to apply by 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on Friday to expedite up to $32 billion in payroll grants for the air industry within a $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief package approved last week. Airport contractors are also eligible for grants.

In a memo to employees, Delta Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said the company had applied for its share of worker-protection grants, but “those funds alone are not nearly enough.”

Delta expects a 90% decline in second-quarter revenue.

JetBlue also told employees it “may not get enough to cover pay and benefits at the level you see when we are flying at full capacity.”

Companies were allowed to request the amount they paid in salaries and benefits in the second and third quarters of 2019, and must agree to keep their workforce until Sept. 30, even as they drastically reduce flight schedules to match a dramatic drop in demand.

American Airlines, with the largest number of full-time employees among U.S. airlines at 133,700 in 2019, also submitted an application on Friday, a spokeswoman said, without disclosing the details.

American has said it would seek up to $6 billion in grants and $6 billion in government loans under a separate $32 billion funding option for the sector.

American stock hit a record low on Friday.

Treasury had asked companies to propose financial instruments such as warrants or equity options as possible taxpayer compensation, a condition many Democrats and airline labor unions had argued could dissuade airlines from taking money meant to protect workers.

United Airlines Holdings Inc (UAL.O) and Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) were also expected to apply, though they have also warned they may still shrink before year end.

Among cargo carriers, FedEx Corp (FDX.N) said it could benefit from certain government relief options after outlining other steps it is taking to save cash and boost liquidity, including slashing its chief executive officer’s pay and drawing down $1.5 billion from a credit facility.

Cargo carriers are suffering from disruption to global supply chains and high-margin business-to-business demand, even as ground-package delivery services increase.

Airlines have also raised debt and taken a series of cost-cutting measures as they ground an unprecedented number of planes and implement new policies on ticket refunds and exchanges in an effort to encourage passengers to book flights.

Related Coverage

  • U.S. warns airlines to quickly refund tickets after canceled flights

Passenger airlines are eligible for $25 billion in cash grants, cargo carriers $4 billion and airport contractors like caterers and airplane cleaners $3 billion, and an equal amount in loans.

Other airlines across the world are also seeking government aid as they brace for a prolonged downturn, with Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA) in talks with banks to receive up to 6 billion euros ($6.5 billion) in loans guaranteed by the French and Dutch governments, sources told Reuters.

Planemakers are also preparing for a slump in demand, with Reuters reporting on Friday that Airbus SE (AIR.PA) is studying a sharp cut in output of its top-selling A320 jet series.

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Exxon plays on virus worries in Baytown contract talks: union official

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A union official said on Friday Exxon Mobil Corp is playing on economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic in negotiations with workers at its Baytown, Texas, refinery.

The company has begun meeting with union-represented employees in small groups after rejecting two contract extension proposals from the union, said Ricky Brooks, president of United Steelworkers union local 13-2001, which represents hourly workers at Baytown.

“They’ve begun in-house scare and misinformation meetings, leveraging the uncertainty of COVID-19 to get all of their issues and force the union to forego all of its issues,” Brooks said. “They have held the pattern wages hostage if the union moves to go to the table.”

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Pattern wages refers to the national pattern agreement reached in January 2019 between the USW International and U.S. refiners that sets wage increases for all USW-represented workers.

Under the proposal rejected in January, pay was set to go up 3.5% in the first year and 4% in the second year. In the third year, the increase would match the pay hike in the new national agreement the USW will negotiate for oil industry workers with energy companies in January 2022.

Brooks said the company has suggested the pay proposals would be less if the two sides go back to the bargaining table.

Negotiations for a new contract to replace the current pact that expires on May 15 began in December with a company-proposed three-year extension that was rejected in January by workers in the 560,500 barrel-per-day refinery and the complex’s laboratory.

Chemical plant workers accepted the extension.

The sticking point for refinery and lab workers is Exxon’s proposal to lengthen by six months the time before a new workers’ wages reach the same level as veteran workers.

Exxon spokesman Jeremy Eikenberry declined to discuss the negotiations.

Even though the current contract expires on May 15, the refinery and lab workers could not walk off their jobs for 60 days nor could Exxon lock them out under an agreement between the company and the union.

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Trump says Bank of America, others doing 'great job' on small-business loans

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump hailed one of the country’s largest banks, as well as many small lenders, for making small business emergency loans on the first day of a new U.S. coronavirus economic relief program.

“Great job being done by Bank of America and many community banks throughout the country. Small businesses appreciate your work!” Trump wrote in a tweet

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U.S. small businesses flood Bank of America with loan applications

(Reuters) – Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) said on Friday it has already received about 35,000 applications for federally backed small-business loans within hours of starting to accept them.

The second largest U.S. bank by assets became the first major bank to accept applications for the massive small-business rescue program approved by Congress last week. But the bank was already being criticized on social media after its CEO said on CNBC that it was prioritizing existing customers.

“Speed is of the essence here for these types of small businesses,” Chief Executive Brian Moynihan said in a CNBC interview on Friday. “The money will start to go out the door once these applications are processed over the next short period of time.”

Small businesses, which employ about half of U.S. private sector employees, have been hit hard during the outbreak of the new coronavirus, which has caused cities to shut down non-essential businesses. Many people are staying home, which has sharply cut into consumer spending.

Bank of America’s consumer transaction volume fell from an average of $60 billion a week to $40 billion through March, Moynihan said.

Seeking to bail out millions of small businesses and slow unemployment, Congress included $349 billion for small firms in its $2 trillion stimulus package passed last week. Small businesses will need to rely on banks to get the funds.

Banks have been scrambling to prepare for overwhelming demand for the loans while awaiting guidance from the government. As of Friday morning, competitors JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Citigroup Inc (C.N) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) were not accepting applications on their website.

“Wells Fargo is working as quickly as possible to be ready to assist small-business customers as part of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP),” a spokesman said in a statement.

Bank of America is prioritizing processing applications for small-business clients that already have a borrowing relationship with the bank, Moynihan said.

“If you borrow from another bank … Please go back to them because they’re your core bank and they know you the best and can process you the fastest,” he said.

It has also drawn criticism from Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. After hearing from a Bank of America customer who was denied a loan he called the credit account stipulation a “a ridiculous requirement that isn’t anywhere in law,” in a tweet on Friday.

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