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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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.

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  • 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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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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Swiss double size of coronavirus company loan scheme to $41 billion

ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss government said on Friday it was doubling the size of its coronavirus emergency loan scheme to 40 billion Swiss francs ($41 billion) after being flooded with requests for help from businesses.

The government said it would expanded state guarantees after banks extended more than 76,000 loans worth 14.3 billion francs in the first few days of the programme.

The total aid package, which has now reached 62 billion francs, represents a major departure for the normally hands-off Swiss government. Equivalent to nearly 9% of economic output, it is the biggest of its kind in Swiss history.

Small businesses have been particularly hard hit by the virus outbreak and need urgent help, said Finance Minister Ueli Maurer.

“Since last Thursday, every four seconds a loan guarantee has been agreed somewhere in Switzerland,” Maurer told a news conference in Bern.

The government could suffer losses on the loans if the crisis continued for more than three months, Maurer said. If 10% of the loans defaulted that would mean writing off 800 million francs a year for five years, he added.

Health Minister Alain Berset said Switzerand was in a delicate but stable condition as the death toll from the new coronavirus rose to 484 and positive tests topped 19,000.

“Hospitalisations continue to go up but not all beds are taken,” Berset told reporters.

“We have not yet reached the peak for infections or for hospitalisations. Now more than ever we have to continue this marathon.”

Berset said it was still far too early to say if emergency measures – including shutting schools and businesses and banning gatherings of more than five people – needed to be extended beyond April 19.

Businesses have been clamouring for the loans to stay afloat as customers stay away or supply chain problems emerge.

Under the emergency liquidity scheme administered by hundreds of banks including heavyweights UBS and Credit Suisse, loans of up to 500,000 francs are fully secured by the government. Credits of up to 20 million are 85% secured.

Maurer said the focus was on helping small and mid-sized companies rather than big ones such as airline Swiss, a Lufthansa unit, whose situation he called “complicated”.

The government has also adopted powers to force companies to make vital medical supplies such as protective gear and drugs, while easing rules governing unapproved medicines under study against COVID-19 so they can be deployed quickly.

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Weekend weather: Is it safe to go out in the warm weather amid COVID-19 crisis?

Coronavirus has now killed 3,605 people in Britain marking the largest increase so far with the previous day recording 569 more deaths. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still suffering from a high temperature and has therefore extended his self isolation after testing positive for coronavirus. The PM and the daily news conference urged Britons to stay at home ahead of the weekend, but is it safe to go outside in the warm weather this weekend?

In the last 24 hours, two nurses and two healthcare assistants lost their lives after fighting as part of the frontline against coronavirus.

As of Friday morning, 173,784 people have been tested for the deadly virus.

Speaking from Downing Street on Friday, Matt Hancock urged people to remain at home despite warm weather forecast for the weekend.

He said the UK “absolutely cannot afford to relax social distancing measures”, adding: “If we do people will die.”

He said: “I end with the advice we all know. This advice is not a request, it is an instruction.

“Stay at home, protect lives and then you will be doing your part.”

READ MORE

  • UK weather: Britain to bake in temperatures hotter than Greece

On Friday evening and overnight, the Met Office forecasts odd light showers to fade across many areas, with clear spells and patchy frost appearing after.

Southern areas of England may also see some areas of fog later and northern parts of the UK cloudier with some rain and hill snow pushing northwards.

On Saturday any fog in the south clearing then many southern areas turning sunnier and quite warm and further north, rather cloudy with odd light showers, rain slow to clear the far north.

The weather will be bright, warm but breezy for many on Sunday according to the forecaster.

In his latest message published on Friday, Mr Johnson warned people to remain in their homes despite the warm weather forecast for the weekend.

In a video he said: “I just urge you not to do that.

“Please, please stick with the guidance.

“This country has made a huge effort, a huge sacrifice, done absolutely brilliantly well in delaying the spread of the virus. Let’s stick with it now.”

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Is it safe to go outside this weekend?

The UK is still under lockdown which means ypeople are urged to remain at home except to undertake the following:

  • Essential shopping such as medicine and food
  • One form of exercise per day
  • Medical need or to provide care for a vulnerable person
  • Travel to and from work, if you canot work from home.

Temperatures are likely to reach 20C in some parts of the UK on Saturday.

Deputy chief medical officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tamp said: “Whatever the weather, we all have a shared responsibility to protect those around us, and the single most important action we can all take in fighting coronavirus is to stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives.”

Police forces across the country were assessing intelligence and briefing officers on patrol about making sure there was no slippage in the lockdown at the weekend.

When Mr Johnson implemented the lockdown, police officers and other authorities have been endowed with the power to disperse gatherings and impose fines starting at £30.

These fines will increase for repeat offenders.

This week a woman in Newcastle was fined £660 after refusined to give police officers her name, address or reason for travel when she was stopped by police.

Speaking on whether it was safe to go outside over the weekend, Mr Hancock said: “It is incredibly important that people follow the guidelines and I know that it is going to be sunny and it may be tempting.

“But it is staying at home that saves lives and I think we should be absolutely crystal clear about that.

“The guidelines have been set out in terms of people going out for exercise reasons either on their own or with people in their household, people need to stick to those guidelines and we are going to stick with those guidelines.”

Could coronavirus be stopped by warm weather?

Not enough is known about the deadly infection to know whether warmer weather will have a large impact on how prolific the virus is.

Evidence from similar viruses suggests that the virus may transmit less efficiently in the spring and summer months. 

Alongside the temperature, it is thought humidity, differences in human behaviour and the strength of one’s immune system play a role in this pattern.

Scientists believe COVID-19 may find it harder to transmit during the summer months, but not all researchers are in agreement with this and still advise people to continue with the Government’s advice to save lives.

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Ukraine tightens restrictions to fight coronavirus spread

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s government on Friday imposed a series of new restrictions designed to prevent the coronavirus outbreak spreading widely but said it hoped to soften the measures again in late April.

Ukraine reported 138 new cases of the coronavirus over the past day, taking the total number of infected people to 942 with 23 deaths.

“The coronavirus infection continues to spread in Ukraine. The only way to break the chain of infection and save lives is to strengthen quarantine measures,” Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said in a televised statement.

Last month, the government imposed an emergency regime across the country with the new measures from April 6 additionally prohibiting visits to parks and sports fields, banning gatherings of more than two people, and obliging everyone to wear masks and carry ID cards when outside their homes.

Educational institutions, restaurants, cafes, entertainment and fitness centres remain closed, the government said.

Regional authorities must establish border points with mandatory inspections of passing vehicles, and all arrivals must spend a mandatory 14-days in quarantine.

But Shmygal said that the government could soften the restrictions later this month, starting with the resumption of public transport and allowing people to go to work.

“This will allow us to restart the economy from the beginning of May,” Shmygal said.

Earlier on Friday the government said it had sharply revised Ukraine’s economic outlook, expecting the economy to shrink by 4.8% in 2020 due to the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the virus.

It had forecast that the economy would grow by 3.7%. The government also expects inflation will speed up to 11.6% from an earlier estimate of 5.5%.

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Russian ventilators shipped to U.S. made by firm under U.S. sanctions: RBC

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ventilators delivered by Russia to the United States to help treat patients of the new coronavirus were manufactured by a Russian company that is under U.S. sanctions, Russia’s RBC business daily reported on Friday.

A Russian military plane carrying the ventilators landed in New York on Wednesday after U.S. President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone.

Russian state television footage of the plane’s unloading showed boxes of “Aventa-M” ventilators, which are produced by the Ural Instrument Engineering Plant (UPZ) in the city of Chelyabinsk, 1,500 km (930 miles) east of Moscow, RBC reported.

UPZ is part of a holding company called Concern Radio-Electronic Technologies (KRET), which itself is a unit of Russian state conglomerate Rostec.

KRET has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014, with U.S. firms and nationals barred from doing business with it.

In a statement on Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said the United States had agreed to purchase medical supplies from Russia, but it made no mention of any company nor regarding sanctions.

“Both countries have provided humanitarian assistance to each other in times of crisis in the past and will no doubt do so again in the future. This is a time to work together to overcome a common enemy that threatens the lives of all of us,” said the statement, issued by State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

U.S. officials in Washington could not immediately be reached for further comment on Friday. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it had nothing to add beyond what Ortagus had already said.

The United States initially began imposing economic sanctions on Russia in 2014 to punish it for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Additional rounds of sanctions have since been imposed on Moscow in response to its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and alleged involvement in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in Britain in 2018. Moscow denies both allegations.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova expressed surprise and disappointment that anyone was questioning what Moscow has cast as a sincere goodwill gesture meant to help the United States at a time of crisis.

“Aren’t ventilators needed in the United States?,” she said, saying Russia could take them back if they were not wanted.

Trump on Thursday described the Russian shipment as containing “a lot of medical, high-quality stuff” which could save a lot of lives and said he’d “take it every day” if he had the opportunity.

Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which said it had paid for half the shipment of medical equipment to the United States, was also added to U.S. sectoral sanctions in 2015.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow had paid half the cost with the other half picked up by Washington, though a Trump administration official later said the United States had picked up the whole tab.

RDIF declined to comment.

Rostec, the state conglomerate which ultimately owns the Russian ventilator plant, told Reuters that its units were producing ventilators for the domestic market as part of the Russian government’s measures to fight the virus.

The decision to ship its products internationally was the prerogative of the Russian president and government, it said.

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