Kroger will give bonuses to frontline grocery workers

The Kroger Company has announced a “Hero Bonus” for frontline workers to reward them for working during the coronavirus outbreak, including employees at its King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado.

Albertsons Companies, owners of Safeway, announced a similar bonus for their workers on March 20.

The Cincinnati-based Kroger supermarket chain will provide all frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates a $2 premium above their standard base pay for hours worked March 29 through April 18, according to a company news release.

Employees will receive the premium weekly to ensure they have access to additional cash.

“Our associates have displayed the true actions of a hero, working tirelessly on the frontlines to ensure everyone has access to affordable, fresh food and essentials during this national emergency,” Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO, said in the release. “The Hero Bonus is just one more way we continue to convey our thanks and gratitude not only to our existing associates but also to the more than 30,000 new hires who have joined in the past two weeks and those who will soon join the Kroger Family of Companies.”

The announcement follows a commitment by the company to provide a one-time bonus to frontline associates which will be paid on April 3.

Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Companies, owners of Safeway, announced a similar $2 per-hour premium for all non-union and union frontline employees on March 20.

The temporary increase was effective March 15, 2020 until at least the end of the following pay period on March 28, 2020 for approximately 230,000 Albertsons’ associates. Albertsons has extended the pay boost until April 4, Kris Staff, a spokesperson for Albertsons/Safeway, said.

 

 

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China readies stimulus measures as local virus cases dwindle

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s authorities plan stronger steps to revive an economy hit by the spread of coronavirus, as the nation on Saturday reported no new locally transmitted infections for the previous day.

The ruling Communist Party’s Politburo said on Friday it would step up macroeconomic policy adjustments and pursue more proactive fiscal policy, state media reported. With the world’s second-biggest economy expected to shrink for the first time in four decades this quarter, China is set to unleash hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus.

The Politburo called for expanding the budget deficit, issuing more local and national bonds, guiding interest rates lower, delaying loan repayments, reducing supply-chain bottlenecks and boosting consumption.

“We expect government ministries to roll out more tangible measures in the coming weeks as this Politburo meeting gave them no choice but to do more,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note.

The Politburo did not elaborate on plans for the central government to issue special treasury bonds, which would be the first such issuance since 2007.

Restrictions on foreigners entering the country went into effect on Saturday, as China reported no new locally transmitted infections and a small drop in so-called imported cases.

Airlines have been ordered to sharply cut international flights from Sunday.

Beijing has in recent days emphasized the risk posed by imported virus cases after widespread lockdowns within China helped to sharply reduce domestic transmissions. The Politburo said it would shift its focus to prevent more imported cases and a rebound in locally transmitted infections.

“We must be extremely vigilant and cautious, and we must prevent the post-epidemic relaxation from coming too soon, leading to the loss of all our achievements,” the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

The authorities also reversed planned reopenings of movie theaters, the state-owned China Securities Journal reported, citing sources.

DEATH TOLL AT 3,295

China’s National Health Commission said on Saturday that 54 new coronavirus cases were reported on the mainland on Friday, all imported cases. There were 55 new cases a day earlier, one of which was transmitted locally.

The number of infections for mainland China stands at 81,394, with the death toll rising by three to 3,295, the commission said.

Hubei province reported no new cases, and three new deaths. The province of 60 million, where the virus was first detected, has recorded 67,801 coronavirus cases and 3,177 deaths.

Shanghai reported the highest number of new cases, with 17. An additional 11 cases were reported in Guangdong, six in Fujian, five in Tianjin, four in Zhejiang, three each in Beijing and Liaoning, two each in Inner Mongolia and Jilin, and one in Shandong.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday that China would support U.S. efforts to fight the coronavirus.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States rose by at least 16,000 on Friday to nearly 102,000, the most of any country.

George Gao, the director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, urged people to wear masks to control the virus’s spread overseas.

Gao told the journal Science in an interview published late on Friday that the “big mistake in the United States and Europe has been the failure to wear masks, which “can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.”

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Airlines call on government to underwrite industry charges

Airlines have called on the government to underwrite hundreds of millions of pounds in regulatory and air traffic control charges as they seek to navigate through the escalating coronavirus crisis.

Sky News has obtained a letter sent on Wednesday by Airlines UK, the industry’s main lobbying group, to Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, in which it calls again for a package of emergency support.

In the letter, Airlines UK urged the government to suspend – rather than defer – air passenger duty payments for six months following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It called for the waiving of air traffic control (ATC) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) charges for the whole of 2020, “with payments guaranteed by [the government] so National Air Traffic Services and the CAA can continue to be paid and function as critical enablers of the wider UK aviation landscape, both through the current crisis and then into the recovery phase”.

Airlines UK, whose members include British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, also repeated a call for a moratorium on all litigated claims under EC261, the European law which requires airlines to refund passengers for cancelled flights.

“Carriers should also be permitted to issue vouchers instead of refunds and, should refunds be required, carriers should be permitted to defer payment until the crisis period is over and as defined by air traffic volumes, rather than time period,” the group said.

The letter from Airlines UK comes a day after Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, told British carriers that they could expect to engage in discussions with the government about “bespoke” aid “only as a last resort”.

Mr Sunak said airlines would need to exhaust the resources of their existing shareholders and financial stakeholders before the government would consider an injection of debt or equity.

Tim Alderslade, Airlines UK chief executive, said: “A million people work in UK aviation all over the country.

“It is one of the UK’s international assets, as the third largest globally behind only China and the US.

“We welcome that the Government will enter into negotiations with individual airlines, but we also want to work with them on policy actions that could be taken now which could also have a considerable impact.”

Mr Alderslade added that airlines welcomed Mr Sunak’s confirmation that the government would be prepared to enter talks with individual airlines about “bespoke support”.

The latest industry data suggests that aggregate passenger revenues will fall globally by $252bn as a result of the virus outbreak.

Markets with severe travel restrictions now cover 98% of global passenger revenues, Airlines UK said.

Mr Alderslade also urged Mr Shapps to provide more detail about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme unveiled by Mr Sunak late last week.

“Please can we urge that further clarity is provided as soon as possible owing to the severe cash pressures that airlines are facing,” he wrote.

Mr Sunak’s comments held open the possibility that the government could take a stake in some British airlines, but underlined the remoteness of such a prospect.

The Treasury is keen for major airline shareholders such as easyJet’s Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Virgin Atlantic’s Sir Richard Branson to inject further sums before they can turn to the government for more support.

Mr Sunak also hinted that the Treasury was close to unveiling a further credit facility for companies which do not have an investment grade credit rating.

“I have listened to feedback that suggests some companies including airlines are uncertain whether they can access this Facility – which is for companies rated as investment grade or equivalent,” he wrote.

“I am in discussions to resolve this uncertainty and further announcements will be made shortly.”

Sky News revealed last week that Rothschild, the investment bank, had been asked to advise ministers on a package of measures, and that one option could include direct taxpayer investments in airline shares.

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Mainland China reports drop in new imported coronavirus cases, no local transmissions

BEIJING (Reuters) – Mainland China reported a drop in new confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday as imported infections fell and no locally transmitted infections were reported, including in central Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak in China.

The number of new cases totaled 47 on Tuesday, all of which were from travelers returning home, down from 78 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said.

New imported cases in Beijing, Guangdong and Fujian declined, though the daily tally of new imported infections rose to a record 19 cases in the financial hub of Shanghai.

New cases of infected international arrivals were also reported in Tianjin, Inner Mongolia, Jiangsu, Sichuan, Jilin, Zhejiang, Shandong and Shaanxi.

The total accumulated number of confirmed cases in mainland China stands at 81,218, with imported infections accounting for 474 cases.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China reached 3,281 as of the end of Tuesday, up by four from the previous day.

(This story corrects mainland China death toll in last paragraph.)

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