Coronavirus latest: California surpasses 600,000 Covid-19 cases

Texas reports near-record one-day jump in deaths

Texas reported more than 300 new coronavirus deaths on Friday, one of its biggest one-day jumps on record.

A further 313 people died, the state health department revealed, up from an increase of 255 on Thursday. Texas reported a record increase of 324 fatalities on Wednesday.

Since the pandemic began, 9,602 people in Texas have died from the virus, the fourth-highest tally among US states.

A further 7,018 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, working out at 16.06 per cent of tests conducted for the day. That positivity rate is roughly on par with Thursday’s figure.

A surge in the positivity rate over the past week to a record 24.5 per cent on Wednesday prompted governor Greg Abbott to order an investigation into its rapid rise. Mr Abbott said a key reason for the rise in the positivity rate was that fewer people in Texas have been coming forward to be tested than during July despite there being “abundant” testing capacity.

Greece announces new measures to combat coronavirus resurgence

Kerin Hope in Athens

Greece announced a partial lockdown on Paros and Antiparos, two popular Cycladic islands, and a midnight curfew for bars and restaurants in Athens in a bid to contain a surge in coronavirus cases across the country.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister, appealed on Friday to young people to show a greater sense of responsibility as the average age of new Covid-19 victims dipped below 45, according to Greek health authorities.

“Be careful, and understand that you are not invulnerable…and take care to protect your parents and your grandparents who are certainly not invulnerable,” he said.

Gatherings of more than nine people were banned on Paros and neighbouring Antiparos; face-masks were made mandatory both outside and inside; and restaurants were restricted to seating groups of six people or less.

Both islands are seen as a source of Covid-19 infections in Athens brought by returning holidaymakers, an official at the public health organisation EODY said.

Bars, clubs and restaurants in Athens were set to close at midnight for at least a week. Gatherings, whether inside or outside, were restricted to a maximum of 50 people in Crete, Rhodes and Zakynthos, among the most popular islands with foreign tourists.

Greece reported 254 new confirmed cases of the virus on Friday, of which 98 were recorded in the capital. The rolling average of cases rose above 200 this week for the first time.Two deaths were recorded bringing the total to 223 since March.

US stocks move sideways to end week

US stocks were mostly flat on Friday, after the latest batch of economic data included figures showing retail sales growth eased last month.

The S&P 500 fell a fraction as losses in the defensive utility sector and health care shares offset gains in energy. The index remains about 0.4 per cent away from its record high set in February. The Nasdaq Composite fell 0.2 per cent, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.1 per cent.

Retail sales climbed 1.2 per cent in July, less than economists expected but enough to bring spending back to pre-pandemic levels. A survey from the University of Michigan said consumer sentiment edged higher, although policy gridlock in Washington began to weigh on optimism.

The S&P 500 notched its third consecutive week of gains. It was up 0.6 per cent this week. The Nasdaq advanced 0.1 per cent as the recent rally in technology shares cooled.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury held steady near 0.713 per cent on Friday. Gold traded 0.5 per cent lower.

Public in Ireland and Northern Ireland asked to limit social contact

Arthur Beesley in Dublin

Ireland and Northern Ireland urged people to curtail social contact amid rising Covid-19 cases in both jurisdictions that have spurred concern about a second coronavirus wave.

Dublin has reported 67 new infections, bringing the total to 26,995, although there were no further reported deaths on Friday after 1,774 fatalities.

The republic imposed tough new restrictions on three midlands counties one week ago. But Ronan Glynn, acting chief medical officer, said on Friday that cases rose “all across the country” this week.

“We must continue to do all we can to avoid a return to where we were in March and April,” he said. “It is crucial to keep your social contacts low to limit the spread of this disease.”

The northern authorities at Stormont outside Belfast reported one further death, after new data showed there were 859 fatalities to August 7 in which Covid-19 was cited on the death certificate. The region said 74 new cases on Friday took the total number of infections to 6,299.

Robin Swann, Northern Ireland’s health minister, said the number of close contacts linked to positive cases has more than doubled since July. “This rise may be attributed to the easing of lockdown measures, but may also be explained by relaxing of attitudes to social distancing.”

Obama encourages early voting amid debate over mail-in ballots

Barack Obama encouraged people to vote early and accused the Trump administration of an attempt at “suppressing the vote”, even as Donald Trump said he would consider additional funding for the US Postal Service amid a debate over mail-in ballots.

“Everyone depends on the USPS. Seniors for their Social Security, veterans for their prescriptions, small businesses trying to keep their doors open. They can’t be collateral damage for an administration more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus,” the former president tweeted on Friday.

The comments followed similar accusations recently from Mr Obama and other Democrats in anticipation of higher than usual demand for absentee voting due to coronavirus. Louis DeJoy, the US postmaster general, said at a meeting last week of the US Postal Service’s board of governors: “The notion that I would ever make decisions concerning the Postal Service at the direction of the president, or anyone else in the administration, is wholly off-base.”

Mr Trump told reporters on Friday that he would be willing to approve a congressional proposal to send $25bn in funds to the Postal Service if Democrats agree to economic stimulus measures. Mr Trump referred to tweets he sent on Friday saying his administration would be ready to send another round of direct cheques to Americans and loans to small businesses, in addition to funds for state and local governments. Mr Trump said earlier this week he would also consider a separate bill to send money to the Postal Service.

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, indicated on Friday that the state will mostly utilise mail-in voting in November by sending ballots to registered voters without requiring an absentee ballot application. Lawmakers in Nevada have passed a bill to automatically mail ballots to voters – a plan that drew a lawsuit from the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said this week Americans should be able to safely vote in person.

“If you go and wear a mask, if you observe the physical distancing and don’t have a crowded situation, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that,” Dr Fauci said during a National Geographic event.

“I mean, obviously if you’re a person who is compromised physically or otherwise, you don’t want to take the chance. There’s the situation of mail-in voting that has been done for years in many places. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to vote in person or otherwise.”

California becomes first US state to surpass 600,000 Covid-19 cases

California reported one its biggest daily jumps in coronavirus cases on Friday as it became the first US state to confirm 600,000 infections since the start of the pandemic.

A further 7,934 people tested positive, California’s health department revealed, up from an increase of 7,085 on Thursday.

That took the overall tally in the most populous US state to 601,075.

For the past several days, California’s health department has been adding in “backlogged cases that would have been reported in earlier days and weeks” if not for a data system glitch that was discovered early last week and has since been fixed. The glitch resulted in an undercounting of positive cases.

Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press conference this afternoon that today would be the last time those backlogged cases would be added to the daily data. Of the cases reported on Friday, 4,429 were from the backlog and 3,505 were from tests over the past 24 hours.

It has taken California 13 days to add its most recent 100,000 cases, a slowdown from the 11 days it took the state to go from 400,000 infections to 500,000, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

California’s death toll, the third-highest among US states, rose by a further 188 to 10,996. That was up from a daily jump of 160 on Thursday and ranks as its fifth-biggest single-day increase on record, according to an FT analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

Alabama governor’s chief of staff quarantining at home

The chief of staff of Alabama’s governor has begun quarantining at home after his wife tested positive for coronavirus.

Jo Bonner, chief of staff, is not displaying symptoms of the virus, but is self-quarantining at home, said Gina Maiola, spokeswoman for governor Kay Ivey.

Mr Bonner’s wife Janee took a test after attending a visitation for a funeral last Friday in the city of Mobile and subsequently learning a number of the attendees had tested positive for Covid-19, local media reported. Ms Bonner tested positive, but is not showing symptoms of the virus.

Mr Bonner was not with Ms Ivey, Alabama’s 75-year-old Republican governor, this week and Ms Bonner has not been around the governor in several months, Ms Maiola said.

Alabama has confirmed more than 105,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, the 14th-highest among US states, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data. The state has reported 1,890 fatalities, the 21st-highest toll in the US.

Neighbours in Turkey tasked with coronavirus monitoring

Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul

Turkey imposed strict new measures to enforce social distancing after a recent jump in coronavirus cases, including using neighbourhood informants and electronic monitoring to ensure patients recovering from the disease remain at home.

Neighbourhood inspection teams, made up of civil servants, religious figures, apartment managers, teachers and other prominent local figures, will monitor patients’ whereabouts and inform authorities if they defy stay-at-home orders from public health officials, the Interior Ministry said in a circular on Friday.

Those who shirk orders could face fines or up to two years in prison, the circular said. The rule also applies to people who have been instructed to quarantine after coming into contact with a Covid-19 patient.

“Some citizens diagnosed with Covid-19 or who were in contact with sufferers were found to have violated their responsibility to remain isolated at home, citing urgent work. They are seriously risking public health by participating in social life,” the ministry said. “All precautions, including electronic [monitoring], will be taken so that people abide isolation orders.”

Turkey is grappling with a surge in Covid-19 cases after lifting a partial lockdown in June. Daily new cases have been above 1,000 each day since August 4. The novel coronavirus has killed more than 5,900 people and infected almost 245,700 others in Turkey.

Medical professionals have warned that summer holiday travel and a lack of restrictions on economic activity are pushing cases up. Turkey has touted its low death rate – just 2.4 per cent of total cases – as evidence the outbreak is under control.

But the recent rise in cases prompted the government on Wednesday to postpone the start of in-person education by three weeks to September 21. The country’s 18m or so primary and high school students will instead begin remote learning on August 31, when schools were supposed to open. Children have been out of school in Turkey since mid-March.

Separately, two premiere league football clubs on Friday announced a handful of players have contracted the disease. Two players at Istanbul’s Galatasaray were diagnosed, as was one player on the Black Sea team of Trabzonspor, according to media reports. The 2020-2021 season is slated to begin September 11.

Florida reports more than 200 daily deaths for third time in four days

Florida reported its fifth biggest one-day jump in coronavirus fatalities on Friday, the third time in four days its death toll has risen by more than 200.

A further 229 people died in Florida, the state’s health department revealed this morning, up from 149 on Thursday. The state set a record daily jump of 277 deaths on Tuesday.

That has brought the seven-day average up to 175 deaths a day, having hit a peak rate of 185 10 days ago.

Over the past 24 hours, 6,148 people in Florida tested positive for coronavirus, down slightly from 6,236 yesterday and compared with an average over the past week of 6,459 new infections a day.

Just over 89,000 tests were conducted over the past day, the most in about a week. Of these, 8.08 per cent came back positive, the lowest level in at least a fortnight and down from 9.5 per cent on Thursday.

US consumer sentiment levels off as ‘policy gridlock’ enters view

Americans were feeling more optimistic this month than economists anticipated, even as concerns over the gridlock on Capitol Hill began to weigh on sentiment.

A closely watched index measuring consumer sentiment rose to 72.8 in August, the University of Michigan said in a preliminary survey. That was up from a final reading of 72.5 in July and better than a consensus forecast of 72.

Consumer sentiment was one point higher than its April low, but it remained below a June reading of 78.1.

A sub-index tracking consumers’ view of current economic conditions was also largely unchanged in early August, falling to 82.5 from 82.8. Consumer expectations rose to 66.5, up from 65.9.

Since April, respondents have been more pessimistic about the five-year economic outlook, while they have shown more optimism about buying conditions.

Lower interest rates prompted more favourable buying, particularly for homes, according to Richard Curtin, chief economist of the university’s surveys of consumers. He said the stalemate between lawmakers in Washington was responsible for consumers’ weaker outlook, as negotiations over a new stimulus package remained stalled.

“The policy gridlock has acted to increase uncertainty and heightened the need for precautionary funds to offset lapses in economic relief programs and to hedge against fears about the persistence and spread of the coronavirus as the school year gets underway,” Mr Curtin said.

“Bad economic times are anticipated to persist not only during the year ahead, but the majority of consumers expect no return to a period of uninterrupted growth over the next five years.”

US productivity rises by the most since 2009

American workers’ productivity rebounded by the most in 11 years in the second quarter as the number of hours worked tumbled during the coronavirus pandemic.

US non-farm business sector productivity jumped at a 7.3 per cent annualised rate in the April to June quarter — the biggest increase since the second quarter of 2009, the labour department said on Friday.

That exceeded economists’ expectations for a 1.5 per cent increase and followed a 0.3 per cent decline the in the first three months of the year.

The rise in productivity came as employment fell at a faster rate than workers’ output during coronavirus lockdowns.

The number of hours worked fell 43 per cent — the largest such decline since records began in 1947. That helped push unit labour costs — which measures the average cost of labour for each unit of output produce — at a 12.2 per cent rate.

Slowing investment had weighed on productivity for years and suppressed wage gains and economists caution that despite the second quarter jump productivity growth will remain soft as the US economy recovers.

“Looking ahead, productivity growth will revive at a sluggish pace during the recovery from the pandemic,” said Oren Klachkin, economist at Oxford Economics. “We expect the underlying structural factors that suppressed productivity growth over the past decade to continue, constraining GDP growth and ensuring interest rates stay low.”

US industrial production advances for third straight month

US industrial production grew at a slower pace in July but advanced for a third straight month, as America’s factories ramped up output after shutdowns related to the pandemic.

The Federal Reserve said industrial production – which tracks output at factories, mines and utilities – rose 3 per cent versus the prior month, matching economists’ forecast. The index gained 5.7 per cent in June and 0.9 per cent in May, but it remains 8.4 per cent below its pre-pandemic level in February.

“Most major industries posted increases, though they were much smaller in magnitude than the advances recorded in June,” the central bank noted. Motor vehicles and parts recorded the largest gain, 28.3 per cent. Factory production elsewhere was up 1.6 per cent. Mining production, which had fallen for five months running, climbed 0.8 per cent.

Output at utilities increased 3.3 per cent on heavy demand for air conditioning amid warm temperatures.

Capacity utilisation in the industrial sector sat at 70.6 per cent, a gain of 2.1 percentage points month-to-month and 6.4 percentage points above its April low.

Local lockdowns in northern England to remain in effect

Laura Hughes

Existing local lockdowns in Leicester and other parts of northern England will remain in place, the government has announced, after evidence showed there has been no decrease in coronavirus infection rates.

“The latest evidence does not show a decrease in the number of cases per 100,000 people in the area”, the health department said on Friday.

Restrictions in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, East Lancashire and Leicester, which ban people from meeting different households indoors or in private gardens, will therefore continue.

The department added that the latest data showed cases were continuing to rise in Oldham and Pendle while numbers remain high in Blackburn with Darwen.

Edward Argar, health minister, said:

I’d like to thank everyone in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, East Lancashire and Leicester for their continued patience in following these vital rules put in place to tackle the spread of the disease – I know it hasn’t been easy.

We will review the measures again next week as part of our ongoing surveillance and monitoring of the latest data.

It is essential we all remain vigilant, and I urge everyone in these areas to continue to follow the rules – wash your hands regularly, follow social distancing, get yourself a free test as soon as you get any symptoms, and isolate if NHS Test and Trace tells you to.

Retail spending rebound cools as Covid strikes parts of US

US retail sales climbed in July for a third month and were back at pre-pandemic levels, but the pace of spending cooled in the face of a rise in coronavirus cases in the American south and west.

Overall retail sales rose 1.2 per cent month-on-month in July, the Commerce Department said, below expectations for a 1.9 per cent increase. That followed gains of 8.4 per cent in June and a record 18.2 per cent increase in May.

The figures were boosted by a jump in sales of clothing and accessories, electronics and sales at bars and restaurants. However sales of auto and parts slid.

So-called control sales, which strip out more volatile items such as food, petrol and building materials, rose 1.4 per cent, also ahead of expectations for a 0.8 per cent rise. 

The US resumed hiring over summer as lockdowns eased, which helped boost consumer spending, one of the biggest drivers of economic growth. However, the expiration of $600 in weekly income in July could be a factor weighing on Americans’ spending plans. Amid Congressional stalemate on further aid, US President Donald Trump last week signed executive orders to extend some relief measures, including one to provide at least $300 a week in additional benefits.

A rise in coronavirus cases in the southern and western parts of the US, some of which have paused or rolled back their reopening plans could affect spending. Moreover, with schools in parts of the country taking classes online, retailers could also face a much softer back-to-school shopping season.

Overall retail sales were back at pre-pandemic levels and were up 2.7 per cent from the same period a year ago, Friday’s report showed.

“US monthly retail sales have more than fully recovered from the crisis,” said James Knightley economist at ING, but “maintaining those levels may be more challenging as fiscal support wanes and structural adjustments start emerging,” he added.

Spain closes nightclubs and curbs smoking outside

Ian Mount in Madrid

Spain will close all discotheques and cocktail bars and limit smoking in public spaces as it seeks to stem Europe’s fastest growing resurgence of coronavirus cases.

Restaurants and other bars will not be allowed to admit customers after midnight and will have to close by 1am, the health minister said on Friday afternoon.

Gathering to drink in public spaces such as parks, a common practice for young people in Spain known as a botellón, will be banned, Salvador Illa said.

The tobacco restriction prohibits smoking when smokers cannot maintain a two-metre distance from other people.

“Outbreaks in nightlife generate many cases and, due to the very nature of these facilities, it is very difficult to find the contacts,” Mr Illa said after a videoconference with the health authorities of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions.

Spain has reported nearly 3,000 new daily cases as it grapples with a steep rise in infections, especially in Madrid and in the northern part of the country that runs from the Basque country to Catalonia.

The ministry on Thursday reported 2,935 cases over the latest 24-hour period, the highest daily total since April. That pushed the ratio of new cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days above 100.

The number of deaths of those with a previous Covid-19 diagnosis rose by 26, to 28,605. Spain has 837 active outbreaks.

The rise in cases has been concentrated in younger people and a large percentage have been asymptomatic.

US stocks set for quiet opening near record high

The S&P 500 was set for a muted opening as it hovers close to its all-time high, after European equities dropped on new travel restrictions and stalling negotiations for fresh US stimulus to support the economic recovery in the world’s biggest economy.

Futures for the US stocks benchmark index were down 0.1 per cent on Friday, suggesting the index would make a gentle move lower when Wall Street opens for trading.

The mild fall in futures trading comes after equities dropped in Europe. The continent-wide Europe Stoxx 600 fell 1.3 per cent in afternoon trading, with stocks linked to tourism among the biggest losers. The UK’s decision late on Thursday to place travellers returning from France and the Netherlands under quarantine for 14 days weighed on shares in travel groups.

Positive US economic data this week have dented traders’ expectations that the White House and Congress would quickly agree on a new support package for millions of Americans left unemployed by Covid-19.

Candice Bangsund, portfolio manager at Fiera Capital, said that expectations remained positive for an agreement on a stimulus package to be reached, despite negotiations reaching an impasse.

“Investors are taking a step back after such a strong run to reassess their positions,” she said. “Up until the last few days, investors had been largely unfazed by the stalemate in the stimulus talks.”

Case increase in England levels off, weekly estimates show

Clive Cookson in London

Coronavirus infections in England rose slightly last month but are more or less flat, the latest weekly survey reveals.

“This week’s estimate suggests that the increase in infections in England seen in July has now levelled off,” said Katherine Kent, lead analyst on the survey.

An estimated 28,300 people living within the community were infected with Covid-19 from August 3 to 9, about one in 1,900 individuals, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday.

During the same week there were around 0.69 new COVID-19 infections for every 10,000 people living outside hospitals and care homes in England, or around 3,800 new cases per day.

For comparison, figures from Public Health England show about 1,000 people a day officially testing positive for coronavirus. The gap illustrates the number of people who are not tested because their symptoms are non-existent or very mild.

Turkey’s current account deficit widens as tourists stay away

Ayla Jean Yackley

Turkey’s current account was in deficit for a seventh month in June, as tourism revenue and investment dried up during the coronavirus pandemic, exposing a major vulnerability in the government’s growth-at-all-costs policies.

The deficit registered at $2.93bn for June, slightly below the $3bn expected in a Bloomberg poll, from $548m in the same month last year, central bank data showed. For the first half of the year, the deficit was almost $20bn, or 3 per cent of gross domestic product.

The widening deficit adds to pressure on the lira, which has lost about a fifth of its value against the dollar this year, as Turkey struggles to attract foreign currency to finance the imbalance. The currency slipped around 0.5 per cent against the dollar on Friday to almost TL7.38, a historic low.

Turkey suffers from a chronic deficit in its current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, due to its reliance on energy imports and intermediary goods for manufacturing.

A credit boom pushed by the government to revive the virus-hit economy has spurred consumer and corporate demand for imports. Imports worth $15.27bn in June outpaced exports of $13.22bn, the central bank said.

The main driver of the June deficit was a net outflow of $294m in services, which includes tourism, compared with a net inflow of $3.4bn in June 2019. Foreign investors’ flight from Turkey also exacerbated the deficit, as portfolio investments recorded a net outflow of about $1.5bn in June.

The drop in investment “signals that foreigners fundamentally don’t trust the monetary policy settings in Turkey,” Timothy Ash, an analyst at BlueBay Asset Management, said in a note to clients.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, said on Friday the recent lira weakness was in fact due to “attacks” originating from abroad, a common refrain from previous periods of currency weakness in recent years.

Rolling average of Covid-19 cases in countries removed from UK list

Steve Bernard, senior visual journalist

The UK this week widened its quarantine net to France, the Netherlands and Malta as part of its weekly review of its “travel corridor” list of countries considered coronavirus safe.

From early Saturday, travellers returning to England from those three European destinations as well as Monaco, Turks and Caicos, and Aruba will face 14 days stuck at home to ensure they have not been infected with Covid-19.

Each of these countries has recorded a rising case count over the past few weeks.

France has signalled some retaliation but the Netherlands has recognised that Covid-19 has tightened its grip especially among young people in Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

This chart, with the seven-day rolling average of new Covid-19 cases, shows the lead-up to the UK government’s decision, that was announced late on Thursday:

Europe’s labour market suffers record loss of 5m jobs

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

The European labour market has shrunk by a record amount in the second quarter, when the number of people employed in the EU fell by 2.6 per cent, a reduction of almost 5m people.

The figures, published by Eurostat on Friday, underline how coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on the region’s labour market, after many companies shed large numbers of jobs or placed a significant portion of workers on government-backed furlough schemes.

Eurostat said the loss of jobs was sharper in the eurozone, where the number of employed people dropped 2.8 per cent in the second quarter. It said that the figures for the EU and eurozone were “the sharpest declines observed since [the] time series started in 1995”. Eurostat said last month there were 190.9m people employed in the EU at the end of the first quarter.

The coronavirus pandemic dragged the eurozone economy into a historic recession in the second quarter, when gross domestic product fell by a record 12.1 per cent from the first quarter. That meant the economy shrank by a historic 15 per cent from a year ago.

Since May, however, there have been signs that the eurozone economy is recovering faster than expected. Eurostat said on Friday that exports from the eurozone rose almost a third between May and June, although they remain 10 per cent below the level of a year ago.

Purchasing managers’ indices pointed to a strong rebound in activity for manufacturing and consumer industries across the eurozone in July, fuelling confidence that the region’s industrial output will rebound strongly in the third quarter.

EasyJet rules out scrapping schedule after UK’s quarantine list review

EasyJet has no plans to cancel flights and will keep to its schedule after the UK removed France, the Netherlands and Malta from its “travel corridor” list of 70 or so countries.

“We plan to operate our full schedule in the coming days,” the low-cost airline said in a statement on Friday, hours after the UK government made its decision to review the list.

However the airline group has pulled its package holidays to the three European destinations until the end of the month. Holidays to Spain, Cyprus and Portugal have already been cancelled. The airline said it will refund holidaymakers fully as soon as possible.

“Customers who no longer wish to travel can transfer their flights without a change fee or receive a voucher for the value of the booking,” the group said.

Should any flights be cancelled for later in August, customers will be notified and informed of their options which includes transferring to an alternative flight free of charge, receiving a voucher or applying for a refund.”

Travellers returning to England from Paris and Amsterdam as of 4am on Saturday will have to quarantine for 14 days once they are back.

The countries, which have reported rising coronavirus cases in recent days, join other important easyJet destinations such as Portugal and Spain on the quarantine frontline.

Transport and travel shares have taken a beating in the first trading session since the UK government unveiled its decision late on Thursday.

Shares in easyJet and British Airways’ parent International Airlines Group fell about 7 per cent in early Friday trading, while those in Ryanair and Tui dropped roughly 5 per cent.

However, many holidaymakers have kept to their original plans and taken a summer break in the sunshine, opting to self-isolate afterwards.

Faro has remained on EasyJet’s top 5 list of destinations this summer, the airline said, even though Portugal has been off the UK government’s “safe” list for some time.

Dutch economy outshines neighbours even as it shrinks 8.5%

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

The Dutch economy shrank by a record 8.5 per cent in the second quarter, after the coronavirus pandemic triggered a heavy fall in household spending and business investment.

However, the decline in Dutch gross domestic product reported by Statistics Netherlands was less than that suffered by most other eurozone economies, including Germany, Spain, France and Italy, which all reported quarterly contractions above 10 per cent. The UK economy fell over 20 per cent in the quarter.

There are also signs that the Dutch economy is rebounding quickly after a monthly survey of 7,500 companies in the country found that overall business confidence had started to rebound, rising from a record low of minus 37.2 in April to minus 19.3 in July.

The fall in the Dutch economy in the second quarter, which takes the year-on-year economic decline to 9.3 per cent, was far worse than the one suffered after the 2008 financial crisis but it was still not as deep as many economists had expected.

The country has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, but its jobless rate jumped from 3 per cent in the first quarter to 3.8 per cent in the second.

UK transport secretary sees 160,000 holidaymakers facing quarantine

Laura Hughes in London

Grant Shapps, the UK transport secretary, expects 160,000 British holidaymakers returning from France will be affected by the quarantine rules that come into force on Saturday.

Mr Shapps on Friday insisted that travellers were aware of the risks of travelling over the summer and dismissed calls for those now unable to return to work to receive compensation.

“People this year will have gone away knowing that there was a significant risk, and because of that people will have gone with their eyes open,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mr Shapps warned Britons will be “breaking the law” if they fail to quarantine for 14-days on their return.

“You may well find that people call up to check where you are, and you’ll be breaking the law if you were not quarantining,” he told BBC Breakfast on Friday morning.

“We’ve worked so hard in this country to get our level of infections down, the last thing we want do is to have people returning and bringing the infection with them,” he said. “It’s to protect everybody.”

European equities slip in face of mixed signals for global economy

European stocks slipped as uncertainty weighed on the travel industry and sluggish Chinese economic data suppressed hopes for a quick economic recovery.

The continent-wide Euro Stoxx 600 fell 0.7 per cent on Friday in early trading. London’s FTSE 100 shed 0.8 per cent and the CAC 40 in Paris dropped 0.9 per cent, while the fall for Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax was milder.

Travel companies were some of Europe’s biggest losers following the UK’s decision late on Thursday to make returning travellers from France and the Netherlands quarantine for 14 days, with Paris to follow suit with reciprocal requirements. Shares in Tui and easyJet fell more than 5 per cent, while those in Ryanair and British Airways parent IAG dropped by about 3 per cent.

S&P 500 futures were flat, as the US benchmark equities index hovers close to its all-time intraday high.

UK scoops up early orders of vaccine doses to bring total to 340m

Donato Paolo Mancini in Rome and Clive Cookson in London

The UK has secured early orders for a combined total of 90m coronavirus vaccine doses, as global efforts intensify to find effective inoculation against Covid-19.

The deals bring the total amount for which Britain has secured an early option to at least 340m, one of the world’s biggest stockpiles.

US-based Johnson & Johnson is developing its Ad26 Covid-19 jab candidate and will work with the UK government on a phase-three trial — the last step before a vaccine or drug is marketed if the trial is successful — to investigate a two-dose regimen for its inoculation. The study will run in parallel with another phase-three trial studying single-dose administration.

The UK is to place an order for 30m doses of J&J’s vaccine, with an option to acquire a further 22m doses. It has already acquired a total of 250m doses of four other vaccines made by Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and others.

Separately on Friday, Novavax said the UK had agreed to purchase 60m doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine. The two are to collaborate on a phase-three clinical trial in the UK from the third quarter.

Novavax will also broaden its collaboration with Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, which will make one of the components of the vaccine at its Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees site in the UK. The site is expected to manufacture up to 180m doses annually.

Most Dutch infections from private gatherings, says Covid spokeswoman

Many young Dutch people are not following the strict coronavirus rules as much as when the outbreak first struck, and that has led to an increase in infections big enough for the UK government to impose quarantine measures on anybody returning to England from the Netherlands.

“People don’t follow the measures any more,” such as washing hands, social distancing and staying at home if you have symptoms, said the Dutch government’s coronavirus spokesperson. “Especially youngsters.”

As much as 70 per cent of the infections come from private gatherings, Joba van den Berg told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday.

“I do understand it is difficult, with summer time, parties, family gatherings, wedding, funerals,” said Ms Van den Berg, who is an MP for the CDA, the junior partner in Mark Rutte’s government.

But many people are too close together and they are the source of the enormous increase in infections.

The UK removed the Netherlands, along with France, Malta, Monaco, Aruba, and Turks and Caicos islands, late on Thursday from its “safe” list because those countries have recorded a big increase in Covid-19 infections in recent days. Travellers to England from those places will face a 14-day self-isolation period from 4am on Saturday.

In the Netherlands, infections have gradually risen to 600 a day from about 40, Ms Van den Berg told the BBC. They are focused round Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest port, and Amsterdam, a tourist hotspot, “but in the rest of the country you hardly have any”.

Asked whether she sees the Netherlands retaliating on the UK rules, Ms Van den Berg said:

I’d be very surprised if the Dutch government takes a measure because the UK took a measure against us. That’s not a relationship we have; It will be taken on a basis of facts, not on emotions.

Neighbours’ economies outpace light-touch Sweden’s performance

Richard Milne, Nordic and Baltic Correspondent

Finland and Denmark posted better economic performance in the second quarter than Sweden despite their lockdowns, raising further questions about their neighbouring country’s light-touch approach to coronavirus.

Finland’s gross domestic product fell by 3.2 per cent in the three months to the end of June compared with the first quarter while Denmark’s dropped by a record 7.4 per cent.

But the Nordic countries fared better than Sweden, which had no formal lockdown, and whose economy contracted 8.6 per cent in the second quarter.

“There’s more to it than different lockdown policies,” said Andreas Wallstrom, acting chief economist at Swedish lender Swedbank.

Sweden’s death rate per capita from Covid-19 is five times that of Denmark and almost 10 times that of Finland. Proponents of its approach had argued its economy would be better protected and pointed to a better GDP performance than Germany or the EU average in both the first and second quarters.

Economists argue that Sweden’s export-dependent economy could have suffered even more under lockdown, but also point out that it has a very small tourism sector compared with the countries that suffered the most, such as France, Italy, and Spain.

France puts Paris and Marseille on virus red alert

Victor Mallet in Paris

France has declared Paris and the Bouches-du-Rhône department around Marseille as “red zones” for the spread of coronavirus infections, issuing a decree that will allow local governments to impose new restrictions on movement.

The move follows a rapid rise in the number of those testing positive for the virus in recent days. On Thursday, 2,669 people tested positive for Covid-19 nationwide, the fourth time in a week that the number has exceeded 2,000.

However, many of those infected are younger victims who usually show less severe symptoms than the old, and the number of hospitalisations, intensive care patients and deaths has yet to rise markedly in France.

The UK has added France to its list of countries from which returning travellers will have to quarantine for 14 days, with effect from Saturday. Clément Beaune, France’s Europe minister, said he regretted the British measure, which would lead to reciprocal measures by Paris.

Thai Airways shares halted after auditor fails to sign off on accounts

John Reed in Bangkok

The Stock Exchange of Thailand suspended trading in Thai Airways International’s shares after the bankrupt state carrier reported a record first-half loss and its auditor Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Jaiyos declined to sign off on its accounts.

This came as the Thai airline presented a full picture of the impact of collapsing tourism numbers on its business, reporting a 28bn baht ($901m) net loss in the year to the end of June.

Thai, which was losing money before the coronavirus pandemic, filed for bankruptcy in May, marking one of the first failures of a national flag carrier during the Covid-19 pandemic. The airline is due to present a rehabilitation plan at its first hearing in Thailand’s Central Bankruptcy Court on Monday.

European stocks to open flat on mixed signals for global economy

Futures tied to European stocks struggled for momentum as uncertainty over new US stimulus measures and sluggish Chinese economic data hung over hopes for a quick economic recovery.

London’s FTSE 100 and the CAC 40 in Paris were set to open flat when trading begins on the continent on Friday, while futures for Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax suggested a 0.2 per cent drop. S&P 500 futures rose 0.3 per cent, which would inch the US benchmark equities index closer towards its all-time intraday high.

US Treasuries steadied on Friday after a sell-off this week, which sent yields higher, following a record $26bn auction of 30-year bonds that saw depressed demand.

The muted atmosphere coincided with Chinese data for July that came in lower than analysts’ expectations, which could raise concerns over the velocity of the country’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

India inflation spikes on weekend lockdowns and rising fuel taxes

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India has suffered an unexpected spike in inflation, with the consumer price index rising by 6.9 per cent in July, as a series of stringent weekend lockdowns imposed in a bid to control the coronavirus also disrupted supply chains, pushing up food prices by around 10 percent.

Traders say lockdowns have stalled the movement of perishable food items in the affected areas during weekends, leading to upward pressure on prices.

Inflation has also been pushed up by persistent increases in fuel taxes, as the country’s cash strapped government tries to raise additional resources as public coffers are hit by the sharp contraction in economic activity as a result of coronavirus.

Inflation has now been above the central bank of India’s target of 2 to 6 per cent for 10 consecutive months, analysts say, and most believe that these persistent inflationary pressures will constrain the ability of the Reserve Bank of India to raise rates. At its bi-monthly meeting last week, the bank’s’s monetary policy committee voted unanimously to keep its benchmark policy rate on hold.

EasyJet raises £600m through sale and leaseback

EasyJet has bolstered its balance sheet with a £608m deal to sell and leaseback 23 aircraft, as airlines raise cash to see them through the uncertain future facing the industry.

The low-cost airline had previously said it would look to raise between £550m and £650m from leasing some of its fleet.

It has now raised more than £2.4bn since the start of the pandemic, including £600 million from the UK government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility and just over £400m from issuing equity.

EasyJet fell to a pre-tax loss of £325m in the third quarter despite aggressive cost cutting measures, after generating just £7m in revenue over the three months.
The crisis facing the industry was deepened overnight when the British government added more destinations to its quarantine list, including France. Airlines UK said the decision was “another devastating blow to the travel industry”.

New Zealand extends Auckland lockdown by 12 days

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said the country would extend a lockdown on Auckland by 12 days after a cluster of coronavirus cases was discovered in the city.

Ms Ardern said the government expected that the cluster would have been brought under control by then. The level-three response measures would be reviewed on August 21, she said.

The decision was in line with New Zealand’s “precautionary approach” and its “philosophy of going hard and going early” when tackling the pandemic, she said.

A lockdown was reimposed on the city this week for three days after a family tested positive for coronavirus, breaking almost three months of no locally-transmitted cases.

Ms Ardern said 29 cases had been linked to the family in Auckland with one other case that is likely to also be linked to the cluster.

She warned that the cluster may grow before it slowed. “There are signs we have found this outbreak relatively early in its life,” she said.

Contact tracing and testing found that the earliest case surfaced on July 31 in a person working at the AmeriCold cold storage plant, where one of the family members works.

Scientists have not yet found a link to quarantine facilities through genome sequencing of the virus, with results suggesting it is new to New Zealand, Ms Ardern said.

Cathay reports 98.7% year-on-year passenger decline

Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon carried a total of 42,984 passengers last month, a 98.7 per cent decline compared with July 2019, as the pandemic continues to freeze air traffic.

In the first seven months of 2020, the number of passengers carried dropped by 79.4 per cent over 2019.

The two airlines carried 102,129 tonnes of cargo and mail last month, a decrease of 39.8 per cent year-on-year.

“Passenger volume showed signs of slight improvement in the beginning of July, fuelled by a boost in the number of transit passengers via Hong Kong,” said chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam.

The airlines increased passenger flights to about 7 per cent of normal capacity, up from about 4 per cent in June, and resumed some services to Chengdu, Xiamen, Frankfurt and Toronto.

“However, demand tapered down towards the end of the month as new waves of Covid-19 cases arose in numerous countries,” Mr Lam added.

He said he expected August passenger flights to represent about 8 per cent of normal capacity, “subject to the potential further relaxation or tightening of government health measures”.

Pandemic sends Irish hurling back to its roots

Arthur Beesley in Bennettsbridge, Ireland

When Ireland went into lockdown in March, Alan Flynn did something he had never done before: he chained up the gates of the sports field that has been at the centre of life in his village for generations.

Mr Flynn is chairman of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Bennettsbridge, in County Kilkenny, a stronghold of hurling, the ancient stick and ball game that is Ireland’s national sport and the world’s fastest field game.

But when sport was closed down in the effort to stem the spread of coronavirus, all matches and training were cancelled. August is normally peak season for hurling and its sister sport Gaelic football — amateur games played to professional standards before huge crowds.

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Peru’s Covid-19 tally climbs above 500,000

Gideon Long in Bogotá

Peru has passed the 500,000 mark in terms of total coronavirus cases and has now registered more deaths per head than any other country in Latin America.

The health ministry said on Thursday that the total number of cases since the pandemic began had hit 507,996, with 25,648 fatalities.

The Andean nation, which is home to 32m people, has registered more deaths per head of the population than Brazil and even the worst hit European countries such as Spain, Italy and the UK.

The Peruvian government imposed a strict lockdown at the start of the pandemic but many people in the large informal workforce flouted the measure, saying they could not afford to stay at home and not work.

Internal migration, contagion at food markets and years of under-investment in the healthcare system have also been blamed for Peru’s high Covid-19 numbers.

China-led AIIB approves $50m loan for Fiji small businesses

The Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank said on Friday it would lend $50m to Fiji to back small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is incumbent upon us to make sure the most vulnerable people have the tools they need to weather the effects of this public health challenge,” said DJ Pandian, AIIB’s vice president of investment operations.

The loan is AIIB’s first project financing in the South Pacific island group.

The Fiji government said the pandemic had disrupted the country’s supply chains, trade flows and public finance.

Mastercard wins debit-card deal with HSBC’s First Direct

Nicholas Megaw in London

HSBC’s First Direct brand will start moving customers from Visa to Mastercard debit cards next year, as Mastercard attempts to break its larger rival’s dominance in one of the most important parts of the UK payments sector.

Kelly Devine, Mastercard UK and Ireland president, told the Financial Times the agreement was “a validation of our approach and business model”, which had taken on greater urgency as the coronavirus increases the popularity of debit cards.

“Having true scale in that debit space is more important to us than it was before,” Ms Devine said. “Growth in contactless payments has been staggering.”

Read more here

India’s daily coronavirus death toll exceeds 1,000

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India recorded more than 1,000 coronavirus fatalities over the past 24 hours — the second time its one-day count has reached four digits — pushing the country’s overall death toll to more than 48,140 people, the fourth-highest in the world.

Only the US, Brazil and Mexico have lost more citizens to the coronavirus.

Yet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has touted its coronavirus campaign as among the world’s most successful, pointing out India’s relatively low number of fatalities given its population of 1.4bn.

India, with more than 64,000 new infections recorded yesterday, is now detecting a greater number of new cases each day than any other country and is pushing to scale up what had been abysmally low testing levels.

As India prepares to celebrate 73 years of independence on Saturday (pictured), the country has so far reported more than 2.4m cases, the third-highest total globally.

India carried out a record 830,000 tests on Wednesday and is pushing to reach a target of 1m tests a day by the end of August.

India has conducted more than 26m tests in total, or about 20,000 tests per 1m residents. The test rate is significantly lower than in other large countries with similar caseloads.

‘Eviction day’ looms for cash-strapped UK renters

James Pickford in London

Across England and Wales, relations between landlords and tenants in the private rented sector are under severe strain. Many tenants can no longer afford to pay the rent; a number that is set to soar this autumn as the furlough scheme ends and redundancies rise.

Back in April, the government barred landlords from evicting renters, but that five-month period of protection is due to come to an end on August 23. From the following day, the courts will once again start processing possession cases.

Some lawyers have warned of an impending tsunami of evictions, but the real pressure will start to build this autumn as the number of tenants in rental arrears climbs sharply as government support is withdrawn.

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Pakistan cricketer tests negative after breaching rules

Pakistani cricketer Mohammad Hafeez tested negative for coronavirus on Thursday after authorities ordered him into isolation for posing for a selfie with a fan on an English golf course.

On Tuesday, Hafeez posted a photo on social media after he posed with an elderly female fan on a course in Southampton. The Pakistan team is touring England.

“As it was evident from the photograph that Hafeez had breached the two metre social-distancing protocol and following a consultation process with the team doctor, the team management has decided to isolate him until he returns a negative Covid-19 test,” the Pakistan Cricket Board said in a statement.

The PCB said it believed Hafeez made an inadvertent mistake but the incident was “a good reminder for everyone on the importance of following the bio-secure protocols”.

Global stocks muted in face of mixed economic signals

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

Global stocks struggled for momentum due to uncertainty over new US stimulus measures and sluggish Chinese economic data.

Japan’s benchmark Topix index added 0.2 per cent in early trading on Friday while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng and China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed stocks were little changed.

The muted atmosphere coincided with Chinese data for July that came in lower than analysts’ expectations, which could raise concerns over the velocity of the country’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

Retail sales dropped 1.1 per cent year on year — the seventh straight month of declines — versus a forecast 0.1 per cent rise.

Fixed asset investment — which includes spending on infrastructure and property — also fell 1.6 per cent in the first seven months of the year, defying economists’ predictions for a rebound.

Overnight on Wall Street, the S&P 500 ended 0.2 per cent lower, just shy of its record high, while the tech-focused Nasdaq finished up 0.3 per cent.

The pause for US stocks came as data showed that the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits over the prior week fell below 1m for the first time since the pandemic began. Economists had forecast jobless claims of about 1.1m.

Grants to help Ebola survivors grapple with Covid-19

The African Development Bank said on Thursday it would fund a $13.5m programme to help Ebola survivors and orphans in Sierra Leone who have been further affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The grants would go towards rebuilding water and sanitation facilities in villages ravaged by Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever with a high mortality rate.

“Affected communities have been further hit by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic devastation caused by resulting lockdowns,” the bank, based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, said in a statement.

Nearly 4,000 people died in Sierra Leone’s 2014-2016 Ebola virus disease outbreak, according to World Health Organization data.

Kim Jong Un warns of challenges despite easing lockdown

Edward White in Wellington

Kim Jong Un has warned of the continued challenges facing North Korea from both coronavirus and recent severe flooding as he relaxed a lockdown in the border city of Kaesong.

Pyongyang in July declared a state of emergency in the city after a North Korean defector returned from South Korea — the move marked the first time the secretive state had acknowledged the global pandemic had potentially breached its borders.

The decision to lift the lockdown came at a top political meeting on Thursday, led by Mr Kim, according to state media.

“Our state faces two challenges: anti-epidemic work to thoroughly cope with the world public health crisis and unexpected sudden natural disaster … Our party and the government must set forth correct policy direction to overcome these two crises at the same time and display excellent leadership arts in the three-dimensional and offensive,” Korea Central News Agency quoted the dictator as saying.

Leading international North Korean watchers — including a US general, top Japanese officials and South Korean health experts — have made public their doubts over whether Pyongyang’s restrictions have been sufficient in stopping the spread of coronavirus into the country.

Highlighting the damage to the North Korean economy from the virus, a report from the US department of agriculture published this week suggested that almost 60 per cent of North Korea’s 25.8m people faced food insecurity, up from 57 per cent the year before.

Billionaire makes high-stakes bet on Sydney skyscraper

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

It will be one of Sydney’s tallest residential buildings with sweeping views of the world-famous harbour and opera house. It hosts a luxury hotel and a casino — and the penthouse can be yours for just A$100m (US$71.5m).

This is the marketing pitch for Crown Sydney, the A$2.2bn development from Crown Resorts that is due to open this year in the middle of a global pandemic and the worst economic crash in almost a century.

James Packer, an Australian billionaire and the largest shareholder in Crown, hired a gaggle of former MPs as lobbyists and fought a legal battle to overcome strong public opposition to the construction of the glass-clad tower, which he claims will give “back the spark” to the city where he was born.

Read more here

China retail sales fall for 7th straight month as recovery lags behind

Retail sales in China slumped in July for the seventh consecutive month, as lingering weakness in consumption continues to cast doubts over the country’s economic recovery.

Purchases of goods and services by consumers dropped 1.1 per cent in year on year in July compared with the same month last year. Economists had forecast that consumption would edge higher in July.

The new data reflect China’s two-track economic recovery, with its government-backed industrial sector supporting growth despite weakness in spending and a rise in household savings.

Industrial output rose 4.8 per cent in July compared with the same period last year.

In the second quarter, China’s economy returned to growth after a historic decline in gross domestic product earlier in the year.

However, retail sales fell 3.9 per cent over the three months to the end of June.

South Korea mulls return to stricter distancing after virus surge

Edward White and Kang Buseong

South Korea is weighing a return to stricter social distancing rules after new coronavirus cases in the country hit a four-month high on Friday.

Chung Sye-kyun, the prime minister, said officials are considering reimposing the measures in the sprawling capital of Seoul and neighbouring areas.

“If the situation gets worse, we have no choice but to consider ways to upgrade the social distancing [guidelines] to level 2 in Seoul metropolitan area,” said Mr Chung, who is leading the government’s response to the virus.

The potential move comes as the country of 52m reported 103 new cases on Friday. There were 85 locally transmitted cases, the highest one-day tally since late March, according to health officials.

South Korea has won international praise for use of a high-tech contact tracing system and mass testing in its handling of the pandemic, ultimately avoiding a nationwide lockdown.

But the latest spike in cases highlights the continued risk from infections, even in countries with efficient systems for monitoring and suppressing new outbreaks.

Also on Friday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control urged caution, particularly among Seoul’s 10m citizens, after outbreaks in retail chains, churches and markets.

US signs 2 deals to ramp up Covid-19 testing capacity

The US government said on Thursday it would invest $6.5m in two privately owned diagnostic laboratories to expand Covid-19 testing by another 4m tests each month.

The health and human services department said it had signed deals with Nashville-based Aegis Sciences and Austin-based Sonic Healthcare USA, an Australian-owned company.

“We are committed to leveraging every possible opportunity to expand the nation’s SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity over the next several months,” said Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, referring to the virus that causes Covid-19.

NZ reports 13 new cases as Auckland cluster grows

New Zealand has reported 13 further coronavirus cases linked to a cluster discovered this week that ended more than three months with no local infections.

Ashley Bloomfield, director-general of health, said 12 of the new cases were linked to a family in Auckland, taking the cluster to 30. One case has been classified as “probable”. Their link to the outbreak is under investigation.

“I think we’re getting an increasingly good picture and we will have even more information this afternoon when the cabinet meets to make its decision [on further measures],” Dr Bloomfield said.

He said the index case, or first documented infection, was being investigated.

The country’s run of 100 days with no new locally transmitted coronavirus cases was broken this week when a family of four tested positive for the virus.

The discovery prompted a swift lockdown in Auckland and mass testing, pictured, in a bid to control the outbreak. New Zealand is one of few countries that has pursued a policy of eliminating the virus.

More than 15,000 tests were carried out on Thursday, the highest one-day tally since the pandemic began.

Chris Hipkins, health minister, asked only those with symptoms or who had potentially been in contact with confirmed cases to come forward for testing.

The country now has 48 active coronavirus cases. The new case listed as probable is the only patient admitted to hospital.

Baidu revenues extend fall into 2nd quarter

Ryan McMorrow in Beijing

Chinese search giant Baidu’s sales continued to shrink in the second quarter as China’s economic recovery failed to bring back advertisers.

The Beijing-based company’s reported revenue fell 1 per cent year on year to Rmb26bn ($3.8bn), ahead of the Rmb25.8bn forecast by analysts.

Still, it marks an improvement after China’s coronavirus lockdown caused the group’s first-quarter revenues to fall by 7 per cent. Net profits grew 48 per cent to Rmb3.6bn.

Read more here

US charges Nevada woman with $1m-plus Covid-19 fraud

US authorities on Thursday said they have charged a Nevada woman with fraudulently obtaining more than $1m in Paycheck Protection Program loans designed to help small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic.

The justice department complaint alleges that Karen Chapon of Las Vegas made six fraudulent loan applications, and submitted fake and altered tax filings and company payroll records.

Ms Chapon claimed her company had paid $2.5m in wages but the Internal Revenue Service found no records.

The PPP allows qualifying small businesses to receive loans with a maturity of two years at an interest rate of 1 per cent. Businesses must use PPP loans only for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.

Victoria reports 372 new coronavirus cases

The Australian state of Victoria reported 372 new coronavirus cases on Friday morning, and 14 new deaths.

The state’s tally rose from 278 cases a day earlier, the lowest reported number of new infections in two weeks.

Victoria reimposed a lockdown on metropolitan Melbourne, pictured, in July but has struggled to slow the spread of the infection with its elderly care facilities particularly badly hit by the virus.

Asia-Pacific equities pause ahead of China data

Asia-Pacific stocks had a sluggish start on Friday ahead of Chinese economic data and after Wall Street took a breather from a recent rally.

Japan’s Topix was down 0.2 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea dipped 0.5 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.1 per cent. Futures tip the Hang Seng index to open 0.1 per cent lower.

China is set to release figures for fixed asset investment, industrial output and retail sales for July, giving pointers on the country’s recovery from the pandemic.

Overnight on Wall Street, the S&P ended 0.2 per cent lower, remaining short of a February record high.

That dip came despite news that weekly jobless claims came in below 1m for the first time since the pandemic took hold in the US.

ANZ analysts highlighted the jobless claims and the recent uptick in consumer and producer prices as signs of a recovery, but pointed to the need for more government support.

“While this points to some improvement in the economic recovery, the path ahead will be influenced heavily by what comes next on the fiscal stimulus side,” the analysts said.

US reports biggest daily jump in tests since July

Peter Wells in New York

The US reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus tests in almost three weeks, potentially helping to ease recent concerns about a drop-off in testing at a time when new cases and deaths remain elevated.

More than 880,000 tests were conducted over the past 24 hours, according to the Covid Tracking Project, the most since July 24 and up from about 479,000 yesterday.

Most notably, Texas saw its daily number of tests bounce back from recent levels that had been at their lowest since June.

The low level of tests is one factor that has spurred a rise in the state’s positivity rate to a record 24.5 per cent on Wednesday, prompting governor Greg Abbott to launch an investigation into the data.

Mr Abbott said officials have observed in recent weeks that fewer residents have been coming forward to be tested compared to a month ago.

The US coronavirus death toll rose by 1,163, according to Covid Tracking Project, down from an increase yesterday of 1,503 that was the biggest jump in three months.

Nevada (34) was the only state to report a record daily increase in deaths, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

A further 51,705 people in the US tested positive for coronavirus over the past 24 hours, down from 56,035 on Wednesday. North Dakota (201) and Hawaii (354) were the only two states to report record daily jumps in infections.

Most events postponed in US collegiate sports season

The US National Collegiate Athletic Association announced on Thursday that it would postpone almost all events in its highest division, dealing a further blow to sports in the country.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the Division I championships would not be held on schedule, affecting the FCS college football events as well as men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and men’s water polo.

The NCAA Division II and Division III had already cancelled their championships.

Mr Emmert said the NCAA is looking into rescheduling autumn events for winter or spring.

“We cannot now, at this point, have fall NCAA championships, because there’s not enough school participating,” Mr Emmert said.

The Division I Football Bowl Subdivision will go ahead as planned. “So we can’t [go ahead] in any Division I NCAA championship sport, which is everything other than FBS football, that goes on in the fall,” Mr Emmert said.

Gradual reopening of English theatres and arenas unveiled

George Parker in London

Boris Johnson has approved the gradual reopening of theatres, concert venues and sports arenas as the final sectors of the English economy still closed by Covid-19 were allowed to return to life.

Bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos will be able to reopen from this weekend, while beauty salons, spas and barbers will be permitted to offer all “close-contact services and treatment”.

In a significant boost to the arts sector, indoor theatres, music and performance venues in England will be able to reopen with socially distanced audiences, following a successful series of pilots.

Read more here

Americans face higher mental stress during pandemic: survey

Americans have reported higher levels of mental health conditions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey commissioned by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found.

Younger adults, minorities, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced “disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use and elevated suicidal” thoughts.

“The public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic should increase intervention and prevention efforts to address associated mental health conditions,” the research team, led by Mark Czeisler of the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, concluded.

Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the US during April to June compared with the same period in 2019, researchers said. “Suicidal ideation” was more prevalent among males, while symptoms of anxiety or depression were most common in people aged 18-24.

Overall, 40.9 per cent of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioural health condition, according to the survey, released on Thursday.

CDC commissioned the Utah-based data company Qualtrics to conduct the survey, which was reviewed and approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee at Monash. More than 5,400 US adults completed web-based surveys.

Travellers from France added to UK quarantine list

George Parker in London

Boris Johnson on Thursday night dealt a blow to the holiday plans of hundreds of thousands of Britons when he ordered that France be added to Britain’s quarantine list from Saturday.

The move is expected to trigger a stampede by British holidaymakers in France for Channel ports and Eurostar services before the new quarantine restrictions take effect at 4am on Saturday.

Travellers arriving from the Netherlands, Monaco, Turks & Caicos and Aruba will also have to self-isolate for 14 days, in a move announced by Downing Street just before 10pm on Thursday.

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Jakarta Shangri-La Hotel shuts restaurant

The luxury Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta said on Thursday it had shut down its restaurant after city officials found violations of Covid-19 protocols.

Agents from Parekraf, Jakarta’s tourism and creative economy agency, visited the hotel on August 8, after it received complaints about violations of Jakarta’s Large Scale Social Restrictions, known as PSBB.

“There are PSBB violations, such as live music and there is a display of alcoholic drinks, which means they are selling,” Parekraf director Bambang Asmadi said earlier this week.

The hotel said on Thursday that the restaurant was closed temporarily after Parekraf sent a list of compliance requirements.

“The rest of the hotel is functioning as normal, and in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Indonesian government,” a spokesperson said.

Covid-19 news you might have missed

New applications for US unemployment benefits fell below 1m for the first time since the start of the pandemic, although the pace of claims eased for a second straight week as businesses slowly emerged from the coronavirus restrictions. Initial jobless claims totalled 963,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis last week, compared with 1.19m a week earlier.

US stocks ended the day mixed with the S&P 500 falling 0.2 per cent, pressured by losses in energy and the defensive real estate sector. The index briefly rose above the record closing high it set in February. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fared better, gaining 0.3 per cent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.3 per cent.

Mexico’s central bank has lowered its benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points, bringing it down to 4.5 per cent, after the country’s economy recorded its fifth straight quarter of contraction. The bank said that the global economy, after the sharp falls registered in March and April, began to show some improvement in May and June.

Fewer employees have returned to Manhattan offices than previously expected even with the city in phase four of its reopening, a survey has found. Just 8 per cent of employees were back at the office as of mid-August, according to a survey of 146 employers by the Partnership for New York City, a non-profit business group.

US companies’ confidence in a rapid recovery has ebbed since the early months of the pandemic, according to a poll that found 38 per cent of chief executives expect to cut their workforce over the next year. Just 62 per cent of chief executives surveyed in late July said they expected a recovery over the next six months, down from 71 per cent three months earlier.

Despite the near total cancellation of sports events because of the pandemic, sports betting revenues in the US have grown year-on-year, demonstrating the popularity of the activity, which was only made legal in 2018. Total revenues from sports betting were up 10.4 per cent in the year to date to $324.9m, outweighing a 46 per cent decline in the second quarter.

Ministers under pressure to review UK A-level results

Bethan Staton and Laura Hughes in London

The government is under mounting pressure to come to the aid of secondary school pupils in England after almost 40 per cent of A-level grades were downgraded from teachers’ predictions.

Amid an angry backlash from pupils and teachers, opposition parties and trade unions led calls for ministers to review how A-level results were modified by examination regulators using a computer algorithm.

But Boris Johnson defended the contentious arrangements aimed at preventing unwarranted grade inflation, saying there had been a “robust” marking system.

Read more here

US Treasury forced to pay up to fund record stimulus

Colby Smith in New York

The US government faced lacklustre demand for its latest record auction of long-dated Treasury bonds, marking one of its first missteps in funding historic spending packages passed by US legislators since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March.

On Thursday, the Treasury department struggled to offload $26bn of 30-year bonds at record-low interest rates. Instead, the bonds were sold at a yield of 1.4 per cent, more than 0.02 percentage points above market expectations at the time of the auction deadline.

Investors submitted bids for 2.14 times the amount on offer, the lowest bid-to-cover ratio for 30-year bonds since July 2019, according to Thomas Simons, a money market economist at Jefferies.

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