Coronavirus latest: NYC delays start date for in-classroom learning again


Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe and Chris Tighe

Residents in the north-east of England will be subject to tough new coronavirus restrictions from Friday, as the government struggles to control the surge in cases.

Under new restrictions announced by health secretary Matt Hancock, residents within Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham, will be unable to socialise with individuals outside of their household or support bubble.

In addition, hospitality outlets in the north-east will be forced to operate under a curfew of 10pm to 5am and will be restricted to table service only.

Announcing the new measures in the House of Commons on Thursday, the health secretary said that he sympathised with residents and did not take the decision “lightly”, adding: “I know that these decisions have a real impact on families, on businesses and local communities.”

Mr Hancock said local authorities had written to him requesting tighter restrictions, following a rise in coronavirus cases in the region. In Sunderland, for example, the Covid-19 infection rate had reached 103 positive cases per 100,000, he added.

According to the latest data from NHS Test and Trace, between September 3 and 9, 18,371 people tested positive for coronavirus in England, a 75 per cent increase from last week and the highest weekly total since May.

The region is the latest in a series of areas that have been subject to localised lockdowns in recent weeks.

Last week, 1.6m residents in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull were told that they would be banned from socialising with other households indoors or in private gardens unless they were within a bubble with them.

The prime minister has repeatedly said that measures including the ‘rule of six’ and localised lockdowns are designed to avoid the country having to return to a national lockdown.

He told MPs at a liaison committee meeting on Wednesday that a second lockdown would be “disastrous”, stating: “I don’t want a second national lockdown – I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.”

Santander and UBS chairs should testify in €112m Orcel suit, court rules


Santander chair Ana Botín and UBS chairman Axel Weber will be called to testify over the Spanish lender’s U-turn in hiring Andrea Orcel as chief executive, a Madrid court decided on Monday.

Mr Orcel, UBS’s former head of investment banking, is suing Santander for €112m, alleging that the bank’s reversal of its September 2018 decision to appoint him constitutes breach of contract.

Santander says that, although a letter offering the chief executive post to Mr Orcel was signed by both sides, it was not a contract under Spanish law.

At Monday’s preliminary hearing, which lasted about an hour and a half, the court fixed March 10 as the start of the civil case, and the two sides confirmed that they were unable to reach a settlement. 

Neither Mr Orcel nor Ms Botín were present at the hearing, which had previously been scheduled for April but was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Mr Orcel’s side have called Ms Botín as a witness in March, as well as Mr Weber. 

UBS’s role may be significant, because its decision not to pay Mr Orcel deferred pay worth millions of euros made his hiring much more expensive for Santander.

The Spanish bank had proposed giving Mr Orcel up to a maximum of €35m in shares if he forfeited his deferred pay from UBS by joining a rival.

Ms Botín subsequently told Mr Orcel in a December 2018 exchange on Signal, the encrypted messaging app, that “on the subject of compensation Axel [Weber] is not moving at all. Basically 0 [zero].” Days later Santander decided not to proceed with Mr Orcel’s appointment.

The prolonged legal battle over Santander’s volte face and whether Mr Orcel is due compensation have also put the spotlight on corporate governance at the bank. 

The lender argues that his proposed hire was a mistake that it remedied in time amid concerns about the final cost of his appointment. 

Mr Orcel, who had already quit his UBS post by the time of the volte face and who had asked Ms Botín to “empower” him as CEO, has said he was surprised and massively disappointed by the bank’s U-turn.

The fact that the court case is set to begin in March may pave the way for a ruling next year — although it could subsequently be appealed.

Mr Orcel also has recourse to appeal in a separate criminal case he is pursuing against Santander over alleged manipulation of evidence. Santander denies the claims, which have also been rejected by a criminal court. 

In a statement on Monday, Santander said it remained “confident that the decision not to proceed with Mr Orcel’s appointment was both correct and handled appropriately”, adding that it “looks forward to resolving the matter in court”.

Mr Orcel’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
UBS, which has been reluctant to take sides in the dispute, declined to comment.

Coronavirus latest: Birmingham restrictions tightened amid rise in cases


Working from home sent shares of the connected fitness group Peloton to a record high in after-hours trading. Peloton said revenues in the three months ending June 30, its fourth fiscal quarter, grew 172 per cent from a year ago to $607.1m.

A sell-off in US stocks resumed on Thursday, as Congress failed to make progress on a new stimulus package and signs emerged that improvements in the US labour market have stalled. The S&P 500 index closed lower by 1.8 per cent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 2 per cent.

Republicans in the Senate failed in their efforts to advance new economic stimulus measures worth about $500bn, after Democrats voted to block the legislation because the package was too small to tackle the scale of the downturn still facing the US.

Northern Ireland’s devolved government has tightened coronavirus rules. Household gatherings will be curtailed throughout Belfast, the region’s capital, as well as the county Antrim town of Ballymena and some neighbouring areas. First minister Arlene Foster said the move reflects the need to “push down” on a rising curve of infections.

The number of people hospitalised in Florida with coronavirus fell below 3,000 for the first time in at least two months. Hospitalisations fell by 153, the biggest one-day drop since late August, to 2,922 as of Thursday morning, compared with 3,436 a week ago.

The UAE said it would rigorously implement fines as weak adherence to physical distancing prompts a surge in coronavirus cases. The Gulf federation recorded 930 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily tally in four months, saying 88 per cent of recent cases had been caused by gatherings.

Recovery in the US oil industry looked to have stalled on Thursday after data showed crude stocks building for the first time in almost two months. US commercial crude inventories surprised the market to grow by 2m barrels – or 0.4 per cent – in the week to September 4.

Seven people have died and hundreds injured in riots in the Colombian capital Bogotá sparked by an incident in which police used stun guns to arrest a man who was allegedly flouting coronavirus restrictions and who later died in hospital.

Singapore Airlines Group, which consists of majority state-owned Singapore Airlines, regional SilkAir and low-cost carrier Scoot, will reduce its workforce by 4,300 people, or a quarter of its staff relative to the average number across the previous financial year.

The Scottish government has tightened limits on indoor gatherings, put on hold planned reopening of theatres and live music venues, and called on people to continue working from home amid a climb in new cases.

Coronavirus latest: Leading drugmakers vow to ensure safety of Covid vaccine


Valentina Romei in London

A decline in Italy’s retail sales ended two months of improvement to raise fears for the fragility of recovery in the eurozone’s third-biggest economy that risks widening the region’s north-south gap.

Sales fell 2.2 per cent in July compared with the previous month, marking a setback from June’s 12 per cent expansion. The monthly figure means that retail sales in July were 7.2 per cent below the same month last year, official data showed on Tuesday.

Recent figures “show that the pace of recovery is likely to slow significantly beyond the ‘mechanical’ bounce in activity seen in the third quarter”, said Nicola Nobile, economist at Oxford Economics. “Overall, we maintain our view that, after the strong rebound in the third quarter, the subsequent quarterly gains in the Italian economy in the fourth and through 2021 will be much more modest.”

Online shopping rose 11.6 per cent as coronavirus-hit consumers stuck at home took to their computers to buy goods, the national statistics office said. Overall sales dropped nonetheless, while food sales were broadly unchanged from last year.

Non-food goods especially clothing and household appliances fell, the Italian statistical agency Istat said.

“Looking at the value of sales for non-food products, dramatic falls were reported across all categories,” Istat said.

The setback in Italy’s retail spending raises concerns of a slowdown in the economic recovery after the historic fall in output in the second quarter.

Industrial output is recovering more quickly than expected, but the dominant services sector is suffering from reduced international tourism and fears of unemployment once the government’s support scheme ends.

Data for other European countries have shown a correction in retail spending in July after a large rebound in June. Germany, the region’s largest economy, reported a 0.9 per cent drop in sales, compared with the previous month.

However, in France and Germany, July’s retail sales were stronger than in the same month last year, while for Italy – and to a smaller extent in Spain – the drop came before reaching pre-pandemic levels, fuelling concerns that an uneven economic recovery could widen the north-south economic gap.

Shared beliefs unite factions in Germany’s virus protests


For weeks now, Germany has debated the significance of the varied and seemingly incompatible factions that have descended on the capital to rally against the country’s coronavirus measures. From anti-vaxxers to biologists, Christian fundamentalists to conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis to Hare Krishnas — could the forces gathered under the banner of coronavirus scepticism constitute a viable political force? Or are they just a passing symptom of the global pandemic?

Though few see any chance of these disparate strands forming a lasting movement, analysts warn that the threat the protests pose should not be discounted.

“The groups will crumble, but I don’t think this is what we have to look out for. We have to look out for people getting lost in alternative realities, in collective delusions,” said Miro Dittrich, a researcher on the far-right and social media at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. “The longer this pandemic lasts, the more radical these people get. The longer they get radicalised, the more likely it is for them to use violence.”

Polls suggest that only 10 per cent of Germans believe the current measures — social distancing and mandatory wearing of masks in shops and on public transport — are too tough. Yet the protests against them have grown. On August 1, some 17,000 people protested in Berlin. By the end of the month, it was 38,000.

Where outsiders see an unstable and inchoate alliance of flower-crown wearing hippies and tattooed neo-Nazis, political scientists like Jan Rathje, also of the Amadeu Antonio institute, see some significant shared ideas — most notably, the belief in a natural order said to be threatened by modernity. 

Some rightwingers, for example, see environmental protection as integral to the defence of the German homeland. And one of the leaders of the attempt by hundreds of protesters on August 29 to storm the Reichstag was a dreadlocked woman identified as “Tamara K” in German media. She practises alternative medicine, and urged protesters up the parliament stairs, claiming that US president Donald Trump had arrived in Berlin to liberate the Germans.

“These topics all somehow mash together through a belief that there are forces of evil and forces of good that must come to a final stand-off,” said Mr Rathje.

The woman at the Reichstag wore a shirt emblazoned with memes related to the QAnon conspiracy movement, which believes Mr Trump is fighting a satanic, deep-state cabal. Its following has grown among Germany’s coronavirus sceptics, Mr Dittrich said. He noted a spike in QAnon group membership on the texting platform Telegram, from some 20,000 before the coronavirus crisis to about 130,000. He said QAnon’s largest support base outside the English-speaking world was in Germany.

Pia Lamberty, a researcher on conspiracy theories at Gutenberg University Mainz, cited studies that show some 25 per cent of Germans believe in coronavirus conspiracies. And of these, a quarter believe the use of violence is justified in pursuit of their political aims. 

Protesters take part in an unregistered demonstration against coronavirus measures in Berlin on August 30 © Omer Messinger/Getty

Many of the protesters in Berlin waved the red, white, and black imperial-era German flag, normally brandished by the most extreme elements of the far-right. Officials worry the protests have become a far-right recruiting ground. Analysts say they are concerned less about the creation of new extremists than the prospect of far-right ideas spreading to other groups.

Radical rightwing groups have sensed this opportunity. Martin Sellner, the young Austrian leader of the Identitarian movement, who appeared at last Saturday’s demonstration, told followers in a video that the protests in Germany could show the wider population that they had a “common hidden goal”.

“With the corona movement, a mass of people can gather, organise, politicise, protest, and get a whiff of experience,” he said, arguing that the protests could mobilise a “broad, patriotic mass” to fight the “grand strategy” of global elites.

Many of these otherwise disparate groups also share a belief that they are living under a repressive regime. It is an idea that has been spread in recent years through social media, said Karolin Schwarz, author of Hate Warriors: The New Global Right-Wing Extremism. “They portray the German and other European governments as autocracies.”

Yet the paranoia characteristic of these groups means their alliances will always be shaky. Already, they are turning on each other. A vegan cookbook writer turned far-right propagandist repeatedly accused some protest organisers of being part of the Illuminati. Another organiser came under attack for distancing himself from the assault on the Reichstag.

But even if the protests crumble, experts argue, the discontent they exploit is likely to outlast them.

“They are articulating a certain broader dissatisfaction in society which I don’t think will fade away as quickly,” said Swen Hutter, of the Berlin Social Science Centre. “[It will] get stronger the more the economic and social fallout of the corona crisis materialises in Germany.”

Coronavirus latest: US private sector jobs recovery more sluggish than forecast


Wall Street kicked off September with a strong rally as the S&P 500 closed at a record high on the heels of its biggest August gain in decades. The S&P 500 closed up 0.7 per cent at 3,526.68 on Tuesday, led by technology and materials stocks. The rise followed the best August gain for the benchmark index since 1986. The Nasdaq Composite rose 1.4 per cent to 11,939.67.

A split among US scientists over using convalescent plasma to treat Covid-19 deepened on Tuesday, when a panel said there was insufficient evidence. “There are currently no data … that demonstrate the efficacy and safety of convalescent plasma for the treatment of Covid-19,” the National Institutes of Health panel said, contradicting the Food and Drug Administration.

Brazil’s economy has officially entered a recession following the swingeing impact of the coronavirus crisis, which has killed more than 120,000 Brazilians and pushed millions into unemployment. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, gross domestic product shrank 9.7 per cent quarter-on-quarter, reflecting the effect of widespread shutdowns.

Classes in New York City’s public schools, scheduled to begin September 10, will now start on September 21 after the city and a union agreed on a plan for more safety measures related to coronavirus, including random testing. The deal averted a strike vote scheduled for Tuesday by the United Federation of Teachers. “This is a great day for every public school student,” said mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured.

US manufacturing sector activity expanded for the third consecutive month and climbed to its highest level since 2018, data from the Institute for Supply Management showed. Its purchasing managers’ index rose to 56 in August, from 54.2 the previous month. That was the highest reading since November 2018. Economists had forecast the index would be little changed at 54.5.

Eurozone consumer prices have slipped year on year for the first time since 2016, putting pressure on the European Central Bank to do more to support the faltering economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Consumer prices fell 0.2 per cent in August from the same month in 2020, down from an increase of 0.4 per cent in July.

The number of international tourists visiting Spain collapsed 75 per cent in July compared with the same month in 2019 in an indication of how hard the pandemic has shaken the country’s economy. Just 2.5m foreign visitors arrived in Spain during the month, spending about €2.45bn. The average expenditure of €994 per tourist also represented an 18 per cent fall on last year.

Low-cost carrier Wizz Air has warned it could cut its flight schedule and park part of its fleet this winter after Hungary added to the travel restrictions in place across parts of Europe. Hungary, Wizz’s home market, shut its borders to foreign nationals on Tuesday after recording 292 new coronavirus cases on Sunday — its highest daily count.

The number of unemployed people in Germany fell for the second consecutive month as its labour market rebounded from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Employment Agency said the number of jobless people fell by about 9,000 in August, adding to signs that Europe’s largest economy is steadily shaking off the disruption of the pandemic.