Great Britain

Coronavirus latest: Major US cities relax restrictions on indoor dining

Singapore-listed retail group Metro said on Tuesday its management and employees have raised S$250,000 (US$182,000) to provide more than 300 low-income Singaporean students with laptop computers for home-based learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

“While the Covid-19 pandemic has affected Singaporeans from all walks of life, low-income families, especially those with school-going children, have been among the hardest hit,” said Winston Choo, Metro’s chairman.

Metro said it would work with Beyond Social Services, a Singapore charity that focuses on helping children and youths from less privileged backgrounds.

John Reed in Bangkok

Political risk is starting to unnerve investors in Thailand. South-east Asia’s second-largest economy is in the grips of a youth protest movement that is growing both in size and audacity.

Students began staging regular protests — the evocative Thai word for demonstration is “mob” — in July. Their protests began with demands for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government to resign, and in recent weeks have escalated to sweeping, and for conservative Thais, subversive calls to limit the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

About $7.8bn flowed out of Thai stocks in the year to the end of August, and another $2.3bn out of bonds. Stocks have dropped more than 20 per cent this year. The Thai baht — seen as a haven currency before Covid-19 because of the country’s generous foreign exchange reserves and cash-cow tourism sector — is down 6 per cent against the dollar.

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Anna Nicolaou in New York

Disney is laying off 28,000 US employees of its theme parks as the pandemic weighs heavily on the media giant.

“We have made the very difficult decision to begin the process of reducing our workforce,” the company said on Tuesday.

The company criticised California's restrictions, saying the impact of Covid-19 was "exacerbated in California by the state’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen".

Disney’s businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, which has shut cinemas and theme parks, grinding two of the company’s most profitable units to a halt. Disney had previously furloughed more than 100,000 park workers, but has gradually been bringing employees back as it reopened parks in Asia, France and Florida.

Disney reported a $4.7bn loss in the June quarter, and a $3.5bn hit to operating income at its theme parks.

The job cuts will affect people who remain furloughed, as well as staff who have returned, across hourly, salaried and executive roles.

San Francisco restaurants and bars serving meals will be able to reopen for indoor dining at 25 per cent capacity from Wednesday, the city has announced.

Face coverings must be worn by personnel and customers at all times except when eating or drinking. Restaurants must take customers’ temperatures before they are seated.

No more than 100 people can occupy a restaurant.

“We have kept a steady and gradual pace of reopening -- from after school programs and in-classroom learning to indoor personal services and restaurants,” said Grant Colfax, the city’s health director.

“We want this to continue and we do not want any setbacks, so we will keep reminding the public to be diligent and wear a mask, physically distance and wash your hands,” Dr Colfax added.

Chicago plans to relax some restrictions on businesses from Thursday, the city announced.

Indoor capacity for restaurants will rise to 40 per cent from the current 25 per cent, bars will reopen for indoor service, and alcohol can be served until 1am.

Limits on fitness classes and after-school programming would also be relaxed.

“These changes … are possible due to continued improvement on crucial health metrics, including a declining number of new daily cases”, the city said.

Peter Wells in New York and George Russell in Hong Kong

Clusters of coronavirus in some of New York City’s boroughs have pushed the one-day positivity rate for the whole city above 3 per cent for the “first time in months”, mayor Bill de Blasio revealed on Tuesday.

The percentage of people in the US’s most populous city who tested positive for Covid-19 hit 3.25 per cent, the highest since early June, which the mayor said was “a cause for real concern”. The average rate over the past week now sits at 1.38 per cent.

Coronavirus clusters in two of the city’s five boroughs have risen at a faster pace than the citywide average over the past fortnight. Nine problem neighbourhoods there now make up about one-quarter of new cases.

“We are deeply concerned about the alarming increase in Covid-19 cases in Brooklyn and in Queens,” said Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner.

The mayor said the city was preparing for tighter restrictions in some areas, such as “business closures … and ... a wider scale closure of community institutions like yeshivas and childcare, and a limit on gatherings”.

California reported its smallest increase in coronavirus cases in about three weeks on Tuesday. A further 2,162 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, the state’s health department said, down from 2,955 the previous day. It was the smallest one-day rise in cases since the 1,616 reported by authorities on September 9.

Florida reported its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus cases in 10 days on Tuesday. A further 3,266 people in the state tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, authorities said, up from Monday's four-month low of 738 and compared with 2,470 on Tuesday last week.

Camilla Hodgson and David Sheppard in London, Eric Platt in New York and Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

US stocks and oil retreated on Tuesday as investors awaited word on a potential stimulus deal out of Washington and amid renewed concerns about the pandemic.

The benchmark S&P 500 index slipped 0.5 per cent, ending a three-day streak of advances. US stocks were weighed down by the energy sector as shares of the oil majors ExxonMobil and Chevron both fell more than 2 per cent.

Brent crude, the global oil price benchmark, settled 3.3 per cent lower at $41.03 a barrel. Traders said optimism about a further recovery in demand had waned, with crude consumption still down more than 5 per cent from pre-pandemic levels.

Senior oil trading executives and fund managers told an FT conference on Tuesday that oil would be stuck near $40 a barrel until there was an effective Covid-19 vaccine. “It's very hard to be bullish on oil,” said Ben Luckock, co-head of oil trading at Trafigura, predicting that Brent would likely slip to below $40 a barrel before the end of the year.

Investors were also watching for developments out of Washington after Democrats in the House of Representatives put forward a $2.2tn spending plan on Monday.

US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi met Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday to discuss the package, although it is unclear if the two sides can reach an agreement before members leave the capital to campaign for the November election.

Germany is to impose strict restrictions on social gatherings, as chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Germany could be facing more than 19,000 new infections a day by Christmas unless more efforts were made to curtail the spread of coronavirus. Authorities also imposed a minimum fine of €50 for anyone giving false contact details in bars and restaurants.

Ireland has warned of a severe hit to its coronavirus-struck economy if Brexit trade talks fail, saying a no-deal outcome would strip 3 percentage points from its rebound from the pandemic. Finance minister Paschal Donohoe said the economic damage from Covid-19 this year was now likely to be “less severe” than he had forecast in the spring.

The World Bank is set to offer $12bn in cheap financing to lower income countries to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, adding significantly to their ability to negotiate better access and lower prices from pharmaceutical companies. David Malpass, its president, said he had sought board approval for funding to provide “swift, fair and equitable access to vaccines”.

Spain’s government plans to impose new coronavirus restrictions throughout the country. The move — which would impose restrictions on movements and gatherings in urban areas with high levels of infection — comes after days of confrontation between the leftwing central government and the centre-right Madrid administration.

Greggs, the UK bakery chain, has said new store openings will outweigh closures this year despite pressing ahead with possible job cuts once the UK furlough scheme ends next month.Greggs, known for its sausage rolls and other pastries, said it hoped to grow its estate by a net 20 stores by the end of 2020 despite having closed 49 so far this year.

Novacyt, the Anglo-French biotech company whose fortunes have been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, agreed to supply testing equipment and rapid coronavirus tests to the UK government. It will supply 300 polymerase chain reaction testing machines and test kits for £150m for the first 14 weeks. The tests are to be deployed in healthcare settings.

Nippon Telegraph & Telephone, Japan’s former state telecoms monopoly, is taking private the NTT DoCoMo mobile unit it listed 28 years ago in a $40bn deal, launching the country’s biggest ever tender offer in a bid to survive a price war and the 5G race, and as the coronavirus crisis forces a shift towards digital among Japanese businesses.

Argentine fintech Ualá is launching a push into Mexico, hoping to replicate the success it has experienced in its domestic market as the coronavirus crisis accelerates a move away from cash. The SoftBank-backed start-up, which offers debit cards and a digital payments service, wants to tap into Mexico’s large unbanked population.

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