INTERNATIONAL Saturday- Sunday, August 22- 23, 2020 UK economy rebounding for now, as public borrowing mounts Britain's economic recovery from the shock of the COVID- 19 pandemic has gathered pace, data showed on Friday, but government borrowing rose past the 2 trillion pound ($ 2.6 trillion) mark and fears of future job losses are mounting. Retail sales rose above pre- pandemic levels in July, the first full month for many shops reopening after lockdown, and August's Purchasing Managers' Index ( PMI) data showed the fastest growth in almost seven years. But Britain's economy still faces a long recovery after shrinking by a record 20% in the second quarter, the largest decline of any big country. "The UK is still seeing a V- shape bounce in activity. But ... a hot summer can quickly turn to a cold autumn," HSBC economist Liz Martins said, pointing to a softening in euro zone business activity as coronavirus cases begin to rise again. Retail sales in July were 1.4% above year- ago levels and 3.0% above their level before the pandemic, the Office for National Statistics said. August's preliminary composite PMI, which covers most businesses outside retail, hit its highest level since October 2013. But employers are increasingly planning to shed jobs and were making staff redundant rather than bringing them back from a government- subsidised furlough scheme that expires in October. "Scarring from the pandemic and lingering doubts about the sustainability of recovery resulted in a need to cut overheads," said Tim Moore, economics director at IHS Markit, which compiles the PMIs. The Bank of England forecasts unemployment will reach 7.5% by year- end, almost double its most recent reading. Separately, the Confederation of British Industry said manufacturing orders were "severely depressed", with little improvement in August. Stuttering PMI surveys for the euro zone - where countries exited lockdown earlier than Britain - suggested the boost from pent- up demand was already fading. cuts. Friday's data also laid bare the impact of increased public spending and a slide in tax revenues on the public finances. Public sector net debt exceeded 2 trillion pounds in July for the first time, and is its highest since 1961 as a share of gross domestic product. Government borrowing so far this financial year is 150.5 billion pounds, almost seven times higher than in the same period in 2019 though below the 178.8 billion pounds Britain's budget forecasters predicted last month. The government has spent more than 35 billion pounds so far on its job support scheme, the largest single measure to tackle the economic impact of the pandemic. Government figures showed 6.8 million jobs were furloughed at the end of June, down from 8.9 million in early May. LONDON: JOB LOSSES Retail sales are only part of overall household spending. A GfK survey showed no improvement in consumer confidence since early July. Within retail, different businesses have had contrasting fortunes. Grocery sales are 3% up on the year and online sales are 50% higher than before the pandemic. But sales volumes at clothing and footwear stores are 25% lower than last year. Stores including Marks & Spencer, Boots and John Lewis [ JLPLC. UL] have announced plans for major job Allies of Putin critic Navalny accuse Kremlin of blocking evacuation to Germany Wife of Kremlin critic appeals to Putin to let Navalny be moved from hospital China ready to share water data with Mekong nations, Thailand says The wife of stricken Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny appealed to President Vladimir Putin in a letter on Friday to allow him to be transported from a hospital in Siberia to Germany to receive medical assistance. The letter, which was published on social media, was sent to the Kremlin directly, a Navalny ally said. Navalny's allies fear Navalny was poisoned and have organised medical care for him in Germany, but Russian doctors have said Navalny's condition is too unstable for him to be moved from hospital. MOSCOW: China is ready to share data on water flows into the Mekong River, a longstanding request of downstream Southeast Asian countries, a Thai foreign ministry official said on Friday. Control of the waters is politically sensitive, and many farmers' and fishermen's livelihoods depend on the river. A report published by a U. S. research company this year accused China of holding back large amounts of water during a drought last year, a finding Beijing disputed. China has no formal water treaties with the lower Mekong countries - Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam - and is currently only sharing limited data during the monsoon season on flows to what it knows as the Lancang River. "China stressed that it is ready to share information with us in a clear, meaningful and t ransparent way t hroughout t he year," Nikorndej Balankura, a senior Thai foreign ministry official told reporters. "Information will be shared seamlessly." China's Foreign Ministry said in response to a request for comment that it did not want to pre- empt an online summit on Monday of leaders of the Lancang- Mekong Cooperation ( LMC) group, which includes China and the Mekong countries. Lower Mekong countries already share water data t hrough t he Mekong River Commission ( MRC), an intergovernmental body with headquarters in Vientiane in Laos. The LMC water center is based in Beijing. The MRC this month called for better datasharing between countries and companies that operate hydropower dams along the Mekong as flows hit record lows for a second consecutive year. BANGKOK: Russia Allies of stricken Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny accused Russian authorities of thwarting his medical evacuation to Germany on Friday, saying the decision placed his life in mortal danger because the Siberian hospital treating him was under- equipped. Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and his lieutenants, is in serious condition after drinking tea on Thursday morning that his allies believe was laced with poison. Doctors treating him in Omsk, Siberia, said his condition had improved a little overnight but his life was still in danger. Alexander Murakhovsky, the head doctor at the hospital, said Navalny had been diagnosed with a metabolic disease that may have been caused by low blood sugar. He said traces of industrial chemical substances had been found on the 44- year- old's clothes and fingers hours after the hospital said doctors did not believe Navalny had been poisoned. Navalny's wife Yulia and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who want to fly Navalny to Germany for medical treatment, have criticised the hospital after it said that moving him would put his life at risk because he was still in a coma and his condition unstable. "The ban on transporting Navalny is an attempt on his life being carried out right now by doctors and the deceitful authorities that have authorised it," Yarmysh wrote on Twitter. She said doctors had previously consented to his being moved, but had withheld their agreement at the last minute. "This decision, of course, was not made by them, but by the Kremlin," said Yarmysh. The Kremlin said on Friday it was up to doctors to decide whether Navalny was fit to be moved from the hospital. The row broke out as an air ambulance sent by the Berlin- based Cinema for Peace Foundation, a non- profit organisation, landed in Omsk with the intention of flying him to Germany if possible. Murakhovsky told reporters that many legal questions would need to be resolved before Navalny could be handed over to European doctors. He said top doctors had been flown in from Moscow to treat Navalny who were no worse than their European counterparts. Test results would be available within two days, he said. Navalny has been the biggest thorn in the Kremlin's side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high- level graft and mobilising crowds of young protesters. He has been repeatedly detained for organising public meetings and rallies and sued over his investigations into corruption. He was barred from running in a presidential election in 2018. OMSK: Beijing says residents can go mask- free as China COVID cases hit new lows Doctors strike in Nairobi over pay, lack of COVID protection Health authorities i n China's capital Beijing have removed a requirement for people to wear masks outdoors, further relaxing rules aimed at preventing t he spread the novel coronavirus after the city reported 13 consecutive days without new cases. Despite the relaxed guidelines, a large proportion of people continued t o wear masks in Beijing on Friday. Some said the mask made them feel safe, while others said social pressures to wear the masks were also a factor. "I think I can take off my mask anytime, but I'll need to see i f others accept i t . Because I'm afraid that people would be scared if they see me not wearing mask," one 24- year old Beijing woman surnamed Cao told Reuters. I t ' s t he second t i me Beijing's health authorities have relaxed guidelines on mask wearing in the capital, which has largely returned to normal after two rounds of l ockdowns brought i t t o a standstill. Beijing's municipal Centers for Disease Control first said r esidents could go without masks in outdoor areas in late April, though the rules were swiftly reversed in June after a new outbreak in a large wholesale market in the city's south. China has reported no new locally transmitted cases on the mainland for five days after successfully controlling f l are ups i n t he capital, Xinjiang and elsewhere. Experts say the key to the country's success in controlling the disease has been the stri ct enforcement of l ocal r ules, i ncluding wearing masks, mandatory home quarantine and participating i n mass testing. Authorities r eported 22 imported cases in the mainland on for Aug. 20, and has closed i t s borders t o most non- Chinese citi zens. The country has reported a total of 84,917 cases since the outbreak began. BEIJING: Doctors in most public hospitals in Kenya's capital went on strike on Friday to protest against delayed salaries and a lack of protective equipment when handling patients who may have COVID- 19. The strike began at midnight on Friday, said Thuranira Kaugiria, secretary general for t he Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union. He said 320 doctors employed by t he Nairobi County government were taking part in the strike because they had inadequate health insurance, poor quality protective gear and too few isolation wards to treat COVID19 patients. The strike will not affect private hospitals and public hospitals within Nairobi run by the national government. Latest data show 31,441 confirmed coronavirus cases in Kenya, 532 deaths and 18,157 recoveries out of 411,630 tests done so far. The majority of confirmed cases have been in the capital. Kenyan doctors have been posting pictures on Twitter of what they say is inadequate gear supplied by the government, including porous overalls meant to protect against dust that would not prevent the spread of the virus. In a separate incident on Friday, police used tear gas against dozens of protesters who had gathered at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park to demonstrate against allegations of corruption in the procurement of protective gear. The head of the government- run Kenya Medical Supplies Authority has been suspended over allegations the agency procured low quality items and inflated prices of others. "We are tried of being bombarded every single day with news of how much money we are losing that should be going to fight the COVID pandemic," said Wanjeri Nderu, who helped organise the protest. "We decided today to have a peaceful march. We were teargassed more than 20 times ... some of my colleagues have been arrested." Activists were considering launching private prosecutions of some officials, she said. NAIROBI: Europe's travel recovery stalls in August Europe's travel recovery stalled at the start of August after a stronger performance in July, as quarantine rules and warnings over rising infection rates created uncertainty and deterred t ourists f r om booking t r i ps abroad. In July, ticket numbers for cross- border air travel within Europe stood at 28% of 2019' s levels, as Europeans began to travel again after months of lockdown. But by the first week of August, volumes had fallen to 18%, according to data provided by bers, Ryanair ( RYA. I), said on Monday it was already seeing the impact of new restrictions on bookings and it would reduce its flight capacity plans for September and October. Looking ahead, tickets issued for the fourth quarter for intra- Europe air travel are down 70% on last year, said Olivier Ponti, vice president at ForwardKeys. The fast- changing situation also means people are leaving it much later to make plans, searching for flights and booking much closer to their intended departure date than they did LONDON: travel analysis group ForwardKeys. Britain brought back quarantine rules for arrivals from Spain on July 26, just over two weeks after saying travel there was safe, and so far in August has added France, Croatia and Austria to the list with less than two days notice. Rising COVID- 19 infection levels in Spain have also prompted Austria, Sweden and Germany to warn against travel to the whole country or regions within it, creating uncertainty, and dampening airline hopes for a strong recovery. Europe's biggest airline by passenger num- last year, he said. Britain's transport minister Grant Shapps on Thursday warned on Twitter: "Only travel if you are content to unexpectedly 14- day quarantine if required". With such warnings, airlines face an uphill battle to fill their planes and get people travelling again. "Consumer confidence has been shattered by waves and waves of cancellations, uncertainties regarding refunds, swift changes regarding travel restrictions from one day to the next, and that's something that is hampering recovery," Ponti said. Myanmar locks down Rakhine capital after outbreak of more infectious virus strain India COVID- 19 cases near 3 million as Mumbai festival approaches Myanmar has locked down the capital of conflict- torn Rakhine State after an outbreak of a novel coronavirus strain that officials said was more infectious than that previously seen in the country. Nineteen people have tested positive for the virus in the western region since Monday, health officials said on Friday, the first local transmission in Myanmar in months, bringing its total number of cases to 409. Myat Htut Nyunt, deputy director at Myanmar's department of medical research, said the type of virus was the same as a mutation detected this week in Malaysia, which has been found in Europe, North America and parts of Asia, and is thought to be more infectious. "So we would like to inform the people that this kind of virus has a faster rate of transmission," the official said. The vast majority of the recent cases have been in the town of Sittwe, where officials have issued a stay- at- home order and imposed a curfew. Domestic airlines have suspended services between Sittwe and the commercial capital of Yangon. Tens of thousands of people are living in displacement camps across Rakhine due to fighting between government troops and ethnic minority insurgents. Myanmar has curbed internet access in swathes of the region, citing security grounds. Sittwe is also home to camps where about 100,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined since an outbreak of violence in 2012. Rohingya are mostly denied citizenship and face strict curbs on freedom of movement and access to healthcare. The virus outbreak risks inflaming tension between the majority Buddhist and minority Rohingya population, who have been targeted with hate speech after the detection of cases in the region. The minority are widely derided as interlopers from neighbouring Bangladesh, despite tracing their presence in the region back centuries, and have been accused of bringing the virus across the border. Rakhine State parliament lawmaker Kyaw Zaw Oo blamed Rohingya for the outbreak in a Facebook post, saying it was "almost 100 percent certain" that they were to blame and urged segregation between the two ethnic groups. He could not be reached for comment. Kyaw Hla, a Rohingya leader in one camp, said government staff had visited on Friday but conditions there were too inadequate to follow advice on social distancing and hygiene. BANGKOK: A jump in coronavirus infections on Friday pushed India closer to the 3 million mark, piling pressure on authorities to prevent huge gatherings this weekend as Mumbai celebrates the Hindu elephant- headed god Ganesh. For most of western India, especially the country's financial capital, Ganesh Chaturthi marks the beginning of an 11- day festival usually marked by big public celebrations. Social media was flooded with pictures of shoppers crowding markets to buy flowers and sweets, but it is expected to be a quieter Ganesh festival this year. "You can see everyone's shops are full of idols. No one is coming out to buy anything," Ramdas Ghodekar, who sells Ganesh idols in central Mumbai, told Reuters. India reported 68,898 new COVID- 19 cases in the past 24 hours - the third straight daily increase above 60,000 - taking the total to 2.91 million, the third worst in the world after the United States and Brazil Deaths increased by 983 to 54,849. Cases have plateaued in Mumbai, which now averages 1,000 a day and has recorded more than 120,000 in total, but strict government regulations have meant that the festival season, which begins this month, has been lacklustre. "People are buying cheaper idols and cutting down their budgets because there have been pay cuts and job losses. Last year, I sold all the idols in my shop - this year I will sell half of that," idol- maker Nandkumar Patil said. India imposed a strict lockdown in March, at the beginning of the outbreak, and in several cities like Mumbai, public transport, malls and theatres remain shut.- MUMBAI: Reuters PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTED BY PRESSREADER PressReader. com + 1 604 278 4604 O R I G I N A L C O P Y . O R I G I N A L C O P Y . O R I G I N A L C O P Y . O R I G I N A L C O P Y . O R I G I N A L C O P Y . O R I G I N A L C O P Y COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTED BY APPLICABLE LAW
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