Coronavirus latest: California guidelines to block many schools from reopening

Florida governor sees ‘some positive signs’ in state’s Covid-19 data

The White House has accelerated a shipment of an experimental Covid-19 drug to Florida, governor Ron DeSantis said as he sought to assure residents the state also had ample capacity in its hospitals.

Mr DeSantis said federal officials had accelerated more shipments of remdesivir, an antiviral treatment that helped shorten hospital recovery times in a US clinical trial, having expedited a shipment of the drug last weekend when hospitals said their supplies of it were running low.

Speaking at a press conference in Apopka, a city in the northwest of the Orlando metropolitan area, the governor sought to assure residents about hospital capacity amid the recent surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations.

“We have 21 per cent of the beds statewide available. That is a greater percentage than what was available in early March when the pandemic took off,” Mr DeSantis said.

Nearly 9,000 patients were being treated for Covid-19 in Florida hospitals as of Friday morning, a slight decline from a day earlier, according to state data.

Mr DeSantis said he was “seeing some positive trends in the data”, including a stabilisation in the percentage of people who were testing positive. The positivity rate was 11.85 per cent on Friday, the state health department revealed, compared with levels in the mid-teens earlier this month. However, Mr DeSantis said the rate among people aged 18-24 was 17 per cent, compared with 6.5 per cent for those aged 65-84.

The governor also said that visits to emergency rooms in the state have declined for seven days, which could lead to a decline in hospital admissions.

A further 11,466 people tested positive for, and 130 people died from, Covid-19 in Florida over the past 24 hours, close to record jumps for both measures.

California virus guidelines to block many schools reopening in new year

California has set out guidelines that are set to prevent many schools across the state from reopening classrooms when the new school year begins in autumn, owing to the continued spread of coronavirus.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that schools could only restart physical learning if their local region had been off the state’s county monitoring list for a fortnight.

Thirty-two of California’s 58 counties, representing more than 70 per cent of residents in the most populous state in the US, were on that monitoring list as of Friday. Hard-hit Los Angeles county and officials in San Diego said earlier this week their students would not be returning to physical classrooms at the end of summer.

The announcement came as the state’s health department revealed a further 9,986 people tested positive for, and 130 people had died from, Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, which were among some of the state’s biggest one-day increases on record for both measures. Since the pandemic began, California has reported more than 366,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7,475 fatalities.

Mr Newsom stressed the return to physical classrooms was dependent on local health data, and that employees and students would need to adhere to guidelines pertaining to mask-wearing, physical distancing, regular testing and contact tracing.

Former Fed chairs Yellen and Bernanke urge Congress to do more to support US recovery

James Politi and Courtney Weaver in Washington

Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, two former Fed chairs, appealed for Congress to take “new actions” to support the US economic recovery as it suffers from record levels of daily coronavirus infections, including more funding for the medical response, an extension of emergency jobless benefits, and “substantial” aid for states and local governments.

The plea from Ms Yellen and Mr Bernanke came in joint prepared testimony before the select subcommittee on the coronavirus response in the US Congress, marking their first appearances on Capitol Hill since they stepped down from leading the US central bank. Mr Bernanke led the Fed during the last financial crisis, serving between 2006 and 2014, whereas Ms Yellen held the post between 2014 and 2018.

Their intervention comes as Congress is preparing to dive into heated negotiations on a new stimulus package, after the $3tn deal already passed this year. Democrats are pushing for $3tn in new spending, Republicans are resisting, leading to an uneasy standoff.

“If the pandemic comes under better control, economic recovery should follow. However, the pace of the recovery could be slow and uneven,” Ms Yellen and Mr Bernanke wrote. “Fiscal and monetary policies must aim to speed the recovery and minimize the recession’s lasting effects,” they added.

The former Fed chairs suggested the next package should include some additional funding for the health care response, including money for testing and tracing, as well as reopening schools. They also suggested extending jobless benefits but, unlike the current flat payment of $600 per week, they would cap the money at a fixed share of worker’s previous income and tie payments to economic conditions.

They were most exercised by the need to funnel money to struggling states and local governments, saying it should be “substantial and without overly restrictive conditions”.

“The enormous loss of revenue from the recession, together with the new responsibilities imposed by the pandemic, has put state and local budgets deeply in the red. With limited capacity to run deficits, these governments will have to lay off workers and limit essential services unless they get federal help,” they said.

Foot Locker will not require customers to wear face masks

Sara Germano and Alistair Gray

US retail executives are at odds over guidelines requiring customers to wear masks in stores, raising the question of whether store employees should bear the brunt of enforcing public health measures in the absence of a uniform federal policy.

Richard Johnson, Foot Locker chief executive, told the Financial Times that after having several conversations with peer executives in recent days, the sportswear chain would not require customers to wear masks at its hundreds of US stores. The Foot Locker policy stands in contrast with rules announced by Walmart, Kroger and other large chains this week.

“Masks have become a political issue, not a health issue. I’m not willing to put my [employees] at risk” of having to defend a mandatory mask policy, Mr Johnson said.

Mr Johnson said he was troubled by accounts from other retailers, in which store employees have been injured while attempting to enforce mask policy among shoppers. “It’s been a really heated debate among retailers and retail CEOs,” he added.

Mr Johnson’s remarks come as retailers become front line of US war over wearing masks. And one of the largest US business groups is now calling for mandatory use of face coverings amid a spike in coronavirus cases.

“Failure to bring the pandemic under control will have devastating, long-term consequences for millions of Americans,” the Business Roundtable, which is made up of nearly 200 CEOs of America’s largest companies, said.

They commended companies that require face coverings and added: “We encourage every company to adopt this practice and hope that all Americans will adopt the use of face coverings to protect their families, friends, neighbors, and our economy.”

Read the full article here.

White House adviser wants Trump to resume coronavirus briefings

Lauren Fedor in Washington

Donald Trump should resume regular coronavirus briefings, a top White House adviser said on Friday.

Kellyanne Conway, who is counsellor to the president, told reporters “people want to hear from the president of the United States”.

“Doesn’t have to be daily, doesn’t have to be for two hours, but in my view it has to be.”

Mr Trump held daily, lengthy press conferences when coronavirus first began spreading across the US earlier this year. But he stopped briefing reporters shortly after attracting widespread criticism for suggesting that people could ingest household disinfectant to ward off infection and has not led a coronavirus press conference since April.

Ms Conway said the president’s approval ratings had been higher when he held the press conferences. Mr Trump, who is seeking re-election in November, has seen his approval ratings fall as more Americans disapprove of his handling of both Covid-19 and race relations following the killing of George Floyd. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, leads Mr Trump by double digits in most national polls.

Florida reports near-record increases in new cases and deaths

Peter Wells and Matthew Rocco in New York

Florida on Friday reported another set of near-record increases in new coronavirus cases and deaths.

A further 11,466 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, the state’s health department said on Friday morning, a moderation from yesterday’s 13,965. That is the fourth-biggest daily increase in cases for the state, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data, and compares with the record 15,300 on July 12 that was the largest one-day increase for any US state during the pandemic.

A further 130 people died over the past day, the state’s third-biggest increase, following a record 156 fatalities on Thursday. Florida’s three biggest daily increases in fatalities have occurred in the past four days.

The number of Covid-19 patients currently being treated in Florida hospitals fell to 8,968 as of Friday morning, down from the 9,091 reported around midday Thursday, according to the state agency overseeing hospitals.

US consumer sentiment pulls back amid virus spread

American consumers were feeling less confident about the economy after Covid-19 cases in the US south and west picked up, according to a closely watched survey.

The University of Michigan said on Friday that its consumer sentiment index fell to a preliminary reading of 73.2 in July, down from 78.1 last month and weaker than economists’ forecast of 79. The index remains 1.4 points above its April low.

A rise in coronavirus infections outside the US north-east, which was as an early hotspot for Covid-19, has stoked concerns over the pandemic’s impact on the economy. States including Florida, California and Texas have recently faced a spike in cases and hospitalisations.

“Following the steepest two-month decline on record, it is not surprising that consumers need some time to reassess the likely economic impact from the coronavirus on their personal finances and on the overall economy,” Richard Curtin, chief economist of the University of Michigan’s surveys of consumers.

“Unfortunately, declines are more likely in the months ahead as the coronavirus spreads and causes continued economic harm, social disruptions, and permanent scarring.”

A sub-index tracking consumers’ attitudes toward current economic conditions dropped to a reading of 84.2 in July from 87.1 in June. A gauge of consumer expectations fell to 66.2, compared with 72.3.

The survey came after data from the US Census Bureau showed consumer spending continued to grow last month. Retail sales were up 7.5 per cent in June versus the prior month, which followed a May rise of 18.2 per cent.

England’s cricket and racing fans see glimmer of hope for live action

Samuel Agini in London

Sports fans could be set to return to stadiums as soon as October under UK government plans that would be a major boost to leagues, teams and athletes who rely on ticketing rather than broadcasting deals to generate income.

Pilot projects this month and next will have fans returning to play their part in cricket, snooker and horse racing. The plan will pave the way for a return of the atmosphere and camaraderie that has been missed during months of coronavirus lockdown and social restrictions as sports have been forced to take place behind closed doors.

Venues will be able to welcome fans for the first time since March as long as strict measures are observed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Fans must keep their distance, which means venues will not be full to capacity, and have access to sanitiser and hygiene facilities.

The Premier League, England’s top football division, returned to action last month and is close to completing its season, saving hundreds of millions of pounds in potential rebates owed to broadcasters.

However, lower football divisions and many other elite sports do not have the luxury of multibillion-pound broadcasting contracts and the global appeal that have acted as a safeguard for English football’s top flight.

Other countries are looking to bring fans back. The Bundesliga, a rival to the Premier League, was the first major football league in Europe to return to action and has finished its delayed fixtures. Having live crowds in attendance will depend partly on regional coronavirus trends, the German Federal Ministry of Health has said.

Salvador Illa, the Spanish health minister, said this week that he does not think fans will be able to go back to stadiums in September when next season starts, as infection rates in that southern European nation have jumped.

Mr Illa said on Friday that Spain has 158 active outbreaks, with most under control.

Vincenzo Spadafora, Italy’s sports minister, has said Serie A, the top domestic league, will not be able to host live crowds until at least September.

Curfewed Indians gorge on snacks to double Britannia’s profit

Benjamin Parkin in New Delhi

A top biscuit and cake maker in India enjoyed a boom in quarterly sales and profit as stay-at-homers chomped on snacks and other cheap foods during an enforced lockdown.

Profits at Britannia, part of the 284-year-old Wadia Group, doubled in the June quarter from a year earlier and sales rose by a quarter to Rs34bn ($451m). The snack maker generated net profit of Rs5.4bn.

India was in the middle of a strict curfew for much of the three months, disrupting supply chains, halting much economic activity and crushing demand for many products.

Yet biscuit sales benefited as home-bound consumers sought low-price, packaged foods. India is one of the world’s largest markets for the snacks, often eaten with chai.

Britannia targeted consumers with products such as ultra-cheap cake bars costing as little as Rs5 (about 1 US cent).

It also expanded into rural India, which has shown tentative signs of economic improvement thanks to government stimulus and a good agricultural season.

Fed expands main street lending to include non-profits

James Politi in Washington and Colby Smith in New York

The US Federal Reserve has expanded access to a flagship $600bn lending scheme designed during the coronavirus crisis to help Main Street America to now include non-profit organisations such as hospitals and universities.

In a statement on Friday, the Fed said it would provide two loan options for non-profit groups, and the employee threshold to gain access to the funds would be 10, down from 50, the level it had originally set for the programme. This means more, smaller charities will be able to participate. 

“Nonprofits provide vital services across the country and employ millions of Americans,” Jay Powell, the Fed chair, said in a statement. “We have listened carefully and adapted our approach so that we can best support them in carrying out their vital mission during this extraordinary time.” 

The US central  bank’s “Main Street lending programme” was set up as part of the $2.2tn stimulus package in March to help struggling midsized businesses. But it only became fully operational this month after the Fed struggled to get it off the ground and faced criticism that the loan terms were too restrictive. 

US stocks come close to turning positive for the year

US stocks rose on Friday to come close to breaching into positive territory for the year, while European equities wavered as investors focused on a vital EU summit for a €750bn pandemic recovery fund.

The S&P 500 gained 0.2 per cent when trading began on Wall Street, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq rose by a similar amount.

The benchmark stock index, which is on track for its third consecutive weekly gain, briefly turned positive for the year earlier this week. However, it failed to hold on to those year-to-date gains as a mixed bag of corporate earnings rolled in and coronavirus cases continued to rise.

Shares in Netflix fell 7 per cent after it said on Thursday that its subscriber growth, boosted by the coronavirus-related lockdowns, would slow in the second half of the year.

Analysis outlines ‘work bubble’ potential for businesses

Andrew Jack in London

Employers should rotate their staff frequently between working from home and in the office so as to revive economic activity but ensure that they keep the risk of a fresh coronavirus outbreak to a minimum.

Organisations able to track and respond quickly to infections should divide staff into two groups and have them come into work on alternate days, a modelling analysis has found.

Those businesses less able to respond should limit rotation to once a month or less, the study says.

“Rotation as contagion mitigation”, a study from Northwestern University, London Business School and Cerge-Ei and Zurich University, uses mathematical modelling to analyse the impact of infection.

The details of the study have been released as the UK prime minister has urged workers in England to return to their offices. Boris Johnson said people could return to the workplace at the “discretion” of their employers, rather than staff being told to work remotely if possible.

Mink cull extends to Spain as critters spark virus transmission fears

Ian Mount in Madrid

Spain has ordered tens of thousands of mink to be culled after a majority of the creatures bred for their fur tested positive for coronavirus.

Officials in Aragón said this week that 92,700 minks, bred for their fur, should be slaughtered after almost 90 per cent of those tested on the farm were found to have caught the virus. The region that borders Catalonia to the west is one of Spain’s coronavirus hotbeds along with Madrid and Barcelona.

The outbreak in the Spanish region follows the culling of more than half a million minks on fur farms in the Netherlands since early June after the Dutch government confirmed that the virus had been passed from humans to mink and then back again.

Mink are able to catch coronavirus and can show symptoms including runny noses and respiratory problems.

“We know that there is possible transmission from man to mink,” said Fernando Simón, the chief epidemiologist leading the Spanish government’s battle against Covid-19.

“The decision that was determined to be the lowest risk for the population was to sacrifice the minks,” he said on Thursday.

A World Health Organization official previously said that transmission from animals to humans is “very limited”.

US housing starts jump in June approaching pre-pandemic levels

Signs of a rebound in the US housing market continued to trickle in, with the rate of new home construction surging in July as lower mortgage rates entice homebuyers.

Housing starts climbed 17.3 per cent in June from the previous month to an annualised rate of 1.186m — approaching pre-pandemic levels — the Census Bureau said on Friday. That was the highest reading since March before the pandemic crisis rattled the US economy.

June’s increase followed a 4.3 per cent rise the previous month and was ahead of economists’ expectations for 1.169m units.

Meanwhile, building permits for new homes — considered to be a leading indicator of the property market — rose 2.1 per cent to an annualised pace of 1.24m following a 14.1 per cent jump in May.

The housing market, which was also dealt a blow by the pandemic, has staged a quicker recovery than other parts of the economy. Policy responses to the coronavirus crisis have pulled down borrowing costs, including mortgage rates, which last week tumbled to a record low.

Moreover, Ian Shepherdson, economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, noted: “The housing market is the brightest spot in the economy, probably because most of the people who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 are younger renters; the median age of US homebuyers is about 47.”

S&P 500 set to turn positive for 2020 at market open

US stock futures rose on Friday in a signal that Wall Street could return to positive territory for the year, while European equities wavered as investors focused on a vital EU summit for a €750bn pandemic recovery fund.

Futures markets tipped the S&P 500 to gain 0.5 per cent when trading begins on Wall Street. The benchmark stock index, which is on track for its third consecutive weekly gain, briefly turned positive for the year earlier this week. However, it failed to hold on to those year-to-date gains as a mixed bag of earnings rolled in and coronavirus cases continued to rise.

The continent-wide benchmark Stoxx 600 was up 0.2 per cent in early afternoon trading, putting the index on course to grind out a third consecutive week of gains. London’s FTSE 100 was up 0.6 per cent, after prime minister Boris Johnson urged workers to return to offices in a push for normality by November.

BlackRock benefits from stock rally to beat expectations

Richard Henderson

BlackRock surpassed profit estimates in the second quarter after the bumper stock market rally boosted its assets under management, increasing the group’s fee revenue.

The New York-based fund manager delivered $7.85 in diluted earnings per share on an adjusted basis for the quarter, 13 per cent above analyst estimates. Assets under management for the world’s largest fund manager rose 13 per cent from the first quarter to $7.3tn, undoing the big drop in assets last quarter and coming in $100m short of its record high reached at the end of last year.

Net income of $1.2bn was a fifth higher than the same period last year, while revenue rose 3 per cent to $3.6bn from the second quarter in 2019. Fee revenue rose 2 per cent from the prior year.

BlackRock has taken a prominent role during the pandemic, managing the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying stimulus that attracted criticism given the central bank’s program includes purchasing exchange traded funds, even the asset manager’s own funds. The company has not taken revenue from the ETFs the Fed buys.


UK government encourages workers back to the office

Sebastian Payne and Jim Pickard in London

Boris Johnson has encouraged Britons to return to work in offices, announcing that official guidance on travel would change from August 1.

Instead of all workers being told to work remotely if possible, the UK prime minister said people could return to the workplace at the discretion of their employers.

Some will say this is too optimistic and the risks are too great. It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas.

But Mr Johnson made it clear that the latest easing was still dependent on the trajectory of Covid-19 continuing downwards.

Mr Johnson added that indoor theatre and music performances may return later in the summer, subject to successful pilots, with business conferences and audiences in stadiums refuting in October. But nightclubs and soft play centres will remain closed for the duration.

To help combat the outbreaks of coronavirus, Mr Johnson said that local and central governments would be given the powers to shut down businesses. He said the UK’s reproduction rate for the virus was currently between 0.7 and 0.9.

Catalonia urges citizens to stay home as rules tighten

Ian Mount in Madrid

City officials in Barcelona have finalised more stringent coronavirus measures with the regional government as Catalonia, the Spanish region hardest hit after Madrid, unveils the revamped rules.

The Generalitat’s plans are as expected, with a limit on gathering sizes and diners in restaurants, recommendations to stay at home while discos will be closed. The rules cover Barcelona and the surrounding metropolitan area.

The main measure forbids public gatherings or private ones of more than 10 people, which are the prime focus of contagion, said Alba Vergés, the regional health minister.

Cultural sites such as theatres and cinemas are closed. Citizens are recommended to go out only for essentials, such as work, food and medical supplies. Authorities are asking Catalans to refrain from visiting their second homes this weekend.

“There is a lot of transmission and it has grown very rapidly, so we saw we had to take action,” Mr Vergés said on Friday.

Spain has been one of worst affected countries by the pandemic, with more than 28,400 people dying after testing positive for coronavirus.

Barcelona to tighten virus rules again after cases surge

Ian Mount in Madrid

Barcelona’s city government is preparing to reimpose restrictions on residents’ movement and gatherings in an attempt to control a rapidly growing outbreak of Covid-19 cases in the Spanish city.

Spain has been one of the hardest hit countries by the pandemic, with more than 28,400 people dying after testing positive for coronavirus. Catalonia was the most affected region after Madrid and is facing the highest number of new infections.

The Generalitat reported 1,293 new cases in Catalonia on Thursday, including 372 in Barcelona. Those numbers are up from 938 and 246 the day before. Spain’s national government reported 580 new infections on Thursday, including 142 in Catalonia.

Health minister Salvador Illa said the rise in cases was partly due to increased and targeted testing.

“Seventy per cent are asymptomatic that are detected through an active search,” Mr Illa said in a radio interview on Friday. “That means that early detection works. They are much milder cases.”

Mr Illa said Spain has 158 active outbreaks, with most under control. Regional governments have been criticised for not having robust track-and-trace systems in place to stem the spread of the virus and contain any fresh outbreak.

This week, the Generalitat decreed that in Segrià, an agricultural region of 200,000 people, travel would be limited between towns and meetings of more than 10 people would be prohibited.

And in three neighbourhoods of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a city with a population of 260,000 that borders Barcelona, citizens were instructed to only leave their homes for work, food purchases, healthcare appointments and other essential needs.

The Barcelona restrictions to be unveiled on Friday are expected to mirror those of L’Hospitalet.

Netherlands’ Rutte sees only 50% chance of agreement over EU plan

The Dutch prime minister has stuck to his guns on any EU recovery fund being tied to economic reforms in the bloc as leaders of the 27 member states gather in Brussels.

The EU 27 leaders are arriving at the summit, which will be pitched towards hammering out an agreement over a €750bn package that will help the economy recover from the devastating blow of the pandemic.

“I will only agree to grants if the reforms are agreed to,” Mark Rutte said to the Dutch public broadcaster NOS as he arrived at the summit on Friday, adding that he was “not optimistic”.

The Netherlands is the unofficial leader of the frugal four nations in the EU that are resisting the recovery plan as it is on the table. Sweden, Austria and Denmark join the Dutch in demanding tough conditions and strict oversight attached to any aid. They oppose the idea of handing out grants rather than loans.

Mark Rutte holds his mask as he arrives for the first face-to-face EU meeting in five months

The Netherlands for example is only prepared to hand out subsidies to fellow member states such as Italy and Spain if they agree to reform their economy. The two countries were the first European nations to feel the effects of Covid-19 and are suffering a resurgence in cases.

Mr Rutte said he estimates the chance of reaching an agreement at this weekend’s EU summit at “50 per cent”, adding that “content is ultimately more important than speed”.

As he arrived, the broadcaster recorded him saying: “On the other hand, nobody is waiting for another summit to come together again and to flatten Brussels.”

A weak compromise does not move Europe forward.

Mr Rutte is to meet President Emmanuel Macron of France before the summit formally kicks off on Friday.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, reiterated though that a “solution is possible”, Reuters reported her as saying.

British Airways retires its jumbo jets

British Airways is to retire its entire fleet of Boeing 747s with immediate effect, bringing to an end the carrier’s long association with a plane that came to symbolise the golden age of aviation.

The airline said it made the decision with “great sadness” and blamed the pandemic on its plans to dispense with the “queen of the skies”.

While the retirement will provoke nostalgia among enthusiasts, it makes sense for BA, which will operate its schedule on more modern, fuel-efficient aircraft.

The airline had planned to retire its remaining 31 747-400s, which are the world’s fastest commercial jetliners, in 2024. In their modern set-up, the jumbos carried up to 345 passengers across two floors and had a wingspan big enough to accommodate 50 parked cars.

European stocks flat as EU summit kicks off

European equities were flat on Friday, rounding off another choppy week as investors focus on a vital EU summit that will discuss a mooted €750bn pandemic recovery fund.

The continent-wide benchmark Stoxx 600 was flat after mild gains at the open, putting the index on course to grind out a third consecutive week of gains. London’s FTSE 100 was also unchanged.

Investors turn their attention to the EU summit over the next two days for clues on how the 27 member states resolve their differences to work towards an agreement on a coronavirus recovery fund for the bloc, alongside a renewed EU budget for 2021-2027.

“We expect the recovery fund to be watered down,” warned strategists at ABN Amro, with the proposed split of €500bn for grants and €250bn for loans likely to be skewed towards becoming more evenly balanced.

The yield on 10-year German Bunds, a haven asset for the region, was steady on Friday, adding 0.01 percentage points. Yields rise as bond prices fall.

EU27 arrive at Brussels summit to thrash out recovery package

The 27 members of the EU are gathering in Brussels for the first face-to-face meeting in five months, as they prepare to thrash out a €750bn recovery package aimed at reviving an economy that has been devastated by the coronavirus crisis.

Charles Michel, the European Council president, (pictured on Thursday with Slovakia’s prime minister Igor Matovic) will chair the EU27 meeting while Chancellor Angela Merkel will be representing Germany, which took over the six-month rotating presidency on July 1.

EU leaders will discuss recovery plans that will outline the amount of financial support and how it should be shared out among the bloc’s members.

French president Emmanuel Macron arrives at the summit

Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, on Thursday urged EU leaders to waste no time in signing up to a fund for the countries hit hardest by the pandemic. She was speaking after the ECB governing council paused its monetary stimulus and voted to keep eurozone interest rates on hold at minus 0.5 per cent.

For more details, read EU leaders poised for summit showdown over recovery fund

Rio Tinto overcomes Covid-19 disruptions to post strong second quarter

Neil Hume in London

Rio Tinto shipped almost 87m tonnes of iron ore during the three months to June, the fourth best quarterly performance in the company’s history, in spite of travel restrictions and disruptions caused by Covid-19.

“Our iron ore assets are performing well in a strong pricing environment and we are on track to meet our 2020 iron ore guidance,” said chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques in a statement.

Rio, the world’s biggest producer of iron ore, struck a positive note on the economic recovery in China, where mills cranked out 500m tonnes of steel in the first half of the year.

“China’s demand for iron ore continues while the recovery in Japan and Europe is yet to begin meaningfully and is likely to be subdued when it does,” it said in a quarterly production update.

Prices in iron ore, a key steel-making ingredient, have risen more than 20 per cent this year to more than $110 a tonne due to strong demand from China and supply disruptions in Brazil.

That is generating huge margins for Rio, which can dig the stuff out of the ground for just $15 a tonne. It expects to mine 324m to 334m tonnes of the commodity this year.

However, the company’s strong financial and operational performance has been overshadowed by the recent destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal rock cave to make way for a mine extension in western Australia.

Israel takes new measures to slow resurgence of Covid-19 cases

Mehul Srivastava

Israel will close most non-essential businesses on weekends and restrict social gatherings to no more than 20 people, to battle a resurgence of coronavirus that is now infecting thousands each day.

Beaches will be closing starting next weekend, but stores, markets, barbershops, and a wide swath of other businesses will starting on Friday be shut on weekends until infections fall to a more manageable level, the government said. Restaurants will be restricted to take-away only, and government offices will work at 50 per cent capacity.

Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein told local media this week that barring a “medical miracle” the nation would be facing a full shutdown within weeks, after the re-opening of the economy in May led to a fresh rise in cases.

Close to two thousand new infections are now being reported daily, with 46,000 infections since earlier this year. The death toll has slowly inched upward, to 384.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded on Sunday that perhaps the government had rushed into too early a re-opening, when it removed most restrictions after a month-and-a-half nationwide lockdown brought new infections down to about 20 a day.

European stocks on track to edge higher as EU summit kicks off

European equities were set to make mild gains on Friday, rounding off another volatile week as investors focus on a vital EU summit that will discuss a mooted €750bn pandemic recovery fund.

Futures tied to the continent-wide benchmark Stoxx 600 pointed to gains of 0.4 per cent at market open, putting the index on course to grind out a third consecutive week of gains. Those for the FTSE 100 suggested the UK index will rise 0.3 per cent.

“Amid low summer liquidity, the uneven recovery and the persistent fears of a second wave of infections could keep volatility elevated after the strong second quarter rally,” said Emmanuel Cau, head of European equity strategy at Barclays.

He added that “all eyes are now fixed on the EU summit” over the next two days for clues on how the 27 member states resolve their differences to work towards an agreement on a coronavirus recovery fund for the bloc.

Americas round-up: new record rise in the US as Brazil cases top 2m

The US added more than 70,000 cases of coronavirus on Thursday in a new daily record increase with particularly sharp escalations in Florida and Texas.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Brazil has surpassed 2m, with few signs of the nation’s infection rates slowing.

The one-day record of 71,229 cases reported in the US on Thursday was accompanied by an alarming rise in coronavirus-related fatalities. The 977 deaths recorded on Thursday by the Covid Tracking Project was up from 855 on Wednesday and at a level not consistently seen since the tail-end of the earlier outbreak in the US north-east two months ago.

The continued escalation in case numbers has prompted the Republican National Committee to scale back its national convention set for next month in Florida. The Democratic party has already announced plans to hold most of its upcoming Milwaukee convention online.

Brazil has been adding almost 40,000 cases each day in recent weeks, with its total having doubled in less than a month. This climb in infections has followed a similar trajectory to India, where diagnoses of the virus have now topped 1m.

Read more of the FT’s analysis of the situation across the US here.

Inheritance disputes rise as economic hardship bites

Lucy Warwick-Ching in London

Disputes over inheritance are rising as more people in England and Wales take legal action to try to claim a bigger share of estates.

The number of contested wills being heard at the High Court reached an all-time high in 2019, at 188 cases — an increase of 47 per cent on 2018, according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice.

Roberta Harvey, partner and head of contentious trusts and estates at Forsters, said she expected the number of inheritance disputes to increase as the economic effects of Covid-19 added to the financial pressures weighing on families.

Read more here

‘Sofa rockstars’ boost instrument sales under lockdown

Nic Fildes in Cambridge

As the shutters were pulled down on Millers Music in March, the owner of Britain’s second-oldest music store feared that the business would never open again.

“As we headed into lockdown, I thought this is the end,” said Simon Pollard, whose shop has been present in Cambridge city centre since 1856. With Millers deriving 98 per cent of its £3.8m annual sales from customers buying in store, the future looked bleak.

But within a week, sales “went through the roof”. A traditional bricks-and-mortar store, Millers found itself thrust into the ecommerce age as customers stuck at home flocked to buy instruments, from £1,000 digital keyboards to £90,000 grand pianos.

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Japan launches tourism campaign despite rising Covid-19 cases

Robin Harding in Tokyo

The Japanese government has vowed to press ahead with a contentious campaign to promote domestic tourism despite fears it could spread Covid-19 across the country.

Under the “Go To” campaign, prime minister Shinzo Abe’s government will offer billions of yen in subsidies to kick-start travel to Japan’s regions, which are suffering from a collapse in international and domestic tourism.

But after a surge in infections in Tokyo, the government said it would exclude travel to and from the capital, a concession that would sharply reduce the economic impact of the scheme.

Japan’s dilemma reveals how even governments that have been relatively successful in controlling Covid-19 face a dilemma: the more they do to revive tourism, the more they could spread the virus, risking another lockdown.

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Surge in US cases leaves carers hunting for protection

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Scared of being sent into battle without a shield, Candice Cordero has been clamouring for better personal protective equipment since coronavirus hit the US months ago.

She and fellow nurses have protested on the kerb in front of their hospital, Blake Medical Center, just outside Tampa, Florida. Standing six feet apart in their scrubs and masks, some held homemade signs that read: “Safe nurses = safe patients”.

Now Ms Cordero is at home sick with Covid-19 after she had only a surgical mask when taking care of patients.

Surges in Covid-19 cases in swaths of the US have left many healthcare professionals once again hunting for PPE, and asking why hospitals and state and federal government did not secure supplies in the months since the virus emerged in the country.

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Cathay Pacific forecasts $1.3bn loss in first half

Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific expects to report a net loss of HK$9.9bn ($1.3bn) in the first six months of the year as the pandemic caused passenger numbers to plummet.

The forecast loss compares with a HK$1.3bn profit in the same period last year. It includes a HK$2.4bn impairment charge from 16 aircraft that are unlikely to re-enter service before mid-2021.

The Hong Kong government last month took a stake in the airline as part of a $5bn rescue plan after it was hit by a slump in demand in 2019 following anti-government street protests.

The airline said passenger numbers for the first half of the year fell 76 per cent. Passenger numbers in June fell 99.1 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier to 27,106 people.

Cathay Pacific said it had operated about 4 per cent of normal flight capacity last month, up slightly from May as it resumed flights to New York, San Francisco, Melbourne and Amsterdam.

However, it said it saw “gradual pickup” in demand from connecting passengers after Hong Kong airport resumed transit services.

The airline will operate a 7 per cent capacity in July and expects this to rise to 10 per cent in August.

“While some markets are starting to relax border restrictions and quarantine requirements in July, we remain cautious and agile in our approach to resuming our passenger flight services,” said Ronald Lam, chief customer and commercial officer.

EU accelerates Covid-19 relief borrowing plan

Tommy Stubbington in London and Jim Brunsden in Brussels

Brussels is fast-tracking plans to borrow €100bn to fund aid to countries hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, after officials were inundated with applications for cheap loans under a programme set up in April.

On a call with investors on Wednesday, EU officials said that bond issuance would begin in late September as planned but would end by June 2021, a year-and-a-half earlier than previously indicated.

Eighteen member states have submitted expressions of interest for loans totalling €94.5bn from the programme.

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AIIB lends $100m to Vietnamese private-sector bank

The Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has approved a $100m loan to a Vietnamese bank, marking its first project in the south-east Asian nation.

The bank said the loan would allow Prosperity Joint Stock Commercial Bank, known as VP Bank, to expand lending to the private sector—including small and medium enterprises—to help sustain business activities disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The loan is co-financed with the International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank Group, AIIB said in a statement.

UK builds up £100m Covid-19 medicines stockpile

Sarah Neville in London

The UK government is building a medicines stockpile worth almost £100m to boost supplies of vital drugs ahead of a potential second wave of coronavirus.

A tender notice seen by the Financial Times lists 46 different medicines, spanning drugs used in intensive care and for end-of-life patients, as well as antibiotics, with a total value of £96m.

Industry insiders told the FT that at the peak of the UK’s pandemic, it was at times touch-and-go as to whether sufficient supplies of medicines would arrive in time, although in the event, demand was always met.

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BofA warns Mexico on sovereign debt downgrade threats

Nico Davidoff in Mexico City

Mexico’s sovereign debt is at risk of being downgraded to junk next year unless the country implements painful tax reforms or redirects spending from pet infrastructure projects to helping businesses recover from Covid-19, Bank of America forecast.

“We believe the deterioration in fiscal accounts along with a very weak recovery of economic activity in the following quarters could lead agencies to downgrade Mexico all the way to high yield by 2021,” the bank said in a note to clients.

Mexico’s debt is currently rated BBB minus, one notch above junk by Fitch; BBB – two notches into investment grade – by S&P Global and three notches above junk, at Baa1, by Moody’s.

This grim projection would deal yet another blow to a country where gross domestic product is forecast by the IMF to crash by 10.5 per cent this year due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The bank expects Mexico’s debt to rise to 60 per cent of GDP this year from 45 per cent in 2019, and sees a 3.6 per cent primary deficit after a 1.1 per cent surplus last year.

“We believe Mexico could take several actions to avoid losing investment grade status. On the revenue side, the government could implement a revenue-increasing reform,” the bank said.

“We estimate Mexico needs approximately 3 per cent of GDP in extra tax revenue per year to return to primary surpluses above 1 per cent of GDP and stabilise the debt. The government may consider trying such a reform after the midterm elections” due in mid-2021.

But raising taxes after a pandemic is politically tricky.

Mexico could also take on more debt to boost aid for businesses or spending on economy-boosting production. But the government has refused big pandemic stimulus packages and preaches austerity.

“The government faces the unfavourable trade-off of cutting expenditure significantly to avoid debt increasing, which would hurt growth … or keep spending but increasing debt on the way,” BofA concluded.

Victoria reports record one-day total of new cases

The Australian state of Victoria announced a record 428 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, as the government struggled to contain a second wave.

Only 57 of the new infections were linked to existing cases, said premier Daniel Andrews.

There have been 5,165 cases recorded in the state of 6.4m people with 32 deaths. Three elderly people were the latest fatalities announced on Friday.

Australia’s national caseload has reached 10,810, with 113 deaths, according to the federal health department.

Mr Andrews said 1.25m people had been tested in Victoria, the country’s second most populous state, making it “one of the highest rates in the world”.

He said the lockdown imposed on Melbourne was working, despite the rising caseload. Federal health officials agreed, saying restrictions were starting to have an effect.

“We looked at some data yesterday about mobility around Melbourne,” said Paul Kelly, the country’s acting chief medical officer. “That’s decreased very rapidly and showing a strong message about physical distancing.”

Restrictions imposed on the shire of Mitchell, a semi-rural area north of Melbourne, were preventing the spread of the virus to rural Victoria, Mr Andrews said.

In New South Wales, tougher lockdown measures were imposed on Friday to be effective from next Friday.

Compliance measures introduced to pubs will be extended to restaurants, bars, cafés and clubs, including limiting group bookings to a maximum of 10 people.

Weddings and corporate functions were limited to 150 people and singing and dancing are banned at such events, while funerals and places of worship would be limited to 100 people.

Prof Kelly said he did not believe NSW was overreacting to just three new cases reported on Friday.

“The contact tracers [in NSW] are doing an extraordinary job of working through this web of transmission in this virus,” he said. “So the fact that there is only three so far [means] they’re on the case [and it] is a remarkable effort.”

Russia-linked hackers target Covid-19 vaccine developers

Helen Warrell and Clive Cookson in London and Henry Foy in Moscow

Hackers backed by the Russian state are targeting pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions in the UK, US and Canada conducting Covid-19 vaccine research, British intelligence officials have warned.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, together with Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, blamed the attacks on the cyber espionage group APT29, which it alleged was “almost certainly” working for the Kremlin’s intelligence services.

Officials would not confirm whether the hacking group had successfully stolen any intellectual property but said UK research facilities were being “well-defended” against the threat.

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Chinese stocks rebound after state media reassures investors

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

Chinese stocks rebounded on Friday following their worst fall in five months, boosting markets across the Asia-Pacific region as state media sought to reassure investors that the long-term prospects for onshore equities remained solid.

China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks rose 1.8 per cent after the state-run China Securities Journal ran a report stating that onshore shares’ recent fall was a “normal adjustment” following a period of marked gains.

The cheerleading from state media followed the worst day for Chinese equities since February. That sharp move led global markets lower on Thursday with a fall of almost 5 per cent after an outsize rebound of 3.2 per cent gross domestic product growth in the second quarter prompted concerns it had been engineered by state support that might not last.

The rally for Chinese stocks also helped turn round early losses for bourses across the Asia-Pacific region. Both Japan’s Topix and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 pulled back from initial falls to trade up 0.1 per cent, while Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng index rose 0.8 per cent.

Futures markets tipped US stocks to notch minor gains when trading begins on Wall Street later in the day, with the S&P 500 set to rise 0.3 per cent. The FTSE 100 was expected to rise 0.4 per cent.

South Korea to charter flight to bring back workers from Iraq

Song Jung-a in Seoul

South Korea plans to send a chartered flight to Iraq next week to bring construction workers home after dozens of South Koreans returning from the Middle Eastern country tested positive for Covid-19 this week.

About 100 workers had returned from Iraq to South Korea this week on a chartered flight, but at least 800 South Koreans remain in Iraq. Most are working for big South Korean construction companies in Karbala to build oil refining facilities.

Iraq is reporting about 2,000 coronavirus infections each day.

The measure comes as South Korea continues to grapple with rising imported cases. The country added 60 new cases, including 39 imported ones on Friday, raising the total caseload to 13,672, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of imported cases each day has remained in double digits for more than three weeks.

The country also remains on alert over potential cluster infections tied to Russian vessels docked in the southern port city of Busan. At least 19 crewmen have contracted the virus on three Russian ships.

South Korea has since Monday required arrivals from four high-risk countries — Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan — to submit a health certificate showing they tested negative for the virus.

Cuomo pledges to shut down NYC businesses over violations

Restaurants and bars in New York City that violate social-distancing directives and other measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic would be shut down after three violations, state governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday.

He said immediate closure would be enforced for “egregious” offences.

New York officials said more than 5,000 establishments, most of them near the city, had exhibited a lack of compliance with social distancing and other orders.

“It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, it’s selfish, it’s unacceptable, it’s also illegal,” Mr Cuomo said in a news conference. “New Yorkers are outraged at these establishments.”

He said the state government had received “thousands of complaints” from residents.

Guangdong to require negative test from Hong Kong visitors

People crossing the border from Hong Kong into Guangdong province will need to provide a negative coronavirus test from Friday following a local outbreak in the Chinese territory.

The Hong Kong government late on Thursday warned residents travelling to Guangdong that they would need to produce evidence of a negative test taken 72 hours before arrival.

Hong Kong reported a record 63 local coronavirus cases on Thursday amid a series of local outbreaks among taxi drivers, elderly care facilities and restaurants.

The government this week shut gyms and other venues deemed as posing a high risk of infection and limited restaurants to serve only take-away food orders after 6pm.

Cross-boundary drivers and essential business travellers are not subject to the new testing requirement.

Shenzhen, which neighbours Hong Kong and is home to technology companies including Huawei and Tencent, has recorded a 152-day run with no local coronavirus cases.

Those returning to Hong Kong from mainland China would be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

New Zealand tightens its Covid-19 recovery criteria

Health authorities in New Zealand have extended the period without symptoms that patients must exhibit to be considered recovered, aligning with Australian practice.

The health ministry said on Friday that the stricter criteria applied before an individual with Covid-19 is regarded as recovered and able to be released from quarantine or isolation are:

It must be at least 10 days since the onset of symptoms or positive test if the person was asymptomatic, and at least 72 hours without symptoms.

The period without symptoms required has been raised from 48 hours.

The new recovery criteria are in line with the approach taken in Australia and World Health Organization guidelines.

The virus can persist in cases who have recovered but are no longer infectious, the health ministry said.

“This is why testing is not routinely done in New Zealand or Australia to determine recovery, although it may be done if clinically indicated,” said Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of health.

Dr Bloomfield noted that a patient assessed as recovered who received subsequent medical treatment for an underlying health condition returned a positive result for Covid-19.

UK chief scientist contradicts PM on return to work

George Parker, Sarah Neville and Tanya Powley in London

British prime minister Boris Johnson’s determination to get workers back into their offices suffered a setback on Thursday when his chief scientific adviser insisted that working from home remained “a perfectly good option”.

Patrick Vallance told MPs that he could see “absolutely no reason” to change official government advice which says: “People who can work from home should continue to do so”.

Sir Patrick, pictured, told the House of Commons science committee: “Of the various distancing measures, working from home for many companies remains a perfectly good option because it’s easy to do. I think a number of companies think it’s actually not detrimental to productivity.”

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Singapore exports surprise analysts with 16.1% jump in June

Singapore’s non-oil exports rebounded in June, surging by 16.1 per cent and beating analysts’ expectations.

The June reading came in above a forecast by economists polled by Reuters that predicted 6.2 per cent year-on-year growth. Exports had fallen 4.6 per cent in May.

Exports of electronics rose 22.2 per cent year on year, while pandemic-related demand for pharmaceuticals saw shipments of those products rise by 30.8 per cent.

Singapore this week reported a record fall in second-quarter gross domestic product, pushing the country into a technical recession.

The decline came as the export-driven economy was hit by weak global demand and a strict lockdown at home to slow the spread of coronavirus.

In month-on-month terms, exports rose 0.5 per cent, above expectations of a 2.2 per cent fall.

Live Q&A: How will the coronavirus affect inequality?

Dave Lee in San Francisco and Claire Bushey in Chicago

The coronavirus pandemic has pulled back the curtain on a number of deep-rooted economic and social conflicts, among them being wage inequality.

Although Covid-19 threatens the health of billionaires and low-income workers alike, the latter are at a substantially higher risk of contracting the disease at work.

In our series, The New Social Contract, Financial Times journalists examined the problems and potential solutions we will confront after the pandemic.

Read our Live Q&A here

Governor sues Atlanta mayor over obstacles to reopening

Georgia’s governor has filed a lawsuit to stop Atlanta, the US state’s largest city, from rolling back its economic reopening and forcing people to wear face masks.

The Republican party governor, Brian Kemp, sued Democratic mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and other Atlanta officials, claiming they exceeded their authority by seeking to return the city to “phase one” of reopening, the most restrictive level.

The mayor also made the use of masks mandatory, while the governor said in his order that their use was encouraged.

“Governor Kemp has the authority to suspend municipal orders that are contradictory to any state law or to his executive orders,” the suit claims.

The governor claims the mayor issued executive orders “which purport to impose more restrictive terms than Governor Kemp’s order”.

The state on Thursday released the 124-page lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of Fulton County. It names the mayor along with members of the Atlanta city council as defendants.

Asia-Pacific stocks shake off weak lead

Stock markets in Asia-Pacific found a firmer footing on Friday following the biggest one-day drop for Chinese stocks since February as economic data showed an uneven recovery from the pandemic.

The Topix in Japan was flat, the Kospi in Seoul added 0.2 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.1 per cent. Futures tip the Hang Seng to gain 0.7 per cent.

China’s CSI 300 closed down 4.8 per cent after second-quarter gross domestic product beat expectations, as investors focused on weak consumption figures even as industry rebounded.

On Wall Street on Thursday, the S&P 500 ended down 0.3 per cent, snapping two days of gains and the Nasdaq Composite shed 0.7 per cent.

Those falls came as US unemployment data showed 1.3m people applied for jobless benefits, suggesting coronavirus outbreaks across the country have stalled a recovery in the labour market.

S&P 500 futures were up 0.4 per cent.

Wall St cuts Fed balance sheet growth forecasts

Colby Smith and Brooke Fox in New York

An expansion of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has stalled, leading strategists to pare down their predictions for the scale of the US central bank’s interventions in financial markets this year.

For the week ending July 15, the size of its balance sheet steadied at $7tn, a small uptick from the week before but roughly $210bn lower than the peak reached on June 10.

The incremental rise — after a 71 per cent expansion of the balance sheet since the start of year — follows a period of modest or declining usage for the emergency programmes the Fed had put in place since March to shore up markets affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

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Colombia records record number of new Covid-19 cases

Gideon Long in Bogotá

Colombia recorded its worst day by far for new coronavirus cases on Thursday, with 8,000 additional infections in a 24-hour period and more than 200 deaths.

The daily total of 8,037 cases was 18 per cent higher than the previous record, set last Friday, and 43 per cent higher than the next biggest figure, recorded on Tuesday.

Although the country has escaped the worst of the pandemic compared with its neighbours Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, its numbers have been rising steadily.

Colombia has registered more than 173,000 cases and more than 6,000 deaths – higher than the global average per head in both cases.

In his daily televised address on Thursday, Iván Duque, Colombia’s president, hit out at a recent court ruling which says the government cannot impose stricter measures on the over-70s than on the rest of the population.

He described the ruling as “absurd”.

The government had ordered people over 70 into a stricter quarantine than the rest of the country but a group of elderly Colombians took a case to court saying the measures infringed on their human rights.

They won, although the government is now appealing.

Mr Duque pointed out that 56 per cent of those who died on Thursday were over 70.

Official figures show that since the pandemic hit, over-70s have accounted for 7 per cent of all coronavirus cases in Colombia and 48 per cent of all deaths.

US and Canada agree to extend border closure

The US and Canada agreed on Thursday to extend the temporary restriction of all non-essential travel across their border by a month to August 21.

The restrictions, in place since March, prohibit travel for tourism or shopping, but allow commercial vehicles to deliver goods.

Chad Wolf, the acting US homeland security secretary, said restrictions on cross-border traffic have helped slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Most Canadians support the extension of the border closure, polls suggest, although the cessation of international tourism has hit border communities in both countries and separated thousands of families.

“I understand how difficult it is to have these travel restrictions in place,” Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday.

Canada Border Services Agency data show more than 10,000 US citizens have been turned away from Canada since March, with almost half of them hoping to shop or sightsee.

US CDC bans cruise ship sailings to September 30

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday extended a ban on cruise ships until September 30.

The order applies to passenger operations on vessels that can carry 250 or more passengers in US waters.

Earlier, the Cruise Lines International Association voluntarily extended the suspension of operations until September 15.

CDC data show 2,973 Covid-19 or similar illness cases on cruise ships, in addition to 34 deaths, until July 10. These cases were part of 99 outbreaks on 123 different cruise ships.

The CDC said 80 per cent of US cruise liners covered by the ban have recorded outbreaks of Covid-19. Nine ships are still dealing with outbreaks.

US new case toll exceeds 70,000 for the first time

Peter Wells in New York

The US reported more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time on Thursday and almost 1,000 new deaths related to the disease in a sign of the virus’s continued spread through western and southern states.

A further 71,229 people tested positive for the disease over the past 24 hours, according to the Covid Tracking Project data, up from about 65,100 yesterday and topping the previous record from July 10 by almost 4,600.

The number of fatalities rose by 977, boosted by record single-day increases in Florida (156) and Texas (129).

The national jump in deaths was the biggest single-day increase since June 3 when excluding a large, one-off revision New Jersey made to its death toll in late June.

Florida confirmed a further 13,965 cases of Covid-19 over the past day, the second-biggest one-day increase for any state in the US, while an increase of 10,291 in Texas was the state’s third biggest daily jump.

A total of 14 states reported daily increases of more than 1,000 cases, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

News you might have missed

The first clinical trial results from Oxford university’s much anticipated Covid-19 vaccine, to be published in The Lancet medical journal on Monday, will include what one researcher called “terrific preliminary data”. A senior scientist on the project, backed by AstraZeneca, said the vaccine gave a double boost to the immune system in the 1,000 UK volunteers who took part in its phase one trial, without significant side-effects. Trials of the vaccine are also being conducted in other locations, such as in São Paulo, Brazil, pictured.

US stocks edged lower after a sharp sell-off in China and investors turning their attention to the pandemic’s impact on the economy. The S&P 500 closed with a 0.3 per cent loss, snapping a two-day winning streak. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite was down 0.7 per cent, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.5 per cent.

Netflix added 10m subscribers from April to June, well above estimates, but management warned its pandemic-related growth is slowing. The streaming group cautioned investors that subscriber growth would slow in the second half of the year. Netflix expects to only add 2.5m new subscribers in the July to September quarter, its weakest showing in years.

The US Republican party has decided to hold a scaled-back convention in Jacksonville, Florida, next month, as the coronavirus outbreak in the state continues to spread. The GOP had originally intended to hold its convention, held once every four years, in Charlotte, North Carolina, but said it would move most of the event’s activities to Jacksonville.

Johnson & Johnson’s net earnings fell by more than a third as the Covid-19 pandemic delayed elective procedures and hit sales of medical devices, while the consumer division suffered declines in demand for beauty products. Revenue inched up as pharmaceutical sales remained strong, led by treatments for cancer and inflammatory conditions.

Target, CVS and Walgreens have joined a growing group of US retailers requiring customers to wear face coverings in their stores. These follow decisions on Wednesday by Walmart, the biggest US retailer, supermarket operator Kroger and department store owner Kohl’s to also require customers to don face coverings when shopping there.

France will insist that masks be worn in indoor public spaces nationwide from next week after signs of an uptick in coronavirus infections in Paris and some other regions, the government announced on Thursday. A decree ordering the wearing of protective face masks was to have been enforced from August 1, but has been brought forward.

Elias Mossialos, a leading Greek public health expert, has advised that wearing face masks in closed spaces should become mandatory following a recent pick-up in new confirmed cases of coronavirus around the country. The number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 has doubled in the past two weeks.

Hong Kong health authorities reported 67 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, triggering fears of an outbreak in the territory that has until now been a global success story in controlling the virus. Authorities warned of an increase in untraceable cases as they said 63 of the cases were local and not imported.

India crossed a grim milestone of 1m confirmed coronavirus infections on Thursday, as the country detected a record number of new cases, despite new local lockdowns imposed. India detected more than 34,200 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily number ever. It also recorded 676 coronavirus deaths, bringing total confirmed fatalities to 25,600.

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