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Business

Coronavirus: Boss of BA’s parent company says ministers have ‘set back recovery’

Cabinet ministers have “set back recovery plans” for the aviation industry by making pessimistic comments about Britons travelling abroad in 2020, the boss of British Airways’ parent company has told MPs critical of the company’s proposed jobs cull.

Sky News has seen an email sent by International Airlines Group chief executive Willie Walsh in which he remains defiant about its plans to make up to 12,000 BA staff redundant in response to the coronavirus crisis.

In his email to MPs – sent a week after he made a typically robust appearance before the transport select committee – Mr Walsh expressed renewed disappointment that trade unions had shunned engagement with the company during the consultation process.

IAG has been accused by unions of embarking on a sacking of BA’s entire workforce, with the majority to be re-employed on inferior terms.

“We are now 28 days into the consultations and to date, regrettably, Unite and GMB have decided not to represent their members, preferring to engage in what Unite calls ‘crisis leverage’ in an effort to intimidate BA,” Mr Walsh wrote.

“This has not, and most definitely will not, work.

“Time is not on our side so we will not pause or defer our consultations.”

The IAG chief also blamed several members of the cabinet for the urgency of its workforce restructuring.

He wrote that the prime minister’s decision to impose a 14-day quarantine on passengers travelling to the UK, health secretary Matt Hancock’s dismissal of “big, lavish international holidays”, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ remark about the riskiness of booking a summer break “have all seriously set back recovery plans for our industry”.

Mr Walsh reiterated his belief that passenger demand may not recover to 2019 levels until 2024, adding that IAG was continuing to explore “all other avenues to support our liquidity”.

Next week from Monday to Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World – a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.

We’ll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. If you’d like to be in our virtual audience – from your own home – and put questions to the experts, email [email protected]

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Economy

Colorado Office of Economic Development will not be spared from budgetary ax – The Denver Post

Given that more than 475,000 Colorado residents have filed for unemployment benefits the past two months, and with the state facing a projected $3 billion revenue shortfall because of the COVID-19 outbreak, major cuts are looming everywhere, Betsy Markey, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade told the Colorado Economic Development Commission on Thursday morning during a video meeting.

OEDIT received a $58.7 million appropriation this fiscal year, according to its FY 2020 Performance Plan. The Joint Budget Committee is looking to trim 27% from OEDIT’s allotment for the next fiscal year.

Markey detailed some of the specific cuts being proposed, noting that things could change by June. The Colorado Tourism Office is looking at a 37% cut in its budget. That includes money to fund marketing campaigns to bring tourists back to the state in the summer of 2021 and beyond.

Colorado Creative Industries, which to foster the arts and cultural activities in communities across the state, is facing a 75% cut in funding. The JBC plans to provide the minimum needed to win a match in federal dollars.

The state’s Office of Film, Television & Media, which has already had its allotment severely slashed in recent years, is looking at a 62% cut in funding, which could spell the death knell for the state’s nascent film production industry.  And the Outdoor Recreation Office, a relatively new program, is looking at a 33% cut to its budget.

Global Business Development, which helps recruit companies to the state and promote trade, should see much of its funding preserved, Markey said. It oversees the state’s Small Business Development Centers, which have helped business owners navigate the downturn and obtain CARES Act assistance.

Business Funding & Incentive is expected to take a hit, especially for programs dependent on cash funds, like the Advanced Industries program, which is funded through taxes on gaming revenues that have all but dried up.

“We are working hard to make sure the legislature understands the importance of the economic tools we have. They will be instrumental in helping us recover from the pandemic,” Markey said.

If cuts do come down, OEDIT will try to manage them in ways that don’t damage economic recovery programs and perpetuate future revenue shortfalls.

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World News

Berlin marks end of WW2 with unprecedented holiday

Berliners have been given an unprecedented public holiday on Friday, to mark the end of World War Two but also liberation from Nazi rule.

Not since reunification has a German city acknowledged 8 May as a day of liberation and some Berliners are unaware of the date’s significances.

A street party and several events have been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The holiday is one-off and is not being held outside Berlin.

But there are growing calls for a public holiday to be held across Germany.

What does 8 May mean for Germans?

For some, particularly in areas of the old West Germany, 8 May has long been associated with defeat in World War Two. Many families preferred to draw a veil over the period, both those who had suffered persecution as well as those who hadn’t.

In the areas of the old communist East Germany, 8 May was taught as “Day of Liberation” from the Nazi regime by the victorious Red Army. Post-war Berlin itself was divided into four sectors – the Soviets in the east and the US, French and British in the west.

In the latter years of the West German state, the date was also seen as marking liberation from the Nazi regime but nowadays more significantly as the rebirth of democracy.

The only national public holiday currently marking German history is 3 October, which celebrates the date of reunification in 1990.

Why now?

“It’s the principles of democracy that we want to get across,” explains Moritz van Dülmen, whose Kulturprojekte is behind a number of events.

Although many of the plans for Berlin’s public holiday have been scrapped, including a street party, an open air exhibition and numerous events at museums, some projects will still take place online.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will lay wreaths at Berlin’s memorial for victims of war and tyranny.

“We are also keen to reach a young audience, particularly those with a migrant background, who have little knowledge of German history,” Mr van Dülmen explains.

Remembering history, he argues, is more important than ever in light of recent deadly far-right attacks at a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle and a shisha bar at Hanau near Frankfurt.

Is the idea popular?

Talk to Berliners and many will not see the significance of 8 May as the end of the war, or even the surrender of Nazi Germany. Many only found out this week that Friday was a public holiday.

Hannelore Steer, who grew up in East Germany, sees the holiday as a good idea as she was used to seeing it celebrated many years ago.

Weng Yuen believes it would help people remember what had happened. “17 June used to be a public holiday in West Germany to remind us of the uprising in East Germany in 1953. That’s now largely forgotten particularly with a younger generation,” she told the BBC.

Berliner Tina Michael, who has two teenage sons, says that’s important as the history curriculum has recently been cut in German schools.

“As history and geography classes have been merged, a lot of material can’t be covered any more,” she complains.

Friday’s holiday has also been a subject for political debate.

Holocaust survivor Esther Bejarano, 95, wrote an open letter to Mrs Merkel and President Steinmeier calling for 8 May to become a lasting and nationwide public holiday.

She believes it could help Germans appreciate that 8 May 1945 was “a day of liberation and the crushing of the National Socialist regime”. Almost 100,000 people have signed a petition supporting the proposal.

Politicians including Katrin Göring-Eckardt from the Greens and Katja Kipping of the left-wing Linke party have backed her proposal. It was Die Linke that lobbied for the day to become a public holiday in Berlin.

Not everyone backs the idea. The far-right AfD party, which is the biggest opposition force in Germany’s Bundestag, is bitterly opposed to the holiday.

Co-leader Alexander Gauland sees 8 May as an “ambivalent” date, because while it may have meant liberation for some, it also represents the “absolute defeat” of Germany and the “loss of big parts of Germany”.

The day is being widely covered by German media, in an attempt to portray the broad array of experiences that Germans had as the war came to an end.

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World News

Most Africans ‘will run out of food in lockdown’

More than two-thirds of people surveyed in 20 African countries said they would run out of food and water if they had to stay at home for 14 days.

Just over half of the respondents said they would run out of money.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention research was conducted to help governments map out future policies on how to tackle coronavirus.

It warns that if measures are not adapted to local needs, there is a risk of unrest and violence.

The report, Using Data to Find a Balance, shows the difficulties of maintaining strict lockdown policies on the continent.

The research was conducted in 28 cities in 20 countries to assess the impact of the crisis and people’s attitudes to restrictions imposed.

Several African countries which had responded swiftly to the coronavirus threat are now easing restrictions.

“The proliferation of peaceful protests demanding government relief is evidence of the strain some people are already under, and highlights gaps in current responses,” the report says.

But it found that there was currently general support for restrictions that had been put in place.

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‘It is hunger I am worried about, not a virus’

The researchers recommend that governments need to communicate more effectively with their citizens and properly inform them about the reasons behind the measures that are being taken.

“What we’ve learnt from Ebola and other outbreaks is that countries need to decentralise the response to the community level and increase their capacity to identify and diagnose cases,” said Matshidiso Moeti, Africa director of the World Health Organization (WHO), which also commissioned the research.

Governments in Africa have been facing a dilemma when deciding how best to respond to the pandemic.

Millions need to leave their homes every day to go and work to feed their families.

“Countries now must find a balance between reducing transmission while preventing social and economic disruption,” the report says.

So far Africa has recorded nearly 50,000 cases of Covid-19, the respiratory infection caused by coronavirus, with just under 2,000 deaths.

The report recommends that while caseloads remain low, countries on the continent need to “build public health capacity to test, trace, isolate, and treat cases” as the necessary foundation for reopening societies.

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World News

The new house rules of my life under lockdown

What’s life like under lockdown for a university student who has moved back in with her family?

Hi, my name is Madeleine Hordinski, I’m 22, and I’m living at home with my parents and my 17-year-old sister in Cincinnati, Ohio.

20 March: I went on a social-distancing walk with my boyfriend, Krishna Nelson, in my neighbourhood, Walnut Hills. We did not get any closer than six feet for the mile-long walk.

The distance between me and my friends and me and my boyfriend right now has definitely been really tough. My boyfriend and I have actually been in a long-distance relationship for almost four years now, we go to school three hours apart.

And now that I’m home in Cincinnati where he goes to school, we’re kind of in this weird close-distance relationship where we see each other more often, but it’s outside and it’s from a distance. And so I think it’s been really difficult not knowing when we’re actually going to be able to hang out together again.

29 March: We have new rules in our house because of quarantine. As soon as I get home from work I wash my clothes and I take a shower and hand sanitise profusely, always.

I’ve been freelancing for PBS, and I’m covering a story that looks at how lower-income families are being affected by the coronavirus. I’ve been going to a homeless shelter and have been interacting with families – I have been doing everything I can to be as safe as possible

I’m also still at school at Ohio University attending online classes.

30 March: My sister and I drove to Mt Adams today since it was in the 60s (around 15C) – it’s a neighbourhood in Cincinnati with one of the best views of downtown, so we sat with the windows down to enjoy the view.

With regards to coronavirus in Cincinnati, a lot has happened recently, too. Just today, a bunch of employees tested positive for coronavirus at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, which is I guess not shocking, but still really scary.

So it’s just getting closer and closer to home. We have more cases here everyday, obviously, and more people dying as well. So I’ve been pretty much staying at home, spending a lot of time with my sister.

8 April: Sabina and her friend Avery, who is also a senior, return to their high school, Walnut Hills, to do a social distancing workout around the track.

My sister is having a hard time missing out on the milestones of her final year of high school, and trying to stay motivated with all classes moved online. “Sometimes it’s hard to not feel so isolated,” she says.

I’m feeling a lot more comfortable this week being quarantined. Not as overwhelmed and exhausted as I’ve felt in the past. But it is obviously really scary to see how many people are getting it around the US, because it is a lot different state by state and city by city.

11 April: We ate pizza and salad for dinner before having a movie night. My sister and my dad set up the screen for the projector before our social distancing movie night with our neighbours.

We watched Monsters, Inc. since we have four young neighbours.

13 April: My dad is a professional musician, he writes and plays guitar for people and he also teaches at the University of Cincinnati sometimes. Right now obviously all that is online. He also has a recording studio across from our house where he works, and he is still writing music.

14 April: My mom is an outreach coordinator at a local high school in Cincinnati and her job is to coordinate volunteer opportunities with her students.

She’s been working on sewing masks using old curtains, clothes and rags. She plans to send the masks to family and friends.

A teacher at my mom’s school died suddenly last week. The teacher’s death was unrelated to the coronavirus and came as a huge shock to my mom’s school community.

Since the teacher’s family couldn’t hold a funeral because of the pandemic, over 100 people showed up in cars to drive by her house to show their love and support.

My mom made a special poster for the family and put it in her car window. Her sign said ‘Praying for you, our hearts are with you’. It was just really cool to see how the community came together.

My perception of family has definitely changed since all this started too because I think I’ve become more attentive to how much I value my relationship with my sister. We’ve been doing so much together like running, cooking, dancing, so many things.

You know we still annoy each other but yeah it’s been nice spending a lot more time with her.

I think my family dynamics have changed too, everyone’s has. I think probably subconsciously we’ve been really good at giving each other space during the day, to just have our own time to work or to spend time alone.

And then at the end of the day we all get together and we eat dinner, sometimes we play a game, hang out with our neighbours from afar or just watch a movie.

It’s been incredible to see how kind people have been to each other, and how inventive people have been, too. I’ve loved seeing how musicians have walked down the street playing songs for everyone, or people have projected movies onto the side of apartment buildings so an entire apartment can watch a movie together from afar.

My little neighbour (who lives on the left side of the building) named Matilda turned five years old and had an ocean-themed birthday with her family. So my boyfriend, who owns a balloon company, brought over ocean-coloured balloons for her.

I think people are really coming together in a way they haven’t in a while, and that’s been really cool to see.

Produced by Hannah Long-Higgins and Robin Levinson-King

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World News

Five of the countries most at risk from famine in 2020

As deaths caused by coronavirus around the world continue to rise, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the world faces a possible “hunger pandemic” as the number of people most in need of food could almost double this year.

At the end of 2019, 135 million people were living with “acute hunger”. But with many countries around the world enforcing quarantine, that number is likely to rise to 265 million, the WFP says.

“Before the coronavirus even became an issue, I was saying that 2020 would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two for a number of reasons,” WFP executive director David Beasley said on Tuesday.

The organisation, which received $8.3bn (£6.7bn) in 2019, now needs between $10-12bn to sustain its operations for this year.

So which countries are most at risk?

Yemen

Even before the war in Yemen began, the country was the poorest in the Arab world.

But since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in the conflict against Yemen’s Houthi rebels in 2015, the country’s humanitarian situation has deteriorated still further.

“As conflicts become longer, more and more people become vulnerable”, the WFP’s Chief Economist and Director of Research, Assessment and Monitoring Division, Arif Husain, told the BBC. “In 2016 in Yemen, we were maybe assisting three or four million people. Today that number is 12 million.”

To make matters worse, the WFP said earlier this month it would halve aid to Houthi-controlled areas, over concerns voiced by some countries that the rebels were obstructing aid deliveries.

Yemen reported its first confirmed case of coronavirus earlier this month, with aid agencies warning that the disease could quickly overwhelm the country’s weakened health systems.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

After more than a quarter of a century of armed conflict in parts of the country, the DRC is the world’s second-largest hunger crisis, according to the WFP.

More than 15% of the country’s population are classed as “severely food insecure” – meaning that they are among 30 million people in war zones around the world who are almost completely dependent on aid. Almost $2bn is needed to secure the food supply for these populations in next three months alone, Mr Husain said.

“Those were the worst-affected people and now they’re in even more trouble,” he said.

The DRC also has 5 million internally displaced people and over half a million refugees from neighbouring countries.

In addition to the heightened risk faced by anyone living in war zones, displaced people are even more vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak because they often lack basic hygiene facilities needed to help stop the spread of disease.

Earlier this month the spokesman for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that ongoing violence in the DRC was threatening efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus there, which has so far mainly affected the capital Kinshasa.

Venezuela

Unlike the other countries on the list, Venezuela’s hunger has not been caused by conflict or environmental factors, but rather by economic hardship.

Although Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, hyperinflation in the country reached 200% in January last year, leaving a third of its people in need of assistance.

The difficulties have been compounded by a mass exodus of health workers, according to WFP.

And the problems don’t end there – around 4.8 million people (or 15% of the population) have left Venezuela in recent years, and hundreds of thousands of these migrants are facing food insecurity in neighbouring countries.

South Sudan

The world’s youngest country only gained independence from its northern neighbour, Sudan, in 2011. The move was meant to mark the end of a long-running civil war, but the country descended into violent conflict after just two years.

The WFP warns that hunger and malnutrition in South Sudan are at the most extreme levels since 2011, with almost 60% of the population struggling to find food every day.

Making the situation worse, swarms of locusts which had destroyed crops across East Africa arrived in South Sudan earlier this year.

“If Covid[-19] was not a story right now, desert locusts would be the biggest story,” according to Mr Husain.

And as one of the most oil-dependent countries in the world, the country is likely to be hit hard by falling oil prices.

The country has now recorded four cases of coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Afghanistan

Another country ravaged by conflict, Afghanistan had suffered almost two decades of war when the US invaded in 2001.

Eighteen years later, more than half of the population lives below the poverty line, and over 11 million people are classed as severely food insecure by the WFP.

According to Afghan government figures there have been over 1,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

While the numbers appear low, the country has limited access to testing and the health system has suffered under decades of conflict.

There are also fears that the virus could have spread after more than 150,000 Afghans returned from virus-stricken Iran during March, while tens of thousands of others returned from Pakistan.

…and the new 130 million

In addition to areas affected by war, environmental issues or economic crises, many more low- and middle-income countries are likely to be affected by job losses and other economic difficulties caused by the spread of coronavirus in the coming months.

The problem will be made worse by similar economic pressures in countries across the world, meaning that remittances, or money being sent back from relatives abroad, will fall in these countries.

“The most important thing is an affordable treatment which must be available to everyone across the world,” Mr Husain said. “But until we get to that point, we need to make sure we do everything in our power to save lives and protect livelihoods.”

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World News

Egypt to halt flights from Thursday to stem spread of coronavirus

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt will halt all air traffic at its airports from Thursday until March 31 to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said on Monday.

Egypt will sanitize hotels and tourist sites during the closure, he said in a news conference, adding that tourists now in the country would be able to complete their vacations.

Madbouly said Egypt’s strategic reserves of key commodities would last for months and there was no need for people to stock up.

He said local firms in the aviation sector would suffer losses of 2.25 billion Egyptian pounds ($143 million) due to the latest measures. The last plane allowed to depart would leave on Thursday, March 19, at noon.

Tourism is a key sector for the most populous Arab country. Tourism revenue rose to a record high of $12.57 billion in the financial year that ended in July.

Revenue continued to rise in the July-Sept quarter, the latest data published by the central bank, to $4.19 billion, the country’s best quarter ever.

Egypt closed schools and universities for two weeks on Sunday to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The number of cases rose to 150, information minister Osama Haikal said on Monday, up from 126 reported by Sunday. Two people have died.

Analysts have hailed Egypt for reforms tied to a $12 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund agreed in 2016, which included devaluing the currency by about half, cutting energy subsidies and introducing a value-added tax.

Analysts say the spread of the virus makes Egypt, with its large tourism industry, vulnerable. A global trade downturn could also hurt Suez canal revenues, which came to $5.7 billion in 2019.

Lower oil prices will likely be neutral, since Egypt’s bill for hydrocarbon imports, at $15.5 billion, is virtually equal to what it earns from exports, mainly natural gas.

Worker remittances worth $25 billion annually could fall if Gulf countries, the biggest employer of expatriate Egyptians, scale back projects.

Several Gulf oil producers have halted or restricted international passenger flights to combat coronavirus.

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Politics

Coronavirus: Millions of Britons will need to contract COVID-19 for ‘herd immunity’

Millions of Britons will need to contract coronavirus in order to control the impact of the disease which is likely to return “year on year”, the government’s chief scientific adviser has told Sky News.

Around 60% of the UK population will need to become infected with coronavirus in order for society to have “herd immunity” from future outbreaks, Sir Patrick Vallance said.

Herd immunity is the resistance to a contagious disease within a population because enough people have become immune, and so it is harder for it to spread.

There is currently no vaccine available for coronavirus.

So far, 10 people in the UK who have had COVID-19 – the disease which develops from coronavirus – have died.

The number of confirmed cases in the UK reached 590 on Thursday – up by 134 in 24 hours, although Sir Patrick believes the actual number of people infected in the UK at the moment could be between 5,000 and 10,000.

Sir Patrick described COVID-19 as a “nasty disease” but stressed most people would only experience a “mild” illness.

He described how a majority of the UK’s population of more than 65 million would need to be infected with coronavirus for the risk of widespread future outbreaks to recede.

“We think this virus is likely to be one that comes year on year, becomes like a seasonal virus,” he told Sky News.

“Communities will become immune to it and that’s going to be an important part of controlling this longer term.

“About 60% is the sort of figure you need to get herd immunity.”

Despite suggestions the death rate from coronavirus could be around 1% of those infected, Sir Patrick said estimating how many might die was “difficult” because there may be many more people that haven’t been detected yet.

“That’s why some of the new tests that are being developed now are going to be so important, so we can really understand how this disease is spreading and we don’t have a handle on that yet,” he added.

The World Health Organisation has declared a global pandemic following the spread of coronavirus across many countries.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday confirmed the government is entering the second phase of its response to COVID-19 – moving from trying to contain the virus to delaying its spread.

Anyone with a new persistent cough or a high temperature will now have to self-isolate and stay at home for seven days, while schools have been urged to cancel planned trips abroad.

Sir Patrick is helping to oversee the government’s response to coronavirus and defended the UK’s strategy in dealing with the disease.

Ministers are facing growing questions about why the UK isn’t acting in a similar way to other European countries, such as France and Italy, who have taken measures ranging from banning large gatherings to quarantining the entire population.

Sir Patrick said the UK is “a little bit behind” where the coronavirus outbreak is in other countries due to early action in tracing and isolating those who are infected.

“What we don’t want to do is to get into kneejerk reactions where you have to start doing measures at the wrong pace because something’s happened,” he added.

“So we’re trying to keep ahead of it, we’re trying to lay out the path so people can see what the actions are that are being advised.”

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