Closed Coronavirus: Starbucks to require masks after rise in US cases — as it happened

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Today’s top stories: Thousands of jobs to go at UK high-street stalwarts Boots and John Lewis. German exports start to recover in May. Lack of parties and dining out curbs chocolate binges as lockdown eats into sales.


US infections jump by more than 60,000 for first time ever

Peter Wells in New York

The US reported a daily increase of more than 60,000 coronavirus cases for the first time on Wednesday, vaulting the number of confirmed cases nationwide over 3m.

A further 62,197 people in the US tested positive for coronavirus over the past 24 hours, according to data from Covid Tracking Project, up from 51,888 on Tuesday and about 4,600 more than the previous high mark on July 3. There have been 3,042,503 confirmed cases in the US since the pandemic began.

The number of deaths increased by about 900 for the second day in a row, in the wake of Donald Trump hailing the country’s low mortality rate, which hit a more-than-three-month low of 209 on Sunday.

Wednesday’s increase in cases was underpinned by California, with a record jump of 11,694 that ranks as the biggest one-day rise for any US state, surpassing New York’s worst day of 11,571 on April 15. Governor Gavin Newsom said the number was elevated due to a backlog of test results from the hard-hit Los Angeles county.

Texas (9,979), Florida (9,989), Arizona (3,520) and Georgia (3,420) had the next biggest increases, but were just below recent peaks. Tennessee had a record 2,472 new cases.

Other states to report record increases in cases were Utah (772), Idaho (487) and West Virginia (246).

New Jersey (142) and California (114) registered the biggest increases in deaths, while Texas (98) reported a record increase in fatalities.


Asia-Pacific stocks inch higher after late rally on Wall St

Daniel Shane in Hong Kong

Stocks across Asia-Pacific inched higher on Thursday hours after a final-hour rally on Wall Street meant the S&P 500 ended in positive territory.

In early trading, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.4 per cent while South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.6 per cent. Japan’s Topix index added 0.1 per cent.

Overnight, the S&P 500 rose 0.8 per cent despite concerns over a resurgence in Covid-19 cases in US states including Texas, Florida and California. Futures trading suggested the American benchmark would open 0.1 per cent higher later in the day. London’s FTSE 100 was tipped to open 0.6 per cent lower.

Oil and gold prices were little changed after the latter shot above $1,800 per troy ounce on Wednesday for the first time since 2011.

Traders in Asia attributed the muted moves to thin liquidity with investors reluctant to take on more risk ahead of an expected summer lull.

Markets in mainland China and Hong Kong open later in the morning.


Trump rally ‘likely’ to have helped Tulsa Covid-19 surge

A rally held by US President Donald Trump in June was “likely” to have contributed to a surge in cases in and around the Oklahoma city of Tulsa, a health official said on Wednesday.

“In the past few days, we’ve seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots,” said Bruce Dart, director of health for Tulsa city and county.

He did not specifically refer to Mr Trump’s rally, which drew 7,000 people to a Tulsa stadium on June 21, but said: “We know that gatherings of any size can be conduits of transmission.”

Those large events “more than likely” contributed to a recent increase in cases, Dr Dart added.

Tulsa County, home to 650,000 people in the city and surrounds, recorded 206 new cases on Wednesday after a record 261 cases on Tuesday.

The county has recorded more than 4,500 cases of Covid-19, but more than 2,000 of those have emerged in the past two weeks.


News you might have missed

US stocks bounced back on Wednesday as shares in technology groups powered the Nasdaq Composite to a new closing high as it jumped 1.4 per cent to its fourth record close in five sessions. The S&P 500 gained 0.8 per cent, a day after snapping its longest winning streak of 2020. The tech sector rallied 1.6 per cent, while consumer discretionary and financial shares also posted gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.7 per cent.

California reported almost 11,700 new cases of coronavirus over the past day, a record single-day increase for any US state during the pandemic. A further 11,694 people in California tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, up from 6,090 on Tuesday, governor Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday. Mr Newsom said the rise was bolstered by a backlog of reported numbers in Los Angeles county, the hardest-hit region in the US.

Argentina’s biggest creditors rejected the government’s latest offer to restructure $65bn of foreign debt on Wednesday, raising fears of protracted negotiations that could hinder attempts to revive the country’s struggling economy. Although government officials have insisted that the proposal announced on Sunday was their final offer, Argentina’s two largest creditor groups said it still “fell short”, even if was “a step in the right direction”.

The Scottish government will require travellers from Spain and several other countries to quarantine for two weeks, saying low levels of coronavirus infections make it too risky to match the UK government’s exemptions for people arriving in England. The decision from Nicola Sturgeon, first minister, faced pressure from the travel and aviation sectors.

More than 100 tourists have tested positive for coronavirus and entered quarantine since Greece reopened to international visitors on July 1, health authorities said on Wednesday. Cases of Covid-19 were reported on the islands of Crete, Corfu, Thasos, Naxos and Karpathos among tourists randomly tested on arrival at Athens or at a regional airport.

Bed Bath & Beyond is to permanently close 200 stores as the homewares chain grapples with a collapse in sales during the pandemic, in a new blow to the US commercial property market. Stores that Bed Bath & Beyond identified for closure equate to about a fifth of the group’s 1,000 namesake outlets.

United Airlines plans to involuntarily furlough up to 36,000 workers as the pandemic cripples demand for air travel. The Chicago-based company said on Wednesday it will send furlough warning notices to 15,100 flight attendants; 11,000 in airport operations; and 2,250 pilots. Other affected employees include catering, technical operations and contact centres.

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have sued to block US attempts to eject international students whose courses move fully online due to coronavirus. In a case filed in US federal court in Boston, the two universities requested a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction to stop a policy announced on Monday that such students should either leave the country or transfer to an in-person course.

Brooks Brothers, the 202-year-old menswear brand, is to file for bankruptcy protection in the US, becoming the latest retailer to be pushed over the edge by the pandemic. The New York-based company, known for its upmarket attire worn by US presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, said it would file for chapter 11 protection in Delaware on Wednesday.


NYC unveils plans to reopen schools in September

New York City officials plan to kick off the new school year on schedule in September with a mix of online and in-person teaching.

Under several models announced on Wednesday, schools able to accommodate at least half of their student population under physical distancing guidelines, students will receive in-person instruction for the same two days every week, as well as every other Monday. Students will participate in remote learning on other days.

“For the vast majority of kids in the vast majority of schools, you’ll be going to school to the classroom either two days a week or three days a week, depending on the week,” said mayor Bill de Blasio.

The announcement follows a city education department survey that indicated 75 per cent of parents wanted schools to return in September. “We need to listen to the voices of our parents as we plan, “ said Mr de Blasio. “So many New Yorkers desperately need to get back to work.”

Richard Carranza, chancellor of the city’s school system, acknowledged the proposals had flaws. “These are tough decisions with no perfect solutions,” he said.


Australian state faces delay in reopening Covid-19 quarantine

The Australian state of Victoria faces a delay in overhauling its flawed hotel quarantine system to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and allow incoming flights to Melbourne, the capital.

The state government on June 30 authorised the Victorian prison service to take control of quarantine, saying it would take 14 days to “reset” the system.

But premier Daniel Andrews said in an interview with the nationally funded ABC on Wednesday evening that Victoria might “take a little longer than that two-week period”.

The country’s second most populous state has become a national pariah, with a surging coronavirus caseload and three other states banning its residents from crossing borders.

Hundreds of cases have been reported in recent days, some due to breaches in a hotel quarantine system that emerged last month as thousands of people refused to be tested. A further 164 cases were recorded on Thursday.

From midnight on Wednesday evening, stay-at-home orders were reissued for all of metropolitan Melbourne and the rural shire of Mitchell, north of the city.

About 5m residents of Victoria are allowed to leave their homes only for food and supplies, caregiving, exercise, and study and work, if it cannot be done from home.

The locked-down residents include thousands of tenants in low-income public housing blocks, where scores of health workers, supported by police, pictured, carried out testing on Wednesday.

The New South Wales border is closed and Victorian residents require a permit to enter. NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday more than 125,000 permits have been issued since the border closed at midnight on Tuesday.

She told border residents not to move out of their areas and urged non-residents to keep outside of the border region. The main border settlement, Albury-Wodonga, has seen only two cases of community transmission in recent days, Ms Berejiklian said.

“What’s occurred in Victoria is a wake-up call for all of us — how contagious the virus is and how quickly it can spread,” she added.

The north-eastern state of Queensland is also hardening its border. “From noon, July 10, visitors from Victoria will no longer gain access or be able to quarantine in Queensland,” said premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. “They will be turned around.”

South Australia also implemented a border closure from midnight on Wednesday.


China consumer prices rise 2.5% on year in June

Thomas Hale in Hong Kong

Consumer prices in China rose by 2.5 per cent in June compared with last year, in a slight improvement on the reading in May.

The new data shows that inflation remains weak on a historical basis as China continues to grapple with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The country’s consumer price index has this year been supported by strong increases in food prices, which in June added 11.1 per cent year on year.

Dong Lijuan, senior statistician at the National Bureau of Statistics, pointed to non-food prices edging lower compared to last month in the latest data, including continued falls in the cost of travel.

Producer prices, which gauge the cost of goods directly from the factory, fell 3 per cent year on year. The decline represented an improvement on last month, when prices dropped 3.7 per cent in the biggest fall in four years.


Bangladesh urged to free quarantined Rohingya

About 300 Rohingya refugees are still being held on a silt island two months after they were detained there as a precaution against spreading coronavirus in Bangladesh, an advocacy organisation claimed on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch is appealing to Bangladesh authorities to transfer them from the Bhasan Char spit of land to the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp so that they can join their families and gain relative safety.

“Bangladesh authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to detain refugees on a spit of land in the middle of a churning monsoon sea while their families anxiously pray for their return,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The government is inexplicably delaying aid workers’ access to support the refugees with immediate care, and refusing to reunite them with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps,” he added.

Some families in Cox’s Bazar said that camp leaders told them that if they wanted to see their family members, they must join them on the island, HRW said.

However it added that humanitarian experts have raised concerns over whether the island was “truly habitable” and said there were concerns over whether the refugees living there would have freedom of movement or even adequate access to food and water.


US institute launches clinical trials network

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced on Wednesday it had established a new clinical trials network to test a “variety of investigational vaccines and antibodies intended to protect people from Covid-19”.

“Starting this summer, this new network will leverage existing infrastructure and engage communities to secure the thousands of volunteers needed for late-stage clinical trials of promising vaccines,” US health and human services secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

NIAID director Anthony Fauci said creating an umbrella testing group with thousands of volunteers was essential to countering the pandemic.

“Centralising our clinical research efforts into a single trials network will expand the resources and expertise needed to efficiently identify safe and effective vaccines and other prevention strategies,” he said.

Vaccine testing would be led by Larry Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and Kathleen Neuzil of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Myron Cohen of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and David Stephens of Emory University in Atlanta would lead the antibody testing, the institute said.


Medical journal news round up

Pigs and chickens are not susceptible to Sars-Cov-2, the coronavirus that has now led to almost 550,000 deaths worldwide, a paper published in The Lancet Microbe medical journal suggests. The scientists administered a dose containing the virus into the noses of groups of pigs, chickens, fruit bats and ferrets and found the pigs and chickens were unaffected. Almost all the fruit bats had signs of a transient infection. Virus replication but no clinical signs of illness were observed in the ferrets. The coronavirus is thought to have originated in bats and a similar coronavirus that caused the Sars outbreak in 2003 is thought to have jumped the species barrier to humans from civet cats, which are from a similar family to ferrets. (The Lancet Microbe)

Researchers have accused the Indian Council of Medical Research of buckling under political pressure after it sent a letter to doctors instructing them to fast-track clinical trials of a candidate vaccine against Covid-19, proposing its launch for “public health use” by August 15, according to a report published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday. They are worried that a directive setting a target date may reflect a willingness on the part of the council to compromise safety or efficacy to please political leadership. (BMJ)

At least 10 per cent of all Covid-19 infections in England were among patient-facing healthcare workers and resident-facing social care workers during the period from April 26 to June 7, according to a report published in the Royal Society Delve Initiative. An estimated further 1 per cent of infections in this period were acquired by inpatients in hospital, with an additional 6 per cent of all infections among care home residents. This does not consider secondary cases arising from hospital acquired infections elsewhere. (Royal Society Delve Initiative)


Insurers start to offer Covid cover as UK travel ban is lifted

Oliver Ralph in London

The summer getaway is back on. The UK government has given the green light to travel to a handful of destinations including France, Spain, Italy and Greece, paving the way for the summer holiday season to start in earnest.

But with Covid-19 still a major health risk, travel insurance experts say that holidaymakers need to check the small print of their policies carefully before setting off.

The market is evolving quickly as insurers fine-tune their offers ahead of the summer rush. The good news is that coronavirus is not automatically excluded from all policies.

“At the moment we are seeing an increasing amount of cover coming in for Covid,” said Helen Chambers, head of travel insurance at Moneysupermarket, the price comparison site.

Read more here


Jacksonville residents sue to halt Trump event

Residents and business owners living and working near the site of a Republican National Convention venue are seeking to halt Donald Trump’s presidential nomination acceptance speech scheduled to take place in Florida next month.

The plaintiffs include Jacksonville resident Dexter Davis, who alleged that several of his family members had contracted Covid-19, one of whom had died.

The complaint, filed with Florida’s Duval County court, said the event at the Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville would be “a nuisance injurious to the health (and) welfare” of the city’s community.

Under US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the event “falls squarely” as a “highest risk spreading event”, the complaint alleged, adding that “it is necessary and essential that all super spreader events where large numbers of people congregate in close proximity indoors not occur”.

While the official Republican party convention will take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mr Trump’s acceptance of the nomination is scheduled for August 27 in Jacksonville.

CNN reported that the suit had not yet been recorded by the court.

Earlier, a health official in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said a rally held by Mr Trump in the city on June 21 was “likely” to have contributed to a surge in cases there.


Research into US prisons reveals high Covid-19 infection rates

The rate of infections with coronavirus in US prisons is much higher than for the general population and escalating far more rapidly, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals.

Mass testing in select prisons revealed severe outbreaks, with infection rates exceeding 65 per cent in several facilities.

The researchers concluded that the limited data available suggested the overall reported case rates for US prisoners was probably an underestimate of the true prevalence of Covid-19 in prisons.

Even so, the paper published on Wednesday showed that by June 6, there had been 42,107 cases of Covid-19 and 510 deaths among 1.3m prisoners indicating a case rate of 3,251 per 100,000 prisoners — 5.5 times higher than the US population case rate of 587 per 100,000.

The death rate in prisons was also higher at 39 fatalities per 100,000 prisoners compared with 29 deaths per 100,000 for the whole US population.

Counts of Covid-19 cases and presumed or confirmed deaths among inmates were collected daily by the UCLA Law Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project from March 31 to June 6.


New Zealand finds Covid-19 in 3 arriving passengers

New Zealand on Thursday reported more imported cases of Covid-19, although health officials said it had been 69 days since the last case of locally acquired infection.

Three arrivals, a woman and a man in their 20s who arrived on July 3 from India, and a man in his 30s who entered the country on July 4 from Italy, have tested positive, the health ministry announced.

All three are in quarantine.

There are 24 active cases in New Zealand, although no one is receiving care in hospital for Covid-19.


European futures rise ahead of market open

European futures pointed to a positive start to trading on Thursday following a rise in Asia driven by persistent signs of economic recovery in China.

The UK benchmark FTSE 100 futures headed 0.5 per cent higher ahead of the market opening in London. Europe’s composite Stoxx 600 also pointed roughly half a per cent higher.

Asian markets gained on Thursday as data from Chinese factories and consumer prices suggested that the economic recovery was on track.


Cat Rutter Pooley’s City Bulletin: housebuilders, Ofgem, NHS fine

Housebuilders Persimmon, MJ Gleeson and Vistry, which owns Bovis, have published updates that cover the three-month lockdown period. Persimmon and Vistry reported prices that remained firm. Persimmon said reservations have been running about 30 per cent higher than the same period last year since sales offices reopened in May, with the value of forward home sales 15 per cent ahead of last year at the end of June. But Vistry warned the shutdown would hit margins in the first half of the year. Gleeson said build activity on sites was only about 6 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

Ofgem, the energy regulator, has sharply cut the amount of returns that energy network companies such as National Grid and SSE will be able to make to their investors from next year. National Grid isn’t happy. It said it was “extremely disappointed” and “concerned” about its ability to deliver “resilient and reliable networks”. SSE meanwhile is “disappointed and deeply concerned” about the Ofgem draft determination.

The Competition and Markets Authority has fined drugmakers £2.3m over an agreement under which two companies agreed not to compete, allowing a third group to raise the price of a drug supplied to the NHS by 1,800 per cent. The company that made the drug, Aspen, has paid the NHS £8m to help resolve the CMA’s competition concerns.


Persimmon raises rebound optimism with strong forward home sales

Housebuilder Persimmon reported a sharp decline in first-half revenue but strong forward sales raised hopes of a rebound in the remaining six months of 2020.

Revenue at the UK’s second-largest homebuilder fell by a third to £1.19bn in the first six months compared with the same period last year, as about three months of coronavirus restrictions brought construction and sales of homes to a halt.

The outlook for the rest of the year though is brighter with forward sales of £1.86bn, up 15 per cent against the midpoint of the previous year. The group said that it was “encouraged” by the level of reservations by buyers since sales offices reopened in mid-May and that selling prices for new homes have remained firm.

It will make a decision in the latter half of the year on its dividend payment for the end of the year, as it warned that “the longer-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on consumer confidence and the UK economy has yet to be seen”.


Rolls-Royce warns of significant revenue drop over next 7 years

Peggy Hollinger in London

Rolls-Royce pledged to generate £750m of free cash by 2022 even as it signalled significantly lower income from its wide-body engine business over the next seven years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The aero-engine maker said in a trading statement on Thursday that the number of hours its wide-body engines flew — the source of more than half the income of its civil aerospace business — had fallen by 75 per cent in the second quarter.

Warren East, chief executive, said the virus had created a “historic shock in civil aviation which will take several years to recover”.

The group said it would close out a third of its dollar hedges taken to mitigate currency risk, after its cash position has been severely hit by the collapse in global aviation as a result of the crisis. Rolls-Royce now expects to see some £4bn in cash flow out of the business this year, £3bn of which would come in the first half. That compared with a promise two years ago to deliver more than £1bn in free cash by the end of 2020.


German exports turn a corner in May

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

German exports started to recover in May from the sharp falls recorded since the start of the coronavirus pandemic with a 9 per cent monthly increase in goods shipped abroad, figures published on Thursday revealed.

However, despite the first monthly rise in German exports for three months, they remained almost 30 per cent below the level of May 2019. Exports to France, Italy and Spain — three of the European countries hit hardest by the pandemic — fell more than to other countries.

“The German export sector is caught by structural challenges including trade tensions, Brexit and global supply chain disruptions but also the difficulties of main trade partners to cope with the virus,” said Carsten Brzeski, economist at ING.

Imports into Germany also rebounded slightly from their recent sharp falls, rising 3.5 per cent in May, driven by a sharp rise in goods shipped from China.

The Federal Statistical Office said that compared with the same month last year exports to China were down 12.3 per cent in May. However, that was a more moderate decline than the 36.5 per cent drop in exports to the US or the 46.9 per cent fall in exports to the UK.

Ralph Solveen, economist at Commerzbank, said he expected “a further significant increase” in German exports, after the country’s car industry association said auto exports doubled from May to June. However, he said German exports were likely to be down 20 per cent in the first half of the year.

Germany still generated a current account surplus of €6.5bn in May, although this was just under half the surplus it generated a year earlier.


Sunak sees some ‘deadweight’ to £9bn businesses’ bonus scheme

Laura Hughes in London

The UK chancellor has admitted there will be a “deadweight” cost to the government’s £9bn bonus scheme designed to reward employers who bring back furloughed workers.

Rishi Sunak used his summer statement on Wednesday to outline a package of job support worth up to £30bn, including plans for a “job retention bonus” of £1,000 per worker paid to companies that bring staff out of the government’s furlough scheme.

The plan could cost up to £9bn if all 9m people currently furloughed were re-employed before January.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Sunak said some companies would claim the £1,000 if they were already planning to keep workers on, but said the government’s approach was justified given the scale of the crisis.

“Without question there will be deadweight,” Mr Sunak told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

In an ideal world… you would minimise that deadweight and do everything in incredibly targeted fashion. The problem is the severity of what was happening to our economy, the scale of what was happening, and indeed the speed that it was happening at demanded a different response.


Tokyo fears reimposed lockdown after record case jump

Robin Harding in Tokyo

The number of new Covid-19 cases in Tokyo has jumped to a daily record of 224, local media report, raising fears of a fresh state of emergency to control the spread of coronavirus in the Japanese capital.

If confirmed, the figure would exceed the previous peak of 206 cases on April 17, at a time when the government was requesting that people stay at home and most businesses in the city were closed.

However, it is unclear whether today’s figure is comparable with the 75 cases reported yesterday – the first dip below 100 in a week. One possibility is that some cases were reported a day late, exaggerating the apparent increase.

Nevertheless, other indicators such as the percentage of positive tests have been rising, reaching 5.8 per cent this week compared with lows below 1 per cent in June.


Sunak hints at tax increases to revive public finances

Laura Hughes in London

The UK chancellor hinted the government could raise taxes to put public finances back on a “sustainable” level, a day after he unveiled a package of job support worth up to £30bn.

“I will make the decisions required, difficult as they may be,” Rishi Sunak told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

Mr Sunak was speaking a day after he gave his summer statement in the House of Commons. He outlined plans for a “job retention bonus” of £1,000 per worker paid to companies that bring staff out of the government’s furlough scheme, put in place to combat the devastating effects of the three-month coronavirus-related lockdown.

“Longer term, we will and we must return our public finances to a sustainable position,” he said.

“We are able to borrow at record low interest rates, that allows us to carry a higher rate of debt, but we must remain alert to changes. I think it’s too early to speculate, much as people would like to draw me into writing future Budgets.”


India adds record 25,000 coronavirus cases in a day as virus spreads

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India has reported an all-time high of more than 25,000 new coronavirus infections, and almost 500 deaths, in the past 24 hours, highlighting the accelerating spread and rising toll of the virus in Asia’s second-largest country.

After imposing one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns in late March, prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has relaxed many restrictions, hoping to revive the economy.

But the virus continues to spread rapidly, with new cities emerging as hotspots, while fear of the virus has weighed on economic activity. Many workers have refused to return to the cities to take up work.

India’s southern tech hubs, Bangalore and Hyderabad, are emerging as new hubs of the pandemic, with sharp rises in the daily caseloads over the few weeks. India’s financial capital, Mumbai, and New Delhi, are also hard hit.

Overall, India has the world’s third-highest confirmed coronavirus burden – after the US and Brazil – with a total of 769,000 cases. At least 21,161 people are known to have died as a result of infections.

Some cities, including the city of Patna, are reimposing local lockdowns.

Across India, schools and higher education institutes remain closed, as they have been since March, though July typically marks the start of the new academic year for Indian students.


Fast Retailing expects Uniqlo recovery to stutter and cuts 2020 forecast

Kana Inagaki in Tokyo

Fast Retailing has warned that the global recovery of sales at its Uniqlo stores will take longer than expected due to the coronavirus crisis as it cut its full-year profit forecast by 15 per cent.

Asia’s largest clothing retailer last month showed a surprisingly fast recovery of sales in Japan as Covid-19 cases fell and the nationwide state of emergency was lifted.

But outside its home market, quarterly losses have widened in North America, Europe and other parts of Asia as stores were shut down and spending fell due to the economic hit from the virus.

For the full year through August, Fast Retailing said it expected a net profit of ¥85bn ($792m) compared with the ¥100bn it projected in April.

The guidance cut on Thursday came as it reported a net loss of ¥9.8bn for the March-to-May quarter compared with a year-earlier profit of ¥44.6bn.

The group expects revenue in Japan to be flat or expand 25 per cent year on year during the June-to-August quarter, while sales in North America and Europe are expected to fall 10 to 50 per cent.


Lack of parties curb chocolate binges as lockdown eats into sales

Barry Callebaut’s quarterly sales of chocolate declined as consumers shunned confectionery during weeks of lockdown measures aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.

Sales volume fell 14 per cent in the three months to May, the world’s biggest supplier of chocolate and cocoa products said. Signs emerged of a gradual recovery in June as governments started to ease coronavirus-related restrictions.

Global sales have been knocked by duty-free stores being closed as international travel has ground to a halt. Present buying has declined too as parties and gatherings have been banned, analysts said.

Chocolate lovers munched less outside the home and were not tempted as much to buy on impulse in a third quarter when restaurants, hotels and most shops were closed for weeks, the Swiss group said. Europe experienced the steepest decline in sales.

“We are confident we should rapidly regain momentum as markets are gradually reopening,” said Antoine de Saint-Affrique, chief executive of Barry Callebaut.

The supplier to groups such as Nestlé and Unilever was confident enough in a recovery to raise its mid-term guidance by 1 percentage point to 5-7 per cent sales volume growth for the three-year period from September.

Cocoa prices have plummeted to a 22-month low on weak demand for chocolate, with the benchmark New York futures contract falling below $2,100 a tonne.


Hong Kong tightens social-distancing rules on flare-up fears

Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

Hong Kong tightened social-distancing measures again as the number of locally infected Covid-19 cases has risen in the past few days.

The territory is bracing itself for another spike in infections as most people have returned to work albeit wearing surgical masks while leisure activities such as theme park visits have resumed.

Restaurants will be limited to eight places per table and four people at tables in bars from Saturday, said Sophia Chan, the secretary for food and health. The total number of customers at eateries and nightclubs should not exceed 60 per cent of its maximum capacity, she added.

“Now it is a time for us to suppress,” Ms Chan said. “The focus of the suppression is on mask-off activities. We understand from the recent clusters and also confirmed cases that a number of them are from the catering business.”

Hong Kong recorded 42 new confirmed cases on Thursday, of which 34 were infected locally.


Pakistan to reopen schools and colleges from September

Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad

Pakistan is to reopen schools, colleges and universities from mid-September after a five-month lull, subject to a review of the spread of and the effects from the coronavirus pandemic.

Any educational institution that fails to observe correct procedures such as social distancing will face penalties and may even lead them to shut down, the education minister said on Thursday.

Thursday’s ministerial order from Shafqat Mahmood followed controversy over the long-term damage to students after schools and universities were shut down in April.

Relatively well endowed private schools have offered online classes but government ones that are poorly funded have done little to compensate students for the closure.

If schools reopen in September following a five-month closure, that will mark the longest closure of its kind since the 1979 hanging of the late prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Schools, colleges and universities were then closed for months under orders from General Ziaul Haq, the military ruler at the time who was concerned about a pro-democracy backlash involving students.

If educational institutions are reopened in September, the government of prime minister Imran Khan will have to devote extra funds for the educational sector to compensate students for their academic loss, analysts point out.

Pakistan has been under an IMF loan programme since July last year, which critics say has shrunk an already modest budget for social services such as health and education.


UK to test high-risk professionals such as taxi drivers and cleaners

Thousands of workers in high-risk professions will be tested for the virus under a UK pilot scheme as the government seeks to step up its test-and-trace scheme.

Taxi drivers, cleaners and shop assistants are among workers who are in close contact with others who will be tested even without symptoms, the Department of Health and Social Care said on Thursday.

More than 144,000 people who may have been at risk unknowingly of spreading Covid-19 have been reached by the NHS test-and-trace scheme and asked to self-isolate, the health ministry said.

The testing pilot will be carried out in partnership with taxi service Addison Lee, telecoms group BT, government contractor Mitie and Boots, which will each receive thousands of test kits.

Local authorities in London and the north of England identified as vulnerable to the disease will also receive testing kits.


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Boots to shed 4,000 jobs, adding to UK high street woes

Boots plans to cut more than 4,000 jobs following a “dramatic” decline in shoppers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK pharmacist, which largely remained open during the period of strict lockdown, has launched a consultation process for a “significant reduction” across its stores and head office, including the closure of 48 of its opticians.

“Restrictions are beginning to lift, but with an uncertain economic outlook it is anticipated that the high street will take considerable time to recover,” the company said.

Parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance announced it was suspending its share buyback programme on Thursday. The US-listed global drugstore group reported a third-quarter operating loss of $1.6bn, which it pinned on the performance of the UK business.

Earlier on Thursday, John Lewis said it would close eight of its 50 stores in a move that puts 1,300 jobs at risk. Job losses are piling up on the UK high street, despite the government’s efforts to dissuade employers from cutting staff as the furlough scheme winds down.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier warned that he would not be able to protect “every single job” as the UK enters one of the most severe recessions “ever seen”.


Scotland hits ‘most significant milestone’ to easing lockdown rules

Mure Dickie in Edinburgh

Scotland will allow multiple households to meet indoors and plans to scrap the requirement for children to distance themselves in the country’s “most significant milestone yet” of its relaxation of coronavirus lockdown measures.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen indoor facilities from Wednesday and to reduce required distancing from two metres to one, if mitigating measures such as improved ventilation are in place, the first minister told the Scottish parliament.

Childcare services and hairdressers will also be allowed to reopen, Nicola Sturgeon said.

Ms Sturgeon warned that the easing of measures depended on sustained progress against coronavirus. The estimated number of infectious people in Scotland has fallen to 1,000 over the past three weeks, a level proportionately far below that in England.

“This is also a time of real danger,” she said. “We will not hesitate to reimpose restrictions if we consider it necessary to halt the spread of the virus.”

The estimated virus reproduction number, which measures how many others each infected person is likely to pass Covid-19 to, remained somewhere between 0.6 and 0.8, Ms Sturgeon said.

Under the easing, members of a household in Scotland can from Friday meet up to two other households at any one time indoors, up to eight people in total. It will include overnight stays, a move Ms Sturgeon said was “one of the highest risk changes we have made so far”.

Places of worship will be reopened, but without singing and chanting. Children aged up to 11 no longer need to physically distance indoors.


Inquiry set up to evaluate Covid-19 response, WHO says

Anna Gross in London

An independent investigation will be conducted into the lessons learnt from the international health response to Covid-19, the WHO revealed on Thursday.

The news comes in the same week that the US initiated the process of withdrawing from the international health body after Donald Trump accused the organisation of helping Beijing conceal information about the virus.

Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia and a Nobel peace laureate, have agreed to serve as co-chairs of the evaluation.

“This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control,” said Mr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO. “We must learn honestly and follow through with implementation.”

The panel will present its results in May of 2021.

“I want us to see this as an opportunity,” Mr Ghebreyesus said. “It is a crisis but opportunities are born from crisis.”

We cannot go back to how we did things before… this cannot be a panel that issues a report and ends up on the bookcase.


US weekly jobless claims of 1.3m show gradual improvement

The pace of US applications for unemployment benefits slowly retreated again last week, with new claims totalling 1.31m as businesses grapple with the fallout from the spread of coronavirus.

Jobless claims edged down from the revised 1.41m reported during the week before, the US labour department said on Thursday. It was the 14th consecutive week that seasonally adjusted first-time claims have fallen since hitting a peak of 6.9m in late March, although the decline had been gradual in recent weeks. Economists had forecast 1.38m claims last week.

The number of Americans actively collecting unemployment cheques receded more than expected but remained above 18m, reflecting how lay-offs have continued even as many employers rehire workers.

Continuing claims totalled 18.1m for the week ending on June 27, down from 18.8m a week earlier and equivalent to 12.4 per cent of the workforce. This so-called insured unemployment rate, which was 12.9 per cent the week before, is considered an alternative measure of joblessness.

Read the full story here.


No 10 pledges to support John Lewis and Boots workers

Laura Hughes in London

The UK government stands ready to support workers on the brink of losing their jobs “in any way we can”, Downing Street said on the day that news broke of thousands of posts at risk at such high-street stalwarts as John Lewis and Boots.

The two big UK names said on Thursday that more than 5,000 job losses are to go with more stores closing as the coronavirus crisis batters the retail industry. John Lewis plans to shut two full-size department stores in large shopping centres in the latest blow to the sector.

“We understand that this will be a difficult time for employees and their families and we stand ready to support them in any way that we can,” a government spokesman said, referring to John Lewis.

I understand this is part of the John Lewis and Partners restructuring, which recognises that more people have switched from shopping instore to online.

John Lewis Partnership has said that redundancies are always an absolute last resort and every effort would be made to find new roles where possible for those who wish to remain within the partnership such as transferring to local Waitrose shops or online operations.

“This will be very worrying news for Boots employees and we stand ready to support those workers and their families in any way possible,” the Downing Street representative said about Boots and its plans to close stores and cut jobs.

The chancellor has said that sadly we won’t be able to protect every job but we have put in place a very substantial package which allows businesses to draw upon a range of financial support during this challenging time including loans, tax deferrals and cash grants.


Infections in England show no significant sign of rising or falling

Clive Cookson in London

The number of coronavirus infections across England is showing no significant sign of rising or falling, according to the weekly infection report released on Thursday afternoon by the Office for National Statistics.

ONS estimates that an average of 14,000 individuals living in the community (rather than in institutions) had Covid-19 at any given time between June 22 and July 5, equivalent to 1 in 3,900 people.

Over the same period there were an estimated two new infections for every 10,000 individuals a week — 1,700 new cases a day.

Although both new and current infections are lower than the figures released a week ago, the apparent decline is more likely to be a statistical fluctuation than a real fall in infections.


Hepatitis C drugs help combat Covid-19 in Iran trials

Donato Paolo Mancini in London

A combination of antiviral drugs used to cure millions of Hepatitis C patients has shown promising results as a Covid-19 treatment in hospital trials in Iran.

In results from three trials, 94 per cent of hospitalised patients taking a combination of sofosbuvir and daclatasvir showed reduced fevers and improved breathing versus 70 per cent in the control arm.

The death rate for those given the drugs was just 5 per cent compared with 20 per cent for those who were not.

The two antivirals join dexamethasone and remdesivir on a list of repurposed existing drugs that have been found to have a positive effect on coronavirus patients and are already being used in clinical settings.

Sofosbuvir and daclatasvir, which are widely available globally as generics, work by interfering directly with viral activity.

The studies used Sovodak, a combination of sofosbuvir and daclatasvir, in four university hospitals in three Iranian cities. Sovodak is made by Rojan Pharma, a private Iranian generics manufacturer.

Although US sanctions do not apply to food and medicine, Iranian authorities have warned that they are making the imports of drugs complicated and expensive and occasionally cause shortages in the market.


Florida reports highest one-day death toll

Florida reported its biggest single-day increase in deaths during the pandemic, even as public officials have expressed hope over a declining national mortality rate and signs that new infections are easing for recent hotspots.

Florida, one of several states in the US south and west that recently dealt with a spike in cases, recorded a further 120 deaths attributed to coronavirus on Thursday.

The increase in fatalities came as recent data has signalled the outbreak may be leveling off. The mortality rate in Florida was 1.77 per cent of all cases, down from about 4.3 per cent a month ago and its lowest since April. The number of positive tests reported each day has fallen from a recent peak of 11,458 on July 4.

US vice-president Mike Pence said on Wednesday the US has seen early indications that “mitigation efforts” are helping to slow the spread of coronavirus in areas where cases have climbed, noting that positivity rates in Florida, Arizona and Texas were flattening. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House task force, said data out of Florida signalled that the number of daily infections in the state may be stabilizing.

Florida’s health department said it has tallied 232,718 confirmed infections as of Thursday, an increase of 8,935 from the previous day. The number of Covid-19 patients hospitalised at any point during the pandemic stood at 17,167, which reflected a rise of 409 versus figures reported 24 hours earlier.

Florida does not provide daily updates on the number of people currently hospitalised. State officials said on Tuesday there were more than 5,000 people in ICU beds, about 83 per cent of capacity.


Wall Street slides amid virus worries

US stocks turned lower after new data showing an uptick in coronavirus-related deaths stoked investors’ concerns over the impact of coronavirus.

The S&P 500 was down 0.7 per cent in afternoon trading, having earlier slipped as much as 1.7 per cent. The Nasdaq Composite rose 0.2 per cent, as technology stocks outperformed the broader market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.2 per cent.

Investors have been closely following a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations in states outside the US north-east, an early hotspot in the pandemic, amid fears that states may further pull back on reopening businesses. Florida reported its highest one-day increase in deaths on Thursday and Arizona’s daily tally was about double the number of new fatalities it reported a day earlier.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell 0.04 percentage points to 0.615 per cent as investors moved into the debt, which is considered a safe haven.


Alabama, Arizona, N Carolina each report more than 2,000 new cases

States across the US sunbelt continued to reveal high daily levels of new coronavirus cases.

Arizona reported a further 4,057 new cases of coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the state health department revealed on Thursday, the biggest one-day increase in almost a week, but below a record 4,877 on July 1.

New deaths more than doubled to 75 from a day earlier and are at elevated levels, bringing the state’s total number of fatalities to 2,038. An average of 68 people have died each day over the past week, a record pace for the state.

The total number of confirmed cases in Alabama rose to 48,588, a record 2,164 increase from Wednesday, the state’s health department said this morning. About 30 per cent of the state’s total cases have been confirmed in the past fortnight.

North Carolina reported 2,039 new cases over the past 24 hours, up from 1,435 a day earlier, and just 60 shy of its July 3 record.


Starbucks to require all in-store US customers to wear face masks

Was that an order for a mask-iato or a macchiato? Starbucks announced it will require all customers to wear face coverings when visiting its US cafes, even in states and regions where mask wearing has not been mandated.

From July 15, customers visiting its company-owned stores in the US will be required to wear a facial covering inside, Starbucks said on Thursday.

“At select locations where a local government mandate is not in place, customers that may not be wearing a facial covering will have various options to order their Starbucks,” such as drive-thru, curbside pick-up or delivery, the company said in a statement.

The coffee chain operator said it is “prioritising the health and well-being” of its employees and customers, but the move by the group reflects the patchwork approach to wearing masks across the US.

Starbucks employees have been required to wear face coverings since early April, about a month before the company began ramping up store reopenings. One barista at a San Diego store was applauded in June and received more than $100,000 in tips through a crowdfunding campaign for standing up to a customer who refused to follow the county’s recommendation to wear a face mask.

In the absence of a nationwide mandate to wear face coverings, states such as New York and New Jersey, and more recently California, Texas and North Carolina, are among those that require residents to don a mask in public or high-risk situations. Facing a surge in local infections, some counties are choosing to institute mask mandates, putting them at odds with state governments that refuse to issue a statewide order.

Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who revealed earlier this week she had tested positive for coronavirus, issued a mandate late on Wednesday for all residents in the city to wear face coverings. That made Atlanta the fifth city in Georgia, which is one of nine US states with more than 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, to have issued, or have a plan to issue, an order requiring masks to be worn in public. Governor Brian Kemp has encouraged wearing masks but has stated he has no intention of issuing a statewide mandate.

A number of counties in Florida, where governor Ron DeSantis has also said he does not plan to issue a statewide mask mandate, have attempted to limit the spread of the disease by issuing regional orders that require residents to wear face coverings. Some residents have filed legal challenges against those counties.


California reports record daily increase in Covid-19 deaths

California reported a record one-day increase in coronavirus-related deaths, stirring concerns about whether the latest rise in infections will be accompanied by a surge in fatalities.

A further 149 people in California died over the past 24 hours, governor Gavin Newsom revealed at a press conference on Thursday, a record for the state and compared with 114 on Wednesday, according to Covid Tracking Project data. The state has averaged more than 70 deaths a day over the past week, Mr Newsom said.

Over the past day, the state confirmed a further 7,031 people tested positive for coronavirus, Mr Newsom said. That is down from a 11,694 on Wednesday, which is the biggest one-day increase for any state during the pandemic, topping 11,571 for New York on April 15.

California’s update followed Florida earlier today revealing it had its biggest single-day increase in fatalities since the pandemic began, with a further 120 deaths over the past 24 hours. Arizona reported 75 new deaths since Wednesday and is now averaging a pace of 68 fatalities a day, a state record.

The nationwide death tally has increased by about 900 for each of the past two days, and up from a more than three month low of 242 on Monday, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

The daily increase in deaths had been trending lower for weeks, which federal officials claimed in recent days was a reason the rise in new cases across the west and south of the US was under control.


Wall Street slides as virus worries weigh on stocks

US stocks fell amid concerns over the impact of rising coronavirus cases, even as technology stocks powered the Nasdaq Composite to another record high.

The S&P 500 closed 0.6 per cent lower with the energy, financial and industrial sectors leading the decline. Energy shares were the worst performer, as demand fears dragged on crude prices.

The Nasdaq rose 0.5 per cent, as shares across the tech sector outperformed the broader market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.4 per cent, as shares in Walgreens Boots Alliance lost more than 7 per cent.

Florida and California on Thursday each reported a record one-day increase in deaths attributed to coronavirus, stoking concerns among investors over the recent rise in infections and its impact on reopening plans. The governors of Texas and Florida ordered bars closed again at the end of June in hopes of slowing the virus. California later shut bars and indoor dining in the state’s hardest-hit counties.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note – considered a safe haven – fell 0.04 percentage points to 0.609 per cent, as investors moved into the debt.


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Texas reports record one-day increase in coroanvirus deaths

Texas joined California and Florida on Thursday in reporting a record single-day increase in deaths.

The Lone Star state had a further 105 deaths over the past 24 hours, its health department revealed this afternoon. It was the third day in a row deaths have increased by a record daily amount, up from 98 on Wednesday. A total of 2,918 people have died in Texas since the pandemic began.

A further 9,782 people tested positive for Covid-19 since Wednesday, the Texas health department said, not far from Tuesday’s record increase of 10,028.

About 9,689 people are hospitalised with coronavirus in the state’s hospitals, up from 9,610 on Wednesday.


Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen returned to prison

Kadhim Shubber in Washington

Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney to Donald Trump, was abruptly returned to prison on Thursday after being released to serve his sentence at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cohen had been released in May after serving about a year of a three-year sentence. He was convicted in late 2018 for crimes including campaign finance violations relating to Mr Trump’s 2016 election victory.

Lanny Davis, a former attorney for Cohen, told reporters he had been taken into custody after reporting for a meeting with probation officers where he had expected to sign paperwork and receive an ankle bracelet. Mr Davis said the officers had demanded that Cohen agree to conditions including not speaking to the media, writing a book or posting on social media for the duration of his home confinement.

After Cohen declined, he and his lawyer waited an hour and a half before three US marshals unexpectedly shackled him and took him away, said Mr Davis. He added that Cohen had agreed at the last minute to the restrictions but that one of the marshals said the matter was out of their hands.

“As a federal inmate, Mr. Cohen remains subject to compliance with [Bureau of Prisons] policy, which includes being subject to electric monitoring and obtaining pre-approval for media interviews. As a result of his refusal to consent to the terms of the [home confinement] program, he was returned to a BOP facility for service of his sentence,” said a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson.

Mr Davis said he did not know the prison at which Cohen was currently held.

The former Trump attorney had been pictured last week at a restaurant nearby his apartment. Mr Davis said Cohen had believed visiting the restaurant did not violate the conditions of his release and that he had not been told otherwise by the Bureau of Prisons.


Daily increase in US deaths remains elevated

The US reported that coronavirus-related deaths rose by more than 800 for the third day in a row, underpinned by record one-day increases in California, Texas and Florida.

A further 867 people in the US died over the past 24 hours, according to Covid Tracking Project data, compared with an increase of 897 yesterday and 922 on Tuesday. These are the highest levels since early June, excluding a large historical revision to New Jersey’s numbers on June 25.

California, Florida and Texas comprised 43 per cent of Thursday’s nationwide increase in fatalities, with record one-day jumps of 149, 120 and 105 respectively. Nevada (18) was the only other state to report a record rise in fatalities.

The jump in the national death toll in recent days has come against the backdrop of federal officials who have pointed to a weeks-long decline in the death rate as a sign Covid-19’s spread through sunbelt states was under control. On July 5, just 209 deaths were reported, the fewest in just over three months.

The number of new coronavirus cases remained elevated, with a further 58,836 people in the US testing positive over the past 24 hours, a one-day increase second only to Wednesday’s record jump of more than 62,000.

Texas (9,782), Florida (8,935), California (7,031), Arizona (4,057) and Georgia (2,837) posted the biggest increases, but all were less than recent record jumps.

Five states — Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Washington and Wisconsin — reported record increases, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.