Video conferencing and social media aren’t the only things getting more attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. With people stuck at home, cryptocurrency is seeing renewed interest by some investors.
“I expected with the pandemic people would want to pull money back, especially if they are losing their jobs,” said Adam Traidman, CEO and Co-Founder of BRD, the cryptocurrencies digital wallet company, in a recent interview. “If you look at the downloads, it’s setting all-time highs every month this year.”
Since March BRD has added 678,000 users in the U.S. and is on track to hit 5 million on a global basis by the end of August. Prior to the pandemic, the 5 million user mark was an end of 2020 goal.
Traidman credits a lot of the surge in downloads to stay-at-home orders still in place in cities across the country and world. People have more time to research alternative asset classes, including cryptocurrency. It didn’t hurt that U.S. stocks were taking a beating in the early days of the pandemic. Panicked investors looking for alternatives set their sights on cryptocurrency. In March and April, trading volumes for bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency, reached record highs on that interest.
Then there’s the need to send money cross borders. With stores shuttered, consumers are forced to find alternatives to get money in the hands of family overseas. Since the pandemic hit in March, shares of bitcoin, have been surging. That doesn’t mean the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies won’t remain volatile, but with the pandemic changing the way we do pretty much everything it could become more mainstream in a post COVID-19 world.
Samsung Electronics seems to think so. Last week it announced a deal with Gemini Trust, the U.S. cryptocurrency exchange and custodian. Gemini is powering Samsung’s blockchain wallet, enabling its U.S. and Canadian customers to buy, store, and sell digital tokens from the mobile app. By integrating with Gemini Trust, Samsung is removing some of the steps necessary when purchasing cryptocurrencies, making it easier to be adopted by the general public. A big knock on cryptocurrency has been the complexity in purchasing tokens.
JPMorgan JPM is also showing the cryptocurrency market some more love. Earlier this month it accepted Coinbase and Gemini Trust as banking customers. It’s the first time JPMorgan brought on cryptocurrency companies as customers. JPMorgan’s support is good news for the industry, given the bank’s CEO Jamie Dimon had been a critic of bitcoin in the past. He did eventually come around with the bank launching its own digital currency in February of 2019.
While bitcoin has failed to take off with the masses, that may change in a post COVID-19 world where people favor digital payments over physical currency. Contactless payments will undoubtedly grow in a world where social distancing is the norm. That bodes well for digital wallets, whether it’s housing payment information or cryptocurrencies. It’s a new reality the nation’s financial institutions’ are waking up to as well. Traidman at BRD said he’s been fielding calls from major financial institutions that are expressing a need for digital asset technology. “People want a wallet on their phone. They don’t care if it’s in dollars or crypto,” said the executive.
People congregate outside a restaurant in the upper east side during the coronavirus pandemic on May 2, 2020 in New York City.
Noam Galai | Getty Images
As states gradually reopen, the U.S. economy is showing signs of life after one of the most significant downturns in history.
Though many restrictions remain in place across the country, Americans are gaining a greater sense of normalcy as they venture out to restaurants, increase travel and buy new homes.
These charts track five key indicators that signal a growing revival of the economy as consumers resume familiar routines and move forward from lockdown measures and business closures.
Americans are starting to drive and walk again, though transit use is lagging
Apple Maps is often a go-to navigation app for many travelers. However, with stay-at-home orders implemented throughout the majority of the U.S. in March and April, many Americans could only venture out for essential reasons, such as a trip to the grocery store. Data from Apple shows a sharp decline in requests for directions on Apple Maps during the early stages of pandemic as lockdown measures were put in place.
As states began to ease travel restrictions, data shows an increase in requests for walking and driving directions. With retailers, beaches, parks and other places reopening, travelers have had more places to visit these past few weeks.
However, requests for transit directions still remain at less than half of their previous levels. As employees continue to work from home and travelers remain fearful of catching the virus in crowded subway cars, buses and trains, public transportation may not be an ideal option yet for many commuters.
Diners are returning to restaurants
The restaurant industry was hit hard by the coronavirus as most states restricted their business to takeout, delivery and curbside pickup. Data from the OpenTable network shows that restaurant bookings plummeted as these regulations were put in place, and were down 100% in the last weeks of March and most of April when compared to last year.
However, several states have allowed restaurants to reopen dining and there was a recent uptick in bookings in May, indicating that the worst of the pandemic could be over for the food service industry. These restaurants are often required to operate under new health guidelines such as capacity limitations and having to space tables six feet apart.
Hotel occupancy rates are coming back
The pandemic dealt a serious blow to the hotel industry and the broader travel sector, as restrictions were put in place both within the U.S. and abroad. During the initial stages of the outbreak, global hospitality research company STR reported that the occupancy rate for U.S. hotels was at just over 20% in April, a steep drop from their more than 60% occupancy in February. The pandemic also prompted major hotel chains and resorts to temporarily close properties as travelers put their plans on hold.
However, occupancy rates began to increase in April and May as people resumed travel for business and leisure, and more hotels reopened. To help keep guests safe, major hotels have enhanced their cleaning procedures and put new health protocol in place, such as requiring employees to wear masks and putting plexiglass barriers at the front desk.
Air travel is picking up, but still down significantly
With airlines clamoring for government bailouts to stay afloat, the air travel industry has been one of the most visible parts of the economy impacted by the coronavirus. The daily number of travelers passing through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints fell almost 100% year-over-year in March and April and has picked up only slightly in May, according to data from TSA screenings.
However, as travel has increased, airlines have had to adjust booking policies in order to ease customers’ fears of contracting the coronavirus. Companies like American Airlines and United Airlines are alerting passengers when planes are full and are making it easier for them to switch flights.
Home purchases are up vs. last year
As coronavirus-related restrictions ease, potential homebuyers have been able to tour open houses and resume their search for a new home. Though the singly-family home mortgage purchase index saw a more than 30% drop in April when compared to last year, it has since reversed its course, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The index is now up almost 10% compared to the same period last year, indicating that the home purchase market could be on its way to a quick recovery.
Brazil’s health ministry said the past 24 hours had seen 956 new deaths.
This puts it past France’s total of 28,774. Even if new figures raised the French total back above Brazil, the trends in the two countries show deaths in the Latin American nation are on a far steeper upward trend.
According to a count by Johns Hopkins University, Brazil now has 498,440 confirmed cases.
Only the US has more, with 1.77 million.
The number of deaths in Brazil has been doubling roughly every two weeks, compared to about every two months in the UK, four months in France, and five months in Italy.
Experts have warned that the real figure may be far higher due to a lack of testing.
Will this change Brazil’s policies?
Mr Bolsonaro is unlikely to alter his stance, arguing that the economic fallout of lockdowns is worse than the outbreak.
He has fought what he calls “the tyranny of total quarantine” by state governors – despite the upward tick in cases – and has even called for Brazil’s football season to resume.
He has also been seen mingling with hundreds of supporters in Brasilia while not wearing a face mask.
On Sunday, Pope Francis added to the pressure on the president by highlighting the plight of the people of the Amazon.
“We call on the Holy Spirit to grant light and strength to the Church and to society in Amazonia, which has been harshly tested by the pandemic,” he said.
Amazonas state has one of Brazil’s highest infection rates and also one of the most underfunded health systems.
Many experts believe Central and South America are now the major hotspots for increased infections.
A combination of under-pressure healthcare systems and a mixed response by governments to the severity of Covid-19 has meant the region cannot apply the same easing of lockdowns taking place in Europe and elsewhere.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis engendering high volatility in the capital markets is leading to investors losing their hard-earned money, at least for the time being. Most of the sectors have been badly affected due to the COVID-19 economic crisis. According to analysts, property prices after have declined by two to nine per cent after March, when the lockdown first came into effect. Even though the property prices have come down, the pandemic and the resultant lockdown have put a brake on people’s aspirations of owning a house of their own.
Among those affected are homebuyers who decided to buy a property in the new financial year by taking a home loan. But these people are now no longer sure if they would be able to afford the equated monthly investments (EMIs). Their reasons vary, ranging from layoffs, lack of business earnings to salary cuts, among others. The real estate sector has been hit by the lockdown, as construction activity all but came to a grinding halt with looming uncertainty over project completion dates.
Although the Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, took major steps to contain the fallout, still there are certain factors beyond her control as well, including lack of available manpower at construction sites.
The macro-economic uncertainty coupled with job cuts has left the buyers confused. We have come up with a piece of consolidated advice for homebuyers, if they are after owning a property in the post-lockdown economic scenario.
What a homebuyer should do?
It would be best for the potential buyer with capital to wait for a couple of months and keep a close watch over the liquidity situation of the market.
“Supply chain issues, labour availability and issues of raising any form of institutional capital will have their impact on projects and development timeline. Therefore, it would be prudent for buyers to pick up units in completed projects or wait till the construction activity on the site is resumed when it comes to under-construction projects,” says Ajay Sharma, Managing Director, Valuations (India) at Colliers International.
It is prudent for a buyer to stick with prominent developers with a good track record with both customers and financial institutions. This will ensure safety in capital invested by them. “Given that residential pricing will be under pressure, good deals will come the buyer’s way but the timing of the buy should be prudent and not delayed in hope of more discounted pricing,” added Sharma.
Buyers should evaluate their financial position, both current and in the next five years. They should carefully gauge if they are ready to take on any more loan liability, especially if they are solely dependent on monthly income from jobs.
It would be important that they access all information from the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) sources to evaluate any buying-decision.
It would be better if they take professional opinions from registered RERA brokers for a property before embarking on the decision to buy a project.
“Buyers should closely work with their financial partner (banks or NBFCs) to obtain all information regarding the project they are evaluating,” said Sharma.
Also, buyers should keep a sharp eye out for interest rates and take advantage of low-interest regimes at the same time. According to Adhil Shetty, CEO, BankBazaar, “With interests at an all-time low, this is a good time to buy a house. We’re currently in a low inflation period, and there are few triggers for an interest rate spike. Therefore, with rates falling regularly, a repo-linked loan will work to the borrower’s advantage.”
A ready to move-in flat is more advisable to buy as compared to under-construction ones. Avoid putting your money into incomplete projects.
Check the builders’ detail and then go and buy ready to move-in flats. Check all RERA rules before buying a flat. “Opt for a longer tenure if possible. While this means a higher interest rate, it means smaller EMIs. You can start putting together a small kitty towards your home loan, which you can pre-pay from time to time. This will reduce the impact of your increased tenure,” adds Shetty.
For example, assume a loan of Rs 40 lakh at 8 per cent interest. For a 20-year loan, you will be paying an interest of Rs 40.3 lakh. For the same loan, you will have to pay an interest of Rs 65.7 lakh if the tenure is 30 years. However, a prepayment of Rs five lakh at the end of the third year will bring down the interest payable to Rs 41 lakh. Use a calculator to understand how you can prepay your loan to get maximum benefits.
Consider opting for a smaller house with fewer premium amenities. This will bring down the costs for now. Over time, you can upgrade to a bigger premium home.
With respect to any purchase decision, it is advisable to bring in financial consultant and take informed calls based on one’s ability to take liabilities.
If the buyer is to dispose of a property to buy a new one, it would be best to complete the deal before signing on for a new apartment. This will ensure cash flow continuity and no hard surprises.
It’s a common practice to monetise long-term savings like PPF to finance buying of the property, but in current times, it would be sensible to leave at least 9-12 months equivalent of monthly income in savings before buying a new property.
Fiscal prudence should be paramount and it will help in making the right decisions for buying property.
Pandemic affect from a buyer’s perspective:
There will be two types of home buyers after the lockdown period, those who have capital at hand and those who have secured job but need a home loan, says Sharma.
The former will look for properties that are complete and compliant from all perspectives as it would be a safe investment though buy-in price may not be much discounted.
Investors will have to look at buying for the appreciation of capital value with low consideration for yields that are already very low
The push of government for rental housing might see investment into residential units. Potential buyers could be at an advantage in view of the financial sops that could result in decent returns.
Buyers will need to carefully assess two risks- liability risk and property risk. Liability risk will entail the loan taking ability and servicing ability in light of macro-economic issues.
Property risks will entail the development stage, progress, solvency of the developer and the ability to complete the project. A delay in raising capital and progress in work will spill over into liability risk and buyers will carefully look at de-risking themselves.
Buyers’ cautious approach will defer their buying and preference shift depending on the pricing of the units. Both buyer types will expect discounts from developers and push for box prices that could land them a good deal. “A fair amount of paperwork and verification are also involved. So, also utilise this time to keep these ready, says Shetty.
Things to keep in mind post-COVID-19 lockdown:
It is important that a potential buyer of residential real estate have their PPEs on at all times when going for on-site inspection.
It is best to wear gloves and avoid touching surfaces to minimise transmission risks.
It would be advisable to carry out all documentation online.
With respect to any purchase decision, it is advisable to bring in a financial consultant and take informed calls based on one’s ability to take liabilities. “If the buyer is to dispose a property to buy new one, it would be best to complete the deal before signing on for a new apartment. This will ensure cash flow continuity and no hard surprises,” says Sharma.
It is a common practice to monetise long term savings like PPF to finance buying of property but in current times it would be sensible to leave at least 9-12 months equivalent of monthly income in savings.
Fiscal prudence should be paramount and it will help in making the right decision for buying property.
Make sure you have a good credit score. Check there are no misses and pay special attention to ensure that you pay your bills on time in full.
There will be a certain amount of credit tightening, and a good credit score can go a long way in ensuring that you get a good deal on your loan.
Increase your emergency fund, so that it covers six months to an year of salary as a security. This will ensure you have more funds at hand in case of an emergency. This also gives you sufficient time to get another job in case of a job loss.
Read and understand all the property-related documents before you finalise your purchase. Take legal help if required. This will save you heartache in the future.
It would be anywhere between a couple of weeks to a couple of months before you can actually go ahead with the purchase. Take this time to understand how home loans work, especially external benchmark-linked ones.
Different banks have different loan qualification criteria such as the borrower’s age, job profile, employment stability, credit history and others. Use calculators and eligibility charts to understand your eligibility with a particular lender to avail the best possible offers.
Lenders set terms and conditions pertaining to the repayment of home loans. So, you need to clarify the terms related to settlement/foreclosing the outstanding amount, transferring the balance to another lender’s account, pre-paying a part or full amount of home loan before finalising a lender.
Nations expand reopenings, as global cases pass 6 million.
This week begins a pivotal period in the coronavirus pandemic, as countries give students, shoppers and travelers more freedom to return to some sense of normalcy after months under lockdown.
In Britain, more stores will be allowed to open from Monday, and small groups from different households can meet outdoors. Primary schools will open their doors in England, though with new social-distancing rules and spaced seating. More than two million people who have been “shielding” will be allowed to spend time outdoors, according to news reports. The government also gave the green light for professional sports to resume under strict protocols, according to government guidelines published on Saturday.
But fans of the Premier League should not expect to stream back into stadiums any time soon. All events will all be behind closed doors; no fans are allowed, everyone will be screened for coronavirus symptoms, and players will observe social distancing where possible.
Other countries are creating “travel bubbles” to rev up their economies, allowing visitors from nations with low infection rates. The moves come as the number of global cases of the virus grew to more than six million, with over 1.7 million in the United States. Rwanda’s health ministry on Sunday reported the East African nation’s first death caused by the new coronavirus, a 65-year-old driver who had recently returned from a neighboring country.
Greece will open its airports to visitors from 29 countries from June 15, the tourism ministry said, but Britain is not among them. Norway and Denmark will allow leisure travel between the two countries, creating a travel bubble that excludes Sweden, where coronavirus infections are higher. Norway will also allow entry to business travelers from the other Nordic countries from Monday, the government said.
In the U.S., communities are convulsed by a pandemic and police violence.
They are parallel plagues ravaging America: The coronavirus, and police killings of black men and women.
Jimmy Mills’s life has been upended by both. His barbershop in Midtown Minneapolis was one of many small, black-owned businesses that have struggled to survive the pandemic. But Mr. Mills was hopeful because, having been shut down for two months, he was set to reopen next week.
Then early Friday, the working-class neighborhood where Mr. Mills has cut hair for 12 years went up in flames as chaotic protests over the death of George Floyd and police killings of African-Americans engulfed Minneapolis and cities across the country.
“To have corona, and then this — it’s like a gut shot,” Mr. Mills, 56, said.
The upheaval sparked by a video capturing Mr. Floyd’s last minutes as a white police officer knelt on his neck is pulsing through a country already ragged with anger and anxiety. Emotions are raw over the toll of a pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and cost tens of millions of jobs.
The outbreak has inflicted disproportionate economic and health tolls on racial minorities and immigrants. Black and Latino workers have been more likely to have lost their jobs. Many others are among the low-paid hourly workers with jobs that cannot be done remotely. And African-Americans are being infected and dying at higher rates.
Merkel rejected Trump’s invitation to attend the G7 in person. Then Trump postponed the summit.
President Trump told reporters on Saturday that he was postponing a Group of 7 meeting scheduled to be held in the United States next month. Earlier Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said she would not attend in person, citing concerns about the coronavirus.
Mr. Trump also said that he wanted to invite Russia to rejoin the group.
Making the announcement while returning from the SpaceX launch in Florida, the president said he also planned to invite Australia, India and South Korea to the summit, with an adviser adding that the idea was to bring together traditional allies to discuss China. He said he now wanted to hold the meeting in September.
“I don’t feel that as a G7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world. It’s a very outdated group of countries,” Mr. Trump said. But his intention to unilaterally invite Russia — which was indefinitely suspended in March 2014 after the annexing of Crimea — is certain to inflame other member nations.
In March, Mr. Trump announced that the June summit would take place virtually as the coronavirus outbreak was spreading around the world and international travel was curtailed. But he changed plans this month, saying he might invite the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan to Washington, as a demonstration of a return to normalcy.
Earlier Saturday, Ms. Merkel’s spokesman said in an emailed statement, “As of today, considering the overall pandemic situation, she cannot agree to her personal participation, a trip to Washington.”
On Sunday, however, Australia said it would welcome an official invitation, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the United States had made contact to discuss the matter, a government spokesman told reporters.
Catching up with an octogenarian couple once separated by border closures.
Our correspondent Patrick Kingsley profiled a couple who were separated by the coronavirus lockdown in March. This month, he returned for an update.
In a bungalow near the Danish-German border on Saturday afternoon, an 89-year-old German man and an 85-year-old Danish woman sat side by side in front of the television. Then they held hands, turned to each other and smiled.
“I feel 100 times better!” said Karsten Tüchsen Hansen, the German.
After weeks of separation, Mr. Tüchsen Hansen and Inga Rasmussen are finally returning to a normal romantic rhythm.
When I last saw them in March, the couple were separated when the police shut the border that runs between Mr. Tüchsen Hansen’s home in northern Germany and hers in southern Denmark. To maintain their relationship, the pair met daily at the border itself — a show of devotion that caught the attention of the international media and turned them into a symbol of hope in a troubled time.
In early May, his doctor decided that his mental health was suffering in Ms. Rasmussen’s absence, leading the German authorities to give her special dispensation to stay at Mr. Tüchsen Hansen’s home every night.
The Danish government subsequently decreed that any couple in a cross-border relationship could meet on Danish soil. But Ms. Rasmussen still prefers to spend each night in her partner’s bungalow — watched over by his collection of stuffed ferrets and garden gnomes.
When I stopped by, driving from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, I found them chatting happily on the patio outside. They were getting ready to eat mince meat with white cabbage, one of Ms. Rasmussen’s specialties.
Mr. Tüchsen Hansen was the more garrulous of the two. But as the afternoon wore on, Ms. Rasmussen also began to open up.
Their separation had been tough, but helped to affirm their commitment to each other, she said.
“I realized I can’t sleep without him at my side,” Ms. Rasmussen said. “We need each other.”
As beach towns reopen, few masks are seen.
Thousands of maskless vacationers flocked to the Maryland town of Ocean City this weekend as the Greater Washington region began to emerge from coronavirus lockdown.
And yet, as Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland has emphasized, the state is only at Phase 1 of his “Roadmap to Recovery,” which still requires the public to abide by restrictions to keep the virus from spreading.
By the governor’s order, face coverings are required inside businesses, but at the Quiet Storm Surf Shop, a clerk folding T-shirts said, “we make them optional.” On the boardwalk outside, a police officer who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media said, “the problem is merchants have to enforce” the mask order, but many are reluctant to alienate their first customers of the summer.
Not all the tourists were nonchalant about following restrictions. Sitting on the wall dividing the boardwalk from the beach, Kelly and Dan Goddard, who live in a Baltimore suburb, were wearing masks. Their children were sporting tie-dyed cloth ones sewn by relatives.
“There are a lot of unknowns and not a lot of real clear guidance,” Mr. Goddard said. “But I don’t think people realize how serious things are, or they don’t care.”
Pope offers first blessings to a crowd since March.
Pope Francis appeared in person on Sunday to bless a gathering of the faithful in Saint Peter’s Square for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic exploded in Italy and the government imposed a strict national lockdown in March.
“Today since the square is open we can return,” the pontiff said to a scattered audience that applauded as he approached an open window of his private study. “It is a pleasure.”
Francis recited the Regina Coeli prayer and gave his blessing the crowd.
“You know that from a crisis such as this we will not be the same as before,” he said. “Let’s have the courage to change in order to be better than before.”
“We have such need of the light and the strength of the Holy Spirit,” Francis said. “The entire human family needs it, so as to move out of this crisis more united and not than divided.”
The pope began reciting the Angelus prayer from the Library of the Apostolic Palace on March 8 because of the pandemic. “It is a bit strange this Angelus prayer today,” he said then, “with the pope ‘caged’ in the library. But I can see you. I am close to you.”
Earlier Sunday, the pope celebrated a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, in front of a limited number of worshipers following the protocols that are still in effect in Italy and the Vatican. During the homily, he urged Christians to fight three enemies: narcissism, victimhood and pessimism, saying they “prevent us from giving ourselves” in this time of pandemic.
Is your donation actually reaching those who need it?
As unemployment claims pass 40 million and the anxious people who file them grow more desperate, an altruistic instinct has emerged among those who are more financially secure.
But the sheer breadth of the pain is almost overwhelming, and the appeals are everywhere. And the impulse is to help — now — when confronted with a personal plea.
So what is the very best way for people with more money than they need to quickly hand it over to those in need, so they can use it for food, shelter and other necessities?
It isn’t easy to find a satisfying answer. Sites and services like GoFundMe can connect donors with real people, but they may lack vetting of recipients, their back stories or their plans. They also may not make it possible to be identified or anonymous, depending on your preference as a giver or a beneficiary. Donors with large amounts to give may want to use tax deductions to increase what they can afford to donate, but may not be able to get them through one-off cash transfers.
Here are a few ways you can help.
Two of Islam’s holiest sites reopen to worshipers.
Throngs of Muslim worshipers returned to formal services in Israel and Saudi Arabia on Sunday as two of Islam’s holiest sites reopened for the first time since they were closed more than two months ago over coronavirus fears.
At the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third-holiest site, worshipers entering the compound for dawn prayers were greeted by officials who took their temperatures, distributed masks and implored them to follow social-distancing guidelines.
“We are depending on your heedfulness,” Omar Kiswani, the director of the mosque, could be heard saying through a loudspeaker system.
Ibrahim Zaghed, 25, an unemployed resident of Jerusalem, was weeping as he laid down his blue and silver prayer mat.
“Today is no different than a holiday,” said Mr. Zaghed, who was not wearing a mask. “I feel like a complete person again.”
The compound, which Jews revere as their holiest site and refer to as the Temple Mount, is often at the center of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
In Saudi Arabia, the government said that 90,000 mosques across the kingdom had reopened on Sunday, including parts of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, considered Islam’s second-holiest site. The most revered site in Islam, the Kaaba in Mecca, remains closed.
Imam Kiswani of the Aqsa Mosque, who estimated that about 3,000 people participated in the prayers on Sunday, said that while most of them followed social-distancing guidelines, some needed to exercise “greater attentiveness.”
Manal Balala, 50, a housekeeper from Jerusalem who was wearing a mask and gloves, was overjoyed as she socialized with her friends after prayers.
“I feel like my soul has been restored,” she said.
Asked whether she was concerned about the virus spreading at the mosque, Ms. Balala replied: “We all need to follow the rules, but I believe we will survive because God is protecting us from above.”
Romania’s prime minister pays a fine after breaking his own coronavirus rules.
The Romanian prime minister, Ludovic Orban, paid a fine on Saturday for breaking his own coronavirus restrictions, after a photo widely shared on social media showed him with other cabinet members smoking in his office and not wearing a mask.
In a statement, Mr. Orban admitted to breaking the lockdown rules on May 25, his 57th birthday, when some cabinet members gathered at his office after work.
And in Belgium, a nephew of King Philippe tested positive for the coronavirus last week after attending a party in Spain, according to the Belgian royal palace.
The nephew, Prince Joachim, 28, tested positive on Thursday after he went to an event in the southern city of Cordoba, the palace said. Spanish news outlets reported that 27 people had attended the party, which would be in violation of regional lockdown rules that limit gatherings in private households to 15 people.
Prince Joachim traveled from Belgium to Madrid and then to Cordoba, where he contracted the virus and has been isolating since then. Under Phase 2 of Spain’s reopening plan, those who violate lockdown rules face a fine of 600 to 10,000 euros, or about $650 to $11,100.
Coronavirus lockdown scandal shines a harsh light on Britain’s oldest weekly magazine.
When Boris Johnson became the editor of The Spectator in 1999, he declared that he planned to make the weekly magazine, Britain’s oldest, a “refuge for logic, fun, and good writing.” It would, he promised somewhat paradoxically, “continue to set the political agenda, and to debunk it.”
Now that Mr. Johnson is the prime minister, the magazine he once ran has never been closer to fulfilling his ambition of being both in bed with Britain’s conservative establishment and willing to yank the covers off it.
Yet The Spectator’s incestuous ties with the governing elite have thrust it into the murky heart of an uproar over a 260-mile drive that Mr. Johnson’s most influential adviser, Dominic Cummings, and his wife made, violating Britain’s lockdown rules.
Mary Wakefield, one of the magazine’s senior editors, is married to Mr. Cummings and wrote a vivid account of how she and her husband both fell ill with the coronavirus. Mr. Cummings, she said, lay “doggo” in bed for 10 days before emerging into “the almost comical uncertainty of London lockdown.”
The trouble is, she did not mention that they had actually gone to northern England — a journey that has brought charges of hypocrisy and calls for Mr. Johnson to dismiss Mr. Cummings.
Ms. Wakefield’s omissions have also cast an unflattering light on The Spectator. Critics have accused it of misleading readers. Britain’s Independent Press Standards Organization, a watchdog group, has received more than 100 complaints about the column. Pending an investigation, it could force the magazine to publish a correction.
“The English tradition of editing has always been more laissez faire than the American one,” said Timothy Garton Ash, a historian at Oxford University and longtime contributor to The Spectator. “But there was too much latitude in this case.”
Reporting was contributed by Mark Landler, Stephen Castle, Ron Lieber, Emma Bubola, Jack Healy, Dionne Searcey, Patrick Kingsley, Elizabeth Williamson, Elian Peltier, Yonette Joseph, Hannah Beech, Maggie Haberman, Mike Ives, Aimee Ortiz, Suhasini Raj, Adam Rasgon, Kai Schultz and Derrick Bryson Taylor.
Proposed loan extension will run until end of January, when Ighalo will return to Shanghai Shenhua
Last Updated: 31/05/20 5:16pm
Manchester United are close to agreeing a loan extension for striker Odion Ighalo.
United remain in talks with Ighalo’s parent club Shanghai Shenhua, and it is hoped a deal can be agreed before the striker’s current loan deal expires at midnight on Sunday.
The proposed loan extension will run until the end of January, when Ighalo will return to Shanghai.
If agreed, Ighalo will miss the majority of the 2020 Chinese Super League season, which is scheduled to begin in June.
Shanghai’s original stance was that they would only agree to extend his loan if an obligation to buy was incorporated into the deal, with Ighalo likely to cost upwards of £20m.
However, with border restrictions potentially preventing Ighalo from returning to China in time for the new season, Shenhua have softened their stance and will now allow him to extend his stay at Old Trafford on the condition he signs a new contract.
His current contract expires in December 2022, but Shanghai want to keep him until at least December 2024.
Ighalo initially joined United in a Deadline Day move in January, and scored four times in eight appearances prior to the suspension of the Premier League.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hopeful the club can extend Ighalo’s loan spell so he can “finish off what he started”.
“The loan deal went until the end of May now, so obviously he’s supposed to be going back,” Solskjaer told MUTV earlier this week.
“We’re in dialogue. They’ve been great towards us, his club, and allowed him to play for his dream club.
“It’s been a dream for him and hopefully he can finish off what he started, hopefully with a trophy for us. At the moment, nothing has been agreed. Their league is going to get started soon so we’re just waiting to see.”
‘Negotiations aren’t easy at all’
Analysis from Sky Sports’ James Cooper…
“The talks are going on and they are at an advanced stage between Manchester United and Shanghai Shenhua in a bid to get Odion Ighalo’s loan extended, perhaps ideally until January.
“That’s what they are looking at, but these negotiations aren’t easy at all – we’re talking about a government-owed and government-run franchise. We found in January, although the loan deal did get over the line, that wasn’t an easy negotiation to do.
“You can understand why Manchester United would like to do it and there’s a will on the player’s side to stay here in Manchester. United are fairly relaxed about the situation.
‘Ideally, they’d like the player, he’s scored four goals in eight appearances. He does things that maybe players already on the books at the club don’t have the instincts to do quite so well.
“Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood are all learning their trade, in contrast to Ighalo where you look at his goals so far – especially against Derby in the FA Cup – and they’re all about instinct and determination.
“Speaking to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he’s hoping Ighalo remains in Manchester to get those instincts into the minds and playbooks of those three. What United don’t want to do is be in a situation where they’re left with a permanent deal for a player they don’t want to spend the type of money on.
“We don’t yet know when the Chinese Super League will start, which leaves a bit of wriggle room for when this deal has to get done.”
Applications for the city of Plano’s Small Business Grant Program opened May 28.
The program, funded by $200,000 of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development coronavirus funds, provides gap funding to help businesses at risk of layoffs or closure as a result of the pandemic.
Local accounting firm Sink, Gordon & Associates, LLP has promoted Kelsey Galloway to senior administrative assistant.
Galloway joined SGA in Nov. 2018 and provides administrative support for clients and staff. She graduated from the cosmetology program at Bellus Academy in 2011 and completed the certified medical assistant program at the University of New Mexico in 2016.
In her free time, Galloway enjoys spending time with her children. Galloway attends Saint Xavier Catholic Church.
Sink, Gordon & Associates determines promotions based on a number of factors, including technical ability, quality of work, leadership, supervision, new client acquisition and productivity.
What next in Beijing’s master plan for China’s global advancement? Anyone looking for details would have struggled to find them last week at the press conference held by Li Keqiang, with the Chinese premier much more focused on the ruling party’s perils on the home front.
The “wolf warrior” diplomacy, the world of blustering threats that Beijing has been using to bend countries to its bidding, was absent. Instead Li’s focus in the 90-minute event was much more that of a nerdy economic policymaker. In the kind of minute detail redolent of the boss of a small provincial city, the premier listed an array of support measures for the economy: tax cuts for small business, reforms to medical and unemployment insurance, and support for the gig economy.
The reason for Li’s focus was obvious. China might have been the first major country out of (as it was the first into) the Covid-19 crisis, but its economy suffered a brutal contraction along the way, leaving a jobless rate of about 20%.
The premier’s annual press conference, held at the end of the annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature – delayed by nearly three months because of the virus – is a keenly watched event, at home and abroad. There were no questions on Uighurs or re-education camps in Xinjiang, China’s recent border clashes with India, its trade war with Australia or the detention of a Huawei executive in Canada, issues the government didn’t want to air. Likewise, the queries on the economy, the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan, deteriorating relations with Washington, and the new Hong Kong security law were all softballs for Li, who is effectively Xi Jinping’s deputy.
But even if the questions from foreign and local reporters are cleared by the government beforehand, it is still the only moment in each calendar year in which a top leader appears at length in public and has to state the government’s case. The focus on the economy, then, was telling. For a ruling party that has built legitimacy on near continuous high-speed growth since the late 1970s, the current downturn is a bracing moment. Tens and perhaps hundreds of millions have lost jobs. Those still in employment have had incomes sharply reduced, cutting into consumption. With the US, Europe and Japan in deep recessions, exports cannot take up the slack.
To be sure, Beijing has not let its regional and global ambitions lie fallow during Covid-19 and its aftermath, with navy patrols in the South China Sea and the airforce sorties around Taiwan both continuing. And in Hong Kong, the most volatile issue on China’s plate, the city’s democrats have been placed firmly in the party’s sights.
With the passage of a new national security law by the NPC last week, China is making a big bet that it can stamp out its political opponents in the former British colony without killing off its vital role as a financial centre. The bill’s vaguely worded offences, outlawing subversion, secessionist sentiment and foreign interference, will be interpreted widely, as they are in China itself, to round up any critics Beijing wants to target.
The UK’s suggestion that it would offer a path to citizenship for Hong Kong holders of British national (overseas) passports wanting to leave the territory prompted a sardonic thumbs-up in Beijing. “The potential UK move has won overwhelming support from Chinese internet users,” said the Global Times, the party’s tabloid attack dog. “[They] said all traitors should be sent to the UK as they are unwanted on Chinese territory.”
But no one in Hong Kong thinks the fight will be over quickly, especially as Beijing’s plan for its takeover of the territory’s political system, and opposition to it, is so comprehensive.
“They will send down cadres from the Chinese Communist party to supervise the government, the executive, the legislature, and more importantly, the judiciary. This is only the beginning, I tell you,” Martin Lee, the barrister and veteran democrat leader said on Friday.
In his press conference, Li offered only platitudes on the US relationship but said enough to confirm that bilateral ties between the two superpowers, one rising, the other in relative decline, will not get better soon. There is no off ramp for the US and China for the moment, as it is clear that neither country is looking for one. Washington feels it is playing catch up in muscling up to Beijing, a debate that will only be sharpened in a presidential election year. And China under Xi is programmed not to take a backward step.
It is possible that the weakness in both countries’ economies could temper their hardline positions this year, because neither wants to hurt growth any more than it has been already by Covid-19. Equally, Donald Trump might slap new sanctions on China at any time in a heated election campaign, to reinforce his narrative that he has been uniquely tough on China and that Joe Biden, his expected Democratic challenger, by comparison, will be weak. Beijing has made sure to retaliate against any economic sanctions imposed by Trump so far. It is an open question as to whether their calculation will change in an election year.
One standout from Li’s appearance before the media was his focus on the importance of the private sector to China’s economic recovery. Xi’s support for the state sector, and his lip service to the private economy, which drives Chinese growth and employment, has alienated many of the country’s entrepreneurs. A number of wealthy business leaders who crossed Xi have been jailed. But Li, who has been overshadowed in office by Xi, took a different line, though whether support for the private sector can be sustained in a grim political climate, however, remains to be seen. Xi will not tolerate any rivals, especially in the form of rich entrepreneurs.
• Richard McGregor is a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney and is the author of numerous books on Chinese politics and foreign policy