World News

Australia's Victoria state logs another day of high coronavirus infections

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s second most-populous state reported one of its highest daily increases in coronavirus infections on Saturday and warned the numbers would get worse before they got better as its capital city began its first weekend of a six-week lockdown.

The state of Victoria logged 216 new cases, down from a record 288 the previous day but still one of the biggest daily increases of any part of the country.

“We will see more and more additional cases. This is going to be with us for months and months,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told a televised news conference.

“Nobody is enjoying being locked at home. It is frustrating, it is challenging, but the strategy will be successful if we all play our part.”

Victoria, home to a quarter of the country’s 25 million people, has also become the first state to ask people to wear masks with the order directed at residents of Melbourne.

The other seven states and territories, which reported just 11 new cases between them on Saturday, have banned travellers from Victoria amid concern that community transmission was causing a second wave of the virus. Authorities had previously attributed most new cases to people returning from overseas.

The country’s deputy chief medical officer, Nick Coatsworth, said it was to soon to say whether the community transmission had spread from Victoria to other states.

“We are all on high alert,” he said. “It is fair to say that the next couple of days are critical.”

Australia has avoided the high COVID-19 casualty numbers of other countries after closing its borders and going into nationwide lockdown in March, with some 9,300 infections and 107 deaths.

There were seven new cases in neighbouring New South Wales, the most-populous state, including a man who had visited a Sydney pub that has been linked to two other infections, authorities said. A pop-up testing clinic was set up at the pub so patrons who were there on the same night could be tested.

Australia on Friday gave provisional approval to Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir as the first treatment option for virus, joining the United States and the European Commission.

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Hong Kong leaders, tycoons bid farewell to gaming magnate Stanley Ho

HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong politicians, tycoons and celebrities joined grieving relatives Friday (July 10) at the funeral of Stanley Ho, the flamboyant gaming magnate who made his fortune in neighbouring Macau.

It was the third day of ceremonies for the Hong Kong-born Ho, who played an integral role in transforming the former Portuguese colony from a sleepy outpost into the world’s biggest casino hub.

He died at the age of 98 on May 26.

In the morning, black-clad family members including Mr Ho’s daughter Pansy and his fourth wife Angela Leong arrived at the funeral home, in the north-east of Hong Kong Island.

Local politicians including city leader Carrie Lam, as well as her predecessors, Mr Leung Chun Ying and Mr Tung Chee Hwa, arrived at about noon, as did Mr Luo Huining, director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

City tycoons and business people – including property mogul Thomas Kwok and banker David Li – joined film star Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia among the few hundred guests paying tribute.

A public memorial had been held on Thursday and hundreds of white floral wreaths with messages of condolence were placed around the corner of the venue.

Mr Ho was known as the “godfather” of Macau casinos, having been instrumental in turning the city on China’s southern coast into a gambling boomtown with gaming revenue surpassing Las Vegas.

He is survived by three wives and 15 of his 17 children. Speculation about how his vast fortune – estimated at HK$50 billion (S$9 billion) – would be divided among his offspring has long occupied Hong Kong’s tabloid media, along with public family feuds.

His Sociedade de Jogos de Macau Holdings (SJM) empire owns 19 casinos and remains a major player in Macau, the only place in China where casinos are allowed.

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Floods, landslides kill 23 in Nepal, dozens missing

KATHMANDU (REUTERS) – Heavy rains triggered flash floods and landslides that killed at least 23 people and displaced thousands in western Nepal, officials said on Saturday (July 11).

Nine people were killed and more than 30 were missing in Myagdi district, 200km north-west of the capital Kathmandu, where several houses were destroyed on Friday, district administrator Gyan Nath Dhakal said.

“The toll is expected to increase as rescuers had just reached the remote site to look for victims,” Mr Dhakal said. He added that 50 people had been plucked to safety using helicopters.

In neighbouring Kaski district, seven people were killed, said a second government official in the tourist town of Pokhara.

And another seven were killed in Jajarkot district in the far west.

“We are searching for eight people who are still missing,” said Kishore Shrestha, a senior police official.

In the southern plains bordering India, the Koshi river, which causes deadly floods in the eastern Indian state of Bihar almost every year, was flowing above the danger level, police said.

Landslides and flash floods are common occurrence in mountainous Nepal during the June-September monsoon every year.

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World News

Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘appalling domestic record’ laid bare: ‘Nowhere to hide!’

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Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have been criticised by some in Scotland for the SNP’s domestic record. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told that the Scottish First Minister “can’t hide” from her failings, but claimed they were not getting the necessary scrutiny. He said: “It’s an appalling record. The SNP are a one trick pony that want independence, but the schools and health services in Scotland are dropping down the world rankings table every year. “The SNP are not being held to account for their domestic policy failings on those huge issues – the same goes for policing.

“These issues impact on people’s lives.”

He also hit out at Ms Sturgeon’s handling of the coronavirus.

He added: “I think in the cold light of analysis after the pandemic is over, I think we will find the people of Scotland have been served badly by her policies relative to the rest of the UK.”

Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Jackson Carlaw, listed a number of shortcomings last December as he looked to challenge the SNP.

He said: “As we enter 2020, we’ve seen PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) figures show science and maths performance at record lows, violent crime going up for the fourth year in a row, NHS Greater Glasgow suing the construction firm which built our largest hospital, commissioned by Nicola Sturgeon.

“And embarrassing failures in public transport on sea and rail. Some might even say that it is unarguable that every public service in the care of this SNP government ends 2019 in a worst state that when the year began. Surely in 2020, fixing this should be the priority of any government worthy of the name.”

Ms Sturgeon hit back at her Tory counterpart, claiming she was trying to tackle these issues day in, day out.

The SNP leader added: “These are my priorities day in and day out, and I don’t run from the record of my government.

“I put that record before the Scottish people in an election last week and let me remind Jackson Carlaw what happened – the SNP won that election comprehensively and the Tories lost it just as comprehensively.

“All these tired lines were rejected by the electorate just last week, which is why in 2020 I’ll get on with the job of improving our public services, of making sure that Scotland’s public services continue to perform better than they do under the Tories in England and under Labour in Wales.

“By contrast, I’m going to predict the Tories are going to spend at least part of 2020 electing a new leader.”

In his interview with, Mr Bridgen also claimed Ms Sturgeon’s plans to make Scotland an independent country were a “pipe dream”.

He said: “The reason the SNP have been so against Brexit is that they realise an independent UK out of the EU with trade deals around the world is the end of any hope for Scottish independence.

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“Because if they left the union, they’d have no trade deals, they wouldn’t be in the EU and they haven’t got the pound.

“The impact on their economy would be devastating, and they have an eight percent budget deficit without subsidies from England.

“Oil prices are on the floor too, so their plan to build the economy on that is a pipe dream.”

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World News

Fishing chief erupts at EU’s demand for access to UK waters – ‘Will not accept anything!’

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Michel Barnier has handed the UK an ultimatum and warned there will be no trade deal unless there is a “balanced agreement” on fisheries. The EU chief Brexit negotiator indicated Brussels’ would be willing to accept a data-driven proposal involving fishing quotas – which would be determined by the amount of marine life in the sea.

The suggestion comes after the French eurohphile conceded the controversial Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was not fair on British fisherman – as pressure grows on the EU not to let the UK abandon the treaty.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation, has told the EU chief to forget about his proposal as the UK will not agree to a deal which impacts Britain’s sovereign waters.

When asked what impact these proposals would have on the UK fishing industry, Mr Deas told “None because the UK will not accept anything that undermines its status as an independent coastal state.”

Mr Deas, the chief of the representative body for fishermen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, added fishing stocks and access arrangements all formed part of normal negotiations but insisted quotas “are only part of the picture”.

The fishing expert insisted the latest concession proved the EU has finally realised its negotiating position was wrong.

He insisted now the EU is attempting damage limitation by not shifting too far away from the current rules and its so-called red-lines.

He added the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost has made it clear he will not accept anything which damages the UK’s ability to manage its waters and abide by the UN Law of the Sea.

Mr Deas said: “I think that the Commission recognise that the EU negotiating mandate on fishing is unachievable.

“The UK has made it clear that it will be an independent coastal state and can be expected to exercise the rights and responsibilities of a coastal state as defined in the UN Law of the Sea.

“The Commission’s strategy is containment and limiting the amount of divergence from the status quo.

“I think the UK has made clear that for the UK this is a matter of principle and nothing that constrains UK sovereignty to manage its own waters will be acceptable.”

The latest development comes after a transcript of a meeting held on June 23 between the UK and the EU was published on Monday.

Mr Barnier said: “I am waiting with much patience for a reply from the British side.

“If there is no response, there will be no agreement on fisheries and no agreement on trade.”

He indicated the EU would be looking towards re-negotiating fishing arrangements every 12 months.


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He added: “You can discuss fishing stocks regularly every year in the light of the scientific advice, so that we can protect resources and biodiversity, but negotiating access to waters and the fish in those waters every year would be impossible for 100-odd species.

“There will be no trade agreement with the UK if there is no balanced agreement on fisheries.

“Is this ‘balanced agreement’ the British position, as it is now? Certainly not. Is it the European position as it is today? Clearly not.”

Mr Barnier held talks inside Number 10 with Mr Frost earlier this week, he said the discussions were “useful” however acknowledged “significant divergences remain”.

Post-Brexit talks will resume in Brussels next week.

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World News

So long, Brussels! EU’s very future in doubt as experts warn bloc facing ‘critical point’

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The EU has experienced a roller-coaster year so far, with the bloc finding itself in the spotlight as it desperately battles to solve a number of huge problems amid increasing mutiny from several member states. Brussels has come under attack from several countries over the bloc’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept through the continent over the past few months, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The crisis has forced Governments to put their countries into lockdown, costing them billions of pounds in lost trade and blowing massive holes in their respective economies.

Italy, which suffered more than most at the start of the European outbreak, was left furious and accused the EU of offering little to no help in the country’s attempts to help manage the pandemic destroying its country.

There is an ongoing row between member states over the ‘Coronavirus Recovery Fund’ and the new seven-year EU budget in terms of how that should be paid for and how much countries should contribute towards it.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country took over the presidency of the European Council on July 1, has urged fellow EU member states to reach agreement on both budgets before the upcoming summer break.

The coronavirus pandemic also is forecast to plunge the EU into the worst recession in history, with member states still at odds over a European Commission proposal for a €750billion fund to rescue the bloc.

The EU is facing a huge crisis. Recent polling across Europe suggests a majority feel that the EU was irrelevant or had failed their country in developing the response to coronavirus

John Macdonald

Ms Merkel warned last month during a speech to the Bundestag setting out Germany’s priorities for the rotating presidency of the EU: “The pandemic shows us how vulnerable Europe is.”

EU negotiators are also currently in talks with the UK over a post-Brexit trade agreement, with a fight against the clock to get one signed before the end of the transition period on December 31.

Political experts have warned the huge crises lingering over the EU, which shows no sign of being solved at the moment among bickering member states, leaves the bloc with a question mark hanging over its future.

John Macdonald, Head of Government Affairs, Adam Smith Institute, told “The EU is facing a huge crisis. Recent polling across Europe suggests a majority feel that the EU was irrelevant or had failed their country in developing the response to coronavirus.

“The recent landmark German court case, ruling ECB bond buying programs as illegal under German law, has undermined the supremacy of the European Court of Justice.

“Twinning an increasingly likely sovereign debt crisis with a challenge to the supremacy of the ECJ is a sure-fire way to encourage further exits from the Union.”

Alistair Jones, Associate Professor in Politics and a University Teacher Fellow at De Montfort University, said: “There is a question mark over the potential future of the EU. Some member states, such as the Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) are not happy with the EU plans around immigration, refugees and asylum seekers.

“In this respect, some EU member states, such as Germany, appear a little out of touch with some of the newer member states.

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“There is also a degree of disconnect between parts of the public across the EU and the EU institutions.

“One scenario could see the organisation collapsing as a result of the Covid epidemic as each country turns inward and looks after its own population. There has already been talk of Italian disappointment in this respect. Others may follow.

Alex De Ruyter, Professor at Birmingham City University and Director of Centre for Brexit Studies, said a number of difficult situations lie ahead for the EU, and outlined two critical weaknesses currently being displayed by Brussels.

He said: “The future of the EU is reaching a critical point, although there is always the possibility of fudge. In particular, difficult choices around fiscal union (a common budget and EU borrowing powers) lie ahead.

“The current situation in the Eurozone (monetary union but no central fiscal body) is unlikely to be tenable indefinitely.

“The EU has two primary weaknesses. The first is in terms of its governance arrangements and the second is the structure of the Eurozone as outlined above: the EU Commission simultaneously has elements of the executive (a Government) and a civil service.

“Whilst there is democratic oversight of appointments, it is not unreasonable to point out that this is opaque and somewhat patchy.

“In both cases the fundamental tension is the same: member states want the benefits that come with being a unified whole whilst simultaneously wanting to retain ultimate control at the level of the nation-state.”

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Boris Johnson to hold party conference in Blackpool to cement Tory support in North

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The Conservative Spring Forum will take place at the Winter Gardens in the Lancashire seaside resort in 2022. At Westminster, the move was seen as a fresh acknowledgement of the importance of northern voters to the electoral support for Boris Johnson’s government. Visit Blackpool estimated that the event will be worth £2.4million to the local economy.

Conservative Party co-chairman Amanda Milling said: “I’m delighted to announce that we will be returning to Blackpool for the Conservative Party Spring Forum in two years’ time.

“Blackpool and the entire North West region are a key part of our plan to level-up the country and returning to the town reinforces our commitment to the task.

“I am looking forward to seeing Conservative party supporters and activists making the trip to the seaside to enjoy the conference and everything this wonderful town has to offer.”

Blackpool’s Winter Gardens have hosted moments of high political drama over the years including the leadership that propelled David Cameron to the top of his party and his famous challenge to Gordon Brown to “call that election” in an hour-long speech without notes.

In recent years, all the major parties have stayed away from Blackpool with the Tories preferring city-centre conference venues in Manchester and Birmingham.

Labour councillor Gillian Campbell, cabinet minister for tourism and culture on Blackpool Council, said: “We are delighted to see the return of a mainstream party political conference to Blackpool – and we hope it will be the first of many.

“Our investment in a new conference centre to complement the existing facilities in the Winter Gardens is a statement of our intent to once again become a major player in the conference market.

“The return of the Conservative Party after a number of years away gives us every confidence that we can do just that.

“We look forward to welcoming delegates back to Blackpool in the spring of 2022 when they will be able to experience the outstanding new conference facilities that are currently under construction.”

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World News

Ending free transport ‘will hit disadvantaged children returning to school’

Some of the most disadvantaged children in London may not return to school in September because of transport costs, teachers have warned.

Pupils in the capital will have to pay to get to school after the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, suspended free transport for under-18s as part of a bailout deal with the government.

The change is due to come into force before September, when schools return.

Mr Khan has called on ministers to reconsider the changes, which a spokesman for the Department of Transport (DfT) said form part of a plan to restrict the number of young people using buses and other transport in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

But teachers and pupils have told Sky News that suspending free transport will force some students to stay at home because they can’t afford the extra cost.

One pupil, Aaron Griffiths, spends over an hour travelling to college using two public buses.

He told Sky News it would be difficult for students whose parents have lost their jobs to find the extra money, and he warned social distancing restrictions on buses will mean he has to set off far earlier in order to be on time.

Most students in London use public buses and trains to get to school, paid for by Transport for London.

But as part of a £1.6bn bailout package for the struggling network, the government imposed a number of conditions – one of which is the removal of free transport for children.

Sources within government said this is part of a plan to reduce the number of children and teenagers on buses to curb the spread of the virus, but the consequences of the decision mean those from the poorest backgrounds will be forced to pay to get to school.

A DfT spokesman said those most in need will be eligible for free transport but the cost would have to be covered by the local council, adding to spiralling costs already faced by local government.

Mr Khan said it would cost more to means-test each child in the capital than it would to continue the free travel card.

The DfT spokesman said: “The decision to suspend under-18 travel is a temporary measure to help tackle the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risk of crowding on our transport network.

“We will also be ensuring that the concession for children eligible under national legislation for free home-to-school travel will continue.”

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World News

Salmon psychosis keeps China demand near zero, Chile group says

SANTIAGO (BLOOMBERG) – Chinese demand for Chilean salmon is “practically zero” after Beijing raised concerns about Covid-19 risks in imported seafood, according to industry group Salmon Chile.

Even though Chinese officials indicated there were no official restrictions on Chilean salmon, consumers in the Asian nation remain wary after authorities initially traced an outbreak of the virus to a chopping board used by a seller of imported fish.

Those fears are set to grow after the detection this week of Covid-19 in Ecuadorian shrimp, Salmon Chile President Arturo Clement said.

Most authorities and health experts say there’s no evidence that food can transmit the virus.

“There has been a psychosis with the issue, therefore Chinese demand went to zero and hasn’t recovered,” he said in an interview Friday (July 10).

“There’s confusion in the market, which causes people to stop consuming seafood.”

Some shipments that Chilean producers had already sent to China are stuck there, while others were redirected to other markets.

China typically buys about 40,000 tons of Chilean salmon a year, making it the South American country’s fifth largest customer, trailing the US, Japan, Brazil and Russia.

Brazilian and Russian demand for Chilean salmon has also dropped in the pandemic, with prices sinking and producers facing losses, he said.

US demand is the one saving grace.

“In the end, the only open market we have is the US, which is far bigger, but that has put enormous pressure” on prices, he said.

Today, Chilean salmon farms are operating at 90 per cent capacity after implementing a series of Covid-19 protocols.

Still, volume in the first half of the year was 4 per cent higher than the same period last year, Mr Clement said.

For producers, the second quarter was grim, with a 40 per cent drop in prices signaling losses for all operators, he said.

Fortunately, the industry is coming out of three or four good years, meaning farms are well positioned to absorb the blow, with a recent uptick in prices helping, Mr Clement said.

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Elon Musk soars past Warren Buffett on billionaires ranking

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – Elon Musk is now richer than Warren Buffett.

The fortune of Tesla’s founder rose US$6.1 billion (S$8.5 billion) on Friday (July 10), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after the carmaker’s stock surged 11 per cent. Musk is now the world’s seventh-richest person, also ahead of tech titans Larry Ellison and Sergey Brin.

The 49-year-old owns about a fifth of Tesla’s outstanding stock, which comprises the bulk of his US$70.5 billion fortune. His majority ownership of closely held Space-X accounts for about US$15 billion.

Shares of the electric car-maker have risen 269 per cent this year. The firm’s booming valuation helped Musk land a US$595 million pay-day earlier this year, making him the highest-paid CEO in the US.

Musk is the latest tech entrepreneur to rise above Buffett in the rank’s of the world’s richest. Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft Corp CEO, and Google co-founders Larry Page and Brin also have leapfrogged the Oracle of Omaha. Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani also surpassed Buffett this week.

Mike Novogratz, the longtime money manager who now runs digital currency investor Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd, warned that valuations of technology companies are getting way too high and that small investors should get out of the market before it crashes.

“We are in irrational exuberance – this is a bubble,” he said on Friday in a Bloomberg Television interview.

“The economy is grinding, slowing down, we’re lurching in and out of Covid, yet the tech market makes new highs every day. That’s a classic speculative bubble.”

Buffett’s fortune dropped earlier this week when he donated US$2.9 billion in Berkshire Hathaway stock to charity. The 89-year-old has given away more than US$37 billion of Berkshire shares since 2006.

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