British Junior Health minister Dorries diagnosed with coronavirus


British junior health minister Nadine Dorries

(Reuters) - British junior health minister Nadine Dorries has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating, she said on Tuesday.

Dorries said she took "all the advised precautions" as soon as she was told of her diagnosis.

"Public Health England has started detailed contact tracing and the department and my parliamentary office are closely following their advice," she said in a statement issued through the UK's health department.

The Times reported that Dorries met hundreds of people in Parliament in the past week and attended a reception with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Britain's health minister, Matt Hancock, tweeted that he was "really sorry" to hear of Dorries' diagnosis. "She has done the right thing by self-isolating at home," he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the death toll in the United Kingdom from the coronavirus outbreak rose to six, British health officials said.

The health ministry also said the number of people who had tested positive for the virus had risen to 373 from 319.

Gatherings banned, travel restricted as coronavirus cases grow worldwide

People wearing protective face masks walk at as they arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France, February 29, 2020. REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters)
- Leaders in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas rolled out bans on big gatherings and stricter travel restrictions as cases of the new coronavirus spread around the world.

The United States on Saturday reported its first death from the disease, a man in his 50s in Washington state, where officials said two of the state's three cases have links to a nursing home with dozens of residents showing disease symptoms.

Although most Americans face a low risk from the virus, more U.S. deaths could be imminent following the nation's first, CNN quoted Vice President Mike Pence as saying.

"We know there will be more cases," Pence told CNN's Jake Tapper in a clip released on Saturday, echoing President Donald Trump's earlier comments that additional cases in America were "likely."


Travellers from Italy and South Korea would face additional screening, Trump and top officials told a White House news briefing, warning Americans against travelling to coronavirus-affected regions in both countries.

Pence said an entry ban on travellers from Iran would be expanded to include any foreign nationals who have visited Iran in the last 14 days.

The United States may also restrict travel on its southern border with Mexico, officials said. However, they encouraged Americans to travel around the country, including states that have recorded some of its more than 60 cases.

The outbreak is disrupting flight demand and many airlines have suspended or modified services in response. After Saturday's press conference, the White House held a call with airlines to discuss new travel restrictions.

American Airlines Inc said late on Saturday it was suspending all U.S. flights to Milan.

NEW CASES


Ecuador on Saturday reported its first case, in a woman who had travelled from Madrid, while Mexico reported four cases, all in people who had visited Italy.

Brazilian officials confirmed that country's second case, a patient in São Paulo who recently visited Italy.

As governments worldwide stepped up efforts to halt the spread of the virus, France announced a temporary ban on public gatherings with more than 5,000 people in confined spaces. It reported 16 new cases for a total of 73, and cancelled a half-marathon of 40,000 runners scheduled for Sunday.

Switzerland said it is banning events expected to draw more than 1,000 people.

More than 700 tourists remain quarantined at a hotel in the Canary Islands, after several Italian guests there tested positive for coronavirus.

Schools and universities in Italy, which is experiencing Europe's worst outbreak of the disease, will stay closed for a second consecutive week in three northern regions. The country has reported more than 1,100 cases and 29 deaths.

Analysts have warned that the outbreak looks set to shunt Italy's fragile economy into its fourth recession in 12 years, with many businesses in the wealthy north close to a standstill and hotels reporting a wave of cancellations.

FOCUS ON IRAN


Iraq reported five new cases of the disease, bringing its total to 13, and Qatar reported its first Saturday, leaving Saudi Arabia as the only Gulf state not to have signalled any coronavirus cases.

The majority of infections in other Gulf countries have been linked to visits to Iran or involve people who have come into contact with people who had been there.

Armenia reported its first infection on Sunday, in a citizen returning from neighbouring Iran.

Tehran has ordered schools shut until Tuesday and extended the closure of universities and a ban on concerts and sports events for a week. Authorities have also banned visits to hospitals and nursing homes as the country's case load hit nearly 600.

One Iranian lawmaker, elected in Feb. 21 polls, has died from the disease along with more than 40 other Iranians, and several high-ranking officials have tested positive for the virus.

Azerbaijan said on Saturday it had closed its border with Iran for two weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Two Azerbaijanis who travelled to Iran have tested positive for the disease and quarantined.

Mainland China reported 573 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Feb. 29, up from 427 the previous day, national health officials said on Sunday in China. The number of deaths stood at 35, down from 47 the previous day, taking the toll in mainland China to 2,870.

The epidemic, which began in China, has killed almost 3,000 people worldwide, the ministry said.

Thailand reported its first death from the virus on Sunday, while in Australia, a former passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan died in the western city of Perth.

Churches closed in South Korea as many held online services instead, with authorities looking to rein in public gatherings, as 376 new infections took the tally to 3,526 cases.

A $30 oil price real virus threat to Opec

Saudi Arabia will now hope to convince its biggest non-OPEC

IT IS FINALLY upon us. The week when ministers from the oil-producing countries of OPEC and their allies meet to decide on the future of their latest round of output cuts.

Having failed to persuade Russia to bring the meeting forward, Saudi Arabia will now hope to convince its biggest non-OPEC ally of the need to make deeper cuts in the face of a demand slump triggered by the Covid-19 virus. Success is not a foregone conclusion and failure will be costly.

The looming pandemic has already made its mark on oil markets. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude is now firmly below $50 a barrel and global benchmark Brent briefly followed it on Friday. That is uncomfortable territory for producers everywhere and, without a clear indication of deeper output cuts from this week’s meetings, prices will fall further.

As the virus spreads, locking down Italy’s industrial heartland and prompting Switzerland to ban large gatherings, producers appear to be clinging to overly optimistic demand assessments.

OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo, speaking at a conference in Saudi Arabia last week, said that in spite of the new coronavirus, the world’s "thirst for energy will continue to grow.” While that may be true for energy as a whole, it may not be for oil demand this year if there isn’t a quick rebound.

Assessments from the three main forecasting agencies still show 2020 oil demand growth running close to a million barrels a day, but that now looks very optimistic. By contrast, veteran energy consultants FGE cut their forecast for growth this year to "almost zero.”


They base their pessimism on the ripple effects of the virus beyond China, where traffic volumes in affected cities have already slumped, according to data from the TomTom Traffic Index. Measured in terms of how much longer journeys take than they would on empty roads, live data show that traffic volumes in Beijing are still well below normal levels, even as the city is reportedly returning to work.

In Wuhan, center of the epidemic in China, there is no such uptick; economic activity remains severely curtailed.

But this is no longer just a Chinese problem. The economic impact of the spread of the virus to other parts of the world is clear. Four-week average jet fuel demand in the U.S. has dropped by 18% in the past 10 weeks.

Airlines are cutting flight schedules and passenger numbers have collapsed. An acquaintance of mine flew back from Australia last weekend on a plane he reckons was only about one-third full.

As people have second thoughts about getting on flights if there’s no guarantee those around them aren’t infected, flight schedules will almost certainly be cut further, with obvious implications for fuel demand. Consultants JBC Energy has cut global demand growth for the fuel to just 50,000 barrels a day this year, little more than a third of what they saw a month ago.

And those TomTom figures show the impact of the virus on traffic in Milan after its discovery in northern Italy. Morning rush-hour journey times have been cut by a quarter, as fewer cars clog the roads.

A similar pattern is emerging in OPEC nation Kuwait, where the virus has spread from neighboring Iran.

Any hopes that demand will rebound last this year in a robust enough way to offset the first-half slump are built on shaky foundations. The flights that have been cancelled are gone, not postponed.

The road trips not made this week won’t be made up in future weeks. Traffic may return to normal levels once the virus is brought under control, but there won’t be a surge beyond that from pent-up demand.This is the situation that will face the oil ministers of the 23 nations in OPEC+ later this week.

They need a credible plan that will take actual barrels off the market, even if Russia balks at making further cuts. Its compliance has been poor, but Saudi Arabia seems willing to accept that in return for the perception of added clout that it thinks Russia’s presence at the table brings.

I have no doubt that an agreement will be hammered out in Vienna - or via a virtual meeting if the gathering is cancelled. (There are no signs yet that it will be, though OPEC continues to monitor the situation in Vienna). The cost of failure is too great. It "would leave the market vulnerable to a short-term swing below $30 a barrel, ” analysts Emily Ashford and Paul Horsnell from Standard Chartered said in a report.

Oil traders will remain hard to convince that producers are doing enough or reacting quickly enough. Saudi Arabia’s oil supplies to China are set to fall by a third in March as demand withers. The kingdom is pressing OPEC+ producers to agree to a collective production cut of an additional 1 million barrels a day - even that may no longer be enough.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners. Julian Lee is an oil strategist for Bloomberg. Previously he worked as a senior analyst at the Centre for Global Energy Studies.

Wealthy jump to private jets to duck airlines and cut virus risk

A woman wearing a protective face mask. photo cred: REUTERS

LONDON: Growing fear over coronavirus is battering commercial airline stocks, but private jet operators are seeing a spike in demand as well-heeled travelers look to minimize their public exposure and find alternatives to suspended flights.

"There’s undoubtedly been a rise in demand for short-notice, on-demand charter, ” said Adam Twidell, chief executive officer of jet charter provider PrivateFly. "We’ve had a very significant number of inquiries, for group evacuations, and from corporates and individuals.”

Requests have included a decontamination team looking for transport within Asia and a family traveling to Bali from Hong Kong who wanted to avoid exposure to other people on a commercial flight. Charter company Victor recently had a film studio ask about flying 50 people to Los Angeles from Tokyo to limit interaction with other travelers.

Such inquiries are becoming more common after the virus, which first emerged in Central China in December, has since spread to six continents, operators say.

"The number of private jet requests have gone up -- especially on long-haul flights, ” said Richard Lewis, U.S. president of Insignia Group, which organizes travel for wealthy clients. "They’re not willing to share the cabin with other people.”

Not Cheap


It’s not cheap, but can be relatively competitive with luxury commercial travel.

The cost of flying round-trip from New York to London on a 12-seat Gulfstream IV is about $140,000, although squeezing that many people onboard removes some of the comfort factor. That compares with $10,000 for a first-class ticket flying commercial, complete with a lie-flat bed.

For individuals and companies willing to pay extra, it’s a way to minimize the risk of infection.

JetSet Group, a New York-based charter company that books roughly 150 flights a month, has seen business spike about 25% in the last few weeks. Fear of the virus appears to be driving the demand, said founder and CEO Steve Orfali, based on customer feedback, .

Many of his clients have medium-sized business and have to travel to see factories or stores. Others are considering it for family vacations.

"When they’re going on a personal trip, they don’t want to expose their family, so they’re anteing up and paying for a private jet rather than first-class tickets for everyone and risking it, ” he said.

People who don’t normally fly private are also calling. Orfali said he hopes they’ll become regular clients after experiencing the convenience and time savings of such travel.

Most operators realize the extra demand generated from the coronavirus may be temporary, especially if the outbreak continues to pummel stocks.

‘Heavily Invested’


"Our clients are people who are heavily invested in the markets, ” said Richard Zaher, founder and CEO of Paramount Business Jets in Leesburg, Virginia. "When they’re losing millions of dollars, they’re not going to necessarily want to go on vacation to a place where they’re going to spend a lot of money and also possibly expose themselves to people who may carry the virus.”

"This is not good for private aviation, ” he added.

PrivateFly’s Twidell shares that concern.

"Any short-term gain is obviously balanced with longer-term concerns and challenges, including the impact on the global economy, ” he said. "Even now, while we’re seeing short-term additional demand, other clients are changing or canceling their travel plans.”

Authorities are stepping up measures to stop the spread of a disease that’s caused more than 2,800 deaths worldwide.

Japanese schools will shut for about a month, while Saudi Arabia has halted religious pilgrimages that draw millions to cities including Mecca and Medina.

In Monaco, the government has asked employees returning from risk areas to quarantine themselves for two weeks and the Israeli government has requested that citizens reconsider plans to travel abroad.

Routes Cut


Commercial airlines have been among the hardest hit. American Airlines Group Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. have lost about a quarter of their combined market value since the start of the year with analysts warning that the drubbing may get worse as the disease curbs demand for travel.

All three have suspended direct flights to mainland China through April, severing what had become a key business route. British Airways Plc and Air France-KLM have enacted similar restrictions. On Friday, United, the biggest U.S. carrier on trans-Pacific routes, pared more service to Asia, including canceling flights to Tokyo’s Narita Airport from Los Angeles and Chicago.

Travelers who still need to get around are seeking out private jet operators to fill the void of suspended flights.

Vimana Private Jets, which charters trips for the uber-wealthy, has helped clients with business meetings in Beijing in recent weeks. The jets don’t typically stay long on the ground in China. Instead they fly to Vietnam while they wait for the return leg to mitigate the risk of infection to crew.

‘Fluid Situation’


Still, the logistics of flying into high-risk virus areas is becoming increasingly complicated, said PrivateFly’s Twidell. For one, it’s often hard to find the aircraft or sufficient crew to fill all the requests.

"Operational protocols are changing daily, ” Twidell said. "It’s a very fluid situation.”

Paramount Business Jets is getting a lot of requests to fly people out of Asia, Zaher said. It’s not easy. There are difficulties finding available aircraft and complying with new restrictions such as making sure passengers who have visited China have been out of the country and observed for 14 days without showing symptoms.

"Our clients are requesting aircraft that haven’t flown to mainline China, for example, and are asking for a crew that has been temperature-checked, ” said Zaher, whose company arranges about 500 flights a year.

Planes and their passengers still must respect any quarantined areas, and must undergo additional screening procedures for trips to and from risk areas.

Flights coming into the U.K. from such locations are subject to inspections by port authorities, whose powers include "detention of the aircraft, passengers, stores, equipment and cargo” if they constitute a danger to public health, according to the Association of Port Health Authorities’ website. - Bloomberg

China refutes U.S., U.K. remarks on Hong Kong violence

Chaos in Hong Kong as pro-democracy protests 'blossom everywhere'

Chaos in Hong Kong as pro-democracy protests 

BEIJING -- China on Tuesday refuted remarks by U.S. and British officials regarding the latest riot in Hong Kong, calling the remarks a reflection of hypocrisy and double standards.

It was reported that an unnamed senior U.S. official said Monday the U.S. condemned "unjustified use of deadly force" in Hong Kong violence, claiming the police and civilians alike "have a responsibility to de-escalate and avoid violent confrontations."

The statement was made after a Hong Kong police officer shot a protester who attempted to snatch his gun.

U.K. Prime Minister's Downing Street Office earlier also urged all sides to be calm and exercise restraint, adding that the prime minister supported "the right to peaceful protests."

"If you watch the video clip, you will see clearly that the rioters assaulted the police first and the officer's response was fully lawful," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.

Geng told a press briefing that grabbing police firearms, assaulting or threatening officers on duty were absolutely forbidden in any country and would be dealt with the strong police force.

"I want to ask the U.S. and British officials: How would their police deal with similar situations in their countries?" Geng said.


Speaking about a civilian who was set on fire by rioters for publicly expressing his objections to vandalism by the rioters, Geng said the remarks from Washington and London exposed their hypocrisy and double standards.

"If they truly oppose violence and call for restraint, like what they said, then why didn't they strongly condemn such attack on ordinary civilians?"

Geng called attention to the fact that the U.S. government official refused to reveal his name. "I'm afraid they felt embarrassed themselves in making such remarks."

"Ending violence and restoring order is the paramount task in Hong Kong," Geng said, urging the U.S. and the U.K. to respect China's sovereignty and exercise prudence on Hong Kong-related issues and stop meddling in China's internal affairs

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