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Coronavirus surges on Colombia's Caribbean coast, doctors warn deaths underreported

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Coronavirus cases and deaths are surging along Colombia’s Caribbean coast as the region becomes the epicenter of the pandemic in the Andean country, with doctors warning many deaths are going undetected.

Colombia – Latin America’s third-most populous nation – has officially reported over 113,000 cases of coronavirus and just under 4,000 deaths among its 50 million inhabitants.

The climbing figures pale in comparison with some neighboring countries, with regional giant Brazil exceeding 64,200 deaths on Saturday.

Colombia’s Caribbean region accounts for close to 40% of the country’s reported cases and just over half its deaths, according to an analysis of government data by the World Health Organization (WHO).

President Ivan Duque told Reuters last month his government was escalating its response to the pandemic in the Caribbean region, given the concentration of cases there, after taking strict measures to slow infection in cities like Cartagena.

There is no definitive hypothesis about why there has been higher mortality in the coast region, but officials and doctors say flouting of social distancing rules and a higher incidence of certain other diseases may play a role.

Atlantico province, with its port capital Barranquilla, has registered over 1,300 deaths – more than Bogota, even though Atlantico has only about one-third of the capital’s population.

Doctors there say that despite an increased number of intensive care beds and stricter social distancing measures, deaths are likely being underreported in Barranquilla, which has a population of 1.2 million people.

“We continue to think there is a dissociation in what is happening in the city and what is being reported officially,” Carmen Polo, a doctor in Barranquilla and president of the Colombian Association of Internal Medicine’s (ACMI) Caribbean chapter, told Reuters.

Barranquilla health secretary Humberto Mendoza denied there was significant underreporting of deaths in the city.

However, Polo, who works in the city’s Portoazul health center, said misinformation spread online about doctors injecting patients with the disease was deterring people from seeking treatment.

Those who die at home with coronavirus symptoms are not classified as suspected cases and are not tested, she said.

“But with the information provided by relatives and the clinical picture presented by the patient, you as a doctor most certainly know this person died of coronavirus,” Polo said.

Juan Marquez, another Barranquilla doctor who will succeed Polo as the ACMI’s Caribbean chapter president in August, agreed deaths are slipping through the net.

“Many patients have died – and are dying – in emergency rooms. Sometimes they don’t even make it to intensive care,” he said.

Though Barranquilla has added around 200 ICU beds since the pandemic began, bringing the total operating to around 600, both Polo and Marquez said the units were operating near capacity.

Though confirmed cases of coronavirus in the city’s ICUs stand at just under 80, Marquez said including suspected cases would show a substantial increase.

“If we add cases which aren’t confirmed…we could multiply these numbers by two or three,” he said.

Medellin’s mayor said on Twitter at the end of June his city had received ICU patients from Barranquilla.

Health secretary Mendoza conceded some asymptomatic cases may go untested, but said Barranquilla had the highest rate of testing in the country.

The city has performed more than 67,600 tests, which the INS reports is equivalent to just over 55,000 tests per million people. Nationally, this puts the city in second place to Colombia’s Amazonas province, according to INS figures.

Health secretary Mendoza said ICUs are not the answer to tackling the disease, which needs to be confronted by stemming its spread.

Young people with a low perception of coronavirus danger have not followed social distancing rules or used face masks diligently, he added.

“Lack of diagnosis presents false information that there are no cases or that there is no mortality,” he said. “History will show the true performance of each region.”

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Health minister hails responsible behaviour after English pubs reopen

LONDON (Reuters) – People in England appear to have broadly behaved themselves as pubs reopened this weekend, Britain’s health minister Matt Hancock said on Sunday after the latest step towards a return to normality from the coronavirus lockdown.

Thousands of people flocked to pubs, restaurants and bars around England on Saturday as large parts of the hospitality sector reopened for the first time since March.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to “enjoy summer safely” as he bids to tread a narrow path of restoring consumer spending to help battered businesses recover, while avoiding a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

“From what I’ve seen, although there’s some pictures to the contrary, very very largely people have acted responsibly,” health minister Matt Hancock told Sky News.

“Overall, I’m pleased with what happened yesterday. It was really good to see people out and about, and largely socially distancing.”

Britain has been the European country worst hit by the coronavirus and has an official death toll of 44,198.

Johnson and Prince Charles each paid treatment to Britain’s National Health Service, 72 years after it was founded, for its sacrifices in tackling the pandemic.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, thanked the public for their support, as well as their restraint on Saturday night.

“Pleasingly, we did not see last night the kind of scenes people feared (there) might be” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“The foolish few, but the sensible majority, I think is the story across the country, and long may that continue.”

Police Federation National Chair John Apter however said it was “crystal clear” that drunk people were unable to practice social distancing.

The rule changes apply only to England as the devolved nations in the United Kingdom have been setting their own timetables for easing restrictions, with Wales and Scotland easing restrictions more slowly.

The government has said that it is aiming for local lockdowns rather than national restrictions if needed, such as the one introduced in the city of Leicester last week.

Hancock said he was worried about factory conditions in the city. Boohoo (BOOH.L) last week defended its supply chain practices after criticism from a garment workers’ rights group.

“There are some quite significant concerns about some of the employment practices in some of the clothing factories in Leicester,” he said, adding there was significant enforcement powers available including shutting down businesses.

“We’re not just asking nicely, we’re very clear to businesses that these are their responsibilities.”

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Philippines records highest single-day jump in new coronavirus cases

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines reported its biggest single-day jump in new coronavirus cases on Sunday, adding 2,434 confirmed infections and taking the total count to 44,254, the health ministry said.

The ministry said the rise could be attributed to increased contact among people as the country began easing lockdown measures to help reduce the pandemic’s damage to the economy.

The Philippines also recorded seven new deaths, the ministry said, bringing total fatalities to 1,297.

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Business

Companies need to share more wealth with workers

For two generations, workers’ wages have stagnated. During this period, powerful institutional investors have tied executive pay to stock performance and created a corporate-governance system solely focused on delivering for stockholders.

The bulk of the rewards for improved corporate performance shifted to stockholders and top management, at the expense of other company stakeholders.

The result has been soaring inequality, increased economic insecurity and a growing anxiety that the US capitalist system is stacked against working people.

Business leaders have even acknowledged that an economic system that doesn’t work for everyone is unsustainable, most prominently in the Business Roundtable’s statement last August that the purpose of a corporation shouldn’t be just to serve shareholders, but workers as well.

We would go further: Revise the mandate of board compensation committees to make them responsible for overseeing a more equitable pay distribution for the entire company workforce. This is made more urgent by the Covid-19 pandemic which makes clear that the people doing the risky work essential to our economy make much less than the national average. Basic fairness requires us to right these inequities, especially because taxpayers have once again bailed out big business.

Boards must make more sensible decisions about senior executive compensation, situating it within the overall context of the company’s workforce. Likewise, a focus on workers will help directors make more enlightened decisions about balancing shareholder returns with equitable compensation for workers and the maintenance of prudent reserves to help the company better withstand future adversity.

This approach requires directors and senior executives to set baselines for more equitable pay along with metrics to track the workforce’s share of gains in productivity and profitability. That policy should recognise that stockholders deserve a solid, long-term return but also that employees have a deep incentive to sustain corporate profitability and deserve fair wages and encouragement for working hard to achieve that objective.

Although it would be unproductive for a board committee to enmesh itself too deeply in the details of worker pay, a solid grasp of essentials is necessary. For example, the committee could ask company management and advisers to identify – both company wide and along major business lines – data such as the mean and median pay and benefits package of each quartile of employees, with corresponding data about their function, educational level, skill set and business relevance.

The committee should also collect information on whether there is a race and gender-pay disparity. Importantly, it must also consider the company’s use of contract labour and whether those workers are fairly treated.

But the committee shouldn’t stop at issues of pay: it must approve company policies to ensure that employees have safe working conditions, reliable and family-friendly schedules, are treated with respect and dignity, and have a welcoming and inclusive workplace that is free from discrimination and harassment.

By doing this, the well-being of the workers, who are critical to the company’s success, can become a central consideration in corporate decision-making.

Perhaps most of all, if corporate America is serious about capitalism working for the many, the reconceived compensation committee can ensure that workers receive their fair share of the value they create.

BLOOMBERG

• Leo E. Strine Jr is the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Delaware. He now serves as adjunct professor at Harvard and Penn law schools.

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World News

Ghana's president self-isolates after close person tests positive for coronavirus

ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo will self-isolate for 14 days on the advice of doctors after a person in his close circle tested positive for coronavirus, the government said in a statement late on Saturday.

“He has, as at today, tested negative, but has elected to take this measure out of the abundance of caution,” the statement said, adding that the president will continue to work during the period, in compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols.

The statement did not say if the close person was a staff or family member.

Ghana has recorded 19,388 coronavirus cases, one of the highest number of cases in sub-Saharan Africa, with 117 deaths.

The West African nation’s deputy trade and industry minister Carlos Kingsley Ahenkorah resigned on Friday for violating coronavirus self-isolation measures after he tested positive for the virus.

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Business

Trump approves five-week extension for small business pandemic loan applications

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday signed into law a deadline extension to August 8 for small businesses to apply for relief loans under a federal aid program to help businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, the White House said.

The extension to the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), which was launched in April to keep Americans on company payrolls and off unemployment assistance, gives business owners an additional five weeks to apply for funding assistance plagued by problems.

An estimated $130 billion of the $659 billion provided by Congress is still up for grabs. Critics worry the U.S. Small Business Administrator’s office, which administers the loan, may continue to experience challenges in fairly distributing the funds.

From the outset, the unprecedented first-come-first-served program struggled with technology and paperwork problems that led some businesses to miss out while some affluent firms got funds.

The SBA’s inspector general found in May that some rural, minority and women-owned businesses may not have received loans due to a lack of prioritization from the agency.

Reuters reported here on Thursday that a technical snafu in a U.S. government system caused many small businesses to receive loans twice or more times, nearly a dozen people with knowledge of the matter said.

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World News

Coronavirus: Spain puts 200,000 people in Catalonia back into lockdown as cases rise

More than 200,000 people in northeast Spain have been put back into an enforced lockdown following several new outbreaks of coronavirus.

Residents in the county of Segria, which includes the city of Lleida, in the Catalonia region, were told by authorities not to leave the area from midday (11am in the UK) on Saturday, and were given until 4pm local time (3pm in the UK) to enter the area if outside.

However, people will not be confined to their homes as was the case in Spain‘s original strict lockdown, which came into force on 14 March as cases of coronavirus were rising around the world.

“We have decided to confine Segria due to data that confirms too significant a growth in the number of COVID-19 infections,” Catalan regional president Quim Torra told a news briefing.

Regional health ministry data showed there were 3,706 cases in the Lleida region on Friday, up from 3,551 the previous day.

The new outbreaks have been linked to agricultural workers in the rural area.

Spain has registered 205,545 coronavirus cases and 28,385 deaths, making it one of the worst affected countries in Europe.

After imposing a strict lockdown in March, the Spanish government has been gradually easing restrictions since early May.

However, like Leicester in the UK, Segria faces a localised lockdown.

Movement for work will be permitted, but from Tuesday workers entering or leaving the area will have to present a certificate from their employer.

Germany has also seen a local lockdown, with Guetersloh county, the country’s most populous state, reintroducing restrictions in June after a coronavirus outbreak at a slaughterhouse.

More than 1,500 people from the Toennies plant tested positive for COVID-19.

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Barcelona's landmark Sagrada Familia reopens for key workers

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia reopened on Saturday, giving frontline workers the chance to have the usually tourist-packed landmark to themselves in recognition of their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.

People took photos and listened to audio guides after Archbishop of Barcelona Juan Jose Omella led representatives of healthcare workers into the church.

The basilica, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, closed almost four months ago. But for the next two weekends it will be open to essential workers, including those in healthcare, the police and NGOs, who will be able to explore without the usual crowds.

The goal is to recognise and pay tribute to Barcelona residents, “especially those who have been on the front lines fighting and working to prevent Covid-19”, according to a statement on the basilica’s website.

“It’s the first time I’ve been and for me it represents a gift, a gift for the effort and the hours we’ve put in during the past few months, so I’m grateful,” said Virginia Martinez, a hospital doctor from the nearby city of Terrassa. “It’s recognition of our work and what’s better than visiting a monument like this?”

A second phase of reopening will see the lofty and famously unfinished church welcome Barcelona’s residents for free, while a third phase will allow domestic and international tourists to visit.

Started in 1882, the Sagrada Familia is the sixth most visited tourist attraction in the world, according to TripAdvisor.

The reopening came as Catalonia on Saturday enforced a new lockdown on more than 200,000 people after several new outbreaks of coronavirus were detected.

Residents in Segria, which includes the city of Lleida, around 150 km (90 miles) away from Barcelona, are not permitted to leave the area, but will not be confined to their homes as was the case during Spain’s strict lockdown at the start of the outbreak.

Spain has registered 205,545 coronavirus cases and 28,385 deaths, according to health ministry data, making it one of the worst affected countries in Europe.

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Business

Coronavirus: New European publisher Archant hunts new owners

One of Britain’s oldest regional newspaper groups has put itself up for sale as it races to find new investors willing to plug a funding deficit exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic’s disastrous impact on industry-wide advertising revenues.

Sky News has learnt that Archant, which was established in 1845 and publishes titles including the Eastern Daily Press and London’s Ham & High Express, has appointed corporate financiers to find new backers.

City sources said this weekend that the family-owned company wanted to secure new funding within the next few months.

KPMG, the professional services firm, is handling the process.

Archant is one of the most venerable names in Britain’s print media industry, having been jointly founded more than 175 years ago by the Colman family whose name went on to adorn one of the most prominent brands of English mustard.

Along with the Colmans, the Copeman family continue to own the business, which is headquartered in Norwich and employs close to 1,100 people.

It publishes around 60 newspaper brands as well as 75 magazine brands which include Airgun World and Tillergraph, a title aimed at canal boating enthusiasts.

The company boasts 9m unique monthly visitors to its websites, and prints in aggregate more than 6m copies of its publications every month.

Last year, it struck a landmark partnership with Google, the online search giant, to develop a new model for local digital news.

The website PeterboroughMatters.co.uk was the first site to launch from this partnership, which is said to be worth roughly £4m in revenue to Archant.

For Google, the search division of Alphabet, the joint venture was partly intended to counter criticism of the extent to which it and Facebook have eroded ad revenues from traditional sources of local news.

The regional publisher has seen sales decline in recent years, from £96.6m in 2017 to £78.7m last year, with a further fall likely this year as a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak.

One bright spot has been The New European, the anti-Brexit national title which Archant launched just days after the EU referendum as a four-week “pop-up paper”, became a surprising commercial success and continues to be published.

It sells roughly 20,000 copies each week, with 10,000 subscribers, while its website generates 3.5m page views-per-month.

Several private equity groups have been sounded out about their interest in a deal to buy part or all of Archant, according to insiders.

The group’s shareholders are understood to be open-minded about an outright sale of the business.

Any deal could be structured as a pre-pack administration, which would wipe out the interests of existing investors.

David Montgomery, the serial newspaper investor who previously ran the Daily Mirror’s parent company, is likely to be among the contenders to buy the company, according to media analysts.

Mr Montgomery has created a new vehicle, National World, to acquire newspaper and other media assets, and has been rumoured to be interested in bidding for The Daily Telegraph.

One obstacle to a deal is likely to present itself in the form of Archant’s pension deficit, which runs to tens of millions of pounds.

The funding gap is a legacy of the publisher’s long history and the decades-long decline in print circulation and advertising revenues.

In that and other respects, it echoes the demise, and rebirth, of Johnston Press, Archant’s larger rival and owner of The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post.

The pensions watchdog dropped a probe last year into whether the company had used a pre-pack insolvency process to dump £300m of pension liabilities into the Pension Protection Fund.

JPI Media, as the company is now known, has temporarily halted publication of many of its print titles, and has put on hold the search for new owners.

Archant has shaken up its management in an attempt to improve its financial performance.

Last year, it replaced its chief executive – former ITV executive Jeff Henry – and chief financial officer, appointing Simon Bax, a former finance chief from the animation studio Pixar, as executive chairman.

Under Mr Bax, Archant is said to have made good progress, although its print titles have been badly affected by the UK-wide lockdown, hastening the need for new funding.

In a statement issued to Sky News this weekend, an Archant spokesman said: “The board of Archant confirms it is in early-stage discussions with a number of third parties who have expressed an interest in investing in our business.

“For clarity, the company faces no immediate threat to trading, and continues business operations as normal.”

Archant would, he added “be making no further comment for the time being”.

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Australia's Victoria reports 108 new coronavirus cases, biggest jump in over three months

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s second most-populous state, Victoria, reported its biggest jump in coronavirus cases since late March on Saturday, forcing it to expand stay-at-home orders to two more suburbs and sending nine public housing towers in a complete lockdown.

The southeastern state recorded 108 new cases on Saturday, up from 66 on Friday and more than 70 new cases in each of the previous four days, forcing authorities to reimpose lockdowns in more than 30 suburbs earlier in the week.

“These numbers are a very real concern to all of us,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.

The spike in Victoria is being closely watched as the rest of the country has reined in the virus that causes COVID-19.

Australia’s most populated state, New South Wales, reported six new coronavirus cases on Saturday, five of them returning travellers from overseas.

The sixth is a past infection and not an active case, according to health officials. The state reported no new cases on Friday.

Overall, Australia has weathered the coronavirus pandemic much better than most other nations, with just over 8,300 cases and 104 deaths so far.

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