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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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Prayers for the dead as Myanmar's young jade miners mourned

(Reuters) – University student Saw Myint Tun travelled hundreds of miles from home in February to work the jade mines of northern Myanmar in search of gems that might transform his family’s modest fortunes.

Instead, they offered funeral prayers for him there on Saturday, lighting candles on a plywood coffin and chanting Buddhist sutras for the 21-year-old, one of more than 170 people killed in a landslide on Thursday.

The miners were hunting for precious stones in Hpakant – the centre of Myanmar’s secretive billion-dollar jade industry – when a wave of mud and water crashed onto them, entombing them under a layer of mud.

More than a dozen miners were cremated in Hpakant on Saturday, while 41 were buried in a mass grave. Seventy-seven were buried on Friday.

Thursday’s disaster, the worst in memory, highlights the perils of the trade, which draws impoverished migrants from across the country seeking to make their fortune.

It is not uncommon for university students to work in the mines gathering pocket money for the next semester. Officials said the victims were freelance jade pickers who scoured tailings, the residue from mining, for stones missed by larger operators.

Myanmar supplies 90% of the world’s jade, the vast majority exported to neighbouring China. Rights groups say the industry is riddled with abuses. Scores are killed every year.

Like many others who died, Saw Myint Tun was from Rakhine state, his brother-in-law, Hla Shwe Win, told Reuters.

Rakhine, one of Myanmar’s poorest regions, is the state from which more than 730,000 Rohingya were forced to flee for neighbouring Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017 that the U.N. has said was executed with genocidal intent. Myanmar denies committing genocide.

Now it is the site of an escalating war between Arakan Army rebels, who seek greater autonomy for the region, and government troops.

Hla Shwe Win said one of his brothers had died in the disaster, while another was wounded.

They had followed him to Hpakant to work in the mines, he said, as women wept over the coffin before it was burned in line with Buddhist traditions.

“They came here, counting on me,” he told Reuters, saying there were no words to describe how he felt.

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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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North Korea says no need to sit down with U.S. for talks

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea does not feel the need to have talks with the United States, which would be nothing more than “a political tool” for Washington, a senior North Korean diplomat said on Saturday, ahead of a U.S. envoy’s visit to South Korea.

Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said negotiations would not work out between Washington and Pyongyang and there will be no change in North Korea’s policy.

“We do not feel any need to sit face to face with the U.S., as it does not consider the DPRK-U.S. dialogue as nothing more than a tool for grappling its political crisis,” Choe said in a statement carried by state-run KCNA news agency.

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s formal name.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun is due to visit South Korea next week to discuss stalled talks with North Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should meet again before the U.S. elections in November, which would help resume the stalled nuclear negotiations.

Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, told reporters in New York on Thursday that the president might seek another summit with Kim as an “October Surprise” ahead of the election.

Trump and Kim Jong Un met for the first time in 2018 in Singapore.

They met again in Vietnam in 2019, but the talks fell apart when Trump said Kim had failed to offer enough nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles in exchange for lifting international sanctions.

At their third meeting, in June 2019 at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, the two agreed to restart negotiations. Working-level talks between the two sides in Sweden in October were broken off.

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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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Brazil health regulator Anvisa allows Chinese COVID-19 vaccine trial

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian health regulator Anvisa on Friday approved clinical trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac, according to an official gazette publication.

The study – first announced on June 11 – is led by Instituto Butantan, a research center funded by the state of Sao Paulo. The agreement with Sinovac includes not only trials but also the transference of technology to produce the potential vaccine locally.

On June 29, Sao Paulo state Governor Joao Doria said 9,000 volunteers have already been registered to test the vaccine against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Trials will be conducted by 12 research centers in six Brazilian states: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Brasilia, Rio Grande do Sul and Parana, according to Doria.

Anvisa’s approval comes after Brazil surpassed 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to Health Ministry data, the second worst outbreak after the United States. The number of deaths rose by 1,290 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally to 63,174, the data showed.

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Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopen as England's lockdown eases

LONDON (Reuters) – England takes its biggest steps yet towards resumption of normal life on Saturday as people are finally allowed to drink in a pub, get a haircut or have a meal in a restaurant for the first time in over three months.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said everybody had to behave responsibly and maintain social distancing to support businesses and not risk a second wave of the coronavirus.

Some hairdressers were reported to have opened at the stroke of midnight while pubs will be allowed to start serving from 0500 GMT on so-called “Super Saturday”, sparking worries of pent-up over-indulgence.

Johnson said his message was to “enjoy summer safely” and not undo the progress made in knocking back the pandemic.

He said workers in pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and other businesses had made an heroic effort to prepare for reopening.

“The success of these businesses, the livelihoods of those who rely on them, and ultimately the economic health of the whole country is dependent on every single one of us acting responsibly,” he said. “We must not let them down.”

Police said they were “absolutely prepared” for the pubs reopening.

But customers might find the atmosphere inside rather different from the usual Saturday-night scrum.

Numbers will be limited, no one will be allowed to stand at the bar and there will be no live music. Patrons will also have to give their details to allow tracers to identify them if anyone later tests positive.

JD Wetherspoon, one of the biggest chains, said it had invested 11 million pounds ($14 million) in safety measures.Most of its pubs in England will open at the usual time of 8 a.m. on Saturday. It is not taking bookings, but said at busy times numbers would be controlled by staff.

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Business

Oil falls below $43 a barrel on virus fears, still heads for weekly gain

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil fell below $43 a barrel on Friday as a resurgence of coronavirus cases raised concern that fuel demand growth could stall, although crude was still headed for a weekly gain on lower supply and wider signs of economic recovery.

The United States reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, a new daily global record for the pandemic. The rise in cases suggested U.S. jobs growth, which jumped in June, could suffer a setback.

“If this trend continues, oil demand in the region is at risk,” said Louise Dickson of Rystad Energy.

Brent crude was down 38 cents, or 0.9%, at $42.76 a barrel by 12:03 p.m. EDT (1603 GMT), and U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell 44 cents, or 1.1%, to $40.21.

U.S. trade was thinned by the Independence Day holiday.

“The fragile U.S. economic rebound is at risk of being undone by the latest surge in new infections,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.

Both benchmarks rose more than 2% on Thursday, buoyed by strong U.S. June jobs figures and a drop in U.S. crude inventories. Brent is still on track for a weekly gain of 4%.

Signs of economic recovery, and a drop in supply after a record supply cut by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, have helped Brent more than double from a 21-year low below $16 reached in April.

Boosting recovery hopes, a private survey showed on Friday that China’s services sector expanded at the fastest pace in over a decade in June.

OPEC oil production fell to its lowest in decades in June and Russian production has dropped to near its OPEC+ target.

The bankruptcy filing of U.S. shale pioneer Chesapeake Energy also supported prices by raising expectations production will decline, JBC Energy said in a report.

Gasoline demand will be closely watched as the United States heads into the July 4 holiday weekend.

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Business

Embraer union seeks planemaker's board ouster after failed Boeing deal

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – A union representing workers at Embraer filed a lawsuit on Friday seeking to dismiss the company’s board, after a $4.2 billion deal with Boeing Co (BA.N) collapsed amid the pandemic, claims the Brazilian planemaker said were an act of “bad faith.”

The failed deal left the Brazilian jetmaker scrambling for a new path forward as the coronavirus pandemic hammered travel demand.

Embraer said the union was “using unfounded allegations and distorting information in order to confuse public opinion and the company’s workers.” It added it had yet to be served.

The lawsuit is the latest headache for Embraer in the aftermath of its breakup with Boeing. Under the deal signed in 2018, Boeing was going to buy the majority of Embraer’s commercial aviation unit in order to take on Airbus in the mid-range jet segment.

But the deal collapsed at the 11th hour in April, leaving Embraer and Boeing pointing fingers at each other.

The lawsuit accuses Embraer’s board of having allowed Boeing to conduct what amounted to “espionage,” by having its U.S. engineers work within Embraer’s research and development unit during the time when the deal seemed like it would in fact materialize.

In the wake of the pandemic, Embraer is now being supported by the government through a $600 million loan and said this week it was negotiating a buyout program. It posted a loss of $210 million last quarter.

Embraer’s board “operates creating billionaire losses and passing on the cost of its incompetence to workers,” the union alleged in court papers.

The planemaker said the union’s claims showed “ignorance about the company and its management.”

The Boeing-Embraer deal was subject to several lawsuits, including by the metalworkers union which sought to stop it. Some judges initially agreed to block the deal, but appeal judges ultimately overturned all allegations.

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