Hertz car rental files for bankruptcy in the US
The more than a century old car rental firm Hertz Global Holdings Inc has filed for bankruptcy protection in the US after its business all but vanished during the coronavirus pandemic and talks with creditors failed. Its international operating regions including Europe, Australia and New Zealand were not included in the US proceedings.
Reuters reports that the firm, whose largest shareholder is the billionaire investor Carl Icahn, is reeling from government orders restricting travel and requiring citizens to remain home. A large portion of Hertz’s revenue comes from car rentals at airports, which have all but evaporated as potential customers eschew plane travel.
With nearly $19bn of debt and roughly 38,000 employees worldwide as of the end of 2019, Hertz is among the largest companies to be undone by the pandemic. US airlines have so far avoided similar fates after receiving billions of dollars in government aid, an avenue Hertz explored without success.
Meanwhile in North America, the company recently laid off about 10,000 employees.
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The New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard has just given an update in Sydney, saying the state had three additional of the virus yesterday. That takes the state’s total cases to 3,086. Almost 9,000 were tested in the last recorded 24-hour period.
“I must say, as the health minister, I would love to see a lot more people coming forward,” he said. “That is absolutely essential as we move forward. As we try to relax the restrictions that we have lived under for the past two months, it is crucial, absolutely crucial, people come forward for testing if they have the slightest hint of any respiratory issues at all, a cough, a cold, temperature, whatever it may be. We now have a total of 411,618 people who have been tested in New South Wales. So we are fast closing in on half a million people.”
Her urged young people to be careful with social distancing and not to assume they were safe. Twenty per cent of all the people who have tested positive had been in the 20-29 year-old age bracket, he said.
Australian business subsidy bungle raises questions
In Australia opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the government’s massive multi-billion JobKeeper mistake raises questions over how it will manage the economic recovery coming out of the coronavirus pandemic.
The JobKeeper Payment scheme is a temporary subsidy for businesses significantly affected by coronavirus. Eligible employers, sole traders and other entities can apply to receive $1,500 per eligible employee per fortnight.
But on Friday, the government admitted to a $60bn reporting error to its much-heralded scheme. Rather than costing the budget $130 billion, the wage subsidy program to assist business and workers through the crisis has been slashed to $70 billion, and is now forecast to assist 3.5 million employees instead of 6.5 million.
“If they can’t manage a program like JobKeeper to the tune of a mistake of $60 billion, and three million people… then there has got to be a great question mark over how they’ll manage the economic recovery,” Albanese told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.
“This is a government that’s good at boasting that the budget is ‘Back in Black’, that they’ve got this all under control, but when it comes to the detail they’re simply not capable of delivering.”
Labor has been calling for the JobKeeper payment to be broadened to casuals and other work groups that missed out, but the government has repeatedly rejected the idea, even with the program now much smaller.
Labor frontbencher Amanda Rishworth said the bungle was a “slap in the face” for close to one million workers who were told by the government that the program was over subscribed and they wouldn’t be allowed to enter it.
The New York Times reports that the press secretary of the White House accidentally revealed Donald Trump’s private bank account and routing numbers. At a press conference on Friday Kayleigh McEnany announced Trump will donate his quarterly paycheck to the department of health and human services as it responds to Covid-19.
As she held up the $100,000 check for reporters to see, it was complete with the relevant banking details. An administration official told the New York Times mock checks were never used in the briefing. We have cropped out those details in the image below.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, holds a check to be donated to the department of health and human services. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock
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Sydney’s lord mayor, Clover Moore, has been speaking to the ABC about how the city and its public transport will manage as office workers return to the CBD.
Moore said that unlike other Australian capitals such as Adelaide and Perth, where people are being encouraged to drive rather than take public transport, Sydney’s city centre is geographically constrained. The government and the council have been encouraging workers to ride to work, and temporary bike lanes will be installed, but Moore acknowledged there were limits to what can be done.
“People are going to drive, and that will mean the air quality goes down again,” she said. “There will be tremendous congestion. And when they get into the city, you can only have two people per lift. Most of these are high-rise buildings. So how long is it going to take people to get into their workplace and get them out for lunch at home for dinner? So it’s a challenge.”
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Science magazine has an interesting article by Gretchen Vogel which describes how Sweden wasted a rare opportunity to study coronavirus in schools.
Despite bucking a global trend by keeping primary schools open since Covid-19 emerged without any major adjustments to class size, lunch policies or recess rules, Swedish officials have not tracked infections among schoolchildren. This was even the case when large outbreaks led to the closure of individual schools or staff members died of the disease. Vogel writes:
Emma Frans, a clinical epidemiologist at KI who also writes a regular newspaper column on science and health, says Sweden’s overall goal during the pandemic has not been to eliminate transmission completely, but to prevent the health system from becoming overburdened and to protect the elderly. (It has succeeded at the former but not the latter: Sweden has suffered very high mortality among nursing home residents.)
Regarding schools, Frans says, “Most people in Sweden are quite happy with [them] being open.” She acknowledges the lack of data is a missed opportunity. With Sweden’s centralised health system and extensive records “it would have been possible” to track cases fairly easily had there been more testing.
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Australia, Canada and the UK condemn China’s Hong Kong plan
Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have issued a joint statement expressing deep concern at proposals from China for introducing legislation related to national security in Hong Kong that will impinge on civil liberties.
“Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the ‘one country, two systems’ principle under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy,” the statement says.
AP reports that on Friday the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, condemned China’s move, calling it a “death knell for the high degree of autonomy” that Beijing had promised the territory. He called for Beiing to reconsider and warned of an unspecified US response if it proceeds.
Meanwhile, a White House economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, said China risked a major flight of capital from Hong Kong that would end the territory’s status as the financial hub of Asia. Shortly afterwards the commerce department announced restrictions on sensitive exports to China.
The contentious measure, submitted on Friday on the opening day of China’s national legislative session, is strongly opposed by pro-democracy lawmakers in semi-autonomous Hong Kong. Pompeo called the proposal an effort to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of liberty,” Pompeo said. “The United States strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal, abide by its international obligations, and respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties, which are key to preserving its special status under US law.”
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Sydney drivers get free car sanitising in trial
In Australia, thousands of people in Sydney have had their vehicles sanitised for free in a trial launched and funded by the state government in April. Point-to-point vehicles were eligible, including all taxis, ride share and hire vehicles.
The trial included disinfecting outside and inside door handles, boot handle, window controls, steering wheel, visors, centre console, gear stick, handbrake, grip handles, glove box, dashboard, seatbelts, seats, headrests, mobile phone holders, cup holders, fuel door, fuel cap meters, and payment equipment. It is not a car wash service. Spot cleaning in between sanitisation is also required by drivers.
The transport minister, Andrew Constance, said the trial was the first of its kind in the country. “It has been so successful we’re now rolling it out across other metro areas and the regions,” he said.
There have been 101 deaths from the virus in Australia. Cafes, pubs and some businesses are slowly reopening, and travel within states has been gradually increasing. There has been debate in recent days about when interstate travel should restart.
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Mexico deaths surge
Mexico has recorded another single-day record for Covid-19 deaths, with 62,527 total cases since the pandemic began. On Friday the health ministry said 479 more deaths had been recorded, along with 2,960 new infections.
The previous daily peak of 424 fatalities was reported by authorities on 20 May. There have been 6,989 deaths in total.
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Argentina surged past the 10,000-mark of total coronavirus cases on Friday in a fourth record day of sharply rising numbers. Nearly all
are concentrated in the capital Buenos Aires and its surrounding Greater Buenos Aires area.
The Buenos Aires metropolitan area, with a population of 12m, reported 93% of Friday’s 718 new cases, bringing the
total so far to 10,649 reported cases across the country. The total
death count is now 433, with 17 deaths reported on Friday.
Unlike its neighbours Brazil and Chile, with more than 333,000 and 60,000 cases respectively, Argentina’s numbers had stayed low
after an early government lockdown went into force on 20 March.
But numbers have started rising sharply recently. Today’s record 718 new daily cases follows a record 648 cases on Thursday, a record 474
on Wednesday and a record 438 on Tuesday.
Driving the numbers are the “villas” or slums of Buenos Aires with cramped living conditions and problems in the supply of running water.
Buenos Aires city accounted for 56% of Friday’s new cases, the
province of Buenos Aires, including the city’s greater metropolitan
area, 37%, and the rest of Argentina, with a total population of 44m, accounted for only 7% of new cases.
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Trump orders reopening with no authority to do so
As mentioned, the US president, Donald Trump, declared churches, mosques and synagogues “essential services” and threatened to override governors who refuse to reopen them this weekend – a power he does not possess.
The Guardian’s US reporter, David Smith, reports from Washington that Trump held a two-minute press conference without taking questions from media, declaring: “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now. For this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America we need more prayer, not less.”
His remarks sowed confusion, Smith reports, because the federal government does not have the constitutional right to unilaterally order individual states to reopen businesses, churches or schools. But they did seem likely to play well with his support base: Trump won four in five Christian evangelical voters in the 2016 presidential election.
About an hour ago, Trump then began posting on Facebook about the media, declaring the executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, “one of the dumbest men in the world of journalism”. Baquet is a Pulitzer prize winner.
The president has called three prominent black journalists dumb in the last month alone. pic.twitter.com/XXUTeRL6XS
May 22, 2020
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Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic. To recap the latest developments around the world:
About 1.8bn Muslims worldwide will celebrate one of their biggest holidays, the three-day Eid al-Fitr, largely confined to their home. The celebration marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and usually involves travelling, visiting family and gathering for lavish meals, all of which will be largely prohibited as authorities try to prevent virus outbreaks.
Meanwhile, another study has shown that the anti-malarial drug the US president, Donald Trump, is taking to prevent Covid-19 has increased deaths in patients treated with it in hospitals around the world. It follows a study published in April that showed hospital patients given hydroxychloroquine in the US found no benefit from the drug, either alone or given in combination with an antibiotic. In fact the patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone had a higher mortality rate.
Still in the US, in yet another attack on media Trump called the editor of the New York Times “one of the dumbest men” in journalism, and as CNN’s fact-checker has noted, this is the third time in the last month he has called a prominent black journalist “dumb”. He also spent his Friday evening attacking his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, on Twitter. Trump declared churches, mosques and synagogues “essential services” and threatened to override governors who refuse to reopen them this weekend – a power he does not possess.
In Russia, the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is being treated for Covid-19 in Moscow. He has not been seen publicly in the 24 hours since Russian state media said he had been taken to hospital with symptoms.
South America has become a new centre of the pandemic, the World Health Organization has said. Peru has extended its state of emergency until June.
In the UK, police have spoken to the prime minister’s key adviser, Dominic Cummings, about breaching the government’s lockdown rules. Cummings was seen in Durham, 425km from his London home, despite having had symptoms of coronavirus.
Finally, in Australia, the federal government blamed employers incorrectly filling in a form for massively overestimating the size of the jobkeeper payment scheme. The error between the number of employees businesses estimated would be covered by the scheme and the actual number receiving the payment means the scheme will cover 3.5m workers, down from 6.5m. It will also cost about $70bn, not $130bn. The government is so far resisting calls from Labor to extend the payment to casuals and those workers who were not eligible for the payment.
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