Never let a good crisis go to waste: How the Feds could use the collapse of FTX to push a digital currency

FILE PHOTO: Samsung's new Samsung Pay mobile wallet system is demonstrated at its Australian launch in Sydney, June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Matt Siegel/File Photo

Revelations 13:16-17 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Important Takeaways:

  • The digital dollar is coming on the back of the FTX collapse
  • The arrest of CEO Sam Bankman-Fried may be the smaller news story coming out of the collapse of FTX…it is clear that those at the Federal Reserve and many in Congress have been salivating for such changes for years. This could be a fig leaf to justify it.
  • The purported remedy instead may be the largest fiscal overhaul since the creation of the Fed.
  • [They will sell you the positive side] an effective end to traditional money laundering, and difficulty for criminals to pay for drugs … an end to counterfeiting
  • Your Social Security, welfare or paycheck would be deposited instantly. Your bank accounts would be synced with the Federal Reserve databases, your movements tracked through transactions, and you would become an asset to the Fed just as much as digitally “printed” dollars.
  • [Negative side] It also can be used to track questionable purchases and donations… Considering the relative efficiency of the IRS, it is entirely probable that the agency could send out audit letters to people for Venmo-ing their friends back for their share of a restaurant bill or taxi ride.
  • Furthermore, the digital dollar likely will coincide with a gradual abolishment of physical cash. [Like] Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6102 banning most private ownership of gold, your financial autonomy would be at risk.
  • The vulture-like actions by those in power to take advantage of the disaster are both predictable and intentional. After all, to paraphrase Rahm Emanuel: Never let a crisis go to waste.

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Crisis on the Colorado River could deepen as soon as July experts say

Revelation 16:9 “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Officials fear ‘complete doomsday scenario’ for drought-stricken Colorado River
  • The first sign of serious trouble for the drought-stricken American Southwest could be a whirlpool.
  • The normally placid Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir, could suddenly transform into something resembling a funnel, with water circling the openings, the dam’s operators say.
  • If that happens, the massive turbines that generate electricity for 4.5 million people would have to shut down or risk destruction from air bubbles.
  • Such an outcome — known as a “minimum power pool” — was once unfathomable here. Now, the federal government projects that day could come as soon as July.
  • As the water has receded, so has the ability to produce power at Glen Canyon, as less pressure from the lake pushes the turbines. The dam already generates about 40 percent less power than what has been committed to customers.
  • These customers would be responsible for buying power on the open market in the event Glen Canyon could not generate
  • The standard rate paid for Glen Canyon’s low-cost power is $30 per megawatt hour. On the open market, these customers last summer faced prices as high as $1,000 per megawatt hour

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Continued crisis is spiking stress and anxiety across America

Rev 6:6 NAS And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Joe Biden’s America: Anxiety Spikes as Americans Report High Levels of Stress Due to Rising Prices
  • Americans are experiencing a spike in anxiety due to rising prices, supply chain issues, and global uncertainty, the American Psychological Association’s annual “Stress in America” poll revealed.
  • The survey found a whopping 87 percent of Americans identifying “rise in prices of every day items due to inflation (e.g. gas prices, energy bills, grocery costs)” as a significant source of stress.
  • 87 percent said that it “feels like there has been a constant stream of crises without a break over the last two years,” and 73 percent say they are “overwhelmed by the number of crises facing he world right now.” Further, 69 percent are worried the Russian invasion of Ukraine will lead to nuclear war, and the same percentage fear these are the beginning stages of a WWIII.

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Biden under pressure as U.S.-Mexico border arrests reach record highs

By Kristina Cooke

(Reuters) – U.S. authorities arrested 1.7 million migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year, the most ever recorded, according to a U.S. government source familiar with the numbers, underscoring the stark political and humanitarian challenges the Biden administration faces on immigration.

The current numbers for the 2021 fiscal year, which began last October, topped a previous high in 2000. The numbers were first reported by the Washington Post.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat who took office in January, reversed many of the hardline immigration policies of his Republican predecessor, President Donald Trump, promising a more “humane” approach to immigration policy.

Biden’s nominee to head U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Tucson, Arizona, Police Chief Chris Magnus, faced questions on Tuesday from Republican lawmakers who referred to the situation at the border as chaos and a crisis.

Adding to concerns was an influx of thousands of mostly Haitian migrants last month who crossed the Rio Grande river from Mexico and set up a makeshift camp under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats and immigration advocates have slammed Biden for his swift expulsions of many of those migrants back to Haiti, a country that has been devastated by violence, political crises and natural disasters. The administration also launched an investigation into the tactics of border patrol agents on horseback photographed and filmed in Del Rio trying to push back Haitian migrants along the river bank.

Many of the Haitians were returned under one sweeping Trump policy that Biden has kept in place. Known as Title 42, it was implemented in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to curb infections and allows most migrants to be quickly expelled without a chance to seek asylum.

Many of the arrests this fiscal year were repeat crossings, with some people expelled to Mexico turning around and trying again.

A federal court has also ordered the Biden administration to reinstate another Trump-era policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forced thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings. The administration said it is taking steps to restart the program in November, pending agreement from Mexico.

(Reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Aurora Ellis)

U.S. coronavirus infections, hospitalizations rise, crisis could worsen

(Reuters) – The United States has revisited the grim milestone of recording more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, while infections and hospitalizations are rising in many states, forcing President Donald Trump to acknowledge the crisis could get worse.

More than 142,000 people in the country have died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, a toll that public health experts say will likely rise in several states. Florida, Texas, Georgia and California are among about 40 states recording more cases.

Florida reported 9,785 new cases and 140 new deaths on Wednesday, while COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized hit a record high of 9,530. Alabama reported a record 61 new deaths on Wednesday, a day after hospitalizations hit a record high.

Nationally, coronavirus deaths rose by 1,141 on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally. It was the first time since June 10 that the daily toll surpassed 1,000.

Nineteen states have reported a record number of currently hospitalized COVID patients so far in July. Thirty-two states have reported record increases in cases in July and 16 states have reported record increases in deaths during the month.

The U.S. government moved to secure 100 million doses of vaccine, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Wednesday.

The government will pay $1.95 billion to buy the doses of Pfizer Inc and German biotech firm BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate if they are able to successfully develop one, the companies said.

Pfizer said it would not receive any money from the government unless the vaccine is deemed to be safe and effective and is successfully manufactured.

Trump, who played down the extent of the health crisis and the importance of face coverings, changed his tone on Tuesday, and encouraged Americans to wear a mask if they cannot maintain social distance.

Trump also said that the spread of the virus “will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better – something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”

Mandatory mask wearing, which health officials say can slow the spread of the virus, is a political issue among Americans, with many conservatives calling such rules a violation of their constitutional rights.

Coronavirus infections are increasing in some politically important states including Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely, Alexandra Alper, Jeff Mason, Michael Erman and Ankur Banerjee; Writing by Grant McCool; editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Pandemic-proofing: Insurance may never be the same again

By Noor Zainab Hussain

(Reuters) – Insurers are creating products for a world where virus outbreaks could become the new normal after many businesses were left out in the cold during the COVID-19 crisis.

While new pandemic-proof policies might not be cheap, they offer businesses from restaurants to film production companies to e-commerce retailers ways of insuring against disruptions and losses if another virus strikes.

The providers include big insurers and brokers adding new products to existing coverage, as well as niche players that see an opportunity in filling the void left by mainstream firms that categorize virus outbreaks like wars or nuclear explosions.

Tech firm Machine Cover, for example, aims to offer policies next year that would give relief during lockdowns. Using apps and other data sources, the Boston-based company measures traffic levels around businesses such as restaurants, department stores, hairdressers and car dealers.

If traffic drops below a certain level, it pays out, whatever the reason.

“This is the type of coverage which … businesses thought they had paid for when they bought their current business interruption policies before the coronavirus pandemic,” the company’s founder Inder-Jeet Gujral told Reuters.

“I believe this will be a major opportunity because post-COVID, it would be as irresponsible to not buy insurance against pandemics as it would be to not buy insurance against fire.”

The company is backed by insurer Hiscox and individual investors, mostly from the insurance and private equity world.

Restaurants in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, where Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Monday ordered dining to shut down soon after reopening, are now reeling, said Andrew Giambarba, a broker for Insurance Office of America in Doral, Florida.

“It’s been like they made it to the ninth round of the fight and were holding on when this punch came out of nowhere,” said Giambarba, whose clients include restaurants that did not get payouts under their business interruption coverage.

“Every niche that is dealing with insurance that is affected by business interruption needs every new product they can have.”


Pandemic exemptions have helped some insurers emerge relatively unscathed and the sector has largely resisted pressure to provide more virus cover. Indeed, some insurers that paid out for event cancellations and other losses have removed pandemics from their coverage.

British risk managers association Airmic said last week that the pandemic had contributed to a lack of adequate insurance at an affordable price and most of its members were looking at other ways to reduce risk.

To help fill the void in a locked-down world, Lloyd’s of London insurer Beazley Plc, started selling a contingency policy last month to insure organizers of streamed music, cultural and business events against technical glitches.

“These events are completely reliant on the technology working and a failure can be financially crippling,” said Mark Symons, contingency underwriter at Beazley.

Marsh, the world’s biggest insurance broker, has teamed up with AXA XL, part of France’s AXA, and data firm Arity, which is part of Allstate, to help businesses such as U.S. supermarket chains, restaurants and e-commerce retailers cope with the challenges of social distancing.

With home deliveries surging, firms have hired individual drivers to meet demand, but commercial auto liability insurance for “gig” contractors with their own vehicles is hard to find.

Marsh and its partners devised a policy based on usage with a price-by-mile insurance, which can be cheaper than typical commercial auto cover as delivering a pizza doesn’t have the same risks as driving people around.

“Even when the pandemic is over, we believe last-mile delivery will continue to grow,” said Robert Bauer, head of Marsh’s U.S. sharing economy and mobility practice.

A report by consultants Capgemini showed that demand for usage-based insurance has skyrocketed since COVID-19 first broke out and more than 50% of the customers it surveyed wanted it.

However, only half of the insurers interviewed by Capgemini for its World Insurance Report said they offered it.


Since businesses are only now learning how outbreaks can affect them, some new products are effectively custom-made.

Elite Risk Insurance in Newport Beach, California, has been offering “COVID outbreak relapse coverage” since May for businesses forced to shut down a second time, its founder Jeff Kleid said.

The policies are crafted around specific businesses and only pay out when certain conditions are met, Kleid said.

For film and television production companies that could be when a cast member contracts the virus, forcing them to stop shooting. Another client, which raises livestock for restaurants, is covered for a scenario in which it would be impossible to get animal feed.

Such policies do not come cheap. A $1 million policy could cost between about $80,000 to $100,000 depending on the terms.

“The insurance … is costly because it covers a risk that does not have a historical basis for calculating the price,” Kleid says.

And in March, when COVID-19 ravaged northern Italy, Generali’s Europ Assistance offered medical help, financial support and tele-consultations for sufferers when discharged from hospital, on top of regular health insurance.

It sold 1.5 million policies in just two weeks and now has 3 million customers in Europe and United States.

Some insurers are also working on changes to employee compensation and health insurance schemes. With millions of workers not expected to return to offices anytime soon, some large insurers in Asia are preparing coverage to account for that, according to people familiar with those efforts.

At least one Japanese insurer has started work on a product to cover employees for injury while working at home, they said.

“Working from home will be the new normal for years to come. That would make the scope of the employee compensation scheme meaningless if a person suffers an injury while at home,” said a Hong Kong-based senior executive at a European insurer.

(Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru, Suzanne Barlyn in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, Carolyn Cohn in London and Sumeet Chatterjee in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Muvija M; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and David Clarke)

COVID-19 pandemic plunges working world into crisis: ILO

GENEVA (Reuters) – Global leaders called for a comprehensive approach to counter the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which International Labor Organization chief Guy Ryder said on Wednesday had plunged the world of work into “unprecedented crisis”.

“Let’s be clear: it’s not a choice between health or jobs and the economy. They are interlinked: we will either win on all fronts or fail on all fronts,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an ILO summit that will be addressed by dozens of heads of state and government via recorded messages.

World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the summit the world had a special duty to protect the millions of healthcare workers at the front line of the crisis and suffering increasing cases of infection and death.

“Together we have a duty to protect those who protect us,” he said.

The outlook for the global labor market in the second half of 2020 is “highly uncertain” and the forecast recovery will not be enough for employment to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, the ILO said last week.

The U.N. agency said the fall in global working hours was “significantly worse than previously estimated” in the first half of the year.

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Michael Shields; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

U.S. watchdog finds flaws in virus testing data, chews out Transport Dept, SBA

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Incomplete and inconsistent testing data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention make it more difficult to know the COVID-19 infection rate, and take informed decisions on reopening communities, a U.S. government watchdog said.

The report issued by the Government Accountability Office on Thursday marked the first review of the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and made recommendations to lawmakers on how to improve the fight to come out of crisis.

Some of its harshest criticism was reserved for the Small Business Administration (SBA), which oversees a $670 billion emergency loan programme to help companies survive the pandemic, and the lack of a plan from the Department of Transportation to improve the aviation sector’s response to outbreaks.

Detailing its findings on the coronavirus testing data, the GAO said the data that was collected at times included antibody tests that detect prior infections, and sometimes included counts on the number of samples tested, which could include multiple tests for one person.

“The absence of complete and consistent COVID-19 testing data reported through May 31, 2020, has made it more difficult to track and know the infection rate, mitigate the effect of infections, and inform decisions on reopening communities,” the watchdog said.

It said the United States is also missing a national aviation-preparedness plan for infectious diseases.

“While the Department of Transportation agreed that a plan is needed, as of May 2020, no such plan had been developed,” the watchdog said. It said the Transportation Department has maintained that other U.S. agencies should take the lead in planning for outbreaks.

As part of its recommendations to U.S. lawmakers, the watchdog said it is urging them to take legislative action to require the Transportation Department to work with others to develop a national plan.

It criticised the SBA for failing to give detailed descriptions of loans made in its data, and not outlining plans to review loans worth less than $2 million.

“We encountered the most difficulty trying to obtain information from the Small Business Administration (SBA),” said the watchdog,. “SBA to date has failed to provide information critical to our review.”

The SBA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The level of transparency around U.S. government spending to fight the pandemic has been a contentious issue between various watchdogs and government agencies.

According to the watchdog, the U.S. government has set aside $2.6 trillion worth of spending to fight the pandemic, but spending so far is unknown as all agencies are not required to report their expenditures until July 2020.

(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

‘The government is failing us’: Laid-off Americans struggle in coronavirus crisis

By Andy Sullivan and Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – For Claudia Alejandra, unemployment has become a full-time job.

Since losing her position at the makeup counter at the Macy’s department store in Orlando, Florida, on March 28, Alejandra spends her days trying to secure the unemployment benefits that should have arrived weeks ago, sometimes placing more than 100 calls a day.

The online application, a 10-hour ordeal of error messages, ended with a notice that her identity could not be verified. If she’s lucky, she’ll reach a representative who will say there’s nothing they can do to help. Otherwise, it’s a busy signal, or an hours-long wait on hold, followed by a sudden hang-up.

Alejandra, 37, cashed out her retirement fund — $800, a year’s worth of savings — to make the monthly payments on her 2010 Mazda, but doesn’t know how she’ll pay the rent for her studio apartment or her phone bill. Longer-term goals — a promotion, a family, a house of her own — seem even more elusive.

Alejandra’s experience is similar to that of more than two dozen Americans thrown out of work during the coronavirus pandemic who Reuters interviewed over the past week.

While U.S. government guidelines say jobless workers who qualify for assistance should get payments within three weeks of applying, many — like Alejandra — are waiting twice that long. Increasingly desperate, some are lining up at food banks or bargaining with landlords to postpone bills. Most fill their days seeking answers from overwhelmed state bureaucracies.

Alejandra has not heard anything from the state — though she has gotten a fundraising email from Republican Senator Rick Scott, who set up the current unemployment system during his tenure as governor.

“I feel like the government is failing us,” she said in a telephone interview.

Florida has overhauled and expanded the computer system and brought in 2,000 agents to field calls, and plans an investigation of the system’s failings, Governor Ron DeSantis said at a Monday news conference. People who applied in March and haven’t gotten payments yet likely have not provided all of the required information or might not be eligible, he said.

“You’ve started to see a really significant volume of payments going out, and it’s really taken a major overhaul behind the scenes,” he said. His office did not respond to an email with detailed questions on the situation.

In the past six weeks, states have struggled to process over 33 million jobless claims, more than they typically see in a year. That figure does not capture those who have been unable to even file a claim due to bureaucratic hurdles — up to 14 million more, according to an Economic Policy Institute study released last week.

The Reuters interviews across four states — Florida, Michigan, Arizona and Minnesota — revealed a wide disparity in whether or when people received payments depending on where they live. In Minnesota, where state employees field queries on social media platforms as well as by phone, six out of seven jobless people said they were getting benefits — sometimes more than they were earning before.

In Florida, where a buggy computer system has spurred widespread outrage, only three out of eight people said they were getting payments, while all six people interviewed in Arizona and all eight in Michigan said they had not yet received payment.

The interviews, to be sure, do not represent a scientific sample of Americans’ experiences with jobless benefit systems. But the people interviewed described similar situations in each state. Some who had begun to be paid benefits said they believed public servants were doing their best to respond to a fast-moving crisis, but even those described difficulties in getting the system to work.

All four states face high levels of jobless claims and will be important in the Nov. 3 presidential election. The governors of Florida and Arizona are Republicans, those of Michigan and Minnesota Democrats.


Before the pandemic, Detroit restaurant server Deshan Hedrick used to worry about saving for a new home. Now she has a new problem: where to find food to last her through the next few days.

Hedrick, who lives in a small house with a roommate and had never been laid off in 25 years of waitressing, hasn’t received an unemployment payment since she lost her job on March 16.

“I don’t know who to blame. I just need what I’m owed,” she said.

By one measure, Michigan is a relative success story. As of April 25, the state had enrolled 21.1% of eligible working-age adults into unemployment programs, the third-highest rate in the country and above the national rate of 13.3%, U.S. Labor Department figures show.

That’s little comfort to Hedrick, 40, who says she wrestled for more than a month with a website for processing claims that repeatedly failed and couldn’t get through by phone. Her claim wasn’t accepted until April 18. Under federal guidelines, she should have received funds by early April.

Hedrick, who has no kids and grew up poor in Detroit, earned about $3,200 a month at Starter’s Bar and Grill. By mid-April, she exhausted her $1,700 in savings. Now she’s surviving on noodles and canned soup donated by friends and faces a $4,000 backlog of bills — from utilities and insurance to her monthly rent of $825.

Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Erica Quealy acknowledged there have been delays but said that it has extended call center hours due to the surge in demand and delays, and has quadrupled the number of staffers helping customers.

Unemployment brought a different set of concerns for Phoenix resident Jamell Verse, who suffers from a chronic inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis that causes severe pain in his joints, eyes and stomach.

His employer-based health insurance ended after he lost his job as an account executive on April 9. Now, Verse doesn’t know how he’ll pay for medication that costs $2,000 per month — or a visit to the hospital.

“When the disease flares up it’s quick and it’s violent and it’s with no notice,” he said.

Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey eased some restrictions in March, allowing recipients to get payments sooner and no longer requiring proof they are looking for work. But as of April 25, just 5.9% of eligible workers received those benefits, the fourth-lowest rate in the nation, according to a Reuters analysis of Labor Department data.

Verse, 41, says he applied for unemployment on April 10, the day after he lost his job but has yet to receive a payment — or a response of any sort. Like applications in most other states, Verse’s claim has been held up by anti-fraud measures designed to weed out those who don’t qualify. A letter asking him to confirm his application arrived on the day it was due, prompting a scramble to find a fax machine to get it back on time.

The state requires him to speak with a representative before he can get his payments, but the phone lines have been jammed. He says he calls 100 times a day, sometimes starting two hours before the phone lines open at 7 a.m. local time on weekdays in hopes of snagging a spot at the front of the virtual line.

Last week Verse went to the state’s unemployment agency office. Staffers told him to call the same number he has been trying for weeks. “All they were doing was telling people to call the phone numbers that are listed online,” Verse said. “That upset me even more, because their phone lines are all backed up.”

The Arizona Department of Economic Security, which administers unemployment benefits, said it has added 310 staffers since the pandemic began and was hiring 200 more. The state has also contracted with a private-sector call center to help keep up with high call volumes. Officials in Arizona and the three other states declined to discuss the specifics of the cases of the people Reuters interviewed.


The picture appears brighter in Minnesota, which says a worker who files a claim can expect to receive their first payment that same week. The state provides a maximum weekly payment of $740, one of the highest figures in the United States. As of April 18, the state had registered of 13.8% its covered workforce, slightly better than the national average.

As elsewhere, Minnesota initially faced a deluge of applications. Residents interviewed by Reuters say they struggled to reach someone by phone, especially in the first half of April.

Car salesman Preston Jorgensen estimates he placed 200 calls a day using an automatic redialer for two weeks after his application was rejected on April 5, encountering busy signals each time. After weeks of sleuthing — contacting elected representatives, trading tips on social media, and calling other state offices — he thought he caught a break when he was transferred to a line that appeared to work. It rang and he got through. But after five hours on hold, he was disconnected.

Two weeks ago, a state employee called to tell him that his claim had been resolved.

Jorgensen, 36, says his monthly payment of $1,340 falls short of the $8,000 or so he used to earn each month, but covers his mortgage payments and food and diapers for his three young children. His wife, a stay-at-home mother, is expecting another child. The weeks spent trying to resolve his claim were frustrating, he says, but he expressed sympathy for overwhelmed state workers.

“It’s a new time for us as a country and they’re trying to do what they can,” he said.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said it was working to process the high volume of applicants and enroll eligible people as fast as possible.

In Florida, Governor DeSantis has faced an angry backlash as his state has failed to deliver for hundreds of thousands of jobless residents.

As of April 25, the state was providing benefits to just 4.1% of its covered workforce, the lowest in the nation. In response to a request for comment, state officials cited state figures showing that as of Tuesday 43% of the 1.1 million people who applied for unemployment benefits received payments.

“I’m willing to take anything at this point,” said Jessica Da Silva, 40, was laid off from her restaurant job in the coastal city of Port St. Lucie and was told she qualified for state and federal benefits that totaled about half the $1,200 or so she typically earned in a week. As she and her husband juggle bills and defer payments, she’s riding a bicycle to reduce stress.

“It does a number on you — it causes loss of sleep, it causes you to either overeat, or not eat at all,” said Da Silva.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington and Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Scott Malone and Jason Szep)

UK puts military on standby as coronavirus shuts down swathes of London

By Guy Faulconbridge and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom put 20,000 military personnel on standby, closed dozens of underground train stations across London and Queen Elizabeth left the city for Windsor Castle as the coronavirus crisis shut down whole swathes of the economy.

As the coronavirus outbreak sweeps across the world, governments, companies and investors are grappling with the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic, panicked populations and imploding financial markets.

Against a background of panic buying in supermarkets and the biggest fall in sterling for decades, the British government moved to quash rumors that travel in and out of London would be restricted.

“There is zero prospect of any restriction being placed on traveling in or out of London,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman told reporters.

He said police were responsible for maintaining law and order and there were no plans to use the military for this purpose, though the government put military reservists on formal notification.

But dozens of underground train stations across the capital were due to be closed and an industry source said supermarkets were expecting police support amid the fears that London was facing a virtual shutdown.

After ordering the closure of schools across a country that casts itself as a pillar of Western stability, Johnson on Wednesday said the government was ruling nothing out when asked whether he would bring in measures to lock down London.

Johnson has asked the government to come up with plans for a so-called lockdown which would see businesses closed, transport services reduced, gatherings limited and more stringent controls imposed on the city.

Queen Elizabeth on Thursday left the capital for her ancient castle at Windsor. The monarch has also agreed to postpone the planned state visit by Japanese Emperor Naruhito in June.


London’s transport authority said it would close up to 40 underground train stations until further notice and reduce other services including buses and trains. The line between Waterloo station and the City of London financial district would be closed.

“People should not be traveling, by any means, unless they really, really have to,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.

Britain has so far reported 104 deaths from coronavirus and 2,626 confirmed cases, but UK scientific advisers say more than 50,000 people might have already been infected.

Britain faces a “massive shortage” of ventilators that will be needed to treat critically ill patients suffering from coronavirus, after it failed to invest enough in intensive care equipment, a leading ventilator manufacturer said.

With the world’s fifth largest economy coming to a standstill, the pound on Wednesday plunged to its lowest since March 1985, barring a freak “flash crash” in October 2016. On Thursday the pound was down 0.5% at $1.1570.

British shoppers were queuing around the block early on Thursday morning to buy basic supplies such as bottled water and tinned goods ahead of an expected toughening of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Supermarkets have been forced to limit purchases after frantic shoppers stripped shelves. Outside one Sainsbury’s supermarket in central London on Thursday, a huge queue had formed ahead of opening, with people standing calmly in the rain.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Dylan Martinez, Kate Holton and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Michael Holden and Giles Elgood)