What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Biden rejects Trump claim that vaccine is imminent

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday bluntly contradicted President Donald Trump’s suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine may be only weeks away, warning Americans they cannot trust the president’s word.

“The idea that there’s going to be a vaccine and everything’s gonna be fine tomorrow – it’s just not rational,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Moosic, Pennsylvania.

Trump again said on Wednesday that a vaccine for COVID-19 could be ready for distribution ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Most health experts, including Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said a vaccine will likely not be widely available until mid-2021.

Israel imposes second lockdown

Israel will enter a second nationwide lockdown on Friday at the onset of the Jewish high-holiday season, forcing residents to stay mostly at home amid a resurgence in new coronavirus cases.

The country’s initial lockdown was imposed in late March and eased in May as new cases tapered off, reaching lows in the single digits.

But in the past week, new cases have reached daily highs of over 5,000, and Israeli leaders now acknowledge they lifted measures too soon.

The new lockdown will last three weeks and coincides with the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, traditionally a time for large family gatherings and group prayer.

UK COVID hospital admissions double every eight days

Britain’s health minister said that the novel coronavirus was accelerating across the country, with hospital admissions doubling every eight days, but he refused to say if another national lockdown would be imposed next month.

The United Kingdom has reported the fifth-highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

COVID-19 cases started to rise again in Britain in September, with between 3,000 and 4,000 positive tests recorded daily in the last week. More than 10 million people are already in local lockdowns.

China reports highest new cases since Aug. 10

Mainland China reported 32 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, marking the highest daily increase in more than a month and up sharply from nine cases reported a day earlier.

Although the latest increase still remains well below the peaks seen at the height of the outbreak in China early this year, it is the biggest since Aug. 10 and suggests continued COVID-19 risks stemming from overseas travelers coming into the country as the pandemic rages on in other parts of the world.

The National Health Commission said that all new cases were imported infections. Mainland China has not reported any local COVID-19 infections since mid-August.

Canada’s Ontario clamps down on parties

Canada’s most populous province will clamp down on social gatherings to prevent “reckless careless people” from spreading the coronavirus at illegal parties, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday.

His warning came as the nation’s top medical officer said authorities could potentially lose the ability to manage the pandemic.

Indoor social events in Toronto, Canada’s biggest city – along with Ontario’s Peel and Ottawa regions – would be authorized to include no more than 10 people, down from a previous limit of 50, Ford said.

“This is a serious situation, folks. We will throw the book at you if you break the rules,” he told a news conference.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Latin American nations seek more time to join WHO vaccine plan

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Several Latin American countries have informed the World Health Organization (WHO) they intend to request more time to sign up for its global COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan known as COVAX, an official at the WHO’s regional branch said on Thursday.

Countries have until midnight on Friday to formalize legally binding commitments to COVAX, a mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of eventual vaccines.

A representative for the GAVI Alliance, the COVAX secretariat, said by email that details of which nations have joined COVAX will only be made public after the deadline.

Health officials in Mexico, which has the worst outbreak in Latin America after Brazil, said their country would sign the commitment on time. Brazil, which has the world’s most severe outbreak outside the United States and India, was still studying what to do, a ministry spokesperson said.

More than 170 countries have joined the global vaccine plan to help buy and distribute immunization shots for COVID-19 fairly around the world, WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.

Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of the Pan-American Health Organization, said in a briefing on Wednesday that Latin American countries were having trouble meeting the deadline and some wanted to push back the date.

Barbosa said all countries in the Americas except the United States had expressed interest in the vaccine facility, even those that have separate agreements with vaccine makers, because it gives them an added guarantee of access to doses.

Ten Latin American countries are among 90 poor nations in the world that will not have to pay for the vaccine, while the others in the region will pay an “accessible” price through COVAX, Barbosa said.

Colombian President Ivan Duque confirmed on Wednesday that his government was joining COVAX and Paraguay’s health ministry said it has already signed, even as it plans to buy the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, Diego Ore in Mexico City, Julia Cobb in Bogotá, Daniela Desantis in Asunción; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Chizu Nomiyama)

Mexico nears 70,000 official COVID-19 deaths, but toll likely far higher

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The confirmed coronavirus death toll in Mexico is primed to hit 70,000 when official data is released on Friday, a grim milestone for a country among those most affected by the pandemic.

Making matters worse, excess mortality data from mid-March through early August indicates that the total number of deaths beyond the official count is likely tens of thousands higher.

The spread of the virus has ravaged an already ailing economy, which is now seen contracting by up to 13% this year, the deepest recession since the 1930’s-era Great Depression.

On Thursday, the health ministry announced that 652,364 infections and 69,649 deaths have been attributed to the strain of the coronavirus that was first detected late last year in China.

Based on official data, Mexico is the nation with the fourth highest number of deaths globally, and the 13th highest on a per capita basis, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

But earlier this month, the health ministry said it recorded more than 120,000 “extra” deaths from mid-March through August 1. The measure compares mortality figures this year with a four-year average from 2015 to 2018.

Brazil remains No. 1 in Latin America, the region with the most infections globally, for both confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths. It has posted a total of 4.2 million infections and more than 128,000 deaths so far.

In a sliver of good news, the rate of new cases in Peru, Colombia and Mexico has fallen slightly in recent weeks.

Overall, more than 900,000 people have died worldwide from the pandemic, with the deadliest outbreaks in the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Tom Brown)

Two killed as violence spills from Mexico protest against water flow to U.S.

By Jose Luis Gonzalez

LA BOQUILLA DAM, Mexico (Reuters) – Two people died in a gunfight with Mexico’s military police near a protest at a dam that diverts water to the United States, the National Guard said on Wednesday, as tensions rose between protesters and officials in the drought-hit region.

Mexicans in the northern border state of Chihuahua, angry at the water being funneled across the border, on Tuesday evening hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at security troops, eventually occupying the La Boquilla dam and closing the sluice gates.

The violence, which Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called “regrettable,” comes amid plans to divert additional water to the United States due to the so-called ‘water debt’ Mexico has accumulated as part of a 1944 bilateral treaty that regulates water sharing between the neighbors.

The National Guard said on Twitter that some of its agents from La Boquilla on Tuesday night detained three people found with tear gas and a firearm ammunition magazine, and took them for processing to the city of Delicias.

There, the National Guard unit was shot at and “repelled the aggression,” according to the statement. One person died at the scene and another from their injuries later in hospital, it said.

Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Peniche told reporters that investigators called to the scene found a car hit by at least three bullets. Inside the vehicle, a woman had been killed by gunfire while a man was injured. Local police told investigators that the National Guard had left the scene shortly before, Peniche said.

News channel Milenio named the two killed as Jessica Silva and Jaime Torres, a couple who worked in agriculture and who had protested at La Boquilla.

A Reuters witness said groups of residents in towns surrounding the La Boquilla dam clashed with National Guard troops earlier on Tuesday after they refused to turn off the dam floodgates.

The residents lobbed Molotov cocktails, rocks and sticks at the security forces, who were clad in riot gear and retaliated with tear gas, the witness said and images show. Eventually, the protesters stormed the dam premises and shut the floodgates themselves.

When asked about the situation at his regular news conference on Wednesday, Lopez Obrador said the National Guard had been “prudent” to withdraw to avoid inflaming tensions.

He did not mention the deaths, which the National Guard reported on Twitter after the briefing.

Lopez Obrador has sought to assuage concerns of Mexican farmers and voters about water rights, while protecting delicate relations with the United States.

He has also warned that Mexico could face sanctions if it did not divert water, after building up a deficit in recent years by receiving more water than it has given back.

(Additional reporting and writing by Drazen Jorgic and Daina Beth Solomon, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Mexico to conduct late-stage trials for China, US COVID-19 vaccines

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico will conduct late-stage clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines in development by Johnson & Johnson and two Chinese companies, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

Large-scale, phase three human testing for the J&J unit Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ candidate could start in the second half of September, the company has previously said.

Mexico will also help test candidates for Chinese companies CanSino Biologics Inc and Walvax Biotechnology Co Ltd, the ministry said in a presentation at a news conference.

More than 150 vaccines are being developed and tested around the world to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, with 25 in human clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization.

Russia is the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, which it named ‘Sputnik V’ for foreign markets, an official said on Tuesday.

Johnson & Johnson kicked off U.S. human safety trials in July for its COVID-19 vaccine after releasing details of a study in monkeys that showed its best-performing vaccine candidate offered strong protection in a single dose.

Walvax’s experimental vaccine is currently under early testing at a Chinese military research institute.

CanSino Biologics’ vaccine candidate is already in clinical trials. The company is also collaborating with Canada’s National Research Council to “pave the way” for future trials in Canada, the research council in May.

Mexico has lobbied in world forums including at the G20 group of nations and the United Nations to secure equitable access for an eventual vaccine.

Latin America’s second largest economy has suffered more than 50,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to official data, making it the third country with most deaths globally.

It ranks 13th adjusted for deaths per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Canada to impose retaliatory tariffs on C$3.6 billion worth of U.S. goods

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will slap retaliatory tariffs on C$3.6 billion ($2.7 billion) worth of U.S. aluminum products after the United States said it would impose punitive measures on Canadian aluminum imports, a senior official said on Friday.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told a news conference the countermeasures would be put in place by Sept. 16 to allow consultations with industry.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday moved to reimpose 10% tariffs on some Canadian aluminum products to protect U.S. industry from a “surge” in imports. Canada denies any impropriety.

“A trade dispute is the last thing anyone needs – it will only hurt an economic recovery on both sides of the border. However, this is what the U.S. administration has chosen to do,” said Freeland.

“We do not escalate and we do not back down,” she said later, describing the U.S. decision as unjust and absurd.

The Canadian list of goods that might be subject to tariffs include aluminum bars, plates, household articles, refrigerators, bicycles and washing machines.

It is the second time in two years that Canada has struck back at Trump over trade. In 2018, Ottawa slapped tariffs on C$16.6 billion ($12.5 billion) worth of American goods ranging from bourbon to ketchup after Washington imposed sanctions on Canadian aluminum and steel.

Canadian officials may be calculating that the measures will be short-lived. An Ottawa source briefed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office said Canadian officials are increasingly sure that Trump will lose the Nov. 3 presidential election to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Trump acted just weeks after a new continental trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico took effect. The North American economy is highly integrated and Canada sends 75% of all its goods exports to the United States.

The premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, said earlier on Friday that he had encouraged Freeland to impose tariffs on as many U.S. goods as possible.

“For the President to come and attack us during these times, during a pandemic when we need everyone’s support, is totally unacceptable,” Doug Ford told a news conference.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Chris Reese and Dan Grebler)

U.S. travel warning puts virus-battered Mexico on par with war-torn nations

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department urged citizens on Thursday not to travel to Mexico, despite easing a global travel ban, and warned of the rapid spread of coronavirus in the neighboring nation, in addition to rampant crime and kidnapping.

The United States and Mexico have close commercial ties and share the world’s busiest land border, crossed by many of their citizens for work, travel or family visits.

Mexico’s health ministry reported 6,590 new infections and 819 more deaths, taking its virus tally to 462,690 confirmed cases and 50,517 fatalities.

On Twitter, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, said his country had issued a “Level 4: Do not travel,” warning for all nations at the beginning of the pandemic in March.

But the stringent advisory, usually reserved for countries at war, was not lifted for Mexico, because of the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

“Its own government recognizes that contagion rates are still high,” Landau added.

The state department said, “Travelers to Mexico may experience border closures, airport closures, travel prohibitions, stay at home orders, business closures, and other emergency conditions within Mexico due to COVID-19.”

Reiterating earlier concerns about crime, its website said the Level 4 warning covered Mexico and many other countries.

Also citing the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention  (CDC)  issued a separate “Level 3 Travel Health Notice.”

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. SEC fines World Acceptance Corp $21.7 million for Mexican bribes

By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced on Thursday it had fined World Acceptance Corp, a consumer loan company, $21.7 million for paying bribes in Mexico.

The SEC said in a statement that the company’s Mexican subsidiary paid over $4 million in bribes to Mexican government and union officials in exchange for business lending to government employees.

The South Carolina-based company agreed to the penalty without admitting or denying guilt. The company agreed to overhaul its internal operations, as well as pay $17.8 million in disgorgement, nearly $2 million in interest, and a $2 million penalty.

“This long-running bribe scheme did not happen in a vacuum. Through a lack of adequate internal accounting controls and a culture that undermined its internal audit and compliance functions, World Acceptance Corporation created the perfect environment for illicit activity to occur for nearly a decade,” Charles Cain, a senior SEC enforcement official, said in a statement.

The SEC said that the company’s Mexican subsidiary would deposit money into bank accounts linked to the officials or distribute bags of cash. The expenses were then recorded as legitimate business expenses.

The SEC charged that the company’s internal controls were insufficient to detect the activity, and management “lacked the appropriate tone” on compliance.

In a statement, the company’s general counsel, Luke Umstetter, said he was pleased to have resolved the issue and that the company has addressed those past issues.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Global coronavirus deaths exceed 700,000, one person dies every 15 seconds on average

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – The global death toll from the coronavirus surpassed 700,000 on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, with the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico leading the rise in fatalities.

Nearly 5,900 people are dying every 24 hours from COVID-19 on average, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the past two weeks.

That equates to 247 people per hour, or one person every 15 seconds.

President Donald Trump said the coronavirus outbreak is as under control as it can get in the United States, where more than 155,000 people have died amid a patchy response to the public health crisis that has failed to stem a rise in cases.

“They are dying, that’s true,” Trump said in an interview with the Axios news website. “It is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague.”

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has minimized the gravity of the pandemic and opposed lockdown measures, even as he and several of his cabinet tested positive for the virus.

The pandemic was initially slower to reach Latin America, which is home to about 640 million people, than much of the world. But officials have since struggled to control its spread because of the region’s poverty and densely packed cities.

More than 100 million people across Latin America and the Caribbean live in slums, according to the United Nations Human Settlements Program. Many have jobs in the informal sector with little in the way of a social safety net and have continued to work throughout the pandemic.

Even in parts of the world that had appeared to have curbed the spread of the virus, countries have recently seen single-day records in new cases, signaling the battle is far from over.

Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Bolivia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Uzbekistan and Israel all recently had record increases in cases.

Australia also reported a record number of new deaths on Wednesday, taking the country’s total to 247.

(Reporting by Lisa Shumaker; editing by Jane Wardell)

When the U.S. sneezes, the world catches a cold. What happens when it has severe COVID-19?

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – During a blue-sky moment in 2018 near the end of a decade-long economic expansion, it was the United States that helped pull the world along as the extra cash from tax cuts and government spending flowed through domestic and global markets.

But if it was U.S. policy that pushed the world higher then, it is U.S. policy that threatens to pull the world under now as the country’s troubled response to the coronavirus pandemic emerges as a chief risk to any sustained global recovery.

Officials from Mexico to Japan are already on edge. Exports have taken a hit in Germany, and Canada looks south warily knowing that any further hit to U.S. growth will undoubtedly spill over.

“Globally there will be difficult months and years ahead and it is of particular concern that the number of COVID-19 cases is still rising,” the International Monetary Fund said in a review of the U.S. economy that cited “social unrest” due to rising poverty as one of the risks to economic growth.

“The risk ahead is that a large share of the U.S. population will have to contend with an important deterioration of living standards and significant economic hardship for several years. This, in turn, can further weaken demand and exacerbate longer-term headwinds to growth.”

It was a clinical description of a grim set of facts: After the U.S. government committed roughly $3 trillion to support the economy through a round of restrictions on activity imposed to curb the virus in April and May, the disease is surging in the United States to record levels just as those support programs are due to expire. More than 3.6 million people have been infected and 140,000 killed. Daily growth in cases has tripled to more than 70,000 since mid-May, and the 7-day moving average of deaths, after falling steadily from April to July, has turned higher.

Meanwhile the country has fractured over issues like mask-wearing that in other parts of the world were adopted readily as a matter of common courtesy. With some key states like Texas and California now reimposing restrictions, analysts have already noted a possible plateau to the U.S. recovery with the country still 13.3 million jobs shy of the number in February.

A GLOBAL DISAPPOINTMENT

For other major economic powers, that is a weight added to their own struggles with the virus and the economic fallout.

The U.S. economy accounts for about a quarter of world gross domestic product. Though much of that is service-related, and much of the direct impact of the virus is tied up in industries like restaurants with weak links to the global economy, the connections are still there. A lost job leads to lower consumer spending leads to fewer imports; weak business conditions lead to less investment in the equipment or supplies that are often produced elsewhere.

Year-to-date U.S. imports through May are down more than 13%, or roughly $176 billion.

In Germany, whose measures to contain the pandemic are considered to have been among the most effective, exports to the United States plunged 36% year-over-year in May. Analysts see little prospect for improvement, with year-to-date U.S. auto sales through June down nearly 24% from a year earlier.

“That is really a disappointment,” said Gabriel Felbermayr, president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, in a recent interview with radio network Deutschlandfunk. The spike in U.S. infections, he said, could not have been expected.

In Japan, the speed of the recovery is seen tied directly to U.S. success in stemming the virus.

“Japan’s recovery will be really delayed if the spreading of the coronavirus in the United States isn’t stopped and U.S.-bound exports from various Asian countries don’t grow,” said Hideo Kumano, a former Bank of Japan official who is now chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

PESSIMISM AT BOTH BORDERS

The IMF projected U.S. GDP will shrink this year by 6.6%, in line with many analysts’ projections.

The Bank of Canada is more pessimistic, forecasting U.S. GDP to fall 8.1% on the year. That has already been lowered once as the health situation decayed.

A further leg down would hit Canada directly, with perhaps three-fourths of the country’s exports headed over the U.S. border.

“We did take down our U.S. projection … I would underline that there’s a lot of uncertainty, and the principle source of the uncertainty is the evolution of the coronavirus itself,” said BOC governor Tiff Macklem.

At the southern border, Mexico is also posting record daily numbers of new cases, but President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has at times deflected criticism of his government’s efforts by pointing to the U.S. numbers.

Lopez Obrador undertook a risky visit with President Donald Trump earlier in July, couching his journey to Washington as a matter of economic necessity as Mexico attempts to revive an economy that could shrink by 10% or more this year, according to forecasts.

The Mexican president hopes the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal, which took effect on July 1, will spur business and investment, but pessimism about the outlook has been growing.

“To the point that people in the U.S. are losing jobs or incomes it is a downward weight … and it will have ramifications on the ability to consume globally,” said Elizabeth Crofoot, senior economist at the Conference Board, which documented a record drop in global consumer confidence in a recent survey.

“We take one step forward and two steps back.”

(Reporting by Howard Schneider in Washington; Additional reporting by Reinhard Becker and Christian Kraemer in Berlin, Leika Kihara in Tokyo, Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Dan Burns and Matthew Lewis)