U.S. grocery meat supply to improve soon, after virus-fueled demand surge: Tyson Foods

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Demand for U.S. meat at grocery stores will likely exceed supplies for at least another week, the chief executive of Tyson Foods Inc told Reuters on Thursday, as the coronavirus pandemic fuels panic buying among shoppers.

Food manufacturers say overall meat supplies are ample to feed the millions of Americans hunkering down in their homes after state and local governments closed schools, bars and restaurants in an escalation of “social distancing” policies aimed at containing the virus.

But a surge in demand for products from chicken and beef to dry pasta at supermarkets has left store shelves and meat cases empty, alarming consumers.

“Once we are able to replenish supplies, which is probably going to take another week or so, then I think that we’ll be back in better equilibrium between supply and demand,” Tyson CEO Noel White said in an interview.

He later added: “In the short term, being a matter of weeks, there are some imbalances that exist.”

The “imbalances” are more demand than supply in sectors like retail stores, White said. The total amount of beef, pork and poultry available in the United States is up about 2% to 3% from last year, he said.

Orders for meat from grocery stores were significantly higher than usual through the weekend, after demand began to shift away from restaurants last week, White said.

“The demand hit very quickly,” White said. “The order fill rate has improved. It’s still not where we would expect it to be.”

Increased buying at supermarkets has lifted overall demand for meat, although the increase has been largely offset by reduced demand from restaurants, White said. Demand from casual dining restaurants, in particular, has suffered, though fast-food restaurants continue to benefit from strong drive-through traffic, he said. Tyson is the largest U.S. meat supplier and counts companies like McDonald’s Corp as customers.

To meet increased retail demand, Tyson has shifted processing facilities to produce food for grocery stores instead of restaurants, White said. The company is running slaughterhouses at full capacity and on weekends, he said.

U.S. cattle futures have dropped sharply on concerns slaughterhouses will close if the novel coronavirus spreads among workers.

To avoid shutdowns, Tyson has begun taking employees’ temperatures at two processing facilities and is expanding the practice to all U.S. workers, according to the company. It expects deliveries of several thousand thermometers on Thursday, White said.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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

Reuters
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 CLOSING?

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)

Fed cuts rates and NYC, LA close restaurants to fight coronavirus

By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With panic buying on Main Street and fear-driven sell-offs on Wall Street, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero on Sunday in another emergency move to help shore up the U.S. economy amid the rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic.

The mayors of New York City and Los Angeles ordered restaurants, bars and cafes closed, with takeout and delivery the only options for food sales. Movie theaters, small theater houses and concert venues were also ordered closed as the U.S. death toll from the outbreak hit 65.

“The virus can spread rapidly through the close interactions New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We have to break that cycle.”

For the second time since the financial crisis of 2008, the Fed cut rates at an emergency meeting, aiming for a target range of 0% to 0.25% to help put a floor under a rapidly disintegrating global economy.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who had openly pressed the Fed for further action, called the move “terrific” and “very good news.”

Store shelves have been stripped bare of essentials, schools closed and millions of jobs in jeopardy as businesses temporarily shut their doors.

“We’re learning from watching other countries,” Trump said. “It’s a very contagious virus … but it’s something that we have tremendous control of.”

Trump has faced criticism at home and abroad for sometimes downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus and overstating his administration’s ability to handle it.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said the United States was entering a new phase of coronavirus testing but tempered the president’s optimism.

“The worst is yet ahead for us,” Fauci said, a warning he has issued frequently in the past week. “It is how we respond to that challenge that is going to what the ultimate end point is going to be.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said testing for coronavirus was expanding with more than 2,000 labs across the country ready to process tests and 10 states operating drive-through testing.

The United States has lagged behind other industrialized nations in its ability to test for the coronavirus. In early March, the Trump administration said close to 1 million coronavirus tests would soon be available and anyone who needed a test would get one, a promise it failed to keep.

With limited testing available, U.S. officials have recorded nearly 3,000 cases and 65 deaths, up from 58 on Saturday. Globally more than 162,000 are infected and over 6,000 have died.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Sunday recommended that events with gatherings of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks be postponed or canceled.

DON’T HOARD

The White House appealed to Americans not to hoard as the coronavirus spreads, reassuring them that grocery supply chains were strong.

Trump held a phone call on Sunday with 30 executives from grocery stores including Amazon.com Inc’s <AMZN.O> Whole Foods, Target Corp <TGT.N>, Costco Wholesale Corp <COST.O> and Walmart Inc <WMT.N>, the White House said.

“Have a nice dinner, relax because there’s plenty, but you don’t have to … you don’t have to buy the quantities,” Trump said. “We’re doing really, really well. A lot of good things are going to happen.”

Trump tested negative for coronavirus, his doctors said on Saturday, as the president extended a travel ban to Britain and Ireland to try to slow the pandemic.

Trump’s spokesman, Judd Deere, said temperature checks will be conducted on everyone who enters the White House grounds, beginning Monday morning.

Travelers returning to the United States and being screened for the coronavirus were met by long lines and massive delays at some major airports, prompting federal officials to deploy more staff and Trump to appeal for patience.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, squaring off in a Democratic debate, blasted Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and touted their own plans to deal with it.

In their first one-on-one debate, the two Democratic contenders to face Trump in the November election said the Republican president had contributed to worries about the pandemic by minimizing the threat before declaring a national emergency on Friday.

CLOSURES EXPAND

The U.S. containment measures have so far been mild compared to the nationwide lockdowns imposed in Italy, France and Spain.

“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Even though Americans are not barred from going to the movies, ticket sales in North America fell to their lowest level in more than two decades this weekend, according to measurement firm Comscore.

Democratic New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that schools in New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties would close from Monday, and he called on Trump to mobilize the Army Corps of Engineers to create more hospital beds.

Cuomo had been criticized for not closing schools as other states have done, given that New York has a large cluster of coronavirus cases.

A clinical trial to evaluate a vaccine designed to protect against coronavirus will begin on Monday, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed U.S. government official.

It would take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine, the AP added, citing public health officials.

(For an interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Lindsay Dunsmuir, Andrea Shalal, Nandita Bose, Matt Spetalnick, Humeyra Pamuk, John Whitesides, Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Diane Craft, Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle.)

Lockdowns and entry bans imposed around the world to fight coronavirus

(Reuters) – France and Spain joined Italy in imposing lockdowns on tens of millions of people, Australia ordered self-isolation of arriving foreigners and other countries extended entry bans as the world sought to contain the spreading coronavirus.

Panic buying in Australia, the United States and Britain saw leaders appeal for calm over the virus that has infected over 156,000 people globally and killed more than 5,800.

Several countries imposed bans on mass gathering, shuttered sporting, cultural and religious events, while medical experts urged people to practice “social distancing” to curb the spread.

Austria’s chancellor urged people to self-isolate and announced bans on gatherings of more than five people and further limits on who can enter the country.

All of Pope Francis’ Easter services next month will be held without the faithful attending, the Vatican said on Sunday, in a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times.

The services, four days of major events from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, usually draw tens of thousands of people to sites in Rome and in the Vatican.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said from midnight Sunday international travelers arriving in the country would need to isolate themselves for 14 days, and foreign cruise ships would be banned for 30 days, given a rise in imported cases.

Australia’s latest restrictions mirror those announced by neighboring New Zealand on Saturday.

TRAVEL BANS, AIRLINE CUTBACKS

Donald Trump tested negative for the coronavirus, his doctor said on Saturday, as the U.S. president extended his country’s travel ban to Britain and Ireland.

Last week, Trump had met a Brazilian delegation in which at least one member has since been tested positive.

Travel restrictions and bans, and a plunge in global air travel, saw further airline cutbacks, with American Airlines Inc planning to cut 75% of international flights through May 6 and ground nearly all its widebody fleet.

China tightened checks on international travelers arriving at Beijing airport on Sunday, after the number of imported new coronavirus infections surpassed locally transmitted cases for a second day in a row.

Anyone arriving to Beijing from abroad will be transferred directly to a central quarantine facility for 14 days for observation starting March 16, a city government official said.

China, where the epidemic began in December, appears to now face a greater threat of new infections from outside its borders as it continues to slow the spread of the virus domestically.

South Korean soldiers clean desks with disinfectant in a classroom of a cram school for civil service exams, following the rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

China has reported 80,984 cases and 3,203 deaths. The country imposed draconian containment policies from January, locking down several major cities.

LOCKDOWNS, STAY HOME

Spain put its 47 million inhabitants under partial lockdown on Saturday as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the epidemic in Europe’s second worst-affected country after Italy.

Streets in Madrid and Barcelona were deserted on Sunday. All major newspapers carried a front-page wrapper emblazoned with a government-promoted slogan: “Together we’ll stop this virus.”

Spain has had 193 deaths from the virus and 6,250 cases so far, public broadcaster TVE said on Sunday.

France will shut shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities from Sunday with its 67 million people were told to stay home after confirmed infections doubled in 72 hours.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government had no other option after the public health authority said 91 people had died in France and almost 4,500 were now infected.

“We must absolutely limit our movements,” he said.

However, French local elections went ahead.

“I am going to vote and keep living my life no matter what. I am not scared of the virus,” said a 60-year-old voter, who asked to be identified only as Martine, at a Paris polling station.

Britain is preparing to ban mass gatherings and could isolate people aged over 70 for up to four months as part of plans to tackle coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Argentina banned entry to non-residents who have been to any country highly affected by coronavirus in the last 14 days, while Colombia said it would expel four Europeans for violating compulsory quarantine protocols, hours after closing its border with Venezuela.

Starting Sunday, South Korea began to subject visitors from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the Netherlands to stricter border checks, after imposing similar rules for China, Italy and Iran which have had major outbreaks.

Visitors from those countries now need to download an app to report whether they have symptoms. South Korea has been testing hundreds of thousands of people and tracking potential carriers using cell phone and satellite technology.

(Reporting by John Irish in Paris;Belén Carreño, Sonya Dowsett and Ingrid Melander in Madrid; Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Judy Hua in Beijing; Kate Lamb in Sydney; David Shepardson in Washington; Tracy Rucinski in Chicago; Paul Sandle in London; Philip Pullella in Rome; Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in Zurich; Writing by Michael Perry and Frances Kerry; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Edmund Blair)