Saudi, Russia debate record oil cut as U.S. resists action

DUBAI/MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) – OPEC and Russia will debate record oil output cuts on Thursday to prop up prices wrought by the coronavirus pandemic but their talks are complicated by internal disagreements and the reluctance of the United States to join the action.

Global fuel demand has plunged as much as 30% as measures to fight the virus have grounded aircraft, reduced vehicle usage and curbed economic activity.

Benchmark Brent crude oil prices LCOc1 hit an 18-year low last month and are trading below $34 a barrel, half their level at the end of 2019, dealing a severe blow to budgets of oil producing nations and high-cost U.S. shale oil industry. [O/R]

U.S. President Donald Trump said last week a deal he had brokered with OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia could lead to cuts of as much as 10 million to 15 million barrels per day (bpd) or 10% to 15% of global supplies, an unprecedented reduction.

Riyadh and Moscow, who fell out when a previous pact on curbing supplies collapsed in March, have signalled that their agreement to new, much deeper cuts would depend on the United States and others outside a group known as OPEC+ joining in.

A video conference for ministers from OPEC+, which groups Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other oil producers, as well as additional participants is due to start at 1400 GMT. The United States has been invited.

Trump has been reluctant to mandate cuts in domestic supply so far, saying production had been falling naturally because of low prices anyway. Russia said on Wednesday that such declines would not count as a proper cut.

In a further complication, Moscow and Riyadh are struggling to agree on the levels from which output should be cut with the kingdom insisting on April, the first month of a large hike in its output, while Moscow insists on the first quarter.

“I’m not sure how Russia and Saudi Arabia would be able to iron out their differences today, it all could be stretched out,” one Russian source told Reuters.

Two OPEC sources agreed that the differences were still big.

Two Russian sources said the maximum Russian cut would be 2 million bpd or around 17% of its output. Saudi Arabia has yet to indicate how much it is prepared to cut.

DEMAND SHOCK

Goldman Sachs and UBS both said on Thursday the suggested cuts, however deep, would not be enough to address a massive decline in global demand and predicted that oil prices could fall back to $20 per barrel and even lower.

“Ultimately, the size of the demand shock is simply too large for a coordinated supply cut,” Goldman said in a note.

Trump warned on Wednesday that he had many options if Saudi Arabia and Russia failed to reach a deal on Thursday.

U.S. senators have previously called on the White House to impose sanctions on Riyadh, pull out U.S. troops from the kingdom and impose import tariffs on Saudi oil.

Thursday’s OPEC+ talks will be followed by a meeting of energy ministers from the Group of 20 nations (G20) on Friday.

To figure out how a cut would be shared among producers, Moscow, Riyadh and others would need to agree on what output levels to use as a baseline for calculating cuts.

That issue has been muddied by a battle between Saudi Arabia and Russia for market share that erupted after an acrimonious OPEC+ meeting in Vienna in March.

At that meeting, Russia refused to participate in cuts proposed by Saudi Arabia in response to the coronavirus crisis. In response, Riyadh said it would pump at maximum capacity and flooded an already oversupplied market with extra crude.

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Saudi Arabia ramped up output to a record 12.3. million bpd in April, up from below 10 million bpd in March. The kingdom’s Gulf allies, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, also raised production.

Russian TASS news agency said any cuts could last three months starting from May.

The largest one-off cut OPEC has ever agreed till now was 2.2 million bpd in 2008.

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Global stocks gain on hopes pandemic is reaching peak

LONDON (Reuters) – Global shares rose on Thursday on hopes the COVID-19 pandemic was nearing a peak and that governments would roll out more stimulus to support their economies, while expectations of a deal to cut oil production bolstered crude prices.

European stock markets gained for a fourth straight day, with investor attention also focused on a meeting of European Union finance ministers to discuss an economic rescue package.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index was up 1.7%, with battered travel and leisure stocks, autos, and mining companies leading early gains.

MSCI’s All-Country World Index, which tracks shares across 49 countries, was up 0.5% to its highest since March 12.

U.S. stock futures were up 1% after bouncing in and out of positive territory in Asia.

In Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 1.56%, following a strong Wall Street close.

Shares in China, where the novel coronavirus first emerged late last year, rose 0.42%. Australian shares were up 2.54%.

“Sentiment remains volatile, but investors appear to be looking through the growing headline numbers of COVID-19 cases and focusing on signs that the spread of the pandemic is being brought under control, which in turn is underpinning hopes for a relatively swift relaxation of containment measures,” said Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management.

Oil prices extended gains on hopes major producers would agree to cut output when they met later in the day in response to a collapse in global oil demand.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state’s efforts at social distancing were working in getting the virus under control in one of the biggest hot spots in the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would like to reopen the U.S. economy with a “big bang” but that the death toll from the coronavirus first needs to be heading down.

The S&P 500 gained 3.41% on Wednesday, helped by hopes the pandemic was nearing its peak.

The Trump administration has asked lawmakers for an additional $250 billion in aid for small U.S. businesses. However, congressional efforts were stalling as Democrats held out for similar amounts of aid for hospitals and local governments.

While Trump’s optimism helped stoke Wall Street’s rally, recent U.S. data and forecasts are only now beginning to reflect the economic damage.

McDonald’s Corp said global comparable sales tumbled 22.2% in March, while Starbucks Corp forecast a 47% drop in second-quarter earnings.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index bucked the regional trend and fell 0.46% as coronavirus infections in the country rose. Markets were also jittery following the government’s declaration of a state of emergency for Tokyo and other urban areas.

The coronavirus has spread rapidly across the globe, infecting more than 1.4 million people and causing more than 87,500 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

(GRAPHIC: World stocks vs. COVID-19 confirmed cases – here)

Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new virus emerged late last year, ended its more-than two-month lockdown on Wednesday, but many governments around the world remain nervous about the pace of infections and deaths.

The euro gained against the dollar and the pound on hopes euro zone finance ministers would agree on more support for their coronavirus-hit economies.

The pandemic is still infecting and killing large numbers of people across Europe and there is no sign the peak of the region’s outbreak has been reached, the EU’s disease monitoring agency said.

Sterling held onto gains versus the dollar. Helping confidence was news British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition was improving. Johnson, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 late in March, was taken to intensive care two days ago after his condition deteriorated.

Against a basket of its peers, the dollar fell 0.1%.

U.S. crude rose 5.3% to $26.42 a barrel. Brent crude rose 3% to $33.83 per barrel.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia – a group known as OPEC+ – are set to convene a video conference meeting on Thursday.

Hopes of an agreement to cut 10 million to 15 million barrels per day rose after media reports suggested Russia was ready to reduce its output by 1.6 million bpd.

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Boris Johnson health: How is Boris Johnson? ‘Things getting better’ – coronavirus update

Boris Johnson has now spent three nights in intensive care after his condition worsened on Monday. The Prime Minister was forced to hand over the reins of Government, asking Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputise for him where necessary as he moved into the ICU. But what is the latest on Mr Johnson’s condition?

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced Mr Johnson is now sitting up in bed and “engaging positively” within the clinical team at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London.

Mr Sunak said: “The latest from the hospital is the prime minister remains in intensive care where his condition is improving.

“I can also tell you that he has been sitting up in bed and engaging positively with the clinical team.

“The prime minister is not only my colleague and my boss but also my friend, and my thoughts are with him and his family.”

A No 10 update is expected later on Thursday.

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Mr Johnson was admitted to hospital on the advice of his doctor on Sunday, 10 days after testing positive for the virus.

Upon arrival, he was given oxygen treatment, but his coronavirus symptoms continued to worsen.

He was moved to intensive care on Monday where he has remained ever since.

Downing Street has said he is now in a stable condition and that he “continues to make steady progress”, but remains in intensive care.

Speaking on Thursday culture minister Oliver Dowden confirmed Mr Johnson’s condition had not deteriorated claiming “things are getting better” for the PM.

He told BBC Breakfast: “It remains as we said yesterday.

“He’s stable, improving, sat up and engaged with medical staff.

“I’ve known the Prime Minister for a long time and I wish him well in this difficult time and I think things are getting better for him.”

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Well-wishers from across the globe continue to send Mr Johnson their best.

On Wednesday US President Donald Trump said Mr Johnson’s condition had improved.

Speaking during the White House briefing, Mr Trump said: “I just spoke with the representatives of the UK and I think that their great prime minister is doing much better today, or at least better.

“But certainly he’s had a tough bout, and he’s still going through a tough time but he seems to be doing better and that’s good.”

Boris Johnson is likely to be missed as ministers discuss a review of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown today, considering whether restrictions on people’s movements should be extended.

The Government’s emergency Cobra meeting will examine scientific evidence and the impact of lockdown thus far to decide whether to extend the lockdown.

Although discussion is expected, a formal decision is not yet expected.

In Wales, it has already been confirmed that lockdown measures will stay in place beyond next week, raising expectations this will be the case across the UK.

The health ministry recorded 938 deaths from the new coronavirus in 24 hours.

In total there have been 60,733 cases in the UK, of which 7,097 people have died.

Predominantly, the cases have been located in London with 14,355 and the Midlands with 8,589.

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New Zealand orders quarantine for returning citizens in coronavirus battle

SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand will begin moving citizens to compulsory quarantine from Friday as they return from overseas, stepping up its efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus halfway through a four-week nationwide lockdown.

The shutdown began in late March in the Pacific nation of about 5 million, and a state of national emergency was declared to stifle local transmissions of the respiratory disease.

“No one goes home, everyone goes into a managed facility,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, adding that 14 days spent in a government-approved facility would be a prerequisite for all foreign travellers.

“Even one person slipping through the cracks and bringing the virus in can see an explosion in cases, as we have observed with some of our bigger clusters,” she told a media briefing in Wellington on Thursday.

Ardern added that her cabinet would decide whether to extend the nationwide curbs on April 20, two days before the lockdown is set to end.

The lockdown has reduced domestic transmissions, authorities said, with a steady fall this week in the daily rise in infections.

The tally of infections rose by 29 to stand at 1,239 on Thursday, for the lowest daily rise since March 21, a sign the epidemic could be on the retreat since the lockdown began 15 days ago. Overnight, 35 people were declared to have recovered.

New Zealand, like neighbouring Australia, has fewer infections than many countries and the pace of infections in both nations has slowed dramatically in the past week.

Despite some signs of a plateau in infections, the government said it had no plans to relax the curbs over the Easter weekend and warned of hefty fines for non-essential travel then.

Police will step up activity around holiday spots during the Easter holidays, authorities said, with some roadblocks planned.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

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Catholic bishops, faith groups urge Trump to back debt relief for poor countries

WASHINGTON, April 9 (Reuters) – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and an alliance of faith groups have urged President Donald Trump to champion a moratorium on debt payments for poor countries hit by the coronavirus pandemic that has triggered a global recession.

In a letter sent to the U.S. president on Wednesday, the groups said U.S. leadership was needed to both to help the 76 poorest countries in the world combat the pandemic and safeguard U.S. economic interests.

A move by rich countries, the Group of 20 major economies, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to suspend debt payments for those countries would allow them to bolster their health systems and provide for their own health safety, the groups wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.

The novel coronavirus that emerged in China in December has raced around the globe, infecting 1.41 million people and killing 87,700, according to a Reuters tally.

The IMF and World Bank, backed by the World Health Organization, have called on China, the United States and other bilateral creditors to temporarily suspend debt payments by the poorest countries so they could use the money to halt the spread of the disease and mitigate its financial impact.

G20 finance ministers and central bankers are due to consider the issue when they meet online next week during the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank.

The letter from the Catholic bishops and Jubilee USA Network, a non-profit alliance of religious, development and advocacy groups, comes amid growing concern about the high level of debt of developing countries and emerging market economies.

“The current financial crisis threatens U.S. imports and exports from and to the developing world,” the bishops and Jubilee USA wrote. “Providing a suspension of debt payments and debt relief will help safeguard our common interests of returning the U.S. economy to prosperity and growth.”

The groups said the debt payment moratorium should both be interest-free, and expose all debts, including private and predatory loans.

Such a decision could help better assess debt sustainability and vulnerabilities, and, if warranted, trigger a process to restructure debt, the groups told the U.S. president.

Lending by Western countries and multilateral institutions slowed after a major round of debt restructuring in 1996, but the Chinese government, banks and companies have dramatically expanded their lending to developing countries since then. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Coronavirus: #OneMillionClaps appeal aims to raise at least £5m for NHS workers

A new appeal being launched on Thursday aims to raise at least £5m to support NHS workers battling coronavirus.

Organised by NHS Charities Together, the #OneMillionClaps appeal aims to inspire at least one million Britons to donate £5 by texting “clap” to 70507 along with a message of support.

The money raised will be used to provide NHS nurses, doctors, staff and volunteers with food, travel, accommodation and counselling during the COVID-19 crisis.

The appeal will begin on Thursday evening when Britons are again expected to applaud NHS workers from their doorsteps for the third week in a row.

Comedian David Walliams has voiced a short film featuring NHS staff to promote the #OneMillionClaps appeal.

It also features a re-recording of Queen’s hit We Will Rock You with the new lyric: “NHS, we love you. We say, we say, thank you.”

For the last two weeks, people all over the UK – including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and countless celebrities – have joined in the “clap for our carers” campaign on Thursday evenings, in order to thank NHS staff for efforts on the coronavirus frontline.

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Whistleblower in ex-US President Bill Clinton's sex scandal dies

Linda Tripp, a former White House and Pentagon employee, gave evidence in the impeachment trial of then-US president.

A former White House and Pentagon employee, who secretly taped conversations with a young intern who had had an affair with then-US President Bill Clinton, leading to his impeachment, has died.

Linda Tripp’s death was confirmed to the Washington Post newspaper by her son, Ryan Tripp, and to the New York Post newspaper by her son-in-law, Thomas Foley, who said Tripp’s unspecified illness was unrelated to the coronavirus.

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The Daily Mail newspaper in Britain cited a longtime close friend, Diane Spreadbury, as saying Tripp died after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. Tripp had been treated for breast cancer in 2001.

Tripp became a controversial national figure as the Clinton impeachment investigation unfolded in 1998. She provided evidence of her conversation with former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, who confessed to an affair with Clinton.

As news broke that Tripp was near death, Lewinsky wrote on social media: “no matter the past, upon hearing that linda tripp is very seriously ill, i hope for her recovery. i can’t imagine how difficult this is for her family.”

Lewinsky was 22 when she worked as a White House intern in summer 1995. That November she and Clinton began their affair which continued after she was hired for a West Wing job. Reassigned to the Pentagon in April 1996, Lewinsky met Tripp and they became friends.

Tripp provided nearly 20 hours of recorded conversations with Lewinsky to special counsel Ken Starr, who had been investigating assorted allegations against the president. Starr’s report, which included a graphic account of the sex scandal, became a bestseller.

Clinton had denied during an earlier deposition for a separate case that he had “sexual relations” with Lewinsky.

His denial became central to an article of impeachment charging perjury. A second article charging obstruction of justice stemmed from allegations of encouraging perjury by witnesses and other wrongful actions.

The House impeached Clinton in December 1998. After a five-week trial in the Senate, senators rejected both articles on February 12, 1999.

While defending the taping as necessary to protect herself if her credibility were questioned, Tripp also consulted with a New York literary agent before beginning her secret recordings.

At the time of the scandal, Tripp had been a career civil service employee and since 1994 she had worked for the defence department.

Before that, she had spent a year working on Clinton’s transition team and had been a confidential assistant in the office of the White House counsel in George H W Bush’s administration.

In January 2001, Tripp lost her Pentagon job and nearly $100,000 annual salary when the George W Bush administration came into office. She later sued the defence department and reached a settlement of $595,000 for the final three years of her employment.

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Credible media vital in fight against coronavirus and epidemic of fake news

As the coronavirus continues its relentless spread across the world, infecting over a million people and killing tens of thousands, news stories of lockdowns, social distancing and overwhelmed hospitals have been making the headlines just about everywhere.

Newsrooms have been working overtime to keep the communities they serve updated. Audiences have surged. Apart from news reports, people are turning to analyses and commentaries, videos and explainers, to help them make sense of the fast-evolving and far-reaching crisis.

Amid the welter of information swirling about on social media, professional newsrooms that have long invested in building expertise have been meeting the public’s hunger for objective reporting, based on journalists speaking to informed sources, providing context and perspective, drawing on historical knowledge and institutional memory.

These have also helped inoculate communities against that other virus that is on the rampage – fake news, which is sowing anxiety and confusion, as well as undermining the public’s trust in the reliability of information they receive at this critical time.

In the process, some reporters have succumbed to the coronavirus while on the job, having to be isolated and quarantined. Some newsrooms have had to evacuate hurriedly, with staff rushing home, laptops in hand, to try to keep their platforms updated and the presses rolling.

THE DANGER OF ‘NEWS DESERTS’ AND ‘INFODEMICS’

But here’s the heart-breaking news: Among the victims in the intensive care unit, gasping for breath, are some of the media organisations themselves, alongside many others from sectors that have also been hard hit, from aviation to retail.

Several, especially local and vernacular titles, might not be able to meet their financial commitments, or even pay staff salaries, in the months ahead.

Advertising is drying up, plunging by between 30 per cent and 80 per cent, according to a recent survey by the World Association of News Publishers. Revenues from media-related events, a new and growing source of funds, have also plunged as social distancing measures are put in place.

Many newsrooms, including The Straits Times, have also made content on the pandemic freely available, as a public service, thereby constraining their ability to grow revenues from subscriptions.

The upshot of this is both ironic and tragic: At a time when audiences are turning increasingly to established media titles, as recent surveys have shown, newsrooms are seeing their resources gutted, and some are even being shut.

In the United States, Gannett, the largest American newspaper chain, announced last week plans to cut salaries and lay off some staff temporarily, while Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has said it will stop print editions of 60 newspapers in Australia, with similar measures being taken in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

This has heightened concerns about the emergence of “news deserts” – communities with no access to local government and community news as media groups cease to exist there.

There is also much angst over “ghost newsrooms”, titles that are snapped up by investors as they are still profitable, who then slash their reporting capabilities to boost margins, resulting in a lack of resources to produce local, original or independent content.

The implications of these developments for society are grave. At a time when communities are most in need of critical information, many newsrooms are increasingly hampered and finding it harder to deliver on their mission.

This has led the World Health Organisation to warn of a coming “infodemic”, with misinformation spreading and undermining public trust at a crucial time.

To be sure, the financial struggles faced by newsrooms are hardly news. Oxford historian Timothy Garton Ash pointed to this in a keynote address at the St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland in May 2017.

He said: “Very simply, the Internet is destroying the business model of newspapers. For at least two centuries, we have had a public good – news, the information we need for democracy – delivered by private means… People would pay for a newspaper and (there was also) advertising revenue. The Internet has just knocked away both these pillars. So the newspapers produce the information. Facebook and Google get the profit.

“And this has a very negative effect on the newspapers on which we have relied for our news… The amount of serious news, investigative journalism and foreign reporting is going down because that’s expensive.

“This is a real problem for the journalism we need for democracy.”

Covid-19, however, has mercilessly compounded this challenge and hastened both the shift to digital and the plunge in advertising.

ALTERNATIVE FUNDING MODELS

So, is there an antidote to the virus-induced media malaise? Among the proposals that media leaders have been making urgently to their stakeholders are these:

• Declaring the media an essential service: To enable journalists to go about their jobs during lockdowns, keeping newsrooms functioning and news agents running;

• Granting financial assistance: These include tax breaks or holidays, short-term loans and wage subsidies to help newsrooms pay their staff and bills in the face of falling revenues. Denmark has set up a €25 million (S$39 million) fund which will grant news outlets that have recently seen revenues fall by between 30 per cent and 50 per cent relief of up to 60 per cent of their losses, while in Lithuania, state subsidies are also given for critical infrastructure such as broadcasting and printing facilities;

• Giving tax incentives for advertisers and subscribers: In Italy, advertisers are given tax deductions of 30 per cent of their spending in newspapers and online, while Canada allows subscribers to news titles to claim tax relief;

• Stepping up government advertising: Public education campaigns tied to the pandemic can help make up for the fall in private advertising;

• Making Big Tech pay: Technology platforms should be pressed, as France has done, to make more meaningful contributions to the news outlets they rely on for content.

But while these steps might see media groups through the crisis, they are not without risks. Not least of which is the damage that could be done to the credibility of the media if it becomes overly dependent on state funding. This is especially a concern in societies with painful experiences of governments seeking to muzzle the media, through cuts in funding and advertising, shutdowns of newsrooms and even arrests of journalists.

To safeguard against this, beyond the crisis, new business models will also have to be fashioned to ensure the media remains viable and sustainable for the long haul.

Various experiments are now under way. While some big players like The New York Times and Financial Times are growing subscription revenues from readers, others such as The Washington Post, South China Morning Post and Los Angeles Times have been bought by wealthy business leaders, who have given these newsrooms a boost by investing in journalism and technology.

Elsewhere, media groups have been given mandates by the state, with funding for public service broadcasts and journalism, as in France, Britain and the Scandinavian countries.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Some newsrooms have opted to be public trusts or not-for-profit companies, with a mission to provide public service journalism, such as The Guardian in the UK, and The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Salt Lake Tribune in the US, and also Japan’s Nikkei group.

Which of these models works best remains unclear; nor perhaps is there likely to be one model that works for all, given the very different political histories and cultures that newsrooms operate in around the world.

This much is certain: The coronavirus pandemic might have begun as a public health crisis, but some wrenching economic, social and political changes could follow in the months to come.

People and communities will need to make sense of developments unfolding around them as well as to figure out the way forward. To do so, citizens and voters will need news organisations they consider credible, which they can rely on, and trust.

The writer is president of the World Editors Forum (WEF), a network of editors that is part of the World Association of News Publishers. This opinion piece was endorsed by members of the board of the WEF, in solidarity with newsrooms around the world.

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Brazil turns to local industry to build ventilators as China orders fall through

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s health minister said on Wednesday that the country’s attempts to purchase thousands of ventilators from China to fight a growing coronavirus epidemic had fallen through and the government is now looking to Brazilian companies to build the devices.

“Practically all our purchases of equipment in China are not being confirmed,” Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said at a news conference.

An attempt to buy 15,000 ventilators in China did not go through and Brazil was making a new bid, he said, but the outcome is uncertain in the intense competition for medical supplies in the global pandemic.

In one positive sign for Brazil’s supply crunch, a private company managed to buy 40 tonnes of protective masks from China, with the shipment arriving by cargo plane in Brasilia on Wednesday.

The purchase of 6 million masks worth 160 million reais ($30 million) was undertaken by pharmaceutical and hospital equipment company Nutriex, based in Goiania, 220 kilometers east of Brasilia. The firm plans to donate part of the order.

Health authorities began to sound the alarm this week over supply shortages as hospitals faced growing numbers of patients with COVID-19.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country soared to 15,927 on Wednesday, with the death toll rising by 133 in just 24 hours to 800, the ministry said.

Rio de Janeiro reported the first six deaths in four of the city’s hillside slums, called favelas, alarming authorities who fear rapid contagion in crowded communities that have limited access to medical care and often lack running water for hygiene.

Two of the deaths occurred in Rocinha, one the largest slums in South America where more than 100,000 people live.

Mandetta reported the first case of coronavirus among the Yanomami people on the country’s largest reservation and said the government plans to build a field hospital for indigenous tribes that are vulnerable to contagion.

“We are extremely concerned about the indigenous communities,” Mandetta said.

Anthropologists and health experts warn that the epidemic can have a devastating impact on Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people whose lifestyle in tribal villages rules out social distancing.

President Jair Bolsonaro said in an address to the nation that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was saving lives of coronavirus patients and should be used in the initial stages of COVID-19. Due to the absence of scientific evidence on its effectiveness and safety, Brazil’s health authorities limit its use to seriously ill patients who are in hospital.

Mandetta said Brazil has hired local unlisted medical equipment maker Magnamed to make 6,000 ventilators in 90 days.

Pulp and paper companies Suzano SA and Klabin SA, planemaker Embraer SA, information technology provider Positivo Tecnologia SA and automaker Fiat Chrysler have also offered to help build ventilators, he said.

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Trump shifts focus to mining the moon as US coronavirus cases rise over 400,000

According to documents released by the White House, Donald Trump paused his efforts around the growing coronavirus crisis to sign an executive order. This order will leave the US free to mine the moon for resources.

The document says the order rejects the 1979 global agreement known as the Moon Treaty .

This treaty says any activity in space should conform with international law.

The order states: “Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space.

“Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons.”

The order was entirely in keeping with the Trump administration’s stance on domestic mining.

The administration has sought to encourage domestic mining by scaling back on a series of environmental protections despite widespread condemnation.

It also continues the president’s interest in space.

Last December, he launched Space Force as a branch of the US military, saying “space is the world’s new war-fighting domain”.

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However, the move has been condemned by Russia.

There have been suggestions that America may be trying to “privatise space”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “any kind of attempt to privatise space in one form or another – and I find it difficult to say now whether this can be seen as an attempt to privatise space – would be unacceptable”.

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos has also hit out at president Trump following the move.

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Roscosmos accused Mr Trump of creating a basis to take over other planets.

“Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries (on course for) fruitful cooperation,” it said in a statement.

However, US officials say the 1979 treaty was only signed by 17 of 95 member states on the relevant United Nations committee.

Scott Pace, from the National Space Council, said in a statement on behalf of the White House: “As America prepares to return humans to the moon and journey on to Mars, this Executive Order establishes US policy toward the recovery and use of space resources, such as water and certain minerals, in order to encourage the commercial development of space.”

The news comes after President Donald Trump accepted Moscow’s offer of help with medical supplies last week.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Trump “accepted with gratitude this aid of humanitarian nature” in a phone call with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

The US is grappling with the coronavirus epidemic with the total number of cases climbing to 434,114 and a death toll of 14,762.

Mr Trump made a reference to Russian aid for the first time during a press conference last Monday.

He said: “Russia sent us a very, very large planeload of things”.

However, the US President is yet to elaborate on details of the supplies.

Reports of the US administration accepting aid from Russia have caused concerns that Moscow could be using the coronavirus crisis to get the US to ease some of the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia.

Footage released by the Russian Defence Ministry showed a military plane full of cardboard boxes taking off from an airfield outside Moscow late on Tuesday night.

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