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Airlines, unions pin hopes for more payroll cash on politics – 570 News

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With tens of thousands of airline workers facing layoffs this fall, labour groups are pushing Congress for more federal money to keep them on the payroll until next spring.

The unions have gained significant support among Democrats. They hope that the prospect of mass layoffs weeks before a pivotal election will sway some Republican votes.

The airline industry has been battered by the virus pandemic. In March, companies got $32 billion to help cover payroll costs for six months in exchange for not laying off workers. The money and the ban on layoffs both end Oct. 1, meaning there could be large-scale job cuts less than five weeks before the Nov. 3 election.

“Ultimately the White House will be responsible for that, and so will the 23 Republican senators who are up for re-election,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “I don’t believe that’s a political risk that anyone is willing to take.”

But approval is far from certain. Airlines are already downsizing — persuading thousands of workers to take voluntary buyouts or early retirement. And they have lined up billions of dollars in private borrowing, giving them a better chance of surviving a long slump in travel.

The CEO of Southwest Airlines said he supports an extension of federal dollars for airline payrolls, but he doesn’t see the same urgency in Washington.

Back in the spring, “there was broad support from Congress, the administration and even the president,” Gary Kelly said. “This time around, that is not the case.”

Kelly made the comments in an employee video after a union representing flight attendants and other Southwest employees asked him to publicly support the payroll-aid extension.

Thirteen airline unions have joined to lobby Congress for a six-month extension of the payroll provision. Of the total, $25 billion would go to passenger airlines.

Major airlines support the extension, but they are keeping a low profile. Union and airline representatives fear that if the big airlines openly lobby for the money, it could be portrayed as a bailout.

Airlines for America, the trade group for the biggest U.S. carriers, said it is not pursuing new government help but would take it if no new conditions were attached. A group representing smaller carriers, the Regional Airline Association, has been more vocal in urging Washington to approve the money — two of its members have already shut down during the pandemic and a third is in grave jeopardy.

The union campaign is showing signs of momentum. This week, more than 220 lawmakers in the House — mostly Democrats, but joined by 28 Republicans — endorsed the money, which they hope to include in a new coronavirus-relief package being negotiated on Capitol Hill. Prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate and the Trump administration are less clear, however.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not include airlines in his $1 trillion coronavirus relief proposal. Some Senate Republicans say McConnell’s measure is already too expensive, and they could object to tacking on another $32 billion.

The Trump administration hasn’t stated its position on a second round of relief. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said recently that airlines need more help to survive the travel downturn caused by the pandemic but gave no details. The Treasury Department declined to comment on the matter this week.

The issue will be decided when negotiators try to reconcile McConnell’s plan and a $3.5 trillion coronavirus-relief bill that the House passed in May.

It is unknown exactly how many jobs airlines will cut. United Airlines sent layoff notices to 36,000 employees and warned pilots this week that there could be more furloughs — the industry’s term for termination of workers who have rehiring rights — later this year or in 2021. American Airlines notified 25,000 workers, Delta Air Lines warned more than 2,500 pilots, and smaller airlines also sent out notices. Southwest said it doesn’t expect to furlough anybody in 2020.

U.S. airlines had about 750,000 employees before the pandemic hit, according to their trade group.

The original payroll aid in grants and low-interest loans was approved as air travel collapsed by 95%. The money was intended to save airline jobs until travel rebounded, but that has not happened. Slow growth in May and June stopped in July, and U.S. air travel is still down more than 70% from a year ago.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said in a letter Monday to House and Senate leaders of both parties that travel won’t recover by Oct. 1.

“Without further relief from Congress, mass layoffs among airline industry workers are inevitable — and their magnitude will eclipse those of any furloughs the industry has ever seen,” DeFazio wrote.

___

David Koenig can be reached at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter

David Koenig, The Associated Press

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Exclusive: Fauci says regulators promise politics will not guide vaccine timing – Reuters

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. regulators have assured scientists that political pressure will not determine when a coronavirus vaccine is approved even as the White House hopes to have one ready ahead of the November presidential election, the country’s leading infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday.

“We have assurances, and I’ve discussed this with the regulatory authorities, that they promise that they are not going to let political considerations interfere with a regulatory decision,” Dr. Fauci told Reuters in an interview.

“We’ve spoken explicitly about that, because the subject obviously comes up, and the people in charge of the regulatory process assure us that safety and efficacy is going to be the prime consideration,” he said.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, is behind Democrat Joe Biden in public opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Trump has lost ground in part due to voter concerns over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

A vaccine announcement in October could help Trump’s chances in the nationwide vote.

“I’m certain of what the White House would like to see, but I haven’t seen any indication of pressure at this point to do anything different than what we’re doing,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“I mean obviously they’ve expressed: ‘Gee, it would be nice, the sooner the better.’”

Trump has suggested publicly that a vaccine could be ready long before the end of the year. In the interview Fauci offered a more conservative view, suggesting drugmakers will likely have tens of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines in the early part of next year.

Fauci and other doctors on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, including its coordinator Deborah Birx, have come under criticism from the president for portraying the pandemic in less rosy terms than he has sought to emphasize.

Trump said in a recent interview with Axios that the virus was “under control.”

Asked if he shared that assessment, Fauci said some parts of the country were more under control than others.

“We’re a big country. You can pick out some parts of the country that are looking good and you could say is under control; you could pick some parts of the country that are on fire, in the sense, I mean you’re having outbreaks that you know you don’t get 70,000 cases a day when nothing’s going on.”

More than 157,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19 and more than 4.7 million cases have been reported in the country and its territories, according to Reuters tallies.

Earlier this week the president criticized Dr. Birx for giving a sobering description of the state of the pandemic.

Fauci said the doctors try to focus on the science rather than political distractions.

“What we try to do, you know maybe some could do it better than others, is to focus like a laser on what we’re supposed to be doing: getting this epidemic under control,” he said.

Fauci said differences in the seriousness with which people had taken the virus in the United States had hampered the response to the pandemic in comparison to other countries.

“We have somewhat of a disjointed approach to things,” he said. “If we had a uniformity of it, and everybody rode together in the same boat, we probably would do much better.”

Fauci and other medical professionals have urged Americans to wear masks and maintain a social distance to prevent the spread of the virus. He lamented the fact that mask-wearing had become political earlier in the pandemic.

Trump declined to wear a mask in public for months and Vice President Mike Pence faced criticism for not wearing one when he visited the Mayo Clinic in April.

FILE PHOTO: Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases prepares to testify ahead of a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

“Thank goodness that’s changed,” Fauci said. “I’m very pleased now that we’re seeing the vice president consistently wearing a mask, the president tweeting that you should be wearing masks. That’s a good thing. That’s a step in the right direction.”

Video: Reuters interview with Anthony Fauci here

Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Howard Goller

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Exclusive: Fauci says regulators promise politics will not guide vaccine timing – WHTC News

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020 5:37 p.m. EDT

by

By Jeff Mason and Michael Erman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. regulators have assured scientists that political pressure will not determine when a coronavirus vaccine is approved even as the White House hopes to have one ready ahead of the November presidential election, the country’s leading infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday.

“We have assurances, and I’ve discussed this with the regulatory authorities, that they promise that they are not going to let political considerations interfere with a regulatory decision,” Dr. Fauci told Reuters in an interview.

“We’ve spoken explicitly about that, because the subject obviously comes up, and the people in charge of the regulatory process assure us that safety and efficacy is going to be the prime consideration,” he said.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, is behind Democrat Joe Biden in public opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Trump has lost ground in part due to voter concerns over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

A vaccine announcement in October could help his chances in the nationwide vote.

“I’m certain of what the White House would like to see, but I haven’t seen any indication of pressure at this point to do anything different than what we’re doing,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“I mean obviously they’ve expressed: ‘Gee, it would be nice, the sooner the better.'”

Trump has suggested publicly that a vaccine could be ready long before the end of the year.

Fauci and other doctors on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, including its coordinator Deborah Birx, have come under criticism from the president for portraying the pandemic in less rosy terms than he has sought to emphasize.

Trump said in a recent interview with Axios that the virus was “under control.”

Asked if he shared that assessment, Fauci said some parts of the country were more under control than others.

“We’re a big country. You can pick out some parts of the country that are looking good and you could say is under control; you could pick some parts of the country that are on fire, in the sense, I mean you’re having outbreaks that you know you don’t get 70,000 cases a day when nothing’s going on.”

More than 157,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19 and more than 4.7 million cases have been reported in the country and its territories, according to Reuters tallies.

Earlier this week the president criticized Dr. Birx for giving a sobering description of the state of the pandemic.

Fauci said the doctors try to focus on the science rather than political distractions.

“What we try to do, you know maybe some could do it better than others, is to focus like a laser on what we’re supposed to be doing: getting this epidemic under control,” he said.

Video: Reuters interview with Anthony Fauci https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Glq3yQECfSY

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Howard Goller)

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GUEST OPINION: Politics and the pandemic in Pakistan – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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Henry Srebrnik
Guest opinion


Pakistan has been struggling to develop an all‑encompassing identity since the founding of the state in 1947. The nation was created as a homeland for Muslims, a place where they would no longer be a minority community in the Hindu‑majority state of India.

Expectations were high that Pakistan would flourish and that its citizens would be unified by their sense of religious identity.

It hasn’t worked out that way. This vision of promise and unity soon encountered the realities of state building. Islamists and secularists disputed the centrality of Islam in the government. Pashtun and Baloch tribes resisted relinquishing their autonomy to the new centralized state.

And now the country deals with COVID-19. As of the end of July, Pakistan has registered nearly 280,000 cases and over 5,900 deaths. The province of Sindh has seen the most cases, with some 119,000, while Punjab has suffered the most deaths, at more than 2,100.

Pakistan was slow in trying to control the spread of the virus. In late March, President Arif Alvi and provincial governors held a meeting with Sunni and Shia clerics to convince them to close mosques for congregational prayers across the country amid rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases in the country. The clerics, however, rejected the request.

Their refusal to shun collective prayers raised doubts about the country’s resolve to fight the pandemic.

Earlier in March, the federal government had allowed Shia pilgrims from Iran to return to the country through Baluchistan province. The pilgrims were not properly quarantined, which resulted in a spike of infections.

By the end of March, with cases surging, various provincial governments had imposed complete lockdowns, but these were lifted in stages in May, ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, though the disease is not under control. In July, the government imposed a “smart lockdown” in 30 cities in a in a bid to control the virus while minimizing the economic impact.

Pakistan’s public health system was overstretched long before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The country has one doctor for every 963 people and one hospital bed for every 1,608 people. It faces a shortage of 200,000 doctors and 1.4 million nurses to cope with the crisis.

When Prime Minister Imran Khan took power in 2018, GDP growth was around 5.8 per cent; now it is 0.98 per cent and is likely to decline further.

One-third of Pakistan’s population already lives below the poverty line while 66 per cent — 145 million people — require immediate relief. Khan launched the Ehsaas Emergency Cash financial relief program on April 1 to help the most vulnerable part of the population.

None of this makes national unity any easier. Especially difficult has been trying to integrate the people of the old Northwest Frontier Province, renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in 2010, whose 36 million residents are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, and four fifths speak Pashto.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has now seen than 33,000 cases of COVID-19, with almost 1,200 deaths. On March 29, Chief Minister Mahmood Khan approved a $255.68 million stimulus economic package to provide relief to almost three million families and the business community. The provincial government has doubled the testing capacity of COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the province.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly has 124 elected members: 99 regular seats, 22 seats reserved for women and three seats for Non-Muslims. In the 2018 provincial election, Pakistan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party of Imran Khan, won a landslide victory, taking 63 seats of the 99 regular seats.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of religious groupings including the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl, won 10 seats; the Awami National Party nine, the centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz six, and the centre-left Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarians, four. Independents took five seats.

To add to the province’s complexity, in May 2018 the seven tribal agencies and the six regions on the border with Afghanistan, formerly called the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), were merged into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The first-ever democratic election there took place a year ago. Of the 16 seats up for election, independents won six seats. Pakistan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf won five, the far-right clerical Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl gained three, and the Jamat-e-Islami and Awami National Party won one seat each.

Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island.

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