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N.L. reports 1 new case of COVID-19 –



Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced one new case of COVID-19 found in Newfoundland and Labrador on Friday. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, its first in five days. 

The new case is in the Eastern Health region, moving the province’s total caseload to 259. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the new case was traced to a previously known case. 

As of Friday 230 people have recovered from the virus, with 8,552 having been tested — 176 since Thursday.

Four people remain in hospital, with one in intensive care.

“It certainly has not been easy, but we have succeeded in flattening the curve of COVID-19 over the last six weeks in our province,” said Fitzgerald during Friday’s briefing.

“While this comes with a little reprieve, we cannot yet slow our pace.… If we continue on our current trajectory, in a little over a week’s time we will be moving to alert Level 4.” 

Watch the full May 1 update:

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Under the advice of Fitzgerald, Health Minister John Haggie once again signed an order to continue the public health state of emergency for another two weeks, the maximum time permitted under legislation.

Premier Dwight Ball announced a new COVID-19 assessment service for the hard of hearing community and for those who cannot communicate verbally. 

Ball said a new cellphone text line and video service is available as of today. The number for the cellphone line is 709-216-8188. For the video service it’s 1-888-834-1252.

“This is exclusively for people who are deaf and hard of hearing or those with communication disabilities that prevent them from speaking to a nurse,” Ball said.

The provincial government will not hold COVID-19 briefings over the weekend. The latest numbers will be issued through news releases on Saturday and Sunday. Briefings will resume Monday. 

Irregular summer

The weather is warming up in Newfoundland and Labrador, allowing more people to get outside as the last of the winter snow melts. But Fitzgerald said campsites are still out of the question due to the risk of larger groups of people interacting. The province plans to allow overnight stays at campsites in alert Level 2, but there’s no timeline on when that would occur.

“The concern there is that you would have contacts with people who you might not know, and it would make things difficult for contact tracing,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not as simple as, ‘I can go and I can stay in my bubble.'”

It’s one sign in a return to a new normal, as the provincial government continues to call it, that your bubble can double. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

For anyone looking to get rid of some clutter, Haggie said it’s still not time for yard sales either. 

“We have not got anywhere near that level of normalcy yet,” he said.

The province announced Thursday that households could include one other household within their bubbles. 

Asked if there will be a time when households can expand their bubble again, Fitzgerald said it will depend on what the spread of the virus looks like as the province moves from level to level.

“We need to make sure that we don’t have spread within our communities. We need to make sure that the prevalence of the disease is low before we can make any determinations like that,” she said.

“We felt it was better to not to make predictions about that and to look at it as time went on and as we had more information.”

For parents who share joint custody, Haggie said the province is relying on their good judgment for choosing which household to include in their bubble, the challenge being that those cases are generally court-ordered. 

“No one actually has to expand or double their bubble this weekend simply because it’s allowed,” he said.

“But I think ultimately if there ever was an issue over a court-ordered custody arrangement, quite frankly it would have to be down to a court to arbitrate who was right, who was wrong and what the resolution should be.”

Testing all could put strain on supplies

While the province has significantly limited summer tourism — not allowing anybody into the province starting Monday, unless it’s their primary residence or for work — Fitzgerald was asked why public health officials aren’t simply testing everybody who enters.

She said the reason for current testing parameters is to give public health an answer. Fitzgerald added the number of tests needed to be done for everyone entering the province is high.

“That could potentially put a strain on testing supplies, it could put a strain on [personal protective equipment. All of these things are things you have to consider when you talk about testing asymptomatic people,” she said.

“And we are asking people who are coming into the province to self-isolate for 14 days. If they were to become symptomatic we can certainly test them then. But we have effectively removed them from the population and from spreading that if they were to be positive.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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OPEC, Russia to extend record oil cuts to end of July amid pandemic –



OPEC, Russia and allies agreed on Saturday to extend record oil production cuts until the end of July, prolonging a deal that has helped crude prices double in the past two months by withdrawing almost 10 per cent of global supplies from the market.

The group, known as OPEC+, also demanded countries such as Nigeria and Iraq, which exceeded production quotas in May and June, compensate with extra cuts in July to September.

OPEC+ had initially agreed in April that it would cut supply by 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) during May-June to prop up prices that collapsed due to the coronavirus crisis. Those cuts were due to taper to 7.7 million bpd from July to December.

“Demand is returning as big oil-consuming economies emerge from pandemic lockdown. But we are not out of the woods yet and challenges ahead remain,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told the video conference of OPEC+ ministers.

Benchmark Brent crude climbed to a three-month high on Friday above $42 a barrel, after diving below $20 in April. Prices still remain a third lower than at the end of 2019.

WATCH | Canadian oil producers don’t see relief after OPEC deal to cut output:

Richard Masson, chair of World Petroleum Council-Canada, says Ottawa needs to move soon if it plans to help producers, as companies face ‘really tough decisions.’ 0:55

“Prices can be expected to be strong from Monday, keeping their $40 US plus levels,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen from Rystad Energy.

Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, and Russia have to perform a balancing act of pushing up oil prices to meet their budget needs while not driving them much above $50 US a barrel to avoid encouraging a resurgence of rival U.S. shale production.

1 billion barrels of excess oil inventories

The April deal was agreed under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump, who wants to avoid U.S. oil industry bankruptcies.

Trump, who previously threatened to pull U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia if Riyadh did not act, spoke to the Russian and Saudi leaders before Saturday’s talks, saying he was happy with the price recovery.

While oil prices have partially recovered, they are still well below the costs of most U.S. shale producers. Shutdowns, layoffs and cost cutting continue across the United States.

As global lockdown restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus are being eased, oil demand is expected to exceed supply sometime in July but OPEC has yet to clear 1 billion barrels of excess oil inventories accumulated since March.

Tonhaugen said Saturday’s decisions would help OPEC reduce inventories at a rate of 3 million to 4 million bpd over July-August.

Workers are seen in Aramco’s oil separator at processing facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, in September 2019. (Amr Nabil/The Associated Press)

“The quicker stocks fall, the higher prices will get. And that is crucial for many OPEC+ economies, whose fiscal budgets count on oil sales,” he said.

Nigeria’s petroleum ministry said Abuja backed the idea of compensating for its excessive output in May and June.

Iraq, with one of the worst compliance rates in May, agreed to extra cuts although it was not clear how Baghdad would reach agreement with oil majors on curbing Iraqi output.

Workers are seen in the Nihran Bin Omar field north of Basra, Iraq, in January 2017. (Nabil al-Jurani/The Associated Press)

Iraq produced 520,000 bpd above its quota in May, while overproduction by Nigeria was 120,000 bpd, Angola’s was 130,000 bpd, Kazakhstan’s was 180,000 bpd and Russia’s was 100,000 bpd, according to OPEC+ data.

OPEC+’s joint ministerial monitoring committee, known as the JMMC, would now meet every month until December to review the market, compliance and recommend levels of cuts.

The next JMMC meeting is scheduled for June 18, while the next full OPEC and OPEC+ meeting will take place on Nov. 30-Dec. 1.

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OPEC+ extends oil cuts in deal that hinges on end of cheating –



OPEC+ agreed to a one-month extension of its record output cuts and adopted a stricter approach to ensuring members don’t break their production pledges.

The deal will underpin the oil market recovery, easing the financial pain felt by resource-dependent emerging economies, shale explorers in Texas, and blue-chip companies like Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

It’s a victory for Saudi Arabia and Russia, who put a destructive price war behind them to successfully cajole Iraq, Nigeria and other laggards to fulfill their promises to cut production. The two leaders of OPEC+ showed that they intend to keep a close watch on the oil market, meeting every month to assess the balance between supply and demand amid an uncertain economic recovery from the global pandemic.

“Our collective efforts have borne fruit, and despite many uncertainties, there are encouraging signs that we are over the worst,” said Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. “Demand is returning as big oil-consuming economies emerge from pandemic lockdown,” he added.

After a video conference lasting several hours on Saturday, delegates said all nations had signed off on a new deal for a production cut of 9.6 million barrels a day next month. That’s 100,000 barrels a day lower than the reduction in June because Mexico will end its supply constraints, but a tighter limit than the 7.7 million barrels a day set for July in the group’s previous agreement.

In addition, the communique states that any member that doesn’t implement 100 per cent of its production cuts in May and June will make extra reductions from July to September to compensate for their failings.

Those promises are a particular vindication for the Saudi minister, who has consistently pushed fellow members to stop cheating on their quotas since his appointment last year.

But they could also add an element of risk. In theory, the entirety of the 23-nation production agreement, which runs until April 2022, is now contingent on every member making 100 per cent of their pledged cuts, according to the communique. That’s something rarely achieved in the three-and-a-half years that OPEC+ has existed, or indeed the decades-long history of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries itself.

Daunting Challenge

Oil has just posted a sixth weekly gain in London, more than doubling to US$42.30 a barrel since April with traders anticipating tighter supplies as demand recovers from lockdown. U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday hailed the cuts from OPEC and its allies for saving America’s energy industry, and U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette welcomed the deal on Saturday.

The oil market “is still in a fragile state and needs support,” Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in opening remarks at the virtual meeting. “That is why today more than ever it is important to adhere to 100 per cent compliance.”

The group hopes to build on its success by pushing the market into a supply deficit next month, using a price structure called backwardation to start to chip away at the billion barrels of oil stockpiles that built up during the pandemic.

There was no discussion in the meeting about the future of the additional 1.2 million barrels a day of voluntary output cuts being implemented by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in June, delegates said.

The cartel will meet again in the second half of June for another review of the oil market. Talks are scheduled on June 18 for the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee, which could recommend a further extension if it’s deemed necessary, pushing the deep production cuts into August, a delegate said. That panel will meet every month until December, according to the communique.

The next full ministerial OPEC+ meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, delegates said, although the communique notes that a conference could be held whenever it is required.

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Cutting production is always painful for oil-dependent states. Iraq in particular needs every penny because it’s still rebuilding its economy following decades of war, sanctions and Islamist insurgency.

The country made less than half of its assigned cutbacks last month, so compensating fully would require it to slash production by a further 24 per cent to about 3.28 million barrels a day, according to Bloomberg calculations. Accepting such terms could risk a backlash from Iraqi parliamentarians and rival political parties for bowing to foreign pressure.

The traditional shirkers in OPEC+ have promised many times before to do better. Some analysts were skeptical that this occasion will be any different.

“Everyone saves face with this agreement,” Jan Stuart, global energy economist at Cornerstone Macro LLC, said on Friday after a tentative deal was in place. “But it begs the question: What is the enforcement mechanism? I’m very curious to see how the organization is going to elicit greater compliance from the cheaters.”

There’s also a risk that future OPEC+ curbs could be undermined by a return of Libyan oil. The civil war there halted more than one million barrels a day of production, helping OPEC+ rebalance the market, but a cease fire now opens the door for a gradual recovery of supply.

For now at least, members of OPEC+ can enjoy the price gains resulting from their deal.

“The oil market is on its way to recovery,” said Ann-Louise Hittle, oil analyst at consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. “Supply has shifted dramatically already”

–With assistance from Julian Lee and Khalid Al-Ansary.

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Optimistic U.S. unemployment figures under-reported due to misclassifications –



U.S. unemployment dropped unexpectedly in May to 13.3 per cent as reopened businesses began recalling millions of workers faster than economists had predicted. But the Labour Department for the second straight month acknowledged making errors in counting the unemployed during the coronavirus outbreak, saying the real figure is worse than the numbers indicate.

Economists had expected the rate to approach 20 per cent, driven up from 14.7 per cent by job losses topping eight million. Their forecasts woefully missed the mark. Part of the explanation is the difficulty of assessing data when the situation is changing so quickly.

But it also reflects an acknowledged difficulties by the Labour Department’s Bureau of Labour Statistics in its information gathering. Millions of people appeared to be erroneously classified by the survey as not working but employed. These people should have been classified as on temporary layoff and therefore unemployed. Had they been counted correctly, the jobless rate would have been roughly three points higher — 16 per cent, the government said.

The same issue marred the April jobs report. In that case, the unemployment rate would have been roughly five points higher than the 14.7 per cent reported.

The jobs report is drawn from a pair of surveys. A survey of households establishes the unemployment rate. A separate survey of employers determines how many jobs were added or lost. Response rates for these surveys were lower than usual in May because of the viral outbreak. But the government still gathered enough responses to produce the jobs report.

People wait in line for help with unemployment benefits in Las Vegas on March 17. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

“The household survey response rate, at 67 per cent, was about 15 percentage points lower than in months prior to the pandemic,” the report said.

The Labour Department also includes a broader measure of unemployment. This measure includes not only people who are out of work and looking for a job but also people who stopped looking or who were reduced to part-time hours. That rate was 21.2 per cent in May.

2.5 million jobs added

Still, after weeks of dire predictions by economists that unemployment in May could hit 20 per cent or more, the news that the economy added a surprising 2.5 million jobs last month is evidence that the employment collapse most likely bottomed out in April.

At the same time, economists warn that after an initial burst of hiring as businesses reopen, the recovery could slow in the fall or early next year unless most Americans are confident they can shop, travel, eat out and fully return to their other spending habits without fear of contracting the virus.

A person wearing a mask walks past a sign seeking potential hires at a pharmacy in San Francisco on May 7. (Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press)

“We are witnessing the easiest phase of growth as people come off temporary layoffs and come back to their employers,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard economist and former top adviser in the Obama White House. “And once employers are done recalling people, the much harder, longer work of recovery will have to proceed.”

An exultant U.S. President Donald Trump seized on the report as evidence that the economy is going to come back from the coronavirus crisis like a “rocket ship.”

“This shows that what we’ve been doing is right,” said the president, who has pushed governors aggressively to reopen their economies amid warnings from public health officials that the country is risking a second wave of infections on top of the one that has killed over 100,000 Americans.

Nearly all industries added jobs last month, a sharp reversal from April, when almost all cut them. Hotels and restaurants added 1.2 million jobs in May, after shedding 7.5 million. Retailers gained 368,000, after losing nearly 2.3 million in the previous month. Construction companies added 464,000 after cutting 995,000.

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