The Canadian Press
SEATTLE – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is loosening school reopening guidelines amid a resurging coronavirus pandemic and pleading with reluctant teachers to return to the classroom, particularly those tasked with educating the youngest and neediest students.Inslee, a Democrat, on Wednesday unveiled the state’s latest reopening standards, which urge schools to begin phasing in in-person learning no matter what the community COVID-19 infection rates are, and to resist reverting back to remote learning should transmissions further increase.That’s a stark departure for the Democratic administration, which has until now taken a more cautious approach.The ultimate decision on how and when to reopen schools is up to individual districts. Washington state saw the nation’s first confirmed virus case in late January.The governor on April 6 issued an emergency order to keep schools across the state closed through the end of the school year, and in the fall, pushed most schools to remain online-only.___THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:A health worker in Alaska suffered a severe allergic reaction after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Doctors already knew to be on the lookout after Britain reported two similar cases last week of the vaccine made by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.U.S. health officials have given the OK to another rapid coronavirus test that people can use at home with results in 20 minutes. Abbott Laboratories says the FDA authorized home use of the $25 test sold through an app. It plans to ship 30 million tests in the U.S. over the first three months of 2021.— Tyson fires 7 at Iowa pork plant after COVID betting inquiry— First coronavirus vaccinations underway at U.S. nursing homes, where the virus has killed upwards of 110,000 people.___Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak___HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has added more than 1,000 infections to its coronavirus caseload for the second straight day amid growing fears that the virus is spreading out of control in the greater capital area.The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday said the COVID-19 death toll was now at 634 after 22 patients died in the past 24 hours, the deadliest day since the emergence of the pandemic. Among 12,209 active patients, 242 are in serious or critical condition.Nearly 800 of the 1,014 new cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health officials have raised alarm about a looming shortage in hospital capacities.Thursday was the 40th consecutive day of triple digit daily jumps, which brought the national caseload to 46,453. The country reported 1,078 new cases on Wednesday, its largest daily increase.The viral resurgence came after months of pandemic fatigue, complacency and government efforts to breathe life into a sluggish economy.Officials are now mulling whether to raise social distancing restriction to maximum levels, which could possibly include bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting tens of thousands of businesses deemed non-essential and requiring companies to have more employees work from home.___INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As Indiana’s front-line health care workers begin receiving the state’s first shots of Pfizer’s vaccine against the coronavirus, uncertainties remain about future numbers of incoming doses and who should be inoculated next.Indiana’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, said Wednesday that five Indiana hospitals have received doses. Weaver says that so far 46,000 of the state’s more than 400,000 eligible health care workers have registered for an appointment to get their first shot.Weaver says state health officials are considering individuals’ risks of spreading the virus and how bad their symptoms could be as they decide the next distribution lineup.___OLYMPIA, Washington — Coronavirus infections remain rampant, but health officials in Washington state said Wednesday they’re seeing some encouraging signs in recent data, just as front-line workers begin receiving vaccinations.Health Department Secretary Dr. John Wiesman and Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state health officer, said new cases and hospitalizations appear to be flattening a bit. However, they warned people to remain vigilant and to remain home for the holidays, because another surge on top of current case levels could swamp hospital capacity.The state has not seen a jump in cases related to Thanksgiving gatherings. Lofy noted that hospital bed occupancy has even started falling in southwest Washington, but case numbers in the central part of the state have been more troubling.Overall, just under 13% of the state’s acute-care beds are occupied by COVID patients; officials would prefer to see that number below 10%.___O’FALLON, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday lauded the rollout of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, but it appears the second-week supply will be thousands of doses smaller than anticipated.Missouri received about 51,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, and vaccinations of frontline health care workers began Monday. The state initially said it would get another 63,675 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week, as well as 105,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine if that version receives federal clearance.State health director Dr. Randall Williams said it now appears that Missouri’s next batch of the Pfizer vaccine will be 25% to 30% less than anticipated. He said the variance was “not unanticipated” given the vast rollout nationwide, but he’s still trying to determine from federal officials what changed.Meanwhile, Parson, in response to a question at a news conference, seemed to indicate he wasn’t sure if he would get vaccinated, but his spokeswoman later clarified that he planned to do so.Parson and his wife are among the 353,038 Missourians who have contracted the virus. Both were diagnosed in September, and neither required hospitalization.“You know, I’ve had COVID-19 so I think my personal view would be I would want to make sure a lot of other people got it (the vaccine) before I have it,” Parson said. But as for himself, he added, “We’ll make that decision as we move forward as it comes more available.” It wasn’t clear if he meant he wanted more information about the value of a COVID-19 survivor getting vaccinated.Parson’s spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, later said in an email that Parson “has full intentions of getting the COVID vaccine. Since he has already had COVID, however, he will wait until his age group is eligible to receive the vaccine according to the phases of Missouri’s vaccine plan.” Parson is 65.___NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans bars won’t have to send patrons onto the street because city residents have heeded warnings the city might have to tighten coronavirus pandemic restrictions, city officials said Wednesday.Numbers remain higher than they were six weeks ago and are still higher than officials would like, but don’t “cross the threshold that would close our bars to indoor seating,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, head of the city health department.“In no way are we out of the woods at all,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during a livestreamed news conference with Avegno. However, she said, the percentage of positive tests — which had hit 5.2% — has fallen back below 5%.Under Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide order, bars can have indoor seating only in parishes where the percentage of positive tests is below 5%.Over the past week, Cantrell said, the figure was 4.7%.___RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surged past 7 million on Wednesday, with an all-time high of more than 70,000 cases, according to the health ministry’s daily bulletin.The total remains the world’s third highest, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.The ministry also reported 936 deaths from the disease. Neither its newly reported deaths nor cases included data from Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s most populous and where the toll has been heaviest. In a text message, the health ministry cited “technical problems,” without elaborating.The number of cases and deaths in Latin America’s largest nation has rebounded since local leaders eased restrictions and pandemic fatigue set in.President Jair Bolsonaro, who has consistently undermined quarantine measures and downplayed the virus’ severity, said at a public event last week that Brazil is at “the tail end of the pandemic.”___ATLANTA — A record number of people were in hospitals Wednesday in Georgia with confirmed COVID-19 infections, another signal that infections are now more widespread than at the previous summer peak, as public health authorities sought to raise the alarm that the coronavirus is spreading unabated across the state.In Atlanta, COVID Survivors for Change set out 1,000 chairs near the state capitol in a cold rain to remember the people who have died in Georgia from the respiratory illness. That number rose Wednesday to 10,228 confirmed and suspected deaths.“I caught COVID-19 back on March,” Marjorie Roberts said at the ceremony. “My first day of symptoms was March 26. Now, nine months later I’m still feeling the remnants. I also lost one of my lifelong friends to COVID-19. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. He died in a hospital all by himself. All alone.”The state Department of Public Health, in a weekly report, warned about the continuing spread of infections. As of Wednesday, confirmed and suspected infections had averaged more than 6,100 over the previous week.“They reflect our highest case numbers ever, and are not decreasing or levelling off day to day,” the department said.—-JUNEAU, Alaska — Health officials in Alaska reported a health care worker had a severe allergic reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine within 10 minutes of receiving a shot.U.S. health authorities warned doctors to be on the lookout for rare allergic reactions when they rolled out the first vaccine, made by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Britain had reported a few similar allergic reactions a week earlier.The Juneau health worker began feeling flushed and short of breath on Tuesday, says Dr. Lindy Jones, the emergency room medical director at Bartlett Regional Hospital. She was treated with epinephrine and other medicines for what officials ultimately determined was anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. She was kept overnight but has recovered.Unlike the British cases, the Alaska woman has no history of allergic reactions.___OKLAHOMA CITY — Planned payments of $400 to some Oklahoma residents who lost wages amid the coronavirus pandemic are being put on hold due to the potential approval of additional federal unemployment payments, Oklahoma Employment Security Commission director Shelley Zumwalt said Wednesday.“If new federal legislation is passed and a new federal unemployment relief package reaches Oklahomans, it will be clear that OESC will return the funds,” said Zumwalt, who announced Dec. 10 that the payments would begin this week.The governor’s office announced Wednesday that the state has received all of its initial allotment of coronavirus vaccine doses.In addition to the more than 33,000 doses to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, more than 6,800 doses were sent to tribal nations by Indian Health Services and the Veterans Administration.The Oklahoma National Guard has begun delivering the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine to health care providers throughout the state.___LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas has reached another record one-day increase in COVID-19 deaths.The state Health Department on Wednesday said 58 more people died from the illness caused by the virus. The increase brings the state’s total fatalities since the pandemic began to 3,074.The state’s probable and confirmed cases rose by 2,306 to 191,504. Wednesday increase in deaths was the state’s highest since it reported 55 new deaths on Friday. The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 rose by nine to 1,079.___LOS ANGELES — California reported a record 53,711 coronavirus cases and 293 deaths on Wednesday.The continuing surge in the pandemic brings California’s death toll to 21,481, according to the state Department of Public Health. The previous daily high for deaths was 225, reported Saturday.The state has 1.6 million confirmed cases of coronavirus. Hospitals are filling up so fast in California that officials are rolling out mobile field facilities. They’re also scrambling to hire more doctors and nurses to prepare for an expected surge in coronavirus patients.___IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tyson Foods says it has fired seven top managers at its largest pork plant after an independent investigation into allegations that they bet on how many workers would test positive for the coronavirus.The company says the investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder revealed troubling behaviour that resulted in the firings at the plant in Waterloo, Iowa. An outbreak centred around the plant infected more than 1,000 employees, at least six of whom died.Lawyers for the families of four deceased Waterloo workers allege in lawsuits that plant manager Tom Hart organized a buy-in betting pool for supervisors to wager on how many employees would test positive for the coronavirus. The virus eventually tore through the broader Waterloo community.Tyson Foods President and CEO Dean Banks says the “behaviour exhibited by these individuals does not represent the Tyson core values, which is why we took immediate and appropriate action.” Banks travelled to the Waterloo plant on Wednesday to discuss the actions with employees.___BERLIN — Berlin’s health office says Germany’s 16 states will begin vaccinations on Dec. 27, with the first shots going to nursing homes. That comes as Germany hit a record level of deaths from the coronavirus and enters a harder lockdown, closing shops and schools.Germany on Wednesday recorded 179 virus-related infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, a new high.It also passed its previous daily total, with the 16 states reporting 952 deaths from the virus, the agency says. The previous daily record was 598 on Friday, although included two days of figures from the hard-hit eastern state of Saxony.While daily cases peaked in March at about 6,000, they are now more than four times that level, with 27,728 cases reported Wednesday by the Robert Koch Institute.___PORTLAND, Ore. — The first coronavirus vaccines in Oregon were given to nurses, respiratory therapists, housekeeping staff and other health care workers on Wednesday.Legacy Health and Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and Saint Alphonsus Hospital in Ontario, on the Oregon-Idaho border, vaccinated their first five staff members in the event broadcast live via Zoom, followed by the other hospitals. The first shipments of vaccine arrived Monday.State officials have said they will receive 35,100 initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Another vaccine made by Moderna is expected to receive federal approval soon and Oregon officials estimate there will be enough of the two vaccines to initially immunize about 100,000 people in the state. Oregon has reported 1,214 deaths and 96,092 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.___CHICAGO — Roughly 30% of eligible Chicago Public Schools students plan to return to in-person classes when the nation’s third-largest school district begins reopening next month.Chicago Public Schools announced last month that the district would resume in-person learning in phases in the New Year because remote learning wasn’t serving many students in the largely Black and Latino district. The district has required remote learning since March.The Chicago Sun-Times reports district leaders says about 75,000 of eligible students from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade and in special education will return in January and February. A date for high school students hasn’t been set.The Associated Press
Third wave, constrained government spending biggest risks to economy: Poloz – BNN
Former Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said the worst thing that could happen to the Canadian economy during the COVID-19 pandemic is for the federal government to put the brakes on its virus-related spending spree.
“My biggest risk is we get ‘Wave Three’ and more, and for that reason maybe governments lose faith in the model and they have to constrain their spending. That would be my biggest concern, but right now, I’m feeling more optimistic given the vaccines,” he said.
While Canada entered the pandemic with an economy that Poloz described as “the best shape it’s been in for a long time,” data from Finance Canada shows the government’s support measures relative to GDP were among the highest across G7 countries.
But Poloz said it’s because of the targeted government aid and temporary measures like mortgage payment deferrals that Canadians have been “well-armed” through the pandemic.
“It boosted their savings quite a lot and at the same time they’re actually spending more,” he said. “So we have a very lively consumer with pent-up demand.”
He acknowledged there has been some permanent loss of demand and damage done to the economy because of the pandemic, but added the government appears to be thinking differently about fiscal policy.
“It sounds like they’re focusing a lot more on what we call ‘structural’ policies or investments. The first thing you think of is infrastructure. For example, you do a big piece of infrastructure and it serves us for 30, 40 or 50 years and it adds to the productivity of the economy,” he said.
“Anything that comes along that can tilt upwards the long-term growth trend of the economy will be really timely at this stage.”
Poloz said sustainability will be key when it comes to Canada’s ballooning debt.
“The rate of growth in the economy needs to exceed the rate of interest you must pay on the debt. Provided it does so, the stock of debt will shrink as a share of the economy while they service the debt. And today, debt service is quite inexpensive,” he said.
Charting the Global Economy: Economic Pain Lingering Into 2021 – Bloomberg
The economic distress of the Covid-19 pandemic is picking up where it left off at the end of 2020.
The latest high-frequency data show activity in the advanced economies softened in the first two weeks of the new year. In the U.S., government figures showed retail sales fell for a third month in December as a resurgent virus prompted another tightening of business restrictions. Europe is facing the possibility that output will shrink in consecutive quarters.
Here are some of the charts that appeared on Bloomberg this week on the latest developments in the global economy:
Retail sales declined at the close of the holiday-shopping season, wrapping up a painful year for the nation’s merchants as the pandemic forced store closures and kept consumers at home. The value of receipts for all of 2020 rose just 0.6%, the weakest performance in 11 years.
Meanwhile, the U.S. factory sector continues to show promise. The rate of job openings, or number of available positions as a share of total employment in the non-durable goods industry plus the vacancies, hit 5.1% in November, the fifth straight record in data back to 2000.
Under pessimistic assumptions on the duration of new lockdown restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19, Bloomberg Economics lowered its first-quarter estimate for the euro-area economy to a 4.1% contraction, after a 1.5% drop in the final three months of 2020.
The number of eastern Europeans living in the U.K. last year slumped to levels last seen in 2015 ahead of the end of the Brexit transition and as the coronavirus lockdowns closed huge parts of the economy.
China’s economic ascent is accelerating barely a year after its first coronavirus lockdowns, as its success in controlling Covid-19 allows it to boost its share of global trade and investment.
The women of Mexico already faced the worst economic prospects in Latin America. Now the pandemic threatens to sink them even further, aggravating chronic inequality and dragging down the country’s fortunes.
After the holiday slump, activity in several of the world’s largest advanced economies extended their recovery in the second week of January. Yet compared with early December, Bloomberg Economics gauges that integrate data such as mobility, energy consumption and public transport usage remain significantly lower.
The U.K. dropped behind the U.S. as the best international business location for the first time since the ranking was created by Germany’s Foundation for Family Businesses in 2006. Even so, it’s still ahead of other Group-of-Seven countries, with Italy at the bottom of the list.
— With assistance by Maeva Cousin, Tom Orlik, David Powell, Bjorn Van Roye, Jamie Rush, Maria Eloisa Capurro, Sophie Caronello, Enda Curran, Max De Haldevang, Tom Hancock, Lucy Meakin, Iain Rogers, and Jordan Yadoo
Biden’s aid plan could revamp economy, prompt GOP resistance – 570 News
BALTIMORE — The $1.9 trillion rescue plan unveiled by President-elect Joe Biden offers the chance to sculpt the U.S. economy toward the Democrats’ liking: a $15 minimum wage, aid to poor families and federal dollars going to public schools.
It’s an ambitious effort that would arrive after roughly $4 trillion has already been devoted to fighting the pandemic. But it could be quickly trimmed by congressional Republicans who are skeptical about raising the minimum wage and increasingly focused on the federal budget deficit that ballooned under President Donald Trump.
“This is an opening bid. There is a sense from Republican staff that $1.9 trillion is a little rich,” said Bill Hoagland, a former Republican aide who is senior vice-president of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “But President-elect Biden is an astute student of the Senate and negotiations and I have a feeling that they would expect this to be the top and not everything would be accepted.”
Biden stressed in his Thursday speech announcing the plan that low interest rates mean the government should borrow now in hopes of having faster growth and a more stable financial outlook in the future.
“If we invest now boldly, smartly and with unwavering focus on American workers and families, we will strengthen our economy, reduce inequity and put our nation’s long-term finances on the most sustainable course,” Biden said.
The question is what elements of the Biden plan can win enough Republican votes to clear the evenly split Senate, where at least 60 votes will be needed. Without Republican buy-in, Biden’s proposal could pass with a simple majority under budget reconciliation — but that’s a time-consuming process that would limit what Democrats are able to accomplish.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican, attacked the plan Friday as an attempt to pass liberal policies and shuffle money to Democratic states with it’s $350 billion in state and local government aid.
“We cannot simply throw massive spending at this with no accountability to the current and future American taxpayer,” Scott said in a statement.
The $15 minimum wage may be among the most controversial provisions. Many business groups and Republicans have historically opposed it.
Matthew Haller, head of government relations for the International Franchise Association, noted that $15 wages would be relatively high in parts of rural Georgia and West Virginia, both states that will be represented by Democratic senators. But, more importantly, the coronavirus outbreak has crushed sales at restaurants and small retailers that might be forced to close if they face higher labour costs.
“It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Haller said.
Nor have projections about stable federal budgets proven to be accurate in the past. After reviewing the Biden plan, Marc Goldwein, senior vice-president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, doubted that the additional spending would cause enough growth to shore up the federal government’s long-term finances.
“More stimulus and support will improve the economic outlook, and that alone may make it worth it,” he said. “But it is very unlikely that the greater borrowing will improve the fiscal outlook.”
The Biden plan conforms to the view that the federal government can reduce economic inequality and fuel growth by increasing spending on social services and sending cash directly to households.
It would provide direct payments of $1,400 per person to eligible households, temporarily expand tax credits for children and childcare, help childcare providers and enhance jobless benefits and food aid. There would be $400 billion to get the nation vaccinated, including $130 billion that could help schools safely reopen with smaller classes or better ventilation systems.
The array of spending in the Biden plan would halve the child poverty rate to 6.6%, the lowest level ever based on records going back to 1967, according to estimates from researchers at Columbia University.
“Lifting millions of families out of poverty even for one year can have beneficial long-term consequences for the affected children,” said Zach Parolin, one of the researchers at Columbia.
There is also the possibility that the Biden plan could lead to lasting changes in the social safety net. By temporarily making the child tax credit fully refundable, families who don’t earn enough money to owe federal income taxes would still qualify for the maximum benefit, which the plan would increase to $3000 per year per child, more for children under age 6.
“It’s a reasonable question why more hasn’t been done on this previously,” said Melissa Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland. “Perhaps it took this pandemic to make the economic suffering of poor families – and the moral and economic cost of that – glaringly obvious.”
But Biden is only providing the framework for negotiations, rather than a finished product and much of the promised benefits could be diluted. Alec Phillips, an economist with Goldman Sachs, expects there to ultimately be $1.1 trillion in relief, about 60% of what Biden outlined Thursday.
The challenge is that Senate Democrats would likely need to rely on the reconciliation process to avoid the risk of a Republican filibusters from Republicans. Without reconciliation, Biden would need 60 votes.
Reconciliation, which requires a simple majority, has never been used for discretionary spending, a category that would appear to include the state fiscal aid, education grants and public health spending proposed by Biden, Phillips said in an analyst note.
“We do not expect ten Republicans to support a $1.9 trillion relief package,” he said. “While it is possible that congressional Democrats might find a way to do this, it looks more likely that the need to find bipartisan support might constrain the size of the package.”
Josh Boak, The Associated Press
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