Russia postpones July BRICS summit due to coronavirus

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it has decided to postpone the summit of the BRICS nations, initially scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg in July, due to the spread of the coronavirus.

The meeting of the heads of State Council of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has also been postponed. The events were due to be hosted by St Petersburg on July 21-23.

“The new dates for the summits will be determined depending on the further development of the epidemiological situation in the states of the groupings and around the world,” the organising committee said in a statement.

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Biden says U.S. should lead world in condemning China over Hong Kong actions

DETROIT (Reuters) – The United States must lead the world in condemning China if it imposes new national security rules on Hong Kong, likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Friday after Beijing unveiled a law that could undermine the territory’s autonomy.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also rebuked this week’s move by China’s Communist Party-controlled parliament, calling it arbitrary and disastrous. On Thursday, Republican President Donald Trump warned that Washington would react “very strongly” against any attempt by Beijing to gain more control over the former British colony.

On CNBC, Biden said, “We should be calling the rest of the world to condemn their actions, criticizing Trump for a “silence” on human rights issues the former vice president said was “devastating for people around the world.”

“All it does is encourage thugs and dictators, which, in fact, I think the president has some kind of affinity for,” Biden said.

China has quickly become a focus in the U.S. presidential race, with both Trump and Biden spending millions of dollars on ad campaigns before Nov. 3’s election targeting each other’s record in dealing with the country.

Trump’s campaign, which has seized on Americans’ growing animosity toward China over the coronavirus outbreak to underpin his re-election pitch, contends Biden will not be as tough on Beijing as the president is.

But Biden argues Trump is helping China by undermining U.S. relations with allies and reducing the United States’ role and influence in international institutions.

China’s action could spark fresh protests in Hong Kong, which enjoys many freedoms not allowed on the mainland, after often-violent demonstrations last year plunged the city into its deepest turmoil since its return to Beijing’s rule in 1997.

Pro-democracy demonstrators have for years opposed the idea of national security laws, arguing they could erode the city’s high degree of autonomy, guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula in place for two decades.

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How are Canadian kids holding up amid COVID-19? Survey finds worries about missed class

More than half of Canadian children are concerned about missing school and say not seeing their friends is the thing they miss the most during the COVID-19 crisis, a new survey suggests.

Twenty-nine per cent of kids aged 10 to 17, surveyed by the Angus Reid Institute, said missing class next year has been their biggest worry during the pandemic.

Other major concerns were missing school this year (27 per cent), other family getting sick (26 per cent), their parents getting sick (22 per cent) and their parents losing work (20 per cent).

In B.C., children have been out of schools since March 17, when the province suspended in-class instruction indefinitely and moved to online learning in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

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Now that cases are dropping, some schools in certain districts have slowly begun to reopen.

When asked what word best describes the past several weeks, 71 per cent of kids used the word “bored” while 41 per cent said “normal” and 33 per cent said “lonely.”

Among those learning online, most (75 per cent) said they feel they’re keeping up, but 57 per cent said they don’t like it.

So how do they feel about going back? The response was mostly divided: 26 per cent are happy about it, 38 per cent said it’s OK and 36 per cent they are not looking forward to it.

Note: The survey was conducted from May 1 to 4 and involved a representative randomized sample of 650 Canadian children. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by the Angus Reid Institute.

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COVID-19 pandemic hammers job market, but there are ‘opportunities,’ say analysts

In the worst employment market in decades, job hunters need to prepare for what will inevitably be a video interview, say employers and job market experts who suggest there are opportunities out there.

Statistics Canada reported more than one million Canadians lost their jobs at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in March, which is eight times worse than the previous one-month record during the financial meltdown in January 2009.

Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate jumped 2.2 percentage points to 7.8 per cent in March, the highest since October 2010. April’s unemployment numbers are due within days.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, says Jessica Hodgson, human resources director at Later, a visual marketing platform in Vancouver with more than two million users.

“There are jobs to be had,” she said in a telephone interview.

“The tech sector for sure is well positioned to handle this. There are also industries where they’re looking for more people. Anybody that’s involved in shipping, logistics, supply chain manufacturing, those people are still operating and still expect to be operational.”

Hodgson acknowledged the struggles of many companies. She said her company had 1,500 job applications in March for about 15 openings, but that number increased to 3,500 in April.

Hodgson said after conducting numerous video job interviews on Zoom with potential candidates she’s come up with a preparation sheet. Many companies, including Later, are working remotely, she said, adding that conducting meetings and interviews online will not end with the pandemic.

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Hodgson said her top tips for a successful Zoom job interview include letting the people where you live know that you will be on an important call to prevent distractions; turning off other devices that use a wireless network to minimize the chances of a choppy signal; and trying to schedule interviews in the morning because Wi-Fi signals are stronger earlier in the day.

Jason Kipps, managing director of employer-branding firm Universum Canada, said his most recent data shows almost 50 per cent of companies are reporting decreases in hiring due to COVID-19, but the door on new employees has not slammed shut.

Almost 70 per cent of companies offered potential new employees deferred start dates rather than rescinding jobs offers as was the practice during the 2008 global financial crisis.

“What we’re not seeing is a lot of those companies saying, ‘We’re not going to be hiring after all,’ ” Kipps said in a telephone interview from Orangeville, Ont.

He said companies that are hiring and will be hiring soon are looking for people who can thrive in various conditions and can quickly adapt to a virtual team environment.

“I think about candidates succeeding in this market and it’s those candidates who are able to demonstrate their self-management skills,” said Kipps.

Companies that demonstrate loyalty and empathy to employees during the pandemic stand better chances of strong returns to the market once the turmoil subsides, he said.

“That’s what employees are going to remember through this is how they were treated throughout this whole crisis.”

Catherine Holt, chief executive officer at the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said the pandemic has decimated the city’s tourism and hospitality sectors, but she’s surprised at the number of available jobs being posted by employers.

“I’ve been saying it’s a strange experience where it’s almost like two parallel economies going on side by side,” she said in a telephone interview. “We’ve had about 200 jobs posted just since the distancing measures and the direction from the province to work from home. It’s a fascinating array of jobs.”

Holt said there are postings for obvious jobs at grocery stores, pharmacies, seniors’ homes and for health services, but employers are also looking for cooks, trucker drivers, mechanics, cleaners and sales people in electronics, building and garden supplies.

“I don’t think it’s top of mind when everyone’s hearing so much about the layoffs,” she said.

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COVID-19 outbreak at B.C. poultry plant shows it’s ‘irresponsible’ to work sick: B.C. premier

An outbreak at an East Vancouver chicken processing plant is a sign of how quickly things can go wrong if COVID-19 health restrictions aren’t taken seriously, said Premier John Horgan Wednesday.

Twenty-eight workers at the United Poultry facility on East Cordova Street have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since the first case was detected Sunday.

“Workers were coming to work because they were fearful they would lose wages and not be able to meet their expenses,” said Horgan.

“We cannot have people putting others at risk for fear of economic consequences to themselves. That’s irresponsible, but we have a collective responsibility to deal with that.”

It was a message pounded home by both Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in their Wednesday briefing.

Henry said the initial inspection of the plant found that several of the employees were working despite having respiratory symptoms.

She said until there is a vaccine for the virus, anyone who feels mildly ill, even if they believe it is just allergies, needs to stay home.

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“We also expect that employers need to pay attention to this and need to be responsible. You must have measures in place to ensure that everyone who is working is healthy and can keep a safe distance from each other in the workplace,” she said.

A Cargill plant in High River, Alta., that produces nearly 40 per cent of the country’s beef was shut down this week after being linked to more than 450 COVID-19 cases and one death.

Prof. Sylvain Charlebois with Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab said the meat industry poses specific challenges during the pandemic.

“Employees tend to work close to each other inside the plant,” he said.

“Now that’s being addressed across the country, but still the environment inside a plant is usually very cool and humid and viruses tend to like that kind of environment.”

Vancouver Coastal Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly said those hurdles can be overcome.

But she said in the case of the United plant, safety measures obviously broke down.

“At this plant, staff were provided with gloves and with plastic shields to protect them, so those types of measures can of course mitigate in situations where there can’t be two metres’ distancing,” she said.

“But clearly something went wrong here that allowed for transmission of COVID-19 so that’s why we’ll need to follow up with the inspectors responsible for this plant.”

— With files from Grace Ke

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Three new deaths, but B.C. reports fewest new COVID-19 cases in a month

Three more people have died of COVID-19 in B.C., and at least 14 new cases of the disease have been confirmed according to B.C. health officials.

It is the lowest number of new cases B.C. health officials have reported since March 15.

The newly-confirmed cases do not include inmates at the federally-operated Mission Institution, multiple people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since Wednesday.

There are also two new outbreaks in long-term care facilities, including the first outbreak in the Interior.

The province said four additional long-term care facilities where outbreaks had previously been declared over, had new cases on Thursday.

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According to the Ministry of Health there are now 1,575 lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the province, and 983 of those have fully recovered.

However, data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control showed that the Vancouver Coastal Health region had reported no new cases on Thursday, suggesting a possible delay.

There were 120 people in hospital from the disease Thursday, down 11 from Wednesday. Fifty-six of them are in intensive care, down three from the day prior.

Seventy-eight people have died of COVID-19 in B.C.new long-term care facilities.

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Coronavirus: Commercial power use down 30% in some sectors, says BC Hydro

In another sign of just how hard the novel coronavirus pandemic has hit B.C.’s economy, BC Hydro says daily commercial power usage has fallen 30 per cent in some sectors.

Recreational facilities saw the steepest decline, 30 per cent, while power use fell 29 per cent in the restaurant sector and 27 per cent in hotels according to BC Hydro.

Offices have seen a 16 per cent drop in power use.


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Julius Baer to postpone AGM, propose split dividend

ZURICH (Reuters) – Swiss wealth manager Julius Baer (BAER.S) will propose splitting its 2019 dividend payment into two halves following a regulatory request, it said on Tuesday, postponing by a month its annual general meeting in order to meet notification requirements.

The announcement follows similar proposals by larger Swiss banks UBS (UBSG.S) and Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) responding to requests from Swiss financial supervisor FINMA that they conserve capital amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Julius Baer is adhering to this request from FINMA despite our continued strong capital, funding and liquidity position, which would have comfortably allowed us to pay the initially proposed dividend, and despite our strong performance in the first quarter of 2020,” Julius Baer Chairman Romeo Lacher said in a statement.

“However, our decision is aligned with those of our peers and marks our commitment for a joint and united effort by all parties involved in the face of the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.”

Switzerland’s third-largest listed bank will now propose a shareholder payout of 0.75 francs per share at its AGM on May 18, and plans to call an extraordinary shareholder meeting by mid-November at which it will propose another 0.75 franc payout “in the absence of a drastic change of circumstances”.

The bank in its statement pointed to “robust” performance in the first quarter.

Its annual meeting had been scheduled to take place this week.

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Former Israeli chief rabbi dies after contracting coronavirus

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A former Israeli chief rabbi has died after contracting the coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, in what is the country’s highest-profile death from the pandemic.

Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, who served from 1993 to 2003 as the state’s top chaplain for Sephardim, or Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent, succumbed late on Sunday to complications from the respiratory virus in a Jerusalem hospital, aged 79, Israeli media said.

“Tragically, Rabbi Bakshi-Doron contracted the coronavirus and doctors’ efforts to save him did not succeed,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

As of Sunday, Israel had reported 11,145 cases of the coronavirus and 103 deaths.

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