UPDATE 1-Honeywell borrows $6 bln to boost liquidity in coronavirus fight

(Adds details on loan, background)

March 31 (Reuters) – Honeywell International Inc said on Tuesday it had entered into a $6 billion loan agreement to bolster liquidity as the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the global economy.

The industrial conglomerate said it entered the two-year delayed draw term loan agreement to maximize financial flexibility in the event that current economic conditions persist or worsen.

“The term loan we announced today will further strengthen our resilience in uncertain times,” Chief Executive Officer Darius Adamczyk said.

The loan agreement was signed with Citibank, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, Honeywell said.

The company, which makes everything from aircraft engine parts to warehouse automation equipment, had $10 billion in cash at the end of 2019, with its pension liability overfunded, it said in a statement.

Honeywell said last month there was a surge in demand for its protective face masks in North America, Europe, India and China, following the coronavirus outbreak.

The company reaffirmed its first-quarter and full-year forecasts earlier this month.

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UK banks scrap dividends on coronavirus fears, pressure on bonuses

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s top banks said on Tuesday they would suspend dividend payments after pressure from the regulator, saving their capital as a buffer against expected losses from the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

Barclays (BARC.L), HSBC (HSBA.L), Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L), Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L), Standard Chartered (STAN.L) and the British arm of Spain’s Santander (SAN.MC) all halted payouts.

The lenders had been due to pay out over 8 billion pounds ($9.93 billion) between them in 2019 dividends, with HSBC the biggest payer at $4.2 billion.

The move came in response to a request from the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA), which also asked banks and insurers not to pay senior staff bonuses this year.

The lenders said they would not pay interim dividends for 2020 and scrapped planned 2019 payouts, but held off announcing changes to their executive pay policies.

The PRA said banks entered the epidemic, which has put Britain into lockdown, with strong capital positions, enough to withstand a severe UK and global recession.

“The bank has a strong capital base, but we think it is right and prudent, for the many businesses and people that we support, to take these steps now,” Barclays chairman Nigel Higgins said.

Banks pay out dividends as a means of rewarding shareholders and disposing of excess profits, but they have the option to retain the earnings instead to preserve their capital levels.

FOLLOWING ECB’S LEAD

The statements from British lenders come after the European Central Bank (ECB) last week asked euro zone lenders to skip dividend payments and share buybacks until October at the earliest, and use their profits to support the economy.

Several of Europe’s largest lenders, including UniCredit (CRDI.MI), and Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) have already announced they will hold off paying 2019 dividends for now.

However there are some hold outs. Swiss banking giants UBS (UBSG.S) and Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) have both said they plan to press ahead with 2019 dividends despite their home regulator urging caution over payouts.

The move to scrap 2019 shareholder distributions is expected to free up capital that banks can instead lend to businesses and consumers rocked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But some analysts believe cancelling dividends could actually harm the supply of credit to the real economy.

“We note that euro area bank market capitalization fell on 30 March by the same as the 30 billion euros ‘saved’ by its dividend ban on Friday 27 March,” analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note to clients, referring to the ECB’s move.

The European Union’s banking watchdog said earlier on Tuesday that banks should be “conservative” in how they award bonuses to preserve capital and keep lending during the coronavirus pandemic.

However it stopped short of calling on banks to stop bonuses altogether.

Italy’s UniCredit and Spain’s BBVA have both said this week that their top management will waive their 2020 bonuses.

Standard Chartered signaled in a memo on Monday that the bank would likely cut its 2020 executive payouts.

PRA Chief Executive Sam Woods also wrote to heads of insurers, saying they should pay “close attention” to the need to protect policyholders and maintain safety and soundness when considering bonuses or dividends.

HSBC signaled a gloomy first quarter earnings season ahead for British banks, warning in its statement that it would see bad loans rising and revenues falling as the economic impact of the pandemic hits.

($1 = 0.8059 pounds)

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Coronavirus: Chef Luca di Nicola, 19, was ‘very healthy’

A 19-year-old who died after testing positive for COVID-19 did not have underlying health conditions, the NHS has said.

Luca di Nicola, 19, an assistant chef from Italy, died in London after testing positive for the coronavirus.

It is understood Luca was “very healthy”, and according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, he was from Nereto in central Italy.

He was taken by ambulance to the North Middlesex Hospital in Enfield, north London last Tuesday – he died 30 minutes later, from apparent fulminant pneumonia.

His father, Mirko, has told the Italian publication that his son had contracted the virus, and that the family received an email from British medical authorities saying a post-mortem swab had confirmed that.

It is believed the coroner has not officially confirmed it.

But other members of the di Nicola family are reported to have said they received an email from the London hospital on Monday night, and then a phone call from the coroner.

Luca’s brother, Davide di Nicola, has paid tribute to his sibling on his Instagram, saying “I love you brother”.

He said: “We both grew and matured and you, surely more mature than me, had the courage and the desire to bring new goals.

“Cooking, your greatest passion would have taken you far.

“This Carnival photo represents one of the few hangovers taken together, I drank a little to tell the truth but I had a lot of fun staring at you and holding you.

“I would have liked to spend so many other days and evenings with you and I swear that I will take you with me every day, on every occasion, every time I take the field.

“I will try to express some of your wishes and fulfill part of your dreams, it will be like doing it together also because you are here with me and you will always be. I send you a hug up there, to that starred restaurant .. I love you my brother!”

More follows…

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Coronavirus: Deaths could rise on stricken cruise ship Zaandam, operator warns

More lives could be lost on a coronavirus-infected ship where four people have died and the number of cases has quadrupled as it heads towards Florida, the operator has warned.

The alert from Holland America Line came as Florida’s governor said he does not want anyone from the Zaandam suspected of having COVID-19 being “dumped” at his doorstep.

It means that while the ship and a sister vessel, the Rotterdam, are heading towards the southern US coastline they do not yet have permission to dock and offload a total of more than 1,200 passengers, including some 225 British nationals.

Cheryl Deeks, 66, from Mendlesham in Suffolk, was transferred to the Zaandam from the Rotterdam at the weekend along with hundreds of others who passed a coronavirus health check.

While no longer on the stricken ship, she still faces huge uncertainty given Florida’s apparent reluctance to help.

“I am disappointed to hear that America is even debating whether we should land or not,” Mrs Deeks said in a video message to Sky News on Tuesday.

“I can’t understand that. It’s a humanitarian rescue. We need to get to our homes. There are lots of Americans on board. It is America’s own port.

“I cannot understand why there is any debate whatsoever. We just want to get home.”

Her fate and that of other passengers as well as more than 1,200 crew on both ships is of huge concern to Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line.

He revealed in a blog post on Monday that the number of passengers and crew to test positive for COVID-19 was eight, up from two last week.

In an extraordinary rebuke, Mr Ashford took aim at the international community for turning its back on the Zaandam as coronavirus fears spread across the world while the ship was off the coast of South America on a routine cruise earlier this month.

“We are dealing with a ‘not my problem’ syndrome,” Mr Ashford wrote.

“The international community, consistently generous and helpful in the face of human suffering, shut itself off to Zaandam leaving her to fend for herself,” he said.

He described how Chile, Peru and Argentina clammed up along with other South American ports. “Repeated requests for humanitarian consideration were denied,” Mr Ashford said.

“Then 22 March – one day after the voyage’s original end date – a few guests and crew began reporting influenza-like symptoms. Despite countless desperate pleas in the following days, we were forbidden to medevac critically ill patients to shore-side hospitals (usually standard operating procedure for comprehensive care that ships aren’t equipped to provide).

“Already four guests have passed away and I fear other lives are at risk.”

With the deaths and lack of assistance, Holland America Line took steps to help itself.

The company sent out the Rotterdam to take on board hundreds of passengers from the Zaandam at sea who were not displaying any symptoms of ill-health.

This meant there was more space on the Zaandam for staff to deal with those who were ill and to keep isolated those who remained healthy.

“As of 30 March, 76 guests and 117 crew on Zaandam have influenza-like illness, including eight people who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Mr Ashford said.

“We have seen a notable and steady decline in cases of the last 48 hours, which shows the immediate actions we took have helped contain spread.”

After several days in limbo off the Pacific coast of Panama, the two ships were finally allowed to travel through the Panama Canal on Sunday towards Fort Lauderdale, their desired destination.

Complicating the picture, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, on Monday expressed his unhappiness at the prospect of such an arrival.

“We view this as a big, big problem and we do not want to see people dumped in southern Florida right now,” he told Fox News. “I’m in contact with the White House on this.”

Holland America Line’s president said: “We need confirmation from a port that is willing to extend the same compassion and grace that Panama did, and allow us to come in so our guests can go straight to the airport for flights home.”

He added: “It’s tempting to speculate about the illnesses that may have been avoided or lives saved if we’d gotten the assistance we sought weeks ago.”

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Coronavirus: Brazil president refuses to ramp up COVID-19 lockdown as Facebook pulls video

Brazil’s president has refused to extend the country’s coronavirus quarantine measures because of job losses and the impact on the poor.

Speaking to Rede TV, Jair Bolsonaro hit out at self-isolation and other measures imposed by local authorities to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Mr Bolsonaro said: “You can’t impose any more quarantine than there already is.”

Meanwhile he stepped up his stand-off with state governments, branding governors in the hardest-hit regions as “job-killers” and suggesting that democracy could be at risk if the coronavirus crisis leads to social chaos.

He told reporters outside the presidential palace: “When the situation is heading toward chaos, with mass unemployment and hunger, it’s fertile ground for some to exploit, seeking a way to reach power and never leave it.”

On Sunday, Mr Bolsonaro visited a market area outside the federal capital to stress the message that lockdown measures should be relaxed.

And just hours later Facebook and Twitter removed a video of him speaking to street vendors, explaining that it violated their standards on misinformation.

The president’s announcements once again put him at odds with health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who has urged Brazilians to maintain maximum social distancing to ease the strain the fragile health system.

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Ottawa meeting with UN official leads several MPs to test, self-monitor, and self-isolate for COVID-19

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and several other MPs took steps to protect their health after learning that a UN official they had all met in Ottawa in mid-March had tested positive for COVID-19.

Morneau and an unknown number of MPs from all parties met David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, either at some Parliament Hill receptions on March 11 or when Beasley testified the next day at the House of Commons committee that deals with international human rights. Morneau had a separate meeting with Beasley.

Beasley announced on March 19 he had tested positive for COVID-19 and, at the same time, said that his symptoms began appearing two days after he returned to his home in the United States from his official visit to Ottawa.

Beasley’s announcement set off a chain reaction among several MPs that were in contact with him.

Morneau received advice from Global Affairs Canada officials who advised him to self-monitor for any symptoms.

The Beasley visit and its subsequent fallout underlines how social the business of politics is, and how that business — like so many other kinds of business — has been forced to make radical changes.

For example, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health will meet Tuesday afternoon but will do so by teleconference with journalists and interested members of the public listening in via audio webcast.

Maéva Proteau, Morneau’s press secretary, said Friday that the finance minister remains in good health and has not exhibited any symptoms.

But one of the MPs Beasley met with was Brampton West MP Kamal Khera. Khera announced on March 25 she had tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the only MP so far to be diagnosed with COVID-19. A spokesperson for Khera said it would be impossible to say where she may have contracted the virus.

Another MP who met Beasley, New Democrat Heather McPherson (Edmonton—Strathcona), took a COVID-19 test Wednesday on the advice of public health officials. McPherson, who went into self-isolation as soon as she learned of Beasley’s diagnosis, had experienced a minor cold but otherwise reports feeling fine. She continues to wait for the results of her test.

As soon as Beasley disclosed his diagnosis, the House of Commons sent an email to all MPs saying, “If you were in close contact with Mr. Beasley on March 12, it is recommended that you self-isolate until further direction is received from Ottawa Public Health. If you were in the room during the committee meeting, it is recommended that you self-monitor for symptoms.”

Some MPs acted on those instructions in different ways.

“I followed that advice, self-monitoring for symptoms and practising distancing as everyone should, but not self-isolating because I was not in close contact with him,” said Conservative MP Garnett Genuis. Genuis is also a member of the human rights committee and, other than posing in a picture with him — with four MPs were standing between him and Beasley — had no close contact with him. ” I have not experienced any symptoms.”

Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi (Pierrefonds-Dollard), another member of the committee, did the same thing — self-monitoring — and has consulted a physician.

The committee chair, Liberal Marwan Tabbara (Kitchener South—Hespeler) as well as committee member Conservative MP David Sweet (Flamborough—Glanbrook) put themselves in self-isolation.

Tabbara did so after receiving the email from the House of Commons. Sweet was notified by Conservative MP Mike Lake (Edmonton—Wetaskiwin) on March 19 about Beasley’s diagnosis and went into self-isolation after consulting the Government of Ontario’s self-assessment site.

Lake and Conservative MP Randy Hoback (Prince Albert) had both attended the March 11 Parliament Hill reception. Both subsequently self-isolated.

Hoback then developed a sore throat and contacted local public health officials who instructed him to be tested. Hoback received his test result on March 24 and it, too, was negative.

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N.B. students produce parody video shout-out to teachers amid coronavirus pandemic

Last week, teachers across New Brunswick released a series of lip-sync videos to cheer up their students forced to be away from school during the coronavirus outbreak.

Not to be outdone, some creative Grade 12 students from Harrison Trimble High School in Moncton copied the idea and produced a parody reply of their own.

“We thought it was only fair is we made one for them,” said Grade 12 student Abbey MacMillan.

MacMillan said that when the teachers released their videos, which show them lip-syncing and dancing to a variety of songs, their messages of support hit close to home.

“I definitely teared up a little bit having been home for almost two weeks at that point. It is exactly what all the students and everybody else wanted to see,” she said.

Grateful for the teachers’ support, she said a group of graduating students responded with their own video, which she compiled. In the video, students mimicked their teachers’ moves in hopes of making them smile.

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MacMillan said being at home in isolation away from the school and educators has been rough.

“It’s been really hard, especially not knowing how long we are going to be away from each other.”

Ethan Druart is also a graduating student at Trimble and said it is hard being away from their mentors.

“The teachers at our school mean a lot to us. They are more than just teachers — we bond with them,” he said.

Druart says it’s been especially difficult for graduating students, who may miss out on prom and a graduation ceremony if the school remains closed for the entire school year.

“We have been looking forward to this for four years and it feels like we are getting a huge chunk taken away and we are missing out on several activities we have been looking forward to all year,” he said.

But MacMillan says making the parody video meant to poke a little fun at their teachers has helped to ease the stress of not being able to go to school.

“They are the most supportive, kind and uplifting group of people you would ask to be around five days a week,” she said. “It was super fun to make and we are encouraging students to make one for their school as well.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Accused Hamilton drug dealer charged with operating non-essential business amid coronavirus pandemic

An accused Hamilton drug dealer is facing a charge for which he may not have been prepared.

The 29-year-old has been charged after police spotted a black Jeep Cherokee in downtown Hamilton making several stops for what appeared to be drug transactions along Main Street on Friday, March 27.

The SUV was stopped and police say they found $3,400 in cocaine and about $6,000. Police say they laid drug trafficking-related charges.

The suspect has also been charged with operating a non-essential business during the coronavirus outbreak under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.

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Coronavirus: More than 90% of UK airliners grounded as travel demand plummets

More than 90% of passenger airliners in the UK have been grounded as demand for air travel has plummeted, Sky News can reveal.

EasyJet has become the latest airline to ground its entire fleet of aircraft, while Ryanair has warned it can’t rule out a complete shutdown over the COVID-19 pandemic.

International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways, has grounded 75% of its aircraft. More than 327 airliners belonging to the group have been parked in storage without a single flight for the past seven days, according to aviation analytics company Cirium.

Wizz Air, the Budapest headquartered airline that flies to 10 destinations in the UK, is operating 7% of its original scheduled capacity – utilising just 19 out of its entire fleet of 121 Airbus aircraft.

Low cost airline and package holiday provider Jet2.com has not operated a single flight over the past seven days on 93 aircraft. The company currently flies 110 airliners.

Data from Cirium also showed more than 40% of the global passenger jet fleet was now in storage – inactive for at least seven days – leaving just over 15,000 available.

It also showed a sharp increase in the number of aircraft placed in storage in the month of March as airlines around the world desperately try to trim costs.

Flight numbers have fallen to a trickle globally as international air travel responds to a collapse in demand and restrictions on movement.

Earlier this month, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Foreign Office is advised against all non-essential worldwide travel for a period of 30 days.

The UK government has ruled out a support package but promised to work with individual airlines should they seek help.

Scottish regional airline Loganair has indicated it will do just that.

Flight information specialist OAG said the aviation industry was now less than half the size reported in mid-January.

It noted that 30% of global flight capacity was lost over the past week alone, with BA losing 72% to date.

Only KLM has lost more in Europe (73%).

Globally, the US, China, UK and India had the most number of airliners grounded.

Middle East-based Emirates said it been brought to a “sudden and painful halt” by the coronavirus pandemic as it too grounded majority of its passenger flights.

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MPs review home visits amid coronavirus concerns

Long queues formed at the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Nee Soon South branch at Block 850 Yishun Street 81 last night. But this is a common sight on Mondays at the centre where Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah holds her Meet-the-People Session (MPS).

Coronavirus or not, the number of residents seeking help has stayed constant at about 60 people a night.

But the virus’ effect was visible in other ways. Temperatures were taken, and desks for interviews with residents were now spaced out across two rooms instead of one. Markers helped ensure people stayed 1m apart while queueing.

Ms Lee said she has no plans to cut down on her MPS. “This is an everyday job. It is necessary for us to continue to help our residents, whether through online or offline sessions,” she told The Straits Times. She also receives several appeals daily via e-mail or direct Facebook messages, she shared.

With a general election looming, engaging voters one-on-one remains a priority for MPs even as they cut back on house visits and take precautions.

The PAP MPs contacted said they would continue to hold their MPS, though several, like Ms Lee, have asked residents to make their appeals online.

The Workers’ Party (WP), which earlier issued a statement saying it would temporarily suspend all house visits, declined to comment about its MPS plans. But its MPs and members have been walking the ground, and yesterday posted photos of them observing safe distancing in Aljunied GRC at the weekend.

At West Coast GRC MP Patrick Tay’s Boon Lay ward, interview booths and chairs in the queue are spaced farther apart to ensure safe distancing. “We also encourage residents to e-mail us and we will follow up with phone calls and send appeals for them,” he said.

On Facebook, several MPs have also asked residents to consider online appeals, such as Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in Marine Parade GRC, and MPs Ang Hin Kee in Ang Mo Kio GRC and Zainal Sapari in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

Many PAP MPs also cancelled home visits over the weekend.

In Tampines GRC, Ms Cheng Li Hui held off on door-to-door visits in her Tampines East ward, saying: “We will continue to assess the situation for the next week before we decide whether to start visits again, to prioritise the safety of our volunteers and residents.”

Previously, she had asked volunteers to check and avoid visiting those who were unwell or on a stay-home notice. These residents could get help by calling the town council or e-mailing her directly.

NECESSARY WORK

This is an everyday job. It is necessary for us to continue to help our residents, whether through online or offline sessions.

NEE SOON GRC MP LEE BEE WAH, on why she has no plans to cut down on her Meet-the-People Sessions.

In Boon Lay, Mr Tay had planned to visit a block of 350 units which would have involved over 20 volunteers at the weekend. He decided to postpone it after stricter distancing measures were announced and also cancelled his walkabouts. MP Vikram Nair also said on Facebook that Sembawang GRC MPs have decided to cancel home visits until end-April and are discussing other forms of outreach they can “safely do”.

In Nee Soon South, Ms Lee said she was reviewing her regular weekend home visits, but would still visit residents in need at their homes.

ST understands that the decision to scale back or cancel house visits lies with the individual MPs.

When contacted, the People’s Association (PA) said: “PA will conduct house visits if there is a need to reach out and assure our residents during this period.”

It cited a March 13 advisory to volunteers, which said the size of house visit teams should be kept small and that volunteers should fill up travel history and health declaration forms before visits. Details like time spent interacting with each resident should be recorded for possible contact tracing, it added.

While the latest rules limit gatherings to 10 people, unlike Mr Tay, several MPs have continued with walkabouts. Last Wednesday, WP chief Pritam Singh asked in Parliament if such outreach should still be allowed, given they could easily lead to over 10 people gathering closely.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, said the rules apply to all activities including those by political parties, which will have to abide by them and adjust their activities.

PAP heavyweights were still seen out at the weekend, though with precautions such as distancing, going around in smaller groups and not shaking hands. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen was at a market and coffee shops in Bishan-Toa Payoh with fellow GRC MPs and potential candidate Gan Siow Huang, a former air force general. On Saturday, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam visited Ayer Rajah with the ward’s MP, Ms Foo Mee Har.

Several opposition parties have cancelled their outreach efforts. The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) said they have stopped door-to-door visits and weekend walkabouts. WP members Lee Li Lian and Yee Jenn Jong said on Facebook they had switched to distributing fliers, in pairs, instead of doing home visits.

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan said SDP would resume campaigning as soon as circumstances permit, while PSP told ST it is reviewing the situation but considering other methods of engagement.

A PSP spokesman added that its videos have been well received, and PSP is also considering live-streaming to engage with the public.

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