US dollar posts biggest weekly fall since 2009

NEW YORK (REUTERS) – The US dollar posted its biggest weekly decline in more than a decade on Friday (March 27), as trillions of dollars worth of stimulus efforts by governments and central banks helped temper a rout in global markets driven by the coronavirus pandemic.

The dollar surged in March as tumbling stock and debt markets caused a scramble for the world’s most liquid currency.

But big government spending pledges and coordinated efforts by central banks around the world to increase the supply of dollars have supported a rally in other major currencies.

The United States House of Representatives on Friday approved a US$2.2 trillion (S$3.1 trillion) aid package – the largest in American history – to help people and businesses cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the coronavirus outbreak.

The dollar dipped 0.87 per cent against a basket of currencies Friday to 98.41. It fell 3.90 per cent last week – its biggest weekly decline since March 2009.

The dollar index in the previous week had racked up its biggest weekly gain since the financial crisis.

“What we are seeing is abating stress in the money markets. Action by central banks has been successful so far and a shortage of dollars has been taken off the table,” said Commerzbank head of FX and commodity research Ulrich Leuchtmann.

After this month’s large price swings, investors were likely to be especially active rebalancing their books for month- and quarter-end.

The Global Foreign Exchange Committee on Thursday warned the coming few sessions could be volatile as market participants execute larger than normal trades as part of this process.

Against the yen, the dollar fell 1.56 per cent on Friday to 107.87 yen, as Japanese investors and companies repatriated funds before their fiscal year ends next week.

The euro gained 0.83 per cent against the greenback to US$1.1119.

Sterling jumped 2.07 per cent to US$1.2454 and the Australian dollar rose 1.78 per cent to US$0.6171.

Speculators increased their net short dollar position in the latest week to US$8.88 billion, from US$8.27 billion the previous week, according to calculations by Reuters and US Commodity Futures Trading Commission data released on Friday.

“Now that the surge in demand for dollars overseas has been met by the Fed’s new improved swap lines, economic and medical fundamentals are taking over,” BDSwiss Group head of investment research Marshall Gittler said in a note on Friday.

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Mark Blum, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ star, dies of COVID-19 at 69

Actor Mark Blum has died of complications from the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19, according to an executive with the labour union SAG-AFTRA. He was 69.

The actor, who appeared in films like Desperately Seeking Susan and Crocodile Dundee, died Wednesday at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital of complications from COVID-19, his wife Janet Zarish confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter.

Blum’s most recent work included playing the bookstore owner Mr. Mooney on the Netflix series You, and he also appeared on HBO’s Succession. 

Madonna called her Desperately Seeking Susan co-star Blum “a remarkable human.”

She says she remembers him as “funny, warm, loving and professional.” She says his death is “another reminder that this virus is no joke.”

“I Want to Acknowledge the Passing of a remarkable Human, fellow actor and friend Mark Blum, who succumbed to Coronavirus,” she wrote on Instagram. “This is really tragic and my heart goes out to him, his family and his loved ones. I remember him as funny warm, loving and professional when we made Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985!!

I Want to Acknowledge the Passing of a remarkable Human, fellow actor and friend Mark Blum, who succumbed to Coronavirus. This is really tragic and my heart goes out to him, his family and his loved ones. I remember him as funny warm, loving .and professional when we made Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985!! Another reminder that this virus is no joke, nothing to be casual about or pretend wont affect us in some way. ♥️ we need to stay grateful -be hopeful- help each other-and follow the quarantine rules! #covid_19 #markblum #desperatelyseekingsusan

A post shared by Madonna (@madonna) on

Blum was involved in the New York theatre community, frequently appearing on Broadway in shows such as the revival of Twelve Angry Men.

Playwrights Horizons, a not-for-profit, off-Broadway theatre located in New York City, remembered Blum in a Twitter post.

“With love and heavy hearts, Playwrights Horizons pays tribute to Mark Blum, a dear longtime friend and a consummate artist who passed this week,” the theatre company wrote. “Thank you, Mark, for all you brought to our theater, and to theaters and audiences across the world. We will miss you.”

Rebecca Damon, executive vice-president and New York president of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) labour union, also paid tribute to Blum on Twitter.

“It is with such deep sorrow that I’m writing to share the news that our friend and former board member Mark Blum has passed away as a result of complications from the coronavirus. Mark was a dedicated Screen Actors Guild and SAG-AFTRA board member serving from 2007-2013,” Damon wrote.

She called him a “master teacher, a loyal friend and a beautiful human.”

“Mark was smart, funny, and a true actor’s actor. He will be deeply missed. Thinking of you all. Please #stayhome. #COVID19,” she added.

Many others took to Twitter to send their condolences once news of Blum’s passing spread.


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

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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.

— With files from the Associated Press

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Cycling: Tour de France may go ahead without roadside spectators, says sports minister

PARIS (REUTERS) – It is too soon to decide whether the Tour de France can go ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic, but if it does, it may be without roadside spectators in order to minimise infection risk, the French sports minister said.

Following the postponement of the Euro 2020 football tournament and the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Tour de France – which takes place in June and July – is one of the last major sporting events that has not yet been cancelled or postponed.

“The Tour is a sports monument. It is too soon to decide. There is a time for everything. For now, we have a more urgent battle to fight. Let us focus on this mountain in front of us and then consider what’s next,” French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu wrote on Twitter.

Since the Tour’s inception in 1903, only the two world wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 have forced organisers to cancel the race.

A Sports ministry spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday (March 26) that the ministry was monitoring the pandemic’s evolution.

“There is no rush to decide today,” she said, 92 days ahead of the Tour’s scheduled June 27 start in Nice. It is due to finish in Paris on July 19.

In an interview with radio station France Bleu late on Wednesday, Maracineanu said that one option would be to organise a Tour without roadside spectators.

“The Tour’s economic model is not based on ticket sales but on TV rights. During this period of confinement, everybody is aware of the risks and responsible,” the minister said.

“People understand the benefits of staying home and watching event on TV rather than live. It would not be too detrimental to follow the Tour on TV.”

The Tour attracts more than 10 million spectators along France’s roads every year and is broadcast globally.

However, Marc Madiot, the president of the French cycling league and director of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team said it would be difficult to police a Tour without spectators.

“How would you stop the public from attending?”

France’s 67 million people have broadly respected the conditions of an unprecedented peacetime lockdown but few sports stir the passions of French sports enthusiasts more than cycling.

Moreover, riders often race large parts of a stage in closely-packed groups and team members live in close proximity to one another for nearly a month in hotels, and travel together on buses and planes that shuttle them between stages.

Teams are already grappling with how to keep their riders fit after the cycling season was suspended last week. All races up until the end of April have been cancelled.

“As long as we are not allowed to get out on the road, it is hard to think about getting in shape for the event,” AG2R-La Mondiale rider Romain Bardet told France Bleu.

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World News

Hamilton COVID-19 cases reach 50, one of the latest involves a Barton St. jail employee

The number of COVID-19 cases in Hamillton has reached 50.

Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Bart Harvey confirms that one of the city’s latest cases involves an employee at the Hamilton Wentworth Detention Centre.

Dr. Harvey says Hamilton Public Health is working closely with jail staff and inmates through the staff “to identify individuals who may have had close contact with that individual and asking them to self-isolate for 14 days.”

The positive test result was confirmed on Wednesday.

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Brent Ross, a spokesperson for the solicitor general, has released a statement saying “our thoughts are with the staff member and their family during this time,”

He adds that the ministry has been in contact with the local public health unit and “upon receiving this information, the ministry undertook a deep clean of the area that the individual was working in. We have also notified staff of the confirmed COVID-19 positive result.”

Dr. Harvey confirmed that Hamilton’s total number of cases had reached 50, during an appearance on CHML’s Scott Thompson Show on Friday afternoon.

He also stressed that we’ve moved into a third phase as it relates to new cases.

He says the first phase involved people returning from cruise ships and other international travel and the second phase involved family members and close contacts of those patients.

“We no longer have travel history, we no longer have direct contact. We’re now seeing more and more individuals that we’re deeming as, you know, it was acquired through community transmission or community spread,” Dr. Harvey adds.

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World News

Ottawa police concerned by increased stunt driving during COVID-19 pandemic

Ottawa police say they are concerned over the number of stunt driving incidents they’ve responded to over the last week during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday alone, police seized eight vehicles driven at least 50 km/h over the speed limit.

One of those vehicles was a motorcycle the driver was using to do “wheelies.”

Two other drivers were speeding in a construction zone, police say. Both received fines and demerit points.

Over the last week, police have seized 15 total vehicles for stunt driving offences.

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“Practicing physical distancing during the pandemic does not stop us from enforcing the law with drivers who fail to respect the rules of the road. We are in this together, please drive carefully,” said traffic unit Staff Sgt. Marc-Andre Sheehy.

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Coronavirus: Italian football opens national training centre to patients

MILAN (AFP) – Italian football bosses confirmed on Thursday (March 26) the national team’s training centre at Coverciano in Tuscany will be made available to local authorities for the treatment of coronavirus patients.

Italy is now the global epicentre for the disease which now killed 7,503 in the country and infected almost 75,000.

“Health is of the utmost importance and needs to be protected, which is why the FIGC (Italian Football Federation) is opening the centre in Coverciano to Italians in difficulty,” FIGC president Gabriele Gravina said.

All sport in Italy has been suspended until April 3, and the FIGC chief said he had told the Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella that local authorities could use the facility just outside the city.

“We’re not playing football now, to get back to it we need to win the most important match against coronavirus together,” added Gravina.

The centre already hosts a unit of the local Fire Brigade, with the hotel and the auditorium now being made available for patients receiving treatment.

Coverciano is where all of Italy’s national football teams train.

The Italian Football Museum is also located on site.

Known as the “University of football”, it also hosts high-level training courses for coaches and referees and will be the future control centre for VAR (video assistant referee).

In Tuscany, nearly 3,000 people have been infected by the virus which has killed 142 locally.

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Olympics: Athletes who have already qualified for Tokyo 2020 will still be eligible in 2021

PARIS • All athletes who had qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will keep their spots for the Games next year following their postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said yesterday.

The IOC and Japanese organisers postponed the July 24-Aug 9 event on Tuesday but confirmed that those among the 11,000 athletes set to compete in Tokyo who had already earned their places would keep it.

The IOC also said that the number of spots allocated for each sport at the Games next year would remain the same. “The 57 per cent that are qualified do remain in place and the goal is to maintain the same athletes quotas across the different sports,” an IOC official said.

The IOC and 32 international sports federations held a teleconference on Thursday when it was decided to respect the qualification process.

One of the participants in the conference told Agence France-Presse: “Thomas Bach (the IOC president) first explained the reasons for the postponement of the Games, then said that the athletes qualified for Tokyo 2020 would automatically be qualified for 2021.”

Many Olympic sports, such as boxing, saw the vast majority of their qualifying tournaments either interrupted or cancelled due to the global health situation.

Others, such as sailing however, already had 90 per cent of their competitors confirmed.

Following the Games’ postponement, United States officials also said that qualifying trials for athletics, swimming and gymnastics have been called off for this year.

Sources told Reuters new dates could not be set until the IOC determines the 2021 dates for the rescheduled Games.

On Tuesday, after telephone discussions between Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a historic joint decision was taken for the first postponement of an Olympics in peacetime.

However, there is no definite date yet for next year’s Games with Bach saying on Tuesday that the Tokyo Olympics “must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021”.

It was reported on Thursday that the IOC is looking at a similar period next year, and a decision might be made in the next four weeks.

Some federation chiefs also expressed financial concerns during the call, claiming in advance part of the sums traditionally allocated after the Olympic Games by the IOC to the governing bodies.

Separately, the IOC’s boxing task force (BTF) has hit back at accusations of irresponsibility as the number of positive Covid-19 cases grew to six after an Olympic boxing qualifying tournament in London.

The Croatian federation said yesterday three team members had contracted the disease, a day after Turkey reported positives for two boxers and a coach.

The event at the Copper Box was halted on March 16 after three days.

“Many participants were in training camps in Italy, Britain and in their home countries before the competition started on March 14 and have returned home a while ago, so it is not possible to know the source of infection,” said the BTF, which organised the event after last year’s suspension of world boxing body Aiba.


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Covid-19 aid: S'poreans can make early use of $500 SkillsFuture Credit top-up, all employers can get training support

SINGAPORE – From May, all employers who send their workers for selected training programmes can receive additional support from SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) funding, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on Thursday (March 26).

They will receive enhanced absentee payroll support at 90 per cent of hourly basic salary, capped at $10 per hour, up from 80 per cent.

The measure will cover eligible courses that start before Jan 1, 2021, to provide additional cash flow relief for employers in view of the worsening coronavirus situation.

Currently, such support has only been provided for sectors directly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak such as the aviation, tourism, food services and retail trade sectors, and lasts for a shorter period of three months.

From April 1, the enhanced absentee payroll rates will be extended to the land transport and arts and culture sectors. They will also be eligible for enhanced course fee support of up to 90 per cent of course fees, up from a baseline rate of 50 per cent. 

In the Budget in February, it was announced that a one-off SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $500 for Singaporeans aged 25 years and above would be made available from October. Singaporeans will now be able to make early use of the top-up for selected courses from April 1, ahead of its full implementation date, said Mr Heng.  

“I hope this will help many more workers, job seekers, and self-employed persons make use of the down time to learn, develop new skills, and stay employable,” he said.

Mr Heng also emphasised the need to build economic resilience at all levels, including in research and development (R&D), food supply and at the industry level.

The matching rate under the SG Together Enhancing Enterprise Resilience (Steer) programme will now be doubled, with Enterprise Singapore matching $1 for every $2 raised through qualifying industry-led initiatives, he said. The programme supports industry-led initiatives to help companies tide over economic uncertainties, and build longer-term capabilities.

Funds set up by trade associations and chambers (TACs) or other industry groupings to help businesses survive and thrive amid the coronavirus outbreak can apply for the programme.

Examples of what the funds can be used for include helping firms to defray costs such as rental and wages, marketing and branding and productivity solutions.

Mr Heng also urged businesses to make use of this down time to digitalise, restructure and transform.

The SMEs Go Digital Programme, which supports businesses in building technological capabilities, will be enhanced to help SMEs implement safe distancing and business continuity measures.

The maximum support levels for the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) and the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) will be raised to 80 per cent and 90 per cent respectively to spur transformation, he said. The enhancements to these three schemes will last till December (2020).

The PSG defrays the costs for adoption of pre-approved digital solutions, while the EDG encourages the adoption of technology and innovation to increase productivity.

The Covid-19 outbreak has also reinforced the importance of investing in R&D to prepare for critical challenges, such as in managing pandemics and ensuring food security, said Mr Heng. More details on the Government’s R&D investments under its masterplan for research, innovation and enterprise will be provided towards the end of the financial year, he said.

Singapore is also building up its national stockpile of health supplies, including masks and hand sanitisers, said Mr Heng. He added that the country is strengthening its food resilience for the long term and aims to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by 2030, up from less than 10 per cent today.

“Some may be concerned about the impact on our food supplies, arising from supply chain disruptions. We need not worry,” he said, noting that Singapore has in place a robust, multi-pronged strategy to ensure that it continues to have an adequate supply of safe food.

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10,000 jobs to be created over a year, $800 a month to be given to those who lose job amid Covid-19 outbreak

SINGAPORE – Some 10,000 jobs will be created over the next one year to provide employment for locals amid the downturn, while those who lose their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak can receive a monthly cash grant of $800 for three months.

The unemployment assistance will be for low- and middle-income workers.

A new programme to help fresh graduates entering the job market will also support up to 8,000 traineeships across both large and small enterprises, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament on Thursday (March 26).

“First-time job seekers may be concerned about the current job market. These include our students who have just graduated or are graduating from ITE (Institute of Technical Education), polytechnics and universities this year,” he said.

Companies that offer traineeships targeted at local first-time job seekers this year will be able to receive funding from government agency Workforce Singapore under the new SGUnited Traineeship programme.

This will include science and technology traineeships in research and development labs, deep-tech start-ups, accelerators and incubators, said DPM Heng, who is also Finance Minister, in announcing the Supplementary Budget.

More details will be given by the Ministry of Manpower soon, he said.

Also, the SGUnited Jobs initiative to create about 10,000 jobs over the next one year will start with the public sector recruiting for longer-term roles in essential services as well as short-term, temporary jobs.

“Our agencies have been planning our manpower needs early, and there is a range of jobs which we need to fill in emerging areas. We will accelerate hiring plans to fill these roles, while giving our people meaningful employment opportunities,” said Mr Heng.

These include roles in areas such as social services, early childhood education and infocomm technology.

Temporary jobs to handle the increase in Covid-19-related operations will also be available in roles such as health declaration assistants and temporary management support officers, as well as transport ambassadors, as announced earlier this week.

Together with the Singapore Business Federation and other trade associations and chambers, private-sector job opportunities will also be identified in firms recruiting in preparation for the eventual economic recovery, or to cope with disruptions to their labour supply.

An SGUnited Jobs virtual career fair will be launched on Friday with more than 2,200 job vacancies in short-term temporary jobs that are immediately available.

As the impact of Covid-19 on the economy deepens, some workers will lose their jobs or see their incomes significantly reduced, noted DPM Heng, announcing several measures to tide them over.

Low- and middle-income employees who are retrenched or lose their contracts early as a result of Covid-19 can receive a cash grant of $800 a month for three months while they search for a job or attend training.

This applies to Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 16 and above with a monthly household income of up to $10,000 or per capita household income of up to $3,100 a month before becoming unemployed. It does not cover those who were on internships or who are self-employed.

They must also live in a property with an annual value of up to $21,000, and not currently receive ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance or ComCare Interim Assistance.

Applications will be open from May to September this year via social service offices (SSOs), while those who need financial assistance in April can contact SSOs or community centres to apply for assistance from a new Temporary Relief Fund.

In addition, the Government will exercise more flexibility when considering applications for the social assistance scheme ComCare during this period.

A total of 63,900 residents were unemployed as of December last year, according to Ministry of Manpower data.

DPM Heng said a total of $145 million will be set aside for these schemes and increased flexibility for ComCare applications.

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World News

City of Kingston aims to open second temporary homeless shelter during COVID-19 pandemic

The City of Kingston confirms it’s working to open a second temporary shelter for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the city, it will be located in the city’s west end, at the former Fairfield Retirement Home.

Bryan Patterson, the city’s mayor, posted a video on Twitter regarding the move.

“It’s very difficult to practice social distancing or to self isolate in one of the city’s existing homeless shelters,” he said, “so we’ve been working to find new spaces”.

A number of city vehicles as well as cleaning services have been on site, busy prepping the site.

Fairfield Manor has been vacant since it was forced to close in September 2018, following a number of concerns ranging from fire code violations to allegations of neglect of residents.

In July of 2019, the building was sold, but has remained vacant ever since.

Fairfield Manor is the second building the city has recently acquired to house those who are homeless. It is expected to open up as soon as possible.

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On March 22, the city relocated the Kingston Youth Shelter from Brock Street to 113 Lower Union Street, a larger space that provides those most vulnerable a place where they can practice social distancing or self-isolate.

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