Gilead prices COVID-19 drug candidate remdesivir at US$390 per vial in US hospitals

CALIFORNIA: Gilead Sciences has priced its COVID-19 drug candidate remdesivir at US$390 per vial for the United States and governments of other developed countries, it said on Monday (Jun 28), setting the price of a five-day course at US$2,340 per patient.

The price for US private insurance companies will be US$520 per vial, the drugmaker said, which equates to a total of US$3,120 per patient.

Gilead has entered into an agreement with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) whereby the department and states will manage allocation to hospitals until the end of September.

After this period, once supplies are less constrained, HHS will stop managing the allocation, the company said.

READ: Gilead targets two million remdesivir courses by year-end

READ: Gilead’s remdesivir shows modest improvement in moderate COVID-19 patients

Remdesivir’s price has been a topic of intense debate since the US Food and Drug Administration approved its emergency use COVID-19 patients in May.

Experts have suggested that Gilead would need to avoid the appearance of taking advantage of a health crisis for profits.

Wall Street analysts have said the antiviral drug could generate billions of dollars in revenue over the next couple of years if the pandemic continues.

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Indonesia reports another suspected Sumatran tiger poisoning

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia: Another Sumatran tiger has been found dead in the second suspected poisoning of the critically endangered cats in less than a week, Indonesian conservation officials said on Monday (Jun 29).

Authorities said in both cases locals likely targeted the tigers for attacking their livestock, underscoring the increasing human-animal conflict in the Southeast Asian archipelago.

On Monday, the conservation agency in South Aceh on Sumatra island said it found the carcass of a tigress near a farm.

“There weren’t any hunter traps or physical wounds and we suspect (it) was poisoned,” said agency chief Hadi Sofyan, adding that an autopsy was being conducted.

Last week the buried carcass of a male tiger was uncovered in North Sumatra’s Batang Gadis national park with poisoning also the suspected cause of death.

Locals, including a village head, said the killing was orchestrated by farmers who were angry the tiger had killed their livestock, a park spokesman said at the time.

Officials also tranquilsed and relocated another tiger after it was caught in West Sumatra
Officials also tranquilsed and relocated another tiger after it was caught in West Sumatra AFP/ADI PRIMA

READ: Four suspected poachers arrested in Indonesia for killing critically endangered tiger

Also on Monday, a female tiger was relocated from a plantation in West Sumatra.

Conflicts between humans and animals in Indonesia often happen in areas where rainforests are being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.

In the past year Sumatra has also seen a spate of fatal tiger attacks on humans.

Indonesia is battling rampant poaching which accounts for almost all Sumatran tiger deaths, according to TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network.

Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fewer than 400 believed to remain in the wild.

Tiger parts are widely used in traditional medicine – particularly in China – despite overwhelming scientific evidence they have no beneficial value.

Online used-car seller Shift to go public through reverse merger

REUTERS: Online used-car seller Shift Technologies on Monday said it plans to go public later this year through a reverse merger with a blank-check company, as U.S. capital markets rebound after the coronavirus crisis forced companies to halt new listings.

Shift’s listing also highlights the strong appetite for new stock offerings by companies with an online-focused business against the backdrop of shelter-at-home orders and social distancing norms because of the pandemic.

Auto retailers have turned to online channels to close deals without a handshake and are arranging for vehicles to be picked up or delivered without requiring customers to visit stores.

Rival Vroom Inc listed its shares earlier this month, with its stock price more than doubling on its debut.

Shift will merge with Insurance Acquisition Corp, a special purpose acquisition vehicle (SPAC) that has no operations of its own. The SPAC will raise US$185 million by selling its shares, valuing the combined company at US$730 million on a pro forma basis, the companies said in a statement. (https://reut.rs/2YIyuNd)

A SPAC allows a private company to go public by avoiding the trouble of filing paperwork with regulators and dealing with market jitters that could crimp investor appetite for the offering.

(Reporting by Bharath Manjesh in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

S&P, Dow futures edge higher on stimulus, rebound hopes

Futures tracking the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones indexes edged higher on Monday following a selloff on Wall Street last week as investors weighed hopes of more stimulus and improving data against a resurgence in global coronavirus cases.

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York
FILE PHOTO: Traders wear masks as they work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

REUTERS: Futures tracking the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones indexes edged higher on Monday following a selloff on Wall Street last week as investors weighed hopes of more stimulus and improving data against a resurgence in global coronavirus cases.

Wall Street’s major indexes had tumbled more than 2per cent on Friday as several U.S. states imposed business restrictions in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Stocks in Asia and Europe were muted overnight as the global death toll from the respiratory illness crossed half a million on Sunday.

The benchmark S&P 500 has rallied since a coronavirus-driven crash in March, up about 16per cent since April and set for its best quarter since 1998, partly on a raft of U.S. fiscal and monetary stimulus.

This week, investors will focus on employment, consumer confidence and manufacturing data for June for signs of whether the U.S. economy will continue to rebound after indications of a pickup in May.

At 6:44 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 54 points, or 0.22per cent, S&P 500 e-minis were up 1.75 points, or 0.06per cent and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 30 points, or 0.3per cent.

Among stocks, Boeing Co rose 3.2per cent in premarket trade after the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed on Sunday it had approved key certification test flights for the grounded 737 MAX that could begin as soon Monday.

Facebook Inc looked set to extend declines from Friday as a report said PepsiCo Inc was set to join a growing number of companies pulling ad dollars from the social media platform.

(Reporting by Pawel Goraj in Gdansk; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

Distorted Chinese, Russian COVID-19 news takes root in West: Study

LONDON: Coronavirus misinformation spread by Russian and Chinese journalists is finding a bigger audience on social media in France and Germany than content from the European nations’ own premier news outlets, according to new research.

Whether it is distorted coverage or outright conspiracy theories, articles written in French and German by foreign state media are resonating widely on Facebook and Twitter, often with their origins unclear, the Oxford Internet Institute said in a report published on Monday.

The institute, which is part of Oxford University, looked at content generated by leading media outlets from Russia and China, as well as from Iran and Turkey – all of which are state-controlled or closely aligned to regimes in power.

Its report comes as the US government imposes new restrictions on Chinese state media, and builds on previous research by the institute that laid bare the penetration of such foreign outlets in English-language markets.

In their French, German as well as Spanish output, state media groups have “politicised the coronavirus by criticising Western democracies, praising their home countries, and promoting conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus”, the institute said.

“A majority of the content in these outlets is factually based. But what they have, especially if you look at the Russian outlets, is an agenda to discredit democratic countries,” Oxford researcher Jonathan Bright told AFP.

“The subtle weave in the overarching narrative is that democracy is on the verge of collapse.”

The institute looked at output from Russia’s RT broadcaster and Sputnik news agency; China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International (CRI) and Xinhua News Agency; plus foreign-language output from Iranian and Turkish networks.

It measured median engagement per shared article – how many times a user actively shares or likes an article on Facebook, or comments about it and retweets it on Twitter.

The study covered each outlet’s 20 most popular stories from May 18 to June 5.

WHAT’S THE SOURCE?

French-language content from RT scored an average of 528 in user engagement on the two platforms, and 374 for Xinhua, compared to 105 for the newspaper Le Monde.

In German, RT articles scored 158 on Facebook and Twitter, against 90 for Der Spiegel.

The institute’s previous study in April found that in English, heavily politicised news stories from the same state media groups could achieve as much as 10 times the level of user engagement as more sober sources such as the BBC.

Bright added: “A significant portion of social media is people consuming content that is directly funded by foreign governments, and it’s not very clear to the reader that that’s the case.”

Similar engagement levels showed in Spanish-language content, including from the Iranian state broadcaster’s service HispanTV, which the report said shares the Russian outlets’ promotion of “anti-US sentiments” for audiences in Latin America.

Examples in French and German included heated coverage from the Russian outlets of the “gilets jaunes” protest movement in France, and the COVID-19 and ensuing economic crises in Europe.

The report also examined content in German, French and Spanish from Turkey’s TRT network, which it said focused more on positive portrayals of the Turkish government’s actions against the pandemic.

In contrast, Russian, Chinese and Iranian media all promoted baseless theories, including that the US military unleashed the coronavirus, which originated late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The media organisations in question claim to offer a non-Western perspective on news and deny they are propagandists.

Last week, China threatened to retaliate after four more of its media groups were reclassified as “foreign missions” in the United States.

The quartet joined CGTN, CRI and Xinhua, which were already designated by Washington as state-sponsored actors, rather than as media.

In Britain, RT has been fined for breaking rules on media impartiality.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron accused the Russian network of spreading “deceitful propaganda” during the 2017 presidential election.

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Vietnam economy unexpectedly expands, bucking global plunge

HANOI: Vietnam’s economy unexpectedly expanded in the second quarter, shrugging off a coronavirus pandemic-caused global downturn, but it was still the country’s slowest growth in nearly three decades.

Gross domestic product rose by 0.36 per cent in the April to June period, compared to the same period last year, the General Statistics Office in Hanoi announced on Monday (Jun 29).

“It’s the lowest ever GDP growth since Vietnam started publishing GDP figures in 1991,” official Duong Manh Hung was quoted as saying in local media.

Border closures from coronavirus restrictions took a toll on Vietnam’s exports, which fell 9 per cent year-on-year and were down 8.3 per cent against the first three months of the year.

The country’s economy is heavily reliant on exports, particularly after reaping the benefits of a trade spat between Washington and Beijing over the last two years.

Both sides imposed punitive tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of goods, prompting many China-based businesses to migrate to the perceived safer and cheaper manufacturing hub of Vietnam.

The country now aims to re-boot its economy after its apparent success in minimising fallout from coronavirus.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April predicted the Southeast Asian nation would take the lead in Asia with a GDP growth rate of 2.7 per cent in 2020.

Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has said his government would try to keep growth above 5 per cent.

“It will be very difficult, even impossible, for us to reach our targets in the context of the pandemic and with the broken global supply chain,” said Duong Manh Hung.

READ: Virus-free Vietnam not ready to open doors to foreign tourists yet: PM

READ: Commentary: Vietnam is emerging a lot stronger from this coronavirus outbreak

The country has reported just 355 coronavirus cases and no deaths, a record it puts down to strict quarantine policies and tracing measures.

COVID-19: Malaysia to lift restrictions on theme parks from Jul 1

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia announced on Monday (Jun 29) it would allow theme parks to reopen from Jul 1. 

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said it would involve 54 theme parks including water theme parks and a workforce of more than 10,000 nationwide.

“For theme parks, the limit of visitors allowed to enter depends on the capacity and size of the theme park. Visitors also have to register with MySejahtera and undergo body temperature checks and hand sanitisation,” he said in his daily media briefing.

READ: Malaysia resumes travel, haircuts and retail therapy as coronavirus curbs ease

It was also announced that temperature screenings for mall and hotel visitors would be relaxed.

Checks would only be conducted once when they enter the building, Mr Ismail said.

However, he added operators of all theme parks and shopping malls must adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) such as social distancing at all times.

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Brazil suspends WhatsApp’s new payments system

Brazil’s central bank effectively suspended a newly-launched system allowing users of Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp messaging service to send money via chats, ordering Visa and Mastercard to halt payments and transfers via the system.

A 3D printed Whatsapp logo is placed on the keyboard in this illustration taken
A 3D printed Whatsapp logo is placed on the keyboard in this illustration taken April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Files

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA: Brazil’s central bank effectively suspended a newly-launched system allowing users of Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp messaging service to send money via chats, ordering Visa and Mastercard to halt payments and transfers via the system.

The central bank said in a statement that rolling out the service without previous analysis by the monetary authority could damage the Brazilian payments system in the areas of competition, efficiency and data privacy.

The system, launched last week in a nationwide rollout, allowed users to transfer funds to individuals or local businesses within a chat, attaching payments as they would a photo or video.

The central bank’s move is the latest setback in payments for owner Facebook, which pared back its plans for a global payments system called Libra after meeting stiff resistance from regulators. WhatsApp has over 120 million users in Brazil, its second-largest market behind India, where it has also struggled to roll out a payments system.

If Visa and Mastercard do not comply with the order, they would be subject to fines and administrative sanctions, the statement said.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said the messaging service would continue working with “local partners” and the central bank to provide digital payments for its users in Brazil using a business model open to more participant, which would address regulators concerns on market concentration.

Earlier on Tuesday, before Visa and Mastercard operations with WhatsApp were suspended, the central bank issued regulation saying it could require market participants to receive previous approval to operate in payments.

WhatsApp launched its Brazil services without requesting central bank authorization, as it was operating as an intermediary between consumers and financial institutions.

Some observers called the regulator’s decision an overreaction, while others said WhatsApp presented a potential risk in terms of market concentration and privacy.

“It is a bit odd that the central bank decided to suspend WhatsApp as the regulator is already able to oversee all market participants which joined WhatsApp,” said Carlos Daltozo, co-head of equities at Eleven Financial. “Besides that, WhatsApp is open to form new partnerships.”

WhatsApp started its operations in Brazil in partnership with fintech Nubank, state-controlled lender Banco do Brasil SA , Visa, Mastercard and lender Sicredi.

In a separate setback for the venture on Tuesday, Brazil’s antitrust watchdog, Cade, blocked WhatsApp’s partnership with credit and debit card operator Cielo to process the payments.

As Cielo is already Brazil’s largest payment processor, a partnership with the biggest messaging service could pose a market concentration risk, Cade said. Shares in Cielo soared 30per cent on the day WhatsApp announced payments service in Brazil.

The central bank’s move comes as the regulator prepared to launch its own instant payments system in November, called Pix, joining more than 980 participants.

“It is complicated when the regulator also becomes a player and seems to be more worried about its own payment system,” said a source at a financial institution that has partnered with WhatsApp.

The WhatsApp spokesperson said it was committed to working with the central bank to integrate systems once Pix became available.

Private banks have also been wary about opening valuable client data to tech giants such as Facebook. Some executives have also pointed to security issues as well as a lack of accountability if a transaction goes wrong.

Mastercard said it would comply with the central bank ruling and continue to develop an innovative payment environment.

Facebook and Visa did not immediately reply to requests for comment. Cielo declined to comment.

(Reporting by Carolina Mandl, in Sao Paulo, and Isabel Versiani, in Brasilia; Additional reporting by Tatiana Bautzer, Gabriela Mello, Aluisio Alves, Katie Paul and Gabriel Pontes; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Sam Holmes)

In Thailand, it’s statues of democracy leaders that are disappearing

BANGKOK: Certain historical statues have been disappearing in Thailand, but they are not effigies of colonialists or slave owners torn down by protesters.

Instead, Thailand’s vanishing monuments celebrated leaders of the 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy in Thailand, who were once officially honoured as national heroes and symbols of democracy.

Reuters has identified at least six sites memorialising the People’s Party that led the revolution which have been removed or renamed in the past year.

In most cases it is not known who took the statues down, although a military official said one was removed for new landscaping.

Two army camps named after 1932 leaders were rechristened on the orders of the office of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, according to an item published without comment in the Royal Gazette.

Officials in the military, government and the palace declined to answer questions submitted by Reuters regarding the removal of statues and renaming of military camps.

Some historians say the missing monuments reflect an ideological battle over Thailand’s history.

On one side is military-royalist conservatives whose supporters idealise traditional culture, with loyalty to the monarchy and King Maha Vajiralongkorn seen as the highest virtue.

On the other are populist parties, activists and academics who have risen to prominence in the last two decades, culminating in two military coups that ousted elected populist governments in 2006 and 2014.

In recent years, the conservatives have been in the ascendancy. Elections last year kept coup leader Prayut in power through a vote that opposition parties said was rigged – an accusation that he and Thailand’s courts deny.

Since the election and last year’s elaborate coronation of King Vajiralongkorn, a major People’s Party monument in Bangkok and at least three prominent statues of People’s Party leaders at military sites have been removed, and a museum commemorating the revolution in the northern city of Chiang Rai was renamed.

Months after King Vajiralongkorn took the throne, a plaque marking the spot where the 1932 coup was proclaimed was replaced with one bearing a royalist slogan. No explanation for the change was given.

A representative of the National Defence Studies Institute – where a statue of 1932 revolutionary Plaek Phibunsongkram disappeared in January from the front of its headquarters – said on condition of anonymity that it had been moved for landscaping outside and could not say when or if it would be returned.

PEOPLE’S CONSTITUTION

Thailand officially has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, and its traditional culture is deeply invested in the monarchy as a unifying – and for some, semi-divine – institution.

The king remains powerful and the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current monarch’s father, was widely revered during his 70-year reign until his death in 2016.

Tradition mandates all Thais prostrate themselves before the king and his immediate family, and insulting the monarchy is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

In recent years, successive military leaders including Prayut have portrayed their critics as potential threats to the monarchy.

But since last year’s disputed election, demonstrations against military dominance have increasingly identified with the 1932 revolution, said Chatri Prakitnonthakan, an architectural historian at Silpakorn University.

Wednesday (Jun 24) is the 88th anniversary of the revolution, and pro-democracy activists plan to defy coronavirus bans on gatherings to protest what they say is the subversion of the principles of democracy by the military.

“We want to commemorate the 1932 revolt,” said activist Anon Nampa, who is organising a pre-dawn protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, the largest and most prominent remaining symbol of the 1932 revolt.

“I think the young generations are looking back at that era and draw parallels about today, about how power is being abused.”

In remarks on Tuesday, Prayut did not directly address the protests, but he told people “don’t violate the monarchy and don’t violate the law.”

Oil edges lower as US stockpiles grow more than expected

Oil futures edged lower on Wednesday, extending losses from the previous day, after U.S. crude stockpiles grew more than expected, adding to worries about oversupply, although a fall in gasoline stocks kept the decline in check.

Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang
Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang province, China December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

TOKYO: Oil futures edged lower on Wednesday, extending losses from the previous day, after U.S. crude stockpiles grew more than expected, adding to worries about oversupply, although a fall in gasoline stocks kept the decline in check.

Brent crude was down 2 cents at US$42.61 a barrel by 0045 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 4 cents, or 0.1per cent, to US$40.33 a barrel.

U.S. crude inventories rose by a much bigger than expected 1.7 million barrels last week, according to industry group the American Petroleum Institute (API), well ahead of analysts’ expectations for a 300,000-barrel build.

However, U.S. gasoline and distillate inventories fell, the data showed, feeding optimism that fuel consumption is picking up as some economies ease lockdowns imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. government data will be released on Wednesday.

Global oil consumption has started to recover as economies emerge from lockdown, while the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allied producers have slashed output and U.S. shale producers have shut in wells.

On Tuesday, both Brent and WTI contracts traded at their highest levels since prices collapsed in early March.

Still, the market remains concerned about a rising number of coronavirus cases in the United States and elsewhere, said Kazuhiko Saito, chief analyst at Fujitomi Co.

New cases of COVID-19 rose 25per cent in the United States in the week ended June 21 compared to the previous seven days, a Reuters analysis found.

China, the world’s top crude importer, is also expected to slow crude imports in the third quarter, after record purchases in recent months, as higher oil prices hurt demand and refiners worry about a second virus outbreak.

(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; editing by Richard Pullin)