Chinese communities in Italy warn of ‘racism’ over Wuhan coronavirus

ROME: Prominent figures in Chinese communities in Italy warned Thursday (Jan 30) of episodes of “latent racism” against their compatriots by Italians fearful of catching a deadly viral outbreak.

Tensions increased after about 7,000 people were held on a cruise ship in an Italian port following the isolation of two Chinese passengers over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus, despite preliminary tests coming up negative.

Italian newspapers have reported cases of bullying or discrimination against Chinese people following the outbreak of the disease, which has now killed 170 in China and has spread abroad, with at least 15 countries confirming infections.

“It’s extremely unpleasant, absurd, and infuriating,” Francesco Wu, a member of the Italian Business Association Confcommercio, often called on to speak for the 30,000-strong Chinese community in Milan, told La Stampa daily.

Racist episodes reportedly included Chinese tourists being spat at in Venice, a family in Turin being accused of carrying the disease, and mothers in Milan using social media to call for Italian children to be kept away from Chinese classmates.

“It’s totally unjustified and it hurts even more because it involves children. It’s a mix of ignorance and latent racism,” Wu said.

READ: WHO declares international emergency over Wuhan virus

Local health officials have sent the schools concerned a letter stating that “there is no need to introduce measures restricting the presence of Chinese children within school communities,” according to AGI.

There were some 300,000 Chinese living in Italy at the end of 2018, according to the National Statistics Institute (Istat).

Italy has not had any confirmed cases of the virus.

Despite that, Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala said Chinese tourism – worth some 300 million euros (US$331,000) a month to the city between hotels, shopping and restaurants – was down 40 per cent compared to before the virus.

Chinese journalist Hu Lanbo, who has lived in Italy for 30 years and who runs the “China in Italy” monthly, published an open letter “to Italian friends”.

“Believing that one can catch the new coronavirus at the mere sight of a Chinese person really makes no sense,” she said.

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China to fly overseas citizens back to virus-hit Hubei province

BEIJING: The Chinese government has decided to send charter planes to bring citizens from virus-hit Hubei province who are overseas back “as soon as possible”, the foreign affairs ministry said Friday (Jan 31).

This is in view of “practical difficulties that Hubei citizens, especially those from Wuhan, have faced overseas”, said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

The ministry’s comments come as a number of airlines announced they were halting or reducing flights to China as the country struggles to contain the spread of a deadly new virus.

READ: Singapore to impose travel restrictions on holders of Chinese passports issued in Hubei

READ: Scoot to suspend flights between Singapore and 11 Chinese cities, SIA to reduce capacity

China has advised its citizens to postpone trips abroad and cancelled overseas group tours, while several countries including Germany and Britain have urged their citizens to avoid travel to China.

The United States told its citizens Thursday night “do not travel” to China, raising its advisory status to the highest level of alert.

The State Department issued a level four warning – up from urging Americans to “reconsider” travel to China – and said any nationals in China now “should consider departing using commercial means.”

The outbreak of the coronavirus has sickened nearly 10,000 people in China with the death toll at more than 200, prompting the World Health Organization to declare an international emergency.

READ: Travel agencies see cancellations, temporarily suspend trips to China over Wuhan virus

When asked about the suspension of flights at a press conference on Thursday, Zhu Tao of China’s Civil Aviation Administration said authorities were coordinating arrangements to bring travellers home.

As fears of the outbreak have spread overseas, prominent figures in Chinese communities in Italy warned this week of episodes of “latent racism” against their compatriots by Italians fearful of catching the virus.

China has taken extreme steps to stop the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

Thousands of foreigners have been trapped in Wuhan since it was sealed off last week.

The pathogen is believed to have emerged in a market that sold wild game, and spread during a Chinese New Year holiday season in which hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home or abroad.

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China’s factory activity falls in January as Wuhan coronavirus fears grow

BEIJING: China’s manufacturing activity slipped in January, official data showed on Friday (Jan 31), as the country grapples with a new virus that has claimed more than 200 lives.

Official figures released on Friday showed that the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for manufacturing, an early gauge of factory activity, came in at 50.0, down slightly from 50.2 in the month before.

A reading above 50 indicates the sector is expanding while below 50 shows a contraction.

The findings come as China battles the spread of a new virus that has caused an unprecedented shutdown of transport and manufacturing in China, and locked down much of Hubei province – the epicentre of the outbreak.

READ: Wuhan virus death toll hits 213 in China, nearly 10,000 infected

READ: Wuhan virus outbreak – At a glance

But the National Bureau of Statistics warned that because the survey was conducted before Jan 20, “the impact of pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus has not yet (been) fully manifested”.

“Future trends will need further observation,” it said in a statement.

The first cases of the outbreak appeared in early December, but many of the restrictions came into effect over the last week, after the data were gathered.

“I would disregard today’s release,” said Raymond Yeung, chief economist for Greater China at ANZ, in an email to Reuters.

“The figure certainly overrates the economic outlook as it does not reflect the interruption due to the outbreak,” he said.

READ: Wuhan virus – Singapore’s economy will be impacted, but is diversified enough to mitigate uncertainty, says Manpower Minister

The PMI’s component indicators painted a mixed picture of the sector.

New export orders slipped back into contraction after rising for the first time in over a year in December while production slowed from a multi-month high but remained in expansionary territory. Total new orders expanded at a slightly faster clip than the month before.

Demand ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday was said to have contributed to December’s expansion after a tough year for China as it underwent a bruising trade war with the United States. China’s economic growth cooled to its weakest in nearly 30 years in 2019.

But despite a partial trade deal signed in mid-January, the latest numbers come as China took a hit in recent weeks from the spread of the new virus.

The sub-index for imports fell deeper into contraction.

Factories also continued to shed jobs in January, although the pace of reduction slowed.

China watchers typically advise caution in their analysis of economic data early in the year due to the effect of the week-long Chinese New Year holidays, which usually slows activity.

Many firms scale back operations or close for long periods around the holidays, which began on Jan 24 this year. This year, China’s government extended the Chinese New Year holidays to limit the spread of the virus.

Commentary: Wuhan virus – how prepared is your company? What gets green, amber and red rankings

In contrast, activity in China’s service sector quickened with the official non-manufacturing PMI rising to 54.1 from 53.5 in December.

However, the outbreak has been seen hitting service sectors such as transportation, tourism, catering and entertainment as people avoid crowded areas.

Chinese holidaymakers have been staying home in a highly unusual Chinese New Year this year as local authorities closed public attractions, cancelled major events and urged people to avoid large gatherings.

Cinemas around China have closed as well during what is generally a prime time for blockbuster releases.

Other countries have told their citizens to avoid travel to China, with several airlines trimming back their schedules.

READ: WHO declares international emergency over Wuhan virus

LISTEN: Wuhan virus – The WHO, Singapore’s infectious diseases authority and a global outbreak expert answer your burning questions

Manufacturers, too, are not taking any chances, with Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn keeping its Chinese factories closed until mid-February.

Toyota, IKEA, Starbucks, Tesla, McDonald’s and Volkswagen were among the corporate giants temporarily freezing production or closing large numbers of outlets in China.

The holidays may mean there is little immediate impact on auto-manufacturers’ production, but there is growing concern surrounding the virus’ longer-term effects on the economy.

“Extended closures could ripple through supply chains across China and beyond,” Capital Economics said in a note to clients this week.

Wuhan virus table Jan 31

Analysts estimated its impact on China’s economy could be bigger than that of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which also originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.

One bright spot might be construction, Capital Economics said in a note, with the sub-index for the industry rising to 59.7 in January from 56.7, a sign local governments have been quick to begin new infrastructure projects this year.

“We expect a big plunge of both manufacturing and service PMIs in February and March due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Ting Lu, chief china economist at Nomura, said.

Beijing will try to provide liquidity and credit support to the economy, especially to businesses severely hit by the outbreak, he said.

“However, it seems unlikely that these measures would turn the economy around in Q1 and part of Q2, as the virus outbreak may further weaken domestic demand and thus render the upcoming policy easing less effective.”

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Charter flight carrying South Koreans from Wuhan arrives home

SEOUL: A charter flight carrying 368 South Koreans from Wuhan arrived home on Friday (Jan 31) as tensions simmered around quarantine centres where they will be isolated, a plan vehemently opposed by nearby residents.

The first of up to four flights planned to evacuate South Koreans from the epicentre of a virus outbreak in China landed at the Gimpo International Airport west of Seoul around 8am (2300 GMT) after an unexpected half-day delay because China only approved one flight.

READ: South Korea reports local human-to-human virus transmission

The government had said none of the evacuees had any symptoms before departure, but one person could not board the plane due to fever after a final check at Wuhan airport, while 18 were sent to hospitals immediately upon arrival, vice health minister Kim Gang-lip said.

“There were different screening standards between China and us, and we conducted another check aboard the plane and put those who were showing symptoms in separate space on the second floor of the plane,” Kim told a briefing.

“The other 350 will be sent to temporary lodging facilities where medical staff will provide daily quarantine and medical assistance for 14 days under thorough control without going out or receiving guests.”

The evacuees will be isolated at two facilities in Asan and Jincheon, cities about 80km south of capital Seoul.

LISTEN: Wuhan virus – The WHO, Singapore’s infectious diseases authority and a global outbreak expert answer your burning questions

The plan triggered a strong backlash among nearby residents, with some people throwing eggs and expletives on Thursday at senior officials who visited to try to defuse their anger.

Several hundred police officers were on hand at the facilities in Asan and Jincheon.

In Asan, there was no sign of a major rally on Friday morning, but one angry protestor ripped apart a banner put up by a local civic group to welcome the evacuees.

Around 720 South Koreans have signed up for charter flights, but Seoul’s foreign ministry said they might have to reduce the number of flights to one or two.

South Korea also reported its seventh confirmed case of the coronavirus on Friday, a 28-year-old man who returned from Wuhan via the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao last week.

The outbreak has prompted North Korea to declare a state emergency, though it is unclear whether there are any confirmed cases in the isolated nation.

The two Koreas opened a new hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang after they agreed to temporarily close their joint liaison office in the North’s border city until virus concerns are eased, the South’s Unification Ministry said on Friday.

The North also informed the South via the hotline that it has decided to postpone plans to remove South Korean facilities at its Mount Kumgang resort next month to prevent a virus outbreak, the ministry said.

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SK Hynix to make deep capex cut as virus spread threatens chip output

South Korea’s SK Hynix , the worlds’ No.2 memory chip maker, warned a new virus outbreak in China could pose a threat to chip production and said it would sharply reduce annual investment after posting a steep fall in quarterly profit.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of SK Hynix is seen at its headquarters in Seongnam
FILE PHOTO: The logo of SK Hynix is seen at its headquarters in Seongnam, South Korea, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL: South Korea’s SK Hynix , the worlds’ No.2 memory chip maker, warned a new virus outbreak in China could pose a threat to chip production and said it would sharply reduce annual investment after posting a steep fall in quarterly profit.

The spread of coronavirus, which has killed over 200 people and infected nearly 10,000 worldwide, threatens to hit the global economy. Manufacturers have suspended production in China and airlines cancelled flights, disrupting supply chains.

“We are preparing a contingency plan,” SK Hynix finance chief Cha Jin-sweok told an earnings call on Friday.

“The chip market is continuing its improvements recently… but uncertainties linger.”

The virus outbreak has caused no production disruptions at Hynix, which has a chip plant in Wuxi, east China, but manufacturing could be impacted should the situation prolonged, Cha said.

Up until late last year, prospects for the global chip market were improving, aided by the easing of the U.S.-China trade war, the rollout of 5G mobile networks and higher spending by the data storage sector that helped reduce bloated chip stockpiles.

That optimism fueled a chip share rally, with SK Hynix rising 15per cent over the past three months. Shares in Hynix gained 2.3per cent on Friday, beating the wider market’s 0.2per cent rise.

SK Hynix’s conservative outlook echoes that of bigger rival Samsung Electronics , which offered a guarded forecast on Thursday after posting a 34per cent profit drop.

“The conservative comments from Samsung and Hynix indicate chip supplies would not grow significantly, which should help improve the supply-demand balance,” said Song Myung-sup, an analyst at HI Investment & Securities.

SK Hynix cut capex by 25per cent last year to 12.7 trillion won and said it will further cut investment this year. It did not give a detailed spending plan.

“When the market conditions improve, we could flexibly review investment plans, but we will take a cautious approach considering market uncertainties,” Cha said.

Hynix, which supplies chips to Apple Inc and Huawei, said its December-quarter operating profit slumped 95per cent to 236 billion won (153.68 million pounds), far below a 433 billion won average forecast and marking the lowest profit in seven years.

It also swung to a net loss of 118 billion won from a net profit of 3.4 trillion won, reflecting a decline in investment valuations of Japanese peer Kioxia.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Joyce Lee; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast.)

Markets welcome WHO virus declaration

HONG KONG: Markets rose in Asia on Friday (Jan 31) after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency over the deadly new virus sweeping China.

After saying last week they needed more information, the WHO invoked the rarely used designation that experts hope will lead to better international co-ordination to combat a disease that has already killed 200 people, and sickened thousands more.

But the Geneva-based body stopped short of recommending trade and travel restrictions that could have had a bruising effect on China – a key growth engine for the world economy.

“This is not a vote of no confidence in China,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesushe said, praising Beijing for its swift action to tackle the outbreak.

China has locked down a swathe of its centre, effectively quarantining millions of people in their cities and halting travel around the country.

“We must all act together now to limit further spread … We can only stop it together,” said Tedros, who travelled to China this week and met with President Xi Jinping.

Foreign airlines – including British Airways – have begun cancelling or curtailing flights to and from China, and a number of governments are recommending citizens do not visit the country.

But Tedros said there was “no reason” for any of the international travel or trade restrictions announced in recent days.

Investors applauded the WHO’s move, plunging back into markets that have lost altitude over recent days as the 2019-nCoV crisis has worsened.

“Sure the WHO raised the alert, but they didn’t ring the apocalypse bell so it could be time for risk-takers to come out of hibernation,” said Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at AxiCorp.

The WHO move “eased some mushrooming fears by suggesting the number of outbreaks is relatively small”, he said.

Tokyo led the way on Asian equity markets, with the Nikkei 225 up 1.3 per cent by the break, Hong Kong rose 0.3 per cent, while Seoul and Sydney added 0.4 per cent.

The reversal on major indexes had begun in New York, where the WHO’s announcement sent Wall Street green after a session largely in the red.

Oil was up, partially correcting a days-long drop, with March contracts for major benchmarks WTI and Brent adding around 1.0 per cent.

“While it’s virtually impossible to quantify the full extent of the demand destruction from the virus outbreak, if there was one asset class more oversold than others, it had to be oil given the bigger-than-life global supply overhang,” said Innes.

American Airlines, mechanics union reach tentative US$4.2 billion contract deal

American Airlines Holdings Inc and its mechanics union announced tentative joint collective bargaining agreements on Thursday covering five maintenance and fleet service groups after more than four years of often bitter negotiations.

An American Airlines airplane sits on the tarmac at LAX in Los Angeles
FILE PHOTO – An American Airlines airplane sits on the tarmac at LAX in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 4, 2019. Picture taken March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

CHICAGO: American Airlines Holdings Inc and its mechanics union announced tentative joint collective bargaining agreements on Thursday covering five maintenance and fleet service groups after more than four years of often bitter negotiations.

The agreements are worth US$4.2 billion and offer more than 30,000 employees industry-leading wages, benefits, work rules, job security and retirement income, the union, the TWU-IAM Association, said on its website. They are still subject to ratification by union members.

American’s chief executive, Doug Parker, said in a statement that the maintenance and fleet service employees “deserve contracts that include meaningful improvements in pay, quality of life and job protections.”

“The tentative agreements deliver on all of these — and more,” Parker said.

Parker has been under pressure to reach contract deals with the airline’s pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. The talks with mechanics were acrimonious at times, with the airline filing a lawsuit against the union in May accusing it of staging illegal slowdowns after stalled contract negotiations before a federal mediator.

The union denied the accusations in court, and the parties returned to federal mediation in September.

One major sticking point had been a push by American to outsource future maintenance work, something the union said will be protected under the new agreements.

With the mechanics’ deal under way, American can now turn its full attention to negotiations with its pilots and flight attendants. Talks with those two groups began at the start of 2019.

Hundreds of members of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents 15,000 American Airlines pilots, picketed at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport on Wednesday, expressing their frustration at the lack of a new contract.

In an escalation of tension, the pilots union filed a lawsuit against American on Thursday, demanding that the airline stop flights to China as health officials declare a global emergency over the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

American on Wednesday said it would suspend flights from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai from Feb. 9 to March 27, but it is still flying to China from Dallas.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Leslie Adler)

Japan prosecutors issue warrants over Ghosn escape

TOKYO: Japanese prosecutors on Thursday (Jan 30) issued arrest warrants for a former US special forces operative and two other people accused of helping former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn jump bail and flee the country.

The prosecutors also issued a warrant for Ghosn for leaving the country illegally, after he escaped to Lebanon via Turkey last month.

Warrants were issued for Michael Taylor, 59, reportedly a former US special forces operative-turned-security consultant, 26-year-old Peter Taylor, who local media identified as his son, and George Zayek, 60.

They are suspected of taking Ghosn to a hotel in Osaka, western Japan, and hiding him inside a case before taking him to Kansai airport where they allegedly helped him evade a security inspection.

The warrants are the first official confirmation of the reported details about how Ghosn slipped past security and jumped bail shortly after Christmas.

Ghosn has refused to confirm or deny the various reports on how he gave Japanese authorities the slip.

The escape of perhaps the most high-profile suspect on bail in Japan left officials red-faced and they have demanded Ghosn returns to face trial.

Lebanondoes not have an extradition treaty with Japan.

Ghosn was arrested in November 2018 and faced four charges of financial misconduct, which he denies.

He has said he did not believe he would get a fair trial, and accused Nissan executives opposed to his plans to integrate the firm further with its French partner Renault of effectively cooking up the charges against him.

Spirit Aero to restart production of 737 MAX parts

Spirit AeroSystems said on Thursday it would gradually restart production of parts for Boeing Co’s 737 MAX jets and deliver 216 shipsets in 2020.

Airplane fuselages bound for Boeing's 737 Max production facility await shipment on rail sidin
FILE PHOTO: Airplane fuselages bound for Boeing’s 737 Max production facility await shipment on rail sidings at their top supplier, Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc, in Wichita, Kansas, U.S. December 17, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

REUTERS: Spirit AeroSystems said on Thursday it would gradually restart production of parts for Boeing Co’s 737 MAX jets and deliver 216 shipsets in 2020.

(Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

Brexit punches US$13-billion hole in EU finances

BRUSSELS: When Britain leaves the European Union at midnight on Friday (Jan 31) the bloc loses the second-biggest net contributor to its budget, leaving a €12-billion (US$13-billion) hole in its finances.

The United Kingdom will continue making budget contributions this year under an agreed post-Brexit transition period. But from 2021 Europe will have to look elsewhere.

This further complicates an already fraught debate between the remaining member states over the EU’s 2021-2027 long-term budget, called the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

The European Commission has had a proposed MFF on the table since May 2018, and its new president Ursula von der Leyen is keen to get it approved soon.

But a so-called “Frugal Five” of wealthy mainly northern countries – Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden – are seeking to limit EU expenditure.

And a rival “Friends of Cohesion” group of 16 eastern and Mediterranean countries wants to defend the budget rules.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council which represents member state governments, has called an MFF summit that will “begin” on Feb 20 and likely drag on.

FARM SUBSIDIES UNDER PRESSURE

According to European Commission estimates, Britain’s net contribution – the amount it pays in less EU spending on UK projects – would have been €12 billion a year.

Over the period of the upcoming seven-year MFF that leaves an €84-billion shortfall in the Commission’s financial plans.

The previous finance commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, wanted to fill the gap by increasing member state contributions and cutting traditional big spends: cohesion and farm subsidies.

This would allow Europe to switch funds to more “modern” areas, like investing in green technologies, coping with migration and moving into the defence field.

But much of this is very sensitive in EU capitals, and Michel has trekked all over the continent for talks without much sign of a breakthrough.

“We might have hoped that Brexit would be a shock to the system, but I think we’ll just go on as before,” laments Nicolas-Jean Brehon, of the Robert Schuman Foundation.

Some of the richest members of the union want to limit contributions to only one per cent of each member state’s GDP.

“It’s obviously a symbolic threshold. It’s also a political threshold that Germany and the British were insisting on,” Brehon told AFP, noting that Brexit cost Berlin an ally.

BIG SPENDERS

The European Commission, meanwhile, wants to set the level at 1.114 per cent of EU GDP, which would imply a €1.134-trillion budget at 2018 prices, or 1.279 trillion at current levels.

The European Parliament would like an even higher 1.3 per cent.

Taking into account the British departure, the current multiannual budget represents 1.16 per cent of European Union GDP.

Another Commission idea is phasing out the “rebates” that late British premier Margaret Thatcher famously demanded, taken up by some of the other bigger spenders.

After Brexit these reductions in budget contributions will only apply to Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden – perhaps not un-coincidentally, the Frugal Five.

For the Commission and the countries that are net recipients of EU funds, it is wrong that – thanks to these rebates – the frugals spend less in percentage terms of their per capita GDP.

But Germany, for one, has noted that even if spending is reduced and capped at one percent as it demands, it will still end up paying more after Brexit.

The debate will continue and has given new impetus to calls for the European Union to develop its own revenue streams, perhaps by a tax on plastics or on EU carbon trading.