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China drops GDP goal as parliament opens amid Covid-19 hit on economy

Issued on: 22/05/2020 – 07:58Modified: 22/05/2020 – 08:03

China dropped its annual growth target f..



Issued on: Modified:

China dropped its annual growth target for the first time on Friday and pledged more government spending as the COVID-19 pandemic hammers the world's second-biggest economy, setting a sombre tone to this year's meeting of parliament.


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The omission from Premier Li Keqiang's work report marks the first time China has not set a target for gross domestic product (GDP) since the government began publishing such goals in 1990.

The economy shrank 6.8% in the first quarter, the first contraction in decades, hit by the outbreak of the new coronavirus, which started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

"We have not set a specific target for economic growth for the year, mainly because the global epidemic situation and economic and trade situation are very uncertain, and China's development is facing some unpredictable factors," Li said at the start of parliament.

China refrains from setting 2020 GDP goal

Domestic consumption, investment and exports are falling, and the pressure on employment is rising significantly, while financial risks are mounting, he warned.

China has set a target to create over 9 million urban jobs this year, according to Li's report, down from a goal of at least 11 million in 2019 and the lowest since 2013.

Hong Kong security legislation on agenda

Ahead of the National People's Congress, the week-long meeting of the largely rubber-stamp parliament, China's top leaders have promised to boost stimulus to bolster the economy amid rising worries job losses could threaten social stability.

China refrains from setting 2020 GDP goal

Beijing is also planning security legislation for Hong Kong, which Li said will provide a "sound" legal system and enforcement mechanisms but which critics say could curb autonomy in the city.

The move drew warnings from the United States, falls on Asian stock markets and calls among Hong Kong activists for protests in the former British colony.

China is targeting a 2020 budget deficit of at least 3.6% of GDP, above last year's 2.8%, and fixed the quota on local-government special bond issuance at 3.75 trillion yuan ($527 billion), up from 2.15 trillion yuan, according to Li.

Anti-coronavirus treasury bonds

The government will issue 1 trillion yuan in special treasury bonds this year, the first such issuance. It will transfer 2 trillion yuan raised from the bigger 2020 budget deficit and special anti-coronavirus treasury bonds to local governments, Li said.

Local government bonds could be used to fund infrastructure projects, while special treasury bonds could be used to support firms and regions hit by the outbreak.

"The annual budget points to fiscal stimulus this year at least on par with that following the global financial crisis," Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note.

But Nie Wen, economist at Shanghai-based Hwabao Trust, said Li's report iRead More – Source

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Madrid region to lift mobility restrictions in 13 areas




Madrid regional health authorities will lift mobility restrictions in 13 areas starting on Monday due to improved coronavirus figures. These 13 basic health zones – which are not districts or neighborhoods but areas served by one or more primary healthcare centers – have experienced drops of over 50% in the number of new cases and a sustained downward trend in the incidence rate.

On the other hand, a new basic health zone is being added to the list of areas where entering and leaving are only allowed for work, school and other essential business. It is a health zone known as Barcelona, located in the town of Móstoles, the Madrid region’s second most populated municipality after the capital itself. The restrictions are being imposed for 14 days beginning on Monday.

The basic healthcare zones where confinement is being lifted are the following:

In the city of Madrid – Entrevías, Pozo del Tío Raimundo, Alcalá de Guadaíra and Numancia (district of Puente de Vallecas), Pavones and Vandel (district of Moratalaz) and Infanta Mercedes (district of Tetuán).

Elsewhere in the Madrid region – San Juan de la Cruz (Pozuelo de Alarcón), Cerro del Aire and Valle de la Oliva (Majadahonda), Colmenar Viejo Norte (Colmenar Viejo) and the entire municipalities of Morata de Tajuña and Villarejo de Salvanés.

In total, there will be 18 basic health zones with mobility restrictions on Monday, down from 30 this Friday (see bottom box for the list). The measures will affect 381,505 people, or 5.7% of the population of the Madrid region. These areas account for 8% of infections.

Curfew and Christmas

Additionally, other measures remain in place such as the midnight-to-6am curfew and the limit of six people on social gatherings, either in public or private settings. There are also limits on attendance and opening hours at bars, restaurants, retail stores, gyms and places of worship.

The Madrid region as a whole will also close its borders between December 4 and 13, coinciding with two holidays that fall within that period – Constitution Day and the feast of the Immaculate Conception – when a lot of travel normally takes place.

As for the Christmas holidays, the regional government is proposing to let up to 10 people come together on December 24, 25 and 31 and on January 1 and 6. It also wants to push the curfew forward to 1.30am on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. The rest of the time, the current six-person limit would remain in place. Madrid authorities may also allow outings for residents of senior homes and centers for people with disabilities who have had a positive PCR test in the previous three months or who have been shown to have IgG antibodies in the last six months.

Antigen tests

Madrid regional officials also said that they will ask the central government for permission to let pharmacies perform antigen tests to determine whether a person is infected with the coronavirus. “We will send [the request] today to the ministry, and if there is a positive reply, I think we’d be talking about the month of December,” said the regional health chief, Enrique Ruiz Escudero. The diagnostic test could be administered at around 500 of the 2,880 pharmacies operating in the region, said officials.

Antigen tests are faster and cheaper than PCR tests, which require sending samples to a lab, but they are also considered less reliable. Antigen tests are generally recommended for people who have had symptoms for two to five days, or who have had close contact with a positive case.

After leading the statistics for weeks, the Madrid region appears to be flattening the coronavirus curve. The 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants has dropped to 252, the lowest on the mainland, compared with the national average of 325.

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Spanish PM announces ‘unique’ vaccination strategy via the country’s primary healthcare system




Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made a public address on Sunday night to announce that the first coronavirus vaccine or vaccines that are approved and arrive in Spain will be administered in 13,000 different points across the country. The Socialist Party (PSOE) leader also explained some of the strategies that Spain will follow once the immunizations are approved by the appropriate regulatory agencies and are available for distribution.

The process could, Sánchez explained, “tentatively [start] in January.” Speaking at a press conference after a virtual meeting of the G-20 international forum, the prime minister added that a group of experts will make the decision as to which sections of society will be given priority for the vaccinations. Medical professionals and seniors – in particular those in care homes – will be among the first, along with the chronically ill and high-risk individuals due to previous conditions.

The 13,000 vaccination points coincide with the number of healthcare centers and clinics that are currently available in Spain’s regions. The primary healthcare network will be in charge of administering the first vaccines that arrive in Spain. This strategy differs from that announced by Germany, where each federal state, or länder, will have infrastructure that is separate from the healthcare system to begin the vaccinations. Berlin, for example, will use a velodrome, an airport hangar and a stadium, among other sites.

The primary healthcare network in Spain, meanwhile, is an efficient way to deliver the vaccine given that its centers are located close to the country’s population. Pedro Sánchez highlighted this strength on Sunday, pointing to the fact that 10 million people are vaccinated against the flu every year in the country. This year, in just eight weeks, the campaign has immunized 14 million people. “The National Health System is ready,” he said.

The vaccination strategy will be “unique,” the Spanish prime minister continued. It will be agreed on with the Interterritorial Council of the National Health System, which groups together all of Spain’s regional healthcare chiefs and the national Health Ministry. The government will “guarantee fair access to the vaccine or vaccines,” he added. The government’s plan involves starting the vaccination program in January, and ensuring that “a very substantial part of the population can be vaccinated with all the guarantees in the first quarter of the year,” as the prime minister had already announced on Friday.

As well as healthcare experts from the regions, participants in the creation of Spain’s vaccination strategy include biotech specialists, the Spanish Association of Vaccinology, and experts in mathematical and sociological modeling. Fair access to the vaccine is guaranteed, the prime minister added, thanks to the organization of the National Health System in Spain, based on universal access and the structure of the primary healthcare network.

The head of the government also explained that an information and registration system will also be created for monitoring the vaccination process. The Health Ministry will supply the vaccines while the regions will have to have at their disposal the materials, teams and resources needed to administer them.

Sánchez also reiterated that the European Union has signed five contracts to acquire 1.2 billion doses of the vaccine, and that Spain will be assigned 10% of the doses given the size of its population. Up to now, contracts have been signed with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen, BioNTech-Pfizer and CureVac – the latter just a few days ago. What’s more, there are advanced talks taking place with other pharmaceutical firms, such as Moderna from the United States, to close more deals.

Sánchez also admitted on Sunday night that the upcoming Christmas holidays “are going to be different from those that we have always known.” This year, he continued, “we are going to have to stay at a distance from our loved ones instead of hugging them.” The priority, he said, “must be avoiding a third wave.” He explained that the Interterritorial Council is working on recommendations for the festive season, which he defined as being “different but safe.”

The prime minister said that the state of alarm introduced in March during the first wave, which involved one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns, was successful; as is the second state of alarm that is currently in place, and which gives the country’s regions the legal framework needed to limit mobility according to the situation of the pandemic in each territory.

He pointed to the fact that the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants has been falling in Spain for the last two weeks thanks to the restrictions that are in place, and said that this key data point is due to fall below 400 cases today, Monday. “This is still a very high incidence,” he warned, insisting that the government’s objective is to get this figure below 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, a threshold that the health authorities consider as having the epidemic under control. The fall in recent days, he continued, indicates that “the downward trend is consistent and that the measures are having an effect.”

The latest data from the Health Ministry was released on Friday, and showed that the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Spain is at 419, with major differences between regions. Castilla y León, for example, nearly doubles the national average with 769, followed by the Basque Country with 691. The Canary Islands, meanwhile, are at the other end of the scale with 80 cases. None of Spain’s regions is below the 25-mark. The peak of the second wave was seen on November 4, when an average of 529 cases per 100,000 inhabitants was registered. Since then, the figure has been falling, albeit very slowly.

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Italy and Spain report highest daily Covid deaths of second wave




Italy and Spain have both recorded their highest daily coronavirus death tolls of the second wave, reporting 731 and 435 deaths respectively over the past 24 hours.

Italy, the first western country hit by the virus, has logged 46,464 Covid deaths while Spain has logged 41,688.

Such high Italian daily death figures have not been seen since 3 April, when the country was still in lockdown. The Spanish toll is well up on last week’s previous second-wave record of 411 deaths.

The second wave has already killed 9,000 people in Italy, where the alternative approach to a nationwide lockdown has so far shown little success. The number of total infections passed 1m last week and cases are rising at more than 30,000 a day.
Early in October the government introduced a coloured three-tiered system to combat the virus. Regions are divided into three zones – red for the highest risk, then orange and yellow.

In the red zones – which include Lombardy, Tuscany, Calabria, the autonomous province of Bolzano, Liguria, Piedmont and Aosta Valley – residents can only leave home for work, health reasons, essential shopping or emergencies. In the orange and yellow zones, slightly less severe restrictions were introduced.

A leading physician said on Tuesday that the government may have to make them tougher.

“Next week we’ll know if the [contagion] curve has stabilized or has started to come down,” Andrea Crisanti, the director of microbiology and virology at the University of Padua, told the news agency ANSA.

“If it does not come down, it will be necessary to do something else. The social and emotional price is immense – 9,000 people have died since the start of the second wave, we must not forget that.”

The Veneto region on Tuesday registered 100 deaths, its highest daily toll since the beginning of the pandemic.

Intensive care unit (ICU) doctors said the strain on units during the second wave was almost unbearable in high-risk red zones.

Antonino Giarratano, head of the ICU doctors association SIAARTI, told TV channel Rai 3: “It has been stated that the pressure on intensive care is sustainable but in fact in the red regions the pressure is almost unsustainable, and in the orange ones it is very, very heavy.”

Covid-19 and the containment measures have pushed Italy’s economy into a deep contraction.

The Italian retailers association Confcommercio said on Tuesday that consumer spending plunged again in October, dropping 8.1% year on year. Tourism-linked businesses were hardest hit, with recreation services down 73.2%, hotels down 60% and bars and restaurants down 38%, it said.

In Spain, which has been under a new state of emergency since the end of October, the total number of cases has passed the 1.5m mark to reach 1,510,023. More than 219,000 cases have been diagnosed over the past fortnight alone.

Although the number of cases per 100,000 people is decreasing across Spain as a whole, infection levels remain high in some regions: there are 798.3 cases per 100,000 people in Castilla y León, compared with a national average of 465.9.

Hospitals are also under pressure, with 32.5% of Spain’s ICU beds occupied by Covid patients. Fernando Simón, the head of the national health emergencies centre, said that while infection rates appeared to be coming down, “this trend we’re seeing is not a victory”.

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