Categories
World News

Grounded cabin crew get hospital training as Sweden battles coronavirus

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Furloughed crew from crisis-hit Scandinavian airline SAS are taking a three-day course in basic hospital duties to help plug gaps in a Swedish healthcare system strained by thousands of coronavirus cases.

The airline, part owned by the governments of Sweden and Denmark, temporarily laid off 10,000 staff – 90% of its workforce – this month to cut costs and ride out a plunge in air travel due the pandemic and related border closures.

With Stockholm’s healthcare system in need of reinforcement as cases rise, Sophiahemmet University Hospital is teaching former cabin crew skills such as sterilizing equipment, making hospital beds and providing information to patients and their relatives.

The first students are due to complete the course on Thursday and the response has been overwhelming.

“We now have a long, long list of healthcare providers that are just waiting for them,” said Johanna Adami, principal at the University. Airlines in Australia, and the U.S. have also enquired about using the training methods for their staff.

She said municipalities, hospitals and nursing homes have all been queuing up to employ the re-trained staff, who will number around 300 in the coming weeks. Adami said airline staff were particularly suited to helping in the healthcare sector.

“They have basic healthcare education from their work. They are also very experienced to be flexible and think about security and also to handle complicated situations,” she said.

Sweden has around 4,500 confirmed cases of the virus and 180 deaths, with the capital especially hard hit. Healthcare officials in Stockholm have scrambled to set up a temporary hospital in a convention center and warned of a lack off staff and safety equipment to meet the crisis.

Malin Ohman, 25, a airline stewardess from northern Sweden was in the first class of students.

“In the a blink of an eye I decided – ‘yes of course, why wouldn’t I’,” she said of her decision to retrain. “I felt that we could just contribute with something,” she added.

The course is free of charge and the companies involved with the training are not seeking to make a profit. Funding, about 7 million Swedish crowns ($698,000) is provided by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg foundation.

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Business

What the Federal Reserve has done in the coronavirus crisis

(Reuters) – The Federal Reserve has moved into overdrive to try to keep the U.S. economy from suffering lasting damage from the coronavirus pandemic, announcing an emergency interest rate cut on March 3 and rolling out new efforts almost weekly since, including slashing rates to zero and relaunching large-scale asset purchases.

The U.S. central bank, arguably the most powerful financial institution on Earth, has more than $5.3 trillion of assets on its books – the equivalent of roughly a quarter of annual U.S. economic output before the crisis. Its stockpile of assets will grow much larger under the litany of programs it has launched, although some will be held in what are known as special-purpose vehicles, or SPVs, rather than directly by the central bank.

Here’s a look at some of the steps taken by the Fed so far:

** RATE CUTS

The Fed cut rates twice on an emergency basis this month, the first time it has done that since the financial crisis in 2008. The first cut of a half percentage point was on March 3 and the second of a full point was on March 15, which brought the Fed’s overnight borrowing rate for banks back to near zero. The reduction is meant to keep down the cost of loans for banks – and by extension their customers – to ensure borrowers have ample access to credit during the crisis.

** REPO MARKET

The Fed has been intervening in money markets since last fall, when a cash shortage led to a jump in short-term borrowing rates. Policymakers had planned this year to scale back operations in the market for repurchase agreements, or repo, through which dealers can borrow cash. But as the economic threat posed by the coronavirus increased, the central bank pivoted to offering almost unlimited support in the overnight lending markets for cash. On March 31, the Fed also announced that it broadened its repo agreements with foreign central banks, allowing them to exchange their holdings of U.S. Treasury securities for overnight dollar loans.

** QUANTITATIVE EASING (QE)

The Fed first employed QE in the financial crisis, starting in 2008. The idea is that through large-scale purchases of various types of bonds – mostly Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities – it helps ensure that longer-term interest rates like those for mortgages and car loans remain low and helps keep major purchases affordable for consumers and businesses. When it cut rates back to near zero on March 15, the Fed restarted these large-scale purchases and is now doing so with an open-ended commitment.

** DISCOUNT WINDOW

Banks in recent weeks have borrowed the most since 2009 from the Fed’s lending tool of last resort at the urging of the central bank. The so-called “discount window” is rarely used because banks are worried that using it could make them appear weak. But policymakers have lowered the rate charged on the funding to 0.25% and extended the length of the loans offered from one day to 90 days. As of last Wednesday, banks had borrowed more than $50 billion.

** CENTRAL BANK FOREIGN CURRENCY SWAP LINES

The Fed has standing agreements with five other major foreign central banks – the Bank of Canada, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan and Swiss National Bank – that allows them to provide U.S. dollars to their financial institutions during times of stress. The Fed has increased the frequency of the operations to daily from weekly. It also offered temporary swap lines here to nine additional countries to ease access to dollars, which are in high demand because the liabilities of many foreign governments and companies are denominated in the U.S. currency.

** TERM ASSET-BACKED SECURITIES LOAN FACILITY (TALF here)

Through an SPV, the TALF program will buy bundles of assets secured by auto loans, credit cards, student loans, loans backed by the Small Business Administration and other types of credit. Its aim is to make sure banks and other lenders such as auto finance companies have ample cash to keep making loans to consumers and businesses during the crisis.

** COMMERCIAL PAPER FUNDING FACILITY (CPFF here)

The Fed reintroduced the CPFF, a tool it used during the last financial crisis, to get money directly into the hands of large businesses, which are major employers. Like the TALF, it will use an SPV to make purchases of commercial paper, an essential source of short-term funding for many companies. The market had come under strain amid worries that companies hit by efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus would not be able to repay their IOUs.

** PRIMARY DEALER CREDIT FACILITY (PDCF here)

Through this facility, the Fed offers short-term loans to the two dozen Wall Street firms authorized to transact directly with the central bank. The program offers funding of up to 90 days to primary dealers. A similar program run from 2008 to 2010 only offered overnight loans.

** PRIMARY MARKET CORPORATE CREDIT FACILITY (PMCCF here)

With this program, the Fed will act as a backstop for corporate debt issued by highly rated companies. Through an SPV, the PMCCF will buy bonds and issue loans to companies that can help them cover business expenses and stay in operation. The debt must be repaid to the PMCCF within four years.

** SECONDARY MARKET CORPORATE CREDIT FACILITY (SMCCF here)

Closely related to the PMCCF, under this program an SPV will purchase corporate bonds and exchange-traded funds in the secondary market, or the public market where these securities are traded after they are first issued. The market liquidity added by the Fed is meant to stabilize conditions in the corporate bond market and make it easier for companies to raise funds there. Only so-called investment grade securities are eligible for purchase.

** MONEY MARKET MUTUAL FUND LIQUIDITY FACILITY (MMFLF here)

This new facility is meant to keep the $3.8 trillion money market mutual fund industry functioning even when investors are withdrawing money at a fast clip. The tool offers loans of up to one year to financial institutions that pledge as collateral high-quality assets like U.S. Treasury bonds that they have purchased from money market mutual funds. The Fed indirectly encourages banks to buy assets from money market funds, reducing the odds that the funds will need to sell those assets at a loss to meet redemptions.

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Categories
Business

What the Federal Reserve has done in the coronavirus crisis

(Reuters) – The Federal Reserve has moved into overdrive to try to keep the U.S. economy from suffering lasting damage from the coronavirus pandemic, announcing an emergency interest rate cut on March 3 and rolling out new efforts almost weekly since, including slashing rates to zero and relaunching large-scale asset purchases.

The U.S. central bank, arguably the most powerful financial institution on Earth, has more than $5.3 trillion of assets on its books – the equivalent of roughly a quarter of annual U.S. economic output before the crisis. Its stockpile of assets will grow much larger under the litany of programs it has launched, although some will be held in what are known as special-purpose vehicles, or SPVs, rather than directly by the central bank.

Here’s a look at some of the steps taken by the Fed so far:

** RATE CUTS

The Fed cut rates twice on an emergency basis this month, the first time it has done that since the financial crisis in 2008. The first cut of a half percentage point was on March 3 and the second of a full point was on March 15, which brought the Fed’s overnight borrowing rate for banks back to near zero. The reduction is meant to keep down the cost of loans for banks – and by extension their customers – to ensure borrowers have ample access to credit during the crisis.

** REPO MARKET

The Fed has been intervening in money markets since last fall, when a cash shortage led to a jump in short-term borrowing rates. Policymakers had planned this year to scale back operations in the market for repurchase agreements, or repo, through which dealers can borrow cash. But as the economic threat posed by the coronavirus increased, the central bank pivoted to offering almost unlimited support in the overnight lending markets for cash. On March 31, the Fed also announced that it broadened its repo agreements with foreign central banks, allowing them to exchange their holdings of U.S. Treasury securities for overnight dollar loans.

** QUANTITATIVE EASING (QE)

The Fed first employed QE in the financial crisis, starting in 2008. The idea is that through large-scale purchases of various types of bonds – mostly Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities – it helps ensure that longer-term interest rates like those for mortgages and car loans remain low and helps keep major purchases affordable for consumers and businesses. When it cut rates back to near zero on March 15, the Fed restarted these large-scale purchases and is now doing so with an open-ended commitment.

** DISCOUNT WINDOW

Banks in recent weeks have borrowed the most since 2009 from the Fed’s lending tool of last resort at the urging of the central bank. The so-called “discount window” is rarely used because banks are worried that using it could make them appear weak. But policymakers have lowered the rate charged on the funding to 0.25% and extended the length of the loans offered from one day to 90 days. As of last Wednesday, banks had borrowed more than $50 billion.

** CENTRAL BANK FOREIGN CURRENCY SWAP LINES

The Fed has standing agreements with five other major foreign central banks – the Bank of Canada, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan and Swiss National Bank – that allows them to provide U.S. dollars to their financial institutions during times of stress. The Fed has increased the frequency of the operations to daily from weekly. It also offered temporary swap lines here to nine additional countries to ease access to dollars, which are in high demand because the liabilities of many foreign governments and companies are denominated in the U.S. currency.

** TERM ASSET-BACKED SECURITIES LOAN FACILITY (TALF here)

Through an SPV, the TALF program will buy bundles of assets secured by auto loans, credit cards, student loans, loans backed by the Small Business Administration and other types of credit. Its aim is to make sure banks and other lenders such as auto finance companies have ample cash to keep making loans to consumers and businesses during the crisis.

** COMMERCIAL PAPER FUNDING FACILITY (CPFF here)

The Fed reintroduced the CPFF, a tool it used during the last financial crisis, to get money directly into the hands of large businesses, which are major employers. Like the TALF, it will use an SPV to make purchases of commercial paper, an essential source of short-term funding for many companies. The market had come under strain amid worries that companies hit by efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus would not be able to repay their IOUs.

** PRIMARY DEALER CREDIT FACILITY (PDCF here)

Through this facility, the Fed offers short-term loans to the two dozen Wall Street firms authorized to transact directly with the central bank. The program offers funding of up to 90 days to primary dealers. A similar program run from 2008 to 2010 only offered overnight loans.

** PRIMARY MARKET CORPORATE CREDIT FACILITY (PMCCF here)

With this program, the Fed will act as a backstop for corporate debt issued by highly rated companies. Through an SPV, the PMCCF will buy bonds and issue loans to companies that can help them cover business expenses and stay in operation. The debt must be repaid to the PMCCF within four years.

** SECONDARY MARKET CORPORATE CREDIT FACILITY (SMCCF here)

Closely related to the PMCCF, under this program an SPV will purchase corporate bonds and exchange-traded funds in the secondary market, or the public market where these securities are traded after they are first issued. The market liquidity added by the Fed is meant to stabilize conditions in the corporate bond market and make it easier for companies to raise funds there. Only so-called investment grade securities are eligible for purchase.

** MONEY MARKET MUTUAL FUND LIQUIDITY FACILITY (MMFLF here)

This new facility is meant to keep the $3.8 trillion money market mutual fund industry functioning even when investors are withdrawing money at a fast clip. The tool offers loans of up to one year to financial institutions that pledge as collateral high-quality assets like U.S. Treasury bonds that they have purchased from money market mutual funds. The Fed indirectly encourages banks to buy assets from money market funds, reducing the odds that the funds will need to sell those assets at a loss to meet redemptions.

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Categories
Business

J.C. Penney furloughs staff, extends store closures amid pandemic

(Reuters) – J. C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N) said on Tuesday it would furlough a majority of its hourly staff and salaried associates next month, the latest U.S. retailer looking to weather the financial strain from store closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Furloughed employees will continue to receive full health benefits and many are eligible to receive state unemployment benefits, the company said, adding it would extend store closures until it was safe to reopen.

Macy’s (M.N), Kohl’s (KSS.N), Gap (GPS.N) and other retailers have taken similar actions amid lockdowns imposed to curb the rapidly spreading outbreak, which has so far infected more than 163,000 and caused over 3,000 deaths in the United States.

Many of the Penney’s workers in supply chain and logistics centers were previously furloughed on March 20, and those furloughs will continue, the company said.

The company employed about 90,000 full-time and part-time employees as of Feb.1, according to its latest annual filing.

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Categories
World News

France to ramp up domestic production of face masks, respirators: Macron

PARIS (Reuters) – France plans to quickly ramp up domestic production of face masks and respirators to respond to urgent needs of hospitals and caregivers during the coronavirus epidemic, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday.

Macron said consumption of face masks in France had soared from four million per week to more than 40 million and the state’s pre-crisis inventory of 140 million masks was insufficient.

“Before, we believed that we could import masks quickly and in great quantity from the other side of the world … and that we did not need to store billions and billions of face masks,” Macron said during a visit to the Kolmi-Hopen face mask factory

near Angers, western France.

He added the world has changed and that there is now unprecedented tension on global markets and that France needed to boost domestic production to become self-sufficient.

France has ordered more than one billion face masks from China and the first orders are already arriving, Macron said.

France’s four face mask factories will also boost their combined output from 3.3 million per week before the start of the crisis to 10 million per week by end April, and production by new players such as car parts maker Faurecia, tire maker Michelin and retailer Intermarché will push total output to 15 million per week, Macron said.

In addition, in three to four weeks the country will also be able to produce a million masks per day for people in other professions than the medical sector, he said.

Macron said a consortium led by respirator maker Air Liquide and including car parts maker Valeo, car maker PSA and Schneider Electric, will produce some 10,000 ventilators by mid-May.

Related Coverage

  • Paris to transfer 38 coronavirus patients to other regions on Wednesday: officials

Some 250 emergency rooms ventilators will be delivered in the coming eight days, he added.

France has also boosted its production of disinfecting hand gel from 40,000 liters per day to 500,000 litres per day.

The French government will fund the purchase of masks and ventilators with a 4 billion euro ($4.4 billion) boost to the state health budget.

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World News

What the coronavirus lockdown looks like from space

Before and after satellite images show the impact of coronavirus containment measures on cities worldwide.

More than a third of the world’s population is now under lockdown as an increasing number of countries implement sweeping measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The drastic measures have emptied streets, disrupted travel and slowed economic activity – all while slashing air pollution.

More:

  • Coronavirus: Which countries have confirmed cases?

  • Why is Italy’s coronavirus fatality rate so high?

  • Timeline: How the new coronavirus spread

Before and after satellite images show the impact of the measures on cities worldwide. We will be adding more cities to the list below as soon as new satellite images become available.

1. Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

The Grand Mosque of Mecca is usually packed with pilgrims from across the world. But on March 19, Saudi authorities suspended all prayers at the two main mosques in Mecca and Medina. Saudi Arabia has more than 1,400 confirmed cases and eight deaths to date.

Planet Labs Inc


2. Venice, Italy

With more than 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 11,000 deaths, Italy is Europe’s hardest-hit country.

Authorities in the country are planning to extend a weeks-long lockdown until at least April 12. Italy’s tourism sector, which attracts up to 60 million visitors each year, has come to a standstill, but residents of the tourism hotspot of Venice have reported clear running water for the first time in years.

Planet Labs Inc

3. Imam Reza Shrine, Iran

Iran, the Middle East’s worst-hit country, announced a complete lockdown on March 28, some five weeks after reporting its first case.

As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases was 44,606, and the death toll stood at 2,898. The Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, which normally attracts 20 million pilgrims each year, has been closed since March 17.

Planet Labs Inc

4. Wuhan, China

Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected late last year, is home to more than 11 million people.

The capital of the central Hubei province has been under a mandatory quarantine for more than two months and has only just begun easing restrictions. China has reported more than 3,300 deaths from 82,000 infections to date.

Planet Labs Inc

5. Disney World, Florida, US

The United States currently has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, at more than 163,000. At least 3,000 people have died since the country reported its first case on January 20. On March 13, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency following weeks of downplaying the virus.

Planet Labs Inc

6. Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazil was the first South American country to report a coronavirus infection on February 24. Since then, more than 4,500 people have tested positive, and 165 have died. President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly dismissed a nationwide lockdown and criticised governors and mayors in the country who imposed such measures.

Planet Labs Inc

Images: Planet Labs Inc

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Business

Exclusive: American Airlines to retire more jets, including vintage 737s, in coronavirus downturn

CHICAGO (Reuters) – American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O) is set to sharply increase the number of jets it is planning to retire beyond its announced plans as it accelerates a fleet transformation to respond to the coronavirus crisis, people familiar with the matter said.

Some 4,700 jets have been parked globally as airlines slash operations due to travel restrictions, according to Ascend by Cirium fleet data, and American’s decision confirms industry speculation that many of those older jets won’t fly again.

In addition to the retirement of 34 Boeing Co (BA.N) 757s and 17 Boeing 767s announced just two weeks ago, American now plans to also sunset a batch of 76 Boeing 737s it acquired between 1999 and 2001, nine Airbus SE (AIR.PA) A330-300s and 20 Embraer 190s, the people said.

The plans were announced by President Robert Isom in a video Q&A with employees on Sunday, where he said the arrival of new Boeing 737 MAX jets, expected later this year after a prolonged global grounding, could help facilitate the retirement of older jets that would be in need of heavy maintenance.

American is also considering retiring some of its 50-seat regional jets, he said.

American said on March 12 it was accelerating the retirement of its remaining Boeing 757s and 767s as it looks at removing older, less fuel-efficient aircraft from its fleet.

“Decisions beyond the 757 and 767 have yet to be finalized, and we continue to make refinements to our overall fleet plan,” American spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

The pace of aircraft retirements influences an airline’s cost structure since new aircraft are costly to buy but cheaper to run. It also gives a clue to potential future demand for new aircraft.

Some analysts are predicting a surplus of aircraft as a wounded airline industry emerges from the coronavirus lockdown into what many economists expect to be a broad recession.

But decisions by airlines to retire planes in 2020 and 2021 could trim that surplus, Ascend by Cirium consultancy head Rob Morris told an Airline Economics webinar on Friday.

The last two years saw a total of 1,130 retirements, he said. Aircraft demand is influenced by a combination of new production and the rate at which airlines retire older planes.

Airlines’ fleet plans had been structured around expectations that global travel demand would continue to grow this year and beyond, but now analysts do not expect passenger traffic to recover 2019 levels for some time.

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Business

Southwest Airlines cutting more than 40% of flights in May as demand sags

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) said Tuesday it will cut more than 40% of flights from May 3 through June 5 amid a sharp decline in travel demand from the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. airline said will fly 2,000 flights a day, down 1,700 over normal levels. The airline previously said it was cancelling 1,500 flights a day in April. Southwest said it will preserve more than 80% of itineraries it previously offered but said some non-stop flights will now require a connection. Southwest is also shortening its operational day, removing many departures previously scheduled before 7 am and after 8 pm.

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Politics

Trump says coronavirus guidelines may get tougher; one million Americans tested

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that federal social distancing guidelines might be toughened and travel restrictions with China and Europe would stay in place as he urged Americans to help fight the coronavirus with tough measures through April.

Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said more than 1 million Americans had been tested for the coronavirus, which he called a milestone.

The president announced on Sunday that the recommendations, which include encouraging people not go gather in groups larger than 10 and to avoid dining in restaurants or bars, would be through the end of next month after initially being put in place for 15 days to curb the virus’s spread.

“The guidelines will be very much as they are, maybe even toughened up a little bit,” he told reporters on Monday.

Trump, who has faced criticism for playing down the pandemic in its early stages, urged everyone to follow the restrictions.

“Every one of us has a role to play in winning this war. Every citizen, family, and business can make the difference in stopping the virus. This is our shared patriotic duty. Challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days and this is a very vital 30 days,” he said.

White House coronavirus task force response coordinator Deborah Birx said federal guidance was important because all states were facing the same levels of risk.

“When you look at all of the states together, all of them are moving in exactly the same curves,” she said. “That’s why we really believe this needs to be federal guidance, so that every state understands that it may look like two cases, that become 20, that become 200, that become 2000, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent.”

Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he expected a coronavirus outbreak in the fall as well, but he said the nation would be better prepared to respond.

Trump said his administration would take a look at a suggestion from former Food and Drugs Commissioner Scott Gottlieb that all Americans wear a mask when out in public to help halt the spread of the virus.

“After we get back into gear … I could see something like that happening for a period of time, but I would hope it would be a very limited period of time,” he said.

Trump said the United States had begun to acquire personal protective equipment from overseas.

“We’re getting it from all over the world and we’re also sending things that we don’t need to other parts,” he said.

Trump said he had just spoken with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and that the United States would be sending Italy about $100 million worth of medical supplies that are not needed in the United States.

Trump lauded an announcement from Ford Motor Co and General Electric’s healthcare unit that they would be producing 50,000 ventilators in 100 days.

He also noted that General Motors and other U.S.-based companies would be making ventilators as well. “As we outpace what we need, we’re going to be sending them to Italy, we’re going to be sending them to France, we’re going to be spending them to Spain … and other countries as we can.”

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Economy

UPDATE 1-Global airlines expect crisis to persist to late 2020

(Recasts, adds details)

By Tim Hepher and Alistair Smout

PARIS/LONDON, March 31 (Reuters) – Global airlines will not start to recover from their worst-ever crisis until the last quarter of this year and any rebound will be short-lived if there is a new winter wave of coronavirus, the industry’s trade group warned on Tuesday.

Many carriers, even those with strong finances, are struggling to survive for that long as the industry burns $61 billion in cash this quarter because of a 70% drop in traffic and revenue, the International Air Transport Association said.

Airlines are set to post a collective net loss of $39 billion this quarter as the majority of their aircraft are grounded to weather lockdowns and travel restrictions.

“These are numbers beyond anything we have ever had in our industry,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Director General of IATA, which urged governments to speed up bailouts for airlines facing estimated full-year revenue losses of $252 billion.

U.S. Congress passed legislation on Friday authorizing $25 billion for passenger airlines, as well as $4 billion for cargo carriers and $3 billion in cash for airport contractors.

IATA said it expected government fiscal measures and central bank action to feed through to higher travel demand from the fourth quarter, after a widespread second-quarter lockdown and continued weakness in the third.

But it warned that airlines were facing severe short-term difficulties, with the economy already tipping into recession.

“Everyone is eager to have cash and is running out of cash,” de Juniac said on a media conference call.

IATA’s Chief Economist Brian Pearce said growth in the fourth quarter and a strong 2021 were its base case scenario

“It’s really not clear that that is actually going to happen. It could be that it takes much longer for us to get through the issues with the virus,” he told reporters.

“It could be that the virus comes back, so we are exploring scenarios where we have a much longer period of weakness, and obviously the pressures on airlines are correspondingly larger”. (Reporting by Tim Hepher, Alistair Smout, Editing by Louise Heavens and Alexander Smith)

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