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Author: Tan KW   |   Latest post: Fri, 30 Oct 2020, 7:34 PM


Thai economy seen shrinking by single digit in Q3; Covid-19 cases under control, says central bank

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Fri, 30 Oct 2020, 7:34 PM

BANGKOK, Oct 30: Thailand's economic performance in the third quarter improved from the preceding three months, with GDP shrinking by a single digit as economic activity resumed after easing coronavirus restrictions, the central bank said on Friday.

South-East Asia's second-largest economy contracted 12.2% in the second quarter year-on-year, the sharpest fall in 22 years, as the pandemic pummelled tourism and consumption.

"The third quarter is still negative, but not a double digit contraction," Chayawadee Chai-Anant, senior director at the Bank of Thailand (BOT), told a briefing.

She gave no specific forecast.

Official third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) data is due to be released on Nov 16.

However, political uncertainty could undermine private sector confidence and a future economic recovery depending on developments, Chayawadee said.

Thailand has seen some of the biggest political protests in years in recent months calling for the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, changes to the constitution and reforms to curb the powerful monarchy.

The BOT has forecast the economy will contract by a record 7.8% this year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

In September, the economy recorded smaller falls in exports than in August, though tourism remained in a slump due to restrictions on foreign arrivals, the BOT said.

Exports, a key driver of growth, fell 4.2% in September from a year earlier after August's 8.2% drop.

September imports declined 8.1% from a year earlier, resulting in a trade surplus of US$3.21 billion in the month.

Thailand recorded a current account surplus of US$1.31 billion in September after a revised surplus of $3.12 billion the previous month.

The Nation Thailand reported that seeing signs of recovery, the Finance Ministry has revised its economic forecast for this year, predicting a contraction of 7.7 per cent rather than the previous 8.5 per cent.

The move came after economic indicators for September released by the Fiscal Policy Office on Thursday showed improvement from the month before.

The economy is recovering in the second half of the year as Thailand’s major trading partners start to rebound from the Covid-19 crisis, while government spending shores up the local economy, said Pornchai Theeravej, adviser to the Fiscal Policy Office.

Optimism at the Finance Ministry is matched by the Bank of Thailand, which recently revised its forecast for the economy this year from -8.1 per cent to -7.8 per cent, he said.

Pornchai added he expects to see economic growth of 4.5 per cent next year.This year, Thai exports are expected to fall by 7.8 per cent, better than the previous forecast of an 11 per cent drop.

Private consumption and private investment are expected to contract by 3 per cent and 9.8 per cent respectively. Meanwhile, government consumption and investment are expected to expand 4 per cent and 10.5 per cent.

The current account surplus is projected at US$14.1 billion, equivalent to 2.8 per cent of GDP, which would contribute to economic stability, he said.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) reported 12 new cases in state quarantine facilities over a 24-hour period on Friday (Oct 30), but all reported cases were imported ones.

Besides seven Thais, five other cases were from a Brazilian, a Myanmarese, an Ethiopian and two Indians.

Meanwhile, 15 patients have recovered and been discharged.

The total number of confirmed cases in Thailand has risen to 3,775 (827 in state quarantine), 131 of whom are in hospital and 3,585 have been discharged.

The death toll remains unchanged at 59.As of 10am on Friday according to Worldometer, the total number of confirmed cases worldwide had risen to 45.31 million (up by 545,903).

Of them 32.99 million have recovered, while 11.14 million are active cases (82,228 in severe condition) and 1.18 million have died (up by 7,172).

Thailand ranks 147th in most cases in the world, while US tops the list with 9.21 million, followed by India at 8 million, Brazil 5.49 million, Russia 1.58 million and France 1.28 million.


 - ANN

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Biden farms for crucial votes in Trump Country

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Fri, 30 Oct 2020, 7:34 PM

By planting a sign in early October supporting Joe Biden on a country road near her Minnesota dairy farm, Meg Stuedemann initially stood out from her neighbors.

The 54-year-old, who runs Derrydale Farm in Belle Plaine with her husband, supports the former vice president, a Democrat, for president because of his pledges to combat climate change and promote renewable energy.

Signs for Biden's Republican rival, President Donald Trump, still prevail in their part of rural south-central Minnesota. But as the Nov. 3 Election Day nears, more Biden signs have cropped up, Stuedemann said, dotting the countryside with blue.

"Out here, you feel like you're alone in supporting Biden," said Stuedemann, who doesn't recall seeing a single sign for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton four years ago. "But then you look around and begin to realize, you're not. Each sign you see, you sit up a little straighter and think, 'Maybe things are going to change.'"

Biden's campaign is making inroads in rural America, striving to peel off voters in conservative communities that went heavily for Trump in 2016 over Clinton. That's one reason the former vice president is stumping in Iowa and Wisconsin on Friday, and in Pennsylvania and Georgia in the precious last days of the race.

Although Biden is unlikely to capture majorities of rural voters, who surveys show strongly favor Trump, his campaign sees cutting into the president's margins as essential in battleground states where the candidates are polling even or are separated by single digits.

"You cannot win the presidential race if you ignore rural voters," Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and U.S. agriculture secretary who is campaigning for Biden, told Reuters.

Trump's campaign is seeking to energize these and other voters in his base, touching down this week in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where he narrowly won in 2016, and visiting Iowa earlier in the month.

"We've had a permanent presence in key states around the country for years that has allowed us and the president to connect with rural voters on a personal level about the issues that matter," Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said in a statement.

"As a result, the Trump campaign is confident that we'll win with rural Americans, and we're not ceding any ground because we know Biden's failed record on trade and his plans to destroy rural access to health care would disproportionately hurt these hardworking families."

Polls point to some openings for Democrats. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, for instance, reveals that the number of rural Americans who believe the country is headed in the "right direction" dropped from 41% in March to less than a third in mid-October.

In 2016, Clinton's campaign largely surrendered farm-state voters to Republicans, helping to fuel Trump's White House win, as well as sweeps of the House and Senate. Biden's team is determined not to make the same mistake.

In Iowa and Wisconsin - where Trump beat Clinton in 2016 by nearly 10 percentage points and less than 1 point, respectively - Biden's campaign has touted his support for corn-based biofuels for weeks on rural radio and local television stations. [L1N29B1Q9]

Biofuel plants are an important source of demand for farmers' corn, used to make ethanol. Trump's Environmental Protection Agency has angered growers by exempting oil refiners from requirements to add ethanol to their gasoline.

When the cash-strapped Trump campaign canceled millions of dollars in TV advertisements in Iowa last month, the Biden campaign snapped up those spots, according to Biden’s advisers. Among their goals: to reach farmers spending long days inside their combines as they harvest their corn and soybeans.

And as former President Barack Obama's campaign did in 2008, the Biden campaign set up rural councils in six battleground states, dedicating staff to work on rural messaging and voter outreach. By reviving the councils abandoned by the Clinton campaign, Democrats hope to be competitive in legislative and local races as well as the presidential contest.


Rural America remains Trump country. Nationally, voters who identify as living in rural areas support Trump over Biden by 19 percentage points, up from a 14-point advantage in March, according to Reuters/Ipsos polls.

Perhaps bolstering that lead was China's move, following an interim trade deal with Washington in January, to increase soy and corn purchases this summer and fall. Commodity prices rose to multi-year highs and brought some financial relief to the Midwest.

That was reassuring news to some rural Republicans, who had been rankled by Trump's trade war with China, which cost U.S. grain farmers billions of dollars in lost sales. Other farmers have never wavered in their support for their president's policies, including the trade war, touting their views in coffee shops, on Twitter and with flags on their trucks and tractors.

"China was taking advantage of us forever," said Gary Vetter,60, who raises cattle and grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa in Westside, Iowa. "At least (Trump) is active and trying to do something."

But there are cracks in Trump's rural fortress, especially in areas hit hard by the coronavirus.

In Wisconsin, for instance, where hundreds of people have been recently hospitalized, Trump's lead among rural voters shrank to 2 points in polls conducted Oct. 20-26, from nine points a month earlier, according to the Reuters/Ipsos polls.

In agrarian Winneshiek County, Iowa, where Trump beat Clinton by just 90 votes in 2016, Democrats have become the largest bloc of active registered voters for the first time since at least 2000, said Nathan Thompson, chairman of the Winneshiek County Democrats. Ahead of the 2016 election, Republicans and voters with no affiliation each outnumbered Democrats.

Voters are focused on healthcare and the pandemic, Thompson said.

In a bad sign for the Trump campaign, rural voters appear less inspired to cast ballots this year: According to the Oct. 14-20 Reuters/Ipsos data, 60% of them say they are "certain" to vote, down six points from a similar poll in late September and early October.


Republican leaders and many Democrats had assumed Iowa would be an easy win for Trump. But a recent poll by Quinnipiac University shows Trump and Biden running nearly even, with 47% and 46% of the vote respectively.

Particularly in this top corn-growing state, farmers have fumed as the Trump administration repeatedly granted oil refiners waivers from mandates requiring them to use biofuels, saying that lowers demand and prices for their crops.

In September, Republicans said the Trump administration supported farmers by rejecting scores of requests from oil refiners for waivers.

But for some Biden backers, the move was too little, too late.

The waivers "actually destroyed the demand for 4 billion gallons of ethanol, which translates in the U.S. to 1.5 billion bushels of corn," said Pam Johnson, an Iowa farmer and former National Corn Growers Association president who is backing Biden. "It's gone. There's no getting it back."

Mark Mueller, chair of the Iowa Corn Growers Association's political action committee, said some of the group's members will vote for Trump no matter what. Others will simply sit out the 2020 election.

"There are a lot of farmers who are disgruntled with our president and saying, 'Screw it, I'm just not going to vote,'" Mueller said.

With urban and minority voters vastly favoring Biden, more farming families moving to Biden or sitting out the election could tip states like Iowa in his favor.

In Minnesota, Stuedemann, the dairy farmer, said Biden is simply "better behaved." She also supports his climate plan.

"We depend on the natural resource base and climate is a part of that," she said. "Cows don't like it hot."

Stuedemann explained that climate affects crop disease, animal health and animal production. She said she was "embarrassed" Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement, a global pact to fight climate change. Biden said he will recommit to the accord.

Supporting Biden can come at a price in rural areas, however.

In Ohio, soybean grower Christopher Gibbs said he and his family were shunned by fellow-farmers after he began writing op-eds for local newspapers criticizing Trump. Men ridiculed him at the local diner. Gibbs, who voted for Trump in 2016, said he left the Republican Party in part over the China trade war.

"I've had women walk up beside me and refuse to make eye contact, because they don't want anyone to see them talking to me," Gibbs said. "They'll say under their breath, 'Keep doing what you’re doing,' and then quickly walk away."


  - Reuters


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U.S. faces record surge of coronavirus cases as election looms

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Fri, 30 Oct 2020, 7:34 PM

A record surge of coronavirus cases in the United States is pushing hospitals to the brink of capacity and killing up to 1,000 people a day, the latest figures show, with much of the country's attention focused on Tuesday's presidential election.

The United States broke its single-day record for new coronavirus infections on Thursday, reporting at least 91,248 new cases, as 21 states reported their highest daily number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters tally of publicly reported data.

More than 1,000 people died of the virus on Thursday, marking the third time in October that milestone has been passed in a single day. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has risen over 50% in October to 46,000, the highest since mid-August.

The surge has revived some of the worst images of the devastating first wave of the virus in March, April and May, with people on ventilators dying alone in hospital isolation and medical staff physically and mentally exhausted.

"Our hospitals cannot keep up with Utah's infection rate. You deserve to understand the dire situation we face," Utah Governor Gary Herbert said on Twitter, echoing a similar refrain from other state and local officials and public health experts.

Utah was among 14 states to report record increases in deaths this month and among 30 states to report record increases in cases. The United States has recorded over 229,000 deaths and nearly 9 million cases, both the highest single-country totals in the global pandemic.

Among the hardest hit states are those most hotly contested in the campaign between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, such as Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.


"We are having some of the largest outbreaks that we've had during the entire pandemic. And nine, 10 months into this pandemic, we are still largely not quite prepared," said Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island.

"We don't have the kind of testing that we need. There are a lot of problems with large outbreaks happening in many, many different parts of the country. And of course, we're going into the fall and winter, which will, of course, make things very, very difficult," Jha told Reuters in an interview.

The White House coronavirus task force has warned states in the middle and western parts of the country that aggressive measures will be necessary to curb the spread, CNN reported, citing weekly state reports it had seen.

"We continue to see unrelenting, broad community spread in the Midwest, Upper Midwest and West. This will require aggressive mitigation to control both the silent, asymptomatic spread and symptomatic spread," it cited one of the reports as saying.

Trump has repeatedly downplayed the virus, saying for weeks that the country is "rounding the turn," even as new cases and hospitalizations soar. On Thursday, he again argued against taking stricter measures.

Biden and fellow Democrats in Congress have criticized the president for his handling of the health crisis.

One of the country's most conservative business groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday urged member companies and local community leaders to step up efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus with mask mandates and other measures.


  - Reuters


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Coronavirus: as Hong Kong social-distancing restrictions ease, city expects seven – mostly imported – new cases

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Fri, 30 Oct 2020, 7:34 PM

HONG KONG, Oct 30 : Hong Kong is expected to record seven, mostly imported, new Covid-19 infections on Friday, according to a medical source, as social-distancing measures around the city were relaxed.
The source said one local case with an untraceable source was among the day’s tally.
But while the number of local cases has dropped in recent weeks, infectious disease expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu warned the coronavirus situation in Hong Kong remained unstable.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
“Although the number of [local cases with an unknown source of infection] in October is lower than that in July, the epidemic has still not reached a controlled stage,” he told a local radio programme.
Leung pointed out there were more than 20 untraceable cases so far this month.
In contrast, during a relatively quiet period in May and June, there were very few untraceable local cases, he said.
On Thursday, the city logged two imported cases and one locally transmitted infection - a 50-year-old woman, pushing the official tally to 5,313 cases, with 105 related deaths.
The woman was a colleague of a 42-year-old clerk earlier found to be infected. They both work in Sheung Wan’s Siu Ying Commercial Building. The Centre for Health Protection said about 20 staff members from the office would be quarantined at a government facility.
Authorities have also asked some 500 households living in the same block as the 50-year-old at Lok Man Sun Chuen in To Kwa Wan to give deep-throat saliva samples, though the tests are voluntary.
Meanwhile, under the newly eased social-distancing rules, six people are allowed to sit together at restaurant tables, up from four, while the limit for bars and pubs rose from two to four.
Dine-in services will also be allowed to operate until 2am, an extension from midnight. But customers must wear a mask when not seated and are not allowed to eat or drink away from their tables.
Capacity limits rose from 50 per cent to 75 per cent for restaurants, bars and pubs, nightclubs, swimming pools and public entertainment venues such as theme parks and museums.
But the ban on public gatherings larger than four, the mandatory wearing of masks on public transport, and other related social-distancing rules remain in place until at least next Thursday.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said public beaches would reopen next Tuesday, after more than three months, but barbecue facilities there would remain closed.  
  - SCMP


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France on alert as official warns of more militant attacks after Nice church killings

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Fri, 30 Oct 2020, 7:33 PM

PARIS, France - France's interior minister said on Friday more militant attacks on its soil were likely and the country was engaged in a war against Islamist ideology following the second deadly knife attack in its cities in two weeks.

Minister Gerald Damarnin was speaking a day after an assailant shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a church in Nice. The man was shot by police and is now in critical condition in a hospital.

"We are in a war against an enemy that is both inside and outside," Damarnin told RTL radio. "We need to understand that there have been and there will be other events such as these terrible attacks."

Thursday's attack, on the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, took place at a time of growing Muslim anger across the globe at France's defence of the right to publish cartoons depicting the prophet. Protesters have denounced France in street rallies in several Muslim-majority countries.

Tens of thousands of Muslims protested in Bangladesh on Friday, chanting slogans such as "Boycott French products" and carrying banners calling French President Emmanuel Macron "the world's biggest terrorist" as they marched in the streets of the capital Dhaka.

Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect important sites such as places of worship and schools, and the country's security alert is at its highest level.


France's chief anti-terrorism prosecutor said the man suspected of carrying out the Nice attack was a Tunisian born in 1999 who had arrived in Europe on Sept. 20 in Lampedusa, the Italian island off Tunisia that is a main landing point for migrants from Africa.

A Tunisian security source and a French police source named the suspect as Brahim Aouissaoui.

A judicial source said on Friday that a 47-year-old man had been taken into custody on Thursday evening on suspicion of having been in contact with the perpetrator of the attack.

The Nice attack occurred just under two weeks after Samuel Paty, a school teacher in a Paris suburb, was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen who was apparently incensed by the teacher showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in class.

Speaking outside the church in Nice on Thursday, Macron said France had been attacked "over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief...And I say it with great clarity again today: We will not give any ground."

Prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said the suspected attacker had entered the city by train early on Thursday morning and made his way to the church, where he stabbed and killed the 55-year-old sexton and beheaded a 60-year-old woman.

He also stabbed a 44-year-old woman, who fled to a nearby cafe where she raised the alarm before dying, Ricard said. Police then arrived and confronted the attacker, who was still shouting "Allahu Akbar", and shot and wounded him.

Tunisia said the man was not listed by police there as a suspected militant and authorities have begun their own investigation.

France, with Europe's largest Muslim community, has suffered a string of Islamist militant attacks in recent years, including bombings and shootings in 2015 in Paris that killed 130 people and a 2016 attack in Nice in which a militant drove a truck through a seafront crowd celebrating Bastille Day, killing 86.


  - Reuters


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Spain's Canary Islands impose negative COVID-19 test rule for tourists

Author: Tan KW   |  Publish date: Fri, 30 Oct 2020, 7:33 PM

MADRID - Spain's Canary Islands have passed a law obliging tourists visiting the archipelago's hotels to present a negative COVID-19 test result as part of efforts to prevent imported infections.

Located around 60 miles off Morocco's Atlantic coast, the chain of seven islands is popular among sun-seeking northern Europeans, especially during the winter, when half its tourism revenues are generated.

Under the new decree, hotels will require guests over the age of 12 to provide a negative test result taken within the 72 hours prior to arrival.

"It is the feasible solution, for the time being..., for the protection of the islands, our tourists and our residents," regional tourism chief Yaiza Castilla said.

While the Spanish mainland has long been one of Europe's worst coronavirus hotspots, with an infection rate of 468 cases per 100,000 people, the Canaries have a rate of just 79 cases per 100,000.

Germany and Britain last week lifted restrictions on visiting the islands, providing a glimmer of hope that the winter season could be salvaged after a dismal summer.

In anticipation of rising demand for flights, budget airline Ryanair announced on Friday it would add an extra service per week between London Stansted and Tenerife.


  - Reuters


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