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Last call: UK closes pubs in hard-hit areas to curb COVID surge

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions to control the surge in coronavirus, with bars and pubs closing in the worst-hit parts of England from Wednesday.

Johnson set out his plan for a three-tier system of Covid alert levels, set at medium, high, and very high, to simplify the imposition of lockdown measures.

The toughest measures will be brought into force from Wednesday in the Liverpool city region of northwest England, where the outbreak is spreading fastest, the prime minister told Parliament on Monday. Bars will only be able to open if they serve “substantial” meals, Johnson’s office said later.

“I take no pleasure whatsoever in placing restrictions on these businesses,” Johnson said. “Nor do I want to stop people enjoying themselves. But we must act to save lives.”

As well as pubs and bars being forced to close, households in the Liverpool region will be banned from mixing indoors and in private gardens. People will also be advised against traveling into and out of the area, except for work, school or in transit.

Johnson said he wants similar restrictions to apply in Greater Manchester, where cases are also soaring, but indicated local leaders have not yet agreed.

Talks will continue with local leaders in the coming days and weeks, the premier said. He did not mention new restrictions in London, but the capital’s Evening Standard newspaper said it could be moved to the “high,” or second, level in the coming weeks.

Lawmakers will debate and vote on the new three tier system on Tuesday, with the measures coming into force on Wednesday if they are approved.

Johnson immediately ran into criticism from his own side, including from Andy Street, the usually loyal mayor of the West Midlands, who said he is “very disappointed” his region has been placed in the “high” tier. He warned pubs and restaurants will be hit by a ban on households mixing.

“This is not something regional leaders supported, nor what I believed would be happening following extensive conversations over recent days,” he said in a statement.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the system of local lockdowns has not worked so far during the pandemic and clashed with Johnson over the “serial failure” of the test and trace system.

“I’m now deeply skeptical the government has actually got a plan to get control of this virus,” he told Parliament.

Johnson’s Three-Tier Lockdown Plan for England

  • Level 1 – Medium: gatherings limited to a maximum of six people; pubs and restaurants must close at 10 p.m.
  • Level 2 – High: people banned from mixing indoors with other households
  • Level 3 – Very High: pubs and bars will be closed; tighter ban on household mixing; advice against travel
  • Schools and retail will remain open throughout

Johnson said he is determined to avoid a second national lockdown, which would hit the economy and threaten the country’s ability to fund medical care and other public services. But he said the rising infection rates mean action must be taken immediately.

Earlier on Monday senior medical officials painted a grim picture of the resurgent outbreak, pointing to rising cases, hospital admissions and deaths, especially in northern England. Three so called Nightingale overspill hospitals are being put on standby to cope with an expected surge in admissions.

Some local MPs said they were given little or no notice about the restrictions, despite government promises to keep them informed. Some were traveling by train to Parliament and were told to join a government briefing minutes before it started. Labour’s Louise Haigh said she was told after the call had begun, while Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said she wasn’t told at all.

Elsewhere in Europe, several other nations are preparing additional steps to contain the virus. German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted a cabinet-level meeting Monday, though there are unlikely to be any decisions on new measures until she meets with the premiers of the country’s 16 states on Wednesday.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to order new restrictions targeting nightlife, social events and amateur sports, while urging companies to boost remote working. Under a decree that could be issued as early as Monday evening, bars and restaurants may have to close by midnight, and people could be prohibited from gathering outside between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

In the Czech Republic — the European country with the worst outbreak per-capita — the government plans to approve more stringent distancing rules. The steps under consideration include further curbs on outdoor gatherings, more limits on opening hours for restaurants and restrictions on alcohol sales.

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Trump slams US stimulus deal on Twitter as talks continue

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Trump’s evening tweets came hours after all three major stock indexes fell over the ongoing stimulus deadlock.

United States President Donald Trump expressed scepticism that an agreement could be reached with Democratic leaders on a new round of coronavirus aid relief, seemingly torpedoing hopes for a stimulus plan even as talks continue between Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin.

“Just don’t see any way Nancy Pelosi and Cryin’ Chuck Schumer will be willing to do what is right for our great American workers, or our wonderful USA itself, on Stimulus,” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening. “Their primary focus is BAILING OUT poorly run (and high crime) Democrat cities and states….Should take care of our people. It wasn’t their fault that the Plague came in from China!”

The tweets came after all three financial indexes fell on Wednesday amid dwindling hopes of a stimulus plan before Americans head to the polls on Election Day November 3.

Pelosi has proposed $2.2 trillion to help struggling businesses and families, while the White House rolled out a $1.8 trillion proposal, which Trump has since said he would be willing to go beyond. But Pelosi and Mnuchin are reportedly getting closer to a deal, with the pair due to speak again on Thursday, Pelosi’s spokesman said in a tweet.

Experts have warned the US needs another round of financial relief for struggling businesses and families in order to recover from the pandemic’s economic downturn. The last round of aid expired at the end of July, including an additional $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits meant to shore up workers in addition to state aid.

Earlier this month, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned that the country’s entire economic recovery is in danger of derailing if the government does not step up to the plate.

“Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” Powell said during an October 7 event with economists and strategists.

Trump has frequently used Twitter to weigh in on the continuing stimulus talks. On the same day Powell spoke, Trump tweeted that he had told his representatives to halt stimulus negotiations with Democrats until after the election – before making an about-face hours later and urging Democratic legislators to cast targeted financial lines to businesses and households.

Last week, he tweeted: “STIMULUS! “Go big or go home!!!” even as Senate Republicans expressed support for a pared-down aid package.

On Wednesday, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told Fox Business “the president’s willing to lean into this” with Republican senators if a deal is reached.

Talks are continuing as the timeframe for a pre-Election Day vote narrows, with investors around the world closely watching what comes out of Pelosi and Mnuchin’s discussions Thursday.

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Obama says Trump treats presidency ‘like a reality show he can use to get attention’

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Scott Olson/Getty Images/FILE
Scott Olson/Getty Images/FILE

Businessman Andrew Yang will join Young Americans for Biden and youth-focused organizations Student Debt Crisis and Rise, as well as the student loan start-up Savi, for a town hall and phone bank Wednesday.

Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate and CNN contributor, ran on a platform that emphasized Universal Basic Income and student debt relief for young Americans.

During the virtual event with Yang, Student Debt Crisis, Rise and Savi will announce the launch of a new joint initiative between the groups, which includes a student loan education tool and hotline for student loan borrowers.

“With 45 million student loan borrowers, it’s a massive bloc of voters who could easily tip the election and Rise’s work with Student Debt Crisis is the first concerted effort to define ‘student loan voter’ as a category with political power,” Rise CEO Maxwell Lubin told CNN.

In September, Rise and Student Debt Crisis teamed up to endorse the Biden-Harris ticket. Wednesday’s virtual event with Yang marks the first time the student-focused groups will partner with Savi.

Rise, a student-led advocacy group with chapters on college campuses across the country, has mobilized more than 80,000 students in battle ground states with a get out the vote campaign since the summer, Lubin said. 

Student Debt Crisis is a national organization dedicated to teaching young people how to manage their student loans. They regularly hold clinics to help young people understand their loans and work nationally to reform student debt and higher education policies. 

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Pins and needles: US stocks close lower as stimulus talks drag

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Investors are increasingly worried that Democratic legislators and the White House may not reach a deal on a vital stimulus package before Election Day.

Wall Street’s three major averages closed lower on Wednesday after a volatile trading session, as investors worried whether difficult negotiations in Washington, DC would produce a deal for a fresh United States coronavirus stimulus package.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 97.97 points, or 0.35 percent, at 28,210.82.

The S&P 500 – a gauge for the health of US retirement and college savings reports – lost 0.22 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index shed 0.28 percent.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that while there are a number of differences between the White House and Congressional Democrats, Republican President Donald Trump was “willing to lean into” working on an agreement.

Before starting afternoon talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there was still a chance for a deal despite resistance from Senate Republicans, though she acknowledged it might not pass until after the November 3 Election Day.

“As long as she keeps dangling the carrot out there that there’s still a chance that something could get done, investors continue to remain optimistic,” said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, California.

“You would rather have more long exposure than have too much cash if an agreement is reached. That’s a big if,” James added.

James said investors were holding out hope a deal could be reached on Thursday.

“Everybody’s going to be sitting on pins and needles waiting for the next headline between now and the end of tomorrow’s trading day,” he explained.

After the closing bell, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the day’s session “brings us closer to being able to put pen to paper to write legislation”.

Instead of ploughing money into the market broadly, Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Stamford, Connecticut said investors picked stocks as they looked at third-quarter financial results.

Of the 11 major industry sectors, nine closed lower, with energy leading the percentage decliners. Communications services was the biggest gainer.

Shares in Snapchat messaging app owner Snap Inc finished up 28 percent after it beat user growth and revenue forecasts, as more people signed up to chat with friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news helped boost other social media companies with Facebook Inc up 4 percent and Twitter Inc climbing 8 percent in the communications services index. Smaller social media firm Pinterest Inc also gained close to 9 percent.

Dampening the mood, however, was Netflix Inc, which tumbled almost 7 percent after it kicked off earnings for the market’s high-flyers club. The video-streaming service missed expectations for subscriber growth as competition increased and live sports returned to television.

Shares in electric-car maker Tesla Inc rose 4 percent after the closing bell after it reported quarterly earnings. Tesla beat analysts’ estimates for third-quarter revenue as it made record vehicle deliveries, overcoming disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the 84 S&P 500 firms that have reported third-quarter results, 85.7 percent have topped expectations for earnings, according to IBES Refinitiv data.

Investors also have their eyes on the upcoming elections. Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will face off in their second and final debate on Thursday night.

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