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Employers Find Testing Employees More Trouble Than It’s Worth

From nursing homes in New York and a landfill in Utah to Disney World and the Las Vegas Strip, employers are wrestling with workplace safety in the age of Covid-19 and making fraught calculations about how to safeguard both their businesses and their employees.

Mass testing, a critical tool to stem the virus’s spread, would appear an obvious solution.

But dogged by issues of cost — diagnostic tests start at around $100 each — access, logistics and employee privacy, tests aren’t part of most back-to-work plans. As health-care companies that work with employers in this capacity are fond of saying, there’s no silver bullet. 

Another major deterrent is that Covid-19 tests only measure that point in time, notes Lauren Vela, senior director for the Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents large employers like Microsoft Corp. and Walmart Inc. If a worker is infected shortly after being tested, it wouldn’t show up but everyone would be falsely reassured by the negative result. 

Testing is “not really available, feasible or easy, and it’s not a solution you can do for every employee, every day,” Vela said.

So instead employers are favoring lower-cost, easier-to-implement interventions like temperature checks and symptom screening while also stocking up on masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes. While those measures help, asymptomatic individuals could still transmit the virus.

Health-care startup Buoy Health has been working with employers on Covid workplace issues. Only a few are taking an on-site testing approach. 

“The cost of the test at scale is pretty prohibitive,” Chief Executive Officer Andrew Le said.

But at Walt Disney Co. theme parks, actors working the live shows are demanding screenings before they return.

Performers sing, dance and hand things to each other, noted Kate Shindle, president of the Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents cast members at Broadway shows and Disney’s Florida resorts.

“There’s lot of people who can do their work when they’re wearing a mask and gloves. Our people can’t do that,” Shindle said in an interview. “It’s just very important to our membership, who otherwise is overwhelmingly eager to get back to work.”

In a June 24 letter to its unions in California, Disney said it doesn’t think testing is a good idea, citing a high rate of false negatives and concerns that it creates “a false sense of security,” among other factors. Instead, it’s focusing on physical distancing, wearing effective face coverings, hand washing and sanitization.

‘Not in Control’

Intermountain Regional Landfill in Utah, located about an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, has made a different calculation. Cases in the state have surged in recent weeks and an employee recently had to stay home for three days because of a potential exposure through a family member who ended up testing negative.

That was “not only cumbersome and a loss of productivity, but really frustrating to know we’re not in control of it,” said Chief Financial Officer Adam Campbell.

Intermountain processes over four million pounds of waste a day and operations are easily disrupted even if only a few workers got sick. In the worst-case scenario, should infection hit all 15 employees and force a total work suspension, the business would face estimated losses of about $20,000 a day.

So Intermountain decided to test its workforce. It’s working with Atlas ID, a software company that had focused on employment verification systems before the pandemic, to work out how often to test and in which scenarios. It’ll cost about $2,000 a round.

“We could be testing for years at a high level and never even touch just missing one day’s worth of having to divert our waste,” Rob Richards, the landfill’s president and general manager, said.

Insurance Help?

At nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which an analysis by the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity found account for 45% of virus deaths in the U.S., testing employees is mandatory for many. But the bill quickly adds up.

Len Russ owns Bayberry Care Center in New Rochelle, New York. His roughly 100 employees were tested twice a week for five weeks, at a cost of $20,000 a week. The screening did identify at least six sick employees, but Russ is still waiting to see how to cover the $100,000 tab. The lab that processed the tests will try billing employees’ insurance, though Russ said he doesn’t expect them to cover repeat testing.

Keene Valley Neighborhood House, an assisted living facility in upstate New York, has had success billing insurance, according to executive director Richard Rothstein. But employers are ultimately likely to bear these costs themselves through higher premiums.

Employers, many of whom are already facing massive losses from shutdowns, often find the cost doesn’t make sense. Antigen testing, which screens for active infections and provides rapid and cheap results, has promise but is only beginning to come to market.

Although antibody tests, which screen for past infections and are easier for labs to scale up, seemed like a solution, it isn’t clear what sort of immunity antibodies grant. And after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said antibody tests shouldn’t be used in deciding to send people back to work, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a statement telling employers they can’t require the tests. Diagnostic tests for current infections are permitted.

South of Los Angeles, EB Design builds decorative interiors for hotels and high-end restaurants, a group that was “basically decimated” during shutdowns, owner Eric Beneker said. He decided to test his 20 employees biweekly to ensure their safety, but couldn’t find information or resources on how to do it.

The company ended up booking appointments through facilities set up by local governments. It’s been time-consuming, though, as there were few open slots and long turnaround times. And they had to mislead the sites to get in because individuals have to be symptomatic to get tested.

“Is it the honest thing to do?” Beneker said. “Probably not, but we don’t have any other choice, and we’re not given any other choice.”

In May, two employees tested positive and EB Design closed down. The company paid a private lab to re-test everyone. It cost about $3,000 total, around 10% of the company’s payroll. It turned out neither had Covid-19. Could the company field that kind of bill regularly? “Hell no,” Beneker said.

“The problem is we’re so far down the road here with reopening of the economy,” he said. “While we’re trying, and we’re doing our best, we’re not getting the tools” needed to help.

Logistical challenges abound — results often take days or over a week to come in, supplies continue to be limited — but privacy issues often weigh as heavily.

Suffolk Construction partners with Buoy Health on its workplace safety plan. A testing facility is available as needed, but the builder isn’t implementing mass screenings, Executive Vice President Alex Hall said, citing privacy concerns and the limited usefulness of the results.

“We get it. There’s an element of Big Brother around this situation anyway,” Hall said. “We want to be mindful of how people are feeling.”

The battle is also playing out in Vegas, where cases have surged since casinos began reopening last month.

Managers, unions and other business leaders created a program with a hospital to test workers at the convention center. But it isn’t mandatory, according to Bethany Khan, a spokesperson for the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents casino employees.

While Caesars Entertainment Corp. has made testing mandatory after a worker died from the virus in June, others haven’t. Khan said the union is pushing for regular testing and on Monday, it sued Harrah’s hotel, operated by Caesars, and MGM Resorts International’s Bellagio for not adequately protecting workers.

MGM said it’s working with health-care professionals to develop safety protocols, including mandatory testing for anyone with symptoms or exposure, as well as free ones for anyone who wants a test. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of everyone inside of our properties,” the company said.

At a press conference last week, a bellman at The Signature at MGM Grand hotel spoke about falling ill in June.

“It was three months that we did social distancing, that we did lockdown in Las Vegas,” Sixto Zermeno said. “I go back to work, three days later I’m sick on the fourth day.”

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The bubonic plague has been found at a hospital in China's Inner Mongolia region

  • A herdsman in China has contracted the bubonic plague.
  • Health officials in a Chinese region of Inner Mongolia have banned the hunting or eating of wild animals which are thought to carry the highly infectious disease.
  • The disease is now easily treatable with antibiotics but there are still occasional outbreaks, such as one in Madagascar in 2017.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

LONDON — Authorities in an autonomous region in northern China have issued a health warning after a local farmer contracted the bubonic plague.

A herdsman was reportedly in a stable condition after having been confirmed to have caught the disease on Sunday, according to the New York Times. 

Health officials in Bayan Mur, a city in Inner Mongolia, on Sunday issued a third-level alert, according to Reuters, which is the second-lowest of four tiers.

The alert forbids the hunting or eating of wild animals that could carry the plague and it will be in place until the end of the year. Locals have also been told to report finding any ill and dead animals, as well as people showing signs of a fever of or sudden deaths.

"At present, there is a risk of a human plague epidemic spreading in this city. The public should improve its self-protection awareness and ability, and report abnormal health conditions promptly," the local health authority said, according to the China Daily newspaper.

The bubonic plague is a highly transmissible disease caused by a bacterial infection and was the cause of the Black Death, which swept through much of Asia, Europe and Africa in the fourteenth century and claimed as many as 50 million lives.

It is now easily treatable with antibiotics meaning cases are rare and an epidemic is highly unlikely, and the infected patient is in a stable condition, according to the Global Times.

But there are still occasional outbreaks of the disease — Madasagcar recorded more than 300 cases in 2017, according to a BBC report.

A Mongolian couple also died last year after contracting the bubonic plague when they ate raw marmot meat.

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We asked 16 huge companies like Goldman Sachs and Amazon about their plans to test workers for the coronavirus. It revealed an unclear path for how to reopen the economy and stop the virus' spread.

  • While the US sets new records for single-day cases, many employers aren't sure if they'll test office workers for the novel coronavirus, or how.
  • Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Target, and others aren't reporting concrete plans to test all workers yet. 
  • Methods like temperature checks are common to reduce spread, but don't catch symptom-less cases.
  • That spells trouble for the 45% of American employees who aren't working from home full-time.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

While the US sets new records for single-day coronavirus cases, employers are increasingly grappling with strategies — or sometimes a lack thereof — for how to get their workers tested.  

Most are requiring face masks, rejiggering their sites to accommodate social distancing, and doing temperature checks, but 56% haven't decided if they'll require testing for on-site workers, according to a poll of 40 manufacturers, tech firms, municipalities, retailers, and educators by Pacific Business Group on Health, a nonprofit coalition of large employers like American Airlines, Microsoft, Tesla, and Stanford University.

A third said they won't require testing; Only 11% of respondents said they're testing workers several times per week, the survey found.

Business Insider reached out to 16 of the world's largest employers to see if they're tackling workplace testing. Three said they had no plans to test employees yet, while two said they were actively figuring out how to do it. Companies that make coronavirus tests are doing some workplace testing: Abbott Laboratories said it was testing some workers regularly, while Roche said it's providing tests to volunteers. 

Some organizations want frequent testing, but are shocked by the sticker price; others don't think it's necessary or don't know how to implement it, employers, testing executives, and a health benefits group told Business Insider.

That spells trouble for the 45% of American employees who aren't working from home full-time — or folks gearing up to return to offices, shops, and other sites. Meanwhile, temperature checks may be commonplace, but they can't always prevent transmission from the majority of coronavirus-positive people with mild symptoms, or none at all.  

"I think there's a little bit of wait-and-see going on," said Dr. Rajaie Batniji, a cofounder and chief health officer at Collective Health, a startup that focuses on employer-provided health insurance. Collective Health works with employers like Uber, Palantir, and Pinterest, and in May launched a testing program that's drawn particular interest from retail, tech, and manufacturing companies. 

Lab giants Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp as well as AMN Healthcare, a staffing agency, are also running testing programs ⁠— but they can be costly. Without working with a test provider, access to test sites can vary by geography.

Batniji said that temperature checks don't work, and there's a clear scientific consensus that testing, including for people without symptoms, is necessary to reduce the risk of transmission. That's because people with coronavirus can be notified of their status before they infect others. 

Employers — especially those with office workers — aren't exactly sure what to do with that information as far as who to test, how often, where to get tests, and how to monitor those results without breaking privacy laws, he said. It's leading to some companies delaying bringing their employees back to the office altogether. 

Read more: Companies are scrambling to figure out how to get employees back to the office safely. One of Silicon Valley's favorite healthcare startups thinks it has the solution.

Big employers like Amazon and Goldman Sachs haven't figured out testing yet

From financial services to retail to tech, it seems that few large companies — not to mention smaller ones with fewer resources and more vulnerable populations — have formal plans to test all workers at regular intervals so far, though many are discussing them.

Nationally, four in 10 workers say their employers aren't screening for coronavirus symptoms, while roughly a third say their companies have most or all workers on-site as of May 31, according to a recent Gallup poll of about 1,900 people. Nearly half are worried about being exposed to coronavirus at work, and only a quarter "strongly agree" that they can return to work sites safely, the poll found. 

As Goldman Sachs weighs reopening, it's focusing on measures for physical distancing, temperature scans, mask requirements in common areas, and a limit on the number of people who can use the elevators at the same time, a spokesperson told Business Insider. The company will have maximum 50% capacity in the office for a while, as one example.

The financial services giant is discussing the use of virus and antibody testing, but hasn't made formal plans to implement it yet, Goldman said.

Amazon's operation sites and grocery stores are distributing masks, using disinfectant spray, and conducting temperature checks, a spokesperson told Business Insider. It's also started a pilot program and research team dedicated to exploring regular testing of employees. 

"We don't know exactly yet how it's going to shape up, but we continue to believe it's worth trying," the spokesperson said over email.

Read more: Here are 3 reasons that Amazon's $1 billion effort to test every employee for the coronavirus could be a game changer, according to Morgan Stanley.

The majority of workers in Target's headquarters will stay remote, either full-time or combined with going into the office, for the rest of 2020, a spokesperson said. Other safety measures include many of the same cleaning and distancing measures, but they'll also encourage employees to do daily self-exams, according to the company.

Healthcare companies are grappling with how to test workers, too. 

Healthcare giant Siemens Healthineers is still working out its testing strategy, the company told Business Insider. Roche, a $300 billion pharma and diagnostics company, is giving employees tests for coronavirus antibodies on a voluntary basis. UnitedHealth Group, which operates health plans through its insurance arm UnitedHealthcare, wouldn't say if it had plans to test workers regularly. 

Abbott, a healthcare company and coronavirus test-maker, said it's directing kits to frontline healthcare workers, first responders, and the broader community, but is testing employees at some manufacturing facilities who're directly involved in making those products.

Record cases have employers reconsidering testing

Companies are under pressure, economically and socially, to return to some degree of normalcy, but the recent surge in cases has helped them see the need for consistent surveillance, Caroline Savello, the chief commercial officer at Color, a testing startup, told Business Insider. 

The company's seen a spike in demand over the past couple of weeks, especially from smaller companies and schools in the sunbelt states and others where the virus is running rampant, but testing access is limited, Savello said.

Color works with Salesforce, Visa, Levi's, and a number of large groups around the country. It recently launched a testing program for employers, where it flies coronavirus tests to its lab in California and texts people about results.

"Spikes in cases is demonstrating that not only is this not going away, but many states and most employers don't have the appropriate infrastructure in place to manage outbreaks, and particularly given what we're seeing with asymptomatic spread," Savello said. 

To be sure, regularly testing workers for coronavirus poses logistical and financial challenges. Virus testing can cost $150 per kit; for a company with 100,000 workers, that's $15 million just for one round of tests. There's also the issue of arranging tests, while access to labs can vary depending on location. 

Not exactly helping matters is the fact that President Donald Trump's administration said health plans didn't have to cover testing required by employers. That'll likely make cash-strapped businesses less likely to pay for tests.

"The payers are not taking the role that I think they need to to ensure that we stem this pandemic," she said. "You can't just limit testing to people who present with symptoms in a health clinic."

Read more: Nursing homes reveal a $25 billion conundrum: No one wants to pay for the millions of coronavirus tests required to reopen the country.

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email [email protected] and tell us your story.

Get the latest coronavirus business & economic impact analysis from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is affecting industries.

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One of Japan’s Largest Employers Plans to Cut Office Space by 50%

While much of Japan continues to debate the pros and cons of remote working, one of the country’s largest employers has made up its mind — and it could be a bad sign for the office sector.

Fujitsu Ltd. said it will cut its office space in Japan by 50% over the next three years, encouraging 80,000 office workers to primarily work from home in what it termed a “Work Life Shift for the new normal.”

“We will change the conventional concept of workers commuting to a fixed office and, through high autonomy and mutual trust between employees, deliver value to clients,” Fujitsu said in a statement.

The plan calls for a 5,000 yen ($46) a month stipend for workers to set up their home office environment in lieu of an existing commuting allowance and turning all existing offices to “hot-desking,” an approach many offices are currently discouraging to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Fujitsu is Japan’s 17th largest publicly traded employer, according to Bloomberg data, with almost 130,000 workers in total. Factory employees won’t be impacted by the move.

Fujitsu also recently made headlines as the maker of the world fastest supercomputer, named Fugaku, which is being used to help identify potential Covid-19 treatments and predict the flow of virus-laden droplets. Citigroup analyst Kota Ezawa raised his price target for the stock by 28% on Friday, saying the company will likely avoid a “severe deterioration” in its upcoming earnings.

While some of Fujitsu’s initiative could be driven by marketing concerns — the company sells technology that supports remote working — it doesn’t augur well for Japan’s office sector in a post-Covid-19 world.

Tokyo Offices Seen Facing Record Vacancies on Shift to Telework

Many traditionally-minded companies have called for employees to return to their offices, but face resistance among their staff. A survey conducted in May by the Japan Productivity Center found that more than 60% of those questioned wanted to continue working remotely even after the pandemic is contained. A Cabinet Office poll showed increased levels of interest from 25% of city dwellers in moving to the country.

Fujitsu is the second major company in recent days to bow to that sentiment. Snack maker Calbee Inc. introduced a system for its 800 office workers to work from home full-time, with no obligation to travel to the office. It expects about 30% of its staff to go to the office.

Tokyo’s office vacancies have begun to tick up over the past months, rising to 1.64% in May according to Miki Shoji Co. data. Vacancies have risen for three straight months for the first time since 2012. Data for June is set to be released on Thursday.

A falling job-to-applicant ratio also “flashes a warning signal” for Tokyo office leasing demand, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Patrick Wong wrote in a July 3 report.

Office Vacancies in Tokyo Still Low Despite Uptick

— With assistance by Lily Nonomiya

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Israel's prime minister wants to annex parts of the West Bank, a controversial scheme encouraged by Trump but hated by everyone else. Here's what his plan is.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed annexing a significant portion of the West Bank, a disputed landlocked territory both Israelis and Palestinians assert claims to. 
  • In recent discussions, Netanyahu has reportedly floated the idea of annexing 30% of the West Bank, along with other options including "a more symbolic annexation of a small amount of land." 
  • On Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would continue working on the annexation plans "in the coming days."
  • International observers say that Israel's annexation of land in the disputed territory would violate international law.
  • According to The New York Times, Netanyahu is hoping to win the Trump administration's approval before going ahead with plans, in order to stave off criticism. 
  • Here's an overview of the West Bank, Netanyahu's annexation plans, and the international community's response. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed annexing a significant portion of the West Bank, a disputed landlocked territory both Israelis and Palestinians assert claims to. 

Netanyahu — who has just begun his fifth term as Israel's Prime Minister — previously pledged to move forward with plans to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank, setting July 1 as a tentative deadline to begin the process. 

In recent discussions, he has floated the idea of annexing 30% of the West Bank, according to Axios, along with other options that included "a more symbolic annexation of a small amount of land."

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told Netanyahu that they oppose the annexation of any areas that house Palestinian residents, the outlet reported.

But Netanyahu's push to annex territory in the West Bank experienced a delay on Wednesday, as the day went without a formal announcement.

According to The New York Times, Netanyahu is now hoping to have the Trump administration's approval before going ahead with plans in order to stave off criticism from international observers, many of whom believe that the acquisition of the disputed territory by Israel would violate international law.

According to Reuters, President Donald Trump's aides, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, have been discussing the annexation plans and whether or not to greenlight the idea. However, no decision has been made yet.

Netanyahu's calls for annexation align with the Trump administration's Middle East peace plan that was unveiled in January.

The peace plan does not call for uprooting Palestinians or Israelis in the West Bank from their homes; instead, it would recognize a majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank as part of Israel, and would give a future Palestinian state land near the Gaza Strip — comprised of mostly desert — to compensate for the land loss.

Palestinians rejected the deal, saying that Trump simply "copied and pasted" elements favorable to Netanyahu. 

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would continue working on the annexation plans "in the coming days."

What is the West Bank?

The West Bank is a territory west of the Jordan River that was occupied by Israel in 1967 after the Six-Day War.

During a pair of agreements referred to as the Oslo Accords, which were signed in the 1990s, Israel and the Palestinian leadership agreed to divide up the land in the West Bank in pursuit of peace.

The land was sectioned into three disjointed administrative divisions: Area A, controlled by the Palestinian Authority; Area B, controlled by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel; and Area C, controlled by Israel. 

According to the BBC, an estimated 2.1 million to 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, while about 430,000 Israelis also live in the West Bank in 132 settlements and dozens of smaller "outposts." 

Israel believes the West Bank is part of the biblical Kingdom of Israel, and says there has always been a Jewish presence in the territory.

It has continued to build new settlements in recent years. 

Palestinians have also held a historical presence in the West Bank, and expressed a desire for the land to be part of a future Palestinian state.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes in West Bank cities, including Tulkarem and Qalqilya, when Israel occupied the land in 1967. 

International observers say Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of a population into a land occupied as a result of armed conflict.

Israel disputes this. The US changed its position in 2019, saying that Israeli settlements were "not inconsistent with international law."

Netanyahu's annexation plan largely condemned

Rights groups have criticized Netanyahu's plans, saying they would derail any chance at peace between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in May that he would end "all agreements" with Israel and the US over the annexation plans.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in June that Palestinians will declare statehood over all of the West Bank and Gaza if Netanyahu goes ahead with annexation plans.

Meanwhile, some Israeli settlers — a diverse group of both secular and religious Jews — have expressed both support and opposition to Netanyahu's controversial plan.

United Nations experts said last month that if Israel annexed Palestinian-occupied portions of the West Bank it would "break international law." 

"The annexation of occupied territory is a serious violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions," 47 independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council said in a statement.

The statement said that Israel's 53-year occupation of Palestinian land "is the source of profound human rights violations" and has led to the "denial of the right of Palestinian self-determination."

A senior United Arab Emirates ambassador also wrote a rare op-ed in a major Hebrew-language newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, earlier this month warning against plans to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank. It was the first time a Gulf diplomat had written in an Israeli newspaper.

"It will ignite violence and rouse extremists," wrote Yousef Al-Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador to the US.

In an op-ed in the same Israeli newspaper last Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said an Israeli annexation in the West Bank "would represent a violation of international law."

"As a life-long friend, admirer and supporter of Israel, I am fearful that these proposals will fail in their objective of securing Israel's borders and will be contrary to Israel's own long-term interests," Johnson wrote. 

Other Israeli allies, including Germany, France, and Australia, also warned against the move. 

According to a poll conducted by the Brookings Institute, a majority of Democrat and independent respondents expressed "unfavorable" opinions about the plan, while a majority of Republicans expressed a "favorable" opinion.

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Boohoo to investigate use of Leicester factory with ‘unacceptable’ conditions

Online fashion retailer Boohoo has pledged to investigate how its clothes came to be made by a Leicester garment factory where workers were paid just £3.50 an hour in conditions that allegedly put them at greater risk of catching Covid-19.

Shares in the company slumped by 9% in early trading on Monday morning, the first day since revelations about its supply chain came to light.

Boohoo, which owns brands such as Pretty Little Thing and Nasty Gal, said conditions at the Jaswal Fashions factory in Leicester were “totally unacceptable and fall woefully short of any standards acceptable in any workplace”.

Boohoo booms as Leicester garment factories are linked to lockdown

Sales of clothes made by suppliers in Leicester have helped fuel rapid growth that could put its bosses in line for bonuses worth £150m as part of a three-year bonus scheme.

But Boohoo, which has enjoyed surging sales during the pandemic, as locked down shoppers browsed for clothes online, said it was not sure who was supplying them.

“Our early investigations have revealed that Jaswal Fashions is not a declared supplier and is also no longer trading as a garment manufacturer,” it said in a statement to investors in the company, which floated on the stock market in 2014.

“It therefore appears that a different company is using Jaswal’s former premises and we are currently trying to establish the identity of this company.

“We are taking immediate action to thoroughly investigate how our garments were in their hands, will ensure that our suppliers immediately cease working with this company, and we will urgently review our relationship with any suppliers who have subcontracted work to the manufacturer in question.”

It comes after an undercover reporter for the Sunday Times found staff being paid as little as £3.50 an hour in the factory, even though the minimum wage in Britain for those aged 25 and over is £8.72.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, asked the National Crime Agency to investigate modern slavery in Leicester’s clothing factories last week, after whistleblowers raised the alarm about conditions in the city’s industry.

Leicester has been the site of a localised coronavirus outbreak, with cramped conditions and lax safety measures in garment factories thought to have played a role in transmission of the virus.

Boohoo had previously said that none of its suppliers had been affected.

On Monday, the company said: “We are keen and willing to work with local officials to raise standards because we are absolutely committed to eradicating any instance of non-compliance and to ensuring that the actions of a few do not continue to undermine the excellent work of many of our suppliers in the area, who provide good jobs and good working conditions.”

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J. M. Smucker Recalls Natural Balance Canned Cat Food

J. M. Smucker Co. is recalling certain Natural Balance canned cat food, citing health concerns likely associated with increased levels of choline chloride, an animal growth promotant, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement.

The recall was initiated after receiving reports of adverse reactions.

The recall involves 5.5 oz can Natural Balance Ultra Premium Chicken & Liver Paté Formula canned cat food. The affected product has Retail UPC Code of 2363353227 and Lot Code of 9217803 with best by date of August 4, 2021. No other Natural Balance products are impacted by the recall.

The recalled products are most commonly sold in pet specialty retailers and online throughout the United States and Canada.

Choline chloride is a complex vitamin/nutritional used mainly in animal feed to promote rapid and healthy growth. Elevated levels of choline chloride could cause nausea with excessive salivation, constricted pupils and poor vision, diarrhea or vomiting. It could also result in more severe symptoms of difficulty walking, tremors, difficulty breathing, possible cardiac or respiratory failure and, in extreme situations, death.

The company urged pet owners to contact their cat’s veterinarian immediately if their cat is displaying any of the symptoms.

Last November, Go Raw, LLC recalled Quest Beef Cat Food for possible contamination with Salmonella that can affect pets and humans.

The FDA earlier had issued a warning against Performance Dog frozen raw pet food for fear of Salmonella contamination, and against raw pet food manufactured by Texas Tripe Inc. over concerns of possible Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes infection.

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PNB ready to disburse Rs 16,000 crore in loans

‘We have already sanctioned loans worth over Rs 3,000 crore to around 120,000 customers.’

Punjab National Bank is confident that its balance sheet won’t be impacted due to the ongoing pandemic, except for some stress in limited sectors such as telecom.

The bank expects retail and micro, small and medium enterprises to drive credit growth in the present fiscal year, with large investments expected to flow in the market from January, 2021.

“Our expectation (of net profit in every quarter of this financial year) is based on scientific understanding of performance,” PNB Managing Director and CEO S S Mallikarjuna Rao tells Somesh Jha.

You are expecting a credit growth of 6 per cent this fiscal year from an earlier estimate of 12 per cent. Where would the credit growth come from?

There is a requirement and commitment of banks towards the MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) which have been impacted badly due to COVID-19.

They are working hard to come back to normalcy.

We expect a robust comeback from the MSMEs in October, particularly in some sectors.

Hospitality and travel segments may not recover immediately, but less labour-intensive sectors and highly technology-oriented industries will come back fast.

We need to provide support to them.

The government has also launched a credit guarantee scheme which is in progress.

We expect growth in retail and MSME immediately, but bigger segments will take time and will probably happen from January onwards.

How will your loan portfolio be impacted?

We don’t have any pain in hospitality at this point of time.

The only pain will come from the telecom sector, if any.

But in telecom also, we have non-funded exposure where bank guarantees are given in favour of the government.

As a result, I am not expecting pain, but currently the telecom sector is passing through tough times.

In our composition, we don’t have much strain in sectors because we have already identified the pain.

It won’t impact our balance sheet in a big way.

You expect net profit in every quarter of this financial year. What gives you confidence?

The expectation is based on scientific understanding of the performance.

In the first two quarters, the treasury will give us the advantage with government securities prices coming down since March.

The RBI has been reducing the repo rate which has brought down the G. sec prices. We saw witnessed yield advantage already in the first quarter.

We have booked Rs 1,100 crore in this quarter, which is generally Rs 400 crore to Rs 500 crore on a quarterly basis.

This position will continue in the second quarter, too.

In the first half of the fiscal, we might earn around Rs 1,800 crore from treasury, following which rates may firm up.

I expect there won’t be much reduction in the days to go if at all it will be 25 to 30 basis points in the repo rate by the RBI.

Afterwards, our earning will accrue from lending as our operating profit is stable.

The only thing is burden of provisioning is impacting our net profit, but there is only a limited burden now with Rs 776 crore being the amount of dispensation taken for fraud accounts, which will be provided for before September.

Similarly, we will also complete the ageing provisions in the identified NPA (non-performing assets) accounts by then.

So, the backlog would not continue after September and with treasury benefits, we expect to clock moderate profits.

Our aim is to strengthen the balance sheet.

Does the plan to cover all ageing provisions by September include all the three banks together?

Yes, all three banks (PNB, Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India) together.

What would be your assessment of net profit for the whole year?

It is too early to say right now as we are in the process of preparing the opening balance sheet of the amalgamated entity which will be complete in the next two-three weeks.

We will assess the capital requirements, too.

In the next board meeting, we will go for a re-assessment of business needs and profits.

You mentioned that the government stake in your bank is high and touching almost 85 per cent. So in that case, will you look for support from elsewhere?

We will take options from all the angles, ranging from QIP (qualified institutional placement), going to the public, and asking the Life Insurance Corporation if they are interested.

We are also keeping the option for tier-1 and tier-2 capital.

Going to the government looks difficult as we breached the Sebi threshold of the minimum public shareholding of 25 per cent in September last year.

Now, we have to bring down the government stake in next two years.

It would be a better plan to go to the market rather than the government.

How easy would it be to go for sale of non-core assets going ahead?

The non-core assets can be divided into two parts — real estate and investments in joint ventures and associates.

We don’ have any plan to divest stakes in the latter as we want to hold onto our brand name and we would like to see them grow well in the market.

We have already issued advertisements to sell our old headquarters in Delhi.

There are eight floors and we are holding on to 3-4 floors and other four will be sold.

We have already sold one floor.

Apart from it, after amalgamation, we have a lot of properties which will be of no use and we will look to sell.

Some of the sales can happen before March and we can generate anywhere between Rs 300 crore to Rs 400 crore.

What about PNB Housing Finance?

We would like to continue holding onto our stakes in PNB Housing Finance. We want the company to grow.

The housing finance companies are coming out of the troubles it faced due to its investments in real estate.

Is there any sunset clause to the exemption the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority has given PNB for holding a stake in two insurance companies after the merger?

There is no sunset clause. We can continue to hold our share in both companies.

What is pending from the amalgamation process?

All the postings have been done at the leadership role.

Technology integration has multiple dimensions — core banking and surrounding applications and ATMs.

The latter we will complete by September.

The core banking integration will take some time.

We will complete one bank by December and the other by March 2021.

Has the bank secured further regulatory forbearance in the amalgamation process?

There are multiple of them.

One is related to single cheque book for customers, the MICR code of old banks should be discontinued.

These forbearances are from the RBI. We are confident of completing it in the timelines given by the RBI which ranges from 3 to 6 months (in some cases, it is one year too).

How much loans are you expected to disburse from the emergency credit guarantee scheme?

We have targeted clientele to whom we have to sanction and disburse.

For three banks together, around 500,000 customers are eligible and we can disburse Rs 15,000 crore to Rs 16,000 crore.

We have already sanctioned loans worth over Rs 3,000 crore to around 120,000 customers.

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US COVID-19 Deaths Lowest In 3 Months, But New Cases Continue To Spike

Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. fell for the fifth consecutive day. However, the infections continue to surge in 30 states.

With 40691 new cases reporting in the last 24 hours, the total number of infections in the United States increased to 2549069, as per Johns Hopkins University’s latest update on Monday.

The number of new cases had touched an all-time high of 44726 on Friday.

250 additional deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, taking the total death toll to 125803. This is the lowest daily number of casualties in the United States in 94 days.

New York, which was once the epicentre of coronavirus in the U.S., on Sunday recorded its lowest death toll-5 -since March 15.

Following is the latest infection and casualty data of the states worst-affected by the pandemic.

New York (31397 deaths, 392539 infections), New Jersey (14975 deaths, 171182 infections), Michigan (6157 deaths, 69946 infections), Massachusetts (8059 deaths, 108667 infections), Louisiana (3199 deaths, 56236 infections), Illinois (6888 deaths, 141723 infections), Pennsylvania (6606 deaths, 89863 infections), California (5932 deaths, 215296 infections), Connecticut (4316 deaths, 46303 infections), Texas (2402 deaths, 150152 infections), Georgia (2778 deaths, 77210 infections), Virginia (1732 deaths, 61736 infections), Maryland (3168 deaths, 66777 infections), Florida (3419 deaths, 141723 infections), Indiana (2619 deaths, 44930 infections), Ohio (2807 deaths, 50309 infections), Colorado (1676 deaths, 32290 infections), Minnesota (1460 deaths, 35549 infections), Arizona (1594 deaths, 73920 infections) and Washington (1310 deaths, 31752 infections).

Meanwhile, two top public health experts said the COVID-19 surge seems to continue for weeks.

“The virus has the upper hand. This virus is not going to go away on its own. We have to stop it,” Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control, said on Fox News Sunday.

Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said a move by the EU to ban the entry of U.S. citizens to the bloc will be followed by restrictions on travel within the U.S.

With cases rising in 30 states, Texas Governor Greg Abbott warned that the spread of the diseases has taken a “swift and very dangerous turn” in the state.

“Over just the past few weeks, the daily number of cases has gone from an average of about 2,000, to more than 5, 000,” he noted.

Thirteen states recently set record highs for seven-day averages in cases.

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Business

China Imposes Checks on Large Transactions After Bank Runs

China imposed a program to keep large transactions in check amid heightened concerns over the state of its financial system as bad debt balloons in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The People’s Bank of China this month kicked off a pilot plan in Hebei province that would require retail and business clients to pre-report any large withdrawals or deposits, according to a statement. The two-year program will be expanded to Zhejiang and Shenzhen in October, encompassing more than 70 million people.

Chinese lenders are facing a surge in bad debt with the economy set to expand at the slowest pace in four decades. Authorities stepped in last month to halt banks runs at two local lenders in Hebei and Shanxi. That comes on top of an already shaky situation last year, which saw China bail out and seize several struggling banks.

The pilot program aims to tighten monitoring of “unreasonable demands of large amounts of cash” to keep systematic risks in check, the PBOC said in the statement. Regulators will protect the public’s normal need for large transactions, it said.

The plan will require businesses to provide information on transactions exceeding 500,000 yuan ($71,000). For individuals, the threshold spans from 100,000 yuan to 300,000 yuan depending on the region, according to the statement.

While the statement didn’t say banks can reject a transaction exceeding the amount, lenders will need submit reports, mark risks and follow up on customers that come from high-risk sectors or those make frequent transactions or deviate from past behavior.

Authorities are seeking to shore up their $41 trillion banking system, which could suffer an 8 trillion yuan increase in bad debt this year, according to S&P Global. Small Chinese banks tracked by UBS Group AG need an estimated $349 billion of fresh capital.

At the same time, regulators are asking banks to forgo profits and provide cheap loans to help support the economy, adding further strain on the system.

— With assistance by Charlie Zhu, and Evelyn Yu

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