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Venezuelan oil-backed cryptocurrency petro raised $735 million: Maduro

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Venezuela’s oil-backed “petro” cryptocurrency raised $735 million in the first day of its pre-sale Wednesday, President Nicolas Maduro has claimed.

The Venezuelan president said on Twitter that the petro token raised more than 4.777 billion Chinese yuan, or $735 million, and that the state-backed virtual currency “reaffirms our economic sovereignty.”

Caracas said that each unit of the petro is pegged to the price of one barrel of Venezuelan oil. The country’s cryptocurrency regulator has said it hopes the petro will draw investment from Qatar, Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, as well as from European nations and the U.S.

But a number of skeptics have raised concern about the country’s cryptocurrency ambitions, with some citing Venezuela’s debt problems and the possibility of asset manipulation as cause for doubt.

Venezuela is currently facing hyperinflation, the collapse of its currency, the bolivar, and shortages in food and other basic necessities due to price controls.

Maduro has said that the petro will serve as a means for Venezuela to circumvent Western sanctions. Both the European Union and the United States have imposed economic sanctions on Caracas over their opposition to its autocratic government.



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Dr. Seuss books shoot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list

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Dr. Seuss’ never-before-published book, “What Pet Should I Get?” is seen on display on the day it is released for sale at the Books and Books store on July 28, 2015 in Coral Gables, United States.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Books by Dr. Seuss have flooded Amazon‘s U.S. bestseller list, after it was announced six of the author’s publications would be pulled over racist imagery. 

“The Cat in the Hat” is currently the bestselling book on Amazon’s U.S. store, closely followed by “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” and “Green Eggs and Ham,” along with a number of other titles by the famous children’s author. In total, 15 Dr. Seuss publications were in Amazon’s top 20 list on Friday morning. 

“Green Eggs and Ham” and “The Cat in the Hat” also appeared in Amazon Canada’s top 10 bestselling books list. 

This comes after Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business running the late author’s estate, said Tuesday it made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of six of his books: “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and The Cat’s Quizzer.  

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises said in the statement, with the author’s books having faced criticism in recent years over their racist imagery. 

The announcement came on Read Across America Day on Tuesday, which is also the birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel and had previously been associated with the author. 

President Joe Biden left any mention of Dr. Seuss out of his Read Across America Day proclamation on Monday, signaling a further distancing from the author. Both former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama mentioned Dr. Seuss in their previous speeches. 

In fact, the school district of Loudoun County, Virginia, issued a statement last weekend following rumors to clarify that it hadn’t banned Dr. Seuss books but had provided “guidance to schools during the past couple of years to not connect Read Across America Day exclusively with Dr. Seuss’ birthday.” 

“Research in recent years has revealed strong racial undertones in many books written/illustrated by Dr. Seuss,” Loudoun County Public Schools said in the statement.

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Will I need proof of vaccine to travel abroad

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As vaccination rollouts gather pace around the world, attention is now turning to vaccines of another kind: vaccine passports.

Last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced the launch of its new digital travel pass as “the way forward” in resuming quarantine-free international travel.

The app, which is so far being trialed by 30 carriers, will allow governments and airlines to collect, access and share encrypted information related to passengers’ Covid-19 test and vaccination status prior to travel.

Both the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Economic Forum have created similar apps — ICC AOKpass and CommonPass, respectively — to allow travelers to document their medical status electronically. Countries such as Denmark and Sweden, are launching their own health passports, and even tech giants are looking to get in on the act.

What are digital health passports and will they facilitate a return to the skies this year?

What is a vaccine passport?

Also known as a digital health pass, a vaccine passport is digital documentation that an individual has been vaccinated against a virus, in this case Covid-19.

Stored on a phone or digital wallet, the data is typically presented as a QR code and can also show if a person has tested negative for the virus.

Digital health passports are being trialed as a way to validate individuals’ Covid-19 test and vaccination status.

Maskot | Getty Images

Such documentation is not unprecedented. For decades, people have had to show physical “yellow cards” as proof of vaccination against diseases like cholera, yellow fever and rubella when traveling to certain countries.

However, this marks the first time that the industry has rallied behind an electronic alternative designed to improve verifiability and circumvent some of the hold-ups caused by paper counterparts.

“Just imagine the scene if 180,000 people present a piece of paper that needs to be checked and validated,” Mike Tansey, a managing director at Accenture, told CNBC’s Global Traveler referencing the pre-Covid number of daily passengers at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Will we need digital health passports to travel?

Tansey, who leads Accenture’s APAC travel and hospitality division, has been working with a number of major airlines on their digital health pass strategies, including three in the U.S. and several across Asia- Pacific.

He said those plans have “accelerated” since the vaccine rollout, and for him, the need for such passes is clear.

The obvious answer is yes, we do.

Mike Tansey

managing director, travel and hospitality, Accenture

“The obvious answer is yes, we do,” said Tansey, when asked if we would need digital health passes to resume travel.

He called debates otherwise a “red herring.”

“Governments may not say that you have to have one, but the implications of not will be so ridiculous that travel won’t be worth it,” he said, referring to extensive testing and “draconian” quarantines.

What are the security concerns?

Tansey is not alone in his thinking. Other experts agree digital health passports may be the quickest and most effective way of resuming international travel.

Dr. Jase Ramsey, professor of management in Florida Gulf Coast University’s Lutgert College of Business, agreed the probability of adoption was “very high.” But he noted that concerns around security and personal data may leave consumers less willing to adopt digital health passes than their physical alternatives.

“As with any app that stores health records, there will be privacy and fraud concerns,” said Ramsey.

Vaccine passports electronically store medical information displayed as a QR code.

da-kuk | E+ | Getty Images

Accredify is one Singapore-based document accreditation firm whose technology is currently being used under the Singapore government’s mandated pre-travel Covid-19 health screenings. It claims that the appeal of digital accreditation systems — such as its own, which is based on the blockchain — is that they are tamper-proof and therefore unable to be falsified.

“Medical documents stored privately and securely on the app are accessible only to users, giving them the decision of who to share their medical records with and when,” a spokesperson said via email.

Meanwhile, resistance from travelers may be overstated. A recent study from travel news site The Vacationer found that almost three-quarters (73.6%) of Americans say they would use a Covid-19 health passport or app so airlines and border authorities can check their vaccination status and test results.

What are the challenges for health passports?

Crucially, the success of digital health passports will hinge on the effectiveness of vaccines. Little is yet known about whether vaccines prevent the spread of Covid-19, though research is underway.

As such, the World Health Organization has so far urged caution toward health passes, telling authorities and travel operators not to introduce proof of vaccination as a condition for international travel.

The efficacy of vaccines in preventing transmission is not yet clear, and global vaccine supply is limited.

spokesperson

World Health Organization

“This is because the efficacy of vaccines in preventing transmission is not yet clear, and global vaccine supply is limited,” a WHO spokesperson said.

Coordinating the various existing and pending vaccine passports on the market, and ensuring users’ certifications are linked to verified and approved medical facilities, will prove a major challenge.

“In order for vaccine passports to be an internationally practical tool, there will need to be a standardized platform that crosses all boundaries — such as the current passport system,” said Dr. Harry Severance, assistant professor at Duke University School of Medicine.

The WHO is working with agencies including IATA and the International Civil Aviation Organization to develop standards for digital vaccination cards. It added that its position on health passes will “evolve as evidence about existing and new Covid-19 vaccines is updated.”

What about the social implications?

Then, of course, there are the social, legal and political ramifications of a system based on inequitable global access to vaccines and technology.

Approximately 3.6 billion people globally cannot access the internet, according to the WHO, and more than 1.1 billion cannot officially prove their identity. As such, paper passes will remain essential for many.

Access to vaccinations is still far from equitable across the world

Luis Alvarez | DigitalVision | Getty Images

What might this mean for the future of travel?

Ultimately, the resumption of international travel will depend as much on countries’ willingness to reopen as it does on the travel verification technology in place.

In Asia-Pacific, where borders largely remain closed to tourists, governments may tend toward bilateral agreements, or “travel bubbles,” with select neighbors before opening up more broadly, said Accenture’s Tansey.

An internationally recognized system of health passports… will possibly allow us to survive an upcoming pandemic.

Harry Severance

Assistant professor, Duke University School of Medicine

“The reality … is we’re still six months away from any meaningful air travel,” he said. “It’s only going to be agreements with one or two places at a time.”

Still, with much of the technology in place, and with society moving toward an ever-more digitized future, developments made today in digital health passports could leave the travel industry — and society — better prepared for any potential turbulence ahead.

“If we evolve to an internationally recognized system of health passports (or) monitoring etc., that will be one facet of a downstream preparedness system that will possibly allow us to survive an upcoming pandemic, that may have worse dynamics than Covid-19,” said Duke University’s Severance.

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Too much stimulus in the U.S. may bring ‘imported inflation’ to China, economists warn

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BEIJING — As the U.S. pumps trillions of dollars into its economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, economists are concerned about spillover effects in China, including the risk of “imported inflation.”

Worries about high inflation, or rapidly rising prices, hit U.S. markets last week. The U.S. Congress is reviewing a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that critics say could cause inflation to soar, and add to debt levels that rose following last year’s historic $2 trillion stimulus package.

In China, economists are wary of risks to growth as the country tries to recover fully from the shock of the pandemic.

“The large-scale issuance of U.S. Treasurys, and the rapid expansion of the Federal Reserve (balance sheet), have increased the spillover effect of U.S. macro policies,” former finance minister Lou Jiwei said in an article published in the latest issue of the government-affiliated journal “Public Finance Research.” That’s according to a CNBC translation of the Chinese text.

Lou said the effects from major countries’ policies will hit emerging countries economically and financially. “We are facing major changes not seen for a century,” he said.

Lou is also the head of the foreign affairs committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference — the political advisory body meeting during the annual “Two Sessions” parliamentary gathering that began this week.

China’s monetary policy

As part of the parliamentary meeting, Premier Li Keqiang announced Friday a growth target of over 6% for 2021, and said the government would keep monetary policy “at a reasonable and appropriate level.”

Analysts are watching the week-long meeting for any details on how leaders might alter China’s monetary policy given the economy’s overall recovery from the shock of Covid-19.

Covid-19 first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. Stringent lockdowns in China allowed the country to control the domestic outbreak within months, but not before the pandemic spread throughout the world.

The coronavirus has hit the U.S. the hardest with more than 28.8 million cases and 520,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. and Europe have pursued extraordinary monetary policy in the last two years, said Zhang Cheng, director of credit at Bluestone Asset Management, referring to historically low interest rates and other policies to support economic growth. That’s caused a rise in commodity prices and pressure from “imported inflation” in China, he said, according to a CNBC translation of his Mandarin-language remarks.

Zhang added that China should protect itself from risks by avoiding U.S. dollar-denominated assets.

The country is the world’s second-largest holder of U.S. Treasurys and has $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, mostly denominated in the U.S. dollar.

When moving toward tighter policy, Chinese monetary policy will need to consider external risks, such as the potential for “imported inflation” and the long-run depreciation of the U.S. dollar as a result of stimulus in the U.S., JD Digits economists Shen Jianguang and Zhang Mingming wrote in a commentary piece carried by a state news agency last week.

Such a decline in the greenback would affect the security of China’s foreign exchange reserves, making efforts to increase international use of the yuan more important, the authors said.

As for near-term inflation concerns, analysts are watching the surge in prices for many commodities, of which China is the world’s largest consumer. Last month, copper prices rose to their highest since 2011. These price increases would raise production costs in China.

But analysts like Ma Yan, who covers foreign exchange at Hangzhou-based brokerage Nanhua Futures, expect the impact from such imported inflation will ultimately not be that great.

Instead, Ma is more concerned about how China can control its housing bubble, and is monitoring the credit and liquidity risk of real estate companies.

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