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Israeli forces kill 12 Palestinians in Gaza border protests: Gaza medics

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But its main focus was a demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed the right of return to towns and villages which their families fled from, or were driven out of, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.

In a statement, the Israeli military accused Hamas of “cynically exploiting women and children, sending them to the security fence and endangering their lives”.

The military said that more than 100 army sharpshooters had been deployed in the area and earth-moving vehicles piled up the dirt mounds to stop any attempt to breach the barrier.

Major General Eyal Zamir, head of Israel’s Southern Command, said his forces had identified “attempts to carry out terror attacks under the camouflage of riots”.

Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, had earlier urged protesters to adhere to the “peaceful nature” of the protest.

Israel has long ruled out any right of return, fearing an influx of Arabs that would wipe out its Jewish majority. It argues that refugees should resettle in a future state the Palestinians seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. Peace talks to that end have been frozen since 2014.

The protest, which also coincided with Good Friday and the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, is scheduled to culminate on May 15, the day Palestinians commemorate what they call the “Nakba,” or “Catastrophe” when the Israeli state was created.

The protest organisers include Hamas and representatives of other Palestinian factions.

There were also small protests in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and about 65 Palestinians were injured.

In Gaza, the protest was dubbed “The March of Return” and some of the tents bore names of the refugees’ original villages in what is now Israel, written in Arabic and Hebrew alike.

Citing security concerns, Israel, which withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, blockades the coastal territory, maintaining tight restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and goods across the frontier. Egypt, battling an Islamist insurgency in neighboring Sinai, keeps its border with Gaza largely closed.

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Brazil fears third Covid wave as Bolsonaro faces parliamentary inquiry

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Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is undergoing a probe carried by the Congress on mismanagement of the pandemic.

Andressa Anholete | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Health experts fear Brazil’s Covid-19 catastrophe could get even worse in the coming months, while a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic is expected to ratchet up political pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro.

South America’s largest country, previously renowned for demonstrating leadership during health crises, has become an international pariah amid the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil has recorded the highest coronavirus-related death toll in the world outside the U.S., is lagging in terms of vaccinations and is still without an effective and coordinated public health response to the outbreak.

An official inquiry, approved by Brazil’s Supreme Court, was opened late last month to investigate the government’s handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 430,000 people. The inquiry could pave the way to Bolsonaro’s impeachment, though analysts say political opponents of the right-wing leader may prefer to contest the president at elections in October 2022.

Bolsonaro has reportedly said he is “not worried” about the inquiry. A spokesperson for Brazil’s government did not respond to a request for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly spoken out against public health measures, which have become a political battlefield in Brazil, and continues to oppose any lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus.

“The current unmitigated epidemic won’t be overcome without a dramatic change of direction,” said Dr. Antonio Flores, an infectious disease specialist and Covid medical advisor for aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres in Brazil.

He said that if life continues as normal “at such high daily incidence, one can only expect a new wave of cases, additional thousands of deaths and more pressure on the already stretched health system.”

A gravedigger walks among graves of COVID-19 victims at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil, on April 29, 2021.

MICHAEL DANTAS | AFP | Getty Images

His comments echo warnings from other health experts that say Brazil could soon see a third wave of Covid infections in the coming weeks. It is feared that the country’s lackluster vaccination effort won’t be enough to prevent a new surge during the winter months of June through to September, with indoor gatherings and activities especially risky.

Flores told CNBC that all available public health measures should be stepped up “as soon as possible” and the country’s vaccination campaign needs to be accelerated. He added that an effective testing and tracing system along with coherent guidance on public health restrictions must also be implemented.

‘A decisive element of next year’s election’

As of May 12, around 15% of Brazil’s population of roughly 211 million have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to statistics compiled by Our World in Data. Chile, meanwhile, has vaccinated close to 46% of its population with at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, reflecting one of the highest vaccination rates worldwide.

Brazil’s lower rate of vaccination means millions of people nationwide, and beyond its borders, are at risk from more than 90 variants of the coronavirus currently circulating in the country — in addition to any new mutations that may emerge.

Brazil’s Covid vaccination campaign is in stark contrast to its response to the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009, when it vaccinated 92 million people against the virus in just three months. The key difference this time around, analysts say, is Bolsonaro’s refusal to embrace a science-led approach to the health crisis.

This is a very dangerous government but because it was democratically elected there is very little that can be done at the moment to push back.

Ilona Szabo

President of the Igarape Institute

The Pan American Health Organization said on Wednesday that almost 40% of all global Covid-related deaths reported last week occurred in the Americas, with nearly 80% of the region’s intensive care units currently filled with patients. PAHO Director Carissa Etienne warned it was clear that transmission is “far from being controlled,” even as the U.S. and Brazil report reductions in cases, Reuters reported.

Brazil recorded more than 74,000 cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, down from a peak of over 100,000 daily infections in April. In terms of infection numbers, it remains the third-worst Covid-hit country in the world, behind the U.S. and India respectively.

“I think that, whereas the situation in India has worsened considerably recently, in Brazil, numbers have plateaued at a very, very high level. The country has been in a state of collapse for months actually,” Oliver Stuenkel, associate professor of international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo, told CNBC via telephone.

A man is vaccinated against Covid-19 by a health worker in a remote area of Moju, Para state, Brazil on April 16, 2021.

JOAO PAULO GUIMARAES | AFP | Getty Images

“What is really so fascinating is whereas (former U.S. President Donald) Trump and to some extent (Indian Prime Minister Narendra) Modi are paying a political price, Bolsonaro through a combination of factors has been able to retain fairly high political support and has not yet had to pay for it because his strategy of avoiding responsibility has been remarkably successful so far,” he added.

Analysts said the length of the inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic would typically be expected to take around three months, but there is scope for the process to drag on for much longer.

Stuenkel said he expected the inquiry to take around six months to complete given that “the actual goal is to hammer home the message on the evening news that Bolsonaro is to blame.”

“In essence, I think the investigation will be crucial because if the investigation cannot alter public opinion at this stage, after 400,000 people have died and after basically the permanent collapse of the health system, then basically nothing can … To me that is a decisive element of next year’s election,” he added.

What happens next?

Earlier this week, Brazil’s former health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta — who was fired over a year ago after opposing Bolsonaro’s push to use the malaria drug chloroquine as a Covid treatment — testified before a parliamentary inquiry.

Mandetta said Bolsonaro was fully aware that the treatment had no scientific basis. Former U.S. President Donald Trump had also pushed for the use of the related drug hydroxychloroquine amid the pandemic despite a lack of scientific evidence.

“Unfortunately, this is a very dangerous government but because it was democratically elected there is very little that can be done at the moment to push back,” said Ilona Szabo, president of the Igarape Institute, a think tank based in Rio de Janeiro.

Szabo said that while she did not believe the inquiry would have “immediate” ramifications for Bolsonaro in political terms, “it is important that what is happening today has consequences in the future.”

“It will be proved that they are responsible and that most of the deaths were preventable,” Szabo said.

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Hong Kong travel bubble likely delayed, new restrictions

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A woman jogs past a cordoned off Merlion Park on June 12, 2020 in Singapore.

Suhaimi Abdullah | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s government said Friday it’s “very likely” that the air travel bubble with Hong Kong will not begin on May 26, as the Southeast Asian city-state further tightens measures to curb a rise in local Covid cases.

The air travel bubble would have allowed travelers to skip quarantine. It has faced multiple delays from its initial launch date on November 2020 as Hong Kong reported resurgence in Covid-19 cases.

Both Singapore and Hong Kong are major Asian business hubs without domestic air travel markets. Their tourism and aviation industries, heavily reliant on international travel, have been badly hit by the pandemic.

Singapore’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said Hong Kong is “a very safe region” now, with few new Covid cases detected daily. However, infections in Singapore have been climbing, he added.

Ong said he’s spoken with Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development, about the Covid situation in Singapore. Both sides will make a decision early next week on whether to go ahead with the air travel bubble launch, said Ong.

Singapore tightens restrictions

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Chip shortage expected to cost auto industry $110 billion in 2021

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The ongoing semiconductor chip shortage is now expected to cost the global automotive industry $110 billion in revenue in 2021, according to consulting firm AlixPartners.

The forecast is up by 81.5% from an initial forecast of $60.6 billion, which the New York-based firm released in late January when the parts problem started causing automakers to cut production at plants.

Mark Wakefield, global co-leader of the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners, said a number of factors have contributed to the increase, including a fire at a plant near Tokyo for chip supplier Renesas and weather-related kinks in the automotive supply chain.

“The pandemic-induced chip crisis has been exacerbated by events that are normally just bumps in the road for the auto industry, such as a fire in a key chip-making fabrication plant, severe weather in Texas and a drought in Taiwan,” he said in a press release. “But all these things are now major issues for the industry — which, in turn, has driven home the need to build supply-chain resiliency for the long term.”

AlixPartners is forecasting that production of 3.9 million vehicles will be lost this year as a result of the shortage. That’s up from January’s forecast that estimated the shortage would cut production of 2.2 million vehicles.

In the U.S., the shortage has caused the Biden administration to order a 100-day review of U.S. supply chains. About $50 billion of President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal also is earmarked for the American semiconductor industry.

Automakers such as Ford Motor and General Motors expect the chip shortage to cut billions of their earnings this year. Ford said the situation will lower its earnings by about $2.5 billion in 2021. GM expects the chip shortage will cut its earnings by $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

Semiconductor chips are extremely important components of new vehicles for areas like infotainment systems and more basic parts such as power steering and brakes. Depending on the vehicle and its options, experts say a vehicle could have hundreds of semiconductors, if not more. Higher-priced vehicles with advanced safety and infotainment systems have far more than a base model, including different types of chips.

“There are up to 1,400 chips in a typical vehicle today, and that number is only going to increases as the industry continues its march toward electric vehicles, ever-more connected vehicles and, eventually, autonomous vehicles,” Dan Hearsch, a managing director in AlixPartners’ automotive and industrial practice, said in a statement. “So, this really is a critical issue for the industry.”

AlixPartners expects the largest impact to production in the second quarter and then progressively get better during the second half of the year and into 2022, Hearsch told CNBC.

“By Q3, there’s enough to get everybody back up and running for the most part,” he said. “And then in Q4, we should get humming again and then next year get back to normal, hopefully.”

That doesn’t mean supply constraints will be completely solved next year, but Hearsch said automakers should have enough semiconductors to produce as many vehicles as they want.

The global automotive industry is an extremely complex system of retailers, automakers and suppliers. The last group includes larger suppliers such as Robert Bosch or Continental AG that source chips for their products from smaller, more-focused chip manufacturers such as Renesas or NXP Semiconductors.

Much of the problem begins at the bottom of the supply chain involving wafers. The wafers are used with the small semiconductor to create a chip that’s then put into modules for things like steering, brakes and infotainment systems.

The origin of the shortage dates to early last year when Covid caused rolling shutdowns of vehicle assembly plants. As the facilities closed, the wafer and chip suppliers diverted the parts to other sectors such as consumer electronics, which weren’t expected to be as hurt by stay-at-home orders.

Hearsch said the top priority for companies right now is “mitigating the best they can the short-term effects of this disruption,” which may include everything from renegotiating contracts to managing the expectations of lenders and investors.

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said the automaker, which was formed in January through a merger between Fiat Chrysler and French automaker PSA Groupe, isn’t ruling out ways to be repaid by suppliers for the parts problem.

“It’s too soon to say. We don’t know yet the total of the financial impact … It’s going to be massive,” he said Wednesday during the during the Financial Times Future of the Car Digital Summit. “But it’s clear that it’s a competitive game … we will not exclude that possibility.”

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