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Delay is a victory but not for long, analyst says



Any remaining political support for former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak could “collapse” once a corruption trial related to the scandal-ridden state fund 1MDB gets underway — despite the ex-leader’s recent attempts to shore up his popularity on social media, an analyst said on Tuesday.

Najib, ousted in an election in May last year, is facing more than 40 charges, including criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power in relation to 1MDB. The former leader has pleaded not guilty, and the trial for 10 of those charges was supposed to start on Tuesday, but was postponed pending an appeal.

The delay could be seen as a “victory” for Najib, whose recent social media activity — which includes releasing a music video — is widely seen by observers as an attempt to engineer a political comeback, said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute Tasmania at the University of Tasmania. But those efforts may be futile because the trial — when it eventually starts — will remind Malaysians of the scale of 1MDB’s alleged money laundering scandal, Chin added.

No new date has been set for the trial, but Reuters reported that a Malaysian prosecutor said the delay could last one or two weeks.

“Very often, the followers on social media and the likes you get on social media [do] not necessarily mean that you can translate that into broad political support in the real world. And also, I suspect that once the trial gets going, once people find out the amount of money involved and also how the money was misused, I suspect the political support will collapse after that,” Chin told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Tuesday.

Even then, a delay in the legal process and greater visibility on social media platforms could benefit Najib if it lasts long enough for the political climate in Malaysia to change, according to Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

“If the political tide in the country turns, let’s say, in a few years’ time, then he could well be back in power, for example, or his allies could be back in power and he could then be absolved of all these charges,” Oh told CNBC’s Sri Jegarajah on Tuesday. Oh was Najib’s political secretary in 2009 to 2011.

Najib was voted out of office in a historic election that ended the 60-year rule of Barisan Nasional, a coalition of political parties in power since Malaysia’s independence. The upset, experts said, can be largely attributed to Najib’s alleged involvement in the 1MDB scandal — in which billions of dollars were allegedly siphoned off the investment company set up to steer Malaysia’s economic development. Some of those funds allegedly ended up in Najib’s personal bank account.

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What will flying be like? How coronavirus is changing airports



Flying this summer is predicted to be more tedious than in the past, but experts say the pandemic is pushing positive change at airports at breakneck speed. 

What’s on the horizon? Imagine shorter lines, cruising through checkpoints and not touching anything — except for your mobile phone — from your car door to your airplane seat. In fact, the technology to do this already exists.

Here is what to expect from airports of the (near) future.

1. A mad dash for “touchless” technology

It’s widely anticipated that airports will transition to touchless technology at a much quicker rate as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We are seeing five years’ innovation in five months, and much of the impact will be permanent,” said Ibrahim Ibrahim, the managing director of Portland Design, a London-based design consultancy with a focus on transit hubs and airports. “We will see a turbo-charged uptake on tech-driven zero-touch check in, security and boarding.”

To verify passenger identities, driver’s licenses and passports are being replaced with facial-recognition and iris-scanning biometrics. 

Facial recognition biometrics compare travelers’ faces with government passport databases.

Courtesy of Sita

The first biometric terminal in the U.S. opened in Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in late 2018. Third-party research shows 72% of customers preferred biometric boarding over standard boarding, and less than 2% of customers opted out of the process, per Delta’s website.

“Delta has expanded its facial recognition boarding practices to airports in Detroit, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City,” said design strategist Devin Liddell who works with aviation and travel clients. “United Airlines has pilot programs doing testing now in San Francisco, Washington Dulles and Houston.”

The same pace of testing and deployment of biometrics is underway internationally at airports in Canada, Japan, Italy, Spain and Iceland, said Liddell.

Mobile phones will play a critical role too, one that extends beyond mobile boarding passes (which were introduced over a decade ago).

“Your mobile phone will become your remote control to manage your travel,” said Andrew O’Connor, vice president of portfolio management at Sita, an air transport technology company. “Today, you can interact with a check-in or bag-drop kiosk through your phone, eliminating contact with surfaces. However, in the longer term we see your digital identity being stored on your mobile.”

Sita envisions airport experiences will be walking ones, where identities are verified in seconds and passengers are kept in constant motion. Its Smart Path technology is used at airports in Athens, Brisbane, Doha, Muscat, Orlando, Miami and Boston.

Dubai International Airport has a “smart tunnel” that uses biometrics to speed up immigration control. With it, passengers can clear an immigration check in 15 seconds.

“Last year, more than 12 million passengers used the smart gates and biometric tunnel for passport control there,” said Liddell. “Other airports have similar aspirations and will follow suit.”

A traveler passes through immigration control by walking through a “smart tunnel ” at Dubai International Airport.


Airport checkpoints may come in many forms, from tunnels and gardens to automated walkways. And they will be more important than ever in the wake of Covid-19 as “security queues are the antithesis of physical distancing,” said Liddell. 

What about the pre-boarding pileup of people who hover around the gate agents before their rows or categories are called? Airlines may use mobile phone notifications to quietly call customers to board.

“We bring people to the gate too soon,” said Liddell. “This happens because passengers can’t adequately predict how long it will take to maneuver security screening processes, and also because airlines communicate most reliably at the gate versus via digital means.”

He predicts that in the post-Covid-19 era ahead, crowding everyone together at the gate will feel “more and more untenable,” forcing airports to find ways to bring passengers together just prior to boarding. 

2. Changing the security line

How to streamline a process that requires passengers to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, while placing their shoes and outerwear in reusable bins alongside germ-laden handbags and laptop computers?

Booking appointments to pass through security is one way to reduce crowds and long lines. At Montréal–Trudeau International Airport, passengers book their own screenings. But Tim Hudson, an aviation leader at the global architectural firm Gensler, said airports could assign spots similar to “easy-access passes offered by amusements parks.” 

“With the use of smart technology, the airport would assign passengers a dedicated time slot to enter the security checkpoint,” said Hudson. “This strategy will allow airports to anticipate and manage passenger loads, while helping passengers minimize contact with other passengers and contaminated surfaces.”

Airport security is a trifecta of post-pandemic problems: crowding, passenger touch points and (occasionally) security agents touching your belongings.

Robert Alexander

Programs such as Global Entry rely on biometrics to zip enrollees past long immigration and security lines. The  TSA PreCheck program in the United States — which deals exclusively with security lines — is testing biometric technology (it currently manually compares passengers to their photo IDs). But, passengers have to sign up and pay for these programs.

“As travelers, we have to opt into the process and become more comfortable with sharing our private information,” said Hudson. “If travelers are willing to give up a little more data, the process from curb to gate will be much more streamlined.”

While bookings and biometrics speed processing, they don’t screen luggage or solve the touch point problem. 

“Biometrics work to confirm your identity and the validity of your travel documents, not what you’re carrying with you,” said Liddell. “Other technologies, such as computed tomography, which applies algorithms and the creation of 3D images to detect explosives and other threats in baggage, as well as other computer vision systems, are emerging to innovate how airports and TSA address the prohibited items problem.” 

3. Cleaning everything from luggage to people

Simpliflying, an airline marketing strategy firm, predicts luggage will be fogged and “sanitagged” on the check-in belt. Carry-on luggage (as well as the bins) will be disinfected by fogging, UV-light or another quick technique in the X-ray security machine.

Your bags may not be the only thing that is sanitized. Hong Kong International Airport is testing a full-body disinfection booth made by CleanTech that disinfects from head to toe during a 40-second sterilization process.

Airports will be cleaned more often with emphasis on touchless methods of disinfection. Singapore’s Changi Airport is doubling terminal cleanings and coating high-touch points — such as handrails, lift buttons and cart handles — with a disinfectant that reduces viral and bacterial transmission for up to six months. Hong Kong is using Intelligent Sterilisation Robots to kill up to 99.99% of bacteria and viruses in the air.

Three Intelligent Sterilization Robots are deployed around-the-clock in Hong Kong International Airport.

Courtesy of Hong Kong International Airport

Kentucky’s Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport has quadrupled the number of automated hand sanitizer stations throughout the terminal and replaced more than 100 manual bathroom soap dispensers with automated units. Only 5% of hand towel dispensers weren’t automated, and they are being replaced too.

4. More relaxed and spacious terminals

Ibrahim predicts that smoother check-in and security screenings will leave passengers happier, less stressed and more likely to spend money in departure lounges.

“Digital payment systems will be introduced that will make tills, cashiers and conveyor belts increasingly redundant,” he said. “Queues will eventually be anathema in stores.”

The virtual information booth at Kentucky’s Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.

Courtesy of Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport

Autonomous vehicles, robots and artificial intelligence will play bigger roles, especially in ways that eliminate lines and crowds, said Liddell. In the meantime, you can still speak to real people, even if they aren’t physically present. Louisville’s airport has installed a virtual information booth where passengers can speak to a representative through a live video feed.

Dining and retail areas may eventually be separated, with virtual reality or holographic imagery to show buyers options and purchases delivered by a bot, predicts Faith Popcorn, CEO of marketing consulting firm BrainReserve.

“We’ll eliminate many jobs in favor of germ-free technology,” she said. 

5. A check on disease, rather than a conduit

As airports are adding cameras and sensors to combat Covid-19 infections, Liddell believes that air hubs could eventually become a place to detect and contain emerging health threats, rather than the unintentional vector of disease that they are today.

Etihad Airways is testing kiosks in Abu Dhabi International Airport that monitor body temperatures and heart and respiratory rates. Other airlines are relying on symptom questionnaires and thermal cameras. Perhaps CT lung scanning will be implemented, as Simpliflying predicts, with results produced before passengers can fly.

Staff at Doha’s Hamad International Airport are donning smart screening helmets that assess body temperatures using thermal imaging, artificial intelligence and augmented reality, the airport said

Staff at Hamad International Airport wear temperature-screening helmets.

Courtesy of Hamad International Airport

Those measures are not foolproof, however. As people infected with Covid-19 can be contagious while asymptomatic or before the onset of symptoms, airport screenings can feel more like a sieve, sifting out only the most obvious cases.

“Based on the figures, it seems that coronavirus infections are rarely found through airport screening,” said Taneli Puumalainen, chief physician at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, in an interview with Finnish airport operator Finavia.

Hong Kong International Airport was the first airport to announce mandatory testing for all arriving passengers. New arrivals take a shuttle bus to the Asia World-Expo to provide “deep throat saliva samples” and await results, a process which has been reported to take up to eight hours.

Socially-distanced travelers wait for saliva sample results in a coronavirus testing facility at the AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong on Thursday, May 14, 2020.

Laurel Chor/Bloomberg

Much ado was made when Emirates began trialing rapid finger-prick blood tests to a small subset of passengers last month. The tests were for antibodies though — not Covid-19 infections — and when accuracy rates were found to be around 30%, the Dubai Health Authority, who administered the tests, banned them altogether.

Vienna International Airport announced on May 4 that incoming travelers without proof of a negative Covid-19 test within the previous four days could avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine by taking a test at the airport for 190 euros (US$208). However, the testing is only available to passengers with a residence in Austria and a valid residence permit, hardly making it a viable option for business travelers and tourists.

Airport testing may become more common when rapid-result Covid-19 kits are developed, which may not be too far away. Ichortec, a German-based biotech company, says it has developed a nasal swab test that can detect Covid-19 in under three minutes with no less than 95% accuracy. Patents for the test are pending in the U.S., Germany and the European Union. 

What to expect at the airport this summer

In the immediate future, air travel is expected to get worse before it gets better.

The post-pandemic flying process may start 24 hours before you take off, with passengers checking in online, uploading health information, pre-purchasing a mask and pair of gloves and paying to sit next to an empty seat (though the latter option didn’t work out well for Frontier Airlines).

Those predictions are part of a report issued last month by Simpliflying that predicts more than 70 areas in an air traveler’s day will change as a result of the global pandemic.

The report states passengers can expect to arrive four hours prior to departure and pass through a disinfection tunnel and thermal body scanner before entering the airport. Those who are “fit to fly” will be allowed in; non-travelers and anyone deemed unfit will be strictly prohibited from entering.

Passengers who check in via agents will do so behind a protective barrier. Miami International Airport has already installed them, as well as at TSA checkpoint podiums and boarding counters.

An employee installs plexiglass shields on check-in counters at Sarajevo International Airport on May 19, 2020.


On May 21, the TSA announced that customers will now scan their own boarding passes, rather than passing them to an agent. Food should be placed in a clear plastic bag and put into a bin, to reduce triggering alarms that require agent inspection. Up to 12 ounces of liquid sanitizer are now allowed in carry-on luggage too.

In the end, passengers may be their own worst enemies.

“The greatest security issues will be the potential for disruptive behavior as longer wait times increase and decline in service offerings like food and drinks become the new norm,” said Timothy Williams, a vice chairman of Pinkerton, a security firm.

A health worker screens the temperature of an airline passenger at Debrecen International Airport in Debrecen, Hungary, on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.


Janet Bednarek, history professor and author of “Airports, Cities, and the Jet Age: U.S. Airports Since 1945,” agrees.

“The biggest challenge will be getting U.S. passengers to accept new measures like social distancing, wearing masks and temperature checks,” she said.

“People were willing to put up with the new security measures after 9/11 because airplanes very visibly had become terrorist weapons, and no one wanted to be on an airplane where that could happen again. Escaping a virus is less tangible,” she said. “And the messaging from the government in this crisis has been far less consistent than after 9/11.”

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Brazil’s Bolsonaro could soon be toppled, analysts say



Not wearing face mask, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro greets his supporters at Praça dos Três Poderes, in front of the Planalto Palace on Sunday, May 24, 2020.

Andre Borges | NurPhoto | NurPhoto

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro could be the first world leader to be toppled by the coronavirus pandemic, analysts have told CNBC, as the right-wing premier faces intensifying political pressure for his handling of the public health crisis.

South America’s largest country has emerged as the world’s number two global hotspot for Covid-19, with more cases reported nationwide over the last week than any other seven-day period since the outbreak began.

To date, more than 391,000 people have contracted the coronavirus in Brazil, with 24,512 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, said on Tuesday that more than 2.4 million coronavirus cases and over 143,000 deaths had made the Americas the new epicenter of the pandemic.

She said the PAHO was “particularly concerned” about a recent surge in the number of new Covid-19 cases in Brazil, warning the broader region that: “Now is the time to stay strong, remain vigilant and aggressively implement proven public health measures.”

However, Brazil’s Bolsonaro, an ideological ally of President Donald Trump, has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus, dismissing it as a “little flu” and condemning state governors for imposing confinement measures that are causing job losses.

“Having failed to unite Brazilians in the face of (a) pandemic, Bolsonaro and his government could be the first to be toppled by it,” Robert Muggah, director of the Igarapé Institute, a think tank based in Rio de Janeiro, told CNBC via video call.

Muggah said there were at least three ways Bolsonaro could be ousted before the country’s next presidential election in 2022, citing impeachment proceedings (including an allegation he poses a threat to public health), conviction by the Supreme Court for common crimes, or ejection by the national electoral tribunal for alleged misconduct during the 2018 campaign.

“It is tempting to say that he is making outrageous statements to deflect attention from his criminal behavior. But that would be over-estimating the man,” Muggah continued. “Crises such as this one demand focused, competent leadership. Bolsonaro is incapable of this, and the longer he remains in power, the more Brazilians will die,” he added.

A government spokesperson did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

What is going on in Brazil?

Health experts have suggested the lack of testing in Brazil could be masking the true extent of the coronavirus epidemic.

A study by the University of Sao Paolo Medical School estimates that the number of Covid-19 infections could be around 15 times higher than the official figure.

If those predictions are accurate, it would mean that as of May 26, the actual total of coronavirus cases in Brazil stood at over 5 million.

To be sure, that’s more than three times higher than the U.S., the country with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide.

Samu Emergency Services from Santo Andre, in the Brazilian SP state, work in the rescue of the Covid-19 patient, May 5th. Brazil has reached 16.850 deaths by the new coronavirus this Monday, May 19th, and more than 255.000 have been infected.

Gustavo Basso | NurPhoto | Getty Images

“At this point, I would be surprised if we get through all of this without some major institutional clash,” Gustavo Ribeiro, political scientist and founder of politics site The Brazilian Report, told CNBC via telephone.

Ribeiro said opposition lawmakers were currently sitting on as many as 35 different impeachment requests against Bolsonaro, with the bulk of them submitted during the pandemic.

Nonetheless, he continued, an imminent move to oust the president was unlikely, given it would effectively bring the government to a halt at a time when the country needs to be able to respond to a health emergency.

“It’s hard to say that an impeachment will happen because there is one key missing element here: We don’t have people on the streets protesting against Bolsonaro because the very people who hate Bolsonaro are the people who are home,” Riberio said.

“But I think once everything has settled down, it will become untenable,” he added.

Odds are in Bolsonaro’s favor

Earlier this month, Health Minister Nelson Teich abruptly handed in his resignation after less than four weeks in the job. The decision came after he resisted Bolsonaro’s calls for the wider use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus.

The drug, which has not been proven to effectively treat or prevent Covid-19, is the same one Trump has said he has taken in an effort to ward off the virus.

Public health officials have warned it is unsafe to do so and regulators say it can cause heart problems.

A supporter of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro wearing a protective mask with a sign attends a protest against quarantine measures amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 24, 2020.

Amanda Perobelli | Reuters

Jimena Blanco, head of Americas research at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC via telephone the odds were in Bolsonaro’s favor right now.

Speaking from Buenos Aires in Argentina, Blanco said if Brazil’s president was to be removed from office, the key developments to do so would need to happen over the next three months.

A change in government “needs to be a swift one rather than a protracted one,” Blanco said, explaining that the nature of the pandemic means the country “does not have the benefit of time.”

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EU unveils plan to borrow 750 billion euros to aid coronavirus recovery



The EU flags are seen in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on May 19, 2020, in Brussels, Belgium.

Thierry Monasse

The European Commission has unveiled plans for a 750 billion euro ($826.5 billion) recovery fund as the region faces the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

The announcement came after France and Germany opened the door to issuing mutual EU debt last week, suggesting that the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, should raise 500 billion euros on the public markets.

The Franco-German initiative was described as a “breakthrough” and a “historic” step as Germany had always opposed the idea of jointly;y-issued debt, even during previous crises.

There are four European countries that still oppose the Franco-German plan and want the EU to issue loans rather than grants as a way to mitigate the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis. Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark also want strong economic reform commitments in return for any financial help.

Wednesday’s proposal kicks off a discussion among the 27 EU member states. Each leader will meet, maybe via video call, on June 18 in the hope of finding a consensus over the exact details of the recovery fund. 

The European Parliament, the only-directly elected EU institution, will also have to approve any new financial aid as well.

In the meantime, there are other short-term measures available across Europe. The European Central Bank is buying government bonds as part of its 750 billion euro program and there are 540 billion euros available in unemployment schemes, business investments and loans to governments. 

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