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Euro area growth slows to seven-year low as France and Italy contract | Business News

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Economic growth in the 19-nation area which use the euro has fallen back – led by the French and Italian economies finding a reverse gear.

An early estimate of eurozone output by the EU’s Eurostat service found collective growth of 0.1% in the final three months of 2019 following a figure of 0.3% in the July-September quarter.

That left the year-on-year rate of growth at 0.9% – its weakest level for seven years.

The slowdown in the final three months was driven by the bloc’s three largest economies as France contracted by 0.1% and Italy shed 0.3%.

The dominant force that is Germany continued to stagnate – recording zero growth.

President of the European Central Bank (ECB) Christine Lagarde
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European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde has left the door open to further stimulus

Europe’s manufacturing powerhouse has been plagued by weak demand abroad – mostly a consequence of the US-China trade war and its knock-on global effects that have hit order books.

It has relied on consumer spending and services businesses to prop up output.

The slowdown has also coincided with a period of massive structural change in its flagship car industry – bruised since the VW diesel emissions scandal and forcing firms to invest billions on electric and autonomous vehicle technology.

The coronavirus outbreak threatens to add to Germany’s export headaches as its key market of China is gripped by business disruption through efforts to contain the COVID-19 strain.

The possibility of a no-deal Brexit at the conclusion of this year’s transition period is another risk.

UK growth for the final quarter of 2019 was separately measured at 0% – hit by political and economic uncertainty linked to Brexit, December’s general election and the effects of the trade war.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at number 10 Downing Street for a reception on December 3, 2019 in London, England. France and the UK signed the Treaty of Dunkirk in 1947 in the aftermath of WW2 cementing a mutual alliance in the event of an attack by Germany or the Soviet Union. The Benelux countries joined the Treaty and in April 1949 expanded further to include North America and Canada followed by Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. This new military alliance became the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The organisation grew with Greece and Turkey becoming members and a re-armed West Germany was permitted in 1955. This encouraged the creation of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact delineating the two sides of the Cold War. This year marks the 70th anniversary of NATO. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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Investors are concerned about who will lead Germany after Angela Merkel’s heir apparent quit a party leader

However, unlike in the eurozone, the Bank of England has held off providing support after noting a pick-up in economic activity since Boris Johnson secured his large majority.

The European Central Bank announced in September that it was restarting its bond-buying programme in a bid to help support lending alongside a negative interest rate policy.

The bank, now under the leadership of Christine Lagarde, has left the door open to the possibility of further stimulus.

The remarks – coupled with the safe haven status of the dollar amid coronavirus uncertainty – have helped push the euro to near-three year lows against the greenback.

Another factor has been growing concern about a political vacuum in Germany after the resignation of Angela Merkel’s heir apparent as leader of their CDU party – the largest in the current governing coalition.

But Barret Kupelian, senior economist at PwC, said there was some good news in the Eurostat figures.

He wrote: “The bright spot in the eurozone continues to lie in the peripheral economies.

“With the exception of Greece, all of the bailout economies have surpassed pre-crisis output levels and continue to grow at strong rates.”

He added: “Eurozone growth could pick up later in the year if the global economy stabilises.

“However, there are many uncertainties relating to global trade as well as the coronavirus, which could end up disproportionately affecting some of the larger eurozone economies.”

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Syria: Turkey threatens Idlib military offensive as talks with Russia break down | World News

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Talks between Turkey and Russia over the conflict in Syria’s Idlib province have broken down as Ankara said it was only a “matter of time” before it launched a military offensive.

The two countries back opposing sides in the nine-year Syria conflict, but had promised to try to find a political solution to end it.

However, 13 Turkish troops were killed during a Syrian government offensive in the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, which borders Turkey, toppling the fragile balance.



Syrian dad teaches daughter how to cope with bombs - with laughter







How one dad taught daughter to cope with blasts in Idlib

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said no agreement had been reached on Wednesday but the Syrian government, which Moscow supports, is upholding previous agreements and also reacting to provocations.

He said militant attacks on Syrian and Russian forces are continuing in Idlib where almost a million civilians have been driven from their homes since December in Syria’s largest single displacement in the conflict.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his ruling AK Party the talks were unsatisfactory and “the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time”.

He said Turkey, which supports several Syrian opposition groups, was determined to make Idlib a secure zone “no matter the cost”.

“We are entering the last days for the (Syrian) regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings,” Mr Erdogan said.

“We did not reach the desired results in our talks. The talks will continue, but it is true that we are far from meeting our demands at the table.

“Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans. I say that we can come at any point. In other words, the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time.”

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an offensive on Idlib 'is only a matter of time'
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Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an offensive on Idlib ‘is only a matter of time’

Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib which allowed both sides to set up military observation posts.

Since violence escalated in the region, both sides have engaged in a tit-for-tat over who is flouting the agreement.

Several rounds of talks have been held but failed to find a solution.

Mr Erdogan said Turkey has given the Russian-backed Syrian forces until the end of February to withdraw from Idlib.

Millions of people have been displaced in Syria, where  winters can be harsh
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Millions of people have been displaced in Syria, where winters can be harsh

“We will not leave Idlib to the (Syrian) regime, which does not understand our country’s determination, and to those encouraging it,” he said.

The UN has said a full-scale battle for Idlib could result in a “bloodbath”.

A Turkish soldier patrols the countryside in Syria's Aleppo province
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A Turkish soldier patrols the countryside in Syria’s Aleppo province

Over the past few years the province’s population has doubled to about three million, including one million children.

Several warring rebel factions control Idlib, with the dominant force the al Qaeda-linked jihadist alliance, Hayat Tahrir al Sham.

The group had between 12,000 and 15,000 fighters in Idlib and surrounding areas in January, the UN estimated.

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Japan: Passengers leaving coronavirus-hit cruise ship criticise quarantine ‘nonsense’ | World News

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After two weeks of coronavirus quarantine, today is the first day of freedom for more than 400 passengers who have been stuck on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

The vessel was initially carrying about 3,700 passengers and crew from more than 50 countries and regions.

At least 621 people have contracted the illness.

In the port car park in Yokohama, hazmat-clad officials greet the slow trickle of passengers who have tested negative and are cleared to leave, loading them on to specially adapted buses.

Inside the driver sits behind a protective layer of bubble wrap, dividing him from the travellers who for weeks have been living in a virus hotspot.

Passengers can be seen disembarking the Diamond Princess
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Passengers can be seen disembarking the Diamond Princess
A bus carrying former passengers of the cruise ship is seen about to leave the port
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A bus carrying former passengers of the cruise ship is seen about to leave the port

Others are collected by relatives, overjoyed that their loved ones are hopefully out of danger.

Among the first off, a Japanese man who wheels his suitcase out of the dock gate.

He doesn’t want to give his name but says he is relieved to be going home and confirms his health is good.

An anonymous female passenger is also feeling confident.

A passenger leaves the Diamond Princess after spending two weeks in quarantine
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A passenger leaves the Diamond Princess after spending two weeks in quarantine

She said: “I felt totally safe, I’m that kind of person. I trusted everyone on the ship to look after me.”

But others are less positive, the ship they have been confined to has been described by some on board as a floating prison where the coronavirus infection rate keeps on rising.

Hundreds of passengers, including Britons still cannot escape. They’re waiting for evacuation but fearing infection.



Alan Sandford onboard quarantined ship.







Passenger’s guide to quarantine

At the train station, I ask a Japanese man, who has just disembarked and also doesn’t want to be named, if he feels enough was done to stop the spread of the virus on the Diamond Princess?

He said: “The ship’s quarantine didn’t work. It looked like a quarantine – but it was nonsense. It didn’t stop the spread of the virus. It was all over the ship.”

More than 600 passengers have now tested positive for coronavirus after another 79 cases were confirmed today, the highest concentration outside mainland China.

The Japanese government has again defended the way it has managed the quarantine saying “thorough action” to prevent the spread has been taken including using masks, disinfectant and keeping people apart.

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Yoshihide Suga, Japanese chief cabinet secretary, explains: “With the urgency of the current situation, Japan took full measures to ensure the prevention of the spread of the infection, taking into consideration human rights and humanitarian needs, cooperating with relevant nations and taking appropriate measures.”

But the professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University, Kentaro Iwata, has been on board and is seriously concerned.

An expert who has worked with ebola and SARS, he wrote in an online blog: “Inside the Princess Diamond I was so scared. I was so scared of getting COVID-19 because there’s no way to tell where the virus is. No green zone, no red zone. Everywhere could have the virus and everybody was not careful about it. There was no single professional infection control person inside the ship.”

Some passengers were seen getting into taxis after being allowed to disembark the ship
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Some passengers were seen getting into taxis after being allowed to disembark the ship

In isolation in a Japanese hospital, I speak to coronavirus patient Jerri Jorgensen via Skype.

Like 68 of the recently diagnosed passengers removed from the ship she has no symptoms.

A silent carrier, she was contagious without even knowing it.

She said: “If they didn’t tell me I had the virus I wouldn’t have known. I’m hardly ever sick, but I think I may have had a cold that was worse than this. I’m experiencing no physical ailments at all, none.”

It raises the question, how many more people could unwittingly be spreading the virus.

With passengers, including Britons, still unclear when they will leave, the current focus is on getting people home, but huge questions remain unanswered about how a quarantine ship became a coronavirus breeding ground.

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Family including three children under 10 killed in ‘horrific’ Brisbane car fire | World News

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A former rugby player and his three children have died in what police have described as a “horrific” car fire in Brisbane, Australia.

Rowan Baxter, 42, and the children – Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey Baxter – all aged under 10, were found dead in the vehicle.

The children’s mother, Hannah Baxter, 31, suffered extensive burns and was taken to hospital where she later died from her injuries.

Officers were called to the scene at around 8.30am on Wednesday and found the car engulfed in flames.

Detective Inspector Mark Thompson, of Queensland State Police, said: “It’s a horrific scene.”

He said officers were investigating the cause of the accident, which took place in Raven Street at Camp Hill.

“It is too early for me to say how the actual incident occurred, that would certainly be a critical part of the investigation,” he said.

“But I can say that the vehicle was fully involved in fire upon the emergency services arriving,” he said.

Four people, including three children, were killed in a "horrific" car fire in Brisbane, Australia, on Wednesday, police said.
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Police described the scene of the blaze as ‘horrific’

Mr Baxter, a member of the 2005 New Zealand Warriors rugby league football squad and the children, aged six, four and three, died at the scene.

Neighbour Murray Campbell told the Brisbane Times he heard several explosions from his backyard and ran to the front.

He said he alerted the emergency services, adding: “The rest is just horrible”.

Mr Campbell said the car was stationary, but then rolled across the street ablaze.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the news was “devastating”.

“My heart goes out to the families and community going through this tragic time and the emergency responders confronting what would be a shattering scene,” he tweeted.

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