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Europe to launch coronavirus contact tracing app initiative

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A man and a woman wearing face masks walk past advertisements of a shoe store temporarily selling face masks and antibacterial hygiene products in Berlin on March 16, 2020.

Tobias Schwarz | AFP | Getty Images

European scientists and technologists will launch a joint initiative on Wednesday to support the use of digital applications in the fight against coronavirus while complying with the region’s tough privacy laws.

The Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT) brings together 130 researchers from eight countries to develop applications that can support contact tracing efforts within countries and across borders.

These will become more important in containing future flare-ups in COVID-19, the flu-like illness caused by coronavirus, once country-wide lockdowns have succeeded in ‘flattening’ the curve of the pandemic’s spread.

“Our goal is to provide a backbone for the digital core components of the global fight against COVID 19,” said Hans-Christian Boos, founder of business automation company Arago and a member of a digital advisory council to the German government.

“The PEPP-PT platform others can build on includes an anonymous and privacy-preserving digital proximity tracing approach, which is in full compliance with GDPR and can also be used when traveling between countries.”

The GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, is the European Union’s privacy rulebook that sets strict limits on the processing of personal data, making it difficult, for example, to use smartphone location data to fight COVID-19.

A more promising route is to track connections made between people’s smartphones using Bluetooth, a communications technology where ‘handshakes’ between devices can be logged and used to alert those who have come into close proximity with someone who tests positive.

That is the approach behind the TraceTogether app launched by Singapore to support its so-far successful public health response to coronavirus that has kept COVID-19 infections in the hundreds.

More than 851,000 people worldwide have contracted COVID-19 with 42,053 dying from it, according to a Reuters tally on Wednesday. Italy has been hardest hit, with 12,428 fatalities.

UK plans

Britain, which has left the European Union, was poised to launch its own digital contact tracing initiative, according to reports.

The UK contact tracking app, which will operate on an opt-in basis, would be released either just before or just after a lockdown is lifted, Sky News reported on Monday, citing several people with close knowledge of the project.

Even if Britain does go it alone, its researchers – including from the Oxford Big Data Institute – have made a major contribution towards assessing the potential value of digital contact tracing to keep a lid on coronavirus.

Boos will hold a news briefing at 11 am (0900 GMT) together with Marcel Salathe, head of the Digital Epidemiology Lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, who has cited the Oxford research as a valuable guide.

Thomas Wiegand of the Technical University of Berlin and head of the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI) will also take part.

The HHI said on Monday that Germany was weeks away from lanching a smartphone app that could track close-proximity Bluetooth ‘handshakes’ between devices, making it possible to warn those at risk of infection.

German government sources say the app could be launched on or around April 16 as part of a series of steps to ease social restrictions.

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Huawei CFO loses major battle in extradition fight

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Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co., leaves the Supreme Court in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019.

Trevor Hagan | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou lost a major legal battle in her fight against extradition to the U.S. to stand trial on fraud charges.

In the Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court of British Columbia found that the case against Meng meets a standard called “double criminality,” where the acts the U.S has accused her of are also illegal in Canada. The next phase of proceedings will begin next month. 

Diplomatic tensions are rising as Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, will have to remain in Vancouver on bail during a lengthy extradition process. 

Shortly after the court’s decision, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged Canada to release Meng immediately and ensure her return to China. The Global Times, which is aligned with the Communist Party of China, blamed the U.S. for the ruling, saying Canada’s judicial and diplomatic independence has fallen to “U.S. bullying.” 

Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunication supplier, has been a flashpoint for the Trump administration’s trade battles with China. Shortly after Meng was arrested in December 2018, President Trump weighed in on the extradition case, telling Reuters he might consider “intervening” in the case if it would help the U.S.- China trade war. On Wednesday afternoon, legislation calling for sanctions against China passed both houses of Congress; President Trump has not said whether he intends to sign it into law.

The U.S. Commerce Department has also targeted Huawei. It blocked shipments of semiconductors to the company from chip-makers. That followed the administration’s move to keep Huawei on the U.S. Entity List, a blacklist that restricts American firms doing business with the company. The ban is hitting Huawei’s bottom line. The company reported it saw slowing revenue growth in 2019

Huawei said it was “disappointed” in the ruling and maintained Meng’s innocence.

Meng is due back in court June 15.

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Dow futures point to modest gains after index pops back above 25,000

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A trader walks by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the first day that traders are allowed back onto the historic floor of the exchange on May 26, 2020 in New York City.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Futures contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 ticked higher Wednesday evening as investors looked to add to Wall Street’s robust gains so far this week.

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 57 points, indicating an opening gain of about 92 points when regular trading resumes on Thursday. S&P 500 futures also pointed to a 0.2% advance on Thursday; Nasdaq-100 futures dipped into negative territory.

The overnight moves Wednesday evening promised to add to sharp rallies in the major stock indexes so far this week.

The Nasdaq Composite, S&P 500 and Dow all extended week-to-date gains during Wednesday’s regular trading session and finished the day up 0.77%, 1.48% and 2.2% respectively. The broad S&P 500 closed at its highest level since March, above 3,000; the Dow jumped 553 points to finish Wednesday’s session north of 25,000, its own highest close since March.

The S&P 500, Nasdaq Composite and Dow are up 2.7%, 0.9% and 4.4% since the start of the holiday-shortened week. The Dow is on track for its best week since the week ended April 8.

Traders say this week’s rally is in large part thanks to optimism about the reopening of the U.S. economy.

Equity of companies that stand to benefit the most under reopenings, such as the airlines and retailers, led the major indexes higher Tuesday and Wednesday. Kohl’s, Nordstrom and Gap all rose at least 14% on Wednesday while airlines Delta, American, Alaska and United rose 2.6%, 7.5%, 2% and 3.8%, respectively.

Meanwhile, those stocks that outperformed as stay-at-home orders went into effect in March have lagged in recent sessions. Zoom Video dropped 1.2%; Shopify, Amazon and Teladoc Health fell 2.3%, 0.6% and 1.1%, respectively. 

Thursday’s forthcoming update to the U.S. unemployment claims threatened to keep the week’s optimism in check.

The Department of Labor is scheduled to release the latest update to initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET Thursday morning. Though economists polled by Dow Jones expect the government to announce yet another deceleration in the pace of claims, the consensus estimate predicts another 2.05 million Americans filed for insurance during the week ended May 23.

Last week, the Labor Department reported another 2.44 million Americans had filed claims in the week ended May 16, which brought the coronavirus crisis total to some 38.6 million, by far the largest loss in U.S. history.

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U.S. death toll rises above 100,000 in world’s deadliest outbreak

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Chicago Firefighters carry the remains of Firefighter Edward Singleton, a 33 year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department who died last week from complications from coronavirus disease (COVID-19), to a hearse following his funeral service in Chicago, Illinois, April 22, 2020.

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

The U.S. has surpassed the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths as a result of the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, significantly more than any other country in the world.

A tally from Johns Hopkins University showed 100,047 deaths as of Wednesday evening.

More than 5.6 million people have contracted the coronavirus across the globe, with the U.S. accounting for roughly 30% of total cases. 

The U.K. has recorded the second-highest number of coronavirus fatalities, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. As of Wednesday, it had reported at least 37,542 deaths due to Covid-19. 

Brazil and Russia are second and third, respectively, when it comes to the number of Covid-19 infections confirmed to date. South America’s largest country has reported 391,222 cases of the virus, while Russia has recorded 370,680 infections. 

President Donald Trump, who is running for re-election later this year, has encouraged state governors to reopen businesses in order to boost the pandemic-stricken economy. 

In the first three months of the year, U.S. GDP (growth domestic product) fell by 4.8%. It marked the biggest quarterly economic contraction since the global financial crisis in 2008.

Meanwhile, the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labour showed that some 38.6 million people in the world’s largest economy had lost their jobs in just nine weeks.

The rate of job losses has slowed sharply in recent weeks, but it remains at a level unseen since the Great Depression

Almost all states in the country have started to ease lockdown restrictions in recent days.

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