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Nowhere to go: US oil prices fall back below zero, stocks fall

United States crude oil futures plunged back into negative territory and Brent collapsed on Tuesday following a historic plunge in oil prices below zero for the first time ever.  The fall in prices was triggered by the expiry of May futures contracts for US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude, which would have left traders stuck with…

Nowhere to go: US oil prices fall back below zero, stocks fall

United States crude oil futures plunged back into negative territory and Brent collapsed on Tuesday following a historic plunge in oil prices below zero for the first time ever. 
The fall in prices was triggered by the expiry of May futures contracts for US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude, which would have left traders stuck with barrels of physical oil in a market with few willing buyers as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage energy demand.

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US WTI crude for May delivery traded at -$2.58 a barrel by 08:07 GMT, up $35.05 from Monday’s close when the contract settled at -$37.63 a barrel.
Negative oil prices are a sign that producers are willing to pay people to take oil off their hands.
Brent crude oil, which is the international standard for crude oil prices, slumped more than 26 percent or $6.76 to $18.81, its lowest since 2002.
Global stocks were also dragged into the red on Tuesday with MSCI’s index of emerging market stocks down 2 percent, eyeing its worst day in nearly three weeks. The currencies index was down 0.4 percent.
In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei fell 1.97 percent and  China’s blue-chip CSI300 fell 1.18 percent, while the broader Shanghai Composite Index declined 0.9 percent.
The slump in the US futures contract for crude was exaggerated by the looming expiry late on Tuesday of the front-month contract for the delivery of oil in May when the lack of storage is set to be particularly acute. 
The more active June contract, which had earlier been well supported, slipped more than $1 to just above $18 a barrel. June trading volumes were roughly 80 times those of the expiring May contract.
“The coming weeks are surely going to be interesting for the oil markets,” Suvro Sarkar, of DBS Bank, told Al Jazeera.
DBS sees the second quarter of 2020 as being the trough for oil prices and Sarkar expects that WTI futures may continue to trend towards zero in the coming month.
“We do not think Brent will follow it all the way there. But, we would not be shocked if Brent breaches 20 or 10 dollars per barrel in coming days or weeks,” he said.
Unlike the internationally shipped Brent crude, WTI front-month contracts involve physical deliveries of the oil to a specific location, namely the oil terminal in Cushing, Okhlahoma, which is rapidly filling up, Sarkar explained.
Although international storage is more readily available than US storage at this point, Sarkar said, “one might wonder … if traders cannot access US storage for physical crude deliveries in May, how will they find storage for June?”
The coronavirus pandemic has pummeled global travel, transportation and economic activity, sending the demand for crude plummeting. As such, many traders holding oil futures were left with an oversupply of physical oil.
Unfortunately, the options for the Saudi Arabia-led Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and fellow major oil producers including Russia – a group known collectively as OPEC+ – options for further supply cuts are limited.
“Cutting production further on a [government-to-government] level can hardly make too much of a dent in the near term, and is not feasible for smaller countries to agree to cut above 25 percent. So options for US and OPEC+ are limited in the face of this deep hole in demand that we see in 2Q20,” Sarkar said.
OPEC+ had previously agreed to reduce oil output by a record 10 million barrels per day, although most analysts saw this move as insufficient to support oil prices in a market where demand remains weak due to the pandemic.
The American Petroleum Institute is set to release its data at 4:30pm (20:30 GMT) on Tuesday, and the weekly report by the US Energy Information Administration is due at 10:30am (14:30 GMT) on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump said his administration would consider blocking oil imports from Saudi Arabia to protect the US shale oil industry.
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World ‘nowhere close’ to needed coronavirus herd immunity: Live |

The World Health Organization has said the world is nowhere near the amount of coronavirus immunity needed to induce herd immunity, a situation where enough people would have antibodies to stop the spread. South Africa relaxes lockdown restrictions allowing bars, restaurants, gyms and places of worship to reopen. The number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 around…

World ‘nowhere close’ to needed coronavirus herd immunity: Live |

The World Health Organization has said the world is nowhere near the amount of coronavirus immunity needed to induce herd immunity, a situation where enough people would have antibodies to stop the spread.

South Africa relaxes lockdown restrictions allowing bars, restaurants, gyms and places of worship to reopen.

The number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 around the world now exceeds 21.8 million, and more than 774,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 13.9 million people have recovered from the disease.

Here are the latest updates:
20:15 GMT – New York University students queue up for coronavirus tests
Hundreds of New York University students and staff have waited in line outside a white tent for coronavirus testing ahead of some classes resuming in early September, a scene expected to unfold on many US. campuses in coming weeks.
NYU is testing students who have chosen in-person learning, with classes for undergraduates beginning on September 2. The university, housed in hundreds of buildings across lower Manhattan, is also giving students the options of remote learning or a blended program between the two.

20:00 GMT – Millions return to schools lacking handwashing facilities: UN
More than 800 million children around the world lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools, putting them at an increased risk of catching the new coronavirus when schools reopen, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.
A joint report published last week by the WHO and UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, revealed that 43 percent of schools worldwide lacked facilities for basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019, affecting 818 million children – more than a third of them in sub-Saharan Africa. 
Read more here. 
19:40 GMT – Brazil indigenous protesters suspend roadblock
Indigenous protesters in Brazil have agreed to suspend their roadblock of a key highway amid a court battle, but vowed to fight on for more help against COVID-19 and an end to deforestation.Brandishing bows and wearing traditional feather headdresses and body paint, dozens of protesters from the Kayapo Mekranoti ethnic group had been blocking highway BR-163 through the Amazon rainforest since Monday morning.The highway is an important artery for farmers in Brazil’s agricultural heartland to ship corn and soybeans, two of the country’s main exports, to the river ports of the Amazon and beyond.
19:25 GMT – Canada’s hardest-hit province for COVID-19 launches plan to combat second wave
The Canadian province of Quebec has announced plans to tackle earlier mistakes in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, while preparing its health sector against a possible second wave of coronavirus in the autumn.
Quebec, once the country’s hardest-hit province for COVID-19, will boost public health sector hiring, reduce screening delays, and ensure staff like orderlies can no longer work at multiple long-term care facilities, a practice previously blamed for spreading the virus, Health Minister Christian Dube told reporters.
19:10 GMT – Boeing seeks more voluntary layoffs
Boeing has launched a second round of voluntary layoffs to trim its workforce, the company said, as it navigates a brutal commercial aviation market and seeks to return the 737 MAX to service.
The move comes on top of a 10 percent staff cuts earlier this year as commercial airline customers defer deliveries and cancel orders, hitting Boeing’s profits.
“While we have seen signs of recovery from the pandemic, our industry and our customers continue to face significant challenges,” the aerospace giant said in a message to AFP.

18:55 GMT – Ireland ramps up restrictions as cases surge
Ireland has significantly tightened its nationwide coronavirus restrictions to try to rein in a surge in cases, urging everyone to restrict visitors to their homes, avoid public transport and older people to limit their contacts.
A spike in cases over the last three weeks, after Ireland had one of Europe’s lowest infection rates for several weeks, pushed its 14-day cumulative cases per 100,000 of population to 26, and led to the first local lockdown last week.
18:40 GMT – Pelosi: Democrats willing to cut COVID-19 bill in half to get a deal
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that Democrats in Congress are willing to cut their coronavirus relief bill in half to get an agreement on new legislation with the White House and Republicans.
“We have to try to come to that agreement now,” Pelosi said in an online interview with Politico. “We’re willing to cut our bill in half to meet the needs right now. We’ll take it up again in January. We’ll see them again in January. But for now, we can cut the bill in half.”

18:25 GMT – S. Korea tightens restrictions in Seoul area to tackle virus surge
South Korea has ordered nightclubs, museums and buffet restaurants closed and banned large gatherings in and around the capital as a burst of new coronavirus cases sparked fears of a major second wave.
The country’s “trace, test and treat” approach to curbing the virus has been held up as a global model, but it is now battling several clusters mostly linked to Protestant churches.
18:10 GMT – Zimbabwe shortens coronavirus curfew
 Zimbabwe has shortened an overnight curfew imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic and extended business hours despite rising cases, the government has said after a weekly cabinet meeting.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last month announced a 6 pm to 6 am curfew, but Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said this had left commuters stranded without transport.
17:55 GMT – France reports over 2,000 new infections
The French health ministry has reported 2,238 confirmed new coronavirus infections, less than recent daily highs but still at levels last seen during the March-May lockdown imposed to stem the spread of the disease.
The seven-day moving average of the case count, which smooths out daily reporting irregularities, has now been above 2,000 for five consecutive days, a level that was last seen around the middle of April.

17:40 GMT – Australia to manufacture ‘promising’ virus vaccine 
Australia has secured access to a “promising” potential coronavirus vaccine, the prime minister announced , saying the country would manufacture it and offer free doses to the entire population.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia had reached a deal with Swedish-British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to receive the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with Oxford University.

17:25 GMT – Montenegro delays start of school over coronavirus
Montenegro will postpone the start of the school year by one month due to the the “uncertain” status of the coronavirus pandemic, the education ministry has said.
Countries across the Balkans have been debating how to safely resume classes after a summer of rising coronavirus infections.
17:10 GMT – Turkey’s coronavirus death toll exceeds 6,000
Turkey’s death toll from the coronavirus has risen by 20 to 6,016, health ministry data showed, with the total number of identified cases rising to 251,805.
The data showed that 1,263 new cases were identified in the last 24 hours, rising from 1,233 a day earlier.

People wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 walk on a street in Ulus district in Ankara [File: AFP]

16:55 GMT – COVID-19 pandemic causes mental health crisis in Americas: WHO official
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in the Americas due to heightened stress and use of drugs and alcohol during six months of lockdowns and stay-at-home measures, the World Health Organization’s regional director said.
“It is urgent that mental health support is considered a critical component of the pandemic response,” Carissa Etienne said in a virtual briefing from the Pan American Health Organization in Washington.

What’s the psychological cost of the coronavirus? | Inside Story

16:40 GMT – Pandemic-hit Chile GDP plunges 14 percent
Chile’s GDP plunged 14.1 percent in the second quarter, the Central Bank has said, after the coronavirus pandemic mauled economic activity with the exception of the vital mining sector.
Among the worst-hit sectors were manufacturing, construction and the hotel and restaurant sector. In the first quarter, Chilean GDP had increased slightly by 0.2 percent.
“In the second quarter of the year, economic activity decreased by 14.1 percent compared to the same period last year,” the Central Bank said.

16:25 GMT – Poland’s health minister resigns after virus response criticised
Poland’s Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski has said he was resigning from his post, the second resignation in two days from the ministry, which has faced growing criticism for its handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Szumowski’s approach in the early stages of the pandemic made him Poland’s most trusted politician in April, but his image has been dented by scandals surrounding the purchase of ventilators and masks.
Szumowski has denied any wrongdoing.
16:10 GMT – Lebanon reimposes lockdown amid COVID-19 spike: ministry
Lebanese authorities have announced a new lockdown and an overnight curfew to rein in a spike in coronavirus infections.
The new measures will come into effect on Friday and last just over two weeks, the interior ministry said, adding that they would not affect the clean-up and aid effort following the devastating August 4 Beirut port blast.
The airport is expected to remain open and all traffic to and from is allowed if passengers can show authorities a ticket from their trip.

Lebanese authorities have announced a new lockdown [File: Joseph Eid / AFP]

15:55 GMT – Tennis-Individual tests positive for COVID-19 at US Open bubble
A non-player has tested positive for COVID-19 within the controlled environment that will host this year’s Western & Southern Open and US Open in New York over the next month, the United States Tennis Association has said.
The individual is asymptomatic and has been advised that they must isolate for at least ten days, while contact tracing has been initiated to determine if anyone else must go into quarantine, the USTA said in a statement.
15:40 GMT – UAE sees ‘alarming’ increase in coronavirus cases
 An increase in the number of coronavirus cases over the past two weeks is “alarming” and may herald further increases in the near future, the United Arab Emirates’ health minister has said.
The UAE registered 365 new cases and two deaths over the last 24 hours, the government said, bringing the total number of COVID-19 infections in the Gulf state since the start of the pandemic to 64,906 with 366 deaths.

15:25 GMT – Merkel rules out easing coronavirus rules as German cases spike
Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned there could be no further relaxation of coronavirus restrictions while Germany grapples with a surge in new infections.
She urged Germans to follow the rules on hygiene precautions and reminded travellers returning from risk areas that quarantine was not an option “but a must” so long as they could not show a negative test.
“We are seeing that an increase in mobility and closer contacts are leading to a higher number of cases,” Merkel told a press conference in Duesseldorf.
15:10 GMT – UK records 1,089 new COVID-19 cases
The United Kingdom has recorded 1,089 new positive cases of COVID-19, up from 713 on Monday, government figures showed.
A further 12 people died after testing positive for the coronavirus within 28 days. The UK has recorded more than 1,000 daily cases on eight out of the last 10 days.
14:55 GMT – Dozens of Kenyan doctors strike over lack of PPE, delayed pay
Dozens of doctors in at least two of Kenya’s 47 counties have gone on strike over delayed salaries, inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for handling COVID-19 patients and lack of medical insurance, a union official told Reuters.
Kenya has a total 30,636 confirmed infections, with 487 deaths, according to health ministry data.
Healthcare workers say they have not been given adequate PPE, but the government has said it has distributed enough to go round.
14:40 GMT – Brazil greenlights human trials for J&J’s potential vaccine
Brazil has approved human clinical trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, the fourth candidate to trial in the Latin American country that has become key to the global race for a vaccine.
Health regulator Anvisa said it had given the green light to the study which will see 6,000 people in Brazil volunteer to trial the vaccine contender of Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen.

14:35 GMT
Hello, this is Elizabeth Melimopoulos taking over the live updates from my colleague Hamza Mohamed in Doha.
Tuesday, August 18
12:35 GMT – France says masks to be made compulsory in most workplaces
Masks will be compulsory in workplaces in France, apart from individual offices where only one employee is present, the French employment ministry said on Tuesday, as the government looks to fight against a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ministry added in a statement that working from home would remain its recommended option for employees.
12:05 GMT – Namibia warns about elephant dung cure for coronavirus
The Namibian government is warning its citizens not to trust claims on social media that elephant dung can cure COVID-19, as coronavirus infections rise more rapidly.
The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism spokesman, Romeo Muyunda, told Reuters the government had observed that elephant dung was increasingly being touted as a COVID-19 cure.
Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula said COVID-19 currently has no known cure.

Some traditional healers say elephant dung has healing properties, including for treating headaches, toothaches and blocked sinuses, but claiming it can cure COVID-19 is a new trend [Getty Images]

11:25 GMT – Study links COVID-19 to rise in childhood type 1 diabetes
Cases of type 1 diabetes among children in a small UK study almost doubled during the peak of country’s COVID-19 epidemic, suggesting a possible link between the two diseases that needs more investigation, scientists said on Tuesday.
While the study is based on only a handful of cases, it is the first to link COVID-19 and new-onset type 1 diabetes in children, and doctors should be on the lookout, the Imperial College London researchers said.
Karen Logan, who co-led the study, said previous reports from China and Italy had noted that children were being diagnosed in hospitals with new-onset type 1 diabetes during the pandemic.

The study, published in the Diabetes Care journal, analysed data from 30 children in London hospitals diagnosed with new-onset type 1 diabetes during the first peak of the pandemic – around double the cases seen in this period in previous years [Radu Sigheti/Reuters]

10:30 GMT – South Africa eases coronavirus restrictions
South Africa, which had one of the world’s strictest anti-coronavirus lockdowns for five months, relaxed its restrictions on Tuesday in response to a decrease in new cases.
The country loosened its regulations to permit the sale of alcohol and cigarettes, and the reopening of bars, restaurants, gyms and places of worship, all limited to no more than 50 people.
Schools will reopen gradually starting August 24.

South Africa has recorded more than 589,880 cases and at least 11,982 deaths [Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

09:55 GMT – Philippines reports 4,836 new coronavirus cases
The Philippines’ health ministry on Tuesday confirmed 4,836 novel coronavirus infections, the seventh straight day of reporting more than 3,000 cases, and seven additional deaths.
In a bulletin, the ministry said total confirmed cases had increased to 169,213, while deaths had reached 2,687.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday eased the strict coronavirus lockdown in the capital Manila and nearby provinces to reopen the economy and help struggling businesses, despite the country having the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia.
09:20 GMT – French side Marseille confirm three more coronavirus cases
Olympique Marseille have confirmed three more cases of coronavirus at the club, taking the total to four before they open the new Ligue 1 season at home to St Etienne on Friday.
Marseille said in a statement on Tuesday that testing on Monday did not reveal new cases but confirmed three suspected cases from Sunday.

Marseille cancelled a pre-season friendly with Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart last week due to a positive test for COVID-19 [Christof Stache/Reuters]

Last season’s Ligue 1 was abandoned due to the global pandemic though Paris Saint-Germain were declared champions.
08:45 GMT – Indonesia reports 1,673 new coronavirus infections
Indonesia reported 1,673 new infections on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian nation to 143,043, data from the country’s health ministry showed.
The data recorded an additional 70 deaths, taking the total to 6,277.
08:15 GMT – Foreign residents still need permission to return to Dubai
Foreign residents of Dubai who have been overseas still need permission to return to the city, the emirate said.
The United Arab Emirates in March suspended the entry of non-citizens as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease. Residents have since gradually been allowed to return, either after being granted a special exemption or by registering online, though many still remain overseas.
Last week, a federal policy requiring overseas residents to seek approval before they returned to the Gulf state was lifted. However, Dubai still requires residents to apply for an entry permit, the emirate said in a statement.
Those travelling to the UAE need to obtain a negative COVID-19 test before arriving.

The UAE has recorded 64,541 infections and 364 deaths [Francois Nel/Getty]

07:45 GMT – Russia confirms 4,748 new cases
Russia reported 4,748 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, pushing its nationwide tally to 932,493, the fourth largest in the world.
The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said 132 people had died of the disease in the last 24 hours, bringing the official coronavirus death toll to 15,872.

Only the US, Brazil and India have recorded more cases than Russia [Pavel Golovkin/AP]

07:30 GMT – UK retailer Marks and Spencer to axe 7,000 jobs
Marks and Spencer, the British retail chain selling clothing and food, is to cut about 7,000 jobs as the coronavirus pandemic keeps shoppers away from its stores, it announced on Tuesday. The job cuts, to be carried out over the next three months, include losses from its central support centre, in regional management and in its UK stores, M&S said in a statement.
07:20 GMT – Indian minister back in hospital after recovering from COVID-19
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah was hospitalised again on Tuesday after complaining of fatigue and body ache, four days after he said he had recovered from COVID-19.
Shah, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the virtual number-two in his cabinet, was admitted to the government-run All India Institute for Medical Sciences in the capital New Delhi, the hospital said in a statement.
“He is comfortable and continuing his work from the hospital,” it said, adding he had now tested negative for COVID-19.

Shah is the highest-profile Indian politician to have been infected with the coronavirus [File: Prakash Singh/AFP]

India has reported the world’s third-largest number of infections after the United States and Brazil, with cases topping 50,000 every day since July 30.
07:00 GMT – Russian minister to join OPEC meeting after testing positive for COVID-19
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak will join an OPEC ministers’ video meeting on Wednesday despite testing positive for coronavirus while on a work trip in Russia’s far east, the energy ministry said.
“The minister feels good. He has no symptoms,” a ministry spokeswoman told Reuters news agency.
Novak is in Russia’s far east as part of a government delegation headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who had contracted the novel coronavirus in late April.

Novak will continue working remotely for the time being, energy ministry spokeswoman Olga Golant said [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

06:15 GMT – More than 680 people die of COVID-19 in Brazil
Brazil recorded 684 coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 108,536, the country’s health ministry said.
At least 19,373 more people have contracted the virus, the ministry added, taking the total to 3,359,570.
With a population of 46 million, Sao Paulo remains the hardest-hit region in the country with 702,655 cases and 26,899 deaths.

More than 2.48 million people have recovered from the disease in the South American country [Tarso Sarraf/AFP] 

05:45 GMT –
Hello, this is Hamza Mohamed in Doha, Qatar, taking over from my colleague Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.
05:30 GMT – South Korea braces for second wave, with cases linked to church services
South Korea reported 246 more cases of coronavirus – 235 of them locally acquired – on Tuesday, its fifth day of triple-digit increases.
Of the new cases, 131 were reported in Seoul and 52 in the surrounding Gyeonggi province. 
Scores of cases have been traced to the Sarang Jeil Church in the north of the capital, and authorities have urged people who attended an anti-government rally on Saturday to get tested because some church followers known to have the virus were at the protest.

05:15 GMT – Hongkong Post to test front-line workers
Hongkong Post says it will arrange COVID-19 testing for about 3,800 staff responsible for mail delivery, outdoor duties and counter service.
The tests are scheduled for August 20 and 21 and Hongkong Post expects the process will be completed within two days of taking a specimen. 
04:55 GMT – China’s Sinopharm promises vaccine will be affordable 
China’s state media is reporting that a potential vaccine being developed by a unit of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), will cost no more than 1,000 yuan ($144.27) for two shots.
Sinopharm says its vaccine – currently in late-stage human trials in the United Arab Emirates – could be ready for public use by the end of this year.
“It will not be priced very high,” Sinopharm chairman Liu Jingzhen was quoted as saying by the Guangming Daily.
More than 200 vaccines are currently in development with more than 20 in human trials.
04:00 GMT – WHO says younger people increasingly driving pandemic
The World Health Organization’s regional director for the Western Pacific says younger people – those in their 20s, 30s and 40s – are increasingly driving the pandemic.
Takeshi Kasai told a virtual briefing that many were unaware they had the disease.
“This increases the risk of spillovers to the more vulnerable: the elderly, the sick people in long-term care, people who live in densely populated areas and underserved areas,” he said.

— World Health Organization Western Pacific (@WHOWPRO) August 17, 2020

03:40 GMT – Mutation of virus could be a ‘good thing’
A prominent expert in infectious diseases says the mutation of the coronavirus into a more infectious strain could be a “good thing” because it appears to be less deadly.
Paul Tambyah, a senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases, says the D614G strain increasingly found in Europe – and this week reported in Malaysia – told Reuters viruses tended to become less deadly as they mutated.
You can read more on that story here.
03:20 GMT – Shenzhen steps up procedures to check frozen goods
While New Zealand may have ruled out frozen food imports as the source of its latest outbreak of coronavirus, Chinese state media reports the southern city of Shenzhen is setting up a warehouse specifically to handle such imports.
All imported frozen foods will have to go through the facility, where they will be disinfected, before they can be processed, stored or sold in Shenzhen. Samples will also be taken for nucleic acid testing.

Shenzhen will set up a warehouse for the supervision of #ImportedFrozenFoods starting from Tue as concerns rise over the risk of cold-chain supplies carrying #COVID19. A worker said it will take 5-8 hours for containers to finish the process.
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 18, 2020

02:50 GMT – New Zealand rules out link to frozen food and freight in recent outbreak
New Zealand has ruled out frozen food and freight as the cause of the recent coronavirus outbreak in Auckland.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told the media that investigations showed the virus did not come through chilled foods or materials arriving from overseas at a cold storage facility where one of the people diagnosed with the virus worked.
Auckland is in lockdown until August 26 and investigations into the origin of the outbreak are continuing.
02:20 GMT – Coronavirus on agenda as Democrats open convention in US
The Democrats in the US have begun the convention that will officially nominate Joe Biden as the party’s candidate in November’s presidential election.
Actress Eva Longoria opened the event – held virtually because of COVID-19 – by saying that the pandemic had “affected us all”.
Later, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the convention saying that the administration of incumbent President Donald Trump was “dysfunctional and incompetent” and had failed to tackle the coronavirus. 

‘Our current federal government is dysfunctional and incompetent. It couldn’t fight off the virus. In fact, it didn’t even see it coming,’ says @NYGovCuomo. Live #DemConvention updates:
— Reuters (@Reuters) August 18, 2020

You can follow our live updates on the convention here.
02:00 GMT – Rio mayor scraps beach app reservation plan
Rio de Janeiro’s mayor has scrapped plans to launch an app for people to reserve their space on the beach after public ridicule.
Marcelo Crivella was inundated with criticism and a flood of memes on social media after announcing the proposal last week.
The mayor’s office now says the app will be scrapped and sitting on the beach will remain banned.
People have been allowed to swim in the ocean since the end of last month. 

An installation on Rio’s Copacabana Beach to honour the people who have died from COVID-19 in Brazil [Antonio Lacerda/EPA]

01:30 GMT – New Zealand reports 13 new cases
New Zealand’s reported 13 new cases of coronavirus over the past 24 hours.
Twelve of the cases are linked to an existing cluster that forced the lockdown of Auckland – the country’s biggest city.
00:30 GMT – Protests in Argentina against extension of coronavirus restrictions
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in cities across Argentina to show their opposition to President Alberto Fernandez and his plans to extend coronavirus restrictions in the region around Buenos Aires.
Demonstrators gathered in the centre of the city shouting “freedom, freedom”, waving flags and chanting anti-government slogans. 
Argentina has recorded nearly 300,000 cases of the disease and 5,750 deaths. About 90 percent of the cases have been in Buenos Aires where the coronavirus curbs have been extended until August 30. 
00:10 GMT – Hopes rise in Victoria that outbreak easing after lowest cases in a month
The Australian state of Victoria has reported its lowest number of coronavirus cases in a month, raising hopes that the second wave outbreak in the state is slowing.
Victoria reported 222 cases of the disease in the last 24 hours.
It also reported a further 17 deaths.

A man walks past a billboard in Melbourne reminding people that face masks are compulsory [William West/AFP] 

00:00 GMT – Museum of Modern Art in New York to reopen on August 27
New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) will reopen – with fewer visitors allowed, timed ticketing and mandatory face masks – on August 27.
MoMA has been closed for five months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is due to open on August 29, while the Whitney Museum of American Art will reopen on September 3.
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.
Read all the updates from yesterday (August 17) here.
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‘Nowhere is safe’: UN warns of urgent danger of Syria escalation

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing a fierce government push are being squeezed into ever-smaller areas near Turkey’s border under horrendous conditions, including below-freezing temperatures that are killing babies and children, the United Nations humanitarian chief has warned. Addressing the UN Security Council, Mark Lowcock said on Wednesday the “unfolding humanitarian catastrophe” in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province had…

‘Nowhere is safe’: UN warns of urgent danger of Syria escalation

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing a fierce government push are being squeezed into ever-smaller areas near Turkey’s border under horrendous conditions, including below-freezing temperatures that are killing babies and children, the United Nations humanitarian chief has warned.
Addressing the UN Security Council, Mark Lowcock said on Wednesday the “unfolding humanitarian catastrophe” in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province had overwhelmed efforts to deliver and provide aid.
Nearly 900,000 people, more than half of whom are children, have fled their homes since December 1, when Russian-backed Syrian government forces pressed ahead with a military offensive to push out opposition fighters from their last stronghold in the country.

Erdogan threatens ‘imminent’ Turkish operation in Syria

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Erdogan: Turkey will hit Syrian government forces ‘anywhere’

“They are moving into increasingly crowded areas they think will be safer,” Lowcock said.
“But in Idlib, nowhere is safe.”

Displaced Syrians arrive to Deir al-Ballut camp in Afrin’s countryside, along the border with Turkey [ Rami al Sayed/AFP]

‘Catastrophic human suffering’
Lowcock said hostilities are now all around areas densely populated with “terrified” people who have fled “on foot or on the backs of trucks”. They are now in Dana and Sarmada, in the direction of the shut Bab al-Hawa border crossing with neighbouring Turkey, in what has been the biggest wave of displacement since the start of the war nearly nine years ago.
Nearly 300 civilians have been killed in attacks this year in the northwest region, with 93 percent of the deaths caused by Syrian and Russian forces, according to the UN.

Earlier on Wednesday, UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen echoed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ alarm at the rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation “and the tragic suffering of civilians”.
“Hostilities are now approaching densely populated areas such as Idlib city and Bab al-Hawa border crossing, which has among the highest concentration of displaced civilians in northwest Syria and also serves as a humanitarian lifeline,” he said.
Pedersen warned, “The potential for further mass displacement and even more catastrophic human suffering is apparent, as an increasing number of people are hemmed into an ever-shrinking space.”
He said Russia and Turkey, as sponsors of a fragile ceasefire in Idlib, “can and must play a key role in finding a way to deescalate the situation now”, though meetings between delegations of the two countries in Ankara, Munich and Moscow in recent days and contacts between the two presidents have not produced results.
“To the contrary, public statements from different quarters, Syrian and international, suggest an imminent danger of further escalation,” Pedersen said.
Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said Pedersen the statements at the Security Council reflected an “exceedingly bleak” situation unfolding on the ground in northwest Syria.
“What we heard today is something of deep gloom and of the greatest concern for the Security Council,” he said.

A man riding his motorcycle past destroyed buildings in the Syrian town of Ihsim in the southern countryside of Idlib [Omar Haj Kadour/AFP]

Erdogan: Idlib operation ‘imminent’
The council’s meeting comes as Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in the conflict but have collaborated towards what they say is a political solution to the nearly nine-year war, exchanged warnings.
“An operation in Idlib is imminent,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his party’s legislators in Parliament on Wednesday. “We are counting down, we are making our final warnings”.

Ankara, which supports several rebel groups in northwest Syria, has been outraged since recent Syrian government attacks in Idlib province killed 13 Turkish military personnel in two weeks. It is also eager to prevent another flood of refugees into its territory adding to the 3.6 million Syrians it already hosts.
Responding to Erdogan’s comments, Russia – the main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – said any operation against Syrian forces in Idlib would be the “worst scenario”.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Hatay at the Turkey-Syria border, said both sides “haven’t been able to make a breakthrough” in talks.
He added that next week would be “crucial” in determining whether Ankara will step up its operations in Idlib.
Erdogan has repeatedly said Syrian government forces in Idlib must pull back behind a line of Turkish observation posts by the end of February, warning that if they did not do so, Ankara would drive them back.
Turkey has set up 12 observation posts in Idlib as part of a 2018 deal with Russia.
Syrian troops have reconquered swaths of Idlib and retaken the key strategic M5 highway connecting the country’s four largest cities, as well as the entire surroundings of Aleppo city for the first time since 2012.
In rare remarks earlier this week, al-Assad pledged to continue the offensive, saying the war was not yet over but a “complete victory” was in sight. Damascus and Moscow maintain the military operation in Idlib is aimed at driving out “terrorists” from the region.

A Turkish military truck in the village of Qah in Syria’s Idlib province heading towards the western countryside of Aleppo [Ahmad al-Atrash/AFP]

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