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  • US pipeline paid hackers $6.5m: report
    Australian Associated Press

    US pipeline paid hackers $6.5m: report

    Colonial Pipeline paid nearly $US5 million ($A6.5 million) to eastern European hackers after a crippling cyberattack that shut the largest fuel pipeline network in the US, Bloomberg News reports, citing two people familiar with the transaction.

  • ‘Covid Zero’ Havens Find Reopening Harder Than Containing Virus

    ‘Covid Zero’ Havens Find Reopening Harder Than Containing Virus

    (Bloomberg) -- A smattering of places, mainly across the Asia Pacific region, have posted breathtaking victories in the battle against Covid-19 by effectively wiping it out within their borders. Now they face a fresh test: rejoining the rest of the world, which is still awash in the pathogen.In some ways, the success of “Covid Zero” locations is becoming a straitjacket. As cities like New York and London return to in-person dealmaking and business as usual -- tolerating hundreds of daily cases as vaccination gathers pace -- financial hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong risk being left behind as they maintain stringent border curbs and try to stamp out single-digit flareups.After a brutal 18 months that claimed 3.3 million lives worldwide, nations like China, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand have suffered fewer deaths during the entire pandemic than many countries, even highly vaccinated ones, continue to log in a matter of days.That achievement has allowed people to have largely normal lives for much of the past year. Some haven’t even had to wear masks. But sustaining this vaunted status has also required stop-start lockdown cycles, near-blanket bans on international travel and strict quarantine policies. The few travelers permitted to enter have had to spend weeks in total confinement, unable to leave a hotel room.Now that mass inoculation drives are allowing other parts of the world to normalize and open up international travel, experts and residents are starting to question whether walling off from Covid is worth the trade-off, if implemented long-term.“The whole world is not going to be Covid Zero,” said Rupali Limaye, director of behavioral and implementation science at the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “That’s not an option here.”Aggressive reactions to tiny caseloads may seem overblown to observers in countries facing thousands of infections a day, but the aim is to snuff out coronavirus before more disruptive restrictions like months-long lockdowns are needed -- and largely the strategy has worked. Still, the slower pace of vaccination in these places, and the threat of new variants, has meant that measures have become more and more onerous.Singapore has tightened border restrictions and limited social gatherings after the city of 5.7 million reported 60 locally transmitted infections in a week. Taiwan recorded 16 local cases on Wednesday -- a daily record high -- and promptly restricted access to gyms and other public venues. In Hong Kong, anyone living in the same building as a person infected with a new Covid variant was required to spend as much as three weeks in government isolation until the policy changed last week. Australia has said that it likely won’t open its international borders until the second half of 2022.“Because we have been so successful, we are even more risk-averse than we were before,” said Peter Collignon, a professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University Medical School in Canberra.“We are very intolerant of letting any Covid come into the country. The fear has almost gotten out of proportion to what the risk is.”Paying the PriceContinued isolation is the price these places will have to pay to maintain this approach in the longer term, as other parts of the world learn to tolerate some infections as long as medical systems aren’t overwhelmed..Most experts agree that the virus is unlikely to disappear completely. Instead, it is expected to become endemic, meaning it will circulate at some level without sparking the deadly outbreaks seen since late 2019.To maintain zero infection rates, these economies will have to implement measures that are harsher and more strict, said Donald Low, professor at the Institute of Public Policy of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.“This is neither wise nor tenable for much longer,” he said. “All this puts the places that have done well to suppress Covid-19 so far at a serious disadvantage as their societies -- not having been exposed to the possibility of Covid-19 becoming endemic -- are not willing to accept any relaxation of measures that may put their health at risk.”Meanwhile, many countries -- particularly those in the west that are awash in vaccines -- are starting to reopen.Travelers from England and Scotland will be permitted to visit a dozen countries without quarantining from 17 May. In the U.S., where about 35,000 people were diagnosed with the virus on May 12, the strict quarantine rules that prevented the import of the pathogen to Covid Zero countries never existed. Most states are starting to lift their pandemic restrictions and 25 have removed them completely.For Hong Kong and Singapore, the drawbacks of maintaining an elimination strategy as financial centers like London and New York City re-open may be significant. As aviation hubs and financial centers, both cities’ economies are particularly reliant on travel, compared to export-led economies such as China and Australia that can stomach being shut for longer. In 2019, Hong Kong was the world’s most popular city with international visitors -- even after months of political unrest -- while Singapore came in fourth place. London was at No. 5 and New York at No. 11.Vaccination LagA major obstacle to reopening is the slow vaccine rollout in these Covid havens, due to a combination of supply limitations and citizens’ lack of urgency about fronting up for shots.China has administered enough vaccinations for about 12% of its population. In Australia the figure is 5% and in New Zealand, just 3%. Meanwhile, more than one-third of the U.S. -- and more than one quarter of the U.K. -- is fully protected, as those countries’ failure to mitigate the spread of Covid meant vaccination was prioritized.In places with very few infections, the public hasn’t developed the searing fear of the virus that emerged in the U.S., Europe, India and Brazil, where many families were cut off from dying loved ones or left unable to visit elderly relatives in care facilities.In fact many residents fear the vaccine more than the virus. Reports of routine side effects including fever and injection-site pain, as well as rare and potentially deadly complications like blood clots, have put people off. The lack of an immediate threat from Covid means some people would rather wait until the vaccines are more progressed.New VariantsNot everyone agrees that elimination can’t be pursued long-term. For Michael Baker, professor of public health at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, the approach’s benefits are evident in how deaths in the country -- from any cause -- actually dropped in 2020.“The evidence is overwhelming for zero Covid if you can achieve it,” he said. “If there had been the commitment to having elimination as the first option, we may have been able to eliminate it entirely and avoided this global disaster.”He’s still hopeful that the strategy will be more broadly adopted with the help of vaccination, so that coronavirus will follow the measles model rather than an endemic one.“With the measles approach, you largely stop outbreaks in every country that has high coverage,” he said.Nonetheless, Covid havens face a growing dilemma. If vaccinations don’t pick up pace, they risk being stuck in a perpetual cycle, unable to move past the pandemic.“If their vaccination rates are low, that further jeopardizes their ability to open up,” Low said. “If so, the earlier ‘victory’ of these places over Covid-19 would have been a Pyrrhic one.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Airbnb Sees Signs of Travel Rebound; Loss Widens on Debt Payment

    Airbnb Sees Signs of Travel Rebound; Loss Widens on Debt Payment

    (Bloomberg) -- Airbnb Inc. beat analysts’ estimates for bookings in the first quarter, reflecting pent-up demand for travel after a year of Covid-19 restrictions. But the lingering effects of the pandemic could still be seen as the company’s loss ballooned, a result of repayment of debt it took on during the height of the crisis.The San Francisco-based company, which went public in December, reported $10.3 billion in gross bookings in the three months ended March 31, a 52% increase from the year earlier period and well beyond the $7.57 billion analysts’ had predicted. Revenue rose 5% to $887 million, also beating analyst’s projections.“While conditions aren’t yet normal, they are improving, and we expect a travel rebound unlike anything we have seen before,” the company wrote in a letter to shareholders accompanying the results. Airbnb didn’t release an official outlook for the current period, citing ongoing impacts of Covid-19, but said it expects gross bookings to be higher than 2019 levels and that April trends improved from March. “The pace of recovery in Q1 and Q2 to date has exceeded our internal expectations from when we entered 2021,” the company said.The shares fluctuated in extended trading after closing down 3.2% in New York at $135.75.The surprisingly positive results reflect a big upswing from a year ago, when Airbnb’s bookings plunged 80% after the coronavirus shut down most of the world. Travel was one of the hardest hit sectors of the economy in the pandemic, but Airbnb saw a swifter recovery than its peers when urbanites started abandoning their city apartments in favor of longer stays in rural rentals. Domestic leisure travel has continued to increase this year as vaccination rates have climbed in the U.S., with some analysts expecting Airbnb to see bookings return to pre-pandemic levels by summer. “We want to see if we are moving toward post-pandemic normalcy,” Ivan Feinseth, an analyst at Tigress Financial Partners, said in an interview before results were released.Prior to the pandemic, alternative accommodation, or non-hotel type lodgings that Airbnb specializes in, was already the fastest growing segment of the travel market and it’s now leading the rebound. Last week, Booking Holdings Inc. and Expedia Group Inc. reported better-than-expected first-quarter results, buoyed by vacation home-rental demand in the U.S. Both online travel agents said they would be trying to expand their property inventory in the U.S. to take on Airbnb in the peak summer season. Booking’s quarterly revenue declined 50% while Expedia’s was down 44% compared with a year earlier.Airbnb is fighting to retain its top position. In February, the company launched its biggest marketing campaign in five years in a bid to recruit more hosts and said it’s already driving new customers to its platform. Later this month, Airbnb will be unveiling a platform upgrade, which promises to streamline the process to become a host.Almost 60% of Airbnb’s revenue came from the U.S., where vaccines are now widely available, the company said. Guests are taking advantage of remote work policies and choosing to travel to non-urban areas and stay for longer: Nearly a quarter of Airbnb’s bookings in the first quarter were for stays longer than 28 days, an increase of 14% from 2019. Bookings in North America, primarily the U.S., increased to levels above 2019 in the first quarter, the company said.However, other countries are still struggling to contain Covid-19. India is reporting 4,000 deaths a day, meanwhile Europe’s vaccine rollout is lagging the U.S. and Australia has said its borders may be closed to international travelers for another year. As countries like the U.K. and France have announced reopenings and eased restrictions, Airbnb has seen a sharp increase in bookings, the company said. “We anticipate the pace of recovery in Europe will continue to be heavily influenced by the severity and duration of travel restrictions, but believe we are well positioned to take advantage of the recovery as they ease,” the company said.Releasing its financial results for the second time as a public company, Airbnb reported net loss of $1.17 billion, or $1.95 a share, significantly higher than the loss of $341 million a year earlier. Airbnb said it was due to the repayment of debt the company took on during the pandemic. In April 2020, Airbnb lined up about $2 billion in debt financing to help it grow and pay bills while travel demand was crushed.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.