Chinese returning to work grapple with coronavirus By Reuters



By Sophie Yu, Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese government employee Jin Yang returned to work in Beijing this week to find his usual workplace rules upended as China battles a coronavirus epidemic.

His office has banned the practice of eating lunch in its canteen with colleagues, in favor of boxed meals, packaged in house and eaten at desks, he said.

“It’s anything but normal,” the 28-year-old told Reuters.

Meetings are held online, instead of in person. Employees must wear masks all day and report their temperatures twice a day.

Jin is one of millions of workers who began streaming back this week from Lunar New Year holidays extended by 10 days in China’s struggle to rein in the virus, which has killed 1,380 people and infected nearly 64,000.

But streets and subways are largely deserted in major cities such as Beijing, the capital, and the business hub of Shanghai, with many shops and restaurants empty or shut, while lots of office employees work from home.As many places still enforce containment measures, companies are adopting rules to prevent infection and banish employees’ fears of catching it, such as keeping them as widely separated as possible.

Not all companies have resumed work. Many that have are asking employees returning from trips overseas or other provinces to quarantine themselves at home for up to 14 days.

A manager at one foreign multinational said staff were concerned, particularly after China’s tough step in locking down Wuhan, the central city of 11 million people where the outbreak began.

“They want no contact,” said the manager, who sought anonymity as she was not authorized to speak to media.

“Some want people to sit with empty chairs between them at meetings, toilet visits to be assigned at staggered times, and no sharing of the water dispenser,” she added, listing the precautions staff want followed.

Chinese media have posted photographs of office canteens where plastic sheets and wooden boards divide up tables to form segregated dining cubicles.

An industrial zone in the central city of Changsha has started using unmanned robots to deliver meals, the state-run People’s Daily newspaper said.

Automaker GAC (SS:), which has joint ventures with Toyota (T:) and Honda (T:), said no more than half its employees are allowed to work each day at its headquarters in the southern city of Guangzhou, with lunchtimes divided into four slots of 15 minutes each.

It also rearranged its canteen, and shifted tables to an outdoor terrace, with each spaced 2 meters (7 ft) apart. It has also swapped its previous buffet service for a menu of pre-arranged options.

E-commerce firm Pinduoduo (O:) said its employees must complete a daily health-check form. It disinfects offices at least twice a day, and provides meals for everyone to minimize exposure.

On the Weibo messaging app, the term “hardcore armor for returning to work” has drawn 140 million views, with users sharing safety tips, using videos and pictures.

Some images showed people wearing motorcycle helmets at their desks with others in costumes similar to space suits traveling on public transport and some in homemade protective gear fashioned from plastic bottles.





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Judge grants Amazon motion for pause in Microsoft’s Pentagon contract work By Reuters


© Reuters. The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves

By David Shepardson and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Thursday granted Amazon.com (NASDAQ:) Inc’s request to temporarily halt the U.S. Department of Defense and Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:) from moving forward on an up-to-$10 billion cloud computing deal that Amazon says reflected undue influence by President Donald Trump.

Amazon, which had been seen as a front-runner to win the contract, filed a lawsuit in November just weeks after the contract was awarded to Microsoft. Trump has publicly derided Amazon head Jeff Bezos and repeatedly criticized the company.

Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith issued a preliminary injunction but did not release her written opinion. She also ordered Amazon to post $42 million in the event the injunction was issued wrongfully.

The Amazon lawsuit said the Defense Department’s decision was full of “egregious errors,” which were a result of “improper pressure from President Donald Trump, who launched repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks” to steer the contract away from Amazon “to harm his perceived political enemy” Bezos.

Bezos also owns the Washington Post, whose coverage has been critical of Trump and which has frequently been a target of barbs by Trump about the news media.

The Pentagon, which had planned to start work on the contract on Friday, said it was disappointed in the ruling.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Carver, a Defense Department spokesman, said the Pentagon believed “the actions taken in this litigation have unnecessarily delayed implementing DoD’s modernization strategy and deprived our warfighters of a set of capabilities they urgently need.”

It added it remained “confident in our award of the JEDI Cloud contract to Microsoft.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper previously denied there was bias and said the Pentagon made its choice fairly and freely without external influence.

Alexander Major, a partner at McCarter & English, said: “The court has confirmed through the injunction that Amazon’s challenges with respect to this procurement are not trivial. It’s not guaranteed that they will prevail but the fact that they got it at all is a big deal.”

Amazon shares closed down 0.4%, while Microsoft was down 0.5%.

TESTIMONY SOUGHT FROM TRUMP

As part of the lawsuit, Amazon asked the court in January to pause the execution of the contract, popularly known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud, or JEDI. The contract is intended to give the military better access to data and technology from remote locations.

Microsoft said in a statement: “We have confidence in the Department of Defense, and we believe the facts will show they ran a detailed, thorough and fair process.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The White House declined comment.

Earlier this week, Amazon’s cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services, said it was seeking to depose Trump and Esper in its lawsuit over whether the president was trying “to screw Amazon” over the contract.

Amazon also seeks to question other officials involved in the decision and alleged that Trump had a history of inappropriately intervening in governmental decisions. Amazon called the process “fatally flawed and highly unusual.”

The procurement process has been delayed by legal complaints and conflict-of-interest allegations.

The judge told Amazon and the Pentagon to confer by Feb. 27 on what portions of the opinion can be released publicly.





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Judge grants Amazon bid to pause Microsoft’s Pentagon contract work By Reuters


© Reuters. The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves

By David Shepardson and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Thursday granted Amazon.com (NASDAQ:) Inc’s request for a preliminary injunction to pause the U.S. Department of Defense and Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:) from moving forward on an up-to-$10 billion cloud computing deal.

Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith issued the injunction but did not release her written opinion. She also ordered Amazon to post $42 million in the event that the injunction was issued wrongfully.

Amazon filed a lawsuit in January alleging that President Donald Trump, who has publicly derided Amazon head Jeff Bezos and repeatedly criticized the company, exerted undue influence on the decision to deny it the $10 billion contract.

As part of the lawsuit, Amazon asked the court to pause the execution of the contract, popularly known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud, or JEDI. The contract is intended to give the military better access to data and technology from remote locations.

The Pentagon declined comment on Thursday. Amazon and Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bezos also owns the Washington Post, whose coverage has been critical of Trump and which has frequently been a target of barbs by Trump about the news media.

Earlier this week, Amazon’s cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services, said it was seeking to depose Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper in its lawsuit over whether the president was trying “to screw Amazon” over the contract.

The procurement process has been delayed by legal complaints and conflict of interest allegations. Esper has denied there was bias and said the Pentagon made its choice fairly and freely without external influence.

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China’s return to work lifts local stocks while rest of Asia trails By Reuters


© Reuters. A man wearing a mask walk at the Shanghai Stock Exchange building at the Pudong financial district in Shanghai

By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares fell on Monday as the death toll from a coronavirus outbreak exceeded the SARS epidemic of two decades ago, though Chinese shares gained as authorities lifted some work and travel restrictions, helping businesses to resume operations.

In early European trades, the pan-region , German and futures all slipped 0.1% while U.S. stock futures were more upbeat with e-minis for adding 0.2%.

More than 900 people have so far died mainly in China’s central Hubei province as of Sunday with most of the new deaths in the provincial capital of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

To contain the spread, China’s government had ordered lockdowns, canceled flights and shut schools in many cities. But on Monday, workers began trickling back to offices and factories though a large number of workplaces remain closed and many white-collar workers will continue to work from home.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan reversed some of its early losses but was still down 0.4%. Japan’s was off 0.6%, South Korea’s was 0.5% weaker while Australia’s benchmark index eased a shade.

China’s indexes were the only ones in the black in Asia with the blue-chip index adding 0.5% and Shanghai’s SSE (LON:) Composite up 0.3%.

“Markets have turned around a bit reflecting the news that Chinese businesses were returning to work,” said James McGlew, analyst at stockbroker Argonaut.

“Overall, I think, there is still a concern out there that the impact from the coronavirus hasn’t been fully quantified,” he added.

“Today’s (easing of restrictions) seems to be more of a symbolic gesture rather than the government actually being on top of the situation with this virus.”

The outbreak has killed more people than the SARS epidemic did globally in 2002/2003. The virus has also spread to at least 27 countries and territories, infecting more than 330 people overseas.

Over the weekend, an American hospitalized in the central city of Wuhan became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the virus. A Japanese man who also died there was another suspected victim.

Monday’s losses in Asia extended from Wall Street on Friday where the fell 0.9%, the S&P 500 declined 0.5% while the Nasdaq lost 0.5%.

“Expect markets to be sensitive to virus headlines. In this environment, we favor defensive positioning,” ANZ economists wrote in a note.

China’s central bank has taken a raft of measures to support the economy, including reducing interest rates and flushing the market with liquidity. From Monday, it will provide special funds for banks to re-lend to businesses working to combat the virus.

Despite the measures, analysts expect the world economy to take a hit from an expected slowdown in China.

“For now, our best guess is that the economic disruption related to the coronavirus will cost the world economy over $280 billion in the first quarter of this year,” Capital Economics said in a note on Friday.

“If we’re right, then this will mean that global (economic output) will not grow in q/q terms for the first time since 2009.”

The virus has overshadowed other market news with better-than-expected U.S. jobs data on Friday failing to lift sentiment.

Non-farm payrolls increased by 225,000 jobs in January, with employment at construction sites increasing by the most in a year amid milder-than-normal temperatures, the Labor Department said.

Euro zone bond yields fell after German industrial output tumbled in December to notch its biggest fall since January 2009, fanning concerns about the bloc’s biggest economy.

The euro staged a half-hearted bounce from four-month lows to be last at $1.0949.

The dollar reversed losses against the yen to be up 0.1% at 109.79.

The Australian dollar, considered a liquid proxy for China plays, also jumped 0.4% to $0.66975 after briefly hitting an 11-year low of $0.6679. It fell 0.2% last week to clock its sixth consecutive weekly loss.

That left the flat at 98.651.

In commodities, futures eased 3 cents to $54.44 a barrel while futures was flat $50.3 a barrel.

Since Jan. 17, oil prices have fallen by 14% while is down around 10%.

U.S. inched up slightly to $1,574 an ounce.





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