Associated Press Saudi Arabia
Dubai airport CEO: Global travel still up in air over virus - Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The CEO of the world's busiest airport for international travel wants to get the globe flying again, but even he acknowledges everything remains up in the air...
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) The CEO of the worlds busiest airport for international travel wants to get the globe flying again, but even he acknowledges everything remains up in the air during the coronavirus pandemic. Paul Griffiths oversees what now is a much quieter Dubai International Airport, home to the long-haul carrier Emirates and crucial to East-West travel. The millions that once poured through the airports concourses are no longer flying as countries around the world enforce lockdowns and travel bans to fight the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes. Though government-owned Emirates plans to restart some flights next week, Griffiths told The Associated Press that the airport has yet to find a workable coronavirus or antibody test to administer on a massive scale to passengers. Until a vaccine or a permanent solution to the virus exists, there could be quite a low level of activity for quite some time, he said. I think the thing is there are a lot of people that are offering conjecture, whether its 18 months or two years or less or more, Griffiths said in an interview Wednesday. But the problem is its all conjecture. The honest answer is no one really knows. The airport known as DXB saw 86.4 million passengers in 2019, 6 million more than second-place Heathrow Airport in London. Thats down 3% from 2018 when Dubai had 89.1 million passengers. But air travel this year has been disrupted by the virus. In the first quarter, Dubai International Airports passenger numbers dropped by nearly a fifth to 17.8 million compared to last year. Cargo and repatriation flights have been flying, however. Beginning May 21, Emirates plans to operate flights to nine cities, including Chicago; Frankfurt, Germany; London; Madrid; Milan; Paris; Toronto; and Sydney and Melbourne in Australia. Already, attendants on Emirates flights wear gloves, masks and other protective gear. In the airport, customers and staff alike wear masks and disposable gloves. Thermal heat scanners look over passengers and they have experimented with both coronavirus and antibody tests, Griffiths said. However, the airport has no immediate strategy to test all passengers, like Iceland plans to do at its airport in Reykjavík. That leaves open the possibility of an asymptomatic coronavirus carrier making it onto a flight. I believe were doing everything we can to make sure that we are maintaining the integrity of the health and security and safety of our customers and staff, Griffiths said. And as new methods become available, we will, of course, trial and adopt them if theyre effective and scalable. The virus has taken a hard toll in Dubai and the wider United Arab Emirates, a federation that includes six other sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, among them Abu Dhabi. Emirati officials said Thursday theyve detected over 21,000 cases of the virus, with 208 deaths and more than 6,900 recoveries. Particularly hard-hit is the Emirates vast population of foreign laborers. Ramping up activity at both Emirates and Dubai International Airport is crucial for Dubai, which created itself as a vital hub for the free movement of trade, people and money worldwide all things that have been disrupted by the pandemic. The airport-based firm Dubai Duty Free, whose vast shelves of alcohol, electronics, perfumes and playthings greet bleary-eyed travelers from the world over, had sales of just-over $2 billion last year alone. The airport itself has been able to hold on to its 2,650 direct employees, while having to suspend, reduce or terminate the contracts of an additional 2,450 third-party contractors, Griffiths said. Generating revenue and reducing expenses is a priority at a time of uncertainty over how long the disruption global travel will continue, he said. What that future looks like remains in question. Griffiths suggested that one way forward could be digital passports with health information a replacement for the low-tech yellow vaccination books travelers sometimes need. Given the pandemics uneven effects worldwide, bilateral deals may need to be struck country to country, further complicating global travel but slowing the virus spread. But Griffiths believes the world eventually will return to the airport and that the pandemic is another disruption in a long line of major events like the 1991 Gulf War, the Sept. 11 terror attacks and SARS outbreak. I feel were all standing on the start line of a sprint race and were looking at the starter and waiting for that pistol to be fired, Griffiths said. As soon as that finger tightens around the trigger, well be ready to spring into action. ___ Associated Press writer Fay Abuelgasim in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report. ___ Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
China's economy in worst downturn since '70s in virus battle - The Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — China suffered its worst economic contraction since at least the 1970s in the first quarter as it fought the coronavirus, and weak consumer spending and factory activity point to a...
BEIJING (AP) China suffered its worst economic contraction since at least the 1970s in the first quarter as it fought the coronavirus, and weak consumer spending and factory activity point to a longer, harder recovery than initially expected. The worlds second-largest economy shrank 6.8% from a year ago in the three months ending in March after factories, shops and travel were closed to contain the infection, official data showed Friday. That was stronger than some forecasts that called for a contraction of up to 16% but Chinas worst performance since before market-style economic reforms started in 1979. Some forecasters earlier said China, which led the way into a global shutdown to fight the virus, might rebound as early as this month. Activity started to improve in March after Chinas outbreak eased and the ruling Communist Party allowed factories to reopen, but analysts have been cutting growth forecasts as negative trade and other data pile up. I dont think we will see a real recovery until the fourth quarter or the end of the year, said economist Zhu Zhenxin at the Rushi Finance Institute in Beijing. Asian stock markets rose following the announcement, which was in line with investor expectations. At midday, Tokyos benchmark Nikkei 225 index was up 2.6% and Hong Kongs Hang Seng was 2.2% higher. Retail spending, which supplied 80% of Chinas economic growth last year, plunged 19% in the first quarter from a year earlier, below most forecasts. Investment in factories, real estate and other fixed assets, the other major growth driver, sank 16.1%. Factories and other businesses were allowed to reopen even as the United States and Europe tightened controls. Cinemas, hair salons and other enterprises that are deemed nonessential but employ millions of people are still closed. Tourism is struggling to recover. China has reported 3,342 deaths among 82,367 cases of the novel coronavirus that emerged in December in the central city of Wuhan. The government reported 26 new cases and no deaths in the 24 hours through midnight Thursday. Controls on Beijing, the capital, and some other cities have been tightened to prevent a resurgence of the disease. Most foreigners are barred from entering the country. Consumer spending is slow to recover despite government efforts to encourage spending by giving out shopping vouchers in some cities and launching a media campaign showing officials eating in restaurants. Many would-be shoppers are holding onto their money out of fear about possible job losses. Others are reluctant to venture into supermarkets or even leave their homes. That is a blow to automakers and other companies that hope China will power the world economy out of its most painful slump since the 1930s. I will definitely be more thrifty, said Zhang Lizhou, a 26-year-old marketing manager in Beijing. Zhang said his company, which has yet to reopen, is paying him 1,500 yuan ($215) per month but his finances are strained paying a mortgage. His girlfriend lost her job when her employer failed due to the epidemic. I will save money to get through possible difficulties, Zhang said. If I had done that, I wouldnt be like what I am now anxious but unable to do anything. The ruling party appealed to companies to keep paying employees and avoid layoffs. It is promising tax breaks and loans to help entrepreneurs get back on their feet. Still, a wave of bankruptcies has flooded the job market, adding to economic anxiety. Auto sales sank 48.4% from a year earlier in March. That was better than Februarys record 81.7% plunge but is on top of a 2-year-old decline that already was squeezing global and Chinese automakers in the industrys biggest global market. Exports declined 6.6% in March from a year ago. That was an improvement over the double-digit plunge in January and February, but forecasters warn exporters likely face another downturn as the fight against the virus depresses U.S. and European consumer demand. The upturn will be slowed down by lingering consumption weakness and sliding foreign demand, said Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics in a report. He said it might be the fourth quarter before economic growth reaches a level of 4% over the previous year. For the full year, forecasters including UBS, Nomura and Oxford Economics say China will have little to no growth. The ruling party has yet to announce this years official growth target. It has been at least 6% in previous years. Beijing looks likely to miss its target of doubling incomes from 2010 levels by this year. The operator of a still-shuttered fitness center in the western city of Xian said he doesnt know whether the business will survive. The business may go bankrupt, and I would have to find something else to do, said the owner, who would give only his surname, Liu. Beijing is trying to prop up activity by spending more on building next-generation telecoms networks and other projects. But the ruling party doesnt want to pump too much money into the economy for fear adding to debt or pushing up inflation that is near a seven-year high. Chinese leaders probably will adopt stimulus measures at least as big as their response to the 2008 crisis but will emphasize quality instead of quantity, said Zhu at the Rushi Finance Institute. He said money was likely to go to technology development and social welfare instead of construction, as it did in 2008. Last years economic growth sank to a multi-decade low of 6.1% under pressure from weak consumer demand and a tariff war with President Donald Trump that depressed exports. The epidemic has amplified the problems, so the pace of recovery will be much slower, said Zhu. ___ AP video producer Wayne Zhang and researcher Yu Bing contributed.
'Lean On Me,' 'Lovely Day' singer Bill Withers dies at 81 - The Associated Press
Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including “ Lean on Me, ” “Lovely Day” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” has died from heart...
Bill Withers, who wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including Lean on Me, Lovely Day and Aint No Sunshine, has died from heart complications, his family said in a statement to The Associated Press. He was 81. The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died on Monday in Los Angeles, the statement said. His death comes as the public has drawn inspiration from his music during the coronavirus pandemic, with health care workers, choirs, artists and more posting their own renditions on Lean on Me to help get through the difficult times. We are devastated by the loss of our beloved, devoted husband and father. A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other, the family statement read. As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones. Withers songs during his brief career have become the soundtracks of countless engagements, weddings and backyard parties. They have powerful melodies and perfect grooves melded with a smooth voice that conveys honesty and complex emotions without vocal acrobatics. Lean on Me, a paean to friendship, was performed at the inaugurations of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Aint No Sunshine and Lean on Me are among Rolling Stones list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Hes the last African-American Everyman, musician and band leader Questlove told Rolling Stone in 2015. Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen. His death caused a torrent of appreciation on social media, including from former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who said Withers music has been a cherished part of her life. It added to my joy in the good times, and also gave me comfort and inspiration when I needed it most, she tweeted. Singer José James said we need his message of unity now more than ever. Withers, who overcame a childhood stutter, was born the last of six children in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia. After his parents divorced when he was 3, Withers was raised by his mothers family in nearby Beckley. He joined the Navy at 17 and spent nine years in the service as an aircraft mechanic installing toilets. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at an aircraft parts factory, bought a guitar at a pawn shop and recorded demos of his tunes in hopes of landing a recording contract. In 1971, signed to Sussex Records, he put out his first album, Just As I Am, with the legendary Booker T. Jones at the helm. It had the hits Grandmas Hands and Aint No Sunshine, which was inspired by the Jack Lemmon film Days of Wine and Roses. He was photographed on the cover, smiling and holding his lunch pail. Aint No Sunshine was originally released as the B-side of his debut single, Harlem. But radio DJs flipped the disc and the song climbed to No. 3 on the Billboard charts and spent a total of 16 weeks in the top 40. Withers went on to generate more hits a year later with the inspirational Lean on Me, the menacing Who Is He (and What Is He to You) and the slinky Use Me on his second album, Still Bill. Later would come the striking Lovely Day, co-written with Skip Scarborough and featuring Withers holding the word day for almost 19 seconds, and Just the Two Of Us, co-written with Ralph MacDonald and William Salter. His Live at Carnegie Hall in 1973 made Rolling Stones 50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time. The hardest thing in songwriting is to be simple and yet profound. And Bill seemed to understand, intrinsically and instinctively, how to do that, Sting said in Still Bill, a 2010 documentary of Withers. But Withers career when Sussex Records went bankrupt and he was scooped up by Columbia Records. He no longer had complete control over his music and chaffed when it was suggested he do an Elvis cover. His new executives found Withers difficult. None of his Columbia albums reached the Top 40 except for 1977s Menagerie, which produced Lovely Day. (His hit duet with Grover Washington Jr. Just the Two of Us was on Washingtons label). Withers last album was 1985s Watching You Watching Me. Though his songs often dealt with relationships, Withers also wrote ones with social commentary, including Better Off Dead about an alcoholics suicide, and I Cant Write Left-Handed, about an injured Vietnam War veteran. He was awarded Grammys as a songwriter for Aint No Sunshine in 1971 and for Just the Two Of Us in 1981. In 1987, Bill received his ninth Grammy nomination and third Grammy as a songwriter for the re-recording of the 1972 hit Lean on Me by Club Nouveau. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 by Stevie Wonder. Withers thanked his wife as well as the R&B pioneers who helped his career like Ray Jackson, Al Bell and Booker T. Jones. He also got in a few jabs at the record industry, saying A&R stood for antagonistic and redundant. His music has been sampled and covered by such artists as BlackStreets No Diggity, Will Smiths version of Just the Two Of Us, Black Eyed Peas Bridging The Gap and Twistas Sunshine. The song Lean on Me was the title theme of a 1989 movie starring Morgan Freeman. His songs are often used on the big screen, including The Hangover, 28 Days, American Beauty, Jerry Maguire, Crooklyn, Flight, Beauty Shop, The Secret Life of Pets and Flight. Im not a virtuoso, but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I dont think Ive done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia, Withers told Rolling Stone in 2015. He is survived by his wife, Marcia, and children, Todd and Kori. ___ Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits