What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

PUBLISHED: Thu, 23 Jul 2020 16:18:16 GMT

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

South Africa’s 59% excess deaths imply hidden COVID-19 toll

South Africa witnessed some 17,000 extra deaths from natural causes, or 59% more than would normally be expected, between early May and mid-July, scientists said, suggesting many more people are dying of COVID-19 than shown in official figures.

New data by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), released overnight, showed that just in the week to July 14 – the latest figures available – there was an excess of 5,022 deaths by natural causes, about half more than usual.

Africa’s most industrialised nation is in the middle of a runaway epidemic of the coronavirus, with cases increasing by more than 10,000 a day and the current total just shy of 400,000. But its recorded death toll has so far been low, at 5,940 deaths, or less than 1.5% of cases.

U.S. Senate Republicans, White House cite early progress on coronavirus aid bill

Leading U.S. Senate Republicans and the White House said late on Wednesday they had hammered out agreements in principle on portions of a potential coronavirus-response bill, which could be presented to Democrats as early as this week as lawmakers race to pass legislation by the end of July.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters there was an agreement on sending another round of direct-payment checks to Americans to help them get through economic woes created by the worsening pandemic.

Mnuchin, however, would not provide details on the amount of money individuals and families might receive, or qualifications for getting the checks under this Republican-crafted plan.

Siemens to roll out flexible working app for 100,000 staff

Siemens is rolling out its Comfy mobile phone app to hundreds of its offices around the world to help staff safely return to the office after the coronavirus shutdown.

More than 100,000 staff in 30 countries will get access to the app, which gives data on occupancy levels and updates on the local COVID-19 situation so they can comply with physical distancing regulations.

Staff worried about COVID-19 infections among fellow workers can also use a contact-tracing feature on the app created under a partnership with U.S. software developer Salesforce.

COVID-induced khat shortage adds to Somalia’s health woes

In sweltering Mogadishu, Sharif Ahmed, 22, tried to attack relatives and neighbours, resulting in an emergency trip to a psychiatric hospital in handcuffs. He is suffering withdrawal from the narcotic leaf khat.

Somalia shut down flights in late March to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, meaning the drug could no longer be imported by air from Kenya. That affected users, causing some to go for long periods without sleep.

The price of khat surged when the flights were stopped, putting it out of reach for most users and straining resources at Mogadishu’s Habeeb Psychiatric Emergency Hospital.

“Out of the total number of patients we have, half of them are addicted to the drug,” said Abdirashid Abdulahi, a doctor at the hospital, referring to the 40 patients under his care.

Reducing Corporate America’s real-estate footprint

A Reuters analysis of quarterly earnings calls over the past week revealed more than 25 large U.S. companies planned to downsize their office space in the year ahead, moves designed to reduce the second-largest expense after payrolls at corporations.

Reductions in office spending could likely be followed by layoffs and investments in technology that should help improve productivity, said Bill McMahon, chief investment officer of active equity strategies at Charles Schwab.

While companies tend to cut back on their real estate needs during typical recessions, the last four months of economic lockdown have shown many workers can remain productive at home, said Danny Ismail, an analyst at independent research firm Green Street Advisors. As a result, the cutbacks that companies are making are more likely to be permanent, he added.

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