October 12, 2020 - WASHINGTON - Some G20 creditor countries are reluctant to broaden and extend another year of coronavirus debt service relief to the world's poorest countries, so a six-month compromise may emerge this week, World Bank President David Malpass said on Monday.
Malpass, speaking to reporters as the World Bank's and International Monetary Fund's virtual annual meetings get underway, said G20 debt working groups have not reached agreement on the two institutions' push for a year-long extension of the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).
"I think there may be compromise language that may be a six month extension (and) that it can be renewed depending on debt sustainability," Malpass said.
Finance ministers and central bank governors from the G20 major economies are scheduled to meet by videoconference on Wednesday. In May, they launched an initiative to allow poor countries to suspend payments on official bilateral debt owed to G20 creditor countries until the end of 2020, which Malpass said has freed up $5 billion to bolster coronavirus responses so far.
Malpass and IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva have been warning that far more debt relief is needed for poor and middle-income countries, including principal reduction, to avoid a "lost decade" as the pandemic destroys economic activity.
Malpass said the two institutions would propose a joint action plan to reduce the debt stock for poor countries with unsustainable debts.
But he said debtor nations needed to more strongly demand debt relief for more progress to be made.
"Leaders of the debtor nations have been deferential to the creditors," Malpass said. "It's been very important that leaders of poorest nations speak up and speak out about the need for a lighter debt burden from the creditor nations. That dialogue hasn't been as robust yet as I think is necessary to move this process along."
A new World Bank debt study published on Monday showed that among countries eligible for the G20 debt relief program, external debt climbed 9.5% in 2019 to $744 billion before the pandemic hit.
The poorest countries' official bilateral debt to G20 countries reached $178 billion in 2019, with 63% of the total owed to China. The study said China's share of this debt stood at 45% in 2013, the year Beijing launched its global Belt and Road infrastructure drive.
October 12, 2020 - LOS ANGELES - "The War With Grandpa," a Robert De Niro comedy about the battle between a wily septuagenarian and his grandson over a bedroom, was originally supposed to hit theaters in 2018.
Plans changed after Harvey Weinstein, the indie film producer whose company The Weinstein Company financed the "Home Alone" knockoff, was exposed as a serial sexual harasser and predator. His fall from power led to the dissolution of The Weinstein Company and plunged "The War With Grandpa" and other films that the studio had expected to release such as "The Upside" and "The Current War," into a perilous kind of limbo.
Two years after it was intended to hit theaters "The War With Grandpa" finally debuted, although in a markedly different theatrical landscape, one that faces an existential crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The film grossed $3.6 million from 2,205 locations while receiving a brushoff from critics who dismissed it as a derivative and joyless. In pandemic times when major markets like New York City and Los Angeles are closed, that may rank as a decent opening. That being said, as Forbes notes, it still clocks in as the worst box office topper since 1988, so clearly the exhibition industry is facing some very punishing headwinds.
101 Studios, the new label run by former Weinstein Company executive David Glasser, picked up the rights to "The War With Grandpa" and released it. The company also distributed the similarly orphaned "The Current War" in October, with the subtitle "The Director's Cut."
This week, "The War With Grandpa" has unseated Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" from the top slot. In its sixth week of release, "Tenet" grossed $2.1 million domestically, bringing its haul to $48.3 million. The Warner Bros. sci-fi thriller took in an estimated $9.8 million globally this weekend in 62 markets, pushing its worldwide total to $323.3 million.
Disney's re-release of "Hocus Pocus" continued to be a rare COVID-era hit, earning $1.2 million. The comedy about a coven of witches starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy was a box office disappointment when it debuted in 1993, but became a cult classic on cable and other home entertainment platforms. "The New Mutants," the X-Men spinoff that Disney inherited after it purchased Fox, earned $685,000, pushing its domestic gross to $22 million. With those tepid results, "The New Mutants: Part 2" seems like a dream that will be permanently deferred.
Sony's "Yellow Rose," a drama about an undocumented Filipino girl who wants to be a country music star, netted $150,000 from 900 locations, bringing its domestic total to $170,000.
This weekend — with its collection of underperforming blockbusters and castoffs — paints a dire picture for cinemas. It's going to take a lot more than this to keep moviegoing viable. "Wonder Woman 1984" can't arrive soon enough.
October 12, 2020 - PARIS - Spaniard Rafael Nadal inflicted one of the most humiliating defeats on great rival Novak Djokovic in the French Open final on Sunday, thrashing the world number one 6-0 6-2 7-5 to lift a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam men's singles title.
Tennis fans would have been salivating at the prospect of another epic clash in one of the sport's greatest rivalries but it proved to be one of the most one-sided Grand Slam finals in the Open era under the closed roof of Court Philippe Chatrier.
The roof, which made its debut at this year's rescheduled Grand Slam, was closed just before the start of play, sending fans and pundits on social media into a frenzy on which player would benefit from the indoor conditions.
Most thought it would favour the Serbian's game against the 34-year-old Nadal, who was bidding for a 13th title on the red claycourts at Roland Garros.
But Nadal adapted brilliantly as he has done all fortnight to the new brand of balls and the much colder and wet conditions at this year's event which started in late September rather than its usual May-June slot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Of course, we were hoping for a great final and this is not going to go down as a great final. I am more surprised, I didn't think Rafa was going to play this well," Eurosport tennis expert and seven-times Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander said.
The stakes were high for both players in their ninth meeting in a Grand Slam final - they were tied 4-4 previously - with the added incentive of lifting another major trophy in the battle to be considered the men's "Greatest of all time".
Nadal has now tied Roger Federer's haul of 20 majors with Djokovic, the last active player to beat the Spaniard at Roland Garros, three adrift.
"To win here means everything. I don't think today about the 20th and equal Roger on this great number, today is just a Roland Garros victory and that means everything to me," the world number two said.
"This love story I have with this city and this court is unforgettable."
The 39-year-old Federer, who has been recovering from knee surgery this year, congratulated his friend.
"As my greatest rival over many years, I believe we have pushed each other to become better players," Federer posted on Twitter, along with a photo of him with Nadal.
"Therefore it is a true honour for me to congratulate him on his 20th Grand Slam victory."
Before the match Djokovic had said Roland Garros was Nadal's home and the Spaniard did not once leave the door ajar for the Serbian to make a comeback into the match.
Djokovic, 33, who had won five Grand Slam finals in a row since losing to Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 U.S. Open, still leads Nadal 29-27 in career meetings but the scar of Sunday's defeat will run deep.
The drop shots on the slow claycourts served Djokovic well in earlier rounds and he used plenty of them in his opening game on Sunday but Nadal ran most of them down, blunting the Serbian's weapon and gameplan.
Djokovic struggled with his first serve and was unable to come up with a Plan B as Nadal continued to be the aggressor while making just two unforced errors in the opening set to hand his opponent a rare bagel in the opening set.
Nadal showed exemplary athleticism and court coverage to get his racket to Djokovic's crunching groundstrokes as the bewildered Serbian watched on, fast running out of ideas on how to win important points.
In the second set there was no letup in intensity from Nadal, who continued to hit deep returns to keep his opponent pinned to the back of the baseline.
Djokovic got on the board at the start of the second set after managing to save three breakpoints but Nadal maintained his iron grip by breaking the Serbian's next two service games to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
In a high-quality third set, Djokovic broke Nadal's serve for the first time for 3-3 but dropped serve on a double fault in the 11th game before the left-hander went on to bag his 100th victory at Roland Garros with an ace.
"Today you showed why you are the king of clay. Today was a tough match, I was outplayed by a better player today," said Djokovic after losing his third final to Nadal at Roland Garros.
"He did surprise me with the way he was playing, the quality of tennis he was producing, the level. He's phenomenal. He played a perfect match, especially in the first two sets."
October 12, 2020 - With a string of near-misses at the majors and Olympic champion Park In-bee breathing down her neck, it was a relieved Kim Sei-young who tapped in the winning putt to claim the KPMG Women's PGA Championship on Sunday.
Kim's triumph at Aronimink Golf Course after a scintillating final round 63 put paid to her status as the most prolific winner on the LPGA Tour among active players never to have won a major title.
"I’m so excited. I’m really hiding my tears at the moment. It was amazing that I really won it. So I’m very happy and excited that I got it done," the 27-year-old South Korean said, beaming next to the winner's trophy.
Seven-times major champion Park had beaten Kim for the 2015 title at Westchester Country Club and was only three strokes behind her compatriot going into the final round.
A five-under round might get the job done, she thought.
Park duly delivered with a 65 but it was not enough as overnight leader Kim rose to the challenge with her seven-under-par 63.
"Obviously Sei-young was just much better than anyone else out there today," said Park, who had been chasing a fourth win in the event.
"It was just so hard to believe that she never won a major before because it felt like she won a few," she said of Kim, who has claimed at least one Tour win each season since 2015.
Kim, who was in a tie for second at the 2018 Evian Championship, one of the five women's majors, admitted to struggling with nerves before teeing off on Sunday and kept her eyes averted from the leaderboard during her round.
"I won't lie, I did feel the pressure starting last night," she said. "I actually arrived about 30 minutes later than I normally do at the golf course.
"I did not look at the scoreboard once. I knew In-bee was going to play great. But I had to just focus on playing my own game, one shot at a time."
October 12, 2020 - LONDON - Lewis Hamilton looks sure to become the most successful Formula One driver of all time but argument about the greatest will rumble on.
But the Mercedes driver, who equalled Ferrari great Michael Schumacher's all-time record 91 wins in Sunday's Eifel Grand Prix and is heading for a seventh title, said that did not matter to him.
"There's a lot of talk in all sports about greatest, past and present, and I think it's almost impossible to compare," said the Briton.
"There's all this talk of who is and who is not and it's not important to me. What's important is the journey...it's what we've done along the way, the obstacles you've faced. And everyone's got a different journey."
Triple world champion Jackie Stewart, previously Britain's most successful driver, said last week Hamilton would not be in his top three because there were so many more races now and the Mercedes was so superior.
The sport's only Black driver, who has broken down barriers and spoken out on a range of subjects from racial injustice to the environment, said he got knocked by many people and especially older drivers.
"Maybe one day they'll get over it," Hamilton said.
"I have so much respect for the past legends, even those that do continue to talk negatively about me all the time. I still hold them in high regard because I know it was a different time in history. It was incredibly tough for them.
"In 20 years' time when I'm looking back...I will not be talking down any young driver that's coming through and succeeding, because a responsibility as an older driver is to shine the light as bright as possible and encourage those.
"There's going to be someone else, whether it's Max (Verstappen) or whoever, chasing the record that I eventually set. It's the wrong approach to be hoping he doesn't break it."
"You should be encouraging them to live to their full potential and if that means them getting to that record, that's amazing."
Hamilton was presented with one of Schumacher's helmets by the German's son Mick after the victory at the Nuerburgring, with the youngster offering the family's congratulations.
The sense of achievement was not lost on his rivals, either.
As Australian Daniel Ricciardo observed, if Hamilton had taken his 91 wins consecutively then nobody else in Formula One would have had a look in for the past four and a half seasons.
"It’s incredible and very impressive. And I’m pretty sure there will be some more victories coming his way, and probably also championships," said Red Bull's Verstappen, runner-up on Sunday.
Hamilton is now 69 points clear at the top and closest rival, Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas, recognised it would take a miracle to stop him taking the title.
Many more wins will surely follow for a man who has averaged 10 a season since 2014. He is on seven for 2020 with six races remaining.
The tally could be well past 100 before Hamilton hangs up his helmet, with rules and cars staying substantially the same next year.
Mercedes have won both titles for the last six years and are set to make that seven, with Hamilton likely to be around for some time to come even if he has yet to sign a new contract.
"Hopefully, we have got more records to break and to make," he said on Sunday.
"I am not done yet. I still feel I am able to improve. I still feel I am driving at a really good level."
October 09, 2020 - OSLO/GENEVA - The United Nations' World Food Programme, which has coordinated medical logistics during the coronavirus pandemic, won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in what its boss said was a call to action that no one should go hungry with the wealth in the world today.
The head of the awards committee called the WFP a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict, and said the COVID-19 pandemic, which the WFP says could double hunger worldwide, had made it even more relevant.
At one point at the height of the pandemic, as airlines were cutting back flights, the WFP was running the largest operational airline in the world, a WFP spokesman said.
The Rome-based organisation says it helps some 97 million people in about 88 countries each year, and that one in nine people worldwide still do not have enough to eat.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley told VSBCnews sources the prize was a clarion call "to our donors around the world" and "to the billionaires who are making billions off COVID".
"It's a call to action to not let anyone die from starvation, it's a call to action that we've got to save and help our friends, our brothers, our sisters around the world," he said.
"All the wealth in the world today no one should go to bed hungry, much less starve to death."
Only this week, a report by UBS and PwC found billionaire wealth had reached a record high during the pandemic, helped by a rally in stock prices.
"The need for international solidarity and multilateral cooperation is more conspicuous than ever," Berit Reiss-Andersen, chairwoman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told a news conference.
WFP runs a logistics service that has dispatched medical cargoes to over 120 countries throughout the pandemic to help governments and health partners fighting COVID-19.
It has also provided passenger services to ferry humanitarian and health workers where commercial flights were unavailable.
"Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos," the Nobel committee said in its citation.
Beasley, travelling in Niger, posted a video statement on social media praising the "WFP family".
"They are out there in the most difficult, complex places in the world, where there's war, conflict, climate extremes – it doesn't matter. They are out there and they deserve this award ...," he said.
In Geneva, WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri told reporters:
"When everything went into shutdown mode, the World Food Programme was there. When everyone was leaving and we were going into lockdowns, the World Food Programme had to provide the logistical support that the world deserved, that the world needed."
Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the Norwegian Nobel Committee had wanted to send a message of both hope and "support for international cooperation".
"Hunger, like climate change, the pandemic and other issues, is a world problem that can only be properly addressed through cooperation," he told Reuters.
"Unfortunately, in too many quarters, especially among the great powers, there is a declining appetite for cooperation."
He noted that, after declining for several decades, world hunger had been on the rise again since 2016.
The United Nations, which turns 75 this month, has itself won the Nobel Peace Prize in the past, as have several of its agencies, including the High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNICEF children's fund and its peacekeeping forces.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee plans to go ahead with an award ceremony, albeit in a reduced format due to the pandemic, in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.
The Nobel Peace Prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns, around $1.1 million dollars.
October 09, 2020 – STOCKHOLM/PARIS - Orange and Proximus have picked Nokia to help build 5G networks in Belgium as they drop Huawei amid U.S. pressure to exclude the Chinese firm from supplying key telecoms equipment.
The moves are among the first by commercial operators in Europe to drop Huawei from next-generation networks and come after months of diplomatic pressure from Washington, which alleges Huawei equipment could be used by Beijing for spying.
The Belgian capital Brussels is home to the NATO alliance and the European Union's executive and parliament, making it a matter of particular concern for U.S. intelligence agencies.
"Belgium has been 100% reliant on Chinese vendors for its radio networks - and people working at NATO and the EU were making mobile phone calls on these networks," said John Strand, an independent Danish telecoms consultant.
"The operators are sending a signal that it's important to have access to safe networks."
The United States welcomed the decisions by Orange Belgium and Proximus, which have a network sharing agreement.
"This is the latest example of evaporating Huawei deals and further confirmation of this worldwide momentum towards trusted vendors," said Keith Krach, the U.S. undersecretary at the State Department for economic growth, energy and the environment.
Huawei, the world's biggest telecoms equipment supplier, strongly denies the U.S. allegations and has been highly critical of calls to ban it from 5G contracts.
However, it said on Friday it accepted the decisions by Orange Belgium and Proximus, which confirmed an earlier Reuters exclusive.
"This is the outcome of a tender organised by operators and the result of the free market," a Huawei spokesman said.
"We embrace fair competition, the more diversified a supply chain the more competitive it becomes," he said, adding Huawei had been supplying equipment in Belgium for more than a decade and its commitment remained unchanged.
The decisions leave Liberty Group's Telenet as the only mobile carrier in Belgium yet to say which supplier it will use for its next mobile networks. Telenet currently relies on equipment made by China's ZTE, and plans to announce its 5G decision in the first half of 2021, a spokeswoman said.
The deals to supply radio gear to Orange Belgium and Proximus are a boost for Nokia, which struggled to make headway in the 5G market earlier this year even as Huawei was under pressure.
"I have tried to become RAN (radio access network) supplier to Orange Belgium since 2003 when the company was still Mobistar. Here we are, finally," tweeted Tommi Uitto, president of Nokia Mobile Networks.
The companies did not disclose a value for the contracts.
Nokia shares were up 3% in afternoon trading.
Orange Belgium and Proximus said Ericsson would supply the core of their 5G networks, a smaller slice of business.
EU members have been stepping up scrutiny of so-called high-risk vendors. This subjects Huawei's governance and technology to critical examination and is likely to lead other European operators to strip it from their networks, analysts say.
Nokia and Ericsson have been the main beneficiaries of the challenges facing Huawei. From Bell Canada and Telus Corp in Canada to BT in Britain, the Nordic companies have been grabbing market share from the Chinese firm.
Separately, Nokia said it had won a contract to provide data management software to Telefonica UK, which said the Finnish firm would replace the less than 1% of Huawei kit in its network.
October 09, 2020 – LONDON - SailGP aims to be climate positive when its "foiling" F50 catamarans begin their second season next year, in a move it hopes will speed up the electrification of the marine industry.
To reach this goal, SailGP said this week it will both drastically reduce its carbon output and invest in projects to eliminate more than any remaining emissions, including contributing to a scheme that involves planting mangroves.
"We have to take decisive and ground-breaking measures, leading by example not only in sailing but across the marine and sports industries," SailGP Sustainability Director Susie Tomson said of setting a goal beyond a zero carbon footprint.
While SailGP's catamarans, which in their first season hit speeds of more than 50 knots (92 kilometres per hour), are driven entirely by the wind, its support boats use fossil fuels.
SailGP, which is backed by Oracle founder Larry Ellison, said it will switch 11 boats to electric motors and find a way to use electricity for its high-speed "chase boats".
"The overall goal is to have a fully electric support boat fleet by 2025 – removing the equivalent of 175 cars from the road – and helping to lead a clean energy revolution in the marine industry," SailGP's organisers said in a statement.
Onshore, SailGP said it will move to 100% renewable power by 2025, with its events around the globe supplied by generators using clean fuel and the batteries used during racing recharged using clean energy, building on a Tesla partnership.
SailGP is also creating a start-up investment fund which will develop, test and bring to market sustainable innovations that can be applied beyond the marine industry.
Its first project will be with E1, the electric powerboat series launched last month by Formula E and Extreme E founder Alejandro Agag, with SailGP developing the initial race boat concept.
October 08, 2020 - OSLO - Norway's King Harald will undergo surgery this week to replace a heart valve, the royal palace said in a statement on Thursday.
The 83-year-old monarch, who does not have formal political powers, has been head of state since 1991.
The king first had heart surgery in 2005, and the operation scheduled for Friday will replace the artificial heart valve he received 15 years ago, the palace said.
"This time it will not be open heart surgery," the palace said in a statement. "The king will be awake during the procedure."
Harald was hospitalised on Sept. 25 due to a shortness of breath, although doctors quickly ruled out any COVID-19 infection. He was discharged three days later but has remained on sick leave as further tests were conducted, the palace said.
The king had undergone regular check-ups following his 2005 surgery, his personal physician Bjoern Bendz said.
"The latest results indicate that this operation is necessary to improve the king's breathing," Bendz said in the statement.
The Oslo University Hospital carries out the procedure hundreds of time a year, he said. In 2003, Harald also underwent surgery for bladder cancer at the same hospital.
Formal political power in Norway resides with its parliament and government, while the monarch represents the nation with traditional duties ranging from state visits to national day celebrations.
Crown Prince Haakon will take over his father's duties during the king's sick leave, the palace said.
While some European monarchs, including in the Netherlands, have abdicated in recent years, handing the throne to a younger generation, Harald has firmly ruled out stepping down, making clear his commitment is for life.
Born in 1937, the king is a great-great-grandchild of 19th century British Queen Victoria.
October 08, 2020 - BAMAKO - Kidnapped Malian politician Soumaila Cisse, French aid worker Sophie Petronin and two Italians were freed on Thursday, Mali's presidency said, after lengthy periods in the hands of Islamist insurgents.
Their release follows a tense few days as reports the Malian authorities had freed scores of suspected militants over the weekend fuelled expectations of an imminent prisoner swap. It was unclear whether or not a ransom was paid.
"The ex-hostages are on their way to Bamako," Mali's presidency said on Twitter.
It added in a statement that the release was obtained thanks to efforts by Mali security services, and international partners, but gave no further details.
Malian and French authorities had neither confirmed nor denied that talks about their potential release were ongoing.
Cisse, a popular politician who served as finance minister in the 1990s, was kidnapped by gunmen while campaigning in the northern region of Timbuktu in March.
Petronin, who ran a charity for malnourished and orphaned children, was abducted near the northern city of Gao in late 2016.
"Sophie Pétronin is free. Held hostage for nearly 4 years in Mali, her release is a great relief," said French President Emmanuel Macron on Twitter.
The two Italian hostages are Pierluigi Maccalli, a priest and missionary who was taken in September 2018 in Niger, close to the Burkina Faso border, and Nicola Chiacchio, who is thought to have been a tourist when he was captured. The two appeared on a video in April 2020.
The release is a significant victory for Mali's interim leadership who are overseeing an 18-month transition back to civilian rule after the Aug. 18 overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
"The transitional authorities express their warm thanks to all the national and foreign actors who, from near or far, have contributed to this happy outcome," said Ousmane Issoufi Maiga, the head of the crisis unit in Mali's presidency.
October 08, 2020 - LAFAYETTE, La. - Louisiana steeled itself on Thursday for another in a record-breaking series of violent storms as Hurricane Delta took aim at a corner of the state still recovering from the last storm.
Delta's size grew and its winds intensified over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday. It was forecast to become a Category 3 storm with up to 115 miles per hour (185 kmh) winds before losing some punch Friday over cooler waters along the Gulf Coast.
"We've survived much worst," said Lafayette resident Rebecca Sebastian as she and two friends stopped in the city center to buy sweets. "We may have a few gusts of 100 mph winds but we've done this before."
The storm is expected to strike near Creole, Louisiana, as a category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It could unleash tornadoes as it moves over land and drops up to 10 inches (25 cm) of rain. The storm could drive a 4- to 11-foot (1.2-3.3 meters) storm surge up Vermilion Bay on the coast, the National Hurricane Center said.
If Delta increases on Thursday at its current, rapid rate, it could gain enough strength to slam the coast as a borderline major hurricane, said AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski.
New Orleans likely will escape the storm and experience gusty winds and mild rain, said Kottlowski, with Lafayette the largest city on the storm's eastern and more dangerous side.
Thursday morning, Morgan City resident Lisa Mire and three friends took shelter from a light rain to pray for former colleagues facing the COVID-19 pandemic as teachers.
The storm added urgency to the group's regular get-together, she said. "It calms us down," she said.
"We have today to prepare ourselves and our families for the arrival of Hurricane Delta," Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told residents. "Let's make it count."
The state sought and received a federal emergency declaration, he said, making additional resources available.
Energy companies halted 92%, of nearly 1.7 million barrels per day of offshore oil output, and 62% of natural gas production, data showed. The U.S. Coast Guard warned shippers of impending gale force winds from Port Arthur, Texas, to New Orleans.
Delta was on track to strike Southwestern Louisiana, a region that bore the brunt of Hurricane Laura's fierce winds and storm surge in September. There are about 8,000 people still living in hotel rooms as a result of the devastation to homes in the southwest of the state from by Laura, Edwards said on Wednesday.
When Delta reaches the northern Gulf Coast, it will be the 10th named storm to make a U.S. landfall this year, eclipsing a record that has held since 1916.
October 08, 2020 - LA PAZ - Bolivia declared a state of disaster due to wildfires ravaging forested and agricultural areas in the eastern part of the country, President Jeanine Anez said on Thursday.
In 2019, wildfires destroyed more than 6 million hectares in the Bolivian Amazon. So far this year 1.1 million hectares have burned, according to the government, while the non-government organization Friends of Nature Foundation (FAN) said the area wrecked was twice as large.
"We are declaring a national disaster due to drought and fires," Anez, the country's interim leader, said during a press conference. "We are facing a serious threat and we do not want what happened last year to happen again."
Authorities reported more than 50 active forest fires, but the number of areas subject to smoke hazards and possible spot fires was much greater, mainly due to drought and the use of fire by growers to clear farmland.
"The fires are advancing, and due to winds and high temperatures there is no other way to face this crisis," said Defense Minister Fernando Lopez, recognizing that current fire-fighting efforts had been insufficient.
The wildfires have affected more than 600 families in the country, although no fatalities had been reported, Lopez said.
October 08, 2020 - LONDON - Mastercard Inc has made a strategic investment in fintech firm Marqeta Inc and extended an existing partnership with the card issuing start-up, the companies said on Thursday.
Mastercard and Marqeta will work together to expand into new markets, build new products and launch new card programs, they said.
The size of the investment was not disclosed.
"As Marqeta's global ambitions continue to grow we saw an opportunity to strengthen the partnership," Omri Dahan, Marqeta's chief revenue officer, said in an interview. He added that Marqeta had not been in need of a cash injection.
The Oakland, California-based company has developed a platform that it says makes payment card issuing and processing simpler and more efficient for businesses. Its backers include Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Visa Inc.
Marqeta raised $150 million from an undisclosed U.S. institutional investor in late May at a valuation to $4.3 billion.
The company's business has continued to grow at a rapid pace this year, as COVID-19 lockdowns have led to a surge in demand for digital payments.
Marqeta and Mastercard have been working together since 2014, with joint projects including the launch of Square Inc's payment card for small businesses, they said.
Their collaboration has mainly focused on North America and Europe, and their new partnership will see them expand in Asia Pacific, they said.
Aside from Square, Marqeta's clients include other well-known technology start-ups such ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc, shopping app Instacart and lending start-up Affirm.
October 08, 2020 - JERUSALEM/TEL AVIV - Restaurateur Tamir Barelko has had enough.
Israel's decision last month to impose a second nationwide lockdown after a resurgence in coronavirus infections has dealt a hammer blow to the economy and the livelihoods of small business owners, Barelko says.
He launched a petition calling for small businesses to defy the lockdown and reopen from Sunday, the end of the Jewish holiday season, and has attracted more than 60,000 supporters for his campaign on Facebook over the past two weeks.
The finance ministry and central bank support reopening offices of companies that can avoid face-to-face contact with customers, or employ less than 10 workers - highlighting growing tensions over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the pandemic, which is set to see Israel's economy shrink this year for the first time in nearly two decades.
"The economy is breaking down, people's hope is breaking down," said Barelko, speaking in the Tel Aviv restaurant he runs, now empty of customers. "If the government does not give us the opportunity to live and to provide for our families, we'll do it ourselves."
Thousands of people have taken to the streets across Israel for almost daily protests that have built up since July, demanding Netanyahu resign over his handling of the crisis and over corruption charges he faces in court, which he denies.
The country, with a population of nine million, has reported nearly 280,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 1,800 deaths.
Schools and most offices, shops and restaurants are closed, unless they provide "vital services" such as supermarkets, pharmacies and banks, and people must stay within a kilometre from their home - harsher restrictions than in many other countries fighting a second wave.
Netanyahu had wide public backing when he imposed the first lockdown, lasting from mid-March until late May, which flattened the first wave of COVID-19.
But as infections soared after schools and businesses reopened, the cabinet bowed to pressure from some coalition partners and watered down limited lockdowns on infection epicentres to the extent that the curbs became ineffective.
On Sept. 18 the entire country was put under full lockdown again, extended on Wednesday until Oct. 13, a measure now widely seen as an avoidable failure for which Israelis will pay dearly.
An Israeli official, speaking to VSBCnews sources on condition of anonymity, said political pressures were "only part of the picture." Partial restrictions would not have been sustainable in such a small, close-knit country. "A partial lockdown is very difficult to do in Israel," the official said.
Opinion polls, however, show only about a quarter of Israelis have confidence in government policies to contain the spread of the virus.
"The second lockdown signals to investors and consumers that this is a whole different story, the health crisis is much worse," said Momi Dahan, an economist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "(It) also signals that the management of the crisis is poor and amateur."
Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron told Army Radio on Thursday that the government's decision making "could certainly have been more orderly."
Israel's economy tipped into recession in the second quarter and is set to shrink by 6% this year, the OECD forecast in a report published on Sept. 23, its worst performance ever, as lockdowns depress business activity and consumer confidence.
Without a budget in place amid political bickering, Israel has fewer resources to deal with the crisis. So far it has allocated 100 billion shekels on measures including aid to businesses whose revenue has fallen by at least 25% due to the pandemic.
Economists initially predicted the economy would rebound quickly from the pandemic, but the OECD now cautions "the recovery will be slow," forecasting gross domestic product will grow by only 2.1% in 2021.
Daily infections of COVID-19 have dropped from around 8,000 to below 5,000 since the second lockdown began, but Netanyahu has said restrictions could persist for many more months.
"There is cautious optimism that the lockdown is working but it is too early to say," Netanyahu said on Twitter on Thursday. "I will continue to make the right decisions and do what is right for you, the citizens of Israel. I will not bow to political pressure from either side, from inside the government or outside it."
But pressure is growing.
"It is important we resume activity of the small businesses," Yaron told Army Radio. "Businesses that don't receive customers, where data has not shown high infection risk, comprise almost 10% of the workforce and product - almost 400,000 workers."
Asked if he thought they should open, Yaron replied: "Yes."
The finance ministry said on Tuesday that small businesses and businesses that don't serve customers should reopen from next week, after the Sukkot holiday.
Israel's unemployment rate has tripled since the first quarter of this year to above 11%, a 15-year high, and the finance ministry's chief economist, Shira Greenberg, estimates a 5-1/2-week-lockdown would cost the economy 25 billion shekels, or 1% of economic output.
Business analytics firm Dun & Bradstreet has estimated 80,000-85,000 firms in Israel will go out of business this year, a 7-8% decline in the number of businesses.
It is not clear how many small businesses will defy the lockdown and reopen on Sunday, but Jonathan Katz, chief economist at Leader Capital Markets, said that if businesses can get back to normal by the end of the year Israel's economy could grow by 5% in 2021.
"If we avoid a third shutdown and most of the damage is in Q4 of 2020 we would be starting 2021 with a clean slate," he said.
The Israeli official said small businesses would likely be the first to open when lockdown is relaxed, "but we are not there yet."
Katz said the Bank of Israel may cut its benchmark interest rate to zero for the first time at its monetary policy meeting on Oct. 22, from 0.1%.
Other measures the bank could take to support the economy include doubling its government bond purchase programme to 100 billion shekels and extending long-term loans to banks at negative interest rates, on condition the loans translate to credit for the private sector, he said.
October 08, 2020 - Paris Hilton has gone from reality star to businesswoman and now activist.
The television personality alleges in her new documentary, “This is Paris,” that she was mentally and physically abused at a boarding school as a teenager and is now working to have the school closed.
"I've had so many people write me letters saying, 'Thank you so much,'" said Hilton, 39, who said she did not speak to her parents for 20 years because they sent her to Provo Canyon School in Utah.
In the documentary, which premiered on her YouTube page this month, Hilton alleges she was mentally and physically abused, placed in solidarity confinement for hours at a time and forced to take unknown medications.
VSBCnews could not independently confirm her claims.
Hilton said she was sent to Provo and several other schools for troubled teens after years of rebellion.
In response to Hilton’s accusations, the Provo Canyon School sent a statement that reads in part: “We are aware of media referencing Provo Canyon School. Please note that PCS was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000. We therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to that time.”
The school also stated: “Over the last two decades, mental health treatment has evolved from a behaviors-based foundation to a personalized, trauma-informed approach. We work with extremely complex individuals who often present a danger to themselves and others. Provo Canyon School is committed to the safety of our patients and staff.”
The original premise of the film was to spotlight Hilton as a businesswoman and clear up misconceptions about her, but during shooting she began opening up to her director.
"I felt so comfortable with her and told her about my nightmares and a little bit about the story,” said Hilton.
Although Hilton didn't initially want the abuse issue in the film, the director "just kept pushing me more and more. And then I realized that this could actually help a lot of people and empower others."
Hilton said she is excited to be using her real voice, instead of the baby voice that made her famous, to make a difference.
"It's exhausting just to pretend to be like, you have no brain and you have no idea what's going on. I've done that for so long.
"I'm not a dumb blond. I'm just very good at pretending to be one," she said.
October 08, 2020 - MOSCOW - A headed goal by Alexander Isak and a first international strike by Mattias Johansson earned Sweden a comfortable 2-1 win over Russia in a friendly on Thursday.
Seeking to avenge their 2-0 defeat in Stockholm in 2018 that saw the Swedes promoted to UEFA Nations League Group A ahead of them, the Russians piled the pressure on early, and Anton Miranchuk came close to breaking the deadlock in the 17th minute with a shot that thumped off the crossbar.
That miss was to prove costly four minutes later when Sweden were awarded a free kick in the centre of the pitch, and Isak ghosted into the space between defender Ilya Kutepov and goalkeeper Soslan Dzhanaev to head home.
With Nations League games against Croatia and Portugal next week, Sweden coach Janne Andersson fielded an experimental line-up, giving central defender Carl Starfelt, who plays for Russian club Rubin Kaxan, his first cap.
Andersson was rewarded in the second half when right back Johansson, returning to the squad for the first time in six years, struck a deflected effort that wrong-footed the keeper in the 73rd minute to make it 2-0.
Russia's best opportunities came from the left flank, and Aleksandr Sobolev, making his senior international debut, muscled his way through the Swedish defence to head home Denis Cheryshev's corner in stoppage time for a consolation goal.
October 08, 2020 - VALENCIA, Spain - Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei smashed the men's 10,000 metres world record and Ethiopia's Letesenbet Gidey demolished the women's 5,000 metres mark as the Valencia World Record Day event lived up to its name on Wednesday.
Cheptegei crossed the line at a near-empty Turia stadium in a stunning 26 minutes 11.02 seconds to beat the time of 26:17:53 set in 2005 by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele by over six seconds.
The achievement capped an outstanding 12 months for Cheptegei, 24, who won the gold medal in the 10,000 at last year's World Championships in Doha, and in August took Bekele's 5,000m record at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco.
Last December, also in Valencia, Cheptegei smashed a decade-long record in 10km road racing by six seconds.
Only 400 people including sponsors, journalists and staff were allowed into the event due to strict coronavirus measures in Spain but Cheptegei still savoured the moment with a lap of honour, wrapped in the Uganda flag and wearing a crown.
Cheptegei's outstanding display finished off a perfect event from the organisers point of view after Gidey, 22 broke the women's 5,000 metres world record by more than four seconds, crossing the line in 14 minutes 6.62 seconds.
Gidey easily beat the previous record of 14:11.15 set by her compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba in Oslo in 2008.
"This is a longtime dream for me, I'm very happy, this is very big for me," said Gidey.
The event was organised by Cheptegei's NN Running Team of the Netherlands and he and Gidey were helped to the finish line by pacers as well as Wavelight technology, which flashes lights on the inside of the track to indicate a specific pace.
October 08, 2020 - LISBON - Portugal had to settle for a 0-0 draw at home to Spain in a heavyweight friendly on Wednesday after hammering the crossbar twice and missing a last-gasp open goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who hit a hat-trick when the two sides met in a thrilling 2018 World Cup group stage game, almost gave the European champions the lead when he sent a shot crashing against the underside of the bar early in the second half.
Midfielder Renato Sanches went even closer moments later with a first-time shot at goal.
He also hit the bottom of the bar before running away to celebrate, only to see the ball bounce on the goalline without crossing it.
Portugal's most glaring chance was still to come though, when Ruben Semedo headed a corner to the far post towards Joao Felix, who got the weakest of touches and somehow missed the target with the goal gaping in front of him.
Some 2,500 fans watched the game from inside Sporting's Jose Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon, which was at 5% capacity, the first elite match in Portugal to allow spectators back in since the coronavirus pandemic began to disrupt world football in March.
Spain coach Luis Enrique fielded an experimental starting 11, leaving out captain Sergio Ramos and handing a first international start to 19-year-old central defender Eric Garcia while midfielders Dani Ceballos and Sergio Canales also made rare starts for the national team.
Adama Traore and Jose Campana came off the bench in the second half to make their Spain debuts.
October 08, 2020 - LISBON - Spain and Portugal have signed an agreement to push ahead with their joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup, the Spanish football federation (RFEF) said on Wednesday.
The countries' federations ratified an agreement "to promote the joint candidacy for the organization of the World Cup in 2030, establishing strategies for the international projection of both federations and countries", the RFEF said in a statement.
The federations, which signed the agreement before a friendly between their national teams in Lisbon, had began analysing the possibility of a joint-bid last year.
"Few things can generate more hope and anticipation that the opportunity to organise a World Cup and we can't think of a better companion than Portugal," said RFEF president Luis Rubiales.
Spain hosted the 1982 World Cup and launched a failed bid along with Portugal to stage the 2018 tournament which was awarded to Russia. Portugal has never staged the World Cup but did hold the 2004 European Championship.
Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay have announced they will make a four-way bid which could have sentimental value as Uruguay hosted the inaugural World Cup in 1930.
The United Kingdom's four associations are contemplating a joint bid along with Ireland while Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Romania are also planning a joint bid.
The bidding process formally starts in 2022 with FIFA to choose the hosts in 2024.
October 07, 2020 - MOSCOW - Russia has test launched its Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile and successfully hit a target in the Barents Sea, a senior commander told Vladimir Putin on the Russian leader's 68th birthday on Wednesday.
Speaking to Putin by video link, Valery Gerasimov, chief of the army's general staff, said the test strike on Tuesday was carried out from the Admiral Gorshkov vessel which was located in the White Sea in northern Russia.
Putin, who has pledged to beef up Russia's military presence in the Arctic, talked up hypersonic missiles and a new generation of Russian weapons in a March 2018 speech. He praised the test launch on Wednesday.
"This is a big event not only for the life of the armed forces, but also for all of Russia, for the whole country," Putin told Gerasimov.
The Tsirkon test comes amid tensions over arms control between Russia and the United States. New START, the last major nuclear arms pact in place between the two countries, is due to expire in February.
Gerasimov said the missile hit its target at a distance of 450 kilometres (280 miles) in four and a half minutes after reaching hypersonic speeds of more than Mach 8.
He added that tests would continue and that Russian surface vessels and submarines would be armed with the missile when those tests are completed.
Russia reportedly test-launched the missile successfully from a military vessel for the first time in January.
October 07, 2020 - WASHINGTON - A scathing report detailing abuses of market power by four top technology companies suggests a tough road ahead of new rules and stricter enforcement for Big Tech should Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden win the White House.
Antitrust experts and congressional aides said the 449-page report from the antitrust panel of the House Judiciary Committee, released on Tuesday, lays out a road map for the Democratic Party to put the brakes on the dominance of Alphabet Inc's Google, Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc.
With the Nov. 3 election approaching fast and a new Congress scheduled to be sworn in in January, action on the report's recommendations this year is unlikely and no new legislative changes are imminent. However, the findings boost the chances for new laws in the future and will inform existing investigations against large technology companies by state attorneys general and agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.
The report reflects the views of Democrats on the antitrust subcommittee in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Republicans on the panel released two separate reports on the investigation.
"This basically lays out the Democratic Party's position on tech platforms and how antitrust laws need to be refined and strengthened," said Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, a Washington-based group focused on monopoly power.
"The report has done a lot of work to set up where and why a Biden administration should act and how it should prioritize the recommendations in the report," she said. Miller is one of hundreds of members of the Biden campaign's tech policy committee.
William Kovacic, a former chair of the Federal Trade Commission, warned that the companies will "pull out all the stops" in lobbying against the changes.
Earlier this month, a report revealed how large tech companies including Amazon were cozying up to the Biden campaign with cash and connections.
Biden has previously said antitrust enforcement has not been strong and that tech firms deserve a hard look from the federal agencies that oversee competition. He has stayed away from calling for the breakup of large technology companies, saying it would be premature to do so without a formal investigation.
The House report on Tuesday broadly recommended that companies should not both control and compete in related businesses, but stopped short of naming a specific company. Anti-monopoly experts and congressional aides said the report, which details Big Tech's abuses, has the potential to influence the thinking of Biden on the issue.
A spokesman for the Biden campaign did not immediately comment.
The antitrust panel will take up the majority report after the October recess for formal adoption and will have a vote on it, counsels for the committee said. The next step will be coming up with legislation to put the report's recommendations into action.
When asked about whether U.S. Representative David Cicilline, the chairman of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, was considering legislation, a spokesman said the Rhode Island Democrat has said he wants all stakeholders to weigh in and that it was safe to say all options are being considered.
October 07, 2020 - LOS ANGELES - Patty Jenkins' new "Wonder Woman" movie has been delayed three times during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the director is sounding the alarm that movie-going itself is under real threat.
Jenkins is among dozens of top Hollywood directors appealing to the U.S. government to provide a financial lifeline to cinemas. Without it, she warned, the century-old tradition of going to the movies could disappear from American culture.
"If we shut this down, this will not be a reversible process," she said in an interview from her home in Los Angeles. "We could lose movie theater-going forever."
While theater attendance has rebounded in some countries following a global shutdown in March, the U.S. market is struggling. Cineworld Group Plc is temporarily closing Regal locations that reopened in August. The National Association of Theatre Owners said 69% of small and mid-sized cinema companies could be forced to file for bankruptcy or shutter permanently.
Jenkins said widespread closures would lead Hollywood studios to stop investing in films for theaters, and turn to streaming instead.
"It could be the kind of thing that happened to the music industry," she said, "where you could crumble the entire industry by making it something that can't be profitable."
Expensive action movies like "Wonder Woman" would be much less common on streaming, she said, and audiences would miss out on the experience of watching on a big screen in a large group.
"I don't think any of us want to live in a world where the only option is to take your kids to watch a movie in your own living room," she said, "and not have a place to go for a date."
Some of this year's major Hollywood films, including Walt Disney Co's "Mulan", skipped cinemas and went straight to streaming. Jenkins said that option is not under consideration for her sequel, "Wonder Woman 1984." Her 2017 "Wonder Woman" film took in $822 million at box offices worldwide.
The follow-up starring Gal Gadot as the lasso-wielding warrior is now scheduled for release by AT&T Inc's Warner Bros on Christmas Day in December. It had originally been set for June.
Jenkins said she was watching the progress of the pandemic and hoping that Wonder Woman can lead a return to cinemas that gives people a welcome escape from reality.
"I really hope that we are able to be one of the very first ones to come back and bring that into everyone's life," she said.
October 07, 2020 - BERLIN - German prosecutors and tax authorities searched offices of the German Football Association (DFB) as well as private homes of current and former officials on suspicion of serious tax evasion, the Frankfurt prosecutors' office said on Wednesday.
It said six unnamed former and current officials of the DFB were suspected of having intentionally falsely declared income from advertising in soccer stadiums during home games of the national team in 2014 and 2015 as income from asset management, leading to 4.7 million euros ($5.5 million) in unpaid taxes.
The DFB does not pay taxes on any income from asset management but is obliged to do so on earnings from any commercial activities.
Its president Fritz Keller, who took over in 2019, said the DFB would "fully support" the ongoing investigation.
"I am in favour of throwing light on this so that football can have a clean future," Keller told reporters. "I have stood for openness and transparency so state support to an investigation can only be welcomed."
Some 200 officials were deployed in the searches that took place across several locations in five federal states.
"Based on the investigation until now there is the suspicion that those accused knew of the tax incorrectness but consciously chose it to give DFB a major tax advantage," the prosecutors' office said in a statement.
It did not name the six people nor did it give details of their positions within the organisation but said the DFB had signed a deal in 2013 with a Swiss company for the marketing of its pitchside banners.
The prosecutors' office said despite the agreement the DFB still had a say in the choice of companies buying space in order to protect its own main sponsors.
"In terms of taxes this has the consequence that the revenues ... could not be listed as tax-free asset management but fell into the category of taxed commercial operation and as such it should have been taxed."
This is the latest in a series of legal cases that have tarnished the world's biggest soccer federation which was also investigated in relation to a suspected misuse of funds in relation to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Theo Zwanziger, DFB head from 2006-2012, and his successor Wolfgang Niersbach were investigated for years in Germany and Switzerland over those allegations. Both men have denied any wrongdoing. Niersbach resigned in 2015 over the 2006 scandal.
His own successor, Reinhard Grindel, who was president in 2016-2019 and DFB treasurer between 2013-15, resigned in 2019 over a gold watch he received as a gift during a meeting of European soccer body UEFA.
October 06, 2020 – BRUSSELS - The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said she would leave quarantine on Tuesday after having been in contact with someone positive for COVID-19 a week earlier, despite EU recommendations of 14 days of self-isolation.
Von der Leyen is following Belgium's rules, which have just been softened, but her decision to ignore the stricter advice from the bloc's public health body could further weaken calls for a EU common approach to battle the epidemic.
Von der Leyen, who is 61 and is a physician by training, said she would remain in precautionary self-isolation until Tuesday evening, after a person she came into contact with on September 29 in a meeting in Portugal tested positive on Sunday.
She tested negative for the virus on Thursday and Monday.
A spokesman for the Commission declined to comment on the EU recommendation but said the length of her quarantine was in line with Belgian rules.
Belgium, which is home to the EU headquarters, shortened mandatory quarantine from 14 to seven days on Oct 1, despite having one of Europe's highest infection rates. That was done mostly because people struggled to respect the rule which had a heavy social and economic impact, a spokeswoman for the health ministry said.
However, the country's decision disregarded the advice of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) which in September reiterated its recommendation of a two-week quarantine for persons who had had contact with confirmed cases.
The ECDC's guidance says quarantine could be shortened to 10 days after a negative test. The agency declined to comment on von der Leyen's decision.
The head of the agency, Andrea Ammon, has warned that even the 14-day quarantine may not be enough, as in 3-4% of cases infections emerge after two weeks.
As infections are again rising sharply across Europe, other EU countries have also relaxed their quarantine rules, and a patchwork of national rules has emerged.
In September France shortened the duration of mandatory self-isolation to seven days. Spain, the country with the highest infection rate in Europe, cut the mandatory quarantine to 10 days, saying that most people are no longer infectious after that period.
Italy, which has currently one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, maintains a 14-day quarantine in line with recommendations from the ECDC and World Health Organization.
The European Commission has repeatedly urged the 27 EU states to better coordinate their strategies to combat the epidemic and use common criteria to assess the spread of the disease before introducing new restrictive measures.
October 06, 2020 – WASHINGTON - The U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff have almost entirely gone into self-quarantine after the Coast Guard's No. 2 tested positive for the novel coronavirus following a top-level meeting at the Pentagon last week, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that the military's top brass - with the exception of the Coast Guard vice commandant, Admiral Charles Ray - had all tested negative so far and were still carrying out their duties.
But the disclosure risks adding to a growing sense of uncertainty about operations at the highest levels of the U.S. government after President Donald Trump himself contracted the illness, along with senior White House staff and other Republican leaders. The rise in cases among officials in Washington is not disrupting the U.S. government, the White House said.
All potential close contacts from Ray's meetings at the Pentagon were tested Tuesday morning and that none of them exhibited symptoms, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
"We have no additional positive tests to report at this time," Hoffman said.
"There is no change to the operational readiness or mission capability of the U.S. Armed Forces."
Ray attended meetings late last week with the U.S. military's top brass, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley, Trump's top military adviser.
U.S. officials told sources that Milley was self-isolating, as was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military leaders from the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Space Force.
However, two officials said the Marine Corps commandant, General David Berger, did not meet with Ray last week and, therefore, was not self-isolating. The Marine Corps could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Coast Guard disclosed earlier on Tuesday that Ray had tested positive on Monday for the virus after feeling mild symptoms over the weekend.
It said Ray will be quarantining from home.