Poultry farmers in Karnataka, Kerala hit by bird flu

Farmers in the two states have reportedly begun culling chickens, while the state governments have restricted supply of chicken across their borders.

After coronavirus hit consumption of chicken and eggs to a multi-year low, poultry farmers in Karnataka and Kerala are facing another problem – bird flu or, formally, the H5N1 virus.

The source is migratory birds from the east.

Farmers in the two states have reportedly begun culling chickens, while the state governments have restricted supply of chicken across their borders.

“Bird flu indications are found in the Mysore region of Karnataka, among small farms with 3,000-4,000 birds.

“In fact, farmers had found some dead migratory birds which they carried into their farms, which was the major cause of the outbreak.

“The flu later spread throughout the farm,” said K G Anand, general manager ay Venkateshwara Hatcheries, producer and retailer of the Venky’s brand of chicken products.

From those small farms in Karnataka, the bird flu spread to Kerala.

“Normally, farmers transport 1-1.5 million birds (cocks and hens) from Karnataka to Kerala. That is how it spread to Kerala,” said  Sanjeeb Chintawar, business manager, National Egg Coordination Committee.

Normally, bird flu outbreaks are reported in February and March, due to widening differences in temperature between day and night.

In this period, birds normally travel from cold regions in search of warm weather, with India a favourite destination.

“Farmers in Kerala and Karnataka have taken adequate care to contain the spread.

“The situation is under control now,” says Chintawar.

The spread of Covid-19 had prompted farmers to sell broiler chicken at Rs 5 a kg in parts of Maharashtra.

With Rs 30-35 a kg in North India, the average price is Rs 15 a kg – cost of production is said to be Rs 75-80 a kg.

“It will take at least a year for poultry farmers to recover from the current loss, if Covid -19 is contained and the situation becomes normal,” mourns Anand.

Photograph: Michael Dalder/Reuters

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Start-ups scrape the bottom of the barrel

According to a survey by community platform LocalCircles, early-stage start-ups, funding dependent start-ups and many small businesses will soon be fighting for survival as the spurt in coronavirus cases hits them hard. 

Spurt in the novel coronavirus (covid-19) cases is hitting start-ups, especially consumer focused companies that are in their early phases of growth, hard. 

Take the example of True Elements, a Pune-based consumer focused start-up that offers health food. Sreejith Moolayil, co-founder of the firm, claims he is finding it tough to keep it afloat. The lockdown has gripped the entire state in a bid to stop the rapid spread of coronavirus. 

“As a start-up, we would be in a big mess because 15 days shutdown means our cash flow for those days is gone, I don’t know how I am going to pay salary to my employees. I am not a big-time venture capital-funded company,” said Moolayil, whose firm has 115 on its roll. 

For him, the other problem is that around 40 per cent of his production staff members have gone back to their hometowns due to the pandemic. 

Though the company, which sells health foods online, is witnessing a huge demand for its products, it is not able to meet the requirements. The firm is moving its production to a small town, 200 km away from Pune. 

“If there is an overall India lockdown, we won’t survive for more than a month,” said Moolayil. 

The example of TheWowBox is also somewhat the same though the start-up faced a slightly different challenge. The Mumbai-based company offers a discovery platform for new consumer products. As part of its promotion initiatives, the firm distributes newly launched products of different companies and also promotes entertainment events. 

According to its founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Nikunj Bubna, all these have to be completely stopped since consumers are now focusing on buying only essential items. 

“Our business has straight gone down to zero. We are having a warehouse where products or samples worth lakhs are on the verge of expiry,” said Bubna. “Our fundraising process also got impacted.” 

True Elements and TheWowBox are among several such start-ups and small businesses that are facing major challenges due to covid-19. 

According to a survey by community platform LocalCircles, early-stage start-ups, funding dependent start-ups and many small businesses will soon be fighting for survival. 

LocalCircles conducted a survey among 35,000 start-ups, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs on how they plan to cope with the coronavirus outbreak in the short term so that their businesses could recover once the restrictions are removed. 

It says, about 71 per cent of start-ups and small businesses are facing issues such as lower demand for products and services. This would potentially results in salary cuts and reduction in expenses towards marketing, advertising and infrastructure. 

Many companies have asked their employees to work from home and others have temporarily suspended operations. 

“The survey accurately captures what start-ups and SMEs are currently faced with and soon LocalCircles will aggregate and make recommendations to the government on relief measures needed for the start-up and the SME sector,” said Sachin Taparia, founder and chairman of LocalCircles. 

Some start-ups and SMEs have reported the exercise of ‘Force Majeure’ (superior force) clause by their customers and getting out of a contract, said Local Circles. Others are reporting postponement of deliveries by Indian and global customers. 

Governments in several countries have started doling out packages to make small businesses survive this difficult phase. The US, for example, has announced a $50 billion package for small businesses. 

The UK chancellor also announced a business bailout of 350 billion pounds via business loans. “What remains to be seen is the kind of measures the government of India will announce to assist start-ups and SMEs,” said LocalCircles. 

According to experts, start-ups have begun conserving cash irrespective of their size. Any kind of investment that was in the pipeline, including hiring and new projects, have been curtailed. 

“Most vulnerable are the start-ups which were running out of cash and have not been able to raise funds. As the scenario has slowed down, they could be under risk,” said Anup Jain, managing partner at Orios Venture Partners. 

Bengaluru-based electric bike-sharing platform Yulu has postponed its plan to launch in new cities, until the situation gets normal. The start-up has also put a temporary hold on P1 hirings — those positions which are important but the company can do without. 

“In times like this, the focus is on fundamentals and core business, and also to try and save cost wherever possible. My first priority now is providing salary to my employees,” said Soham Chokshi, co-founder of digital logistics platform Shipsy, which caters to markets such as Southeast Asia, other than India. 

Soumajit Bhowmik, co-founder and CEO of Styched, a fast-fashion e-commerce portal, says, companies like his are struggling, owing to the stopping or reduction of supply of fabric which are usually imported from China, Vietnam and Thailand. There is also an impact on import of printers and ink as they are mostly imported from China. 

“After Holi, when the outbreak began, we would be able to deliver an order in 2-3 days. But now, it is taking 10-14 days. This is because last-mile delivery partners are delivering fewer packages due to safety concerns,” said Bhowmik. “On the customer side, people are shopping less, which has resulted in about 35-70 per cent drop in conversion rates.” 

According to Saurabh Marda, managing director (MD) of Freyr Energy, a Hyderbad-based solar systems integration and solutions firm, the company’s FY20 revenue is going to take a hit. “Our primary objective is to ensure liquidity in the company; so we can wait this out,” said Marda. 

Several start-ups have also come up with innovative features to collaborate with customers. myGate, which offers security management and convenience service for guard-gated premises, has rolled out Leave at Gate service. This enables contactless deliveries. 

As more number of corporates are now encouraging employees to work from home, Facilio, which offers management software, has opened up an online meeting room during ‘office hours’. 

Employees can drop in virtually, chat, and catch up over virtual coffee to make working in isolation look less difficult.

Photograph: David Stanway/Reuters.

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ISPs find work-from-home has boosted demand for data

Feedback from telecom members indicated a 10 per cent increase in traffic, but no fears of choked networks. Telcos currently use 65-70 per cent of the network capacity. In other words, they have enough additional capacity to handle the new pressure without clogging the system. 

Indian telecom service providers have seen a 10 per cent surge in overall traffic as more and more offices switch to ‘work from home’ or people go into self-quarantine in their homes to combat the spread of coronavirus.  

The demand for data dongles has also doubled in the last few days and many retailers are asking for a week to replenish their stocks due to the spurt in demand. 

Rajan S Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, said feedback from its telecom members indicated a 10 per cent increase in traffic, but rejected fears of choked networks. 

“The networks have enough capacity to manage this increase and there is no reason for worry,” he said.  

Telcos currently use 65-70 per cent of the network capacity. In other words, they have enough additional capacity to handle the new pressure without clogging the system, Mathews said.  

Also, network usage demand is being reoriented or “flattened out”, rather like the way governments would like the coronavirus curve to flatten out. 

For instance, demand has fallen sharply in the central business districts because offices are closed. So there is no sudden surge in demand during peak times, which can consume 90-95 per cent of the network capacity. As a result, demand is much more uniform across the city with no sudden pressure on the network. 

Telcos such as Reliance Jio are also responding to demand by prepaid customers for more data capacity on their mobiles. Jio has just introduced a new tariff package for top-ups, offering double the amount of capacity at the same price. So those going for a Rs 21 top-up will now get 2GB, instead of 1GB, with 200 minutes of off-net calls. 

Jio’s rival Bharti Airtel has seen a spike in its home broadband customers. “Airtel home broadband customers are now upgrading to faster speeds and larger quota plans to support working from home and studying from home,” said a company spokesman. 

Broadcasting and OTT (over-the-top) companies are also enjoying a bonanza with both the number of viewers and new subscribers surging on their platforms.  

“As far as content consumption is concerned, we have seen a spike across metros of 10 per cent for our original content and 5 per cent for our TV content via connected devices like Amazon Fire etc. Our subscription numbers are up by 10 per cent compared to the previous weekend,” said Zee5 CEO Tarun Katiyal. What’s more, the viewership of children aged between two and 14 years grew 26 per cent in GRPs. 

Executives with Viacom 18-run OTT channel, Voot Select, said the uptake of subscribers who needed to pay for the platform had been 2.5 to 3 times what they had expected in this period. 

Voot Select is putting a host of international content up very soon, apart from three original Hindi and five regional shows that have been shot and are ready for release. This, said Ferzad Palia, head of Voot Select, youth, music, and English entertainment, will only boost the growth of the platform. 

Questions are being asked whether this spurt in demand for entertainment needs to be controlled if it goes over the top. After all, video already uses over 60-70 per cent of the networks’ bandwidth. Telcos say that, at the moment, the networks have enough capacity to handle the increase. 

In Europe, though, Netflix has already decided to reduce the amount of bandwidth by 25 per cent without comprising on quality.

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Johnson Warns That National Health Service Could Be Overwhelmed

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Boris Johnson urged 1.5 million people with underlying health issues to self-isolate for at least three months and said Britain’s medical system is only two or three weeks away from being swamped, as has happened to the Italian health service.

“Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread — then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed,” Johnson said.

In comments timed to coincide with Mothers Day in the U.K., the prime minister said families should stay away from elderly parents to spare them the risk of catching the coronavirus. Letters will be sent to people deemed as being most at risk from the disease, “strongly advising” them not to go out for at least 12 weeks from Monday.

Johnson’s latest intervention suggests that his administration is struggling to make up lost ground as a result of the government’s initially ambivalent attitude to the crisis. He prevaricated in closing the nation’s schools — several were already turning away pupils — and his decision last week to order the nation’s pubs to close on Friday night “as soon as they reasonably can” also attracted criticism.

The latest figures show a significant jump in Britain’s death count, from 177 to 233. The number of cases has topped 5,000, with the disease spreading fastest in London.

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Germany Drops Deficit Dogma as Deaths Surge in Italy, Spain

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Germany dropped its long-held resistance to deficit spending as the novel coronavirus continues to spread at an ever-faster pace across Europe, with Italy reporting a record number of new deaths.

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s finance minister, pledged more than 150 billion euros ($160 billion) in new debt — equivalent to almost 4.5% of Europe’s largest economy — to support small companies struggling to cover overheads or help low-income earners. Italy reported 793 deaths Saturday, bringing fatalities there to 4,825.

Worldwide, governments have pledged or are considering as much as $3 trillion in fiscal support to keep households and businesses afloat, aiming to avoid that temporary restrictions to combat the virus lead to more permanent damage. Their efforts are complicated as lockdowns in most of Europe’s large economies show little impact so far on the speed at which the virus spreads.

Spain said deaths from the coronavirus surged by more than 30% for a second day, with total cases accelerating despite a weeklong national lockdown. The number of confirmed infections in Germany rose to 21,755 from 18,608 a day earlier. Italy already surpassed China as the country with the most deaths from the virus last week.

Italy remains the hotspot of the epidemic in Europe, but cases multiply at an alarming rate in the region’s other large economies as well. Germany is poised to follow Italy, Spain and France in imposing a nationwide lockdown, after several states on Friday decided to impose such measures.

‘Inevitable’ Recession

A recession in Germany “is now inevitable” as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, European Central Bank Governing Council member Jens Weidmann said in an interview with Die Welt newspaper.

Volkswagen AG said a two- to three-week factory closure put in place this week may not be sufficient, and told workers that drastic steps will be needed to protect liquidity as government lockdowns make it impossible to do business as normal.

Scholz said the new spending is necessary to steer the economy through the economic fallout. Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold a cabinet meeting Monday to sign off on the plan, which will then have to be approved by Germany’s lower house, or Bundestag.

“We’ve decided to take on a very large sum and to ask the Bundestag’s approval, so that we have all the strength that will be needed in the coming weeks and months,” Scholz told reporters outside Berlin on Saturday.

Whatever It Takes

The new measures complement a separate rescue fund being set up to provide guarantees and loans, as well as allow the government to take stakes in companies. The size of that fund could swell to around 600 billion euros, the Handelsblatt newspaper reported.

Germany has long been averse to the idea of financing expenditures with debt, but the blow from the coronavirus crisis has prompted Merkel and her economic team to say they will do whatever it takes. Merkel has even signaled a willingness to consider joint European debt issuance, long a taboo in the country.

What Germany has pledged to fight the crisis:
  • EU100 billion in loans through state-run development bank KfW
  • EU100 billion earmarked for equity stakes in companies
  • EU400 billion in loan guarantees
  • More than EU150 billion supplemental budget financed with debt

The idea for joint bond issuance was raised by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and Merkel has said she’s ready to consider so-called corona bonds to help contain the impact of the virus. The European Commission will look at all instruments including such bonds to help the bloc overcome the pandemic, President Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk.

Adding to voices for a coordinated response, the head of the European Investment Bank urged a massive European lending program to help small and medium-sized companies. While national initiatives are helpful — such as a German plan to provide loans through state-owned development bank KfW — the same kind of aid is needed on a broader level, EIB President Werner Hoyer said in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“Either we decisively save European companies now, or we will soon have to save European states from financial collapse,” Hoyer said in the interview. “It doesn’t seem to me that everyone in European politics sufficiently understands this.”

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Smiths Group Boosts Production of Ventilators in U.K. Amid Virus

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Smiths Group Plc, the British maker of medical devices, said it’s “significantly ramping up” production of ventilators as demand soars in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The company is also in talks with contract manufacturers in the U.S. to increase production of the breathing machines, Smiths said in a statement Saturday. The company makes ventilators at a facility in Luton, north of London.

Smiths is part of a group of firms that the British government has tasked with making 5,000 additional ventilators within two weeks and 30,000 over the coming months. Besides increasing its own output, Smiths will provide intellectual property and technical advice to that government-sponsored effort to create additional U.K. manufacturing sites and supply chains, according to the statement.

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Over the past week, companies unrelated to the medical-device industry have offered to retool factories to help make equipment to treat the afflicted. Ferrari NV and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are in talks with Italy’s biggest ventilator manufacturer to help boost its output, while in the U.S, General Motors Co. has said it could use some excess factory space to build hospital ventilators.

French sugar producer Tereos SCA will start making hydroalcoholic gel, used for sanitizers, at five of its factories. LVMH, the luxury-goods giant, will make large quantities of the gel at some of its cosmetics plants.

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Calls For Postponing Tokyo Olympics Growing, But Organizers Remain Firm That Games Will Happen

The chorus to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games is growing, as national Olympics committees and sports governing bodies have asked the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government for a delay.

The Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committees are the latest body to call for the postponement, joining a list that includes Brazil, Slovenia, US Swimming and US Track & Field, who have already made their views publicly known. The Brazil Olympic Committee has called for the Tokyo Games to be postponed for a year, citing “the notorious worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic” and “the consequent difficulty for athletes to maintain their best competitive level.”

The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled from July 24 to Aug. 9, followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

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Toshiaki Endo, a vice president of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, said in response to Norway’s request, “The organizing committee is not at the point where we need a decision on whether to cancel or postpone the games. The IOC will make the final decision. We will prepare thoroughly for the games’ opening in July.”

One problem with staging the games on schedule is the matter of qualifications. So far, only about 57 percent of athletes have qualified, according to the IOC. Many qualifications events have been postponed because of the coronavirus.

In the event of a postponement or cancellation, fans who have bought tickets and want a refund may be out of luck.

Ticket refunds are considered unlikely, according to Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun. The event can invoke its “public health emergency” clause, which doesn’t leave them liable on the 5 million tickets sold for the Olympics or the 1.7 million for the Paralympics. The two events have sold an estimated $83 million in tickets.

“Tokyo 2020 shall not be liable for any failure to perform any obligation under the Terms and Conditions to the extent that the failure is caused by a Force Majeure,” reads a section in the terms and conditions for the Games.

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