World News in Brief: June 16

The United States and China will each allow four weekly flights between the two countries, the US Transportation Department said on Monday (June 15), easing a standoff on travel restrictions in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The US government still hopes China will agree to restore full US flight rights under their bilateral aviation agreement, the Transportation Department said Monday in its revised order on China flights.

China and the US to allow four weekly flights.
China and the US to allow four weekly flights.

* UN human rights experts said on Tuesday (June 16) that Israel's plan to annex significant parts of the occupied West Bank would violate international law banning the taking of territory by force, and urged other countries to actively oppose it.

* Global cases of the novel coronavirus reached over 8 million on Monday, as infections surge in Latin America and the United States and China grapple with fresh outbreaks. The United States still leads the world with the highest number of infections, about 2 million or 25% of all reported cases. Global deaths stand at over 434,000 and have doubled in seven weeks.

* The Republic of Korea (ROK)'s presidential office said on Tuesday it will respond sternly if the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues to raise tensions after destroying a joint liaison office that was a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. The destruction of the office "broke the expectations of all people who hope for the development of inter-Korean relations and lasting peace on the peninsula," deputy national security adviser Kim You-geun told a briefing.

* China's foreign ministry said on Tuesday that Beijing hopes for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, amid escalating tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the remarks during a daily briefing in Beijing.

* The Kremlin said on Tuesday it was concerned about the situation on the Korean peninsula and called for restraint from all sides after the DPRK destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office. Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was closely following developments on the Korean peninsula, but so far had no plans for high-level diplomatic contacts to ease the tensions.

* President Donald Trump said on Monday the United States will bring the number of troops it stations in Germany down to 25,000. In comments to reporters, Trump complained that Germany does not spend enough on defense as required by the NATO alliance. He said that until Germany spends more, the United States will remove its troops.

* The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 378 to 186,839, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The reported death toll rose by nine to 8,800, the tally showed.

* Mexico passed the grim milestone of 150,000 total confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, as the health ministry reported 3,427 new infections along with 439 additional fatalities. There are now a total 150,264 confirmed coronavirus cases and 17,580 deaths.

* Brazil's death toll from the novel coronavirus pandemic rose to nearly 44,000 on Monday, according to Health Ministry data, as the country continued easing restrictions on circulation despite the world's second-worst outbreak after the United States. The Health Ministry registered about 20,000 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the total to 888,271 infections.

* Thailand will defray costs for domestic holidaymakers, with the cabinet approving measures worth THB22.4 billion (US$722 million) on Tuesday, to help the tourism industry after visitors dried up because of the coronavirus crisis. Thailand, which has a tally of 3,135 infections and 58 deaths since January, lifted a nationwide curfew on Monday and relaxed curbs further, as coronavirus infections slowed sharply.

* Indonesia confirmed 1,106 new coronavirus infections and 33 more deaths on Tuesday, taking the number of cases past the 40,000 mark, its health ministry said. The Southeast Asian country's total number of infections was 40,400 and fatalities 2,231, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said, adding that 15,703 patients had recovered.

* Singapore will halt construction of the fifth terminal at its Changi Airport for at least two years to assess how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the aviation sector and the future of travel, the city-state's transport minister said on Tuesday. The government was carrying out a study of how the aviation sector will change, and the design of new terminal would be altered to account for new safety requirements as well as changing needs of airlines, Khaw Boon Wan said.

* The Philippines' health ministry reported 364 new coronavirus infections and five more deaths on Tuesday, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 26,781 and fatalities to 1,103. The Department of Health (DOH) also said 301 more patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 6,552.

* Malaysian health authorities reported 11 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, raising the cumulative total to 8,505 infections. Total fatalities in the country remain at 121, with no new deaths reported.

* British banks need to accelerate preparations for dealing with businesses unable to repay money borrowed to bridge the coronavirus pandemic, the national financial sector regulator said on Tuesday. Over 800,000 businesses have taken out state-backed loans worth around GBP34 billion (US$43 billion) under schemes introduced by the government as lockdowns forced companies to shutter temporarily.

* Switzerland's economy could lose more than US$100 billion in output due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the government said on Tuesday. The government expects 2020 gross domestic product (GDP) to be around CHF652 billion (US$687.26 billion), down from its December forecast for CHF712 billion. For 2021 it now expects a figure of CHF688 billion, down from the previous view of CHF725 billion.

* Residents of Moscow were able to return to museums and summer terraces on Tuesday for the first time in more than two months as the Russian capital rolled back more coronavirus curbs despite continuing to record over 1,000 new daily infections. Starting on Tuesday, museums, libraries and zoos in the city of nearly 13 million are reopening their doors, albeit with continued limits on the number of visitors at any one time. Dentists are getting back to business too. Moscow has recorded 208,680 infections and 3,386 deaths.

* New South Wales - Australia's most populous state - said on Tuesday it would nearly double its public transport capacity starting July 1, allowing more locals to avoid driving as it continues to ease curbs designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The relaxation of rules will allow more passengers to board buses, trains and ferries, whose capacity the state restricted last month.

* The Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF) said on Tuesday it launched initiatives totalling SAR3.7 billion (US$986.40 million) to support private sector industrial enterprises impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The initiatives include deferment and restructuring of loan instalments for small, medium and large enterprises, as well as medical ones. They also include lines of credit to finance operating expenses for up to three months for some small and medium-sized enterprises, SIDF said in a statement.

* Israel has signed with Moderna Inc for the future purchase of its potential COVID-19 vaccine should the company succeed in its development, Israel's Channel 13 news reported on Tuesday. A spokesman for Israel's Health Ministry was not available for immediate comment.

* The Dutch economy is set for an unprecedented decline this year, as efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak brought large parts of the country to a virtual standstill in recent months. The euro zone's fifth largest economy is set to shrink by 6.4% this year, before rebounding with growth of 3.3% in 2021, government policy adviser CPB said on Tuesday.

* Colombia's Fiscal Rule Advisory Committee has unanimously agreed to suspend government deficit limits until 2022 so that the government has more space to meet the fiscal needs created by the coronavirus pandemic, it said on Monday. In May the committee approved widening the deficit limit to 6.1% of gross domestic product (GDP) after earlier increasing it to 4.9% in April. The government expects the economy to contract by 5.5% this year as measures to halt the spread of coronavirus batter Colombia's economy.

* Three Katyusha rockets landed near Baghdad International Airport late on Monday, the Iraqi military said. The military said it found rocket launchers with several rockets in a rural area in western Baghdad, and there were no reports of damage or casualties. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

* North Macedonian political parties on Monday agreed to have parliamentary elections on July 15 despite a persistent level of novel coronavirus infections, a move seen as a crucial step for the country's EU membership bid. A transitional government had initially scheduled a snap parliamentary election for April 12 but postponed it. The coronavirus has so far infected 4,157 people and killed 193. Last week, North Macedonia lifted a state of emergency introduced in March to contain the outbreak.

* Inc said on Tuesday it launched a technology-aided system in some of its facilities to maintain social distancing, called 'Distance Assistant'. The system applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to the camera footage in buildings to help identify high-traffic areas and implement additional measures to improve social distancing, Amazon said.