France Reopens Border to Truckers, With Proof of Covid Tests – The New York Times

Trucks parked on a former airfield in southeast England that has been turned into a holding area while the border to France is closed. 
Credit…Sky/Sky, via Associated Press

France will reopen its border with Britain, allowing truck drivers and their freight to cross the English Channel on Wednesday for the first time since Sunday night. But the deal announced late Tuesday won’t immediately alleviate the lines of trucks parked in the southeast of England and delays to the transport of perishable food on board.

All drivers will have to take a rapid coronavirus test and show evidence of a negative result before traveling into France, according to the announcement by the British Department for Transport of an agreement between the British and French governments. The British army will reportedly be used to oversee the thousands of tests that will be needed in the massive logistical effort. Testing the drivers currently waiting near the ports could take several days to complete, and Britain’s transport minister on Tuesday told drivers waiting elsewhere in the country to delay travel to the border.

On Sunday night, France closed its border for 48 hours to all travelers, including truck drivers, in response to a new strain of the coronavirus that has been spreading rapidly in England. The decision left more than 2,800 trucks stranded near the Port of Dover and the Eurotunnel in Folkestone, which were shut to outbound traffic.

France allowed trucks to bring goods into Britain, but those shipments also declined amid fears that the drivers would be marooned once they crossed onto the island.

“It’s a story of human misery,” Rod McKenzie, the director of policy at Road Haulage Association, which represents the British road transport industry, said of the drivers, some of whom have been stuck sleeping in their trucks for two nights. “The government planning has been shocking on this, and there are no adequate lavatory facilities on the motorway for the past couple of days with up to 1,000 trucks parked up.”

Drivers unable to stay in nearby towns had no easy access to food. On Monday, local officials handed out cereal bars, one for each driver on the road, Mr. McKenzie said. On Tuesday, local charities also provided meals as authorities brought in more food and portable toilets.

The British government implemented plans that had been prepared for Brexit-related travel disruption in the new year early. It shut off part of a motorway to allow trucks to park on the road, and it opened an old airport that has capacity for more than 4,000 trucks to be parked and has a few more facilities.

Many of the drivers were said to be Eastern European nationals making return journeys to the mainland. Mr. McKenzie said that while drivers pack their own food, they are often not in Britain for more than a few hours so they wouldn’t necessarily bring a lot.

On Tuesday, the European Commission issued a nonbinding recommendation saying its member states should lift any blanket bans on travelers from Britain to avoid disrupting supply chains. And it noted that until the end of the month, freedom of movement still applies to Britain as part of the Brexit transition period.

“Within the E.U., it is crucial that transport workers are exempted from any restrictive measures, as quarantine and testing,” Adina Valean, the transport commissioner, said in a statement. “We have to continue to maintain the supply chains intact.”

British shoppers have been told there is no need to panic buy over concerns that there could be shortages of some fresh food later in the week. Still, Tesco, a large supermarket chain, reintroduced limits on purchases such as eggs and toilet roll.

The French government had said it wanted to reopen the border “based on a system of mandatory testing upon departure” and encouraged any would-be travelers to get P.C.R. tests, which can take several days to return a result. On Tuesday, it announced that European Union citizens and Brits with a permanent residence across the Channel will be able to travel starting Wednesday if they have a negative coronavirus test within the past 72 hours, using a list of tests approved by the French government, and if their journey is deemed essential.

A new rule would allow so-called tip pools —the sharing of tips with back-of-house workers.
Credit…Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

The Labor Department on Tuesday released the final version of a rule that would allow employers to share workers’ tips with co-workers who don’t normally receive tips.

Under the so-called tip pools authorized by the new rule, the tips of waiters and waitresses can be shared with back-of-the-house workers like cooks and dishwashers.

But such sharing will be allowed only if the waiters and waitresses receive the standard minimum wage in their city or state, not the lower minimum wage that most states allow employers to pay tipped workers.

“This final rule provides clarity and flexibility for employers and could increase pay for back-of-the house workers,” Cheryl Stanton, the department’s wage and hour administrator, said in a statement.

The rule carries out a compromise negotiated between Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and R. Alexander Acosta, then the labor secretary, that was enacted in legislation in 2018.

Before the compromise, a Labor Department proposal for creating tip pools would have allowed supervisors, managers and owners to share in workers’ tips. The compromise prohibited this practice, making clear that only rank-and-file workers can benefit from tips.

Still, some labor advocates raised concern about an element of the new rule governing the amount of nontipped work, like cleaning, that a worker can perform and still be paid the lower minimum wage for tipped workers.

The previous standard, known as the “80/20” rule, held that workers could spend no more than 20 percent of their time on nontipped work and still earn the lower minimum wage. The new rule appears to allow workers to spend a much larger portion of their time on nontipped duties, citing vaguer language like a “reasonable time.”

Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Labor Department, has estimated that the change would cost workers more than $700 million per year, and probably far more during the pandemic, when tipped work is scarcer.

“Getting rid of the 80/20 rule is another way that employers can capture some of workers’ income,” Ms. Shierholz said in an interview.

The rule is scheduled to take effect in roughly two months, giving the incoming Biden administration a chance to postpone the implementation and possibly prevent it.

Brandan Eich, chief executive of Brave.
Credit…Patricia De Melo Moreira/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A prominent Silicon Valley chief executive, Brendan Eich, is in hot water again for his views on topics far from technology.

Last time around, in 2014, Mr. Eich was pushed out of his job as the top executive of the Mozilla web browser project as a result of donations he had made in opposition to same-sex marriage.

This time, Mr. Eich is facing blowback from users of his new web browser project, Brave, over his skeptical views on public policy around the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent months, Mr. Eich’s Twitter feed has largely alternated between promotion of the privacy-focused Brave browser and questions about the policy and science related to the coronavirus.

His posts on Twitter have expressed skepticism about many prevailing assumptions around the pandemic, including the effectiveness of masks and the honesty of Anthony Fauci.

Supporters of the Brave project have recently used the company’s Reddit page to express concern about Mr. Eich’s outspoken views about the virus, with some suggesting he should give up his role as C.E.O.

“He was asked to leave Mozilla because he couldn’t keep his right-wing opinions to himself,” one user on Reddit wrote. “Now he’s doing the same thing at the helm of Brave.”

Brave employees, who serve as the moderators of the Reddit page, have gotten involved in the debate by removing some of the comments questioning Mr. Eich or calling for his removal. But even the removed posts have managed to set off fiery debates about the propriety of Mr. Eich’s public remarks.

Catherine Corre, a spokeswoman for the company, said that some of the posts that were removed “included personal attacks and gross misrepresentations.”

Brave has raised around $70 million from venture capital firms supporting the company’s effort to create an ad-free browser focused on the privacy of users.

But Brave has a broader audience of investors because it created a cryptocurrency, known as the Basic Attention Token, which users can buy, earn and spend on the browser.

Some Brave fans on Reddit have said they have begun to sell their Brave tokens or stopped using the browser in order to express opposition to Mr. Eich. The value of the token has fallen around 15 percent in recent days, though this sort of move is not entirely unusual in the volatile world of cryptocurrencies.

A month after BuzzFeed announced that it would buy HuffPost, Group Nine Media, the owner of TheDodo, NowThis, Thrillist, Seeker and PopSugar, sent a strong signal that it plans to get bigger.

The company, led by the chief executive, Ben Lerer, formed a special purpose acquisition company, according to an S.E.C. filing on Monday. In the filing, Group Nine said it planned to merge with similar companies but did not cite any agreements with specific partners.

“We initially intend to focus our search on target businesses in the digital media and adjacent industries, including the social media, e-commerce, events, and digital publishing and marketing sectors,” the company said in the filing.

“Our objective,” it added, “is to create a scalable digital media platform.”

Group Nine got its start in 2016, when the companies behind Thrillist, NowThis and TheDodo joined with Seeker, a digital network belonging to Discovery Communications. Discovery kicked in $100 million to help to new company get going, and Mr. Lerer, the former head of Thrillist, became its leader.

Group Nine expanded last year when it acquired PopSugar, a website with a shopping platform, a cosmetics line and a festival business, from the husband-and-wife duo Brian and Lisa Sugar. That deal came as part of a wave of consolidation in the digital media business, after Vox Media’s purchase of New York Media, the company behind New York magazine, and Vice Media’s acquisition of Refinery29.

After the BuzzFeed-HuffPost merger and Group Nine’s federal filing, digital media companies seem likely to continue the trend of joining forces in an industry that is not the wide-open field it used to be. Google and Facebook have grabbed ad revenue away from publishers, while Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch have monopolized the time and attention of would-be readers. And many legacy media outlets have become web savvy, hiring digital journalists, audience specialists and engineers away from popular sites, while also figuring out ways to persuade their customers to spring for expensive subscriptions.

With the formation of a special purpose acquisition company, a popular financial tool that effectively allows privately held companies to go public without an initial public offering of stock, Group Nine moved closer to making more deals. A Group Nine spokeswoman declined to comment.

Congress will allow a decades-old federal program that insures mortgages for thousands of nursing homes to provide emergency financial aid to elder care facilities that have been left hurting for cash because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The measure was tucked away in the spending package that was approved Monday and awaits President Trump’s signature. It would allow nursing homes posting operating losses because of the pandemic to get emergency loans to cover mortgage payments, insurance and property taxes. The mortgage insurance program is run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and guarantees mortgages for roughly 15 percent of the nation’s nursing homes.

Nursing homes have borne the brunt of the crisis, reporting more than 100,000 deaths related to the pandemic. The nation’s largest nursing home operator, Genesis Healthcare, warned in November that it might have to file for bankruptcy protection.

Beth Martino, senior vice president of public affairs for the American Health Care Association, which represents thousands of elder care facilities, said the association “has advocated for this proposal so our providers can continue to focus on keeping residents and staff as safe as possible during the pandemic.” She said nursing homes and elder care facilities “are facing the worst financial crisis in the history of the industry.”

The mortgage insurance program, though, has been criticized for not adequately assessing and monitoring nursing home operators and owners.

In 2018, the program incurred its worst loss when a chain of nursing homes in Illinois defaulted on $146 million in mortgages. That prompted a series of investigations and led to federal charges against two former operators, including a Chicago-area rabbi.


By: Ella Koeze·Source: Refinitiv

  • Stock indexes stabilized on Tuesday, after a volatile day of trading on Monday, as Congress passed a $900 billion stimulus package and anxiety about a fast-spreading strain of the coronavirus in Britain eased.

  • On Wall Street, the S&P 500 closed down 0.2 percent. The index had fallen close to 2 percent at its worst point on Monday, before recovering most of those losses. The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 1.3 percent, after dropping 2.3 percent on Monday. The FTSE 100 in Britain was 0.6 percent higher after it fell 1.7 percent the previous day.

  • In Washington, after weeks of negotiations, Congress overwhelmingly approved a coronavirus stimulus package that includes billions of dollars for American households and businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic. It restores a supplemental unemployment benefit for millions of unemployed Americans for 11 weeks and includes money for another round of $600 direct payments.

  • The British pound continued its decline, down 0.8 percent against the U.S. dollar, as investors waited for an update on the Brexit trade negotiations. In just nine days, the transition period ends and Britain could lose tariff-free access to its largest trading partner if a deal is not reached.

  • More than 40 countries cut off travel links from Britain in an effort to stop the spread of a new strain of coronavirus that was “out of control” in parts of England. But on Tuesday, the European Commission advised European Union members to lift blanket bans on travelers, recommending testing or quarantines instead. And one vaccine expert said that there was no evidence at the moment to suggest that the current product would have to be adapted.

  • Peloton jumped 12 percent after it said on Monday it would acquire Precor, a Seattle-based fitness equipment manufacturer, to ramp up production of its stationary bikes and treadmills to keep pace with surging demand during the pandemic. The $420 million deal includes plans to acquire Precor’s factories, with more than 625,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

  • Apple rose nearly 3 percent, extending a rally that began late on Monday after Reuters reported that it continued to have plans to produce self-driving vehicle for consumers, aiming at 2024 for production.

Credit…Robert Neubecker

Another dose of relief is finally on the way for the millions of Americans facing financial distress because of the pandemic.

Congress on Monday night passed an economic relief package that would provide a round of $600 stimulus payments to most Americans and partly restore the enhanced federal unemployment benefit, offering $300 for 11 weeks. The agreement also contains provisions related to student loans, rental assistance and medical bills.

How quickly the money reaches your pocket will depend on several factors, though. The New York Times’s Tara Siegel Bernard and Ron Lieber have compiled a list of answers to your questions about pandemic relief, including:

  • Will I receive another stimulus payment?

  • When can I expect to receive my check?

  • How does the aid package affect unemployment insurance?

  • What about relief for housing bills like rent and mortgages?

Stimulus

Small-business owners protest in Los Angeles on Dec. 12. Congress allocated $285 billion for additional loans to help small businesses.
Credit…Ringo Chiu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The pandemic aid bill contains $285 billion for additional loans under the Paycheck Protection Program — the government’s small-business program created under the CARES Act — through March 31, while doing away with the restriction that left more than $100 billion unspent over the summer. The New York Times’s Stacy Cowley reports on what we know based on outlines of the bill circulating among congressional officials on Monday:

  • The new relief bill offers a second cash infusion for those who meet stricter terms: Borrowers with fewer than 300 employees that had a 25 percent drop in sales from a year earlier in at least one quarter could qualify for an additional loan of up to $2 million.

  • Hotels and food-service businesses are eligible for bigger loans this time, up to 3.5 times their average monthly payroll. Other borrowers would again be limited to 2.5 times their payroll.

  • Publicly traded companies are ineligible for the new loans, eliminating a provision that provoked a public outcry as deep-pocketed restaurant chains, software companies and drug makers, among others, collected taxpayer-funded loans.

  • The new bill expands the list of expenses that a loan could be used to pay, which previously were limited mostly to payroll, rent and utilities. Businesses could now use the money to buy supplies from their vendors, buy protective equipment for their staff or fix property damage “due to public disturbances,” according to a House Small Business Committee summary.

  • The plan would allow business owners who received loans in the program, which are tax-free, to claim deductions for expenses they paid for with loan proceeds.

  • The bill would also allocate $50 million to the Small Business Administration for audits and other efforts to address fraud in the program, which was a significant problem in the first round of funding.

  • The bill includes other aid measures that are not specifically part of the Paycheck Protection Program but could nonetheless help many small businesses. Those include a $15 billion grant fund for closed theaters, museums, zoos and live event venues, and $12 billion for Community Development Financial Institutions, which make loans and grants to people and communities that are often unable to get traditional banks to do business with them.

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Hundreds of dollars in direct payments may start going to American households as soon as next week after Congress overwhelmingly passed a $900 billion stimulus package.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Hundreds of dollars in direct payments may start going to American households as soon as next week after Congress overwhelmingly passed a $900 billion stimulus package sending billions of dollars to individuals and businesses grappling with the economic and health toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

The long-sought relief package was part of a $2.3 trillion catchall package that included $1.4 trillion to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. It included the extension of routine tax provisions, a tax deduction for corporate meals, the establishment of two Smithsonian museums, a ban on surprise medical bills and a restoration of Pell grants for incarcerated students, among hundreds of other measures.

Though the $900 billion stimulus package is half the size of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law passed in March that provided the core of its legislative provisions, it remains one of the largest relief packages in modern American history. It will revive a supplemental unemployment benefit for millions of unemployed Americans at $300 a week for 11 weeks and provide for another round of $600 direct payments to adults and children.

“I expect we’ll get the money out by the beginning of next week — $2,400 for a family of four — so much needed relief just in time for the holidays,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on CNBC. “I think this will take us through the recovery.”

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who received a coronavirus vaccine on Monday with television cameras rolling, has insisted that this bill is only the beginning, and that more relief, especially to state and local governments, will be coming after his inauguration next month.

Lawmakers hustled on Monday to pass the bill, nearly 5,600 pages long, less than 24 hours after its completion and before virtually anyone had read it. At one point, aides struggled simply to put the measure online because of a corrupted computer file.

The legislative text is likely to be one of the longest ever, and it became available only a few hours before both chambers approved the bill. In the Senate, the bill passed 92 to 6. It will now go to President Trump for his signature.

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