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Shun Amazon and Shop Local, Ontario Premier Begs Residents

Ontario Premier Doug Ford pleaded with consumers to “shop local” as the government ordered Toronto into lockdown and tightened Covid-19 restrictions across parts of Canada’s largest province.

“If you’re shopping online, I know it can be easy just to go with Amazon, but please remember that you can buy the exact same product from a local store,” Ford told reporters Friday in Toronto. “Please do your holiday shopping through curbside pickup or online stores, support our restaurants and order takeout.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business waded into the fray with comments targeting big box stores that are allowed to stay open as “essential services” while most retailers, including small businesses, are limited to curbside pickup or delivery.

“Today’s restrictions once again create an unfair advantage for big box operators like Walmart and Costco, leaving Main Street retailers to shoulder the burden alone,” CFIB President Dan Kelly said in a statement. “That large department stores can be open while small retailers are forced to close during the busiest season of the year is a direct punch to the gut of independent businesses”

Retailers with locations in malls typically get 40% of their annual revenue during the holiday season and will be at risk if they can’t recoup their losses, according to Diane Brisebois, chief executive officer of Retail Council of Canada, which represents about 45,000 merchants.

“It is going to be extremely challenging for all the retailers to quickly try to adapt their business,” Brisebois said by phone. “We would have preferred more advance notice, especially as we are entering a critical week with Black Friday.”

Restaurants Canada, a group representing thousands of food service businesses across the country, said its members were “surprised” at the decision to close down patio dining in Toronto and Peel, having previously been told it was safe.

“Restaurants that have invested heavily in trying to extend patio season have now seen those investments go up in smoke,” James Rilett, the group’s vice president for central Canada, said by phone.

“The Christmas season is usually the time when restaurants to get some revenue ahead and put some money in the bank to make it through the long winter. Unfortunately, we won’t really have a Christmas season this year between the lockdowns and people not having office parties or family parties.”

— With assistance by Erik Hertzberg

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World News

Amazon has resumed policies that penalize workers for taking too many breaks, just in time for Prime Day

  • Amazon workers in Staten Island said the company resumed tracking productivity rates in its facilities, which they claim puts them at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
  • In July, Amazon said it wouldn't take disciplinary action if workers fell short of productivity quotas, saying it knew workers needed the extra time to wash their hands, sanitize their workstation and practice social distancing.

Amazon warehouse workers claim the company has resumed tracking their productivity on the job, putting them at greater risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, according to a court filing submitted Wednesday.

Three employees at Amazon's Staten Island facility, known as JFK8, filed a lawsuit against Amazon in June, alleging the company made the facility a "place of danger" by impeding efforts to stop the spread of the virus and prioritizing productivity over safety. 

In the latest filing, the employees said Amazon reinstated its policies known as "rate" and "time off task" at JFK8 on Oct. 7, despite the company's previous claim that it wouldn't enforce those policies out of concern for their safety during the pandemic. 

"Amazon has reassured the court that it has put into place numerous protocols — like contact tracing, prompt and full paid Covid-19 leave and modifications to productivity policies — in order to ensure a safe working environment at JFK8," said Karla Gilbride, one of the attorneys representing the workers, in a letter to the judge overseeing their case. "But as this (undisclosed) rollback of the productivity feedback suspension shows, Amazon has not been honest and forthcoming with plaintiffs, or this court."

Amazon tracks the number of "time off tasks" workers log each day as a measure of productivity. If workers take a break from scanning packages for too long, Amazon's internal systems will log it as a TOT and generate a warning, which can later lead to firings. 

Amazon spokesperson Rachael Lighty told CNBC in a statement that the company's performance expectations ensure workers have additional time to sanitize their workspace, wash their hands and practice social distancing, as needed. 

"We have reinstated a portion of our process where a fraction of employees, less than 5% on average, may receive coaching for improvement as a result of extreme outliers in performance," Lighty said.

The company had said in previous court filings that it wouldn't discipline employees for falling short of productivity quotas. It said it "ceased providing productivity rate feedback to associates and imposing any discipline related to low productivity rates" in March, and extended the policy indefinitely in April. 

But earlier this month, one JFK8 worker was given "verbal coaching" by their manager and told that disciplinary action for low rates would resume because "Amazon needed its employees to work faster during peak season," according to the latest employee lawsuit filing.

Additionally, a message on a whiteboard in the facility instructed employees of their rate goal, noting that productivity feedback would resume Oct. 7, the filing said.

Amazon's "peak" season is expected to be busier than ever this year, with Prime Day and the holiday shopping period occurring back to back. Peak season typically refers to the week before Black Friday through Christmas, during which warehouses are fully staffed and employees are required to work overtime. Amazon's Prime Day, which started Tuesday and ends Wednesday, will add an extra month onto peak season.

Amazon has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the pandemic-fueled rush to online shopping and Prime Day is expected to be just as lucrative for the company. eMarketer estimated Prime Day sales could hit close to $10 billion.

JFK8 workers said they're concerned that the beginning of peak season has given Amazon a pass to forgo necessary coronavirus safety measures like suspending productivity feedback. 

"Amazon is now treating the pandemic – and the need for measures to protect workers' health and wellbeing – as a thing of the past," said Gilbride, a senior attorney Public Justice, which joined several labor advocacy groups in filing the lawsuit on behalf of workers.

Workers have also questioned whether Amazon fully stopped providing productivity feedback during the pandemic like it said it would. Hibaq Mohamed, an Amazon warehouse worker in Minnesota, said in July that she was written up for logging too many time off tasks. Mohamed also claimed she was written up in retaliation for speaking out against the company's labor practices, an allegation that Amazon denied.

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Business

Amazon Workers Had Covid-19; CDC Funds Stalled: Virus Update

Amazon.com Inc. said close to 20,000 of its employees had tested positive for the virus during the pandemic. A $1 billion funding package to help the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fight Covid-19 has remained mostly unspent, people familiar with the matter said.

Pfizer Inc. Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said he’s disappointed that vaccine plans were discussed during this week’s U.S. presidential debate “in political terms rather than scientific facts.” President Donald Trump’s campaign moved a weekend re-election rally in Wisconsin after complaints by local officials.

In Europe, Paris may close bars and restaurants again and additional restrictions on movement were imposed in Madrid. Ireland’s cases are at the highest level since its lockdown eased.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 34.1 million; deaths exceed 1 million
  • Pelosi says major differences to be bridged in stimulus negotiations
  • New York, San Francisco rents plunge in work-at-home shift
  • Covid-19 surge in Wisconsin started with back-to-school college kids
  • New York City downgraded by Moody’s due to pandemic fallout
  • English soccer could be next in line for a coronavirus bailout
  • Gilead will take charge of distributing its Covid-19 treatment

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on coronavirus cases and deaths.

Los Angeles Scales Back Restrictions (6:35 a.m. HK)

Los Angeles County, hard hit by the outbreak, announced an easing of restrictions on businesses, schools and playgrounds.

The easing will begin immediately, with nail salons able to open at 25% capacity, according to a statement from the county’s public health department. Indoor malls can begin reopening on Oct. 7 at 25% occupancy, while food courts and public areas must remain closed.

The county reported 1,148 new cases, for a total 271,371. Another 35 people died, for a total of 6,610 fatalities.

Amazon Says Almost 20,000 Workers Had Covid (6 a.m. HK)

Amazon.com Inc. says it’s aware of almost 20,000 employees who have tested positive for Covid-19 during the pandemic, a disclosure that follows criticism from some lawmakers and employees that the world’s largest online retailer was insufficiently transparent about outbreaks within its ranks.

The retailer said in a blog post Thursday that 19,816 employees tested positive for the respiratory disease, or were presumed positive, out of more than 1.3 million people who worked for the company from March 1 to Sept. 19. The company says that if its employees contracted the virus at a rate equal to that of the general population, Amazon would have seen some 33,952 cases.

Amazon has dealt with outbreaks of Covid-19 at facilities in Europe and the U.S.

N.Y.C. Debt Downgraded by Moody’s (4:46 a.m. HK)

New York City lost its Aa1 credit rating at Moody’s Investors Service, which sees New York “on a longer recovery path than most other major cities.”

The city’s general obligation bond rating was cut one notch to Aa2, affecting $38.7 billion of those bonds. The downgrade reflects New York’s “substantial financial challenges” rooted in the virus pandemic, according to Moody’s.

CDC Anti-Pandemic Funds Stuck for Months (4:43 a.m. HK)

The bulk of a $1 billion funding package intended to help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fight the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S. has remained unspent since being authorized more than five months ago, according to people familiar with the matter.

New York, New Jersey Join Contact-Tracing App (4:40 a.m. HK)

New York and New Jersey joined Pennsylvania and Delaware in a phone app that traces whether they were in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, Governors Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy said in a joint statement.

The app, which works across state lines, is called “COVID Alert NY” and “Covid Alert NJ” in their respective states. Connecticut will start an app using the same technology soon, Cuomo and Murphy said.

When a person tests positive, the Department of Health will contact that person and give them a password for their phone, so that the owner of any phone that comes within 6 feet of that person’s phone will be alerted, Cuomo said earlier Thursday.

U.S. Cases Rise in Line With One-Week Average (4 a.m. HK)

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. increased 0.6% as compared with the same time Wednesday to 7.26 million, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. The increase matched the average daily gain over the past week. Deaths rose to 207,374.

Trump Moves Wisconsin Rally Opposed by Mayor (3:58 a.m. HK)

President Donald Trump ditched a re-election rally on Saturday in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and moved it to Janesville in the southern part of the state. The event at La Crosse’s airport was opposed by city officials as coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest.

Brazil Analyzing First Covid-19 Vaccine Registration (2:55 a.m. HK)

Brazil’s Health Surveillance Agency started the first analysis for the registration of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, according to the regulator’s website. It said it will remain committed to providing access to the vaccine as soon as possible.

Pfizer CEO Disappointed With Vaccine Discussion at Presidential Debate (2:15 a.m. HK)

Bourla, who’s also Pfizer’s chairman, said it’s approaching its goal set earlier in the year to have a vaccine data ready to submit to the FDA this month, with the aim of delivering 100 million doses delivered year end. The timing of the vaccine and political pressure to move that forward were among the topics at the presidential debate Tuesday.

“I was disappointed that the prevention for a deadly disease was discussed in political terms rather than scientific facts,” he said. As he approaches the timeline for his plans, “we find ourselves in the crucible of the U.S. Presidential election. In this hyper-partisan year, there are some who would like us to move more quickly and others who argue for delay. Neither of those options are acceptable to me.”

Scottish Lawmaker Apologizes for Breaking Covid Rules (1:50 a.m. HK)

A Scottish National Party politician broke self-isolation rules to attend Parliament in London this week while waiting for the result of a coronavirus test, which later came back positive.

She then breached the regulations again by taking the train home to Scotland. Margaret Ferrier, the MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West near Glasgow, apologized “unreservedly” for her actions in a statement, saying she had contacted the police and the House of Commons authorities.

Paris May Close Restaurants Again (1:30 a.m. HK)

Paris may have to close bars and restaurants again to stem the resurgence of the pandemic, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

Positive tests and patients in intensive care in Paris and its close suburbs have climbed above “maximum alert” levels, he told reporters. If the data firm up, “we have no choice” other than to declare those places a maximum alert zone starting Monday, requiring bars and restaurants to close, Veran said.

France’s seven-day rolling average of cases fell on Thursday to 11,467, the lowest in more than a week, with 13,970 new infections reported.

Ireland Cases at Highest Since Easing Lockdown (1 a.m. HK)

Ireland reported the most new coronavirus cases since April 26, amid growing worry about the spread of the virus across the country.

There were 442 new cases recorded Thursday, with four deaths. Authorities’ “main concern is the overall national picture” rather than specific regions, the health ministry said. The government is considering tightening limits on household visits nationwide, while extra restrictions in Dublin may continue for at least three more weeks. The government eased its original lockdown of the country in May.

Separately, Ryanair said it will close bases at the country’s Cork and Shannon airports for the winter season if the Irish government doesn’t ease travel restrictions.

New York Cases Surge (12:15 a.m. HK)

New York state reported more than 1,300 new cases of coronavirus, the most since May, before New York City began allowing businesses to gradually reopen.

Test results show positivity of 1.27%, while hospitalizations were at 612, Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters Thursday. There were 11 virus-related fatalities Wednesday.

After having been an early center of the pandemic, New York had largely quelled the crisis, but numbers are increasing again.

Cases in 20 hot-spot ZIP codes are continuing to rise, with 6.5% of tests being positive, up from 5.5% the day prior, Cuomo said during a conference call. The main increases have been in Brooklyn and in Rockland County, he said.

Italy Cases Jump (11:40 p.m. HK)

Italy reported 2,548 new coronavirus cases, the most since April 24, compared with the previous seven-day average of 1,761. Record daily tests at 118,236 boosted discovered infections. The regions of Veneto and Campania led, unlike earlier in the year when the region of Lombardy around Milan was the epicenter of the outbreak.

Another 24 deaths were reported, compared with 19 the previous day. Patients in intensive care units rose by 11 to 291. Some regions like Lazio and Piedmont are looking at expanding containment measures such as the use of face masks outdoor, Ansa reported.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he will seek an extension to Jan. 31 of emergency powers granted to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Jobless Claims Fall More than Expected (8:34 p.m. HK)

Fewer Americans than expected registered for unemployment benefits last week, as the slow labor-market recovery grinds on while businesses contend with an increase in coronavirus cases.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs decreased by 36,000 to 837,000 in the week ended Sept. 26, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. Continuing claims, the total pool of Americans on state benefit rolls, fell to 11.8 million in the week ended Sept. 19.

Economists expected initial claims to fall to 850,000 and for continuing claims of 12.2 million, according to median estimates in a Bloomberg survey.

— With assistance by Dan Reichl

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