Global Business Daily: UK COVID-19 app U-turn, EU recovery, car maker job cuts
"As many organizations around the country are reopening, I send my warmest best wishes and support to business communities throughout the United Kingdom, Commonwealth and across the world."
That was a royal thank you from Britain's Queen Elizabeth II on Friday to businesses around the world for their response to the coronavirus pandemic and their work to "rebuild communities."
On that cheerful note, the good news for the UK, as shoppers return to the high streets in flocks, is that retail sector sales are rebounding, with last month's figures jumping higher than expected. But the bad news – and there's always bad news – is that public borrowing is also on the increase as it hits a record high this month.
Sticking with retail, have you ever wondered how expensive clothes are in your country compared with others across Europe? Well, you can take a look at our graph at the bottom of the page to find a comparison of consumer price levels last year.
Don't miss our interview below with Jeni Tennison, vice president and chief strategy advisor at the Open Data Institute, to find out everything you need to know about the UK's U-turn in abandoning its homegrown COVID-19 test-and-trace app for the Google–Apple model. Is this the power of Big Tech?
Enjoy reading, Arij Limam
P.S. Did you know we send this briefing by email, too?
European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde echoed German Chancellor Angela Merkel in urging the European Union to quickly reach an agreement on a recovery plan worth 750 billion euros ($843 billion) to kick-start an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic. EU leaders held a video conference on Friday to discuss the controversial stimulus package, the bloc's largest to date, but no agreement was reached except to meet again in person next month.
British shoppers bought much more than expected in May, with sales volumes jumping by a record 12 percent after a historic 18 percent slump in April. But data also showed that public borrowing hit a record high in May, at £55.2 billion ($68.7 billion) – nine times the level for May 2019.
The UK has made a U-turn and ditched an attempt to develop its own National Health Service (NHS) COVID-19 test-and-trace app in favor of the Google-Apple model. The government is seemingly blaming Apple, after saying the homegrown system did not work well enough on Apple's iPhone.
A massive spyware hit users through 32 million downloads of extensions to Google's market-leading Chrome web browser, researchers at Awake Security told Reuters.
China's Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) on Thursday released a revised draft on foreign strategic investments in Chinese listed firms, seeking to ease restrictions to attract more investment to the market. The revision lowered asset requirements for investments, stipulating that foreign investors should either own at least $50 million or manage no less than $300 million of assets for market entry.
Luxury French fashion brand Chanel warned that its 2020 revenues and profit will be significantly hit and the luxury industry as a whole will feel the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic for at least the next two years.
German car maker BMW will lay off 10,000 contract workers, a company source told Reuters on Friday, as the luxury manufacturer seeks to reduce its capacity due to the coronavirus crisis.
Car maker Nissan said it will also cut more shifts at its three assembly plants in Japan because of falling demand. The Japanese manufacturer has been slashing output at home and abroad since February, beginning in China, as global auto makers reel from plunging sales triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
German-owned discount supermarket chains Aldi and Lidl look ready to move forward with their push into home delivery to satisfy increasing demand for online grocery shopping in a shift expected to last beyond the coronavirus crisis.
Blackstone, Bain Capital and Taisho Pharmaceutical are among the final bidders for Takeda Pharmaceutical's consumer drug business in Japan, a deal that could be worth up to 400 billion yen ($3.7 billion), three people familiar with the deal told Reuters.
Japanese multinational conglomerate SoftBank will invest $2 million or more in 14 U.S. start-ups led by black founders and other underrepresented groups, the company said on Thursday, as part of its effort to fund a more diverse array of entrepreneurs, amid global conversations about systematic racism and other forms of inequality.
Speaking during a webinar on Sino-European relations, China's ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, said China-EU relations do not need to be "a knock-out match, which allows only one winner," as Beijing and Brussels gear up for next week's China-EU summit.
Jeni Tennison is a British software engineer and the vice president and chief strategy advisor at the Open Data Institute in the UK. She spoke to CGTN Europe about Britain's decision to go with Google and Apple's model of the COVID-19 test-and-trace app, rather than its homegrown model.
What do you think has gone wrong in terms of the UK tracing app? How significant a failure do you think it is?
Well, I think that with any new application, actually testing it out and having a pilot is a really good idea. So, in many ways, I think that the government has done the right thing in doing a pilot and learning from it and changing direction when it needed to. So in some ways, then, yes, it's a failure – this technology has not worked how we wanted it to. But in other ways, the fact of finding that out now is a lot better than finding it out later.
So looking forward then, in terms of the benefits of a decentralized model using Google and Apple's tech, do you think that this is the right path?
Well, it's obviously the right path to go on technically, in that 99 percent of the contacts have picked up using this API, whereas in the trial only four percent of the contacts on the iPhones were being picked up. So there's no real choice in terms of getting a good, accurate detection rate in terms of using that API. There are some things that you miss out on by having this decentralized approach: You don't get the same information back to the center about where outbreaks are occurring, so you can't respond with hospital capacity, for example. And the other thing is that you don't through that decentralized approach get quite the same control over the tuning of what counts as a contact and what doesn't count as a contact, and that's one of the things that the government has highlighted yesterday.
The British government has abandoned its app, but is it using some of the templates or is it all gone?
So, I don't know exactly what they're doing, but I imagine they are plugging in the Google and Apple API detection mechanism into the general shell of the app that I imagine they already have, at least that's how I would be doing it if I were developing it. So it's not discarding the entire thing, it's really merging the two technologies together.
When there was talk by Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, about this great app, do you think it was just spin and the app's role in general was overrated?
Well, I think that we've seen around the world many governments developing contact-tracing apps, you know, the Track Together app in Singapore was one of the first ones, for example. So it's not a uniquely British thing to be working on one of these contact-tracing apps. I do think that we, in general, the population, has a tendency for tech solutionism, as if technology can be the answer to some of our biggest problems when often we need to not use just technology. And in contact tracing, then we have tried and tested mechanisms of contact tracing, using human contact traces. And for me, bolstering their activity was always going to be a more promising path, and that's something that we don't know whether it's going to succeed or not.
Do you think that human contact trackers are ultimately more reliable than apps?
I think that human contact trackers are kind of the gold standard that we would want to encourage. So one of the big pieces of feedback from the Isle of Wight trial of the UK's contact-tracing app was that people wanted to be contacted by a person. They want somebody they can chat through their individual circumstances with, and they want just the humanity of having somebody talk to them about their need for self-isolation, rather than it being a text message or a ping on a screen. So, for me then, the reason that humans are better is because of that human contact and the applications that we should be creating are ones to help support their activity.
In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic shut down retail stores across Europe and the world harming many businesses, the cost of clothing and shoes varied widely across the continent, with Iceland being the most expensive.