IMF: Vaccine inequity threatens Mideast’s economic recovery

IMF: Vaccine inequity threatens Mideast’s economic recovery
A billboard urges people to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic in Dubai. (AP)
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Updated 11 April 2021

IMF: Vaccine inequity threatens Mideast’s economic recovery

IMF: Vaccine inequity threatens Mideast’s economic recovery
  • IMF expects economic growth to reach 4 percent for the Middle East this year
  • Outlook bleaker for developing countries says IMF

DUBAI: Middle East economies are recovering from the coronavirus pandemic faster than anticipated, largely due to the acceleration of mass inoculation campaigns and an increase in oil prices. But the International Monetary Fund warned Sunday that an uneven vaccine distribution would derail the region’s rebound, as the prospects of rich and poor countries diverge.
In its latest report, the IMF again revised upward its 2020 economic outlook for the Mideast and North Africa, now outlining just a 3.4 percent contraction last year, with growth for the region’s oil exporters buoyed by a boom for commodities and rise in oil price, which hit $67 a barrel in March. Even with an expected dip to $57 a barrel by the end of 2021, the surge from last year’s all-time lows is boosting the oil-rich nations of the Gulf, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which also have moved swiftly toward widespread vaccination.
But elsewhere in the region, from Yemen and Sudan to Libya and Lebanon, where inflation soars, instability prevails and wars have left lasting scars, the damaging effects of the pandemic will drag on and cause economic harm, the IMF said — possibly for years to come.
“We are a year into the crisis and recovery is back, but it is a divergent recovery,” Jihad Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia department at the IMF, told The Associated Press. “We are at turning point. ... Vaccination policy is economic policy.”
The IMF expects economic growth to reach 4 percent for the Middle East this year. But that rosy outlook papers over the region’s deep economic divides.
For oil-rich economies, yawning deficits are expected to halve this year as revenues climb, more arms get jabbed and lockdown measures recede, said Azour. Thanks to strong government management of the virus’ successive waves and the jolt in oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s economy will expand 2.9 percent — compared to last year’s contraction of 4.1 percent. Higher oil prices come as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies keep a lid on production and it seems unlikely that the US will quickly lift sanctions on Iran’s critical oil sector.
The IMF expects the UAE’s economy to grow this year by 3.2 percent, with Dubai’s World Expo, now rescheduled for October 2021, key to the nation’s recovery. Dubai hopes the massive event will draw 25 million visitors and a series of deals, heralding a bright post-pandemic future.
The UAE has launched among the world’s fastest inoculation campaigns, with over 90 doses administered per 100 residents as of this week. Still, the collapse of hospitality, tourism and retail presents challenges for Dubai, where a cascade of layoffs hit foreign workers and slashed the emirate’s population by 8.4 percent, according to ratings agency S&P Global.
The outlook is bleaker for fragile and developing economies, many with lagging vaccination campaigns, few resources for fiscal stimulus and revenues drawn heavily from sectors like tourism that have been slowest to recover from the pandemic.
Whereas rich countries plan to vaccinate most of their population in a few months, swaths of the region — from Afghanistan and Gaza to Iraq and Iran — likely won’t inoculate a significant portion of their populations until mid-2022, the IMF said.
Even that estimate may be optimistic. The region’s lowest-income countries could end up waiting until 2023 at the earliest for mass vaccination, according to the report. Meanwhile, many countries’ beleaguered health systems are straining under resurgent waves of infections, prompting authorities to impose new restrictions and inflict more economic pain.
The IMF expects a sluggish 2021 recovery for Egypt and Pakistan, oil importers reliant on tourism that saw an exodus of foreign investors last year. The fund revised down its growth estimate for Jordan, where the youth unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 55 percent. Sudan remains mired in debt and threatened by instability, but its economy could grow for the first time in years as it gains new access to international financial networks.
Lebanon, in the midst of its worst financial crisis ever, remains the only Mideast economy at risk of further contraction. The country has defaulted on its foreign debt and failed to implement economic reforms, let alone form a government. A giant explosion at the Beirut port last year wreaked havoc on the capital. Discussions with the IMF led nowhere after the Cabinet quit.
Azour declined to even offer a specific economic forecast for Lebanon this year, citing “all the uncertainties.”
In Iran, the IMF found reason to praise economic growth after years of decline, noting that the government’s resistance to virus-induced lockdowns that would have devastated its sanctions-hit economy had saved it from the worst of the pandemic’s fallout. The country’s economy is expected to grow 2.5 percent in 2021, Azour said, building on slight gains last year.
But Iran’s recovery remains far off as its vaccinations lag, inflation eliminates people’s savings and economic policies overlook the most vulnerable. The IMF continues to consider Iran’s $5 billion assistance request, which would be its first loan since 1962. Meanwhile, American sanctions remain in force as torturous discussions begin over a return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
“A removal of the recently implemented sanctions will of course allow the Iranian economy to export more, trade more, and this will have a positive impact,” said Azour, while urging the government to tame inflation and better incorporate the private sector.
Despite the worsening inequality, the pandemic has shown the fortunes of the Mideast’s richest and poorest countries to be increasingly intertwined. Surging infections and foundering inoculation anywhere in the region could spread new variants that threaten overall economic and public health, the IMF reported.
“Therefore, any regional cooperation would be welcome going forward,” said Azour.


Air Arabia eyes further cost cuts after first quarter profits falls by half

Air Arabia eyes further cost cuts after first quarter profits falls by half
Updated 29 min 34 sec ago

Air Arabia eyes further cost cuts after first quarter profits falls by half

Air Arabia eyes further cost cuts after first quarter profits falls by half

DUBAI: Air Arabia said it would adopt further cost control measures after reporting a 52 percent fall in first quarter net profit to 34 million dirhams ($9.25 million)
Revenues fell by more than a third to 572 million dirhams, compared to a year earlier, as the pandemic continued to weigh on regional air travel, the airline said in a statement on Sunday.
“The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the global aviation industry remains material and of a changing nature, nonetheless, we have full confidence in the fundamentals and the strength of the aviation industry worldwide as well as the crucial role air travel will play in supporting regional and global economic recovery,” said Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohamed Al-Thani, chairman of Air Arabia. “While we remain hopeful that air travel restrictions will ease with the increasing rate of vaccination drives across key markets, Air Arabia remains focused on adopting further measures to control costs and support business continuity during this period while we continue to resume operations where possible.”
Regional carriers have struggled to boost passengers numbers amid continuing travel restrictions and a resurgence of the virus in countries such as India which has traditionally strong air travel links with the Gulf.
More than 1.3 million passengers flew with Air Arabia between January and March 2021 across the carrier’s five hubs while the airline’s average seat load factor – or passengers carried as a percentage of available seats – during the first three months of 2021 stood at 77 percent.


Elon Musk says he is first SNL host with Asperger’s syndrome

Elon Musk says he is first SNL host with Asperger’s syndrome
Updated 09 May 2021

Elon Musk says he is first SNL host with Asperger’s syndrome

Elon Musk says he is first SNL host with Asperger’s syndrome
  • Crypto comments move Dogecoin price
  • Musk has previously drawn criticism for mocking SEC

WASHINGTON: Elon Musk kicked off his “Saturday Night Live” debut by declaring himself to be the first person with Asperger’s syndrome to host the US comedy sketch show.
“Or at least, the first person to admit it,” he said.
In his opening monologue, the eccentric tech entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX offered an explanation for some of his past eyebrow-raising behavior.
“Look, I know I say or post strange things but that’s just how my brain works. To anyone I’ve offended I just want to say, I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship,” he said. “Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?“
Musk has previously drawn criticism for moves like publicly mocking the US Securities and Exchange Commission and calling a cave diver who rescued boys trapped in Thailand a “pedo guy.”
But on SNL, the billionaire took swipes at his own expense.
And of course, as a big booster of cryptocurrencies, he once again enumerated the benefits of dogecoin.
Pressed on what exactly dogecoin is, Musk called the cryptocurrency — which now has a market value of around $72 billion — “an unstoppable vehicle that’s going to take over the world.”
But then he agreed that actually “it’s a hustle.”
For the second time in a week, the world’s second-richest person seemed to drive the value of the digital asset. Not long after its recent surge after Musk’s Twitter endorsement, it was sent on a brief tailspin during his SNL performance.
It dropped to as low as 49 cents during the broadcast after a pre-show high of about 74 cents, according to CoinDesk.
During the show, cast members wondered aloud why exactly the tech billionaire would want to join their set.
With a segment of a Chinese rocket re-entering Earth’s atmosphere around the time of the live broadcast, they concluded that the spaceman “needed an alibi.”


Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack

Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack
Updated 09 May 2021

Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack

Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack
  • Colonial moves 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline
  • DarkSide is known for deploying ransomware

NEW YORK: Colonial Pipeline, top US fuel pipeline operator, continued work on Sunday to recover from a ransomware cyberattack that forced it to shut down on Friday and sparked worries of a spike in retail gasoline prices.
The incident is one of the most disruptive digital ransom operations ever reported and has prompted calls from American lawmakers to tighten up protection for critical US energy infrastructure against hackers.
Colonial said on Saturday it was “continuing to monitor the impact of this temporary service halt” and to work to restore service. It did not give an estimate for a restart date.
Colonial moves 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline and other fuels from refiners on the Gulf Coast to consumers in the eastern and southern United States. It also serves some of the largest US airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Airport, the world’s busiest by passenger traffic.
Retail fuel experts including the American Automobile Association said an outage lasting several days could have significant impacts on regional fuel supplies, particularly in the US Southeast.
While the US government investigation is in early stages, a former US official and two industry sources said the hackers are likely a professional cybercriminal group and that a group dubbed “DarkSide” was likely among the potential suspects.
DarkSide is known for deploying ransomware and extorting victims while avoiding targets in post-Soviet states. Ransomware is a type of malware designed to lock down systems by encrypting data and demanding payment to regain access.
Cybersecurity firm FireEye has also been brought in to respond to the attack, according to the two industry sources. FireEye declined to comment. Colonial said late on Saturday it was working with a “leading, third-party cybersecurity firm,” but did not name the firm.
Bloomberg News, citing people familiar with the matter, reported late on Saturday that the hackers are part of DarkSide and took nearly 100 gigabytes of data out of Colonial’s network on Thursday ahead of the pipeline shutdown.
Colonial did not immediately reply to an email from Reuters seeking comment outside usual US business hours.
US President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident on Saturday morning, a White House spokesperson said, adding that the government was working to try to help the company restore operations and prevent supply disruptions.
The privately held, Georgia-based company is owned by CDPQ Colonial Partners, IFM (US) Colonial Pipeline 2, KKR-Keats Pipeline Investors, Koch Capital Investments Company and Shell Midstream Operating.
Gasoline futures and diesel futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose on Friday after the outage was reported. In previous Colonial outages, retail prices have risen substantially, if briefly.
Oil refining companies contacted by Reuters on Saturday said their operations had not yet been impacted.


Emirates converts 16 passenger planes to carry cargo

Emirates converts 16 passenger planes to carry cargo
Updated 09 May 2021

Emirates converts 16 passenger planes to carry cargo

Emirates converts 16 passenger planes to carry cargo
  • It comes as some big airlines are faced with competing forces of supply and demand in the cabins and bellies of their aircraft

DUBAI: Emirates has converted 16 passenger planes to transport cargo and is also using some of its fleet to carry goods in the cabin.
Nabil Sultan, Emirates SkyCargo divisional senior vice president said the airline was studying its capacity, in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Sunday.
“So far we have converted 16 passenger aircraft to fully cargo flights,” he said. “We also use the remaining fleet, where we have put cargo in the main cabin, especially to move essential PPE goods and various other medical material.”
It comes as some big airlines are faced with competing forces of supply and demand in the cabins and bellies of their aircraft — as cargo volumes accelerate while at the same time passenger numbers remain subdued.
Earlier on Sunday Emirates said it would begin shipping aid for free into India to help fight the coronavirus.
It comes as air cargo demand has risen to its highest recorded level ever in the wake of the pandemic.


Turkish research group faces criminal charges over inflation data

Turkish research group faces criminal charges over inflation data
Updated 09 May 2021

Turkish research group faces criminal charges over inflation data

Turkish research group faces criminal charges over inflation data
  • The group started publishing its own inflation data in September amid claims from opposition parties that the official agency is under-reporting price increases

DUBAI: Turkey’s statistics agency filed a criminal complaint against a group of local researchers publishing alternative inflation data, Bloomberg reported.

The government body demanded ENAGroup, an independent inflation research group, be fined for “purposefully defaming” the official statistics institution and “misguiding public opinion,” according to documents seen by the news wire.
The group started publishing its own inflation data in September amid claims from opposition parties that the official agency is under-reporting price increases, Bloomberg said
ENAGroup’s inflation figures are higher than the official data. Its consumer price index rose 2.62 percent in April from a month earlier, more than double the 1.1 percent reported by the official agency. The group reported an annual inflation rate of 36.7 percent for 2020, Bloomberg reported.
Turkey’s Treasury and Finance Minister Lutfi Elvan said that the statistics agency filed a complaint against a group “for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic.”
The group aims to “damage and discredit the Turkish Statistical Institute” by spreading misleading data that are used by opposition parties, Elvan said.