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Aug 6, 2020

DealBook’: Fast, Less-Accurate Coronavirus Tests May Be Good Enough

By Katherine J. Wu

Experts are revising their views on the best methods to detect infections, setting aside long-held standards so that the spread of the virus can be more quickly tracked and contained.
Credit...Avishek Das/SOPA Images/ZUMA Wire, via Alamy
For months, the call for coronavirus testing has been led by one resounding refrain: To keep outbreaks under control, doctors and researchers need to deploy the most accurate tests available — ones reliable enough to root out as many infections as possible, even in the absence of symptoms.
That’s long been the dogma of infectious disease diagnostics, experts say, since it helps ensure that cases won’t be missed. During this pandemic, that has meant relying heavily on PCR testing, an extremely accurate but time- and labor-intensive method that requires samples to be processed at laboratories.
But as the virus continues its rampage across the country and tests remain in short supply in many regions, researchers and public health experts have grown increasingly vocal about revising this long-held credo. The best chance to rein in the sprawling outbreaks in the United States now, experts say, requires widespread adoption of less accurate tests, as long as they’re administered quickly and often enough.
“Even if you miss somebody on Day 1,” said Omai Garner, director of clinical microbiology in the U.C.L.A. Health System. “If you test them repeatedly, the argument is, you’ll catch them the next time around.”
This quantity-over-quality strategy has its downsides, and is contingent on an enormous supply of testing kits. But many experts believe more rapid, frequent testing would identify those who need immediate medical care — and perhaps even pinpoint those at greatest risk of spreading the disease.
Such a considerable shift would likely be a welcome change for a country where the status quo of testing was just described as “unacceptable, period” by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview Wednesday on CNN.
“If you had asked me this a couple months ago, I would have said we just need to be doing the PCR tests,” said Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California. “But we are so far gone in this country. It is a catastrophe. It’s kitchen sink time, even if the tests are imperfect.”
Of the dozens of coronavirus tests that have been granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, most rely on complex laboratory procedures, like PCR, to detect the coronavirus’s genetic material.
Only a handful are quick and simple enough to be run in what is called a point-of-care setting, like a doctor’s office or urgent care clinic, without the need for lab equipment. And these tests are still relatively scarce nationwide. Government officials have pledged to astronomically scale up the number of point-of-care tests by fall, increasing by millions the weekly tally of tests conducted.
But many of the rapid tests at the center of this buzz still rely on specialized machines that are neither cheap nor easy to produce in bulk. And while some rapid tests, like the Abbott ID Now, were quickly adopted into the White House, most are unlikely to get much play in the larger community.
“We can’t have these in every household,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and a vocal proponent of speedy testing.
Credit...Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
A better option, Dr. Mina said, might be antigen testing, which identifies pieces of protein. Two such tests, made by BD and Quidel, have received emergency authorization from the F.D.A. Both require instruments to run, but even simpler versions of this technology could provide a fast answer in the same way as pregnancy tests, allowing users to swab their mouths or noses or spit into a tube, then read the results as colored bars on a strip of paper within minutes.
These tests could be done at a doctor’s office, or even at home — no fancy machines or specially trained personnel required — and cost just a few dollars a pop, perhaps even less. And there would be no delays of a week or longer. Companies like the Massachusetts-based E25Bio are currently cooking up tests that might fit this need.
Such convenient setups could resolve some of the supply shortages that have plagued testing laboratories across the nation for months and caused a national embarrassment over inadequate, inaccessible testing. In many cities, people are still experiencing turnaround times of over a week, sometimes three or more — as people did at the beginning of the U.S. epidemics — for results from PCR-based tests, effectively rendering them useless for themselves and the people around them.
Hamstrung by a long delay, even an accurate test can morph into a useless one.
Natalie Magnus, who got tested in Winnebago County, Ill., on July 14, still didn’t have results 22 days later. Her brother and sister-in-law, who were each tested twice at separate facilities in Colorado on July 7 and July 8, have so far received only one set of results after a 17-day wait. One of them was positive for the coronavirus.
Ms. Magnus, who has already completed a two-week quarantine at home, no longer cares if she gets her results. “By now, that doesn’t tell me anything,” she said.
Antigen tests, on the other hand, can be low-tech and easy to manufacture en masse. Distributed weekly or even daily, they could painlessly screen people headed back into offices, schools and universities, delivering peace of mind to parents, teachers and employers. Everyone — not just those feeling ill — would have an easier way to assess their health status on a regular basis.
“The goal here is to detect as many infections as possible,” said Daniel Larremore, an applied mathematician who models infectious diseases at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “That means taking as many shots on goal as we can.”
Broad distribution of antigen tests might also ease the demand for PCR, which still has an important role in hospitals and vulnerable communities like nursing homes. As things stand, many doctors still can’t get their patients’ results within 24 hours.
In those settings, accuracy is crucial, said Melissa Miller, director of the Clinical Molecular Microbiology Laboratory for U.N.C. Hospitals. “You don’t want to miss that diagnosis.”
There are drawbacks. Antigen tests will miss some people who would test positive by PCR, which amplifies coronavirus RNA and picks up even tiny amounts of it. With antigen tests, proteins can’t be copied in the same way, making it easier to mistake some people who are carrying minute levels of the coronavirus in their bodies as pathogen-free. Some antigen tests used in the past miss up to half the infections they look for.
Early on, many experts balked because of these shortcomings. “As laboratorians, we wanted the most sensitive test, the most specific test, the most accurate test,” Dr. Miller said. “End of story.”
But Dr. Mina argues that false negatives might not be as bad as they seem.
Virus levels vary from person to person, and can wax and wane in an individual over the course of an infection, typically peaking around the time symptoms first appear. People carrying — and thus probably shedding — gobs of germs will most likely turn up positive using every test on the market, Dr. Mina said. Those harboring less virus in their bodies might get more mixed results. Many of these individuals, however, probably aren’t the cases of most concern.
It’s another way to look at testing accuracy, Dr. Mina said: “Detecting the most infectious people.”
Credit...Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A testing rethink this substantial will inevitably come with snags. The success of the speedy testing strategy hinges heavily on availability — something the United States has utterly failed at since the virus first made landfall within its borders. Ramping up antigen testing may only add strain to an already sputtering supply chain, potentially hampering plans for widespread use.
“If you test people all the time, you can account for lack of sensitivity,” Dr. Butler-Wu said. “But are you really going to test people all the time? If the answer is no, then that lack of sensitivity becomes more of a big deal.”
And many experts are still hesitant to trust negative antigen results, which may need to be backed up with a more sensitive test. That might not be very burdensome in the midst of an outbreak, when positivity rates are likely to be high, Dr. Babady said. In spots where infection rates are especially low, however, “that is not going to be the best approach to testing,” she said.
Cheap tests also aren’t the same thing as free tests. Even $1 tests can start to rack up quite a bill, especially for large families hoping to do daily checkups or nursing home aides required to get tested repeatedly. Left unregulated, the testing market could end up exacerbating the socioeconomic split that’s already disproportionately burdened some sectors of the population with the worst effects of Covid-19.
Concerns over accuracy bogged down the approval process for simple, speedy tests. F.D.A. guidelines stipulate that any new coronavirus test vying for emergency clearance from the agency must perform nearly as well as the gold standard of PCR.
The F.D.A.’s rules frustrate Dr. Mina, who noted that several companies on the verge of debuting antigen tests have found the regulatory hurdles daunting. “Many of them are not even bothering,” he said. “‘Our product might not be good enough. So what’s the point?’”
That’s left the onus on the few companies who already have the F.D.A.’s green light. In hopes of encouraging a speedier, ramped up production, the governors of seven states announced this week a joint bid to purchase a total of 3.5 million antigen tests from BD and Quidel.
There probably isn’t one way to grapple with all these issues — and certainly not an obvious one, Dr. Butler-Wu said. What’s clear to her and others, though, is that the current situation is untenable.
“Our backs are against the wall, and it’s Hail Mary time,” Dr. Butler-Wu said. “We have to try something different.”

Market Insider | Biggest Moves Premarket: Stocks making the biggest moves in the premarket: Hilton, Restaurant Brands, Bausch Health & more

Peter Schacknow

Take a look at some of the biggest movers in the premarket:

Hilton Worldwide (HLT) – The hotel operator lost 61 cents per share for the second quarter, wider than the 31 cents a share loss that Wall Street analysts had been anticipating. Revenue was also below estimates, with Hilton suffering from the pandemic-induced drop in travel demand.
Restaurant Brands (QSR) – The parent of Tim Hortons, Burger King and Popeyes earned 33 cents per share for its latest quarter, 4 cents a share above estimates. Revenue also beat Wall Street forecasts. The company said it was back to about 90% of the prior year’s systemwide sales by the end of the quarter.
Bausch Health (BHC) – The company plans to spin off its Bausch & Lomb eye care unit into a separate publicly traded company. Bausch said it was taking the action to unlock unrecognized value in the eye care business.
Kontoor Brands (KTB) – The maker of Lee and Wrangler jeans reported a quarterly loss of 22 cents per share, compared to a consensus estimate of a 40 cents per share loss. Revenue was above estimates, with the company saying it was in good financial position despite the short-term negative impact of the pandemic.
ViacomCBS (VIAC) – The media company reported quarterly profit of $1.25 per share, beating the 95 cents a share consensus estimate. Revenue came in above forecasts as well. ViacomCBS pointed to rapid growth in its streaming business and said it is successfully managing through the effects of the pandemic.
Rocket Companies (RKT) – The parent of Quicken Loans makes its Wall Street debut today, after pricing its IPO at a lower-than-expected $18 per share and selling fewer shares than anticipated.
Bristol-Myers (BMY), Pfizer (PFE) – Bristol-Myers and Pfizer won a key patent case involving the blood thinner Eliquis, with a judge ruling that drug companies Sigmapharm, Sunshine Lake Pharma, and Unichem had infringed the product’s patents. Bristol and Pfizer have a profit-sharing agreement involving Eliquis. Separately, Bristol-Myers beat estimates for both earnings and revenue for its latest quarter, and raised its full-year forecast based on expectations of greater use of its drugs in hospitals as delayed medical procedures are carried out.
Sonos (SONO) – Sonos saw quarterly sales beat Wall Street expectations, as the high-end speaker maker shifted its focus to digital sales amid pandemic-related store closures. Sonos did, however, report an overall loss for the quarter.
Live Nation (LYV) – Live Nation reported a quarterly loss of $2.67 per share, wider than the loss of $2.08 predicted by Wall Street analysts. The live event promoter also saw revenue come in well below estimates, with the pandemic virtually eliminating large gatherings and events.
Roku (ROKU) – Roku lost 35 cents per share for its latest quarter, smaller than the 50 cents a share loss that analysts had anticipated. Revenue also beat forecasts, but the shares have come under pressure after the streaming video device maker said advertising industry uncertainty will persist through the third and fourth quarters.
Zynga (ZNGA) – Zynga raised its full-year bookings forecast, after better-than-expected quarterly results. The digital game maker got a pandemic-related boost from increased engagement by players stuck at home during the pandemic.
Etsy (ETSY) – Etsy reported quarterly profit of 75 cents per share, well above the 39 cents a share consensus estimate. The online marketplace’s revenue also beat Wall Street forecasts, as it saw nearly 19 million new and reactivated buyers.
Costco (COST) – Costco reported a July comparable sales increase of 13.2%, more than twice what Wall Street had anticipated. The warehouse retailer also saw a more than 75% jump in digital sales.

Analysis | The Cybersecurity 202: Election security officials sound confident about November

Joseph Marks

It’s night and day compared to what existed in 2016,” Krebs said. He said he’s confident that “2020 will be the most protected and most secure election in modern history.”
Lawmakers, meanwhile, have fallen into partisan bickering with Republicans and Democrats accusing each other of aiding U.S. enemies rather than combating them.
That split screen has been a relative constant during the past four years.
And it comes as officials are facing a new kind of insecurity – a potentially massive wave of mail-in ballots as fewer people go to physical polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.
With some notable exceptions, federal, state and local officials have made steady progress with changes to transition to more secure paper ballots and implement cybersecurity protections and post-election audits.
Congress, meanwhile, has failed to pass any significant campaign or election security legislation. It has delivered about $1.2 billion to states to improve cybersecurity and make voting safer during the pandemic, but that’s far less than Democrats have requested and many experts say is necessary.

Recently, the congressional wrangling has focused on a Republican investigation into work in Ukraine by Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

For the past several weeks, Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) have warned about a foreign disinformation campaign trying to get Congress to undermine the election — a likely reference to the investigation led by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates has accused Johnson of “facilitating a foreign influence operation to undermine our democracy” in part to distract from the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Paul Sonne, Karoun Demirjian and David L. Stern report.
Johnson and Grassley punched back yesterday, arguing it was Pelosi and Schumer who were undermining election security by questioning their investigation.
“It is certainly our goal to eradicate foreign influence from our elections. But your use of this issue to knowingly and recklessly promote false narratives for political purposes is completely contrary to that goal,” the lawmakers wrote.
Then they got harsher: “Although it is undisputed that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, as they have done in the past and will continue to do in the future, you have twisted this fact beyond recognition to forge a weapon for the purpose of attacking your political opponents no matter its tenuous relationship with facts or the truth.” 

So far, Russia doesn't appear to be trying for a repeat of 2016. 

That year, Russian hackers compromised voter databases in at least two states, though there’s no evidence they changed any information or compromised actual voting infrastructure. They also scanned but did not hack into election systems in dozens of other states in addition to hacking and leaking embarrassing information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
Krebs warned of “a whole lot of scanning” of election-related computer networks by U.S. adversaries this year, a list that might include China and Iran as well as Russia.
But there has been “nothing at the directed, focused level of 2016,” he said.
That’s good news for election officials who are trying to remain secure against Russian hacking even as they tackle a slew of challenges related to running an election during the pandemic.
But, Russian disinformation operations aimed at undermining the election and sowing divisions between Americans are still going strong.
On disinformation, Russia’s never taken its foot off the gas,” Krebs said.

The federal government is launching new efforts to help election officials in the final months before November. 

DHS launched a $2.2. million pilot program recently with the Center for Internet Security to help election officials secure the laptops, tablets and other devices they use to manage election business such as checking in voters at polling places and reporting vote totals.
The State Department began offering up to $10 million in rewards for information that helps identify anyone who is helping a foreign government hack U.S. elections. It’s similar to a reward program for information that helps locate terrorists.

Election machine companies are also making progress on cybersecurity. 

The nation’s largest voting machine vendor, Elections Systems and Software, formally introduced a system at the Black Hat conference for ethical hackers to alert it to bugs in its computer systems. The move is a shift from two years ago when ES&S downplayed digital threats to its systems and accused ethical hackers of using unrealistic scenarios to suggest their machines are far more vulnerable than they are.
It also marks at least a partial truce with the cybersecurity research community, which has slammed voting machine vendors for being too opaque about security and not responsive to legitimate criticism. The ES&S program was first reported by Robert McMillan and Alexa Corse at the Wall Street Journal.
ES&S began accepting reports of digital vulnerabilities by email about 18 months ago, said Chris Wlaschin, the company’s vice president of systems security. Yesterday the company released a formal document called a “vulnerability disclosure policy,” which outlines which systems hackers can access without getting into legal trouble and lays out how and when ES&S will respond to bug reports.
The program doesn’t extend to voting machines and other systems that generally can’t be accessed on the public Internet.
ES&S also announced a deal with the cybersecurity company Synack, which will deploy a team of hackers to probe for bugs in the company’s newest electronic poll book. The company plans to expand that program to include voting machines and other tools that aren’t included in the vulnerability disclosure policy, Wlaschin said.

The keys

Trump now likes mail voting in Florida and Arizona but still says it will be a disaster elsewhere.

The president’s position on mail voting has grown increasingly convoluted in recent days as he seems to be strategically reversing his long-held opposition to the practice but only in states where it might help his electoral chances. 
So, in Florida, they've done a good job. In Arizona, they've done a good job, but they've been doing this thing and refining it for years," Trump said at a news conference attended by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R.)
Within hours of Trump praising mail voting in those two states, his campaign filed a lawsuit  to block Nevada from sending ballots to all registered voters, Amy Gardner and Jacob Bogage report. The election could take years to call if Nevada absentee voting is expanded, the president alleged on Fox News and in a tweet. 
Trump has claimed without evidence that mail voting will lead to massive fraud and disastrous delays.
At a separate news conference he said, “I you look at it just out of common sense and pure basic beautiful intelligence, you know it can’t work."
Trump also incorrectly asserted that Nevada does not plan to verify voter signatures on mail ballots. When a reporter corrected him, he incorrectly insisted that state officials had earlier said they would not verify signatures. He also asserted that aging machinery would make doing so impossible.

Virginia will launch the first U.S. coronavirus alert app that uses Apple and Google software. 

The app, called COVIDWISE, will use Bluetooth signals to notify users who were in close proximity with people who report coronavirus infections, Paresh Dave at Reuters reports.  
“This is a way we can all work together to contain this virus,” Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said in a televised briefing. “No one is tracking you. None of your personal information is saved.” 
Virginia is one of several states that have signed on to use the technology, but deploying tit has been slowed by a lack of funding and clashes between public officials and the tech giants over data collection. Some states and countries initially declined to use the software because it didn't collect GPS location data, which they said could help them better track the spread of the disease. The companies argued the technology was too invasive.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is urging U.S. companies to ban downloads of Chinese apps.  

The plea comes as a part of the State Department's initiative to remove allegedly untrustworthy Chinese technology from America's infrastructure, ranging from mobile apps to telecommunications networks. Most recently Trump threatened to ban TikTok if its Chinese parent company doesn't sell its U.S. assets to Microsoft or another U.S. company by Sept. 15. 
“We want to see untrusted Chinese apps removed from U.S. app stores,” Pompeo told reporters, Laura Kelly at the Hill reports. “President Trump has mentioned impending action on TikTok, and for good reason. With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat and others are significant threats to personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for [Chinese Communist Party] content censorship.”
Both Google and Apple, which dominate app platforms in the United States, allow the Chinese social networking site WeChat alongside a host of other Chinese apps. Privacy researchers at the research organization Citizen Lab criticized WeChat earlier this year for monitoring content sent from users based abroad to users inside China. 

Industry report

YouTube banned a network of nearly 3,000 Chinese accounts for spreading political propaganda.

The content pushed by the accounts related to ongoing protests around police brutality, TechCrunch reports. Researchers at Graphika found similar operations on Facebook and Twitter earlier this year.
More industry news:

Chat room

A bond hearing conducted on Zoom for the teenager who allegedly masterminded the recent Twitter hack that embroiled Joe Biden and Barack Obama was hacked itself. The hackers posted videos to the hearing including pornography. More from cybersecurity blogger Brian Krebs:


  • Black Hat will take place virtually through Thursday.
  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to examine federal and industry efforts to improve cybersecurity in the energy section today at 10 a.m.
  • DEF CON will take place virtually August 5-8.

Secure log off

How tech works:

News | Business | UK Economy: Bank of England tempers forecasts for UK economic rebound

Delphine Strauss 

The Bank of England has tempered its previous prediction that the UK economy would rebound swiftly from the recession caused by the coronavirus crisis, saying on Thursday that GDP would not exceed pre-pandemic levels until the end of 2021.
The Monetary Policy Committee left interest rates on hold at 0.1 per cent with its target for the total stock of its asset purchases also unchanged at £745bn.
It said the initial hit from lockdown measures had not been quite as severe as it had projected in May, although it expected output to be more than 20 per cent lower in the second quarter of 2020 than it had been in the final quarter of 2019. A strong recovery in some areas of consumer spending is expected to drive a rapid rebound over the coming months.
The pound rose 0.4 per cent against the US dollar to $1.3160 after the decision, its highest level since the turmoil in March as coronavirus concerns raced through markets.
The MPC was also more optimistic about the outlook for unemployment than it had been in May, predicting the jobless rate would peak at about 7.5 per cent at the end of this year before declining gradually.
Consumer price inflation was expected to fall further below target, averaging about 0.25 per cent in the latter part of the year, and to be around the MPC’s 2 per cent target in two years.
However, in its guidance the MPC emphasised that the balance of risks to its forecasts lay very much to the downside, and said it would not tighten monetary policy “until there is clear evidence that significant progress is being made in eliminating spare capacity and achieving the 2 per cent inflation target sustainably”.
The BoE forecast the recovery would slow dramatically after the third quarter of 2020, reflecting consumers’ continued concerns over health risks and fears over job security. By the end of this year, GDP is expected to remain 5 per cent below its pre-pandemic peak and only to regain its pre-crisis level at the end of 2021.
Even by the end of 2023, when the forecast period concludes, GDP would remain 1.5 per cent below its pre pandemic trajectory, according to the bank. This long-term scarring is because business investment and start-up activity is expected to remain weak, weighing on productivity.
The bank’s Financial Policy Committee said companies continued to face a severe cash-flow shock, with many likely to need further finance to survive the disruption. It predicted that if the economy followed the path set out in the BoE’s central projections, companies could face a cash-flow deficit of up to £200bn in this financial year.
But the FPC said that even with corporate insolvencies set to rise, UK banks’ capital buffers were more than sufficient to absorb losses — unless the loss of output, and the unemployment rate, were double that in the MPC’s central projection.

News | Business | World Automotive Industry: Toyota defies coronavirus pandemic with quarterly profit

Kana Inagaki 

Toyota has become one of the few carmakers worldwide to eke out a quarterly profit, even as the coronavirus pandemic prompted a collapse in sales and plant closures.
Shares in the world’s second-largest carmaker briefly rose nearly 3 per cent in Tokyo on Thursday following the release of the results, which were backed by a faster than expected recovery in sales in China and years of stringent cost-cuts under chief executive Akio Toyoda.
Toyota maintained its full-year guidance for operating profits and revenue, but cautioned of “the possibility that the business environment will change significantly depending on . . . the future spread of Covid-19 and the state of its containment”. The company recently lost its crown as the world’s most valuable carmaker to US electric vehicle group Tesla.
For the April to June quarter, Toyota reported a 74 per cent year-on-year drop in net profit to ¥158.8bn ($1.5bn). While its operating profits were nearly wiped out, the Japanese group outperformed rivals including Volkswagen, General Motors and Nissan, which all suffered losses during the period.
Toyota delivered profits even as group vehicle sales dropped 32 per cent from a year earlier to 1.8m units due to the pandemic. Losses in the US and Europe were offset by profits in the company’s financial services arm.
The results also showed an unexpected boost from Covid-19 in terms of costs, which fell due to shorter working hours and reduced business travel.
Meanwhile, it upgraded its annual vehicle sales forecast to 7.2m vehicles from the 7m projected in May as the pace of recovery in most regions, led by China, has been faster than expected. During the first quarter, sales in China rose 14 per cent to 482,000 vehicles.
In disclosing its net profit guidance for the first time, the company said it expected a 64 per cent year-on-year drop to ¥730bn for the fiscal year through March 2021.
“The result is reassuring and there is a strong indication of an upward revision [in operating profit] during the fiscal first half,” said Koji Endo, head of equity research at SBI Securities.
Toyota’s performance stands out compared with domestic rivals such as Nissan, which has an alliance with France’s Renault. The company anticipates its biggest ever operating loss this year.
On Wednesday, Honda reported its largest quarterly loss since 2009 and warned of a 64 per cent drop in annual profits as car sales fell in almost all of its main markets.
Honda has historically managed to offset downturns in car sales with its more profitable motorcycle business. But the pandemic also sparked a 62 per cent fall in first-quarter motorcycle sales led by declines in India and Indonesia.
Seiji Kuraishi, Honda’s executive vice-president, said the company aimed to return to profitability for the full year, pointing to a strong recovery of car sales in China and demand for motorcycles in Vietnam and Thailand.

News | Business | Politics | Tech: Trump administration plans Chinese tech crackdown

3-4 minutes - Source: BBC

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington. Image copyright Reuters
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has outlined the steps he wants US companies to take to deal with "untrusted Chinese apps".
The measures go far beyond President Donald Trump's current push to force the sale of TikTok to an American firm.
Mr Pompeo says apps like TikTok and WeChat pose "significant threats to the personal data of American citizens".
Wednesday's announcement marks a further deterioration in relations between Washington and Beijing.
The US government argues that such apps harvest the data of US citizens and could be exploited by the Chinese Communist Party, which Beijing has denied.
One of the significant steps involves the removal of "untrusted" Chinese apps from US app stores, along with clamping down on cloud computing providers.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionWATCH: Instagram rolls out its TikTok rival Reels
Along with the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, TikTok has been firmly in the sights of US President Donald Trump as two companies he wants to crack down on.
The scope of those measures has now been extended much wider and includes Chinese technology giants such as Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent, which have a presence in the US.

'Clean network'

Mr Pompeo, who is America's most senior diplomat, set out a five-pronged approach to "safeguard America’s assets" that include:
· Ensuring the "untrusted People’s Republic of China (PRC) carriers" are not connected with the US telecommunications networks
· Removing "untrusted" applications from US app stores
· Stopping "untrusted" Chinese smartphone manufacturers from pre-installing, or making available for download, the most popular US apps
· Preventing US citizens’ sensitive personal information and companies’ intellectual property from being stored and accessed on Chinese cloud-based services
· Ensuring undersea cables connecting the US to the global internet are not compromised for intelligence gathering by China
It is unclear how the US would enforce the new guidelines or what authority it has to do so. But Mr Pompeo said more than 30 countries now had "clean networks" which are designed to secure a country's critical telecommunications.
Mr Trump has pledged to ban TikTok in America by 15 September unless its US business is sold to an American company. Microsoft is currently in talks to buy it.
TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has said its US users’ data is stored outside China and is safe.
US officials have long complained that Chinese intellectual property theft has cost the economy billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs, which Beijing has consistently denied.
Last month, Mr Pompeo said the US was looking at banning TikTok as well as other Chinese social media apps on national security concerns, calling them “Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”

News | Business | UK Economy: Downturn less severe than feared - Bank of England

5-6 minutes Source: BBC

A man wearing a mask walks past the Bank of England in London Image copyright Dan Kitwood
Image caption A man wearing a mask walks past the Bank of England in London
The UK economic slump because of Covid-19 will be less severe than expected, but the recovery will also take longer, the Bank of England has said.
It expects the economy to shrink by 9.5% this year.
While this would mark the biggest annual decline in 100 years, it compares with an initial estimate of a 14% contraction.
However, the Bank said unemployment was likely to rise "materially" as it held interest rates at 0.1%.
In its first official forecast since the pandemic hit, the Bank said the recovery had been "earlier and more rapid" than it had assumed in May, reflecting a faster easing of lockdown restrictions.
It said spending on clothing and household furnishings was now back to pre-Covid levels, while consumers have carried on spending more on food and energy bills than before the lockdown.
However, it said leisure spending and business investment remained subdued, which would weigh on the recovery.

Slower recovery

The Bank said the UK still faced its sharpest recession on record, with the outlook for growth now "unusually uncertain".
It expects the UK economy to grow by 9% in 2021, and 3.5% in 2022, with the economy forecast to get back to its pre-Covid size at the end of 2021.
This compares with growth estimates of 15% and 3% respectively, in a scenario the Bank set out in May.
Unemployment is expected to almost double from the current rate of 3.9% to 7.5% at the end of the year as government-funded support schemes come to an end.
Average earnings are also expected to shrink for the first time since the financial crisis.
The Bank's latest forecasts are based on the assumptions that there is no second wave of the virus and that there is a smooth transition to a new EU free trade agreement at the start of 2021.

Negative rates 'under review'

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) said it would not even think about raising interest rates until there was "clear evidence" the recovery had taken hold.
It said the use of unconventional tools to stimulate the economy such as negative interest rates remained under review.
While negative rates could boost the economy, the Bank said such a move may have unintended consequences.
It could stop the UK's already fragile banks from lending, or lead to customers withdrawing their money and holding it in cash.
Policymakers also noted that High Street banks would find it difficult to cut rates on savings accounts below zero.
"The MPC will continue to review the appropriateness of a negative policy rate as a policy tool alongside its broader toolkit," it said.
Ruth Gregory, an economist at Capital Economics, said the Bank was likely to increase its money printing programme by a further £100bn later this year.
She also expects the Bank to keep interest rates at 0.1% "or below" for "at least five years".

The economic damage may have been been less catastrophic than feared in recent months, but the Bank thinks the scars will remain for longer, both to activity and jobs.
The Bank believes it will take the economy until the end of 2021 to get back to pre-crisis activity. Crucially it admits the risks are to the downside - not least as it assumes that the health risks from the virus and restrictions gradually recede, with no significant resumption of a widespread lockdown. That could prove a serious setback.
What then? The key to our recovery is consumer spending - and the interest rates that might shape that are at record lows already. Could we be heading into the uncharted territory of negative rates, where savers are effectively charged to deposit cash? It seems unlikely. The Bank has been taking a closer look at that tool and concludes it could be "less effective stimulate the economy".
It does have other tools - the Bank has supported cashflow across the economy by pumping funds into financial markets via quantitative easing and participating in some loan schemes.
But it may have to rely increasingly on the chancellor to give the economy emergency aid in the event of further trouble.

The US Election 2020: Why did Facebook and Twitter penalise Trump for virus claim?

6-8 minutes - Source: BBC

hyA still from President Trump's Fox News interview on Wednesday 5 August 2020 Image copyright Fox News
Image caption A clip from President Trump's Fox News interview was posted to his Facebook page
Facebook and Twitter have penalised Donald Trump and his campaign for posts in which the president claimed children were "almost immune" to coronavirus.
Facebook deleted the post - a clip from an interview Mr Trump gave to Fox News - saying it contained "harmful Covid misinformation".
Twitter followed by saying it had frozen a Trump campaign account until a tweet of the same clip was removed.
US public health advice makes clear children have no immunity to Covid-19.

What did Facebook and Twitter say?

A Facebook spokesperson said on Wednesday evening: "This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation."
It was the first time the social giant had taken action to remove content posted by the president based on its coronavirus-misinformation policy, but not the first time it has penalised Mr Trump over content on his page.
Later on Wednesday, Twitter said it had frozen the @TeamTrump account because it posted the same interview excerpt, which President Trump's account shared.
A Twitter spokesman said the @TeamTrump tweet "is in violation of the Twitter Rules on COVID-19 misinformation".
"The account owner will be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again."
It later appeared to have been deleted.
Twitter last month temporarily suspended Mr Trump's son, Donald Jr, for sharing a clip it said promoted "misinformation" about coronavirus and hydroxychloroquine.
But in March, Twitter said a tweet by entrepreneur Elon Musk suggesting children are "essentially immune" to coronavirus did not break its rules.

What did Trump say in his TV interview?

Speaking by telephone to morning show Fox and Friends on Wednesday, Mr Trump argued it was time for all schools nationwide to reopen.
He said: "If you look at children, children are almost - and I would almost say definitely - almost immune from this disease.
"So few, they've got stronger, hard to believe, I don't know how you feel about it, but they've got much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this.
"And they don't have a problem, they just don't have a problem."
Mr Trump, who is running for re-election in November, also said of coronavirus: "This thing's going away. It will go away like things go away."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionUS teachers: "How do we do what's good for students and keep ourselves safe?"

How dangerous is coronavirus for children?

Children can catch and transmit the virus, but they run an extremely low risk of becoming ill from it.
Adults - and particularly older adults - are far more likely to be seriously ill and die from complications.
The largest study done so far, involving more than 55,000 hospital patients, found that only 0.8% were under the age of 19.
Half of all the people with confirmed coronavirus who were admitted to critical care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were 60 or older as of 31 July, according to a research charity.
A recent US study of coronavirus cases among 7,780 children from 26 countries found almost one in five patients had no symptoms. Another one in five developed lesions on their lungs during the infection.
Some 3.3% were admitted to intensive care units and seven deaths were reported, according to the research from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
A study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that people under 20 were about half as susceptible to coronavirus infection as those over 20.
There have been some extremely rare cases of children developing an inflammatory syndrome similar to Kawasaki disease, and scientists are exploring a possible delayed immune response to coronavirus.

Why did Facebook last take down a Trump post?

In June, Facebook said it had removed adverts for President Trump's re-election campaign that featured a symbol used in Nazi Germany.
The company said the offending ad contained an inverted red triangle similar to that used by the Nazis to label opponents such as communists.
Mr Trump's campaign team said the far-left activist group antifa uses the symbol and it was a reference to them.
The ads, which were posted on the site on pages belonging to President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, were online for about 24 hours and had received hundreds of thousands of views before they were taken down.

Are US schools reopening amid pandemic?

Hundreds of school districts around the country have scrapped plans to reopen as coronavirus infections have spiked in a number of US states.
Some 20 of the nation's largest 25 school districts have announced they will start remotely.
Among the schools that are not reopening is one attended by the president's son, Barron Trump, in suburban Maryland.
St Andrew's Episcopal School said in a letter to parents it would opt instead for virtual learning to protect the health of students, families and staff.
Last week Georgia's largest school district, Gwinnett County, returned to school campuses to start planning for autumn reopening.
A day later, 260 employees had been told to stay away from their schools because they tested positive for coronavirus, or had been exposed to someone else who had the infection.
One of the first school districts in the nation to reopen, near Indianapolis, Indiana, had a student test positive on the first day.
The child's parents had sent him to campus, knowing that his test result was pending, schools officials said.
Other students who had come within 6ft of the patient for more than 15 minutes were sent home to self-isolate for 14 days.

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?