business news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the United States, there have been 2,026,597 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 113,061 deaths and 773,505 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 7,216,982 coronavirus cases, 409,095 fatalities, and 3,553,009 reported recoveries.

•  From Axios:

"Today's curveball comes from the World Health Organization, which said it's 'very rare' for the coronavirus to spread through asymptomatic carriers."

The story goes on:  

"Earlier evidence suggested person-to-person transmission among asymptomatics could spark runaway outbreaks … Young people and healthy people who did not experience symptoms were also suspected to be potential carriers to more vulnerable populations … The WHO is now relying on data obtained through contact tracing, said Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the emerging diseases and zoonosis unit."

However …  as I understand it, there is a difference between "asymptomatic" and "presymptomatic" - the first means that you have the virus but no symptoms, and the second means that you just haven't developed symptoms yet.  The problem is that you can't really tell the difference - and therefore don't know if someone is spreading or not - until it is too late.  Hence, the importance of continued vigilance.

•  From the San Jose Mercury News:

"Google said Monday it’s adding new features to its Maps program that are designed to provide individuals with more information about coronavirus-related restrictions for services such as public transit and local COVID-19 testing centers.

"The new features are becoming available amid an increase in new coronavirus case in California as cities and counties across the state have begun to reopen after almost three months of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the disease.

"The alerts will include information such as if transit services have been disrupted or had a schedule change because of coronavirus, as well as information that shows when train or bus stations have been historically more or less busy at specific times of the day. Google Maps will also provide information for drivers about possible COVID-19 checkpoints along a highway, such as at national borders."

•  The New York Times has a story about the often crushing impact that delivery apps can have on restaurants that have been depending on them during the pandemic lockdowns.

"Even as apps like Grubhub have cast themselves as economic saviors for restaurants in the pandemic, their fees have become an increasing source of difficulty for the establishments," the Times writes.  "From Chicago, Pittsburgh and Tampa, Fla., to Boise, Albuquerque and Richardson, Texas, restaurant owners have taken to social media to express their unhappiness. Some restaurants have shut down, while others have cut off the apps and are looking for other ways to take orders.

"Complaints about the fees that the apps charge to both restaurants and consumers are longstanding, but the issue has become heightened as many restaurants have shut down in-room dining. Even as they begin reopening, delivery is likely to remain a bigger part of their business than before the pandemic.

"Several restaurants have also publicly worried that if Uber’s talks to acquire Grubhub succeed, small restaurant owners will have even less power in pushing back against the fees."

I'm a cynic.  Every time I see an ad for one of these delivery services proclaiming that together, we can all save the restaurant industry, I think to myself that what they really want to do is preserve their own cash cows.  I know it is hard for these businesses to handle their own deliveries, but putting so much of their business equity into these outsourcing services creates its own level of risk.

•  The Cinemark movie theater chain, the third largest in the world after AMC and Cineworld, said this week that "it has the financial wherewithal to survive even if theaters remain shut down for the rest of the year—though it isn’t expecting to test that assertion. The company outlined a plan to begin a phased reopening of its theaters on June 19, starting with classic movies for $5 a ticket. Chief Executive Mark Zoradi strongly hinted on the call that even the popcorn will be cheap."

The statement comes just days after AMC said it was unsure of its ability to survive if the movie theater business is unable to get back to some level of normality.

The Journal writes that the summer movie season - traditionally a huge revenue generator for theaters and studios - seems to hinge on whether audiences turn out to see Tenet, the new film from writer-director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Returns, Inception).  Tenet is scheduled to hit theaters on July 17, and the producers have held fast to that date even as other films bailed out of their summer dates and moved to the Christmas season or even summer 2021.

The Journal writes that while three-quarters of regular movie-goers say they will return to theaters if sufficient safety precautions are taken, roughly a third of movie-goers are 50 years old or older - which makes them higher risk for contracting the coronavirus.   And so there is a lot of ambiguity about projections and expectations.

•  MediaPlayNews reports that "the  National Association Theater Owners (NATO) reportedly expects upwards of 90% of movie screens in the world to re-open by July 17 … The trade group, which represents 68,000 screens in 99 countries, is pushing the optimistic data as global economies get back on line and coronavirus infections slow."

However, the story also points out that "no theatrical chain has officially announced a re-opening date in the United States."

•  The New York Times reports that "the nation’s largest airlines are preparing for a limited rebound next month as more Americans book vacations in places like Florida and the mountains and national parks in the West.

"That resurgence would offer some hope to the travel industry, which racked up billions of dollars in losses as tourists and businesspeople canceled trips in the last three months because of the coronavirus epidemic. Some in the industry said the recovery was now already underway."

The Times goes on:  "After cratering in April, the number of travelers and airline and airport employees filtering through the Transportation Security Administration’s airport checkpoints has steadily climbed in recent weeks. The low point arrived on April 14, when the agency screened fewer than 90,000 people, just 4 percent of those screened the same date last year. On Sunday, the agency screened more than 440,000 people, about 17 percent of last year’s number and the best day since March."

•  USA Today also reports as the nation begins to slowly open up, the travel industry seems to be benefitting.

"The number of nights booked in the USA was higher from May 17 to June 3 compared with the same weeks in 2019, according to Airbnb via Bloomberg. Among the most popular sites for stays are Southern California’s Big Bear Lake and the Smoky Mountains, per the report. 

"Similar domestic holiday booking trends are happening in other countries, including Germany, Portugal and South Korea, Bloomberg reported … Other vacation rental sites, including Expedia Group’s Vrbo and Booking Holdings, are seeing a rise in reservations as states reopen, Bloomberg reported."

The story notes that "it's unclear if or when travel will return to pre-pandemic levels, though the hotel and hospitality industry rushed to update cleanliness procedures to boost confidence among wary travelers."

I have to wonder how many people are doing what Mrs. Content Guy and I did - we booked something for mid-August, thinking that we wanted to go as late in the summer as possible, but also made sure the booking could be canceled with minimal penalties if we're not confident at that time in how safe things will be.