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Tesla sues California county in virus factory closure fight, threatens to leave

(Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) sued local authorities in California on Saturday as the electric carmaker pushed to re-open its factory there and Chief Executive Elon Musk threatened to move Tesla’s headquarters and future programs from the state to Texas or Nevada.

Musk has been pushing to re-open Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory after Alameda County’s health department said the carmaker must not reopen because local lockdown measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus remain in effect.

Tesla filed a lawsuit against the county on Saturday, calling the continued restrictions a “power-grab” by the county since California’s governor had said on Thursday that manufacturers in the state would be allowed to reopen.

The company said Alameda was going against the federal and California constitutions, as well as defying the governor’s order, in the lawsuit filed in San Francisco federal court.

Alameda County, where the Fremont factory is located, is scheduled to remain shut until the end of May, with only essential businesses allowed to reopen. County officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The outspoken Musk also took to Twitter on Saturday to complain and threatened to leave the state.

“If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen (sp) on how Tesla is treated in the future,” he tweeted here referring to the San Francisco Bay area facility that is Tesla’s only U.S. vehicle factory.

Alameda County said on Saturday that it has been working with Tesla to develop a safety plan that “allows for reopening while protecting the health and well-being of the thousands of employees” that work at the factory and that it looks forward to coming to an agreement on a safety plan very soon.

Fremont Mayor Lily Mei expressed concern about the potential economic implications of continuing the shelter-in-place order without provisions for manufacturers such as Tesla to resume. Mei on Saturday urged the county to work with businesses on “acceptable guidelines for re-opening.”

Musk had told employees on Thursday that limited production would restart at Fremont on Friday afternoon.

Tesla builds more than 415,000 cars per year at the Fremont plant and moving the entire production facility would be a massive undertaking.

Dan Ives, a Wedbush analyst, on Saturday estimated it could take the company 12 to 18 months to relocate production.

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The threat to relocate the facility comes as Tesla aims to ramp up production at Fremont of its Model Y sport utility vehicle, the carmaker’s most profitable vehicle to date.

Musk, who sparred with California officials in March over whether Tesla had to halt production at Fremont, had criticized the lockdown and stay-at-home orders, calling them a “serious risk” to U.S. business and “unconstitutional.”

Tesla shares have risen 127% since March 18, their recent closing low, including a 16.8% gain in the last trading week to close at $819.42 on Friday.

Reporting by Sabahatjahan Contractor and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru, Tina Bellon and Sinéad Carew in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Chris Reese and Dan Grebler

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Three key U.S. coronavirus officials in self-quarantine after COVID-19 exposure – reports

(Reuters) – Three key U.S. officials guiding the coronavirus response were in self-quarantine on Saturday after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19, according to spokesmen and media reports.

FILE PHOTO: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci attends the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Anthony Fauci, a high-profile member of the White House coronavirus response team, is considered to be at relatively low risk based on the degree of his exposure, according to a representative for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Fauci, the 79-year-old NIAID director, has tested negative for COVID-19 and he will continue to be tested regularly, the official said in an emailed statement.

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield “will be teleworking for the next two weeks” after a “low-risk exposure” on Wednesday to a person at the White House who has the disease, the Washington Post reported on Saturday, citing a spokesman. Redfield is 68 years old.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who is 60, is in self-quarantine for a couple of weeks after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, an FDA spokesman told Reuters late on Friday.

All three officials were scheduled to testify on Tuesday to a Senate committee looking at steps states and the federal government are taking to reopen businesses and schools, which have been shut in an attempt to control the spread of the highly-contagious virus.

The coronavirus is especially dangerous to the elderly. According to the CDC, eight out of 10 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 have been people 65-years and older.

Hahn immediately took a diagnostic test for the coronavirus and the results were negative, FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum said in an emailed statement.

“As Dr. Hahn wrote in a note to staff today, he recently came into contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Per CDC guidelines, he is now in self-quarantine for the next two weeks,” the FDA spokesman said.

Politico reported Hahn had come into contact with Katie Miller, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary.

Miller, the wife of one of Trump’s senior advisers, tested positive on Friday, raising alarm about the virus’ potential spread within the White House’s innermost circle.

The diagnosis of Miller, who is married to White House immigration adviser and speech writer Stephen Miller, was revealed by Trump in a meeting with Republican lawmakers on Friday. A valet for Vice President Mike Pence has also tested positive.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Mike Stone, Chris Prentice and Richard Cowan in Washington; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Dan Grebler and Chris Reese

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Venezuela says troops seize abandoned Colombian combat boats, weapons

FILE PHOTO: Members of the special forces unit are seen at a shore, after Venezuela’s government announced a failed “mercenary” incursion, in Macuto, Venezuela, May 3, 2020. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s military said it seized three abandoned Colombian light combat vessels that soldiers found on Saturday while patrolling the Orinoco river, several days after the government accused its neighbor of aiding a failed invasion.

In a statement, the Defense Ministry said the boats were equipped with machine guns and ammunition, but had no crew, adding they were discovered as part of a nationwide operation to guarantee Venezuela’s “freedom and sovereignty.”

According to a preliminary investigation the boats were dragged away by strong river currents, Colombia’s Navy said in a statement.

Colombia’s Navy said it is talking with its counterparts in Venezuela to recover the boats.

In televised comments Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said the military would return the boats if the Colombian government made an official request for them.

Venezuela will make an official complaint to the United Nations accusing Colombia and the United States of violating international law for the failed invasion attempt, Maduro added.

On Wednesday, Venezuelan state television broadcast an interrogation video of a former U.S. soldier, in which he said a Florida security firm had hired him to train dissident Venezuelan troops in Colombia for an operation to seize control of Caracas’ airport and capture Maduro.

Authorities said they arrested the man, Luke Denman, along with a second U.S. citizen and 11 others, as they attempted to enter Venezuela by boat on Monday from Colombia. The government said a separate raid attempt the day before left eight people dead.

Maduro on Wednesday accused Colombian President Ivan Duque of enabling the operation, which Duque denied.

Reporting by Corina Pons and Angus Berwick; Additional reporting by Oliver Griffin in Bogota; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Chris Reese

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U.S. FDA grants emergency use authorization to Quidel for first antigen test for COVID-19

(Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday approved emergency use authorization (EUA) to Quidel Corp (QDEL.O) for the first COVID-19 antigen test.

The emergency use authorization was issued late Friday to Quidel for the Sofia 2 SARS Antigen FIA, the agency said.

The FDA said the authorization is for an antigen test, which is a new type of diagnostic test designed for rapid detection of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The FDA on Friday also authorized the first diagnostic test for the new coronavirus that allows patients to collect saliva samples at home.

Reporting by Sabahatjahan Contractor in Bengaluru; editing by Diane Craft

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Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard dies at age 87

(Reuters) – Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “architect of rock ‘n’ roll” who built his ground-breaking sound with a boiling blend of boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues and gospel, died on Saturday at the age of 87.

FILE PHOTO: Entertainer Little Richard performs at the Crossroad festival in Gijon, northern Spain, July 23, 2005. REUTERS/Alonso Gonzalez/File Photo

Richard, whose electrifying 1950s hits such as “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” and flamboyant stage presence influenced legions of performers, succumbed to cancer, according to Rolling Stone who spoke with his son Danny Penniman.

Dick Alen, his former agent, confirmed Richard died at his home in Nashville, Tennessee.

Richard’s bass guitarist, Charles Glenn, told celebrity website TMZ the musician had been sick for two months and that he died surrounded by his brother, sister and son.

Glenn told TMZ he spoke with Richard on March 27 and the singer asked him to visit, but he could not because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said Richard was like a father to him, and would sometimes tell him, “Not to take anything away from your dad, but you’re my son.”

At his peak in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Richard shouted, moaned, screamed and trilled hits like “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Lucille,” all the while pounding the piano like a mad man and punctuating lyrics with an occasional shrill “whoooo!”

Time magazine said he played “songs that sounded like nonsense … but whose beat seemed to hint of unearthly pleasures centered somewhere between the gut and the gutter.”

The music drew in both young black and white fans at a time when parts of the United States still were strictly segregated. Many white artists, such as Pat Boone, had their own hit versions of Richard’s songs, albeit considerably toned down and “safer” for the pop audience.

“I’ve always thought that rock ‘n’ roll brought the races together,” Richard once told an interviewer. “Although I was black, the fans didn’t care. I used to feel good about that.”

Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, James Brown, Otis Redding, David Bowie and Rod Stewart all cited Little Richard as an influence. Jimi Hendrix, who played in Richard’s band in the mid-1960s, said he wanted to use his guitar the way Richard used his voice.

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“I am the innovator,” Richard would tell interviewers and audiences. “I am the originator. I am the emancipator. I am the architect of rock ‘n’ roll!”

Little Richard’s sonic extravagance was matched by his campy flamboyance. He wore brightly colored suits, a pencil-thin mustache, a carefully curled 6-inch pompadour, mascara, pancake makeup and lipstick.

“Elvis may have been the king of rock ‘n ‘roll but I am the queen,” he proclaimed.

He was born Dec. 5, 1932 as Richard Penniman to a poor family of 12 children in Macon, Georgia. Religion was a guiding force in his family, which attended Pentecostal, Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal churches. His faith was so deeply ingrained that at times it would overwhelm his rock career.

His first performances were as a child in his church choir and his earliest inspirations were gospel singers, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who let a young Richard open her show when she stopped in Macon. A singer named Esquerita also influenced Richard’s fashion and manic musical style.

He first went on the road in the late 1940s, performing in medicine shows and drag shows and with bands.

Richard first recorded in the early 1950s and became a dominating force on the music charts starting in 1956 with hits such as “Tutti Frutti,” “Rip It Up,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’, and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” All were infused with the frantic rhythm of a runaway train.

“Shining like a quasar, the most intensely radiant object in the cosmos, he seems to tap a mystical source of mental power that is only accessible to great preachers and shamans,” McCartney wrote in the preface to the 1994 biography “The Life and Times of Little Richard.”

But Richard’s career took a turn in 1957 when he decided to abandon rock in the middle of a two-week tour of Australia.

Richard told a biographer that he saw a fireball shoot across the sky during an outdoor performance in Sydney and took it as a sign from God to change his life. He said he later determined the fireball was the launch of Russia’s Sputnik satellite.

A few months later, however, Richard was a student at a Bible college in Alabama. For a while he played only gospel music but slipped back into rock ‘n’ roll, sharing a bill with the young Beatles in Hamburg, Germany, in 1962.

It was a pattern that persisted for years as Little Richard moved between rock ‘n’ roll, alcohol, cocaine and heroin abuse and Christianity and gospel music. He would go on to become an ordained Seventh Day Adventist minister and eventually worked gospel and rock both into his shows, along with a little preaching.

“I talk about my life as a homosexual and a drug addict because I think it is right to tell people what God has done for me,” he wrote in his autobiography, “The Life and Times of Little Richard.”

Richard was among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 but missed the ceremony because he was recovering from an auto accident. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him No. 8 on its list of 100 greatest entertainers of all time and he received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1993.

“Little Richard bent gender, upset segregationist fault lines and founded a tradition of rock dadaists devoted to the art of self-creation,” a Rolling Stone critic said. “He went with the inspiration of the moment, be it divine or hormonal, and caromed like a shiny, cracked pinball between God, sex and rock ‘n’ roll.”

As a minister, Richard officiated at weddings for Bruce Springsteen, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Cyndi Lauper and other celebrities.

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Richard suffered a heart attack in 2013 and hip problems required him to use a wheelchair at times.

In a post on Instagram on Saturday, Richard’s longtime guitarist Kelvin Holly said, “Rest in peace, Richard. This one really stings.”

“My thoughts and prayers go out to all my bandmates and fans all over the world. Richard truly was the king!”

Writing and reporting by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Franklin Paul

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Britons urged to cycle, walk to work when virus lockdown eased

People walk and cycle along Broadway Market, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 9, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

LONDON (Reuters) – More Britons should cycle or walk to work when the country’s coronavirus lockdown is eased to take the pressure off limited public transport capacity under social distancing requirements, Transport Minister Grant Shapps said on Saturday.

He urged people to continue to work from home if they could, but said if they did have to travel to work they should consider cycling or walking rather than taking to their cars, which would choke up the roads.

“Even with public transport reverting to a full service, once you take into account the 2-metre social distancing rule, there would only be effective capacity for one in 10 passengers in many parts of our network, just a 10th of the old capacity,” he said.

Reporting by James Davey and Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Alex Richardson

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UK trade partners likely to wait for EU-UK deal – EU trade chief

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain’s potential new trade agreement partners, including the United States, are likely to hold up their negotiations until it has settled its future relations with the European Union, the EU trade chief said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: European Trade Commissioner-designate Phil Hogan of Ireland attends his hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium September 30, 2019.REUTERS/Yves Herman

The United States and Britain launched formal negotiations on a free trade agreement on Tuesday, vowing to work quickly to seal a deal to counter the massive impact the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have on their economies.

The launch has sparked debate over whether Britain will strike a deal first with the United States or with the European Union, which it left at the end of January.

European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan told an online conference he had noticed the comments of the many countries around the world with which Britain was trying to negotiate trade agreements.

“All of the partners have indicated, including Korea today, South Korea, that they prefer to wait to see the outcome of the Brexit negotiations before they come to any conclusions about their bilateral agreements,” he said.

“I suspect it will be the same with the United States. They will want to see how the issues that the United Kingdom are dealing with the European Union first,” he continued.

Britain and the European Union are entering a crucial phase of talks about their future relationship, with two rounds of negotiations scheduled before the end of June.

That is the point at which Britain could seek a one or two year extension of the transition period to allow more time for negotiations, although it has ruled out an extension to that period beyond the end of the year.

Hogan said he hoped intense work and engagement in the next two months would make the idea of even considering an extension redundant.

“This issue will come to a head at the end of June,” he said.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Giles Elgood

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Aramco close to inking $10 billion deal with group of about 10 banks, sources say

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Aramco logo is pictured at the oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Aramco (2222.SE) is about to finalise a $10 billion loan with a group of roughly 10 banks, three sources familiar with the matter said, as the oil giant seeks cash amid record low oil prices.

Aramco is raising the loan to back its acquisition of a 70% stake in Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, a deal worth almost $70 billion, sources have previously told Reuters.

Another source has said that while the loan would most likely back the SABIC acquisition, Aramco could also use the cash for other purposes, including dividend payments.

A group of about 10 banks has agreed to provide the financing, with HSBC (HSBA.L) and Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) (8316.T) providing the largest commitments of nearly $1.5 billion each, the three sources said.

The loan has been agreed upon but has not yet been finalised, said the sources. Aramco, HSBC and SMBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aramco is the world’s largest oil producer and its most profitable, but the fundraising plans coincide with historic turmoil in the global oil market.

The company has committed to complete the $69.1 billion acquisition of a controlling stake in SABIC by the second quarter of this year.

SABIC’s chief executive said this week he expected no change to the timeline of the deal.

Reporting by Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Jan Harvey

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Germany eases lockdown as Merkel hails end of pandemic first phase

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Peter Tschentscher, First Mayor of Hamburg, arrive at a news conference after an online meeting with German state governors on the loosening of the restrictions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Berlin, Germany May 6, 2020. Michael Sohn/Pool via REUTERS

BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday announced steps to ease the coronavirus lockdown, saying the first phase of the pandemic had passed but there was still a long way to go.

Germany went into lockdown in March to slow the spread of the virus. Its reproduction rate has been falling for several days, and Merkel said it was now consistently below 1 – meaning a person with the virus infects fewer than one other on average.

“We are at a point where our goal of slowing the spread of the virus has been achieved and we have been able to protect our health system … so it has been possible to discuss and agree on further easing measures,” Merkel told reporters.

Under measures agreed with Germany’s 16 federal state leaders, people from two households will be allowed to meet, and more shops will open, provided hygiene measures are in place. But guidelines on keeping a distance of 1.5 metres and wearing mouth and nose masks on public transport will remain.

Germany’s Bundesliga soccer league can resume in the second half of May, Merkel said.

People in care homes may again receive regular visits from “a permanent contact person”, Merkel said after talks with regional leaders.

Their plan included a fail-safe ‘emergency brake’, so restrictions would be reintroduced if an area registers more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days.

The federal and state governments would wait and see how the easing measures panned out, Merkel said, adding: “We now face a phase in which there will be a lot more contact than was the case up to now.”

“We are following a bold path,” she said. “We can afford to be a bit bold but we must remain cautious.”

Writing by Madeline Chambers and Paul Carrel; Editing by Michelle Martin and Giles Elgood

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Gilead in talks to expand global supply of COVID-19 drug remdesivir

(Reuters) – Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD.O) said on Tuesday it was in discussions with chemical and drug manufacturers to produce its experimental COVID-19 drug remdesivir for Europe, Asia and the developing world through at least 2022.

FILE PHOTO: Gilead Sciences Inc pharmaceutical company is seen after they announced a Phase 3 Trial of the investigational antiviral drug Remdesivir in patients with severe coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Oceanside, California, U.S., April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The drugmaker did not disclose details about the companies.

With several countries across the globe reeling from the virus outbreak, interest in remdesivir has been high as there are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Gilead last week received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization for using remdesivir as a treatment against COVID-19, after the drugmaker provided data showing the drug had helped COVID-19 patients.

Gilead also said on Tuesday it was negotiating long-term licenses with several generic drugmakers in India and Pakistan to produce remdesivir for developing countries and that it would provide technology to aid the production.

One of Bangladesh’s largest drugmakers, Beximco Pharmaceuticals BXPH.DH, will start remdesivir production this month, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing a senior company executive.

Remdesivir was previously available only for patients enrolled in clinical trials or those cleared to get the drug under expanded use and compassionate use programs.

Gilead, which has already said it will donate the first 1.5 million doses of remdesivir, also previously said it was focused on making the drug accessible and affordable to as many people as possible upon approval.

Gilead said it was working to build a consortium of manufacturing partners to help maximize global supply of the drug, which requires scarce raw materials and specialized manufacturing capabilities with limited global capacity.

The company also said it was in advanced talks with UNICEF to deliver remdesivir using the agency’s distribution networks.

Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber

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