Deutsche Bank mulls waiving 2020 management bonuses due to coronavirus: source

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) is discussing whether it will waive bonuses for its management board in 2020 due to the fallout from the coronavirus crisis, a person with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

The discussion comes after the European Banking Authority on Tuesday said banks should be “conservative” in how they award bonuses to preserve capital and keep lending to an economy hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

A decision hasn’t been made yet but the bank is likely to result in waiving bonuses for top board members, the person said.

Handelsblatt first reported that Deutsche Bank was considering the measure.

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Preliminary study finds UK lockdown is slowing spread of COVID-19

LONDON (Reuters) – Lockdown and social distancing measures introduced by the British government to slow the spread of COVID-19 may already be working, according to preliminary research findings, and could soon see Britain’s epidemic of infections declining.

Scientists used an online survey to ask 1,300 people in Britain to list their contacts for the previous day – and found that the average number of contacts now is more than 70% lower than before the lockdown.

“If we see similar changes across the UK population, we would expect to see the epidemic to start to decline,” said John Edmunds, who led the study at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

He added, however, that the findings were very preliminary and should not be seen as suggesting “job done”.

“Rather, they should be used as motivation for us all to keep following UK government instructions,” Edmunds said. “It’s imperative we don’t take our foot off the pedal. We must continue to stop transmission of the virus to reduce the burden on the National Health Service now and over the coming months.”

Like many other countries affected by the pandemic of disease caused by the new coronavirus, Britain has imposed strict social distancing measures including shop and school closures. Authorities are also asking everyone to stay at home except for essential travel.

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REPRODUCTION NUMBER

The research, which was not peer-reviewed but was posted on LSHTM’S Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases website, looked at a key feature of infectious disease epidemics known as the reproduction number, sometimes called the R0, or ‘R nought’.

This describes the number of people, on average, who will catch a disease from a single infected person. If that number can be brought down to below 1.0, this signals that an epidemic will decline.

Using the change in contact patterns, the Edmunds’ team calculated a change in reproduction number between the pre-lockdown and post lockdown periods.

The finding that the mean number of contacts per person measured is more than 70% lower now than before the lockdown suggests that the R0 reproduction value now would be between 0.37 and 0.89, they said, with the most likely value being 0.62.

Independent experts not directly involved in the research said its findings were useful and encouraging.

“Given the flattening in new cases and that we have some measures in place now for over two weeks and a type of lockdown for over one week, their conclusion that R0 may be below 1 is credible,” said Keith Neal, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Nottingham University.

Jennifer Cole, a biological anthropologist at Royal Holloway University of London, added: “It is also valuable that this study shows that R0 can be reduced significantly even when people are still allowed to go out for essential food and medicines and with essential workers still operating.”

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Worker crunch hits world's top medical glove maker as demand spikes

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – The world’s biggest maker of medical gloves is grappling with a serious shortage of workers as it tries to meet a huge surge in demand as countries such as the United States run out of personal protective gear due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Malaysia’s Top Glove Corp Bhd (TPGC.KL), which makes one out of every five gloves in the world, needs to urgently recruit up to 700 more workers as orders in the past few weeks have doubled, the company told Reuters on Wednesday.

It has already said it would not be able to meet all of the increased demand, and its struggle to recruit workers could make the task of quickly adding production lines even more difficult.

The hiring drive has been hampered by Malaysia’s month-long curbs on travel as well difficulties in flying in workers from countries such as Nepal, the company’s main source of labor.

A relatively industrialized nation of 32 million, Malaysia heavily relies on labor from South Asian countries.

“We were already experiencing a shortage of workers in the beginning of the year, which has now become more serious following the implementation of Malaysia’s movement control order,” executive chairman Lim Wee Chai said.

“At the moment, due to the surge in demand, we require unskilled workers, especially to speed up the packing function and quality assurance function, so that the ready output can be shipped out quickly to our customers.”

Despite the coronavirus restrictions that will last until mid-April, the company managed to recruit some 300 people last month and has engaged staffing firms to look for workers more aggressively. It is now trying to hire more Malaysians and is conducting interviews over WhatsApp video calls.

Top Glove has 18,000 employees and 44 factories in three countries with the capacity to make 73.8 billion gloves a year, which it wants to increase given the global shortage.

An emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the U.S. government has nearly run out of protective gear including masks, respirators, gloves, gowns and face shields, Reuters reported on Tuesday citing officials.

Malaysia, the world’s biggest glove producer, has the highest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia with 2,908 cases.

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China and Australia target Pacific with coronavirus aid

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Beijing has ramped up its diplomatic push into the Pacific, pledging coronavirus aid and medical advice, although its efforts are being impeded as islands close borders to stop the spread of the disease from hotspots including China.

Chinese embassies have held cheque presentation ceremonies in multiple Pacific islands, after Beijing pledged to provide $1.9 million for testing kits and protective equipment this week.

“This is a global effort by China to change the perception of early January that China was the source of the virus, to China is the source of the solution,” said Richard McGregor, senior fellow with Australian foreign policy think tank the Lowy Institute.

“If their system is mobilized to not just sending these materials to New York and Italy but even tiny countries, it gives you a sense of how galvanized they are to use this moment to build China’s reputation.”

The Pacific islands have grown as a strategic priority for China and the United States and its allies, including Australia, who are keen to lock in relationships with countries that control strategic waterways between the Americas and Asia.

Australia is the region’s biggest aid donor but Pacific islands have turned to China in recent years for budget assistance.

A World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman said New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Fiji and Guam can test for COVID-19, but other countries need to send specimens to Australia, New Zealand or the United States for testing.

China’s ambassador to Papua New Guinea (PNG), Xue Bing, said 2,000 testing kits, face masks and goggles were ready to be shipped from China, although flight restrictions prevented their delivery, PNG’s Post Courier newspaper reported.

FACE MASKS

PNG’s health minister Jelta Wong told Reuters: “If China sends it down we will receive it.”

“We have not opened our borders as yet and we won’t open until we are sure we have protocols in place,” Wong said.

PNG, with one confirmed case of COVID-19, tests at a local medical institute using two machines donated by Australia, he said.

“We only have aid coming from Australia,” said Wong.

The Solomon Islands, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing last year, said it received $300,000 from China and was advised by the Chinese embassy in Honiara to buy equipment from the Beijing Genomics Institution.

The office of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said it was trying to charter a flight from French Polynesia to China to return with medical supplies.

The Chinese embassy had also organized for a ship from Guangdong to carry several thousand face masks and protective suits donated by Guangdong province.

The secretary of Kiribati’s ministry of health and medical services, Kaaro Neeti, told Reuters the island was unable to test for COVID-19 but a Chinese donation “is in the pipeline”.

China has also offered test kits and medical supplies to Vanuatu, Tonga and French Polynesia.

McGregor, from the Lowy Institute, said China’s capacity to organize a teleconference for health officials from 10 Pacific nations on March 10 with Chinese medical experts in Beijing was “astounding” and the Australian government would be concerned its aid effort was being surpassed by China.

“If they are sending much-needed equipment it is a good thing, but it also has a geopolitical aspect.”

Australia will redirect its existing aid budget for the Pacific to focus on COVID-19, and keep essential aid workers in Pacific countries, an official said.

At a G20 leaders video conference last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged other nations to contribute to the Pacific.

China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t immediately respond to questions.

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Factory activity plunges as coronavirus shock deepens

LONDON/TOKYO (Reuters) – Factories fell quiet across most of Europe and Asia in March as the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed economic activity, with evidence mounting that the world is sliding into deep recession.

Manufacturing activity has tumbled, purchasing managers’ index (PMI) surveys showed on Wednesday, with sharp slowdowns in export powerhouses like Germany and Japan overshadowing a modest improvement in China.

The virus pandemic has infected more than 850,000 people around the globe and forced factories, shops and schools to close amid government-imposed lockdowns.

This has upended supply chains and crushed demand for goods as consumers worried about job prospects rein in their spending and stay indoors.

In the euro zone, IHS Markit’s final March manufacturing PMI sank to lowest since mid-2012, when the currency union’s debt crisis was raging, and was well below the mark separating growth from contraction. [EUR/PMIM]

Data from the United States later on Wednesday is likely to show a sharp decline in factory activity there too as authorities enforce strict lockdown measures to control the spread of the virus. (reuters://realtime/verb=Open/url=cpurl://apps.cp./Apps/econ-polls?RIC=USPMI%3DECI poll)

U.S. consumer confidence has dropped to a near three-year low as the pandemic shakes people’s lives, with a record number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits.

Output from Britain’s factories shrank at the fastest pace since the debt crisis as the spread of coronavirus led to a spiraling of delays and hammered business confidence. [GB/PMIM]

“With consumers clamping down on all discretionary spending in the current uncertain environment, the manufacturing sector inevitably will struggle further,” said Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

Global fund managers polled by Reuters are convinced the world economy is already in recession, similar to economists’ assessments in another Reuters poll. [ASSET/WRAP][ECILT/WRAP]

As the prospect of a deep recession grows, traders on Wednesday made a fresh dart for the safety of government bonds, the dollar and gold <GOL/>.

CHINA HEALING?

Chinese factory activity improved slightly more than expected after plunging a month earlier, its PMI showed, but growth was marginal, highlighting the intense pressure facing businesses as domestic and export demand slumps.

While factories in China gradually restarted operations after lengthy shutdowns and a fall in virus cases allowed the country to start relaxing travel restrictions, activity in South Korea shrank at its fastest pace in 11 years as many of its trading partners imposed dramatic measures to curb the virus’ spread.

“If you look at the Korean numbers, they’re fairly bad … They’re likely to get worse still because Korea will be dependent on parts from Europe and the United States,” said Rob Carnell, Asia-Pacific chief economist at ING in Singapore.

“(Policymakers) have to accept the inevitable that there is a massive global pandemic here, there is an outbreak in almost every country globally and certainly in our region, which is getting to levels that if they don’t take very dramatic action, it’s going to get much worse,” he said.

Japan’s factory activity contracted at the fastest pace in about a decade in March, adding to views that the world’s third-largest economy is likely already in recession.

A separate “tankan” survey by the Bank of Japan showed business sentiment soured to a seven-year low in the three months to March, as the outbreak hit sectors from hotels to carmakers.

“The tankan clearly shows a sharp deterioration in business sentiment and confirms the economy is already in recession,” said Yasunari Ueno, chief market economist at Mizuho Securities.

China’s Caixin/Markit PMI rose to 50.1 last month from February’s record low of 40.3 and just a notch above breakeven mark, while South Korea’s IHS Markit PMI plunged to its lowest since January 2009 when the economy was reeling from the global financial crisis.

In Japan, where the PMI fell to its lowest since April 2009, the ruling coalition has called on the government to secure a stimulus package worth at least 60 trillion yen ($553 billion).

“Things are likely to get a lot worse in the months ahead,” Alex Holmes at Capital Economics said in a note to clients, noting the survey period for the PMIs likely didn’t capture more recent lockdowns such as those in Malaysia and Thailand.

The consultancy expects global gross domestic product (GDP) to fall by more than 3% this year.

Policymakers across the globe have announced massive monetary and fiscal stimulus measures to try to mitigate the economic fallout from the pandemic, keep cash-starved businesses afloat and save jobs.

But many measures have been short-gap steps to deal with the immediate damage to corporate funding and shore up banking systems amid worries of a credit crisis.

The International Monetary Fund has said the pandemic was already driving the global economy into recession, calling on countries to respond with “very massive” spending to avoid bankruptcies and emerging market debt defaults.

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UK to speed up coronavirus testing as criticism grows

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s government said on Wednesday it would ramp up the number of coronavirus tests amid widespread criticism that it was doing far too few, as ministers suggested that shortages of chemicals were partly to blame.

Officials say testing for COVID-19 is key to fighting it, not least to check if medics on the frontline of the epidemic could return to work.

But while Germany has been testing about 500,000 people a week, Britain’s current capacity is just 12,750 a day, a figure the government said it was aiming to double by mid-April.

“I hope on testing … you will see significant increases this week. We expect to be at 15,000 tests over the course of this week and then moving further forward in the future,” housing minister Robert Jenrick told broadcaster ITV.

“We do need to go further and we need to do that faster.”

The number of coronavirus deaths in Britain rose to 1,789 people, figures on Tuesday showed, a 27% increase in a day with one of the victims a 13-year-old boy with no apparent underlying health conditions.

So far, tests have been focused on those suspected to have the virus who have been admitted to hospital but the government says it is trying to extend this to key staff in the National Health Service (NHS).

Jenrick said more than 900 health workers were tested over the weekend and a further 8,240 individuals on Monday, as he faced a barrage of questions in media interviews about the low number of tests.

“Fix Testing Fiasco Now,” the Daily Mail newspaper said on its front page.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said shortages of necessary chemicals had been a factor.

“A critical constraint on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents which are necessary in the testing,” he said, saying the government was working with companies worldwide to obtain what was required.

The Chemical Industries Association said that, while there was escalating demand, “there are reagents being manufactured and delivered to the NHS”.

“Every business here in the UK and globally is looking at what they can do to help meet the demand as a matter of urgency,” it said in a statement.

An opposition Labour lawmaker said the problem was that ministers appeared not to have ordered enough of the chemicals from companies that had offered to make what the government needed.

“These are often the same chemical companies which are producing chemicals for the tests in Germany,” Bill Esterson said.

“Companies in the UK can make them. They haven’t been asked. The shortage is because they haven’t been ordered.”

Asked about the apparent discrepancy between the government and industry over the shortages, Jenrick said several chemicals were required, “and not all of them, as I understand it, have always been available in the UK in the quantities that we need.”

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Coronavirus: Health experts debunk claims about milk and COVID-19

Health experts have debunked claims that drinking cow’s milk could help ward off coronavirus.

It comes after a Facebook post titled “Fight COVID-19 with a Glass of Milk” by The Bullvine – an American website which describes itself as “an independent, online community for professionals in the dairy breeding industry” – was shared more than 1,500 times.

It claimed that milk protected from the virus because it contains “lactoferrin, which is a protein that helps to fight off viruses,” as well as “Vitamin C and Zinc, which both play very important roles in strengthening your immunity.”

The post has now been given a “false information” tag by Facebook due to a lack of scientific evidence to support the claims.

Health experts in the US say it is misleading to say drinking milk will help prevent or fight off coronavirus – the highly contagious infection which attacks the respiratory system.

“There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

To protect against infection, the CDC recommends washing hands often, avoiding close contact with people who are ill, wearing a face mask when feeling ill, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and social distancing.

The British Nutrition Foundation states that “no food or supplement, can protect you from getting the coronavirus”.

It adds: “Nevertheless, having a healthy diet is important in supporting our immune function and many nutrients influence the body’s ability to fight infection.”

While vitamin C and zinc play vital roles in the body’s immune system, milk does not contain a significant amount of either.

“Cow’s milk is not a good source of vitamin C or zinc based on [the Food and Drug Administration’s] definition of what can be called a ‘good’ source”, the National Dairy Council (NDC) confirmed to Reuters.

The NDC listed other nutrients present in cow’s milk – including Vitamin A, D and protein – that can help maintain healthy immune function.

The British Nutritional Foundation said that while there is some evidence vitamin C and zinc supplements may help with the common cold, it is not clear whether they would have any effect on coronavirus symptoms.

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‘It’s not funny!’ Germany BANS April Fool’s Day jokes amid coronavirus lockdown

April 1 is traditionally a time for pranks, but other countries around the world, including India, have issued similar pleas amid concerns about the spread of false information – with some even going so far as to threaten culprits with prison. Meanwhile, Tech giant Google, famous for its annual spoofs, has cancelled the tradition because of the pandemic which has killed about 40,000 people worldwide. Under the heading “Corona is no joke”, Germany’s health ministry urged the public to invent stories related to the virus.

In the current situation, we kindly ask you to do without made-up stories on the subject of coronavirus on April 1st this year

Germany’s health ministry

It explained: “In the current situation, we kindly ask you to do without made-up stories on the subject of coronavirus on April 1st this year.

“This minimises the risk that the fight against the virus is made more difficult by incorrect information on the subject.”

Out of a worldwide total of more than 860,000 cases of COVID-19, Germany currently has 71,808, with 775 deaths.

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Elsewhere, Thailand said jokes about the virus could be punished under a law carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.

The Government’s official Twitter account warned: “It’s against the law to fake having COVID-19 this April Fools’ Day.”

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook to tell people not to prank about the virus, adding that anyone spreading rumours or false information could likewise spend time behind bars, plus a fine of up to £80,000 ($99,200).

In India, Maharashtra state’s cybersecurity unit pledged to take legal action against anyone spreading fake news on April Fools’ Day.

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh tweeted: “The state govt won’t allow anyone to spread rumours/panic on #Corona.”

He had instructed the authorities to “act swiftly & strongly (against) such miscreants”, Mr Deshmukh added.

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In the UK, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman told Express.co.uk there were no plans to follow Germany’s example and issue a similar Twitter directive.

April Fool’s Day traditions are widespread throughout the world. In one famous prank in 1957, BBC’s Panorama ran a feature about Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti and was subsequently deluged with inquiries about where to buy a spaghetti plant from people taken in by the joke.

In Odesa in Ukraine, April Fool’s Day is an official holiday.

With people relying on the internet and media for vital information about coronavirus, there are fears that jokes could fan the spread of misinformation.

From drinking cow urine to sleeping by chopped onions, myths about how people can catch and cure COVID-19 are already widely circulating.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described it as an “infodemic”, which could increase the spread of the virus among vulnerable people.

Google said it had suspended its annual April Fools’ tradition “out of respect for all those fighting the COVID-19 pandemic”.

In an internal email to staff, it said: “Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one.”

In previous years Google has advertised fictitious jobs at a new research centre on the moon, turned Google Maps into a game of Where’s Waldo – also known as Where’s Wally – and claimed its search technology uses trained pigeons to rank pages.

Taylor Herring, a British PR agency whose clients include TV channels and international brands, has also advised all companies to ditch the jokes this year.

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Denmark ‘succeeds’ in social distancing as Nordic country prepares to lift lockdown

Denmark has reported a death toll of 77 since the coronavirus pandemic was first reported in January. The Nordic country announced the social distancing measures on March 11.

After two weeks in lockdown, the country announced an extension until after Easter.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said: “We do see signs that we have succeeded in delaying the transmission of corona in Denmark.”

“The transmission is spreading slower than feared,

“Over the past week the number of hospital admissions has risen slightly slower than the week before and without the explosion in the numbers that we have seen in other countries.”

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“If we over the next two weeks across Easter keep standing together by staying apart, and if the numbers remain stable for the next two weeks, then the government will begin a gradual, quiet and controlled opening of our society again, at the other side of Easter”.

The Social Democrat leader warned that they would have to “tighten up even more instead” should the figures begin to rise after the lockdown is lifted.

Last week, the number of patients in hospitals due to Covid-19 nearly doubled from 254 to 533, according to numbers published by the Danish Health Authority.

Denmark has recorded 2,577 coronavirus cases in total.

Denmark’s measures are considerably tougher than those of other Nordic countries that remain open for business, but they are not as strict as the restrictions in more affected countries.

In countries like Italy or France citizens are only allowed to leave their houses to buy groceries, go to work if essential or for medical emergencies.

Denmark has closed schools, universities, day cares, restaurants, cafes, libraries, gyms and hair salons, and shut all borders to most foreigners.

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It also limited public gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

According to Frederiksen, lifting the lockdown would mean reopening schools and people working in shifts to avoid large concentrations of traffic and people.

The Danish Prime Minister said she intended to announce a plan for the first stage of a reopening by the end of the week.

She first must undergo a consultation with other parties in government.

Globally, the coronavirus death toll has reached 35,006.

The current number of infections worldwide has surpassed 738,400.

The two most affected countries are Italy and Spain, as Europe sees itself at the centre of the crisis.

In Finland the lockdown measures have been prolonged by a month in the southern area of the country.

The move will affect 1.7 million people who make up almost a third or the country’s population.

The restrictions were set out by the Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s government and were due to last until April 13.

The will now stay in place until May 13 in an attempt to “slow down the spread of coronavirus infections and to protect those at risk”.

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Grounded cabin crew get hospital training as Sweden battles coronavirus

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Furloughed crew from crisis-hit Scandinavian airline SAS are taking a three-day course in basic hospital duties to help plug gaps in a Swedish healthcare system strained by thousands of coronavirus cases.

The airline, part owned by the governments of Sweden and Denmark, temporarily laid off 10,000 staff – 90% of its workforce – this month to cut costs and ride out a plunge in air travel due the pandemic and related border closures.

With Stockholm’s healthcare system in need of reinforcement as cases rise, Sophiahemmet University Hospital is teaching former cabin crew skills such as sterilizing equipment, making hospital beds and providing information to patients and their relatives.

The first students are due to complete the course on Thursday and the response has been overwhelming.

“We now have a long, long list of healthcare providers that are just waiting for them,” said Johanna Adami, principal at the University. Airlines in Australia, and the U.S. have also enquired about using the training methods for their staff.

She said municipalities, hospitals and nursing homes have all been queuing up to employ the re-trained staff, who will number around 300 in the coming weeks. Adami said airline staff were particularly suited to helping in the healthcare sector.

“They have basic healthcare education from their work. They are also very experienced to be flexible and think about security and also to handle complicated situations,” she said.

Sweden has around 4,500 confirmed cases of the virus and 180 deaths, with the capital especially hard hit. Healthcare officials in Stockholm have scrambled to set up a temporary hospital in a convention center and warned of a lack off staff and safety equipment to meet the crisis.

Malin Ohman, 25, a airline stewardess from northern Sweden was in the first class of students.

“In the a blink of an eye I decided – ‘yes of course, why wouldn’t I’,” she said of her decision to retrain. “I felt that we could just contribute with something,” she added.

The course is free of charge and the companies involved with the training are not seeking to make a profit. Funding, about 7 million Swedish crowns ($698,000) is provided by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg foundation.

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