Business Briefs – March 25, 2020

China Lifting Last Controls in Province at Outbreak’s Center

BEIJING (AP) — Trains carrying factory employees back to work after two months in locked-down cities rolled out of Hubei province, the center of China’s virus outbreak, as the government on Wednesday began lifting the last of the controls that confined tens of millions of people to their homes.

Roadblocks on bridges and at expressway gates opened, allowing trucks and cars through for the first time in two months.

Residents of Wuhan, the provincial capital where the coronavirus emerged in December, are allowed out of the city but cannot leave Hubei until April 8. Restrictions that barred tens of millions of people from leaving other cities in Hubei since late February as China fought to contain the outbreak were lifted Wednesday.

As the United States and European countries tighten their own controls, China’s ruling Communist Party is relaxing restrictions to revive the economy after declaring victory over the outbreak.

Drugmaker Backpedals on Specialty Status for COVID-19 Drug

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing public criticism, the maker of a promising coronavirus drug said Wednesday it will waive a special regulatory designation that could have allowed it to block competition and boost profits for its treatment.

Gilead Sciences said it will ask U.S. regulators to revoke the so-called “orphan drug” status it received for its experimental drug remdesivir. The status would have entitled the company to financial incentives and exclusive marketing intended for rare disease treatments.

The Food and Drug Administration granted the company’s request for the designation on Monday, noting that COVID-19 qualified as a rare disease under U.S. rules, since fewer than 200,000 Americans are infected.

Florida Governor’s Coronavirus Dilemma: Health vs. Economy

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been walking a tightrope for weeks during the coronavirus crisis, trying to protect both residents vulnerable to the virus and the cratering economy in a state of 21 million people.

His dilemma is a clear example of the conundrum facing the president of the United States and governors across the nation: His state has both an enormous population — a large percentage of which is old and particularly vulnerable to the virus — and a thriving economy whose collapse could result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The success or failure of the Republican governor’s decisions could have major consequences for the national economic recovery, not to mention the presidential election. No single state is more central to President Donald Trump’s reelection.

Distillers Rushing to Make Hand Sanitizers Are Now Seeking a Tax Break

WASHINGTON (CQ-Roll Call/TNS) – Hundreds of liquor distillers say they have already begun — or are planning — to turn over a portion of their liquor production to addressing the nationwide shortage of another alcohol-intensive product — hand sanitizers.

“There’s well over 350-plus distillers around the country that have been mobilizing and pivoting to take their distilled spirits and make hand sanitizers,” said Chris Swonger, president and chief executive of the Distilled Spirits Council, a Washington-based association.

Now, distillers want an exemption on a tax that’s typically levied on spirit production.

The Distilled Spirits Council is lobbying to get an add — on to the $2 trillion coronavirus economic relief package being negotiated in Congress that would exempt any of the hand sanitizers made by distillers from the $13.50 per proof gallon federal excise tax on liquor products.

Judge Orders Environmental Review of Dakota Access Pipeline

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental review of the Dakota Access pipeline, nearly three years after it began carrying oil despite protests by people who gathered in North Dakota for more than a year.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg wrote that the easement approval for the pipeline remains “highly controversial” under federal environmental law, and a more extensive review is necessary than the environmental assessment that was done.

Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith called it a “significant legal win” and said it’s humbling that the protests continue to “inspire national conversations” about the environment.

Computer Chip Makers Seek U.S. Permission to Work During Pandemic

(Reuters) – A group representing major United States semiconductor companies on Wednesday said it was working with federal officials to make clear to state and local officials overseeing lockdowns that chip companies are essential businesses that should continue operations.

In a blog post, the Semiconductor Industry Association, which represents chipmakers with major U.S. factories such as Intel Corp and Micron Technology Inc, said it was working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to refine the guidance sent to state and local officials last week.