Heathrow Airport has had a subway link for decades. When the Elizabeth line’s next phase is opened in the fall, passengers will be able to travel from Heathrow to the banks at Canary Wharf in East London in 40 minutes; that is a prime selling point for a city desperate to hold on to its status as financial mecca after Brexit. All told, the line has 10 entirely new stations, 42 miles of tunnels and crosses under the Thames three times.

“We’re jealous, it’s fair to say,” said Danny Pearlstein, the policy director for Riders Alliance, a transportation advocacy group in New York. “Imagining a new, full-length underground line here is not something anyone is doing. The Second Avenue subway, which people have been talking about for 100 years, has three stations.”

To be fair, Transport for London is not without its problems. It has shelved plans to build a north-south counterpart to the Elizabeth line, not to mention an extension to the Bakerloo tube line, because of a lack of funding. Still reeling from a near-total loss of riders during pandemic lockdowns, the system faces many of the same financial woes as New York’s subway.

Though ridership has recovered from a nadir of 5 percent, it is still at only 70 percent of prepandemic levels. Transport for London is also heavily dependent on ticket fares to cover its costs, more so than the New York subway, which gets state subsidies, as well as funds from bridge and tunnel tolls.

“My other obsession is sorting out the finances,” Mr. Byford said. “One way is to wean us away from dependence on fares.”

He is somewhat vague about how to do that, and it is clear that Transport for London will depend on additional government handouts to get back on sound financial footing. That is why the opening of the Elizabeth line is so important to London: It makes a powerful case for public transportation at a time when people are questioning how many workers will ever return to their offices.

Mr. Byford lays out the case with the practiced cadence of a stump speech. The new line will increase the capacity of the system by 10 percent. Its spacious coaches are well suited to a world in which people are used to social distancing. It will revitalize economically blighted towns east of the city, while making central London accessible to people who live in far-flung towns to the east and west.

While Mr. Byford does not expect ridership ever to return completely, he thinks 90 percent is attainable. If office buildings remain underpopulated, London could develop like Paris, with more residential neighborhoods downtown. (The Elizabeth line bears a distinct resemblance to the high-speed RER system in Paris.) The line, he says, is an insurance policy against the “siren voices of doom” about Brexit.

At times, Mr. Byford slips perilously close to a real estate agent’s patter. “These super-high-tech stations simply ooze quality,” he said. But emerging from Liverpool Street, with its spectacular, rippling, pinstriped ceiling, it is hard to argue with his basic assertion: “This is a game changer.”

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East Timor’s Ramos-Horta makes pitch for stability ahead of election, article with image

DILI, March 18 (Reuters) – The frontrunner in East Timor’s presidential election, independence figure and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, has said he hopes to restore political stability to Asia’s youngest democracy, as the nation prepares to head to the polls.

East Timor will hold its fifth presidential election on Saturday since gaining independence, after a campaign also focused on economic security and jobs.

In a streamed address to the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia late on Thursday, the 72-year-old former prime minister and president said he felt compelled to run to safeguard the constitutional integrity of East Timor.

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“What happened in the past few years is that the president exceeded his powers,” said Ramos-Horta, referring to prolonged political tensions that have hampered efforts to cut poverty, tackle corruption and develop rich energy resources.

In 2018, incumbent president and former resistance fighter Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres refused to swear in seven ministers from the National Congress of the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT), a political party led by the country’s first president and former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao.

Guterres said his actions were justified given judicial inquiries into alleged misconduct, but the move entrenched party divisions and led to a prolonged political impasse.

Patricio da Silva, a supporter of the president, said during a recent campaign rally he still had “high hopes” that Guterres would be able to win another term in office.

Ramos-Horta, Guterres and a former army commander are the top contenders in the election, according to a poll by the National University in East Timor.

The survey showed Ramos-Horta, who is backed by Xanana’s CNRT party, in the lead with 39%.

If none of the 16 candidates wins a majority, a second-round runoff will be held between the top two candidates on April 19.

Approaching 20 years of independence after a brutal occupation by Indonesia, the role of young voters has been in focus with an estimated 20% of the electorate first-time voters in the country of 1.3 million.

“The big issue in a society with a median age of 18 is that it has to produce a lot more jobs and educational opportunities,” said Michael Leach, an academic from Australia’s Swinburne University, who also cites the urgency for East Timor to reduce its dependence on oil and gas revenues.

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Reporting and Writing by Kate Lamb in Sydney;
Additional reporting by Francisco Ismenio in Dili.
Editing by Ed Davies

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Taking On Starbucks, Inspired by Bernie Sanders

Starbucks allows employees who work at least 20 hours a week to obtain health coverage, more generous than most competitors, and has said it will increase average pay for hourly employees to nearly $17 an hour by this summer, well above the industry norm. The company also offers to pay the tuition of employees admitted to pursue an online bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University, helping it attract workers with college aspirations.

Such people, in turn, tend to be sympathetic to unions and a variety of social activism. A recent Gallup poll found that people under 35 or who are liberal are substantially more likely than others to support unions.

Several Starbucks workers seeking to organize unions in Buffalo; Boston; Chicago; Seattle; Knoxville, Tenn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and the Denver area appeared to fit this profile, saying they were either strong supporters of Mr. Sanders and other progressive politicians, had attended college or both. Most were under 30.

“I’ve been involved in political organizing, the Bernie Sanders campaign,” said Brick Zurek, a leader of a union campaign at a Starbucks in Chicago. “That gave me a lot of skill.” Mx. Zurek, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, also said they had a bachelor’s degree.

Len Harris, who has helped lead a campaign at a Starbucks near Denver, said that “I admire the progressivism, the sense of community” of politicians like Mr. Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. She said that she had graduated from college and that she was awaiting admissions decisions for graduate school.

And most union supporters have drawn inspiration from their colleagues in Buffalo. Sydney Durkin and Rachel Ybarra, who are helping to organize a Starbucks in Seattle, said workers at their store discussed the Buffalo campaign almost daily as it unfolded and that one reached out to the union after the National Labor Relations Board announced the initial results of the Buffalo elections in December. (The union’s second victory was announced Monday, after the labor board resolved ballot challenges.)

Ms. Ybarra said the victory showed workers it was possible to unionize despite company opposition. “The Buffalo folks became superheroes,” she said. “A lot of us spent so much time being afraid of retaliation — none of us could afford to lose our jobs, have our hours cut.”

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Australia records first Omicron death, authorities stick to reopening plan

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A traveller receives a test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a pre-departure testing facility, as countries react to the new coronavirus Omicron variant, outside the international terminal at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

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SYDNEY, Dec 27 (Reuters) – Australia reported its first confirmed death from the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 on Monday amid its biggest daily surge in infections, but the authorities refrained from imposing new restrictions saying hospitalisation rates remained low.

The death, a man in his 80s with underlying health conditions, marked a grim milestone for the country which has had to reverse some parts of a staged reopening after nearly two years of stop-start lockdowns, due to the fresh outbreak.

Omicron, which health experts say appears more contagious but less virulent than previous strains, began to spread in the country just as it lifted restrictions on most domestic borders and allowed Australians to return from overseas without quarantine, driving case numbers to the highest of the pandemic.

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The authorities gave no additional details about the Omicron death, except to say that the man caught the virus at an aged care facility and died in a Sydney hospital.

“This was the first known death in New South Wales (state) linked to the Omicron variant of concern,” said NSW Health epidemiologist Christine Selvey in a video released by the government.

The man was among seven COVID-19 deaths reported in Australia the previous day. The country clocked 10,186 new cases nationwide, according to a Reuters calculation of state data, its first total over 10,000 since the start of the pandemic. Most new cases were in NSW and Victoria.

“Although we are seeing increased case numbers… we are not seeing the impacts on our hospital system,” said Annastacia Palaszczuk, premier of Queensland which reported 784 new cases with four people in hospital.

With reports of six-hour wait times for COVID testing for people hoping to meet requirements for interstate holiday travel, Palaszczuk defended the tourism-friendly state for mandatory testing, saying “everyone knew when they booked a ticket that if they wanted to come here they would have to do a PCR test”.

However, she added that Queensland was considering whether to relax testing requirements for domestic visitors. Tasmania, another tourist-popular state, also said it was considering changes to state border testing rules.

Around the country, the surge in infections meanwhile weighed on testing resources. Sydney testing clinic SydPath had confirmed a day earlier that it wrongly told 400 COVID-positive people they were negative in the days before Christmas; on Monday it now realised it sent wrong result messages to another 995 people.

Australian authorities have so far resisted a return to lockdown in the face of surging case numbers but have reinstated some restrictions. On Monday, NSW again made it compulsory to check into public venues with QR codes, while many states have brought back mandatory mask-wearing in indoor public places.

The country has also narrowed the window for vaccine booster shots from six months to four months, soon to be three months.

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Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Michael Perry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Whiplash on U.S. Vaccine Mandate Leaves Employers ‘Totally Confused’

“You can’t really mandate booster shots yet,” he said. “It hasn’t been signed off on by any federal agency.”

JPMorgan Chase, whose decision to require vaccines is complicated by its sprawling retail operations across the United States, declined to comment on how the court’s most recent decision, along with the recent spike in cases, affects any plans to mandate vaccines. But the bank on Friday told its American employees who do not work in bank branches that “each group should assess who needs to come into the office, work priorities and who should revert to working from home on a more regular basis over the next few weeks.”

Walmart, which has mandated vaccines for mainly its corporate staff, also did not have any comment on broadening that requirement. Only 66 percent of its roughly 1.6 million U.S. employees are vaccinated, according to data compiled by the Shift Project at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Legal questions about the OSHA rule are far from resolved. Immediately after the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on Friday, several of the many plaintiffs who have challenged that rule asked the Supreme Court to intervene as part of its “emergency” docket. Appeals from the Sixth Circuit are assigned for review by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who under Supreme Court rules could in theory make a decision on his own but is more likely to refer the matter to the full Supreme Court. With the Labor Department now delaying full enforcement of its rule until Feb. 9, the justices have several weeks to ask for abbreviated briefings if they want them.

“Things are going back and forth literally in a matter of hours,” said Sydney Heimbrock, an adviser on industry and government issues at Qualtrics, who works with hundreds of clients on using the company’s software to track employee vaccination status. “The confusion stems from the on-again-off-again, is it a rule or isn’t it a rule? The litigations, appeals, reversing decisions and making decisions.”

Even the spread of Omicron hasn’t changed the position of some of the vaccine rule’s most ardent opponents. The National Retail Federation, one of the trade groups challenging the administration’s vaccine rule, is among those that have filed a petition with the Supreme Court. The group is in favor of vaccinations but has pushed for companies to get more time to carry out mandates. Still, even as it fights the administration’s rule, the federation is also holding twice weekly calls with members to compare notes on how to carry it out.

“There’s no question that the increased number of variants like Omicron certainly don’t make it less dangerous,” said Stephanie Martz, the group’s chief administrative officer and general counsel. “The legitimate, remaining question is, is this inherent to the workplace?”

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First Fires, Then Floods: Climate Extremes Batter Australia

WEE WAA, Australia — Two years ago, the fields outside Christina Southwell’s family home near the cotton capital of Australia looked like a dusty, brown desert as drought-fueled wildfires burned to the north and south.

Last week, after record-breaking rains, muddy floodwaters surrounded her, along with the stench of rotting crops. She had been trapped for days with just her cat, and still didn’t know when the sludge would recede.

“It seems to take for bloody ever to go away,” she said, watching a boat carry food into the town of Wee Waa. “All it leaves behind is this stink, and it’s just going to get worse.”

Life on the land has always been hard in Australia, but the past few years have delivered one extreme after another, demanding new levels of resilience and pointing to the rising costs of a warming planet. For many Australians, moderate weather — a pleasant summer, a year without a state of emergency — increasingly feels like a luxury.

Black Summer bush fires of 2019 and 2020 were the worst in Australia’s recorded history. This year, many of the same areas that suffered through those epic blazes endured the wettest, coldest November since at least 1900. Hundreds of people, across several states, have been forced to evacuate. Many more, like Ms. Southwell, are stranded on floodplain islands with no way to leave except by boat or helicopter, possibly until after Christmas.

La Niña in full swing, meteorologists are predicting even more flooding for Australia’s east coast, adding to the stress from the pandemic, not to mention from a recent rural mouse plague of biblical proportions.

pregnancies on pause, shows that the El Niño-La Niña cycle has been around long enough for flora and fauna to adapt.

more than doubled since the 1970s.

Ron Campbell, the mayor of Narrabri Shire, which includes Wee Waa, said his area was still waiting for government payments to offset damage from past catastrophes. He wondered when governments would stop paying for infrastructure repairs after every emergency.

“The costs are just enormous, not just here but at all the other places in similar circumstances,” he said.

60 percent of the trees in some places. Cattle farmers culled so much of their herds during the drought that beef prices have risen more than 50 percent as they rush to restock paddocks nourished (nearly to death) by heavy rain.

Bryce Guest, a helicopter pilot in Narrabri, once watched the dust bowls grow from above. Then came “just a monstrous amount of rain,” he said, and new kind of job: flights to mechanical pumps pushing water from fields to irrigation dams in a last-ditch effort to preserve crops that had been heading for a record harvest.

On one recent flight, he pointed to mountains of stored grain — worth six figures, at least — that were ruined by the rains, with heavy equipment trapped and rusting next to it. Further inland, a home surrounded by levees had become a small island accessible only by boat or copter.

“Australia is all about water — everything revolves around it,” he said. “Where you put your home, your stock. Everything.”

The flood plains in what is known as the Murray-Darling basin stretch out for hundreds of miles, not unlike the land at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The territory is so flat that towns can be cut off with roads flooded by less than an inch of additional rain.

That happened a few weeks ago in Bedgerabong, a few hundred miles south of Narrabri. On a recent afternoon, a couple of teachers were being driven out of town in a hulking fire truck — equipment for one disaster often serves another. Across a flooded road behind them, three other teachers had decided to camp out so they could provide some consistency for children who had already been kept out of school for months by pandemic lockdowns.

Paul Faulkner, 55, the principal of the school (total enrollment: 42), said that many parents craved social connection for their children. The Red Cross has sent in booklets for those struggling with stress and anxiety.

“Covid has kept everyone from their families,” he said. “This just isolates them even more.”

He admitted that there were a few things they did not discuss; Santa, for one. The town is expected to be cut off until after the holidays as the waters that rose with surging rains over a few days take weeks to drain and fade.

In Wee Waa, where the water has started to recede, supplies and people flowed in and out last week by helicopter and in a small boat piloted by volunteers.

Still, there were shortages everywhere — mostly of people. In a community of around 2,000 people, half of the teachers at the local public school couldn’t make it to work.

At the town’s only pharmacy, Tien On, the owner, struggled with a short-handed staff to keep up with requests. He was especially concerned about delayed drug deliveries by helicopter for patients with mental health medications.

Ms. Southwell, 69, was better prepared than most. She spent 25 years volunteering with emergency services and has been teaching first aid for decades. After a quick trip into Wee Waa by boat, she returned to her home with groceries and patience, checking a shed for the stray cats she feeds and discovering that only one of her chickens appeared to have drowned.

She said she wasn’t sure how much climate change could be blamed for the floods; her father had put their house on higher stilts because they knew the waters would rise on occasion.

All she knew was that more extreme weather and severe challenges to the community would be coming their way.

“The worst part of it is the waiting,” she said. “And the cleanup.”

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As World Shuts Borders to Stop Omicron, Japan Offers a Cautionary Tale

TOKYO — With the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus late last week, countries across the globe rushed to close their borders to travelers from southern Africa, even in the absence of scientific information about whether such measures were necessary or likely to be effective in stopping the virus’s spread.

Japan has gone further than most other countries so far, announcing on Monday that the world’s third-largest economy would be closed off to travelers from everywhere.

It is a familiar tactic for Japan. The country has barred tourists since early in the pandemic, even as most of the rest of the world started to travel again. And it had only tentatively opened this month to business travelers and students, despite recording the highest vaccination rate among the world’s large wealthy democracies and after seeing its coronavirus caseloads plunge by 99 percent since August.

Now, as the doors slam shut again, Japan provides a sobering case study of the human and economic cost of those closed borders. Over the many months that Japan has been isolated, thousands of life plans have been suspended, leaving couples, students, academic researchers and workers in limbo.

United States, Britain and most of Europe reopened over the summer and autumn to vaccinated travelers, Japan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region opened their borders only a crack, even after achieving some of the world’s highest vaccination rates. Now, with the emergence of the Omicron variant, Japan, along with Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea, are quickly battening down again.

outbreak of the Delta variant.

Japan is recording only about 150 coronavirus cases a day, and before the emergence of the Omicron variant, business leaders had been calling for a more aggressive reopening.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, Japan did what most countries around the world did — we thought we needed proper border controls,” Yoshihisa Masaki, director of communications at Keidanren, Japan’s largest business lobbying group, said in an interview earlier this month.

But as cases diminished, he said, the continuation of firm border restrictions threatened to stymie economic progress. “It will be like Japan being left behind in the Edo Period,” Mr. Masaki said, referring to Japan’s isolationist era between the 17th and mid-19th centuries.

Thailand had recently reopened to tourists from 63 countries, and Cambodia had just started to welcome vaccinated visitors with minimal restrictions. Other countries, like Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, were allowing tourists from certain countries to arrive in restricted areas.

Wealthier Asian countries like Japan resisted the pressure to reopen. With the exception of its decision to hold the Summer Olympics, Japan has been cautious throughout the pandemic. It was early to shut its borders and close schools. It rolled out its vaccination campaign only after conducting its own clinical trials. And dining and drinking hours remained restricted in many prefectures until September.

Foreign companies could not bring in executives or other employees to replace those who were moving back home or to another international posting, said Michael Mroczek, a lawyer in Tokyo who is president of the European Business Council.

In a statement on Monday, the council said business travelers or new employees should be allowed to enter provided they follow strict testing and quarantine measures.

“Trust should be put in Japan’s success on the vaccination front,” the council said. “And Japan and its people are now firmly in a position to reap the economic rewards.”

Business leaders said they wanted science to guide future decisions. “Those of us who live and work in Japan appreciate that the government’s policies so far have substantially limited the impact of the pandemic here,” said Christopher LaFleur, former American ambassador to Malaysia and special adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

But, he said, “I think we really need to look to the science over the coming days” to see whether a complete border shutdown is justified.

Students, too, have been thrown into uncertainty. An estimated 140,000 or more have been accepted to universities or language schools in Japan and have been waiting months to enter the country to begin their courses of study.

Carla Dittmer, 19, had hoped to move from Hanstedt, a town south of Hamburg, Germany, to Japan over the summer to study Japanese. Instead, she has been waking up every morning at 1 to join an online language class in Tokyo.

“I do feel anxious and, frankly speaking, desperate sometimes, because I have no idea when I would be able to enter Japan and if I will be able to keep up with my studies,” Ms. Dittmer said. “I can understand the need of caution, but I hope that Japan will solve that matter with immigration precautions such as tests and quarantine rather than its walls-up policy.”

The border closures have economically flattened many regions and industries that rely on foreign tourism.

When Japan announced its reopening to business travelers and international students earlier this month, Tatsumasa Sakai, 70, the fifth-generation owner of a shop that sells ukiyo-e, or woodblock prints, in Asakusa, a popular tourist destination in Tokyo, hoped that the move was a first step toward further reopening.

“Since the case numbers were going down, I thought that we could have more tourists and Asakusa could inch toward coming back to life again,” he said. “I guess this time, the government is just taking precautionary measures, but it is still very disappointing.”

Mr. Dery and Ms. Hirose also face a long wait. Mr. Dery, who met Ms. Hirose when they were both working at an automotive parts maker, returned to Indonesia in April 2020 after his Japanese work visa expired. Three months before he departed, he proposed to Ms. Hirose during an outing to the DisneySea amusement park near Tokyo.

Ms. Hirose had booked a flight to Jakarta for that May so that the couple could marry, but by then, the borders were closed in Indonesia.

“Our marriage plan fell apart,” Mr. Dery, 26, said by telephone from Jakarta. “There’s no clarity on how long the pandemic would last.”

Just last week, Mr. Dery secured a passport and was hoping to fly to Japan in February or March.

Upon hearing of Japan’s renewed border closures, he said he was not surprised. “I was hopeful,” he said. “But suddenly the border is about to close again.”

“I don’t know what else to do,” he added. “This pandemic seems endless.”

Reporting was contributed by Hisako Ueno and Makiko Inoue in Tokyo; Dera Menra Sijabat in Jakarta, Indonesia; Richard C. Paddock in Bangkok; John Yoon in Seoul; Raymond Zhong in Taipei, Taiwan; and Yan Zhuang in Sydney, Australia.

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European Markets · 10:21 AM UTC

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  • <a href=”http://tmsnrt.rs/2yaDPgn”>Graphic: Global asset performance</a>
  • <a href=”http://tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh”>Graphic: World FX rates</a>

LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) – World stocks kicked off the week on a cautious note on Monday after posting a second consecutive weekly drop, and the euro struggled as traders weighed the risks of European lockdown restrictions and prospects of a faster Federal Reserve taper.

Though Wall Street futures held comfortably in positive territory in early London trading, major European indexes opened in the red as markets seem to have suddenly woken up to COVID-19 risks.

“The problem in Europe is the spread of Covid-19 which means that more lockdowns and other health restrictions partly against the non-vaccinated should rapidly increase in the next two weeks,” said Sebastian Galy, a strategist at Societe Generale.

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“That in turn should have a negative impact on some services and impact negatively growth, a scenario that had been ever more priced into the European equity market.”

Austria powered down public life on Monday as its fourth national COVID-19 lockdown began, the first in a western European country, with Germany warning it may follow suit. read more and

Though equity analysts have kept their bullish European stock market recommendations for now, investors are closely watching sectors such as travel, hotels and banks for wider impact. The travel and leisure index was the top decliner (.SXTP) in early trading.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan (.MIWD00000PUS) fell 0.1%. An Asian gauge (.MIAPJ0000PUS) was down by a similar margin.

The euro slipped 0.3% to $1.1260, close to a 16-month low hit on Friday. The common currency has been the prime mover in markets over recent sessions as investors bet that Europe’s economy will lag the U.S. recovery.

On the corporate front, shares in Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI) jumped 30% after KKR made a $12 billion approach to take the Italian phone group private. A telecom sub-index (.SXKP) gained by its biggest margin since March.

Safe-haven assets such as bonds, gold and the yen have also benefited from the recent cautious tone.

On Monday, the yield on benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasuries was steady at 1.5600%, with the yield curve at its flattest level since the pandemic began as markets eyed nervously the prospects of a quicker unwinding of stimulus.

Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida said last week that quickening the pace of tapering might be worth discussing at December’s meeting. November meeting minutes are due Wednesday.

Safe-haven assets attracted demand. Gold found support at $1,845 an ounce. The yen hovered at 114.09 per dollar.

Bitcoin was under pressure after posting its worst week in two months last week and fell 3% to $57,000.

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Reporting by Saikat Chatterjee; Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Editing by

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