Johnson Aide Dominic Cummings Refuses to Resign Over Claims of Lockdown Breach

Dominic Cummings, one of Boris Johnson’s closest allies, refused to quit his role in the U.K. government, dismissing claims he flouted coronavirus-lockdown rules that he had helped to draft.

Cummings’ decision to stay on comes despite intense pressure from politicians on all sides — including his own Conservative colleagues — to quit. The main charge against him is that he ignored the official lockdown rules when he drove more than 250 miles to his parents’ complex of houses in northeast England to seek childcare support for his four-year-old son.

“I don’t regret what I did,” Cummings, 48, told reporters in the rose garden of Johnson’s residence Monday. “I believe I made the right judgment though I understand that others may disagree with that.”

At the time Johnson’s government was telling the public to “stay at home,” while anyone with virus symptom — which Cummings then developed — should self-isolate.

Cummings said he believed it was likely he had Covid-19 when he decided to drive to Durham on March 27 to stay at a private cottage on his parents’ estate. At one point he left the property by car to collect his wife and son from hospital.

He said he drove half an hour to Barnard Castle on April 12 to see if he was fit enough to undertake a longer drive. The family took a walk and saw someone he knew from a distance. He returned to London the following day.

Durham police said Monday they were formally investigating whether Cummings had broken lockdown rules after a retired teacher said he saw Cummings on April 12 at Barnard Castle, a beauty spot 30 miles away from his parents’ home. Separate reports over the weekend that he made a second trip later in April were denied by ministers.

“I’ve not offered to resign,” Cummings said. “I have not considered it.”

On Sunday, Johnson said he accepted Cummings’ explanation for the trip. But the prime minister’s refusal to fire his controversial aide angered many of Johnson’s own party. At least 16 Tory MPs called on Cummings to resign or be sacked, while two ministers told Bloomberg News the premier had made a mistake in not firing Cummings.

— With assistance by Ben Sills

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Business Cheers Ramaphosa’s Plan to Reopen South African Economy

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South African business leaders lauded the government’s plan to substantially ease a nationwide lockdown that’s crippled the economy, even as the number of the coronavirus cases grows exponentially.

An additional 8 million people will be allowed to return to work when the national disease-alert level drops one notch from June 1, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday night. His administration abandoned previous plans to maintain more stringent restrictions in several cities and towns hardest hit by the disease, but cautioned it’s still an option.

While other nations have opened up after the pandemic peaked, South Africa is relaxing its rules when cases are still on an upward trajectory — a third of its 22,583 infections were diagnosed in the past week alone. But with unemployment and business closures skyrocketing and the central bank anticipating a 7% economic contraction this year, Ramaphosa acknowledged that maintaining the lockdown had become unsustainable.

“We believe that the decision announced by the president is best for the country given where we find ourselves now,” said Sipho Pityana, the president of lobby group Business Unity South Africa. “It is time for many of us to return to work, but to do so in as safe way as possible.”

The rand advanced as much as 0.5% against the dollar on Monday, and was 0.1% stronger at 17.6290 at 12:11 p.m. in Johannesburg. It was just one of three emerging-market currencies to post gains against the greenback.

Rational Analysis

Africa’s most-industrialized economy went into lockdown on March 27, with only grocers, pharmacies and suppliers of essential services allowed to keep operating. The rules were relaxed May 1, but many businesses have remained partially or completely shut. Ramaphosa first announced plans for a further easing of restrictions on May 13, but gave few details.

While the government had previously been accused of taking arbitrary decisions, its response now appears to be based on a rational analysis of the available options to protect the economy and fight the pandemic, said Busi Mavuso, chief executive officer of lobby group Business Leadership South Africa.

Ramaphosa has “shown great leadership in resetting the course of government’s response when it has become clear that it is needed,” she said in her weekly newsletter. “The shift to level three next week is important and welcome. It will allow more of the economy to reopen and for people to earn a living.”

Under the new rules, limited alcohol sales for home use will be allowed to resume, while a night-time curfew and a restriction on when people can exercise will be dropped. Tobacco sales will remain banned because of the health risks associated with smoking. Eat-in restaurants, bars, sporting venues, places of worship and conference centers will also be barred from reopening.

While the reopening of the economy is welcome, the announcement was six weeks overdue, said John Steenhuisen, the acting leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance.

“There was no rational justification to extend the hard lockdown beyond the initial three weeks, and this extension has now caused irreparable damage to our economy,” he said. “The resulting hardship and suffering –- and ultimately, the premature deaths of South African citizens due to this” could have been avoided, he said.

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Slovenia Declares Official End To Its Coronavirus Epidemic

As more than 200 countries continue to fight the devastating coronavirus, Slovenia has become the first European country to declare an official end to its epidemic.

“Today Slovenia has the best epidemic situation in Europe, which enables us to call off the general epidemic,” Prime Minister Janez Jansa said on Thursday, even as new infections are being reported in the mountainous nation of two million.

“Since the danger of spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains, some general and special measures will remain in force,” the government said in a statement.

Public gatherings are not allowed and social distancing rules and mask wearing are mandatory in public.

A total of 1,464 people were infected and 103 people died in Slovenia since its onset two months ago, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University, updated at 10:45 am on Friday.

The Balkan state, which borders Italy, has seen only a handful of daily cases in the past fortnight.

Travelers from any EU country will no longer be required to quarantine on arrival in Slovenia.

The deadly virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December has spread to nearly every continent, threatening communities as case numbers continue to rise.

Authorities in 214 countries and territories have reported more than 4,444,000 novel coronavirus cases and more than 300,000 deaths.

Japan is lifting its state of emergency everywhere except in the country’s eight most populous prefectures, which include Tokyo and Osaka.

Desperate stories are emerging from inside Russian hospitals, where doctors are reportedly falling ill at an alarming rate.

Russia has announced a total of 252,245 confirmed coronavirus infections, more than any other country except the United States. Even so, President Vladimir Putin lifted a nationwide lockdown on Monday, saying that the country’s hospitals were prepared and that doctors had everything they needed.

The French government protested the suggestion that the U.S. would get first access to a coronavirus vaccine being developed by the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi.

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FDA Approves First Antigen Test To Detect Coronavirus

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization or EUA to Quidel Corp.’s COVID-19 antigen test. The Sofia 2 SARS Antigen FIA test will be used for the rapid detection of the coronavirus and is considered to play a critical role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FDA noted that these new categories of the diagnostic test quickly detect fragments of proteins found on or within the virus by testing samples collected from the nasal cavity using swabs.

The Sofia 2 SARS Antigen FIA test is authorized for use in high and moderate complexity laboratories certified by Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments or CLIA. It can also be used for point-of-care testing by facilities operating under a CLIA Certificate of Waiver.

According to the agency, diagnostic testing is one of the major initiatives by the government to fight against COVID-19. To date, the FDA has issued EUAs for two types of tests, such as polymerase chain reaction tests that detect the genetic material from the virus, and serological tests that look for antibodies in the virus.

PCR tests can be incredibly accurate, but running the tests and analyzing the results can take time. Compared to PCR tests, an antigen test is very quick and could provide results in minutes. Antigen tests may not detect all active infections, but are very specific for the virus, and not as sensitive as molecular PCR tests.

Positive results from antigen tests are considered to be highly accurate, but there is a higher chance of false negatives, so negative results do not rule out infection.

The agency pointed out that negative results from an antigen test may need to be confirmed with a PCR test prior to making treatment decisions or to prevent the possible spread of the virus due to a false negative.

Further, antigen tests are important in the overall response against COVID-19 as they can generally be produced at a lower cost than PCR tests. It is expected that the entry of multiple manufacturers in the market can potentially scale to test millions of Americans per day.

The FDA said it anticipates providing a EUA template for antigen tests to help manufacturers streamline submissions and help expedite its review and issuance of additional EUAs.

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Twitter’s Record User Gain Can’t Offset Steep Drop in Ads

Twitter Inc. is seeing a record number of users flock to its service amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but the economic impact of the virus is also hurting advertising, the social media company’s main source of revenue.

Sales rose just 3% year-over-year in the first three months of 2020 amid a broad advertising pullback as companies cut spending. From March 11 to the end of the quarter, sales were down 27% from a year earlier, and April shows a similar trajectory, the company said. The decline was particularly pronounced in the U.S., Twitter’s most valuable market. The social-media company reported revenue of $808 million in the first quarter, ahead of Wall Street estimates of $773 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Like other social platforms including Snap Inc. and Facebook Inc., Twitter is showing that for the first time, an increase in users doesn’t correlate to a similar rise in ad revenue. Twitter now has 166 million daily users, up from 152 million at the end of 2019, and 24% higher than a year earlier. That’s the fastest growth since the company started reporting the metric in 2016. Twitter credited the gains to “typical seasonal strength, ongoing product improvements, and global conversation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Twitter shares turned negative after Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal gave the April outlook on an earnings call, after being up more than 10% earlier. The shares were down 4.6% to $29.66 at 9:46 a.m. in New York.

Facebook reported a similar take on Wednesday, warning of the “potential for an even more severe advertising industry contraction.”

Twitter said Thursday that improving its ad products is now the company’s “top priority,” and that direct response ads are at the top of the list. In a letter to shareholders, the company said these marketing spots could “increase our addressable market, with more access to advertising demand that may be more resilient through an economic downturn.”

Segal said Twitter has mostly attracted brand marketing, rather than “direct response” ads that are easier to measure, grow faster and have been more resilient during the crisis so far.

Twitter reported a net loss of $8 million, its first unprofitable quarter in more than two years, though less than analysts had expected. The company previously announced it was cutting full-year guidance and expected an operating loss in the quarter. It did not issue new guidance on Thursday.

The San Francisco-based company plans to reduce costs by slowing hiring and eliminating travel and events that are no longer necessary because employees are working from home. It still plans to build a new data center in 2020 as was previously announced.

Not addressed in Twitter’s shareholder letter was whether the recession threatens Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey’s job. Activist investors tried to push him out earlier this year. Dorsey survived, but the two sides agreed to a series of performance goals that include accelerating revenue growth. The coronavirus outbreak will make that particularly difficult.

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Hasan Minhaj, Sen. Kamala Harris, Dave Chapelle And More Board All Americans Movement To Support Marginalized Communities Impacted By COVID-19

Asian cultural collective Gold House has teamed with Andrew Yang’s Humanity Forward to launch The All Americans Movement, an initiative that helps unify support cross-cultural support for marginalized communities affected by COVID-19. The campaign has garnered support from numerous multicultural leaders and celebrities like Hasan Minhaj, Sen. Kamala Harris, Dave Chapelle, Olivia Munn, John Leguizamo, Joseph Gordon Levitt, George Takei, Daniel Dae Kim, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Marc Cuban, Sophia Bush and many more.

The initiative is also driven by nearly 100 volunteer partnerships between independent businesses, nonprofit organizations including fashion houses 3.1PhillipLim, Prabal Gurung, Monse, Li, Inc., among others. Businesses are selling #AllAmericans-inspired products whose proceeds will go towards medical relief, combatting racism, and economic stimulus. Nonprofit organizations are working to provide resources and funds to support and empower marginalized communities. All the while, multicultural leaders are launching an #AllAmericans social media campaign. All are under the newly, an online destination that catalogs ways the public can fulfill medical supply needs, curb racism and violent actions against minority groups, and support additional independent companies.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the U.S., Donald Trump and his administration started to label it as the “Chinese Virus” despite reports indicating the United States’ condition came from Europe. As a result, anti-Asian attacks and harassment started to surge across the country. In addition, Black and Latinx communities have higher COVID-19-induced fatalities than any other group. Reports found that the Black community represents 72% of COVID-19 deaths in Chicago while Latinx Americans represent 34% of COVID-19 deaths in New York City. Brick and mortar businesses — particularly those owned by Asians — have seen a 40-80% decline in business.

“Crises often force us to retreat to what we know — too often, at the expense of others, but COVID-19 does not discriminate, which is why we cannot either,” Bing Chen, Chairman, Gold House, told Deadline. “Asians have slurs and acid thrown at us; the African American and Latinx communities have systemic bias masked in health care systems and employment thrown at them daily.”

He continued, “Surviving this — and the months to come — is going to take all communities, all industries, and all nations to fortify resources for a cure, more proactive prevention, and fluid lines for empathy that will hopefully endure this pandemic. This is a wakeup call for how we can — and must– all rise together. It is the only way our species endured any catastrophe. And it’s the only way — being tougher together — that we’ll get through tomorrow.”

Gold House’s Chen and Humanity Forward’s Yang co-created the All Americans movement alongside Wen Zhou & Phillip Lim of 3.1PhillipLim, Prabal Gurung, Laura Kim of Monse, Patrick Li of Li, Inc., the NYC-based ad agency Barrel, Capsule Wallets and Brian Yang of 408 Films. Other creatives who have boarded the All Americans Movement include Noah Centineo, Jay Williams, Pamela Adlon, Dane Dehaan, Lisa Ling, Fat Joe, Joel McHale, Richard Marx, JJ Redick, Teri Hatcher, Sue Bird, Alyssa Milano, Van Jones, Marcellus Wiley, Taylor Rapp, Megan Rapinoe, among many more.

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World’s Biggest Oil Storage Firm Says Almost All Space Sold

The world’s biggest independent oil storage company said that space for traders to store crude and refined fuels has all but run out as a result of the fast-expanding glut that Covid-19 has created.

“The available capacity on the oil side is almost completely sold out for our terminals,” Gerard Paulides, the chief financial officer of Rotterdam-based Royal Vopak NV, said in an interview. “For Vopak, worldwide available capacity that is not in maintenance is almost all gone and from what I hear elsewhere in the world we’re not the only ones.”

The firm is racing to complete maintenance to free up whatever space it can. Worldwide oil demand has collapsed at an unprecedented speed because the coronavirus has caused a mass halt to global transportation systems and hurt economies. With producers failing to reduce output at the same pace, an oversupply of crude and fuels has quickly emerged.

U.S. crude oil futures for May moved into negative territory on Monday — meaning traders were effectively willing to pay people to take barrels. A large part of that was because of concerns about space to store.

From Indonesia to Mexico, companies are scouring the market for places to store oil and refined fuels, often parking unwanted supplies on tankers because shore-based facilities are full. In the North Sea, a handful of vessels have been idling with gasoline and jet fuel on board for days now.

“It’s extremely tough to find something in this market,” said Krien van Beek, a storage broker at ODIN-RVB Tank Storage Solutions, discussing the global situation for fuels. Companies that have their own tanks may not have filled them, but there are now barely any left for third-party hire, she said.

Main Hubs

Vopak operates three main hubs worldwide in Singapore, Rotterdam and Fujairah. The company traditionally benefits from contango in oil and fuel markets where the spot price is depressed, meaning oil can be stored for sale later at a higher price. The company said in its earnings release today that the impact of contango will certainly be seen in the second quarter. Vopak is working at a fast pace to bring back from maintenance four tanks in Rotterdam.

“All the available capacity that is in demand will be used and is used,” Paulides said.

The diesel, jet fuel and gasoline markets are all in sharp contangos in Europe, the U.S. and Asia Pacific. Jet and gasoline have both suffered massive demand losses, and diesel buying has also been hit, despite its uses beyond consumer transport.

The strain on storage is also starting to create some weird shipping movements as traders send tankers on odysseys to find the best places to stash supplies.

Two tankers that were hauling cargoes of diesel-type fuel to Europe from India have now changed course and are sailing for New York, where there’s more storage available, according to two people involved in the market. At least one jet fuel tanker that had earlier signaled Europe has also diverted to the U.S.

“Under pressure is probably putting it mildly,” said Steve Sawyer, director of refining at Facts Global Energy, describing the global situation for fuels storage. “We’re probably close to filling up.”

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Where to Look in China’s Data Dump for Any Signs of a Rebound

In this article

China’s economy is on track for its worst performance this year since the 1970s due to the coronavirus shutdowns, though data for the first quarter should be watched closely for signs of how quickly it can bounce back.

The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg sees gross domestic product contracting 6% in the three months to March, though forecasts range from -16% to growth of 3.6%.

First quarter GDP data, year-to-date investment, plus retail sales, industrial output and unemployment figures for March will be released at 10:00 a.m. on April 17.

The economy’s gradual restart reached 90% of normal levels by the end of the March, according to Bloomberg Economics estimates. Under the hood, investment, industrial output, retail sales and employment are all poised to suffer sharp declines, though any positive surprises could point to the basis for recovery in the rest of the year.

28,680 in U.S.Most new cases today

-19% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​103 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

Rising Joblessness

China’s job market is likely facing the most challenging situation in decades.

The jobless rate is highly correlated with the pace of economic growth and keeping unemployment in check has been identified as a top priority for the government.In February, the urban unemployment rate jumped to 6.2%, the highest since the gauge was introduced in 2016, compared with 5.3% in January and 5.2% in December.

Morgan Stanley expects the rate to peak at 7.5% in the coming months, before gradually moderating to 5.5% by year end. That translates into as many as 80 million people losing jobs in the near term, they wrote in a report on April 9. Avoiding those job losses depends heavily on the outlook for the manufacturing sector, and government’s efforts to get firms to retain workers through the downturn.

Plunging Investment

Economists estimate that fixed-asset investment plunged by 15% in the first three months of this year, which is actually an improvement from the Jan.-Feb. period.

There is likely to have been a strong pullback in both infrastructure and manufacturing investment. Restrictions on people’s movements and lockdowns meant that there was a labor shortage after the Lunar New Year and that impeded the resumption of work in both sectors, as well as in construction.

A slump in demand, first domestically and then externally, is also likely to feed back to the manufacturing sector through a reduction in orders. At the same time, infrastructure investment likely received a boost in March from the government’s push to resume construction and efforts to channel more funds to the sector via special bond sales.

What happens with property investment will be another indicator to watch. Lackluster property sales and weak home prices likely curbed developers’ ability and enthusiasm to expand investment, and so far the government and central bank haven’t cut rates and loosened restrictions on property buying as they did during the global financial crisis. But if the economic downturn continues they may well look to this sector to drive growth again.

China Developers Were in Weakened Position Even Before Virus Hit

Reluctant Consumers

As China shifts further to a consumption-driven economy, the mood of the spending public becomes ever more vital to maintaining the pace of expansion. Consumption contributed 57.8% of GDP in 2019.

That mood will have been pretty grim in the first quarter. Retail sales likely dived 10% in March and 12.5% for the whole three-month period, Bloomberg’s survey showed, with the collapse in passenger car sales illustrating the problem. Lost jobs, shrinking salaries, still high consumer inflation and a reluctance to go outside and spend all contributed to the drop.

In the first two months of the year, online sales only helped offset part of the losses, and much now depends on government efforts to rekindle enthusiasm to shop and dine out as lockdowns in various cities ease.

Slumping Exports

Net exports do not play the consistently supportive role for Chinese growth as they once did. So far this year trade has been hit by a double whammy of reduced production capacity at home and waning external demand due to virus containment measures.

China’s Trade Fell Less Than Expected But More Pain Lies Ahead

As the virus continues to spread among China’s major trading partners, the export outlook remains dire and the drag may become heavier throughout the rest of the year.

Disinflation to Deflation Risks

Even before the outbreak of Covid-19, prices were diverging across the economy, with consumer inflation still high due to rising food prices but the price of goods at the factory gate back in deflation. That difference makes it harder for policy makers to act, as high consumer inflation limits the room to ramp up monetary stimulus, but slumping factory prices reduce corporate profits and hurt pricing power.

The GDP deflator will give a broad view of price pressures across the economy, and some indication of how much room there is for expanding stimulus.

China’s efforts to prop up growth have remained subdued so far. What tomorrow’s data shows about the scale of the damage in the first quarter and any signs of recovery will shape the extent and ambition of China’s stimulus response.

— With assistance by Sharon Chen, and Lin Zhu

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GOP Lawmaker Goes Full Death Cult: ‘Always Choose’ Economy Over Lives

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Ind.) became the latest conservative voice to say it’s time to end the shutdowns and reopen the economy, even if it means people die from the coronavirus infection.

Hollingsworth told WIBC radio that keeping shutdowns in place to protect lives would “insult the Americans that voted us into office.” He noted that either decision would lead to harm ― one to the economy, one to lives ― but said it’s clear to him which side the government should take:

“[I]t is always the American government’s position to say, in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life of American lives, we have to always choose the latter,” he said. 

Hollingsworth didn’t dispute the warnings from scientists but said the GDP could shrink by 20 percent this quarter. 

“It is policymakers’ decision to put on our big boy and big girl pants and say it is the lesser of these two evils,” he said. “It is not zero evil, but it is the lesser of these two evils and we intend to move forward that direction. That is our responsibility and to abdicate that is to insult the Americans that voted us into office.”

Hollingsworth, who RollCall described as the 12th wealthiest member of Congress with a net worth of more than $50 million, joins a number of prominent conservatives who insist that widespread death from COVID-19 is an acceptable price for restoring the economy. 

Last month, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) said he was willing to put his own life on the line if it meant “keeping the America that all America loves” for future generations.

“And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in,” Patrick said on Fox News, adding that “lots of grandparents” agree with him.

Conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck echoed that sentiment. 

“I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working,” Beck said. “Even if we all get sick, I’d rather die than kill the country.”

“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver called it a “death cult” for the economy, and warned that real life wasn’t like “The Hunger Games.” 

“You can’t volunteer yourself as tribute,” Oliver said. “And what you’re doing is actually much darker: You are actively volunteering others, including people of all ages with health conditions, to die.”

Twitter users weren’t too thrilled with Hollingsworth’s comments: 

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Wynn Handman Dies Of COVID-19: American Place Theatre Co-Founder, Teacher Of Future Stars Was 97

Wynn Handman, co-founder of American Place Theatre, the Off Broadway non-profit company that championed a young playwright named Sam Shepard and cast such actors as Dustin Hoffman, Rául Juliá, Faye Dunaway, John Leguizamo and Robert de Niro early in their careers, died of complications from the coronavirus Saturday, April 11, at his home in New York. He was 97.

His death was announced by daughter Laura Handman.

Handman co-founded APT in 1963 with Michael Tolan and Sidney Lanier, and the theater would quickly become a vital player on the New York theater scene. In 1964, the theater staged its first full production: the Obie-winning The Old Glory by Robert Lowell, directed by Jonathan Miller (Beyond the Fringe) and starring Frank Langella, Lester Rawlins and Roscoe Lee Browne.

APT soon built a reputation as a theatrical launching pad for writers (Shepard, Steve Tesich, Emily Mann, Richard Nelson, Frank Chin), writer-performers (Leguizamo, Aasif Mandvi, Eric Bogosian) and a remarkable assemblage of actors (Hoffman, Juliá, Dunaway, de Niro, Morgan Freeman, Richard Gere, James Caan, Joel Grey, Michael Douglas and Olympia Dukakis, among many others).

Handman’s impact as an acting teacher was equally impactful, with students including Alec Baldwin, Mia Farrow, Allison Janney, Christopher Walken, Denzel Washington, Susan Lucci and Burt Reynolds, as just a sampling.

A director of many APT productions, Handman told biographer Jeremy Gerard (Wynn Place Show) about his motivations for starting the theater. “I wanted to direct,” Handman said. “I became acutely aware that if a play wasn’t commercial — that is, for Broadway — there was no place for it.”

Until 2002, APT was located on W. 46th Street, the venue then taken over by the Roundabout Theatre Company and renamed the Laura Pels Theatre. Handman continued teaching, on a limited basis, until falling ill in early March. Director Billy Lyons’ documentary on Handman, It Takes A Lunatic, premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is airing on Netflix.

Handman is survived by daughters Laura Handman and Liza Handman, and their families. A life celebration will be planned when public gatherings are safe.

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