While You Were Sleeping: 5 stories you might have missed, Dec 18

A man walks past a billboard featuring a photo of a placard that reads "Stop Brexit Now" at the Central railway station in Brussels, Belgium, Dec 17, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

Britain, EU strike pessimistic tone in post-Brexit trade talks

Britain and the European Union struck a pessimistic tone in trade talks on Thursday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying it was "very likely" there would be no agreement unless the bloc changed its position "substantially".

Just over two weeks before Britain finally leaves the bloc's orbit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was also downbeat, saying it would be "very challenging" to overcome the "big differences" that remained.

Both sides have called on the other to shift position to try to safeguard almost a trillion dollars worth of trade from tariffs and quotas when a so-called transition period ends on Dec 31.

After a call between Johnson and von der Leyen to take stock on the talks, a spokesman for the British leader said: "The prime minister underlined that the negotiations were now in a serious situation."


From bows to handshakes: How Macron let social distancing slip

Once an early adopter of the coronavirus-proof "namaste" greeting, French President Emmanuel Macron was showing signs of letting his guard down almost a year into the pandemic.

On Monday - three days before his office said he had tested positive for Covid-19 - Macron greeted OECD chief Angel Gurria with a warm hand clasp in the Elysee palace courtyard, pulling the 70-year-old into a loose embrace, a Reuters picture (above) shows.

They were wearing masks, but Macron broke his government's No. 1 pandemic rule: stick to what the French call "barrier gestures" and avoid handshakes, hugs and kisses.


German anti-mask MP in hospital with Covid-19

A lawmaker from Germany's far-right AfD party, who sparked furore for wearing a mask with holes to a Bundestag sitting, has been hospitalised because of the coronavirus, German media reported on Thursday.

Thomas Seitz, 53, is "according to his doctors expected to make a swift recovery," national news agency DPA reported, quoting a statement.

Seitz was in November threatened with a fine by deputy speaker of parliament Claudia Roth, when he took to the stand in the Bundestag wearing a mask with holes. Roth offered him an FFP2 mask instead of his net-like mask, but Seitz had complained about the "muzzle".


Global chip shortage threatens laptop, smartphone production

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Makers of cars and electronic devices from TVs to smartphones are sounding alarm bells about a global shortage of chips, which is causing manufacturing delays as consumer demand bounces back from the coronavirus crisis.

The problem has several causes, industry executives and analysts say, including bulk-buying by US sanctions-hit Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies, a fire at a chip plant in Japan, coronavirus lockdowns in South-east Asia, and a strike in France.

"For the whole electronics industry, we've been experiencing a shortage of components," said Donny Zhang, CEO of Shenzhen-based sourcing company Sand and Wave, who said he faced delays in obtaining a microcontroller unit that was key to a smart headphone product he was working on.


Lewandowski beats Messi, Ronaldo to Fifa Best Player Award

Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski was named The Best Fifa Men's Player 2020 on Thursday, beating off competition from last year's winner Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.


Lewandowski, who won the German league and cup double as well as the Champions League with Bayern, finished as top scorer in all three competitions and won the award for the first time.

The 32-year-old also led Poland to Euro 2020 qualification and was named the 2019-20 Uefa Men's Player of the Year in October.


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