Prices of key pharma ingredients may rise if virus impact prolongs

No supply from China for past 25 days.

The prices of key pharmaceutical ingredients could rise if the COVID-19 situation in China does not improve soon, a top company official said on Tuesday.

China accounted for 67.56% of total imports of bulk drugs and drug intermediates at $2,405.42 million to India in 2018-19.

“The prices of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) could increase if the situation in China does not improve soon,” Zydus Group Chairman Pankaj Patel said.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday met representatives of various sectors, including pharmaceuticals, textiles, chemicals, electronics and IT hardware, solar, auto, surgical equipments, and paints, to review the situation following the outbreak of the deadly virus in China.

She said the government will soon announce measures to deal with the impact of the virus outbreak on the domestic industry.

Describing pharma, chemical and solar equipment sectors as worst affected, the Minister said disruptions are visible in these due to delay in shipments.

‘No price-rise concerns’

“There are no concerns about price rise so far due to coronavirus [COVID-19],” she added. She also said there were no reports of shortage of medicines or medical equipment; instead, the pharmaceutical industry was asking for lifting of the ban on exports of certain items.

The Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) has already constituted a high-level panel to assess the impact of the outbreak of the deadly virus in China on the supply of APIs in India.

According to official sources, Indian drugmakers have informed the high-level committee that they presently have stocks for the next two to three months.

There has been no supply from the neighbouring country for the last 20-25 days, mainly due to Chinese New Year holidays, sources said. The prices of medicines are monitored by the government, and apart from the essential medicines whose prices are fixed by the government, companies are allowed to hike prices of the remaining drugs by only up to 10% in a year.

Antibiotics, vitamins

India has a high dependence on fermentation-based APIs / intermediates namely antibiotics and vitamins. Companies have been maintaining 2-3 months inventory of these APIs and intermediates, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) Secretary General Sudarshan Jain had earlier said.

India imports bulk drugs/APIs for producing medicines, including certain essential medicines, from its Asian neighbour.

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Call of Duty Modern Warfare is about to get Fortnite-style 'Battle Royale' mode, leaks reveal

CALL of Duty: Modern Warfare is apparently getting a new game mode that takes a leaf out of Fortnite's book.

Warzone, rumoured for launch next month, will see players fight to be the last man standing in Battle Royale-style skirmishes.

Fortnite's own Battle Royale mode helped make the game a huge success and it seems Infinity Ward, the studio behind Modern Warfare, is following suit.

Excitement over a rumoured Call of Duty (CoD) Battle Royale update has been rumbling on for months but reached fever pitch last week when Infinity Ward teased a new large-scale mode.

Shortly afterwards, alleged details and imagery of Warzone's massive map, apparently pulled from the game's code, leaked on Reddit.

Now, new details about the hotly-anticipated mode have been revealed courtesy of the Video Games Chronicle (VGC).

Citing inside sources, the publication said Warzone will be free to play and release in "early March".

As Infinity Ward tends to drop updates on Tuesdays, March 10 would seem a safe bet for release.

"When its release date arrives, Warzone will instantly unlock for all owners of Modern Warfare via a currently greyed-out menu item," VGC said.

"The battle royale mode will also be released as a standalone game for free, with the option for players to purchase an ‘upgrade’ to the full version of Modern Warfare."

Previous leaks have suggested Warzone will support up to 200 players.

You'll be dropped onto a massive battlefield where you'll fight to be the last one alive – either with a team, or as a lone wolf.

Its map will be easily recognisable to CoD veterans, as it's apparently been stitched together using elements from a host of the franchise's classic maps.

Of course, Infinity Ward hasn't even confirmed Warzone exists yet, so take all rumours with a pinch of salt for now.

Last week, Infinity Ward launched Modern Warfare's content-jammed Second Season.

Call of Duty "seasons" are linked to the game's ranked system, which lets players progress through ranks by competing against each other.

It's an excuse to do a soft "reset" on the experience, and introduce new content.

Players were treated new maps, weapons, Operators and more.

In other news, check out these genius Call of Duty tricks as provided by a top YouTuber.

Sony recently confirmed the PS5 release date as coming before Christmas 2020.

And we reveal the best PS5 games you can expect to play next year.

What changes would you like to see made to Call of Duty Modern Warfare? Let us know in the comments!

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Jaguar Land Rover ‘out of parts in two weeks’ as coronavirus hits production

Coventry, England: Jaguar Land Rover only has enough parts from China to maintain its British production for another two weeks due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the firm's boss said on Tuesday.

Jaguar Land Rover’s assembly plant in Castle Bromwich is one of three UK sites that may soon run out of parts from China.Credit:Bloomberg

Britain's biggest carmaker, which operates three car factories in its home market, joined major global companies such as Apple in warning of the impact of the virus on supply chains.

"We are safe for this week and we are safe for next week and in the third week we have parts missing," said te company's chief executive Ralf Speth.

"We have flown parts in suitcases from China to the UK."

He said the firm's Chinese factory would open next week and was "safe for the very first week."

Sales were not currently happening in China and it was unclear when they would return, he added.

The boss of Tata Motors, Jaguar Land Rover's parent company, speaking at the same event, said the company does not have sufficient visibility regarding parts suppliers from China.

"We are safe for the month of February and for a good part of March," said Guenter Butschek.

"Are we fully covered at this point of time for the full month of March? Unfortunately not."

Reuters

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This word describes Social Security — but not everyone wants to hear it

U.S. presidential candidates get asked many questions about the country’s state of affairs — one of which is what they will do about “entitlement programs.”

“Entitlement” often refers to Social Security and Medicare, but critics argue that’s the wrong way to describe it. Many Americans take to social platforms saying they’ve paid into the system their entire careers, and thus, the benefit they will receive belongs to them.

And they’re right — which is a big part of the reason they’re called entitlements, experts say, because recipients are indeed entitled to them.

The term entitlement has developed a negative connotation, said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, which advocates for expanding the program. “Focus groups have found when you ask people to name entitlements, they’ll focus on welfare, and when they’re told Social Security [is an entitlement program], they get angry because of course Social Security is an earned benefit,” she said. The idea of being “entitled” has over time become associated with getting something one doesn’t deserve.

But the term has evolved — now it’s about politics, especially as the two major parties disagree about how to reform Social Security, and little progress has been made toward doing so. President Trump made a comment earlier this year that these programs could potentially be trimmed. When asked during an interview with CNBC whether entitlements would “ever be on his plate,” the president said “at the right time, we will take a look at that.”

After a predictable backlash, Trump — who had split from the Republican primary field in 2016 by insisting cuts to such programs would never be on the table — took back the statement and added that the Democrats were going to destroy Social Security and that he would save it. Meanwhile, on the presidential campaign trail, a few candidates have put forward proposals to expand the system — though they haven’t discussed Social Security at length on debate stages.

This conversation also comes at a time when the future of Social Security remains unknown. The trust funds that support the system are expected to run out of money within the next 15 years, and, if that happens, beneficiaries are expected to get an estimated 80% of what they’re owed. Congress has never let the program fail, experts have observed, but legislators have yet to decide how they will address the problem.

Social Security is a sensitive subject among many, especially considering the number of retirees who rely on those checks for much, if not most, of their income in old age. The program makes up the majority of retirement income for 61% of elderly beneficiaries, and a third of them rely on the program for 90% or more, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Also see: Everyone should be worried about Social Security and 401(k) plans — including the presidential candidates

“Entitlement programs,” in government budgeting speak, are the ones that the country deems mandatory spending — like Social Security and Medicare. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which was previously called the Food Stamp Program, is another example, said Kathleen Romig, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

That contrasts with discretionary spending, where — also in government budgeting terms — when the funding runs out, there’s no more in benefits to give, and individuals are placed on a waiting list. Examples including housing vouchers and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

The terminology for Social Security may have become politically charged, but, ultimately, it’s something Americans worked for, Romig said. “It’s an earned benefit,” she said. “The benefit is yours.”

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Coronavirus update: more than 73,000 cases, 1,873 deaths, Apple warns on second quarter

There are 73,332 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the new coronavirus that was first identified late last year in Wuhan, China, and at least 1,873 deaths, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization.

This tally takes into account cases in Hubei Province, home to Wuhan, that were diagnosed by both imaging and laboratory tests. Last week the government in Hubei began reporting diagnosed cases by both methods, although the rest of China and other countries continue to require a lab test to confirm a diagnosis of the virus. In the U.S., there are 15 confirmed cases, three of which were individuals diagnosed while in federal quarantine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the weekend, Egypt became the first African country to report a confirmed case of COVID-19.

The outbreak, which has spread to 25 countries beyond China, has forced many retailers, restaurants and manufacturers to at least partially shut down their operations in recent weeks. Chinese workers are working at home. Factories have been slow to reopen.

The American Chamber of Commerce surveyed 109 companies with manufacturing facilities in Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing and the Yangtze River Delta region, finding that 78% of companies don’t have enough workers to run a full production line due to the travel restrictions and quarantine periods; 58% expect output to be lower than normal “over the next few months;” and 38% of companies don’t have enough masks to protect their staff, a new government requirement.

• Half of General Mills Inc.’s GIS, -0.53% Häagen-Dazs shops in greater China are closed, and the shops that remain open have “severely restricted hours.” The greater China region makes up 4% of General Mills’ net sales, 40% of which are from Häagen-Dazs shops and other restaurants. The company told investors it can’t yet share how the closures will affect its numbers for fiscal 2020.

• InterContinental Hotels Group PLC IHG, +1.21% said 160 hotels are closed in China or closed to new guests. The company’s fee business is expected to take a $5 million hit in February in China, as a result of the outbreak. Its Chinese operations make up less than 10% of group operating profit. CEO Keith Barr also told investors that the postponement and cancellation of conferences will have an impact on its operations. “What I saw during H1N1 and other times in China, the key thing to remember is the Chinese government’s ability to stimulate economic growth and activity is unlike any other country,” he said, during an earnings call.

• HSBC Holdings PLC HSBC, -5.00% expects a weaker first-half performance in 2020 as a result of the outbreak, citing the anticipated continued downturn in Hong Kong in addition to virus-related credit losses in the first quarter. “The most extreme downside scenario in there I would say makes an assumption that the coronavirus is still continuing in the second half of this year,” an executive said on an earnings call. “If you look at that and that was to become the central scenario, there would be about $600 million of additional loan losses provisions required.”

• Corning Inc. GLW, -1.66%, which has operations in Wuhan, stated it could not determine the financial impact of the outbreak at this time. Walmart Inc. WMT, +1.03% also noted that it has not included any potential impact from the outbreak in its financials.

• Apple Inc. AAPL, -2.32% is not expecting to meet second-quarter financial guidance because production has slowed or been halted in China due to the COVID-19 outbreak. “Work is starting to resume around the country, but we are experiencing a slower return to normal conditions than we had anticipated,” the company said in a statement on Monday. Apple generates about 15% of its revenue from China, and many of its products are manufactured there.

Additional reporting by Barbara Kollmeyer

Read more of MarketWatch’s COVID-19 coverage:

Dow futures point to lower open as Apple says coronavirus outbreak will hurt sales

U.K. stocks boosted by China stimulus efforts

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US government auctioning 4,000 bitcoins worth $39M recovered from criminal cases

Why isn’t Bitcoin hitting a new high of $20,000?

Barron’s associate editor Jack Hough explains the future of cryptocurrency. Later, Barron’s reporter Carleton English discusses the cannabis industry and Barron’s senior editor Al Root encourages investors to explore high-quality Chinese stocks.

The U.S. government on Tuesday is auctioning more than 4,000 bitcoins — worth nearly $39 million — that were recovered from criminal cases.

Continue Reading Below

The required $200,000 individual deposit cost to participate in the auction, which was due Feb. 12, will be retained by U.S. Marshall Service and credited toward the purchase price, the USMS said in a Feb. 10 announcement.

WHAT IS THE MOST POPULAR CRYPTOCURRENCY?

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
NYXBT n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a.

The bidding window for four series of different bitcoin block purchases is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST Tuesday, according to the announcement, which lists dozens of specific criminal, civil and administrative cases from which the bitcoins were recovered.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF CRYPTOCURRENCY?

Foreign citizens can participate in the online auction unless they appear on the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control list of "Specially Designated Nationals." All participants must fit registration requirements, including "certifying that the bidder is not acting in concert with the defendants or defendant entities," the notice says.

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The USMS held its first-ever bitcoin auction in 2014 after the FBI seized about 30,000 bitcoins from a black market website called the Silk Road that shut down in 2012. Venture capitalist Tim Draper was the single winning bidder for all 10 auction blocks, Bloomberg News reported at the time.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ON FOX BUSINESS

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Teens use dark humor on TikTok to cope with school shooting anxiety

New York (CNN Business)Martin Charlton vividly remembers the moment last year when he and his son walked into the lobby of a Marriott hotel in Orlando to check in ahead of a social media event. A group of teenage girls quickly recognized his 15-year-old son, Luca Schaefer-Charlton, and started screaming. For the rest of the weekend, the pair couldn’t make it across that enormous lobby without people chasing Schaefer-Charlton and swarming around him.

“I’d never seen anything like that before. Up until then, maybe I was a little bit in denial that my son was as popular as he really is,” Charlton recalled to CNN Business about the experience. Versions of this scene — girls screaming and crying and asking for his son’s signature — would repeat at other events. “I’m like, ‘He’s just our son, he’s just a kid.’ To all these other people, he’s something else.”
His teenage son isn’t a pop star or TV actor. Instead, Schaefer-Charlton became internet famous through TikTok, the short-form video app that has quickly emerged as the hot social media network of the moment. Schaefer-Charlton, who goes by @mostlyluca on TikTok, now has more than two million followers on the platform.
On TikTok, users share brief clips of themselves dancing, lip-syncing or jumping on trends and challenges that pop up on the platform through hashtags, such as making a broom stand on its own. Schaefer-Charlton rose to prominence on TikTok after posting a video of himself dancing on a toilet.

TikTok star Luca Schaefer-Charlton, center, with his parents  Tordes and Martin.
The Schaefer-Charlton family isn’t alone in having their lives upended by the phenomenon of social media stardom. For much of the last decade, households around the world have had to contend with it. Brothers Logan and Jake Paul both rose to fame on now-defunct Vine and then YouTube during their teens, and their parents Greg and Pam have amassed social media followings of their own as a result.

But TikTok fame is different. The app is designed for posts to go viral “more organically than on any other platform,” according to Ricky Ray Butler, CEO of influencer marketing firm BEN, with new trends, hashtags and challenges capable of receiving billions of views in a matter of hours. At the same time, Butler said TikTok “skews younger” than some other rival platforms. These two factors have introduced a new normal where teens can achieve online stardom almost overnight. While that creates an opportunity for a generation of internet users, it also poses a new challenge for a generation of parents.

    Now parents must figure out their comfort level with their kids balancing school and social media fame along with the usual list of privacy concerns for any social network, especially a relatively new one owned by a company based in China. More than that, if their kids are minors, parents find themselves negotiating deals with brands, searching for professional talent managers, or traveling to social media events and meet-and-greets with their kids. When a reporter reaches out to a teen TikToker, it’s common to have a parent respond on their behalf.
    “It’s a little bit overwhelming,” said Peter Anastasio, whose 15-year-old son Mark came back from soccer camp last summer with about 20,000 TikTok followers and now has more than six million. “I didn’t even know what TikTok was. I do now of course.”

    A different education for teens — and their parents

    For Schaefer-Charlton, online fame came at a cost: He was bullied in high school. Other students he didn’t know well at school saw him as a “weird kid” making lip-syncing videos, according to Schaefer-Charlton. He said they called him names and harassed him.
    “He has thick skin. Initially, the bullying rolled off his shoulders,” said his father. But eventually, it became too “constant” and “relentless,” he said.
    In part because of that, Schaefer-Charlton transitioned to online classes at the beginning of ninth grade. (It also gave him more time to focus on TikTok.) But his father said, “Bullying doesn’t stop just because you stop going to school.” TikTok stars have to deal with a flood of hateful comments on social media.
    Apart from the bullying, there’s also extra attention from classmates. At school, Mark Anastasio says he has caught “people videotaping me or giving me funny looks when I walk by them. It’s a little bit weird.”

    TikTok star Mark Anastasio, 15, has over six million followers.
    That may only add to the stress he and others feel in balancing schoolwork with the responsibilities of maintaining a large TikTok following.
    Mark Anastasio juggles making videos after school along with his homework and soccer practice. No matter how big he may be on TikTok, his family wants to make sure school remains a priority.

      “There’s a massive opportunity here potentially [with TikTok],” Anastasio said. His son has already received interest from musicians, who want him to promote songs on TikTok, and modeling agencies. “But if it doesn’t work out, he needs an education to fall back on.”
      Even the teenage TikTok stars who are set on going to college may not want — or be able — to leave TikTok behind.
      On a recent college tour, Stephanie French had to tell her accompanying relatives why people sitting next to them recognized her 16-year-old daughter, Alex. The reason: Alex has nearly three million TikTok followers thanks to viral videos like one of her saying “hi” in different outfits as she slowly loses her voice.
      As French puts it, TikTok fame sometimes “hits at an interesting point” for teenagers like her daughter, while “they’re still trying to figure out what they want to do, what they want to be.” Bart French, Alex’s father, said she wants to go to college and “manage her social media fame at the same time.” As for the possibility of her dropping out of school to make videos full time, he was fairly blunt: “I prefer she wouldn’t do that, at least at this stage.”

      Alex French, 16, rose to fame quickly on TikTok after several of her videos went viral.

      Parent or business manager?

      Despite the concerns parents may have about TikTok derailing their child’s education, there is a proven opportunity for social media stars of all ages to make money.
      In 2019, Ryan Kaji made $26 million by reviewing toys on YouTube, making him the platform’s highest earner that year, according to Forbes. Kaji is eight years old. Six-year-old Anastasia Radzinskaya wasn’t far behind, bringing in $18 million last year on YouTube, according to the publication.
      Brands are already flooding TikTokers with offers of free clothing to promote in their videos, while musical artists are asking them to feature new songs. As a result, some moms and dads now find themselves wearing manager hats — in addition to all the other hats any normal parent must wear.
      Some parents even appear on camera, performing dance routines alongside their teen. Sheri Easterling, the mother of TikTok star Addison Rae, has racked up more than two million TikTok followers as a result.

      addisonre thehypehouse

      “We help him navigate the waters, find what the smartest opportunities are, and things that will help his growth number of supporters and followers,” said Charlton. At the same time, Charlton makes sure his son Luca doesn’t forget his household responsibilities: emptying the dishwasher, doing his homework and feeding their cats.

        To navigate this balancing act, parents say they lean on other parents of TikTokers and social media stars for guidance and advice, through email chains, texting and Facebook messages. Some have also tried Googling for answers, but they’ve had trouble finding any helpful results that walk parents through what to do when their kid becomes TikTok famous.

          “There is no textbook you can go buy. There is no self-help guide. You just sort of fumble your way through it,” said Charlton. “You’re figuring it out every day.”
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          Why This Analyst Sees New Contraceptive FDA Approval Doubling Agile Therapeutics Stock

          Agile Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: AGRX) shares took a dip on Tuesday after the company announced a key U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its new weekly contraceptive patch. While this is a definitive win for the company, investors seem to be treating this as a chance to “sell the news.” One analyst sees great long-term potential for this approval, targeting the stock to more than double.

          The FDA approved the Twirla transdermal system with a 14 to 1 recommendation vote (only one abstention). Agile Therapeutics plans to launch Twirla in the fourth quarter of this year with a sales force that eventually will include up to 100 representatives.

          Janney Capital reiterated a Buy rating and raised its price target to $9 from $4, which implies upside of 121% from the most recent closing price of $4.07. Overall, the firm believes that there is a huge market opportunity for Agile Therapeutics.

          In its report, Janney detailed:

          The potential addressable market for Twirla (Combined Hormonal Contraception) is $3.8 billion and the total US contraceptive market is approximately $5.6 billion. Combined Hormonal Contraception (CHC) includes the pill (48% share), ring (15% share), and patch (Xulane has 5% share). We assume the same price as Xulane ($122 for 3 patches). Our model conservatively estimates 4% peak penetration in the non-obese population translating to $365 million in US net sales. Agile’s commercial strategy includes hiring a sales force of up to 70-100 reps, which will target OBGYNs and physician extenders, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners. We estimate US launch in 4Q20.

          It’s worth pointing out that Twirla is approved for women with a body mass index (BMI) less than 30, but contains a limitation of use in overweight women. The language in the label addresses the higher risk of unintended pregnancies and venous thromboembolic events in obese women, a factor that is already well known and discussed between physicians and patients.

          Despite the limitation of use in overweight women, Janney believes physicians will still prescribe Twirla for those who are at the lower end of the BMI range of 25 to 30. Given the sizable addressable market, Janney still reaches $365 million in net peak sales at a conservative penetration rate of 4%.

          Shares of Agile Therapeutics traded down about 5% at $3.86 Tuesday morning, in a 52-week range of $0.35 to $4.76. The consensus price target is $5.00.

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          Sanofi Brings SARS Experience to Hunt for Coronavirus Vaccine

          French pharmaceutical company Sanofi jumped into the race to combat the fast-spreading coronavirus, betting that earlier work in pursuit of a SARS vaccine could accelerate its effort.

          The drugmaker is teaming up with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, an agency inside the American government that funds R&D efforts for health threats. Sanofi previously worked on a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the related virus responsible for a 2002-2003 epidemic.

          SARS, the new coronavirus and other recent global outbreaks have forced governments and drugmakers to confront the fact that technologies to develop and a produce vaccines or therapies for a virulent new disease move far slower than the pathogen. While some of the groups working on a vaccine for the new coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, hope to have a version ready in 12 to 18 months, the virus has already infected more than 70,000 people and killed over 1,800.

          Sanofi will rely on recombinant DNA technology, which produces an exact genetic match to proteins found on the surface of the virus, the Paris-based company said Tuesday. The company plans to further investigate a preclinical SARS vaccine candidate that could protect against the coronavirus. Sanofi didn’t say when a vaccine could be available.

          The partnership follows a move last week by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to expedite work on a different vaccine with BARDA.

          J&J will use technologies used to make an Ebola vaccine that was tested in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. That company’s goal is to get a vaccine in human testing within 8 to 12 months and make it available on a large scale soon after, Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels said.

          “We’ll move as fast as we can,” Stoffels said in an interview last week.

          Another drugmaker, GlaxoSmithKline Plc, said earlier this month it would share its technology with other groups pursuing a vaccine through a partnership with the the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Glaxo’s effort will rely on a system designed to enhance the body’s immune response and create stronger and longer-lasting protection.

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          Trump administration waives contracting laws to speed construction of border wall

          SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will waive federal contracting laws to speed construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

          The Department of Homeland Security said waiving procurement regulations will allow 177 miles (283 kilometers) of wall to be built more quickly in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The 10 waived laws include requirements for having open competition, justifying selections and receiving all bonding from a contractor before any work can begin.

          The acting Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, is exercising authority under a 2005 law that gives him sweeping powers to waive laws for building border barriers.

          “We hope that will accelerate some of the construction that’s going along the Southwest border,” Wolf told Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday.

          Secretaries under President Donald Trump have issued 16 waivers, and President George W. Bush issued five, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time that waivers have applied to federal procurement rules. Previously they were used to waive environmental impact reviews.

          The Trump administration said it expects the waivers will allow 94 miles (150 kilometers) of wall to be built this year, bringing the Republican president closer to his pledge of about 450 miles (720 kilometers) since taking office and making it one of his top domestic priorities. It said the other 83 miles (133 kilometers) covered by the waivers may get built this year.

          “Under the president’s leadership, we are building more wall, faster than ever before,” the department said in a statement.

          The move is expected to spark criticism that the Trump administration is overstepping its authority, but legal challenges have failed. In 2018, a federal judge in San Diego rejected arguments by California and environmental advocacy groups that the secretary’s broad powers should have an expiration date. An appeals court upheld the ruling last year.

          Congress gave the secretary power to waive laws in areas of high illegal crossings in 2005 in a package of emergency spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and minimum standards for state-issued identification cards. The Senate approved it unanimously, with support from Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The House passed it with strong bipartisan support; then-Rep. Bernie Sanders voted against it.

          The waivers, to be published in the Federal Register, apply to projects that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will award in six of nine Border Patrol sectors on the Mexican border: San Diego and El Centro in California; Yuma and Tucson in Arizona; El Paso, which spans New Mexico and west Texas, and Del Rio, Texas.

          The administration said the waivers will apply to contractors that have already been vetted. In May, the Army Corps named 12 companies to compete for Pentagon-funded contracts.

          The Army Corps is tasked with awarding $6.1 billion that the Department of Defense transferred for wall construction last year after Congress gave Trump only a fraction of the money. The administration has been able to spend that money during legal challenges.

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