Western Union Buys STC, Europe Eases Lockdowns

  • Saudi Telecom's digital payment unit (STC Pay) is valued at 5 billion riyals ($1.3 billion).
  • Europe plans to relax the blockade carefully during Christmas.
  • European retailers are calling for the removal of the mandatory lockdown.

Western Union, the world’s largest money transfer company, spent $200 million to acquire a 15% stake in the digital payment division of STC Group. Saudi Arabia’s largest telecommunications operator said in a statement on Saturday that the acquisition will provide the company with funds and support its long-term expansion plans.

The Western Union Company is an American worldwide financial services and communications company, headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Until it discontinued the service in 2006, Western Union was the leading American company in the business of transmitting telegrams.

Saudi Telecom’s digital payment unit (STC Pay) is valued at 5 billion riyals ($1.3 billion). Saudi Telecom Group Chairman Mohammed bin Khalid Abdullah Al Faisal said the investment reflects the company’s status as a “digital enabler.”

He pointed out that this transaction created the first “Saudi unicorn and the first fintech unicorn in the Middle East.” Reducing dependence on cash is part of the Saudi government’s efforts to modernize the economy of the world’s largest oil exporter.

Saudi Telecom stated that its digital payment department is the first financial technology company authorized by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (Saudi Central Bank ), with more than 4.5 million users.

Europe Plans to Relax Lockdown During Christmas

Christmas is coming for 500 million Europeans, and many countries, including France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, are preparing to gradually ease their lockdown policies. The second lockdown policy in Europe has recently begun to take effect, and the number of newly confirmed cases in many countries has begun to decrease.

According to data from the World Health Organization, the number of confirmed cases of new coronavirus in a single week in Europe has decreased for the first time in three months. However, the number of new deaths continues to rise.

During the week ending November 15, the number of new coronavirus cases in Europe dropped by nearly 10% from the previous week, but at the same time, Europe reported more than 29,000 new deaths this week, an increase of 18% from the previous week.

As Christmas month, the most prosperous month of the year, gets closer, European retailers are calling for the removal of the mandatory lockdown. In recent days, many governments have expressed that they will relax their lockdown policies, but they will not fully relax restrictions.

The lockdown policies of the United Kingdom, France, and Ireland will expire in early December. The governments of these countries indicated that they will gradually relax restrictions after the policy expires.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last week that the Commission will draft a step-by-step, multi-country coordinated plan to relax restrictions while avoiding another outbreak.

In France, non-essential shops are allowed to reopen around December 1, subject to strict hygiene regulations. Before the Christmas holiday, restrictions on travel and other aspects may be relaxed, and then, depending on the number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and the trend of the number of cases, it is decided whether to relax the restrictions in January.

French epidemiologist Martin Blachier believes that, given that indoor gathering is the main factor in the spread of the epidemic, it is unlikely that French food and beverage stores will reopen before January next year.

England’s nationwide lockdown measures will expire on December 2. On Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will deliver a speech, when he will outline the government’s epidemic prevention measures after the lockdown expires.

In Italy, the size of the number of family gatherings will still be limited, while restrictions on retailers may be loosened. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is considering resuming shops in low-risk areas for 10 days before Christmas.

Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world.

Since the implementation of the lockdown policy in Germany in early November, the current number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus is still relatively high.

The Minister President of Bavaria, Markus Söder, told Bild on Sunday that the lockdown may need to be extended for two to three weeks. He said, “in order for us to have a happy Christmas, we need to extend the lockdown period.”

He pointed out that although the lockdown policy has stabilized the number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, German intensive care units are overcrowded. The number of cases is also rising.

He said that if Germany were to relax the lockdown before Christmas, then New Year’s Eve celebrations must be greatly reduced. He also called for a ban on drinking and fireworks in public places on December 31, warning people to reduce winter ski vacations.

European countries have adopted different epidemic prevention strategies in different periods, and the epidemic situation is also different. Andorra has the highest number of cases per capita in Europe, while Finland has the lowest.

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Benedict Kasigara

I have been working as a freelance editor/writer since 2006. My specialist subject is film and television having worked for over 10 years from 2005 during which time I was the editor of the BFI Film and Television.

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