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Updated at 11/24/2020, 4:07:30 PM BST
Large minorities in “frugal” EU countries are concerned about the misuse of the bloc’s €750bn pandemic recovery fund, in a sign of a fresh source of public anxiety about its centrepiece economic response to coronavirus.
The EU sealed a deal on the recovery fund in July after resistance from Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, which were opposed to the idea of permitting the union to borrow money and hand it out as budgetary expenditure for member states.
The public in those nations expressed less concern about the EU spending too much money and more about potential corruption and waste by recipients of the recovery fund, according to a survey across 8,000 respondents by the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. As many as half of Austrians expressed concern about potential misuse, while about 40 per cent of respondents in Sweden and Netherlands also bore worries.
The survey also showed that almost half of citizens in Finland, and about 40 per cent of respondents in Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark believe that their country’s standing in the EU has declined in the last 2 to 3 years.
“This polling reveals that the public in so-called frugal countries are most concerned about the misuse of funds by net beneficiaries of the EU budget,” said Susi Dennison, author and senior fellow at ECFR. “There’s a widespread belief that their leaders are not able to shape the future direction of the EU.”
Restaurants, pubs and other dining out businesses in the UK claimed £849m from the Treasury during August as part of the government’s “eat out to help out” scheme, figures published by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday show.
The initiative cut the cost more than 160m meals, which offered diners a state-backed discount of 50 per cent on food and non-alcoholic drinks up to a limit of £10.
A third of meals claimed through the scheme, which ran for one month, were bought at the 0.3 per cent of participating businesses with 25 or more outlets, suggesting a significant boost to larger players.
Just over 90 per cent of claims and more than half of the total discount went to the thousands of independent food service operators with one site.
Many restaurateurs praised the summer’s eat out to help out scheme for encouraging people to spend money, while providing a much needed shot in the arm to a sector that has been largely closed or under restrictions since March. The scheme has equally been criticised for potentially increasing the spread of the virus.
Nearly 50,000 businesses registered to take part, covering a total of 78,116 sites. Enthusiasm grew throughout the month, the ONS figures show.
Restaurants made up over half of the businesses claiming through the scheme, with pubs and bars accounting for 28 per cent, and hotels 8 per cent.
European equities drifted on Wednesday, allowing investors to catch their breath after a stunning rally as they awaited the latest assessments from policymakers on the strength of the economic recovery.
The benchmark Stoxx 600 share index, broadly flat on Wednesday, is on track for a record month with a 14.7 per cent gain in November, fuelled by optimism about Covid-19 vaccines. The UK’s benchmark FTSE 100 has gained almost 16 per cent this month.
Analysts looked forward to announcements from central banks and governments, plus any prospects for further fiscal or monetary stimulus.
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak will outline his latest spending review on Wednesday lunchtime where he is expected to launch a £4.3bn plan to tackle the threat of mass unemployment.
The Office for Budget Responsibility will release its forecasts, which are expected to show a £40bn hole in Britain’s public finances.
Sterling, which has been buoyed by traders’ expectations that the UK will forge a workable post-Brexit trade deal with Europe, gained 0.2 per cent against the dollar to purchase $1.34, its highest level since early September.
Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, rose a further 1.1 per cent to $48.41 a barrel, taking it’s rise so far this month to close to 30 per cent.
Caution crept in to markets ahead of the Federal Reserve releasing minutes from its latest meeting that could provide clues to its thinking on further monetary stimulus.
The European Central Bank, in its latest minutes to be published on Thursday, could provide clues on topics such as whether the region’s banks will be allowed to pay dividends next year.
UK car dealership group Lookers has disclosed an annual loss of £45.5m for 2019 after uncovering £300,000 of fraud by a former director and tens of millions of pounds of inflated profits.
Heavily delayed results published on Wednesday show profits were overstated by a total of £25.5m over several years, including by £10.9m in 2019.
The company said it had set aside £10.4m for a possible fine by the Financial Conduct Authority.
In addition to the misstated profits, Lookers revealed a £21.8m shortfall in the company’s balance sheet, of which £19m had been disclosed earlier in the year.
The £45.5m pre-tax loss compared with a profit of £41.9m in 2018, a figure that has also been lowered by £7.2m following a criminal investigation.
The turmoil at the company comes as car dealers grapple with the economic uncertainties of the pandemic, being forced to shut for a second time this year during the UK’s latest lockdown.
However pent-up demand and an increase in online buying means that some dealers are experiencing a boom in trading despite the latest restrictions.
The business first revealed it was investigating possible fraud in March, but the scope of an initial probe by consultancy firm Grant Thornton widened during the year into past accounts and balance sheets.
The shares have been suspended since July, after the company missed the six-month window for publishing annual accounts, and will not begin trading until next month, when the business is due to publish its delayed half-year results for the first six months of 2020, Lookers said.
Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo
Robin Harding in Tokyo
The governor of Tokyo has urged residents to avoid unnecessary outings and to work from home wherever possible as the city wrestles with an inexorable rise in cases of Covid-19.
“The infection situation in the city remains extremely severe. With an increase of 54 serious cases today, in particular, the situation is highly unpredictable,” said Yuriko Koike in a press conference. “We now need to strengthen our measures still more.”
The number of new cases in the city was 401 – close to a record high – with infections reported in several schools. The percentage of tests coming back positive in Tokyo has risen to 6.7 per cent, the highest since the summer.
Tokyo is also asking restaurants and karaoke boxes to close early at 10pm but is providing financial support to compensate them for doing so.
The national government is limiting its “Go To” campaign to subsidise domestic travel. Japan has no framework for compulsory lockdowns but requests for voluntary business closures in the spring were widely respected.
Nationwide coronavirus cases in Japan have been rising by around 2,000 a day, with a particularly severe situation on the northern island of Hokkaido.
Aggressive cost-cutting at De La Rue has buoyed adjusted earnings as the UK banknote printer flagged progress on its multiyear turnround plan.
The company’s first-half adjusted operating profits rose almost seven times to £15.3m.
Central bank demand for cash during the coronavirus pandemic helped prop up its currency division, De La Rue’s largest by sales.
The Essex-based group recently extended its Bank of England banknote printing contract through to 2028.
Overall revenues slipped by about a fifth to £180m, a decline that was exacerbated by the sale of the group’s international identity solutions business in October 2019 and the end of De La Rue’s UK passport contract.
The group’s authentication business is in early talks with governments “regarding Covid-19 immunity certification schemes”.
A £100m capital increase in July helped the group’s hefty net debt pile to shrink by almost four-fifths from the 2020 year-end to £21.6m. It aims to be generating positive free cash flow and able to pay “sustainable cash dividends” by the end of the 2023 financial year.
The shares dropped 5 per cent in early trading on Wednesday to 172p, having climbed by more than a third this year.
Christian Shepherd in Beijing
A state-owned Chinese vaccine maker has applied to local regulators for approval to sell its coronavirus shot ahead of concluding final stage efficacy trials as domestic developers race to keep up with international rivals.
China National Biotec Group, a subsidiary of state-owned pharmaceutical group Sinopharm, has submitted an application to begin commercial sales to the National Medical Products Association, the parent group’s vice president Shi Shengyi told state-run Xinhua Finance on Wednesday.
Sinopharm’s shares shot up to hit the Shanghai stock exchange’s 10 per cent upper limit after the news broke.
The two vaccines developed by CNBG, both of which used a chemically inactivated version of the virus to spark an immune response, are among five offerings from Chinese companies in phase 3 efficacy trials, usually the last hurdle before regulator approval.
Sinopharm said last week that its vaccines have been given to 1m people, many of whom received it as part of a controversial “emergency use” programme. The group claims that there have been no major adverse reactions but has not made clinical data public.
An unnamed Sinopharm employee told the Global Times, a state-backed newspaper, that the group has shared some phase 3 data with Chinese regulators but “is not under pressure to reveal its vaccine data” publicly.
Robust final stage trial results from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZenica vaccines have knocked value off many Chinese vaccine makers’ share prices and added pressure to bring products to market.
China has pledged its vaccines will be distributed across the developing world as part of a diplomatic charm offensive to soothe ties frayed by the pandemic, which began in Wuhan.
Babcock International, the UK defence contractor, suspended its interim dividend as underlying pre-tax profit plunged by half in the first half due to the impact of the pandemic crisis.
The group, which is in the throes of a wide-ranging restructuring, said the constraints imposed by Covid-19 had made it impossible to earn a return on some long-term contracts, with employees often having only restricted access to customer sites.
Dave Lockwood, the new chief executive who took up his post in September, said the situation had slowly improved over the year but continued progress is dependent on the extent of the pandemic across the countries in which Babcock operates.
There was uncertainty as well from the potential impact of Brexit at the end of this year, Mr Lockwood said, although the group believed the risk of problems in its supply chain due to delays at the border with the EU was limited.
Underlying pre-tax profits — adjusted for one-off charges, disposals and currency movements — fell from £202.5m to £98.9m in the six months ending September, on revenues down almost 9 per cent to £2.2bn.
Free cash flow at £58.4m was better than expected thanks to the timing of VAT payments across Europe.
Mr Lockwood suggested he had plans for further restructuring, pledging to unveil an update to the group’s existing programme of disposals and efficiency improvements in the spring.
Virgin Money’s pre-profit tax sank by three-quarters in the year to October after it set aside £501m to cover bad loans, as the UK lender prepared for the longer term consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on its customers.
The UK’s sixth-largest bank reported a pre-tax profit of £124m in its full-year results on Wednesday and warned that its retail-focused business was vulnerable to the hit to the economy of multiple lockdowns.
“Although the vaccine news is a strong cause of hope for the future, the economic benefits are still some way off when considering the immediate reality of current restrictions,” said David Duffy, chief executive of Virgin Money.
The bank’s pre-provision operating profit of £625m was 10 per cent down on a year earlier, because interest rate cuts hurt its margins.
Virgin reported a 13.6 per cent increase in business lending to £8.9bn, thanks to £1.2bn of government-backed lending. Personal lending was up 3.9 per cent, while mortgage lending declined 3 per cent.
G4S will resume paying out dividends from next year, as the London-listed security group fends off takeover attempts by rivals.
In April, G4S suspended its final dividend for 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic, then later opted not to declare an interim dividend this year to preserve cash.
The private security operator expects underlying earnings to grow this year, despite the pandemic pushing revenues slightly lower, thanks to a clampdown on costs.
The group expressed confidence on Wednesday about that momentum continuing into next year. It expects year-on-year revenue growth of 4 to 6 per cent and said that three-quarters of the growth is covered by contracts already won.
However, it has had to contend with a £2.9bn hostile takeover bid from GardaWorld, its smaller Canadian rival.
G4S reiterated its view that the offer is too low. “The GardaWorld Offer does not remotely reflect G4S’s fundamental value, let alone its value to GardaWorld and BC Partners,” said John Connolly, chairman of G4S.
Read more about G4S defending itself from takeover bids here.
Nathalie Thomas in Edinburgh
Tullow Oil is to focus on its producing assets in West Africa as part of a plan to boost cash generation and secure the troubled energy group’s future.
The oil company, which in September warned that it could default on its debt if it did not address a potential liquidity shortfall, has told shareholders it expects to be able to generate $7bn of operating cash flow over the next decade.
Of this $2.7bn will be invested back into the company, making around $4bn available to service its $2.4bn of net debt and to put towards shareholder returns.
Its cash flow forecasts are based on oil prices of $45 per barrel in 2021 and $55 per barrel from 2022 onwards. Oil prices yesterday reached their highest level since March, at one stage surpassing $48 per barrel, boosted by optimism over coronavirus vaccines.
Over 90 per cent of future capital expenditure will be directed towards Tullow’s assets in West Africa — which form the backbone of its business — to maximise production and cash flow. There will also be a “rigorous” focus on costs, the company said on Wednesday.
Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi
Pakistan may experience its worst surge of coronavirus infections in the coming weeks if people do not follow social distancing guidelines, warned planning minister Asad Umar.
“At that time [in June], people could not even find beds in hospitals. We will be pushed back to that level if the standard operating procedures are not followed strictly,” said Mr Umar on Tuesday at a press conference with special health assistant to the prime minister Dr Faisal Sultan.
Pakistan earlier this week closed schools early for winter break and banned indoor dining to try and slow a rise in coronavirus infections. The country recorded almost 3,000 new infections in the past day, according to the latest health ministry data.
Mr Umar said that provincial governments have been asked to appeal to influential clerics to get people to start wearing masks and observing social distancing.
Pakistan has over 380,000 cases and 7,800 coronavirus deaths. South Asia is experiencing a rise in cases as the cold, polluted winter months increase complications from respiratory illnesses.
Cricket West Indies said on Tuesday it would send an advance party to assess whether the coronavirus pandemic has receded safely enough for the team to tour Bangladesh in January 2021.
A medical officer and the security manager would inspect facilities in Dhaka and Chittagong, the organisation said.
“We would be the first international team to visit Bangladesh since the onset of the pandemic and, acting always with the health and safety of our touring party at the forefront of our minds,” said Johnny Grave, Cricket West Indies chief executive.
Cricket West Indies governs Caribbean cricket on behalf of the Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Leeward Islands and Windward Islands local associations.
A visit to Bangladesh would mark the third tour for the West Indies team since the outbreak of the pandemic. The team is now in New Zealand and visited England earlier this year.
New Year’s Eve pyrotechnics explode over Berlin
Germany’s leaders in their campaign to curb the spread of coronavirus are risking public fury by taking aim at one of the country’s most popular traditions — the New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
The 16 leaders of Germany’s federal states have agreed to restrictions for the festive season that include a prohibition on pyrotechnics in busy public spaces. The intention is to prevent big gatherings that could turn into superspreader events for Covid-19.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and the regional leaders will discuss the proposals at a video conference on Wednesday, against the background of coronavirus infection rates that remain stubbornly high despite a partial shutdown in force since the start of this month.
Read more here
A senior Indonesian official has called on citizens who can afford to pay for a coronavirus vaccination to stump up the cash to reduce the financial burden on the government, state media reported on Wednesday.
Erick Thohir, state-owned enterprises minister, said Indonesia would introduce two vaccination programmes, one to make a vaccine available free from the government and the other a fee-paying programme for the more affluent, the Antara news agency reported.
Mr Thohir, who is also deputy chair of the national Covid-19 economic recovery committee, said the preliminary targets of the vaccination programme would be Indonesians aged 18 to 59.
Eurozone banks will be allowed to pay dividends again from next year if they convince supervisors that their balance sheets are strong enough to survive the economic and financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, a senior European Central Bank executive has said.
The ECB ordered eurozone banks to stop all dividends and share buybacks to conserve €30bn of capital in March, shortly after the pandemic arrived in Europe. Since then, the sector has been lobbying hard for stronger banks to be allowed to resume capital distributions early next year.
Yves Mersch, vice-chair of the ECB’s supervisory board, told the Financial Times he was concerned that banks benefiting from a regulatory easing of capital requirements would pay out some of that capital to shareholders, but it would be difficult to maintain a dividend ban beyond the end of this year.
Read more here
Song Jung-a and Edward White
South Korean pharmaceutical group Celltrion has promised to freely provide North Korea with its coronavirus treatment drug next year, as the global race to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 intensifies.
The Seoul-based group has injected its experimental Covid-19 antibody treatment to 327 patients for its second-phase trial and would seek conditional approval for the new drug from local regulators by the end of this year.
The company plans to seek local regulatory approval for emergency use after confirming its interim results from the trials being run in South Korea, the US and Europe.
The offer comes against a backdrop of uncertainty among North Korean watchers over the pandemic’s reach into the isolated state.
Pyongyang has not publicly confirmed any Covid-19 cases after implementing a swift lockdown on its borders in January, ahead of most other countries. Many international experts and officials are sceptical of the claims of zero infections, however.
In its second trial, Celltrion is testing the new treatment on patients with both mild and serious symptoms. The treatment is the most advanced antibody drug for Covid-19 being developed in South Korea, the company says.
A Seoul barbecue restaurant owner looks out on a sparsely travelled street
The news comes as South Korea is facing a new spike in coronavirus cases as the weather gets colder. The country added 382 new cases on Wednesday, increasing the total caseload to 31,735. Three more deaths were reported, increasing the death toll to 513.
Health authorities are considering strengthening social distancing measures further to curb the increasing trend.
Celltrion began initial production of the drug, called CT-P59, in September in its domestic plant to initially treat about 100,000 people.
The company plans to conduct its third-stage trial soon with patients in about 10 countries and expects the drug to treat up to 2m people next year after obtaining overseas regulatory approvals.
While optimism has built over several vaccines being developed, pharmaceutical groups also remain battling to develop Covid-19 treatments.
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorisation for the antibody treatments made by the biotech companies Regeneron and Eli Lilly.
Greek doctors working in intensive care units on contracts would be able to join public hospitals as permanent staff, prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Tuesday.
The decision follows a similar hiring of nurses earlier in the pandemic.
“It is an act of recognition by the state of the great work they carried out during the pandemic and a dire necessity to staff new ICUs opening the past few months,” Mr Mitsotakis was quoted as saying by the official ANA-MPA news agency.
The prime minister said the country had more than doubled the number of ICUs in the National Health System from 557 before the pandemic to 1,242 now.
The health budget has increased from €3.8bn in 2018 to €4.8bn in 2020, he said.
Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe, Mure Dickie and Andy Bounds
Three households from across the UK will be able to form a “Christmas bubble” over the five days between December 23 and December 27, the government announced on Tuesday.
Leaders of the devolved nations agreed in a meeting led by Michael Gove, the UK Cabinet Office minister, to relax coronavirus restrictions and allow people to travel across the country during the five-day window.
The Christmas plan marks a rare, common approach to the pandemic across the UK, where the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have generally taken a more cautious approach than the UK government, which sets policy for England.
Read more here
Bolshoi Ballet dancers Igor Tsvirko and Margarita Shrainer rehearse in their Moscow kitchen during a lockdown
The IMF is slightly more optimistic about a Russian economic recovery, revising its outlook for contraction of gross domestic product to 4 per cent from 4.1 per cent in 2020.
However, the fund revised likely growth in 2021 to 2.5 per cent from 2.8 per cent.
“All in all, we project the economy to contract by about 4 per cent this year,” the IMF staff concluding statement issued on Tuesday said, assuming that the pandemic would “gradually normalise”.
Nevertheless, it added, “the economy will remain well below full employment for the foreseeable future”.
The IMF warned of weaker activity if “stronger lockdowns need to be imposed, in turn bringing about new layoffs and further stretching firms’ balance sheets.”
“The economy was showing signs of a healthy recovery that is now under threat from a sharp rise in infections,” the statement noted. “The large contraction in the second quarter was not as severe as in most other G20 countries.”
Russia reported a record 491 deaths linked to Covid-19 on Tuesday, bringing the official death toll to 37,031, according to the official Tass news agency.
Authorities reported 24,326 new cases nationwide.
New Zealand’s central bank will reimpose mortgage lending restrictions from March amid concerns historically low interest rates are creating a housing bubble in the country.
It follows an intervention by the newly re-elected Labour government, which wrote to the governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand asking the bank to consider house price “instability” when setting monetary policy.
Wellington’s decision to request such a change to RBNZ’s remit has prompted a debate about the bank’s independence and the aggressive action it has taken to stimulate the economy during Covid-19.
Read more here
OANN reporter Chanel Rion asks a question at a White House briefing
Google’s YouTube has suspended rightwing channel One American News Network for a week for breaching its rules against coronavirus misinformation, as social media platforms continue their crackdown on misleading public health content.
The Silicon Valley company said on Tuesday that it was blocking OANN, which has been endorsed by US president Donald Trump as an alternative to mainstream cable channels, from posting new videos and live streams for a seven-day period for “violating our Covid-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure”.
OANN chief executive Robert Herring said in an email that the channel had uploaded a programme in which its staff “interview a lot of people who claimed they had recovered [from] the virus after receiving hydroxychloroquine”, a controversial anti-malaria drug which scientific tests have indicated has no role in treating Covid-19.
YouTube also said that it was removing the channel’s ability to monetise its existing videos for repeatedly violating its Covid-19 policies and others.
OANN would have to reapply to YouTube in order to make money from its videos again, proving that it has tackled the issues that led to its temporary suspension.
Social media platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter drew up new policies earlier this year to tackle the deluge of coronavirus misinformation that has spread during the pandemic, targeting in particular falsehoods that could lead to real-world harm.
OANN, which has 1.2m subscribers on YouTube and often racks up millions of views on its videos, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The UK government’s belated efforts to secure personal protective equipment for health workers during the Covid-19 pandemic led to huge extra costs to the taxpayer, according to a report from parliament’s spending watchdog.
The National Audit Office found that England had inadequate levels of PPE going into the crisis, and in ramping up supply after March the government paid “very high prices due to unusual market conditions”.
The government would have saved £10bn on this essential gear if it had been acquired in 2019, the NAO said.
Read more here
The pandemic recovery in Asia-Pacific has extended its lead over the US and Europe, according to an ANZ ranking.
ANZ’s analysis found Asia-Pacific had extended its lead thanks to effective management of the virus that has allowed the economic recovery to continue.
A rebound in trade has also supported the Asian economies that are more reliant on manufacturing than their Western counterparts.
China, South Korea and Singapore have now passed 200 days since the peak of their coronavirus infection curves, ANZ foreign exchange strategists John Bromhead and Daniel Been said.
China tops the ranking which takes account for the share of services within the overall economy, the number of days since the peak of infections and direct stimulus as a percentage of gross domestic product.
A woman takes a selfie in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic began
Australia and Singapore came in second and third place respectively.
The US and Europe are experiencing a second surge of virus cases, forcing a repeat of lockdowns to limit the spread of the virus which threatens to derail their economic recoveries.
New Zealand is the country with the highest level of fiscal stimulus as a percentage of gross domestic product, at 20 per cent, while Australia comes in fifth at 12.5 per cent, according to the report.
ANZ said New Zealand and Australia’s effective response to the crisis had already been priced in.
The Australian dollar has seen the best performance of all G10 currencies, strengthening 20.4 per cent since April, while the New Zealand dollar has firmed 17 per cent.
“Prior to any widespread vaccine roll-out, the currencies at the top of this list should continue to outperform those at the bottom,” the report said.
“Those that are still trading below fair value like the [Australian dollar] and [Chinese yuan] present additional value as the global recovery picks up pace into 2021,” it added.
Indonesian superapp provider Gojek has bagged $150m from Telkomsel, the country’s state-owned mobile operator, as it adjusts to new business conditions brought about by Covid-19.
Both companies had been business partners for a while, with Telkomsel providing Gojek drivers with cheap data options, but this marks the first time the mobile operator will be making an investment into the “decacorn” — a private company valued at more than $10bn.
Telkomsel is a joint venture between state-owned telecoms group Telkom Indonesia and Singapore’s Singtel. The mobile operator’s parent, Telkom, was reportedly close to investing in Gojek back in 2018, but the deal fell through when it failed to secure backing from top ministerial figures.
Read more here
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Beijing will reserve vaccines developed in mainland China for people in the territory.
In her annual policy address, Ms Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said Beijing would reserve a certain number of vaccines “when necessary” for people in Hong Kong.
The city has signed up for the Covax Facility ensuring access to vaccines and held discussions with vaccine developers to secure the jabs.
Ms Lam said Beijing requested that the Hong Kong government “adopt all measures to guard against the importation of cases and resurgence of domestic infections, with the aim of gradually resuming travel between Hong Kong and Guangdong”.
Hong Kong residents who live in Guangdong or Macau have now been permitted to return to the city without undergoing quarantine.
The city had managed to contain a wave of infections that started in July, but a stubborn number of untraceable infections have continued in recent weeks.
Health authorities said last week that a fourth wave of infections had begun in the city following a cluster of infections at dancing clubs. The cluster has now swollen to almost 200 cases.
Ms Lam said her government forecasts the city’s economy will contract by 6.1 per cent in 2020.
Chow Khai Shien moved to Australia five years ago in search of an education and a better life. But his new life was snuffed out last month when a stolen car smashed into the 36-year-old Malaysian’s scooter as he made a delivery for DoorDash, one of the world’s biggest gig economy companies.
“It was heartbreaking when I confirmed . . . that he was completing a delivery when the accident happened. My brother’s life is basically gone and all for the price of a cup of coffee,” Chow Khai Sing, the dead rider’s sister, told the Financial Times.
Five delivery drivers have died in accidents in Australia in the past two months, sparking a debate about regulating the gig economy at a time when it is enjoying a surge in demand following Covid-19 lockdowns.
Read more here
France will begin to ease its lockdown from this weekend, president Emmanuel Macron said in a statement released by the Élysée Palace on Tuesday.
“The peak of the second epidemic wave has now passed,” Mr Macron said, citing a reduction in daily cases from more than 60,000 on November 5 to about 20,000 cases per day this week.
From Saturday, some nonessential businesses such as toy stores and bookshops will be allowed to reopen.
The 1km travel restriction will extend to 20km, but people will still require permission from the authorities to leave home.
“It will therefore be necessary to continue to stay at home, to telework, when possible, to give up private meetings and family gatherings, and all unnecessary travel,” Mr Macron said.
Outdoor after-school activities will resume, while places of worship will reopen with no more than 30 people.
“On December 15, if we have reached around 5,000 infections per day…. we will be able to move on to a new stage,” Mr Macron said.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic people around the world have looked to Asia-Pacific — the initial frontline of the crisis — for inspiration to rebuff the deadly disease and rebuild battered economies, Edward White and Christian Shepherd write in the latest Trade Secrets newsletter.
This week’s issue looks at the region’s mixed success with travel bubbles and fast-tracked visa systems during the pandemic. We posit there may be a lesson for vaccine diplomacy.
The proposed Singapore-Hong Kong bubble was postponed after a spike in local transmission in the Chinese city, while 10,000 South Korean businessmen have entered China through special processes set up under a bilateral agreement .
Read more Trade Secrets here
An artificial intelligence algorithm can detect Covid-19 in chest X-rays as accurately as experienced thoracic radiologists, a US study published on Tuesday shows.
The researchers, led by Chicago cardiologist Ramsey Wehbe, said detecting Covid-19 on chest radiographs “might be useful for triage or infection control within a hospital setting”.
The algorithm, known as DeepCOVID-XR, is a deep learning AI algorithm that uses neural networks to detect Covid-19 on frontal chest radiographs using real-time polymerase chain reaction as a reference standard.
The algorithm was trained and validated on 14,788 images provided by the Northwestern Memorial Healthcare System from February to April, then tested on 2,214 images from a single institution.
Performance of the algorithm was then compared with interpretations from five experienced thoracic radiologists. The results were published in Radiology, a US journal.
DeepCOVID-XR’s accuracy was 83 per cent, compared with 76-81 per cent for individual radiologists and 81 per cent for a consensus of all five.
Pupils run a socially distanced obstacle course in Stamford, Connecticut
Connecticut on Tuesday increased fines for businesses violating Covid-19 protocols to $10,000 from $500, as the north-eastern US state fights rising coronavirus cases.
Governor Ned Lamont said the new penalties would go into effect on Thursday, aimed at discouraging businesses from allowing too many people in confined spaces.
“We have seen a small number of businesses in flagrant violation of these public health rules,” Mr Lamont said. “That’s all you need to cause a super-spreading event that leads to a large number of cases and hospitalisations.”
Some smaller fines would remain in effect, such as $500 for organising an event over capacity limits or breaching a travel advisory, $250 for attending such an event and $100 for not wearing a face mask or covering in public.
Turkey continues to break records with new daily cases of coronavirus infection exceeding 7,000, according to health ministry data released on Tuesday.
The country’s total Covid-19 caseload reached 460,916 with the addition of 7,381 more coronavirus patients. The death toll rose by 161 to reach 12,672.
The number of new daily cases are now running at higher levels than the outbreak’s previous peak in April, while the number of patients in critical condition now stands at 4,543.
Health minister Fahrettin Koca said he was concerned by sharp increases of new cases in three of Turkey’s western provinces.
“There is a significant increase in Bursa, Kocaeli and Gaziantep,” Dr Koca wrote on Twitter. “A more diligent and more meticulous effort is required in these provinces.”
The US had its deadliest day in more than six months on Tuesday after reporting more than 2,000 coronavirus fatalities.
States attributed a further 2,028 deaths to coronavirus, according to Covid Tracking Project data, up from 956 on Monday and compared with 1,555 on Tuesday last week.
That took the national death toll to 250,925. Johns Hopkins University, which uses an alternative methodology to CTP, said last week that fatalities crossed the quarter-of-a-million mark.
The latest increase in deaths was the biggest one-day jump in fatalities since the record of 2,753 on May 7, when northeastern states like New York and New Jersey were hit hard during the early stage of the pandemic.
The US has averaged 1,517 fatalities a day over the past week, the highest rate since mid-May, according to a Financial Times analysis of CTP data.
Coronavirus deaths tend to lag behind cases and hospitalisations.
The recent rise in the fatality rate beyond levels experienced during the summer surge runs counter to claims the record levels of coronavirus cases — and hospital admissions — over the past month were simply a function of nationwide daily testing capacity that had been continually ramped up.
Commuters wearing masks wait at a bus stop in Detroit
Several states each reported more than 100 fatalities, including Texas (162), Michigan (154), Illinois (150), Indiana (103). Missouri (189) and Wisconsin (114) both set single-day records for deaths, as did Alaska (13), Maine (12) and Oregon (21), according to an FT analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.
The number of people currently being treated for Covid-19 in US hospitals hit 88,080, a record high for the 15th day running. Seventeen states reported their highest level of hospitalisations of the pandemic, compared with 19 that hit records on Tuesday last week.
States reported 166,672 coronavirus cases, up from 150,975 on Monday, and nearly 10,000 more than the tally on Tuesday last week.
While there were some concerning developments — with Texas and California reporting their biggest and second-biggest one-day jumps in new cases since the start of the pandemic — trends in the Midwest are showing nascent signs of improvement.
Ohio was the only one of the 12 states in the region where its seven-day average of cases hit a record on Tuesday, while six of them are down at least 10 per cent from peak rates, according to CTP data.
Health authorities in Singapore reported the city state is free of active clusters of coronavirus infections for the first time in almost 10 months.
The country’s Ministry of Health said no new cases had been linked to a cluster at the Cassia@Penjuru migrant dormitory for two incubation periods, or 28 days.
“With the closure of this cluster, there are no active Covid-19 clusters for the first time since [February 3],” the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
Singapore, which initially contained small outbreaks of the virus, was forced into a lockdown in April after infections sprung up in the densely populated migrant dormitories.
The country has recorded more than 54,000 cases among dormitory residents, and almost 2,300 cases in the “community”.
No locally transmitted cases of coronavirus were reported on Tuesday.
The Cook Islands, with tourism accounting for about one-third of its economy, has turned to the Asian Development Bank for a $20m loan to offset plunging revenue.
While the self-governing South Pacific archipelago has not yet reported a case of Covid-19, the economy is expected to contract 7 per cent this year as tourist arrivals have halted.
Tourism-related jobs account for about half of all private sector employment and one-third of total jobs.
The ADB loan would provide employment support payments, and cash payments for the elderly, the infirm and caregivers. It would also enable interest and credit relief for households and businesses and provide business grants.
“This assistance will enhance the government’s ability to prevent the pandemic from entering the Cook Islands,” said ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa.
“[It will also] mitigate the negative social, health, and economic impacts caused by the pandemic on livelihoods and local business, with a special focus on vulnerable households,” he added.
Asia-Pacific equities climbed after Wall Street hit new highs as Donald Trump moved to begin the transfer of power to president-elect Joe Biden.
The rally continued in Asia on Wednesday with Japan’s Topix up 1 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea gaining 0.8 per cent and the S&P/ASX in Australia up 0.8 per cent.
Greater certainty over the transfer of power buoyed sentiment and indications that Mr Biden would pick former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary was also welcomed.
“Yellen has been critical of the tariffs Trump imposed on China, so if her appointment is approved we could see a more collaborative approach to trade issues,” ANZ analysts said in a note. “The markets also expect Yellen to bring in more economic stimulus and to have fiscal and monetary policy working closer together.”
On Wall Street on Tuesday, the S&P 500 climbed 1.6 per cent to a new record and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose above 30,000 for the first time.
Texas on Tuesday shattered its record for daily cases, reporting nearly 14,000 new infections.
A further 13,998 new cases were revealed by the health department this afternoon, up from 6,576 on Monday. That soared past the previous record of 12,597 set on Saturday.
Texas has now averaged more than 10,000 cases a day over the past week, a threshold it never exceeded during its surge alongside other sunbelt states during the summer.
While an increase in testing volumes may explain some of the increase in daily cases, a rise in hospitalistions and deaths over recent weeks suggest coronavirus has reestablished itself in the state.
There are currently 8,495 people in Texas hospitals receiving treatment for Covid-19, the most since August 4 and representing an increase of 142 over the past 24 hours.
Hong Kong bar districts such as SoHo will be quieter from Thursday
Hong Kong will close bars and nightclubs for the third time this year to curb a surge of Covid-19 cases.
More than 180 infections have emerged in recent days at dancing clubs and dance studios, but authorities declined to shut those venues down.
“All bars or pubs, bath-houses, clubs or nightclubs must be closed,” the government said in a statement on Wednesday.
Hong Kong recorded 80 more cases on Tuesday, 54 of them linked to the dance club cluster.
“There have been several days with multiple cases of untraceable sources, and almost one-third of infected people were asymptomatic,” said Sophia Chan, food and health secretary.
Bars in the Chinese city were first closed in April for a month, and again from mid-July to mid-September.
The Canadian government on Tuesday signed a deal with US drugmaker Eli Lilly for 26,000 doses of its Covid-19 monoclonal antibody therapy.
Under the agreement, deliveries of Bamlanivimab will begin in December and be completed in February 2021.
Canada would have the option to purchase more.
Eli Lilly co-developed the therapy with AbCellera Biologics, a Vancouver-based biotechnology company.
Thanksgiving travellers hit the road in Chicago on Tuesday
Chicago said on Tuesday it would extend regulatory relief to businesses affected by the pandemic, as the US city’s mayor warned against Thanksgiving get-togethers that could spread the Covid-19 virus further.
The city said it would extend temporary relief efforts such as licence renewals, while allowing restaurants and cafés to expand outdoor dining.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she did not want the city to share the fate of neighbouring Canada, where cases surged after its Thanksgiving holiday last month.
“Canada celebrated Thanksgiving on October 12,” Ms Lightfoot wrote on Twitter. “What happened shortly after is what we want to avoid. It’s not too late to change your traditional Thanksgiving plans to protect the people you love.”
New Zealand is investigating a possible coronavirus infection in a staff member of the country’s flag carrier in China.
The health ministry said Air New Zealand informed the government of the potential infection on Monday after the crew member tested positive.
The crew are remaining in Shanghai for tests, which have all been negative so far for other members.
“The ministry is continuing to investigate the circumstances of this possible case,” officials said in a statement.
The UK’s University of Oxford has emerged as a global leader in the scientific battle against coronavirus — a bright spot in Britain’s generally less than stellar record in handling the pandemic.
The university was in the spotlight on Monday for the vaccine that reported encouraging efficacy results, but it also runs the world’s biggest clinical trial of Covid-19 treatments and leads academic analysis of infections for the UK’s Office for National Statistics, among other coronavirus projects.
No other university anywhere can match what Oxford has achieved, said Peter Hale, executive director of the Foundation for Vaccine Research in Washington DC. “They were first out of the gate on coronavirus research back in January and have kept their frontrunner status,” he said. “I consider them ‘the little engine that could’.”
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Business travellers coming into England for trips of up to three days could be exempt from the quarantine system under plans floated on Tuesday. A government task force said in a report that the exemption could be introduced in early 2021, although the visitors would be banned from socialising while in England.
The makers of Russia’s flagship Covid-19 vaccine said on Tuesday that interim results from phase 3 trials showed efficacy rates outperforming western vaccines. The state-run Gamaleya Institute said data showed the vaccine’s efficacy was 91.4 per cent 28 days after the first shot, rising beyond 95 per cent after 42 days.
The UK government has approached telecoms operators in a bid to ensure almost 50 coronavirus vaccination centres for healthcare workers in England have fast broadband connections so they can be up and running within a week. The biggest providers, BT and Virgin Media, are among companies asked to assess 47 locations.
Oil prices touched their highest level since March on Tuesday, rising above $47 a barrel after a raft of positive vaccine news sparked a comeback in one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. Brent crude, the international benchmark, gained more than 3 per cent to reach as high as $47.82 a barrel.
International retail chains were on Tuesday counting the cost of the collapse in world travel, as Abercrombie & Fitch said it would speed up closure of flagship stores and Tiffany said sales fell sharply in Europe and the Americas. Other retailers lamenting the tourism slump include Macy’s.
Accor, Europe’s largest hotel company, is merging a quarter of its brands into a new $1bn company with the owner of the Hoxton hotel chain in a bid to move away from a traditional overnight accommodation model that was already being shaken up before the pandemic. The new entity will operate under the Ennismore name.
JD Sports has emerged as the last remaining bidder for Debenhams, as the historic department store chain’s battle for survival nears its conclusion. An agreement on the business’s future is likely to be reached within days, and failure to secure a deal would be likely to result in the liquidation of the company.
Compass has warned it expects office workers to continue working from home even after the pandemic subsides, creating a long-term challenge for the catering group. Dominic Blakemore, chief executive, said he expects white-collar workers to work from home half the week, which would depress its annual sales by 5 per cent.
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