Coronavirus latest: France’s Sanofi to help speed up BioNTech/Pfizer’s vaccine production

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Updated at 1/26/2021, 1:15:41 PM BST

Valentina Romei

Consumers’ shift to shopping online spurred UK entrepreneurs to launch more businesses at the end of last year.

In 2020’s final quarter, 24 per cent more businesses were set up compared with the same three-month period a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday.

The figure follows from a “relatively strong number” in the previous three months that was “contrary to” coronavirus-related expectations, the ONS said.

The retail industry is enjoying one of the biggest pushes to create businesses, which the ONS attributes to a shift towards online shopping.

The share of online shopping has risen to a record 22 per cent in the last three months of 2020 as retailers benefited from consumers spending less on services, such as movies and meals out, and more on goods. That’s the highest since statistics began four years ago and up from 15.7 per cent in the same period in 2019.

The increase in businesses created in retail, professional services and logistics outweighed significant falls in education, entertainment and the hospitality sector, which have borne the brunt of Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

However the level of UK business creation in the final three months of 2020 was “substantially” lower on average than during the same quarter over the past few years, suggesting that they might contribute less to jobs and income growth than before. The average number of employees fell to 2.7 per new business at the end of last year, down from 3.5 employees between 2017 and 2019.

Moreover, 37 per cent more businesses closed over the same period, with all sectors, except motor trades, registering more closures than in previous years.

Businesses in the hospitality sector made up for a smaller share of closures in the fourth quarter than usual despite being severely affected by the restrictions, possibly due to government’ measures.

The figure points to possible larger business failures if government support ends before the economy stages a full recovery.

Oliver Ralph

French pharmaceuticals group Sanofi is to help accelerate the production of the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine and add millions to the EU supply, as concern grows about the availability of doses around the world.

Sanofi plans to start working on late-stage manufacturing of the vaccine in the summer, initially in its Frankfurt plant, and would supply more than 125m doses for the EU, the group said on Wednesday.

“We are very conscious that the earlier vaccine doses are available, the more lives can potentially be saved,” said Sanofi chief executive Paul Hudson. “Today’s announcement is a pivotal step towards our industry’s collective goal of putting all the effort in to curb this pandemic.”

The company also gave an update on its own Covid-19 vaccines. One of its candidates, which it is developing with GlaxoSmithKline, is set to enter Phase 2 trials next month with a possible Phase 3 study starting later in the first quarter.

Sanofi’s other vaccine candidate is being developed with Translate Bio, and is set to enter a Phase 1/2 study in the first quarter of this year.

The French group two weeks ago confirmed it was studying the “technical feasibility” of using its manufacturing capacity to help make Covid-19 vaccines for other companies that have more developed jabs. Read more here.

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

Consumer confidence has fallen sharply this year in Germany and France, as high coronavirus infections, stricter lockdowns and worries about the slow pace of vaccinations dent hopes of a rapid recovery.

The GfK institute said its indicator of German consumer confidence fell more than expected by most economists, dropping 8.1 points to an eight-month low of minus 15.6 this month, as the number of people saying the pandemic represents a significant threat hit a new high.

“Consumer sentiment is facing difficult challenges in the first quarter of this year,” said Rolf Bürkl at GfK. “If it is to recover sustainably, infection rates will need to decrease more than they have to date so that the measures can be relaxed significantly.”

In France, the outlook also darkened, as the national statistics agency said its index of consumer confidence fell more than expected, dropping three points to 92, its second-lowest score since the pandemic started last year. There was a sharp increase in the number of households saying they planned to save more and fewer people planning large purchases.

The French government is considering whether to impose another lockdown after coronavirus infections remained stubbornly high, averaging more than 20,000 a day. Bruno Le Maire, finance minister, has warned that another lockdown would mean the French economy misses its forecast for 6 per cent growth this year.

Germany’s economics ministry is set to slash its growth forecast for this year from 4.4 per cent to 3 per cent when it presents new figures on Wednesday afternoon, according to a report last week in Der Spiegel. The ministry said it had not finalised its forecast and declined to comment on the report.

Nathalie Thomas in Edinburgh

Tullow Oil has secured an additional month from its banks before it faces a test on a key lending facility as the embattled explorer and producer continues refinancing talks with its creditors.

A test on Tullow’s reserve-based lending facility – a form of funding where a company’s oil and gas reserves are used as collateral for loans – had been due to conclude this month but lenders have agreed to an extension of up to one month to allow more time to review a new strategy unveiled by its latest chief executive, Rahul Dhir, in November.

The company, which is trying to recover from a torrid 2019 that resulted in hefty cuts to its production forecasts and the departure of its former chief executive Paul McDade, warned last September that a potential liquidity shortfall threatened its ability to satisfy requirements at the January test.

The extension was outlined in Tullow’s latest trading update on Wednesday in which it said production was forecast to drop to 60-66,000 barrels of oil per day in 2021, down from an average of 74,900 barrels per day last year due to a drilling hiatus and a planned shutdown at one of its key fields in September.

Jefferies analyst Mark Wilson said that the 2021 production forecast was lower than expected and that Tullow faces a “difficult reality” to improve output towards levels anticipated in Mr Dhir’s new strategy.

Revenues for 2020 would come in at $1.4bn, the company said, down from $1.68bn in 2019, reflecting lower oil prices and production. The company had already warned the market that it is expecting to book impairments and exploration write-offs of $1.4bn for 2020.

Mr Dhir is hoping to secure Tullow’s future by focussing on its core assets in West Africa.

Sarah Provan

The Chelsea Flower Show will showcase dahlias rather than spring flowers and roses as the coronavirus pandemic has forced the garden show beloved by the British royal family to be held in the autumn for the first time in its 108-year history.

The 2021 show at the Royal Hospital in London’s Chelsea has been moved to September 21-26 from May 18-23, the Royal Horticultural Society said in a statement on Wednesday. It has added a day and reduced attendees so as to spread visitors out and adhere to social-distancing rules.

The RHS regards the show as its major event in its annual finances and pulls in millions in sponsorship every year. Last year the Covid-19 crisis forced the world renowned flower show online, disrupting its annual event for the first time since the second world war.

“We have a responsibility to our exhibitors and everyone involved in the show,” the RHS said, to delay the show to later in the year “when millions more people will have been vaccinated and it is more likely that the levels of infection will have reduced substantially”.

“The autumn dates may not be suitable for everyone, but with our fantastic industry partners we will do everything we can to support them and create a show that will be a moment in history,” said Sue Biggs, RHS director general. “It will be exciting to see different horticulture and showcase the key autumn gardening season.”

Exhibitors who were due to take part in May will be able to appear at the autumn show.

Edward White and Harry Dempsey

South Korea’s plan to encourage businesses prospering during the coronavirus pandemic to share profits with those less fortunate could be a model for the world to follow, according to president Moon Jae-in.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos event, the president warned on Wednesday that inequality was worsening not only within countries but also between nations, as a result of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

He laid out South Korea’s policy measures in response to the virus, including massive fiscal stimulus, assistance for small businesses, job retention support and vouchers to low-income families. But, as he has previously warned, Mr Moon said more support measures might be required to help the worst-off in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“My administration and the legislature are also discussing a profit sharing system in which the government provides strong incentives to companies that have prospered during the Covid-19 pandemic to share their profits with their hardest hit peers,” said Mr Moon. “More wisdom will be needed to work out the details but if these initiatives can be realised they can become a benchmark for inclusive policies to be used in overcoming future pandemics together.”

Mr Moon’s government has garnered international praise for its handling of the health crisis posed by the pandemic — particularly its mass testing and high-tech contact tracing systems which were rapidly rolled and have been sustained over the past 12 months.

Nathalie Thomas in Edinburgh

France’s EDF has again revised up the expected cost of Hinkley Point C, the nuclear power station under construction in south-west England, warning delays arising from the coronavirus pandemic will add around £500m and will push back the station’s estimated start-up date to 2026.

The group, which is financing the construction of the plant along with its junior partner CGN of China, said it is expecting the project to cost up to £23bn compared with a previous estimate in 2019 of a maximum of £22.5bn. EDF quotes costs in 2015 prices in order to maintain consistency for the markets but the real bill is likely to be higher after accounting for inflation.

It said on Wednesday that the first electricity is now expected in June 2026, against a previous hope to start generating by the end of 2025. It has not been able to catch up work that was postponed last year at the height of the first lockdown in the UK.

“Ten months after it began, we are still facing the full force of the pandemic,” Stuart Crooks, the managing director of Hinkley Point C, said in a message to employees on Wednesday.

Sarah Provan

The World Health Organization is calling on countries to share their doses of vaccines to achieve a “fair and equitable distribution” of the jabs and ensure that the virus does not spread in one part of the world, leaving other places vulnerable.

“We all understand that we face the need to come through this pandemic,” said Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at WHO in Europe. “We are in it together as a global community and we need to come out of it as one.”

She was speaking after reports emerged that Norway had started giving away vaccines as well as inoculating its citizens, and amid fears that inadequate supplies of Covid-19 vaccines for lower income countries mean it could take years to inoculate some parts of the world.

Many poorer nations had planned to rely on the WHO-backed Covax facility, which was set up with Gavi, an alliance of vaccine partners, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a foundation that takes donations to fund independent vaccine research.

“If we adopt a ‘me first’ attitude, we really run the risk of harming the global efforts to bring the pandemic to an end,” Dr Smallwood said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The WHO sees lockdowns as a last resort, when all else has failed to control the spread of coronavirus, she said, adding that essential travel should continue.

Oliver Ralph

Sales at furniture retailer ScS have been hit by the UK’s series of lockdowns, with the company saying that customers prefer to try out products before they buy.

The company said that like-for-like order intake in the the first half of its financial year to January was down 9 per cent, with a jump in the summer and autumn – when lockdowns were relatively light – more than offset by a sharp fall in late December and January.

ScS said its stores had performed well while they were open, but had been forced to close by the latest restrictions.

The company added that it was “cautiously optimistic” for the next few months, given the experience following the first and second lockdowns when there was a rebound in demand as shops reopened.

“Given the tactile nature of our products, the majority of customers chose to wait until stores re-opened to try our products in person before making their purchasing decision,” ScS said in a statement. “This resulted in the business benefiting from pent-up demand, coupled with an increased level of investment by UK consumers in their homes.”

Nevertheless, some people are happy to purchase their sofas online. ScS said that online order intake had doubled in the first half, but gave no indication of how much online sales had contributed to the group total.

James Pickford in London

The pandemic has cut the supply of homes coming on to the UK market in 2021, as a surge in coronavirus cases discouraged potential sellers in spite of the stimulus of a stamp duty holiday.

The new stock of homes coming on to the market in the first two weeks of 2021 has fallen by 12 per cent compared with the same period in January 2020, according to property website Zoopla, which ascribed the fall in part to the reluctance of potential sellers to risks viewings in the current pandemic surge.

“Record Covid cases and calls to uphold social distancing appear to have made some would-be home sellers reluctant to list their property for sale at present,” Zoopla said, adding that the strength of last year’s market may also have “soaked up” the supply of homes available for sale.

Read more here

Robin Harding in Tokyo

Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister, has apologised after two senior members of the ruling coalition went partying until midnight in Tokyo nightclubs despite a government request for all venues to close by 8pm.

The two members of parliament were named in Japanese media as Jun Matsumoto, acting chair of the Liberal Democratic party’s parliamentary affairs committee, and Kiyohiko Toyama, an executive committee member of their coalition partner, Komeito.

“I’m extremely sorry this has happened at a time when we are asking for the public’s cooperation,” Mr Suga told the Diet, Japan’s legislature.

Mr Matsumoto visited a restaurant and two clubs in the Ginza district on the evening of January 18, while Mr Toyama went to a Ginza club on the evening of January 22. Both incidents were first reported by local tabloids.

Mr Suga was himself criticised after going for a steak dinner with a large group in December 2020, at a time when the government was asking people to restrict gatherings to no more than five people.

Tokyo and other large cities are under a state of emergency to control Covid-19 infections.

John Reed in Bangkok

Vietnamese health authorities are on alert after a woman who flew to Japan for work tested positive for the new, more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus first reported in the UK.

Local media reported that the unnamed 32-year-old woman was found to be infected after landing on January 17 via Singapore to Japan, which tests all people arriving from abroad for Covid-19.

The state-run Viet Nam News agency said that local authorities in Chi Linh, east of Hanoi, where the woman was living, were only informed of the result on Tuesday, and had since then identified her close contacts and moved them into quarantine.

Their homes were also disinfected and management of an industrial park where the woman previously worked were also tracking people she came into close contact with, Viet Nam News reported.

The outlet noted that some Vietnamese travelers to Japan in the past had tested positive upon arrival, but were found negative in later PCR tests.

Vietnam has done better than most other countries in containing the pandemic, and as of Wednesday had reported 57 consecutive days without any local Covid-19 infections.

At a five-yearly Communist party congress in Hanoi this week, party chief Nguyen Phu Trong touted the country’s success in managing the outbreak.

Vietnam, with a population of about 98m, has reported just over 1,500 cases and 35 deaths to date.

Bruno Le Maire, centre, visits an aerospace factory in Toulouse last week

Victor Mallet and Leila Abboud in Paris

France has called on the EU to overcome “blockages” to ensure faster disbursement of its €750bn recovery fund to member states, and said the coronavirus pandemic will require re-evaluating eurozone fiscal constraints.

“I see there are blockages and that all this is too slow, that we need to accelerate and that if we want to emerge from the economic crisis in the best conditions, the European money must arrive as quickly as possible,” Bruno Le Maire, French finance minister, told the Financial Times in an interview on Tuesday.

The EU’s 27 members need first to detail how they plan to use the grants and loans by the end of April. Once those plans are approved by the European Commission, disbursements are expected to begin in the second half of the year.

Read more here

George Russell in Hong Kong

A top doctor in the United Arab Emirates has suggested that annual vaccinations might be necessary to keep Covid-19 at bay, official media reported on Tuesday.

Farida Al Hosani, a physician who is the spokesperson for the UAE healthcare industry, said emerging variants might require more frequent inoculations, the Abu Dhabi-based Wam news agency reported.

Dr Al Hosani, who is also communicable diseases manager at the Abu Dhabi Department of Health, said the more mutated the virus, the more likely an annual jab is needed.

She told a virtual seminar that flu vaccines are changed regularly to accommodate new mutations.

Dr Al Hosani also said she expected vaccines would be available for children in the near future, citing clinical studies ongoing in the UAE.

Mercedes Ruehl in Singapore, Leo Lewis in Tokyo and

Tabby Kinder and Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong

Fund managers and bankers leaving Hong Kong for alternative financial centres have been asked to explain their decision to a range of government agencies amid concerns that Beijing’s national security law could cause departures from the Asia finance hub to multiply.

The Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Hong Kong Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau and the Financial Services Development Council have placed phone calls to banking and asset management executives who have relocated to rival cities. 

Several senior executives told the Financial Times that the level of departures would likely be higher were it not for the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read more here

George Russell in Hong Kong

Barbados will go back into lockdown for two weeks, imposing an 11-hour nightly curfew in an attempt to bring its Covid-19 outbreak under control.

In a Tuesday evening video address, Mia Mottley, prime minister, said the Caribbean island had identified three cases of the UK variant of the coronavirus.

In addition, three elderly people have died of Covid-19 in the past week, bringing the toll to 10. There have been more than 1,400 cases in the nation of fewer than 300,000 people.

Ms Mottley said the country had to “act decisively”, announcing that from midnight on February 3 there would be a “period of national pause” and a 7pm to 6am curfew.

Barbados resumed flights to the popular holiday destination in July 2020, but requires that arriving passengers from all but the lowest-risk countries provide proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction test for Covid-19.

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

New Zealand has said two more people who stayed at the same Auckland quarantine hotel as a woman who contracted coronavirus during isolation have also tested positive.

The two returnees completed their isolation at the same time as the woman who was classed as the first local infection in months.

It is not known if they are recent or historic infections, the government said, but they previously recorded two negative tests.

The country has strict quarantine policies for arrivals, sending them to dedicated quarantine hotels for two weeks of isolation.

The woman — who is known as the Northland case because she lives in the country’s northernmost local government region — tested positive for the virus this week after completing her stay in a quarantine hotel in Auckland, underlining the challenges of operating such facilities.

Genomic testing linked her infection to a fellow returnee in the hotel. As a result, health authorities called on others who had recently left quarantine to be tested.

Workers prepare to hang new year lanterns in a Beijing street

Christian Shepherd in Beijing

China has administered coronavirus vaccines to 22.77m people, as the country rushes to inoculate 50m before the busy lunar new year holiday next month.

The tally, announced by a National Health Commission official in Beijing on Wednesday, puts China ahead of the US by total doses delivered.

Healthcare workers, as well as those employed at ports, international logistics hubs or in public transport, are among high-risk groups China has said will receive Covid-19 jabs ahead of the festivities, traditionally a time for families to reunite in their hometowns.

This year, the first day of the lunar new year falls on February 12.

In past years, the travel surge has hit 3bn trips over the period, but numbers are likely to be lower this year as many employers have told workers to stay put for the holiday.

In recent weeks, new outbreaks in northern China have added urgency to Beijing’s drive to administer its home-developed vaccines.

Although small compared with daily case counts in many other nations, the discovered clusters are the country’s largest numbers in more than six months.

James Pickford in London

In the teeth of the coronavirus pandemic, Alexandre Ricard has installed the family’s art foundation on the first floor of the new headquarters in Paris’s Saint-Lazare district, with a 120-seat lecture theatre, exhibition spaces and a café where drinks marketers can mingle with the young French artists supported by the foundation.

“It’s designed to create improbable encounters that generate ideas and innovation,” Mr Ricard said. “This is what I think is interesting — this exchange between people from the business world and artists.”

This bold attempt at intellectual cross-fertilisation — conceived before the pandemic — is being launched as artists and cultural organisations have had to rethink the terms of their partnerships with business supporters following the economic and social devastation of Covid-19.

Read more here

Melburnians sit in social-distancing circles near the popular St Kilda Beach

George Russell in Hong Kong

Australia expects to start inoculations no more than two weeks after the first vaccines arrive in the country, its top doctor said on Wednesday.

Chief medical officer Michael Kidd said vaccines would be sent to 30 to 50 hubs set up around the country to deliver the initial doses of the vaccine.

Pfizer is supplying Australia with 10m vaccines — or the required two doses for 5m people.

Prof Kidd said Pfizer would not be drawn on a timetable for delivering all 10m doses to Australia.

“We don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take to get the 10m doses, just that it will happen throughout the course of 2021,” he told Radio National in an interview.

Prof Kidd said the government was awaiting advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia’s drug regulator, on recommendations for whether and how to vaccinate women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Robin Harding in Tokyo

A contentious requirement for Japan-specific trials has delayed the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in Asia’s largest advanced economy and threatened the Tokyo Olympics.

Small clinical trials that demonstrate the vaccines generate a similar level of antibodies when used in Japan are the main outstanding condition for approval of the jabs from BioNTech/Pfizer and several other companies.

Japan’s demand for proof that safety and efficacy do not differ in the country means that it will not start vaccinations until the end of February — three months after the earliest rollouts and less than five months before the delayed Tokyo Olympics are due to start.

Read more here

Stefania Palma in Singapore

Indonesia’s president has received the second dose of China’s Sinovac vaccine as the country reached the 1m mark of Covid-19 cases.

Joko Widodo was vaccinated at the presidential palace on Wednesday morning after receiving the first dose of CoronaVac on January 13.

The country two weeks ago embarked on the biggest mass inoculation drive of Sinovac’s jab outside mainland China.

About 250,000 health workers have been vaccinated since the start of the programme two weeks ago, with the government aiming for a target of 1m shots a day, Mr Widodo said in a Twitter post.

Indonesia – which has struggled to contain the virus – on Tuesday reported just above 1m Covid-19 cases, the highest tally in the region.

At more than 28,000 deaths, it also counts the highest number of fatalities in south-east Asia.

Healthcare workers patrol the streets in a busy Kowloon neighbourhood

Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam praised her public health team’s effort to stage an “ambush” lockdown in a densely populated area of the city for Covid-19 testing.

Authorities closed off a part of Kowloon known for buildings crammed with subdivided homes for 11 hours without prior warning.

Even though the large-scale testing only found one confirmed case, Ms Lam said that even one source of infection could not be overlooked.

She added that the secretive nature of the action was developed from experience from a similar lockdown over the weekend.

Plans for that lockdown — the city’s first — were leaked to the media and some residents were filmed leaving the area before the official announcement.

Ms Lam said that about 330 people lived in the affected area.

George Russell in Hong Kong

Greece has announced the issuance of a 10-year bond seeking to raise about €2.5bn, state-owned media reported on Tuesday.

The Public Debt Management Authority mandated Barclays, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Nomura and Eurobank to issue a syndicated bond, the ANA-MPA news agency reported.

Greece’s borrowing costs have fallen to 0.6 per cent from about 2.5 per cent since the country was included in the European Central Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme earlier this year.

The country, rated Ba3 by Moody’s, returned to international bond markets in 2017 after a nine-year absence forced by a debt crisis.

A mother and child wait in the Wuhan airport terminal

George Russell in Hong Kong

China’s aviation authorities said on Tuesday that airlines would offer passengers refunds or rescheduling to minimise movements during the lunar new year, in a bid to control growing outbreaks of coronavirus.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China issued a notice stating that passengers who have bought air tickets for travel between January 28 and March 8 can apply for a free refund or at least one rescheduling.

The authority said the offer was made “in response to the country’s call to guide the masses in a reasonable and orderly manner, minimise the flow of people, and effectively reduce the risk of epidemic transmission”.

In a statement announcing the refund and rebooking offer, CAAC called on airline customers to restrict non-essential travel.

George Russell in Hong Kong

A Turkish court fined a man TL105,400 ($14,300) for breaking coronavirus restrictions — and animal cruelty laws — for organising a cockfight during the pandemic.

The unnamed man was arrested after a raid on a house in the south-eastern city of Sanliurfa.

Police found 17 roosters and tools for sharpening their beaks and claws, the Anadolu news agency reported on Tuesday.

More than 70 spectators were fined for violating pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings.

Cockfights, in which spectators wager on specially bred roosters engaging in often-fatal combat, are prohibited in Turkey.

George Russell in Hong Kong

Russia should have a third indigenously developed Covid-19 vaccine circulating within a few months, the country’s prime minister told state media on Tuesday.

Tass reported that Mikhail Mishustin told a session of Russia’s pandemic task force that the Chumakov Federal Scientific Centre for Research and Development of Immune-and-Biological Products had sought health ministry certification for its vaccine.

“In the next few months, it will also enter civilian circulation,” Tass quoted him as saying.

Mr Mishustin said there was still some time before herd immunity is developed in Russia. “That is why it is necessary to continue to observe precautionary measures in order to protect yourself and your loved ones from the infection.”

A woman stands on a platform overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Lima

Gideon Long in Bogotá

A volunteer who was taking part in a trial in Peru of the coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm Group has died from Covid-19-related pneumonia.

The Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, which is helping conduct the trial, said in a statement on Tuesday that the female volunteer had received proper medical treatment, including intensive care and ventilators, as soon as she was diagnosed.

“She was fighting for her life for more than a week,” it said.

It said it did not know if the woman had received the vaccine or a placebo. The Peruvian initiative is a so-called “double-blind trial” in which neither the volunteers nor the university are told what is given to participants.

The university said it has passed details of the case to the study’s safety committee and to Peru’s regulatory authorities.

In December, Peru briefly suspended trials of the Sinopharm vaccine after one of the volunteers suffered what the health ministry described as a “serious adverse event”.

Peru has signed a contract to buy 38m doses of Sinopharm vaccine, enough to inoculate over half the population.

It has also secured a promise of 14m doses from Anglo-Swedish provider AstraZeneca.

George Russell in Hong Kong

The Canadian government said on Tuesday it would help fund ailing airlines in the western province of British Columbia hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The C$2.2m (US$1.7m) grant would enable smaller operators to keep flying essential goods and services to remote areas of the province, including indigenous areas.

“We must ensure remote communities continue to have the air connectivity they need,” said Omar Alghabra, transport minister.

Peter Wells in New York

US coronavirus hospitalisations dropped on Tuesday to their lowest in more than six weeks and new infections continued to trend lower.

The number of people currently in US hospitals with coronavirus fell to 108,957, from 109,936 on Monday, according to Covid Tracking Project data.

That is the lowest level since December 12, and the vast majority of states on Tuesday reported fewer hospitalisations compared with a week ago.

States reported an additional 143,745 new infections, up from 133,067 on Monday and almost on par with the number of cases reported on Tuesday last week.

That took the number of confirmed cases in the US since the start of the pandemic to more than 25m, according to CTP.

Data from Johns Hopkins University, which uses different methodologies, showed on January 24 that the US had crossed that threshold.

The US has averaged 164,992 cases a day over the past week, down slightly from Monday’s rate but still the lowest since early December.

Fatalities tend to lag cases and hospitalisations, and the number of daily deaths remains elevated even as those other metrics slide lower.

Authorities attributed a further 3,734 deaths to coronavirus, up from 1,593 on Monday.

Over the past week, the US has averaged 3,304 deaths a day. That is up from Monday’s rate of about 3,077, which CTP explained was “because last Tuesday’s data was depressed by the [Martin Luther King Jr Day public] holiday.”

George Russell in Hong Kong

The mayor of the largest US city on Tuesday called on pharmaceutical manufacturers to let other companies make their Covid-19 vaccines to ramp up production.

Bill de Blasio said New York was short of vaccines even though it had built the infrastructure to administer 500,000 doses a day.

“They’re not making enough,” he said. “I think it means bringing other pharmaceutical companies into this.”

He said pharma companies should put aside intellectual property issues to fight the pandemic. “Even if it isn’t their own brand or patent, we got to break down those silos,” Mr de Blasio said. “This is war.”

The mayor encouraged newly inaugurated President Joe Biden to put “every company that could be helping to produce vaccines under federal orders”.

Shoppers and stallholders wear masks in the meat section of a Beijing market

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Health authorities in China on Wednesday reported 55 locally transmitted cases of Covid-19, down for a second day as the country battles multiple outbreaks.

China has locked down cities and restricted travel in efforts to contain a series of outbreaks in the north of the country ahead of the lunar new year holiday.

The latest number of cases was the lowest nationwide tally in more than two weeks and down from the 69 cases a day earlier.

Heilongjiang, a province that borders Russia, reported 29 new cases of Covid-19, taking its tally for the month above 500.

Neighbouring Jilin reported 14 new cases, while Hebei recorded seven new Covid-19 patients. Beijing and Shanghai reported four and one cases respectively.

The number of people who tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms came in at 47. China does not include asymptomatic cases in its official tally.

Jude Webber in Mexico City

The US has put all alcohol-based hand sanitisers made in Mexico on alert over fears they may contain toxic levels of methanol, or wood alcohol, after analyses of imports from April to December last year found 84 per cent did not meet US standards.

The Food and Drug Administration said the import alert meant US imports of Mexican hand sanitiser — used to halt transmission of Covid-19 — would be scrutinised more carefully and shipments could be detained.

It is the first time the FDA has issued a countrywide import alert for any category of drug product, it said.

“The availability of poor-quality products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients will not be tolerated,” Judy McMeekin, FDA associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said in the statement.

More than half of the samples analysed by the FDA were found to contain dangerous levels of toxic ingredients, including methanol and or 1-propanol.

Methanol is often not listed as an ingredient and adverse effects can cause blindness, effects on the heart or central nervous system, seizures and even death.

People using methanol on their hands are at risk of poisoning but those who drink them as an alcohol substitute are at more risk, the FDA said.

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific stocks lacked direction on Wednesday as investors awaited pointers from the US Federal Reserve’s meeting.

Japan’s Topix was up 0.6 per cent, the Kospi in Seoul gained 0.8 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.5 per cent.

“Given the current loss of momentum in jobs growth and consumption, it is very difficult to see anything other than a dovish statement and press conference,” ANZ analysts said of the Fed meeting.

“That may well perpetuate extended market consolidation in an environment where [US president Joe] Biden’s reflationary ambitions are being delayed by [Donald] Trump’s impeachment trial.”

The moves in Asia come after the S&P 500 ended 0.2 per cent lower and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite shed 0.1 per cent.

S&P 500 futures were up 0.2 per cent.

Sara Ananda Gomes, daughter of an Indian diplomat in Rio de Janeiro, shows off her Covid-19 vaccination certificate

Bryan Harris, Carolina Pulice and Michael Pooler in São Paulo

A group of Brazilian companies has examined the possibility of buying millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines directly from manufacturers in an attempt to speed up inoculations as the national rollout has faced delays and logistical difficulties.

President Jair Bolsonaro lent his support on Tuesday, saying he was “in favour of this group bringing the vaccine here to immunise 33m people at zero cost to the federal government”.

However, the pharmaceuticals group AstraZeneca has dismissed the idea, saying it was “not possible to make [its vaccine] available to the private market at this time”.

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George Russell in Hong Kong

The Philippines on Tuesday added the Czech Republic to its list of countries from where arrivals are temporarily banned.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said foreign passengers who have been in the Czech Republic in the previous 14 days cannot enter from January 28.

Foreign citizens arriving before then will be allowed to enter.

Filipino citizens will need to undergo quarantine and a polymerase chain reaction test will be administered on the fifth day.

More than 30 countries — mostly in Europe and Asia and including the UK, US, Japan, Canada and Australia — are on Manila’s ban list.

George Russell in Hong Kong

Hong Kong on Wednesday extended social distancing requirements for another week to February 3 as new cases continued to hover around 50 to 100 daily.

Under the restrictions, restaurants are required to cease dining-in operations from 6pm, though take-away food can be ordered until 10pm. Bars and clubs remain closed.

Tables can be occupied by no more than two people. Wearing a mask on public transit and in public places is mandatory.

“The Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong remains severe,” the Food and Health Bureau said in a statement.

Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus pandemic in the State Dining Room of the White House on Tuesday

Kiran Stacey in Washington

The US government is ordering an additional 200m doses of coronavirus vaccine for delivery during the summer as officials look to secure enough supply to make inoculation available to all Americans later this year.

The administration said on Tuesday it was exercising contractual rights with both Moderna and Pfizer to buy an additional 100m doses from each supplier.

That would take the total number of doses shipped or on order from 400m to 600m – enough to vaccinate 300m Americans.

Officials also said they would guarantee to supply states with at least 10m doses per week for the next three weeks, following complaints by state leaders that supplies have been too unpredictable.

One senior administration official said: “We are very eager to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible, so that science can turn the tide and get us back to normal.”

Joe Biden, the new president, has promised 100m vaccines in his first 100 days as US president, having criticised the slow pace of distribution under the previous Donald Trump administration.

Mr Biden said on Tuesday he expected the new doses to be available “by the end of summer, beginning of the fall”, adding that his administration’s target was ambitious.

“These steps are going to help increase our prospects of hitting – or exceeding, God willing – the ambitious goal of 100m shots in 100 days. But I also want to be clear, 100m shots and 100 days is not the endpoint, it’s just the start.”

Critics point out however that hitting this target would not require any increase in the pace of vaccinations, with around 1.25m doses currently being administered every day.

The new orders will not help hit that target, as they are intended for delivery later in the year. Officials would not give a deadline for their delivery.

Peter Wells in New York

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has found there is limited spread of coronavirus in schools, particularly when pandemic health and safety protocols are followed, but educators should consider curbing certain sports programmes to limit outbreaks that could jeopardise a school’s safe operation.

School-related cases of coronavirus have been reported as many institutions in some parts of the US reopened for in-person learning, “but there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission,” scientists at the CDC said in a report released on Tuesday.

Overseas, a study by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control came to a similar conclusion, that schools were not associated with accelerating community transmission.

Where there have been large outbreaks in schools, they have been associated with a lack of physical distancing, exemptions from mask use and poor ventilation.

Cross-country runners in El Dorado, California, compete on Monday in the first regional meet since the pandemic stopped high school sport

To avoid such problems, the report recommended that mitigation measures in schools “must continue”. These include universal face mask use, increasing physical distancing, using hybrid attendance models, increasing room ventilation and boosting testing.

The researchers said that numerous media reports of coronavirus outbreaks among US high school athletic teams suggested contact stemming from indoor practice, competition or associated social gatherings increased the risk of the virus’s spread.

The authors noted some schools, paradoxically, use fully online teaching but continue in-person sporting programmes. Some states have already halted or postponed school sporting programmes.

George Russell in Hong Kong

Singapore officials said on Tuesday they would set up a special testing operation after analysis linked three cases of the B.1.1.7 strain of coronavirus to a Changi Airport retail complex.

Epidemiological investigations revealed that two cases visited Jewel in Terminal 3 on December 31 and a third case was at the terminal on the same day.

Health workers will test Jewel staff who have been there since that day, and at the terminal’s shops and food establishments that are open to the public.

George Parker, Chris Giles and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London

The UK government’s preferred measure of coronavirus deaths exceeded 100,000 on Tuesday with another 1,631 deceased who had died within 28 days of a positive test.

The total, which is the highest in Europe on this measure, now stands at 100,162.

Office for National Statistics data showed the number of people who died by January 15 with Covid-19 mentioned on their death certificate was already 107,970.

The Financial Times’s estimate of excess UK deaths, based on updating the 98,998 excess since mid-March up to mid-January, now stands at 110,200.

On all of the measures, the UK has one of the highest death rates in the world and is the fifth country to pass 100,000 deaths, after the US, Brazil, India and Mexico.

Boris Johnson, prime minister, offered condolences, saying it was “hard to compute the sorrow” and that the country would ensure lessons had been learnt from the pandemic.

He said he took “full responsibility for everything the government has done” during the pandemic.

Ireland will compel people arriving in the country without a negative Covid-19 test to quarantine in a hotel for a fortnight, as the government sharpened travel curbs and extended a third lockdown until March 5. The move on Tuesday came despite signs that new infections are halving every 10 days.

Portugal has reported a record daily total of Covid-19 deaths as the country struggles to contain one of the world’s fastest-growing outbreaks of coronavirus. Health officials said 291 people died from the virus in the previous 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 11,012 in a country of 10.2m people.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, called for an international “new consensus” on economic policy in a virtual address to the Davos forum on Tuesday. He called for a policy that would not play down the role of the state and the public sector like the old “Washington consensus”, which favoured fiscal rectitude and privatisation.

Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Colombia’s defence minister, died on Tuesday from complications related to coronavirus – the country’s highest-profile victim of the pandemic to date. Trujillo, who was 69, fell ill in early January. As his situation deteriorated he was flown from Barranquilla to Bogotá’s military hospital.

A combination of two Eli Lilly antibody treatments – bamlanivimab and etesevimab – reduced hospitalisation and death from Covid-19 by 70 per cent, according to new data from its Phase 3 trial. The US drugmaker said that there were no deaths in the group taking the treatment, compared with 10 in the placebo group.

BioNTech is considering making some of its Covid-19 vaccines in China for the local rollout of the jab, which it developed in collaboration with US group Pfizer, according to Ryan Richardson, BioNTech’s chief strategy officer. BioNTech and Shanghai-based Fosun agreed to supply China with 100m doses.

DR Horton lifted its full-year outlook after the US homebuilder generated stronger sales than forecast in the December quarter, benefiting from low mortgage rates and robust demand from Americans looking for more space. The Texas-based company sold 45 per cent more homes compared with the same period a year earlier.

GE ended a tumultuous year of lay-offs, debt repayments and restructuring with far stronger cash flows than forecast. Improving orders in GE’s energy division drove industrial free cash flow to almost $4.4bn in the fourth quarter, compared with a target of $2.5bn. Shares rose more than 7 per cent to $11.80 in pre-market trading.

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