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Coronavirus latest: US vaccinates more than 50m people

3/1/2021, 10:00:08 PM

Richard Waters

The spread of Covid-19 vaccines may have left Wall Street anticipating a time when workers are less dependent on Zoom calls, but the video conferencing start-up still turned in a surprisingly strong performance in the latest quarter and predicted faster than expected growth in the coming 12 months.

The news sent Zoom’s shares up nearly 10 per cent in after-market trading on Monday, valuing it at $131bn. They are still more than 20 per cent below a high point touched last October, before investors started to look ahead to an easing of pandemic restrictions this year.

Zoom’s revenues soared to $883m in the three months to the end of January, up from $188m the year before, and 9 per cent above most analysts’ expectations. The company said it now has 467,100 customers with more than 10 employees, nearly five times as many as it had before the pandemic hit.

Its pro forma earnings per share – struck after deducting stock compensation expenses – rose to $1.22 from 15 cents the year before, and were 43 cents above expectations. Based on formal accounting rules, Zoom’s net income rose from $15m to $260m, or 87 cents a share.

Despite predictions that its service will play a less central role in the lives of many workers and students in 2021, Zoom said it expected revenues for its next fiscal year to grow by as much as 43 per cent, to $3.76bn-$3.78bn, compared to Wall Street projections of about $3.5bn. It also predicted pro forma earnings per share of $3.59-$3.65, higher than the $2.96 a share analysts had pencilled in.

3/1/2021, 9:30:22 PM

Hannah Kuchler

Novavax expects to file for approval for its Covid-19 vaccine in the UK and the US in the second quarter, putting the Maryland-based start-up on track for its first ever approved shot. 

The company expects to file in the UK first, early in the quarter, and then in the US, as it recently finished enrolling its clinical trial in the US and Mexico. It is also testing a booster dose in the US and Australia, as well as evaluating new vaccines tailored to the variants.

Novavax has secured agreements to sell 300m doses, on top of its partnership with the Serum Institute of India to supply 1.1bn doses to the developing world through Covax. 

“We continue to work tirelessly to make final commercial preparations in advance of delivering our product across the globe,” said Stanley Erck, Novavax’s chief executive. 

Novavax is already filling and packaging vaccines in the US, ready for approval, and will have all its facilities up and running by April, Erck said. 

Filip Dubovsky, Novavax’s chief medical officer, said he had “a lot of confidence” that vaccines tailored to target two strains could induce the same kind of antibody response, especially because Novavax uses an adjuvant to boost immune response. 

He pointed to South Africa, where previous infection with the original Sars CoV-2 strain “did nothing to prevent illness”. “Yet with the South African variant, our vaccine was able to perform quite well. And that’s really, we believe, a function of the adjuvant,” he said. 

In the fourth quarter, Novavax reported a loss of $178m, wider than its loss of $31.8m in the prior period, as research and development expenses soared. Revenue was $280m, up from $8.8m in the same quarter the year before, primarily because of funding from the US government and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. 

Shares in Novavax, which have soared almost 2,000 per cent in the last year, were down more than 5 per cent in after-hours trading in New York.

3/1/2021, 9:23:22 PM

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong, Leke Oso Alabi in London and Eric Platt in New York

Global stocks bounced back and government debt rallied on Monday after last week’s turbulent trading, triggered by worries over the possibility of a breakneck economic expansion and the possibility of central banks tightening monetary policies.

Wall Street’s blue-chip S&P 500 index rose 2.4 per cent, its biggest one-day gain in almost nine months and enough to erase almost the entirety of last week’s declines. The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite climbed 3 per cent. Small-cap stocks advanced even further, with the Russell 2000 up 3.4 per cent — on track for its best daily performance since early January.

In Europe, the region-wide Stoxx 600 closed up 1.8 per cent, while both London’s FTSE 100 and Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax indices ended the session 1.6 per cent higher.

The gains for global equities came as core government debt on both sides of the Atlantic rallied. The yield on the 5-year US Treasury, which was at the centre of the market tumult last week, fell 0.03 percentage points to 0.70 per cent on Monday, while the yield on Germany’s 10-year Bund slid 0.07 percentage points to minus 0.34 per cent.

There was less enthusiasm for the benchmark 10-year US Treasury note, which had rallied sharply on Friday. The yield rose 0.03 percentage points to 1.43 per cent, although well below the 12-month high of 1.61 per cent reached last week.

Read more here.

3/1/2021, 9:08:34 PM

Matthew Rocco

More than 50m Americans have received their first coronavirus shot, another milestone for the US vaccine rollout just as Johnson & Johnson prepares to ship out its single-dose jabs.

The US has administered at least one dose to 50.7m people, up from 49.8m one day earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday. That equates to 15.3 per cent of the total population, or 19.9 per cent of residents who are over the age of 18.

Vaccinations have long eclipsed the number of confirmed infections in the US, which has totaled about 28.4m cases since the start of the pandemic, based on data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project.

The latest figures also showed that 25.5m Americans have been fully inoculated with two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech shot. The nation has delivered 96.4m doses in total.

Health officials anticipate that the supply of doses nationwide will ramp up heading into the spring with Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer increasing production and Johnson & Johnson’s shot becoming the first single-dose vaccine to receive approval.

Johnson & Johnson will begin distributing its coronavirus vaccine this week after the Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorisation over the weekend.

Alaska, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota have administered doses at the quickest pace among all 50 states, according to the CDC.

3/1/2021, 7:19:43 PM

Matthew Rocco

Pennsylvania eased statewide restrictions on events and out-of-state travellers, responding to a downward trend in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations after a winter surge.

Governor Tom Wolf announced on Monday that indoor and outdoor events will now be limited to 15 per cent and 20 per cent capacity, respectively. Pennsylvania previously barred indoor events with more than 10 people and outdoor events with more than 50 people.

Event attendees must continue to follow other health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, according to the governor’s office.

Pennsylvania also eliminated a rule that required anyone over the age of 11 who visited from another state to either provide proof of a negative coronavirus test or self-quarantine for two weeks.

“Along with these changes, there is caution. Reduced cases, hospitalisations and deaths, and the more than 2.3m vaccinations are good signs, but the CDC advises that now is not the time to introduce expansive loosening of mitigation efforts known to put people at more risk,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

Pennsylvania has maintained coronavirus-related restrictions following a winter surge that brought new cases and hospitalisations to their highest levels on record in the state.

It had 1,720 patients with Covid-19 in hospital as of Sunday, well below a peak of 6,346 in mid-December, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

3/1/2021, 6:51:37 PM

Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul

Turkish schools will partially reopen this week for millions of students for the first time in four months as the government seeks to gradually ease restrictions it enforced late last year to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Preschool and primary school pupils through grade four, as well as eighth and 12th graders, will return to classrooms nationwide beginning on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters after a cabinet meeting. Classes had been set to resume on Monday, but authorities at the weekend delayed the start pending a final decision from Erdogan.

In-person instruction will be on a voluntary basis two days a week at elementary schools, while children will continue with online classes the other days, the education ministry said previously. Schools in sparsely populated rural communities reopened in mid-February.

Schools initially closed in March 2020 after the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in Turkey, then reopened for a few weeks in the autumn before the government shut them in November amid a spike in coronavirus cases.

On Monday, 9,891 new cases were reported, and 69 people died, bringing the death toll since the outbreak hit Turkey to 28,638, according to the health ministry.

The Turkish Medical Association, the country’s largest independent group of doctors, has said the daily case count is still too high to reopen schools and expressed concern new coronavirus strains could make children more susceptible to infection.

Erdogan also said Turkish provinces are now divided into four categories according to their infection rates per 100,000 people: low risk, medium risk, high risk and very high risk. Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, was categorised as high risk, and the capital Ankara declared medium risk, according to a map shared by the health minister. Only the predominately Kurdish southeast and one western province were deemed low-risk.

Erdogan said 9m people, or 10 per cent of the Turkish population, have now been inoculated. But that figure was far higher than official numbers provided last week that showed only 7.7m single doses of the two-step Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine had been administered.

3/1/2021, 5:26:13 PM

Matthew Rocco

New Jersey will allow teachers, transportation workers and other groups to get vaccinated for coronavirus beginning in two weeks, joining other states that have expanded access to the shot.

Governor Phil Murphy said in a tweet on Monday that “essential workers” including those in child care and public safety would become eligible for the vaccine on March 15. In an interview with MSNBC, Murphy added that other staff deemed essential, such as retail workers, would be eligible “before this month is out”.

It will be the first expansion of the Garden State’s vaccine programme since New Jersey invited all residents over the age of 65 to sign up in mid-January, which coincided with updated guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that advised governors to follow states such as Florida and start inoculating all seniors and people with comorbidities.

States are outlining plans to make more residents eligible for coronavirus shots, anticipating an increase in supply of the Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines as well as new shipments of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot.

New York said last week it would start allowing hotel workers to get the vaccine, with local health departments determining when that would begin. The state added restaurant workers and taxi drivers to its list of eligible residents earlier this month.

Neighbouring Connecticut, which has adopted a mostly age-based vaccine rollout, opened appointment scheduling to educators and people 55 and over on Monday.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis last week said he was preparing to lower the age requirement to below 65 as soon as the state had enough doses and demand in the 65-and-over population eased. More than half of the state’s seniors have received at least one dose, DeSantis wrote in a tweet on Monday.

The US expects to ship 3.9m doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine across the country this week. The Food and Drug Administration authorised the shot for emergency use over the weekend.

3/1/2021, 3:54:39 PM

Mamta Badkar in New York

US manufacturing activity rose more than expected last month to its highest level since February 2018, as the sector continued to grow faster than it did before the coronavirus pandemic hit the US economy.

The Institute for Supply Management said its purchasing managers’ index rose to 60.8 in February, from 58.7 the previous month. That marked the ninth consecutive month of expansion and exceeded economists’ forecast for 58.8. Readings higher than 50 indicate expansion.

Monday’s report showed new orders, employment and new export orders all grew at faster paces last month, while inventories contracted.

Survey committee members said companies and suppliers operate in “reconfigured factories” and “issues with absenteeism, short-term shutdowns to sanitise facilities, and difficulties in hiring workers remain challenges and continue to cause strains that limit manufacturing-growth potential”, according to Timothy Fiore, chair of the ISM manufacturing business survey committee.

“Robust goods demand, inventory restocking, rising business investment, and more federal pandemic relief will keep factories working in high gear,” said Oren Klachkin, economist at Oxford Economics. However, he expects momentum to cool by summer as vaccine distribution “lifts severely damaged services sector activity at the expense of goods demand”.

3/1/2021, 3:23:44 PM

James Shotter in Warsaw

Polish president Andrzej Duda discussed buying Chinese coronavirus vaccines during a call with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, a senior Polish official said on Monday.

Krzysztof Szczerski, the top aide to the president, told state news agency PAP that Duda had “raised the issue of Polish-Chinese co-operation in the battle with the coronavirus pandemic, including the possibility of Poland buying vaccines produced in China”.

He added that possible purchases would be the “subject of further discussions on an intergovernmental level”.

The EU’s medicines regulator has so far only approved three vaccines — made by BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca — for use in the bloc. But countries are allowed to grant temporary approval for vaccines not approved by the European Medicines Agency in emergencies such as a pandemic.

Hungary has used the rule to buy jabs from both Russia and China, and last week became the first EU nation to start inoculating citizens with the vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm.

Poland’s vaccine rollout has so far been the fourth fastest in the EU, after Malta, Denmark and Hungary. As of Sunday, it had given 8.8 doses per 100 residents.

3/1/2021, 3:16:00 PM

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Less than a year before the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the world, Novavax was facing delisting from the Nasdaq. The pharmaceutical company had poured hundreds of millions of dollars into research and development for vaccines — and yet, at 33 years old, was approaching middle age without a single approved shot. 

Investors were scorning, rather than rewarding, foresight. In January 2020 short interest hit 30 per cent, according to S3 Analytics. Even after the company began work on its Covid-19 vaccine, shortseller Citron Research reportedly dismissed it as a “serial promise and non-deliver [er]”. 

Now the Maryland-based company is on the verge of getting approval in the UK, which will probably be followed by the US. Interim data have shown that its vaccine has an efficacy rate up there with the shots developed by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna, based on revolutionary mRNA technology. However, it is cheaper and easier to transport and can be stored at room temperature for at least 24 hours. 

Citron has deleted its critical tweet and did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s a Cinderella story,” said Stacey Schultz-Cherry, an infectious disease specialist at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee. “A little company that was on the verge of potentially closing has really been able to play with the big boys in the race for the Covid vaccine.”

Read more here.

3/1/2021, 2:42:03 PM

Martin Arnold

Inflation in Germany held steady in February at its highest level for the past year, prompting analysts to predict that price pressures will continue to rise in Europe’s largest economy and potentially add to recent uncertainty in bond markets.

German headline consumer price inflation was unchanged at 1.6 per cent last month, according to a provisional estimate from the Federal Statistical Office. That is the highest level since the pandemic struck Europe a year ago.

Bond market investors are growing concerned that a rapid recovery from the coronavirus pandemic could reignite long-dormant inflationary pressures. This would hit bond prices because inflation erodes the real value of the fixed interest rates they pay.

While central banks have committed to keep interest rates low until the economy has fully recovered from the fallout of the pandemic, eurozone government bonds still fell to their lowest levels for almost six months last week.

Carsten Brzeski, global head of macro at ING, said “the only way is up” for German and eurozone inflation.

He expected inflation in the short-term to be driven by higher energy prices. “When economies reopen, price markups in sectors most hit by the lockdowns will also add to upward pressure on inflation.”

Eurozone inflation is expected to rise from 0.9 per cent in January to 1 per cent in February, when the preliminary estimate is published on Tuesday. Brzeski forecast that German headline inflation could later this year reach between 3 and 4 per cent, pushing inflation throughout the eurozone above the European Central Bank’s target of just below 2 per cent.

3/1/2021, 2:06:10 PM

Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Iran’s daily Covid-19 death toll exceeded 100 on Monday as health officials warned of a fourth surge in coming weeks.

In a reversal for the country, which had kept the numbers under control for two months, the health ministry said 108 patients had died over the past 24 hours — the highest tally since January 4.

“You may feel sick of our health recommendations, but Covid-19 doesn’t feel sick of us and this time is going to be more stubborn and aggressive,” Sima Lari, Iran’s health ministry spokesperson, said.

She listed cities and towns in the southwestern province of Khuzestan in a “red situation” — the country’s category for areas that pose a high risk of infection.

Iran recorded daily fatalities of more than 400 in most of November, making it the country with the highest total number of Covid-19 deaths in the Middle East at 60,181.

Officials have blamed new variants from other countries for causing a rise in hospitalisations and deaths in recent weeks.

Iran has started vaccinating citizens with imported jabs from Russia and China. It is also waiting for shots from India and the World Health Organization’s Covax programme.

President Hassan Rouhani warned over the weekend of global competition for vaccines. “The situation this year is more difficult than this time last year” because of new virus variants, he said.

Yet the country has promised to secure ample supplies, supported by domestically produced jabs from May.

President Hassan Rouhani warned over the weekend of global competition for vaccines © AFP via Getty Images

3/1/2021, 1:58:52 PM

Mamta Badkar in New York

Royal Caribbean on Monday said it had launched a $1.5bn public stock offering, with the company seeking to raise more funds as its shares hovered at their highest level in about a year.

The cruise operator, which intends to use proceeds from the offering for “general corporate purposes”, tapped the market again as its shares ended Friday at $93.27, near the highest level since last February. Royal Caribbean’s shares have gained nearly 80 per cent over the past nine months fuelled by vaccine hopes and pent up demand that has spurred future bookings.

The company behind Silversea Cruises and Celebrity Cruises lost almost $6bn last year as voyages were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sailings have been suspended since last March and will not restart until the end of April.

Miami-based Royal Caribbean raised about $9.3bn of new capital through bond issues, common stock public offerings and other loan facilities as it sought to shore up its finances to help it navigate the pandemic. The company had about liquidity of about $4.4bn at the end of last year.

Shares fell 2 per cent in pre-market trade to $91.20.

Morgan Stanley is acting as underwriter for the share offering.

3/1/2021, 1:35:47 PM

George Steer

DPD has become the latest global delivery business to report a surge in demand from ecommerce as parcel volumes hit a record and helped the Paris-based group’s annual profits to double.

The business, owned by France’s La Poste, delivered 1.9bn parcels last year — equivalent to 7.5m a day, and an increase from about 1.4bn in 2019.

Boris Winkelmann, chief executive, said 2020 had “a profound and lasting impact” on the logistics industry as revenues rose 42 per cent to €11bn and profits jumped 100 per cent to €800m.

Other global logistics groups, including UPS and FedEx, have also benefited from a surge in demand as millions of housebound consumers have turned to online shopping in the pandemic.

Winkelmann said DPD aimed to make €21bn in revenue by 2025. It expected the fastest growth in parcel delivery to come from outside Europe in the next decade and hoped to bolster its presence in South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America.

DPD last year upped its stake in Brazilian delivery company Jadlog to 98 per cent while also expanding in Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

3/1/2021, 12:42:48 PM

Michael Peel in Brussels

Brussels is preparing plans for a personal electronic coronavirus vaccination document in an effort to boost travel around the EU once the bloc’s sluggish immunisation drive gathers pace.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, said on Monday that the proposed “Digital Green Pass” would provide proof of inoculation, Covid-19 test results for those not yet jabbed, and information on the holder’s recovery if they had previously had the disease.

The announcement is a response to a push by Greece and some other EU member states to introduce EU “vaccination passports” to help revive the travel industry and wider economy.

But the commission’s proposed measures will be closely scrutinised over concerns including privacy, the possibility for inoculated people to spread Covid-19 and possible discrimination against those who have not had the opportunity to be immunised.

3/1/2021, 12:04:02 PM

Hudson Lockett and Leke Oso Alabi

US stocks were set to follow those in Europe higher as bond markets steadied after wild swings last week.

By midday in London, the FTSE 100 benchmark was up 1.1 per cent. Germany’s Xetra Dax rose 0.9 per cent and the pan-European Stoxx 600 1.4 per cent.

In the US, stock-index futures jumped, with those tracking the S&P 500 index up 1 per cent. Cruise lines and airlines were among the gainers in pre-market trading, with Carnival and United Airlines each up about 4 per cent.

The renewed appetite for risk in Europe and the US followed rallies in Asia, including advances for equities in Japan, China and Hong Kong.

Bond markets also stabilised. The 10-year US Treasury yield rose modestly to 1.44 per cent on Monday after dropping 0.12 percentage points on Friday from a 12-month high the previous session.

“It’s all about bonds,” said Willem Sels, chief investment officer at HSBC’s private bank, who said expectations for a continuation of “ample” stimulus measures from global central banks provided a boost for risk assets.

3/1/2021, 11:33:27 AM

Richard Milne

Finland has declared a state of emergency for a second time due to Covid-19 as a resurgence in cases tests its status as one of the most successful countries in Europe in tackling the pandemic.

The move, unveiled by prime minister Sanna Marin on Monday, gives authorities additional powers, including to close businesses as well as to cancel leave for healthcare workers and require them to work longer hours.

“Everybody now can influence what spring and summer look like,” Marin said as she urged Finns to abide by social distancing and wear masks.

Finland last week announced a three-week lockdown from March 8 with the closure of schools, restaurants and bars after a rapid rise in cases even though the country still has one of the lowest infection rates in Europe.

Currently there was no need to use all the additional state of emergency powers, Marin added.

Prime minister Sanna Marin urged Finns to abide by social distancing and wear masks © REUTERS

3/1/2021, 11:27:26 AM

Anna Gross

Infection rates were slightly lower in England’s schools than in the wider community in December, suggesting the risk of infection is no higher for teachers than those working in many other professions.

Covid-19 infection among staff and students at 121 schools in 15 local authorities was lower than rates found in the surrounding community, according to the second Schools Infection Survey (SIS) conducted by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics.

Evidence that schools do not act as a hotbed for Covid-19 infections and viral transmission will reassure millions of parents preparing to send their children back to school in a week. It also appears to support the government’s decision not to prioritise teachers for vaccination, and instead stick to a simple, descending age-based system for prioritising vaccinations.

“It could be that children are not very good transmitters but it’s more likely that the work being done in terms of sanitisation, mask wearing etc is making a huge difference,” said Dr Shamez Ladhani, consultant paediatrician at PHE and the study’s chief investigator. “We’re in an amazing place for opening schools in a good way.”

Antibody tests showed no evidence to indicate school staff were at greater risk of infection than other working-age adults, the researchers found.

The SIS study, which involved 7,000 students and over 5,000 members of staff, found that 14.6 per cent of primary staff tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies and 15.7 per cent of secondary schools staff did. Antibody levels of working-age adults in the wider community in the same local authorities averaged at 18.22 per cent.

The ONS cautioned against using the data to compare antibody rates between different cohorts, noting that the sample sizes were small and there were low response rates from pupils, which created the possibility of selection bias.

3/1/2021, 10:41:33 AM

The Financial Times has been your guide to the pandemic since the first outbreak was detected over a year ago. Here are some of the developments we were reporting on a year ago today:

  • The US, Australia and Thailand reported their first deaths from coronavirus

  • US oil and gas companies were coming into the sights of market speculators, who had placed huge bets against equity valuations in the sector

  • Italy unveiled a €3.6bn stimulus to tackle the pandemic

  • There were growing calls for policymakers to act to prevent a ‘doom loop’ in the global economy

  • UK health secretary Matt Hancock said the British government could ban mass gatherings, close schools and urge people to avoid public transport to halt the spread

  • South Korea reported a sharp increase in cases and the country’s high-tech manufacturers suffered further disruptions from the outbreak

For all the latest on the pandemic, visit the FT’s coronavirus home page.

South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant at Dongdaegu railway station in Daegu, South Korea, where officials were battling the largest outbreak outside China © YONHAP/AFP via Getty Images

3/1/2021, 10:28:54 AM

Donald Magomere and Neil Munshi

Kenya is set to receive its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines on Monday, as health minister Mutahi Kagwe issued a warning against the east African nation dropping its guard in the fight against coronavirus.

The planned arrival of the jabs comes at a time when the country has relaxed health protocols to combat the virus, with heightened political rallies creating a possible transmission risk.

The first phase of the vaccine rollout in which 1.02m doses are given to health workers, security personnel and teachers across the 47 counties will be free of charge.

“The beneficiaries will not pay anything. It’s not a mandatory but a voluntary vaccine. Nobody will be coerced to take the vaccine,” said Dr Willis Akhwale, chair of the Covid-19 vaccine taskforce.

The country is receiving the doses through the World Health Organization-backed Covax facility that aims to distribute 1.3bn vaccine doses to low and middle-income countries by the end of 2021. Kenya is due to receive 4.1m vaccine doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab by the end of June, according to Covax’s distribution forecasts.

Kenya, which has recorded 1,856 coronavirus deaths in total during the pandemic, would become the first east African nation to receive coronavirus vaccines. The consignment will be delivered to a central store in Kitengela, about 27km from the capital, Nairobi, after which immediate distribution will commence to other regional depots.

Nigeria on Sunday announced that it would receive its first Covax shipment of nearly 4m doses on Tuesday, following on from Ghana and Ivory Coast which have received vaccines through the scheme.

The delivery of the AstraZeneca jabs is the first tranche of a total 16m doses Africa’s most populous country will receive under Covax. Nigeria plans to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of adults in the next two years.

3/1/2021, 10:27:56 AM

Valentina Romei

UK households accumulated savings in January as lockdown restrictions limited spending opportunities, providing a possible future stimulus for recovery once the economy reopens.

Households deposited £18.5bn in bank accounts over the month, data from the Bank of England showed, as they saved cash instead of spending at restaurants, bars, retailers and other businesses.

The savings rate was far higher than pre-pandemic levels. They compare with a monthly average of £4.8bn in the six months to February 2020.

If spent in the months ahead, the cash “would provide a very significant degree of additional demand stimulus to an already rapidly-recovering economy”, Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane said last week.

Housing finance figures from the Bank of England on Monday also showed that the mortgage market “remained relatively strong” in January.

Lenders approved 99,000 mortgages over the month, well above the 67,900 monthly average in the six months to February 2020.

Still, approvals declined from 102,800 in December, adding to evidence of some cooling in the property market ahead of the end of the stamp duty holiday at the end of March.

3/1/2021, 9:07:35 AM

Valentina Romei

Italy’s manufacturing activity expanded at the fastest pace in three years in February, helping to push the eurozone average to a similar record, according to a closely-watched survey.

The IHS Markit Italian purchasing managers’ index for manufacturing, a measure of the health of the sector, rose to 56.9 in February from 55.1 in the previous month.

This is the strongest reading since January 2018 and is well above the 50 mark which indicates a majority of businesses reporting an expansion.

Lewis Cooper, economist at IHS Markit, said: “Italy’s manufacturing sector registered another strong performance during February. Output and total new order growth was sustained, with the latest upturns the steepest for three years, as demand conditions continued to recover”.

Line chart of Purchasing managers' index, below 50= a majority of businesses reporting a contraction showing Manufacturing activity in the eurozone grows at a faster pace

Italy is the eurozone’s second largest manufacturing economy after Germany, and growth across factories has helped to compensate for the damage that restrictions have caused for many businesses in the services sector.

The strong reading for Italy and upward revisions for France and Germany pushed the manufacturing PMI for the eurozone to a three-year high of 57.9 in February, up from 54.8 in the previous month and higher than the initial estimate of 57.7.

This is a level “that has rarely been exceeded in more than two-decades of survey history,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

“Producers are benefitting from resurgent demand for goods in both domestic and export markets, linked to post-Covid recovery hopes,” he added.

3/1/2021, 8:42:19 AM

Martin Arnold

Spain’s manufacturing activity grew at its fastest rate for seven months in February, underpinned by a rebound in domestic and overseas demand, according to a closely-watched business survey.

The IHS Markit Spanish flash manufacturing purchasing managers’ index rose faster than most economists’ expectations to a seven-month high of 52.9 in February, up from 49.3 in the previous month.

“Output and new orders both increased, leading to rises in buying activity and backlogs of work at plants, whilst confidence about the future strengthened as firms predicted a strong upturn in economic activity once the pandemic has been brought fully under control,” said Paul Smith, economics director at IHS Markit.

Many Spanish manufacturers reported “supply-side shortages, with strengthened global demand and ongoing transportation delays pushing up delivery times,” IHS Markit said, adding that factories in Spain raised their prices at the sharpest rate since June 2018.

According to European Commission forecasts, Spain’s economy has been the hardest hit of any eurozone country by the pandemic and it was expected to contract by more than 12 per cent last year, before growing 5.4 per cent this year.

But confidence among Spanish manufacturers about the coming months increased to its highest level since March 2018, as their backlogs of work rose for the first time in nearly two years.

Line chart of IHS Markit Spain Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index showing Rebound in Spanish factory activity

3/1/2021, 8:05:45 AM

Patricia Nilsson

Reach’s confidence that its online business will grow rapidly has prompted the UK’s largest regional news group to propose a dividend for 2020, a year in which revenues and profits were hit by the pandemic.

The London-listed group behind titles including the Daily Mirror and Daily Express on Monday said that revenues in the year ending December dropped nearly 15 per cent to £600m. Profit before tax, adjusted for costs from a restructuring and the closure of printing sites, dropped 8 per cent to £131m.

However, digital revenues rose just over a fifth to £118m, and the company expects them to double in the “medium term”. Digital sales are only a quarter of total revenues from print, which were badly hit by the pandemic.

The company’s digital push focuses on signing up new readers online and tracking them across its different publications, which include the Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo.

The company’s board said it would propose a final dividend of 4.26 pence per share, up 5.2 per cent on the 2019 payout that the company subsequently cancelled due to the pandemic.

Jim Mullen, chief executive, said the company had last year reached milestones in its digital transformation “ahead of original expectations” but added that “uncertainty resulting from Covid-19 clearly remains”.

Reach said that newspaper sales had over the year been affected by the closure of many stores that keep newsstands. With local businesses closed and economic activity limited, about 70 per cent of its regular small business customers stopped advertising when uncertainty caused by the pandemic was at its peak.

In July, the group said it would cut 550 jobs, slightly more than 10 per cent of its workforce.

3/1/2021, 8:03:08 AM

Alistair Gray

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has defended the UK’s system of testing and quarantine as “robust” after officials found several cases of a coronavirus strain linked to a surge in cases in Brazil.

Health authorities at the weekend said they had identified six cases of the P.1 variant, including one in a person whom they had so far been unable to trace. The strain shares characteristics with another variant first found in South Africa, against which some vaccines appear to be less effective.

Two cases in England involved the same household in south Gloucestershire, where one person had travelled back from Brazil — several days before ministers brought in a system of hotel quarantine.

Speaking on Sky News on Monday, Zahawi noted that individuals from Brazil are banned from entering the UK unless they are British nationals or residents, in which case they are subject to various restrictions. “I think that system is robust, which is why we’ve been able to locate these cases.”

He called for the missing individual, who failed to provide contact details when taking the test, to come forward.

The variant has been linked to a surge in cases in Brazil, particularly in the city of Manaus in the northwest of the country © AFP via Getty Images

3/1/2021, 7:54:09 AM

Harry Dempsey

Distributor Bunzl increased its annual pre-tax profit by almost a quarter as the coronavirus pandemic led to an upsurge in bulk orders of disposable gloves, masks and hand sanitiser.

The FTSE 100 company’s revenues passed £10bn for the first time in its history in the year ending December 31, up 8 per cent on the previous year, after Covid-19 fuelled requests for hygiene and sanitisation products.

Statutory profit before tax rose 23 per cent to £556m, as the higher margins from healthcare, safety and cleaning products offset declines in profitability from its lower margin food service and retail businesses, which were forced to close or operate at lower capacity.

The company cautioned that 2021 sales and margins would be lower than last year, as it expects the virus-driven bump in sales to wane.

However, Bunzl did hint at some lasting impact from the pandemic. “We expect to see some benefit from enhanced hygiene trends across most of our business areas,” it said, as it highlighted a recovery for its food service business in the second half of 2021 and spending £445m on acquisitions last year to bolster revenue growth.

3/1/2021, 7:43:44 AM

Alice Hancock

The Restaurant Group, owner of the Wagamama chain, has completed a £500m debt refinancing to bolster its balance sheet for the final months of the UK’s national lockdown.

The group, which also owns Frankie & Benny’s diners, said that it had been boosted by takeaway sales of up to five times pre-Covid levels from some brands, and that it would be able to reopen its restaurants within two weeks of restrictions being lifted.

TRG said on Monday that it had signed agreements for a £380m term loan and a £120m revolving credit facility that would replace and simplify its previous debt facilities. Currently it has four loans, including one issued under the government’s coronavirus support scheme, that mature in July 2022. The new loans will not be subject to any covenant tests before June 2022.

Cash burn while its restaurants have been closed under the UK’s lockdown, which has effectively lasted in some parts of the country since December, amounted to £5.5m each month, it added, while it expects net debt at the end of December 2020 to be £340m – in line with its earlier forecasts.

Restaurant, pub and bar owners have been outraged at the government’s cautious reopening plans, which only allow hospitality venues to reopen for indoor trading in May. They argue that this could be too late to save many businesses after months of closure and does not reflect the country’s success with rolling out vaccines.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce more financial support for businesses forced to stay closed in his Budget this week.

TRG operates around 400 restaurants and pubs across the UK as well as concessions in airports.

The owner of Wagamama is burning through £5.5m every month © REUTERS

3/1/2021, 7:35:24 AM

Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul

Turkey’s economy grew in the final quarter of 2020, driving an annual expansion and helping to offset the record contraction it suffered earlier in the year when the coronavirus pandemic first emerged.

Data from the state statistics office showed that the economy grew by 5.9 per cent in the final three months of the year, and by 1.8 per cent across 2020 as a whole. That was below economists’ expectations of 2.3 per cent annual growth and 7.1 per cent quarterly growth according to a Reuters poll.

Fourth quarter GDP growth slowed sharply from the third quarter, when it had swelled 15.9 per cent, as the government slashed borrowing costs to fuel growth and overcome the 9.9 per cent contraction in the second quarter. But those policies triggered a fall in the lira, forcing the central bank to hike interest rates in November.

The government reintroduced some social restrictions late last year as coronavirus cases peaked.

Turkey’s $735bn economy is one of the few that was expected to grow last year during the pandemic, according to the International Monetary Fund economic update released last month.

3/1/2021, 6:26:09 AM

Neil Hume in London

Copper’s rise to its highest price in a decade is no temporary “spike” but a reflection of strong underlying fundamentals, the head of the world’s biggest listed producer said as his company prepares to step up its output. 

Richard Adkerson, chairman and chief executive of Freeport-McMoRan, said stocks were already at their lowest level since the mid-2000s even though many big economies were still hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“This is not a spike like we’ve seen in oil and natural gas prices because of cold weather in Texas, because there is a lot more fundamental support for the copper market,” Adkerson told the Financial Times. He added that “from a supply standpoint, copper cannot be turned on with a spigot”.

Read more here

3/1/2021, 6:03:37 AM

George Russell in Hong Kong

South Africa on Sunday eased some of its coronavirus restrictions as the rate of new infections dropped, and as the country’s death toll approached 50,000.

The government has allowed most alcohol sales, shortened a curfew and permitted larger public gatherings.

The relaxations, announced by Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, come a year after the first Covid-19 case was detected in the country.

Curfews will run from midnight to 4am.

The president urged people to continue social distancing, saying the wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory.

The maximum number of people allowed at any gathering is 100 people indoors or 250 people outdoors. 

The sale of alcohol will be permitted, according to normal licence provisions. But Nightclubs will remain closed and no alcohol can be sold during curfew hours.

“As we ease restrictions, we cannot let our guard down,” Ramaphosa told the nation in a televised address.

“The few remaining restrictions … are meant to maintain low levels of infections and, in particular, to prevent super-spreading events,” he said.

South Africa reported 1,168 new cases on Sunday.

The country has identified a total of 1,513,393 cases since the pandemic began.

There were another 52 Covid-19-related deaths recorded, bringing the toll to 49,993.

3/1/2021, 5:31:01 AM

Aziza Kasumov in New York

Markets have largely shrugged off US companies’ positive earnings surprises this season — a sign, analysts say, that the “cyclical rotation” from pandemic winners to reopening beneficiaries is in full swing.

Shares in S&P 500 companies that have beaten earnings expectations have, on average, stayed flat, according to an analysis from FactSet. The data included the 96 per cent of companies in the benchmark stocks index that had reported their fourth-quarter earnings as of Thursday, and aimed to compare share prices in the two days before the earnings announcement to prices during the two days after. 

Some of the biggest Covid-19 beneficiaries have seen their shares drop despite surprising analysts with stellar results. Apple and Facebook both beat estimates by roughly 20 per cent, but their shares slid more than 7 per cent in the two days following the announcements. 

Read more here

3/1/2021, 5:07:11 AM

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

Stocks in Asia rose as global bonds markets stabilised after wild swings last week, while oil prices climbed and the UK pound rallied on optimism over Britain’s economic recovery.

Japan’s Topix index advanced 1.7 per cent on Monday morning in Asia, while Australia’s benchmark S&P/ASX 200 climbed 1.1 per cent.

China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks added 0.9 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 1.2 per cent.

In sovereign bond markets, the yield on 10-year Australian government bonds dropped 0.27 percentage points to 1.628 per cent, while that on New Zealand bonds with the same maturity dropped 0.16 percentage points to 1.732 per cent. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

The gains for Asia-Pacific equities and bonds followed a rebound in US government debt at the end of last week. The 10-year US Treasury yield was unchanged at 1.410 per cent on Monday after dropping 0.11 percentage points on Friday from a 12-month high the previous day.

People walk past a stock price display in Tokyo on MondayPeople walk past a stock price display in Tokyo on Monday © AFP via Getty Images

Futures markets pointed to gains for US stocks when Wall Street opens on Monday, with the S&P 500 expected to climb 0.8 per cent after closing Friday down 0.5 per cent.

Volatility in global debt and equity markets has been stoked by widening concerns among investors that a broad economic recovery from the pandemic could spur inflation, prompting central banks to withdraw unprecedented monetary policy support.

“Global real yields could rise further,” said Robert Buckland, chief global equity strategist at Citigroup. “This is bad for equity markets, especially those tilted towards highly rated growth stocks.”

In currencies, sterling climbed 0.4 per cent against the US dollar to $1.3985. The UK government signalled that the country’s economic recovery, bolstered by the vaccine rollout during the past few months, would help stave off greater tax rises by filling more of the gap in government revenues produced by the pandemic.

3/1/2021, 4:43:50 AM

George Russell in Hong Kong

China reported 19 new Covid-19 cases, official data showed on Monday.

All were imported from abroad, the National Health Commission said.

There are nine cases in Sichuan, six in Guangdong and two each in Beijing and Shanghai.

There are 171 active cases in China imported from overseas, the NHC reported.

The country has officially identified 89,912 confirmed cases since the pandemic began.

3/1/2021, 4:15:57 AM

Nicolle Liu and Thomas Hale in Hong Kong

Steve Chuang’s Hong Kong-based electronics manufacturing company has enjoyed steady demand from the US and Europe over the past year. But, like many Asian exporters, he is struggling to get his products to customers. 

Chuang’s business, which makes solar energy electronics, is just one of many enjoying a trade boom that has helped the regional economy bounce back from last year’s pandemic-driven downturn. But their success is being held back by disruption to global shipping supply chains.

The surge in exports from China to the west, combined with disruption at ports due to coronavirus, has left many containers out of position, resulting in queues of ships outside ports and soaring freight rates. The Chinese media have dubbed it “a single box is hard to find”.

Read more here

3/1/2021, 3:52:40 AM

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has received a first inoculation against Covid-19, as the country moves into the next phase of its vaccination campaign and makes the jabs available to the wider public.

Modi tweeted a photo of himself getting vaccinated at the government’s prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences early on Monday morning.

His inoculation comes as India begins vaccinating people over the age of 60, as well as people over age 45 with specified health conditions that could raise the risk for severe Covid-19.

“Took my first dose of the Covid vaccine at AIIMS,” the prime minister wrote on Twitter. “Remarkable how our doctors and scientists have worked in quick time to strengthen the global fight against Covid-19. I appeal to all those who are eligible to take the vaccine. Together let us make India Covid-19 free.

India had launched its nationwide vaccination campaign in mid-January. But given New Delhi’s decision to inoculate healthcare workers and front-line public sector workers first, Modi had said that he and other politicians would wait in the queue for their turn.

The semi-official ANI news agency reported that Modi had received a dose of the indigenously developed Covaxin, which is produced by Bharat Biotech, but which has not released its efficacy data to the public.

Narendra Modi, Indian prime minister, receives a dose of Covaxin, a vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical ResearchNarendra Modi, Indian prime minister, receives a dose of Covaxin, a vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research © Press Information Bureau via Reuters

The inclusion of Covaxin in the first phase of India’s ambitious vaccination drive — alongside the Serum Institute of India’s locally made version of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine — has fuelled vaccine hesitancy, with many Indian health workers reluctant to take the jab.

Even as India moves into the phase of vaccinating the general public, people will not be given a choice of which vaccine they will receive, or any advance notice of which vaccine will be available at the inoculation centre they attend.

Bharat Biotech has said it expects to release its efficacy data in the next few weeks.

So far, India has administered 13.5m doses of vaccines, of which 1.2m doses were Covaxin.

India did not carry out any inoculations this weekend as the government moved to upgrade its CoWin vaccination app, the platform through which the entire campaign is being managed.

3/1/2021, 3:24:19 AM

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexico’s coronavirus tsar, Hugo López-Gatell, was admitted to hospital last week to receive oxygen, officials admitted, after falling ill with Covid-19 on February 19.

As Mexico notched up a year since its first case, Ruy López Ridaura, head of the National Centre for Preventive Programmes and Disease Control, told a news conference the health undersecretary had been in hospital since last Wednesday as a preventive measure in case his condition worsened.

“He’s been doing very well and we hope that tomorrow he can be discharged,” López Ridaura said.

Previously, a health ministry spokeswoman had dismissed reports that the official in charge of Mexico’s Covid-19 strategy was in hospital as “fake news”. She said his condition was not serious.

Mexico on Sunday confirmed 185,715 Covid-19 deaths and 2,086,938 cases, but low testing and high excess death figures imply the true toll is far higher. 

To date, Mexico has administered 2.46m vaccine doses.

3/1/2021, 2:55:36 AM

James Politi in Washington

Top US Senate Democrats have abandoned a plan to impose a tax on large companies that fail to pay high enough wages, amid fears that the measure could delay president Joe Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus pandemic stimulus plan.

The move represents a sharp U-turn for Senate Democrats, who proposed the plan late last week to force the biggest corporations to pay a minimum wage of $15 per hour in a way that would benefit many essential workers during the pandemic. 

The plan was developed after Democrats were told by the Senate’s parliamentarian, who advises the upper chamber, that a straight minimum wage increase to $15 per hour could not be included in the stimulus package because it was not strictly a budgetary measure.

The White House, some Democratic lawmakers, and several economists and policy experts who support a higher minimum wage had however been cool to the proposal.

“We worked through the weekend and it became clear that finalising ‘plan B’ with the caucus would delay passage and risk going over the jobless benefits cliff on March 14,” one person familiar with the matter said on Sunday.

While some progressive Democrats are pushing for a replacement of the Senate parliamentarian, others say they should keep trying to force an increase in the minimum wage through other legislation.

3/1/2021, 2:32:51 AM

Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi

India set the price for a shot of the coronavirus vaccine at Rs250 ($3.38) for private hospitals as it extends its drive to cover people 60 and those over 45 with co-morbidities.

The general population in India is eligible for the vaccine on Monday for the first time since the campaign started in mid-January. The expansion of the vaccination drive comes as some states are recording a surge of new cases.

India recorded 16,752 new coronavirus cases — the biggest single day jump in 30 days — on February 28. Maharashtra, the state that includes Mumbai, recorded 8,000 new infections for a third consecutive day on Friday, while Kerala counted more than 3,600 cases.

The country of 1.4bn people has recorded more than 11m coronavirus infections, the second-highest number in the world behind the US. It has recorded 157,000 deaths, the fourth-highest after the US, Brazil and Mexico.

New Delhi has approved two shots to use during the vaccination campaign, one developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and made by the Serum Institute of India — the world’s largest vaccine maker — and another made by Indian company Bharat Biotech. 

Uptake of the Bharat Biotech vaccine has been muted as the company still needs to release efficacy data to the public.

3/1/2021, 2:18:02 AM

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Growth in China’s manufacturing sector slowed in February as the pandemic hit demand and supply chains.

The seasonally-adjusted Caixin/Markit purchasing managers’ index dipped to 50.9 from 51.5 a month earlier, declining for a third straight month.

Readings above the 50.0 level show the sector is expanding.

Companies surveyed reported that the pandemic had hit demand. Manufacturers also reported the impact of raw material shortages and restrictions on movement designed to limit the spread of the virus that created transport delays.

New export business fell for a second consecutive month, with overseas demand pulling down overall demand, according to Wang Zhe, senior economist at Caixin Insight Group.

“To sum up, the momentum of the manufacturing recovery further weakened as the supply and demand both rose at a slower clip, adding pressure on employment,” Wang added.

The results of the survey echo the official manufacturing PMI, which dipped to 50.6 in February from 51.3.

3/1/2021, 1:59:49 AM

George Russell in Hong Kong

The Irish manufacturing sector stagnated in February as rising employment and sentiment was offset by falling output and new orders, purchasing managers’ index data showed on Monday.

The headline AIB Ireland Manufacturing PMI registered 52.0 in February, little-changed from 51.8 in January, signalling a slight overall improvement in manufacturing business conditions.

A figure greater than 50.0 indicates overall expansion.

But output and new orders – the largest components of the PMI by weight at 30 per cent and 25 per cent respectively – continued to decline.

“Tight lockdown restrictions, both here and elsewhere, are creating a challenging backdrop for businesses, with firms reporting weak demand and thus falling new orders in Ireland and from the UK,” said Oliver Mangan, AIB chief economist in Dublin.

But, he noted, companies remained optimistic about the 12-month outlook for production. “They expect the rollout of Covid vaccines to bring an improvement in economic conditions as lockdown restrictions are lifted during the course of the year,” Mangan said. 

3/1/2021, 1:46:42 AM

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

A woman wears a face mask as she walks near Wall Street in New YorkA woman wears a face mask as she walks near Wall Street in New York © AFP via Getty Images

US Covid-19 hospitalisations maintained a downward trend on Sunday, holding below 50,000 for a second day.

States reported 47,352 people were hospitalised with Covid-19, down from the 48,870 recorded on Saturday, according to Covid Tracking Project data. 

The number of people hospitalised with the disease this weekend fell below 50,000 for the first time since November 2.

Hospitalisations are falling across all four regions of the US, with figures in the Midwest nearing levels seen last summer, according to Covid Tracking Project.

The country recorded 1,049 new fatalities, down from 1,822 deaths a day earlier. That takes the overall number of fatalities to 503,235.

New infections also dropped to 54,288 from 70,622 cases on Saturday.

The number of new cases and deaths is usually lower on weekends because of delays in reporting.

3/1/2021, 1:22:01 AM

Kiran Stacey in Washington

Supplies of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine will start reaching vaccination sites on Tuesday, the White House has said, but supplies will be patchy until the end of the next month after the company encountered production problems.

Senior US officials said on Sunday night that J&J would ship 4m doses of its Janssen vaccine immediately, after the company got the go-ahead from the US drugs regulator over the weekend.

But the White House has warned state governors and local officials not to rely on steady supplies for several weeks as the company works to smooth out glitches in its manufacturing process.

One official said: “We do not expect any additional deliveries next week and we expect deliveries to be uneven during the weeks of March. We’re getting doses out the door as soon as they’re available to ensure vaccines get into arms as quickly as possible.”

The White House did not say what had caused the supply problems, but the Financial Times revealed on Saturday that one of the issues was that vials of the vaccine had to be checked by hand for two weeks after an automated verification machine broke down.

The J&J vaccine, which was recommended for use on Sunday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only requires a single shot and so might be preferred by people who would find it difficult to arrange a second injection, one official said on Sunday.

The US administration is urging people to take whichever vaccine they are offered first rather than waiting for one they might prefer.

3/1/2021, 1:10:52 AM

George Russell in Hong Kong

Beachgoers dive into Wellington Harbour on Sunday. Life in the New Zealand capital is near normal while Auckland endures another lockdownBeachgoers dive into Wellington Harbour on Sunday. Life in the New Zealand capital is near normal while Auckland endures another lockdown © Getty Images

New Zealand’s largest city is under lockdown yet again – a seven-day order from Sunday – as health officials battle to contain an outbreak exacerbated by people defying stay-at-home orders.

Two more cases were reported at the weekend, both linked to the most recent cluster related to a high school in south Auckland.

There were no new cases in the community to report on Monday, the health ministry said.

The seven-day lockdown of nearly 2m people in Auckland followed a Saturday night Cabinet meeting.

“It is more than likely there will be additional cases in the community,” said Jacinda Ardern, prime minister.

“Despite our best efforts to date, recent cases have gone to work when they shouldn’t have,” she added.

The new lockdown follows a three-day stay-at-home order imposed in mid-February. 

Auckland workers are being told to work from home or otherwise wear a face covering and keep a 2-metre distance from others.

Travel in and out of the city is restricted while sports, games and large gatherings are cancelled. 

Public venues such as libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds and markets have been shut.

Police have re-established checkpoints at Auckland’s municipal boundaries.

3/1/2021, 1:00:41 AM

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Japan’s manufacturing sector reported its fastest growth in more than two years as output rose.

The au Jibun Bank Japan manufacturing purchasing managers’ index rose to 51.4 in February, its highest since the end of 2018, from 49.8 a month earlier.

Readings above 50.0 indicate expansion.

Output grew for the first time since December 2018 and companies surveyed pointed to a gradual recovery in demand resulting in increased orders.

Export sales grew for the first time in four months on greater demand from overseas markets including China. 

Supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic pushed up input prices and delayed delivery times, the survey found.

However, companies expect an end to the pandemic will help support demand.

“Japanese manufacturers continued to report a positive outlook beyond the immediate future,” said Usamah Bhatti, economist at IHS Markit.

“Over a third of respondents estimated that production volumes would increase over the coming 12 months,” he added. 

3/1/2021, 12:28:33 AM

George Russell in Hong Kong

The Philippines government is urging social media “influencers” to help it promote Covid-19 vaccinations in the country, state media reported on Sunday.

A top presidential palace official said celebrities and people with massive followings on Instagram and other platforms can act as a force against disinformation surrounding the jabs.

“We need to boost this advocacy,” Anthony Gonzales, presidential assistant secretary for the Visayas, one of the south-east Asian country’s main island groups, was quoted as saying by the state-owned Philippines News Agency.

The government has already won commitment from one of the country’s best known transgender icons. 

“I really do believe in this vaccination push and the vaccine brands that our government is procuring,” said Jess Labares, the first transgender flight attendant for the Cebu Pacific airline. 

Healthcare workers take part in a protest against the government’s plan to jab them with the China-made Sinovac Biotech vaccine at the Philippine General Hospital in ManilaHealthcare workers take part in a protest against the government’s plan to jab them with the China-made Sinovac Biotech vaccine at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila © Getty Images

Cebu is the largest city in the Visayas and a popular destination for domestic and international visitors.

President Rodrigo Duterte has called on Filipinos to be vaccinated when the jabs become available, saying quarantine will be relaxed only when 70 per cent of the population has been inoculated.

The Philippines on Sunday accepted delivery of 600,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech vaccines donated by China.

Christopher Go, Senate health committee chairman, said 525,000 AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines from the World Health Organization’s Covax facility are set to arrive on Monday and 117,000 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses will be delivered later this week.

3/1/2021, 12:07:52 AM

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific stocks climbed on Monday ahead of the release of figures on the region’s manufacturing sector.

Japan’s Topix rose 1.5 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia added 1.1 per cent. South Korean markets are closed for a holiday.

The results of surveys of the region’s manufacturing sector released this morning will give pointers on the recovery from the pandemic.

Those moves in Asia came after US Treasuries rallied and tech stocks stabilised on Friday following a turbulent week. The S&P 500 ended down 0.5 per cent while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 0.5 per cent.

President Joe Biden’s stimulus plan passed the House of Representatives over the weekend and will now head to the Senate. 

S&P 500 futures climbed 0.7 per cent. 

2/28/2021, 11:43:46 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

The vaccine shipment arrives in Hong Kong on SundayThe vaccine shipment arrives in Hong Kong on Sunday © Airport Authority Hong Kong

The first shipment of German-developed BioNTech vaccines destined for Hong Kong and Macau arrived at the weekend.

The batch of Comirnaty vaccines, made in collaboration with China’s Fosun Pharmaceuticals, was flown from Frankfurt to Hong Kong.

Macau’s dosage was then transhipped from the airport across the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

The shipment, which arrived on a Cathay Pacific Cargo Boeing 747-8F, was welcomed by Patrick Nip, Hong Kong civil service secretary, and Sophia Chan, food and health secretary.

The city has also entered into a supply agreement for the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Hong Kong government said 7,000 people received their jabs on Sunday.

A group of more than 200 pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong is set to be vaccinated ahead of the rest of the city’s population to attend the National People’s Congress.

The NPC meeting, China’s annual rubber-stamp parliamentary session, begins on March 5.

2/28/2021, 11:26:57 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

Australia’s manufacturers reported strong output and order book growth in February, although at a slower pace than the previous month, data released on Monday showed. 

The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index recorded a reading of 56.9 in February, down from 57.2 in January.

Any figure above 50.0 signifies expansion, but the latest reading was among the highest recorded since the survey began in May 2016, indicating a further marked improvement in business conditions.

Output rose for an eighth straight month in February, said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit in London. 

Although the rate of expansion cooled compared to January, production growth remains strong as companies boosted output in response to resurgent demand.

A pharmacist wears cold store gloves and an eye mask before opening a freezer storing Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines at the Austin Hospital in MelbourneA pharmacist wears cold store gloves and an eye mask before opening a freezer storing Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne © Bloomberg

“Businesses have also become more optimistic about the year ahead “with sentiment hitting a two-year high as hopes build of an impressive post-pandemic recovery, with the release of pent-up demand,” Williamson said.

He said companies would continue to take a cautious approach to hiring.

“One of the most concerning aspects of the February surveys was a fresh record rate of input cost inflation, linked to higher shipping and raw material prices as demand often outstripped supply,” Williamson said.

That suggested consumer price inflation could rise more sharply this year alongside a broader economic recovery, he forecast.

2/28/2021, 11:11:43 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

Human rights activists have called on Bangladesh authorities to investigate a writer’s death in custody last week.

Mushtaq Ahmed died in prison on February 25, nine months after being arrested for criticising the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Ahmed’s death has sent a chill through Bangladesh civil society and should force the government into ending this peremptory treatment of peaceful criticism,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 

“Posting satire … should not amount to the equivalent of a death sentence,” he added.

Authorities arrested Ahmed and a cartoonist, Ahmed Kabir Kishore, in May 2020. Kishore had published cartoons alleging corruption in the government’s response to the pandemic.

Bail was repeatedly denied, Adams said, adding that on February 4 the men were charged under the 2018 Digital Security Act with posting “propaganda, false or offensive information, and information that could destroy communal harmony and create unrest”.

2/28/2021, 10:52:36 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

China’s factory activity expanded in February at a slower pace than a month earlier, official data showed on Sunday.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index fell to 50.6 from 51.3 in January, the National Bureau of Statistics said. 

A reading above the 50-point mark indicates growth while a figure below that indicates contraction.

February included the lunar new year holiday, normally a one-week break for many employees and businesses in China.

However, this year Chinese factories pressed employees to keep working over the break as the country’s booming export businesses rush to keep pace with global demand.

Workers make clothes for export at a factory in Anlong county, in China’s Guizhou province.Workers make clothes for export at a factory in Anlong county, in China’s Guizhou province. © AFP via Getty Images

“This [data] should be the result of workers staying at work locations to spend the Chinese new year,” said Iris Pang, chief China economist at ING. “Some workers earned a nice salary working during the holidays.”

Larger enterprises performed better, the data showed, with a reading of 52.2, up 0.1 percentage point from the previous month.

“The PMIs surpassed our expectation, and shows that domestic demand can continue to support the manufacturing sector,” said Pang.

Small and medium-sized enterprises recorded readings of 49.6 and 48.3 respectively, down 1.8 and 1.1 percentage points.

“Manufacturing has remained basically stable,” said Zhao Qinghe, NBS senior statistician. “But small and medium-sized enterprises are more obviously affected by the lunar new year holiday.”

2/28/2021, 10:37:22 PM

James Shotter in Prague

The Czech Republic could start using Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine before it has been approved by the EU’s medicines regulator, prime minister Andrej Babis said on Sunday, as the central European country struggles to cope with a huge surge in Covid-19 cases. 

So far, the European Medicines Agency has approved three coronavirus vaccines — made by BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, and Oxford/AstraZeneca — for use in the bloc. But countries are allowed to grant temporary approval for medicines not approved by the EMA in emergencies such as a pandemic. 

Hungary became the first EU state to use this rule to approve the Sputnik vaccine last month, and in an interview with CNN Prima News, Babis said the Czech Republic could follow suit. “There is huge interest in the Russian vaccine, we cannot wait for the EMA,” he said.

Read more here

2/28/2021, 10:15:11 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

Travellers wear masks as they wait at an American Airlines ticket counter at O’Hare International Airport in ChicagoTravellers wear masks as they wait at an American Airlines ticket counter at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago © AP

Daily departures from the world’s 50 busiest airports are 50 per cent below pre-pandemic levels of January 2020, according to an analysis.

Global departures have now recovered by 15-20 per cent since December 2020, driven by an increase in China domestic flight activity, according to Barclays research.

Departures from China are recovering following their large drop from January through mid-February and are now 39 per cent below pre-Covid levels, while domestic departures are just 23 per cent below January 2020 levels. 

“China departures then continued at relatively high levels until falling hard in January and are now about 25 per cent below their recent peak in September,” according to the Barclays researchers, led by David Strauss, equity analyst in New York.

Other Asia departures had steadily improved through December, but have fallen back and are now down 63 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. Europe departures fell 72 per cent and North America departures are 39 per cent down. 

2/28/2021, 9:51:39 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

The coronavirus infection is likely to make seasonal appearances within a year or two, a Russian epidemiologist told state media at the weekend.

Dr Natalya Pshenichnaya, deputy director for clinical and analytical work at the Central Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology, told Tass that the surge in the northern autumn of 2020 already indicated it would recur.

“Covid-19 has already started to show the signs of a seasonal illness,” she said. “The rise in infections that was recorded in the fall of 2020 could be proof of that.”

Pshenichnaya also told Tass that an increase in the number of coronavirus cases could occur for several years even after most of the population is vaccinated.

“There will still be people who are susceptible to that infection, including due to a decrease in protective antibody titres,” she said. 

Although the epidemic spread of this infection would stop, outbreaks were likely to persist, according to Pshenichnaya.

2/28/2021, 9:31:26 PM

Sarah Neville in London

Six people in the UK have been infected with a strain of coronavirus linked to a surge in cases in Brazil, including one person whom the British authorities have not yet been able to trace.

Public Health England said on Sunday that two cases in England involved the same household in south Gloucestershire, where one person had returned from Brazil in mid-February.

PHE said the identity of a third person shown to have the Brazil variant had yet to be identified.

Read more here

2/28/2021, 9:09:26 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

Canadian health authorities have reported 1,235 “adverse events” following more than 1.5m immunisations with Covid-19 vaccines, the federal government said at the weekend.

Of those, 167 – about 1 in 9,000 doses administered – were considered serious, such as a severe allergic reaction, according to Dr Theresa Tam, the country’s chief health officer. 

On Friday, Ottawa approved two versions of the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford vaccine, the original and the Serum Institute of India version.

Canada approved the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs in December.

2/28/2021, 8:50:48 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

Hospital admissions for Covid-19 in the US fell below 50,000 at the weekend — their lowest level since November 2, according to new data — as testing accelerated after a winter lull.

Data from 43 states showed 48,870 people currently hospitalised across the country.

There were 1,822 new deaths attributed to Covid-19. As of February 24, a total of 503,587 such fatalities have been reported in the US. 

The current seven-day average of deaths is 2,047 deaths, a 23.8 per cent decrease from the previous of 2,687 daily deaths.

The figures released on Saturday were missing updates from Alaska, Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Wyoming, as well as the US Pacific Ocean territory of the Northern Mariana Islands.

A Madame Tussauds wax figure of actress Audrey Hepburn, as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, helps fill seats at the Peter Luger steak house in Brooklyn at the weekendA Madame Tussauds wax figure of actress Audrey Hepburn, as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, helps fill seats at the Peter Luger steak house in Brooklyn at the weekend © AFP via Getty Images

After five weeks of decline, weekly tests are up 11.2 per cent from last week, the Covid Tracking Project reported.

Hospitalisations are now down more than 60 per cent from their early-January peak of 132,474, but the latest figure is still hovering around high levels experienced during the summer surge that hit sunbelt states hardest.

States reported about 71,000 new infections, down from the 74,000 or so recorded on Friday.

Vaccination rates continue to increase and 13.9 per cent of the US population has received one or more doses of the vaccine as of February 25.

2/28/2021, 8:45:34 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

Although only 33 per cent of adults approve of the UK government’s overall handling of the pandemic, more than two-thirds back its management of the vaccine rollout, an opinion poll suggests.

The survey by Opinium Research found that 68 per cent of respondents approve of the jab campaign.

With schools set to open on March 8, a majority believe the roadmap out of lockdown is moving at the right pace. However, 58 per cent think it is unlikely that all rules on social distancing will be gone by June 30.

“After spending much of 2020 on the back foot regarding their handling of Coronavirus, the ongoing success of the vaccine rollout has rejuvenated the government’s poll ratings,” said Adam Drummond, Opinium’s head of political polling.

Opinium carried out an online survey of 2,003 UK adults on February 25-26.

2/28/2021, 8:39:36 PM

George Russell in Hong Kong

The US has appealed against a court decision declaring a moratorium on evictions unlawful, the justice department said at the weekend.

Brian Boynton, acting assistant US attorney general for the civil division, said the department disagrees with the February 25 decision by a Texas district court that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium exceeds the powers of Congress.

“The CDC’s eviction moratorium, which Congress extended last December, protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or health care expenses,” Boynton said.

“By preventing people from becoming homeless or having to move into more crowded housing, the moratorium helps to slow the spread of Covid-19,” he added.

The Texas case was brought by Lauren Terkel, who inherited a rental property in Tyler, Texas, but was unable to evict a non-paying tenant because of the CDC Order.

The judge, while acknowledging that eviction moratoriums may be lawful as part of state laws managing eviction procedures generally and under states’ broad “police powers”, ruled that eviction moratoriums reflect a significant expansion of federal power.

“The court engaged in a detailed analysis of Congress’s power … to regulate interstate commerce, as well as other constitutional provisions, and concluded that the moratoriums exceeded the government’s authority,” said Harry Kelly, a partner with Nixon Peabody in Washington.

The decision, however, does not extend beyond Terkel v CDC, and it does not prohibit the application of the CDC’s eviction moratorium elsewhere. “For other landlords who rent to covered persons, the CDC’s eviction moratorium remains in effect,” said Boynton.

2/28/2021, 8:34:59 PM

FT reporters

The UK Treasury said it would set up a unit to crack down on Covid-19 fraudsters who exploited government support schemes. The Taxpayer Protection Taskforce will deploy 1,250 HMRC staffers to investigate fraudulent claims for furlough and Self Employment Income Support Scheme payments. The unit’s budget is £100m, the Treasury said.

The head of Canada’s largest pension fund has resigned after he travelled to the Middle East and received the Covid-19 vaccine, sparking a backlash. In a statement, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board said Mark Machin had travelled to the United Arab Emirates in a personal capacity and “arranged to be vaccinated against Covid-19”.

The US government will funnel travellers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea to six airports in the wake of an Ebola outbreak that has further stressed healthcare systems barely coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines will collect and transmit passenger information to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Conveyancing solicitors have warned UK chancellor Rishi Sunak that extending the stamp duty holiday in next week’s Budget would risk creating a bigger paperwork logjam. The policy has stoked demand and created bottlenecks at a time when professionals are homeworking or dealing with absences due to the pandemic.

Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas is berthed in Singapore after a passenger tested positive for Covid-19 during a cruise to nowhere in December 2020.Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas is berthed in Singapore after a passenger tested positive for Covid-19 during a cruise to nowhere in December 2020. © Reuters

Royal Caribbean’s $1bn loss for the fourth consecutive quarter marked the end of a gloomy year since a Covid-19 outbreak on board Diamond Princess brought the cruise industry to a standstill. But investors pushed the share price up almost 12 per cent as it revealed a bump in bookings spurred by vaccines and lockdown easing.

The US drugs regulator on Saturday granted emergency approval to Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen coronavirus vaccine, the first to require only a single shot. “The Janssen vaccine is a very welcome addition to the arsenal,” said Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director. 

Researchers at Stanford University have confirmed what millions of remote workers already knew: “Zoom fatigue” causes greater stress than meeting in real life because of the “non-verbal overload” of endless video calls, according to a study by Jeremy Bailenson at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

A Covid-19 collapse in tourism to cities was partly offset at the end of last year by more people travelling to rural destinations, said Airbnb, as it boasted of its “resilience” in its first earnings as a public company. Fourth-quarter revenues were $859m, comfortably higher than analysts’ expectations of $747m. See the FT’s #techasia newsletter here.

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