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A bipartisan group of US senators has proposed a $908bn spending package as Jay Powell, the Fed chair, made a new appeal for lawmakers to provide more support to the economy. The proposal, led by Virginia Democrat Mark Warner and Maine Republican Susan Collins, reflects growing economic anxiety.
Families in England will be able to visit their loved ones in elderly-care homes from Wednesday, the government has announced. The Department of Health and Social Care said that starting from this week, individuals will be able to visit care homes — subject to a negative Covid-19 test result.
French president Emmanuel Macron said the government is looking at “restrictive and dissuasive” measures to prevent French people from skiing over the border in Switzerland at Christmas when its own resorts will be closed. The move highlights the lack of cross-border coordination in Europe.
Growth in US manufacturing eased in November on the heels of the strongest month in two years, as the sector struggled to hire workers amid the pandemic. The Institute for Supply Management’s index tracking factory activity fell to 57.5 last month from 59.3 in October, a sign that the rebound continued at a slower pace.
Debenhams is on course to be liquidated in the new year with the probable loss of more than 12,000 jobs, bringing 200 years of retail history to an ignominious end and compounding the crisis on the UK high street. The Covid-19 pandemic and the national lockdown followed a brutal few years for high street retailers.
The Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, said on Tuesday the AstraZeneca vaccine is “safe and immunogenic” after a trial participant claimed he suffered adverse effects. SII said the claim was “malicious” because his complications “were independent of the vaccine trial”.
Europe’s second largest reinsurance company, Munich Re, is expecting a return to its pre-pandemic level of profits next year after taking a €3.4bn hit from the Covid-19 crisis this year, the company said on Tuesday. For 2020, Munich Re is expecting a 56 per cent drop in profits to €1.2bn.
Airbnb on Tuesday disclosed it could raise as much as $2.5bn in its initial public offering. The company would have a market value of $29.8bn, a feat considering its operations were moribund for part of this year after the pandemic and government travel restrictions cut into its business.
Hong Kong tightens gathering rules amid surge
Hong Kong has tightened gathering restrictions and moved to keep bars and clubs closed until at least December 15, officials said on Tuesday.
The Centre for Health Protection announced another 82 additional confirmed cases of Covid-19 had been detected in the previous 24 hours.
Of Hong Kong’s 6,397 cases recorded since the pandemic began, 848 cases have been detected in the 14 days to November 30.
Hong Kong Disneyland said it will close from Wednesday until further notice as the number of coronavirus infections surged in the Chinese territory.
Ocean Park, a theme park with a zoo on Hong Kong island, also said it would close until further notice.
“The coming two weeks are going to be critical,” a government spokeswoman said. “The government has rolled out various measures which have enabled us to overcome previous waves of the epidemic.”
Separately, a 76-year-old man was on Tuesday sentenced to seven days’ jail by the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Courts for violating quarantine orders.
Turkey launches vaccination plan
Turkey’s new daily coronavirus cases continued to top 30,000 as the country said it would start administering vaccines as soon as this month.
The health ministry reported 30,110 more coronavirus infections, including 6,101 symptomatic cases, over the past 24 hours, according to health ministry data.
Turkey’s 82m people have recorded more than 500,000 coronavirus cases, with 190 deaths announced on Tuesday bringing the total to 13,936.
Health minister Fahrettin Koca said that at least 10m vaccine doses would be procured in December, along with 20m in January and another 10m in February.
Vaccination of healthcare workers is scheduled to begin on December 11, Dr Koca said.
Florida passes 1m cases as Arizona breaks record
A volunteer receives a Covid-19 vaccination at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida
Florida on Tuesday became the third US state to confirm more than 1m coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic.
A further 8,847 people tested positive, authorities revealed this afternoon, up from 6,426 on Monday and compared with 8,102 on Tuesday last week.
That took the total number of infections in the Sunshine State to 1,008,166, according to health department data. Only California and Texas have tallied more.
Meanwhile, Arizona on Tuesday reported more than 10,000 coronavirus cases for the first time, giving a taste of how states may be set to report a leap in daily numbers following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
A further 10,322 cases were revealed by authorities this morning, up from 822 on Monday and compared with 4,544 on Tuesday last week.
The record number of infections soars past the Grand Canyon State's previous record of 4,877 on July 1, when it was among those in the sunbelt to experience a surge in cases during the summer.
US CDC urges vaccine priority for health workers
US healthcare workers and care-home residents should receive a coronavirus vaccine first, an expert committee has recommended, as the country prepares for a likely rollout in the next few weeks.
Members of a key government advisory panel that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted on Tuesday to prioritise the two groups in the initial phases of vaccine production when doses remain scarce.
The vote means that if one or more vaccines are authorised later this month, most people who work in healthcare settings or long-term care facilities should receive doses of a vaccine by the end of the year.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended will be carried out by state health authorities, who will be responsible for making sure the vaccines get to the people for whom they are intended.
José Romero, the chair of the committee, said: “We are using the principles of maximising benefits and minimising harm; promoting justice and mitigating health inequity.”
Greece poised for steeper decline, says top banker
Social and business restrictions imposed since November 7 are likely to deepen Greece’s economic contraction, the head of the central bank said on Tuesday.
Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras said economic activity is projected to contract in the fourth quarter of 2020, leading to a more dramatic shrinkage in the second half than the 7.9 per cent contraction recorded in the first half.
Addressing a conference organised by the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, Mr Stournaras said the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Greece’s public debt, unemployment, non-performing loans and foreign investment shortfall.
But he said positive consequences included a rise in private deposits by €12bn so far this year and a credit expansion to larger enterprises.
Mr Stournaras said that despite the shocks of the pandemic, annual average economic growth of 3.5 per cent over the next decade was feasible.
Texas hospitalisations reach highest level since July
Texas reported a daily record of more than 15,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, while hospitalisations topped 9,000 for the first time since July.
A further 15,182 new cases were revealed this afternoon by the state health department, up from 10,699 on Monday.
The latest jump edged past the previous record of 14,648 infections on November 25, just before the Thanksgiving public holiday.
Authorities added an additional 1,227 older cases stemming from backlogs of tests at commercial laboratories to the statewide tally, although these are excluded from the daily figure.
The number of patients currently in Texas hospitals being treated for coronavirus hit 9,047, up from 8,900 on Monday. That is the highest number of hospitalisations since July 31 and compares to the state's peak of 10,893 on July 22.
A further 170 deaths in the state were attributed to coronavirus, up from 22 yesterday and compared with 162 on Tuesday last week.
Since the start of the pandemic, Texas has confirmed 1.18m Covid-19 cases and 21,549 fatalities, ranking second among US states on both those measures.
Asia-Pacific equities extend global rally
Asia-Pacific stocks rose on Wednesday, extending a global rally after vaccine progress and positive Chinese data stoked expectations for the recovery from the pandemic.
In Japan, the Topix was up 0.2 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea added 0.5 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia gained 0.1 per cent.
Those moves came after the S&P 500 rose 1.1 per cent on Tuesday to a record high and the dollar and US Treasuries fell following encouraging China factory data. Optimism over potential additional stimulus for the US economy also buoyed sentiment.
S&P 500 futures edged down 0.1 per cent in Asia trading.
Eswatini leader transferred to South Africa
Eswatini’s prime minister has been transferred to a South African hospital for treatment of Covid-19, the impoverished kingdom’s government announced on Tuesday.
Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini was admitted to a local hospital with mild symptoms on November 24 but his condition has deteriorated.
“The prime minister is stable, he is recovering well and is still under care in hospital,” said the health ministry of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland.
The opposition Swaziland Solidarity Network said Mr Dlamini had “collapsed the healthcare system” and was one of the fortunate few who could afford a South African hospital stay.
Australia exits 1st recession in 3 decades
Australia has exited its first recession in almost three decades with the economy growing by a better than expected 3.3 per cent in the September quarter, reflecting authorities adept handling of Covid-19.
A boom in consumer spending drove the economic recovery, as an easing of social distancing restrictions prompted a 7.9 per cent jump household spending on goods and services in the three months to end September.
The damage wrought by the Covid-19 lockdown is reflected in the annual growth figures, which show economic activity fell 3.8 per cent in the year to end September.
The economic recovery was stronger than anticipated, with a Reuters poll of economists forecasting 2.6 per cent quarter-on-quarter growth and a 4.4 per cent annual contraction.
A shopper walks past a David Jones store in Melbourne. A boom in consumer spending drove Australia’s economic recovery
Analysts said the rebound reflected authorities’ successful suppression of Covid-19 cases, which enabled the relaxation of restrictions during the quarter and a partial recovery in household spending.
“Looking ahead, the near term certainly looks more positive, particularly when compared to many European countries that have had to re-impose restrictions,” said Sarah Hunter, economist at Oxford Economics.
“Aggressively suppressing [Covid-19] has allowed restrictions to be eased and together with substantial fiscal and monetary support this has led to a rebound in confidence and employment.”
The rebound in household consumption, which contributes about 60 per cent of gross domestic product, included a 9.8 per cent increase in spending on services, including hotels, cafes and restaurants, health and recreation.
Brazil unveils four-phase vaccinations schedule
The Brazilian government on Tuesday unveiled a four-phase Covid-19 vaccination plan that would prioritise health workers, the elderly and indigenous residents.
Health minister Eduardo Pazuello stressed the plan was preliminary and subject to resources available.
“It is a great challenge that lies ahead,” he said. “But we have technical capacity, time, expertise and people gathered with the desire to make the best plan in the world.”
In the first phase, according to a health ministry statement, healthcare workers, elderly people over 75 years of age, people aged 60 and over who live in long-term institutions such as nursing homes and psychiatric institutions and the indigenous population would be vaccinated.
Leblon beach in Rio de Janeiro is crowded despite rising Covid-19 cases in the city
The second phase would cover people between 60 and 74 years old and the third phase would be for people with comorbidities, such as chronic kidney and cardiovascular diseases.
The fourth and final phase would vaccinate teachers, police and armed forces, prison officials and inmates.
Mr Pazuello said the four phases would cover nearly 110m of Brazil’s 210m people.
The government had 142m doses of vaccines supplied by AstraZeneca and through the Covax Facility alliance, he added.
The minister said the health ministry had hosted meetings with representatives from Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna, Bharat Biotech and Russia’s Gamaleya Institute.
“We are looking for all vaccines,” Mr Pazuello said. “All are important.”
US reports biggest daily jump in deaths since May
The US on Tuesday had its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus deaths in nearly seven months, while hospitalisations reached a record of more than 98,000.
States attributed a further 2,473 deaths to coronavirus, more than double Monday's increase of 1,136, according to Covid Tracking Project data.
It was the biggest one-day jump in fatalities since the May 7 record of 2,752 and ranks as the sixth largest of the pandemic according to Financial Times analysis of the data.
For the month of November, coronavirus claimed the lives of 38,935 people in the US, taking the overall death toll in the country to 261,789.
That made it the deadliest month of the pandemic for the country overall after April and May, when fatalities were mostly concentrated in northeastern states like New York and New Jersey, as well as Michigan in the Midwest. However, a total of 26 states reported their biggest monthly tally of Covid-19 deaths in November.
The number of people currently in US hospitals being treated for coronavirus more than doubled during November, hitting a record of 98,691 on November 30, according to data from Covid Tracking Project on Tuesday.
Medical staff prepare to perform a tracheostomy on a Covid-19 patient at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston
About two-thirds of all states reported their highest number of hospitalisations for the pandemic during November, while Hawaii is the only place where hospital admissions are lower than at the end of October.
A further 176,751 Covid-19 cases were reported by states, up from 147,588 on Monday and compared with 167,012 on Tuesday last week. It was the biggest one-day jump since the November 27 record of 193,805.
During November, the US confirmed 4.39m cases, more than any other month, taking the total number of infections in the country to 13.5m.
The seven-day average case rate of every state except New York, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and South Carolina, as well as the District of Columbia, reached a record high during November, according to an FT analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.
Increased testing capacity since the summer means cases may not be directly comparable with earlier stages of the pandemic, while better treatments has typically meant fatality rates are much lower than during the spring.
Global trade to rebound in 2021, says StanChart
Global trade is expected to rebound sharply in 2021 as economies reopen and Covid-19 vaccines will accelerate a return to normal, according to Standard Chartered economists.
Chidu Narayana, Asia economist at StanChart and his colleagues said growth in export volumes could “rebound even more sharply than expected” thanks to increased demand.
“Export volumes have already rebounded from the lows of Q2-2020 and are close to end-2019 levels,” the economists said. “We expect a further pick-up in 2021 as global demand returns, particularly in H2, when vaccines are likely to become more widely available and social-distancing measures may be relaxed.”
Global export volumes dropped by 15 per cent as governments imposed lockdowns to limit the spread of the virus, the economists said. The recovery, however, has been quick with export volumes returning to near pre-pandemic levels in September.
The low base from 2020 will support the sharp rebound, “even if demand remains stagnant”.
Electronics exports, which surged on work-from-home demand, are expected to tail off. This view is supported by a slowdown in semiconductor equipment imports, which is a reliable indicator for future demand for technology, the note said.
The bank’s economists said the pandemic has forced structural changes to global trade and that there is now greater scrutiny on risks to supply chains. These include addressing an over reliance on certain countries or on how some states are completely reliant on imports for vital items such as healthcare products.
Companies are also likely to adopt a more risk averse approach to inventory, switching from the pre-pandemic “just-in-time” model to a “just-in-case” approach that minimises the effects of potential disruption along the supply chain.
This phenomenon could push exports higher in the first half of 2021, they said.
South Korea consumer prices pick up in November
South Korea’s consumer inflation picked up in November on higher prices of agricultural products and service charges but inflationary pressure is likely to remain weak for the time being due to the economic fallout from the pandemic.
The consumer price index gained 0.6 per cent on year last month, compared with a 0.1 per cent rise in October, as the impact of the one-off government subsidies for mobile phone bills faded.
The index fell 0.1 per cent in November from a month earlier, following a 0.6 per cent fall in the previous month, according to data from Statistics Korea.
Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and oil prices, gained 1.0 per cent last month from a year earlier. Agricultural product prices jumped 13.1 per cent last month from a year earlier.
But inflationary pressure is likely to remain low as the stronger Korean won puts downward pressure on consumer prices.
Inflationary pressure is likely to remain low as the stronger won puts downward pressure on consumer prices
Goldman Sachs expects no change in the country’s benchmark interest rates until late 2022.
“Given the BoK’s assessment that demand-side inflationary pressures remain modest, we view that the MPC [monetary policy committee] will continue to focus on growth and financial instability risks amid the ongoing global pandemic,” the investment bank said in a report on Wednesday.
The BoK left its policy rate at a record low of 0.5 per cent last month, citing growing economic uncertainties amid the global resurgence of the pandemic in the winter.
South Korea reported 511 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, taking the total caseload to 35,163.
Chung Sye-kyun, South Korea's prime minister, urged people to abide by strict social distancing rules, saying the number of people under quarantine topped a record 70,000.
Australian state on alert as virus found in sewage
The south-west of the Australian state of Victoria is on alert Wednesday after fragments of coronavirus were found in wastewater.
Health authorities asked Victorians who had been in the town of Colac between November 21 and 23 and November 30 and December 1 to get tested for Covid-19 if they have any symptoms.
Victoria on Wednesday marked no new coronavirus cases for the 33rd day in a row, but the government has urged caution after the “strong” positive results found in the wastewater.
State premier Daniel Andrews said the results from the sewage at Colac could indicate an active case in the community.
Yellen calls for action to prevent ‘devastation’
Janet Yellen warned of more economic “devastation” if the US failed to address the fallout from the pandemic and its disproportionate toll on low-income families, after she was introduced by Joe Biden as the country’s next Treasury secretary.
The former Fed chair, who was chosen by the US president-elect on Monday to take the top cabinet position on the economy, said the combination of lost lives, lost jobs and shuttered small businesses amounted to an “American tragedy” that needed to be quickly tackled.
Her comments were delivered amid doubts that Mr Biden will be able to implement his sweeping economic agenda, which calls for a big boost to government spending next year, partially funded by higher taxes on businesses and wealthy households.
Read more here
Hong Kong university applies Chinese remedies
Hong Kong Baptist University has launched what it calls the “world’s first clinically validated rehabilitation programme for discharged Covid-19 patients”, integrating exercise training with Chinese herbal medicine.
The university has recruited 172 volunteers for a 12-week intervention programme who will be instructed to carry out “cardiorespiratory and resistance exercise training” through an online platform.
“Chinese medicine practitioners will prescribe a herbal formula to the participants that will nourish yin and moisten the lungs,” a university statement said on Tuesday.
The programme was kickstarted with a HK$2m (US$250,000) donation from the Tsang Shiu Tim Charitable Foundation.
US inflation expectations hit 18-month high
Colby Smith and Tommy Stubbington
A measure showing financial market expectations for future US inflation has risen to its highest level in 18 months, as investors anticipate a robust economic revival in short order given recent vaccine breakthroughs.
The 10-year “break-even” rate, which is derived from prices of US inflation-protected government securities, hit 1.83 per cent on Tuesday, higher than at any point since May last year.
Meanwhile, a swap rate that measures expectations for the average level of inflation over five years, five years from now, has jumped to 2.25 per cent — above the 2 per cent inflation target that the US Federal Reserve has for years persistently failed to achieve.
Read more here
India tells states to stop shaming of Covid-19 patients
The Indian government has ordered state officials to stop plastering coronavirus warning signs on the homes of people who have tested positive for the pathogen, after a rebuke from the Supreme Court over the practice.
In a recent hearing, Supreme Court judge Ashok Bhushan said that the practice of putting up the warning signs had left patients feeling like “untouchables” — those on the lowest rung of the caste system who face deep social stigma and discrimination.
Since the pandemic began, many states and local authorities have been affixing warning signs on the homes of people infected with coronavirus, ostensibly to alert people who might inadvertently enter homes where ailing patients are in isolation.
A man is tested for Covid-19 at a government dispensary in New Delhi
Early on, some states had also placed signs on the homes of people who had returned from overseas to signify that they were under quarantine and posed a risk to others.
But rights groups have complained that the public identification of patients’ homes has led to families being shamed, socially ostracised and shunned by the community.
Public health experts also warned that the risk of such shame and ostracisation was discouraging families from getting tested, fearing they could face long-term hostility from neighbours and the community.
Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has now written to all states urging them to stop the practice, noting that such actions had never been advised or instructed.
Top Glove faces probe over worker accommodation
Shares in Top Glove dropped by as much as 3.2 per cent on Wednesday after Malaysian authorities said they planned to file charges against the world's largest rubber glove maker in relation to substandard workers' accommodation.
Malaysia’s ministry of human resources on Tuesday said it had recommended filing charges after launching 19 investigations into Top Glove's worker dormitories. It said the company had failed to apply for an “accommodation certificate” and that workers' living spaces were crammed, uncomfortable and lacked proper ventilation.
The company in a statement on Tuesday said it would cooperate with investigations and that it is working to improve existing accommodation and secure more living space for its staff.
Top Glove is dealing with a coronavirus outbreak among its workforce that kicked off last month. The company last week said it had temporarily stopped production at 20 manufacturing facilities in Meru, a town in the state of Selangor.
The company’s share price had largely bounced back at the time of publication.
Amazon rolls out tools to monitor workers, machines
Amazon is rolling out cheap new tools that will allow factories to monitor their workers and machines, as the tech giant looks to boost its presence in the industrial sector.
Launched by Amazon’s cloud arm AWS, the new machine learning-based services include hardware to monitor heavy machinery, and computer vision capable of detecting whether workers are complying with social distancing. Amazon said it had created a sensor to monitor abnormal vibrations or temperatures and predict future faults.
AWS Panorama uses computer vision to analyse footage gathered by cameras within facilities, automatically detecting safety and compliance issues such as workers not wearing personal protective equipment or vehicles being driven in unauthorised areas.
Read more here
Darker days for Indian car manufacturers
India’s carmakers mostly missed out during one of the busiest months of the year, as coronavirus continues to weigh on the industry.
Even before the pandemic, India’s automotive sector had struggled with a slowdown, and sales collapsed during the lockdown earlier this year.
India’s festive season peaks in November with Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and carmakers typically ramp up production in anticipation of demand.
But Maruti Suzuki, India's largest car manufacturer with a 50 per cent market share, sold 2 per cent fewer cars domestically in November from a year earlier.
Other, smaller manufacturers reported upticks, with Mahindra for example selling 24 per cent more vehicles over the same period.
Those figures reflect only wholesale trade, or sales from manufacturers to dealers, and so do not necessarily point to consumer demand.
Vehicle registration data, which give a sense of how many new cars are on the road, are due later this month.
A woman takes a selfie at Tokyo Mask Land at the railway station in Yokohama. The pop-up store, open for the month of December, includes artistic installations centred around face masks. Exhibits include the history of face masks, a mask photo booth and a decoration station where visitors can design their own masks
Pakistan cricketers forbidden to train in NZ
Pakistan’s touring cricket team cannot train until they have been given the all-clear by district health officers, the New Zealand health ministry said.
One member of the squad has been put in isolation, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
The person was one of the three cases reported as under investigation on Tuesday but has now been confirmed to have an active Covid-19 infection.
The two other cases remain under investigation, according to the ministry.
At least 10 members of the 53-strong squad of players and staff have tested positive for coronavirus since arriving in New Zealand last month.
The team cannot resume training until the Canterbury district medical officer determines that any activities are unlikely to transmit Covid-19, the ministry said.
Longtime Pushkin Museum head dies from Covid-19
Irina Antonova is interviewed in her Pushkin Museum office in 2013
The president of Russia’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts has died of complications from coronavirus, official media said Tuesday.
Irina Antonova, who was 98, was lauded as “a legend and a pillar of the museum industry and national culture” by the Tass news agency.
She served as the Pushkin Museum’s director from 1961 to 2013, before being elevated as chief curator of state museums across Russia and president of the Pushkin.
Antonova had worked at the museum since 1945, according to the English-language Moscow Times.
She is credited with expanding the Pushkin and bringing global art to Soviet and Russian audiences, organising a visit by the Mona Lisa to Moscow in 1974. Antonova also secured a landmark Picasso exhibition in 2010.
The Pushkin’s current director, Marina Loshak, told Tass that Antonova died on November 30.
Her death was due to a coronavirus infection in combination with cardiovascular diseases, Tass quoted unnamed sources as saying.
Russia reported 26,402 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the national tally to 2,322,056. There were a record 569 deaths, which now total 40,464.
Switzerland’s GDP grows 7.2% in 3rd quarter
Switzerland’s gross domestic product grew 7.2 per cent in the third quarter of 2020, after contracting a total of 8.6 per cent in the first half of the year, the government said on Tuesday.
Domestic demand and parts of the service sector recovered significantly, the federal council said in a statement.
Switzerland’s GDP made up about three-quarters of the ground lost in the first half of the year. “Compared with neighbouring countries, the Swiss economy has made it through the coronavirus crisis relatively unscathed so far,” the council said.
Private consumption recovered significantly in the third quarter as coronavirus lockdown measures were eased, posting 11.9 per cent growth.
Investment in equipment rose 8.8 per cent and investment in construction grew 5.1 per cent.
Exports of goods posted a 6.9 per cent gain. “However, neither value added nor exports of goods came close to reaching the pre-crisis levels,” the council said.
China study shows lockdowns increase family spread
A study of Covid-19 transmission in China’s Hunan province found that interactions between members of the same household were most likely to spread the virus.
Nature magazine, which reported the study on Tuesday, said the analysis suggested that Hunan’s lockdown actually increased the risk of viral spread within households, although community transmission fell during the same period.
Sun Kaiyuan of the US National Institutes of Health and You Hongjie of Fudan University led a team that analysed data from 1,178 people in Hunan who were infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as more than 15,000 of their close contacts.
The results, originally published in Science, found that 80 per cent of secondary infections are traced back to 15 per cent of primary infections.
The team found that contacts between people who live together posed the greatest risk of transmission, followed by contacts between extended family members.
The transmission risk was lower still for social contacts and community encounters, such as those on public transport.
Every extra day of contact raised transmission risk by 10 per cent, the team found.
Indonesia slams public indiscipline over Covid-19
Indonesian officials have criticised public indiscipline after positive Covid-19 cases rose nearly 20 per cent nationally in the week ending November 29 over the previous seven days, state media reported on Wednesday.
“The main factor causing the increase in active cases of Covid-19 is the indiscipline of the community in complying with health protocols,” Wiku Adisasmito, a spokesman for the national Covid-19 Task Force, told the Antara news agency.
“There are still many people who gather in various forms of activities,” he added.
The task force said positive cases rose 19.8 per cent for the week ending November 29, up from 30,555 cases over the previous week, Antara reported.
New active cases in populous Central Java province rose 93 per cent over the previous week, to 7,617 from 3,937. Banten province saw an 80 per cent rise to 1,164 new infections, while cases in the Riau Islands more than doubled to 503.
Indonesia has reported more than 500,000 cases since the pandemic began, including at least 17,000 deaths.
UK commercial landlords raid tenant deposits
Alice Hancock and George Hammond
UK landlords including the Royal Festival Hall and Legal & General have begun taking unpaid rent from tenant deposits as a way round a government ban on legal action to recover the money.
“This supposed charity . . . is digging their sticky fingers into rent deposits [and] behaving in the least charitable way possible,” said Hugh Osmond, the investor behind the Strada Italian chain, which has a restaurant at the Royal Festival Hall.
The unusual step is the latest salvo in a battle for survival being waged by landlords and tenants in the hospitality and retail sectors. Property owners are reluctant to squeeze tenants and risk being left with an empty property, but many are under pressure from their own lenders.
Read more here
PE groups set to battle for Bundesliga
Murad Ahmed and Kaye Wiggins
More than 20 private equity firms are in the running to invest €300m in the Bundesliga, as Germany’s top football league embarks on a radical plan to roll out an international online subscription service.
Deutsche Fussball Liga, the body that runs Germany’s top two divisions, hatched the plan earlier this year after multiple firms approached it with emergency funding as the pandemic led to the postponement of matches and closure of stadiums.
Alongside plans for an internet subscription service to screen games across the Middle East, the DFL is offering a minority stake in a new digital media company that will sell the Bundesliga’s international rights contracts, data services and other commercial propositions.
Read more here
Tesco to repay £585m in business rates relief
Tesco will repay £585m in business rates relief received from the government during the coronavirus pandemic, having proved “resilient in the most challenging of circumstances”.
The FTSE 100 supermarket group has used “every penny” of the rates relief offered this year, it said on Wednesday. It estimated in October that the Covid-19 crisis would cost it roughly £725m in 2020, well above the level of relief received.
The UK government in the spring said businesses would receive almost £10bn in business rates relief as part of its coronavirus support package.
However, “some of the potential risks faced earlier in the year are now behind us”, the company said.
“The board has agreed unanimously that we should repay the rates relief we have received,” Tesco chairman John Allan said. “We are financially strong enough to be able to return this to the public.”
UK approves Covid-19 vaccine for use ahead of US and EU
Joe Miller in Frankfurt
The UK has become the first country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine following large-scale clinical trials, after its regulator authorised the shot developed by Germany’s BioNTech and US pharma giant Pfizer for emergency use.
Pfizer and BioNTech said doses of the vaccine, which uses novel mRNA technology, would be delivered to the UK in the “coming days” after the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency gave the go-ahead on Tuesday evening.
The vaccine is 95 per cent effective in preventing the disease, according to data released last month from the companies’ phase-3 trial, which involved more than 43,000 people.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The vaccine will be made available across the UK from next week. The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programmes and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination.”
Read the full story here
Hancock says 800,000 vaccine doses available next week
Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe and Harry Dempsey
The UK health secretary said that the introduction of the coronavirus vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech would begin “early next week”, after its regulator authorised the shot for emergency use.
“From early next week we will start the programme of vaccinating people against Covid-19 here in this country,” Matt Hancock said in an interview with Sky News on Wednesday.
The health secretary said that he had already spoken to his counterparts in the devolved nations to ensure that all parts of the UK were sufficiently prepared to administer the vaccine.
In a separate interview on BBC Breakfast, he said that an initial batch of 800,000 doses would be delivered next week. It has 40m doses on order from Pfizer and BioNTech in total.
“This is a challenging roll-out and the NHS in all parts of the UK stands ready to make that happen, they are used to handling vaccines and medicines like this in these sorts of conditions,” he said.
The vaccine will be administered at three locations: hospitals, vaccination centres and a community rollout involving GPs and pharmacists.
“The plan is for the NHS to rollout this vaccine and start that early next week and do that according to clinical priority,” he said.
Mr Hancock admitted that due to the need to store the vaccine in minus 70 degree conditions, only GPs and pharmacists with those facilities will actually be able to administer the vaccine.
England goes into three-tiered system of coronavirus restrictions
England will go into a tiered system of restrictions on Wednesday after enduring a month of a national coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Ninety-nine per cent of England will go under the highest two tiers, so mixing with other households indoors is forbidden. Shops, gyms and hairdressers will reopen everywhere.
The rule of six applies to all three tiers, which means you cannot socialise with more than six people outside. Face coverings and masks in indoor public areas are obligatory everywhere, schools and colleges are open while visits to care homes can take place.
Birmingham, Blackpool, Slough, Kent and much of Yorkshire will go into tier 3, the toughest tier that is very high alert, and there the following rules apply:
• Don't meet indoors or in most outdoor places with anybody outside your household or support bubble. This includes any private garden
• Pubs, bars and restaurants are closed other than for takeaway, delivery and drive-through services. Hotels, B&Bs, campsites and guest houses are shut, except for work or education
• Cinemas, theatres, play areas, casinos, bingo halls, bowling alleys and skating rinks are closed as are indoor attractions at mostly outdoor entertainment venues, such as zoos, safaris parks, aquariums, museums and galleries
• Leisure and sports facilities are open but group exercise classes cannot go ahead. Organised outdoor sport and physical activity can continue
Other restrictions apply to spectator sports, places of worship, weddings and funerals.
In the second tier, which includes London, hospitality businesses selling food or drink are open but have a curfew of 11pm. They must stop taking orders at 10pm. Spectator sports can go ahead at 50 per cent capacity, which means either 2,000 people outdoors or 1,000 indoors.
Conduit floats in London as reinsurance prices rise
Conduit, a start-up reinsurance company, is to float in an £826m initial public offering that will be one of the biggest in London this year.
London’s IPO pipeline has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, with the market turmoil earlier in the year putting off many potential issuers.
Conduit is one of a wave of new insurance and reinsurance companies hoping to take advantage of strengthening market conditions. Claims stemming from Covid-19, which range from travel to event cancellation and business interruption, could reach $100bn according to some estimates. In response, insurers and reinsurers have started putting their prices up.
Neil Eckert and Trevor Carvey, the company's founders, believe there is an “exceptional market opportunity” and are aiming for adjusted returns on equity in the mid teens across the cycle.
The company said that it would issue shares at 500p each, giving a market capitalisation of £826m.
"We are delighted that Conduit's business proposition has been strongly received by a group of high-quality investors,” Mr Eckert said.
“Business conditions in our targeted reinsurance markets have continued to improve during our journey to IPO and we now move on to the launch of the business with confidence," he added.
Italy to procure 200m vaccine doses by early next year
Miles Johnson in Rome
Italy is aiming to procure 202m doses of a Covid-19 vaccine by the first quarter of next year as part of a free vaccination programme for an expected 40m Italians.
The country has “optioned 202m doses”, health minister Roberto Speranza told parliament on Wednesday, adding that “at the moment it is not the intention of the government to order the mandatory vaccination”.
He said a vaccine would be provided for free to all Italians and would likely require two doses. “It is a common good, a right assured to all people,” he said. “No inequality will be allowed in the vaccination campaign.”
The first doses are expected to be the Pfizer vaccine. The national programme may be set out by the Italian army with the most vulnerable population categories receiving it first.
The government will discourage foreign and internal travel during the Christmas holidays as it attempts to avoid a general lockdown, Mr Speranza said. “The choices of the government are difficult but necessary to avoid a general lockdown,” he said.
European stocks and US bonds steady
European equities softened on Wednesday while US government bonds steadied after an overnight sell-off sparked by the prospect that a fiscal stimulus deal could feed through to higher inflation.
The Stoxx 600 drifted 0.1 per cent lower in opening trades, having built on its record monthly gain in November with a strong showing on Tuesday. The FTSE 100, which added almost 2 per cent on Tuesday following its best month since 1989, was broadly flat.
The yield on 10-year Treasuries held steady at 0.92 per cent, up from its August low of 0.51 per cent. Wall Street futures markets signalled the S&P 500 would fall by 0.2 per cent when New York opens for trade, while contracts on the technology-focused Nasdaq 100 traded flat.
A bipartisan group of US senators proposed on Tuesday a $908bn spending plan to break a deadlock between Republicans and Democrats over a second major fiscal package to help the world’s largest economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. President-elect Joe Biden also called for swift action on spending.
Government bonds have sold off in recent months as investors bet that a stronger economic recovery, assisted by stimulus and vaccine breakthroughs, will feed through to inflation and knock the value of bonds. Inflation expectations hit their highest in 18 months on Tuesday.
The 10-year “break-even” rate, which is derived from prices of US inflation-protected government securities, hit 1.83 per cent, higher than at any point since May 2019.
The dollar, which fell to its lowest since April 2018 on Tuesday as US stock markets hit record highs, recently traded steady against a basket of major currencies.
Ireland's AIB to shed 1,500 jobs in cost-cutting drive
Arthur Beesley in Dublin
Allied Irish Banks will eliminate 1,500 jobs by 2023 as the country’s largest lender by market capitalisation sharpens cost cuts to meet profit targets. The bank will also exit lending to small and medium-sized enterprises in Britain because of high costs and refocus towards corporate banking in that market.
AIB said the job cuts, from a total of 9,200 staff, will be achieved through voluntary severance, normal retirements and natural exits.
The cuts, part of a new strategic plan set out in an investor update on Wednesday, reflect a drive to reduce costs by more than 10 per cent by 2023. AIB aims to bring its annual cost base below €1.35bn by 2023, before levies, exceptional fees and exceptional items.
Such cuts are deeper than it targeted in March, just before the coronavirus lockdown in its main Irish market, when AIB set out a cost target of €1.5bn by 2022. The cost reduction programme will ensure the long-term sustainability of the business, said Colin Hunt, chief executive.
The bank, 71 per cent owned by the Irish government after a bailout in the last financial crisis, previously set aside €1.2bn to cover coronavirus loan losses after large parts of the Irish economy were shut down to tackle the pandemic.
Mr Hunt said: “Our strategic plan, which will be implemented over the next three years, has been influenced by the accelerating effect of Covid-19 on customers’ preference for digital banking and emerging new trends in how and where our people work.”
The bank plans to reshape its UK business towards “higher return” business lending assets. SME lending comprises some £1.7bn or 22 per cent of its £7.7bn UK loanbook. The bank aims to reduce SME lending to 8 per cent of its UK total by 2023 and increase corporate lending to 67 per cent at that time from 49 per cent now.
UK services imports down at height of pandemic but trade shows revival
UK services imports fell nearly a third at the height of the coronavirus pandemic but trade in goods began to recover later in the year as companies adapted to restrictions.
Services imports fell 31.8 per cent to £16.7bn and exports fell 18.5 per cent to £14.9bn in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, data from the Office for National Statistics showed on Wednesday.
The bulk of the decline was in the travel and transport sectors and driven by global lockdowns, travel bans and working from home. Of the £16.7bn fall in services imports, £12.5bn was in travel - an 89.3 per cent fall within the sector.
Trade in goods increased after initial lockdown measures were eased: imports in goods excluding gold and precious metals rose 19 per cent to £16.6bn, and exports increased 21.9 per cent to £14.1bn.
Businesses were less affected by the pandemic toward the latter half of the year, the ONS’s Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey showed. Businesses had become “increasingly resilient to the coronavirus pandemic” and had improved their ability to trade despite restrictions, the ONS said.
European jobless rate falls for third consecutive month
The unemployment rate in Europe has dipped for the third month in a row as the region’s labour market recovers slowly from the pandemic-induced recession in the first half of the year.
Jobless numbers fell in most European countries in October, according to Eurostat, which reported a eurozone unemployment rate of 8.4 per cent, in line with economists’ consensus expectations and down from 8.5 per cent in September.
However, youth unemployment rose slightly to 18 per cent in the bloc, underlining how more young people work in sectors such as retail and hospitality which have been hit harder by coronavirus restrictions.
The eurozone labour market has been largely shielded from the fallout of the pandemic by generous government and central bank stimulus, including furlough schemes that subsidised the wages of about 50m people who were put on reduced hours.
While the number of people on furlough schemes has fallen sharply since the initial lockdowns were lifted in May, signs suggest their numbers are rising again with the second wave of coronavirus infections and restrictions since the autumn.
“We would be cautious about sounding the all-clear for the labour market,” said Jessica Hinds, economist at Capital Economics, predicting that after coronavirus restrictions were reintroduced in many countries “the number of people out of work might well creep back up over the winter months, before gradually falling again”.
Retailer Bonmarché puts 1,600 jobs at risk as it enters administration
Bonmarché has collapsed into administration, putting roughly 1,600 jobs at risk in what has been a difficult week for the British high street.
RSM Restructuring Advisory, Bonmarché's administrators, on Wednesday said it had not yet made redundancies or closed any stores. "Bonmarché remains an attractive brand with a loyal customer base. It is our intention to continue to trade whilst working closely with management to explore the options for the business," it said.
High streets have in recent years been losing out to the growing popularity of online retail, which has taken an even larger chunk of the market during the coronavirus pandemic.
The news of Bonmarché's collapse comes days after Debenhams announced it was on course to be liquidated in the new year, with the probable loss of 12,000 jobs. Philip Green's Arcadia also plunged into administration this week, putting 13,000 jobs at risk.
Bonmarché, which runs 225 stores across the UK, was last year the subject of an unusual takeover battle when retail tycoon Philip Day acquired a majority stake and launched a takeover bid for the remainder.
The company initially resisted Mr Day’s overture, saying it undervalued the company, but finally recommended the bid on the grounds that trading was worsening rapidly. Months later, Bonmarché had fallen into administration, citing falling footfall and Brexit.
UK regulator says ‘no corners cut’ in vaccine approval
Harry Dempsey and Sarah Neville
The head of the UK medical regulator stressed that “no corners have been cut” in approving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, as the first western nation to send a green light for a Covid-19 jab prepares to start its inoculation programme from next week.
“The MHRA’s recommendation has been reached following an extremely thorough and scientifically rigorous review of all the evidence of safety, of effectiveness and of quality,” June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said on Wednesday.
Wei Shen Lim who chairs the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the government on the provision of immunisation programmes, confirmed that elderly people and those in care homes would be given priority for innoculation.
The first phase of the programme would move down in age bands eventually reaching all those over 50. Those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions putting them at particular risk from Covid-19 would also be included.
By the time this first phase of vaccination was completed, “we hope 90-99 per cent of those at risk of dying from Covid-19 will be included and covered”, Prof Lim added.
The UK became the first country on Wednesday to approve a Covid-19 vaccine following large-scale clinical trials and is set to make the shot from BioNTech and Pfizer available from next week. However, some European lawmakers have criticised the UK for moving too quickly in authorising the vaccine for use.
Ms Raine sought to reassure the public that “safety is our watchword”, adding that “everyone can be absolutely confident that no corners whatsoever have been cut”.
Prof Lim clarified further details on the near-term plans for the programme launch. He said that the vaccine would not be compulsory for health workers and regions under stricter restrictions with a higher prevalence of the virus would not receive priority for the deployment of the vaccine, instead giving precedence to those most vulnerable nationwide.
He also acknowledged that the storage requirements for the vaccine, which must be kept at around minus 70 degrees, could affect the ability to use it in care homes.
Boris Johnson damps hopes of rapid widespread vaccination in UK
Harry Dempsey and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe
Boris Johnson urged people to manage their expectations over the speed at which coronavirus vaccines can be delivered to cover society's most vulnerable.
“It’s very, very important that people do not get their hopes up too soon about the speed at which we will be able to roll out this vaccine,” Mr Johnson said in weekly questions to the prime minister in the House of Commons.
The UK prime minister outlined the list of those down to receive inoculation first, with care home residents, health workers and people aged over 80 at the top. The jab will not be compulsory, he said.
“This is unquestionably good news but it is not the end of the story", he said, urging people to follow the three-tier system that has been imposed on England from Wednesday after a month-long national lockdown. “We will need to keep the tough tiering and testing regimes in place,” Mr Johnson added.
"Because that's how we will continue to beat the virus,” he said.
The Labour party leader Keir Starmer suggested that the initial 800,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the UK is set to receive next week, which would immunise up to 400,000 people, will not be enough to cover the most vulnerable groups.
AstraZeneca's vaccine will also be needed, considering the logistical difficulties of delivering Pfizer’s vaccine to care homes since it must be stored at minus 70 degrees, Mr Johnson said.
US private-sector hiring slows in November
Private employers in the US added more than 300,000 jobs last month, as hiring grew at a slower pace than anticipated amid a new round of coronavirus-related shutdowns in parts of the country.
US private-sector employment rose by 307,000 jobs, payroll processor ADP said on Wednesday. That was smaller than the gain of 410,000 jobs forecast by economists and an increase of 404,000 jobs in the prior month. The increase in jobs in October was revised higher from 365,000.
Nearly one-third of the gains in November came from leisure and hospitality groups, after the travel sector was hit hard by the pandemic. The education and health sectors added 69,000 employees, while manufacturing jobs grew by 8,000.
Economists and officials at the Federal Reserve have warned that hiring could slow with new coronavirus cases rising in the US – prompting several states to tighten restrictions on businesses – and lawmakers still at odds over a potential bill to provide more fiscal aid.
The US has recouped more than half of the 22m jobs lost during the height of coronavirus shutdowns in March and April. Economist expect the US labour department to report on Friday that non-farm payrolls jumped by 481,000 last month, compared with an increase of 638,000 jobs in October.
The latest figures from ADP imply that there’s some “downside risk” to that estimate, said Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics. However, ADP’s monthly report “has not been doing a particularly good job of gauging the official payrolls figures recently”, he added.
A decrease in government jobs related to the 2020 census has also weighed on overall jobs figures.
Austria keeps ski resorts closed until Christmas
Sam Jones in Zurich
Austria's government has bowed to pressure from fellow EU countries and will keep its ski resorts closed until at least Christmas Eve amid fears that a normal start to the alpine sporting season will accelerate the spread of coronavirus.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Wednesday outlined measures for next month as the country moves out of one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns, which began on November 17 with the closure of shops, restaurants and schools.
Ski lifts in Austrian resorts cannot operate until December 24 and hotels in ski areas must stay closed until January 7.
Last week, EU leaders including Germany's Angela Merkel, France's Emmanuel Macron and Italy's Giuseppe Conte called for a unified response to alpine sports.
Austria initially opposed a blanket EU ban on winter sporting activities, however, and has repeatedly told fellow EU leaders to mind their own business.
"We would never suggest that schools or hairdressers should be closed in Germany, for example. Each country must decide for itself," Austria's tourism minister, Elisabeth Köstinger, told Bavarian radio on Tuesday.
Mr Kurz denied on Wednesday the postponed opening of ski resorts was due to pressure from neighbouring countries, and said it reflected evolving Covid-19 case numbers in Austria.
The winter season is a crucial part of the Austrian economy, representing up to 4 per cent of gross domestic product and 8 per cent of employment.
Becton Dickinson to invest $1.2bn in syringe production
Becton Dickinson, the world’s largest needle maker, plans to invest $1.2bn to expand syringe production, as the US and other nations prepare for the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines.
The investment, which will come over a four-year period, will go towards increasing manufacturing capacity for pre-fillable syringes and advanced drug delivery systems across six global factories as well as a manufacturing facility in Europe, the US company said on Wednesday. The factory in Europe is expected to open by the end of 2023.
The money will back the development of products and manufacturing technology improvements to “maximise supply” for pharmaceutical groups, Becton said.
“This investment positions BD to have the needed surge capacity for increased pre-fillable syringe demand during times of pandemic response or periods of significant growth of new injectable drugs and vaccines,” said Eric Borin, worldwide president of Becton’s pharmaceutical systems unit.
Pfizer and Moderna have sought approval for emergency use of their coronavirus vaccines in the US and Europe. On Wednesday, the UK became the first country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine after full clinical trials when it gave the green light to Pfizer’s shot.
Aviation industry calls again for quarantine policies to be dropped
Airlines and airports have renewed their calls for quarantine restrictions to be dropped following the publication of European travel guidelines that say travellers should not automatically be considered high-risk for spreading infection.
The guidelines conclude that imported cases are unlikely to increase the rate of transmission substantially in a country when the virus is established.
They suggest travellers should be subject to the same regulations as a local population, and that entry screening, border closures and quarantine upon arrival do not work.
The findings were seized upon by the aviation industry, which has been pushing for an end to the travel restrictions that have stifled their businesses.
“These guidelines unequivocally show quarantines... bear no relation to what is actually needed to safeguard public health," said Olivier Jankovec, the head of airport group ACI Europe.
The guidelines were drawn up for the European Commission by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the EU Aviation Safety Agency as part of Brussels' push for a more joined-up approach to travelling restrictions during the pandemic.
US stocks pull back from records while yields steady
US stock markets fell on Wednesday, while government bonds held on to an overnight rise in yields sparked by the prospect that a stimulus deal could feed through to higher inflation.
The S&P 500 opened 0.3 per cent lower and the tech-focused Nasdaq Composite dropped by more than 1 per cent, both pulling back from record highs hit on Tuesday.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 fell 0.6 per cent, having built on its record monthly gain in November the day before.
A bipartisan group of US senators proposed on Tuesday a $908bn spending plan to break a deadlock between Republicans and Democrats over a second major fiscal package to help the world’s largest economy recover from the pandemic. Mr Biden then also called for swift action on spending.
The deal “offered support for those of us saying the Covid crisis is more likely to lead to inflation than deflation”, said Jim Reid of Deutsche Bank.
It also jolted the government debt market by increasing expectations for economic recovery, price rises and a follow-on increase in bond yields.
Inflation expectations for the US, as measured by prices of inflation-protected government securities, have risen since Tuesday evening to an 18-month high of 1.83 per cent.
The yield on 10-year US Treasuries held steady at 0.92 per cent on Wednesday, following a sell-off overnight that sent yields up 0.09 percentage points. A month ago, yields on ten-year Treasuries were around 0.76 per cent.
Bond yields tend to follow inflation expectations as consumer price rises erode the value of the fixed interest payments provided by the debt securities. Rising bond yields, in turn, cause investors to question how much they should be paying for equities.
Tui secures third rescue package
Europe’s largest tour operator Tui secured a third round of government-backed funding, as the travel sector continues to reel from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The company said on Wednesday it reached an agreement with banks, the German government and Unifirm, Tui’s largest shareholder, on a package worth €1.8bn. The deal will “ensure that the company can bridge the gap if the pandemic persists in 2021”, Tui said.
“Tui is taking further precautions in view of the rising number of infections since autumn, strict travel restrictions in many countries and the resulting shorter booking times of customers,” the company said.
It added: “Following the first reports of vaccine successes, TUI expects the pandemic situation to improve in the course of the first half of 2021 and a greater return of holiday travel.”
Including the new rescue package, Tui had financial resources and credit facilities of €2.5bn.
“People want to travel, tourism remains a growth industry and an important sector for stabilising the southern euro area. The financial package provides the security to look consistently ahead and to prepare the group strategically and structurally for the time after the pandemic,” said Fritz Joussen, Tui’s chief executive.
US health authority shortens recommended quarantine to 7-10 days
Kiran Stacey in Washington
US health officials have changed official guidelines so that people who come into contact with someone who has been infected with coronavirus will no longer have to remain in quarantine for 14 days, and could return to normal life as soon as a week after their last contact.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday that it would no longer require anyone exposed to the disease to remain at home for a full two weeks, in part because they believed the demand was so onerous that many people were simply ignoring it.
CDC officials said instead that people could now leave quarantine after 10 days if they have no symptoms, and as soon as seven days if they have no symptoms and test negative for the disease.
A CDC official said: "If you reduce the burden a little bit, accepting that it comes at a small cost, we may get a greater compliance overall with people completing a full seven days. If we get full compliance overall that will result in fewer infections."
CDC calculated the risk of someone infecting another person even after completing a 10-day quarantine period at 1 per cent, and the risk of doing so after seven days at 5 per cent.
Cuomo expects New York to receive first Pfizer vaccine doses on Dec. 15
Peter Wells in New York
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he expects the state will receive its first batch of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer on December 15, pending federal government approval.
That shipment should provide enough vaccines for 170,000 New Yorkers, starting with care-home residents and healthcare workers, Mr Cuomo announced at a press conference on Wednesday morning.
"We expect, if all safety & efficacy approvals granted, to receive these doses on December 15th," a slide from Mr Cuomo's presentation said, referring to Pfizer's vaccine.
"We're supposed to get a Moderna tranche two weeks later," he said, adding that the company had not yet given officials an estimated number of doses to be delivered.
Mr Cuomo said that the 80,000 care-home residents in the state and 130,000 workers in these facilities would receive the first vaccine doses. It would then be rolled out to the 600,000 healthcare workers across the state "prioritised by exposure to Covid", he said, meaning those working in emergency and intensive care units would receive vaccines first.
Mike Pence, US vice-president, was reported by US media to have told state governors in a conference call earlier this week that a nationwide rollout of vaccines could begin as soon as mid-December.
A panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted on Tuesday to recommend prioritising healthcare workers and care-home residents in the initial phases of a vaccine rollout when doses remain scarce.
Pfizer's vaccine is set to be reviewed for approval by the Food and Drug Administration on December 10, with Moderna's review set for December 17.
Warp Speed's Slaoui says UK approval of Pfizer jab should reassure Americans
Hannah Kuchler in New York
Moncef Slaoui, who leads the US Operation Warp Speed to accelerate vaccine development, believes the UK approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should reassure Americans they can trust the shot.
Mr Slaoui said the UK regulator is of the "highest calibre" and equivalent to the US Food and Drug Administration.
But while there have been concerns that the FDA was under political pressure to approve a vaccine, the UK did not have to contend with a November election.
"They have not been involved in any of the politicisation that surrounds the development of this vaccine," he said in a press briefing. "I hope this will be another [piece of ] evidence for the American population that the data with these vaccines are clear and transparent and demonstrate that they are effective and safe."
California smashes daily record with more than 20,000 Covid cases
Peter Wells in New York
California on Wednesday became the first US state to report more than 20,000 coronavirus cases in a single day.
The most populous state logged 20,759 infections, its health department revealed this afternoon, up from 12,221 on Tuesday and eclipsing its previous record of 18,350 on November 25.
The single-day jump is more than the 18,266 cases logged for the entire pandemic by Hawaii, which was the third-fewest number of infections among US states. It is more than 10 times the overall tally for New Zealand, which has a population about an eighth of California's nearly 40m residents.
Although California has confirmed some 1.24m cases, more than any other US state, it ranks among the bottom quartile when adjusted for its population.
Although the Golden State has averaged more than 200,000 tests a day over the past fortnight, the latest batch of cases came from just 137,813 tests, the fewest in about two weeks. The positivity rate has averaged 6.9 per cent over the past 14 days, according to state data, the highest since the end of July.
Recent daily cases may be affected by delays to processing following Thanksgiving and the long weekend, but other metrics suggest California may be experiencing a spread of coronavirus that is set to surpass its summer surge. Governor Gavin Newsom warned earlier this week about the possibility of more "drastic action" if hospitals become overwhelmed, and hinted that officials could soon announce a stay-at-home order akin to earlier in the year.
Hospital admissions hit a record 9,365, the health department revealed, having crossed 9,000 for the first time yesterday. That eclipses the previous peak of 8,820 in late July.
Authorities attributed a further 113 deaths to coronavirus, up from 70 yesterday and compared with 106 on Wednesday last week. It was the biggest one-day jump in fatalities since the 162 reported on October 22. The state set a one-day peak of 219 in late July.
Germany extends lockdown to January 10
The German authorities have decided to extend the partial lockdown, in force since the start of November, until January 10.
The measures have closed all restaurants, bars, gyms, theatres and concert halls, and essentially shut down domestic tourism. There are in addition strict curbs on all social gatherings.
Markus Söder, the prime minister of Bavaria, said after a video conference between the federal government and the leaders of the 16 federal states that the coronavirus situation had not relaxed "by any means", and extending the partial shutdown was the right thing to do.
Germany saw 487 deaths from Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, the highest daily rate since the start of the pandemic. The number of new infections with coronavirus has dipped slightly in recent days, but the government is still disappointed that the partial shutdown begun in November does not yet appear to have had the desired effect.
US bond yields rise as inflation expectations tick up
Naomi Rovnick in London and David Carnevali in New York
Investors sold US government bonds for a second day on Wednesday as they weighed the spectre of inflation picking up next year if an economic stimulus package is agreed in Congress.
Yields on 10-year Treasury notes, which move inversely to prices, rose 0.02 percentage points to 0.94 per cent. Yields had gone up 0.09 percentage points on Tuesday as inflation expectations rose. A month ago yields on the 10-year note were around 0.76 per cent.
The sell-off stood in contrast to the moves in shorter-dated notes, which have been mostly anchored as the Federal Reserve has hoovered up US government debt. The difference in yield between the two and 10-year Treasury notes rose to 78 basis points by the end of the US trading day on Wednesday, its highest level since October 2017.
The moves came as Democratic congressional leaders expressed support for a $908bn spending plan offered by a bipartisan group of US senators, in a compromise aimed at breaking the logjam that has prevented more aid from being delivered to Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Read more on today's market moves here.
Illinois reports record jump in deaths but Midwest case trends continue to ease
Peter Wells in New York
Illinois on Wednesday reported its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus deaths of the pandemic, while new cases remain below recent record highs.
Daily deaths, which tend to lag cases and hospital admissions, have hit high or record levels in several Midwest states in recent days, but encouraging trends for most of the region remain in place as new infections continue to decline from peak levels in November.
Illinois attributed 238 deaths to coronavirus on Wednesday, soaring past the state's previous one-day record of 191 on May 13, according to health department data.
Its overall death toll of 11,963 ranks sixth in the US, behind New Jersey and ahead of Massachusetts.
Wisconsin this afternoon reported a further 82 deaths, down from Tuesday's record of 107, while Indiana revealed 91 more fatalities, down from the 146 on Tuesday that ranked among the state's 20 most deadly days.
Ohio reported a further 123 deaths, it's third-biggest daily jump of the pandemic, up from 119 on Tuesday. The state set a daily record of 156 on November 25.
More encouraging, though, is that daily cases in these states have trended lower in the past few weeks. On Wednesday, Illinois reported a further 9,757 infections, down from an 11-day high on Tuesday of 12,542.
Wisconsin had a further 3,777 new confirmed cases, down from 4,078 on Tuesday but nearly half its record of 7,989 on November 18, according to health department data. Indiana revealed a further 6,655 cases, up from 5,396 yesterday and compared to its record of more than 8,300 on November 14.
Ohio reported 7,835 new cases, down from 9,030 on Tuesday. The state had 11,885 on a single-day on November 23.
With the exception of Ohio, all of the 11 states in the Midwest had seven-day average case rates that were down at least 10 per cent from peak rates, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.
While officials in many states across the country have warned that it may take a week or so to gauge any impact of the Thanksgiving holiday on infection rates, states in the Midwest were already experiencing a gradual decline in daily case rates from around mid-November. That may help, albeit partially, to offset rising trends in other parts of the country. California and Texas, which rank first and second among states by population, are reporting one-day jumps in new cases that exceed levels they hit during their summer surge.
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