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Total Covid-19 cases

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World

Confirmed

43,498,512

Deaths

1,151,971
Updated at 10/27/2020, 9:16:14 PM BST

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The US became the first country in the world to record 200,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to figures on Tuesday from one widely-followed data provider. There have been 200,005 deaths attributed to the virus in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Covid-19 pandemic will destroy at least 100m jobs worldwide this year and push between 90m and 120m people in the developing world into absolute poverty, the UN Conference on Trade and Development warned on Tuesday, adding the developing world faced “another lost decade”.

Sales of previously owned homes in the US remained at their highest level since 2006 in August, as record low mortgage rates and buyers seeking more space stoked the market. Existing home sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6m units last month, a gain of 2.4 per cent over July.

European Council president Charles Michel has cancelled an EU leaders summit planned for Thursday and gone into quarantine after one of his security guards tested positive for Covid-19. The former Belgian prime minister tested negative for the virus on Monday, his spokesman said.

A masked staffer pours a beer at a Wetherspoon pub in Stratford, east London

UK pub owner JD Wetherspoon has written to employees at its six UK airport pubs to warn them that hundreds of jobs are at risk, following a collapse in traveller numbers. The pub chain is seeking to reduce 400 to 450 jobs, or more than 40 per cent of jobs at its airport pubs from Heathrow to Glasgow.

US fashion brand Ralph Lauren will cut 15 per cent of its staff as the retailer tries to boost online sales after the coronavirus pandemic hit bricks-and-mortar retail. The company plans to shed 3,700 jobs by March 31 as it restructures its marketing and merchandising department and invests in new technology.

British home improvement retailer Kingfisher said it intends to repay £23m it received in furlough payments from the government after profits recovered strongly. The company will not be taking a £1,000 per employee job retention bonus and has repaid money lent from the Bank of England’s financing scheme.

Hong Kong Disneyland will reopen from Friday at reduced capacity two months after it was closed as part of efforts to control a coronavirus outbreak in the city. Visitors must book tickets in advance online, undergo temperature checks and wear face masks while in the park, the company said.

Older Covid-19 patients are more fearful, study finds

Lack of knowledge and reliance on information from social media make older adults more fearful of Covid-19, according to research published on Tuesday.

Older adults recorded a significantly lower score for Covid-19 knowledge and a higher level of fear than their middle-aged counterparts, according to the results of an Egyptian study published in the American Journal of Nursing Science.

The research found a strong negative correlation between fear of Covid-19 and both knowledge and preventive practices among both older and middle-aged patients.

“This finding indicates that increased awareness about Covid-19 and how to prevent it is important for decreasing the level of Covid-19 fear,” the paper noted.

The researchers found a statistically significant difference between the middle-aged group and older adults groups regarding Covid-19 knowledge. The older adults were less likely to practice preventative measures to avoid infection, the study also found.

The researchers, led by Sally Mohammed Elsayed Ibrahim of the Gerontological Nursing Department at Mansoura University, recommended that “educational programmes should be developed and implemented by nurses” to increase awareness of Covid-19.

PM calls on ‘joint resolve’ of British people

Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, on Tuesday evening called for “joint resolve” and urged the public to comply with new coronavirus measures.

In a televised address to the nation, Mr Johnson said the virus had begun to spread in an “exponential way” and warned that the coming months will be “unquestionably difficult”.

The UK reported 4,926 positive test results on Tuesday, in the latest sign of recorded infections climbing.. It appeared to be the highest number of cases since early May, although Britain’s testing capacity has tripled since then.

Mr Johnson reiterated the new measures announced earlier this afternoon, which included guidance to work from home, a 10pm curfew for bars and pubs and fines of £200 for failing to comply with the rule of six.

The prime minister stressed that while he was reluctant to impose the new measures, he had the backing of the main parties within parliament and believed that it would be the best way to prevent a surge in cases and deaths.

He said: “And, of course, I am deeply, spiritually reluctant to make any of these impositions, or infringe anyone’s freedom, but unless we take action the risk is that we will have to go for tougher measures later, when the deaths have already mounted.”

California new case rate ebbs as Florida test capacity hits 2-week low

Peter Wells in New York

California reported its smallest increase in new coronavirus cases in a week on Tuesday and its widely followed positivity rate hit 3 per cent for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

A further 2,630 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed this afternoon, down from 3,294 on Monday. It was the smallest increase since 2,235 new infections were reported last Tuesday.

Deaths in the state rose by 53, down from 31 on Monday and compared with 66 last Tuesday.

California conducted nearly 131,300 tests over the past day, representing a rebound from recent weeks when testing efforts were hampered by the wildfires burning throughout the state. The rolling 14-day average of test positivity today hit 3 per cent for the first time.

Daily coronavirus testing in Florida is hovering around its lowest level in two weeks, but the latest figures on Tuesday showed the positivity rate in the state has jumped to its highest mark over the same period.

Over the past 24 hours, Florida conducted 44,908 tests for Covid-19, authorities revealed this morning, up from the 43,191 on Monday that was the fewest number of daily tests in at least a fortnight.

Of those, 2,470 people tested positive for Covid-19, up from 1,685 yesterday and compared with 3,116 last Tuesday.

Aeroflot restarts some flights to Asian cities

Aeroflot said it would restore some flights between Moscow and destinations in Asia from this week.

The Russian airline will begin service to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday, and Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, in Kazakhstan on Sunday.

The carrier would also restart a weekly service to Seoul next week, spokeswoman Olga Kuzmina said.

Aerofolot suspended regular international air services in late March in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Flights to the UK and some European nations such as Switzerland and Turkey have been gradually resumed since August 1.

Nike beats expectations with growth in Europe and China

Sara Germano in New York

Nike’s sales returned to growth in Europe as initial shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic abated, though the world’s largest sportswear maker by revenue reported continued declines in its core North American market and its wholesale business.

Nike said virtually all of its owned retail stores across the world were open in its most recent three month period ended in August, though “we continue to experience year-over-year declines in physical retail traffic across the marketplace due to Covid-19 impacts and safety-related measures.”

Those challenges amounted to a slight decline in overall revenues to $10.6bn, down 1 per cent from the same period a year ago, while net income rose 11 per cent to $1.5bn.

Shoppers wait for a temperature check to enter a Nike outlet in Beijing

Both figures exceeded Wall Street expectations of $9.2bn and $760m, respectively, according to analysts polled by S&P Capital IQ. Nike shares rose nearly 8 per cent in after-hours trading on Tuesday to $126.

Nike’s business in two of its most competitive regions, greater Europe and greater China, had revenue gains during the period, with growth of 5 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively.

Sales in Nike’s home market of North America, its largest by revenues, fell 2 per cent to $4.2bn. The company also reported double-digit growth in its direct-to-consumer sales.

Texas becomes second state to reach 700,000 cases

Peter Wells in New York

Texas became the second US state to confirm more than 700,000 coronavirus infections after authorities added nearly 14,000 historical cases to the tally on Tuesday, and also moved to within a whisker of becoming the fourth state with 15,000 deaths from the virus.

A further 3,964 people tested positive for the disease over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed this afternoon, up from 1,742 yesterday and compared with 4,816 last Tuesday.

State officials have for weeks been adding in older cases stemming from backlogs of tests from commercial laboratories. On Tuesday, 13,856 such historical cases were added to the statewide total — but excluded from the daily figures — with 13,622 of those coming from the region around Houston.

Combined, that propelled the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the Lone Star state to 716,207. Only California has more among US states.

Texas is also close to reaching another milestone on the fatality front.

A further 77 deaths in the state were attributed to Covid-19, authorities revealed this afternoon, up from 24 on Monday and compared with 132 a week ago.

That took the total number of coronavirus-related fatalities since the outbreak began to 14,994. New York, New Jersey and California are the only other states with more than 15,000 deaths.

The state also moved to within a whisker of becoming the fourth US state to confirm 15,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic after reporting its biggest jump in fatalities in three days on Tuesday.

New York urged to reopen city’s comedy clubs

New York elected officials are under pressure to reopen the city’s famous comedy clubs.

Mike Gianaris, a Democratic state senator from the borough of Queens, attended a rally on Tuesday along with club owners and performers calling for a reopening.

“I challenge anyone to explain why comedy clubs would be less safe to operate than restaurants or bowling alleys,” Mr Gianaris said at the rally, held outside the New York Comedy Club in Manhattan.

But New York state governor Andrew Cuomo said last week that comedy clubs and concert venues were still too risky to reopen.

Mr Gianaris floated a plan that would allow comedy clubs to reopen with 25 per cent occupancy if they serve food and beverages and 50 percent if they do not.

The senator said the clubs should be able to operate at 100 per cent if they're outdoors.

New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, was equivocal about the idea on Tuesday. “Honestly, it hasn't been one of the areas we focused on a lot, but it's an important part of life in the city,” he acknowledged.

Pandemic ‘likely to boost lending by tech groups’

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to accelerate the growth of lending by technology companies, new research published by the Bank for International Settlements concludes.

A paper released on Tuesday by BIS — an international organization often referred to as the central bank for central banks — noted that reduced physical mobility and social distancing during the pandemic have boosted digital lines of communication, including ecommerce and online banking.

“The use of online interfaces to originate and service loans could make both fintech and big tech lending more attractive relative to brick-and-mortar financial institutions,” said the researchers, led by Giulio Cornelli of BIS.

But the authors add that such rapid credit growth might raise risks to financial stability.

They pointed out that the pandemic represented the first “shock” for fintech and big tech credit. It is “the first economic downturn [they] have undergone, and it is thus a test of the resilience of their credit scoring models under stress”.

“Defaults at fintech credit platforms have picked up in the past few years,” the researchers noted. “More granular default data show that certain loans segments like US consumer lending have seen a worsening of credit quality in the past three years.”

The paper acknowledged that high-frequency data on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on credit quality are not yet available, but noted that big tech and fintech lenders have gained a significant market share among small and medium sized enterprises in markets as diverse as the UK, China and Kenya.

“Whether this growth represents the natural diffusion of a promising new type of intermediation or a credit bubble remains an open question,” the BIS researchers wrote.

US has biggest daily jump in cases after large Texas revision

Peter Wells in New York

The US reported its biggest daily jump in new coronavirus infections in nearly three weeks, thanks primarily to the addition of a nearly 14,000-strong backlog of historical cases in Texas.

States reported a combined 48,794 cases, according to data from Covid Tracking Project on Tuesday, up from 29,472 on Monday and compared with 35,445 a week ago. That was the biggest daily jump since September 4.

Texas reported 3,964 new infections, but authorities also revealed 13,856 historical cases from a backlog of tests at commercial laboratories in several counties.

South Carolina (2,665) had a record one-day jump, while California (2,630) and Florida (2,470) rounded out the quartet of states with more than 2,000 new cases.

Nine states reported daily increases of more than 1,000 cases, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data, the fewest number of states in 13 days.

The national death toll rose by 821, up from 287 on Monday and compared with 1,031 a week ago.

That took the total number of fatalities since the start of the pandemic to 192,741, according to Covid Tracking Project. Johns Hopkins University, which has different data capture techniques and reporting time frames, said earlier today the death toll topped 200,000 for the first time.

Scientists plead for clarity on AstraZeneca trial

Hannah Kuchler in New York, Kiran Stacey in Washington and Sarah Neville in London

Scientists are demanding to know why AstraZeneca’s trial of its Covid-19 vaccine is still on hold in the US while it has been restarted elsewhere, worrying it could damage public trust.

The trial was originally halted because a UK participant developed a serious inflammatory condition. In the US it has been on hold for almost two weeks, while trials in other countries including the UK have restarted.

Ashisha Jha, dean of the school of public health at Brown University, said: “Normally, companies wouldn’t give out information in the middle of a trial, but this is an exceptional case and we need to have radical transparency."

Read more here

Stocks in Asia-Pacific struggle despite Wall St gains

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific equities struggled for direction on Wednesday, shrugging off gains made on Wall Street.

In Japan, the Topix declined 0.6 per cent on its return from a long weekend, while the Kospi in South Korea added 0.8 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.6 per cent.

Futures point to a 0.2 per cent dip for the Hang Seng when trading resumes later in the morning.

US investors shook off rising coronavirus cases and a warning on the nation’s economic recovery from Jay Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The S&P 500 ended the day up 1.1 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 1.7 per cent. S&P 500 futures were up 0.1 per cent.

Mr Powell told Congress on Tuesday that the US economic recovery would suffer without further stimulus and said it was likely that more fiscal support will be needed.

Australia’s state of Victoria reports 15 new cases

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Australia’s state of Victoria reported 15 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday morning, fewer than the previous day’s tally as the target date to ease lockdown measures nears.

The state’s tally was down from 28 cases a day earlier. However, the number of deaths rose to five from three.

Lockdown restrictions on the city of Melbourne are set to be eased from next week if the 14-day rolling average of infections is below 50. The average fell to 29.4 on Wednesday.

Lift maker Kone elevates forecasts on China rebound

Finnish lift and escalator maker Kone upgraded its third-quarter forecast after a strong rebound in its China business.

The company said China had driven higher sales of new equipment and service contracts in the third quarter.

Kone said it expected year-on-year sales growth in the third quarter to range from minus 1 per cent to 2 per cent, compared with minus 4 per cent to zero in its previous estimate.

The market for new equipment is expected to grow in China and decline in other regions as a result of the “increased uncertainty related to the Covid-19 pandemic”, according to Sanna Kaje, the Espoo-based company’s vice-president of investor relations.

Japanese flash manufacturing PMI remains weak in September

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Japan’s manufacturing sector remained in contraction in September, pointing to further weakness in the third quarter, according to early results of a private survey.

The au Jibun Bank flash manufacturing purchasing managers’ index improved slightly to 47.3 in September, up from 47.2 in August. Readings below 50 signify a decline in conditions.

Production and new orders “fell markedly” for manufacturers.

The services sector remained in contraction, but had improved slightly to 45.6 from 45 a month earlier.

“Flash PMI survey data indicated a further decline in Japanese private sector output during September, setting the scene for further economic weakness in the third quarter,” said Bernard Aw, principal economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey.

There were positive signs from the survey, however, with employment nearing stabilisation with just a “marginal drop” in workforce numbers, Mr Aw said. Business sentiment also improved at its fastest pace since the start of the year.

The flash PMI is based on 85 to 90 per cent of total survey responses.

Covid-19 sets back Latin America 5G rollout

Benedict Mander in Buenos Aires

Latin America is falling behind in the rollout of 5G telecoms networks, which analysts say could play an important role in reducing the widening productivity gap between the region and the rest of the world.

Although coronavirus has boosted internet traffic in the region by as much as 30 per cent, as people forced to stay at home by lockdowns use online services more, it has also set back plans to develop 5G.

Meanwhile, companies fear that challenges such as the high cost for operators to acquire the spectrum bands required to use 5G could further hold back progress.

“We’re not extremely far behind, but it is important that 2021 is the year that we put 5G in all Latin American markets,” said Eduardo Ricotta, chief executive in the region for Sweden’s Ericsson.

The region is expected to capture just 90m of the 2.7bn 5G subscriptions expected globally by 2025. A joint report published last month by Nokia and technology research company Omdia concluded that 5G could deliver up to $3.3tn of “economic and social value” in Latin America by 2035.

TransferWise doubles profits despite Covid-19 volatility

Nicholas Megaw in London

TransferWise doubled profits in the last financial year and said it had continued to grow in 2020 despite the “volatility” brought by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 10-year-old money transfer company has expanded rapidly since co-founders Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus started it as a way to reduce the fees they paid to move funds between London and their native Estonia.

In the 12 months to March 31 it reported a pre-tax profit of £20.4m, up from £10.1m in the previous year. Revenues rose 70 per cent to £302.6m.

Read more here

Cash-strapped Qantas abandons rugby union team

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

Qantas Airways is terminating its 30-year sponsorship of Australia's national rugby union team, plunging the sport's finances into a deepening crisis.

The airline said on Wednesday it had no choice but to reduce the cash cost of its five main sports sponsorship to zero, as it dealt with the fallout from the pandemic,

“In an environment where thousands of our people have lost jobs and thousands more are stood down while they wait for flying to restart, we can’t maintain these sponsorships in the way we have in the past,” said Stephanie Tully, Qantas chief customer officer.

“While we’re dealing with this crisis and its aftermath, the cash cost of our sponsorships has to be zero.”

The Wallabies’ Tevita Kuridrani, right, challenges South African captain Siya Kolisi

Rugby Australia has had a tumultuous year with the resignation of Raelene Castle as chief executive in April, shedding a third of its 142 staff and failing to secure a television rights deal for 2021.

Rob Clarke, Rugby Australia interim chief executive, said it was disappointing to lose such a loyal partner as Qantas, although it was understandable given the challenges the airline faced from Covid-19.

Rugby Australia will now seek a new principal sponsor for the Wallabies from December 2020 when Qantas's support ends.

Qantas has been forced to ground most of its fleet, shed 6,000 staff and furloughed a further 15,000 employees due to the pandemic, which has grounded most of its fleet.

The airline said it would continue its associations with Cricket Australia, the Football Federation of Australia, the Australia Olympic Committee and Paralympics Australia on an in-kind basis, which means they don’t pay cash directly for sponsorship but offer support such as access to flights and marketing channels.

Los Angeles mayor urges flu shots on residents

The University of Southern California on Tuesday launched a free influenza vaccination programme across Los Angeles, as residents were urged to take up the offer to avoid overwhelming hospitals.

“With the Covid-19 pandemic here and the flu season coming, it’s more important than ever before to get a flu shot to keep Angelenos healthy and avoid a scenario that could overwhelm our hospital system,” said mayor Eric Garcetti.

“Getting a flu shot should be part of everyone’s annual routine,” he added.

Heath experts said people who had been infected with Covid-19, or those who have symptoms of coronavirus, should not get a flu shot until after they recover and end self-isolation.

“It is likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes Covid-19 will both be spreading these coming months," said Vassilios Papadopoulos, dean of the USC School of Pharmacy. "So this year, it is more important than ever to get a flu vaccine."

Brookfield says ‘time is now’ to sell some malls

Pedestrians walk past Brookfield Place in Manhattan's Battery Park City

Mark Vandevelde in New York

Brookfield is planning to cut one in five jobs at its 2,000-person retail unit and dispose of an undisclosed number of properties as part of a drastic overhaul that underscores the damage the coronavirus pandemic has wrought on one of the largest US operators of malls.

In an email to staff, reviewed by the Financial Times, Jared Chupaila, Brookfield’s retail chief executive, said job cuts at head office and in the field were necessary “to align with the future scale of our portfolio”.

The Canadian asset manager revealed in June that it had collected only 35 per cent of the rent due on its retail properties in the second quarter, as some retailers filed for bankruptcy and others took an assertive stance with landlords.

Read more here

Australia business activity improves, flash PMI data show

Business activity across Australia recovered at the end of the third quarter after coronavirus-related restrictions were loosened in parts of the country, according to the latest purchasing managers' index data.

The IHS Markit Flash Australia Composite Output Index reached 50.5 in September, up from 49.4 in August. Readings above 50.0 signal an improvement in business activity over the previous month while readings below 50.0 show deterioration.

The upturn was driven by rising manufacturing output, while stabilisation was observed in services, IHS Markit said.

"However, other survey indicators suggest the rebound may lack legs," said Bernard Aw, principal economist at IHS Markit in Singapore. "The absence of capacity pressure led to a further and sharper decline in workforce numbers, highlighting the prospect of rising unemployment," he noted.

The flash PMI is based on 85 to 90 per cent of total survey responses.

US regulators set higher bar for vaccine

Kiran Stacey in Washington and Hannah Kuchler in New York

Drug companies will be expected to hit a series of milestones before they are allowed to distribute a coronavirus vaccine in the US, which experts say make it unlikely one will be approved before the presidential election.

The Food and Drug Administration has privately told vaccine makers they want them to comply with a set of guidelines which go beyond what the agency has said publicly, according to three people close to the discussions.

Peter Marks, director of the FDA department that oversees vaccines, had pushed for the new standards as a way to avoid politicisation of the agency, one person said. Mr Marks did not respond to a request to comment.

The guidelines, which include asking companies to wait until they have monitored trial participants for a median time of at least two months, are not yet hard and fast rules. But the FDA is now debating making them public, in a move which is likely to make it all but impossible for companies to ignore them.

Read more here

Coronavirus tracked

The human cost of coronavirus has continued to mount, with more than 31m cases confirmed globally and almost 960,000 people known to have died.

Check out the latest figures as tracked by the FT’s visual and data journalism team here.

You can also see how your country’s caseload or number of fatalities linked to Covid-19 stacks up against other nations here.

US House votes to avert pre-election government shutdown

The US House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a short-term funding bill on Tuesday to avert another government shutdown and keep the government funded beyond the presidential election in November.

The measure was approved by 357 votes to 59. There were 56 Republicans and one Democrat who voted against the bill.

“The coronavirus pandemic has impacted virtually every aspect of American life,” Kay Granger, a Texas Republican, told the House during the debate. “During this unprecedented time, it is more critical than ever that the federal government remain open and functioning.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill later this week and send it to President Donald Trump. White House officials have said Mr Trump is expected to sign the bill.

India new cases tally falls as testing concerns mount

Benjamin Parkin in Mumbai

India recorded more than 83,000 coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, with new daily cases remaining below last week's highs although testing has also dropped.

The country, which has the world's second-highest total caseload at 5.6m, was reporting more than 90,000 cases through most of last week and appeared on track to breach 100,000.

But its new infection numbers have dropped since, with a low of 75,000 on Tuesday.

Observers fear that the fall is mainly a product of Indian states' changing approach to testing.

India's daily test numbers have also fallen since last week, with the country conducting 933,000 tests on Monday compared with around 1.1m a week earlier.

The share of rapid antigen tests, which are considered less reliable and yield more false negatives, has also risen in large states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

In Bihar, a battleground in containing the virus's spread through poor rural districts, rapid antigen tests account for 90 per cent of daily testing.

Fujifilm claims Avigan effective in reducing Covid-19 symptoms in trial

Kana Inagaki in Tokyo

Fujifilm Holdings disclosed trial data on Wednesday that showed its anti-flu drug was effective in reducing Covid-19 symptoms, raising hopes for regulatory approval of the treatment in Japan.

The positive results came after the Japanese government, despite its early enthusiasm for Fujifilm’s favipiravir, was forced to delay the drug’s approval in May following a disappointing showing from another trial.

In a statement, Fujifilm said a Phase 3 trial of 156 patients showed that those treated with the drug, sold under name Avigan, showed improved symptoms after 11.9 days. That compared with 14.7 days for the control group, which received a placebo.

Shares in the Japanese group briefly rose 4.5 per cent following the announcement.

Fujifilm, which produces Avigan through its pharmaceuticals unit, is also conducting a Phase 2 trial in the US, but the company plans to apply for regulatory approval of the drug for coronavirus treatment with the latest trial results in October.

The Japanese government was forced to delay approval for Avigan

So far, Japan has signed off on the use of Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir for treating Covid-19 patients.

Avigan came under a global spotlight in mid-March after early clinical trials in China, which were not randomised, suggested that favipiravir sped up patients’ recovery from Covid-19.

Japanese regulators approved Avigan in 2014 but it can only be manufactured and distributed at the government’s request for dealing with new influenza outbreaks.

Doctors have expressed caution about its use, pointing to serious side-effects, including foetal abnormalities in pregnant women. Its potential to cause birth defects means it is not used to treat regular flu.

On Wednesday, Fujifilm said its trial did not find any new safety concern regarding the drug's use.

US agency to expand convalescent plasma trials

George Russell in Hong Kong

The US National Institutes of Health said on Tuesday it would expand clinical trials of convalescent plasma, a controversial treatment for Covid-19.

The NIH said in a statement that two randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trials would increase their enrollment to further evaluate convalescent plasma as a treatment.

Convalescent plasma is blood plasma taken from people who have recovered from Covid-19. Scientists are conflicted about its use as a Covid-19 therapy.

In theory, the plasma contains antibodies that can recognise and neutralise SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The NIH said preliminary observational studies indicate that convalescent plasma might improve outcomes among severely ill patients.

“The evidence on convalescent plasma as a treatment for severe cases of Covid-19 is promising but incomplete," said NIH director Francis Collins in the statement on Tuesday.

How close is a coronavirus vaccine?

Anna Gross and Ian Bott in London

As large parts of the world prepare for a second wave of coronavirus, governments have pinned their hopes on the rapid development of a vaccine to provide a route out of the pandemic.

Pharmaceutical companies have moved with unprecedented speed and tens of thousands of people in more than a dozen countries — from Brazil to Saudi Arabia — have volunteered for human trials.

If the vaccines work, as early tests suggest, the button will be hit for immediate mass production at a scale and speed never seen before. But recent setbacks for at least one leading manufacturer have shown that the path to a proven and widely available shot may not be straightforward.

Read more here

Covid-19 forces Australia broadband upgrade

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

Australia’s NBN Co will spend more than $3bn to roll out superfast broadband to meet surging demand from millions of people working from home due to Covid-19.

The A$4.5bn investment in fibre-to-the-home broadband, announced by Canberra on Wednesday, comes amid rising competition for government-owned NBN from 5G mobile technology, which analysts say threatens to erode the value of a network that cost A$51bn to build but has failed to deliver world-class speeds.  

The NBN upgrade marks a U-turn for Australia’s centre-right Liberal-National government, which had criticised the previous Labor administration’s decision to build a nationwide fibre network as too expensive and unnecessary.

Read more here

UK warns industry of 7,000-lorry jams in 'worst-case' Brexit scenario

Peter Foster and Sarah Provan

The UK government has warned industry it could face two-day delays in getting freight across the Channel after the end of the Brexit transition period, with queues of up to 7,000 lorries in Kent.

The “reasonable worst case scenario” of possible disruptions was shared in a letter to industry from Michael Gove, the cabinet minister in charge of Brexit implementation, in an attempt to encourage industry to prepare for new border rules on January 1 2021.

“It is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities,” said Mr Gove, revealing government estimates that up to 50 per cent of trucks arriving at Dover and the Channel Tunnel will not have the correct paperwork.

The letter, seen by the Financial Times, warned that “flow rates” across the Dover-Calais short strait which handles up to 10,000 trucks a day could fall by up to 80 per cent at the peak of disruption which could last up to three months.

A more relaxed approach than expected by French customs controls or reduced flow-rates caused by Covid-19 measures could reduce the impact of the changes, the advice added.

Whitehall officials said that Mr Gove’s letter was part of a “shock and awe” campaign to try and jolt businesses into making preparations for significant new border changes on January 1 - which he pointed out would come in “irrespective” of whether or not negotiators conclude a trade deal with the EU this autumn.

Make UK, the manufacturers organisation, has estimated that 270m new customs declarations will need to be filled each year after Brexit, at an estimated cost of £15bn according to projections from HM Customs & Revenue.

However the logistics and freight industry has grown increasingly frustrated with the government’s failure to provide adequate information for businesses to make the preparations necessarily.

The BBC reported the details of the letter earlier.

South Korea daily Covid-19 cases breach 100 sparking resurgence fears

Song Jung-a in Seoul

South Korea’s daily coronavirus infections bounced back to over 100 on Wednesday, renewing concerns over the resurgence of the virus amid the increasing number of untraceable cases and sporadic clusters of infections.

The country reported 110 new cases on Wednesday, increasing the total caseload to 23,216, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The rebound in new cases came after three days of sharp declines as the country grappled with the resurgence of the virus after a massive anti-government rally in mid-August.

Health officials expressed concerns that the spread of the virus may accelerate next month as millions of South Koreans are expected to travel across the country to meet their families and relatives during the five-day Chusok Thanksgiving holiday. A conservative civic group is also planning to hold anti-government rallies early next month.

“We have to bear in mind that there could be many potential patients out there, given that the virus is spreading through many routes at present,” vice health minister Kim Kang-lip told a briefing. Health authorities estimate that about a quarter of new cases have been untraceable over the past couple of weeks.

The government plans to take strong actions against unauthorised rallies in central Seoul next month as part of their preventive measures. The Seoul city government filed a lawsuit on Friday against an ultra right-wing church that organised the August 15 rally, seeking Won4.6bn ($4m) in damages.

Booming hand sanitiser sales counteract soap slump at PZ Cussons

Harry Dempsey in London

PZ Cussons said that sales of its Carex hand sanitising gel have soared as consumer demand wanes for its Imperial Leather soap and Original Source shower gels, highlighting changing consumer habits following nationwide lockdowns.

The consumer goods group reported on Wednesday that, along with a poor performance in the Nigerian market, high demand for Carex, which constrained the output of shower products, dragged adjusted profit before tax 14.3 per cent lower to £62m in the year ending May.

“We saw extraordinary outperformance for Carex in the final quarter tempered with very difficult conditions in beauty, both as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Caroline Silver, chairman of PZ Cussons.

Strong sales of Carex in the UK, where it accounts for 40 per cent of liquid soap sales, helped to perk up results in the first three months of its financial year to the end of August. Revenue grew to £158.1m, up 19 per cent on a reported basis compared with the same period a year earlier.

But PZ Cussons warned of volatility in the months ahead, with the coronavirus crisis and its aftermath having an impact on sales of its personal care, home care and beauty products.

“The environment continues to remain volatile in our markets with adverse economic headwinds in the UK, Nigeria, Australia and Indonesia,” the company said. “Competition remains strong [in the hygiene sector] in addition to Covid-19 related risk of volatility in our supply chain.”

The company lowered its full-year dividend to 5.80p a share to give it room to invest in new opportunities related to hygiene.

Round-up of Covid-19 restrictions in UK

Sarah Provan

The UK prime minister urged Britons in an address to the nation last night to "summon the discipline, and the resolve, and the spirit of togetherness that will carry us through" as he imposed tighter coronavirus-related restrictions in an effort to contain a resurgence in infections.

Boris Johnson spoke of a "perilous turning point" in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

A number of measures in each of the four devolved nations were unveiled on Tuesday, such as the following:

• Bar staff, shop workers and taxi passengers must wear face masks.
• Pubs and restaurants from Thursday will close at 10pm in England, Scotland and Wales.
• No more than six people can meet from up to two households in Scotland but from multiple households in England.
• Sporting events will no longer be open to crowds from October 1 in England, shelving plans recently announced.

Mr Johnson increased fines to £200 for anybody who fails to wear a face mask in adherence to the rules and added that the armed forces would help the police enforce the regulations.

Any thoughts of encouraging workers to return to the office went out the window, in a reversal of a government policy that came into effect only in late August.

Read how the Covid crackdown stirs anger as Johnson walks fine line

Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, outlined a £500 payment to support workers on low incomes who need to self-isolate.

German consumer confidence rebound curbed by job worries

Martin Arnold

German consumer confidence has edged up less than expected in recent weeks, according to a monthly survey published on Wednesday, which economists said reflected rising concern about a wave of pandemic-related job losses in the country.

The GfK institute said its consumer confidence indicator had inched up to minus 1.6 per cent, based on a survey of 2,000 people in the first two weeks of September. That followed a sharp decline last month and undershot the minus 1 per cent expected by economists according to Reuters.

“The further course of the infection events in Germany and the labour market will decide whether the damper in the previous month remains a flash in the pan and consumer sentiment may start recovery in the coming months,” said Rolf Bürkl, a consumer expert at GfK.

The German economy is expected to have a shallower recession this year than most of the other large European economies and retail sales in the country have already risen back above pre-pandemic levels. The government has sought to boost consumer spending by cutting value added tax temporarily until the end of the year.

However, the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic had a heavy impact on several sectors of Europe’s biggest economy. Lufthansa, the German airline, warned this week that more job losses were likely on top of the 22,000 it has already announced. Continental, the German car parts maker, this month said it plans to cut an extra 10,000 jobs.

French executives point to sharp slowdown in services industry

Valentina Romei

France’s services activity contracted in September raising concerns that the rising number of Covid-19 infections is taking a toll on the country’s economic recovery.

The IHS Markit France flash purchasing manager index for services fell sharply to 47.5 in September from 51.5 in the previous month. This is a four-month low and much worse than economists polled by Reuters expected. They had predicted no change from August.

“The sharp rise in Covid-19 cases recorded across France during September helped to explain the first fall in business activity since May,” said Eliot Kerr, economist at IHS Markit. “The rise in case numbers has been accompanied by fresh restrictions, but has also caused hesitancy among businesses due to fears of a second round of temporary business closures.”

A reading below the 50 mark indicates a majority of businesses reporting a contraction compared to the previous month.

Instead the manufacturing sector showed a marginal increase to 50.9 in September, from 49.8 in the previous month.

The composite PMI, an average of the two sectors, fell to 48.5 in September, from 51.6 in the previous month, marking the first contraction since May.

September’s flash PMIs were based on data collected between September 11 and 22. Since mid-September, France announced tighter restrictions in major cities including Paris, Marseille and Bordeaux, as infections continued to rise.

German services activity loses steam yet manufacturing picks up

Martin Arnold

German services activity lost momentum in September, raising doubts about whether a rise in coronavirus infections and job losses is weighing on a third-quarter recovery in Europe’s largest economy.

However, this contrasted with a sharp rise in German manufacturing activity, indicating that the industrial powerhouse of Europe is still recovering from the fallout of the pandemic.

The IHS Markit Germany flash services purchasing manager index fell to 49.1 in September, down from 52.5 in August. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a rise to 54.9.

Phil Smith, associate director of IHS Markit, said: “With services business activity falling for the first time in three months, the recovery in the tertiary sector has possibly reached a ceiling thanks to ongoing social restrictions and still-high levels of uncertainty in the economy, including around job security.”

September’s fall in the PMI score for services indicates that the recovery in the German economy is losing steam, with a lower proportion of services businesses saying activity improved compared to the previous month.

A reading below the 50 level indicates a majority of businesses reporting a contraction in activity from the previous month.

UK clothes retailer Joules posts quarterly sales ahead of expectations

Sarah Provan

Joules, the UK clothing retailer inspired by British countryside fashion, generated sales ahead of its expectations even as coronavirus-related lockdown measures closed its stores and many of its wholesale partners during much of the quarter.

The retailer that sells colourful clothes for children and adults reported an 18 per cent fall to £39.6m in the 13 weeks to August 30 from a year earlier. Joules registered a first-quarter 63 per cent rise in online sales as many customers were stuck at home during lockdown measures that kept stores closed. Shops began to open on June 15 and were all open by early August.

The group's shares rose nearly 6 per cent in early London trading. The group issued its trading update to coincide with its annual meeting on Wednesday.

The clothing and homeware products group said their stores have performed well since they have reopened, with sales “ahead of the board’s expectations” at 10 per cent lower than the comparable period a year earlier.

“We are encouraged by the group's performance in the first quarter of the financial year with sales ahead of our expectations,” said chief executive Nick Jones.

Mr Jones said the group remains cautious but confident as it faces challenging conditions and “unprecedented levels of uncertainty”.

Joules has net cash of £8.5m, which was “significantly ahead” of expectations and nearly double the £4.5m it had at the end of the year.

Eurozone PMI survey points to stalling services sector recovery

Valentina Romei

Eurozone services activity contracted more than expected in September fuelling concerns that rising infections and tightening restrictions are already choking the region’s fragile economic recovery.

The bloc's purchasing manager index for services fell to 47.6 in September from 50.5 in the previous month. This is the lowest reading since May and worse than forecasts by economists who were polled by Reuters.

“A two-speed economy is evident, with factories reporting that production growth was buoyed by rising demand, notably from export markets and the reopening of retail in many countries,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

“But the larger service sector has sunk back into decline," he added, "as face-to-face consumer businesses in particular have been hit by intensifying virus concerns.”

Sterling slips as fears grow over coronavirus and Brexit

Camilla Hodgson in London

Sterling extended its slide as concern deepened over the pace of daily coronavirus infections that in turn bolstered the US dollar.

Equities in Europe meanwhile gained, with the Stoxx 600 index adding 1.4 per cent while Frankfurt's Dax rose 1.8 per cent. Germany's index has struck positive territory for the year, up 3.9 per cent for 2020. London's FTSE 100 rose 2 per cent.

The pound was down 0.3 per cent in early dealings on Wednesday, breaking below its 200-day moving average to trade at $1.2691. The currency has had a rocky week, hit by tighter restrictions in the UK and Spain aimed at halting a Covid-19 resurgence, as well as sustained uncertainty that the UK will complete its transition period without a deal with Brussels.

Fears that the worsening pandemic may stifle the economic recovery has proved a boon for the dollar. The currency, as measured against a basket of its trading peers, has strengthened this week as investors flocked to haven assets. The currency hit a high for the month on Wednesday, though it remains substantially below where it started the year, partly due to the US Federal Reserve’s interest-rate cuts.

The dollar “is still likely to weaken in the medium to long term, but over the next two weeks US fiscal uncertainty and Covid-19 trends in Europe may dominate price action once again”, said Jordan Rochester, global currencies strategist at Nomura.

Gold, which has been a big beneficiary of the weaker dollar, fell to its lowest point since July at $1,875 per troy ounce, down 1.3 per cent.

Business activity slows in UK as optimism wanes

Bethan Staton in London

A survey has shown that growth in business activity in the UK slowed this month. It indicated a rise in output over the summer could be weakened by tighter restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The IHS Markit/Cips UK flash composite purchasing managers index for September fell to 55.7, from a 72-month high of 59.1 last month. Business leaders reported a fall in optimism and consumer confidence.

The flash reading, which combines survey results from business leaders in manufacturing and services, is based on 85 per cent of the usual monthly responses.

“The UK economy lost some of its bounce in September, as the initial rebound from Covid-19 lockdowns showed signs of fading,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

Though significantly improved from a record low of 13.8 per cent in April, and signalling that private sector activity continued to increase, September’s flash reading represents stalling optimism.

Spending had risen sharply in July and August as consumers enjoyed relaxed restrictions and the “eat out to help out scheme” encouraged people to buy meals in restaurants and cafes. But a rise in coronavirus cases and the end of the government incentive meant growth slowed again this month.

Survey results indicated that September’s slowdown was particularly acute in services, and noted that employment numbers continued to decrease at a sharp pace.

Adidas and Puma shares lifted by Nike's upbeat forecast

Sarah Provan

Shares in German sportswear rivals Adidas and Puma were in buoyant mood in the wake of an upbeat forecast from US competitor Nike that benefited from a rise in online sales.

Nike’s sales have rebounded in big markets including China, Japan, South Korea, the UK and Germany, executives said on Tuesday. The news could bode well for Adidas and Puma since they each derive about a third of their revenue from the Asia-Pacific region.

The world’s largest sportswear maker by revenue said digital sales nearly doubled in the three months to the end of August, as online habits have become ingrained after lockdown measures forced shoppers to stay at home.

Nike shares climbed more than 13 per cent in pre-market trading. Its earnings, released on Tuesday, exceeded Wall Street expectations, as polled by S&P Capital IQ.

Adidas and Puma shares rose more than 5 per cent in mid-morning Frankfurt trading, outpacing the overall Stoxx 600 index that was recently 1.5 per cent higher. For the full year however the sportswear groups, both based in Herzogenaurach in Germany, have deviated. Puma shares have climbed 15.5 per cent this year while Adidas has fared less well, falling 1 per cent over 2020.

Saudi Arabia to resume 'lesser' Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca

Ahmed Al Omran in Jeddah

Saudi Arabia will allow Muslims based in the kingdom to perform the umrah pilgrimage in October for the first time in seven months after it was suspended due to the spread of coronavirus.

Umrah, also known as the lesser pilgrimage, last year attracted about 19m pilgrims who travelled to the holy city of Mecca to perform the rituals that can be undertaken year round.

About 6,000 citizens and residents of the kingdom would be allowed to perform umrah daily starting on October 4, the interior ministry said on Tuesday. The number represents 30 per cent of a revised capacity of the Grand Mosque in order to account for social distancing and other precautionary health measures. That number will rise to 15,000 pilgrims starting on October 18.

Visitors from specific countries deemed safe will be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage from November 1. A maximum limit of 20,000 pilgrims per day in total can perform umrah at the reduced capacity until the end of the pandemic, the ministry said.

The government said access to the Grand Mosque would be regulated using a new smartphone app that lets pilgrims choose from available time slots, as well as select the method of transport and other services.

The major hajj pilgrimage, which usually attracts around 3m, was conducted in a limited fashion earlier this year with around 1,000 people who were residents in Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has seen a steady decline in the virus spread in recent weeks, with the number of confirmed daily cases going below 1,000 since late August.

J&J launches first Phase 3 trial of single-dose Covid-19 vaccine

Hannah Kuchler

Johnson & Johnson became the first leading pharmaceuticals company to test a single-dose Covid-19 vaccine with the launch this week of a Phase 3 trial that will recruit 60,000 participants across three continents. 

The company’s decision to pursue a single-dose product may help its trials move faster than rivals that need to give two jabs, even though some other vaccine makers began their large studies in May and July. 

Researchers can start measuring efficacy from two weeks after the first dose, rather than waiting an extra four weeks for a participant to receive a second. 

Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at J&J, said a single dose could be “very important for emergency use”, as it could be rolled out rapidly. The company has pledged to make 1bn doses by the end of 2021. Positive results from a recent smaller trial, due to be published soon, suggested a single dose might be enough to give protection, the company said.

Dr Stoffels added that all the main vaccines were using the Sars-Cov-2 virus’s distinctive spike protein to get the immune system to recognise it — but J&J had taken longer to optimise its “potency”.

Click here to read more.

Iranian minister laments lack of access to €1bn pledged to beat virus

Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Iran's health industry has little access to the €1bn promised to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the health minister has said, warning of a "heavy autumn" ahead.

“For months we have only had a tiny share of the €1bn promised by the supreme leader to be allocated from the sovereign development fund," Saeed Namaki said in an open post on Instagram. "I have no idea what matter more important it is being put aside for."

Dr Namaki added: “Today, I feel shame on behalf of my soldiers in the health frontier. Their payments are overdue and my warehouses are being emptied of weapons [medicine]. Heavy autumn is approaching.”

The Islamic republic was struggling with the US’s toughest sanctions that have deprived it of most of its foreign exchange revenues when the Covid-19 crisis struck. Shortage of income has led to deficiencies in the medical sector and a rise in casualties, officials have acknowledged.

“I feel strangely lonely,” Dr Namaki said in Wednesday's post. “Nobody believes the pandemic cannot be curbed without special assistance."

He gave no details nor any clarification on which part of the political system was obstructing the allocation of the money.

Iran's coronavirus-related death toll hit 24,840 on Wednesday, of the 432,798 people who tested positive.

General Mills’ sales rise as pandemic boosts grocery demand

Matthew Rocco

General Mills registered strong sales in the three months to August, as the pandemic continued to buoy demand for grocery staples.

The company behind Cheerios cereal and Haagen-Dazs ice cream on Wednesday said net sales in its first fiscal quarter rose 9 per cent year-on-year to $4.4bn, beating analysts’ forecasts of $4.2bn in a Refinitiv poll. Sales in the North America retail segment were up 14 per cent amid growth in foods consumed at home.

US meals and baking products recorded a 31 per cent increase in sales, while cereals and yoghurts were up 10 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively. Sales in the snacks segment fell 2 per cent.

The results reflected “broad-based market share gains amid elevated at-home food demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic”, Jeff Harmening, chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. General Mills expects at-home food demand to remain elevated in its second quarter compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Away-from-home demand improved, although customer traffic remained below last year's levels at restaurants, hotels and convenience stores, the company added. Net sales in its convenience store and food service segment fell 12 per cent in the quarter, which ended on August 30.

General Mills’ pet business generated sales growth of 6 per cent on stronger demand for dog and cat food.

Net earnings climbed 23 per cent to $639m, or $1.03 a share. On an adjusted basis, General Mills earned $1 a share, better than the 87 cents projected by analysts. It lifted its quarterly dividend to 51 cents a share from 49 cents and its shares rose 1.7 per cent in pre-market trading.

Tighter Covid rules will scar UK economy further, BofA cautions

Harry Dempsey in London

Coronavirus-related restrictions put in place for the next six months will add to the problems facing the UK, likely tipping the economy into a double-dip recession, Bank of America has warned.

Escalating lockdown measures, fading stimulus measures and Brexit uncertainty will push the economy into contraction over the next two quarters, said Robert Wood, chief UK economist at BofA.

“A slower recovery will mean higher unemployment - we now expect a peak at 8.4 per cent - and more consumer caution, with potential feedback to growth,” he said. “A slower recovery also means more long-term scarring.”

In response to a rising coronavirus caseload, Boris Johnson unveiled more restrictions on Tuesday, including imposing mandatory mask-wearing for shop workers, a 10pm curfew for hospitality venues. He urged people to work from home if possible.

The government is considering a package of measures to protect jobs ahead of the expiry of the furlough scheme in October, the prime minister said on Wednesday.

BofA's Mr Wood said that the government needed to move fast to extend fiscal stimulus, while the Bank of England should cut interest rates to zero and expand quantitative easing to prop up the economy.

Fauci signals coronavirus vaccine unlikely before US election

Kiran Stacey in Washington

A coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to be approved before the US election, Anthony Fauci has warned, despite Donald Trump's insistence that one would be available "within weeks".

The head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told the Senate health committee on Wednesday that he expected the government to authorise a vaccine by the end of the year. But he added that this was unlikely to come before November, which would dash the US president's hopes for a pre-election boost.

Dr Fauci told the committee: "We feel cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe and effective vaccine, although there is never a guarantee of that. Early studies in animals and in human Phase 1 and Phase 2 [trials] indicate that individuals induce a response that is comparable to, if not better, than natural infection. And so as these trials go on we predict that sometime by the end of this year – let's say November or December – we will know whether or not these are safe and effective."

New York City to furlough 9,000 employees due to budget shortfall

Peter Wells in New York

New York City’s mayor has announced that more than 9,000 employees at city agencies will be required to each take a five-day furlough in coming months in an effort to plug a multibillion-dollar budget gap.

The furloughs, which will take place from the start of next month through to March, would apply to all managerial employees as well as workers not represented by unions, mayor Bill de Blasio said, and would save the city $21m.

This follows a similar announcement last week, when Mr de Blasio said about 500 employees from the mayor’s office — including himself — would take five unpaid days off between the start of October and March.

That largely symbolic gesture dealt out to City Hall staff, in addition to other savings, was estimated to save about $1m for the city, equivalent to a 12 per cent cut to the fiscal year 2021 budget for the mayor’s office. That, however, represents a sliver of the $9bn toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on New York City revenue.

The mayor had previously warned that without federal funding or permission from New York state to borrow long-term, the jobs of 22,000 city employees were at risk, but that plans for broad lay-offs had been put on hold as officials tried to work with unions to find other ways to save money and ultimately balance the city’s budget.

UK daily new cases rise past 6,000

Joshua Oliver

The UK reported more than 6,000 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday in a sign of how the second wave appears to be gaining momentum.

The 6,178 cases confirmed by testing compared with 4,926 on Tuesday, when prime minister Boris Johnson announced new measures to contain the spread of the virus. The daily total was up by 2,187 from the previous week, the most rapid increase since the new wave of infections began.

Mr Johnson warned earlier this week that cases had begun to rise in an “exponential way” and that the country must quickly take measures to reduce the spread lest it could once again put the NHS at risk of becoming overwhelmed.

Business Roundtable warns of economic damage without new stimulus

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson

The US economy still risks lasting long-term damage if the Trump administration and Congress cannot agree on further coronavirus stimulus, one of Washington’s leading business lobby groups argued on Wednesday.

The Business Roundtable’s quarterly survey of chief executives showed a partial pick-up in their plans for capital spending and employment since the summer, but described those plans as fragile.

“Business Roundtable urges the administration and Congress to come back to the negotiating table and pass more legislation to further ease the economic challenges American workers, small businesses and suppliers are experiencing,” said Doug McMillon, the Walmart chairman and chief executive who also chairs the group.

The federal government still needed to provide “further major support” to prevent the recovery from being derailed, added Josh Bolten, the BRT’s chief executive.

The poll showed that executives remained divided on when business conditions would rebound, with almost a quarter saying they had already done so or would do by the end of 2020, while 36 per cent expected conditions to stay weak until at least 2022.

The BRT’s index of CEO confidence rose 29.7 points to 64 from the second quarter to the third, but remained below its historic average of 81.7.

Florida reports biggest one-day rise in deaths in nearly two weeks

Peter Wells in New York

Florida reported more than 200 new coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, the biggest daily jump in almost two weeks.

A further 203 deaths attributed to Covid-19 were revealed by authorities this afternoon, up from 99 yesterday and compared with 154 last Wednesday.

It was the biggest one-day increase in fatalities since 213 were reported on September 10.

Florida conducted 54,483 Covid-19 tests over the past 24 hours, nearly 9,600 more than yesterday, and compared with 57,171 a week ago.

Of those, 2,590 people tested positive for the disease, up from 2,470 on Tuesday and compared with 2,355 a week ago. It was the biggest daily increase in four days.

The percentage of people in the state who tested positive for coronavirus for the first time eased to 5.3 per cent from a near two-week high of 5.85 per cent yesterday.

California coronavirus deaths rise by the most in a week

Peter Wells in New York

California reported its biggest daily rise in coronavirus deaths in a week on Wednesday.

A further 133 fatalities attributed to the disease were revealed by authorities this afternoon, up from 53 yesterday and compared with 164 last Wednesday.

California on Tuesday became the third US state to report more than 15,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The Golden State conducted 75,368 tests for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, down from 131,273 yesterday. Daily testing volumes have topped 100,000 for the past several days, but had sometimes slipped below the mark in recent weeks owing to wildfires resulting in the temporary closure of mobile testing facilities.

Of the latest batch of tests, 3,146 people in California tested positive for coronavirus, up from 2,630 on Tuesday and compared with 2,950 a week ago.

France tightens virus curbs on Paris and other cities

Victor Mallet in Paris

France is imposing stricter health controls in Paris and other cities – including a temporary closure of bars and restaurants in Marseille and Guadeloupe within days – in an attempt to curb a rise in the number of Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations, health minister Olivier Véran announced on Wednesday night.

“Let’s be clear. This situation is deteriorating across the board… The circulation of the virus continues to rise strongly,” he told a televised news conference. “If we don't take measures rapidly we will reach a critical situation in a few weeks.”

With more than two-thirds of French departments now classified as “red” or “alert” for rapid circulation of coronavirus, Mr Véran introduced a new classification system adding three extra and more severe categories based on the number of new infections, the proportion of elderly people affected and the strain on hospitals: high alert, maximum alert and state of health emergency.

No city or region is so far in the emergency category, while the Marseille-Aix-en-Provence metropolis in the south of France and the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean are on “maximum alert”, requiring a two-week closure of bars and restaurants and other measures.

Paris and its immediate suburbs, Lille, Toulouse, Saint-Etienne, Rennes, Rouen, Grenoble and Montpellier, are listed as being on “high alert”, which cuts the number of people allowed in an outdoor gathering to 1,000 from 5,000, although Mr Véran would not be drawn on whether this would apply to the French Open tennis tournament under way at Roland Garros. Bars will have to close by 10pm at the latest from Monday, and gyms and sports centres will also shut, while working at home is again encouraged.

Falling US tech stocks sour the mood in global equities

Colby Smith, Naomi Rovnick and Camilla Hodgson

US stocks dropped on Wednesday, failing to join a rally seen across European equity markets, as technology stocks fell and Federal Reserve officials highlighted the need for more support from Congress to support an economic recovery.

The S&P 500 closed lower by 2.4 per cent after its losses accelerated in late-afternoon trading, more than reversing gains made during Tuesday’s rally. It was the fifth decline in the past six trading sessions for the benchmark index, which is now more than 9 per cent off its most recent record high reached in August.

Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite fell more sharply, plummeting 3 per cent as an 10 per cent decline in Tesla shares dragged down the tech-heavy index. The electric vehicle maker’s shares were under pressure after founder Elon Musk pledged to halve the cost of the cars’ batteries, but also warned of “the extreme difficulty of scaling production of new technology”.

Apple and Alphabet also came under selling pressure, each down more than 3 per cent. Taken together, the Nasdaq has lost roughly 12 per cent of its value since peaking in August.

Investors were rattled by growing uncertainty about the outlook for the US economy. And Fed officials alluded to the muddied outlook in a series of public appearances on Wednesday.

Jay Powell, the Fed chairman, argued for Congress to do more to support the recovery, on top of the series of relief packages passed early in the pandemic, as did Charles Evans, Chicago Fed president. Richard Clarida, the Fed vice-chairman, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television that “the economy is recovering robustly, but we are still in a deep hole”.

“When you hear that from the raft of Fed speakers, particularly from the top, it is of concern,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist for Prudential Financial.

Krishna Guha, vice-chairman at Evercore ISI, said the Fed’s “increasingly shrill calls” for more fiscal support were “shaking confidence in the outlook given near-certainty that this additional fiscal support will not be forthcoming before January at the earliest”.

Ms Krosby added that fears about the emergence of a second wave of coronavirus infections, which could prompt localised lockdowns in order to stop the spread, would have devastating consequences both on the recovery and equities more broadly.

“Anything that jeopardises the recovery of the US economy makes the stock market vulnerable,” she said.

Israel to tighten lockdown as new infections touch record high

Mehul Srivastava in Tel Aviv

Israel's cabinet voted to tighten an ongoing lockdown to a near “hermetic” closure as new coronavirus infections hit record highs, and 15 per cent of Israelis tested showed evidence of the virus.

The new measures, which will be have to approved by parliament, will bring the Israeli economy to a shuddering halt — costing at least $10bn, a finance ministry official estimated — even as nearly one third of the working-age population is on unemployment insurance.

All businesses, excluding grocery stores and pharmacies, will be shuttered, and citizens will be restricted to a kilometer from their residences. That's more severe than the current lockdown, which has allowed people to commute to work if their offices are able to guarantee social distancing, and left a wide swathe of other
businesses open.

The tightening of the restrictions comes just as Israel experiences its busy holiday season, with Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Synagogues will be allowed to hold small prayers outdoors, but families will not be able to visit each other under the new regulations.

The contentious vote will also put a halt to weekly protests outside Mr Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence, with no more than 20 people allowed to gather outdoors, and only within a kilometer of their homes.

On Wednesday, just under 7,000 new infections were reported, the highest in the world on a per capita basis, as two Israeli hospitals started turning away patients due to capacity constraints. 57,000 people are currently ill with Covid-19, 658 seriously so, and 144 on ventilators, according to the health ministry.

Missouri governor tests positive for coronavirus

Peter Wells in New York

Missouri governor Mike Parson and his wife both tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday.

Mr Parson's wife Theresa had been showing cold-like symptoms and took a test earlier today, which came back positive for Covid-19. The governor subsequently took a test, which also yielded a preliminary positive result.

Mr Parson, a Republican, will now wait for official confirmation of the test, but said in a video message on Twitter that he felt “fine” and was not showing any symptoms. He and his wife, who also said she felt “fine” will undertake the necessary procedures and quarantine separately from each other.

Missouri's health department on Wednesday revealed 1,580 people in the state tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours and attributed a further 83 deaths to the disease. That took the statewide case tally to 116,946 and the overall death toll to 1,947.

Over the past seven days, Missouri has averaged 1,480 cases a day. Earlier this week, its rolling seven-day average of cases was about 30 shy of a peak rate of 1,591 a day in late July. On a per population basis, Missouri has averaged about 23 new cases a day per 100,000 people, which is the ninth highest rate in the US, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

While several high-profile officials through various levels of local, state and federal government in the US have tested positive, only one governor is known to have tested positive for the disease. Mike Stitt, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, revealed he had coronavirus in mid-July.

Ohio governor Mike DeWine had a close call in early August. The Republican governor was forced to cancel a planned meeting in Cleveland with Donald Trump after testing positive for Covid-19 just hours before the president's visit. A follow-up test for Mr DeWine came back negative, though.

Atlanta mayor Keisha Bottoms, a Democrat, revealed in early July she had tested positive for coronavirus.

Texas becomes fourth state to report 15,000 Covid deaths

Peter Wells in New York

Texas became the fourth US state to top 15,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic.

A further 135 people in the state died, authorities revealed this afternoon, up from 77 yesterday and on par with last Wednesday's increase.

That took the total number of fatalities in Texas to 15,129. Only New York, New Jersey and California have attributed more deaths to the disease.

A further 2,977 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, down from 3,964 on Tuesday and compared with 3,409 a week ago.

Texas has for weeks been adding cases from backlogs of tests at commercial laboratories to its statewide total, although these are left out of the daily figures.
On Wednesday, 415 such historical cases from five counties — but primarily the region around Houston — were added to the statewide total, which, at 719,599, is second only to California among US states.

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