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Beijing has barred the entry of a 10-member World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic after their visas were not approved.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said he was “very disappointed” after China blocked the arrival of the virologists. “Two members [of the team] had already begun their journeys and others were not able to travel at the last minute,” Mr Tedros said.

He added that the WHO had been in contact with Chinese officials who said they would expedite the visa approvals procedure. More than 86m people have been infected worldwide by coronavirus, which has claimed over 1.8m lives.

Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said: “This is certainly a bad omen for the upcoming WHO investigation in China. It’s not like the arrival was unexpected.”

China maintains that it welcomes the investigation, which will primarily focus on identifying when, where and how the Sars-Cov-2 virus that causes Covid-19 made the jump from animals to humans.

“Tracing the source [of the virus] is a complicated issue. To ensure that the international team’s work progresses smoothly, they must go through the necessary procedures,” Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said on Wednesday.

Separately, Mr Tedros told FT Health that “we will end the pandemic together if we have a chance to learn together”, as he argued for greater solidarity, universal health coverage and the need to rethink health as “an investment in the future, not a short-term cost”.

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Markets

Line chart of 10-year US government bond showing US 10-year Treasury breaches 1% for first time since March tumult

US government bond prices dropped to their lowest point since the start of the coronavirus crisis on Wednesday as investors bet that Democrats were poised to capture the Senate and clear the way for a larger stimulus package that could fuel economic growth and inflation.

Winton Group, once one of the world’s biggest and most successful hedge fund firms, has suffered a near-80 per cent drop in its assets over the past five years, with poor returns and client withdrawals accelerating in a tough 2020. Investor assets tumbled from $33.7bn in 2015 to $7.3bn in late 2020.

US credit markets had a frenetic start to 2021, with companies issuing more dollar bonds in the first two days of the year than ever before. In total, almost $50bn of new debt has already been lapped up by investors, according to data from Refinitiv.

Business

EU regulators recommended the approval of Moderna’s Covid vaccine, paving the way for its rollout on a continent in urgent need of more supply. The EU has ordered 80m doses, with an option to double the amount. The company expects to be able to manufacture up to 1bn doses this year.

Greggs, the UK bakery chain renowned for its sausage rolls, plans to open 100 shops this year including in central London, even as the pandemic leaves the group facing its first annual loss since listing in 1984. Chief executive Roger Whiteside said there were “good opportunities” for new shops with lower rents.

Governments need to step in to ramp up vaccine production, argues Moritz Schularick from Leuphana University. Manufacturers have little interest in expanding hugely because newly built facilities would then stand empty. They need subsidies for production, premiums for faster deliveries or a switch to a “Covid war economy” with mass production imposed.

Global economy

Sydney plans to host Australia’s traditional Test cricket match with India despite concerns it could lead to “super-spreading”, even as the surge in infections in Los Angeles forced the postponement of the annual Grammy Hollywood awards. The world’s biggest events organiser Informa said it expected many exhibitions and conferences to resume in six months.

Proposed grants for EU member states to counter Covid-19 recession, top ten (€bn)

Italy and Spain, the two largest recipients of Brussels’ €750bn Covid-19 recovery fund, face administrative bottlenecks in spending unprecedented EU financial support over the coming years, experts and economists have warned. The countries have a historically poor record in spending EU money. 

The new Covid-19 strain should force policymakers and markets to pay more attention to the unusually large dispersion in performance in big economies, a significant worsening in inequality and deeper economic scarring, argues Mohamed El-Erian. With a prolonged crisis in 2021, there is a danger of “irresponsible risk-taking by investors and debt issuers”.

Have your say

In response to Gustav Oertzen’s call that governments need to step in to ramp up vaccine production, FT reader Thomas Crampton writes:

“As we move from lab scale to global-scale production, weak links will emerge across the supply chain. For instance, RNA producers face shortages of LNPs, DNA plasmids and other critical materials. This can only be resolved through cross-industry collaboration, supported by governments.”

The essentials

Microsoft’s Teams booms in the pandemic

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, says Teams is on its way to becoming a digital platform as significant as the internet browser, or a computer operating system. The number of daily active users jumped to 115m by the end of September, from 13m in the middle of 2019. Users spent 30bn minutes — an average of more than four hours per person — per day in video conferences, working on shared documents and reviewing meetings.

Final thought

Coronavirus will help shape the books to read in 2021, whether in the form of titles postponed by the pandemic or as the subject of new ones. Forthcoming publications cover Brexit, imperialism, ethnicity and meritocracy. Fiction includes Jeet Thayil’s retelling of the New Testament from the female point of view and Wole Soyinka’s first novel in 47 years.

We would really like to hear from you. Please send your reactions or suggestions to covid@ft.com. Thanks

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