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

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Despite the pandemic, American consumers are forecast to open their wallets this holiday shopping season — even if they will be doing much of it online. Over the 75-day period leading up to Christmas, retail sales are predicted to increase 2.4 per cent from the same period a year ago, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.

The pandemic’s boost to the digital, automation and technology industries is set to exacerbate gender inequality, as new jobs are being taken largely by men. Nearly 800,000 new positions have been created in programming and related services across the EU, US, UK, Japan and Australia this year, FT analysis shows.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, has sunk into a second recession in less than five years, battered by the oil price crash brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Gross domestic product contracted 3.6 per cent in the three months to September 30, after shrinking 6.1 per cent in the previous quarter, official data show.

Singapore and Hong Kong suspended plans to launch a “travel bubble” from Sunday that would have enabled passengers between the two Asian cities to skip quarantine under certain circumstances. The plan was postponed for two weeks after Hong Kong reported 43 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday.

Technicians work at the Regeneron laboratory in Tarrytown, New York

Regeneron has received US emergency approval for its antibody treatment, which was hailed by president Donald Trump as a cure for his Covid-19. The Food and Drug Administration greenlighted the antibody cocktail for the treatment of mild-to-moderate Covid-19 patients at high risk of developing severe symptoms.

NetJets, a private jet operator owned by Berkshire Hathaway, is ordering more aircraft next year as private aviation rebounds faster than commercial airlines. Columbus, Ohio-based NetJets said it would order 40-50 planes in 2021. The company had earlier cut its order to about 30 this year, down from 60 in 2019.

UK technology group Sage’s reliance on software subscriptions has grown as it works to boost overall recurring revenue, which it expects to rise by up to 5 per cent over the next financial year. The growth was tempered by a 25.8 per cent fall in other sales. Total revenue dipped 1.7 per cent to £1.9bn.

Wish, the ecommerce platform that sells cheap Asia-made goods to the masses, said it had revenue of $1.7bn in the first nine months of 2020, up nearly a third on last year, as it prepares for an initial public offering in New York. Wish said the coronavirus pandemic had affected business, disrupting supply chains from China.

Only 32% support UK handling of pandemic, poll finds

Just 32 per cent of British adults approve of their government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the same level as a fortnight ago despite hopes over a vaccine, according to a new survey.

However, the percentage disapproving has fallen to 47 per cent from 51 per cent two weeks ago.

The Opinium Research survey found that 66 per cent of respondents said they would be likely to take a vaccine if it is free, available and the government recommended such a course. Only 24 per cent said they would not be vaccinated.

However, if the vaccine is not free of charge, 58 per cent said they would be vaccinated, while 31 per cent said they would be unlikely to do so.

Compulsory vaccination was supported by 42 per cent of respondents, the poll found. Almost two thirds, 64 per cent, supported a ban on the posting of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories online.

Roughly half of UK adults, 51 per cent, said they were worried that a vaccine might not be safe, while 47 per cent doubted its efficacy and 57 per cent were concerned about possible side effects.

Opinium found that 54 per cent of UK adults would prefer Covid-19 restrictions to be in place over Christmas if it means that fewer restrictions would be required in January.

The pollsters surveyed 2,001 adults on November 19-20.

Toronto to enter lockdown after record high new cases

People with and without masks walk past the Hudson’s Bay flagship store in Toronto’s Queen Street

George Russell

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, ordered a lockdown on metropolitan Toronto from Monday after a record high number of new coronavirus cases were reported at the weekend.

The province recorded 1,534 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, following a record 1,588 on Saturday, prompting officials to impose a lockdown on Canada’s largest city.

Of the total, about 460 were reported in Toronto, 490 in Peel Region, and 130 in York Region, according to provincial health minister Christine Elliott.

From Monday, all outdoor dining areas will be shut in Toronto as well as neighbouring Peel.

“Take-out, drive-thru and delivery options remain available and are strongly encouraged to support local businesses,” the city said in a statement.

Toronto mayor John Tory urged city residents to follow the health guidelines as the city closed many stores. Malls were shut, except for essential businesses. Large retailers with a grocery section can remain open at 50 per cent capacity.

All hair salons, barber shops, nail salons and tattoo parlours, indoor gyms and recreational programmes are suspended.

“Residents are asked to stay home, except for essential trips for groceries, health care, child care, school and work,” the Toronto city statement said.

Canada has reported more than 326,000 cases since the pandemic began, with more than 11,400 fatalities. Of those, Ontario accounted for about 104,000 cases and 3,500 deaths.

Health officials warned of a heightened threat to the country as the holiday season approached.

“Both community transmission and outbreaks are contributing to Covid-19 spread in Canada, including spread to high risk populations and settings,” Theresa Tam, the country’s chief medical officer, said on Sunday.

“Our best protection, now and into the holiday season, is to limit errands and outings to the essentials, keep in-person social activities to our existing household and strictly and consistently maintain public health practices,” she added.

NZ on alert as incoming passengers test positive

Higher than usual numbers of arrivals to New Zealand are testing positive for coronavirus, raising fears of new outbreaks as Christmas and New Year approach, the country’s health ministry said on Sunday.

Nine passengers from France, the Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, US, UK, Bangladesh, Spain and Italy have been quarantined in recent days after Covid-19 tests.

“The varied origins of these cases is a clear reminder that as Covid-19 continues to batter countries and jurisdictions around the globe, mandatory isolation and testing will continue to be of critical importance,” the ministry said in a statement.

The country would be on high alert as more New Zealanders return home before the holiday period.

G20 leaders pledge global access to vaccines

Chris Giles

Leaders of the Group of 20 nations pledged to “spare no effort” to ensure cheap, global access to Covid-19 vaccines, even as they failed to make specific commitments on the distribution of early doses.

After a virtual G20 summit of the world’s advanced economies hosted by Saudi Arabia, leaders said they fully supported collaborative efforts to purchase and distribute coronavirus vaccines even though the US has so far declined to join the World Health Organisation’s flagship vaccine distribution scheme, Covax.

G20 nations have bought up almost all of the available doses of the two most promising Covid-19 vaccines from Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership. The companies were the first to release data from phase 3 clinical trials and both shots have demonstrated an efficacy rate of more than 94 per cent.

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Greece to reopen economy ‘with great caution’

Presidential Guard soldiers march at a ceremony in Athens

Greece reported 1,498 new coronavirus cases on Sunday — one of the highest daily totals on record — as the country’s investment minister cautioned against reopening the economy too quickly.

All but 22 were locally transmitted, the national health body known as EODY said.

“We will open the economy with great caution,” development and investment minister Adonis Georgiadis said on Sunday in a television interview with the Piraeus-based Skai TV.

It is expected that some sectors related to Christmas will be reopened, such as toy stores.

Mr Georgiadis said shops could only reopen under strict conditions, such as the wearing of masks, social distancing and capacity limits. He urged retailers to adopt an online ordering and goods pick-up system to minimise human contact.

Greece has recorded 91,619 cases since the pandemic began, EODY reported.

Delta casts doubt on NY-London air corridor

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, Philip Georgiadis and Peggy Hollinger

Delta Air Lines has cast doubt on hopes of opening an air corridor on the lucrative route between New York and London, saying it would be easier to relaunch transatlantic flights to “just about any” other European capital.

The route has been among the busiest and most profitable for carriers including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, and is a priority for US airlines working to open up such corridors, which could exempt passengers from quarantining on arrival.

But Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, told the Financial Times that it would be easier to open such a corridor to almost any other European hub than London.

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Hong Kong probes dance studios over new outbreak

George Russell

Hong Kong’s government on Sunday ordered compulsory testing for Covid-19 for any person who had visited any of 14 dance studios and clubs.

Authorities invoked the mandatory test provisions of its Covid-19 legislation to track down potential infections from an outbreak believed to have originated in dance studios between November 1 and 21.

“The local epidemic situation is worsening rapidly,” a Food and Health Bureau statement said on Sunday. “The number of confirmed cases of a cluster related to dancing activities and dancing venues continued to increase significantly in the past few days.”

The dance clubs and studios are mainly located on Hong Kong Island and in the Kowloon area.

Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection reported 68 new cases of coronavirus disease on Sunday, the highest daily total since June. The Chinese city of 7.5m people has recorded 224 new cases in the past two weeks.

Liverpool trial aims to end need to self-isolate

Soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Artillery operate a Covid-19 testing centre at Anfield stadium in Liverpool

Anna Gross and Andy Bounds

Rapid testing will be used to prevent people exposed to coronavirus from having to self-isolate under a new testing strategy being piloted in Liverpool.

Under the plan, people who have come into contact with someone who has Covid-19 will be offered a rapid test every day for seven days, and they will not need to isolate unless they receive a positive result, UK prime minister Boris Johnson will announce on Monday.

If the trial is successful, it will be rolled out across the NHS and care homes in December, before being extended to the entire population from January.

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Singapore reports 1 patient in intensive care unit

Only one Covid-19 patient in Singapore is receiving intensive care, the island-state’s health ministry reported on Sunday.

The patient remains in critical condition, the ministry said, adding that a total of 26 people are receiving hospital care for coronavirus. The others are in stable or improving condition.

Singapore reported 12 cases on Sunday, all imported from India, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Two merchant mariners are being isolated, one ashore and one on board a ship.

Australian PMI indicates sustained confidence

George Russell

The expansion in the Australian private sector strengthened midway through the fourth quarter as pandemic containment measures were eased further, according to purchasing managers’ index survey data released on Monday.

Business activity growth accelerated in November, led by the services sector, with the IHS Market Flash Australia Composite Output Index hitting a four-month high of 54.7 in November, compared with October’s reading of 53.5.

Readings above 50.0 signal an improvement in business activity over the previous month while readings below that level show deterioration. The index is a gross domestic product-weighted average of the IHS Markit Flash Manufacturing Output Index and the IHS Markit Flash Services Business Activity Index.

Inflows of new business rose further, but at a noticeably slower rate when compared to output, IHS noted.

Business sentiment continued to improve and was the strongest for more than two years as more firms anticipated further recovery momentum to boost business activity.

Employment rose for the first time in 10 months.

Bernard Aw, IHS Markit’s principal economist in Singapore, said the recovery set the scene for a stronger economic performance during the final quarter of 2020.

“A sustained increase in business activity saw firms boost their headcounts for the first time since January, with factory hiring particularly robust,” he said.

Mr Aw warned that a subdued rise in new business remains a concern. “Renewed lockdown measures in parts of the world ... may keep border controls and travel restrictions in place for a longer period, thereby dampening external demand,” he said.

South Korea to introduce stricter social distancing

Edward White

South Korea will strengthen its social distancing rules over Seoul from Tuesday as the country grapples with increasing rates of coronavirus transmission.

Health officials have moved the greater Seoul area to the third-toughest level in its tiered social distancing system – level 2 – meaning that gatherings of more than 100 people are banned and limitations affecting restaurants and other higher-risk multi-use facilities are tightened further.

About half of the country’s 52m people live in the sprawling capital.

The moves were announced after South Korea on Sunday reported more than 300 new infections for the fifth straight day, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

On Monday Seoul reported 271 new cases, according to state news agency, Yonhap.

Under South Korea’s social distancing scheme, which was revised this month, the country is divided into seven zones, meaning distancing rules can be applied depending on the severity of Covid-19 outbreaks.

Asia’s fourth-biggest economy has been rated as one of the top countries in the OECD for its handling of the global pandemic. However, the latest outbreak underscores the lingering danger to economies despite optimism over vaccine development.

New York governor calls for jobless benefits extension

Andrew Cuomo, New York state’s governor, on Sunday called on the US Congress to renew and expand federal support programmes for unemployed Americans that are due to expire at the end of the year.

He said 1.2m of New York state’s 20m residents are receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits for freelancers, the self-employed and others who do not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.

Mr Cuomo said the state had paid more than $55bn in unemployment benefits to 3.8m people this year, which represents more than 26 years’ worth of normal payouts.

Nationwide, more than 20m Americans are receiving jobless benefits, including 12m covered by programmes that will expire on December 31.

China calls for vigilance over Shanghai cluster

Visitors from an ethnic minority wear masks as they look at the Pudong skyline

Christian Shepherd

A small cluster of locally transmitted coronavirus cases has been discovered in Shanghai, as the Chinese government urges vigilance to ward off winter outbreaks.

Health authorities in Shanghai’s Pudong district announced on Sunday that two new cases of locally transmitted Covid-19 infections were discovered, as authorities traced contacts of three cases confirmed earlier over the weekend.

Some of the cases have been freight workers at the Pudong international airport, prompting local authorities to carry out mass swab testing of staff through the night on Sunday.

Despite the spread of coronavirus being almost entirely controlled within China, the national government has warned local authorities to be alert and guard against a winter relapse.

Separately, in Manzhouli, a city of 300,000 on China’s border with Russia, a mass testing drive was launched on Sunday after two cases of unknown origin were discovered. Local authorities put in place a partial lockdown, disinfecting streets and suspending buses and trains.

Wu Zunyou, an epidemiologist at China’s centre for disease control, told the Beijing Daily newspaper that the winter months would continue to put more pressure on China’s efforts to secure borders against a return of the epidemic.

He said he expected only scattered cases and not a large-scale outbreak.

Cathay, Singapore shares fall as ‘bubble’ bursts

Hudson Lockett

Shares in Cathay Pacific tumbled after Hong Kong and Singapore suspended plans for a “travel bubble” allowing for faster, quarantine-free travel between the two cities.

Hong Kong’s flag carrier, which jumped 14.5 per cent on the day the bubble was announced, saw its stock fall as much as 6.6 per cent on Monday following the delay.

The two Asian financial hubs had planned to launch a travel corridor from Sunday enabling passengers to skip quarantine under certain circumstances.

But the scheme was postponed for two weeks after Hong Kong reported 43 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday.

Shares in Singapore Airlines fell as much as 1.7 per cent.

Protection against reinfection ‘lasts at least 8 months’

Jamie Smyth

Australian researchers have discovered that people who have been infected with Covid-19 have sustained protection against reinfection for at least eight months.

Monash University in Melbourne, which led the study, said the research provides some of the strongest evidence to date for the likelihood that vaccines against the Sars-CoV-2 virus will work for long periods.

Previous studies have shown that the first wave of antibodies to coronavirus wanes after the first few months, raising concerns that people might lose their immunity quickly.

However, Australian researchers found that all patients in their study continued to have memory B cells that recognised one of two components of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, the spike and nucleocapsid proteins.

These virus-specific memory B cells were stably present as far as eight months after infection, which the researchers say gives hope to the efficacy of any vaccine against the virus, said Monash.

Sun-worshippers gather at Manly Beach in Sydney. Australian cities are braced for a busy domestic summer as international and interstate border restrictions remain

Menno van Zelm, associate professor at Monash, said the results could explain why there have been so few examples of genuine reinfection across the millions of those who have tested positive for the virus globally.

“These results are important because they show, definitively, that patients infected with the Covid-19 virus do in fact retain immunity against the virus and the disease,” he said.

“This ... gives real hope that, once a vaccine or vaccines are developed, they will provide long-term protection,” Mr van Zelm added.

The study is one of a host of global research programmes examining immunity to Covid-19 and is published today in the preprint server MedRxiv. It is a multicentre collaboration involving Monash and the Alfred Research Alliance between Monash University, the Alfred Hospital and the Burnet Institute.

For the study, researchers recruited a cohort of 25 Covid-19 patients and took 36 blood samples from them from four days after infection to 242 days after infection.

China-backed lender to focus on healthcare

Stefania Palma

The Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is setting up a department focused on healthcare and education infrastructure after the coronavirus pandemic exposed the region’s weaknesses in the area.

The AIIB had long been considering a healthcare unit but Covid-19 accelerated its plans, said Erik Berglöf, the bank’s chief economist, who is working on the new department’s launch.

“Definitely, Covid-19 has shown the importance of the primary healthcare system in offering resilience to pandemics,” Mr Berglöf told the Financial Times. “We saw that in many countries in Asia, the basic healthcare system didn’t hold up very well. That’s clearly something that needs to be addressed.”

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Abu Dhabi oil company finds new reserves

Simeon Kerr

Abu Dhabi unveiled the discovery of 22bn barrels of unconventional oil reserves as the Gulf producer pledged $122bn in capital expenditure for its national oil company over the next five years.

The spending plan would drive about $44bn into the United Arab Emirates over the next five years, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company said, through a programme seeking to channel investment back into the domestic economy and create jobs for Emiratis.

The economy has been dented by the economic toll of coronavirus and lower oil prices.

The emirate’s Supreme Petroleum Council said it had also discovered 2bn barrels of conventional oil, bringing its recoverable reserves up to 107bn, the sixth-largest in the world.

The council also “commended Adnoc for its robust and proactive response to Covid-19 throughout this year”, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, wrote on Twitter.

In a statement, Adnoc said the 22bn in unconventional oil — which needs costlier methods to extract — was a larger reserve than its conventional fields. “The production potential ranks alongside the most prolific North American shale oil plays,” it said.

The announcement of new reserves comes amid tensions between Abu Dhabi and its close ally Riyadh after the UAE in the summer exceeded its production quota set by Opec, the oil group led by Saudi Arabia.

The council’s approval of capital expenditure for 2021-2025 marks a reduction in the last five-year plan of 2018, which projected $132bn in spending through 2023. The oil-rich emirate is targeting an increase in output capacity from 4m barrels a day to 5m barrels a day by 2030.

Japan to ditch seals in digitisation drive

Robin Harding, Kana Inagaki and Leo Lewis

Japan’s new minister for administrative reform said that sweeping away the centuries-old tradition of stamping documents with a hanko would open the way to digitising Japan’s government.

Selected for the task after high-profile stints as foreign and defence minister, Taro Kono’s assault on the seal reveals new prime minister Yoshihide Suga’s determination to reform the hidebound Japanese state.

The coronavirus outbreak has exposed Japan’s backwardness on digitisation, which posed hurdles as the country tried to adopt online medicine and other digital tools to combat the pandemic.

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Chinese consumers more confident about travel

Chinese consumers are more confident about domestic travel, but business travel is likely to trail leisure in a post-Covid-19 recovery, according to an HSBC survey released on Monday.

Only 8 per cent of respondents said they were unlikely to undertake any domestic leisure travel, while half said they were unlikely to visit international destinations.

Most respondents said they would wait at least six months after quarantine restrictions are relaxed to once again become comfortable with international travel, with an effective vaccine key to boosting confidence.

Japan emerged as the top preferred cross-border destination, replacing Thailand, which was the most favoured destination before the pandemic.

Respondents were asked: “If the border reopens for the following foreign destinations, requiring a negative Covid-19 test result taken within seven days and manual visa application, where will you consider visiting?”

South Korea was the second-favourite country, followed by Singapore, Thailand and “nowhere”.

Respondents expressed a “fear of getting infected” in Macau, the gambling haven

Hong Kong and Macau, though Chinese regions, subject mainland Chinese visitors to immigration checks. Hong Kong polled second overall, just ahead of South Korea.

Macau ranked 11th as respondents expressed a “fear of getting infected”, even though the former Portuguese colony has been coronavirus-free since the end of June.

“This reinforces our view that short-haul travel will recover earlier than long-haul international travel,” an HSBC research team led by Parash Jain concluded.

The study showed respondents are booking flights more in advance now than they were before the pandemic, perhaps reflecting greater demand for leisure travel than business travel.

HSBC surveyed 1,200 people, 55 per cent from second- or lower-tier cities, and 25 per cent were based in Guangdong. Beijing and Shanghai each accounted for 10 per cent of the total sample. The majority of respondents had travelled since 2017.

UK motor insurers on road to profit boost

Oliver Ralph

The UK’s motor insurers are set to enjoy a boost from the pandemic, according to forecasts, as reduced traffic and fewer accidents deliver a return to underwriting profit.

Motor insurers often make a loss at the underwriting level, which is compensated by income from other parts of their business such as administration fees and investment profits.

But there will be a one-off boost in 2020 owing to quieter roads as lockdowns kept people at home.

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Maharashtra hints at lockdown and Delhi travel ban

A health worker collects a swab sample at a market in Mumbai

Benjamin Parkin

Officials in Maharashtra, the state that is home to India’s financial capital of Mumbai, have hinted at a new lockdown as it prepares for a possible second wave of coronavirus.

Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister, said that authorities would “review the situation for next 8-10 days and then a decision will be taken about the lockdown”, the Mint newspaper reported.

Maharashtra is considering a suspension of travel to and from Delhi, which has experienced a sharp recent rise in infections.

A new lockdown would prove a severe blow to India’s richest state, which for months was the worst hit nationwide but has enjoyed a recent drop in reported infections.

Maharashtra has recorded a total of more than 1.7m cases and nearly 50,000 deaths, but new daily infections have fallen to about 5,000 from 20,000 in September.

Uddhav Thackeray, the state’s chief minister, warned citizens about losing discipline over precautions like social distancing.

“We are at a crossroads now,” he said, according to the Hindustan Times.

“The numbers have come down in Maharashtra,” he added. "We have to decide which way we want to go. Do we want to go the lockdown way? We need to take control of our actions.”

Turkey sees record cases during first lockdown

Turkey recorded 6,017 coronavirus cases on Sunday — an all-time daily high — as the country endured its first weekend lockdown, health ministry data show.

The record beat the 5,532 cases detected on Saturday.

Turkey now has identified 446,822 cases among its 82m people. Sunday also saw 139 deaths, bringing the total to 12,358.

More than 155,000 Covid-19 tests were conducted across the country, taking the total to more than 17m.

Fahrettin Koca, health minister, pleaded with Turks to help combat the surge.

“We are in a test of sacrifice in combating the pandemic,” he wrote on Twitter. “Stay home even in unrestricted times ... as the time spent at home increases, our fighting power will increase.”

From this week, Turkey imposed a partial weekend curfew from 8pm to 10am.

Pakistan prime minister warns of second wave threat

Thousands of mourners attend the funeral of Khadim Hussain Rizvi in Lahore

Stephanie Findlay

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan said that the country’s second coronavirus wave is concerning, flagging an increasing number of patients requiring ventilators in hospitals.

He said the number of patients on ventilators had risen 200 per cent in Peshawar and Multan, 148 per cent in Karachi, 114 per cent in Lahore and 65 per cent in Islamabad. He added that ventilator capacity in Multan and Islamabad had risen to 70 per cent.

Mr Khan blamed the second wave on the opposition hosting rallies. “I do not want to take measures like a lockdown that will start hurting our economy which at the moment is showing signs of a robust recovery,” he added.

Pakistan is reporting a second wave of coronavirus infections after an initial spike in early summer. Large events, including political rallies and funerals, have raised fears that cases will surge in the cold winter months.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people gathered at Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan monument to offer funeral prayers for Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a radical cleric who died on Thursday.

Pakistan has recorded more than 376,000 infections and 7,600 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, significantly fewer than neighbouring India and Iran, but new case numbers have started climbing in recent weeks.

Monaco emerges as haven from virus storm

Victor Mallet

Monaco has long been a comfortable bolt-hole by the sea, free from personal income tax, where wealthy residents can moor their superyachts for fast getaways.

Despite its population density — 38,000 people live in just 500 acres — Monaco’s ministers say the pandemic has not dulled the attractions of Monte Carlo and the enclave’s other tightly packed neighbourhoods overlooking the Ligurian Sea on the Côte d’Azur.

If anything, they insist, the worldwide threats of disease, political instability — and ultimately the risk of higher taxes to pay for governments’ deficit-financed economic recovery plans — make a foothold in Monaco more desirable.

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Close relative of Covid-19 virus found in frozen bat

Researchers have found a close relative of the virus that causes Covid-19 in bats stored in a Cambodian freezer for 10 years.

The virus, along with a second discovered in Japan, are the first known relatives of Sars-CoV-2 to be found outside China, the magazine Nature reported on Monday.

The two Shamel’s horseshoe bats, Rhinolophus shameli, were captured in northern Cambodia in 2010.

“Strong evidence suggests that Sars-CoV-2 originated in horseshoe bats, but whether it passed directly from bats to people, or through an intermediate host, remains a mystery,” Nature reported.

Meanwhile, a team in Japan has reported the discovery of another closely related coronavirus found in frozen bat droppings, according to Nature.

The World Health Organization is coordinating a search across Asia for the pandemic’s animal origin.

Aviation chiefs intensify calls for testing

Philip Georgiadis and Peggy Hollinger

Aviation bosses have stepped up calls for coronavirus tests for airline passengers to replace quarantine as they warn that the vaccine breakthrough may distract from the immediate priority to open up air travel.

The chief executives of British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Airbus and easyJet have ratcheted up pleas to countries such as the UK to introduce pre-flight testing as industry losses mount following the collapse in passenger numbers.

Although welcoming Pfizer’s successful trials that prompted a rally in shares, they warn of the time it may take to meet the huge logistical challenge of immunising large sections of the world’s population.

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AstraZeneca and Oxford university say vaccine shows high efficacy

Donato Paolo Mancini and Clive Cookson in London

The coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford university and AstraZeneca has shown greater than expected efficacy, a landmark finding that will boost hopes there is a way out of the pandemic for countries without access to jabs made by rival drug makers.

Oxford and AstraZeneca said on Monday two different dosing regimens showed different levels of efficacy in late-stage trials in the UK and Brazil.

When the vaccine was given as a half dose, followed by a full one at least one month later, efficacy was 90 per cent. When the jab was given as two full doses at least one month apart, efficacy was 62 per cent. The average efficacy was 70 per cent.

All results were statistically significant and greater than the efficacy sought by both the US Food And Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency.

AstraZeneca said it would submit the data for regulatory approval “immediately”.

EU to have six vaccine contracts within days, France says

Victor Mallet in Paris

The EU should have signed six contracts with different producers for the supply of coronavirus vaccines by the end of this month, according to Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the French junior finance minister responsible for industry.

She told Radio J that each agreement — four of them signed and two on the verge of completion — was for firm orders of 200-300m doses plus an optional extra 100-200m, except the Moderna deal which was for 80m because of the complexity of manufacturing involved. France would receive 15 per cent of the volumes in accordance with its population size.

“Each has to be tested, three are almost at the end of the qualification process but nothing must prejudge the completion of clinical trials,” Ms Pannier-Runacher said.

The European Medicines Agency could issue its first approval of a Covid-19 vaccine next month. Most of the vaccines and their ingredients would be produced in Europe, she added.

Ms Pannier-Runacher also said France was increasing its domestic production of surgical masks to 100m a week in December from 60m now, with French output having increased thirty-fold since the start of the pandemic.

Cineworld secures $450m in emergency funding

Alice Hancock

Cineworld, the world's second-largest cinema chain, has secured $450m in emergency funding, giving it $4.9bn in total debt financing to see it through the remainder of the Covid-19 crisis.

The group has agreed the new loan, an extension of its $111m revolving credit facility and waivers on all of its bank covenants until June 2022, it said on Monday.

It will also issue equity warrants of up to around 10 per cent of its ordinary issued share capital after undertaking crunch talks with lenders in order to secure funding. This follows the indefinite closure of the group's 657 cinemas across the US and UK.

Despite attempting to reopen cinemas earlier in the crisis, the industry struggled to attract audiences after the Hollywood studios delayed nearly all of this year's major blockbusters. Cineworld said that it was now operating under a likely scenario that its cinemas would reopen in May 2021.

Mooky Greidinger, Cineworld's chief executive, said: "The measures we are announcing today deliver over $750m of extra liquidity to support our business. Over the long term, the operational improvements we have put in place since the start of the pandemic will further enhance Cineworld’s profitability and resilience."

Chair Alicja Kornasiewicz said that the group had been facing "severe financial challenges".

Hancock says Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccinations to begin next month

Harry Dempsey

The UK health secretary said that patients would receive the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford university and AstraZeneca as soon as December, subject to regulatory approval, in a step towards a return to normality as soon as the summer.

“We hope to be able to start vaccinating next month," Matt Hancock told the BBC Breakfast show. "The bulk of the vaccine roll-out programme will be in January, February, March and we hope that sometime after Easter, things will be able to start to get back to normal.”

On Monday, the drug developers said two different dosing regimens showed different levels of efficacy in late-stage trials in the UK and Brazil. When the vaccine was given as a half dose, followed by a full one at least one month later, efficacy was 90 per cent.

The UK has procured 100m doses of their vaccine, adding to the 255m doses it has secured through other pharmaceutical companies. Mr Hancock said in a separate interview on BBC Radio 4 that a low single-digit number of million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would be available this year.

It was encouraging that the trial results showed that nobody who had received the vaccine was hospitalised with Covid-19 and there was “some evidence” that the vaccine also reduced transmission of the virus, the health secretary said.

Mr Hancock noted the challenges ahead for the vaccine to receive approval from the UK regulator for medicines and the logistics of a large-scale programme.

However, he urged that “it is so important that the measures in place continue until the vaccine can make us safe”, referring to the reintroduction of a strengthened tier system when England comes out of lockdown on December 2.

Business secretary Alok Sharma praised the data as “very promising”, adding that: “We are on the cusp of a huge scientific breakthrough that could protect millions of lives.”

Daily Mail owner raises dividend even as profit drops by one-third

Alex Barker in London

DMGT, the owner of the Daily Mail, has increased its dividend despite a grim year for advertising that cut its underlying profits before tax by more than a third in 2020.

The group, which spans news titles, events and data businesses, said it was still unable to provide precise guidance on future trading because of the severity of the pandemic.

Underlying revenues fell 10 per cent to £1.2bn in the year to September 30, while profit before tax dropped by 36 per cent to £72m.

But DMGT, whose controlling shareholder is Lord Rothermere, approved a 1 per cent increase in the dividend to 24.1p “despite the weaker profit outlook and deteriorating global economy”. Paul Zwillenberg, chief executive, said the decision reflected “our long term perspective and our confidence in the future”.

The year was particularly difficult for DMGT’s events and exhibitions business, which suffered a 33 per cent drop in revenue and 83 per cent fall in adjusted operating profit.

Underlying revenues at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday newspaper titles fell 12 per cent to £356m, while MailOnline revenues increased by 3 per cent to £144m. The Metro free sheet was hit harder, with revenues falling 40 per cent in 2020.

Shops to reopen next month as Johnson to set out Covid winter plan

FT reporters

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, will present a Covid-19 winter plan to parliament on Monday as ministers agree a UK-wide strategy that includes a toughened tier system of measures to come into effect next month.

The UK government is expected to allow non-essential shops and gyms to reopen in the run-up to Christmas while the government is likely to scrap the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants. However, in the worst affected coronavirus areas pubs may remain closed.

Matt Hancock, health secretary, confirmed that a tougher version of tier 3 would be introduced after England emerges from its national lockdown on December 2.

"We need to make sure we bring down cases of the virus, not just flatten it," he told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Leaders from the devolved nations over the weekend agreed to allow some mixing between households for a “small number of days” over the festive period.

The leaders have “endorsed a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling”, with final arrangements to be made this week.

Read more about government’s UK-wide festive plans here.

France’s services sector hit by fresh lockdown rules

Valentina Romei

France’s services activity dropped in November as coronavirus restrictions closed restaurants, bars and other businesses, pointing to an economic downturn in the final quarter of the year.

Data compiler IHS Markit said its flash France purchasing managers index for services fell to a six-month low of 38 in November, down from 46.5 in the previous month.

The figure was in line with the 37.7 forecast by economists polled by Reuters and well below the 50 mark whereby a majority of businesses report a deterioration.

France returned to a national lockdown on October 30. Services account for the vast majority of its economy. The widespread contraction across the sector suggests the economy will shrink again in the final three months, after a rebound in the third quarter.

Flash estimates for France’s services sector were stronger than in the spring lockdown when the index fell to a low of 10.2, helped by some industries remaining open under the November restrictions.

Eliot Kerr, economist at IHS Markit, said that the results also “suggest that some French businesses have been able to adapt their operations to the new conditions and are subsequently less susceptible to sharp downturns in activity when tighter restrictions are imposed”.

Moreover, manufacturing production showed some resilience, with the corresponding index dropping to 49.1 in November from 51.3 in the previous month.

The flash PMIs are the first most comprehensive indicator of the impact of the tighter restrictions on the economy.

German business activity slows but remains resilient

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

German business activity has continued to grow despite rising coronavirus infections and tighter restrictions causing Europe’s largest economy to lose some momentum in November, according to a widely tracked survey of companies.

The IHS Markit flash German composite purchasing manager index fell to 52, its lowest level since July and down from 55 in the previous month.

The PMI reading was above the 50.4 predicted on average by economists polled by Reuters. It remained well above the 50 mark that indicates a majority of businesses are reporting growth in activity from the previous month - unlike the equivalent French score.

Recent breakthroughs in developing a Covid-19 vaccine boosted German business confidence to its highest level since March 2018. The increased optimism led to a spurt of hiring in the services sector, lifting German payroll numbers for the first time since February.

“The positive news surrounding the development of Covid-19 vaccines has helped lift the spirits among German businesses, many of which are now hoping for a return to normality over the next 12 months,” said Phil Smith, associate director at IHS Markit.

A fall in German services activity was partly offset by resilience in manufacturing, reinforcing expectations among economists that the country’s economy will slow in the fourth quarter.

The PMI index for German services fell to a six-month low of 46.2 in November, down from 49.5 in the previous month. This reflects how much of the sector relies on social interaction and has therefore been hit hardest by the restrictions introduced across the country.

In contrast, activity continued to expand among German manufacturers and the corresponding PMI index for the sector dipped to 57.9, down from 58.2 in the previous month.

Governments across Europe have this month tightened restrictions on social activity and movement as the number of infections surged in several countries.

However, economists are increasingly optimistic that, even if Europe’s economy suffers a second downturn, the recent breakthroughs on developing coronavirus vaccines should mean the region makes a swift recovery next year.

“We expect the existing lockdown measures to be eased starting in the first quarter of next year, with the resulting boost to activity strongest for consumer-facing service activities - which are particularly depressed in Spain and the UK - and much smaller in industry,” Goldman Sachs economists said in a note on Monday.

The flash PMIs, published about 10 days before the final figures, are the first most comprehensive indicator of the economic impact of the new restrictions on the economy.

French food maker Danone to shed as many as 2,000 jobs in shake-up

Leila Abboud in Paris

French food company Danone will cut up to 2,000 jobs, or 2 per cent of its workforce, as part of a reorganisation aimed at giving more power to country managers and squeezing out efficiencies to cope with the pandemic. 

The maker of Evian bottled water and Activia yoghurts said the changes would save €1bn by 2023, and promised that its recurring operating margin would return to pre-Covid levels of above 15 per cent by 2022. 

Chief executive Emmanuel Faber unveiled a month ago a strategy to overhaul management as well as plans to sell underperforming businesses and cut its product portfolio. 

Danone has fared worse than many of the larger consumer groups it competes with since the pandemic began in part because of the products it sells. Unlike Reckitt Benckiser or Procter and Gamble, it does not sell the cleaning products that have been best sellers since Covid-19 erupted.

Its bottled waters business has suffered from restaurants closing and people working from home, which caused a 17 per cent contraction in sales the first nine months. Nor has it benefited much from consumers returning to familiar brands of packaged foods, which has boosted demand at companies such as Kellogg’s and Kraft-Heinz.

Eurozone services sector activity drops to six-month low

Valentina Romei in London

Activity in the eurozone's dominant services sector plunged to the lowest level in six months, raising fears of a double-dip economic downturn in the final quarter of the year.

The IHS Markit's eurozone flash purchasing managers' index for services fell to 41.3 in November, down from 46.9 in the previous month and the lowest reading since May, as coronavirus restrictions forced many businesses to close.

The flash estimate, based on data collected between November 12 and 20, was below the 42.5 forecast by economists polled by Reuters.

A reading below 50 indicates a majority of businesses reporting worsening conditions.

“The eurozone economy has plunged back into a severe decline in November amid renewed efforts to quash the rising tide of Covid-19 infections," said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit. "The data add to the likelihood that the euro area will see GDP contract again in the fourth quarter”.

The fall reflects sharp drops in services activity in the eurozone’s two main economies, with France showing a more widespread deterioration due to its more stringent measures compared with Germany.

However, growth continued in the manufacturing sector with the corresponding index coming in at 53.6 in November, above the 50 mark thanks to a strong performance by German factories.

The eurozone composite PMI, an average of services and manufacturing, fell to 45.1 in November, the first time below the 50 mark since June but a much stronger reading than the 13.6 low reached in the spring.

AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine trial results boost European stocks

Camilla Hodgson

Another Covid-19 breakthrough bolstered sentiment on Monday, after data showed that the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford university had exceeded the level of efficacy sought by regulators.

Europe’s benchmark Stoxx 600 index gained 0.6 per cent in early trading, climbing to its highest point since February. London’s FTSE 100 rose 0.4 per cent and Germany’s Xetra Dax climbed 1.1 per cent. US futures tipped the benchmark S&P 500 to rise 0.6 per cent when Wall Street opens.

Oxford and AstraZeneca on Monday said late-stage trials showed that their vaccine candidate had an average efficacy of 70 per cent, with one dosing regimen achieving 90 per cent. AstraZeneca said it would submit the data for regulatory approval “immediately”. Shares in AstraZeneca slipped 2 per cent, however.

The news follows similar vaccine trial results this month from Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, and also Moderna. Optimism that a vaccine will support global recovery from the coronavirus crisis has boosted economically sensitive sectors, such as energy and financials.

Energy stocks drove bourses higher, following the price of oil. Brent crude, the international benchmark, which has had a tumultuous year as traders feared the pandemic would curtail demand, rose 1.9 per cent to just under $46 a barrel.

In Asia, China’s CSI 300 rose 1.3 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3 per cent.

In the UK, chancellor Rishi Sunak paved the way for big tax rises, warning that his spending review scheduled for Wednesday would lay bare “the economic shock” of the pandemic.

UK lockdown hits services activity this month, PMIs show

Valentina Romei in London

The UK's tighter coronavirus-induced restrictions that has closed pubs, restaurants and non-essential retail have plunged the services activity into contraction November, pointing to a double-dip downturn.

The flash UK IHS Markit/Cips purchasing managers’ index for services, a measure of economic health, fell to 45.8 in November from 51.4 in the previous month, the lowest level since May.

"A double-dip is indicated by the November survey data, with lockdown measures once again causing business activity to collapse across large swaths of the economy,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

The flash estimate, based on data collected between November 12 and 19, was better than the 42.5 forecast by economists polled by Reuters, but below the 50 mark which indicates a majority of businesses reporting a contraction.

The PMIs mark the first most comprehensive economic measure of the impact of the lockdown introduced in England on November 5 that closed most business in consumer services, such as bars and restaurants, to sit-in customers.

Services account for about 80 per cent of the UK economy and the sharp drop in the services PMI points to a contraction in the final quarter of the year after the rebound in the three months to September.

Growth in manufacturing accelerated however with that index rising to 55.2 in November, from 53.7 in the previous month and well above the 50 mark, boosted by stockpiling activity ahead of the end of the transition period in December.

The composite index, an average of manufacturing and services, fell to 47.4 in November, down from 51.1 in the previous month and the lowest reading since May and the first under the 50 mark since June.

UK PMIs are well above the levels seen during the spring’s national lockdown, reflecting looser restrictions in some parts of the UK and following building sites and factories that remained open.

AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine can 'get us back to normal', says Pangalos

Harriet Clarfelt

The Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford university and AstraZeneca is “clearly effective” in reducing infections and transmission while lowering the chances of people becoming ill, says a senior executive at the Cambridge-based pharmaceuticals group.

"It’s got every chance of being a very successful, very effective vaccine that can get us back to normal,” said Mene Pangalos, executive vice-president at AstraZeneca's biopharmaceuticals research and development unit at AstraZeneca.

“What I’m very confident about is that people are not getting sick with this vaccine, which means that, ultimately even if you were to get ill, you’ll have mild symptoms,” Sir Mene told BBC Radio 4's Today programme after the news broke on Monday that the vaccine has exceeded regulatory requirements for effectiveness in phase 3 trials.

"That’s incredibly important because it will keep hospital beds free and people won’t be dying from this virus.”

Dosing regimens gave different results, with one producing efficacy of 90 per cent and the other 62 per cent. The average efficacy was 70 per cent.

Two other vaccines, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by Moderna, have shown to be more than 90 per cent effective.

Shares in AstraZeneca slipped 2 per cent on Monday and are up about 7 per cent this year.

Pakistan schools and universities to close for six weeks

Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad

Pakistan has ordered schools, colleges and universities to close for more than six weeks from Thursday to head off a rise in coronavirus infections.

Students will keep up online classes until December 24 “to make sure that education continues from home”, education minister Shafqat Mehmood said on Monday.

Schools' winter break will be from December 25 until January 10, the day the tighter restrictions are due to be relaxed.

Prime minister Imran Khan's government has recently made cinemas close and has banned large wedding gatherings in hotels and marriage halls. Marriage ceremonies can take place with fewer guests in open spaces.

Opposition parties however, who are demanding Mr Khan's resignation and a fresh election, held a large demonstration in the northern city of Peshawar on Sunday. Witnesses said the protesters showed a defiance of safety measures such as mask wearing and sanitiser use.

In Pakistan at least 376,000 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 while about 7,700 have died.

AstraZeneca shares fall after vaccine trial shows 'high efficacy'

Naomi Rovnick

Shares in AstraZeneca fell on Monday after the Cambridge-based drugmaker said the Covid-19 vaccine it is developing with scientists at Oxford university was 70 per cent effective.

This headline number made AstraZeneca’s vaccine appear less effective than those under development by US rivals Pfizer and Moderna, which have both reported trial data that suggested 95 per cent efficacy. AstraZeneca’s shares fell by almost 2 per cent.

But that initial impact may not last long. The experience of two other producers of potential vaccines - Pfizer and Moderna - suggests that investors quickly move on from vaccine news.

Pfizer’s share price is below the level it hit on November 9 when, alongside German partner BioNTech, it released positive late-stage trial data, suggesting 90 per cent effectiveness. That number was later increased to 95 per cent.

Shares in Moderna, a lossmaking Boston biotechnology group with a less varied pipeline than those of AstraZeneca and Pfizer, have outperformed the other two but are trading at a touch below the level reached on November 16, the day it announced vaccine news.

AstraZeneca has vowed not to make a profit on its vaccine during the pandemic, although it reserves the right to revisit this statement by the middle of next year.

Analysts expect Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna to sell their vaccines at higher than cost prices, but to make lower profit margins than drugmakers typically do on new blockbuster products, due to political pressure to keep the costs of vaccination programmes down.

Vaccines, analysts note, are also less profitable in general than other drugs.

“We don’t see the vaccine as being particularly financially impactful,” to AstraZeneca, analysts at Barclays wrote on Monday.

Moderna is lossmaking and, as the Financial Times’ Hannah Kuchler wrote here, still needs to prove it can manufacture billions of doses. It has no product on the market yet.

The vaccine being developed by Pfizer, meanwhile, needs to be kept very cold, making it potentially harder to store and transport than the rivals’ drugs.

Iranians defy lockdown rules

Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Many Iranians have defied the lockdown which started on Saturday in order to make ends meet, casting doubts on the effectiveness of the initiative in bringing down the number of Covid-19 deaths.

Domestic media have published pictures of the Tehran metro, showing trains which were packed in rush hours. Some businesses categorised as non-essential have continued to work behind closed doors.

“Most companies in this shopping mall are working by getting into the building through the parking gate,” said Tarlan, a female employee of a privately-owned computer company which must shut down for at least two weeks under the lockdown. “How can we afford not to work? Nobody cares what the government says.”

“Many beauty salons are closed on fears of facing penalties but many others are discreetly open with appointments,” said a worker in a beauty salon inside a shopping mall. “We have told our customers to say they need to go to the supermarket if they are asked by the security guards.”

Hojjat Nazari, a member of Tehran city council, said on Sunday that “the semi-closure of the capital city...means no real lockdown has happened”. He blamed the government of Hassan Rouhani for “failing to enforce the lockdown”.

Iran has the highest death toll in the Middle East with 45,255 fatalities, partly because of economic hardships caused by the US sanctions which make a lockdown unaffordable for many people. Officials admit the deaths would be much higher if those who died without going through tests were counted.

Iran’s daily deaths have been above 400 since last month and officials fear the figure might go above 1,000 if the spike in casualties is not curbed.

Overseas quarantine for England to be slashed to five days

Jim Pickard, Philip Georgiadis and Alice Hancock in London

The UK government is poised to slash the quarantine time for overseas travellers arriving in England from 14 days to five under a new “test and release” scheme to be announced on Tuesday, according to Whitehall and industry figures.

The changes amount to a huge shake-up of the quarantine system introduced in June to prevent travellers bringing Covid-19 into the country through airports, ports and trains.

Under the new system, to be unveiled by transport secretary Grant Shapps, passengers will have to self-isolate immediately on arrival in the UK but will then be allowed take a test after five days, the officials and travel executives said.

The system will first be trialled on a relatively small number of people coming in from certain destinations before being expanded.

They will have to pay for their own fast turnround tests which provide tests in only an hour — before being free to leave quarantine if the test is negative.

The cost of a private test is still over £100 although ministers believe the price will come down in the coming months.

Foreign travel is effectively banned except for certain circumstances, such as work, but that will come to an end after the lockdown stops on December 2.

World's biggest rubber glove maker to shut factories amid outbreaks

Stefania Palma

Top Glove, the world's largest maker of rubber gloves and a significant personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturer amid the pandemic, will gradually shut factories in Malaysia to quash a Covid-19 outbreak among its workers.

"On the advice and risk assessment of the health ministry, it is agreed that 28 Top Glove factories be closed in stages to enable workers to undergo screening tests and a quarantine process," said Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Malaysia's senior security minister, without specifying when the shutdowns would start.

The health ministry had tested almost 5,800 Top Glove workers as of Monday, of whom almost 1,900 were positive to the coronavirus, he added.

Top Glove in a statement said that starting on November 18 it had temporarily stopped production at 16 manufacturing facilities in Meru, a town west of Kuala Lumpur in the state of Selangor. The town's remaining 12 factories are operating at "much reduced capacities". The company added it would "work closely and cooperate fully with the relevant authorities".

The government earlier this month implemented tighter restrictions in a region which hosts Top Glove worker dormitories.

Malaysia is facing a new wave of infections after seemingly having controlled the virus earlier this year. A new cluster formed in Sabah after the state in Borneo held elections in September. But new clusters are now emerging across the country.

Qantas to demand Covid vaccination to fly abroad

Philip Georgiadis

Qantas plans to insist that passengers on international flights have been vaccinated against Covid-19 before boarding its planes, once any vaccination has been launched.

The Australian airline's chief executive Alan Joyce said he thinks a vaccine will become "a necessity" for international travel.

"We are looking at changing our terms and conditions for international travellers, we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft," Mr Joyce told Channel 9 in Australia.

“That’s going to be a common thing talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe,’ he added.

With Australia closing its borders to most non-residents, Qantas expects to keep many of its international routes closed until the middle of next year.

But several Covid-19 vaccine breakthroughs have raised hopes that international travel could begin to recover in 2021, raising the question of whether passengers will require proof of a vaccine to travel freely.

Etihad’s chief executive in September told the Financial Times that the introduction of health visas could help certify passengers are safe to fly to help the airline industry recover from crisis.

Johnson to outline UK winter strategy

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, is to address parliament on Monday with a Covid-19 winter strategy that will set out plans for the whole of the UK for the festive season.

Mr Johnson will speak to MPs at 3.30pm in London and parliament will vote on the measures this week, which include non-essential shops and gyms opening again from December 2, at least in England.

Dozens of Conservative backbenchers however have shown concern for a proposed reintroduction of a regional three-tier system of restrictions.

Seventy backbenchers plus 14 peers warned in a letter to Mr Johnson over the weekend that the tiered system “deeply” infringed upon people’s lives.

The rebels, organised by Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group, and deputy chair Steve Baker have signalled that they will not support the measures without further assurances that they will “save more lives than they cost”.

“Government must publish a full cost-benefit analysis of the proposed restrictions on a regional basis so that MPs can assess responsibly the non-Covid health impact of restrictions, as well as the undoubted impact on livelihoods,” they wrote.

The four devolved nations have tackled coronavirus-induced restrictions separately, with England going into a month-long lockdown until December 2. Scotland has adopted a five-level tier system and last week more than 2m people, including in Glasgow, went under the toughest rules.

Leaders from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland got together over the weekend and agreed to allow some mixing between households over the Christmas period.

Scotland's Sturgeon highlights progress on UK's 'careful easing' of rules

Mure Dickie in Edinburgh

The UK's devolved governments are making progress towards agreeing a “slight and careful easing” of coronavirus-related restrictions over the Christmas period, said Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister.

Some households might be able to form slightly larger bubbles for a brief period over Christmas, Ms Sturgeon told a daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, but that “difficult balances” still had to be struck between the benefits of an easing and the increased risk of transmission of Covid-19.

The first minister said she wanted to agree any move with the UK and other devolved governments because of the cross-border nature of family movements over the festive season.

“We are making progress towards a common position across the UK,” she said, stressing that any easing would be cautious and limited. “The virus won’t take Christmas off,” she said.

The Scottish government will give on Tuesday the results of its weekly review of restrictions across Scotland, but Ms Sturgeon made clear that level four lockdown rules in place in 11 council areas mainly around Glasgow would remain in place.

East Lothian, a council area that neighbours Edinburgh, would see restrictions eased from level three to level two as expected, Ms Sturgeon said, but a similar move for Midlothian would depend on further review because of concern about recent levels of positive tests for the virus in the area.

Thanksgiving visits push US air passengers above 1m a day

Mamta Badkar in New York

Nearly 1.05m travellers passed through US airport checkpoints on Sunday, the most since mid-March, as people travelled ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday despite a warning from the top US health body.

The number of passengers totalled 1,047,934 — the highest since before coronavirus lockdowns began — but still less than half the number that travelled the same day a year earlier, according to data from the US Transportation Security Administration.

Since Friday, more than 3.05m Americans have travelled through US airports. There have only been three days since the start of the coronavirus lockdowns that air travellers have topped 1m — this past Sunday, November 20 and October 18.

Air travel has been hit hard during the pandemic as people have forgone business and leisure journeys to curb the spread of coronavirus, which has killed nearly 250,000 Americans, with the number of positive cases surpassing 12m. Still, the numbers are well above the low of 87,534 on April 14.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended Americans not travel for Thanksgiving, which health officials have warned has the potential to quicken Covid-19's spread as Americans normally congregate with family and friends for the holiday.

US companies hoard record sums in cash as pandemic hits

Harriet Clarfelt

The biggest US technology groups, including Apple and Alphabet, hold 27 per cent of a total record cash pile among non-financial companies as the coronavirus pandemic has prompted businesses to hoard their money.

US companies bar financial services put aside a record $2.12tn in June, a sum that will “remain elevated” throughout 2020, ratings agency Moody’s revealed on Monday. That is up almost a third compared with the amount held at the end of 2019 and 6 per cent higher than a previous peak of $1.99tn in 2017.

Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook, the five biggest cash holders, together held a total of $581bn, from $571bn in 2019, Moody's research found.

The research, published on Monday, pointed to record cash generation, “significantly lower” share buybacks and companies amassing higher borrowings this year in their efforts to boost liquidity and service upcoming debt maturities.

Total corporate debt reached $6.31tn in June, up $891bn compared with December 2019. Debt has risen every year for 13 years, the study said, with the exception of a single-digit percentage drop in 2019.

Spending on capital investments, dividends, acquisitions and share buybacks will come to $1.9tn in 2020, from $1.93tn in 2019 and a peak of $2.13tn a year earlier, Moody’s projected.

Wariness about investing will flow into 2021 while “cash concentration” is expected to fall next year as cash-rich businesses reduce their balances through returns to shareholders and debt payments.

Dollar weakens as vaccine optimism rises

Naomi Rovnick

The dollar weakened to the lowest level in almost three months and investors sold off US government bonds, as the latest positive news on Covid-19 vaccines reduced demand for haven assets.

The dollar index, which measures the US currency against those of big trading partners, fell 0.3 per cent to its lowest reading since September 1. Yields on US 10-year Treasury bonds, which move inversely to prices, rose 0.03 percentage points to 0.8504.

This followed positive news from AstraZeneca on its vaccine candidate, giving the world a third potentially viable immunisation tool that could reawaken economic activity by ending social restrictions and lockdowns.

Currency strategists have forecast the dollar could weaken by up to 20 per cent next year, in the event of widespread vaccination, though the consensus among analysts is for the currency to drop about 3 per cent.

The S&P 500 rose 0.8 per cent in early trades on Monday, with stocks in the economically sensitive energy, financial and industrial sectors the best performers.

Merck bolsters Covid drug pipeline with OncoImmune deal

Hannah Kuchler

Merck is acquiring a small biotech for its potential drug for seriously ill Covid-19 patients, with an upfront payment of $425m.

The US drugmaker is adding to its arsenal of drugs and vaccines in development for the disease with the purchase of OncoImmune, a Maryland-based private company.

OncoImmune shareholders will also be eligible for payments on hitting sales and regulatory milestones.

“Meaningful new therapeutic options are desperately needed for possibly millions of people around the world who will develop severe or critical Covid-19 disease,” said Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories.

OncoImmune’s drug - known as CD24Fc - was originally developed as a preventative treatment to try to stop patients rejecting transplants. But a trial this summer showed it had a significant impact on patients in the later stages of Covid-19, when the immune system can go into overdrive.

Interim analysis of a phase-3 trial found the condition of patients with severe or critical Covid-19 was 60 per cent more likely to improve on the drug than on a placebo. The drug cut the risk of death or respiratory failure by 50 per cent in the trial of just over 200 patients.

England to introduce strengthened three-tier system from December

Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has announced that England will enter into a strict three-tier system from December 2.

Under the new restrictions, gyms, hairdressers and the wider leisure sector will be allowed to reopen within all tiers, alongside gyms and non-essential shops.

From next Wednesday, the public will be able to meet other people outside of their own households, subject to the "rule of six", while collective weddings, worship and outdoor sports will resume.

However some tougher restrictions will be introduced where the virus is most prevalent, Mr Johnson said.

In tier 1, people will be encouraged to work from home wherever possible; in tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal; while in tier 3, indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation providers will be forced to close alongside all forms of hospitality, with exceptions made for delivery and takeaways.

The 10pm curfew introduced in September will be scrapped, with pubs permitted to take their last orders at 10pm and close their doors at 11pm.

Mr Johnson said the purpose of the new strategy was to ensure that the virus did not get out of control during the winter and squander “hard-won gains".

“I am acutely conscious that no other peacetime prime minister has asked so much of the British people,” he added.

The final decision on the geographical application of the tiers is due to be announced on Thursday. The tiers will be formally reviewed every 14 days, Mr Johnson said.

Sterling volatile as Brexit hopes clash with virus restrictions

Naomi Rovnick

The pound rallied on Monday, then gave up all of its gains, as earlier optimism about post-Brexit trade talks was surpassed by fears for the British economy as the prime minister announced a new set of social restrictions.

Sterling rose 0.8 per cent against the dollar on Monday morning, in a move driven by what currency traders said was renewed appetite from hedge funds who were “trading on Brexit hopes”. This came after UK and EU officials said over the weekend that a deal on the future trading relationship was within their grasp.

However, after Boris Johnson revealed new Covid-19 restrictions for England, following the end of a one-month lockdown on December 2, sterling was down 0.1 per cent against the dollar.

The shutdown will be replaced by a three-tier set of restrictions, although opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer called this plan “risky” as it had not worked before.

Loneliness and me | Free to read

Claire Bushey in Chicago

Recently I watched a woodpecker hunt for insects along a tree trunk outside my window. The wind tossed the boughs, mostly swept clean except for a few clinging yellowed leaves, as the sun faded, barely clearing the low-slung roofline of the apartments across the street.

I was sitting at my desk, finishing another day. This woodpecker hopped up and down the trunk for several minutes, hammering its red-capped head into the wood, prospecting for dinner.

The scene was so delightful and mesmerising that I wanted to holler to someone in the next room, “Hey, come see this!” I live alone, though. I considered snapping a photo and posting it online, but distance would have transformed bird to blotch and, really, who cares about my avian neighbours? The charm would not have translated. Perhaps I would remember to mention it when I next spoke with my parents, or even a friend. But that autumn evening it seemed most likely that the small, golden moment would, like much of my life, go unshared.

When you’re lonely, lockdown doesn’t end. Rather horribly, the isolation the pandemic has imposed this year is not that different from my normal life. I live alone, I work alone, I’m hundreds of miles from my family. There’s no real difference between not making plans (because of a virus) and not having plans (because last-minute cancellation is now socially acceptable). All of which feels shameful — these admissions leave me frantic to declare that I am hilarious, smart and quite fun to have a drink with.

Read more here

Fans to make limited return at English sporting events

Murad Ahmed in London

The ailing UK sports industry was given a boost on Monday after the British government announced that fans would be allowed to make a limited return to stadiums at big sporting events in England after the end of national lockdown restrictions next month.

As part of a broader package of measures, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the existing lockdown would be replaced by a “tier system” of regional restrictions from December 2.

Those sports clubs in "tier 1" will be able to welcome up to a maximum of 4,000 fans or 50 per cent of stadium capacity, whichever is lower. In tier 2, the cap is set at 2,000 supporters or 50 per cent of stadium capacity. In tier 3, matches must still continue to be held “behind closed doors”.

The measures will be the first time since the spring lockdowns that supporters will be able to attend football matches in the English Premier League, the UK’s most valuable domestic sports competition, as well as attend other big events, such as Premiership Rugby, the top tier of English club rugby union.

The Premier League has said it faces a £540m shortfall in matchday revenues this season, even with a partial reopening of stadiums. It is also in talks about offering a rescue package for clubs in the Championship, the tier below, after agreeing to provide £50m to cover the losses faced by teams in League One and League Two, the two lowest professional tiers.

Illinois daily Covid cases decline for fourth day running

Peter Wells in New York

Illinois reported its smallest increase in coronavirus cases in nearly three weeks on Monday in a potential sign of reprieve for the hard-hit Midwest state.

A further 8,322 people tested positive, authorities revealed on Monday, down from 10,012 on Sunday and compared with 12,601 on Monday last week. 

It was the smallest one-day increase since November 4, when 7,358 confirmed cases were logged, just two days before the state health department decided it would begin reporting probable cases, which had previously been tallied separately, alongside daily confirmed infections.

Monday’s figures also mean daily cases in Illinois have fallen for four days in a row, since the 14,612 on Thursday that was the state’s second-biggest one-day increase in new infections since the start of the pandemic. It is the longest such declining streak since mid-June.

Figures on Monday tend to be lower than other days of the week because of weekend delays in reporting, but today’s relatively small increase and recent declining streak point to nascent signs of a plateau in the state’s case numbers. 

Additionally, the seven-day average of cases fell below the 14-day average on November 20 for the first time since early October. Short-term averages falling below longer-term ones may reflect the start of a downward trend in infections, and such crossovers have also happened in the Midwest states of Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota within recent days.

Illinois’ health department attributed a further 47 deaths to coronavirus, down from 75 on Sunday. Fatalities rose by 168 on Thursday, which was the third-biggest one-day increase since the start of the pandemic.

A surge in cases since the autumn has pushed the total number of cases in Illinois since the start of the pandemic to 646,286, ranking it behind California, Texas and Florida among US states. Its death toll of 11,430 and 522 probable fatalities is the sixth-highest among all US states.

Washington DC and Pennsylvania tighten restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving

Peter Wells in New York

Washington DC and Pennsylvania on Monday joined a growing list of US jurisdictions tightening coronavirus restrictions ahead of this week’s Thanksgiving public holiday.

In the country’s capital, restaurants are allowed to stay open till midnight, but alcohol sales and consumption there must end at 10pm, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a press conference this afternoon. Indoor and outdoor group fitness classes with 25 or more people have been suspended. A pilot programme that had allowed live music to resume will also be halted.

Limits on the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings of people have been reduced, while the number of people allowed inside houses of worship has been reduced to 50 people from 100 — or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is smaller.

These restrictions take effect on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. New measures halving indoor dining capacity at restaurants to 25 per cent will take effect on December 14, giving them time to adjust.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered a stay at home advisory, encouraging residents to stay at home unless it is necessary to go out. In addition, bars and restaurants have been ordered to cease alcohol sales for on-premises consumption at 5pm on Wednesday, but just for one day. Indoor dining is allowed to continue.

Rachel Levine, the state’s health secretary, and Mr Wolf also tightened limits on socialising, prohibiting outdoor gatherings of more than 2,500 people and indoor gatherings of more than 500 people.

Last week, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s most populous city, ordered schools to shift to remote learning only, announced limits on indoor gatherings and banned indoor activities such as gyms, libraries, casinos and indoor dining at restaurants.

Ohio reports one-day record of nearly 12,000 new Covid cases

Peter Wells in New York

Ohio reported nearly 12,000 new coronavirus cases on Monday, its biggest one-day jump of the pandemic.

A further 11,885 people tested positive, the health department revealed this afternoon, up from 8,133 on Sunday and soaring past the previous record of 8,808 on November 20.

In a note on the health department’s web site, authorities said today’s data were “incomplete” and that “thousands of reports” were pending review. “Additionally, today’s data includes two days of positive test results that were delayed because of issues related to a lab reporting,” they added.

Including today’s figure, the Buckeye State averaged 8,277 new infections a day over the past week. Adjusted for population, that works out at about 70 new cases per 100,000 people per day over the past week, ranking about 19th-highest among US states, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

“We have not yet seen a plateau of these cases. We’re not hitting a plateau yet and we’re certainly not hitting a plateau in the hospitals,” Governor Mike DeWine warned at a press conference on Monday.

Authorities attributed a further 24 deaths to coronavirus, double Sunday’s increase and compared with 20 on Monday last week.

Ohio has confirmed 363,304 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, the eighth-highest tally among US states, while its death toll, of 6,020, ranks 13th.

Mr DeWine last week announced new restrictions on social and business activities, including a late-night curfew, in an effort to control the spread of coronavirus in the state.

US stocks rise after AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine results

Camilla Hodgson and Colby Smith

US stocks edged higher on Monday following the announcement of another Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough that showed the shot being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford university had exceeded the level of efficacy sought by regulators.

The S&P 500 index rose 0.6 per cent, outpacing the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite, which advanced 0.2 per cent.

Wall Street’s gains followed a mixed session in Europe. The Stoxx 600 index climbed to its highest level since February before reversing course in the afternoon to close down 0.2 per cent. London’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.3 per cent, while Germany’s Xetra Dax ended the day 0.1 per cent lower.

The moves came after Oxford and AstraZeneca said late-stage trials showed their vaccine candidate had an average efficacy of 70 per cent, with one dosing regimen achieving 90 per cent. AstraZeneca said it would submit the data for regulatory approval immediately. Shares in AstraZeneca slipped almost 4 per cent, however.

Vaccine trial results this month from Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, and another from Moderna, showed even higher efficacy for their products. Optimism that the rollout of a vaccine will support a global recovery from the coronavirus crisis has boosted economically sensitive sectors, such as energy and financials.

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Florida deaths jump by the most since October

Peter Wells in New York

California and Texas reported increases in cases on Monday that pulled back from record jumps in infections over the weekend, while Florida reported its biggest one-day jump in deaths in more than a month.

The US states, which rank first, second and third by population — and coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic — have begun to exhibit some of the worrying metrics they displayed during the summer, when they led a surge in cases throughout the sunbelt.

California reported a further 8,337 cases on Monday, down from 14,319 on Sunday and compared with 9,890 on Monday last week. The state reported a record 15,442 infections on Saturday, soaring past the previous record of 12,807 during its summer peak in late July.

Texas reported 6,576 new cases on Monday, down from 8,554 on Sunday and compared with 6,858 on Monday last week. The state, which ranks second in the US by population, set a record of 12,597 new cases on November 21. Authorities also revealed 128 historical cases, which are not included in the daily number, including 104 from the region around Houston.

Florida’s health department this afternoon revealed a further 6,331 cases, close to the 6,374 on Sunday and compared with 4,530. Unlike California and Texas, the Sunshine State has not reported more than 10,000 cases in a single day since the worst of its summer outbreak in July, according to Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

Florida authorities on Monday attributed a further 96 deaths to coronavirus. That is the biggest one-day increase in fatalities since October 16, and excluding October 22, when technical difficulties over the weekend resulted in two days of data being reported in one go.

The death tolls in Texas and California rose by 50 and 32, respectively, on Monday. Last week, the two states reported daily increases in deaths that were their highest in at least a month.

After New York, Texas, California and Florida have attributed the highest number of deaths to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

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