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The path to a rapid, proven and widely available coronavirus vaccine will not be straightforward. There are now more than 300 experimental products, according to the World Health Organization: roughly 40 are being tested on humans, and only nine of those have reached the final stage before possible implementation: phase 3 trials.

Drug companies will be expected to hit a series of milestones before they are allowed to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine, a move experts say makes it unlikely one will be approved before the US election in November.

Wealthy countries representing just 13 per cent of the world’s population have bought more than half of the leading vaccine candidates’ promised doses, according to Oxfam, the charity.

The US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is the biggest spender on vaccines, having distributed more than $10bn in funding for vaccine candidates, either via direct financing or through vaccine procurement agreements.

On a per-capita basis, the UK has built the largest and most diversified vaccine portfolio, according to data from Deutsche Bank, having pre-ordered more than five doses per citizen spread across six leading vaccine candidates. The UK is followed closely by the US, Canada and Japan.

Stacked bar chart showing numbers of vaccine pre-orders by doses per capita for various countries

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. 

London is to host the world’s first Covid-19 human challenge trials — in which healthy volunteers are deliberately infected with coronavirus to assess the effectiveness of experimental vaccines. The UK government-funded studies are expected to begin in January at a secure quarantine facility in east London, according to several people involved in the project.

Markets

European equity markets rallied on Wednesday as investors placed bets on more monetary aid for the eurozone’s weakest economies. Trevor Greetham, investment strategist at Royal London, cautioned that US stocks were likely to remain “choppy in either direction”.

Zambia has asked investors in its $3bn worth of international bonds to accept a six-month delay from October in their interest payments, in what would be the first African debt default on private creditors since the pandemic hit. The fall in prices left the bonds trading at about 53 cents on the dollar.

The world’s refiners, struggling to find a home for premium jet fuel, for which demand has collapsed during the pandemic, have blended it with diesel to power everything from vans to ships. They are struggling to turn a profit as overcapacity in the sector meets tepid demand for end-products.

Business

Nike said that surging online sales mostly offset lower foot traffic at reopened physical retail stores globally, offering a bullish outlook for the remainder of its fiscal year. The world’s largest sportswear maker by revenue said digital sales almost doubled in the three months to the end of August, reflecting increases in online shopping during the pandemic.

The “fear of missing out” has returned for investment bankers, who yearn to return to the road with a mix of hyper-competitiveness and insecurity. Pre-pandemic, it was not uncommon for them to visit several capital cities in a week, cultivating their address books and pursuing new business. This month, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and UBS sold $4bn of Nestlé debt to investors across the US without leaving their desks.

TransferWise doubled profits in the last financial year and said it had continued to grow in 2020 despite the “volatility” brought by the pandemic. It processed £42bn of cross-currency transactions in the year to March, up from £27bn in the 2019 financial year.

Global economy

The European Central Bank has urged the EU to consider making its new €750bn pandemic recovery fund permanent, as it published data showing that Croatia, Bulgaria and Greece would be the fund’s biggest net beneficiaries. Its centrepiece — €390bn of grants — would provide a net benefit worth more than 10 per cent of the pre-crisis Croatian and Bulgarian economies and almost 9 per cent for Greece.

Jay Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, warned Congress that the US economic recovery would suffer if lawmakers failed to pass a new fiscal stimulus package, saying small businesses and lower-income households still needed government help. “The recovery will go faster if we have both tools [fiscal and monetary] continuing to work together,” he told the House financial services committee.

Chart showing that retail footfall picked up when shops reopened on June 15, but remains well down on normal levels

Britain’s economy entered choppy waters in September, with the latest indicators suggesting that a summer surge in activity was ending even before Boris Johnson tightened restrictions on socialising and returning to the office. Struggling companies have been forced to borrow close to £58bn in emergency loans backed by the government during the pandemic.

Get in touch

How is your workplace dealing with the pandemic? And what do you think business and markets — and our daily lives — will look like after lockdown? Please tell us by emailing covid@ft.com. We may publish your contribution in an upcoming newsletter. Thanks

The essentials

Students heading back to university need to adapt by taking firm control of their remote learning. “Be proactive . . . by speaking up in classes, engaging in extracurricular activities, reaching out to fellow students and quickly communicating any difficulties to administration staff,” says David Lefevre at Imperial College Business School. Others advise on discipline, structure, variety and building in down time.

Final thought

Disappearing into a fantasy world may seem like pure escapism, but there is more to role-play than a simple psychic holiday. Most players simply want to pursue alternate lives. With the real world burning all around, and the pandemic erasing the faint line that remains between our online and offline lives, who can blame them?

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