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Monday, January 25, 2021

Coronavirus latest: UK sports to receive £300m government bailout

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Peter Wells in New York

New Hampshire has issued a statewide mask mandate to try and control a surge in coronavirus cases and prevent the state’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

The Granite State, has long held out of a face covering order, unlike neighbouring Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, which have had their mandates in place for much of the pandemic’s duration.

In announcing the order on Thursday afternoon, Governor Chris Sununu acknowledged he had “encouraged” mask wearing over the past eight months, but said the decision to go on an additional step was one that did not come lightly.

“In looking at the data, it is clear that a statewide mask mandate is in the best interest of our citizens,” he said in a message on Twitter.

New Hampsire is averaging about 370 new Covid-19 cases a day, a record, while the number of people currently hospitalised in the state with coronavirus has more than doubled this month to 91 as of Wednesday, according to Covid Tracking Project data.

There is “substantial community transmission throughout our entire state,” the Republican governor said. This is in contrast to the spring wave of coronavirus that swept through northeastern states, when counties in the south of New Hampshire had a “disproportionate impact” compared to those in the more rural northern regions.

Masks have been mandated at nursing homes since the beginning of the pandemic, but have continued to experience outbreaks, Mr Sununu said.

“Instituting this mask mandate today will allow us to keep our economy open and helps ensure our health care system has the capacity and workforce it needs in the coming weeks, the governor said.

A growing number of states and cities across the US have in the past week tightened restrictions on businesses, social gatherings and broadened mask mandates. North Dakota, dealing with one of the most severe outbreaks in the country on a population-adjusted basis, introduced a statewide mask order last week having also been a long-time holdout.

Michael Peel in Brussels

The coronavirus vaccines devised by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna could receive EU conditional marketing authorisation within weeks, the European Commission chief has said.

Ursula von der Leyen said the European Medicines Agency had told her it might give the go-ahead for this “very, very first step” to bringing the jabs to market next month.

The year-long conditional approval would allow the companies to start selling their vaccines while collecting further evidence of their safety and efficacy.

“This…could happen as early as the second half of December, if all proceeds now without any problem,” she told reporters after a videoconference of EU leaders on Thursday.

Clinical trials have suggested the vaccines developed by both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna could protect about 95 per cent of people from infection.

Eric Platt, David Carnevali and Naomi Rovnick

Stocks on Wall Street edged higher on Thursday as shares of technology companies helped lift the market against a backdrop of concern about the advancing pandemic.

The benchmark S&P 500 gained 0.4 per cent, lifting its gains for the year to just under 11 per cent. Advances by Microsoft, Salesforce, Apple and Alphabet boosted the benchmark, and 61 per cent of the companies within the S&P 500 were higher for the day.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite was up 0.9 per cent, while the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks — a closer barometer of the US economy — rose 0.8 per cent.

The modest advances in the US followed a relatively downbeat European trading session, as stocks across the continent fell. Investors have been left mulling the uptick in coronavirus cases and new travel restrictions against the prospect of the distribution of a vaccine in the months ahead.

Elsewhere in markets, gold fell 0.3 per cent to $1,867 a troy ounce while the dollar was little changed. US Treasury bonds rose in price, pushing the yield on the 10-year Treasury down 0.02 percentage points to 0.85 per cent.

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Peter Wells in New York

Several of the top 10 most populous states in the US reported single-day increases in coronavirus cases on Thursday that were at or near their highest levels of the pandemic.

California, Illinois and Ohio, which rank first, sixth and seventh in the US by population, reported among their biggest jumps in both cases and increases in fatalities, while Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the fifth- and ninth-most populous states, each set record increases in infections.

Over the past week, leaders of those states, or cities within them, have announced restrictions on businesses and social gatherings in efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Illinois reported 14,612 new infections, second only to the record 15,415 cases it reported on November 13. The state’s health department logged just over 18,000 cases on November 6 when a decision to report confirmed and probable cases as a combined figure led to a one-off addition of 7,673 probable cases that were previously reported separately.

The Midwest state attributed a further 168 deaths to coronavirus. That was the biggest one-day jump in fatalities since a record 191 on May 13 and ranks as the state’s third-deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.

In nearby Ohio, the health department reported 7,787 new infections and attributed a further 63 deaths to coronavirus. The state set a record for cases last Friday, with 8,071, while the 76 deaths logged on November 11 was the biggest daily increase since early October.

California reported 11,478 new Covid-19 cases. That is the biggest one-day jump in infections since August 14, and ranks as the state’s seventh-biggest daily increase since the start of the pandemic.

The state also attributed a further 106 deaths to Covid-19, the biggest one-day increase in fatalities in just over one month, and more than double the average of the past week.

Pennsylvania reported 7,126 new cases on Thursday, a record. Deaths rose by 125, the biggest one-day jump since late May.

North Carolina’s health department reported more than 4,000 cases in a single day for the first time, with 4,296 new infections.

Kiran Stacey in Washington

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans not to travel for the forthcoming Thanksgiving holiday, with officials warning they are “alarmed” about the recent rise in coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths.

The public health body released new guidance on Thursday, recommending against all travel for the holiday next week. Henry Walke, CDC’s Covid-19 incident manager, said: “We have been alarmed by the exponential increases in cases, hospitalisations and deaths.”

Calling the advice against travel a “strong recommendation”, but not a requirement, he added: “We ask Americans to consider their risk, to consider who is in their household, their own risk of acquiring infection and the community risk in the community they are travelling to.”

The CDC is advising those who do travel to stay outdoors as much as possible, ventilate their houses, and to wear masks even around members of their own family if they have not been living together over the previous 14 days.

Dr Walke said the CDC, which has not held a public briefing for several months, had been prompted to issue the guidance after seeing more than 1m new cases over the past week.

Peter Wells in New York

New York City will probably halt indoor dining at restaurants and bars and close gyms within “a week or two” as the region’s worsening coronavirus metrics approach state thresholds that will trigger more restrictions on economic activity.

The warning from mayor Bill de Blasio, during a press conference on Thursday morning, came less than a day after he ordered public schools in New York City to close from today and shift to online learning after the city’s seven-day average of coronavirus test positivity hit a hurdle rate of 3 per cent.

Mr de Blasio said the city would probably soon be classified as an “orange zone” under the state’s colour-coded classification system, introduced by New York governor Andrew Cuomo in October to deal with several “micro-clusters” of coronavirus infections that had developed since the start of autumn.

In this zone, businesses including gyms, barber shops, hairdressers, nail salons and tattoo parlours must close, and restaurants, bars and cafes can provide only outdoor dining and takeout and delivery services.

Additionally, schools must close and return to remote learning, gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people and houses of worship can remain open at 33 per cent capacity up to a maximum of 25 people.

“I don’t think it’s an if the city is going into an orange zone, it’s when the city is going into an orange zone,” the mayor said. “By any normal count, just looking at the state zone system, we’re looking at a week or two before we’re in that orange zone.”

Parts of Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island are already in a so-called yellow zone. As per state guidelines, in cities of 90,000 or more people, areas are placed in this “precautionary” zone when they have a seven-day testing positivity rate of more than 2.5 per cent for 10 days and the area has 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

A move into the orange zone rests upon the area having a seven-day rolling average of testing positivity rate higher than 3 per cent for 10 days and 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

Mr de Blasio said this morning that the citywide testing positivity on a rolling seven-day basis was 3.01 per cent.

Victor Mallet in Paris

The French government is seeking to delay Black Friday shopping promotions until the country’s high-street shops reopen from their latest coronavirus lockdown at the end of the month, and big retailers with online services have agreed — provided Amazon does the same.

“The delay is aimed at ensuring the reopening of businesses in France in conditions of maximum health security,” said a joint statement from the finance ministry and retail federations on Thursday.

Business representatives said the current plan, which has yet to be finalised, was for non-essential shops (but not restaurants or bars) to reopen on Saturday November 28, a day after the originally planned date for the start of Black Friday promotions in France.

The government of President Emmanuel Macron has come under pressure from businesses to allow bricks-and-mortar shops to reopen to take advantage of the pre-Christmas shopping period, but France’s “second wave” of the pandemic has only just peaked and officials are anxious not to allow infections to accelerate again. Shops will reopen with very tight anti-coronavirus measures.

Leftwing politicians and environmentalists have called for a boycott of Amazon over Christmas. The company has benefited from an increase in online sales in France of 40-50 per cent during the latest lockdown, according to Amazon France boss Frédéric Duval.

Mamta Badkar in New York

Sales of previously owned homes in the US jumped last month to the highest level in nearly 15 years as low mortgage rates and remote working continued to boost housing demand.

Existing home sales jumped 4.3 per cent month on month to an annualised pace of 6.85m in October, the highest level since November 2005, the National Association of Realtors said on Thursday.

That exceeded economists’ expectations for a smaller 1.2 per cent rise and followed a 9.9 per cent increase in September.

The housing sector has been one of the bright spots in the US economy as record-low mortgage rates and remote working during the pandemic have encouraged people to move from cities to the suburbs as they seek more space.

The strength in the housing market continues despite high unemployment and a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

“The clear message from the mortgage applications numbers, which have been drifting gently downwards since late August, is that home sales have peaked,” said Ian Shepherdson, economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

He added: “Tighter lending standards appear to be reducing the flow of new applications, and the current downshift in growth in the face of the third Covid wave can’t be helping, either.”

Arthur Beesley in Dublin

Irish health officials have called for a cull of mink in the country’s three fur farms in a bid to block any potential spread of a mutated form of Covid-19.

Ireland’s agriculture department said it was engaging with mink farmers “to consider the next steps” after receiving a letter from the country’s chief medical officer. But Fur Europe, a Brussels-based lobby group for the sector, said the decision has already been made to proceed with the cull, adding that it would close the farms “on no scientific basis”.

The demand for the cull comes after concern in Denmark that the variant form of the disease found in mink could erode effectiveness of future coronavirus vaccines if it spreads among humans. An order to cull all 17m mink in Denmark prompted the resignation of its agriculture minister because there was no legal basis to issue such a direction.

Ireland’s mink herd is estimated at 120,000 animals in rural counties Laois, Kerry and Donegal, though Micheál Martin’s coalition government has promised laws to phase out fur farming.

In a statement on Thursday, the agriculture department said testing of the herd to date has detected no Covid-19. “The Department of Health has indicated that the continued farming of mink represents an ongoing risk of additional mink-adapted SARS-CoV-2 variants emerging and, therefore, it has recommended that farmed mink in Ireland should be culled to minimise or eliminate this risk.”

Fur Europe said the cull would leave farm families without a livelihood. The decision comes “despite all three farms, their workers and animals receiving negative Covid-19 test results last week and follows continued co-operation between the three farms and department of agriculture officials in recent months in implementing increased biosecurity measures,” it said.

Valentina Romei

Most foreign investors have cancelled, reduced or paused their investment in the UK because of the pandemic, pointing to lost growth potential as the economy struggles to recover, according to a survey by consultancy EY.

The survey found that more than one in three investors have cut their planned 2020 investment in the UK, another 17 per cent have paused and 5 per cent have cancelled altogether.

EY estimates that the changes in investment intentions could lead to a fall of 30-45 per cent in UK foreign direct investment project numbers in 2020, compared with 2019.

Even in 2021, only a quarter of investors are planning to go ahead with their UK plans, down from 31 per cent when they were surveyed in April.

More than one in three international investors identified the measures in place to prevent a future crisis from arising as the most important priority when they select an investment location, with the level of success in tackling the pandemic being the second most important factor.

Investors saw Germany and France as the European countries with the most credible and investment-friendly recovery plans, with the UK coming in the third position.

Jim Brunsden

High-level Brexit talks have been suspended after it was discovered that a member of the EU negotiating team has Covid-19.

The EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that teams of officials will continue to work on the text of a trade deal but that he and his UK counterpart David Frost had “decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period”.

Lord Frost tweeted that he was in close contact with Michel Barnier about the situation, noting that “the health of our teams comes first”.

UK negotiators have been holding talks with the EU team in Brussels since Sunday, with hopes rising that a deal could be reached in the coming days.

Talks have been focused on the remaining key sticking points of rights for the EU fishing fleet in British waters, “level playing field” guarantees for business and the question of how to enforce any deal.

The rest of the treaty text — estimated at 1,800 pages — is largely drafted even if negotiating chapters are not formally closed.

The two sides are seeking to conclude a deal before time runs out for it to be ratified ahead of the end of Britain’s post-Brexit transition period on January 1.

One participant in the negotiations said that some officials needed to go into self-isolation because of the Covid-19 case.

Sarah Provan

Surveillance cameras in the UK have risen 8 per cent, or one for every 13 people, since last year as security-conscious housebound Britons have taken advantage of lower prices to install domestic systems.

Britain may have as many as 5.2m CCTV cameras, from 4.8m in 2019, ranking behind China, the US and Germany. Domestic systems have been behind the rise, with 96 per cent being run by private businesses and homeowners, a survey run by CCTV.co.uk has found.

Costs have fallen so homeowners can install systems for less than £200 while lockdown measures and an increase in mail order purchases have driven them to monitor their homes more closely.

“This year the doorbell camera has gone bananas,” said Jonathan Ratcliffe, a director at CCTV.co.uk, which installs the systems. “Security this year has been a balance: there are more people at home and more anxiety. The coronavirus impact on anxiety, with wanting to be secure at home, has become a big trend,” he said.

Outside China, London is the most heavily monitored city in the world. It ranks fourth and, apart from New Delhi, is the only non-Chinese city in the top 10, according to an industry report.

The UK capital has 691,000 CCTV cameras and the average Londoner is caught on camera 300 times a day, CCTV.co.uk said.

Cameras do not need to be officially registered so calculating a number is an estimate, CCTV.co.uk said, which found out through freedom of information requests that 23,708 cameras, or 3.4 per cent of the total, are operated by local authorities, police and London transport.

Mamta Badkar in New York

Another 742,000 Americans filed for their first ever unemployment benefits last week, as the number of claims increased for the first time in five weeks while the US grapples with a record rise in coronavirus cases and new restrictions.

The increase of 31,000 in weekly jobless claims came alongside an increase of 23,863 in claims for federal pandemic unemployment assistance, the US labour department said on Thursday. Economists had expected claims of 707,000 in the week ending November 14, according to a Thomson Reuters survey. 

Overall, 20.3m Americans were receiving jobless benefits of some kind since the coronavirus crisis began in March in the US, according to data that is reported with a two-week lag.

The US is experiencing a fresh surge in coronavirus infections — with 163,075 new cases reported on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections past 11.3m. A number of US cities and states have introduced new restrictions on indoor gatherings and economic activity and New York City has closed public schools in an effort to curb the spread ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, which health officials have warned has the potential to quicken the pandemic’s already rapid spread.

US stocks futures extended their decline with S&P 500 futures down 0.3 per cent.

Harriet Clarfelt

Department store chain Macy’s counted the cost of the pandemic on Thursday, registering a 20 per cent decline in like-for-like sales for the third quarter.

Digital sales rose by more than a quarter for the three months ending October, reflecting a shift towards ecommerce amid widespread virus restrictions. But that improvement failed to temper a decline in overall revenues, which slipped by more than a fifth to $3.99bn.

This figure was slightly better than market forecasts – helped by Macy’s making an early start to the holiday shopping season, like other retailers. On average, analysts had anticipated sales of $3.91bn, according to Factset.

Careful inventory management helped the gross margin to rise to 35.6 per cent – a marked improvement on the second quarter’s margin of 23.5 per cent.

But the group posted adjusted net losses of $60m, down from profits of $21m a year earlier – equating to losses per share of $0.19 versus earnings of $0.07.

Most of Macy’s workers were furloughed in April when the pandemic gathered pace. In June, the company announced that it would make 3,900 job cuts to help achieve $630m in annual cost savings.

But with coronavirus cases continuing to rise in the US and other countries, management “continue[s] to watch the resurgence of Covid-19 and its potential impact on our business”.

Shares in Macy’s dipped 4 per cent in pre-market trading to $8.99.

Andrew Jack

Countries that acted quickly to contain coronavirus and had plenty of compliance from their populations did better at limiting the spread of infections and mitigating the economic impact, according to an analysis by the OECD.

South Korea, Finland, Norway and Estonia were among the best performers, helped by past experience of infectious disease outbreaks, population structure and relatively low cross-border flows of people, the Paris-based organisation of industrialised nations concluded.

The UK spent most in central government funds to tackle Covid-19 in purchasing-parity terms across Europe, had the largest reduction in second-quarter GDP and the largest number of Covid-linked deaths.

The OECD cautioned over the dangers of technology deployed against Covid-19, including phone apps for contact tracing, and stressed that many were insecure, easy to hack and raised civil liberties concerns.

“Once new powers of surveillance are introduced, they are difficult to reverse, even when the crisis has passed,” it said in its annual “Health at a glance” report.

The report highlighted the success of Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, which quickly introduced effective testing, tracing and isolation policies as well as trust and compliance with social distancing and other key guidelines.

In Europe, it said countries such as Norway and Finland suffered less partly because of lower population densities, but also because they were better prepared and put in place rapid and effective test, track and trace strategies.

Harriet Clarfelt

Lockdowns in Europe are avoidable and should be deemed a “last resort measure”, a World Health Organization official said at a briefing on Thursday.

Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said that “mask use is by no means a panacea” but added that it could help to avoid total shutdowns if used alongside other measures.

At 60 per cent or lower mask use, “it is hard to avoid lockdowns”. But if that figure rose to 95 per cent, lockdowns “would not be needed”.

Dr Kluge outlined the “collateral damage” of lockdowns, ranging from increased mental health issues, to gender-based violence and the need for economic support as people lose their jobs.

He recommended a tiered system, where authorities can monitor “levels of seriousness in community transmission” and implement “proportionate measures”.

Dr Kluge said that a vaccine against Covid-19 was important but was not a “silver bullet” yet.

More than 15.7m coronavirus cases and nearly 355,000 deaths have been reported to WHO across Europe. More than four-fifths of European countries are reporting “elevated” 14-day virus incidence – greater than 100 per 100,000 people.

Last week, one person in the WHO’s European region died from Covid-19 every 17 seconds.

But new weekly cases of Covid-19 fell to roughly 1.8m cases last week, from more than 2m the week before. “It’s a small signal, but it’s a signal nevertheless”, said Dr Kluger, pointing to people’s “risk reducing behaviour”.

Breaking news

Laura Pitel in Ankara

Turkey announced its biggest interest rate rise in more than two years as it signalled a change of direction after a drastic shake-up in the country’s economic management.

In the first rate-setting meeting chaired by the incoming central bank governor, Naci Agbal, the bank moved to tame inflation and bolster the Turkish lira by lifting its benchmark one-week repo rate by 4.75 percentage points to 15 per cent.

The lira jumped almost 3 per cent against the dollar immediately following the decision, before trimming its gain to 1.9 per cent to TL7.56. Turkey’s currency is still down 22 per cent since the end of last year.

The lira suffered months of record lows before the shock resignation of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak as finance minister 10 days ago. Concerns about Turkey’s economic policies and the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic have combined to pile pressure on the currency.

Thursday’s decision will be seen by many investors as evidence that Mr Erdogan, a staunch opponent of high interest rates, has given the new central bank governor a mandate to act – at least in the short term – to stabilise the currency and could tempt a much-needed wave of foreign capital back into Turkish markets.

The increase, which was in line with the expectations of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, brings the one-week repo rate slightly above the average interest rate that the central bank had been charging to supply funding to the Turkish financial system in recent weeks.

It had been using a complicated system of multiple rates that appeared to be aimed at tightening monetary conditions without incurring the wrath of the president, and had brought the effective cost of funding provided by the bank to 14.8 per cent by Wednesday this week.

The central bank announced that it had decided to provide all funding through the one-week repo rate, a move likely to be welcomed by investors as a sign that it is returning to a more conventional approach to monetary policy.

With additional reporting by Adam Samson

Valentina Romei

One in three UK businesses in the hospitality sector have no or low confidence in the short term outlook as tighter restrictions have left many with not enough cash reserves.

The accommodation and food service activities industry had the highest percentage of businesses that had no or low confidence that their business would survive the next three months, at 34 per cent, official data showed on Thursday.

The findings show the share of business with little confidence that they will survive was double in the hospitality sector than across all industries, reflecting brighter sentiment across the health, real estate and manufacturing industries. The survey questioned more than 5,000 businesses between November 1 and 15, which covers the English lockdown that began on November 5.

The latest restrictions have left bars, hotels and restaurants with little cash reserves, the Office for National Statistics showed.

About 44 per cent of businesses in the hospitality sector had cash reserves lasting up to three months only, the largest proportion of any sector and well above the 29 per cent for the whole economy.

Across businesses in accommodation and food services 18 per cent said they could survive for more than six months.

While parts of the hospitality sector can remain open for takeaway and delivery services, more than one in three businesses in the sector said they closed because there was insufficient customer interest and it was not financially viable to stay open.

The survey reports signs of the first deterioration in economic activity since the reopening in the summer with a rising proportion of workers in furlough. It showed a soaring share of businesses reporting depressed turnover compared with what they would expect for this time of the year after a steady decline since the summer.

The findings are the first assessment of the impact of the harsher restrictions on the economy and point to a downturn in the final quarter.

Murad Ahmed

Rugby, horseracing and women’s football are among the UK sports set to benefit from a £300m government bailout, in response to lockdowns that have stopped fans from attending stadiums.

Nigel Huddleston, sports minister, will announce on Thursday the rescue package for 11 sports hit hard by the pandemic, although some groups such as those that represent professional men’s football and cricket will miss out.

Rugby Football Union (RFU), England’s governing body for rugby union, and Women’s Super League, the top tier of the female football, are among the groups that will be offered a mixture of grants and loans to prop them up through the lockdown.

For weeks, the UK government has made clear that some sports would not receive funding. For example it demanded that the English Premier League, which has £9.2bn worth of broadcasting contracts, step in to support smaller clubs.

So far, the Premier League has agreed a £50m package to cover lost gate receipts at teams in League One and Two, the bottom two professional divisions.

Sporting bodies seeking government funding were required to submit financial returns to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to detail how much money was required to continue operating over the next six months.

Last month, the RFU announced it faced a £145m revenue shortfall as the rugby body is reliant on income from hosting international matches at Twickenham, its stadium in west London, which has been closed to spectators since the spring.

Oliver Ralph

Updates from a clutch of financial companies on Thursday laid bare the impact of the pandemic on their businesses. Recent results from big banks were helped by a surge in trading activity but some of the smaller institutions were feeling the pinch.

Investec hurt by lower interest rates: Investec, the Anglo-South African financial services group, said that its operating profits almost halved to £143m in the first half of the year. Lower interest rates and lower lending fees income were to blame. Its shares fell 4 per cent on Thursday.

Charles Stanley hit by decline in client funds: UK-based wealth manager Charles Stanley said its performance was “resilient”, but underlying profit before tax declined 28 per cent to £6.6m as it was hit by lower funds under management and administration, and lower interest rates.

Close Brothers bucks the trend: A first-quarter update from merchant banking group Close Brothers was upbeat, with the company noting strong new business volumes in banking, fund inflows in asset management and high trading volumes at Winterflood, its market making business. Its shares were flat in morning trading.

Funds recover at Polar Capital: Asset management group Polar Capital said that assets under management had recovered from £12.2bn at the end of March to £16.4bn at the end of September, which is almost level with where they were in October last year. First-half pre-tax profits improved from £27m to £29m. The shares were up 1 per cent on Tuesday morning.

Boom times for CMC Markets: Spread-betting group CMC Markets boasted of a “record H1 trading performance”. Pre-tax profits jumped 369 per cent to £141m thanks to increased trading by new and existing clients.

Guy Chazan in Berlin

German public health officials said the country was succeeding in flattening the curve of new coronavirus infections, but it was still unclear if the country had reached a turning point in combating the virus.

Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s main public health agency, said the number of cases had stabilised at a high level in the past two weeks.

“They are not rising any more and that’s good news,” Mr Wieler said. “[But] they are still way too high.”

Germany reported 22,609 Covid-19 cases in its latest 24-hour figures on Thursday, bringing the total to 855,916. So far, 13,370 people have died of the disease.

Ute Rexroth, head of surveillance at the RKI, said that, whereas at the start of October Germany was reporting between 1,000-4,000 cases a day, by the middle of November that had risen to between 12,000-23,000 cases.

To slow the spread of the virus, Germany went into a “lockdown-light” at the start of November, closing all restaurants, bars, gyms and theatres for a month though schools and businesses have remained open.

Ms Rexroth said the reproduction, or R, number was going down, which showed “the tougher measures are working – and that’s good news”. The R number is the average number of secondary infections from one infected person.

“We’re on the right path,” she said.

But she noted that more and more elderly people were falling ill and ending up in hospital. On October 8, 487 people were being treated for Covid-19 in Germany’s intensive care wards, that figure has risen to 3,561 by Wednesday.

Nearly 200 anti-lockdown protesters were arrested after thousands gathered in Berlin on Wednesday to voice their anger against coronavirus legislation that they say violates their rights. Police stopped the protest after marchers failed to observe social distancing rules or wear masks, although a large number refused to leave.

Naomi Rovnick

European stock markets fell, echoing similar moves in Asia and on Wall Street overnight, as rising coronavirus cases and tighter restrictions overshadowed positive news about potential vaccines.

The regional Stoxx 600 index, which is almost 14 per cent higher this month following exuberance about positive late-stage vaccine trials from drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna, dropped 0.8 per cent in early trades. Germany’s Xetra Dax and the UK’s FTSE 100 were also 0.8 per cent lower.

All sectors of the Stoxx fell, with value stocks — unloved companies with high dividend yields that benefit from economic recoveries — performing the worst. The banking sector of the European index fell 1.2 per cent while energy shares fell 1.6 per cent.

US coronavirus deaths rose by the most in more than six months on Wednesday. New York City has closed its public schools and Colorado urged its residents against travelling around the Thanksgiving holiday.

This took the shine off an announcement by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech that they would submit their Covid-19 vaccine for US and EU emergency approval “within days”, saying it was even more effective than previously reported.

The medical journal The Lancet on Thursday reported that Oxford university and AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate had shown a strong immune response, based on second-phase trial data. The Financial Times first reported on the promising data last month.

In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 0.5 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 225 dropped 0.3 per cent.

Gold dropped 0.5 per cent to $1,862 a troy ounce while the dollar strengthened, with the index measuring the US currency against those of major trading partners 0.1 per cent higher.

George Steer

Royal Mail’s revenue from parcels exceeded that from letters for the first time in its history as the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the UK trend towards online shopping.

Parcel delivery accounted for 60 per cent of total turnover, from 47 per cent in the same period last year, the group said on Thursday.

Sales increased 9.8 per cent to £5.7bn in the six months to September but profit before tax dived 90.2 per cent to £17m.

Shares in the FTSE-250 company rose more than 6 per cent in early trading in London. They have risen more than 34 per cent this year.

“The level of revenue growth in the first half shows we have the right strategy and that Royal Mail can be cash generative and a sustainable, profitable business in the future,” said Keith Williams, interim executive chair. “But we need to speed up the pace of change in order to create a profitable business in the UK.”

Mr Williams said the talks with the Communication Workers Union had “intensified over the past weeks”.

The 500-year-old organisation has previously hinted it may seek to drop Saturday letter rounds, a move that is likely to face resistance from union leaders worried about the potential impact on jobs.

Last month, Royal Mail began collecting parcels from doorsteps across the UK, with customers able to hand over items to postmen and women on their rounds or leave their packages in a “safe place” from Monday to Saturday for a small fee online.

Jonathan Eley

DIY conglomerate Kingfisher expects a £175m boost to profit in its current financial year from “temporary cost savings” that include financial assistance from governments.

The admission, contained in a third-quarter trading update that showed sustained strong sales growth, adds to the controversy about whether retailers who have profited from the coronavirus pandemic should be receiving government support.

The £175m is net of the costs of responding to the Covid-19 crisis. In September, Kingfisher estimated that these would be £40m across the full year. But the UK’s business rate relief alone is expected to save the group £130m.

It also saved cash through other initiatives such as cutting back on advertising and marketing during the UK’s first lockdown.

Kingfisher has ample liquidity: it has access to about £3bn of cash and bank facilities plus the Bank of England’s coronavirus lending facility, and has seen a strong recovery in trading as households divert leisure spending into home improvements.

Group sales in the third quarter were up 18 per cent with sales at the UK’s B&Q chain rising 24 per cent. In the six weeks to November 14, when lockdowns were reimposed in its two of its most important markets, sales were up 12.6 per cent.

The company’s previously moribund share price has responded, rising almost a third in 2020 to date. Shares were down 2.6 per cent in early Thursday trading in London.

The group, which has operations in France, Poland, Spain, Portugal and Romania, has repaid £23m of money drawn under the UK’s furlough scheme, hired thousands more workers and has not declared any dividends so far this year.

However, analysts are forecasting a 4p payout for the full year, at a cost of £84m. Total dividends in 2019, the last “normal” year, were 11p a share.

Patricia Nilsson

Naked Wines, the online retailer that sells wine on subscription, said sales soared in the past six months, as the pandemic has boosted customers’ willingness to buy alcohol over the internet.

The London-listed group on Thursday said sales grew 80 per cent to £157m in the half-year ending September, leading it to upgrade its sales growth guidance for the full year to between 55 and 65 per cent.

In response, Naked Wines shares rose 5 per cent in early trading in London.

“The last six months have been a critical period in the development of the company,” said chief executive, Nick Devlin. The company did, however, acknowledge “significant levels of political and economic uncertainty” in its key markets, which include the US and the UK.

Naked Wines said that pre-tax losses in the period deepened by £2.7m to £8.9m. It blamed the slump mainly on a £4m exceptional charge because it expected to receive less than originally expected from the sale of Majestic Wine stores in Calais.

The company said the UK’s new duty free import rules were “likely to result in a material impact on the Majestic Calais business”.

Majestic Wine was sold to a unit of SoftBank last December.

Donato Paolo Mancini in London

The coronavirus vaccine that Oxford University and AstraZeneca are developing has elicited a strong immune response and been shown to be safe in older adults, a group at higher risk of developing severe symptoms of Covid-19.

In phase 2 results published in The Lancet, researchers said the vaccine was better tolerated in older people than in younger adults, and that it produced a similar immune response in both groups.

Phase 2 trials are not definitive and, crucially, do not measure efficacy, the metric regulators seek to warrant approval. Separate Phase 3 trials of the vaccine are under way, and results are expected before the end of the year.

Oxford’s Andrew Pollard, the study lead, said immune responses were usually weaker in older adults because the immune system deteriorates with age. “As a result, it is crucial that Covid-19 vaccines are tested in this group who are also a priority group for immunisation,” he said.

The Financial Times first reported on the promising data last month.

Results from trials by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna on potential vaccines have spurred widespread optimism recently, with greater-than-expected phase 3 efficacy figures for their jabs. The findings have raised the prospect of at least two vaccines being approved on an emergency basis before the end of the year.

Joe Miller in Frankfurt

Thyssenkrupp, the ailing German steel and materials group, plunged to a full-year loss of €5.5bn and announced a further 7,400 job cuts, as the pandemic increases the pressure on the former conglomerate to speed up its restructuring.

The Essen-based company, which employs more than 100,000 people, warned that it expects to slump to a further loss of at least €1bn in the current financial year.

Unable to escape a steady decline over the past decade, Thyssenkrupp sold its lucrative elevators business to a private equity consortium for €17bn in February, to help it pay down billions of euros in debt, and fund huge pension liabilities.

But one of the best-known names in German industry has continued to bleed cash in its remaining businesses, with free cash flow collapsing in its last financial year, which ran through to the end of September.

Having cycled through three chief executives in 15 months, Thyssenkrupp is now under the leadership of an outsider, former Bosch executive Martina Merz, who gave up the chairmanship of the company’s supervisory board to take the executive reins in October 2019.

In May, Ms Merz outlined a deep restructuring plan that would result in nine businesses — with combined sales of over €6bn a year and a total of 20,000 employees — leaving the company completely, and the remaining units being run under a loose holding structure.

The extra job cuts announced on Thursday bring the total number of roles at risk to 11,000, and Thyssenkrupp refused to rule out forced redundancies.

Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi

Delhi reported its largest number of coronavirus deaths in one day, the biggest since November, as the capital city is in the grips of a third wave of coronavirus.

The state recorded 131 fatalities on Wednesday, the latest health data showed, bringing the total number of deaths to 7,943.

Delhi has the fourth highest number of Covid 19 deaths in the country of 1.4bn people — behind Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu — but it is seeing a significant surge in cases that is overwhelming already stretched hospitals.

Doctors have warned that the cold weather and pollution, which under normal circumstances worsen respiratory illnesses, are exacerbating the severity of coronavirus infections, leading to more hospitalisations and complications.

Despite the high numbers, Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain ruled out another lockdown earlier this week.

“The lockdown had been an experiment and what we have learnt that wearing masks can give us the same benefits,” said Mr Jain.

Benjamin Parkin in Mumbai

India is approaching 9m coronavirus infections after recording 45,000 new cases over the past 24 hours.

India is now at 8.96m confirmed cases in total. Recorded cases across South Asia surpassed 10m on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, with nearly half a million in neighbouring Bangladesh, more than 300,000 in Pakistan and 200,000 in Nepal.

In September, India was recording nearly 100,000 new cases a day and was on track to surpass the US for the world’s highest caseload. But daily infections have fallen sharply in recent weeks, dropping to a four-month low of below 30,000 on Tuesday.

Sero-prevalence surveys across both urban and rural India, however, suggest that the true spread has been many times higher than what the official figures capture.

India added 585 new deaths on Thursday, bringing the total to more than 131,000.

Jonathan Wheatley in London

In a crisis, it pays to be wealthy. The response of the developed world to the devastation of their economies by coronavirus has been to throw money at the problem. The IMF estimates that the combined fiscal and monetary stimulus delivered by advanced economies has been equal to 20 per cent of their gross domestic product.

Middle income countries in the developing world have been able to do less but they still put together a combined response equal to 6 or 7 per cent of GDP, according to the IMF.

For the poorest countries, however, the reaction has been much more modest. Together they injected spending equal to just 2 per cent of their much smaller national output in reaction to the pandemic. That has left their economies much more vulnerable to a prolonged slump, potentially pushing millions of people into poverty.

Read more here

Richard Milne, Nordic and Baltic Correspondent

Populist parties will gain in popularity and economies will remain closed unless Europe manages to get Covid-19 infections under control, according to the prime minister of the country with the lowest number of cases in the EU.

Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, told the Financial Times that the public across Europe could blame governments for closing economies and hurting their wages and employment.

“This will cause protests more and more, and it’s a breeding ground for populist movements across Europe. When you’re closing an economy and people’s workplaces, it will cause political instability. Populists come with easy answers to difficult problems, but their solutions are rarely the right ones,” she added.

Read more here

Eva Szalay in London and Colby Smith in New York

Wall Street analysts expect the arrival of a vaccine against coronavirus to send the dollar sinking next year as confidence returns to the global economy.

Big banks with already negative views on the dollar for 2021 cut their forecasts further this month after clinical trials bolstered hopes that vaccines could become widely available next year, sparking an economic rebound that encourages a hunt for riskier bets.

The dollar is typically in demand in times of stress, reflecting its traditional role as a haven for investors and savers, as seen in a startling rally at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in March. Now some currency watchers believe a vaccine changes everything.

“Vaccine distribution we believe will check off all of our bear market signposts, allowing the dollar to follow a similar path to that it experienced from the early to mid-2000s,” Citi analyst Calvin Tse said in a research note. “Can the dollar decline 20 per cent next year alone? We think yes,” the bank added.

Read more here

Christian Shepherd in Beijing

A fifth Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine has been approved to start final stage efficacy trials, as the country’s leading developers rush to close on global leaders in the race to find a coronavirus cure.

Anhui ZhifeiLongcom, a subsidiary of Shenzhen-listed Chongqing Zhifei Biological, has launched phase 3 trials in Xiangtan city, Hunan province after receiving regulatory approval and intends to begin similar tests overseas this month, Chinese state media reported.

The vaccine uses a “recombinant subunit” — a small piece of virus DNA that has been amplified by bacterial or yeast cells — to spark an immune response, a method that tends to minimise the possibility of adverse reactions but can mean less immunity than other options.

Rapid progress from China’s leading vaccine developers in the early days of the pandemic has slowed in recent months as the near eradication of the virus within China required groups to carry out trials outside the country.

Anhui ZhifeiLongcom hopes to begin overseas trials in Uzbekistan this month and then expand tests to Indonesia, Pakistan and Ecuador, with a target of recruiting 29,000 participants in total, the Science and Technology Daily newspaper reported.

Results from phase 3 tests carried out in the general population are necessary to demonstrate the overall safety and effectiveness of a vaccine before regulators can approve it for commercial sale.

China already has four vaccine candidates also currently carrying out final stage trials with partners around the world: two made by state-run Sinopharm and one each from CanSino and Sinovac.

Pfizer and Moderna’s recent announcement of promising final stage results has dampened investor interest in Chinese pharmaceutical companies, knocking £13bn off] their market capitalisation.

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

Criminals, terrorists and political extremists are exploiting the pandemic to build support networks, undermine trust in government and even weaponise the virus, according to a new research report by the UN’s Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute.

“Terrorist, violent extremist and organized criminal groups are trying to take advantage of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic to expand their activities and jeopardize the efficacy and credibility of response measures by governments,” UNICRI director Antonia Marie De Meo wrote in the report.

“It is also alarming that some terrorist and violent extremist groups have attempted to misuse social media to incite potential terrorists to intentionally spread Covid-19 and to use it as an improvised form of a biological weapon.”

Social media was being used to “inspire terrorism”, the researchers found.

“There are cases in which right-wing extremist groups … explicitly asked their followers to spread the virus by coughing on their local minority or by attending to specific places where religious or racial minorities gather. Other groups … advocate to spread the coronavirus disease in countries with large populations or high levels of pollution,” the report said.

One case of “inspired terrorism” highlighted by the report, entitled ‘Stop the Virus of Disinformation’, was that of Timothy Wilson, who plotted to detonate a bomb in a hospital caring for coronavirus patients in Kansas City.

Wilson was killed during a firefight with FBI officers in March. He had been active on neo-Nazi channels on the social media platform Telegram, and his last online comment was an anti-semitic message regarding the origin of Covid-19, the report said.

The report examines three groups of non-state actors: right-wing extremists, groups associated with Isis and Al-Qaida, and organised crime. It describes how they have used social media to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation about the virus, expanding their networks by exploiting algorithms that identify those who have liked and forwarded memes.

Such conspiracy theories, the report said, have included “the identification of the 5G mobile phone signal as a vehicle to transmit the virus, or the false claim that the pandemic has been masterminded by Bill Gates to implant microchips into human beings, or the false idea that the virus is a hoax and does not exist”.

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

New Zealand on Thursday announced new testing measures to increase the safety of border workers.

“These strengthened rules — to apply to all international airports and ports — build on the mandatory testing orders we’ve been implementing since August and will make our border safety even stronger,” said the country’s Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins.

“The rules extend testing to workers not previously covered and increase the frequency of testing for some higher risk workers.”

The new rules include increasing the frequency of testing for ship pilots, as well as for some workers who carry out work on affected ships and on aircraft that have arrived from outside of New Zealand, from fortnightly to weekly.

There will also be mandatory fortnightly testing for port workers not already covered, and for airport airside and landside workers not already covered who interact with international arriving or transiting passengers.

New Zealand has successfully contained outbreaks of the virus on its shores, but remains vulnerable to imported infections.

The new requirements will come into force from midnight on November 26.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government confirmed an in-principle agreement to purchase up to 5m million Covid-19 vaccines from Janssen Pharmaceutica, subject to clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in the country, the research, science and innovation minister Megan Woods said.

“This agreement forms part of our portfolio approach to ensure that we have the ability to access a range of vaccine options, if and when a suitable vaccine is developed and approved.”

Sun Yu in Beijing

When protesters besieged the Beijing headquarters of an apartment rental company in a rare show of public outrage last week, it shook one of China’s fastest growing and most highly leveraged industries to its foundations.

The dozens of landlords, tenants, contractors and cleaners gathered outside Danke’s offices alleged the company broke lease contracts and defaulted on payments. Such claims are becoming widespread across a sector that manages up to half of the Chinese capital’s rental homes.

“Pay back my hard-earned money,” read one banner carried by the protesters outside Danke’s offices in the centre of the city.

China’s once high-flying residential rental industry, in which companies sign multiyear leases with individual landlords before subletting the homes to tenants, has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

Read more here

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

South Australia reported no new coronavirus infections on Thursday as the state entered a six-day lockdown to prevent a wider community outbreak following a cluster of cases.

The circuit breaker was triggered after health authorities this week linked 23 coronavirus cases to a quarantine hotel, breaking the state’s months-long run of no locally transmitted infections. There are also 17 suspected infections linked to the cluster.

More than 20,000 residents have been tested over the past 48 hours, premier Steven Marshall said at a press conference.

“This six-day pause in community activity will bring additional difficulties for more South Australians,” Mr Marshall said. “The alternative is the virus escapes into the wider community and we are forced into an extended lockdown to bring it under control.”

He said the six days will be used for a “contact-tracing blitz” and that thousands are thought to have been in contact with infected people.

International flights into Adelaide have been cancelled until the end of the month.

The state of Victoria, which triggered a lockdown in July to halt an outbreak in Melbourne, reported another day of no new infections, making 20 days of no new cases.

Peter Wells in New York

US coronavirus deaths rose by the most in more than six months on Wednesday, propelling the country’s average fatality rate above that seen during the summer and to its highest since May.

States attributed a further 1,869 deaths to coronavirus, according to Covid Tracking Project data, up from 1,555 on Monday and compared with 1,543 on Wednesday last week.

There have been 241,704 deaths attributed to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to Covid Tracking Project data, which the Financial Times uses for analysis. Johns Hopkins University, which uses an alternative methodology, today put the tally at 250,000.

It was the biggest single-day increase in fatalities since the 2,753 reported on May 7, when coronavirus was ravaging northeastern states like New York and New Jersey.

Over the past week, the US has averaged 1,162 coronavirus deaths a day, the highest since late May and surpassing the highest rate during summer of 1,142 a day when states in the sunbelt were battling the outbreak.

Deaths tend to lag cases and hospitalisations, both of which are now at record levels.


There are currently 79,410 people in US hospitals being treated for coronavirus, the highest level of the pandemic.

States reported a further 163,975 Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, up from 156,722 on Tuesday, compared with 144,801 on Wednesday last week. The US had a record 172,106 infections last Thursday.

The US has reported 1.1m new cases over the past week, a record for a seven-day period.

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

With Covid-19 cases on the rise in the Middle East following weeks of decline, the region’s top UN official has welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s decision to resume coordination with Israel.

In a briefing to the Security Council on Wednesday, UN special coordinator Nikolay Mladenov said Gaza was ill-equipped to handle a major rise in cases due to its fragile healthcare system, warning that any significant outbreak would have a disastrous impact on the 2m Palestinians living there.

Poor living conditions, severe movement restrictions and years of humanitarian crisis, he said, would serve to exacerbate any large outbreak in Gaza.

“For these reasons, I welcome the Palestinian Authority’s decision to restart civilian and security coordination with Israel,” he said. “I express my appreciation to Israel for confirming that existing bilateral agreements continue to govern relations between both parties, particularly in the context of economic, security and civilian affairs.”

Mr Mladenov said unemployment and hunger have soared in Gaza during the pandemic. Some 121,000 Palestinians have lost their jobs, with 40 per cent of households having seen their incomes fall by more than half.

Assistance provided by the UN and its partners has included the delivery of nearly 85,000 Covid-19 tests, advanced laboratory equipment, ventilators and monitors.

Peter Wells in New York

Minnesota’s governor has ordered bars and restaurants to offer only takeout options, gyms to close and limits on social gatherings for the next four weeks in an effort to curb record levels of daily coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths.

Covid-19 was spreading at an “alarming pace”, Tim Walz said during a televised press conference on Wednesday evening, and was “overwhelming businesses, schools, hospitals” and care facilities in the Midwestern state.

The new restrictions take effect on Saturday and will halt in-person dining at bars and restaurants and close other businesses with indoor operations such as gyms and fitness centres, cinemas, bowling alleys and bingo halls.

Social gatherings will now be limited to people from the same household, while celebrations such as weddings will also be paused for the next four weeks. Youth and adult sports will be put on hold. Places of worship and essential businesses such as supermarkets will remain open.

The new restrictions follow steps by several other states and cities over the past week to impose new curbs on economic activity following surges in coronavirus cases. New York City earlier on Wednesday ordered public schools to close from Thursday, while earlier this week Philadelphia also told schools to shift to online learning only, banned indoor activities and businesses including dining at restaurants, gyms and casinos.

Ohio on Tuesday announced a new statewide curfew between the hours of 10pm and 5am, while Maryland ordered bars and restaurants to cease late-night in-person dining.

Mr Walz said that more than one-third of all new cases in Minnesota have no known source and that more than 90 per cent of frontline hospital workers who have become infected with coronavirus are catching it through community spread.

Minnesota has confirmed 242,043 Covid-19 cases and registered 3,010 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to health department data.

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific equities dipped on Thursday as optimism over progress on Covid-19 vaccines was offset by further shutdowns designed to stem the spread of the virus.

Japan’s Topix fell 0.3 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea was also down 0.3 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.4 per cent.

Vaccine-related optimism came from an update from Pfizer and BioNTech that they would submit their Covid-19 vaccine to regulators in the US and Europe for emergency approval “within days”. The companies said further data showed the vaccine to be 95 per cent effective.

However, that was tempered by rising coronavirus case counts and concern over the economic recovery, and with New York shutting its schools.

In the US, the S&P 500 ended down 1.2 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite shed 0.8 per cent.

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

An outbreak of deadly Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo is over, the government announced on Wednesday. The World Health Organization said valuable lessons learned in the five-month response to the epidemic will be crucial to fighting Covid-19 in Africa.

The outbreak in DRC’s northwestern Equateur province emerged in early June and caused 130 Ebola cases and 55 deaths. The WHO-supported response included the vaccination of more than 40,000 people at high risk of falling sick from the frequently fatal haemorrhagic disease.

Like at least one of the Covid-19 candidate vaccines, the Ebola vaccine needs to be kept at super-cold temperatures to keep it from spoiling. “Overcoming one of the world’s most dangerous pathogens in remote and hard to access communities demonstrates what is possible when science and solidarity come together,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa.

“The technology used to keep the Ebola vaccine at super-cold temperatures will be helpful when bringing a Covid-19 vaccine to Africa. Tackling Ebola in parallel with Covid-19 hasn’t been easy, but much of the expertise we’ve built in one disease is transferrable to another and underlines the importance of investing in emergency preparedness and building local capacity.”

The Ebola response includes the deployment of special freezers that can store vaccines in the field for up to a week, enabling responders to vaccinate people in areas without electricity. The challenge was further complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the spread of Ebola cases in remote areas in dense rainforests.

Many affected areas were accessible only by boat or helicopter and had limited telecommunications capacity. The response was also slowed by a strike among health service providers over pay.

“This great achievement shows that together we can overcome any health challenge,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, said in a tweet. 

Peter Wells in New York

Texas reported its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus deaths in two-and-a-half months on Wednesday.

Deaths leapt by 187, the health department revealed, up from 117 on Tuesday and compared with 141 on Wednesday last week.

It was the biggest one-day jump in fatalities since early September, and took the overall number of coronavirus deaths in the state to 19,883, a toll second only to New York.

A further 8,489 people tested positive, the health department revealed, down from Tuesday’s record of 10,823 new cases and compared with 10,097 on Wednesday last week.

Authorities have for months added older cases stemming from backlogs of tests at commercial laboratories to the statewide toll, although these are excluded from the daily figure. There were about 380 historical infections revealed by authorities, including 184 from El Paso county.

The number of people currently in Texas hospitals being treated for coronavirus rose to 7,958, the highest level since August 7.

Peter Wells in New York

Florida became the third US state to top 900,000 coronavirus cases on Wednesday as it experiences a sustained rise in new daily cases.

A further 7,925 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, the state health department revealed this afternoon, up from 7,285 on Tuesday and compared with 5,669 on Wednesday last week.

On Sunday, Florida had 9,820 new cases, the biggest one-day increase since late July, and the state’s average of 6,604 cases a day over the past week, is the highest since early August.

Overall, Florida has confirmed 905,248 cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the state health department. Only Texas and California, with more than 1m infections each, have reported more.

A further 88 deaths were attributed to coronavirus, up from 86 on Tuesday and compared with 52 on Wednesday last week. Although the trend in daily fatalities in Florida had declined since the summer, it has been rising since the start of autumn and, at 62 deaths a day over the past week, the seven-day average is now at its highest since late October.

There are similar resurgent trends occurring in California, another sunbelt state that experienced a surge in cases, hospitalisations and deaths during the summer.

The Golden State reported a further 9,811 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, up from 8,743 on Tuesday and compared with 7,464 on Wednesday last week. California has averaged 9,015 new infections a day over the past week, the highest level since mid-August.

Deaths rose by 61. That is 20 fatalities higher than the state’s seven-day average, which has remained relatively steady in the low- to mid-40s this month.

Regeneron’s chief executive said US President Donald Trump ticked all the boxes to qualify for receiving the biotech’s antibody treatment on a compassionate use basis. Leonard Schleifer said Regeneron had a “principled approach” to allowing patients to be treated with the drug, which has not yet been approved, outside of clinical trials.

New York City will close public schools from Thursday after coronavirus test positivity rates in the city crossed a threshold level. The seven-day average of testing positivity in the country’s most populous city hit 3 per cent.

Every American state will receive a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines within 24 hours of the US drug regulator issuing an emergency use authorisation, according to plans drawn up by Operation Warp Speed. General Gustave Perna said vaccines will be sent to 64 jurisdictions, including all 50 states, six metropolitan areas, and territories, as soon as the Food and Drug Administration has given the go ahead.

US petroleum demand plunged last week amid surging cases. Petrol consumption fell 6 per cent in the seven days to November 13 compared with the previous week to 8.3m barrels a day, according to data released by the Energy Information Administration.

Norwegian Air Shuttle is filing for protection from creditors under the Irish equivalent of Chapter 11 as the carrier becomes the largest casualty of the Covid-19 crisis in aviation. Norwegian, Europe’s third-largest low-cost airline, said that two of its main subsidiaries would file for examinership in Ireland, a reorganisation process akin to Chapter 11 in the US.

The Swiss government has said it will deploy 2,500 military personnel to help ease pressure on its health system as seeks to avoid a second lockdown. In October, Switzerland experienced a surge in Covid-19 cases that made the wealthy alpine country one of the worst-hit in Europe during the second wave of the pandemic.

The rate of US new home construction exceeded expectations last month as housing demand continues to be boosted during the coronavirus pandemic. US housing starts jumped 4.9 per cent month on month to an annualised pace of 1.53m in October.

Iran’s daily death toll could exceed 1,000 when mistestings and probable cases are included, the health ministry said. “It is possible the figure has passed four-digit figures on days when the fatalities are very high,” Sima Lari, Iran’s health ministry spokesperson, said.

German police used water cannon against anti-lockdown protesters in central Berlin after they ignored calls to disperse. Police stopped the demonstration after protesters failed to observe social-distancing rules and wear masks.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson rebutted criticism from the Labour opposition leader for the government’s lack of oversight and due diligence on multimillion pound contracts to procure personal protective equipment during the pandemic. Keir Starmer narrowed in on £21m paid to a go-between to fix £250m worth of contracts for a Miami jewellery designer to provide PPE to the NHS.

UK government advisers have urged people to “make every effort” to follow the stricter rules so as to enjoy a Christmas “as close to normal as possible”. People need “to make every effort over this national restriction period and even in early December”, said Susan Hopkins, an infectious diseases adviser at Public Health England.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they would submit their Covid-19 vaccine for US and EU emergency approval “within days”, after new data showed it was even more effective than previously reported. The jab was found to have an efficacy rate of 95 per cent, the companies said, matching results released this week by vaccine rival Moderna.

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