Global Covid-19 statistics
End of US’s extra unemployment benefits gives little boost to labour market
The end of extra federal unemployment benefits for millions of Americans this month is unlikely to provide a significant boost to the US labour market, according to an analysis by the Financial Times and studies by economists and industry analysts.
Before September’s expiry — which left more than 7.5m people without access to enhanced pandemic-related benefits — unemployed people had this year received an extra $300 per week from the federal government in addition to state aid.
The federal benefits have been politically divisive, with many Republican leaders arguing they have dissuaded people from returning to the workforce and fuelled a nationwide labour shortage that has inhibited the economic recovery.
In June, 22 states withdrew the supplemental payments — a number that rose to 26 by midsummer — creating a sort of natural experiment given that the other states kept them in place.
An FT analysis of monthly data from the US Department of Labor shows that states that ended benefits early did not report faster job growth than those that opted to keep additional aid flowing. Non-farm payrolls rose by about 1.3 per cent in both sets of states from May, when the bulk of the states laid out their plans to abandon the federal programme, to August.
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Wyoming governor activates National Guard troops to help Covid-strained hospitals
Wyoming governor Mark Gordon has called on 95 members of the state’s National Guard to aid hospitals that are under strain from a surge in Covid-19 hospital admissions.
“There are approximately 200 people with Covid-19 in Wyoming hospitals today, which is near the peak number the state has seen during the pandemic,” Gordon’s office said in a statement.
The governor assigned 95 soldiers and airmen to hospitals across 17 cities to help the state’s health department staff and hospitals respond to a surge in Covid hospitalisations.
The guard members will be responsible for helping to clean up in hospital facilities, Covid-19 screening, managing personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and some will also be trained to administer Covid tests.
The guards members will be on 14 to 30 day rotations, with a possibility to extend, until the end of the year.
Idaho, Kentucky and Tennessee have recently activated their respective National Guard troops to assist hospitals under pressure from Covid admissions.
FedEx cuts outlook as labour shortages raise costs
Parcel delivery company FedEx cut its earnings outlook and reported a decline in quarterly profits blaming higher costs tied to labour shortages.
Tennessee-based FedEx said it now expects full-year adjusted earnings of between 19.75 to $21.00 a share, down from its previous forecast of $20.50 to $21.50 per share.
“The current labour environment is driving inefficiencies in the operation of our networks and significantly impacting our financial results,” said Raj Subramaniam, chief operating officer.
Shares fell 4 per cent in after-hours trade on Tuesday.
FedEx benefited from an online shopping boom during the pandemic and raised prices and imposed surcharges to offset higher costs associated with the surge in demand. But the company noted that while commercial ground and express package volume rose in the first quarter compared with a year ago, supply chain disruptions slowed US domestic parcel demand.
FedEx revenues rose 14 per cent from a year ago to $22bn in the company’s fiscal first quarter ended August 31. That was broadly in line with expectations for $21.9bn, according to a Refinitiv survey of Wall Street analysts.
Net income slid to $1.1bn, or $4.09 a share, compared with $1.25bn, or $4.72 a share, in the year-ago quarter. Adjusted earnings of $4.37 a share missed expectations for $4.91 a share.
The company said its first-quarter results were affected by a $450m year-on-year increase in costs tied to labour shortages, including higher wages and was partially offset by higher package and freight yields.
Disney says production delays could cool subscriber growth
Production delays prompted by the Delta variant could affect near-term subscriber growth to Disney’s streaming service, chief executive Bob Chapek said on Tuesday.
“The resurgence of Covid and Delta did impact some of our productions so that we’ve got a lighter product order in Q4 than we might have expected,” Chapek said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference.
However, he added that the “kick in the supply chain for new content” is “very short term” and that Disney studio already as 61 new movies and 17 different series in production.
“We’re very bullish and confident about our long-term [subscriber] growth but we’re going to see a little bit more noise than I think maybe the street expects in terms of our ultimate projections quarter-to-quarter,” Chapek said.
Disney shares ended the day 4 per cent lower.
The media company in August said it had 116m Disney Plus subscribers and has previously projected between 230m to 260m subscribers by 2024.
Disney’s theme parks, which had a slight slowdown in attendance because of the Delta variant before the Labor Day holiday, have since “started to recover quite nicely”. Chapek added that park guests have been “extraordinarily agreeable and compliant” with mask requirements.
Texas prison outbreak shows high transmission among fully vaccinated populace, CDC says
An outbreak of the Delta variant at a federal prison in Texas has shown high levels of “breakthrough” infections in fully vaccinated people who live in close quarters.
“During a Covid-19 outbreak involving the Delta variant in a highly vaccinated incarcerated population, transmission rates were high, even among vaccinated persons,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its report on Tuesday.
Nearly three-quarters of incarcerated people in two housing units were infected during the July outbreak.
A CDC analysis of data on infection status, hospitalisations and deaths among incarcerated individuals found that the infection rate was higher among unvaccinated people, at 93 per cent, with 39 of 42 being infected.
However, breakthrough infections were also elevated at 70 per cent, with 129 of 185 fully vaccinated persons falling ill.
Four people were hospitalised, three of whom were unvaccinated, and one person who was unvaccinated died.
Incarcerated populations have experienced disproportionately higher rates of Covid-19 infections and death compared with the general US population as virus transmission is fuelled by living in close quarters.
The top US health agency cautioned that, even with high vaccination rates, testing, masking, isolation and quarantine for incarcerated persons are “critical” to limiting the spread of coronavirus in “congregate settings where physical distancing is challenging”.
Gates says weak distribution bigger obstacle to poor nations than vaccine supply
Immunisation programmes to protect low-income countries from Covid-19 will soon be limited far less by restricted supplies of vaccines than by weak demand and poor distribution systems, the US philanthropist Bill Gates has predicted.
“We’re very close to the supply question no longer being the problem at all. By January next year, we won’t have countries saying it’s all a supply issue,” he said, despite pressure from activists for drug companies to waive intellectual property rights and for countries to establish their own competing local vaccine factories.
Speaking to the FT ahead of the launch of a white paper on “ending the Covid-19 crisis”, Gates called for richer nations and drug companies to share more information on their orders and to limit the use of booster vaccines until the end of the year while poorer countries struggled to gain access.
“There is no central understanding of the supply commitments all the vaccine manufacturers have made. We’re just trying to get more transparency on the deals,” he said. “Ideally the rich countries will go with fairly narrow booster policies between now and the end of year to make sure [vaccines] go to other countries.”
But he cautioned that the rapid expansion of Covid-19 vaccine production, fast rising immunisation rates in rich countries and the lifting of an export ban by India, one of the world’s largest manufacturers, would ease output bottlenecks by the end of the year.
As policymakers gather at the United Nations this week to discuss their response to coronavirus, he said they should step up funding including committing $1bn a year for a new 2,000-strong group of disease surveillance experts at the World Health Organization, backed by enhanced global diagnostic systems to detect future pandemics.
He also stressed the importance of fresh research and development funding, to expand the applications of a new generation of vaccines which could be deployed within 100 days of the detection of new viruses, alongside antiviral drugs for treatment.
Europe secures more than 200,000 doses of Eli Lilly Covid antibody treatment
Europe will receive up to 220,000 doses of monoclonal antibody treatment for Covid patients from US pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly under a deal announced on Tuesday.
The doses of bamlanivimab and etesevimab bought by the European Commission will be used together to treat Covid patients aged 12 years and up who are not on oxygen therapy but are at high risk of progressing to severe illness.
The treatments are administered via an intravenous infusion and the agreement highlights the continued need for medicines despite the widespread availability of Covid vaccines.
In March, phase 3 trials showed that the drugs administered together reduced deaths from Covid in high-risk patients.
UK on track for worst daily death toll in 6 months in September
The UK has reported more than 200 coronavirus-related deaths for a fourth 24-hour period in September, showing it to be on track for the worst toll since March.
The latest government figures, published on Tuesday, said 203 people had died within 28 days of their first positive Covid-19 test result. The worst toll this month was 209 on September 7, the official website showed.
The daily tally last surpassed 200 more than six months ago. The beginning of March was tough as the country emerged from its first winter of Covid-19, with 343 recorded on March 2, but deaths tailed off towards the end of that month. The worst day this year was on January 21 when 1,290 people died within 28 days of testing positive.
Scotland to receive reinforcements for battle against Covid
The UK’s Armed Forces, including ambulance drivers and support staff, will be deployed from this weekend to help in Scotland’s fight against Covid-19.
The UK government has responded to a request from the Scotland office and given the go-ahead to 225 military personnel to help bulk up the devolved nation’s ambulance and testing services.
The Ministry of Defence will provide 114 people from Saturday, for a “couple of months”, to help the ambulance service with non-emergency driving, focusing on central Scotland. The other 111 will provide support from September 29 to operate mobile testing units, many of which the military set up and ran last year, help identify infections and break chains of transmission.
The British Armed Forces have played a “key role in the fight against the Covid-19 across the UK”, said Scottish secretary Alistair Jack on Tuesday. “It is admirable to see them once again supporting crucial public services in Scotland in times of need.”
Covid-related pupil absences decline in England as measures eased
Coronavirus-related absences fell sharply in schools in England after control measures were lifted this term but education leaders warned of more disruption as infections gathered pace.
As much as 1.5 per cent of pupils were absent last week due to Covid-19 compared with 14.3 per cent in July, when contacts of positive cases were required to remain at home. This term, children no longer need to self-isolate after they have been in touch with somebody infected with coronavirus.
Still, last week more than 100,000 pupils were off school with a confirmed or likely case of coronavirus, up from 82,000 in the seven-day period before schools broke up for the summer holiday, data published by the Department for Education on Tuesday showed.
School leaders expressed concern that, with Covid-19 cases still high in schools, a lack of control measures could lead to larger outbreaks among children in the coming weeks.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was hopeful the vaccination programme for 12- to 15-year-olds would help reduce disruption, but warned the government should do more to stop the spread of Covid-19 in schools and colleges.
“It is clear from the fact that over 100,000 pupils were absent from school last week with a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus that educational disruption remains significant,” he said. “We are hearing of schools where significant numbers of pupils are absent.”
The figures, which show how many pupils were in school on September 16, are the first to be released after term began.
They show 91.9 per cent of students were in school last week. Separate figures by the Office for National Statistics estimated 3.18 per cent of year 7 to 11 pupils had Covid-19 on September 11, compared with 3.65 per cent when cases peaked before the summer holidays.
Poland to offer Covid boosters to over-50s
Polish officials said on Tuesday that medical personnel and people over the age of 50 would be offered a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as the country prepares for the latest wave of the pandemic.
New infections in Poland ran at just a couple of hundred a day for most of the summer, but in recent weeks cases have begun to rise again, and are expected to pass the 1,000 a day mark this week or next.
Poland has already started offering third jabs to the immuno-compromised, but officials said on Tuesday that this programme, which will use the Biontech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, will be expanded. Registration will start on September 24, and those eligible will be able to receive a third vaccine dose six months after their second shot.
“We know that every vaccine naturally loses effectiveness with time. Many countries have decided to give a third dose. We… also want to offer a third dose to Poles,” Waldemar Kraska, deputy health minister, told a press conference
US housing starts rise as rental demand boosts apartment construction
The rate of US new home construction exceeded expectations in August, boosted by apartments, as lower timber prices helped offset supply chain disruptions.
Housing starts rose 3.9 per cent month on month to an annualised pace of 1.62m units in August, the commerce department said on Tuesday. That topped a forecast rise to 1.56m and left housing starts 17.4 per cent higher than a year ago.
The increase was largely driven by a 21.6 per cent rise in the construction of apartment units, as rental demand picked up again, while construction of single-family homes dipped 2.8 per cent.
“There is certainly a housing shortage, as reflected in the low inventory of homes for sale and in low rental vacancy rates,” said Lawrence Yun, economist at National Association of Realtors. “However, a shift toward rental buildings means less access to homeownership over the long run and the accompanying opportunity for wealth gains.”
The report also showed permits to build new homes — considered a leading indicator of the housing market — rose 6 per cent to 1.73m units, also ahead of expectations for an increase to 1.6m.
The data come after US homebuilders Lennar and DR Horton delivered disappointing outlooks on Monday, citing supply chain bottlenecks as the industry faced delays in securing everything from appliances to windows.
Despite the shortage of labour and materials as well as higher costs to construct homes, strong demand and tight inventory have helped homebuilders raise prices as demand surged during the pandemic.
“Over the next few months, though, we have to expect single-family starts to drift lower, returning — like new home sales — to their pre-Covid level,” said Ian Shepherdson, economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “The flight to the burbs which triggered the boom in home sales, prices, and construction activity is over, though mortgage demand has nudged back up in the past two months.”
UK shoppers go back to ‘little and often’ habits
UK shoppers have reverted to their pre-pandemic habits, preferring to buy “little and more often” rather than planning ahead for one big outing, as workers return to offices and school terms begin.
Spending at convenience stories grew 3.3 per cent in the four weeks to September 11, data from NielsenIQ showed on Tuesday, outpacing supermarket growth of 0.6 per cent. Visits to all stores rose 10 per cent compared with the same period last year, though they trail 2019 levels.
Spending at big supermarkets totalled £9.8bn over the period, a 6 per cent bump over 2019, indicating that retail spending remains strong.
“UK shopping habits are shifting once again, this time towards convenience channels as Brits return to more impulsive shopping behaviours that correspond with a return to pre-pandemic lifestyles,” said Mike Watkins, who leads NielsenIQ’s UK retail practice.
“There remain some clouds on the horizon as rising energy costs and inflation could hit disposable incomes, whilst availability concerns could present challenges,” he added.
Online grocery growth accounted for 12.4 per cent of sales, a slight decrease from 13 per cent a year ago.
J&J booster increases protection against symptomatic Covid
A booster of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine increases protection against symptomatic Covid-19 to 94 per cent, the company said on Tuesday.
A second dose of the single-shot vaccine, administered 56 days after the first, offered complete protection against severe or critical Covid-19, the drugmaker said, citing results from a US study. J&J added that its safety and tolerability remained unchanged.
The US cohort of the study showed protection against symptomatic Covid-19 was 94 per cent, while globally that rate decreased to 75 per cent.
Additionally, J&J said, evidence from the US showed a single dose of the vaccine demonstrated effectiveness of 79 per cent against symptomatic Covid-19 and 81 per cent against hospitalisation. The shot is stored at fridge temperature and sold at cost for the duration of the pandemic.
“A single-shot Covid-19 vaccine that is easy to use, distribute and administer, and that provides strong and long-lasting protection is crucial to vaccinating the global population,” said Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at J&J.
Stoffels said the results showed the vaccine offered “significantly” extended protection with a booster.
UK emissions fall after sharp drop in personal travel
A sharp reduction in personal travel including commuting during the pandemic drove UK greenhouse gas emissions down 13 per cent last year on an annual basis, suggesting a more hybrid form of work could permanently lower emissions.
The Office for National Statistics noted that avoiding one commute a week, across a year with 46 working weeks, would save 337kg CO2 equivalent per person.
The transport sector was the biggest contributor to the decline, with its emissions falling 40 per cent between 2019 and 2020, the ONS said on Tuesday. Household transport emissions, excluding industrial transport, dropped 24 per cent, by far the biggest fall since the data began in 1990.
“With many people working remotely, being on furlough, or losing their job in 2020, more people were staying at home using energy for heating,” it said.
“However, these additional emissions were more than offset by the drop in travel emissions.”
Consumer emissions still accounted for the majority of green house gas production, but they were down by 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020, or about 10 per cent. This is the second greatest annual reduction since records began in 1990, after 2011, one of the warmest years on record.
OECD raises inflation forecasts and cautions on risk of prolonged rises
High inflation is set to continue over the next two years, the OECD warned on Tuesday, requiring skilful handling by policymakers to ensure price rises are a temporary blip while the economic recovery remains on track.
In its latest economic outlook, the Paris-based club of nations projected that inflation would be significantly higher in 2021 and in 2022 than it had previously forecast for most G20 countries, but that this need not become a persistent problem.
Publishing largely optimistic growth projections for advanced economies, the OECD predicted activity would reach the levels forecast before the pandemic by the end of 2022, said Laurence Boone, OECD chief economist.
“The speed of the recovery has increased inflationary pressures, quickly pushing up prices to where we expected them to be before the pandemic,” the OECD said in its outlook. “Policymakers in advanced economies should monitor these developments without delay.”
Boone added that, for now, managing inflation would be “a very difficult balancing act”.
Read more here.
Monthly Covid deaths more than double in England and Wales
Covid-19 deaths in England and Wales more than doubled last month, with coronavirus remaining a main cause of mortality after heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Of the 40,460 deaths registered in August in England, 5.3 per cent were due to Covid-19 as the underlying cause, up from 2.4 per cent in July, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday. Those that involved Covid-19, which refers to a mention of coronavirus on the certificate, accounted for 6.1 per cent of all deaths in England last month. Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death.
August deaths in England were 9.9 per cent higher than the five-year average and 5,709 more than in August 2020.
Excess mortality for the week to September 10 was 2,057 deaths above the five-year average for the same period, indicating that deaths from all causes remain elevated. Excess deaths measure those above average from all causes.
Coronavirus-related deaths rose 24 per cent to 857 in the week ending September 10 and accounted for about 8 per cent of the total. A public holiday in late August may have skewed the numbers, the ONS said.
In Wales, 2.7 per cent of the 2,614 deaths registered last month were due to Covid-19, up from 1.2 per cent the month before.
UK house sales rise by more than one-fifth even as support dwindles
UK house sales rose more than a fifth last month as the property market displayed some resilience even as the government reduced its support with a tax holiday.
HM Revenue & Customs estimated UK residential transactions picked up 21 per cent year on year in August to 98,300 in figures released Tuesday — a 32 per cent rise on the previous month.
August “proved to be an extremely busy month for the housing market with sales continuing apace as buyers took advantage of low mortgage rates”, said Tomer Aboody, director of property lender MT Finance.
On July 1, the threshold up to which buyers in England and Northern Ireland could avoid paying stamp duty decreased from £500,000 to £250,000. It will revert to £125,000 from next month, the level before July 2020 when the government introduced the tax holiday to stimulate the housing market.
Many people cancelled holidays abroad, giving them “an opportunity to view houses, hoping to find that dream home with more space both inside and out”, Aboody said.
Separate figures from building society Nationwide released earlier in the month showed that UK house prices rose at an annual rate of 11 per cent in August, after the strongest monthly gain in 15 years.
“Buyers are now rushing to complete transactions before the final ‘step down’ in September,” said Anna Clare Harper, chief executive of property consultancy SPI Capital.
The strength of the housing market was bolstered by first-time buyers, according to Jamie Thompson of Manchester-based Jamie Thompson Mortgages. He noted that a first-time buyer can now borrow up to 5.5 times their income with a mainstream high street lender.
“This allows them to massively increase what they can bid on for their first house, which not only drives transaction volumes but also supports prices.”
British businesses return £1.3bn in furlough cash
Recovering British businesses have returned more than £1bn of furlough cash, having been buoyed by the UK’s economic rebound from the pandemic.
Companies have repaid £1.3bn to HM Revenue & Customs since July 2020, which had been claimed under the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.
According to the government’s latest figures, the number of people on furlough has fallen to 1.6m. About 340,000 people left the scheme in July, with more than a third aged between 18 and 34.
“This government stepped in to help when people needed it most, supporting 12 million jobs through furlough. This worked, nearly 2 million fewer people are now expected to be out of work in the UK than previously feared,” chancellor Rishi Sunak said.
“Now with our recovery under way it is heartening to see that £1.3bn in furlough grants have been returned as the economy recovers.”
Fauci counters calls to suspend booster shot programme
Anthony Fauci has countered calls for wealthier nations to suspend booster shot programmes so they can donate vaccines to low income countries, saying the US could do both at the same time.
The World Health Organization has called for a suspension of booster programmes until the end of the year to enable all nations to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of their populations.
Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the world needed to do more to help low income countries, but said the US and other highly developed countries could simultaneously administer booster vaccines.
“If the United States implements the booster programme that you’ve heard about between now and the end of this calendar year we will [use] approximately 100m doses,” he said. “During that exact period of time, we will be giving to the rest of the world 200m doses.”
“We believe we can do both at the same time,” he added.
The chief medical adviser also said that the virus would not be eradicated entirely, “in the sense of getting it completely off the planet”.
“What I believe we can do is dramatically better control it and perhaps, in some countries, even eliminate it,” Fauci said.
Kingfisher to lift dividend after pandemic-driven profit surge
DIY chain Kingfisher increased its interim dividend by almost 40 per cent and will buy back £300m of its shares after profits surged during the pandemic.
The UK group has been a winner from the coronavirus crisis as repeated lockdowns and the shift to working from home prompted consumers to spend more on their homes and gardens.
Although that pattern is expected to shift with the reopening of the economy, Kingfisher said an expected decline in sales in the second half of its financial year would be smaller than feared.
It forecast full-year sales would decline by no more than 7 per cent compared with a previous scenario of a drop of between 5 per cent and 15 per cent. The group added that adjusted pre-tax profit for the year would be between £910m and £950m, against analysts’ forecasts of about £912m.
“Our industry is benefiting from new trends that we believe will be supportive over the long term,” said chief executive Thierry Garnier. “These include people spending more time working from home, the emergence of a new generation of DIYers, the need for greener homes, and a strong housing market.”
Read more here.
UK public borrowing falls as economy rebounds
UK public borrowing fell last month as the economy rebounded, but rising inflation pushed up the cost of public debt.
Public sector net borrowing was £20.5bn in August, £5.5bn less than in the same month last year, data from the Office for National Statistics showed on Tuesday.
That was only marginally lower than the £21.6bn forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the country’s fiscal watchdog, and it overshot the £15.6bn forecast by economists polled by Reuters.
Interest payments on public debt rose to £6.3bn, which was £2.9bn higher than in the same month last year. It was also much higher than the £1.6bn forecast by the OBR following a rapid rise in retail price inflation, to which debt payments are linked.
UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is planning to use next month’s Budget to set out new rules to rein in government borrowing, as the Treasury fears that higher inflation and any rise in interest rates would make it difficult to reduce public debt.
The country registered the second-highest August borrowing since monthly records began in 1993, pushed up by more than 50 schemes set up to support individuals and businesses during the pandemic.
Public sector net debt, or the borrowing accumulated over time, was 97.6 per cent of gross domestic product, the highest ratio since the early 1960s.
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Caterer Compass gains on return of live sports
The return of live sporting events as Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted has bolstered revenue expectations at catering group Compass in the three months to September.
The British contract food service company expects revenues to hit 86 per cent of its 2019 pre-pandemic performance for the fourth quarter of its financial year, slightly ahead of its earlier guidance of 80 to 85 per cent of 2019 figures. Full-year revenues are expected to come in at 76 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Pent-up consumer demand boosted a resilient performance from Compass’ services for healthcare, defence and offshore clients, which have performed above 2019 levels throughout the pandemic. Students’ returns to university campuses also helped, while catering for business and industry events has also come back in line with cautious expectations.
“The Group’s recovery is unlikely to be linear and will depend on a number of factors including vaccination and infection rates as well as any further containment measures taken by governments,” it said.
“We continue to be encouraged by the ongoing growth opportunities including strong momentum in new business wins.”
Margins are expected to remain around the midpoint of the guidance range between 5.5 and 6 per cent, while full-year operating margin is expected to come in about 4.4 per cent, despite pressure from inflation.
Melbourne researchers say vaccination targets too low to avoid lockdowns
The Australian state of Victoria needs to fully vaccinate at least 90 per cent of its population if it wants to avoid re-entering lockdown, researchers at the University of Melbourne said on Tuesday.
Under the government’s national roadmap, the country will reopen once 80 per cent of its population over the age of 16 is fully vaccinated. The state of Victoria’s roadmap, released Sunday, differs slightly, advocating vaccinating 80 per cent of those aged 12 and over.
Australia’s vaccination rate lags other developed countries, with only 38 per cent of the population fully jabbed, according to the Financial Times’ tracker.
The Melbourne researchers, however, modelled 432 scenarios using different combinations of vaccine coverage, travel restrictions, social distancing restrictions and reproduction numbers for the virus.
In the “default strategy”, where the state unlocks once 80 per cent of its population aged 18 and over are fully vaccinated, it would have to re-enter lockdown for 39 per cent of the following year to keep annual Covid deaths at a “moderate level”, they concluded.
A second “upgraded strategy” of vaccinating 80 per cent of residents aged five and over would reduce deaths but still see the state spend 19 per cent of the year in lockdown.
A final, “innovative strategy” reduces time spent in lockdown to zero, but would require 90 per cent vaccine coverage of both adults and children. It would also rely on future innovations such as better ventilation in indoor spaces and more effective track and trace apps.
Much of Victoria, including the state capital Melbourne, is under lockdown, as are parts of New South Wales. Australia has proposed moving from a Covid elimination strategy to learning to “live with the virus” once higher vaccination rates are achieved. State governments, however, disagree on what level of vaccine coverage should be reached, and which restrictions should stay in place in the long term.
How Biden came round to relaxing travel restrictions for the vaccinated
As Boris Johnson boarded a flight to New York on Sunday, the British prime minister was uncharacteristically pessimistic about his chances of persuading President Joe Biden to reopen the US border for people travelling from the UK.
“I don’t think we’re necessarily going to crack it this week,” he told reporters as he travelled to the US for two days of meetings coinciding with the UN General Assembly. “I’ve got to warn you I don’t think this is going to be necessarily fixed this week.”
Within hours of Johnson’s arrival in the US, however, the White House had unexpectedly reversed course. In a hastily arranged press conference, Jeff Zients, the head of Biden’s Covid-19 task force, told reporters on Monday morning the travel bans that had applied to the UK, Ireland, Europe’s Schengen travel area, China, India, Iran, Brazil and South Africa would all be dropped from early November.
Instead, the US will demand that all foreigners are vaccinated before entering the country, regardless of where they are coming from.
Read more here
South Korea cases down but post-holiday jump in infections predicted
South Korean health authorities reported 1,729 new daily cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday. The new cases raised the total since the start of the pandemic to 289,263, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
The country added four more deaths, lifting the number of Covid-related fatalities to 2,413.
It was the third straight day that the case count fell below 2,000, but new infections in South Korea have topped 1,000 for 77 consecutive days. Of the new cases, 1,697 were local infections, with more than three-quarters of those found in the greater Seoul area.
The KDCPA and other health authorities are anxious, however, that regions outside the capital might see a jump in cases after the five-day Chuseok holiday, which will end on Wednesday.
Millions of people will have travelled across the country for the holiday, which is the Korean thanksgiving.
Europe’s lorry driver crisis to deepen next year, warns haulage boss
The lorry driver crisis is set to deepen next year as wages rise and labour shortages worsen, the regional head of one of the world’s largest haulage companies has warned.
Luis Gomez, president of Europe at XPO Logistics, a New York-listed freight company, expects shortages to disrupt Christmas with new EU regulations putting further strains on retailers and producers next year.
Europe has been hit by a shortage of drivers, with the problem in the UK particularly acute because of Brexit, the pandemic, tax reforms and backlogs for driving tests exacerbating a supply chain crisis.
This has led to empty shelves at supermarkets and manufacturers shutting down production lines, with many logistics groups bracing themselves for a brutal Christmas as retailers warn more goods will be out of stock.
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Opinion: The hidden costs of powerful buyers and cheap prices
When suppliers and workers are stretched to the max, shocks can quickly collapse the system.
There is a common thread running through a number of the disruptions and shortages caused by the global pandemic. Some supply chains have become dominated by hugely powerful buyers, who have used their muscle to provide lower prices to consumers. We have enjoyed the benefits of this dynamic for decades, but the crisis has made visible its hidden costs.
In the UK, every step of the food supply chain is suffering from labour shortages triggered by whipsaw demand and migrant workers going home. Employers in the farming, food processing and transport sectors all blame the same root cause. They say they relied on migrant workers because they had to compress labour costs to deliver the low prices demanded by large supermarkets.
The prices paid to UK farms for strawberries, to give one example, barely rose between 2008 and 2018, even as the minimum wage rose 37 per cent. In Germany, farmers are so angry with low prices, they have been blockading supermarkets with their tractors.
“If [the supermarket buyers] walk into the room and say you need to drop your price by say 10 per cent because we’ve been offered your volume by someone else . . . what do you then do when your entire business is geared up to supplying them — it’s very difficult to replace that volume, certainly quickly,” one UK-based farmer told me.
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Infections climb again in China’s Fujian Delta outbreak
China reported another 42 new local cases of Covid-19 in its outbreak in Fujian province on Tuesday, with the daily infection numbers continuing to fluctuate.
Fujian, in China’s southeast, has been at the centre of the country’s most recent outbreak since September 10, when cases of the highly infectious Delta variant were discovered in two school-age children.
New cases have swung between lows in the 20s to highs in the 60s over the past week. The latest count is greater than Monday’s caseload of 28, but smaller than Sunday’s 43. China also reported 30 imported cases on Tuesday, but no further Covid-related deaths.
The outbreak has so far reached four cities in Fujian. All have imposed lockdowns on the affected neighbourhoods and mass tested parts of their populations.
China is pursuing a Covid-elimination strategy. While its lockdowns have been successful in containing the spread of the virus, they have also been damaging to China’s post-pandemic recovery.
New Zealand cases up as tougher penalties for Covid curb breaches suggested
New Zealand reported 14 new local cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, with all but one linked to existing infections.
The total cases in the country’s current outbreak — which centres on its largest city, Auckland, and has been driven by the highly infectious Delta variant — now number 1,085, with 790 having recovered.
Auckland’s Covid-19 restrictions are due to ease from midnight on Tuesday, with the city dropping from level 4 to level 3 in the health alert ranking. Level 3 allows contactless business deliveries, though schools will remain closed.
Also on Tuesday, the New Zealand government said in a statement that penalties for breaches of Covid-19 orders were set to get tougher from early November “to better reflect the seriousness of any behaviour that threatens New Zealand’s response to the virus”.
Chris Hipkins, the Covid-19 response minister, said police generally reported high compliance with restrictions among the public. “Disappointingly, however, a number of serious breaches have occurred, which seriously put at risk the good progress we’ve made to stamp out Delta,” he added.
Under the proposed new penalties, the maximum fine for failing to wear a face covering in a place where it is mandatory would rise from NZ$300 ($210) to NZ$4,000. A person travelling without permission from a high-risk to a lower-risk area could be hit with a fine of up to NZ$12,000, up from NZ$4,000, or six months in prison.
The proposed penalties will be subject to the passing of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill.
Victoria embroiled in protests as Covid-19 cases rise
Victoria reported 603 new local cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, as the Australian state’s capital saw aggressive anti-lockdown protests.
State authorities imposed a two-week shutdown on construction in Melbourne and other cities from Monday evening after peaceful protests against the industry’s vaccine mandate turned violent.
The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, whose headquarters was damaged during the protests, blamed the escalation on “neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremist groups” that, it said, hijacked the demonstrations, subverting their original message and turning them into anti-lockdown rallies.
The protests began last week after authorities announced that construction workers would need to show proof of having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to access their worksites from September 23.
While Victoria has eased some restrictions in recent weeks and set out a roadmap for reopening its economy, much of the state, including Melbourne, remains under lockdown.
Protests against the vaccine mandate continued on Tuesday morning, when the state also reported one new death from the virus.
New South Wales, meanwhile, reported 1,022 new cases and 10 deaths on Tuesday. The Australian Capital Territory reported 16 new infections and Queensland lodged no additional local cases.
The national government has set out a roadmap for reopening the country, with most restrictions eased once two vaccine doses have been given to at least 80 per cent of the population. Each state, however, has its own timeline for reaching that target and has employed different methods to convince the public to get vaccinated.
UN report: Investment in innovation up in 2020 despite pandemic
Investment in innovation increased last year despite the economic disruption of the pandemic, the UN’s intellectual property agency said in a report published Monday.
The World Intellectual Property Organization’s latest Global Innovation Index (GII) ranks 132 countries and territories on their innovation capacity and output. It found that many governments and enterprises scaled up research and development, often in response to Covid-19.
“We expected a harsh slump in 2020 of around 3 per cent, however, the GII shows there are reasons to be optimistic … with governments showing foresight and not cutting spending,” Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, WIPO’s GII co-editor, said.
WIPO’s ranking of the world’s economies is consistently dominated by a handful of high-income economies. This year, South Korea joined Switzerland, Sweden, the US and the UK in the top five for the first time. Four other Asian economies made the top 15: Singapore (in eighth position), China (12th), Japan (13th) and Hong Kong (14th).
WIPO also saw middle-income economies Turkey, Vietnam, India and the Philippines move up the ranking.
Top technology companies including Apple, Microsoft and Huawei increased investment at an average of about 10 per cent last year, while venture capital investment surged, Wunsch-Vincent said. The transport and travel sectors were hard hit by containment measures and cut back their spending.
“In spite of the massive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many sectors have shown remarkable resilience — especially those that have embraced digitalisation, technology and innovation,” said Daren Tang, the WIPO director general.
Many UK workers lack job options despite labour shortage
Many UK workers still have fewer job options open to them than before the coronavirus pandemic, despite the acute labour shortages seen in a handful of relatively low-paid areas, research has shown.
Official data show more than 1m posts vacant across the economy, with industry groups calling for temporary visas to hire overseas workers and the CBI employers’ lobby reporting that three-quarters of businesses saw access to skilled staff as a threat to the UK’s competitiveness.
But in a report published on Tuesday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that the UK remained very far from being a “jobseekers’ paradise”.
The surge in vacancies has been driven by low-paying occupations, where new job openings had risen about 20 per cent above pre-pandemic levels by June of this year, the think-tank found.
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US homebuilder Lennar latest to warn of supply chain issues
US homebuilder Lennar’s outlook for home deliveries in the third quarter missed the mark, dragged down by supply chain disruptions and labour shortages.
“During the third quarter, our company and the homebuilding industry as a whole continued to experience unprecedented supply chain challenges which we believe will continue into the foreseeable future,” said executive chair, Stuart Miller.
He blamed the bottlenecks for the shortfall on third quarter deliveries of 15,199 homes — about 600 short of the low end of the company’s guidance.
“We are adjusting our fourth quarter delivery guidance to, more or less, 18,000 homes, reflecting this supply chain constraint,” Miller added. That missed economists’ estimates for about 20,343 homes, according to Refinitiv data.
Earlier on Monday DR Horton, another US homebuilder, cited supply chain disruptions as it cut its outlook for the year.
Lennar said total revenues rose 18 per cent from a year ago to $6.9bn in its fiscal third quarter ended August 31, just ahead of expectations for $6.87bn. Net income climbed to $1.4bn, or $4.52 a share, up from $666m, or $2.12 a share, in the year ago quarter.
Still, the shortages faced by the company were offset by record home prices during the pandemic that were fuelled by low mortgage rates and strong demand. Lennar said the average sale price of homes delivered in the third quarter was $428,000, up from $396,000 in the same period a year ago.
Washington DC requires adults in schools and child care centres to be vaccinated without testing option
Washington DC will require all adults in schools and at child care facilities to be vaccinated by the beginning of November, eliminating a testing provision.
The vaccine mandate announced by mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday applies to DC public schools, charter schools, private schools and parochial schools as well are child care facilities that are regulated by the superintendent of education office.
The requirement applies to all adults in these schools including teachers, coaches, social workers, bus drivers and volunteers.
“It’s very clear, especially for our young people who are not eligible for vaccine yet, that the best way to protect them is to have the adults around them vaccinated,” Bowser said during a press conference.
Additionally, Bowser said all student athletes over the age of 12 need to be vaccinated to participate in school-based sports. Those who turn 12 between September 20 and November 1 must be fully jabbed by December 13.
Nearly 66.8 per cent of the capital’s total population has received at least one Covid jab, and about 56.2 per cent are fully vaccinated.
US Covid death toll surpasses 1918 Spanish flu
The number of Americans who have died from Covid-19 has surpassed the death toll from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic as the US struggles to respond to a resurgence of the virus.
The grim milestone coincides with a new wave of severe illness and hospitalisations among largely unvaccinated people in southern and mid-western US states. This has driven the seven-day rolling average of daily Covid-19 deaths to about 1,900 — a level not seen since last winter’s deadly surge.
Experts warn the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant is pushing health systems in the worst-affected states into crisis and threatening the economic recovery in the US.
Political bickering over wearing masks, vaccine mandates and booster shots continues to complicate the fight against the pandemic and risks prolonging it, they say.
US deaths from Covid-19 stood at 675,446, according to the latest estimate from Johns Hopkins University published on Monday afternoon. That is roughly the same as the total number of US deaths from Spanish flu, the most severe pandemic in recent history, which killed at least 50m people worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimates.
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New York City schools to begin weekly Covid testing
New York City schools will begin weekly Covid-19 testing for students starting September 27 as the nation’s largest school district pushes ahead with in-person lessons.
Students at elementary, middle and high schools across the city will be subject to weekly testing, a change from the fortnightly testing that had been in effect previously, mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference on Monday.
The more frequent testing is scheduled to coincide with the date the department of education’s vaccine mandate for school teachers and other staff goes into effect.
The move came amid pressure from the city’s powerful teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, which on Sunday renewed its call for weekly testing at schools.
De Blasio also said that unvaccinated students that have been in close contact with a student who tested positive will no longer be required to quarantine as long as they were masked and maintaining social distance from other students.
New York City schools resumed in-person classes on September 13.
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A gauge of US homebuilder confidence edged up in September, the first rise in five months. The National Association of Homebuilders’ housing market index climbed one point to 76 this month, and topped economists’ expectations for 74. The US housing market got a boost during the pandemic as Americans took advantage of low interest rates to seek out roomier dwellings in the suburbs, sending home prices to record highs. However, high prices, a shortage of labour and supply chain issues have taken some of the momentum out of the housing market.
The Vatican has said that it will introduce compulsory Covid-19 vaccine and testing requirements to work inside and visit the tiny city state. The Holy See said that from the start of October a negative Covid-19 result or proof of vaccination in the form of what it called a “Vatican green pass” would be needed to enter Vatican City. The rules would “apply to citizens, to residents in the state, to personnel serving in any capacity in the administration of Vatican City and in the various bodies of the Roman Curia”.
Shares in European airlines and other travel-related companies rallied on Monday as the US prepared to reopen air corridors with the UK and EU. British Airways parent company IAG jumped 9.7 per cent while low-cost carrier easyJet climbed 3.4 per cent in London after the Financial Times reported that vaccinated passengers will be able to travel to the US from the EU and UK from November onwards.
The UK has begun administering Covid-19 shots to children aged 12-15, the health service said on Monday. About 3m children will be eligible to receive their first dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in the coming weeks. The NHS said it would aim to have most children in this age group vaccinated before the half-term break in October.
The BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is safe and triggers “robust” immune responses in children aged five to 11, the companies said in a joint statement on Monday, announcing plans to submit the data to regulatory bodies “as soon as possible”. In a phase 2/3 trial, the companies administered two 10-microgram doses of the shot. Antibody responses were similar to those seen in people aged 16 to 25 who received two 30-microgram doses, which are used in patients older than 12.