UK accuses Russia on vaccine research; Texas braces for fatalities as US infections increase

CORONAVIRUS ALERT 07/16/2020

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In top stories today:

  • The United Kingdom accused Russia of trying to steal vaccine research, while a Chinese company pre-tested a shot on its workers. Infections increased in the United States, including Texas where local communities are braced for more fatalities following Fourth of July celebrations.
  • The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said Russian state intelligence has targeted international academic and pharmaceutical research in an attempt to be first in a global race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, Bloomberg reported. The NCSC said the group, which it named as APT29, is “almost certainly” part of Russian state intelligence, the newswire added.
  • US governors and mayors scrambled to limit the size of gatherings and issue orders to wear face masks as US cases of coronavirus increased by the second-highest daily total, The New York Times said. The painful reality, as the Times puts it, is that the outbreak may get worse in the weeks and months ahead.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent twenty-two morgue trucks to Texas as communities there brace themselves for an increase in coronavirus deaths following Fourth of July celebrations, Bloomberg reported. US Army medics are being deployed to two counties on the border with Mexico to help hospitals that are overrun with new infections, the newswire reported.
  • QUOTE: “Why won’t people see what’s happening?” Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales said of vacationers crowding on the beaches along the Texas coast outside Corpus Christi, Bloomberg reported. “It’s nothing but summer fun. They can’t see the stress and strain that our community is under. The danger isn’t real to them.”
  • Wearing a mask in enclosed public spaces will be compulsory in France starting next week, sooner than August 1 as previously planned, The Associated Press reported. “’Colour-blind’ France avoids gauging COVID impact on ethnic minorities” runs a Reuters headline. Some campaigners there say that policy can harm rather than protect minority groups, the newswire added.
  • Hong Kong recorded sixty-three new local cases of coronavirus on July 16, the third time in about a week that the outbreak has surpassed the city’s previous daily records, Bloomberg reported.

UK JOBS HIT

  • UK payrolls fell by 649,000 between March and June, the BBC reported, citing the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The full effect of coronavirus on unemployment won’t be felt until after the government furlough program ends in October, the broadcaster cited economists as saying. Workers’ earnings fell for the first time in six years in spite of government support, the Financial Times said.
  • The statistics say… Total weekly hours worked in the UK fell by a record 175.3 million, or 16.7 percent, to 877.1 million hours since the start of the pandemic, the ONS said, the BBC reported.
  • QUOTE: “It’s clear that we’re in the middle of a severe economic downturn,” UK finance minister Rishi Sunak said following the release of the data, Reuters reported. “As I said last week, we will never accept unemployment as an unavoidable outcome.”
  • Bank of America set aside $5.12 billion in the second quarter to prepare for bad loans as federal coronavirus stimulus measures get scaled back, The Wall Street Journal reported. That’s on top of $4.76 billion in provisions the bank made for bad loans in the previous three months. Profits fell 52 percent in the most recent quarter to $3.53 billion, the Journal said.

CHINA RECOVERY?

  • China’s economy grew 3.2 percent in the second quarter compared with the year-earlier period. That’s a sign, with caveats, The New York Times reported, of China’s success in controlling the outbreak with travel restrictions and large-scale testing. Recent spending on highways and railroads raises questions, however, about whether the turnaround, from a 6.8 percent contraction in the first quarter, is sustainable, the newspaper added.
  • That performance, which compares with an expected decline of almost 10 percent in the United States, will probably raise hackles in Washington, The Wall Street Journal reported. As US authorities carry on floundering faced with the pandemic, compared with early and draconian lockdowns in China, the United States may be in for a long, hard slog, according to the Journal.
  • Richemont, the Swiss company behind Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, posted a 47 percent decline in sales in the quarter ending in June after it experienced “unprecedented levels of disruption,” the Financial Times reported. All regions slumped as the pandemic forced the closure of Richemont’s stores and warehouses, the newspaper added. The company gave no guidance on possible performance in the months ahead, the article added.
  • Earnings at Heineken, the world’s second-biggest brewer, fell by 53 percent in the first quarter as sales to bars and restaurants cratered amid global lockdowns, Bloomberg reported. Governors around the world are considering further restrictions on gatherings, including measures affecting bars and restaurants, the newswire added.
  • QUOTE: A general allocation of [Special Drawing Rights], which are [International Monetary Fund] units based on a basket of leading currencies, would boost all members’ foreign reserves and their purchasing power,” Yi Gang, the governor of the People’s Bank of China, wrote in the Financial Times. “It would be a quick, practical, fair and cost-effective response to this once-in-a-century crisis.”

ASTRA HOPES

  • AstraZeneca is under pressure to deliver positive results from early data on a vaccine it’s developing in partnership with the University of Oxford, Bloomberg reported. The UK pharmaceutical company isn’t commenting on local media reports that the data to be published in The Lancet medical journal on July 20 is promising, the newswire said. Reuters has a July 15 report about that.
  • A state-owned Chinese company, SinoPharm, has boasted that its workers, including senior executives, got experimental shots of a coronavirus vaccine even before the government gave approval for human trials, The Associated Press said in an exclusive report, which cited an online post by the company. China is competing with UK and US companies to be the first with a vaccine, a feat that would be, as The Associated Press puts it, a political and scientific triumph.  
  • Volunteers need to be exposed to coronavirus after getting a vaccine to determine whether the shot offers protection, the BBC cited an open letter from one hundred prominent figures including scientists and Nobel laureates to the head of the US National Institutes of Health as saying. The so-called “challenge trials” could speed up vaccine development, the letter said. There are currently twenty-three vaccines in clinical trials worldwide, the broadcaster reported.
  • Fewer COVID-19 patients are dying in intensive-care units, based on an analysis of more than 100,000 patients in Asia, Europe, and North America, Bloomberg reported. Overall mortality of patients fell to just under 42 percent at the end of May compared with nearly 60 percent in March, the newswire said.
  • QUOTE: “[T]he nation’s testing effort is on the brink of paralysis because of widespread delays in getting back results,’’ Margaret Bourdeaux and Beth Cameron, health policy experts, and Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of law and computer science, wrote in The New York Times. “And that is very bad news, because even if testing is robust, the pandemic cannot be controlled without rapid results. This is the latest failure in our national response to the worst pandemic in a century.”

SPAIN TRIBUTE

  • King Felipe VI led about four hundred dignitaries from Spain and overseas wearing black face masks and who gathered outside the Royal Palace in Madrid to pay tribute to the 28,000 victims of the disease and health workers, Reuters reported.
  • QUOTE: “You are not alone in your pain, it’s our shared pain, it’s our grief that today is witnessed here by all Spaniards,” the king told the victims’ relatives, Reuters reported.
  • “Can a pregnant woman spread the coronavirus to her fetus?” The Associated Press asks. While that’s possible it seems to be quite rare, said the news service, which gives an overview of research findings from Italy, France, and the US National Institutes of Health.
  • Twelve or more studies worldwide are testing low-dose radiation therapy, or LDRT, as a treatment for pneumonia related to COVID-19, news service Stat reported. At least 52,000 of the 135,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States have involved pneumonia, Stat cited federal health data as showing.
  • A recent study concludes that 40,000 lives would have been saved had a national requirement for US public-facing workers to wear masks taken effect on April 1 and been strictly enforced, Bloomberg Businesssweek reported. The analysis for April and May was conducted by Victor Chernozhukov of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hiroyuki Kasahara and Paul Schrimpf of the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics, and was published online on July 7 by the Center for Economic Policy Research, the news outlet added. 
  • Authorities in India’s Goa region imposed restrictions two weeks after the western beach state reopened to tourists, The Associated Press said. Officials set a three-day lockdown and night curfew after people in the backpacking destination flouted social distancing rules. Almost 40,000 people were fined $1.30 each in the past two weeks for not wearing face masks, said Pramod Sawant, described by The Associated Press as the top elected official in Goa.
  • EVENT: The Atlantic Council in Turkey and the United Nations Development Programme Turkey launch a joint report on the economic inclusion of Syrians in Turkey. Join us for the webinar at 11:00 a.m. ET on Friday, July 17. Details are here.

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