By Powerscourt on 25/08/2020

Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 25 August 2020


Wear a mask. That seems to be the lesson from a story carried by South Korean media, re-reported by Bloomberg.

A woman with the virus visited a Starbucks coffee shop near Seoul on August 8. She sat under an air conditioning unit in the second floor unit. A total of 27 customers who were there became infected. The four mask-wearing staff did not get infected. The Korea Centres for Disease Control & Prevention said it assumed that “the virus may spread where people can’t wear masks while eating or drinking…” By August 24, about 36 other people are reckoned to have been infected by those who contracted the virus at the coffee shop. (We have posted below a link to the Bloomberg piece).

There were reasons to be cheerful from the US overnight: cases of coronavirus appear to be beginning to level off there, with some evidence that recent restrictions implemented in the Western and Southern states are starting to work, according to the New York Times.

Arizona, one of the worst-hit parts of the US, has recently seen cases drop sharply, which experts at the University of Arizona attribute to mask orders and a decision recently to close bars, gyms and theatres. Florida, another hot spot, has seen another improving trend.

The figures can’t come too soon for the Republican Party, whose National Convention got underway last night (in physical form) in Charlotte, North Carolina with the nominations of Donald Trump as candidate and Mike Pence as Vice Presidential candidate ahead of the November 3 vote. A week after the Democrats tried to set up the idea that Trump had failed the nation with his poor handling of coronavirus, the Republican riposte was that the Democrats were trying to steal the election through rigged ballots.

Coronavirus tends to give with one hand and take away with the other: just when you think things are improving in one area, it strikes where you least expect it.

Ominously for European policymakers, who are crossing their fingers ahead of the imminent return to school of millions of children, South Korea has forced schoolchildren and students in Seoul and the surrounding areas to take classes online. South Korean health officials have observed that despite world-beating test and trace systems in the country, around 20% of cases appear to be coming from unknown sources.

In another depressing sign of the persistence of the virus, a man in Hong Kong has been confirmed as having been reinfected with the virus after recovering earlier in the year.
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong sequenced the virus in a man who tested positive at two different screenings four and half months apart involving two different strains. Chinese scientists say the results point to the difficulty of creating long-term immunity, suggesting the repeated vaccination will need to be combined with social distancing rules to keep the virus in check.

Meanwhile, in a comment unlikely to be welcomed by scientists, one of Australia’s most senior clerics has thrown an unlikely curve-ball by saying he would not use an initial version of the so-called “Oxford vaccine” – the candidate being developed by AstraZeneca in association with the University of Oxford – because it was cultured using tissue from aborted fetuses. Glenn Davies, the Anglican Archbishop for Sydney, said it was “reprehensible” to use this tissue for science.

Meanwhile the Brown Eyed Girl singer Van Morrison has caused controversy with his views on how the entertainment industry has been tackling the virus. The revered 74 year-old Belfast-born singer has become an unexpected champion of live music or a covidiot, depending on your perspective, by launching a campaign to “save live music” on his website, lambasting the “pseudo-science” of social distancing. The entertainment industry was notably quiet in its support.

Asian markets were up Tuesday morning after a positive US close after the US and China indicated progress was being made on trade talks, with Europe expected to open higher.





Qantas announced plans to cut up to 2,500 more jobs by outsourcing its Australian ground handling operations to lower costs as it braces for a A$10 billion ($7.17 billion) revenue hit due to the pandemic this financial year. Qantas’ head of domestic operations Andrew David said, “it would match our ground handling services with fluctuating levels of demand…We know an external party can turn our aircraft at 40% lower cost than we can using our resources.”

Airline SAS reported heavy losses in its fiscal third quarter as cost cuts did not make up for the collapse in air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Losses before tax in the May-July period amounted to 2.07 billion Swedish crowns, compared with a profit of 1.49 billion a year earlier. “Demand continues to return slowly and in line with the estimated ramp-up plan we presented in the second quarter,” CEO Rickard Gustafson said in a statement.


Retail & Consumer

Tesco has said it will create 16,000 permanent roles to bolster its rapidly growing online grocery business. The openings are to include 10,000 “pickers” who assemble customer orders and 3,000 drivers to deliver the goods to British households. Tesco said online customer numbers had risen from around 600,000 at the start of the pandemic, to nearly 1.5 million.

Quintessentially, the concierge company run by Conservative party co-chairman Ben Elliot, turned to a US shareholder for financial support during the pandemic. World Fuel Services, a New York-listed energy and aviation company, agreed to provide the company with a loan backed by the bulk of the concierge group’s assets, according to documents filed at Companies House.

DFS Furniture
DFS Furniture, retailer of living room furniture, in a trading update said, its latest figures “is significantly ahead of initial expectations”. It attributes the trading performance to “a combination of consumers currently spending more on homes, latent demand caused by the nationwide lock-down and its hybrid digital and physical retail offering”. The group however cautioned that Covid-19 uncertainty and upcoming Brexit would weigh on UK consumer confidence.



Aveva Group
British software company Aveva Group said it reached a deal to buy U.S.-based real-time industrial data software and services provider OSIsoft for $5 billion, including debt. It noted that despite the Covid-19 related disruption, demand for Aveva’s software has been robust.


Financials & Real Estate 

Credit Suisse
Credit Suisse intends to generate 100 million Swiss francs in annual savings by merging subsidiaries in the canton of Aargau and cutting the number of branches in favour of more digital bank. This is part of a group-wide 400 million franc savings package unveiled at the end of July. “The changes to Credit Suisse’s branch network across Switzerland, including branches in Canton Aargau, are expected to be implemented by the end of 2020,” the bank said.



Boost for Johnson in efforts to get English schools open again – Financial Times

Government to urge UK companies to roll out workplace Covid-19 tests – Financial Times

Starbucks Cafe’s Covid Outbreak Spared Employees Who Wore Masks – Bloomberg