By Powerscourt on 13/09/2020

Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 13 September 2020


Lots of grim news today – and a curious tale from the US.

Britain is on the edge of losing control of the spread of the coronavirus, according to a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group, Sir Mark Walport. Separately leaked documents from the Department of Health show that the virus is spreading through care homes again.

People in the UK must not treat this weekend as a “party” before the new “rule of six” coronavirus restrictions come into force, a police union has also warned. With the introduction of the new rules in England and Wales delayed until Monday, the chairman of the Police Federation for England and Wales, said: “There is a real risk some members of the public will take advantage of the current situation and treat this weekend as a party weekend ahead of the tighter restrictions being introduced on Monday.”

NHS staff who worked on the coronavirus front line have protested across the country demanding better wages. Organisers of the protests said that health care workers would consider a strike if the government didn’t respond to their demands. The protest comes after nurses were excluded from the wage increase for around 900,000 public sector workers which was announced in July. Protesters in Trafalgar Square in London shouted, “Stop clapping, start paying”, after a two minute silence for fallen workers on Saturday. The protests came as the final clinical trials for a vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, were set to resume. They were put on hold last weekend after a participant became unwell. The vaccine – in which 18,000 people from around the world are taking part – is seen as a strong contender among dozens being developed globally.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of ‘reigniting old rows’ over Brexit instead of focusing on the coronavirus response. “Get on with Brexit and defeat the virus. That should be the Government’s mantra,” he states as Britain prepares to opt out of major European human rights laws risking a further rift with the European Union.

As France reported the highest number of daily COVID cases since the pandemic began, fans were banned from the Tour de France stage finishes. After two weeks of relative safety, the French Grand Tour is now heading back to areas where the coronavirus cases are rising, so authorities are set to reinforce restrictions on spectators on the race climbs situated in “red zones” to avoid mass gatherings, organisers said on Saturday. France has the seventh-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world.

In Italy new infections jumped 38% in a day and Greece, France, Palestine and UAE have all reported a record number of daily cases. The virus continues unabated in India with reports of a record 95,735 daily cases. Jakarta the Indonesian capital will go back into lockdown to contain an escalating outbreak that has pushed hospitals to the brink of collapse. Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announced a tax relief package on Saturday to boost jobs amidst a downturn caused by the pandemic, as well as a rise in spending to strengthen the country’s defence capabilities.

The U.S. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said she was optimistic about Congress passing coronavirus relief legislation before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The curious story? Bloomberg reports that internet searches on gastrointestinal symptoms predicted a rise in Covid-19 cases weeks later, according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Researchers at the top-ranked hospital in Boston compared search interest in loss of taste and appetite, and diarrhea with the reported incidence of Covid-19 in 15 U.S. states from Jan. 20 to April 20. Using Alphabet Inc.’s Google Trends online tool, they found the volume of searches correlated most strongly with cases in New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts and Illinois – states with high disease burden – three to four weeks later.

“Our data underscore the importance of GI symptoms as a potential harbinger of Covid-19 infection and suggests that Google Trends may be a valuable tool for prediction of pandemics with GI manifestations,” Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist and the director of Mass General’s gastrointestinal motility laboratory, and colleagues wrote in a study.




Retail & Consumer

New Look
The fashion retailer has proposed its second company voluntary arrangement (CVA) in two and a half years as it contends with falling customer numbers as a result of the pandemic. Its landlords are reportedly resisting the plan, under which property owners would accept no rent for three years on 68 of the companies 500 stores, and take rent linked to sales on over 400 others. The company’s sales fell by over 30 per cent year-on-year in March and are down by 38 per cent since they reopened after lockdown, according to CVA documents seen by the Financial Times. A vote of creditors is set to take place on Tuesday.

The restaurant chain could be sold as part of a debt-for-equity swap, with its finances under strain following the closure of its sites throughout lockdown. BC Partners, which took control of Côte five years ago, is in talks with debt holders Partners Group regarding the offloading of the chain. A spokesperson for the restaurant said: “In common with the wider restaurant sector, the coronavirus has had a significant impact on the business which has only been partially mitigated by the successful launch of Cote-at-Home. As a result, we are exploring different options, which could include a sale of the business, to support Cote’s next stage of growth.”xxx

The pharmaceutical giant has resumed clinical trials of its Covid-19 vaccine after being given the approval to continue by the Medicines Health Regulatory Authority (MHRA). The trial was briefly suspended on 6 September when a patient fell ill, to allow a review of safety data, but it has now been reported  that the individual was suffering from neurological symptoms associated with a rare spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis. 



British Airways
Chief Executive Officer Alex Cruz has warned in an article for the Daily Telegraph that “British Airways can survive, but only if the Government will work with us, rather than against us.”. He explained that the aviation sector was “fighting for its very survival”, after seeing a 95 per cent reduction in flights during lockdown, with capacity still at just 30 per cent. He lists three key asks of the government, which include launching an immediate testing trial to replace quarantine, extending the list of travel corridors to include the US, and waiving air passenger duty for 12 months. 



Rishi Sunak urged to avert jobs crisis The Times

Is it time to cut back our working hours?The Financial Times

Why China could be poised to win the race for a coronavirus vaccine The Daily Telegraph