By Powerscourt on 14/09/2020
Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 14 September 2020
As global cases hit a new daily peak (307,000), the dreaded prospect of a second national lockdown for Britain, for months a remote Armageddon scenario used only to scare children, has begun to be spoken about again as a plausible possibility.
After months of slowly inching back towards normality with growing freedom to see their loved ones, to work, socialise and travel, Britons face the possibility of losing this again as the government struggles to curb a rising infection rate.
Measures making it illegal to socialise in groups of six or higher came into force today, part of the government’s attempt to keep the lid on fast-rising coronavirus infection numbers. Over 3,000 new coronavirus cases were recorded in Britain for a third day in a row on Sunday and cases in care homes appeared to be rising fast. While deaths are a lagging indicator, it is worth noting that the number of UK deaths attributed to the virus yesterday was nine compared to over 1,000 hit on several days in April.
The apparently arbitrary nature of the new rules has prompted cynicism from a public already fatigued by the crisis and its changing requirements. There is also a clear divergence between the medical professions and those who are very anxious about a crushed economy and the removal of personal choice and responsibility.
A poll of members of the British Medical Association revealed that 86% of those surveyed expect a second peak of coronavirus within six months.
Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, told Sky News on Sunday that Britain was on a knife edge and had a matter of days to contain the rising virus levels before losing control of the infection rate. “We really need to act very quickly now in order to prevent this from growing exponentially,” Professor Openshaw told Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “It’s so much harder to get this sort of thing under control if you delay. Even a few days is potentially going to be quite dangerous now.”
As with earlier in the year, though, there’s a tightrope to be walked between what Boris Johnson has described as “squeezing the brakes” to control virus levels and infringing civil liberties and damaging the economy. Sir Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West and chair of the influential backbench 1922 committee, has said the rules impacting parts of Greater Manchester are “a massive infringement of normal civil liberties”.
Israel has become the first country in the world to announce a second national lockdown. For three weeks from Friday – coinciding with the start of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana – Israel, which has one of the highest coronavirus infection rates per capita, will impose a hard lockdown including the closure of restaurants, bars, shops and all recreational facilities.
AstraZeneca has resumed the British part of its closely-watched coronavirus vaccine trial after the halt to the trial last week amid safety concerns, to widespread relief. And Pfizer and BioNTech, a rival candidate, have expanded their trial. This is good news, but there is growing concern among scientists and the general public about the lack of transparency over these large trials, given their importance to the overall population.
The neurological symptoms which had developed in a patient on the AstraZeneca trial and which prompted the company to halt its vaccine trial emerged via a presentation to investors, not to the general public, the New York Times reported. Although pharma companies typically withhold specifics in such trials, the fact that so many human lives pivot on the success of these trials – and that the US taxpayer is funding them – brings a responsibility for developers to improve disclosure around the progress of the trials.
Asian shares were up Monday morning on resumed optimism over the prospect of a coronavirus vaccine and continued strength in the tech sector.
WHAT ARE COMPANIES SAYING?
Retail & Consumer
J D Wetherspoon
The UK pub company has announced today in an “update announcement” that it has had approximately 32 million customer visits to its 861 pubs in the 10 weeks since 4 July, and that the company has had 66 positive tests for Covid-19 among its 41,564 employees during that time. The majority of the announcement is a quote from Chairman Tim Martin, who says that the “situation with regard to pubs has been widely misunderstood.” He references a number of examples of pubs being described as “dangerous”, which he believes not to be true and refers to comments from Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke. He ends the statement by criticising the UK’s “colossally expensive” approach to dealing with the pandemic.
The British arm of the German supermarket announced this morning that it was trialling a click-and-collect grocery service for the first time. The company, Britain’s fifth-largest supermarket group, said it was currently running a trial of the service for staff from a store in central England and plans to extend that to customers in the coming weeks. If proved successful, that would be extended to further stores.
Russell Hardy, the CEO of the energy and commodities trader said in an interview that global oil demand in the transportation sectors (with the exception of jet fuel), could return to pre-pandemic levels by Q4 2021, draining excess supplies from the market. He said that “the market is slowly chewing through excess inventory”, adding that about 300 million barrels have been drawn down from this year’s peak and the company expects a similar volume to by taken out by year-end. He did note that this was with the exception of jet fuel, which has “got a long way to go” as people are yet to start travelling internationally in a major way.
Financials & Real Estate
The listed vehicle of Hg, Europe’s largest investor in software and services businesses, said in its half year results that while the COVID‑19 crisis will have a material impact on the economies where its companies trade, “the longer‑term prospects for HGT remain very sound.” The company saw a share price return of -7.3% over the period, however notes that it still outperforms the FTSE All-Share over one, three, five, ten and twenty-year periods. Its NAV per share was 268.5p, a total return of 6.6% to 30 June 2020, and it increased its dividend from 1.8p to 2p.
The STEM recruitment business said in its third quarter trading update today that while group net fees were down 14% year on year, it was seeing improved performance driven by increased sales activity, higher contractor retention rates and a stabilisation in the order book. The contract business saw declines of 12% in the quarter, and recruitment in its life sciences business down only 1%. The company also confirmed that its staff had now returned from furlough and it had repaid all previously claimed furlough support.
IN THE NEWS
Not enough Covid vaccine for all until 2024, says biggest producer – Financial Times
House prices forecast to drop by 14% next year – The Times
Coronavirus: ‘Rule of six’ comes into force as medics warn of second COVID-19 peak – Sky News