By Powerscourt on 20/11/2020

Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 20 November 2020


As highlighted here yesterday, the success of various vaccine trials means that governments around the world are beginning to plan the huge logistical challenge of inoculating an entire species.

Mass vaccination centres are being planned around the UK, according to the Daily Telegraph, which says Derby Arena indoor stadium has been identified as one of the first such logistics hubs.

The centres are needed in part because of the cold chain challenges associated with distributing some of the vaccines. The vaccine produced by Pfizer Inc, which this week published outstanding final efficacy in a Phase III trial and is likely to be headed for swift approval, needs to be kept at  -70c in order to remain effective, making it impossible for most GPs offices in the UK to store it for now.

Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech, Pfizer’s development partner in creating its vaccine, told Endpoints News that the companies would file their vaccine authorisation application with the US drugs regulator on Friday. There are no guarantees, but the high efficacy and safety data seen in the trials will make fast approval very likely.

In a best-case scenario, the first vaccines could be ready to roll out in the US and Europe in December.

Moderna Inc and Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine candidate, have also published efficacy of over 90%. AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate has shown evidence of strong efficacy in older adults in interim trial data.

Meanwhile the CEO of French pharma giant Sanofi, writing in the FT, underlines the need for a globally coordinated campaign to roll the vaccine out.

Paul Hudson writes that an inequitable distribution of vaccines – with rich countries getting privileged access – isn’t just unfair, it poses a major health and geopolitical risk. Failing to protect poorer communities by failing to get the vaccine to them promptly, will make it much harder for the wider world to tackle the virus.

“For those in rural settings — and for low to middle-income countries — the logistical barriers are bound to delay the vaccine’s wide distribution, which is vital to stop the virus circulating. This is why we need several different vaccines,” Hudson wrote.

While the world breathes a collective sigh of relief over compelling evidence that the vaccines work, the picture for drugs which cure the disease once it is contracted is hazier.

There’s been a blow to Gilead’s Remdesivir, the only approved antiviral against COVID-19, after the World Health Organisation advised doctors against prescribing it to patients in hospital. Remdesivir can’t improve the chances of survival for people on mechanical ventilation, the WHO wrote in the British Medical Journal on Friday.

For now, the world needs to continue to keep its guard up, with unpopular restrictions and social distancing measures likely to remain in place for some time. Doctor Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, warned that there was a need to “double down on public health measures”. COVID-19 is tearing through much of the US, with New York this week closing schools in an attempt to limit the spread.

“We’re not talking about shutting down the country, we’re not talking about locking down,” Dr Fauci said. “We’re talking about intensifying the simple public health measures that we all talk about: mask wearing, [social] distance, avoiding congregant settings.”

Meanwhile COVID-19 restrictions continue to hammer the UK economy. Government borrowing reached £22.3 billion last month, an October record, figures published on Friday show.

Fashion house Jaeger and high street retailer Peacocks, both owned by Philip Day, plunged into administration on Thursday, putting nearly 5,000 jobs and 500 shops across the UK at risk.

Cinema chain Cineworld, meanwhile, is negotiating with its lenders to agree a restructuring deal which would allow it to close non-performing sites and cut its rents. The world’s second-largest cinema operator is struggling with $8 billion of debt after an unhappily-timed US expansion in 2017.

The German industrials giant Thyssenkrupp meanwhile announced plans to cut 10% of its workforce – nearly 11,000 jobs – as its operations around the world continue to haemorrhage cash.

Markets teetered into Friday, fuelled in part by remarks made by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who effectively pulled the plug on a number of Federal stimulus programmes, and continuing fear over the impact of COVID-19 on the global economy.





Jet2 fell to a £119 million pre-tax loss in the spring and summer as the airline counted the cost of the holiday season being all but cancelled. The company have failed to live up to its corporate motto – we take people on holiday – as the number of package holiday passengers it carried fell to only 300,000 in the six months to the end of September, compared with 2.71 million in the same period last year. The drop in numbers meant that even when its planes were flying, they were only 68% full, instead of the normal 90% plus.

Hochschild Mining
Hochschild Mining reinstated its dividend this morning and said operating costs in the current financial year would be lower than previous guidance. The FTSE250 miner’s board approved an interim dividend of 4 cents a share at a meeting on 19 November, Hochschild said in an update. The company had scrapped its final dividend for 2019 and postponed its interim payout because of COVID-19. Hochschild also said it was on track to meet revised production guidance for the year to the end of December.


Consumer & Retail

Taxpayer support and cost savings will bring a £175 million boost to profits at Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q, raising fresh questions about whether “lockdown winners” should hand back government relief that was meant to help businesses damaged by coronavirus. The DIY chain, which has been allowed to keep its store open during the second lockdown, said that it had faced about £45 million of extra coronavirus-related costs, including sick pay for staff and implementing safety measures in stores.


Financials & Real Estate 

Urban & Civic
Urban & Civic announced this morning that it swung to a pretax loss in fiscal 2020 on the back of revaluations of its properties and a fall in revenue. The property-development company said that for the year ended 30 September, it swung to a pretax loss of £8.1 million from £16.3 million a year prior. The company attributed the loss to adverse property valuations amid the coronavirus pandemic as well as delayed receipts on a lack of new house sales during lockdown. Revenue fell 39% to £80.4 million, while EPRA net asset value per share fell to 343.2 pence, from 360.3 pence. 



Sage Group
Software group Sage today said that a bump in subscriptions had helped it increase revenue nearly a tenth across the last financial year. The Newcastle-based company saw revenue rise 8.5% to £1.6bn for the year, with subscription growth up 20.5% to £1.1bn. Sage added that it had seen particularly strong growth in its North America and northern Europe businesses, and said that subscription penetration had now reached 65%. 



One in three restaurants, bars and hotels don’t expect to survive winter – The Daily Telegraph

Surge in vaccine optimism slams brakes on gold – Financial Times