By Powerscourt on 21/11/2020

Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 21 November 2020


The pandemic has turned lots of us into hypocrites. Take Gavin Newsom, the right-on Democratic governor of California. His state reported more than 13,000 cases in a single day for the first time on Friday and Newsom announced dozens of new curfews aimed at curbing the renewed spread of the virus.

The problem is that the Governor isn’t a super-credible advocate of controls. Pictures emerged yesterday of him enjoying an unmasked bash with 11 pals, including lobbyists, at a $350 a head Napa Valley restaurant on 6 November. He slowed down the news as much as possible but photographs have now emerged. He has apologised but was less than candid. He said the meal was outdoors. It really wasn’t. As Californians start a Thanksgiving week unlike any other, how much authority has Newsom asking for curfews?

Some good news from the UK – COVID-19 infection rates are levelling off in England and Scotland and decreasing in Wales and Northern Ireland, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.  The R number continues to fall and is now between 1 and 1.1.  The ONS data doesn’t yet reflect the impact of the second lockdown in England, introduced on 5 November.

The levelling-off has raised hopes that families might be able to meet and mix at Christmas. The UK government is set to hold discussions with the devolved administrations to try to agree a unified approach to restrictions.

The UK regulator is already assessing Pfizer’s vaccine and there are hopes that all age groups will start getting it by the end of January. The Daily Mail reports on leaked NHS plans, suggesting the jab will be offered to the most vulnerable next month and then filter down by age.

A pandemic and the related economic gloom hardly seem like the most promising backdrop for consumer spending. Yet Americans seem set for a shopping splurge this Christmas – although it will be online instead of in stores. The Mastercard Spending Pulse report, made predictions for the 75-day period leading up to Christmas.  This year’s report suggests there will be a 33pc increase in ecommerce revenues – with total US retail sales increasing 2.4pc from the same period a year ago.

Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, has been accused of making the US more vulnerable to a financial crisis, after breaking with the Federal Reserve by not renewing some crisis lending facilities.   

Companies with low or even ‘junk’ credit ratings have tapped into the buoyant mood after vaccine news, to push debt deals over the line, offering significant returns to investors with increased appetites for risk. Boparan, the UK’s largest chicken producer issued high-yield bonds this week.  US companies at the bottom of the ratings scale have also benefited from the post-vaccine euphoria. Cruise line operator Carnival, a company whose earnings have been battered by the pandemic, issued an unsecured deal this week. 

Finally is Australia – the state of South Australia decided to enter a state-wide lockdown based on a lie told by a man with COVID-19 about his link to a pizza shop, police say.  The strict lockdown began on Wednesday after the state detected 36 infections, including its first locally-acquired cases since April.  This would have been avoided if the man had told the truth, that he worked shifts at the shop, officials said.  Instead he said he only went there to buy a pizza.  This misinformation prompted health officials to assume the man had caught the virus during a very brief exposure and that the strain must be a highly contagious one. “To say I am fuming is an understatement,” state Premier Steven Marshall told reporters on Friday.



Consumer & Retail

Carnival Cruise 
The world’s biggest cruise company, Carnival Cruise, which was once hugely profitable, but is now significantly struggling, has called for new safety measures to be introduced to the industry. The company has urged that the introduction of measures such as medical screening, physical distancing and mask wearing, can help revive the £113bn a year industry which has fallen flat after regulators around the world prohibited ships from sailing, in an effort to stop the outbreak spreading. CEO Arnold Donald has said “universal testing, which doesn’t exist in any other industry of scale” will help reduce the risk of further outbreak.


Financials & Real Estate 

Mutual financial institution, Nationwide, has reported an increase in half-year profits to £361 million, despite the building society taking a £139m provision for loans that may not be repaid, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said that the drop reflected its focus on new loans which had been particularly badly hit by the closure of the housing market. The economic impact of the pandemic has meant that the company has been forced to abandon some of its targets including a goal of delivering over £400 million in financial benefits to customers through better pricing on savings. 

Millennium & Copthorne Hotels 
Global hospitality management and real estate group, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels, announces that over 4,000 jobs have been lost worldwide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In a bid for recovery by early 2021, the group has said that “rationalisation” of its staff had been a last resort, having already taken measures including cost-cutting and increased efficiencies. 



Multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has started today, late-stage trials of an experimental long-acting monoclonal antibody combination drug, which could prevent COVID-19 infection in at-risk people for up to 12 months. This prophylactic treatment differs from a vaccine as it introduces antibodies, as opposed to prompting the body’s immune system to create them. Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, has said “these [drugs] have been engineered specifically to have what we call a long half-life, (so) we think they will confer protections for (at least) six, but more likely to 12 months.”



Britons could start to receive coronavirus vaccine next month – Financial Times

Lockdown working, insists Matt Hancock as cases start to flatten  – The Times

Families set for week of freedom in Christmas easing of Covid restrictions – The Telegraph