By Powerscourt on 23/11/2020

Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 23 November 2020


This morning UK drugs giant AstraZeneca’s so-called “Oxford Vaccine” published data from large scale trials which demonstrated 70% overall protection. While this represents efficacy which certainly meets the threshold of population protection, it is significantly lower than that offered by three other candidates, from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna Inc, and the Russian Sputnik V candidate, all of which offer efficacy over 90%.

While the efficacy looks disappointing to the lay person, Oxford was upbeat. Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said: “The announcement today takes us another step closer to the time when we can use vaccines to bring an end to the devastation (of COVID-19).

“We will continue to work to provide the detailed information to regulators. It has been a privilege to be part of this multi-national effort, which will reap benefits for the whole world.”

With people around the world desperate to connect with families and friends after this grim year, winter festivities are still facing large-scale restrictions in many areas. In the US, it is Thanksgiving this Thursday but health officials have urged families not to travel. In the UK and Ireland, there may be a brief respite for Christmas week but that is it for now.

Vaccines cannot come soon enough. Dr Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, the US government’s vaccine programme, said on Sunday he expected US regulators to approve the vaccine candidates from Pfizer and BioNTech in mid-December.

Dr Slaoui appeared on a number of US talk shows over the weekend, talking about the timeline for getting the initial doses of the candidate to the people who need it most.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s experimental vaccine was filed for approval with the US Food & Drug Administration on Friday. The extraordinarily strong efficacy data combined with the pressing need means approval is likely to be extremely fast.

“I would expect, maybe on day two after approval on December 11 or 12, hopefully the first people will be immunized across the United States,” Dr Slaoui said on CNN’s “State of the Union” programme on Sunday.

A report in the UK suggested that Britain could get regulatory approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech candidate as early as this week, and that the NHS was on notice to be ready to administer the jab from the beginning of December. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said at a press conference on the fringes of the G20 summit that it plans to begin its vaccination programme in January.

Despite the promising vaccine news, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance advising Americans to stay at home for Thanksgiving. “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with members of your household,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, the head of the CDC’s community intervention and critical population task force.

The US recorded a dip in newly-reported COVID-19 infections on Saturday, but also record hospitalisations for a 12th straight day.

177,552 new cases were reported on Saturday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That was down 17,990 from a daily record set Friday, when the US reported 195,542 new cases. The country has now recorded more than 12 million cases in total. Over 83,000 people were hospitalised with the disease as of Saturday.

The Texas National Guard on Saturday sent troops to El Paso to support the city’s morgues as they cope with a surge in the number of deaths from COVID-19.

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to outline the next phase in the government’s plan to limit the spread of the virus while supporting economic normalisation.

The Prime Minister is expected to detail a three-tier system of restrictions which is expected to come into force on December 3 after the latest national lockdown ends, which will include the return of non-essential retail sales in England. Gyms will also reopen.

Subject to discussions with the devolved governments around the UK, families will be able to get together for a five-day period over Christmas, but with some areas of the country remaining in high-restriction areas.

In an important shift, the Prime Minister is expected to announce the end of self-isolation for contacts of people with a COVID-19 case. Those identified to have come into contact with someone with the virus will instead have to undergo daily tests.

A nationwide lockdown in England is starting to have an impact on virus numbers, with the infection rate flattening off, Johnson is expected to say. The UK recorded another 18,662 coronavirus cases yesterday, down by 19% in the past two weeks.

Asian markets were on the rise again into the new week, spurred by optimism around the timetable for vaccine rollout.




NextEnergy Solar Fund
The solar power renewable energy investment company, announced its interim results for the six-month period ended 30 September 2020. The company report that despite turbulence to power prices caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, they achieved earnings of 4.04p per ordinary share, with an unchanged dividend target for the financial year of 7.05p per ordinary share. This is in part due to Energy generated during the period was being 11.1% above budget, NextEnegry say resulted in “another period of strong outperformance.”


Financials & Real Estate 

The specialist inflation-protected very long income REIT, has reported its results for the Group for the six-month period from 1 April 2020 to 30 September 2020. Net tangible assets and net asset value per share stands at 120.8p, reflecting a half-year reduction of -2.9%. Portfolio valuation is up 11%, valued at  £892.7mn. Chairman, Stephen Hubbard, commented: “Having collected 97% of the rents due, in early October I was pleased to announce a return to our pre-Covid-19 dividend level. We are currently targeting a dividend of 1.44p per share for the quarter ending 31 December 2020.”

Sirius Real Estate
The leading operator of branded business parks providing conventional space and flexible workspace, today announced half year results for the six months ended 30 September 2020. They report a 7.4% growth in funds from operations to €29.1 million and, despite the challenges of Covid-19, a 97.3% cash collection rate. Profit before tax stood at €62.2 million. 


Consumer & Retail

The world’s second-largest cinema chain, announced it has secured significant additional liquidity whilst implementing further operational measures to deliver enhanced profitability over the long term. Given the uncertainty of the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the cinema sector, the company has borrowed an additional £450mn and agreed bank covenant waivers until June 2022. Alicja Kornasiewicz, Chair of Cineworld Group plc, commented: “In light of the severe financial challenges facing the Group arising from the significant disruption to the entire industry, the Board is confident this additional liquidity will preserve and maximise shareholder value over the long term.”



Boris Johnson to ease Covid lockdown with Christmas shopping spree – The Times

AstraZeneca and Oxford university say vaccine shows high efficacy – Financial Times

Self-isolation to be scrapped for Covid case contacts, Government reveals – The Telegraph