By Powerscourt on 27/11/2020

Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 27 November 2020


A merry Christmas? Not for most of Britain, which is going into a new, stringent tier system to prevent a coronavirus resurgence over the holidays.

The ultimate silver bullet – the arrival of a vaccine – has lost some of its lustre in recent days amid growing attacks on the credibility of Britain’s home-grown vaccine candidate and fears that it may not be approved in the US and Europe.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s latest coronavirus plan, unveiled on Thursday, has succeeded in annoying and alienating almost everyone in the UK, from libertarian backbench Conservative MPs to traditional Labour supporters in the North of England.

Nearly 99% of people in England will be subject to tough restrictions with little prospect of any change for weeks or even months. Only a small handful of mainly rural communities can expect a more relaxed regime over Christmas.

Liverpool, formerly a hot zone for the virus, has seen drastic reductions in the rate of new infections, driven in large part by a city-wide mass COVID-19 testing programme. London has so far managed to dodge the most acute levels of infection in the second wave, despite being the UK’s most heavily populated city.

Greater Manchester, however, will remain in tier 3 – meaning no socialising indoors, a ban on travelling to other parts of the UK, and pubs and cafes only open for takeaways. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, who publicly butted heads with the government two months ago, has again expressed anger at what he sees as injustice towards people in the region.

Meanwhile there is growing scepticism about the so-called “Oxford Vaccine”, the vaccine candidate led by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, as concern mounts over the quality of the Phase III efficacy data published earlier this week. It emerged earlier in the week, that trial subjects in the subgroup, who had demonstrated the strongest efficacy in the trial, had essentially been given the wrong dose of vaccine, casting doubt on the transparency and competence of the wider trial.

On Thursday Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, who was closely involved in the trial, robustly defended its credibility to an Oxford medical symposium.

“We weren’t cooking this up as we went along,” Sir John said, insisting that the UK medicines regulator had approved every step of the trial protocols.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday the Anglo-Swedish pharma giant will redo that portion of the trial which had prompted the anomalies over efficacy. This shouldn’t hold back the approval of the vaccine: the UK government has already asked the medicines regulator to begin a process.

But the disquiet over the data this week has not helped support credibility and this has the potential to derail approval in the US and Europe, according to several commentators.

One US equity analyst accused AstraZeneca of deliberate miscommunication when it publicised the data. Geoffrey Porges, of SVB Leerink, said in a note to investors that the company had tried to “embellish” the trial data and “brought discredit” to the wider vaccine programme. He doesn’t believe the vaccine will be approved in the US, while others have suggested EU regulators may also have their doubts.

As Thanksgiving comes to an end, Reuters notes that this year has highlighted the widening gulf in US living standards, which COVID-19 has exacerbated.

In Colorado, the income of the state’s lowest-paid workers has plunged by 20% since the start of the pandemic, while prices for upscale property are soaring as white collar workers thrive.

Despite passionate invocations by health officials not to travel over the holiday period, many millions of people did so anyway, underlining the schism between Americans’ passionate commitment to liberty and the impetus to keep the lid on infection.

A landmark Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday came down on the side of the liberty camp: the Court blocked New York in restricting religious gatherings in areas of high coronavirus infection. The case originated in suits brought by Roman Catholic and orthodox Jewish organisations who claimed the that the limitations violated their First Amendment rights to religious freedom.

Asian stocks reacted positively to signals of continued strength in Chinese factory output on Friday, combined with growing optimism about vaccines.

(Footnote: Powerscourt advises Russia Direct Investment Fund, sponsor of the Sputnik V vaccine candidate)




Carclo plc
Global provider of value-adding engineered solutions for the medical, optical, electronics and aerospace industries, announced today half year results for the six months ended 30 September 2020. Revenue from continuing operations decreased by 11% to £50.0m compared to H1 2020. Looking forward, the company announced two significant tooling agreements were secured with a new medical customer for COVID-19 test components. Executive Chairman Nick Sanders said “the first half of the financial year has been one of transition against a backdrop of economic uncertainty resulting from the COVID-19.”

Haydale Graphene Industries
Haydale, the global advanced materials group, announced today the completion of the development project of its new washable, functionalised, graphene-enhanced fabric masks. Working with IRPC Public Company Limited (IRPC), the masks are initially being produced for internal use within the IRPC group however are expected for external purchase for 2021.


Consumer & Retail

J D Wetherspoons PLC 
British pub company Wetherspoon announced today that 366 out of its 873 pub will remained closed under the new COVID-19 rules that come into force next week. 315 of the 366 pubs that will remain closed are in tier three in England with the remaining 51 being in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Tim Martin, founder and Chairman of the company, commented on recent government rules saying “it is very disappointing that yet another raft of regulations has been introduced, which has effectively closed half out pubs.” 


Financials & Real Estate 

Bank of Cyprus 
Cyprus’ largest banking and financial services group, announces today financial results for the nine months ended 30 September 2020. Reporting total operating profit of €44 mn, the figures highlight a more resilient Cypriot economy than was anticipated earlier in the year. The Group’s Chief Executive, Panicos Nicolaou commented “our strategic priorities of strengthening our balance sheet and improving our asset quality and efficiency, while supporting our customers, colleagues and community through COVID-19 remain unchanged.”



Reach PLC
Reach plc, British newspaper, magazine and digital publisher, posted a trading update today reporting a Group revenue decline of 13.9%. Despite this, digital growth has grown 16.2% which is expected to continue into December. Jim Mullen, Chief Executive Officer of Reach plc stated “the headwinds from COVID-19 have been considerable, but while we remain mindful of potential impacts from the current lockdowns, we approach the end of the year with a strong and growing digital business, resilient print circulation sales, and a new, efficient operating model.”



Immunodiagnostic Systems Holdings 
IDS, a specialty solution provider to the clinical laboratory diagnostic market, announced this morning that two SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test kits are now available for sale in the UK and European Union. The tests, which can be performed without the need for laboratory equipment, are able to determine the presence of COVID-19 antibodies within 15 minutes. 



England hit with tough new regional Covid curbs  – Financial Times

Tories may have to raise taxes to help repair coronavirus-ravaged fundraises, economists warn – The Times

AstraZeneca to run new trial of Oxford Covid vaccineThe Telegraph