Powerscourt

By Powerscourt on 08/12/2020

Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 08 December 2020

ANALYSIS

Today is V-Day, and Margaret Keenan from Enniskillen in Northern Ireland was the first to land on the metaphorical beach. The BBC reports that at 6.30 am on Tuesday, the 90-year-old was the first person to get a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, at University Hospital Coventry.

“We will look back on today, V-Day, as a key moment in our fightback against this terrible disease,” said Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary. The world hopes he is right. The breakthrough is taking place amid warnings from multiple governments of the need for continued social and economic restrictions, and vaccine scepticism in countries as varied as the US and Russia.

The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday holds the first of two meetings this week to study the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Washington Post says the FDA will release its evaluation of the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine ahead of an open meeting on Thursday of its vaccine advisory committee. “If everything goes to plan, the FDA could give the thumbs up in a matter of days,” the Post reports.

There are doubts as to whether the US has enough vaccines to begin a mass vaccination programme. The Trump Administration turned down an offer from Pfizer of extra supplies of the vaccine. The New York Times says the rejection of the offer means Pfizer may not be able to supply more of the vaccine until June next year “because of its commitments to other countries.” Trump is expected to announce restrictions on exporting vaccines until all Americans have been inoculated, the NYT reports, though it is unclear whether such a measures is enforceable.

In India, three companies have submitted vaccines to medical regulators. The Serum Institute, which manufactures the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and Bharat Biotech, which has developed a vaccine that is still in Phase 3 trials, are seeking emergency use authorisation, as is Pfizer, the Financial Times reports. India has the world’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 after the US, with 9.7 million infections and 141,000 deaths.

As scientists develop more vaccines, and as mass vaccination begins, the question is being asked – should taking a vaccine be mandatory? The World Health Organisation says No. Kate O’Brien, the WHO’s head of immunisation, said encouraging people to take the vaccine was more effective than forcing them to do so. “I don’t think we anticipate countries creating a mandate for vaccination,” she said.

Writing in the Irish Times, the psychologist Orla Muldoon also argues against mandatory vaccination, because there is a better way to ensure a wide take-up – sharing the experience of getting vaccinated. She argues that positive experiences of the process this will “provide a strong normative sense that vaccination is the right thing to do.” If one’s friends, family and those one trusts are getting vaccinated, one is more likely to follow suit. As Muldoon puts it, “a horse led to water is far more likely to drink in the company of his friends.”

 

WHAT ARE COMPANIES SAYING?

Industrials

Ferguson
The plumbing and heating parts distributor has announced that its first-quarter profit rose 12.2%, boosted by demand for home improvement in the United States on higher new residential housing permits. The London-listed company said underlying trading profit rose to $486 million for the three months ended Oct. 31 from $433 million it reported a year ago. “Cash generation was good and our balance sheet remains strong,” said Ferguson chief executive Kevin Murphy in the trading statement. “This has enabled us to continue to invest in the business including our technology platforms.” He noted Ferguson has, since the start of the second quarter, “continued to generate low single-digit revenue growth in broadly flat markets although we remain cautious on the outlook for the year as a whole, considering current pandemic trends”.

Ashtead
The equipment rental specialist has raised its full-year guidance, citing “resilience” in the first half as it benefited from its status as an essential business during the coronavirus pandemic. Revenues for the six months ending October 31 dipped 5% to £2.5bn, with operating profits down a fifth to £614m. Trading volumes dropped because of the coronavirus crisis but the decline was offset by the group’s emergency response efforts. Its Sunbelt Resources business, classified as “essential” in the US, UK and Canada, has helped government and private sector organisations to react to the crisis, providing equipment to first responders, hospitals and food services companies. Cost-cutting measures led to record free cash flow of £822m, up from £228m a year earlier. This helped to knock net debt down from £5.2bn to £4.7bn. The group has maintained its half-year dividend, expecting to pay out 7.15p a share next February. It now anticipates a full-year performance ahead of its previous expectations, though this assumes “no further significant adverse impact on our business resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic”, chief executive Brendan Horgan said.

Norwegian Air
The airline has said it is seeking additional creditor protection from a court in Norway on top of that granted by an Irish judge on Monday. “A supplementary reconstruction process under Norwegian law will be to the benefit of all parties and will increase the likelihood of a successful result,” Chief Executive Jacob Schram said in a statement. The company that helped transform transatlantic travel, expanding the European budget airline business model to longer-haul destinations, has been forced to ground all but six of its 140 aircraft amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If successful in convincing creditors and owners of its future potential, Norwegian could, with the help of the courts, emerge as a smaller but viable carrier with fewer aircraft, less debt and more equity. “Our aim is to secure jobs in the company and to contribute to securing critical infrastructure and value creation in Norway,” Schram said.

BMW
BMW has developed a data hub with Amazon’s cloud computing division, in a sign of how companies are increasingly using “big data” to try to boost efficiency. “We want to switch from gut-driven decisions to data-driven decisions,” said Kai Demtroder, vice president of data transformation at BMW. “We have a few hundred data scientists at BMW, but the aim is to make the data accessible to everyone.” Demtroder said BMW’s “cloud data hub” proved its value as the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect auto production in the spring, as data from Amazon Web Services (AWS) enabled the German carmaker to see which supplier plants had problems. “This was a clear case where we had all the data and we could use it immediately to respond to the crisis,” he said.

 

IN THE NEWS

UK embarks on mass coronavirus vaccination campaign – Financial Times

Boris Johnson plans late Brussels dash to save Brexit deal – The Times

Fears London could be plunged into Tier 3 next week – The Telegraph




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