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Coronavirus latest: Victoria embroiled in protests as Covid-19 cases rise | Financial Times

Coronavirus latest: Victoria embroiled in protests as Covid-19 cases rise | Financial Times

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Poland to offer Covid booster shots to people over 50

Polish officials said on Tuesday that medical personnel and people over the age of 50 would be offered a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as the country prepares for the latest wave of the pandemic.

New infections in Poland ran at just a couple of hundred a day for most of the summer, but in recent weeks cases have begun to rise again, and are expected to pass the 1,000-per day mark this week or next.

Poland has already started offering third jabs to the immuno-compromised, but officials said on Tuesday that this programme, which will use the Biontech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, will be expanded. Registration will start on September 24, and those eligible will be able to receive a third vaccine dose once six months have elapsed since their second shot.

“We known that every vaccine naturally loses effectiveness with time. Many countries have decided to give a third dose. We... also want to offer a third dose to Poles,” Waldemar Kraska, deputy health minister, told a press conference

US housing starts rise as rental demand boosts apartment construction

The rate of US new home construction exceeded expectations in August, boosted by apartments, as lower timber prices helped offset supply chain disruptions.

Housing starts rose 3.9 per cent month on month to an annualised pace of 1.62m units in August, the commerce department said on Tuesday. That topped a forecast rise to 1.56m and left housing starts 17.4 per cent higher than a year ago.

The increase was largely driven by a 21.6 per cent rise in the construction of apartment units, as rental demand picked up again, while construction of single-family homes dipped 2.8 per cent.

Permits to build new homes — considered a leading indicator of the housing market — rose 6 per cent to 1.73m units, also ahead of expectations for an increase to 1.6m.

The data come after US homebuilders Lennar and DR Horton delivered disappointing outlooks on Monday, citing supply chain bottlenecks as the industry faced delays in securing everything from appliances to windows.

Despite the shortage of labour and materials as well as higher costs to construct homes, strong demand and tight inventory have helped homebuilders raise prices as demand surged during the pandemic.

“Over the next few months, though, we have to expect single-family starts to drift lower, returning — like new home sales — to their pre-Covid level,” said Ian Shepherdson, economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “The flight to the burbs which triggered the boom in home sales, prices, and construction activity is over, though mortgage demand has nudged back up in the past two months.”

UK shoppers go back to ‘little and often’ habits

UK shoppers have reverted to their pre-pandemic habits, preferring to buy “little and more often” rather than planning ahead for one big outing, as workers return to offices and school terms begin.

Spending at convenience stories grew 3.3 per cent in the four weeks to September 11, data from NielsenIQ showed on Tuesday, outpacing supermarket growth of 0.6 per cent. Visits to all stores rose 10 per cent compared with the same period last year, though they trail 2019 levels.

Spending at big supermarkets totalled £9.8bn over the period, a 6 per cent bump over 2019, indicating that retail spending remains strong.

“UK shopping habits are shifting once again, this time towards convenience channels as Brits return to more impulsive shopping behaviours that correspond with a return to pre-pandemic lifestyles,” said Mike Watkins, who leads NielsenIQ’s UK retail practice.

“There remain some clouds on the horizon as rising energy costs and inflation could hit disposable incomes, whilst availability concerns could present challenges,” he added.

Online grocery growth accounted for 12.4 per cent of sales, a slight decrease from 13 per cent a year ago.

J&J booster increases protection against symptomatic Covid

A booster of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine increases protection against symptomatic Covid-19 to 94 per cent, the company said on Tuesday.

A second dose of the single-shot vaccine, administered 56 days after the first, offered complete protection against severe or critical Covid-19, the drugmaker said, citing results from a US study. J&J added that its safety and tolerability remained unchanged.

The US cohort of the study showed protection against symptomatic Covid-19 was 94 per cent, while globally that rate decreased to 75 per cent.

Additionally, J&J said, evidence from the US showed a single dose of the vaccine demonstrated effectiveness of 79 per cent against symptomatic Covid-19 and 81 per cent against hospitalisation. The shot is stored at fridge temperature and sold at cost for the duration of the pandemic.

“A single-shot Covid-19 vaccine that is easy to use, distribute and administer, and that provides strong and long-lasting protection is crucial to vaccinating the global population,” said Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at J&J.

Stoffels said the results showed the vaccine offered “significantly” extended protection with a booster.

UK emissions fall after sharp drop in personal travel

A sharp reduction in personal travel including commuting during the pandemic drove UK greenhouse gas emissions down 13 per cent last year on an annual basis, suggesting a more hybrid form of work could permanently lower emissions.

The Office for National Statistics noted that avoiding one commute a week, across a year with 46 working weeks, would save 337kg CO2 equivalent per person.

The transport sector was the biggest contributor to the decline, with its emissions falling 40 per cent between 2019 and 2020, the ONS said on Tuesday. Household transport emissions, excluding industrial transport, dropped 24 per cent, by far the biggest fall since the data began in 1990.

“With many people working remotely, being on furlough, or losing their job in 2020, more people were staying at home using energy for heating,” it said.

“However, these additional emissions were more than offset by the drop in travel emissions.”

Consumer emissions still accounted for the majority of green house gas production, but they were down by 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020, or about 10 per cent. This is the second greatest annual reduction since records began in 1990, after 2011, one of the warmest years on record.

OECD raises inflation forecasts and cautions on risk of prolonged rises

High inflation is set to continue over the next two years, the OECD warned on Tuesday, requiring skilful handling by policymakers to ensure price rises are a temporary blip while the economic recovery remains on track.

In its latest economic outlook, the Paris-based club of nations projected that inflation would be significantly higher in 2021 and in 2022 than it had previously forecast for most G20 countries, but that this need not become a persistent problem.

Publishing largely optimistic growth projections for advanced economies, the OECD predicted activity would reach the levels forecast before the pandemic by the end of 2022, said Laurence Boone, OECD chief economist.

“The speed of the recovery has increased inflationary pressures, quickly pushing up prices to where we expected them to be before the pandemic,” the OECD said in its outlook. “Policymakers in advanced economies should monitor these developments without delay.”

Boone added that, for now, managing inflation would be “a very difficult balancing act”.

Bar chart of Consumer inflation (annual rate, %) showing OECD inflation forecast for 2021 has risen sharply since June

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Monthly Covid deaths more than double in England and Wales

Covid-19 deaths in England and Wales more than doubled last month, with coronavirus remaining a main cause of mortality after heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Of the 40,460 deaths registered in August in England, 5.3 per cent were due to Covid-19 as the underlying cause, up from 2.4 per cent in July, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday. Those that involved Covid-19, which refers to a mention of coronavirus on the certificate, accounted for 6.1 per cent of all deaths in England last month. Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death.

August deaths in England were 9.9 per cent higher than the five-year average and 5,709 more than in August 2020.

Excess mortality for the week to September 10 was 2,057 deaths above the five-year average for the same period, indicating that deaths from all causes remain elevated. Excess deaths measure those above average from all causes.

Coronavirus-related deaths rose 24 per cent to 857 in the week ending September 10 and accounted for about 8 per cent of the total. A public holiday in late August may have skewed the numbers, the ONS said.

In Wales, 2.7 per cent of the 2,614 deaths registered last month were due to Covid-19, up from 1.2 per cent the month before.

UK house sales rise by more than one-fifth even as support dwindles

UK house sales rose more than a fifth last month as the property market displayed some resilience even as the government reduced its support with a tax holiday.

HM Revenue & Customs estimated UK residential transactions picked up 21 per cent year on year in August to 98,300 in figures released Tuesday — a 32 per cent rise on the previous month.

August “proved to be an extremely busy month for the housing market with sales continuing apace as buyers took advantage of low mortgage rates”, said Tomer Aboody, director of property lender MT Finance.

On July 1, the threshold up to which buyers in England and Northern Ireland could avoid paying stamp duty decreased from £500,000 to £250,000. It will revert to £125,000 from next month, the level before July 2020 when the government introduced the tax holiday to stimulate the housing market.

Many people cancelled holidays abroad, giving them “an opportunity to view houses, hoping to find that dream home with more space both inside and out”, Aboody said.

Separate figures from building society Nationwide released earlier in the month showed that UK house prices rose at an annual rate of 11 per cent in August, after the strongest monthly gain in 15 years.

“Buyers are now rushing to complete transactions before the final ‘step down’ in September,” said Anna Clare Harper, chief executive of property consultancy SPI Capital.

The strength of the housing market was bolstered by first-time buyers, according to Jamie Thompson of Manchester-based Jamie Thompson Mortgages. He noted that a first-time buyer can now borrow up to 5.5 times their income with a mainstream high street lender.

“This allows them to massively increase what they can bid on for their first house, which not only drives transaction volumes but also supports prices.”

British businesses return £1.3bn in furlough cash

Recovering British businesses have returned more than £1bn of furlough cash, having been buoyed by the UK’s economic rebound from the pandemic.

Companies have repaid £1.3bn to HM Revenue & Customs since July 2020, which had been claimed under the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.

According to the government’s latest figures, the number of people on furlough has fallen to 1.6m. About 340,000 people left the scheme in July, with more than a third aged between 18 and 34.

“This government stepped in to help when people needed it most, supporting 12 million jobs through furlough. This worked, nearly 2 million fewer people are now expected to be out of work in the UK than previously feared,” chancellor Rishi Sunak said.

“Now with our recovery under way it is heartening to see that £1.3bn in furlough grants have been returned as the economy recovers.”

Fauci counters calls to suspend booster shot programme

Anthony Fauci has countered calls for wealthier nations to suspend booster shot programmes so they can donate vaccines to low income countries, saying the US could do both at the same time.

The World Health Organization has called for a suspension of booster programmes until the end of the year to enable all nations to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of their populations.

Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the world needed to do more to help low income countries, but said the US and other highly developed countries could simultaneously administer booster vaccines. 

“If the United States implements the booster programme that you’ve heard about between now and the end of this calendar year we will [use] approximately 100m doses,” he said. “During that exact period of time, we will be giving to the rest of the world 200m doses.”

“We believe we can do both at the same time,” he added. 

The chief medical adviser also said that the virus would not be eradicated entirely, “in the sense of getting it completely off the planet”.

“What I believe we can do is dramatically better control it and perhaps, in some countries, even eliminate it,” Fauci said.

Kingfisher to lift dividend after pandemic-driven profit surge

DIY chain Kingfisher increased its interim dividend by almost 40 per cent and will buy back £300m of its shares after profits surged during the pandemic.

The UK group has been a winner from the coronavirus crisis as repeated lockdowns and the shift to working from home prompted consumers to spend more on their homes and gardens.

Although that pattern is expected to shift with the reopening of the economy, Kingfisher said an expected decline in sales in the second half of its financial year would be smaller than feared.

It forecast full-year sales would decline by no more than 7 per cent compared with a previous scenario of a drop of between 5 per cent and 15 per cent. The group added that adjusted pre-tax profit for the year would be between £910m and £950m, against analysts’ forecasts of about £912m.

“Our industry is benefiting from new trends that we believe will be supportive over the long term,” said chief executive Thierry Garnier. “These include people spending more time working from home, the emergence of a new generation of DIYers, the need for greener homes, and a strong housing market.”

Read more here.

UK public borrowing falls as economy rebounds

UK public borrowing fell last month as the economy rebounded, but rising inflation pushed up the cost of public debt.

Public sector net borrowing was £20.5bn in August, £5.5bn less than in the same month last year, data from the Office for National Statistics showed on Tuesday.

That was only marginally lower than the £21.6bn forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the country’s fiscal watchdog, and it overshot the £15.6bn forecast by economists polled by Reuters.

Interest payments on public debt rose to £6.3bn, which was £2.9bn higher than in the same month last year. It was also much higher than the £1.6bn forecast by the OBR following a rapid rise in retail price inflation, to which debt payments are linked.

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is planning to use next month’s Budget to set out new rules to rein in government borrowing, as the Treasury fears that higher inflation and any rise in interest rates would make it difficult to reduce public debt.

The country registered the second-highest August borrowing since monthly records began in 1993, pushed up by more than 50 schemes set up to support individuals and businesses during the pandemic.

Public sector net debt, or the borrowing accumulated over time, was 97.6 per cent of gross domestic product, the highest ratio since the early 1960s.

Column chart of % of GDP, fiscal years showing UK public debt has reached levels last hit in the early 1960s

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Caterer Compass gains on return of live sports

The return of live sporting events as Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted has bolstered revenue expectations at catering group Compass in the three months to September.

The British contract food service company expects revenues to hit 86 per cent of its 2019 pre-pandemic performance for the fourth quarter of its financial year, slightly ahead of its earlier guidance of 80 to 85 per cent of 2019 figures. Full-year revenues are expected to come in at 76 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Pent-up consumer demand boosted a resilient performance from Compass’ services for healthcare, defence and offshore clients, which have performed above 2019 levels throughout the pandemic. Students’ returns to university campuses also helped, while catering for business and industry events has also come back in line with cautious expectations.

“The Group’s recovery is unlikely to be linear and will depend on a number of factors including vaccination and infection rates as well as any further containment measures taken by governments,” it said.

“We continue to be encouraged by the ongoing growth opportunities including strong momentum in new business wins.”

Margins are expected to remain around the midpoint of the guidance range between 5.5 and 6 per cent, while full-year operating margin is expected to come in about 4.4 per cent, despite pressure from inflation.

Melbourne researchers say vaccination targets too low to avoid lockdowns

The Australian state of Victoria needs to fully vaccinate at least 90 per cent of its population if it wants to avoid re-entering lockdown, researchers at the University of Melbourne said on Tuesday.

Under the government’s national roadmap, the country will reopen once 80 per cent of its population over the age of 16 is fully vaccinated. The state of Victoria’s roadmap, released Sunday, differs slightly, advocating vaccinating 80 per cent of those aged 12 and over.

Australia’s vaccination rate lags other developed countries, with only 38 per cent of the population fully jabbed, according to the Financial Times’ tracker.

The Melbourne researchers, however, modelled 432 scenarios using different combinations of vaccine coverage, travel restrictions, social distancing restrictions and reproduction numbers for the virus.

In the “default strategy”, where the state unlocks once 80 per cent of its population aged 18 and over are fully vaccinated, it would have to re-enter lockdown for 39 per cent of the following year to keep annual Covid deaths at a “moderate level”, they concluded.

A second “upgraded strategy” of vaccinating 80 per cent of residents aged five and over would reduce deaths but still see the state spend 19 per cent of the year in lockdown.

A final, “innovative strategy” reduces time spent in lockdown to zero, but would require 90 per cent vaccine coverage of both adults and children. It would also rely on future innovations such as better ventilation in indoor spaces and more effective track and trace apps.

Much of Victoria, including the state capital Melbourne, is under lockdown, as are parts of New South Wales. Australia has proposed moving from a Covid elimination strategy to learning to “live with the virus” once higher vaccination rates are achieved. State governments, however, disagree on what level of vaccine coverage should be reached, and which restrictions should stay in place in the long term.

How Biden came round to relaxing travel restrictions for the vaccinated

As Boris Johnson boarded a flight to New York on Sunday, the British prime minister was uncharacteristically pessimistic about his chances of persuading President Joe Biden to reopen the US border for people travelling from the UK.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily going to crack it this week,” he told reporters as he travelled to the US for two days of meetings coinciding with the UN General Assembly. “I’ve got to warn you I don’t think this is going to be necessarily fixed this week.”

Within hours of Johnson’s arrival in the US, however, the White House had unexpectedly reversed course. In a hastily arranged press conference, Jeff Zients, the head of Biden’s Covid-19 task force, told reporters on Monday morning the travel bans that had applied to the UK, Ireland, Europe’s Schengen travel area, China, India, Iran, Brazil and South Africa would all be dropped from early November.

Instead, the US will demand that all foreigners are vaccinated before entering the country, regardless of where they are coming from.

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South Korea cases down but post-holiday jump in infections predicted

South Korean health authorities reported 1,729 new daily cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday. The new cases raised the total since the start of the pandemic to 289,263, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

The country added four more deaths, lifting the number of Covid-related fatalities to 2,413.

It was the third straight day that the case count fell below 2,000, but new infections in South Korea have topped 1,000 for 77 consecutive days. Of the new cases, 1,697 were local infections, with more than three-quarters of those found in the greater Seoul area. 

The KDCPA and other health authorities are anxious, however, that regions outside the capital might see a jump in cases after the five-day Chuseok holiday, which will end on Wednesday. 

Millions of people will have travelled across the country for the holiday, which is the Korean thanksgiving.

Europe’s lorry driver crisis to deepen next year, warns haulage boss

The lorry driver crisis is set to deepen next year as wages rise and labour shortages worsen, the regional head of one of the world’s largest haulage companies has warned.

Luis Gomez, president of Europe at XPO Logistics, a New York-listed freight company, expects shortages to disrupt Christmas with new EU regulations putting further strains on retailers and producers next year.

Europe has been hit by a shortage of drivers, with the problem in the UK particularly acute because of Brexit, the pandemic, tax reforms and backlogs for driving tests exacerbating a supply chain crisis.

This has led to empty shelves at supermarkets and manufacturers shutting down production lines, with many logistics groups bracing themselves for a brutal Christmas as retailers warn more goods will be out of stock.

Europe has an estimated 400,000 shortage of lorry drivers. The UK has been hit particularly hard because of Brexit, the pandemic, tax reforms and backlogs for driving tests © Bloomberg

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Opinion: The hidden costs of powerful buyers and cheap prices

When suppliers and workers are stretched to the max, shocks can quickly collapse the system.

There is a common thread running through a number of the disruptions and shortages caused by the global pandemic. Some supply chains have become dominated by hugely powerful buyers, who have used their muscle to provide lower prices to consumers. We have enjoyed the benefits of this dynamic for decades, but the crisis has made visible its hidden costs.

In the UK, every step of the food supply chain is suffering from labour shortages triggered by whipsaw demand and migrant workers going home. Employers in the farming, food processing and transport sectors all blame the same root cause. They say they relied on migrant workers because they had to compress labour costs to deliver the low prices demanded by large supermarkets.

The prices paid to UK farms for strawberries, to give one example, barely rose between 2008 and 2018, even as the minimum wage rose 37 per cent. In Germany, farmers are so angry with low prices, they have been blockading supermarkets with their tractors.

“If [the supermarket buyers] walk into the room and say you need to drop your price by say 10 per cent because we’ve been offered your volume by someone else . . . what do you then do when your entire business is geared up to supplying them — it’s very difficult to replace that volume, certainly quickly,” one UK-based farmer told me.

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Infections climb again in China’s Fujian Delta outbreak

China reported another 42 new local cases of Covid-19 in its outbreak in Fujian province on Tuesday, with the daily infection numbers continuing to fluctuate.

Fujian, in China’s southeast, has been at the centre of the country’s most recent outbreak since September 10, when cases of the highly infectious Delta variant were discovered in two school-age children.

New cases have swung between lows in the 20s to highs in the 60s over the past week. The latest count is greater than Monday’s caseload of 28, but smaller than Sunday’s 43. China also reported 30 imported cases on Tuesday, but no further Covid-related deaths.

A child undergoes nucleic acid testing in the Fujian city of Xiamen at the weekend © AFP via Getty Images

The outbreak has so far reached four cities in Fujian. All have imposed lockdowns on the affected neighbourhoods and mass tested parts of their populations.

China is pursuing a Covid-elimination strategy. While its lockdowns have been successful in containing the spread of the virus, they have also been damaging to China’s post-pandemic recovery.

New Zealand cases up as tougher penalties for Covid curb breaches suggested

New Zealand reported 14 new local cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, with all but one linked to existing infections.

The total cases in the country’s current outbreak — which centres on its largest city, Auckland, and has been driven by the highly infectious Delta variant — now number 1,085, with 790 having recovered.

Auckland’s Covid-19 restrictions are due to ease from midnight on Tuesday, with the city dropping from level 4 to level 3 in the health alert ranking. Level 3 allows contactless business deliveries, though schools will remain closed.

Also on Tuesday, the New Zealand government said in a statement that penalties for breaches of Covid-19 orders were set to get tougher from early November “to better reflect the seriousness of any behaviour that threatens New Zealand’s response to the virus”.

Chris Hipkins, the Covid-19 response minister, said police generally reported high compliance with restrictions among the public. “Disappointingly, however, a number of serious breaches have occurred, which seriously put at risk the good progress we’ve made to stamp out Delta,” he added.

Under the proposed new penalties, the maximum fine for failing to wear a face covering in a place where it is mandatory would rise from NZ$300 ($210) to NZ$4,000. A person travelling without permission from a high-risk to a lower-risk area could be hit with a fine of up to NZ$12,000, up from NZ$4,000, or six months in prison.

The proposed penalties will be subject to the passing of the Covid-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill.

Victoria embroiled in protests as Covid-19 cases rise

Victoria reported 603 new local cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, as the Australian state’s capital saw aggressive anti-lockdown protests.

State authorities imposed a two-week shutdown on construction in Melbourne and other cities from Monday evening after peaceful protests against the industry’s vaccine mandate turned violent.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, whose headquarters was damaged during the protests, blamed the escalation on “neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremist groups” that, it said, hijacked the demonstrations, subverting their original message and turning them into anti-lockdown rallies.

A heavy police presence is seen outside the CFMEU headquarters in Melbourne, where protests against a construction industry vaccine mandate turned violent on Monday © Getty Images

The protests began last week after authorities announced that construction workers would need to show proof of having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to access their worksites from September 23.

While Victoria has eased some restrictions in recent weeks and set out a roadmap for reopening its economy, much of the state, including Melbourne, remains under lockdown.

Protests against the vaccine mandate continued on Tuesday morning, when the state also reported one new death from the virus.

New South Wales, meanwhile, reported 1,022 new cases and 10 deaths on Tuesday. The Australian Capital Territory reported 16 new infections and Queensland lodged no additional local cases.

The national government has set out a roadmap for reopening the country, with most restrictions eased once two vaccine doses have been given to at least 80 per cent of the population. Each state, however, has its own timeline for reaching that target and has employed different methods to convince the public to get vaccinated.

UN report: Investment in innovation up in 2020 despite pandemic

Investment in innovation increased last year despite the economic disruption of the pandemic, the UN’s intellectual property agency said in a report published Monday.

The World Intellectual Property Organization’s latest Global Innovation Index (GII) ranks 132 countries and territories on their innovation capacity and output. It found that many governments and enterprises scaled up research and development, often in response to Covid-19.

“We expected a harsh slump in 2020 of around 3 per cent, however, the GII shows there are reasons to be optimistic … with governments showing foresight and not cutting spending,” Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, WIPO’s GII co-editor, said.

WIPO’s ranking of the world’s economies is consistently dominated by a handful of high-income economies. This year, South Korea joined Switzerland, Sweden, the US and the UK in the top five for the first time. Four other Asian economies made the top 15: Singapore (in eighth position), China (12th), Japan (13th) and Hong Kong (14th).

WIPO also saw middle-income economies Turkey, Vietnam, India and the Philippines move up the ranking. 

South Korea joined Switzerland, Sweden, the US and the UK in the Global Innovation Index top five © AP

Top technology companies including Apple, Microsoft and Huawei increased investment at an average of about 10 per cent last year, while venture capital investment surged, Wunsch-Vincent said. The transport and travel sectors were hard hit by containment measures and cut back their spending.

“In spite of the massive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many sectors have shown remarkable resilience — especially those that have embraced digitalisation, technology and innovation,” said Daren Tang, the WIPO director general.

Many UK workers lack job options despite labour shortage

Many UK workers still have fewer job options open to them than before the coronavirus pandemic, despite the acute labour shortages seen in a handful of relatively low-paid areas, research has shown.

Official data show more than 1m posts vacant across the economy, with industry groups calling for temporary visas to hire overseas workers and the CBI employers’ lobby reporting that three-quarters of businesses saw access to skilled staff as a threat to the UK’s competitiveness.

But in a report published on Tuesday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that the UK remained very far from being a “jobseekers’ paradise”.

The surge in vacancies has been driven by low-paying occupations, where new job openings had risen about 20 per cent above pre-pandemic levels by June of this year, the think-tank found.

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US homebuilder Lennar latest to warn of supply chain issues

US homebuilder Lennar’s outlook for home deliveries in the third quarter missed the mark, dragged down by supply chain disruptions and labour shortages.

“During the third quarter, our company and the homebuilding industry as a whole continued to experience unprecedented supply chain challenges which we believe will continue into the foreseeable future,” said executive chair, Stuart Miller.

He blamed the bottlenecks for the shortfall on third quarter deliveries of 15,199 homes — about 600 short of the low end of the company’s guidance.

“We are adjusting our fourth quarter delivery guidance to, more or less, 18,000 homes, reflecting this supply chain constraint,” Miller added. That missed economists’ estimates for about 20,343 homes, according to Refinitiv data.

Earlier on Monday DR Horton, another US homebuilder, cited supply chain disruptions as it cut its outlook for the year.

Stuart Miller, Lennar’s executive chair, blamed supply chain bottlenecks for the shortfall on Q3 delivery of homes © Bloomberg

Lennar said total revenues rose 18 per cent from a year ago to $6.9bn in its fiscal third quarter ended August 31, just ahead of expectations for $6.87bn. Net income climbed to $1.4bn, or $4.52 a share, up from $666m, or $2.12 a share, in the year ago quarter.

Still, the shortages faced by the company were offset by record home prices during the pandemic that were fuelled by low mortgage rates and strong demand. Lennar said the average sale price of homes delivered in the third quarter was $428,000, up from $396,000 in the same period a year ago.

Washington DC requires adults in schools and child care centres to be vaccinated without testing option

Washington DC will require all adults in schools and at child care facilities to be vaccinated by the beginning of November, eliminating a testing provision.

The vaccine mandate announced by mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday applies to DC public schools, charter schools, private schools and parochial schools as well are child care facilities that are regulated by the superintendent of education office.

The requirement applies to all adults in these schools including teachers, coaches, social workers, bus drivers and volunteers.

“It’s very clear, especially for our young people who are not eligible for vaccine yet, that the best way to protect them is to have the adults around them vaccinated,” Bowser said during a press conference.

Additionally, Bowser said all student athletes over the age of 12 need to be vaccinated to participate in school-based sports. Those who turn 12 between September 20 and November 1 must be fully jabbed by December 13.

Nearly 66.8 per cent of the capital’s total population has received at least one Covid jab, and about 56.2 per cent are fully vaccinated.

US Covid death toll surpasses 1918 Spanish flu

The number of Americans who have died from Covid-19 has surpassed the death toll from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic as the US struggles to respond to a resurgence of the virus.

The grim milestone coincides with a new wave of severe illness and hospitalisations among largely unvaccinated people in southern and mid-western US states. This has driven the seven-day rolling average of daily Covid-19 deaths to about 1,900 — a level not seen since last winter’s deadly surge.

Experts warn the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant is pushing health systems in the worst-affected states into crisis and threatening the economic recovery in the US.

Political bickering over wearing masks, vaccine mandates and booster shots continues to complicate the fight against the pandemic and risks prolonging it, they say.

US deaths from Covid-19 stood at 675,446, according to the latest estimate from Johns Hopkins University published on Monday afternoon. That is roughly the same as the total number of US deaths from Spanish flu, the most severe pandemic in recent history, which killed at least 50m people worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimates.

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New York City schools to begin weekly Covid testing

New York City schools will begin weekly Covid-19 testing for students starting September 27 as the nation’s largest school district pushes ahead with in-person lessons.

Students at elementary, middle and high schools across the city will be subject to weekly testing, a change from the fortnightly testing that had been in effect previously, mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference on Monday.

The more frequent testing is scheduled to coincide with the date the department of education’s vaccine mandate for school teachers and other staff goes into effect.

The move came amid pressure from the city’s powerful teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, which on Sunday renewed its call for weekly testing at schools.

De Blasio also said that unvaccinated students that have been in close contact with a student who tested positive will no longer be required to quarantine as long as they were masked and maintaining social distance from other students.

New York City schools resumed in-person classes on September 13.

News you might have missed …

A gauge of US homebuilder confidence edged up in September, the first rise in five months. The National Association of Homebuilders’ housing market index climbed one point to 76 this month, and topped economists’ expectations for 74. The US housing market got a boost during the pandemic as Americans took advantage of low interest rates to seek out roomier dwellings in the suburbs, sending home prices to record highs. However, high prices, a shortage of labour and supply chain issues have taken some of the momentum out of the housing market.

The Vatican has said that it will introduce compulsory Covid-19 vaccine and testing requirements to work inside and visit the tiny city state. The Holy See said that from the start of October a negative Covid-19 result or proof of vaccination in the form of what it called a “Vatican green pass” would be needed to enter Vatican City. The rules would “apply to citizens, to residents in the state, to personnel serving in any capacity in the administration of Vatican City and in the various bodies of the Roman Curia”.

Shares in European airlines and other travel-related companies rallied on Monday as the US prepared to reopen air corridors with the UK and EU. British Airways parent company IAG jumped 9.7 per cent while low-cost carrier easyJet climbed 3.4 per cent in London after the Financial Times reported that vaccinated passengers will be able to travel to the US from the EU and UK from November onwards.

Shares in European airlines rallied on Monday as the US prepared to reopen air corridors with the UK and EU © REUTERS

The UK has begun administering Covid-19 shots to children aged 12-15, the health service said on Monday. About 3m children will be eligible to receive their first dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in the coming weeks. The NHS said it would aim to have most children in this age group vaccinated before the half-term break in October.

The BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is safe and triggers “robust” immune responses in children aged five to 11, the companies said in a joint statement on Monday, announcing plans to submit the data to regulatory bodies “as soon as possible”. In a phase 2/3 trial, the companies administered two 10-microgram doses of the shot. Antibody responses were similar to those seen in people aged 16 to 25 who received two 30-microgram doses, which are used in patients older than 12.

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