British Virus Variant Now In 50 Countries – WHO

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The coronavirus mutation first found in Britain has now spread to 50 territories, according to the World Health Organization, while a similar South African-identified strain has now been found in 20.

The UN body also noted a third new coronavirus “variant of concern” found in Japan may impact upon immune response and needs further investigation.

“The more the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. High levels of transmission mean that we should expect more variants to emerge,” said the WHO.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus which causes Covid-19 disease.

Since first being reported to the WHO on December 14, the British-identified variant VOC 202012/01 has been found in 50 countries, territories and areas, the agency said.

Test results showed the age and sex distribution was similar to that of other circulating variants, while contact tracing data revealed “higher transmissibility (secondary attack rates) where the index case has the variant strain”.

The South African-identified variant 501Y.V2, first reported on December 18, has now been detected in 20 countries, territories and areas.

“From preliminary and ongoing investigations in South Africa, it is possible that the 501Y.V2 variant is more transmissible than variants circulating in South Africa previously,” the WHO weekly report said.

“Moreover, while this new variant does not appear to cause more severe illness, the observed rapid increases in case numbers has placed health systems under pressure.”

The geographical spread of both variants is likely underestimated, said the WHO, given a bias towards detection in countries with virus sequencing capacity.

– Japan/Brazil newcomer –

Meanwhile the agency said it had been notified by Japan on January 9 of a new variant detected in four travellers arriving from Brazil. The variant was found in two adults and two children.

“This variant has 12 mutations to the spike protein, including three mutations of concern in common with VOC 202012/01 and 501Y.V2” it said, “which may impact transmissibility and host immune response”.

The WHO said researchers in Brazil had additionally reported the emergence of a similar variant, which had likely evolved independently of the variant detected in Japan.

“The extent and public health significance of these new variants require further investigation,” the report said.

The WHO held a meeting of 1,750 international scientists on Tuesday to discuss critical knowledge gaps and research priorities for emerging variants.

“Our collective goal is to get ahead of the game and have a global mechanism to quickly identify and study variants of concern and understand their implications for disease control efforts,” said Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, the WHO’s research and development chief.

The WHO said the new variants showed the importance of increasing diagnostic capacity and systematic sequencing of the virus.

“Research is ongoing to determine the impact of new variants on transmission, disease severity as well as any potential impacts on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics,” the organisation said.

EU, UK Narrow Gaps On Post-Brexit Trade But No Deal Yet

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on January 29, 2020, British members of the European Parliament from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats pose for a group picture wearing scarves depicting the European Union and the Union Jack flags at The Europa Building in Brussels. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

 

British and EU negotiators were closing in Wednesday on a deal to oversee fair competition in a post-Brexit trade deal, but remained deeply divided over fishing.

As intense talks continued in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “the next days are going to be decisive”.

Many supposed deadlines have already been missed, the EU chief admitted. But, with two weeks until Britain leaves the EU single market, time is finally running out.

In London, all eyes were on parliament’s lower House of Commons, which will have to decide when to meet to vote through any trade agreement reached by EU negotiator Michel Barnier and UK counterpart David Frost.

Britain left the European Union on January 31 and, if no trade deal is agreed before the end of the year, EU-UK trade will revert to bare-bones World Trade Organization rules.

In practice, this will mean a return to tariffs and quotas that will disrupt commerce and supply chains and drive up prices, a fate both sides say they want to avoid.

READ ALSO: WHO Urges Use Of Masks During Christmas Celebration

But trade talks have stumbled over how to ensure fair competition between EU and UK businesses once London is free to diverge over time from Brussels’ regulations.

And there is a bitter dispute over fishing, which represents a tiny part of the economy but has taken on totemic political significance for several member states, and which the EU has linked to the broader trade deal.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists that when Britain leaves the EU single market at the end of the year it will resume full control over access to its waters.

Some EU member states — led by France and the Netherlands — are holding out to preserve quotas for their crews in UK waters and a long-term arrangement to provide stability.

Addressing the European Parliament, Von der Leyen said: “The good news is that we have found a way forward on most issues.”

She added that she and Barnier can now see a “narrow path to an agreement”.

– Very difficult –

“But this is now a case of us being so close, and yet being so far away from each other, because two issues still remain outstanding, you know them: a level playing field and the fisheries,” von der Leyen said.

A UK official close to the talks confirmed that “we’ve made some progress, but we are still very far apart in key areas”.

Separately, ambassadors from EU member states approved a contingency plan to keep road and air traffic moving between Britain and the continent in the event of a “no deal”.

This would allow trucks and planes to operate for an additional six months after January 1 — but only if Britain agrees reciprocal terms.

They also backed a plan to authorise fishing to continue — again on a reciprocal basis — until the end of 2021, but London has already said it will assume full sovereignty over its waters on January 1.

The European Parliament is now expected to approve these plans on Friday.

Von der Leyen said that Barnier and Frost had made progress towards resolving rules for state aid to businesses and that questions over how the deal will be governed “are largely being resolved”.

She said Britain had agreed not to undercut the labour, social and environmental standards it already upholds under EU law. “That’s a big step forward,” she said.

Now, however, the two sides must agree a mechanism to allow them to respond if standards diverge after Brexit.

Britain insists that it must be able to make its own laws in future and not necessarily follow new EU regulations. Brussels therefore wants a mechanism to impose penalties if this leaves EU firms at a disadvantage.

On fishing, von der Leyen warned “the discussion is still very difficult”.

“We do not question the UK sovereignty on its own waters, but we asked for predictability and stability for our fishermen and our fisherwomen,” she said.

“And in all honesty, I sometimes feel that we will not be able to resolve this question.”

AFP

Tighter COVID-19 Rules Kick In For London As Cases Mount

People queue to enter a novel coronavirus COVID-19 walk-in testing centre in Walthamstow in north east London, on December 15, 2020. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

 

London on Wednesday moved into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions in an effort to control rising infection rates, dealing another blow to hospitality venues before Christmas.

The British capital’s move into “Tier 3” means theatres, pubs, restaurants will have to close, although takeaway food outlets can still operate.

People cannot now socialise with anyone not from their household or support bubble, but can meet in groups of up to six in public places outside.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned on Monday that London had seen a “sharp rise” in daily cases and hospital admissions.

“This action is absolutely essential, not just to keep people safe but because we have seen early action can prevent more damage and longer-term problems later,” he told parliament.

Cases were doubling every seven days in some areas, he said, sounding a more downbeat note after hopes of a breakthrough were raised last week with the start of a vaccination programme.

Concerns have also been raised about higher rates of infection among secondary school children aged 11-18, leading to increased testing in the worst-hit areas in and around London.

READ ALSO: WHO Urges Use Of Masks During Christmas Celebration

England only emerged from a four-week lockdown earlier this month, and the government introduced a targeted regional system of tiers to try to cut infection rates.

London had been placed in “Tier 2”, which means non-essential shops and services can open, but it currently has one of the highest infection rates in the country.

Under Tier 3, essential shops and hairdressers can still stay open, as can schools but not indoor entertainment venues.

– Christmas plans –

The government is under pressure to review its Christmas plans, under which there will be a five-day relaxation in the rules to allow free travel and for up to three households to meet.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Health Service Journal (HSJ) on Tuesday warned the plan could lead to the state-run National Health Service (NHS) being overwhelmed.

“We believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives,” the BMJ and HSJ said in their second joint editorial in a century.

“Rather than lifting restrictions over Christmas as currently planned, the UK should follow the more cautious examples of Germany, Italy and the Netherlands,” they said.

Government minister Steve Barclay said “all things were kept under review” and urged people to “do the minimum” if they visit family over the holidays.

London’s vibrant hospitality sector has been devastated by the virus regulations, and will now feel more pain as it is forced to close in the run-up to Christmas, normally it busiest time.

Britain’s unemployment rate hit its highest level in four years as a result of the pandemic, rising to 4.9 percent in the three months to the end of October, official statistics indicated.

More than a third of the 819,000 job losses since the start of the UK pandemic in March were in the hospitality sector.

Parts of the counties of Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire, which border London, also entered Tier 3 on Wednesday.

A full review of the restrictions for each English region will take place later on Wednesday.

Britain has been one of the worst affected countries in the pandemic, registering nearly 65,000 deaths from just under 1.9 million positive cases, according to government figures.

Boris Johnson To Visit India In First Major Trip As PM

PM Johnson Says UK Anti-Racism Protests 'Hijacked By Extremists'
File photo: Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to India next month in his first major bilateral visit to another country since taking power last year, his office said Tuesday.

During the trip, Johnson will invite India to join next year’s G7 summit, which Britain is hosting, as one of three guest countries, alongside South Korea and Australia.

The Indian trip is aimed at strengthening bilateral trade ties and investment, and cooperation in various areas including defence, security, health and climate change.

It will coincide with India’s annual Republic Day celebrations on January 26, will also come just weeks after the UK leaves the European Union single market on December 31, and as it seeks new trade deals post-Brexit.

“I am absolutely delighted to be visiting India next year at the start of an exciting year for Global Britain, and look forward to delivering the quantum leap in our bilateral relationship that Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi and I have pledged to achieve,” Johnson said in a statement.

“As a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, India is an increasingly indispensable partner for the United Kingdom as we work to boost jobs and growth, confront shared threats to our security and protect our planet.”

Johnson’s visit follows an invitation from Modi, who last weekend took part in a climate summit hosted by London, and its announcement comes with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in India this week.

“What we recognise (are) the possibilities for a deeper trading relationship, the contours of our economy I think would allow that,” Raab told a joint New Delhi news conference with his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar.

“We will want to nudge our trade ministers along and see what we can achieve.”

Jaishankar said there was “a very serious intent” to intensify the two countries’ trade relationship. “We see the strategic case,” he told reporters.

– ‘Growth opportunities’ –

Britain left the EU on January 31 and is in a standstill transition period where the bloc’s rules still apply until December 31, as it tries to secure a free-trade agreement.

But it has in recent months struck deals with a number of countries, including Japan and Singapore, as part of its post-Brexit “Global Britain” strategy.

“I think sometimes we have been too myopically focused just on Europe, whereas actually one of the advantages of leaving the transition period is that we will regain control over our ability to strike free trade deals with the rest of the world,” said Raab.

“And certainly if you look at India and the Indo-Pacific region and take a long-term view, that is where the growth opportunities will be.”

Johnson will be only the second British leader since India’s independence from Britain to attend the annual Republic Day parade in New Delhi as guest of honour, after John Major in 1993.

His office highlighted the two countries’ burgeoning trade and investment relationship, which it said is worth £24 billion ($32 billion, 26 billion euros) annually and supports more than half a million jobs.

It noted their increased cooperation during the coronavirus pandemic, with India’s large pharmaceutical sector supplying more than half of the world’s vaccines.

At least a billion doses of Britain’s Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine are being manufactured at the Serum Institute in the western Indian city of Pune.

Meanwhile, the UK has received 11 million face masks and 3 million packets of paracetamol from India during the pandemic, according to Downing Street.

British PM Boris Johnson To Announce Mass COVID-19 Testing Programme

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during his visit to the Tollgate Medical Centre in Becton, east London on July 24, 2020.. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn / POOL / AFP)

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was to announce on Monday a major testing programme in areas with the highest coronavirus infection rates as the country re-enters a system of tiered restrictions.

The prime minister was set to announce in parliament that regions classed as very high risk would be able to bring in the army to help with mass testing as part of the government’s Covid Winter Plan.

This comes after the city of Liverpool this month held England’s first city-wide testing, which the government hailed as a success leading to a “substantial fall” in cases.

The city in northwest England is now set to trial a new system of testing where contacts of those who have tested positive can take a test every day for a week and only have to isolate if they test positive, instead of immediately quarantining.

If successful, this system could be used across the country’s state-run National Health Service (NHS), in care homes and by the whole population from January, Downing Street said.

It said new measures will also focus on care home residents, who are unable to have visitors indoors due to social distancing rules.

It said that a pilot programme to test visitors in 20 care homes could roll out nationwide next month, allowing residents to have physical contact with visitors.

– Economic impact –

England is to return to a system of tiered anti-coronavirus restrictions after the latest lockdown ends on December 2.

Downing Street has said these will be similar to the system in place before the lockdown but more restrictive in some areas.

Britain has seen more than 55,000 deaths from some 1.5 million cases — one of the worst rates in the world — and has been grappling to control a second spike of infections.

READ ALSO: World’s Top Surgical Glove Maker Shuts Factories Due To COVID-19

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC radio on Monday that “the top tier is going to have to be tougher than the previous top tier”.

“We need to make sure we bring the virus down, not just flatten it,” he said.

Johnson, under pressure because of the economic impact of the outbreak, was also due to announce Monday how rules will be relaxed for Christmas to allow family gatherings.

It comes after British drugs group AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Monday said they would seek approval for their jointly-developed vaccine against Covid-19.

“We can see with some confidence that this about getting through this winter and getting the vaccine programme rolled out,” Hancock said of the latest measures.

AFP

British Drugmaker, Oxford University Say COVID-19 Vaccine Shows 70 Percent Efficacy

An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, on November 17, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes, with the logo of the University of Oxford and its partner British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, on November 17, 2020. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

British drugs group AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Monday said their jointly-developed vaccine against Covid-19 has shown “an average efficacy of 70 percent” in trials.

“This vaccine’s efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against Covid-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency,” AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said in a statement.

The results ranged between 62 and 90 percent efficacy depending on the vaccine dosage.

The 70-percent average is lower compared with the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines trialed by rivals Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna which have come in above 90 percent.

Monday’s statement said “positive high-level results from an interim analysis of clinical trials of AZD1222 in the UK and Brazil showed the vaccine was highly effective in preventing Covid-19… and no hospitalisations or severe cases of the disease were reported in participants.”

It added: “One dosing regimen (n=2,741) showed vaccine efficacy of 90 percent when AZD1222 was given as a half dose, followed by a full dose at least one month apart.”

The pair said that regimen n=8,895 showed 62 percent efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart.

“The combined analysis from both dosing regimens (n=11,636) resulted in an average efficacy of 70 percent.”

AstraZeneca said it would “immediately prepare regulatory submission of the data to authorities around the world that have a framework in place for conditional or early approval”.

It added that it would seek emergency-use listing from the World Health Organization to accelerate vaccine availability in low-income countries.

AstraZeneca said it is looking at a capacity of up to three billion doses of the vaccine in 2021 pending regulatory approval.

It said the vaccine can be stored, transported and handled “at normal refrigerated conditions” of between two and eight degrees Celsius (36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months.

‘Save many lives’

More than 23,000 adults are currently being assessed in the trials, with the number expected to rise to up to 60,000, the statement said.

“Clinical trials are also being conducted in the US, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Kenya and Latin America with planned trials in other European and Asian countries,” it added.

Oxford professor Andrew Pollard said the latest findings show “an effective vaccine that will save many lives”.

“Excitingly, we’ve found that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90 percent effective and if this dosing regime is used, more people could be vaccinated with planned vaccine supply.

“Today’s announcement is only possible thanks to the many  volunteers in our trial, and the hard working and talented team of researchers based around the world,” added Pollard, who is chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial.

 

AFP

Iconic James Bond Actor, Sean Connery Dies At 90

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 25, 2008 British actor Sean Connery poses for photographers as he promotes his new book, called ‘Being a Scot’ at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in Charlotte Square gardens, in Edinburgh.  AFP

 

Legendary British actor Sean Connery, best known for playing fictional spy James Bond in seven films, has died aged 90, his family told the BBC on Saturday.

The Scottish actor, who was knighted in 2000, won numerous awards during his decades-spanning career, including an Oscar, three Golden Globes and two Bafta awards.

Tributes immediately began pouring in for Connery who was considered one of the greatest movie stars of his generation.

“How infinitely sad to hear the news Sir Sean Connery has passed away,” stated a message on the Twitter account maintained for fellow Bond actor Roger Moore who died in 2017.

“He and Roger were friends for many decades and Roger always maintained Sean was the best ever James Bond. RIP.”

Connery claimed his Oscar in 1988 for best-supporting actor for his role as an Irish cop in “The Untouchables”.

He also starred in “The Hunt for Red October”, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “The Rock2.

But it is his smooth, Scottish-accented portrayal of the suave spy 007 that he will be best remembered for.

The first actor to utter the unforgettable “Bond, James Bond”, Connery made six official films as novelist Ian Fleming’s creation, giving what many still consider as the definitive portrayal.

AFP

COVID-19 Made Me Fitter, Says Boris Johnson

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during his visit to Dudley College of Technology in Dudley, central England on June 30, 2020. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / POOL / AFP)

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed Tuesday he was obese when he contracted coronavirus earlier this year, but after losing weight said he now felt much better.

The 56-year-old spent three nights in intensive care in April after contracting Covid-19, and there have been swirling questions about his health ever since.

“I am fitter than I was before, it may irritate you to know,” he said, when asked by a reporter about his health following a speech on education.

“I am fitter than a butcher’s dog, thanks basically to losing weight.

“When you reach 17 stone six (around 111 kg, 244 pounds) as I did, at a height of about five foot 10 (around 1.78 metres), it’s probably a good idea to lose weight, so that’s what I’ve done. And I feel much much better.”

An online calculator provided by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) suggests that a man with Johnson’s age, weight and height would have a body mass index (BMI) of 34.9 — classing him as obese.

It is not the first time Johnson has boasted about his health, using a newspaper interview in June to make the “butcher’s dog” analogy and even doing push-ups to prove his fitness.

But the issue has returned as a talking point amid disquiet among his Conservative lawmakers over his handling of a new uptick in coronavirus cases.

The outbreak has so far killed 42,000 people in Britain — the worst toll in Europe.

Johnson has recently been spotted running with a personal trainer in a park near his Downing Street office. As London mayor between 2008 and 2006, he was a keen cyclist.

AFP

EU Tells UK To ‘Stop Playing Games’ On Brexit

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP.

 

Senior EU and British officials will meet urgently next week on the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which has been threatened by London’s attempt to override parts of the treaty, Brussels said Tuesday.

“But please, dear friends in London: Stop the games. Time is running out,” Germany’s European affairs minister Michael Roth warned as he met colleagues in Brussels ahead of a summit of EU leaders on Thursday.

EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said he would meet senior British minister Michel Gove in Brussels on Monday, just ahead of Brussels’ end-of-the-month deadline for London to drop a bill designed to rewrite the deal.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is pushing ahead with legislation designed to override parts of the treaty, an act which it admits breaks international law, and Brussels is furiously defending the deal.

“The so-called Internal Market Bill worries us extremely, because it violates the guiding principles of the withdrawal agreement, and this is totally unacceptable for us,” Roth said.

Sefcovic said he would meet Gove as joint chair of the EU-UK Joint Coordination Committee overseeing the divorce agreement.

However, “we will not be renegotiating, but we are dedicated to its full and timely implementation — nothing more and nothing less.”

In parallel to the wrangling over the existing agreement, which Johnson signed last year and hailed as an “oven-ready” deal to get Britain out of Europe, EU and UK teams are negotiating a possible trade deal.

The EU leaders meeting Thursday will receive a “point of information” on progress in these talks, but for the moment have left the protracted debate in the hands of their negotiator, Michel Barnier.

The next round of trade talks begin on October 2 in Brussels. Johnson has set a mid-October deadline for success or failure, and EU officials say the deal must be done by the end of the month if it is to pass into law by the end of the year.

Britain left the European Union on January 31, and will leave the bloc’s single market and customs union at the end of the year. Experts fear economic chaos if no new trade deal can be agreed by then.

But the two sides are still divided on rules for a “level-playing field” of fair competition between companies, on state aid or subsidies for EU and UK firms and on access for EU boats to British fishing waters.

And the dispute about the withdrawal agreement has thrown a new spanner in the works. Johnson’s decision to use domestic law to overwrite parts the treaty with the EU has infuriated Brussels.

AFP

British Pound Sinks Amid Brexit Deadlock Fears

PM Johnson Says UK Anti-Racism Protests 'Hijacked By Extremists'
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

The British pound sank Monday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to revive investor fears of a no-deal Brexit, dealers said.

Heading into the half-way point in London, sterling deepened losses to shed 1.0 percent versus the dollar. It was also down 0.8 percent against the European single currency.

Johnson has given an October 15 deadline for a post-Brexit trade agreement with the European Union, brushing off fears about “no-deal” chaos if talks fail.

“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free-trade agreement between us,” Johnson said, insisting it would still be a “good outcome” for Britain.

The Financial Times meanwhile reported that Johnson is planning legislation to override parts of the withdrawal treaty that Britain and the EU agreed last year.

The report cited three people close to the plans as saying a bill to be put before parliament this week would undermine agreements relating to Northern Ireland customs and state aid.

– ‘Negotiation tactics?’ –

“Judging by today’s price action in the pound, investors appear to believe that Johnson has indeed resurrected the spectre of a no-deal Brexit,” ThinkMarkets analyst Fawad Razaqzada told AFP.

“However, I reckon it is all part of negotiation tactics — and in the end a cliff-edge Brexit will probably be avoided as it is not in either party’s interests.”

In response to the report, Downing Street said only that it was still “working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol” but was considering “fall-back options”.

EU leader Ursula von der Leyen warned that Britain is legally obliged to respect the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which must form the basis of bilateral relations going forward.

The eighth round of negotiations resume in London this week, with both sides talking increasingly tough, amid accusations of intransigence and political brinkmanship.

– European stocks rally –

The weak pound meanwhile handed a fillip to the London stock market, because it boosts the share prices of multinationals earning in dollars.

Frankfurt and Paris also charged higher as investors snapped up bargain stocks following heady losses last week.

Asian equities struggled Monday, with a mixed US jobs report offsetting a pledge from Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell that interest rates would remain rock-bottom for years.

China-US tensions and a lack of progress in Washington stimulus talks — all against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic — were keeping markets from surging.

Wall Street nursed more losses on Friday, albeit shallower than Thursday’s rout that hammered the tech sector as traders took profits from months of huge gains.

In commodity markets on Monday, world oil prices sank on stubborn concerns over the long-term energy demand outlook, as economies struggle to shake off coronavirus fallout.

“The market is growing less and less confident that oil demand will recover as quickly as it hoped,” said Rystad Energy analyst Paola Rodriguez-Masiu.

– Key figures around 1115 GMT –

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3150 from $1.3279 on Friday

Euro/pound: UP at 89.89 pence from 89.15 pence

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1834 from $1.1838 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 106.20 yen from 106.24 yen

London – FTSE 100: UP 1.6 percent at 5,890.67 points

Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 1.4 percent at 13,017.69

Paris – CAC 40: UP 1.2 percent at 5,022.54

EURO STOXX 50: UP 1.2 percent at 3,298.52

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.5 percent at 23,089.95 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4 percent at 24,589.65 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 1.9 percent at 3,292.59 (close)

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.6 percent at 28,133.31 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 1.4 percent at $42.08 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.5 percent at $39.17

AFP

Britain To Reveal Post-Coronavirus Recovery Plan

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on June 24, 2020, to attend Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) at the House of Commons. Ben STANSALL / AFP.

 

The British government will on Wednesday unveil a mini-budget to kickstart economic growth after the coronavirus shutdown, with a jobs scheme for young people and investment in infrastructure among the big ticket measures.

Britain has suffered Europe’s deadliest outbreak of COVID-19 and a nationwide shutdown led to the worst economic contraction among the G7 leading industrialised states.

In a statement to parliament at 1130 GMT, finance minister Rishi Sunak will detail a £2 billion (2.2-billion-euro, $2.5 billion) jobs scheme for young people at risk of long-term unemployment.

He has also already announced £3 billion of green investment, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to “build, build, build” out of the economic crisis.

“As Britain recovers from the outbreak, it’s vital we do everything in our power to support and protect livelihoods across the nation,” Sunak said ahead of the statement.

The investment package includes £2 billion in grants for households to insulate homes and make them more energy efficient, and another £1 billion for public sector buildings, including hospitals.

The plan is part also of Britain’s long-term pledge to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 to tackle climate change.

In addition, Sunak is reportedly set to announce plans to reduce stamp duty, which is levied on real estate transactions, to boost the property market.

Yet he is not expected to alter Britain’s emergency jobs retention plan, or furloughing, under which the government pays up to 80 percent of salaries for private sector workers.

It is currently supporting more than nine million jobs, part of a series of multi-billion-pound packages to help those affected by the impact of the outbreak, but is due to end in October.

Since the global pandemic hit Britain in mid-March, more than 44,000 people confirmed to have COVID-19 have died.

Infection rates have now slowed and schools, shops and the hospitality industry are gradually reopening.

“Four months on from the outset of coronavirus, we have slowly and carefully reopened much of our economy, and we can now begin our national recovery,” Sunak told parliament Tuesday.

However, he acknowledged that “we cannot protect every single job”.

– Financial ‘hole’ –

Britain imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 23 to halt the spread of COVID-19 but has gradually begun easing restrictions in the hope of boosting ailing businesses.

Recent official data showed that the UK’s biggest quarterly contraction for more than 40 years — at minus 2.2 percent — in the January-March period.

However, the data included only the first full week of the lockdown and economists expect subsequent damage to be considerably worse for the second quarter.

Another contraction would place Britain in a technical recession.

Since the crisis began, the Bank of England has pumped cash stimulus worth £300 billion into Britain’s virus-hit economy and slashed its main interest rate to a record-low 0.1 percent — moves aimed at propping up businesses and saving jobs.

Experts estimate the total cost of state emergency measures meanwhile could run as high as £300 billion.

“As the UK begins to emerge slowly from lockdown, focus now turns to plugging the eye-popping £300 billion hole left in the UK’s finances by COVID-19,” said analyst Tom Selby at stockbroker AJ Bell.

“The chancellor will have to weigh up his desire to kickstart the economy after its slumber with the need to raise extra revenue via the tax system.”

Selby said “a strong recovery should boost tax receipts and lower the amount spent on benefits, automatically improving the government’s balance sheet.

“The chancellor may decide to front-load the ‘good news’ items on Wednesday as he attempts to kickstart the economy — and save the tax nasties for his Autumn budget,” he added.

AFP

UK PM Johnson Warns Israel Against Annexation Plan

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on June 24, 2020, to attend Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)a at the House of Commons – ˜Ben STANSALL / AFP.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Israel Wednesday against going ahead with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, calling them illegal and against the Jewish state’s own interests.

“I am a passionate defender of Israel,” he wrote in an article published in Hebrew on the front page of Israel’s top-selling daily, Yediot Aharonot.

“So it is with sadness that I have followed the proposals to annex Palestinian territory,” he added.

“I am fearful that these proposals will fail in their objective of securing Israel’s borders and will be contrary to Israel’s own long-term interests.”

Israel’s coalition government has agreed July 1 as the date from which it can begin implementing US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal, which paves the way for annexations of Jewish West Bank settlements and potentially the Jordan Valley.

“Annexation would represent a violation of international law,” Johnson wrote, adding that it would also jeopardise “the progress that Israel has made in improving relationships with the Arab and Muslim world.

“I still believe the only way to achieve true, lasting security for Israel, the homeland for the Jewish people, is through a solution that allows justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Johnson wrote. “I refuse to believe that this is impossible.”

Last month, in a rare op-ed in an Israeli newspaper, the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, warned that annexation of parts of the West Bank would jeopardise any warming of Arab-Israeli ties.

Describing it as the “illegal seizure of Palestinian land”, Otaiba said “plans for annexation and talk of normalisation are a contradiction”.

AFP