Closed Coronavirus: New US cases and deaths retreat from recent highs — as it happened

Ventura County, California Restaurants Start To Reopen ©Brent Stirton/Getty

Today’s top stories: The US grants ‘fast track’ status to Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine candidates. Germany warns over risks of second Covid-19 wave. Hong Kong postpones annual book fair. UK has ‘second-worst record’ for healthcare worker deaths.

Southern states drive huge jump in Sunday tally of new US infections

The US hit a new record for new infections reported on Sunday with the south of the country accounting for 65 per cent of cases in the country, according to Covid Tracking Project.

There were 60,978 cases reported, almost 50 per cent more than the 42,602 recorded on the previous Sunday and nearly 200 per cent higher than the 21,373 cases reported on Sunday June 14. The huge jump in infections is particularly concerning because numbers reported on the weekend tend to be much lower than in the middle of the week, due to delays in reporting the data.

Florida was partly responsible for the huge jump in Sunday’s reported infections, reporting 15,000 new cases, more than reported in any other state since the pandemic began.

“Florida didn’t just break the record for reported cases. It also shattered the mark for cases per million population,” Covid Tracking Project researchers said on Twitter, noting that Florida reported 712 cases per million, while New York, at its peak, hit 595.

In Texas, there have been more than 10,000 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 for the past three days, Covid Tracking Project scientists noted, though they added that this was still far lower than the 18,800 people being cared for in hospital in New York state at its peak.

In more positive news, the scientists said that “after months of communal effort by the people of the city” New York City finally reported no new deaths.

The latest data bring the total number of infections recorded in the US to nearly 3.3m of which 127,677 have died. More than 52,000 people are in hospital

Asia-Pacific stocks start the week with gains

Asia-Pacific stocks rose at the start of a new week as a resurgence in coronavirus cases was offset by expectations for further stimulus.

In Japan, the Topix was up 1.5 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea added 0.6 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 1.4 per cent.

The World Health Organization reported a record 230,370 new coronavirus cases on Sunday. Australia’s state of Victoria reported 273 new infections on Sunday after it last week re-imposed a lockdown on Melbourne in a bid to halt the spread of the virus. Case numbers in Tokyo and Hong Kong have also crept higher, sparking concern from health authorities.

The bulk of the new infections reported by the WHO came from the Americas, with 142,992 cases. Florida became the first US state to record more than 15,000 coronavirus cases in one day on Sunday as infections continue to spread across the south of the country.

On Friday, the S&P 500 added 1 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite closed up 0.8 per cent at a new record high as investors sought out technology companies.

News you might have missed

Trump administration officials turned their fire over the weekend on Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House’s own coronavirus task force who has been critical of the US handling of the pandemic. Several administration officials publicly challenged Dr Fauci’s assessment that the US was not “doing great” when compared to other countries’ handing of the virus.

Several members of the “first family” of Bollywood have tested positive for Covid-19 as India nears 850,000 recorded cases. Amitabh Bachchan, 77, perhaps the country’s most famous actor, and his son Abhishek are both being treated in hospital in Mumbai for the disease.

Last week President Donald Trump moved to rip the US out of the World Health Organization over its performance during the coronavirus pandemic — and the WHO announced an independent review into how it and others handled the crisis. The Trump administration’s rejection of an institution to which it has been the biggest donor is a reflection of both anger at the body’s perceived closeness to Beijing and the president’s revolt against multilateralism. But it has also highlighted concerns about how a health guardian created from the devastation of war and disease has become hobbled by political power plays, battles over science and unstable funding.

Michael Gove, UK Cabinet Office minister, was accused of sending out “confusing” messages to the public on Sunday after he contradicted official government advice for the coronavirus pandemic and said he wanted to see more people back at work in offices.

Democrats say the Trump administration is continuing to deny food aid to seven northeastern US states — none of which voted for the president.

Suntory, the Japanese maker of Jim Beam whiskey and Courvoisier cognac, wants consumers to swap face masks for drinking helmets. With many Japanese still reluctant to return to pubs and bars amid the coronavirus pandemic, Suntory chief executive Takeshi Niinami last month handed a group of top managers a seemingly impossible mission: design headgear that will keep drinkers safe.

About 200 workers on a farm in England have been told to self-isolate after 73 of them tested positive for coronavirus.

White House takes aim at Anthony Fauci over Covid-19 comments

Courtney Weaver in Washington

Trump administration officials turned their fire over the weekend on Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House’s own coronavirus task force who has been critical of the US handling of the pandemic.

Several administration officials publicly challenged Dr Fauci’s assessment that the US was not “doing great” when compared to other countries’ handling of the virus.

On Sunday, Brett Giroir, a health and human services official and member of the same task force, rejected Dr Fauci’s assessment, along with his recommendation that states experiencing a new spike in cases should shut down their economies.

“I respect Dr Fauci a lot, but Dr Fauci is not 100% right and he also doesn’t necessarily, and he admits that, have the whole national interest in mind,” Mr Giroir told Meet The Press on Sunday.

Florida on Sunday reported a record one-day increase in coronavirus infections for any US state, with 15,300 cases.

Read more here

Hong Kong delivers masks, sanitiser to estate hit by coronavirus

Hong Kong’s chief executive said authorities had delivered 50 face masks and hand sanitiser gel to each household at an estate in the territory after a dozen coronavirus cases were linked to the tower blocks amid a sharp increase in infections in the city.

After initial success in containing outbreaks of Covid-19, the city has been hit by a resurgence in coronavirus cases with a series of clusters found at restaurants, among taxi drivers and in high-rise residences. The education bureau last week announced school closures in a bid to limit infections.

Over the past 14 days. 12 infections have been found at Shui Chuen O estate in Sha Tin, a satellite town.

The Centre for Health Protection’s Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan warned on Sunday that the outbreak in the city had “gone a bit out of control” and urged residents to seek out coronavirus tests and to avoid social gatherings.

Hong Kong reported 30 local cases on Sunday, taking its overall tally to 1,469.

Public health experts have called for the city to reinstate measures designed to limit the spread of the virus.

“We have already entered Hong Kong’s first sustained local outbreak,” said Gabriel Leung, dean of the University of Hong Kong’s medical faculty on Sunday. “Over the next one or two weeks, we really need to reapply some of the suppression measures that we have successfully deployed previously to control the outbreak.”

UK has ‘second-highest number’ of healthcare worker deaths

An investigation into how health workers across the world have fared during the pandemic has found those in the UK suffered more deaths than anywhere in the world apart from Russia.

At least 540 people in the healthcare and social industries in UK have lost their lives due to Covid-19, compared to 545 in Russia and third-ranked US with 507, human rights advocacy organisation Amnesty International said

“It is tragic that we’ve seen so many of our dedicated health and social care workers in England and Wales die from Covid-19,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director.

“There appears to have been a catastrophic failure to provide proper PPE and a failure to grapple with the alarmingly high death rates among Bame (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) health workers,” she added, calling for an urgent inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the pandemic.

The findings by Amnesty, published on Monday, relied on information collected from 63 countries and territories across the world and found widespread failure to protect the health and safety of people working on the front line combatting the disease.

This included a lack of personal protective equipment, intolerably high workloads and inadequate financial compensation. In many countries restrictions were imposed preventing health care workers from speaking out about their concerns. In some parts of the world this extended to outright threats against those who dared to speak out.

Nonetheless, Amnesty International noted there had been reports that healthcare workers had publicly protested about their working conditions and/or gone on strike, or threatened to go on strike in at least 31 countries.

“In certain countries, protests have been banned, or met with force or other forms of reprisals. In some countries, measures have been put in place by governments to dissuade workers from making their concerns public. In others, workers have faced reprisals in the workplace by employers for raising health and safety concerns,” the report said.

The research covered the period from January to June, but relied on data that were not strictly comparable in terms of date of collection and healthcare roles.

Science and medical news roundup

The need to ramp up testing efforts is encouraging the adoption of ‘pooled’ tests, where samples from small groups of people are mixed together and individuals in the group are only retested if the group sample comes back positive, a report in Nature published on Friday reveals. More sophisticated versions involve adding more rounds of group tests, for example, before testing each sample separately. China, India, the United States and Germany are already using group testing, the report says. (Nature)

Women have a far greater risk of having a stillborn baby during the pandemic, a study published by UK scientists in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports. The researchers found the incidence of stillbirth was significantly higher during the pandemic period at 9.31 per 1,000 births — even though none were associated with Covid-19 — than during the pre-pandemic period when the rate was 2.38 per 1,000 births. (Jama)

Patients being treated with the so-called “biologics” class of immunosuppressants — which are used to weaken the immune system to reduce damage in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis — might not be at increased risk of falling ill with Covid-19, findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest. The doctors reported that of 561 patients being treated with infusions of infliximab or vedolizumab, two biologics, during Italy and France’s severe Covid-19 outbreaks, 13 tested positive for Covid-19 before preventive measures were imposed. However, after March 27 in Nancy and March 9 in Milan, when strict measures were introduced, none of the patients who were treated with the biologics received a diagnosis of Covid-19 through April 30, 2020. “We would infer from these data that patients who are treated with intravenous biologics are not at increased risk for Covid-19 if effective personal protective equipment is implemented for both patients and health care professionals,” the doctors wrote. (NEJM)

Mexico’s Covid-19 death toll surpasses Italy

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexico surpassed Italy on Sunday with 35,006 confirmed coronavirus deaths, the fourth biggest total in the world behind the US, Brazil and the UK.

Italy, an early hotspot in the Covid-19 pandemic, has reported 34,954 deaths.

Mexico, which has some 129m people, has reported 299,750 confirmed coronavirus cases but Hugo López-Gatell, health undersecretary, has likened the pandemic in Mexico to a car that was slowing down, saying “the speed of transmission … is gradually reducing”.

The undersecretary, who is the public face of the government’s fight against coronavirus, also slammed some in the media for “fostering confrontation” over the handling of the pandemic.

According to data he presented at a news conference on Sunday, up to July 2, the number of recovered cases was increasing and deaths were declining.

But hospital beds are filling up, especially in the states of Tabasco and Nayarit, while ventilator bed occupancy had risen to nearly 60 per cent in Tabasco, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s home state.

In recent days, as well as overtaking France in terms of total deaths, Mexico has also racked up new record daily confirmed case counts.

Testing in Mexico, however, is low — less than 730,000, suggesting the true toll is higher than reported data. But the government says the most important variable is the number of active cases, which currently stands at 29,839.

‘High-risk’ travellers to South Korea will have to show virus-free certificate

Song Jung-a in Seoul

South Korea has started requiring foreigners arriving from high-risk countries to show a health certificate showing they tested negative for Covid-19 as health authorities react to amid a sharp increase in imported cases.

All foreign arrivals from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will now be obliged to hand in the virus-free certificate. South Korea has also ordered flights from those countries to limit the number of passengers to 60 per cent of capacity as part of social distancing measures.

The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test certificate must be issued by approved hospitals and testing centres 48 hours or less prior to the passengers’ departure.

South Korea said it was considering extending the strict measures to more locations and was closely monitoring situations in 11 additional countries.
The latest measure comes as South Korea reported 62 new cases on Monday, including 19 local infections.

Imported cases, which account for nearly 14 per cent of the accumulated Covid-19 infections in South Korea, are posing another challenge to the country’s anti-virus fight. Foreigners account for nearly 30 per cent of South Korea’s imported cases.

All international arrivals in South Korea will remain subject to a 14-day self-quarantine, even if they can produce virus-free certificates.

Millionaires’ group calls for higher taxes on the rich

A group of wealthy business people and celebrities have launched a petition calling on governments to raise taxes on the richest in society to help cover the costs of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

The group, which calls itself Millionaires for Humanity, is asking governments to “raise taxes on people like us. Immediately. Substantially. Permanently”, adding: “Problems caused by, and revealed by, Covid-19 can’t be solved with charity, no matter how generous.”

Signatories to the letter include British screenwriter and director Richard Curtis, film producer and heiress Abigail Disney, Danish-Iranian entrepreneur Djaffar Shalchi, Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s, award winning German start-up investor and philanthropist Mariana Bozesan, and Morris Pearl, a former managing director at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.

They launched a similar appeal at Davos earlier this year when they called their grouping Millionaires against Pitchforks.

European shares set to rise as attention turns to EU recovery fund

European equities are set to start the week on the front foot as traders looked ahead to an EU meeting to discuss the bloc’s €750bn coronavirus recovery fund.

Futures for the regional benchmark Stoxx 600 pointed to gains of 1.3 per cent, while Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax was tipped to rise by 1.8 per cent. London’s FTSE was on course to add 1.2 per cent.

Optimism is growing in markets ahead of a summit on the EU recovery fund on Friday, while US earnings season kicks off this week and traders in Asia are hopeful of a strong reading for China’s second-quarter GDP on Thursday.

European and US equities have struggled to find momentum to continue their rush higher in the past month, as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to blight the American recovery. Economists have also said they are cautious in interpreting sharp rebounds in economic gauges given overall activity remains deeply depressed compared with pre-coronavirus levels.

Heathrow renews call for UK to ‘go further’ in air industry relief

Philip Georgiadis

Heathrow Airport has once again called for the UK government to “go further” and help the airline industry recover from the pandemic.

The airport welcomed the introduction of travel corridors, which have restarted some tourism and business travel, but wants healthy passengers to be able to “travel freely” and has developed a ‘test on arrival’ system.

Heathrow has suffered a 95 per cent drop in passenger numbers compared to the start of last year’s summer season.

G4S predicts first-half earnings to be ‘above expectations’

Outsourcer G4S has remained resilient during June and forecasts that its first-half earnings will be “significantly above market consensus”, the group said on Monday.

The group expects its adjusted profit before interest, tax and amortisation and underlying earnings for the first six months of 2020 will be “significantly above market consensus”. The mean forecast from analysts for the half year is £159m, the group said.

“As a consequence of this, we are planning to bring forward our H1 2020 results announcement to the week commencing July 20,” the statement said.

The group’s shares rose nearly 10 per cent in early London trading on Monday. That trims their slide over the year to 40 per cent.

In a trading update on June 17, G4S said group revenues for the five months were 1 per cent lower than the same five-month period a year earlier. Contract wins remained steady in 2020, totalling £1.2bn annual contract value.

G4S has been buffeted by scandals over the past few years, including during its performance during London’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2012. This month it agreed to pay a £44m fine over its contract for electronic tagging of prisoners as the UK’s Serious Fraud Office said the outsourcer had “repeatedly lied” to the Ministry of Justice.

G4S Care and Justice, a subsidiary of G4S that has accepted responsibility for three cases of fraud, had misled the government about the true extent of profits earned between 2011 and 2013 for the prisoner tagging contract, the SFO said last week.

Hong Kong postpones annual book fair

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong and Naomi Rovnick in London

Hong Kong has postponed its book fair, which draws around 1m visitors annually, at the last minute because of what the government said was a response to a new outbreak of coronavirus cases in the Chinese territory.

In a statement, the Hong Kong trade and development council said the book fair, which was due to start on Wednesday, will be “delayed” in order to safeguard the public from health risks.

Last week, Hong Kong shut schools and tightened social distancing requirements following a resurgence in locally infected coronavirus cases.

Hong Kong has counted just seven deaths from the virus after moving swiftly in February to close its borders and trace and quarantine suspected cases.

But in recent days Hong Kong has reported a series of new clusters among taxi drivers and in a housing estate following weeks of no locally transmitted cases. Health authorities reported 30 new local cases on Sunday, taking the city’s tally to 1,470.

The book fair was set to become an immediate test of a new law imposed by the Beijing government that restricts free speech in Hong Kong.

A group that supports Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho had called on fair visitors to report any books on Hong Kong independence or products that endanger national security, arguing this was to protect children from such ideas.

The book fair is expected to go ahead sometime between September and December, local media reported.

European stocks push higher ahead of key EU recovery fund summit

European equities rallied as traders looked ahead to an EU meeting to discuss the bloc’s €750bn coronavirus recovery fund and a heavy docket of global corporate and economic news this week.

The regional benchmark Stoxx 600 was up 0.7 per cent in early trading on Monday, helped higher by Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax gaining 1.4 per cent. London’s FTSE 100 added 1.2 per cent. Futures for the US S&P 500 were up 0.5 per cent.

Optimism is growing among investors ahead of a summit on the EU recovery fund on Friday, while US earnings season kicks off this week and Chinese second-quarter GDP data on Thursday is expected to show a return to growth.

Japan to work with US military after large outbreak on Okinawa

Robin Harding in Tokyo

The Japanese government says it is working with US forces to respond after the diagnosis of 62 coronavirus cases at US military bases on the island of Okinawa.

Okinawa’s governor, Denny Tamaki, has said the sudden emergence of a large cluster of cases is “extremely unsatisfactory” and that he had “strong misgivings” about infection control measures by the US military.

The US military is a dominant presence on Okinawa, with almost 30,000 active-duty personnel and tens of thousands of dependents, and their bases occupy a large percentage of the island. Accidents or crimes often cause tension with the local population.

If the US military were found to have spread Covid-19 on the island — especially if those cases were imported by travel to the US mainland — it could cause a diplomatic incident. Okinawa has had 148 cases of coronavirus itself.

Military bases on Okinawa were put into lockdown over the weekend. Staff are banned from leaving for leisure activities and require permission to go to the bank or a medical appointment.

Norwegian bank DNB beat expectations in second-quarter earnings

Norway’s DNB reported that its earnings were affected less by coronavirus than expected in the second quarter, as the reopening of the Scandinavian nation’s economy picked up quicker than anticipated.

Impairment losses at the bank were NKr2.12bn ($220m) in the three-month reporting period, which was lower than the NKr3.65bn ($386m) in the first quarter of the year but higher than the same period in the previous year. The recovery in oil prices helped to soften losses stemming from soured loans held by customers in the energy sector.

Profit for the quarter was NKr5.01bn ($530m), which was more than double of analyst expectations in a poll by Reuters, but it still decreased compared with a year earlier.

“There is now a more positive outlook for the Norwegian economy, although there are still significant uncertainties concerning future developments,” the group said.

India’s daily case count hits record as tally heads towards 30,000

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India’s case count is climbing steadily towards 30,000, hitting a daily record of new infections, as it wrestles with the highest number of coronavirus infections after the US and Brazil.

The latest figures puts the number of positive Covid-19 cases at a record 28,700 over the past 24 hours. That puts its confirmed tally at more than 870,000, while at least 23,200 have died in India since the first case was detected in March.

Home minister Amit Shah has called India’s battle against coronavirus one of “the most successful in the world”.

However, India’s inability to contain the spread of the pathogen is weighing on the economy. Many Indians remin too fearful to venture out, and some local governments are imposing stricter lockdowns in their efforts turn the tide against the virus.

Pune, a tech and industrial hub, implemented a fresh 10-day lockdown on Monday. Bangalore, often described as India’s Silicon Valley, will follow suit from Tuesday.

Authorities in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, have closed markets and malls every weekend from now.

Businesses have criticised the local lockdowns, saying they are sporadic and disruptive. Economic activity in India remains 33 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, Nomura has said.

Tattoo parlours and beauty salons reopen in England

Ready for a nail buff, hand massage, tattoo and half a leg wax?

England’s beauty salons, spas and tattoo parlours will welcome back their customers after nearly four months away, a week after hairdressing services and barbers reopened.

Some treatments, including facial ones, will not be allowed. Barbers can trim beards but must avoid “intricate detailing, outlining or shaving of beards”, while clients will not be allowed to have waxing done on their faces.

“No treatments are to be provided on the face until government advice changes,” the guidelines state.

The UK’s four devolved nations have relaxed coronavirus restrictions, in place to contain the spread of Covid-19, at a different pace over the past few weeks. Easing is not so fast for Scotland and Wales.

Non-essential shops in indoor shopping centres will reopen in Scotland this week. Shops in England have been open for about a month. Scottish children can play organised contact sport for the first time since March while dentists can see patients for routine care.

Welsh pubs, bars and restaurants from Monday can serve diners and drinkers outside while hairdressers will open. Hair salons have been open for a week in its bigger neighbour.

On the list of services still restricted in England are sugaring, which pulls unwanted hair from the roots using a gel made from melted sugar and lemon. Threading, usually applied to eyebrows by twisting threads to remove short rows of hair and considered one of the most precise methods of hair removal, is also forbidden.

These are among the services considered in the highest risk zone, which is considered work in “the area in front of the face where splashes and droplets from the nose and mouth may be present and could pose a hazard”, the UK government says. Other services banned still on the government guideline list include make-up application, dermarolling and microblading.

Scotland on Sunday recorded no coronavirus deaths for a fourth day and reported 19 people tested positive over the most recent 24 hours recorded. England’s latest figures include 15 Covid-19 deaths, taking the tally to 29,066.

PepsiCo earnings boosted by demand for snacks

Alistair Gray in New York

Americans are still grazing on snacks between meal times even as lockdown restrictions ease but demand for fizzy drinks in bars and restaurants remains weak, according to results from PepsiCo.

Consumers working from home are munching on products such as Tostitos tortilla chips, Doritos crisps and Cracker Jack popcorn more frequently than usual, sending sales at the group’s Frito-Lay business in North America up 6 per cent in the second quarter on an organic basis. Larger pack sizes and multi-packs had sold particularly well, said Ramon Laguarta, chief executive.

Fewer commutes to the office have also revived breakfast at home, helping push organic revenues at its Quaker Oats division up 23 per cent.

However, organic sales at PepsiCo’s North American beverage unit, which makes the eponymous fizzy drink, slipped 7 per cent. They also fell 2.5 per cent in Europe and 7 per cent in Africa, Middle East and South Asia. As well as the closure of bars, restaurants and other venues, soft drink sales have been hit by fewer customer visits to convenience stores and petrol stations.

Across the group, net revenues in the 12 weeks to June 13 fell 3 per cent from a year ago to $15.9bn, although they were unchanged on an organic basis, which excludes foreign exchange.

The company also incurred $400m worth of costs related to Covid-19, including the roll out of personal protective equipment for workers. PepsiCo produced net income of $1.65bn, equivalent to $1.18 per share, compared with $2.04bn a year ago.

The company said it was still not providing a financial outlook for the full-year given the coronavirus uncertainty. Shares in PepsiCo, which has a market capitalisation of $187bn, gained 1.8 per cent in pre-market trading.

Germany warns of threat of second coronavirus wave

Erika Solomon

Germany’s health minister has warned that “the danger of a second wave is real”, urging the population not to become overconfident, particularly as many begin to travel for vacation season.

The country has 5,000 active cases, a statistic Jens Spahn described as encouraging during a news conference in Berlin on Monday.

Although he said Germany was well prepared to fight future outbreaks, Mr Spahn cautioned citizens against a false sense of security, expressing particular concern over vacationers travelling abroad for summer holidays. Pictures from the Ballerman beach restaurant on the Spanish island of Mallorca showed hundreds of travellers partying over the weekend, without wearing masks or maintaining social distance.

“We have to be very careful not to make Ballerman a second Ischgl,” he said, referring to the Austrian ski resort that became a hotspot for infections across Europe in March.

At the press conference, the president of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, also presented the preliminary results of a study of antibodies among blood donors, which he said was not representative but seemed to suggest that a large part of the German population may not have come into contact with the virus yet. Only 1.3 per cent of the 12,000 people tested had antibodies, he said, adding that high antibody numbers were not produced against the virus.

He was optimistic about a possible vaccination, but said only time and further research would show how long a vaccination could last.

Pandemic puts at least 1.5m Iranians out of work, report shows

By Monavar Khalaj in Tehran

The coronavirus pandemic has caused about 1.5m Iranians to lose their jobs during some of the darkest days of Covid-19 when the outbreak was at its peak in many parts of the world.

About 22.9m workers who are at least 15-years-old held jobs this spring, the latest report from the Statistical Centre of Iran said. “This showed a decline of about 1.5m compared with the same period last year,” domestic media reported on Monday.

Meanwhile, the death toll remained in three digits with the latest 24-hour period registering 203 coronavirus deaths, putting the total above 13,000 by Monday, with 259,652 testing positive. The Islamic republic has recently faced a surge in the number of deaths and infections.

Iran has never imposed complete lockdowns because the economy was struggling with the consequences of the US sanctions.

Health minister Saeed Namaki admitted last week that reopening businesses will lead to a surge in the infection rate but the government had to “kneel down against a weak economy” that could not bear strict lockdown.

Middle East recession heightens risk of social unrest

Andrew England

The IMF has slashed its economic forecast for the Middle East and North Africa while warning that job losses, rising poverty and inequality risk stoking social unrest.

The fund estimates that the region’s economy will shrink 5.7 per cent in 2020, down sharply from an April forecast for a 3.3 per cent contraction.

Oil exporters in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, have been hit by the double blow of the coronavirus pandemic and the slump in crude prices, with output in the Arab Gulf nations expected to contract by 7.1 per cent.

The region’s energy importers, including Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia, have less financial firepower to counter the economic impact of Covid-19 and are being buffeted by the collapse of tourism, a vital source of jobs and foreign currency, as well as the decline in remittances from wealthier Gulf countries and Europe.

“Lasting labour market scars, together with worsening poverty and inequality, could create stability challenges for governments in the region, particularly considering the high level of unemployment in some countries. In addition, social unrest could be rekindled as lockdown measures are lifted,” the IMF said in its regional outlook.

Jihad Azour, the IMF’s regional director, told the FT that governments in the region should use the crisis as an opportunity to push through reforms. These include improving education and vocational training, reforming costly subsidies systems to make them more targeted and overhauling inefficient and unproductive state-owned entities.

“The best way to address [the crisis] is an inclusive growth agenda, which we have been working on for years, and this should favour women and youth. …. Fail to achieve that, and the region will remain at risk,” he said. “The lesson is to be proactive, candid and open in assessing the challenges that will emerge after this crisis.”

Risk rises of reinfection as antibodies decline, UK study suggests

Antibodies from those infected with Covid-19 decline within months, raising the risk of reinfection from the virus, research from King’s College in London shows.

The study revealed that among 96 people who tested positive for the virus, their antibodies tended to peak little more than three weeks after showing symptoms, then they declined rapidly over the next two months.

The research suggests that the risk of catching the virus again is higher for those who had little or no symptoms, since their findings indicate that the size of the antibody response — which dwindles after recovery — depends on the severity of the disease.

The study was not peer-reviewed but immunologists said that it was a reputable preliminary analysis on the longevity of Covid-19 antibodies. Further research is needed into the level of antibodies beyond three months and whether it provides protection against reinfection, they said.

The findings cast doubts over the efficiency of a herd immunity strategy to tackle the virus, they added, and it has potential ramifications for any vaccine to treat Covid-19, potentially requiring regular boosters or a way to induce a large volume of antibodies.

“This offers a sobering message to any who think it would be worth taking chances for the sake of getting some immunity on board,” said Daniel Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London.

However, the paper and other researchers noted that antibodies are not the body’s only mechanism to provide immunity against future outbreaks of the virus.

“You likely have memory immune cells (B- and T-cells) that can rapidly kick into action to start up a new immune response if you re-encounter the virus,” said Mala Maini, a professor of viral immunology at UCL.

Outsourcer G4S to cut hundreds of jobs in cash unit

G4S plans to cut about a quarter of the workforce in its cash-handling unit as the UK outsourcer seeks to overhaul its business in step with a trend to use fewer notes and coins.

As many as 1,152 jobs in the UK are at risk, out of 4,000 in the conventional cash department, the group said on Monday. This follows a long-term trend that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic to use less cash.

Online purchases have risen during a three-month lockdown when people only left home for essential shopping as well as exercise. Fear of infection meant most stores shunned the use and physical exchange of notes and coins in favour of contactless card payments.

“Following a review of our Cash Solutions operational footprint in the UK, we are proposing to reshape the business to better align it with the changing needs of our customers,” the unit’s UK managing director said on Monday.

“Regrettably this will result in a reduction in headcount, and today we have entered into a period of consultation with affected staff,” said Paul van der Knaap of Cash Solutions UK. “We are working closely with unions and individuals to offer opportunities for redeployment within the group.”

The group is geared mostly towards global security, which makes up 92 per cent of its business, while 4 per cent focuses on cash technology. The remaining 4 per cent is conventional cash-handling worldwide, with banks and retailers among its customers.

The jobs under threat are across the board in the unit, and include cash van drivers, managers and cashiers, a spokesperson for the group said.

Hong Kong to require health certificate from high-risk visitors

Primrose Riordan, Hong Kong business correspondent

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has announced some travellers from high-risk places will need to present proof they do not have coronavirus before they board flights to the city.

Without specifying which areas would be considered high risk, the Hong Kong chief executive also announced sweeping new social distancing regulations that will come into force on Wednesday after a new spike in coronavirus cases.

41 local coronavirus cases were reported on Monday.”This is a time for us to get our act together,” Ms Lam said. It has also emerged a hospital patient may have caught the virus from an infected blood donor.

Restaurants will only be able to serve takeaway from 6pm at night to 5am in the morning and city residents will be forced to wear masks on public transport, although the use of face coverings is already commonplace.

Public gatherings will be reduced to just four people, and public events delayed.

Earlier on Monday the Hong Kong government announced that they territory’s book fair, which is usually attended around 1m visitors, would be delayed.

FDA grants Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine candidates ‘fast track’ status

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine candidates have received fast track designation from the US regulator, designed to speed up the process of approval if their trials prove the potential vaccines are safe and effective.

Shares in Pfizer rose 3 per cent and BioNTech stock was up almost 11 per cent in pre-market trading, after the US drugmaker and its German biotech partner said they expect to start a large scale clinical trial of the potential vaccines as early as this month. If successful, they plan to produce up to 1.2bn doses by the end of 2021.

Peter Honig, senior vice president at Pfizer, said the breakthrough designation was “an important milestone”.

The potential vaccines are part of the US government’s Operation Warp Speed programme, along with others being developed by J&J, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and Boston-based biotech Moderna.

The news comes as global coronavirus cases approach 13m, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Catalonia battles against Covid-19 flare-up in agricultural region

Ian Mount in Madrid

Catalonia has reported more than 1,000 coronavirus cases in the past two days as the northeastern region in Spain struggles to control Covid-19 outbreaks in an agricultural region that attracts thousands of seasonal workers from all over the country.

The Spanish region registered 301 infections on Monday on top of the 816 cases recorded a day earlier. The flare-up among short-term harvest workers and young local residents has been centred in and around the city of Lleida and has pitted the regional government against the court system over the re-imposition of coronavirus restrictions.

Catalonia has recorded the highest number of coronavirus deaths in Spain after Madrid, but has become the hardest hit region recently.

On Sunday, a judge rejected the regional government’s decree of home isolation for the area, saying that the right to issue such rules belonged to the federal authorities and that the measures were “indiscriminate as well as disproportionate”.

The region’s first minister on Monday declined to ask the central government to oblige Lleida residents to stay at home. Joaquim Torra added that a government decree would clarify and justify the Generalitat’s rules for re-imposing restrictions.

“We do not agree with and do not accept the judicial decision,” Mr Torra said. “I accept the consequences that result from it, but I cannot endanger people’s health.”

A senior Spanish health official said on Monday that, while “isolation is always the most efficient” way to control an outbreak, the regional government had other measures at hand, such as limiting the capacity in stores and public gatherings that are “easier to implement judicially”.

The central government is evaluating how to respond to the judge’s ruling.

The Covid-19 cases are spread throughout Lleida, a provincial capital, and about three-quarters of the cases in the area are asymptomatic, the official said.

The neighbouring region of Aragón also enhanced restrictions on Monday.

Wall Street gains at the open as focus shifts to earnings season

US stocks rose as traders looked ahead to an important week that sees the start of earnings season on Wall Street and an EU meeting to discuss the bloc’s €750bn recovery fund.

The S&P 500 was up 0.7 per cent at the open, leaving the benchmark index on course to build on last week’s late gains. The tech-heavy Nasdaq continued to extend its all-time high, gaining 1.3 per cent.

The rise followed gains in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Europe’s Stoxx 600 rose 0.8 per cent in afternoon trading, helped higher by London’s FTSE 100 adding 1.1 per cent. Japan’s Topix benchmark closed up 2.5 per cent.

Investors welcomed Wall Street’s first major results, with PespiCo shares rising 0.6 per cent at the open after the food and drink company reported revenues that fell less than Wall Street analysts had feared, bolstered by strong sales of snacks.

Overall, S&P 500 companies are expected to report a decline in earnings of 44.6 per cent in the second quarter, in what would be the worst such performance since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, according to data provider FactSet.

Opec sees oil’s oversupply problems easing

Anjli Raval, Senior Energy Correspondent

A rebound in demand for oil as governments ease lockdowns, together with production curbs by some of the world’s biggest producer nations, is helping to alleviate oversupply triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Opec’s secretary general said.

Mohammad Barkindo said despite a drop in consumption by as much as a third earlier this year, current “supply and demand trends are helping bring us step by step closer to achieving a balanced market”.

Officials from Opec countries and Russia will meet this week to take the pulse of the oil market and discuss the next steps for policy. Countries are expected to begin easing record cuts of 9.7m barrels a day from August.

Brent crude prices have bounced back above $40 a barrel, having fallen below $20 in March. Mr Barkindo said there was a “newfound confidence in the industry” even as the world continues to grapple with the health crisis.

Florida reports rise in number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients

Matthew Rocco and Peter Wells in New York

The number of Covid-19 patients currently hospitalised in Florida has risen above 8,000, as states across the US south and west grapple with the spread of coronavirus.

Florida reported on Monday that 8,088 people with a primary diagnosis of Covid-19 were being treated, according to the state agency overseeing hospitals. There were 6,974 coronavirus-related hospitalisations as of Friday, when Florida began reporting the figures.

Miami-Dade county represented 1,807 of those hospitalisations, with another 1,209 in neighbouring Broward county.

Florida’s health department also reported 12,624 new coronavirus cases on Monday, equal to 11.5 per cent of all people tested during the 24-hour period when excluding those who had previously tested positive. There were 35 additional deaths attributed to the virus, the lowest daily toll since July 5. The state has tallied 4,381 deaths since the pandemic began.

The latest daily increase takes Florida’s seven-day average of new cases to 10,855 a day, the first time any state has averaged more than 10,000. On Sunday, when Florida revealed a 15,300-person jump in new cases – a record for any US state – Florida’s seven-day average surpassed the previous peak average rate of 9,664 a day notched by New York during the depths of its crisis in April.

Even as Florida’s daily cases hit a record, the rate of tests coming back positive dropped to 15.5 per cent on Sunday, the lowest mark since June 25, based on a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data. The state health department reported a positivity rate of 11.3 per cent.

Florida’s positivity rate over the past seven days stood at 18.7 per cent and remained level compared with the previous week, based on the Covid Tracking Project’s figures.

The number of people currently hospitalised in Florida now exceeds that of California, which on Sunday saw its tally ease for the first time in 22 days to 7,854 from a record 7,904 on July 11, according to FT analysis of Covid Tracking Project data. Texas had the highest number of people currently hospitalised in any US state, with 10,410 people as of Sunday.

Hong Kong Disneyland to close again from July 15

Disney will close its theme park in Hong Kong less than a month after it reopened as the government has limited group gatherings amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

“As required by the government and health authorities in line with prevention efforts taking place across Hong Kong, Hong Kong Disneyland park will temporarily close from July 15,” said Disney. However, the Disneyland Resort hotels will remain open with “adjusted levels of services”.

The park reopened in June having first closed in late January.

The move comes as Hong Kong has limited public gatherings to just four people, closed schools and tightened social-distancing requirements.

Forty-one local coronavirus cases were reported on Monday.

Masks can help economic recovery, says Dallas Fed president

James Politi in Washington

A senior Federal Reserve official has called for more “discipline” from Americans in wearing masks and following the guidance of US health officials to curb the transmission of coronavirus, saying it was more important to the country’s economic fate than fiscal or monetary policy.

Robert Kaplan, president of the Dallas Fed, said on Monday that he was concerned by signs that the US economic rebound was slowing because of the new spikes in infection rates across many parts of the sunbelt, including Texas — and that the “forefront of economic policy in the US” centred around public attitudes towards healthcare protocols.

“While fiscal and monetary policy have a key role to play, there’s no question based on conversations I’ve had extensively with epidemiologists and infectious disease experts throughout the US, that if all of us wore a mask, we would likely substantially mute the transport transmission of this disease,” said Mr Kaplan in webcast remarks to the National Press Club. “We would have higher GDP from here, and we would have a lower unemployment rate,” he said.

The president of the Dallas Fed, a former Goldman Sachs banker, said that if Americans successfully tamed the virus, by means such as better testing and contact tracing, many consumers would be more comfortable going out to restaurants, and engaging in other leisure activities, including travel. Instead, the resurgence of the virus, including higher hospitalisation rates, was having a “chilling effect” on the economy.

Mr Kaplan said that even though “individual freedoms” were important in the US, he compared following the guidance of US health officials with wearing seatbelts and not texting while driving – essential safety precautions that saved lives.

Fauci urges investment in US public health infrastructure

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Anthony Fauci has warned that the US needs to learn the lessons of this pandemic to be prepared for the next one, investing in public health infrastructure so doctors are not “building the plane while they are flying it”.

The top doctor on the White House’s coronavirus taskforce who has recently been criticised by President Trump said on Monday that local public health infrastructure in the US was “in tatters”.

“We really need to have a very solid pandemic preparedness plan and operational capabilities, because this is not something that is going to go away and never happen again,” he said at online event run by Stanford University.

Dr Fauci said the US needed to train more physician scientists to deal with outbreaks and invest in platform technologies that can quickly be deployed to tackle new diseases.

US reports record $864bn budget deficit in June

The US budget deficit totalled $864bn in June, a record high, as government spending in response to the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic surged and tax revenues tumbled.

More than half of the increase in the deficit was attributed to a $511bn increase in spending by the Small Business Administration for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) intended to keep workers on the payroll during the pandemic.

Outlays for April totalled $1.1tn, the Treasury Department said on Monday — up more than 200 per cent from June 2019. Tax revenues totaled $241bn, down 28 per cent from the same period a year ago as the deadline to file taxes was delayed until mid-July.

The June deficit exceeded the previous record of $738bn reached in April
and compared with an $8bn increase in June 2019.

With the latest increase, the 2020 deficit has climbed to $2.74tn in the first nine months of the fiscal year.

California orders businesses with indoor activities to close

California took further steps to reverse its reopening process after governor Gavin Newsom announced new statewide restrictions on a number of businesses like restaurants, cinemas and bars, and Los Angeles county said students would not return to classrooms in autumn.

Businesses including restaurants, wineries, cinemas, zoos, museums and casinos across the most populous state in the US will now be required to close their indoor operations, Mr Newsom said on Monday, and bars will be required to close all operations.

Additionally, fitness centres, places of worship, malls, offices for non-critical services, hair salons and barbershops and personal care services in 30 counties, covering 80 per cent of California’s population, would also be required to cease indoor operations, Mr Newsom said.

Separately, Los Angeles and San Diego said they would not reopen physical schools when the new year begins in August and will instead opt for remote learning.

The new requirements come as Mr Newsom said a further 8,358 people in the state tested positive for coronavirus over the past 24 hours, which brings the seven-day average to 8,211 a day. On July 8, California reported a record increase of 11,694 new cases, but has seen cases rise by between 7,000 up to nearly 8,500 over the past five days.

On July 1, Mr Newsom ordered businesses with indoor operations and bars in 19 counties, including Los Angeles, to close. 

Wall Street slides after California rolls back reopening

US stocks wiped out afternoon gains as renewed shutdowns in California stoked investors’ worries over the spread of coronavirus.

The S&P 500 closed 0.9 per cent lower, after climbing as much as 1.6 per cent earlier in the session. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.1 per cent. The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average edged higher by less than 0.1 per cent, aided by a 4 per cent rise in Pfizer’s shares.

Wall Street registered strong gains early on Monday after the US granted “fast track” status to coronavirus vaccine candidates developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

The market changed direction when California governor Gavin Newsom announced that he would order indoor businesses across the state, including dine-in restaurants, to close again. States including California, Texas and Florida have contended with a rise in coronavirus cases, raising investors’ concerns over the economic fallout from Covid-19.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell 0.01 percentage points to 0.625 per cent as prices rose.

Texas reports first decline in Covid-19 hospitalisations since June

Texas reported its first decline in coronavirus hospitalisations in 15 days, while the number of new cases and deaths eased from recent records.

The number of people currently hospitalised fell to 10,405, the state health department said on Monday, from 10,410 yesterday. That was the first decline since June 28. Still there are more coronavirus patients currently hospitalised in Texas than in any other state in the US.

A further 5,655 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, down from an increase of 8,196 on Sunday and from July 11′s record of 10,351. This is the smallest one-day increase since July 6, but figures on Monday tend to be lower due to delays in weekend reporting.

A further 43 people in Texas died over the past day, down from 80 yesterday and recent levels near 100.

Daily increase in US coronavirus cases eases below 60,000

The US reported fewer than 60,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time in four days on Monday, while the increase in deaths was the smallest in a week.

A further 58,357 people tested positive for the disease over the past 24 hours, according to Covid Tracking Project data, down from 60,978 on Sunday and nearly 8,300 short of a record 66,645 on July 10.

Figures on Monday tend to be lower due to a slowdown in reporting over the weekend.

Florida (12,624) reported the biggest jump for the day, with its increase ranking second to its record 15,300 leap on Sunday. Other populous hot spots like California (8,358) and Texas (5,655) saw increase that were comfortably down from recent records.

Among the 13 US states to report one-day increases of more than 1,000, Tennessee (3,314), Kansas (1,447) and Washington (1,438) reported record jumps.

A further 327 people in the US died from coronavirus over the past day, the smallest increase since July 6.