Closed Coronavirus: California infections slow, NYC positivity rate hits multi-month high — as it happened

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Top stories Sentiment in ‘light-touch’ Sweden improves as economy picks up. Turkey forecasts it will defy global trend to eke out 2020 growth. Anglo-French biotech group Novacyt to supply UK with rapid Covid tests.

US reports lowest number of Covid-19 deaths in three weeks

Peter Wells in New York

The US had its smallest one-day rise in coronavirus fatalities in three weeks on Monday, as summer hotspot states like California, Florida and Texas reported slower increases in their death tolls.

States attributed a further 260 deaths to the disease, according to Covid Tracking Project data, down from 307 on Sunday and compared with 287 a week ago.

It was the smallest daily jump in deaths since 225 were reported on September 7, the Labor Day public holiday. Typically, Monday figures tend to be lower than other days of the week owing to weekend delays in reporting.

California (21) had its fewest deaths in three weeks, while Texas (11) had its fewest in about three months. Florida (5) had its smallest daily jump in deaths since the end of May.

The only other states reporting more than 20 deaths were Arkansas (21) and North Dakota (21), with the latter being a record increase.

A further 36,741 positive tests were reported by states over the past 24 hours, up from 35,340 on Sunday and compared with 39,472 on Monday last week.

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The World Health Organization has announced plans to make 120m cheap Covid-19 antigen tests available to lower and middle-income countries as it seeks to limit the spread of coronavirus in the developing world.

The Trump administration has bought 150m cheap rapid coronavirus tests, which it will roll out to states and vulnerable communities, the president announced on Monday.

California reported its smallest daily increase in coronavirus fatalities in three weeks on Monday, and the fewest new cases in nearly a week.

A German-operated cruise ship sailing off the Aegean island of Milos has been diverted to the port of Piraeus after 12 crew members tested positive for coronavirus.

Households will be barred from mixing indoors across a swath of north-east England, as the UK government tightened local coronavirus restrictions further for almost 2m people.

The UK government is under pressure to support students and mitigate the spread of coronavirus in universities, as thousands of young people begin the first weeks of the academic year in isolation.

Texas reports smallest number of Covid-19 deaths since June

Peter Wells in New York

Texas reported its smallest daily increase in deaths in about three months on Monday.

A further 11 deaths were attributed to the virus, authorities revealed on Monday evening, down from 37 on Sunday and compared with 24 a week ago.

That was the smallest daily increase since 10 were reported on June 29, and factoring out August 2 when a scheduled upgrade to the state’s Covid dashboard web site resulted in no data being reported for that day.

Monday figures tend to be lower than other days of the week owing to weekend delays in reporting.

A further 1,397 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, up from 1,292 on Sunday and compared with 1,742 on Monday last week.

State authorities have for weeks been adding in backlogs of tests from commercial laboratories, although these figures are added to the statewide total but excluded from the daily tally.

There were 3,107 such historical cases of Covid-19 added to the overall state total today, with most of them coming from the region surrounding San Antonio.

Asia-Pacific stocks gain following global rally

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific equities were broadly higher on Tuesday, following a global rally as banking stocks gained.

The Kospi in Seoul was up 0.9 per cent, the S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.6 per cent in Australia, while Japan’s Topix was the outlier with a 0.9 per cent fall.

Those moves followed rebounds in Europe and the US as financials gained. The Euro Stoxx 600 index added 2.2 per cent and the S&P 500 ended 1.6 per cent higher.

Futures tip the S&P 500 to open 0.3 per cent higher when trading resumes in the US.

Chinese Communist party asserts greater control over private enterprise

Tom Mitchell in Singapore and Xinning Liu in Beijing

Senior Chinese Communist party officials have been sending an ominous message to private sector entrepreneurs in recent weeks.

In a series of policy announcements and meetings, they have emphasised that private companies have an important role to play in “United Front work” — a euphemism for efforts aimed at ensuring that non-party organisations and entities support the party’s top policy objectives as well as its iron grip on power.

The officials added that they wanted to assemble a “team of representatives” from the private sector. They would be recruited either as party members or to join formal advisory bodies, with a particular focus on younger entrepreneurs in strategically important technology sectors. In return, private enterprises were promised greater government support and more equal treatment relative to their state-owned competitors.

The party has made similar promises in the past when it was worried about the country’s economic outlook, which is now clouded by the coronavirus pandemic and US attempts to cripple important Chinese technology companies. But this is the first time it has spelt out such an explicit quid pro quo in terms of how private entrepreneurs will be expected to help the party in return.

Read more here

Australian state of Victoria reports 10 new coronavirus cases

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

The Australian state of Victoria reported 10 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday morning, as authorities eased lockdown measures in Melbourne after suppressing an outbreak.

The tally was higher than the previous day’s count of five cases, but is the seventh consecutive day of fewer than 20 infections.

Restrictions on movement in Melbourne were eased from Monday with the removal of a curfew and policies allowing more people to return to work and plans for all primary school pupils to return to class in mid-October.

The latest figures mean the 14-day moving average of cases in metropolitan Melbourne fell to 18.2.

Victoria also reported 7 new deaths.

Global Covid-19 death toll exceeds 1m – Johns Hopkins

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Covid-19 has claimed more than 1m lives globally, according to the latest update from Johns Hopkins University.

The university’s Covid-19 dashboard reported that 1,000,555 people had died from Covid-19 since the outbreak was first discovered in Wuhan, China earlier this year.

The grim milestone comes as infection numbers are picking up again in Europe and as case numbers in India, which has the second-highest caseload globally, remain above 80,000 a day.

National tallies show the US has the highest number of deaths, with 205,031 lives lost, followed by Brazil with 142,058 deaths and India with 95,542 fatalities.

The World Health Organization updated its own dashboard on Monday showing 996,342 global deaths.

RBI monetary policy committee meeting postponed over vacancies

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

The Reserve Bank of India has been forced to postpone its bi-monthly monetary policy committee meeting, which was due to start on Tuesday, after New Delhi failed to appoint replacements for three external committee members whose terms had expired Aug 6.

The delay leaves India’s inflation-targeting monetary policy framework in limbo at a time when it is undergoing a massive economic contraction, and experiencing inflationary pressures, as a result of disruptions from the battle against coronavirus.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has given no public reason for its failure to fill the vacancies on the MPC, even though it was well known that their four-year terms were expiring.

The RBI said it was rescheduling the meeting, but it did not say when it would be held.

In 2016, India adopted an inflation-targeting monetary policy, after years of battling persistently high inflation. The MPC consists of three members of the RBI, three independent external members, with the RBI governor holding a casting vote.

At its last meeting in August, the MPC held rates steady, and analysts had expected rates to remain unchanged at the scheduled meeting this week.

Pandemic condemns 38m to poverty in east Asia, World Bank warns

John Reed, South-east Asia correspondent

The number of poor people in east Asia will rise for the first time in 20 years as the result of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Bank warned on Tuesday, with up to 38m people set to remain stuck or be pushed back into poverty this year.

Without swift action by governments to liberalise their economies and increase social safety nets, the Washington DC-based development bank said that the “triple shock” of Covid-19, lockdowns and the global recession would hamper growth and stoke poverty in years to come.

“Sickness, food insecurity, job losses and school closures could lead to the erosion of human capital and earning losses that last a lifetime,” the bank said in an update on east Asia and Pacific economies published on Tuesday.

Victoria Kwakwa, the bank’s vice-president for east Asia and the Pacific, said that Covid-19 was not only hitting the poor the hardest, it was creating “new poor”.

Read more here

Coronavirus tracked: see how your country compares

Global coronavirus deaths climbed above 1m on Tuesday, with total known infections showing little sign of slowing at more than 33m, but the severity of outbreaks differs dramatically between countries.

The FT’s visual and data journalism team has analysed coronavirus infection numbers and deaths around the world, allowing you to compare your country against other nations.

Check out the team’s work here

Northern powerhouse cities: virus rules are wrecking our economies

Andy Bounds in Huddersfield

The leaders of three of northern England’s biggest cities have called for the government to relax coronavirus restrictions it has imposed on them, which they say are wrecking the region’s economy.

The letter from Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester councils increases pressure on the government, whose own MPs are pressing for looser measures.

In a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock and business secretary Alok Sharma, the leaders and chief executives of the cities in northern England say that hotel occupancy is at around 30 per cent normal levels and footfall has dropped by more than two-thirds during local lockdown measures.

Because of higher coronavirus transmission rates, the three northern cities – which are major urban hubs in the government’s northern powerhouse plan – have to follow stricter coronavirus rules than in London.

They all, for example, have had bans on households mixing with each other in private homes or gardens. These rules were implemented by the central government in Westminster.

In Liverpool, one of the UK’s most deprived cities, the leisure and hospitality sector accounts for a fifth of the economy and provides half of the £270m in annual business rates, a property levy that funds essential services.

The letter says:

The new restrictions are threatening an economic impact on the hospitality sector which will be huge, disproportionate and not what we believe the government intended when designing the measures.

Each of our cities have a thriving hospitality sector populated by good, responsible businesses, generating thousands of jobs with many providing quality training, apprenticeships and career paths into the industry. They are a vital part of our economies going forward.

The stark reality is that these businesses are facing the prospect of a complete decimation in trade, not just in the short term but as we look ahead to the sector’s traditional lifeblood of the Christmas period and almost certainly continuing into spring/summer of next year which we know with certainty will result in mass market failure, huge levels of redundancies and depleted and boarded up high streets.

They want the government to either scrap advice that households should not mix in public places such as pubs, or make such mixing illegal and compensate businesses.

From Wednesday it will be illegal to do so in north-east England, including Newcastle, but no extra support has been offered to businesses.

The councils also want the 10pm closing time reviewed to help restaurants which want time to have two sittings an evening.

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said:

We need to find a way to adjust the restrictions to ensure a balance in protecting public health and the need to protect businesses, many of which are teetering on the brink.

Mumbai state to reopen restaurants and bars next month

Benjamin Parkin in Mumbai

Maharashtra, the Indian state hardest hit by coronavirus, will reopen restaurants and bars from next month as its persistent lockdown measures take a harsh toll on the local economy.

Home to India’s financial capital Mumbai, Maharashtra has more than 1.3m confirmed Covid-19 infections and 35,000 deaths. The state alone has more cases than Russia, the world’s fourth-worst affected country.

Maharashtra’s chief minister took the decision to allow its 400,000 restaurants and bars to reopen after meeting with industry bodies, according to local media, citing the much-needed relief to the millions whose livelihoods depend on the hospitality sector.

India went into one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in March and restrictions in Maharashtra persisted long after other parts of the country began to reopen. But the health crisis shows few signs of abating and hospitals in the state continue to struggle with the influx of sick patients.

Antibody surveys have suggested that the spread of coronavirus through Maharashtra has been far wider than even the official count suggests. A serological survey in Pune released last month, the state’s second largest city after Mumbai, suggested more than 50 per cent of people had antibodies indicating previous infection.

Greggs plots new stores even as it weighs job cuts

Alice Hancock

Greggs, the bakery chain, has said new store openings will outweigh closures this year despite pressing ahead with possible job cuts once the UK furlough scheme ends next month.

In a trading update on Tuesday, Greggs said it hoped to grow its estate by a net 20 stores by the end of 2020 despite having closed 49 so far this year.

The group known for its sausage rolls and other pastries also said it was “taking steps to ensure that our employment costs reflect the estimated level of demand from November onwards”. This would be done through negotiating reduced hours for staff but it did not rule out job cuts.

Trading across Greggs’ stores averaged 71.2 per cent of the previous year’s level in the three months to the end of September, the chain said, with a marginally better performance this month as people began to return to offices and schools.

Greggs experienced slower sales in August as a result of the summer heat and its inability to participate in the government’s discount ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme while its seated areas remained closed.

The pick up in customer visits during September has encouraged it to open its seating areas. But Greggs also warned that rising Covid-19 infections could continue to disrupt its supply chain after outbreaks at its distribution and manufacturing centres in Newcastle and Leeds caused them to temporarily close. Further restrictions to public movement meant trading remained “uncertain”, it said.

In a presentation to investors in February, Greggs chief executive Roger Whiteside had said the company aimed to have a total of around 2,150 shops by the end of 2020. As a result of the pandemic, it will now end the year with closer to 2,050.

Spain to extend furlough schemes into next year

Daniel Dombey in Madrid

Spain is set to extend its temporary leave schemes until the end of January, as the pandemic continues to hit the country’s economy hard.

The cabinet will meet on Tuesday to approve an extension of the emergency schemes, known as ERTEs, until January 31. The schemes were set to expire on Wednesday.

Governments in most developed economies have introduced temporary financial support for workers who were laid off, or working reduced hours, because of coronavirus restrictions.

Spain’s prolongation is backed by trade unions but not entirely by business organisations, which wanted more generous exemptions from social security contributions than the government’s initial offer.

At their height this year, the ERTEs, which pay up to 70 per cent of salaries, covered some 3.5m workers. That fell this month to around 800,000.

An increase in coronavirus cases in recent months has further damaged Spain’s economy, however.

The central bank expects output to fall between 10.5 and 12.6 per cent this year and fail to recover for more than two years. Tourism and hospitality, which have relied heavily on ERTES, have been particularly hard-hit.

Retail sales in Spain fell 2.4 per cent year-on-year in August while inflation remained at minus 0.6 per cent in September.

European countries are taking increasingly different approaches to temporary leave schemes. Germany has extended its Kurzarbeit short-time working scheme — which has supported more than 5m jobs — from 12 to 24 months. But the UK is replacing its furlough scheme, due to end on October 31, with a more targeted wage subsidy programme from November to April.

Additional reporting by Martin Arnold

Novacyt to supply UK with rapid Covid tests

Anna Gross in London

Novacyt, the Anglo-French biotech company whose fortunes have been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, agreed to supply testing equipment and rapid coronavirus tests to the UK government.

The group is one of a handful of companies that have secured contracts with the UK government for the sale of its diagnostic equipment.

It will supply 300 PCR testing machines and test kits for £150m for the first 14 weeks, potentially extending supply of the common antigen test by another 10 weeks for £100m.

The tests are to be deployed in healthcare settings, Novacyt said.

The company on Tuesday launched its antibody test, which has European Commission approval. According to a study, the test can identify all real cases of the virus, avoiding false negatives. It also has 99.4 per cent specificity, avoiding false positives, according to Novacyt.

UK mortgage approvals jump to 13-year peak

Valentina Romei

UK mortgage approvals climbed to a 13-year high in August, supported by the government’s stamp duty holiday which runs to the end of March 2021 and by resumed consumer spending in a sign of an acceleration in the summer housing boom.

The measure jumped to 84,700 from 66,300 the previous month, the highest level since October 2007, data from the Bank of England showed. It was much stronger than a rise to 71,000 expected by economists polled by Reuters.

The market also benefitted from pent-up demand after the lockdown freeze.

Analysts suggest that the strong recovery in housing has supported growth in construction and sales of housing-related goods, boosting overall activity.

Eurozone economic sentiment recovers at slowest pace for five months

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

Businesses and consumer confidence in the eurozone rose faster than expected in September, although the improvement appeared to be losing momentum as the recent rise of coronavirus infections weighed on Spain’s outlook.

The European Commission said its monthly survey found “waning pessimism in industry, retail trade, construction and, in particular, services”.

Its overall eurozone economic sentiment indicator rose 3.6 points to 91.1, its highest level since the pandemic struck in March. But it remains below pre-pandemic levels and the increase was the smallest in five months.

Among the biggest economies, Italy and France had the biggest jumps in confidence, while Spain and Germany had the smallest.

The commission said its employment expectations indicator rose for a fifth consecutive month, up 2.3 points to 91.8.

The biggest jump in confidence was among services companies, which had a brighter assessment of past business conditions and past demand. However, their demand expectations “waned for the second month in a row”, the commission said.

Confidence among industrial companies also rose with their managers becoming more optimistic about the adequacy of their stocks of finished products and their order book levels.

Consumer confidence was lifted by an improved outlook on the general economic situation and a slight improvement in optimism about their own financial conditions over the next 12 months. “Consumer intentions to make major purchases remained broadly stable and markedly below their pre-crisis level,” the commission said.

Turkey forecasts it will defy global trend to eke out 2020 growth

Laura Pitel in Ankara

Turkey is rebounding from the pandemic and will be one of the few countries to enjoy positive economic growth in 2020, the country’s finance minister has forecast as he set out ambitious targets for the years ahead.

Berat Albayrak said he expected the economy to grow 0.3 per cent this year — far less than the previous official target of 5 per cent but a higher rate than many economists predict.

Mr Albayrak, who is the son-in-law of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, glossed over the troubles of the lira, which is down more than 20 per cent against the dollar this year and was hovering close to an all-time low as he unveiled his annual targets in a speech in Istanbul.

Analysts say that Turkey’s addiction to fast-paced, credit-fuelled growth has caused financial instability, creating a current account deficit and high inflation that has in turn piled pressure on the currency.

Mr Albayrak said that the country would see GDP growth of 5.8 per cent next year and 5 per cent the year after while also witnessing a shrinking current account deficit and falling inflation, which he said would dip to 6 per cent by the end of 2022. It was almost 12 per cent in August.

Those targets are likely to be met with scepticism by economists. But Mr Albayrak insisted: “With our new [economic] balancing process, we are building a sustainable growth model.”

Sentiment in Sweden improves as economy picks up

Sarah Provan

Confidence in Sweden was a “positive surprise” as it improved in every industry except construction, with the indicator for manufacturing above the historical average.

The Economic Tendency Indicator rose for a fifth month in September, climbing to 94.5 from its revised figure of 87.6, figures showed on Tuesday.

Manufacturing confidence gained 6.9 points to 105.8 from its revised number of 98.9, putting it almost 6 points above the historical average, as groups assessed their current order book and gave positive production expectations.

Sweden has been both venerated and decried for its “light-touch” approach to coronavirus-related measures. Many have been anxious to see how the economy has fared with this policy that has given the Nordic country the highest Covid-19 death rate among its neighbours.

Services confidence, which has been weak in the rest of Europe, rose and consumer confidence also improved but points to a “much weaker” sentiment than normal.

Confidence in building and civil engineering industry dropped 4.4 points.

“Sentiment in both retail and manufacturing have reversed the large declines in March and April, with manufacturing returning to levels not seen since late 2018,” said Olle Holmgren, chief strategist for Sweden at SEB.

He added that the strong recovery for sentiment boosts expectations for third-quarter gross domestic product. The National Institute of Economic Research will revise economic forecasts on Wednesday and the 2020 contraction of 4.5 per cent predicted in August is likely to be revised by 1 percentage point, Mr Holmgren said.

“Swedish indicators are likely to continue to be strong in the near term,” Mr Holmgren said. “New restrictions imposed in many European countries,” he added, increase the “risks that the recovery will be at least partly derailed in the fourth quarter”.

Households were more positive about their personal finances and the Swedish economy, especially over the coming year, Tueday’s figures showed.

Sterling rises as Brexit talks begin and negative rates speculation wanes

Naomi Rovnick in London

The UK currency has strengthened against the dollar as Brexit talks began and speculation faded that the central bank would push interest rates below zero to help the pandemic-scarred economy.

Sterling gained 0.2 per cent to purchase $1.2855, having also risen 1.4 per cent against the dollar at one point on Monday.

Tuesday marks the first day of the last-minute round of talks between EU and UK negotiators on a post-Brexit trade deal before Britain’s transition period ends on January 1. After a lengthy deadlock there have been tentative signs of progress, with the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost having said a withdrawal deal was “very much possible,” although “equally far from certain”.

Regarding the economy, deputy Bank of England governor Dave Ramsden said on Monday that negative rates — a tool used by central banks that attempts to stimulate borrowing and spending — would be “less effective” at present to fix the economic damage wrought by coronavirus lockdowns and business closures.

The prospect of lower interest rates prompts investors to sell currencies because they would then get lower returns from keeping that currency in the bank.

Another reason to sell a currency is the belief that an economy is weakening. Analysts at Macquarie cautioned that the market was being too optimistic about the pound, saying it was “underpricing an escalation in no-deal Brexit risk in the days ahead.”

NHS hit by staff shortages due to lack of Covid tests for children

Sarah Neville in London

Doctors on the frontline of the UK’s pandemic response are struggling to secure coronavirus tests for their children, forcing them to take time off work as the NHS wrestles with staff shortages exacerbated by the country’s faltering test and trace system.

The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine told the Financial Times that doctors with families were having to take time off work if their children had been sent home from school, either because they were sick or because a classmate had Covid-19 symptoms.

“The children are not being tested, or there is a very long lag between getting them tested and results being returned, so there are large numbers of staff having to remove themselves from work, and often isolate for two weeks,” said Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine. “That is having a huge impact on our ability to staff intensive care.”

The depleted ranks are undermining the health service’s progress in preparing for the next wave of coronavirus and jeopardising its attempts to restore services halted or scaled back during the pandemic. The absences have forced hospitals to shut critical care beds, and left doctors unable to work shifts on accident and emergency wards.

Read the full story here

Northern Ireland brings forward pub closing times by half an hour

Arthur Beesley in Dublin

Northern Ireland’s executive has directed all pubs and restaurants to close at least 30 minutes early at 11pm in tighter restrictions to tackle rising coronavirus infections.

The rules will allow them nonetheless to be open later than premises in England, Scotland and Wales, which are required to shut at 10pm. Bars and restaurants in the Irish republic close at 11.30pm, although they remain mostly shut in Donegal and Dublin.

Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s first minister, said the rules will come into force at midnight on Wednesday. They will be applied with “no exceptions” so weddings and other social occasions will be required to finish early.

“No alcohol or food will be served after 10.30pm and all customers must leave by 11.00pm. In practice this brings the normal closing times forward by half an hour and there will be no late licences,” Mrs Foster told the regional assembly at Stormont, outside Belfast.

The restrictions will hit pubs, bars, restaurants, cafés and hotel and guest house bars, only one week after non-food outlets reopened for the first time since the lockdown.

The move follows a “gradual but sustained rise” in Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland since July, with 1,513 infections in the past seven days.

These include 319 new cases on Saturday, the most in a single day since the pandemic began six months ago.

South Africa’s working population shrank by 2m during lockdown

Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg

South Africa shed more than 2m jobs at the height of its pandemic lockdown — the biggest fall on record for Africa’s most industrialised economy.

South Africa’s workforce shrank to just over 14m in the second quarter of the year, when President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to limit the spread of coronavirus infections in the country, according to official statistics released on Tuesday.

The 2.2m drop in South Africans with jobs versus the first quarter was the largest since the survey began in 2008, the South African statistics office said.

Under the lockdown the ranks of South Africa’s economically inactive population swelled by about 5m to nearly 21m in the three months to the end of June. South Africa’s working-age population is approximately 39m, of which about 4m are classified as unemployed.

As a national lockdown began in March, South Africans were not allowed to leave home except for essential reasons and most businesses closed.

The decline in employment underlines the scale of the task facing Mr Ramaphosa and his governing African National Congress in reviving the economy, which has largely reopened as infections peaked in recent weeks. About 670,000 coronavirus cases and 16,600 deaths from the virus have been recorded.

South Africa’s expanded definition of the jobless rate, which includes those available for work but discouraged from looking for it, rose to 42 per cent in the second quarter, a rise of about two percentage points versus the previous three months. The official unemployment rate fell because it includes job seekers, although they were unable to look for work because of the lockdown.

South African statisticians faced difficulties collecting the jobless numbers in lockdown. They had to collect survey data by phone, but many households including those most likely to be jobless were without phones.

Students will be allowed home for Christmas, education secretary says

Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London

University students in England will be able to return home for Christmas, the education secretary announced on Tuesday, following growing controversy surrounding the government’s handling of coronavirus within higher education.

In a ministerial statement to the House of Commons, Gavin Williamson said he understood the “anxiety” caused by uncertainty surrounding Christmas and confirmed that students would be supported to return to their families in December.

“We are going to work with universities to make sure that all students are supported to return home safely and spend Christmas with their loved ones if they choose to do so.”

However, he said that requirements would need to be met by some students in order to minimise the risk of transmission, including cutting back on face to face teaching hours.

He said: “Where there are specific circumstances that warrant it, there may be a requirement for some students to self-isolate at the end of term and we will be working with the sector to ensure that this will be possible – including ending in person learning early if that is deemed to be necessary.”

While the move was welcomed by Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green, she questioned why it has taken so long to get clarity and argued that the “crisis within universities was predictable and was predicted.”

She added: “At the heart of this crisis as thousands of young people – many away from home for the first time, many now isolated with a group of people who are practically strangers – we can only imagine how hard it is for them.”

Throughout the UK, at least 30 universities have reported coronavirus outbreaks including Manchester Metropolitan University where around 1,700 students have been forced to isolate.

US house price growth picks up amid sales surge

Matthew Rocco

US house prices rose at an annual pace of more than 4 per cent for a sixth straight month amid low mortgage rates and robust demand.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index tracking house prices nationally grew 4.8 per cent year on year, compared with a 4.3 per cent rise in the previous month, as price gains picked back up after decelerating in May and June. At 221.64, the closely watched index is at its highest level on record dating back to 1975, according to Refinitiv.

House prices in 10 key markets were up 3.3 per cent, a faster pace than the 2.8 per cent growth in June. The 20-city index – excluding Detroit due to a data collection issue – advanced 3.9 per cent versus 3.5 per cent the month before.

The US housing market has been resilient, helping to lead the broader economy’s rebound from the depths of the coronavirus crisis in the spring. Existing home sales, which account for most transactions, have jumped to their strongest annualised pace since 2006, boosted by pent-up demand and a sharp drop in borrowing costs. Demand for roomier dwellings during the pandemic has also supported the market.

The largest price gains in July came in Phoenix, Seattle and Charlotte. Sixteen of the 19 big cities included in the latest figures recorded an accelerated rise in house prices from June to July.

UK shop owners feared to have lost more than £2bn of rent this year

Naomi Rovnick in London

More than £2bn of UK retail rents are likely to have gone unpaid by Tuesday, a property industry body has said, with shop owners collecting less than half of what was due.

Retailers, who pay their rents quarterly, with the July to September instalment due on September 29, will nonetheless be able to keep their stores because the government has banned commercial tenant evictions until the end of the year, property body Revo said.

The government allowed high streets to reopen in July after coronavirus lockdowns and retail sales in August rose marginally on the previous month.

But many shop owners are struggling as furloughed familes have cut their costs and UK households have increasingly shopped online, with department stores and clothing retailers particularly badly hit.

This month, the government extended a ban on landlords evicting commercial tenants until the end of the year.

Vivienne King, Revo chief executive, said:

Retail property owners are braced for another hugely damaging quarter, with fears that once again less than 50 per cent of rent due will be paid by operators, whatever their balance sheets.

Ms King said that retailers were able to not pay their rents “whatever the state of their balance sheets”, and claimed that property owners had been singled out as “the fall guys to indiscriminately compensate large and valuable [retail] operators for their cashflow”.

Revo said that in the first and second quarters of this year, rental arrears had hit £1.5bn and were set to exceed £2bn after Tuesday’s payment date for the third quarter.

Strongly criticising the moratoria on evictions, Revo said they were:

A short-term emergency measure introduced at the start of lockdown, but nine months is looking very much like long term. The UK is respected worldwide for its stable rule of law but by continuing to allow contractual arrangements to be ignored in one sector, the government is casting doubt on the reliability of our legal system more broadly.

Retailers, for their part, have long argued their rents are unfair because they are set in advance and are the same however their business is doing, instead of being responsive to changes in turnover. In the past few years many struggling shop chains have therefore turned to company voluntary arrangements (CVAs), a legal mechanism that enables them to shut underperforming shops.

US consumer confidence rebounds as outlook improves

Matthew Rocco

US consumers are feeling more confident about the economy and their own financial prospects, as more Americans expect an increase in the number of available jobs in the months ahead.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index jumped to 101.8 in September, up from an upwardly revised 86.6 last month and confounding economists who expected a smaller rise to 89.5.

“A more favourable view of current business and labour market conditions, coupled with renewed optimism about the short-term outlook, helped spur this month’s rebound in confidence. Consumers also expressed greater optimism about their short-term financial prospects, which may help keep spending from slowing further in the months ahead,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the Conference Board.

The survey snapped a two-month streak of declines that coincided with renewed concerns over the pandemic due to summer outbreaks in the US south and west. Those outbreaks have abated over the last month. Texas and Florida, two of the states that emerged as coronavirus hotspots, have recently taken steps to ease restrictions on businesses in response to a decline in hospitalisations and new cases.

A sub-index measuring consumers’ view of the present situation – including current business and labour market conditions – hit 98.5, up from 85.8. The expectations index, which measures the short-term outlook, rose to 104 from 86.6.

The Conference Board said that 37.1 per cent of consumers expected business conditions to improve over the next six months, up from 29.8 per cent a month earlier. The survey also showed that 33.1 per cent of consumers forecast more jobs, compared with 29.9 per cent in August.

Ireland warns no-deal Brexit would slam brakes on economic rebound

Arthur Beesley in Dublin

Ireland has warned of a severe hit to its coronavirus-struck economy if Brexit trade talks fail, saying a no-deal outcome would strip 3 percentage points from its rebound from the pandemic.

Finance minister Paschal Donohoe said the economic damage from Covid-19 this year was now likely to be “less severe” than he had forecast in the spring, despite a 15.9 per cent unemployment rate for 2020. But a no-deal Brexit would slam the brakes on its anticipated recovery in 2021, the minister said.

“Under the assumption of a disorderly end to the transition period, there will likely be significant disruption to trade next year,” he said in a statement.

“GDP is projected to grow by 1.4 per cent, around 3 percentage points lower than it would otherwise be if a free trade agreement was put in place.”

Mr Donohoe, president of the euro group of finance ministers, forecast in April that gross domestic product would shrink 15.3 per cent if there was no recovery until the start of 2021.

While he said on Tuesday that GDP was now on course to drop 2.5 per cent this year, the slower rate of decline reflected the activities of the booming international pharma sector in Ireland. The country is a hub for inward investment from global pharmaceutical groups, whose exports have surged this year.

“Other — more relevant — indicators confirm a severe economic fall-out from the pandemic,” Mr Donohoe said. He expects the national economy to shrink 6.5 per cent this year — according to a measure known as modified domestic demand, which reflects the state of the domestic economy after stripping out foreign direct investment.

Such forecasts, endorsed by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, a statutory budget watchdog, will underpin the 2021 budget which will be prepared on the assumption that there will be no EU-UK trade deal from the beginning of the year and no coronavirus vaccine.

He still expects the jobless rate to improve to 10.7 per cent in 2021. “Employment is expected to grow by around 7 per cent or 145,000 jobs next year, having a very real impact on the economy and society more generally.”

Germany to tighten curbs on social gatherings in bid to limit virus

Guy Chazan in Berlin

Germany is to impose strict restrictions on social gatherings, as Angela Merkel warned that Germany could be facing more than 19,000 new infections a day by Christmas unless more efforts were made to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

Authorities also imposed a minimum fine of €50 for anyone giving false contact details in bars and restaurants, amid rising concern about lying on contact forms.

Germany has been spared the sharp increases in Covid cases seen in countries like France and Spain, but it has still seen new infections rise considerably, to 2,089 on Tuesday, up from about 300 a day in July.

A statement issued after Tuesday’s video conference between Ms Merkel and the prime ministers of the 16 states blamed the increase on people returning from holidays abroad.

“We must be particularly careful now, in view of falling temperatures, the increased time that people will be spending in enclosed spaces during autumn and winter, and the looming flu season,” the statement said.

After the video conference, Ms Merkel said that from now on a maximum of 50 people would be allowed to attend private parties in public or rented premises. She also “strongly recommended” that no more than 25 people attend parties in private premises.

The rules will only apply in areas that have seen an incidence of 35 or more coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days. For areas which have seen 50 or more cases per 100,000 people, the ceiling will be lowered to 25 people in public areas and 10 people in private premises.

Ms Merkel noted that the number of new infections in Germany had doubled three times since the start of July, from about 300 to 2,400 in late September. She said that if that pattern continued in the coming months, then the new cases would rise to 4,800 in October, 9,600 in November and 19,200 by late December.

“That underscores the urgent need for us to act — and in particular in those places where we have an exponential increase,” Ms Merkel said.

She said that Germany still had a better record than other countries, with the rate of infection doubling only three times in three months, compared with the UK, where cases were recently doubling every eight days.

But she said that could change as the weather worsened and people were forced to spend more time indoors. “If we want to meet our aspiration to trace all chains of infection in order to interrupt them, then that is easier to do with 300 cases than with 2,400,” she said.

Florida’s new daily cases bounce back from multi-month low

Peter Wells in New York

Florida reported its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus cases in 10 days on Tuesday, bouncing back from the previous day’s figures that were the fewest new infections and fatalities in about four months.

A further 3,266 people in the state tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed this morning, up from Monday’s four-month low of 738 and compared with 2,470 on Tuesday last week. It was the biggest one-day jump in cases since the 3,573 new cases reported on September 19.

The state’s death toll rose by 106, jumping from the five revealed yesterday that was the smallest one-day increase in deaths since the four reported by authorities on May 31. The latest figure compared with 99 deaths reported on Tuesday last week.

Authorities revealed 70,893 tests had been conducted over the past day, up from just under 21,000 on Monday that was the smallest daily volume of tests since early June. This compared with 44,904 tests reported on Tuesday last week.

Of those, the percentage of people who tested positive for Covid-19 for the first time rose to 5.01 per cent, up from 4.22 per cent and the first time above 5 per cent in six days.

NYC’s positivity rate hits multi-month high ahead of indoor dining restart

Peter Wells and Matthew Rocco in New York

Clusters of coronavirus in some of New York City’s boroughs have pushed the one-day positivity rate for the whole city above 3 per cent for the “first time in months”, Bill de Blasio mayor, revealed on Tuesday.

The percentage of people in the US’s most populous city who tested positive for Covid-19 hit 3.25 per cent, the highest since early June, which the mayor said was “a cause for real concern”. The average rate over the past week now sits at 1.38 per cent.

Coronavirus clusters in Brooklyn and Queens have risen at a faster pace than the citywide average over the past fortnight. Nine problem neighbourhoods there now make up about one-quarter of new cases, and a more concerted effort would be needed to curb the spread of the virus there, Mr de Blasio said, even though those areas represent less than one-tenth of the city’s population.

Should the seven-day average positivity rate rise above 3 per cent, public schools — which this week undertook their latest stage of phased reopening — would be closed, Mr de Blasio said.

Many other US states have experienced a tick-up in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, but the latest bump in New York City comes as restaurant owners there prepare to restart indoor dining, with limited occupancy, on September 30. 

The transmission rate in neighbouring New Jersey has remained above the key threshold of 1 since September 4, indicating that the virus is spreading. The state, which has reported the second-most deaths attributed to coronavirus, has reported a rise in the number of new confirmed cases since late August, according to a seven-day average of daily infections calculated by the Covid Tracking Project.

New Jersey officials have partly attributed the rise in cases to Ocean County, which is home to about 6.8 per cent of the state’s population but accounted for nearly one-fifth of the new cases reported statewide on Tuesday.

New York and New Jersey are among 34 US states that have a rolling seven-day average of daily new cases that is higher than it was a week ago, according to a Financial Times analysis of data as of Monday from Covid Tracking Project, and two of the 33 states where that average is higher than four weeks ago.

Concerned about the possibility of a second wave of infections, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that, save for a select few countries, all international travellers arriving at airports across the state would be required to quarantine for two weeks after arrival.

California reports smallest rise in daily Covid cases in about three weeks

Peter Wells in New York

California reported its smallest increase in coronavirus cases in about three weeks on Tuesday.

A further 2,162 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, the state’s health department revealed this afternoon, down from 2,955 yesterday and compared with 2,630 on Tuesday last week.

It was the smallest one-day rise in cases since the 1,616 reported by authorities on September 9, in the wake of the Labor Day public holiday.

A further 32 deaths in the state were attributed to coronavirus, up from a three-week low of 21 on Monday, and compared with 53 a week ago.

Testing volumes remained buoyant, helping reverse a drop-off that occurred in recent weeks after wildfires in the state forced the closure of mobile testing sites. Counties reported 128,963 new tests over the past 24 hours, which also helped keep the 14-day rolling average positivity rate steady at a record low of 2.8 per cent.

Spain to impose new Covid restrictions in push to limit virus spread

Daniel Dombey in Madrid

Spain’s government plans to impose new coronavirus restrictions throughout the country, in an attempt to fight the second Covid-19 wave that has hit Madrid particularly hard.

The move — which would impose restrictions on people’s movements and gatherings in urban areas with high levels of infection and hospitalisation — comes after days of confrontation between the leftwing central government and the centre-right administration of Madrid, which had resisted imposing further restrictions.

The Madrid region has logged more than 51,000 cases of coronavirus over the past two weeks, with an infection rate during that time of 775 per 100,000 people — more than twice the level for the whole of Spain, which itself has by far the worst rate of infection in Europe.

The new plan would be almost certain to impose restrictions on the whole of the city of Madrid, as the national government has sought, but also on other hard-hit municipalities elsewhere in Spain.

Under the country’s decentralised model of government, each of the 17 regions operate its own health system.

While Salvador Illa, the national minister of health, had called for Madrid to impose new restrictions to deal with the highest rate of incidence in Europe, the regional administration — run by the political opponents of Spain’s leftwing coalition government — called for nationwide measures instead.

Under the apparent compromise deal that Mr Illa revealed at a press conference on Tuesday evening, the new restrictions would apply to areas throughout Spain with populations of more than 100,000, infection rates of more than 500 per 100,000 people over 14 days, and where more than 10 per cent of all coronavirus tests produced positive results.

Mr Illa said he hoped the proposal would be agreed at a regional health ministers meeting on Wednesday, but declined to give further details of which municipalities it would apply to or specifics about the rules.

World Bank to offer $12bn of funds to help low-income countries buy vaccines

Andrew Jack in London

The World Bank is set to offer $12bn in cheap financing to lower income countries to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, adding significantly to their ability to negotiate better access and lower prices from pharmaceutical companies.

David Malpass, its president, said he had sought board approval for funding via its low-cost IDA and IBRD programmes to provide “swift, fair and equitable access to vaccines” to up to 2bn people in lower and lower middle income countries.

The support comes at a time of concern over “vaccine nationalism”, with richer countries paying manufacturers to reserve a large share of production, leaving little capacity to protect those in other parts of the world.

The fresh funding can be spent on vaccine purchases or investments to strengthen countries’ capacity to provide immunisation. It increases the scope for governments to pool procurement, strengthening their hand with larger volumes to secure supplies and negotiate better pricing.

US stocks end 3-day winning streak

Camilla Hodgson, David Sheppard, Eric Platt and Hudson Lockett

US stocks and oil retreated on Tuesday as investors awaited word on a potential stimulus deal out of Washington and amid renewed concerns about the pandemic.

The benchmark S&P 500 index slipped 0.5 per cent, ending a three-day streak of advances. US stocks were weighed down by the energy sector as shares of the oil majors ExxonMobil and Chevron both fell more than 2 per cent.

Brent crude, the global oil price benchmark, settled 3.3 per cent lower at $41.03 a barrel. Traders said optimism about a further recovery in demand had waned, with crude consumption still down more than 5 per cent from pre-pandemic levels. 

A host of senior oil trading executives and fund managers told an FT conference on Tuesday that oil would be stuck near $40 a barrel until there was an effective Covid-19 vaccine. 

“It’s very hard to be bullish on oil,” said Ben Luckock, co-head of oil trading at Trafigura, predicting that Brent would likely slip to below $40 a barrel before the end of the year. 

Investors were also watching for developments out of Washington after Democrats in the House of Representatives put forward a $2.2tn spending plan on Monday. House speaker Nancy Pelosi met Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday to discuss the package, although it is unclear if the two sides can reach an agreement before members leave the capital to campaign for the November election.

Moreover, rising coronavirus infections — New York City’s one-day positivity rate rose above 3 per cent for the first time in months — renewed lockdown measures in Europe and signs of loss of momentum in the global recovery also weighed on investor sentiment.

Disney to lay off 28,000 US theme park workers due to Covid curbs

Anna Nicolaou in New York

Disney is laying off 28,000 US employees of its theme parks as the pandemic weighs heavily on the media giant.

“In light of the prolonged impact of Covid-19 on our business, including limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic — exacerbated in California by the State’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen — we have made the very difficult decision to begin the process of reducing our workforce,” the company said on Tuesday.

Disney’s businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, which has shuttered cinemas and theme parks, grinding two of the company’s most profitable units to a halt. Disney had previously furloughed more than 100,000 park workers, but has gradually been bringing employees back as it reopened parks in Asia, France and Florida.

Disney reported a $4.7bn loss in the June quarter, and a $3.5bn hit to operating income at its theme parks.

The job cuts will affect people who remain furloughed, as well as staff who have returned, across hourly, salaried and executive roles.