‘This crisis is different’: the dramatic rebound in the global economy
Chris Giles in London
From an economic point of view, it is almost as if the last year was just a bad dream.
As recently as October, the IMF was warning that coronavirus will cause “lasting damage” to living standards across the world with any recovery likely to be “long, uneven and uncertain”.
Yet the forecast it released this week is very different. By 2024, the IMF now believes, the US economy is likely to be stronger than it had predicted before the pandemic. For most advanced economies, it says, there will be only limited scars from the crisis.
Such a positive transformation in the global economic outlook within the space of just six months is extremely rare.
The City of London in lockdown after a year of the pandemic. Although the effects of Covid-19 are still being felt, the IMF predicts that advanced economies are on course to lose less than 1 per cent of output by 2024 compared with its pre-pandemic forecasts
It has underpinned an upbeat mood at the virtual spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank even though everyone knows the pandemic is not yet over. The consensus view is that with the right policies in place, the world can beat Covid-19. A new spirit of international co-operation might even resolve longstanding conflicts over issues as thorny as the taxation of multinationals in a globalised world — a cause the Biden administration is now taking up.
“It’s remarkable how quickly the consensus has shifted in only six months,” said Neil Shearing, chief economist of Capital Economics, a consultancy. It is now becoming clear that the pessimism last autumn about the longer term outlook for advanced economies was an “intellectual failure”, he said, because most economists “reached back to the financial crisis and applied the lessons from that period, but this crisis is different”.
Not everything in the global economy is rosy, of course. Amid the new optimism, there is also concern that some poorer countries and some people within wealthier countries will not share in the improved outlook. In what is becoming something of a tradition, Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF managing director, borrowed this week from Russian literature to characterise the outlook. “Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina captures very well where the world economy is today,” she said, quoting the novelist: “All the variety of life is made up of light and shadow.”
Fiscal and monetary heft
Advanced economies, and especially the US, represent the light in the world. Since last October, economic assessments of rich countries have been revised sharply higher with the remarkable turnround based on three forces, none of which were easy to see in the autumn.
The first is that countries adapted much better than expected to lockdowns, restrictions and social distancing in the second wave of the virus than the first. Instead of repeating the double-digit plunges in output of the second quarter of 2020, households and companies have adapted well, learning to work more effectively from home, shop online and enjoy leisure pursuits digitally. In a new paper on the economic effects of lockdowns in Europe, the authors Olivier Blanchard and Jean Pisani Ferry, said: “The evidence, however, is clear that these countries were able to contain [virus] contagion at a lower output cost during the second confinement.”
With most countries having upward revisions to data for economic data in the second half of 2020 and at the start of 2021, the starting point for the forecasts of advanced economies has been much better than feared.
A second boost to economic performance has been the willingness and ability of North America, Europe and Japan to use the power of government to support incomes through the crisis even when they could not go to work. Central banks helped with huge increases in purchases of government debt, facilitating the expansive use of fiscal policy during the crisis.
“Without them, without those fiscal and monetary measures, the global contraction last year would have been three times worse. This could have been another Great Depression,” Georgieva said.
A closed restaurant in Nice during lockdown. The willingness of the EU to support businesses during the crisis even when they couldn’t open has been a boost to the bloc’s economic performance
The third force behind the upgraded forecasts was nothing to do with economics, but the ability of science to deliver effective vaccines that point the way back towards more normal life in the years ahead. In Europe, doubts over the safety of the AstraZeneca jab and the chaotic rollout of vaccinations could hold its economies back in 2021, but this is unlikely to cause much lasting damage, according to the IMF’s forecasts.
Together these improvements in the outlook have led the fund to predict that, as a whole, advanced economies are on course to lose less than 1 per cent of output by 2024 compared with its pre-pandemic forecasts — an outcome that seemed barely plausible last October. The US is top of the pack and now has forecasts showing it on a stronger path than before the pandemic, but other advanced economies are not far behind in the medium term.
A vaccination centre in Naples, Italy. The ability of science to deliver effective vaccines that point the way back towards more normal life has boosted confidence
The real benefit of an absence of lasting scars from this crisis, in stark contrast to the global financial crisis of 2008-09, is that the advanced world can also look forward to largely self-correcting public finances.
On the face of it, this might seem surprising. Deficits in many countries were higher in 2020 than at any time since the second world war and average net public debt among advanced G20 countries is set to rise from 82.1 per cent of national income in 2019 to 103.2 per cent in 2021.
But the fiscal forecasts then show debt levels stabilising, rising only to 105.7 per cent by 2026 as economies recover their lost ground. Unlike in the 2010s, austerity or tax rises are not expected to be needed to repair public finances in this crisis. Instead, any tax increases, the IMF said, should be on the rich and companies that prospered to show “solidarity” with those that had not been so fortunate.
An man in Manila, unemployed as a result of coronavirus, receives cash aid. The coronavirus crisis has hit emerging economies hard
The optimism in the economic outlook is reflected in advanced economy equity markets, pushing many to new highs this week. It also is increasingly corroborated by strong economic data. Global purchasing managers’ indices hit a six-year high in March, highlighting a “strong” global economy displaying “resilience” in both manufacturing and the service sectors, according to James Pomeroy, global economist at HSBC.
For all the good news, however, it is important to remember that these data for advanced economies are far from the whole global story. Emerging economies became a larger share of total global output during the 2008-09 financial crisis and now account for 58 per cent of the global economy, according to the IMF. In emerging economies, especially excluding China, the coronavirus crisis has hit hard. This has delayed the catch-up of their living standards with those of the advanced world and put them on a path of significantly slower growth than expected before the pandemic.
These are the large “shadows” in the global outlook Georgieva worried about, where societies were not rich enough to shield their populations from the income losses resulting from Covid-19, often did not have sufficient credibility in financial markets to borrow heavily, had worse health systems and could not push themselves to the front of the queue for coronavirus vaccines.
The burial of a Covid-19 victim in Peru. The coronavirus crisis could leave the economies of Latin American countries 6 per cent smaller in 2024 than was expected before the pandemic
While emerging economies sailed mostly unharmed through troubled waters of the global financial crisis, the coronavirus crisis could leave their economies on average 4 per cent smaller in 2024 than expected before the pandemic, the IMF forecasts. Losses in Latin America will be over 6 per cent and almost 8 per cent in emerging Asia outside China.
Economic setbacks in emerging markets always raise fears of debt crises and capital flight, especially if advanced economies snap back so quickly that central banks are forced to raise interest rates earlier than expected to deal with emerging inflationary pressures. Robin Brooks, chief economist of the Institute of International Finance, representing the world’s largest banks, worries that as the data from advanced economies continue to surpass expectations, market interest rates in the US and other countries will rise, triggering an exodus of funds and increasing pressure on emerging economies.
Even though their fundamentals are stronger than in 2013, the last time this process happened, he said it was likely that the improved outlooks in advanced economies put pressure on financial flows to developing ones, especially Turkey, Brazil and Columbia. “Emerging markets are not yet out of the woods,” Brooks says.
The global economic narrative is therefore one of celebration that the coronavirus crisis appears much less serious than feared alongside a recognition that the winners from the crisis need to have regard for those that have suffered more, both within their societies and around the world.
But there is also still a nagging fear that perhaps the world is now too optimistic in general — just as it was too pessimistic six months ago.
With new variants of the virus potentially limiting the effectiveness of vaccines and requiring repeatedly updated jabs, inefficient rollout of inoculations in some advanced economies and only modest access to vaccines in most emerging economies, the outlook might soon become more troubled again in what a new paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics calls the “pandemic age”.
“In such an age, global economic and health policy co-operation is not a luxury or an idealistic dream. It is a necessity,” says Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute.
A Covid ward in Bihar, India. With new variants of the virus potentially limiting the effectiveness of vaccines, and only modest access to vaccines in most emerging economies, the outlook might soon become more troubled again
One of the most important elements of that co-operation will be determining when countries should begin to roll back their economic support packages as they lift restrictions. These decisions spill over from one country to another so, not only do governments need to worry about the domestic timing, the international dimension is almost as important.
Go too fast in this process and there will be excessive pain alongside higher unemployment and unnecessary bankruptcies. Yet too slow removal of support risks creating an unsustainable boom in the short term followed by a bust alongside highly unstable financial conditions for emerging economies. The consensus view in 2021 is that the world made a mess of this handover from support to self-reliance in 2010 after the global financial crisis, imposing austerity too early before economies were ready.
Erik Nielsen, chief economist of UniCredit, says the main risk is still the virus and possible variants. “We’re not over it yet and that has to be a major, major risk.” He is also worried the European Central Bank will begin to tighten monetary policy too early and that trade tensions, especially with China, might flare up again.
Timing the exit from coronavirus crisis support is just as difficult. So, while the broad direction of travel has been positive for six months, the global economy remains a highly uncertain and risky place as it emerges from the pandemic.
新兴市场的经济挫折总是会引发对债务危机和资本外逃的担忧，尤其是如果发达经济体迅速复苏，以致央行被迫比预期提前升息，以应对日益显现的通胀压力。代表全球各大银行的国际金融研究所(Institute of International Finance)首席经济学家罗宾•布鲁克斯(Robin Brooks)担心，随着发达经济体的数据继续超出预期，美国和其它国家的市场利率将会上升，引发资金外流，给新兴经济体带来更大压力。
病毒的新变种可能会限制疫苗的有效性，并要求反复更新疫苗接种；在一些发达经济体，疫苗接种的推广效率低下；而在大多数新兴经济体，获得疫苗的渠道有限。全球经济可能很快会再次变得陷入麻烦。彼得森国际经济研究所(Peterson Institute for International Economics)的一篇新论文将这种前景称为“大流行时代”。
The Spanish government has slashed its growth forecast for this year from 9.8 per cent to 6.5 per cent, citing the impact of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and adding that some economic activity due to the EU’s €750bn recovery fund will now be delayed until next year.
In revised figures issued on Friday, the ministry of economy said it expected a strong recovery as of the second half of this year, leading to 2021 growth of 6.5 per cent and 2022 growth of 7 per cent.
Spain is one of the industrialised economies worst hit by the pandemic, contracting by 10.8 per cent in 2020.
Previously the government had forecast an increase in output of as much as 9.8 per cent for this year, with the EU funds delivering 2.6 per cent of extra growth on top of underlying growth of 7.2 per cent.
Most outside bodies had forecast considerably lower rates of growth for 2021.
In its statement on Friday, the economy ministry said that Spain’s third coronavirus wave, which peaked in January, and the worst winter storm for more than half a century had slowed growth at the start of the year and delayed economic recovery by a quarter.
It added that some of the growth due to the EU recovery fund that it had anticipated for this year would now occur in 2022. Spain expects to receive €140bn in grants and loans from the fund over the next six years. Many officials and economists say the country’s use of the resources – and how efficiently they are invested – could determine Spain’s economic destiny for a generation.
Vaccines are working well at protecting people from Covid-19, but many countries are nonetheless struggling to emerge from the pandemic as the spread of more transmissible variants hampers progress, according to an FT analysis of data from around the world.
The latest figures from the UK show that rates of cases, hospital admissions and deaths continue to fall across both the most- and least-vaccinated age-groups, though the decline is much steeper among the elderly, strongly suggesting that vaccines are accelerating the shrinking of the UK’s epidemic. More than 10,000 British lives are believed to have been saved by vaccines so far in 2021, according to data released on Thursday by Public Health England.
In France the situation is markedly different due to the recent arrival and rapid proliferation of the B.1.1.7 variant, combined with a slower vaccine rollout. While the trajectories of cases, hospitalisations and deaths all look rosier among the elderly than the young, the more transmissible variant has turned declining rates into increases, among vaccinated and unvaccinated groups alike.
The data show how during the earlier stages of a vaccination campaign, the jab works well at reducing levels of infection among the vaccinated relative to the unprotected, but it is powerless to change the direction of a growing outbreak. Once countries reach herd immunity, any such resurgences will be prevented, but until that point they remain vulnerable to new outbreaks.
Donato Paolo Mancini in Rome, Hannah Kuchler in London and Michael Peel in Brussels
Donato Paolo Mancini 罗马，汉娜·克克勒报道
AstraZeneca has slashed the number of Covid-19 shots it will deliver to EU nations this week by almost half, causing a hold-up that the company claimed would be temporary and was because of delayed testing of a batch of vaccines.
The company now expects to deliver 1.3m doses to the EU's 27 member states, plus Iceland and Norway, down from the 2.6m forecast it made in mid-March, according to documents seen by the Financial Times.
The cut is equivalent to a reduction of 49 per cent and is evenly distributed across countries, according to the documents.
AstraZeneca said it told the European Commission and member states last week that the batch required testing and would be delivered soon. It said it would still meet its target to deliver 70m doses in the second quarter.
“Weekly deliveries typically show small fluctuations depending on a number of operational factors, such as distribution or completion of quality and safety testing,” the company said.
The latest delay has caused frustration as it comes after the company had dramatically revised down its forecasts for EU deliveries in recent months, delivering about a quarter of maximum targeted supplies in the first quarter and more than halving projections for the second.
Any AstraZeneca vaccine shortfalls would be a fresh blow to the EU’s vaccination campaign — which has lagged behind those in the UK, US and Israel — although the jab is less important to the bloc’s rollout for the second quarter of the year than it was for the first.
Read more here
London’s restaurants and pubs that have been closed to the public since December are finalising preparations for a desperately needed return of visitors next week.
Hospitality venues across England will be allowed to serve customers outdoors from Monday under the latest loosening of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
In the capital’s once-bustling west end, landlord Shaftesbury said it would have outdoor dining space available for 3,000 visitors across 165 restaurants and cafes.
Outdoor events and art installations would be put on in the months ahead to coax back visitors, the company said, while security would be in place to issue “friendly reminders regarding social distancing”.
London had been “disproportionately hit” by the pandemic, according to the Heart of London Business Alliance, which represents 500 businesses and 100 property owners.
Footfall in the west end was 81 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, said Ros Morgan, chief executive. She called on government to produce a “bespoke recovery plan for London”. “When London succeeds so does the rest of the UK.”
根据代表500家企业和100家业主的伦敦中心商业联盟(Heart of London Business Alliance)的说法，伦敦受到疫情“不成比例的打击”。
US producer price growth jumps past forecasts
Prices that US businesses receive for their products and services grew more than anticipated in March, potentially stoking market fears of a rise in inflation as the economy rebounds from the pandemic.
The producer price index advanced by a seasonally adjusted 1 per cent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Friday. Economists had expected the figure to remain steady at its February reading of 0.5 per cent.
The increase was driven by energy prices, reflecting a sharp uptick in the cost of gasoline. Food prices also moved higher.
Core PPI, which excludes some services and volatile food and energy prices, gained 0.6 per cent versus a 0.2 per cent increase in February.
Nationwide senior economist Ben Ayers said that higher input costs would probably lead to an increase in prices paid by consumers, adding “more evidence that inflation should pop in coming months during the transition into the post-pandemic economy.”
“Ultimately, we expect this inflationary spike to be temporary as the supply of materials picks up later this year in response to the elimination of Covid workplace restrictions with ramped up hiring and total production.”
Minutes for the Federal Reserve’s latest policy meeting showed that most officials believed the risks to the inflation outlook were “broadly balanced,” in a sign that the central bank was shrugging off fears of an overheating economy after the passage of a $1.9tn spending bill.
Last month, the Fed raised its forecasts for both economic growth and inflation but said it did not expect to raise interest rates until at least 2024.
The yield on the US 10-year Treasury note rose as high as 1.69 per cent as investors waited for the PPI report. The benchmark yield was recently up 0.04 percentage points to 1.67 per cent.
Producer prices were up 4.2 per cent year on year on an unadjusted basis, the biggest rise since September 2011. However, the annualised figure was boosted by a weak comparison to March 2020, when coronavirus shutdowns began in the US.
US states will receive 86 per cent fewer doses of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine next week, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following production problems at a manufacturing plant in Baltimore.
The number of the single-shot vaccine doses allocated face a sharp drop next week after 15m doses were ruined at a plant in Baltimore run by Emergent BioSolutions.
More than 4.9m J&J doses were allocated in the week beginning April 5 while 700,000 will be given out from April 12.
J&J has been grappling with manufacturing issues after workers at the Baltimore plant mixed ingredients for the single-shot vaccine with those for the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, which is made at the same factory.
On Saturday, J&J said it would “assume full responsibility” for the plant and increase the numbers of people responsible for manufacturing and quality at the facility.
J&J said it expects to deliver nearly 100m single-shot doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to the US government by the end of May.
Doctors in Turkey have accused the government of “abandoning” its duty to control coronavirus as the number of new daily cases and deaths hit an all-time high.
Turkey on Thursday recorded almost 56,000 new cases of Covid-19, the highest rate across Europe, according to the health ministry. Almost 260 people died.
Fahrettin Koca, health minister, blamed in part a new variant of coronavirus, although he also recognised that a recent lifting of social distancing restrictions had contributed to the surge.
New cases have soared almost six-fold since March 1, when the government reopened restaurants and schools.
Ali Ihsan Okten of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), the country’s largest group of doctors, claimed the government had “prioritised commercial and political concerns” over healthcare.
“The reason for this failure in the struggle against the pandemic … is a governance style that has abandoned its duty to society,” he told an online news conference on Friday.
Turkey is reimposing some restrictions to get case numbers under control. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president, said last week that in-person dining would be halted again when the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan begins on April 13.
Less than 10 per cent of Turkey’s population of 82m is fully vaccinated. Speaking to the Hurriyet newspaper, Koca acknowledged there had been delays in the shipments of vaccines from China’s Sinovac, with whom Turkey has contracted for 50m doses.
But he said he was confident that all adults over the age of 40 would be vaccinated by the end of June, thanks in part to doses from BioNTech/Pfizer and a possible purchase of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Donato Paolo Mancini in Rome and Hannah Kuchler in London
Donato Paolo Mancini 罗马和汉娜库克勒报道
The European Medicines Agency is probing a potential causal link between four “serious cases of unusual blood clots” with a low platelet count and the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.
The EMA made the disclosure on Friday, noting that the vaccine is only being used in the US. “One case occurred in a clinical trial and three cases occurred during the vaccine rollout in the USA,” the regulator said. “One of them was fatal.”
It added it was “currently not clear whether there is a causal association” between the shot and the adverse event.
J&J said it was working with experts and regulators to assess the data. “Our close tracking of side effects has revealed a small number of very rare events following vaccination,” it said. “At present, no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events and the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine.”
New York-listed shares in the drug maker edged 0.4 per cent lower.
Earlier this week, the EMA said that blood clots in the brain, coupled with low platelet counts and bleeding, should be listed as a very rare side effect of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot. The UK and other countries have restricted its use to older patients only.
The J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines use the same type of technology, using a viral vector to spur the immune system to fend off the virus that causes Covid-19.
The J&J shot, administered in one dose, was approved for use in Europe last month, but rollout has not begun yet.
The EMA also on Friday said it had begun probing whether capillary leak syndrome, in which fluid leaks from blood vessels causing a drop in blood pressure and tissue swelling, was causally linked to the AstraZeneca shot. The regulator said it had received reports of five such cases.
Coronavirus infections continue to be broadly flat across most of the UK, according to the weekly Office for National Statistics survey, though there were “early signs of an increase in the latest week, which balances out a small decrease seen the previous week.”
In England, an estimated 162,000 people had Covid-19 in the week ending April 3, equating to around 1 in 340 people -- a deterioration from 1 in 380 a week before.
Sarah Crofts, Senior Statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “We’re continuing to see a mixed picture across the UK, with infection rates decreasing in Wales and Scotland but appearing level in Northern Ireland.
“We have seen the infection rate [in England] fluctuate over the most recent weeks across different age groups and regions,” she added. “This week, for example, we are seeing an increase in those aged 50 to 69 years, decreases in the South West and North East, and numbers increasing in the South East region.”
In Wales just 1 in 800 people tested positive this week. The figure for Scotland was 1 in 410 and for Northern Ireland 1 in 300.
European and US stock markets were poised to end a record-setting week on a steady footing, supported by bond market tranquility, as investors banked on an economic recovery from Covid-19.
The Europe-wide Stoxx 600 traded close to its record closing level from Thursday after recovering all its losses from the Covid-19 pandemic earlier in the week. The FTSE 100 dipped 0.2 per cent, having advanced 2 per cent over recent sessions to hit a one-year high.
The solid start to second-quarter stock trading this week came as the US Treasury market strengthened. Yields on the 10-year note ticked up on Friday to around 1.67 per cent but remained well below a high of 1.72 per cent on Monday.
The pull back in yields indicates a boost to prices for the crucially important bonds, which endured heavy bouts of selling last month. Volatility in the bond market spooked stock traders as investors questioned the US Federal Reserve’s ability to hold the line on monetary policy.
“The fact that Treasury yields have stopped rising is quite important,” said Sunil Krishnan, head of multi-asset funds at Aviva Investors. “It does remove a headwind for equity markets.”
Read more here.
Germany is to legislate for an “emergency brake” that will mandate tough lockdowns in parts of the country with over 100 infections per 100,000 people, as the federal government claws powers from the regions to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
The “brake” will be incorporated into the Infection Protection Law, which has been the government’s main tool for fighting the virus since the pandemic broke out.
Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for chancellor Angela Merkel, said the federal government had reached an agreement with the governments of Germany’s 16 regions to amend the Infection Protection Law. She said the federal cabinet would approve the amendment next Tuesday and send it to the Bundestag.
She said the amendment would set out what restrictions can be imposed in areas where the incidence rate exceeds 100 coronavirus infections per 100,000 people over seven days.
“The goal is to create national rules,” she said. At the moment, the 16 federal states enjoy broad discretion to enforce their own rules, such as shutting schools or imposing night-time curfews. The amendment would standardise the pandemic response across Germany.
Demmer was speaking days after a TV interview with Merkel in which she sharply criticised some of Germany’s regional leaders for failing to activate the emergency brake, which stipulates lockdown measures above an incidence rate of 100. She said she would be taking time to “think over” what the government’s response to this could be.
The mayor of Ukraine’s capital city is urging the country’s government to impose a national lockdown to curb a peak in coronavirus cases as vaccinations continue to stall.
“Ukraine today is in the top three European countries in terms of the number of patients per day and the number of deaths from COVID-19,” Vitaly Klitschko said.
“Only since the beginning of this month, since April 1, 3,556 people have died in the country. 392 patients have died in Kyiv. This in 9 days!”
He continued: “How many more people have to get sick, how many more to die for the government, for the central government to understand that immediate measures are needed at the state level? Otherwise, in the absence of mass vaccination, the country will face disaster. Therefore, I urge the government to immediately consider introducing a national lockdown. A real lockdown.”
Kyiv this week followed other cities in shutting down public transportation except for essential workers following the closure of schools, shopping centres and restaurants late last month. The restrictions were imposed as part of the government’s so-called “adaptive quarantine,” which allows regional governments to impose necessary restrictions.
Deep nationwide lockdowns imposed last spring helped Ukraine largely avoid the pandemic’s first wave, but the country has now recorded nearly 2m confirmed cases and 36,381 deaths. The number of new daily cases is approaching 20,000 with total active cases at 392,189.
Klitschko’s comments came hours after Ukraine’s health minister Maksym Stepanov predicted there would be between 25,000 and 30,000 new daily cases “within a week or ten days”.
Health authorities across Europe have stressed that the rare blood clots linked to the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine are as common in men as women, as experts continue to puzzle over the mechanism causing the strange constellation of sometimes fatal symptoms.
Early reports on the clots from Europe stressed that the vast majority of cases were observed in women — a phenomenon that seemed to make sense given that the specific kind of blood clot gaining attention is known to afflict women roughly twice as much as men. In late March, Germany announced that there had been 31 cases in total, 29 of which affected women.
But at a press conference held by the UK medicines regulator on Wednesday, Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the UK’s Commission on Human Medicines, a government advisory body, said the incidence rate of rare blood clots showed “no difference” between men and women.
The European Medicines Agency also said there had been no indication that there was a gender more at risk.
The pronouncement from two of the most established international health agencies has turned early understanding of the condition on its head, and eliminated some of the most compelling hypotheses about the scientific mechanism causing the response.
Read more here.
Germany’s health minister has called for a strict lockdown to break the third wave of the pandemic, saying the country’s hospitals were in danger of reaching breaking point amid a large influx of patients with Covid-19.
“We need a lockdown to break the current wave and bring the incidence level well below 100 [per 100,000 people over 7 days],” Jens Spahn told reporters
“That could build a bridge into a phase when we can open up again, supported by testing.”
He said a tougher lockdown might mean people would be required to work from home and stop all unnecessary travel. He also raised the possibility of night-time curfews and other moves to reduce social contact.
Germany recorded 25,464 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, a big increase on the day before, and 296 deaths. Officials said the real number could be higher as many people did not get tested over the Easter holiday.
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s main public health agency, said the situation in the country’s hospitals was “very, very serious”, with ICUs “filling up rapidly”.
There were now 4,500 people with Covid-19 being treated in German intensive care wards, he said, and 700 of them arrived in the last week alone. Some 85 per cent of them needed to be ventilated, he said.
Spahn said Germany had so far administered 17m doses of vaccine. Around 15 per cent of the population had received a first shot, and almost 6 per cent had been given two.
France will give the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine as a second dose to people aged under 55 who have already received a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, as part of its response to concerns about rare blood clotting incidents.
The decision was announced on Friday after a recommendation from the Haute Autorité de Santé, a panel of medical experts who advise the government.
It will affect roughly 500,000 people under 55 who were given a first shot of AstraZeneca from early February to mid-March when they were eligible under the country’s strategy at the time of giving health care workers the vaccine. Other jabs were reserved for the elderly.
When the blood clot concerns emerged, France changed course to use AstraZeneca vaccine only for people aged above 55. Nothing will change for this group, said the HAS.
“Given that the protection of the Covid-19 vaccines begins to diminish after three months, these people need an additional dose,” said Élisabeth Bouvet, a vaccine expert and member of the HAS.
At a press conference, the HAS recognized that the dose-mixing approach was not yet common or supported by large-scale clinical evidence, and called for additional studies to be carried out.
In a statement, the HAS said that all the Covid-19 vaccines were aimed at the same spike protein “which supports this strategy”, as well as referring to early-stage, experimental trials in vaccines against HIV which use boosters that are different to the first shot.
Even without clinical data to back the mixed-dose approach, Bouvet said that they believed it carried low risks of side effects and was likely to offer people sufficient protection.
Health minister Olivier Veran told RTL radio on Friday that the approach was “totally logical” given European regulators’ analysis of the rare blood clotting side effect, and France’s adoption of an age restriction as a result.
Norway’s prime minister is to be fined for breaking the country’s coronavirus rules by organising a 60th birthday dinner for 13 family members, becoming the most high-profile politician worldwide to be sanctioned for such a breach.
Police said they would fine Erna Solberg NKr20,000 ($2,350) in an attempt to maintain public confidence in the laws used to fight the pandemic.
The news is highly embarrassing for the centre-right prime minister as she fights for re-election later this year. Her Conservative party has suffered in opinion polls since she apologised last month for the episode.
“The law is the same for everyone,” said Ole Saeverud, police chief in Norway’s south-east district, on Friday.
He added: “Solberg is the country’s foremost leader, and has on numerous occasions fronted government decisions to counter the pandemic.
“Therefore it is considered appropriate to give out a punishment in order to maintain public confidence in the rules on infection control.”
After the authorities in Italy’s Puglia region asked Antonio La Scala to conduct an audit of everyone who had been given a coronavirus vaccine, the findings left him in shock.
Of the 140,000 people in the region who had received a jab having been classed as priority medical workers, thousands appeared to have no links with the healthcare industry.
“We could immediately see the numbers didn’t add up . . . Puglia doesn’t have this many healthcare workers,” La Scala, head of the region’s medical inspection unit, said of his research carried out in mid-February.
“We cross referenced the data with social security information and found there were many people getting doses with no right to them: friends of friends, associates, parents,” said the 52-year-old dubbed the “007 of vaccines” by the local press for his investigative skills.
Puglia is perhaps the most vivid example of the dysfunctional vaccination rollout that has plagued the EU’s third-largest economy since Covid-19 jabs became available early in the year. As of the end of last week, 98 per cent of people in Puglia aged 70-79 were still waiting for a first dose, along with almost half of over 80s.
Read more here.
Shares in PageGroup rallied 8 per cent in early trading after the UK-listed recruiter said it was on track to deliver full-year operating profit of at least £90m thanks to a strong end to the first quarter.
Despite new lockdowns being imposed across several of its biggest markets, the FTSE 250 company said the strength of its performance in March had “increased confidence” in its outlook for the year.
The coronavirus crisis has unsettled the jobs market. While PageGroup’s gross profits of £184.2m for the first three months of the year ticked up 1 per cent from the same period in 2020, they were down 9.9 per compared with 2019 levels. Quarterly profits fell year-on-year both in the UK and US.
But the performance was stronger elsewhere. Steve Ingham, chief executive, said the group produced “record” numbers last month in Germany, Italy, Spain and South East Asia.
He said the company now expected full-year operating profit between £90m and £100m.
At this stage of the recovery, however, it was “not easy to determine whether the improved performance is the result of pent-up supply and demand, or the beginning of a sustainable trend”.
Page reduced the number of recruiters earning fees by 882 last year, down 12.6 per cent on 2019 levels.
People in the UK aged under 30 are to be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after a link was found between rare blood clots in the brain and the AstraZeneca shot.
The UK’s medical regulator said people aged 18 to 29 should preferably be offered either the BioNTech/Pfizer or the Moderna jab as an alternative. But what does this mean for those who have already had one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine? Can you mix vaccines? Why have other countries introduced much tighter restrictions than the UK on the AstraZeneca vaccine, such as limiting it to over 60s?
Clive Cookson, the FT’s science editor, and Hannah Kuchler, our pharma correspondent, will answer your questions about vaccine rollouts across the world and emerging variants of the virus throughout the day today.
Post your queries on this page and our FT reporters will drop in regularly on Friday to answer them.