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Coronavirus latest: F1 pushes Melbourne race to November in delay to season start

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Updated at 1/11/2021, 1:13:21 PM BST

Excess deaths in England and Wales appear to rise, ONS data show

Chris Giles

The Office for National Statistics recorded 2,115 excess deaths in England and Wales in the last week of 2020, suggesting that the deadly effect of coronavirus was increasing in severity across Britain.

The weekly figures were distorted, the statistical agency said, because there were more public holidays in the week ending January 1 than normal, but with the number of deaths 26.6 per cent above normal levels for the week, the excess figure appeared to be rising.

There were 10,069 total deaths registered in the week and 31.2 per cent of them mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, the ONS said in its latest weekly release with the vast majority of these saying the virus was “the underlying cause of death”.

In contrast, where flu was mentioned on death certificates, it was the cause of death in only 7.5 per cent of cases.

EU vaccine negotiator denies bilateral supply deals

Mehreen Khan in Brussels

The EU’s chief vaccine negotiator has said the commission has no knowledge of any individual member state signing bilateral deals for Covid-19 jabs.

Sandra Gallina, EU commission director general for health, told MEPs on Tuesday that despite media reports, Brussels had neither seen nor heard of any countries signing “parallel contracts” for the vaccine beyond the commission’s own orders.

“These parallel contracts have been much rumoured. I haven’t seen yet one. And I don’t think I will ever see one. It’s something that in my view does not exist,” said Ms Gallina, who added that the commission had “good intelligence” on what was going on in its member states.

Brussels signed advanced procurement deals with key vaccine developers last year and has secured 300m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, with an additional 300m forthcoming. The Moderna jab has also been cleared by the European Medicines Agency. The vaccines are distributed to member states based on its population size.

London police to move more quickly to fine rule breakers

Robert Wright

London’s Metropolitan Police will move more quickly than before to enforcement and fining people breaking lockdown rules, the force’s commissioner has warned as the UK capital battles surging numbers of virus cases.

Cressida Dick gave the warning on BBC Radio amid concern about the more muted results of the lockdown restrictions announced on January 5 compared with those announced in March.

Use of London’s underground system – one key barometer of Londoners’ travel patterns – has been running at about 18 per cent of usual levels, compared with just 5 per cent during the first lockdown in April last year.

Like other UK police forces, the Metropolitan Police had previously prioritised speaking to members of the public breaking rules and encouraging them to comply over issuing fines.

But Dame Cressida told Radio 4’s Today programme that was changing.

“Where somebody is breaking the law, breaking the regulations, and it’s obviously clear that they must have known or do know that they are, we will move more quickly to enforcement and fining people,” the commissioner said.

Over the past weekend, the force had issued 300 fines for breaches including holding anti-lockdown protests and holding large parties in basements, Dame Cressida added.

The commissioner declined to comment on her reported attendance at a meeting of ministers that considered tightening the latest regulations.

But she said: “The prime minister made a comment… that [the rules are] constantly under review. What we have to do is get the virus spread to stop.”

However, Dame Cressida said she was not seeking the power to enter premises to check for rules breaches and insisted that the British tradition of relatively light-touch policing remained intact.

“We are the police that the public have always known in this country,” the commissioner said.

Hiring pick-up softens profit drop at Robert Walters

Harry Dempsey

UK recruitment company Robert Walters suffered a less steep fall in gross profit in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared with the preceding three-month periods, thanks to signs of a bounce back in hiring led by the Asia-Pacific region.

The company said that full-year profit was likely to beat market expectations after net fee income dropped 24 per cent year-on-year to £71.4m in the final three months of the year, better than the 30 per cent decline in the third quarter.

“Whilst market conditions still remain challenging there were signs of improvement in forward-looking indicators during the fourth quarter, particularly in Asia Pacific, the group’s largest region,” said the eponymous chief executive.

Its shares rose 4.1 per cent on Tuesday but remain down 17 per cent compared with a year earlier.

The recruiter has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and shed about a quarter of its employees since last year to now employ 3,147 people, as companies put an abrupt halt to hiring.

F1 pushes Melbourne race to November in delay to season start

Oliver Ralph

Formula One has delayed the start of its season because of the pandemic.

The first race was scheduled to be in Australia in mid-March, but the Melbourne race has been pushed back until November. Instead, the first race of the season will be in Bahrain on March 28.

The Chinese Grand Prix, which was scheduled to take place in April, has been removed from the calendar because of travel restrictions. F1 said it could be rescheduled for later in the season.

The season is due to finish in December in Abu Dhabi.

Kingfisher maintains top-end forecasts on ‘strong’ sales

Sarah Provan

DIY chain Kingfisher reported strong demand for its products, with a 17 per cent increase in same-store sales in the fourth quarter to January 9, leaving it “comfortable” with the top end of City forecasts.

“While the strength of our fourth-quarter trading, to date, is reassuring, uncertainty over Covid-19 and the impact of lockdown restrictions in most of our markets continue to limit our visibility,” said Thierry Garnier, chief executive. “Longer term, we are confident that the strategic and operational actions we are taking are building a strong foundation for sustainable long-term growth.”

Sales rose 6.5 per cent in the financial year to January 9.

Shares in the FTSE 100 group, which owns B&Q in the UK and Castorama in France, have risen 33 per cent over the past 52 weeks. They recently gained more than 3 per cent in early London trading.

The chain promised last month to repay the business rates relief that it received from the government to help support its workers during the coronavirus pandemic. It said it expected to return £130m, equivalent to a bill of roughly £110m in the year to Janaury and £20m for the following 12 months.

Betting software companies to beat forecasts thanks to online gambling

Harry Dempsey

UK-listed online gambling software groups revealed on Tuesday that they expect full-year earnings to beat market forecasts, as the pandemic drives punters to play betting games on their mobile phones.

Playtech, the FTSE 250 software developer, said adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation was expected to reach at least €300m in the 2020 financial year, helped by a strong performance by its Finalto division, its technology platform for retail investment brokers.

Meanwhile, casino and bingo brand operator Gamesys also hiked its expectations for last year’s revenue and adjusted earnings, forecasting that it would hit or exceed the upper end of analyst expectations during a period in which it “entertained record numbers of active players”. The upper end of analysts’ expectations for earnings was £202m on revenues of £724m, according to a Reuters poll.

Large gambling companies have reported massive growth in online business since the pandemic began, providing a cushion to the blow from the forced closure of betting shops due to lockdowns.

Both groups were upbeat about continuing the positive momentum into 2021 despite the uncertain economic backdrop, after a year in which Gamesys paid a maiden dividend and Playtech entered the US market via partnerships with bet365 and Entain.

Landsec collects just a third of rent owed by retailers

George Hammond in London

Land Securities, one of the country’s biggest landlords, has received just a third of the rent it is owed by retailers in its estate, underlining the pain in a sector that has faced enforced shutdowns for much of the past nine months.

On Tuesday, the company said it had received just £5m of the £14m it was owed by regional retailers and £2m of the £7m owed by retail, leisure and hospitality businesses in London to cover the 3-month period from December 25. Some of that rent has been deferred to give struggling tenants breathing space.

The low rent take highlights broader issues across the retail sector, with all but essential stores in England forced to close under new lockdown measures. Across the UK, retail landlords have collected 54 per cent of the rent they are owed for the December quarter, according to property data company Re-Leased.

Office tenants have fared far better through the pandemic. Landsec, which owns a big campus in Victoria, the One New Change shopping centre and office development near St Paul’s Cathedral and Deutsche Bank’s new offices at 21 Moorfields, has received 87 per cent of the rent it is owed by office occupiers for the current quarter.

Derwent London, a specialist office landlord focused on the capital, also announced on Tuesday that it has received 87 per cent of the £40.9m owed by its office tenants. Shops and hospitality businesses in the company’s portfolio, meanwhile, have paid just 26 per cent of the £3m they owed for the December quarter.

Moonpig confirms plans to list in London

Jonathan Eley

Online greetings card company Moonpig has confirmed its intention to float on the main market of the London Stock Exchange as its private equity backer seeks to capitalise on a period of strong sales growth.

Sales at the company, owned since 2016 by Exponent, have grown at an average rate in the mid-teens over the past decade, but have accelerated recently as the coronavirus pandemic curtailed social gatherings.

In the six months to October 2020 sales were £156m, more than double the same period a year before, while the group generated £41.2m in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, almost as much as reported for the full year to April.

The company said its advanced use of customer data would allow it to capture a growing share of the market.

JP Morgan and Citigroup are joint global co-ordinators while HSBC, Numis and Jefferies are acting as joint bookrunners.

Barclay brothers’ Very Group marks best Christmas trading period

Jonathan Eley

Very Group, the credit-based online retailer owned by the secretive Barclay brothers, marked its best Christmas trading period with retail sales up 18 per cent in the seven weeks to December 25.

Homewares and electrical goods were the best sellers, as has been the case for many rivals. Sales in many subcategories rose more than 40 per cent as families spent on their homes cash that might once have gone on holidays or meals out.

Stripping out Littlewoods, its legacy catalogue business, sales grew more than 25 per cent.

Henry Birch, chief executive, said the economic picture remained unpredictable, but that the group had “strong momentum”.

“As we begin the year. I believe our resilient, flexible and proven business model, which is online, multicategory and offers customers flexible payment options, will continue to help us thrive in 2021,” he said.

Hut Group pushes up revenue forecast as online beauty sales rise

Jonathan Eley

The Hut Group, the Manchester-based ecommerce company, has said it expects revenue for the current year to increase by between 30 and 35 per cent, up from previous guidance of 20 to 25 per cent growth after a strong start to the year.

The company, which floated on the stock market in September, added that revenue in the final quarter of the year to December was £559m, up 51 per cent compared with an estimate of 40 to 45 per cent growth given at the start of that month.

Growth was particularly strong at its online beauty business, where revenues rose 66 per cent to £298m.

Hut Group also announced fresh contract wins and partnerships for its Ingenuity ecommerce technology business, including soft-drink maker Vimto and paints group Akzo Nobel. However, revenues from Ingenuity are small in a group context, totalling £40m in the fourth quarter.

Shares in the company are up almost 60 per cent since its initial public offering and its market value, at £7.6bn, is well above the threshold required to trigger large incentive payments to a number of staff, including founder and chief executive Matthew Moulding.

Taiwan reports 2 locally transmitted coronavirus cases

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Taiwan has reported two locally transmitted coronavirus infections in a doctor and his close contact, the first local cases in more than three weeks.

The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control said a Taiwanese man in his 30s who had treated a Covid-19 patient had been infected with the virus. A Taiwanese woman in her 20s who lives with him also tested positive for the virus.

The woman is a nurse but was not treating Covid-19 patients.

An eight-month run of no local infections was broken in December when a pilot returning to Taiwan infected a friend with the virus.

Health authorities have tested 464 contacts of the doctor within the hospital, all of which came back negative, apart from the nurse.

Strict quarantine rules and contact tracing have allowed Taiwan to keep infections low.

The two infections reported on Tuesday were case numbers 838 and 839 respectively.

Extra living costs in lockdown pile pressure on low-income families

Living costs for low-income families in the UK have risen under lockdown due to extra spending on food and heating for homeschooled children, according to research.

Pandemic Pressures, a survey by the Resolution Foundation and the Covid Realities project at the University of York, found spending by low-income families during the pandemic was different to that of wealthier ones.

More than one-third of low-income families with children have been forced to increase their spending, while 13 per cent of high-income families reported spending more since the health crisis began.

School-aged children spending all day at home led to higher food and energy bills, while the need for laptops and study materials for home learning also pushed up daily costs for low-income families.

“Parents have found their spending increase, as some of the usual strategies they use to get by on a low income – shopping around for the best deal, going to families and friends for a meal when the cupboards are empty – have become suddenly impossible,” said Ruth Patrick, lecturer in social policy at the University of York, who leads the Covid Realities research programme.

The phenomenon of “enforced saving” brought about by the closure of many businesses during the pandemic was largely experienced by higher income households, as they spend 40 per cent more of their income on recreation and hospitality than the poorest families, the research found.

UAE dropped from UK’s travel corridor as cases surge

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

The UK has dropped the United Arab Emirates from its travel corridor after a surge of coronavirus cases in the Gulf state.

From Tuesday, those arriving from the UAE must isolate for 10 days.

The UK government cited a 52 per cent increase in new Covid-19 cases across the UAE over the past week. The new variant has been discovered in the UAE, where daily case numbers spiked to about 3,000 last week.

Scotland had a day earlier removed the UAE’s tourism hub of Dubai from its safe travel list in the wake of a row over Celtic football club’s winter training camp in the emirate after which a player tested positive.

Dubai’s hospitality industry has over the past month benefitted from an influx of tourists fleeing lockdowns, especially Britons.

The UAE authorities have yet to introduce new measures to deal with the rise in cases, instead reminding people to adhere to existing regulations, such as wearing masks in public and maintaining physical distancing protocols.

New Zealand expands pre-flight testing requirement for arrivals

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

New Zealand will require arrivals to provide a negative coronavirus test before flying to the country as it attempts to shut out highly contagious strains of the virus.

Chris Hipkins, the country’s Covid-19 response minister, said arrivals from all countries and territories, barring Australia, Antarctica and some Pacific islands, will need to provide a negative test result before flying.

“Given the high rates of infection in many countries and evidence of the global spread of more transmissible variants, it’s clear that most global air routes will be of critical concern for the foreseeable future, and we must respond strongly to the evolving situation,” said Mr Hipkins.

New Zealand has imposed strict quarantine measures to prevent the virus escaping into the community after it successfully eradicated local transmission last year.

Strains discovered in the UK and South Africa have sparked concern around the world. Some countries have banned arrivals from the two nations.

It did not give a date for when the testing requirement will be introduced.

Separate measures for the UK and US will require passengers to produce negative test results before boarding from Friday.

Japan’s Suga weighs extending state of emergency to Osaka, Kyoto

Robin Harding in Tokyo

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga said he planned to make a “swift decision” on whether to extend a state of emergency to Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures with a move expected as early as tomorrow.

Speaking at a meeting of ruling party officials, Mr Suga said his expert advisers believed it would be possible to relax Japan’s measures against Covid-19 in a month if the public co-operated with efforts to increase social distancing.

Japan declared a state of emergency in the capital Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures last week. Under the declaration, people have been asked to work from home with restaurants closing at 8pm in an effort to reduce commuting by 70 per cent. Schools remain open for now.

Expanding the state of emergency to the Kansai region, where Japan’s second city of Osaka is located, will increase the total share of economic activity affected from about one-third to one-half of Japan’s gross domestic product.

Louis Bacon rides stormy 2020 trading to make bumper gains

Laurence Fletcher

Billionaire investor Louis Bacon chalked up one of the biggest profits of his long trading career during 2020’s market turmoil, helped by a decision to return money to outside investors that cleared the way for riskier bets.

The veteran fund manager’s firm, Moore Capital, which now manages money primarily for Mr Bacon and other employees, gained more than 70 per cent last year, said people familiar with its performance, after profiting during last March’s coronavirus-driven slump and its aftermath.

Moore’s gains equated to several billion dollars, one person said. Moore, which cited a “challenging business model” when it told investors in late 2019 it was closing its flagship hedge funds to external money, has been helped by a newfound ability to take more risk and tolerate more volatility in its performance, said one of the people.

Read more here

Malaysia declares state of emergency amid surge in cases

Mercedes Ruehl in Singapore

Malaysia has declared a nationwide state of emergency to curb the spread of coronavirus after a surge in cases.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin said in a special address on Tuesday that the move was not a coup and public service would not be affected. He committed to holding an election once the pandemic was under control.

King Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah assented to the government’s emergency request after rejecting an earlier emergency proposal in October, saying that hospitals were close to breaking point.

The move came as daily new infections hit a new record of more than 3,000 last week. The country has consistently recorded more than 2,000 cases a day in January.

China reports 55 new cases as Hebei outbreak slows

Yuan Yang in Beijing

China’s coronavirus outbreak in the northern province of Hebei appeared to slow, as nationwide cases on Monday dropped by half to 55, the National Health Commission reported on Tuesday morning.

China reported 103 locally-transmitted cases of Covid-19 on Monday, the highest one-day tally since July.

One of the confirmed cases in Hebei is an employee of a company in Beijing’s Xicheng district, the local government said.

Beijing’s Xicheng government, which encompasses many of the important state-owned enterprises and central government agencies, is testing environmental swabs taken from the district’s major public areas, and has identified 95 close contacts so far.

China also reported that 81 people had tested positive for the virus but showed now symptoms, in line with the previous day’s 76 asymptomatic cases.

South Korea moves to purchase more vaccines

Song Jung-a in Seoul

South Korea’s prime minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Tuesday that the government is trying to purchase more coronavirus vaccines from different companies to address uncertainties over the safe inoculation of the public.

“The government has been working to purchase an additional quantity of vaccines of another platform and has seen substantial progress,” Mr Chung told government officials.

South Korea has secured coronavirus vaccine doses for 56m people, more than enough to cover the country’s 52m population. President Moon Jae-in said on Monday that all South Koreans will be vaccinated for free, starting next month.

The country has already secured vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen.

“We don’t know how long the immunity will last after inoculation, and safety problems could occur,” said Mr Chung. “If we can’t speed up inoculation, we might have to outright discard the vaccines due to the short expiration period.”

Mr Chung added that there were signs of a slowdown in virus infections from last weekend but urged people to not lower their guard.

South Korea reported 537 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total caseload to 69,651, after daily infections hovered around 1,000 last month and earlier this month.

The death toll increased by 25 to 1,165, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

EU races to control Covid variant

Victor Mallet in Paris and Michael Peel in Brussels

France and other EU nations are racing to isolate cases of the highly infectious variant of Covid-19 dominant in parts of England while preparing for a possible tightening of restrictions on movement if the mutation threatens to spread widely.

Jean Castex, French prime minister, told parliamentarians at a meeting on Monday that it was impossible to rule out a third lockdown for the country, according to officials.

Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist and member of the government’s scientific council on the pandemic, said it was important to consider closing the border to countries such as the UK in the face of the “very serious threat” posed by the new variant.

Read more here

Chugai Pharmaceutical surges after arthritis drug cleared for Covid treatment

Kana Inagaki in Tokyo

Shares in Chugai Pharmaceutical rose as much as 16 per cent in early trading on Tuesday after a study found that a drug it developed to fight arthritis cut the risk of death from Covid-19 by a quarter.

The Japanese unit of Switzerland-based Roche is the manufacturer of immunosuppressants tocilizumab, which is sold as actemra.

Hopes for the drug had already boosted the company’s shares by 64 per cent last year, elevating Chugai to Japan’s sixth most valuable company.

Data released last week by the UK government-backed Remap-cap study, conducted by researchers at Imperial College London and Utrecht university in the Netherlands, found that tocilizumab and sarilumab reduced stays in intensive care by at least seven days on average.

The NHS last week said it would update its guidance, encouraging NHS trusts to use tocilizumab, which is already widely used in the health service, to treat Covid-19 patients who are admitted to intensive care units.

The UK government has also said it would work closely with Roche to ensure supplies remained available.

UK retailers see little respite from Covid gloom over festive period

Delphine Strauss in London

UK retailers enjoyed little respite from the prolonged coronavirus gloom over the Christmas period while the broader consumer sector was hit by the cancellation of festive plans and tighter restrictions on the hospitality sector, the latest data show.

Retail sales over a five-week period from late November to early January were 1.8 per cent higher than a year earlier, according to figures compiled by the British Retail Consortium in association with the consultancy KPMG.

The figures suggest that the surge in online shopping, and the initial reopening of non-essential stores after November’s lockdowns, did not boost sales enough to offset the impact of renewed restrictions from the middle of December across many parts of England.

Read more here

US Covid-19 hospitalisations hold at 130,000

Peter Wells in New York

US coronavirus cases and deaths had their smallest daily increases in a week, while hospitalisations remained below a record high for the fifth day running.

States reported a further 193,857 positive tests over the past 24 hours, the smallest daily increase since January 4, according to Covid Tracking Project data.

Authorities attributed a further 1,739 fatalities to coronavirus, which was the first time since Monday last week that the US has had fewer than 2,000 deaths in a single day.

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

One other glimmer of hope is that hospitalisations have failed to set a new record for five days, which is the longest such stretch since November 9, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

There have only been 15 days in the past two months where hospitalisations have not been at a record.

On Monday, the number of people in US hospitals with coronavirus edged up to 129,748 from 129,223 on Sunday, compared to a record on January 6 of 132,464.

Hospitalisations in populous states like California and Texas have pulled back from peaks in recent days, which has similarly helped bring the overall level for the western and southern regions.

Arizona, which has become a coronavirus hotspot again, and Georgia both reported their highest levels of patients for the pandemic on Monday.

Asia stocks extend global retreat

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia equities dipped on Tuesday, tracking falls on Wall Street amid concerns over the economic hit from rising infection rates and uncertainty in Washington.

Japan’s Topix was down 0.4 per cent in early trading while the Kospi in South Korea shed 0.8 per cent. Australia’s S&P/ASX added 0.2 per cent.

Those moves came after the S&P 500 shed 0.7 per cent as the health crisis worsened and Democrats introduced an article of impeachment against Donald Trump over the assault on the Capitol by his supporters.

S&P 500 futures were up 0.2 per cent.

Portuguese president tests positive for coronavirus as election nears

Peter Wise in Lisbon

Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has begun self-isolating after testing positive for coronavirus two weeks ahead of a presidential election in which he is seeking a second five-year term.

The centre-right president’s office said he had cancelled all his engagements for the coming days after receiving the positive test result on Monday night.

He was asymptomatic and would remain working in the living quarters of the presidential palace in Lisbon pending further advice from health officials, according to officials.

Mr Rebelo de Sousa was due to attend a meeting of health experts and government ministers on Tuesday as Portugal prepares to reintroduce national lockdown measures to combat record levels of coronavirus deaths and infections. He is now expected to participate remotely.

Health authorities reported earlier that the virus had claimed 122 lives in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily number of fatalities to date.

In a previous scare on Wednesday, the president began self-isolating after one of his aides tested positive for the virus. But Mr Rebelo de Sousa subsequently tested negative.

Health officials said it had been a “low risk contact” and the president resumed normal activities, including several television debates broadcast live from studios ahead of the January 24 presidential election.

Mr Rebelo de Sousa, 72, enjoys a strong lead in opinion polls and is forecast to be reelected in the first round of voting without having to face a second-round runoff.

The president also spent two weeks in isolation in March after a visit to the presidential palace by pupils from a school that was subsequently closed due to an outbreak of coronavirus.

António Costa, Portugal’s prime minister, ended 14 days of self-isolation on December 30 after lunching with French president Emmanuel Macron, who later tested positive for coronavirus.

California’s death toll nears 30,000 but hospitalisation rate slows

Peter Wells in New York

California’s coronavirus death toll is closing in on 30,000 following a deadly start to the year for the country’s most populous state.

Authorities on Monday attributed a further 264 fatalities to coronavirus, down from 468 on Sunday.

On Saturday, the state reported a one-day record of 695 fatalities, more than what several states have had for the entire pandemic.

California’s death toll stands at 29,965, putting it slightly ahead of the 29,877 reported on Sunday by authorities in Texas that is due to be updated later this afternoon. The two states are closing in on top-ranked New York.

One glimmer of hope is hospitalisations. Although these rose by a net 120 over the past day to 22,633, this is down from Thursday’s record of 22,853. That may also be helping the national figure, which as of Sunday had remained below Thursday’s record of 132,464 for the fourth day running.

The number of intensive care unit beds available in California was 1,242, authorities revealed on Monday, up from a record low of 1,147 on Friday.

ICU bed availability in the Bay Area surrounding San Francisco was at 0.7 per cent, California Governor Gavin Newsom revealed at his regular press conference on Monday afternoon.

Regular availability of such beds in the broad Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions has been at zero for weeks.

Mr Newsom struck a hopeful note, though, and said both the rate of increase in hospitalisations and ICU bed usage in the past week was “more modest” than what the state had experienced for “many, many months”.

A further 39,839 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, down from 49,685 on Sunday and back-to-back days of more than 50,000 apiece on Saturday and Friday.

Mr Newsom also said two gorillas at San Diego zoo have tested positive for coronavirus.

California on Monday became the first US state to confirm more than 2.7m cases since the start of the pandemic.

The state has administered “close to 800,000” vaccines, Mr Newsom said, and aims to reach the 1m-mark by this weekend.

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New York governor Andrew Cuomo pleaded for patience and also suggested the federal government was to blame as the state struggles to ramp up what has been a plodding vaccination roll-out programme.

South Africa closed its major land border points as President Cyril Ramaphosa kept Africa’s most industrialised economy in lockdown in order to control its second wave and the emergence of a more infectious coronavirus variant in the country.

Colombia’s foreign minister has become the latest high-ranking politician to test positive for coronavirus as the country grapples with one of the worst spikes in recent cases anywhere in Latin America.

The National Basketball Association said it will postpone two scheduled games following positive coronavirus cases among teams and is also meeting today with officials from its players’ association to discuss updating health and safety regulations for the league’s nascent season.

Cruise operator Carnival reported a preliminary net loss of $2.2bn for the fourth quarter on Monday, as sailings were largely suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.

Two gorillas at San Diego Zoo have tested positive for coronavirus in what is the first known instance of natural transmission to great apes.

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