Coronavirus latest: New US cases show encouraging downward trend as testing rate falters
Total Covid-19 cases
Schindler expects rebound as workers return to offices
Sam Jones in Zurich
Many of us will be comfortable getting back into enclosed boxes with strangers sooner than we think, according to the head of the world’s second-largest maker of elevators and escalators.
For the past 12 months, the coronavirus pandemic has emptied city centres and upended the lives of office workers, a group that used lifts more than any other.
But, said Thomas Oetterli, chief executive of Switzerland’s Schindler Group, the pandemic will ultimately do little to change long-term trends that drive his business: urbanisation, construction and the ongoing importance of the office as a centre of commercial activity.
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New US data show downward trends as testing falters
US states continued to report declining new coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths at the weekend.
Data indicate the country identified about 72,000 new cases on Saturday, after 75,000-plus on Friday, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
There were 58,222 people in hospital, according to Saturday’s data, compared to 59,882 the previous day.
Deaths totalled 2,477 on Friday and 2,074 on Saturday. “Vaccines are finally showing up in the data with dramatic declines in deaths from long-term-care facilities,” a CTP analysis said.
States reported 1.3m tests on Saturday and 1.9m on Friday.
“The seven-day average for Covid-19 tests is moving in the wrong direction,” CTP said. “Tests are down 16.7 per cent from last week.”
Data from Texas are “wobbly”, it added, given the week of severe weather that cut power to millions of residents.
“Texas numbers could be erratic for some time because of the storms and power outages,” CTP said. “We recommend keeping an eye on hospitalisations as the sturdiest metric there.”
Canada arrivals to pay for quarantine
A passenger wears a protective mask in the terminal at Toronto Pearson International Airport
Air travellers landing in Canada will have to quarantine for three days in a hotel at their own expense from Monday.
The enforcement date comes two weeks after the federal government said passengers returning from non-essential trips abroad will have to isolate for up to 72 hours while they await the results of a polymerase chain reaction test.
Justin Trudeau, prime minister, said the measures were put in place to keep Canadians safe, particularly given the threat of the emerging variants.
Initially estimated by Trudeau to cost more than C$2,000 (US$1,600), the stays have a variable price regime, which has been left up to individual hotels.
At the Calgary Airport Marriott In-Terminal Hotel, the three-day quarantine stay for one person costs C$1,272 plus tax, while the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at Toronto Pearson International Airport offers a C$957 package, according to CTV News.
The coronavirus pandemic will be at the top of the agenda during the first virtual meeting between Trudeau and Joe Biden, US president, on Tuesday.
“The meeting will be an opportunity for the two leaders to review joint efforts,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a weekend briefing.
Canada has recorded more than 843,000 cases of Covid-19 among its 37.5m people, with at least 21,630 fatalities.
New Zealand begins vaccinating border workers
George Russell in Hong Kong
New Zealand began vaccinating border control workers at the weekend, as the country began to roll out an inoculation programme.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s director-general of health, said the jabs were the culmination of a week of preparation.
“Today, we kick off the largest immunisation programme in our history, by vaccinating the first of our border workforce, a critical step in protecting everyone in Aotearoa,” Bloomfield said on Saturday, using the Maori name of the country.
He said the programme would be stepped up from Monday, as the country enrolled 12,000 border and quarantine workers over the next few weeks. “Once they’ve been vaccinated, we’ll start vaccinating the members of their household contacts.”
Australia reinstates New Zealand travel bubble
George Russell in Hong Kong
New Zealanders can enter Australia quarantine-free after a “travel bubble” suspended in late January was resumed from Sunday.
Passengers require proof of a negative coronavirus test result less than 72 hours prior to departure, if they have been in Auckland any time in a two-week period before travelling.
The one-way travel bubble was suspended in response to a strain of Covid-19 detected in New Zealand that was first identified in South Africa.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said the outbreak in New Zealand, and the country’s contact-tracing efforts, showed the recent cases identified there posed a low risk of Covid-19 spreading in Australia.
“We will continue to move quickly to protect Australians as circumstances change, but we will always endeavour to move just as quickly when those situations are brought under control, or otherwise resolve,” Kelly said.
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Argentina’s president fired health minister Ginés González García after it was revealed he helped arrange Covid-19 vaccines for VIPs with government connections. Some jabs went to people not considered priority cases, igniting a scandal in a country where the vaccination rollout has fallen far behind promises.
The Group of 7 rich democracies vowed to boost supplies of Covid-19 vaccines to the developing world, although divisions remain over the speed at which the West should share its doses. At a virtual meeting on Friday, G-7 leaders increased their pledges to the Covax global vaccine initiative to $7.5bn.
Masked students sit in a socially distanced class at the University of Oxford
UK prime minister Boris Johnson is on Monday expected to confirm plans for a mass return to school on March 8, then proceed with a “prudent” reopening of much of the economy by the summer. He said he wants to ensure “cautious but irreversible” progress in tackling the virus that has caused nearly 120,000 deaths.
A strong industrial recovery partly offset a downturn in services across the eurozone in February, according to a survey. Germany’s IHS Markit purchasing managers’ index for manufacturing surged to a three-year high of 60.6 — up from 57.1 in January. In France, the corresponding index rose 3.4 points to 55.
Pets grounded by pandemic as flights are cut
Philip Georgiadis in London
A menagerie of household pets, from dogs and cats to ferrets and budgies, has been left stranded around the world because of cancelled flights and skyrocketing air freight costs during the pandemic.
Pets normally travel in a part of the aircraft hold that is specially heated, pressurised and darkened to keep them calm.
But because airlines operated only half the flights they normally would last year, and now prioritise essential cargo such as medical supplies and manufacturing equipment, prices have shot up and pets have gone to the back of the queue.
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The market for ultra-cold freezers will grow as much as 60 per cent to $800m amid a pressing need to store certain coronavirus vaccines at low temperatures, says one large US supplier. “We are still in the mode of increasing capacity,” said Dusty Tenney, chief executive of Athens, Ohio-based Stirling Ultracold.
NatWest beat expectations to post a slim quarterly profit as the UK bank confirmed that it would retreat from Ireland after more than a century in the country. It reported a fourth-quarter pre-tax profit of £64m, compared with consensus forecasts of a loss. The lender reported an annual loss of £351m.
Customers wear protective masks and socially distance as they queue in front of the Hermès store on avenue George V in Paris
Sales at Hermès recovered strongly at the end of last year as Chinese shoppers unable to reach Europe snapped up colourful silk scarves and handbags from the Paris-based luxury fashion house at home. Sales rose 16 per cent in the fourth quarter as Hermès proposed a €4.55 dividend, down from €5 in 2019.
Warehouse owner Segro said that a surge in ecommerce in Europe during the pandemic would leave a lasting legacy. The value of the Slough-based company’s portfolio of UK and European warehousing increased 10.3 per cent to £13bn last year, and adjusted pre-tax profits rose 10.8 per cent against 2019 to £296.5m.