Concerning New Variant Hits Hong Kong; Stocks Fall: Virus Update

Concerning New Variant Hits Hong Kong; Stocks Fall: Virus Update

Source Bloomberg News Fri, 26 November 2021, 8-min read

Concerning New Variant Hits Hong Kong; Stocks Fall: Virus Update

Hong Kong confirmed two cases of a new coronavirus variant first discovered in southern Africa that scientists have described as very different to previous incarnations and of serious concern.

Stock benchmarks around Asia fell and the South African rand weakened more than 1% to beyond 16 per dollar for the first time in a year. Travel stocks were among the biggest decliners. U.S. Treasuries and the yen strengthened on haven demand. A handful of new infections emerged in China, including in its financial hub Shanghai, likely extending the country’s containment efforts.

The U.K. will temporarily ban flights from six African countries and quarantine travelers over worries about the new viral strain. European governments are considering reintroducing measures including compulsory shots, remote working, restrictions for unvaccinated people and mask mandates.

Key Developments:

  • Virus Tracker: Cases near 260 million; deaths pass 5.18 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 7.83 billion shots given
  • Former Covid-Zero haven ditches masks, QR codes in stark pivot
  • The winners and losers from a year of ranking Covid resilience
  • U.K. paid a deadly price to avoid Europe’s latest crisis
  • How Singapore could avoid a Europe-style Covid resurgence

German Cases Hit New Record (10:43 a.m. HK)

Germany reported a record 76,414 new Covid-19 cases compared with 75,961 the previous day, according to the country’s public health authority RKI.

Reported new deaths associated with the virus rose by 357, bringing the total to 100,476. The daily incidence rate also reached a new high of 438.2 per 100,000 people.

Shanghai’s Flareup Spreads (10:28 a.m. HK)

China’s financial hub and neighboring city clusters are seeing new infections emerge just as hotspots elsewhere have receded, likely extending the country’s containment effort into a protracted battle over the winter months.

China detected four locally-transmitted infections in Shanghai and the northern province of Liaoning, according to the National Health Commission. Three other cases were found in Zhejiang’s capital Hangzhou and in a small city in the province, though none the infected developed symptoms.

Australian Consumer Spending Boost (8:57 a.m. HK)

Australian retailers recorded their best month of sales in nearly a year as consumers took advantage of the easing of protracted lockdowns and building momentum in the economy for the final quarter.

Sales surged 4.9% in October from a month earlier, when they rose 1.3%, and more than doubled economists’ forecast of a 2.2% gain, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

New Variant in Hong Kong (8:01 a.m. HK)

Hong Kong confirmed two cases of the new Covid variant first discovered in South Africa and Botswana after genome sequencing analysis by the University of Hong Kong.

One of the cases was a traveler arriving in Hong Kong from South Africa. The other person was quarantined in the hotel room opposite and might have been infected as air flowed between the rooms.

U.K. Bans Some Africa Flights (5:06 a.m. HK)

U.K. authorities will temporarily ban flights from six African countries and quarantine travelers over worries about the new Covid variant.

The restrictions go into effect at noon Friday and are a precautionary measure to keep the

spread of the new variant in check, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. The six countries will be placed on the U.K.’s red list, which requires travelers to quarantine in hotels upon arrival in the U.K.

Israel also banned travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini due to the new variant, according to BNO News.

H.K. Meets China Border Conditions (3:42 p.m. NY)

Chinese authorities consider that Hong Kong has fulfilled the basic conditions for quarantine-free travel across the border, Hong Kong Chief Secretary John Lee said at a briefing after meeting with representatives from the mainland in Shenzhen.

Hong Kong will implement further measures to prepare for reopening, including rolling out a health code and requesting high-risk groups have more testing, Lee said.

France Tightens Travel Rules (2:45 p.m. NY)

France will strengthen rules for incoming travelers who aren’t vaccinated or are coming from countries with high rates of Covid-19 or virus variants, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a TF1 television interview.

The government earlier announced booster shots would be made more widely available and masks mandatory. Veran also said health passes and testing would be required at ski resorts in a bid to keep them open after lifts were shut for part of last season.

France has reported a surge in new daily cases in recent weeks, reaching 33,464 on Thursday.

Portugal Requires Work-From-Home (1:27 p.m. NY)

The Portuguese government said remote working will be mandatory in the week of Jan. 2-9 as it tries to prevent a spike in coronavirus infections after the Christmas and New Year holiday break.

Schools will reopen on Jan. 10, a week later than previously planned, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said at a press conference in Lisbon. Until that first week of January, remote working will be recommended when possible.

From December, the use of masks will become mandatory in closed spaces, digital certificates will be needed to access restaurants and negative tests will be required for nightclubs and bars. Masks are currently already required on public transport.

South Africa Warns on New Variant (12:20 p.m. NY)

Scientists in South Africa are studying a recently identified new coronavirus variant of concern, stoking fears the country may face a potentially severe fourth wave that could spread internationally.

The new discovery, called B.1.1529 until a Greek letter is assigned, carries an unusually large number of mutations and is “clearly very different” from previous incarnations, Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities, said at a briefing on Thursday.

“Here is a mutation variant of serious concern,” Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at the

same event. Virologists have detected almost 100 cases linked to the variant in the country.

Czechs Tighten Curbs Without Lockdown (11:22 a.m. NY)

The outgoing Czech government tightened social-distancing measures to stem a record spike in Covid-19 infections but refrained from declaring a hard lockdown imposed in neighboring Austria and Slovakia.

The cabinet ordered restaurants, clubs and bars to close at 10 p.m. and imposed limits for attendance at public events. As some hospitals are already overrun with patients, authorities expect new cases to continue rising and sees the current wave culminating around Christmas.

Study Shows Moderna Most Effective (11:12 a.m. NY)

The Moderna Inc. and Russian Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccines both edged the version from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE in effectiveness in a large-scale study of five different immunization shots conducted by Hungarian researchers.

Moderna’s vaccine was 88.7% effective in protecting against coronavirus infection and 93.6% effective against Covid-related mortality, compared with 85.7% and 95.4%, respectively for Sputnik, according to the paper published on the website of the Clinical Microbiology and Infection medical journal. Pfizer came in third with 83.3% and 90.6%, respectively.

Singapore Cases Slow (10:44 a.m. NY)

Singapore reported the lowest number of cases found in the community since Sept. 25, according to the Ministry of Health. The city-state detected a total of 1,275 new infections as of noon Nov. 25, down from 2,079 on the previous day.

Outbreak Hits Vermont Nursing Home (9:53 a.m. NY)

An outbreak at a Vermont nursing home has infected 70 people and left two dead, the Bennington Banner reported. More than 186,000 residents and staff at U.S. long-term care facilities have died since the start of the pandemic, according to AARP, though vaccines have considerably slowed spread among the elderly.

Denmark Opens Boosters to All Adults (9:18 a.m. NY)

Denmark has expanded its official guidelines to include re-vaccination of all adults, the Danish Health Authority said on Thursday. Every Dane over the age of 18 will now be invited to get a booster shot, six months after receiving the second shot. The invitation had until now only been given to people above the age of 65, health staff, people with chronic diseases and those, who initially were vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson shot.

Finland Curbs Bars and Restaurants (9:12 a.m. NY)

Finland’s government is preparing to stop alcohol sales after 5 p.m. in bars and restaurants, telling them to close latest at 6 p.m., unless the establishments require patrons to provide a Covid certificate. Cafes and fast-food restaurants could operate without requiring the corona passport.

Vaccine in Pregnancy No Effect on Babies (9:04 a.m. NY)

The rate of stillbirth or low birthweight in babies born to the more than 24,000 vaccinated mothers who delivered between January and August was the same as those in unvaccinated women, according to data released by the U.K. Health Security Agency Thursday. The number of premature births was also similar.

Babies born to women vaccinated against Covid-19 in England showed no difference in birth outcomes, bolstering the safety profile of the shots during pregnancy.

EU Clears Pfizer for 5-11 Year-Olds (6:59 a.m. NY)

The EU’s drug regulator approved use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. The two-shot regimen for younger kids is one-third the dose that’s given to those 12 and older.

The current wave of the pandemic in Europe has increasingly affected children, either because they’re directly infected or because of school and day-care classes sent into quarantine. Though Covid doesn’t usually hit children as hard as it does adults, it can spread via children to more vulnerable people.

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