Connect with us

Analysis

The autumn surge in UK coronavirus cases may be slowing

Published

on


More regions of the UK are about to experience greater restrictions on hospitality and household mixing in response to the rising number of Covid-19 cases since September.

Wales and Northern Ireland are imposing nationwide “circuit breaker” lockdowns for at least a fortnight and more areas of the north of England are set to go into tier 3, where most pubs and bars have to close.

The moves come amid rows that the government is using what Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, described as “selective statistics” and a backlash among many Tory MPs who oppose any restrictions.

The evidence is fairly clear that the virus is still spreading although there are some signs that its increase might be slowing.

What the latest figures tell us

There are a wide range of sources of evidence on case numbers, all of which have advantages and disadvantages in the accuracy of the picture they paint of the spread of Covid-19 since September. However, they all show the virus still spreading.

The latest random sample from the Office for National Statistics showed a 62 per cent growth in the most recent week, ending October 8, with 27,900 daily infections.

More up-to-date data from the Covid Symptom Study run by King’s College London, based on a combination of self-reporting by users of its app alongside a sample of test results, shows a slower growth rate, but a higher estimated total of 33,705 new daily infections on average in the two weeks to October 16.

Column chart of Weekly growth of cases by specimen date (%) showing Coronavirus cases are still rising, but there are some signs that the pace is decreasing

Tim Spector, head of the King’s study, said: “The data is no longer showing the exponential increases that we were seeing a couple of weeks ago, but is clearly showing new cases continuing to rise.” 

These are likely to be more accurate than the government’s tally showing a seven-day average of 16,411 in the week ending October 14, based on positive test results from symptomatic people who have received a test.

Cases are still rising nationally. But the government’s test data also suggest the growth of the virus nationally might have slowed with a reduction in the weekly growth rate in the seven-day average now showing up.

How the outbreak varies across the UK

All sources of data show that the severity of the autumn coronavirus wave is much greater in north-west England and Northern Ireland than elsewhere.

Bar chart of Latest data, weekly rate per 100,000 showing Regional differences in Covid-19 rates remain very large

Rates of infection are growing everywhere, according to the ONS and the other studies, although the government’s latest testing data shows there are some greater signs of a levelling off in north-east England than in the Midlands, where there is no sign of a slowdown yet.

The King’s College study estimates there were more than five times the rate of infection in the worst hit regions and nations compared with south-east England.

The impact of students

Hundreds of thousands of young people returning to university in September has had a dramatic effect on the numbers testing positive in England.

The government’s coronavirus dashboard collects detailed data on the addresses of positive cases, down to the so-called middle layer super output area (MSOA), with each containing on average only 7,200 people.

Line chart of Average weekly cases in local area* showing Local areas with a university are distorting the national picture

Each MSOA has a name and the trends in the 24 areas with “university” in the name show a huge surge in cases in September and early October, which is now reducing, while the 6,767 areas without “university” in the title are still recording increases.

These “university” areas contributed 3.7 per cent of cases in the week ending October 4, but this has since declined to 2.1 per cent of cases in the latest data, so the overall growth of cases has come outside obvious student areas.

The figure suggests that cities should not feel reassured if their statistics fall from extreme levels merely because the recorded number of cases in the student population is falling.

How few areas have escaped the virus

With cases rising across the UK, even though they have been going up at a slower rate in southern England, there is concern that the virus is spreading from younger people to those aged over 60 — who are much more vulnerable to serious disease.

Matt Hancock, health secretary, on Monday said that in Greater Manchester the case rate per 100,000 people for the over 60s had risen over the past week from 171 to 283.

The Department of Health and Social Care was not able on Tuesday to explain the exact source of this data, although it matches similar trends across the North West, which explains the continuous rise in hospital admissions.

Line chart of Local areas* with 3 or more cases (%) showing Few local areas now have no Covid-19 cases

More generally, a declining number of MSOAs have recorded fewer than three positive cases over the past week. In the week ending July 12, only 4.3 per cent of local areas recorded three or more cases, compared with 87.8 per cent in the most recent data.



Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Analysis

Rising inflation complicates Brazil’s Covid-19 crisis

Published

on

By


After seven months in lockdown, Michele Marques received some unwelcome news when she returned to work: while she was away the prices of almost all the products she uses as a hairdresser had soared.

“A box of gloves rose 200 per cent. Colouring products increased at least 100 per cent,” said the 37-year-old from São Paulo, underlining how costs were rising while her revenue had collapsed. “I had to raise the price of my services, too.”

It is a dynamic that is playing out across Brazil, adding an extra layer of complexity to the country’s coronavirus crisis, which has already claimed the lives of almost 350,000 individuals and pushed hospital services to the brink.

With much of Latin America’s largest economy being shuttered, inflation is surging to its highest level in years, fuelling a silent scourge of hunger among poorer citizens that has run in parallel to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The high price of staple foods — rice and beans, for example — has led to the disappearance of these items from the table of millions of Brazilians,” said Ana Maria Segall, a researcher at the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security. In the 12 months to the end of March, the price of rice increased 64 per cent and black beans 51 per cent.

“In Brazil currently food inflation has penalised the very poorest, preventing them from having adequate access to food and in many situations leading to hunger,” she said, adding that rising unemployment and the curtailment of social programmes were also contributing factors.

Volunteers hand out food in São Paulo © Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

Less than half of Brazil’s population of 212m now has access to adequate food all the time, with 19m people, or 9 per cent of its inhabitants, facing hunger, according to a recent report by Segall’s group.

“I’m doing some odd jobs, but it’s not enough to keep us going,” said Jonathan, a 28-year-old who lost his job in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in São Paulo when the pandemic began. He said he now struggles to provide enough food for his three young children and pregnant wife.

On a 12-month basis, inflation in June is expected to surpass 8 per cent, far above earlier estimates. In the 12 months to March, food prices jumped 18.5 per cent, while the price of agricultural commodities in local currency surged 55 per cent and the cost of fuel increased almost 92 per cent.

Line chart of Percentage increase over past 12 months showing The price of rice in Brazil is soaring

The developments pose a fresh challenge to President Jair Bolsonaro, who is already under fire for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Across Brazil’s biggest cities, graffiti has sprung up labelling the populist leader “Bolsocaro” — a portmanteau of his name and the Portuguese word for expensive.

The rising prices are also likely to provide useful ammunition to leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who returned to the political fray last month and may challenge Bolsonaro in elections next year.

“Bolsonaro is to blame for the increase in food prices, he is to blame for everything. They have to remove this guy,” said Maria Izabel de Jesus, a retiree from São Paulo.

Armando Castelar, a researcher at the Brazilian Institute of Economics, said the government had underestimated inflation both in terms of the numbers and also “how much a concern it should be”.

He attributed the rising prices to the devaluation of the Brazilian currency, triggered in part by the stimulus packages passed by the US government — which helped to bolster the dollar and led to higher Treasury yields — and the brighter economic outlook outside Latin America.

“You have a situation where commodity prices are going up because the global economy is going to grow a lot this year. With the growth in the US, interest rates are going up and the dollar is strengthening. This puts a lot of pressure on the exchange rate in Brazil and emerging markets in general,” he said.

As the spectre of inflation loomed last month, the Brazilian central bank raised its key interest rate by 75 basis points, higher than the half-percentage point many economists had expected. A further rate rise is expected next month.

“The central bank acted correctly, but it cannot stop there. It is important not to be too lenient in dealing with this,” said Castelar.

Silvia Matos, a co-ordinator at the Brazilian Economy Institute, also pointed to Brazil’s weakening currency as a contributing factor to inflation. But she said the slide in the real was triggered by investor concerns over Brazil’s deteriorating public finances.

Following the creation of two separate stimulus packages to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, government debt has risen to about 90 per cent of gross domestic product, a high level for an emerging market economy.

The rollout of the second of these packages began this month, with 45m Brazilians set to receive $50 a month for four months.

Critics said, however, these stipends were not nearly enough to keep people both fed and at home in lockdown.

“It is essential that the emergency aid is of a greater value, so that people do not leave the house but no one also stays at home starving,” said Marcelo Freixo, a federal lawmaker with the leftwing PSOL party.

“We need to reduce the circulation of the disease. Brazil is already experiencing 4,000 deaths per day. We will reach 500,000 total deaths by the middle of the year.”

Matos says that inflation had hit poorer citizens much harder than middle-class and rich Brazilians because a larger portion of their income was dedicated to food, the price of which has increased substantially.

“The only thing that could help right now is to get out of this pandemic,” she said.

Coronavirus business update

How is coronavirus taking its toll on markets, business, and our everyday lives and workplaces? Stay briefed with our coronavirus newsletter.

Sign up here



Source link

Continue Reading

Analysis

Can CVC pull off a $20bn ‘deal of the century’ at Toshiba?

Published

on

By



Proposed management buyout looks like an improbable win for the Japanese conglomerate’s embattled CEO



Source link

Continue Reading

Analysis

‘We’re running towards a cliff edge’: UK electric bus makers face survive-or-die moment

Published

on

By


The commute on the number 43 bus past the Bank of England between London Bridge and Friern Barnet highlights the critical challenge facing the UK bus industry.

The sleek double-decker is one of the capital’s 450 electric buses, but no more than a third of the seats are full during midweek rush hour as the industry struggles with the collapse in passenger numbers.

For the producers of electric and hydrogen vehicles, the coronavirus crisis came just at the wrong time as they prepared to overhaul Britain’s fleet of 38,200 buses and take advantage of diesel falling out of favour.

The ambition to transform the market to green powertrains remains — but now the primary concern is how it can stagger back to health after passenger numbers dived more than 80 per cent at one point during the crisis last year.

“We’re running towards a cliff edge, if we don’t start getting orders,” said Andy Palmer, chair of Leeds-based bus maker Switch Mobility and former Aston Martin chief executive. “The key point is speed. The industry needs to get back on its feet and manufacture at scale.”

To get those orders, manufacturers need government help, which ministers recognised with a promise of £5bn for buses and other transport in early 2020.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson’s national bus strategy is the biggest transformation of the sector since deregulation in 1986 © Steve Parsons/Pool/AFP/Getty

This was narrowed down in England’s national bus strategy — the biggest transformation since the sector was deregulated in 1986 — to £3bn in March, specifically for buses and the reaffirming of support for building 4,000 low-emission vehicles.

As part of this strategy, the government launched the tender for the first tranche to support 500 buses at the end of March.

Still, some operators worry government money may be as slow in arriving as some of the country’s buses, undermining their desire to pump money into the electric sector.

“It’s only through making profits that we can invest,” said David Brown, chief executive of Newcastle-based Go-Ahead. He points out that electric buses cost twice as much upfront as diesel.

It means the big operators, which include National Express, Stagecoach and FirstGroup as well as Go-Ahead, need the subsidies soon if they are going to invest in orders for battery-powered vehicles.

Paul Davies, president of the UK’s largest bus and coach manufacturer Alexander Dennis Limited, ADL, said orders were about 1,000 units lower than expected in 2020, almost half of pre-pandemic expectations.

Other groups needed intervention to survive. Northern Ireland-based Wrightbus was on the verge of collapse before being rescued by businessman Jo Bamford, the heir to JCB, Britain’s construction equipment manufacturer, known for its yellow diggers.

Bamford, however, is upbeat, saying orders for electric buses will come, helped by moves towards low-emission street regulations in cities and operators such as National Express committing to a zero-emission bus fleet by 2030.

But, even on optimistic forecasts, the UK’s three main electric bus manufacturers — ADL, Switch and Wrightbus — face big challenges from overseas rivals.

China’s Yutong Bus, the world’s largest producer, is way ahead of them, having sold 15,300 low-emission buses globally last year.

Its sights are also firmly set on exporting globally, selling 130 buses in the UK in the past 12 months and receiving an order in March for 55 more from Scotland’s McGill’s Buses.

ADL is attempting to meet this challenge by joining forces with Chinese battery maker BYD, while Bamford has turned to hydrogen as a way to get an edge. He owns Ryse, a hydrogen fuelling company.

A Yutong bus
Leicester’s E12 electric buses, built by China’s Yutong Bus

“When someone has 73 per cent market share [of the global automotive electric battery market], it’s difficult to knock them off their perch,” he said, explaining his bet on hydrogen.

That bet was given a boost in March with a £11.2m government subsidy to create a hydrogen technology centre in Northern Ireland, where Bamford’s Wrightbus is based.

Even with government backing, the challenges for UK producers remain great, with groups such as Yutong on its third-generation of fuel cell buses in China, according to its UK boss Ian Downie.

In contrast, Britain’s biggest producer ADL is still on its second-generation and, like Wrightbus, which says it is constantly updating its technology, is reliant on fuel cells from Canada’s Ballard.

The UK government could also run into trouble with the World Trade Organization if it explicitly advocates supporting local procurement, said a person familiar with Department for Transport discussions on the policy.

On top of this, the British groups face a challenge from Arrival, which listed in the US in March through a special purpose acquisition company and is backed by South Korea’s Hyundai. It aims to start producing buses from its “microfactory” by the end of the year.

In the view of Palmer at Switch, the UK groups will need to develop overseas markets to achieve the economies of scale to make profits.

“Can you survive on the basis of the UK alone? Our conclusion is you can’t,” said the chair of Switch, which is owned by Indian auto group Ashok Leyland. He pointed to India’s ambition to order 7,000 low-emissions buses by the end of its 2022 fiscal year that could benefit Switch.

However, before looking to expand overseas, the UK’s manufacturers need to get through the pandemic, which still hangs ominously over the sector, clouding its outlook.

The government must help UK groups “get us over this valley of death” to ensure their survival, said Nigel Base, commercial vehicle manager at lobby group the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending