Lockdowns Are Back as EU’s East Pays for Low Vaccination Rates - BLOOMBERG
(Bloomberg) -- The coronavirus is resurgent in the European Union’s less-vaccinated east -- bringing with it the return of lockdowns.
Latvia on Wednesday became the bloc’s first member state to once again shut down chunks of its economy as soaring infections -- the world’s highest per capita during the past week -- threaten to overwhelm hospitals.
For the next month, the Baltic country of 1.9 million people will close bars and shops, impose curfews and resume distance learning for students. Others may not be far behind.
Neighboring Estonia says it may follow if the situation there gets much worse. Romania, meanwhile -- where less than a third of its 19 million population is vaccinated -- has turned to the World Health Organization for help after deaths and new cases hit records.
While EU officials have lauded the bloc’s vaccination campaign, the moves underscore a divide between east and west, where much higher take-up is translating into fewer cases that result in hospitalization or death. Untrusted for years in many cases, governments in the EU’s ex-communist wing are failing to convince citizens of the benefits of inoculation -- despite continuing jumps in daily deaths heading into the winter.
“For four weeks, we’ll all go into a stricter regime,” Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said after his government confirmed the new lockdown. “But on Nov. 15, we’ll return to today’s situation, which is already relatively limited for the unvaccinated.”
Karins was responding to warnings from the health sector that a critical level of 1,500 hospitalized Covid patients may be reached as early as this week. Despite some restrictions already being implemented earlier this month, confidence in the government isn’t high. A recent cover of Latvia’s Ir magazine featured a mock-up of Karins standing next to the Grim Reaper.
The situation is perhaps most acute in Romania, where officials have of late likened conditions to the scenes in Italy when the virus first arrived last year. What’s more, the Black Sea nation is mired in political crisis that complicates efforts to find and implement solutions.
Things aren’t much better across the border in Bulgaria -- the EU’s least-vaccinated state with just a fifth of the population jabbed. The government there is limiting who can visit restaurants, shops and galleries. Some schools will also close.
In Poland, authorities are monitoring rising a rising caseload and may decide by the end of the week on “drastic” steps, should the situation continue to worsen.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the most sweeping restrictions since May as new infections and deaths reached record levels.
UK petrol prices predicted to hit record high within days - YAHOO FINANCE
Motorists will be paying more than ever to fill up the tank by the end of October, according to petrol station owners, prompting a row over the cause of sky-high prices at the pumps.
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) predicted all-time highs set in April 2012 – of 142p per litre for petrol and 148p for diesel – would be surpassed by the end of October.
Average prices had hit 141.35p and 144.84p respectively by Tuesday, according to Experian Catalist UK.
Forecourt prices have risen sharply over the past month, during which a driver shortage caused supply problems leading to panic-buying that resulted in filling stations across the country running out of fuel.
Average petrol prices were 134.9p per litre in September, compared with 113.3p per litre in the same month a year earlier, according to the latest Office for National Statistics inflation figures published on Wednesday.
Brian Madderson, the chair of the forecourt owners’ trade body, said the “primary reason” for increased costs at the pump was the rising oil price, which has doubled within 12 months, hitting a three-year high of $85 for Brent crude this week.
The PRA attributed this to the Opec group of oil-rich countries and Russian cutting back on production, just as a global economic rebound from Covid-19 stokes greater demand for fuel.
Motorists’ organisations acknowledged the effect of global oil markets but said petrol station owners were also using it as an excuse to hide their own role.
The RAC fuel spokesperson, Simon Williams, said fuel prices appeared to be on an “unavoidable journey” to record highs.
He said the oil price was “primarily” behind the extra costs for motorists but accused petrol retailers of “taking a bigger cut on petrol than they normally do at around 8p a litre which is a further blow to drivers”.
He said the government should temporarily reduce VAT on fuel but said any cut in 58p-per-litre fuel duty would simply be pocketed by fuel retailers. “We strongly urge retailers not to contribute further to the pump price rise,” he said.
Luke Bosdet, a fuel spokesperson for the AA, pointed to figures indicating that petrol retailers’ margins have crept up since the onset of the pandemic.
He said they passed on only half of their savings when global oil prices crashed in spring 2020 but that petrol prices were “now rising faster than they should”.
“The sooner drivers can switch to EVs [electric vehicles], charge from home and get shot of the road fuel industry the better,” he said.
Rising fuel costs come amid concern that inflationary pressures will add to household costs.
U.S. readies plan to vaccinate kids ages 5-11 against COVID-19 - REUTERS
By Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - The Biden administration on Wednesday outlined its plan to vaccinate millions of U.S. children ages 5 to 11 as soon as the COVID-19 shot is authorized for them, readying doses and preparing locations ahead of the busy holiday season.
Unlike the mass vaccination centers used in the initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the White House said it is working to set up clinics in more than 100 children's hospital systems nationwide as well as doctor's offices, pharmacies and potentially schools.
FDA officials are reviewing the Pfizer/BioNTech application seeking authorization of its 2-dose vaccine for younger children, with its panel of outside advisers scheduled to weigh in on Oct. 26. The FDA typically follows the advice of its panel but is not required to do so.
Advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will weigh in on recommendations for the vaccine at a meeting on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, helping to inform a final decision by its director.
"Should the FDA and CDC authorize the vaccine, we will be ready to get shots in arms," White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters, adding that the government had 15 million doses set to ship nationwide, with millions more going out in the weeks to follow.
Once authorized, roughly 28 million more children in the United States would be eligible to receive what would be the first U.S. COVID-19 vaccine for younger kids. The Pfizer/BioNTech shot is already available to those ages 12-17, and the companies are still studying it for children younger than 5.
Zients said the administration had worked with Pfizer to modify the packaging of the pediatric doses to make it easier to administer to children, including providing smaller needles.
While children have a lower rate of death from COVID-19, many face illness and long-term symptoms that are still being studied. Many adults who have been hesitant or opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine, and even some who did not oppose the vaccine for themselves, are expected to resist giving the shot to their children.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters that the agency would continue to recommend mask wearing in schools even as the vaccine is rolled out for children.
Walensky said the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in the United States was down about 16% to some 75,500 cases per day. The seven-day average for hospitalizations was down about 11% to around 6,000 per day, and that the seven-day average for daily deaths was down about 3% to 1,200.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Philippa Fletcher and Bill Berkrot
Average UK house price jumps by £25,000 in a year - THE INDEPENDENT
BY Vicky Shaw
The average UK house price was £25,000 higher in August than a year earlier, according to official figures.
It added: “The average UK house price was £264,000 in August 2021, which is £25,000 higher than this time last year.”
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The average house price in Scotland surged by 16.9% to a record high of £181,000.
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Average house prices increased over the year in England to £281,000 (a 9.8% annual increase), in Wales to £195,000 (12.5%) and in Northern Ireland to £153,000 (9.0%).
In England, for the ninth month in a row, London was the region with the lowest annual house price growth (7.5%) – although prices there still hit a new record high in August.
The North East had the highest annual house price growth in England, with average prices increasing by 13.3%.
London’s average house price remained the highest of any region in the UK at an average of £526,000 – the highest on record, the ONS said.
The North East continued to have the lowest average house price, at £149,000.
A stamp duty holiday in England and Northern Ireland was tapered from July, before ending completely from October.
ONS head of economic statistics Sam Beckett said: “Annual house price growth rebounded in August from the dip seen last month following changes to the stamp duty holiday.”
These figures tell the story of the 'flight from the city', with London prices increasing at the slowest rate in the country and Scotland roaring ahead
Iain McKenzie, Guild of Property Professionals
She added: “Scotland saw the highest growth in house prices and although London’s growth was once again the weakest, it has picked up significantly from last month’s trough.”
Nitesh Patel, strategic economist at Yorkshire Building Society, said the average house price is more than £33,000 higher than before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, adding: “This is significantly more than what many people earn in a year.”
He added: “With the stamp duty holiday now having ended, we expect the recent high-level activity to cool.
“That said, demand is still strong with evidence that homeowners are still evaluating their housing needs and many households have built up large levels of savings throughout the pandemic, increasing deposit sizes for those looking to upsize.
“And on the supply side, the number of properties coming on the market for sale is shrinking, providing further support to prices.”
Iain McKenzie, chief executive of the Guild of Property Professionals, said: “The underlying cause of this current wave of price rises is the shortage of stock available from estate agents.
“The number of properties available to buy started to dwindle after the first lockdown and this trend looks set to continue while demand remains high.”
He added: “These figures tell the story of the ‘flight from the city’, with London prices increasing at the slowest rate in the country and Scotland roaring ahead.”
I expect we’ll see more stable activity over coming months, particularly as we now enter the traditionally active autumn period
Nick Leeming, Jackson-Stops
Jamie Durham, economist at PwC, said: “Looking ahead, we expect that house price growth will remain relatively buoyant, but likely at a slightly lower rate than we have seen over the last few months as a result of conditions normalising post-Covid-19 and weakening consumer confidence driven by inflation and ongoing stock issues.
“It is unlikely that there will be a significant decline in the rate of growth, however, as the underlying factors driving up the market should continue.
“Inflation remains one risk to the outlook. While we expect the current price pressure to be temporary, the Bank of England may move to increase interest rates if there is evidence price growth may be sustained, which would then impact house price growth by limiting affordability.
“However, any such move by the Bank of England is unlikely to be imminent given the current drivers of inflation and would likely be small in the first instance, limiting the impact on the housing market over the coming months.”
Nick Leeming, chairman at Jackson-Stops, said: “Whilst financial incentives to sell, combined with the desire to relocate to areas offering a higher standard of living, have contributed wholeheartedly to this year’s frenetic activity, it was undeniably the unbalanced relationship between low stock and high demand amongst purchasers that drove prices to the levels seen.
“I expect we’ll see more stable activity over coming months, particularly as we now enter the traditionally active autumn period.”
Mike Scott, chief analyst at estate agency Yopa, said: “Yopa expects a further (house price) acceleration in the September figure, since the completions on which it is based will include many purchases that were rushed through to beat the (stamp duty) tax deadline.
“We then anticipate only a slight slowdown later in the year, after the effects of the stamp duty holiday have finally dropped out of the figures, since there are still many other factors boosting housing market activity and prices.”
Lawrence Bowles, senior research analyst at Savills, predicted: “Affordability and access to mortgage finance will moderate price growth in London and the South over the next five years, while we expect faster growth in the North.”
United Airlines: Flight costs will rise due to fuel price hike, CEO warns passengers - THE INDEPENDENT
BY Oliver O'Connell
The CEO of United Airlines has warned that as jet fuel prices spike, the cost of tickets for passengers will follow.
Airlines are expecting a surge in bookings as Americans begin to travel for the holidays and international Covid-19 restrictions loosen up.
United has forecast an average fuel cost of $2.39 per gallon for the fourth quarter of 2021, compared to $2.02 in the same period in 2019.
Mr Kirby pointed out that the welcome higher demand for flights from passengers also usually drives up fuel prices.
Airlines have been struggling to return to profitability as the pandemic wanes and travel picks up.
It was hoped that summer would have seen a return to a more normal operating environment, but the spread of the Delta variant both in the US and abroad lowered expectations.
United posted a $473m profit for the third quarter of 2021, but this was largely thanks to $1.1bn in federal aid.
Mr Kirby also told CNBC that air travel remains a relative bargain compared to pre-pandemic prices, and that will likely remain the case for a while.
He noted that frequently you pay more for a hotel room for a single night than you do for your air ticket.
Mr Kirby is bullish about his predictions for the holiday season, saying there will be full airplanes and robust demand.
Customs’ Move To Impound Private Jets - NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
LAST week, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) threatened to impound 29 private jets on which the owners had not paid statutory duties to the Federal Government. Speaking at a news conference in Abuja, the NCS Public Relations Officer (PRO), Joseph Attah, disclosed that the agency had, in June, commenced the verification of all privately owned aircraft due to rising insecurity in the country. According to him, the 29 private jets in question would be impounded if the owners did not show up at the expiration of its 140-day ultimatum. Attah explained that within the stipulated period of verification, 86 private jets or airplane operators showed up for the exercise and presented relevant documents for verification and that 57 of them were verified as commercial charter operators and were duly cleared for operations.
The NCS spokesman added that the 29 private jets/airplane owners or their representatives were given demand notices on October 11 and were given 14 days in which to make payment to designated Federal Government accounts, following which they would be issued aircraft clearance certificates. His words: “Owners of private aircraft for which no presentations were made for verification and whose status remains uncertain are requested to immediately furnish Customs Service with documents for verification. To this effect, all 57 commercial charter jets or aircraft operators who presented their documents for verification are requested to come to the Nigeria Customs Service Headquarters, Abuja, to collect their clearance certificates.” Attah noted that the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had been put on notice to ensure that only privately-owned airplanes cleared by the NCS were allowed to operate within the country’s airspace.
To say the least, the statement by the NCS is patently absurd. It suggests either that the agency does not know its job or is merely toying with the emotions of Nigerians. Pray, how did the owners of the private jets in question evade duties in the first place? How can the NCS be boldly informing Nigerians that it allowed some unscrupulous persons to violate the country’s laws with impunity? The statement is akin to running after thieves and begging them to comply with the laws of the land. To be sure, what the said defaulters have allegedly done is nothing but tax evasion, and no country that means to be taken seriously in the comity of nations toys with tax evaders. Knowing how seriously the crime is treated in the civilised climes, Nigerians must be forgiven for thinking that the NCS’ ultimatum sounds like some bad joke. If anything, the defaulters should by now have been cooling their heels in jail. It is distressing that a group of Nigerians have been living a life of luxury at the expense of the country’s laws, flaunting wealth enabled by impunity.
The foregoing of course points to one of the most severe defects of the Nigerian way of life: the circumvention of due process. In every aspect of the national life, Nigerians have come to accept as a way of life, the abrogation of the due order by the criminally wealthy, ostentatious and powerful elite who make the country’s laws look like a document lacking any application to those outside the poverty matrix. From the political class to the business and the academic class, among others, the elite get away with the most infamous crimes, even as the country virtually rots away under their stranglehold. Business moguls, enabled by their connections to the corridors of power, hold the country’s economy by the jugular, making any thought of anti-trust laws patently ridiculous.
Ordinarily, it sounds mind-boggling that aircraft were registered or given the freedom to operate without their owners having paid the statutory duties, but then this is Nigeria where life thrives on the irrational. Surely, the private jets in question could not have been smuggled into the country like vehicles. And it is apposite to ask what the role of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is in this saga. Even if the country is not battling widespread insecurity, it would have amounted to a felony for the defaulters in question to have evaded the payment of duties. Thus, to put it mildly, we are unimpressed by the ultimatum given by the NCS. Criminals do not need ultimatums: what they require is a day in court to answer for their crimes. What the Customs is doing ought to have been done initially. It is confounding that it did not.
Business Travel Is Starting to Slowly Return - BLOOMBERG
BY Bloomberg News,
BC-Business-Travel-Is-Starting-to-Slowly-Return , Bloomberg
(Bloomberg) -- A senior executive at SAP SE, owner of one of the world’s largest travel expense management platforms, expects it to take until at least 2023 before revenues from its Concur unit return to pre-pandemic levels.
After losses for Concur during the pandemic, the service is seeing an uptick for bookings and transactional revenue, Chief Financial Officer Luka Mucic said in an interview.
Mucic said that transaction volume -- which includes fees for extra usage of Concur -- was on the rise. He expects Concur to return to pre-pandemic growth rates next year, although it will take until 2023 at the earliest to revert to those levels in absolute sales terms.
Read More: Barcelona is getting more open to travelers
“Customers in the wake of the pandemic and the far reduced travel volumes are tiering down their fixed committed contracts,” Mucic said, adding that despite the smaller deals, “Concur actually had a very strong bookings performance in Q3. They grew again in sizable double digits.”
Airlines have pinned their recovery hopes in a return to business travel, encouraged by the recent U.S. decision to allow vaccinated air travelers from Europe to enter the country.
Which countries could ban UK travellers due to soaring Covid cases? - INDEPENDENT UK
Most countries are protecting themselves with a strict “JOT” policy – “Jabs Or Test,” requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative test taken shortly before arrival. Some demand both, and until half-term ends on 31 October that is likely to prevail.
And after that?
One big effect of the Moroccan move is to destabilise confidence – to bring back unhappy memories of the sudden changes that have haunted travellers, wrecking plans and increasing anxiety that things could change quickly.
But I am confident that no significant new bans of this kind will come in immediately. Other half-term holidays should be safe from such sudden rule changes.
In November, though, some countries may conclude, roughly, “We aren’t expecting much tourism from the UK anyway – let’s keep them out for a month or so until things stabilise”.
Which countries could they be?
I have compared the Covid infection figures for Monday 18 October across the UK and 10 leading destinations.
While the UK is way ahead of all of them, Bulgaria, Croatia and Ireland are at least in the same ball-park, with rates between 55 and 63 per cent of British levels.
Greece and Cyprus are some way behind at 38 and 25 per cent of UK infection rates respectively.
Other popular destinations have far lower numbers. France has 11 per cent of British rates; Portugal 10 per cent; Italy 7 per cent; while Spain, our favourite holiday nation, has 5 per cent; and Malta just 4 per cent.
Malta has been fairly active in its restrictions on British travellers; if bans take effect, the Mediterranean island might well be among them.
But I imagine the governments in Valletta and other European capitals will be looking with concern - but not yet excessive alarm - at UK numbers, and hoping they subside by Christmas.
Will the US make a U-turn on its reopening to Brits?
I predict not. The US has said the 20-month ban on arrivals from the UK (and the rest of Europe) will end next month. From 8 November fully vaccinated travellers will be allowed in.
Although no details have been revealed about testing and other requirements, it is very likely that a lateral flow test will be required in the three days before departure to the US, with another possible afterwards. This is likely to be sufficient to satisfy the health authorities.
Lagos airport epicentre of drug trafficking in Nigeria – Marwa - THE GUARDIAN
The chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Buba Marwa Thursday said Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos is the epicentre of drug trafficking in Nigeria.
Marwa based his assertion on the volume of drugs seized at the airport since the beginning of the year.
“Murtala Mohammed International Airport remains the epicentre of the spectacular seizures, including what stands today as the singular biggest seizure from an individual in 15 years, which was 26.840kg of cocaine smuggled from Brazil in January; 24.05 kg of heroin in April; 27.95 kg of cocaine in May, and 26.15kg of heroin in May,” Marwa said at the presidential villa where he appeared as a guest in the weekly briefings coordinated by Nigeria’s Presidential Media Team.
He said that between January 25, and October 15, more than 2.7 million kilograms of illicit drugs have been seized by the operatives of the agency.
The NDLEA boss said the agency is working on a bill that will prescribe harsher penalties for drug traffickers in the country.
Marwa said NDLEA is seeking a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of between 25 years and life sentences for anyone caught by its operatives indulging in drugs activities.
“As of October 15, the Agency has recorded the following: 9, 355 arrested traffickers, including six drug barons, Over 5,000 drug offences cases filed in court, over N100 billion worth of drugs and cash recovered, more than 2.7 million kilograms of assorted illicit drugs were seized in 10 months, 5,579 drug users were counselled and rehabilitated by NDLEA, a figure that gives a fair balance between our drug control and drug demand efforts,” Marwa said.
Flights cancelled, schools closed as China fights virus outbreak - AFP
Authorities in China cancelled hundreds of flights, closed schools and ramped up mass testing on Thursday to try and stamp out a new Covid-19 outbreak linked to a group of tourists.
Beijing has maintained a relentless zero-Covid approach with strict border closures and targeted lockdowns, even as other countries tentatively try to ease restrictions.
Domestic outbreaks have largely been eliminated, but as China logged a fifth straight day of new cases -- mostly in northern and northwestern areas -- authorities beefed up coronavirus controls.
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The latest outbreak was linked to an elderly couple who were in a group of several tourists. They started in Shanghai before flying to Xi'an, Gansu province and Inner Mongolia.
Dozens of cases have since been linked to their travel, with close contacts in at least five provinces and regions, including the capital Beijing.
In response, local governments have rolled out mass testing and closed scenic spots and tourist sites, schools and entertainment venues in affected areas, and also imposed targeted lockdowns of housing compounds.
Some regions including Lanzhou -- a city of some four million people in northwestern China -- have told residents not to leave unless necessary.
Those who need to leave must present a negative Covid-19 test.
Airports in the affected regions have cancelled hundreds of flights, according to data from aviation tracker VariFlight.
Around 60 percent of flights to the two main airports in Xi'an and Lanzhou have been cancelled.
In a notice published Monday, Erenhot in Inner Mongolia said travel in and out of the city was banned and residents should not leave their housing compounds.
And on Wednesday, state-owned tabloid Global Times cautioned that the new virus cases in Inner Mongolia were likely to affect coal imports from Mongolia because of supply chain disruptions.
There were 13 new domestic cases reported on Thursday, China's National Health Commission said.