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Boris Johnson rejects vaccine passports and mask mandates as U.K. faces surge of COVID-19 infections – The Globe and Mail

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson watches as staff dilute a dose of the Pfizer vaccine before administering it as he visits a COVID-19 vaccination centre, in London, Oct. 22.Matt Dunham/The Associated Press

Not that long ago, Britain’s vaccination program was the envy of the world, as the U.K. raced ahead of almost every other country in immunizing its people against COVID-19.

The inoculation drive went so well that Prime Minister Boris Johnson made vaccines the cornerstone of the government’s pandemic strategy, eschewing mask requirements and vaccine passports.

But now the much-vaunted campaign has stalled – a survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 16-to-29-year-olds are the most vaccine hesitant – and Britain lags behind Canada, France, Italy, Spain and several other countries in the proportion of people who have been fully vaccinated. Even the European Union as a whole – often mocked in Britain for its slow start on vaccinations – has almost caught up to the U.K.

Infections are surging in Britain now, topping 50,000 a day this week. The rolling seven-day average has increased 18 per cent. On Friday the ONS estimated that one in 55 people in England has been infected with the virus, the highest rate of infection since last January, when the pandemic peaked. Britain is recording more daily cases than France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined.

An NHS COVID-19 vaccination health campaign advertisement in London.TOBY MELVILLE/Reuters

Mr. Johnson is coming under increasing pressure to kickstart vaccinations and reconsider the government’s resistance to mask mandates and vaccine passports. “The government has taken its foot off the brake, giving the impression that the pandemic is behind us and that life has returned to normal,” the British Medical Association said this week. “It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection.”

New COVID-19 mutation of Delta variant under close watch in U.K.

One reason for the vaccination slowdown has been the government’s indecision over immunizing children. After months of debate, health officials began inoculating children 12 to 15 years old on Sept. 20, much later than Canada and many other countries – even though the government’s scientific advisory body, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, had concluded that there were only marginal benefits. That caused confusion about the shots, and as a result the take-up has been slow.

Britain has also become a victim of the early success of its vaccination drive, as immunity seems to be waning, particularly among elderly people who received their second shots last winter.

Mr. Johnson has continued to resist calls to impose new social restrictions and mandates.Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press

Several studies have shown that the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines fades after five or six months. The Zoe Covid Study, published in the British Medical Journal in August, found that the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine fell from 88 per cent to 74 per cent after six months, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot’s protection dropped from 77 per cent to 67 per cent. The U.K. has relied mainly on the AstraZeneca jab, which other studies have also shown loses its effectiveness faster than the Pfizer shot.

The government has launched a booster program for adults older than 50, but so far the pace of vaccinations has been sluggish. Experts say that’s partly because many people don’t have the same sense of urgency, especially since the government dropped almost all pandemic restrictions in July.

“We are at a tipping point with increased levels of infection against a backdrop of waning vaccine-induced immunity and the easing of all restrictions,” said Lawrence Young, a professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick. “We must do everything to encourage those eligible to get their booster jabs and to vaccinate healthy 12-to-15-year-olds.”

On Friday the ONS estimated that one in 55 people in England has been infected with COVID-19, the highest rate of infection since last January, when the pandemic peaked.Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press

Mr. Johnson has so far resisted calls to impose new social restrictions and mandates. Instead, he’s sticking to his Plan A, which focuses on booster shots and vaccinating children. “Our plan always predicted that the cases would rise around about now, and we’re certainly seeing that in the numbers,” the Prime Minister said Friday. “We’re seeing high levels of infection, but they’re not outside the parameters of what was predicted.”

There have been some positive signs. The number of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 has been trending at about 1,000 a day, roughly a quarter of the level reached last January. Deaths have also been far lower – down from more than 1,000 a day to just over 100.

There’s growing concern about a new version of the Delta variant, called Delta Plus, which has surfaced in small but growing numbers across England.CARL RECINE/Reuters

However, health experts say both figures have been rising and they worry about the strain hospitals will come under this winter when the flu and other seasonal viruses take hold. Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned this week that daily COVID-19 cases could hit 100,000 this winter in a worst-case scenario.

There’s also concern about a new version of the Delta variant, called Delta Plus, which has surfaced in small but growing numbers across England. Scientists say it could be as much as 15 per cent more transmissible, but for now it has not been labelled a variant of concern.

The NHS Confederation, which represents National Health Service trusts, has urged the government to introduce mask requirements and vaccine certificates and to advise people to work from home. “The government should not wait for COVID infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded,” said Matthew Taylor, the confederation’s chief executive.

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U.S. stock futures rise following Friday's omicron-sparked selloff – MarketWatch

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U.S. stock futures rose late Sunday, following a steep selloff Friday sparked by fears of the global economic impact of a worrisome new strain of COVID-19.

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures
YM00,
+0.70%

gained about 230 points, or 0.7%, as of 9 p.m. Eastern. S&P 500 futures
ES00,
+0.92%

and Nasdaq-100 futures
NQ00,
+1.14%

also showed solid gains.

Crude oil futures also rebounded Sunday from a Friday plunge, with benchmark U.S. crude
CLF22,
+5.24%

and Brent crude
BRNF22,
+4.70%
,
the international benchmark, jumping roughly 4% higher.

On Friday, Wall Street suffered its worst day in more than a year amid growing concerns over the new omicron variant of COVID-19. The World Health Organization’s technical advisory group on Friday declared it a “variant of concern,” and a number of countries imposed flight bans from countries in southern Africa, where the variant was first discovered.

Little is known about omicron, but investors Friday braced for bad news.

Read: U.S. health officials urge caution, but not panic, over omicron variant

In a holiday-shortened session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
-2.53%

slumped 905.04 points, or 2.5%, to 34,899.34, with the index logging its worst daily drop since Oct. 28, 2020, according to FactSet data. The S&P 500 
SPX,
-2.27%

 fell 106.84 points, or 2.3%, to 4,594.62, and the Nasdaq Composite Index
COMP,
-2.23%

 sank 353.57 points, or 2.2%, to 15,491.66.

“The pandemic and COVID variants remain one of the biggest risks to markets, and are likely to continue to inject volatility over the next year(s),” Keith Lerner, co-chief investment officer and chief market strategist at Truist Advisory Services, wrote in a Friday note. “It’s hard to say at this point how lasting or impactful this latest variant will be for markets.”

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Canada to Tap Maple Syrup Reserves to Combat Supply Crisis – TMZ

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Canadians to get biggest drop in gasoline prices since 2009 over COVID variant fears – Yahoo Canada Finance

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Canadians should experience the fastest drop in gasoline prices in nearly 13 years on Sunday as fears about a virulent new COVID-19 variant are expected to provide a break of 11 cents per litre at the pumps.

Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy, said the national average price could drop to about $1.32 per litre but begin to rise again midweek.

“(Sunday) represents the single largest decrease at the pumps we’ve seen going back to 2009,” he said in an interview.

Global crude oil prices plunged Friday over fears about a new COVID-19 variant called Omicron that prompted Canada to ban entry for foreign nationals who travelled through southern Africa.

The January crude oil contract fell 13.1 per cent or US$10.24 on Friday and currently stands at US$68.15 per barrel.

The decrease came as U.S. stock markets closed early Friday because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Sunday and Monday are going to be the best days for Canadians to fill up, including British Columbia,” McTeague said

Even residents of flood-ravaged B.C. will save on the province’s high gasoline prices despite facing rationing because severe flooding has shut both the Trans Mountain pipeline and the province’s lone refinery.

Drivers of non-essential vehicles can only purchase up to 30 litres per visit to a gas station in the Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky area, Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.

East Coast residents won’t reap the immediate benefits of Sunday’s price drop because its regulated regional system averages price movements. That provides price predictability but blunts price discounts.

Despite the upcoming decrease, national gasoline prices have surged nearly 43 per cent in the past year as the reopening of the global economy from pandemic lockdowns prompted a recovery in crude prices.

McTeague suggested Canadians shouldn’t get too comfortable with the energy savings. He said prices are expectd to increase as OPEC and its allies, who are meeting on Monday, will likely refuse to increase production any further. Energy traders realize that Friday’s decrease was overdone and “flies in the face of fundamentals,” he added.

“My sense is that the decreases that we saw were a little exaggerated and overbought, and for that reason I think we might see a little bit more balance come back to the markets and fundamentals by Wednesday,” McTeague said.

“Unless there’s further unsettling news of greater and further lockdowns, I would expect that oil prices are probably going to recover US$3 to US$4 a barrel by Monday or Tuesday, which means by Wednesday or Thursday we could be looking at increases in the order of four or five cents a litre.”

McTeague said some gasoline savings will continue for a couple of weeks, but he foresees crude climbing back to about US$90 a barrel, which would translate into prices in Canada exceeding $1.50 per litre.

Impending carbon tax increases will further boost prices.

A tax of 2.5 cents per litre, including HST, will take effect on April 1, 2022. It will be followed in December by the clear fuel standard that will add another 18.1 cents per litre including HST, said McTeague.

Adding to the inflation pressure is the Canadian dollar which is less valuable than when it was at par the last time crude prices were around US$80. That reduces the purchasing power for all kinds of products, including energy and food.

The Canadian Automobile Association said that as of early Saturday morning, Manitoba had the lowest average pump price of $1.35/L, followed closely by Alberta at $1.377, while Newfoundland and Labrador was the highest at $1.583 with British Columbia at $1.558.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2021.

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press

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