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On the path to a circular economy, there's no straight line | Greenbiz – GreenBiz

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This article is sponsored by WestRock.

The path toward a circular economy is more of an angled one than a straight line and more nuanced than the “all or nothing” language that is often employed in sustainability conversations. 

When I joined WestRock as the company’s new chief sustainability officer in December 2020, I came with the philosophy of working toward a more circular future, one step at a time, leveraging pivotal collaborations, and celebrating incremental successes. As a leading provider of differentiated paper and packaging solutions, we at WestRock are in an important position, not only to embody sustainable change, but innovate for it in a way that encourages our customers to adapt to a more sustainable packaging model. Here’s how we’re leading the way down the winding path to circularity. 

Defining the Circular Economy

Every step of the way on the path to circularity we are thinking about how we can generate less waste and more opportunities to extend the usefulness of materials. The relationship packaging companies and landowners have with forests truly is symbiotic. We all want to keep forests healthy, so we can continue making the best use of this remarkable and renewable resource. So, at WestRock, we start with the trees. How can the company ensure forests are growing sustainably? How can the company ensure that the 10,000 private landowners WestRock engages with annually, and their stakeholders, are adequately educated on the importance of sustainable land management? Virgin fiber is an important part of the circular economy, and responsible oversight of this sustainable forest resource is critically important to WestRock.

WestRock’s Innovative Fiber-Based Solutions for Various Companies

The very nature of WestRock’s business model is circular — from producing fiber-based packaging to recycling the fibers from packages consumers use in the production of new packages. 

The key to effectively working toward a more circular economy is so much about knowing the right people to partner with and having the patience to see that incremental progress can have a long-lasting sustainability impact.   

As an Ellen MacArthur Foundation member, WestRock is connected with some of the greatest minds collaborating to work toward a more circular economy. With partners including the American Forest Foundation and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, we are thinking about the circular economy at large, and at every stage of a product’s lifecycle — that means the company is resourcing, designing, reusing and recycling with circular economy principles at the center of its strategy.

With its automated packaging solutions, fiber-based alternatives to plastics and a portfolio of fiber-based packaging that is rightsized — and, in many cases, reusable, recyclable or compostable — WestRock is providing brands in the CPG space, and more, with insights on how they can incorporate fiber-based solutions into their products. WestRock’s customers are coming to us for a vision and plan to develop tailored sustainability solutions that support their sustainability goals. I remember growing up as a child, cutting the plastic six-pack rings before we threw them away for fear of the impact they would have on wildlife, so it gives me great joy to see WestRock innovate a fiber-based alternative, CanCollar, that gives soda’s plastic six-pack ring a more sustainable makeover.

We have to be good listeners. What is the market telling us? We’re listening to consumers, customers and beyond, including the investment community too. Right now, investors are telling us sustainability is a priority. On that note, I’m really excited that in 2020, WestRock was named to the DJSI World and DJSI North America Indices. 

Consumers and Sustainability: Navigating Competing Priorities Amid the Pandemic 

Consumers are actively looking for ways to reduce their impact on the environment moving forward.

I was intrigued and encouraged by the results of a WestRock Pulse Packaging survey to gauge consumer attitudes where we found 82 percent agreed it is important for brands to balance safety and concern for the environment when designing product packaging; there were notable increases in the demand for packaging that is easily reused, easily identifiable as environmentally friendly, and easily recycled. While the great debate at the grocery checkout has been “paper or plastic,” that conversation is heading into the aisles where consumers are holding products to a higher sustainability standard. 

WestRock is proactively coming up with solutions that help usher brands further and further away from the tradition of single-use plastics — challenging traditional notions of what should be plastic and innovating for fiber-based alternatives that perform as well, if not better, with less impact on the planet. 

I mentioned the Coca-Cola CanCollar earlier. That’s just one example of WestRock’s fiber-based plastic replacement innovations. Solving for tear resistance and theft deterrence, WestRock produced a fiber-based package for First Alert that replaced a fully enclosed PET blister clamshell with a NatraLock®  blister card, a sturdy, flexible, more sustainable alternative to traditional blister seal and clamshell applications. In the health and beauty sector, EcoPush® is an all-paperboard package that directly houses oil-based solids such as balm, solid perfume, deodorant and other oil-based solids. Not only is the exterior fiber-based, but by lining the interior with an oil-resistant paper barrier, WestRock was able to extend the fiber-based benefits throughout the packaging. Also in the health and beauty sector, the WestRock Paper Palette replaces all plastic elements used in ordinary makeup palettes with fiber. 

Innovating for fiber-based solutions that operate like plastic is just one element of working toward a more circular economy. Companies need to get active and get clear with consumer when talking about recycled content. There are so many myths and misconceptions. 

Here’s the thing, 100 percent recycled content is not a sustainable option at scale. Fibers can only be recycled five to seven times before they simply drop out of the papermaking process. We need to incorporate virgin fibers to increase the longevity of fiber cycles in packaging. Our minds love the tidiness of 100 percent, and our hearts connect with the passion of an all or nothing promise. But the truth is, virgin fibers play a pivotal role in promoting greater sustainability and performance, which is why WestRock prioritizes sustainable forestry as an invaluable aspect of recycled content. 

How WestRock Innovates for Its Own Clients

WestRock is seeing increased interest in tamper-evident packaging and anti-microbials. Our innovation team recently developed its BioPak Protect™, a fiber-based food container that features a tamper-evident pull tab seal similar to those used on mailer packages. We’re also seeing a lot of traction around increasing the recyclability of foodservice packaging. WestRock’s EnShield® Natural Kraft paper for foodservice packaging resists grease and oil stains by providing the same protection as poly-coating without the plastic. And with the food bowl industry booming, WestRock has introduced a new automation technology for the fast-growing food bowl segment, CP eMerge™ Combo  (a fiber-based alternative to plastic food bowls).

Of course, everyone is always looking for the rightsized packaging. WestRock’s BoxSizer®  intelligent right-sizing technology is the only machine on the market that can right size multiple preloaded box footprints arriving at random to the infeed without the need for changeovers. It does this with folding, not cutting, so no material is wasted. I am really excited about the work our team will continue to do, scaling right-size packaging options for our customers without compromising the product’s value. 

The Role of Education – Both Consumer and Sustainability, at large – in the Circular Economy

WestRock has 18 recycling plants across the U.S. that recycle 8 million tons of materials per year — which eclipses its 5.5 million tons of recycled fiber consumption. The company recycles more fiber than it uses. 

Through a partnership with The Recycling Partnership, WestRock is working to increase awareness of recyclability and educate consumers. In 2019, to help dispel the myth that corrugated pizza boxes are not recyclable, WestRock commissioned a study of the availability of recycling programs in the U.S. for corrugated pizza boxes. In 2020, WestRock delved into this further, conducting a grease and cheese study that concluded normal amounts of grease and residual cheese do not negatively affect the manufacturing of new products from this recycled fiber. This study was reviewed and endorsed by industry partners that validated the findings, confirming corrugated pizza boxes could actually be recycled at least seven times. This work will be expanded in 2021 to deliver Sustainable Choices — a pizza box recycling educational program — to pizza box customers and pizza consumers across the U.S. 

This is incredibly important because Americans consume A LOT of pizza, and those boxes are made of high-quality corrugated paper, as I previously mentioned. We’re looking at more than 600,000 tons of corrugated board a year that could be recycled from pizza boxes alone. 

As the largest pizza company in the world based on retail sales, Domino’s helped share this information with the launch of Recycle My Pizza Box — a hub of information about proper pizza box recycling where visitors can input their ZIP code to find out about recycling in their municipality. 

As we move forward, many e-commerce habits are going to stick. With more recycling happening at the curb instead of at stores, investments in improving residential recycling infrastructure will be necessary. WestRock invested $2 million to upgrade its Marietta, Georgia, facility in October 2020 to improve single stream recycling efficiency. We continue to consider other areas for investment and partnership to make curbside recycling more efficient. 

I’m also looking forward to expanding efforts to engage with family forest owners about how to sustainably manage their forests. It’s astonishing to think that family forest owners comprise the largest source of wood in the U.S.—36 percent compared to just 19 percent that is corporately owned. It’s essential to equip these families with the tools, education and resources they need to understand how to protect and promote sustainable growth.

How WestRock is Addressing Its Challenges 

There’s a regulatory landscape that’s shifting with the new federal administration. WestRock’s investments in its internal capacity enable the company to meet this moment. The company’s hiring of a chief sustainability officer and senior vice president of innovation, both with growing teams, is indicative of that commitment. The sustainability team works closely with the innovation team to drive strategy, communicate customer priorities, and sustainability opportunities enabling us to general innovative sustainable packaging solutions. 

I mentioned persistence before. Working toward a circular economy requires us all to be agents of change with focus. Everything is moving so quickly — from our news cycles to our ability to click a button on our phones and have a product at our door sometimes as soon as hours later.  This is a three-, five-, 10-year journey — change doesn’t happen overnight. True, lasting, sustainable impact is incremental and endures. By listening, partnering with stakeholders and offering innovative solutions, WestRock will continue to advance the circular economy, partnering with our customers to create a more sustainable future.

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Investment

Federal budget spending bookended by extended-care, child-care investments – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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The Trudeau Liberal government delivered a federal budget Monday aimed at finishing the fight against COVID-19 and investing in a broken economy while providing much-anticipated good news for Nova Scotians young and old.

Introducing the first federal budget in more than two years, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the pandemic has preyed on Canadian seniors “mercilessly,” ending thousands of lives and forcing all seniors into fearful isolation.

“We have failed so many of those living in long-term care facilities,” Freeland said. “To them, and to their families, let me say this: I am so sorry. We owe you so much better than this.”

The “so much better” is expected to come from a budget announcement of a $3-billion investment over five years, starting in 2022-23, to ensure that provinces and territories provide a standard of care in their long-term care facilities.

Freeland said the pandemic has shed a light on systemic issues affecting long-term care facilities across the country, a light that was focused on Nova Scotia last week when Premier Iain Rankin was bombarded with opposition questions about pandemic failures at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax that resulted in 53 virus deaths.

Michelle Lowe, the executive director of Nursing Homes of Nova Scotia Association, an umbrella group that represents 85 per cent of the province’s 97 nursing homes, said her association has had recent discussion about the push for national standards.

Lowe said the Nova Scotia system is not perfect but “we have a very good system when it comes to standards and outcomes that are required.”

Lowe said the concern is that when the federal government focuses on developing national standards, “it then starts to take the focus off the really critical things that require investment.”

“The immediate issue is (staff) recruitment,” Lowe said. “Standards are important but I would say the standards that many of our facilities here in Nova Scotia abide by are exceptional.”

The Northwood extended care home in Halifax. The federal budget included funding that would create national standards in extended-care homes across Canada.- Tim Krochak

Lowe said Nova Scotia could set standards that would meet and likely exceed national benchmarks and said a variety of government bodies, like Accreditation Canada, audit long-term-care facilities to make sure practices meet national and international standards. 

Lowe said federal government funds would be better invested in paying the sometimes unattainable fees for those governing bodies to audit facilities. 

“The number one issue that’s facing long-term care in this country is recruitment,” Lowe said. “For so long, the emphasis has been on recruiting acute-care staff, recruiting doctors, recruiting nurses, to come into the primary care setting and what’s fallen off the radar and what’s fallen off efforts by government is this whole area of recruiting for continuing care, not only in Nova Scotia, but across the country.”

Lowe said funding for new or renovated facilities is important “but if we don’t have the staff to support that, none of it will matter.”

“If we don’t have some significant investment in recruitment, particularly from what we are seeing here in Nova Scotia … I’m crossing my fingers and hoping this doesn’t happen, you are going to see facilities closing beds for summer vacations because they just don’t have enough staff to provide the care.”

Lowe said providing private rooms for every senior in long-term care is not realistic, based on projections that suggest 199,000 new beds would be needed over the next 15 years to support the baby boomers as they go through the system. 

The federal budget also provides $90 million over three years to look at ways to support an age well at home initiative to support seniors to stay at home, in their home communities as long as possible.. The funding would provide practical support to help low-income and otherwise vulnerable seniors, including matching seniors with volunteers who can help with meal preparations, home maintenance, daily errands, yard work, and transportation. 

“That’s fantastic,” Lowe said of caring for more seniors at home.

The federal government has also promised to increase old age security for Canadians 75 and older.

It means providing support where COVID has struck hardest – to women, to young people, to low-wage workers, and to small and medium-sized businesses, especially in hospitality and tourism. 

At the other end of the spectrum from seniors measures is a federal commitment to invest $30 billion over the next five years in a Canada-wide child-care and early learning program. By the end of next year, the federal government aims to reduce average fees for regulated early learning and child care by 50 per cent that would bring fees for 4egulated child care down to $10 per day on average within the next five years. 

Combined with previous investments announced since 2015, a minimum of $9.2 billion per year will be invested annually in child care, including Indigenous early learning and child care, starting in 2025-26.

“Long overdue,” said Alec Stratford, chairman of the steering committee for the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 

“It’s been 50 years since the Commission on the Status of Women recommended a national child-care program,” Stratford said. “It is finally nice to see words come to fruition with a meaningful investment.”

Stratford said the program will work the same as health care, with the federal government providing funding with federal standards and the provinces figuring out the best way to deliver it.

Stratford said child care is particularly important at this current moment as “we look at the statistics on women in the labour force and the impact that the pandemic has had.”

Stratford said child care is one of the most effective economic policies that we can put into play with every dollar spent returning two dollars to the economy, a policy that creates equity among genders in the workplace.

“As women are able to feel safe in having their kids cared for, they re-enter the labour market, go back to school and find the education and tools that we all need.”

The federal budget comes with a 354.2-billion deficit for the fiscal year just completed and a projected $154.7-billion deficit for the 2021-22 fiscal cycle.

The federal budget plan is to create one million new jobs by year’s end, extended funding through the fall to bridge Canadians and Canadian businesses through the pandemic crisis toward recovery and support 500,000 new training and work opportunities, almost half of which will be opportunities for youth.

“These are the programs that are needed,” Stratford said. “That, with pharmacare, increased health-care spending, all of those programs and services work to lower the cost of living for Canadians, so that they can live a more quality life, which is a markedly different approach that we’ve seen in past governments where austerity is the policy decision-maker.”

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Arizona mining fight pits economy, EVs against conservation, culture – The Guardian

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By Ernest Scheyder

SUPERIOR, Ariz. (Reuters) – Early last year, Darrin Lewis paid $800,000 for a hardware store in a tiny Arizona town where mining giant Rio Tinto Plc hopes to build one of the world’s largest underground copper mines.

Rio buys materials from Lewis’s Superior Hardware & Lumber for its Resolution mine site, accounting for a third of the store’s sales and helping to keep it afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

But U.S. President Joe Biden put the mining project on hold last month in response to the concerns of Native Americans who say it will destroy sacred land and of environmentalists who worry it will gobble up water in a drought-stricken state.

That’s fueled anxiety among Lewis and others here in Superior, Arizona, who want to reap the economic benefits of a mine that would harvest more than 40 billion pounds of copper.

“I sunk everything I have into this place,” said Lewis, surrounded by hammer drills, wrenches and other goods in his store. “It would absolutely devastate us if this mine doesn’t open.”

In halting the project, Biden reversed a decision by predecessor Donald Trump that would have given Rio land for the mine. Biden ordered more government analysis of the project.

The ongoing fight pits conservationists and Native Americans against local officials and residents who support its economic benefits. The complex debate is a harbinger of battles to come as the U.S. aims to build more electric vehicles, which use twice as much copper as those with internal combustion engines. The Resolution mine could fill about 25% of the demand for U.S. cooper.

The Arizona dispute centers on Oak Flat Campground, which some Apache consider home to deities known as Ga’an. Religious ceremonies are held at the site, near the San Carlos Apache Reservation, to celebrate teenage girls coming of age. Many Apache have ancestors buried under the volcanic rock.

In 2014, the Obama administration and Congress set in motion a complex process intended to give Rio 3,000 acres of federally-owned land, including the campground, in exchange for 4,500 acres that Rio owns nearby. Biden has paused that transfer.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

“If Rio gets this place, then the mine will kill the angels and the deities that live here,” said Wendsler Nosie, a San Carlos Apache tribe member who has led a protest camp for 18 months at the site. A sign there describes the land, known as Chi’chil Bildagoteel in the Western Apache language, as the physical embodiment of the earth’s spirit.

Nosie has marshaled widespread support for his cause, helped by rising global attention to the rights of indigenous peoples. Rio itself fueled that cause last year when it blew up culturally significant Aboriginal rock shelters in Australia.

If the land swap is approved, Rio has said it would keep the campground open for the next few decades before the underground mine causes a crater that would swallow the site. The company has also said it would seek tribal consent for the project and study ways to avoid causing the crater.

“The land exchange gives us the opportunity to collect more data, then we can refine our plans and look for ways that we can do further avoidance and minimization” of site damage, said Vicky Peacey, a senior permitting manager for the Rio project.

Rio, which is based in Australia and the United Kingdom, has also promised to preserve other cultural sites including Apache Leap, a rock cliff that overlooks Superior and where Apaches jumped to their deaths to avoid capture by U.S. troops in the late 19th century.

‘AMERICAN COPPER’

Politicians in Superior – a town of 3,000 residents that voted nearly two-to-one for Democrat Biden last November in a majority-Republican county – are now prodding the president to change his mind.

The land swap, if Biden approves, would also let the town of Superior buy more than 600 acres that officials say is crucial to diversifying the local economy by expanding the airport, developing an industrial park and building affordable housing.

“President Biden is going to have to make some courageous decisions,” said Mayor Mila Besich, a Democrat.

Mining is essential to accomplishing Biden’s goal of expanding EV production, she said. “We’re going to need more American copper,” she said.

While the region has long been popular with hikers and campers, it is better known as the “Copper Corridor,” with mines from Freeport-McMoRan Inc and others.

The closure of the Magma copper mine in 1996 devastated Superior’s economy. Officials have pinned their hopes now on Resolution. Since the copper deposit was first discoved in 1995, Rio and minority partner BHP Group Plc have spent more than $2 billion to dig an exploratory mine shaft and dismantle an old Magma smelter. They have yet to produce any copper. BHP declined to comment.

More than half of the buildings in Superior’s downtown sit empty. Several Tesla Inc charging stations hint at the town’s aspirations to be part of the EV boom. Nikola Corp and Lucid Motors are building their own EV plants less than 50 miles (80 km) away.

Rio has promised to hire 1,400 full-time workers at an average annual salary of more than $100,000. That’s nearly half the population in a town whose median income is a third below the national average.

“What’s sacred to my community is that people have a job and have a home,” said Besich, the mayor.

The mine would boost state, local and federal tax coffers by $280 million annually and add $1 billion to the state’s economy, Arizona’s governor said.

Besich pushed back when studies showed Rio would only pay the town $350,000 a year in taxes, far below the $1 million would need annually for increased police, firefighting and road maintenance.

Rio agreed to pay the town more, to guarantee Superior’s water supply and to donate $1.2 million to the school district. Superintendent Steve Estatico said without Rio’s support the district’s schools – where enrollment has dropped 13 percent since 2016 – may close.

“Rio’s had to learn over the last few years that it cannot take host communities for granted,” Besich said.

STALLED NEGOTIATIONS

The San Carlos Apache – one of the first Native American tribes to endorse Biden’s presidential bid – have not negotiated with Rio because its tribal council favors direct talks with the U.S. government, said Chairman Terry Rambler.

Rio’s copper chief, Bold Baatar, said he hopes to negotiate directly with the tribe when he visits Arizona as early as June, once pandemic restrictions allow.

“We are hearing the concerns from everyone,” Baatar told Reuters. “There will not be a mine until we achieve maximum effort to seek consent.”

Not all local Native Americans oppose the mine. Some members of the White Mountain Apache tribe, whose reservation is just north of the San Carlos Apache’s, say they do not consider the campground a sacred site.

“The belief that the site is religious, that’s news to me,” said Alvena Bush, a White Mountain Apache councilwoman who supports the project.

WATER WORRIES

Rio has dug a mine shaft nearly 7,000 feet (2 km) underground on land it owns near the campground. The bottom of the shaft has become a staging ground for future mining operations.

The miner is draining water from the nearby copper deposit to make it easier to extract. More than 600 gallons of water are pumped each minute to treatment plants on the surface for use in local farming.

Rio plans to mine the copper using a technique known as block caving. It involves carving a cave out of a large section of rock, which then collapses under the weight of the rock above, creating a crater 2 miles (3 km) wide and 1,000 (304 m) feet deep.

This method would damage aquifers that feed two local springs, according to an environmental study from the U.S. Forest Service. The entire mine would reduce available groundwater in the area, which has been in a drought since the late 1990s, the report said.

“This land is going to be worthless if there’s no water to go with it,” said Henry Munoz, who leads a group of retired Superior miners opposed to the project.

Biden is expected to decide later this spring on whether to give Rio the land for the mine. Lewis, the hardware store owner, hopes his plight will be considered among all the competing interests.

“If I had one thing to say to President Biden, it would be: ‘Let the mine open,'” he said.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; additional reporting by Caitlin O’Hara, Sandra Stojanovic and Trevor Hunnicutt; editing by Amran Abocar and Brian Thevenot)

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Factbox-Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

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(Reuters) -A recent surge in COVID-19 cases could see major parts of Japan slide back into states of emergency with authorities in Tokyo and Osaka looking at renewed curbs, while quarantine-free travel started between Australia and New Zealand for the first time in more than a year.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS * Eikon users, see COVID-19: MacroVitals https://apac1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=1592404098 for a case tracker and summary of news.

EUROPE

* The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care units in France edged up on Sunday, amid a nationwide lockdown to try to stem a third wave of infections.

* British scientists launched a trial which will deliberately expose participants who have already had COVID-19 to the coronavirus again to examine immune responses and see if people get reinfected.

* Italy will ease curbs in many areas from April 26, warning caution was still needed to avoid any reversals in the reopening of many long-shuttered activities.

AMERICAS

* Just more than half of U.S. adults have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed on Sunday, with nearly 130 million people aged 18 years or more having received their first shot.

* Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday predicted that U.S. health regulators will end the temporary pause on distributing Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, adding he expects a decision could come as soon as Friday.

* Canada will present a budget with billions of dollars for pandemic recovery measures as COVID-19 infections skyrocket, C$2 billion ($1.6 billion) toward national childcare, and new taxes on luxury goods.

* The Canadian province of Ontario will begin offering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday to people turning 40 or older this year.

* Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday the government has made a second payment to the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative to access around 11 million COVID-19 vaccines.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* India’s capital New Delhi recorded 25,500 coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period, with about one in three people tested returning a positive result, its chief minister said, urging the federal government to provide more hospital beds to tackle the crisis.

* Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has agreed to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s request to supply additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine minister of Japan said on Sunday.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* The coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa can break through the protection provided by Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to some extent, a real-world data study in Israel found.

* Vaccination against COVID-19 is a requirement to perform the Umra pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi state TV said on Sunday, citing a government official.

* Tunisia on Saturday announced the closure of all schools until April 30, as well as restrictions on movement, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine was 67% effective in preventing symptomatic infection, data from a huge real-world study in Chile has shown, a potential boost for the jab which has come under scrutiny over its level of protection against the virus.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* Asian shares hovered near 1-1/2 week highs on Monday, helped by expectations monetary policy will remain accommodative the world over, while COVID-19 vaccine rollouts help ease fears of another dangerous wave of coronavirus infections. [MKTS/GLOB]

(Compiled by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Devika Syamnath and Milla Nissi; Edited by William Maclean, Anil D’Silva and Subhranshu Sahu)

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