EU responds to vaccine exports backlash

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EU responds to vaccine exports backlash

The EU attempted to rebuild the reputation of its heavily criticised vaccination programme on Monday after a controversial plan to introduce vaccine export limits backfired and triggered a diplomatic dispute between London and Brussels.

Responding to criticism from MEPs, the European Commission’s top health official Sandra Gallina insisted that EU member states were “in the big league” of countries vaccinating against Covid-19.

The commission on Friday was forced into a U-turn over proposed export restrictions that would have threatened Irish border arrangements agreed between the UK and the EU. It part of a plan for tighter vaccine export controls that would allow EU member states to block sales of Covid-19 jabs to countries outside the bloc, such as the UK, US and Japan. 

The fiasco capped a difficult week for commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who is facing pressure from EU member states to accelerate the rollout of jabs and fix a severe vaccine supply shortage — including a dispute over AstraZeneca’s failure to meet its vaccine delivery schedule.

“We fully understand that some of our allies may have concerns and will work closely with them to ensure a speedy supply of vaccines,” one EU official said on Sunday.

BioNTech has said it will deliver up to 75m more vaccine doses to the EU during the second quarter than originally planned, thanks to the modification of production sites in Belgium and Germany.

Meanwhile, the UK now has 400m doses of the vaccine, after securing an extra 40m doses of a jab from Valneva of France.

Markets

Silver prices hit an 8-year high after retail traders targeted the market for the precious metal following last week’s successful attack on funds betting against retailer GameStop. A user on Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets forum urged investors to bet on a popular silver-backed exchange traded fund.

European stocks regained ground today after their worst week since October. Some analysts attributed the more optimistic mood to progress in the conflict between the EU and AstraZeneca over the terms of a supply deal for Covid-19 vaccines.

The riskiest companies in the world are enjoying the benefits of the global hunt for higher returns, sending the yield on the dollar-denominated debt of some of the lowest-rated businesses close to historic lows. This year’s rise in the price of bonds issued by the lowest-rated borrowers indicates investors are willing to overlook the persistent spread of coronavirus and an uneven economic recovery.

Business

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary called on the EU to “get its act together” on vaccinations, warning that the airline was facing an annual loss of almost €1bn because of travel restrictions. Despite the uncertainty around future travel, he said he was hopeful for a “strong recovery” in passenger numbers in the summer.

Ryanair says it is facing an annual loss of almost €1bn because of travel restrictions
Ryanair says it is facing an annual loss of almost €1bn because of travel restrictions © AFP via Getty Images

Online fashion retailer Asos confirmed today that it will acquire Topshop and other Arcadia brands for £265m, saving around 300 jobs. The transaction will recoup more than £300m for creditors of Philip Green’s insolvent group, but does not include the group’s 70 outlets, including its flagship Topshop store on London’s Oxford Street.

BP has agreed to sell a 20 per cent stake in an Oman gas block for $2.6bn to Thailand’s national oil company PTT as part of the UK energy major’s $25bn divestment programme. The company will release its fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday, capping a brutal year as the pandemic hit the industry’s finances.

Global economy

Italy’s manufacturing activity grew more than expected in January as its factories benefited from rising demand for exports to Asia. In contrast, the consumer-focused Spanish manufacturing sector lagged behind, demonstrating how the resilience of European manufacturing during the pandemic has benefited some countries more than others.

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, are working on a pre-Budget “recovery plan” outlining medium-term proposals to boost investment and skills as the UK emerges from the coronavirus crisis. Mr Sunak will use his March 3 budget to provide more details of what he hopes will be the final phase of the emergency government support for the economy that has so far cost £280bn.

India is preparing to step up capital investment and implement financial sector reforms to support an economy battered by the pandemic. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced plans for higher government spending, bank privatisation, liberalisation of the insurance sector and protective tariff increases over the next financial year. Coronavirus cases are dropping sharply in India, indicating that parts of the country are nearing herd immunity.

The essentials

Should Covid-19 vaccines be made mandatory at work? A few companies have introduced “no jab, no job” policies, but most are treading carefully. It is unclear whether forcing employees to be vaccinated is lawful, and some companies are worried about lawsuits if, for example, an employee becomes sick after vaccination.

Final thought

The graceful little egret is increasingly spotted on London’s urban waterways
The graceful little egret is increasingly spotted on London’s urban waterways © Alamy

A watery revolution has been under way, writes the FT’s in-house bird enthusiast Claer Barrett, with the rebirth of wetland habitats in London that is allowing aquatic life to thrive. If you’re lucky, you might spot a little egret — a “ballerina bird” with frilly white plumage — or, like Claer, a cormorant diving for fish in a canal: “Waiting for it to bob up again with a silvery fish wriggling in its beak was more thrilling than anything you could stream on Netflix.”

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