Europe’s false start with vaccine rollout


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European leaders are stumbling with their rollout of a coronavirus vaccine, which has been much slower than anticipated, damping down initial optimism for a fast immunisation campaign in the new year following successful vaccine approvals.

Governments across the continent including Germany, France and the UK are preparing to extend tough lockdown restrictions to control the spread of the virus, as the EU came under fire for its handling of vaccine procurement and distribution.

While the US has administered more than 4m vaccine doses and the UK has exceeded 1m, Germany has managed just 265,000. France is ramping up its immunisation campaign after its cautious, phased strategy — in which it managed only about 350 vaccinations — sparked anger.

Chart showing how the EU has been slow to initiate Covid-19 vaccinations relative to other countries such as China, the US and the UK

Markus Söder, the premier of Bavaria and leader of the Christian Social Union, one of Germany’s governing parties, said the EU had “ordered too few doses and relied on the wrong manufacturers”. He called for vaccination efforts to be “massively accelerated”.

The UK on Monday became the first country to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, amid criticism that its mass vaccination programme is too slow. The government was meeting today to agree on stricter lockdown rules, including a likely closure of schools and curfews to force the country to stay at home. 

The European Commission has hit back at criticism of its vaccine strategy, which was agreed by member states in June.

The EU has signed contracts with a total of six vaccine producers, and confirmed on Monday that it was in discussions with Pfizer and BioNTech to secure more doses of their vaccine, beyond the 300m shots covered by the current contract.

“We have actually signed contracts that would allow member states to get access to 2bn doses, largely enough to vaccinate the whole of the EU population,” said Eric Mamer, commission chief spokesman.

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European equities bounded into 2021 with indices up across the board, despite the worsening pandemic. China’s renminbi rallied to its highest level in more than two years, boosted by the country’s economic recovery from Covid-19, wiping out most of the losses suffered since the start of its trade war with the US. 

Line chart of renminbi per dollar showing how China’s currency has started 2021 on course to erase trade war losses

Governments and companies are expected to issue $500bn in green bonds in 2021, as policymakers seek a sustainable post-pandemic recovery. The EU has said it will launch €225bn worth of green bonds as part of the €750bn borrowing that will fund its Covid-19 recovery plan.

Oil prices dipped from earlier highs ahead of a meeting of ministers from Opec and Russia, as producer countries decide whether to unleash more barrels on to a market under threat from the latest coronavirus-related restrictions. 


Rolls-Royce will put its UltraFan engine programme “on ice” when testing finishes in 2022, according to chief executive Warren East, halting further investment until a new aircraft is launched. “I can’t force airframe manufacturers to invent new aeroplanes and if there is no demand for them, then there is no demand for the engines,” he said.

Law firms including Norton Rose Fulbright, listed DWF and London-based Fieldfisher are ditching trophy office moves as they look to slash space as much as 50 per cent because of the shift to remote working as a result of the pandemic.

The likes of Moderna, Zoom Video and Peloton were the business success stories in early stages of the pandemic, but a rebound in investor appetite means a broader range of stocks also ended the year higher. See the FT’s updated ranking of the top 100 companies that prospered during 2020.

Global economy

The UK is set to be one of the last high-income countries to recover from the pandemic — with the economy likely to take at least 18 months to return to its pre-crisis size — according to an FT survey of more than 90 leading economists.

The OECD’s chief economist Laurence Boone has warned governments to rethink their constraints on public spending due to concerns that fresh austerity or tax rises would risk a popular backlash.

Manufacturing activity across the eurozone is recovering, driven by strong foreign demand, reflecting the economic recovery across much of Asia where the virus is largely under control. Activity in Spain and Italy grew in the final weeks of 2020, which helped limit the economic impact of the fresh upsurge in coronavirus cases, according to a widely watched survey of businesses.

Line chart of purchasing managers' index (above 50 = majority of businesses reported increase in activity) showing how eurozone manufacturing activity is recovering

The essentials

To make flexible working successful, managers must look beyond the pandemic and develop long-term strategies to support employees, writes Emma Jacobs. The crisis has forced a rethink of what we value in business, says Ravi Mattu, and is a good moment to rethink business principles and put humans before profits.

In this video, FT journalists make their forecasts for how the world could change in 2021 as a result of the pandemic, US-China relations, key upcoming elections and Brexit.

Follow our coronavirus vaccine tracker, updated every week, as well as our global economic impact tracker and our coronavirus tracker on the spread of infection around the world.

The pandemic’s darkest hour is yet to dawn, writes Anjana Ahuja. Those who forecast that 2021 would feel different from 2020 have been proven correct — but not quite in the way that anyone wanted.

Final thought

© Jonathan McHugh 2020

As the year turns, there are good reasons to believe a decade of strong growth and social ebullience lies ahead, writes Martin Sandbu, who is looking forward to this century’s own Roaring Twenties. A pent-up desire to spend combined with vaccine-induced herd immunity mean that it may soon be time to party again.


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