Coronavirus latest: California reports sharp rise in new cases as US vaccinations top 20m

Total Covid-19 cases

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World

Confirmed

99,672,717

Deaths

2,140,260

Updated at 1/27/2021, 4:12:29 PM BST

Chicago to enforce diversity on health board

The city of Chicago on Wednesday ordered more diversity on its health board, as part of efforts to reduce inequities underscored by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lori Lightfoot, the mayor, introduced an ordinance requiring that the board have “demographic diversity [and] members with a variety of skill sets ranging from community engagement to health equity”.

She added: “These changes will [help] the board guide policymaking effectively in an age of Covid-19 and deep health inequity.”

At least five of the board’s nine members would also need to have experience or education in public health.

“They will help ensure the board has a clear role, looks like Chicago and continues to evolve to face the challenges of the day, from the pandemic to racial injustice,” said Board of Health president Carolyn Lopez.

Russian capital to lift some entertainment curbs

A shop assistant wears a face shield as she arranges Dolce & Gabbana handbags in the Tsum department store in Moscow

George Russell in Hong Kong

Moscow will lift curbs on restaurants and bars operating at night, as Russia’s president warned the pandemic would drag on for months.

Nightclubs, bars, discos, karaoke, bowling and other leisure and entertainment facilities will be able to operate later than 11pm from Thursday, provided they comply with capacity and social distancing restrictions, Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin wrote on Wednesday.

“These facilities still have to comply with the requirements for customers’ seating areas and standards established by Russia’s sanitary watchdog,” he said.

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that he foresaw stricter measures in future to control the spread of Covid-19.

“The epidemic will drag out, its uncontrollable clusters will remain, it does not have borders,” Mr Putin said via videoconference at the World Economic Forum Davos Agenda Week.

“We should … propose measures aimed at boosting efficiency of systems that monitor emergence of such diseases in the world,” he said.

Russia has recorded 3,774,672 coronavirus cases, including 71,076 fatalities.

Asia-Pacific stocks track Wall Street falls

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Equities in Asia-Pacific pulled back on Thursday, following the biggest one-day drop of the year for US stocks as a risk-off tone prevailed.

In Japan, the Topix dropped 1.6 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea shed 2.3 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 fell 2.3 per cent.

On Wall Street on Wednesday, the S&P 500 tumbled 2.5 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 2.6 per cent.

Those moves came amid fears over new coronavirus variants and obstacles to President Joe Biden’s stimulus package.

Jay Powell, Federal Reserve chairman, warned on Wednesday that the battle against the economic impact from the pandemic was not over.

“We have not won this yet,” he said as the Fed held its main interest rate close to zero and its asset purchases steady.

S&P 500 futures fell 0.8 per cent.

Covid-19 ecommerce push boosts Facebook

Hannah Murphy in San Francisco

Facebook posted record quarterly revenues on Wednesday, surpassing analysts’ expectations as the company’s push into ecommerce during coronavirus lockdowns bore fruit. 

Fourth-quarter revenues at the social media group rose 33 per cent to $28.1bn, beating analyst expectations of an increase to $26.4bn. Net income jumped 53 per cent to $11.2bn, or $3.88 a share.

In a statement, the company’s chief financial officer David Wehner said the business had been boosted by “the ongoing shift towards online commerce” and “the shift in consumer demand towards products and away from services”. 

Read more here

California sees sharp rise in cases as jabs top 20m

Peter Wells and Matthew Rocco in New York

California reported its second-biggest daily increase in coronavirus deaths, offsetting the continued downward trend in hospitalisations and new infections.

Authorities on Wednesday attributed a further 697 fatalities to coronavirus, a daily tally second only to the 764 deaths reported last Friday. That pushed the state’s death toll, which is the highest in the US, to 38,224.

More than 20m Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, as health officials push to accelerate the shot’s rollout to older people.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said health providers have administered doses to 20.7m people as of Wednesday.

Out of that group, 3.8m have been given two doses – a requirement for vaccines made by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer.

China lifts Apple to record quarterly profit

People try out the iPhone 12 at an Apple store in Shanghai

Patrick McGee in San Francisco

Apple reported its highest-ever net profit in the holiday quarter as revenues swelled way beyond forecasts to $111.4bn on the back of a 57 per cent rise in sales in China.

Net profits rose 29 per cent to $28.8bn, against forecasts it would rise 6.3 per cent, while earnings per share jumped 35 per cent to $1.68. Forecasters expected revenues of about $102bn.

All five of the $2.4tn company’s product categories grew at double-digit percentages, led by a 41 per gain in iPad sales and a 30 per cent climb in wearables, which include AirPods and the Apple Watch.

The iPhone, by far its biggest category, generated sales of $65.6bn, a 17 per cent gain that far outpaced analyst expectations of a 6 per cent rise.

Apple declined to offer any guidance for the March quarter, citing uncertainties around the pandemic.

UK experts defend 12-week delay for 2nd dose

Clive Cookson in London

A month after the UK government decided to extend the gap between first and second jabs of the Covid-19 vaccines from three to 12 weeks to ensure maximum inoculation as soon as possible, Britain’s “first doses first” policy remains an outlier in global terms.

The UK’s decision prompted widespread concern that it might weaken the immune response to the two marketed vaccines that use groundbreaking mRNA technology made by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.

But almost every independent expert on vaccinology and virology in the UK contacted by the Financial Times has supported the 12-week interval policy formulated by the government’s medical advisers and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Read more here

Mexican billionaire Slim ‘recovering’

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim has been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 but is recovering well, his son-in-law Arturo Elías said.

On Monday, Carlos Slim Domit, the América Móvil boss’s son, had written on Twitter that his father was undergoing tests at the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición, one of Mexico’s most prestigious state hospitals.

Mr Elías told the Financial Times that he had been in hospital since then, “but he’s doing very, very well, it’s just for monitoring and so on, he’s nearly over this”.

Mr Slim, who turns 80 on Thursday, suffered a massive haemorrhage following open-heart surgery in 1997 and contracted pneumonia but has since been in good health.

News you might have missed …

After a two-day meeting on Wednesday, its first since Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House, the Federal Reserve held its main interest rate close to zero and its asset purchases steady as it sought to maintain a massive dose of support for the US economy as it suffers through a new slowdown.

A growing number of passengers are trying to board airlines using fake test results to get around immigration controls, the aviation industry has warned. “We are aware of numerous counterfeit test results which have cropped up in … several countries,” the International Air Transport Association said on Wednesday.

US public health officials have changed their vaccination advice to make it easier for people to get a second shot, saying injections can be spaced up to six weeks apart, and can even be from a different manufacturer from the first shot if necessary, said Rochelle Walensky, head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Vaccination rates for the Covid-19 jab in England are much lower among non-white people aged 80 and above than their white counterparts, data show. By January 13, 42.5 per cent of elderly white people in England had received their first dose, compared with 20.5 per cent of black people and 29.5 per cent of South Asians.

AT&T posted a $13.8bn quarterly loss as the US telecoms group and owner of Warner Bros and HBO warned the Covid-19 crisis has hit most of its businesses, resulting in $650m in charges. The group recorded a $15.5bn charge on its pay-TV business, as customers abandon cable and satellite in favour of streaming.

French pharmaceuticals group Sanofi is to help accelerate production of the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine and add millions to the EU supply, as concern grows about the availability of doses around the world. Sanofi plans to start working on late-stage manufacturing of the vaccine in the summer,

Tullow Oil has secured an additional month from its banks before it faces a test on a key lending facility as the embattled explorer and producer continues refinancing talks with its creditors. The company is still trying to recover from a torrid 2019 that resulted in hefty cuts to its production forecasts.

London’s Chelsea Flower Show will showcase dahlias rather than spring flowers and roses as the coronavirus pandemic has forced the garden show to be held in the autumn for the first time in its 108-year history. The 2021 show has been moved to September 21-26 from May 18-23, the Royal Horticultural Society said.

TikTok rival Kuaishou to raise up to $6.3bn in Hong Kong IPO

Chinese livestreaming and short video group Kuaishou is set to raise up to $6.3bn in a Hong Kong initial public offering in a test of investor appetite for China’s tech sector as it faces growing regulatory scrutiny.

The deal could value Kuaishou, which competes with ByteDance’s TikTok, at up to $61.7bn and would be the largest tech IPO since ride-hailing company Uber went to market in 2019.

The listing will raise between $4.9bn and $5.4bn, but that could rise to $6.3bn if bankers exercise an overallotment option to increase its size, according to a term sheet seen by the Financial Times. Shares are expected to price on Friday between HK$105 (US$13.55) and HK$115 (US$14.84) and begin trading on February 5.

The flotation comes as Chinese tech companies face an increasingly uncertain regulatory environment. The $37bn Hong Kong and Shanghai IPO of payments firm Ant Group was halted by Beijing at the last minute in November, while its ecommerce affiliate Alibaba is subject to an antitrust investigation.

Kuaishou, which is backed by Chinese internet group Tencent, earns most of its revenues from users sending virtual gifts to livestreaming hosts. The company takes roughly half of the gift price, which can range from a few cents to Rmb2,000 (US$309). 

Livestreaming rules announced in November ban teenagers from purchasing virtual gifts on platforms such as Kuaishou and limit total spending by any single user. The regulations also tighten controls on livestreaming ecommerce, where video hosts promote goods to shoppers, a growing business for Kuaishou.

Kuaishou competitors including TikTok have faced controversy over their operations and use of data amid tensions between the US and China. In December, a deadline for ByteDance to restructure TikTok’s US operations passed without a deal, and the company remains in negotiations about the short video app’s status in the country. 

Kuaishou’s app had about 262m daily viewers in the first nine months of last year, who on average spent 86 minutes per day watching videos. The company reported an operating loss of Rmb9bn on Rmb41bn in sales during the same period.

The company has spent heavily on bringing in new users as it faces an increasingly crowded online video market in China.

Cornerstone investors in Kuaishou’s IPO include asset managers Invesco and Fidelity as well as Singaporean state-backed investors Temasek and GIC, which will together buy shares worth up to $2.5bn with a six-month lock-up period.

“The quality and size of cornerstone investors are some of the highest we have seen in Chinese tech companies to come to market,” said one banker on the deal. “It shows that the market is still crying out for more liquidity in sizeable, high-growth tech companies.”

Kuaishou will use the funds for purposes including research and development, acquisitions and investment and expanding its ecosystem, according to the term sheet.

Tencent holds a roughly 22 per cent stake in Kuaishou after leading a $3bn financing round last year. As the number-two player in China’s online video market after Douyin — the Chinese version of TikTok — “Kuaishou is less susceptible to political noise”, according to one banker working on the IPO.

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TikTok rival Kuaishou to raise up to $6.3bn in Hong Kong IPO

Chinese livestreaming and short video group Kuaishou is set to raise up to $6.3bn in a Hong Kong initial public offering in a test of investor appetite for China’s tech sector as it faces growing regulatory scrutiny.

The deal could value Kuaishou, which competes with ByteDance’s TikTok, at up to $61.7bn and would be the largest tech IPO since ride-hailing company Uber went to market in 2019.

The listing will raise between $4.9bn and $5.4bn, but that could rise to $6.3bn if bankers exercise an overallotment option to increase its size, according to a term sheet seen by the Financial Times. Shares are expected to price on Friday between HK$105 (US$13.55) and HK$115 (US$14.84) and begin trading on February 5.

The flotation comes as Chinese tech companies face an increasingly uncertain regulatory environment. The $37bn Hong Kong and Shanghai IPO of payments firm Ant Group was halted by Beijing at the last minute in November, while its ecommerce affiliate Alibaba is subject to an antitrust investigation.

Kuaishou, which is backed by Chinese internet group Tencent, earns most of its revenues from users sending virtual gifts to livestreaming hosts. The company takes roughly half of the gift price, which can range from a few cents to Rmb2,000 (US$309). 

Livestreaming rules announced in November ban teenagers from purchasing virtual gifts on platforms such as Kuaishou and limit total spending by any single user. The regulations also tighten controls on livestreaming ecommerce, where video hosts promote goods to shoppers, a growing business for Kuaishou.

Kuaishou competitors including TikTok have faced controversy over their operations and use of data amid tensions between the US and China. In December, a deadline for ByteDance to restructure TikTok’s US operations passed without a deal, and the company remains in negotiations about the short video app’s status in the country. 

Kuaishou’s app had about 262m daily viewers in the first nine months of last year, who on average spent 86 minutes per day watching videos. The company reported an operating loss of Rmb9bn on Rmb41bn in sales during the same period.

The company has spent heavily on bringing in new users as it faces an increasingly crowded online video market in China.

Cornerstone investors in Kuaishou’s IPO include asset managers Invesco and Fidelity as well as Singaporean state-backed investors Temasek and GIC, which will together buy shares worth up to $2.5bn with a six-month lock-up period.

“The quality and size of cornerstone investors are some of the highest we have seen in Chinese tech companies to come to market,” said one banker on the deal. “It shows that the market is still crying out for more liquidity in sizeable, high-growth tech companies.”

Kuaishou will use the funds for purposes including research and development, acquisitions and investment and expanding its ecosystem, according to the term sheet.

Tencent holds a roughly 22 per cent stake in Kuaishou after leading a $3bn financing round last year. As the number-two player in China’s online video market after Douyin — the Chinese version of TikTok — “Kuaishou is less susceptible to political noise”, according to one banker working on the IPO.

Weekly newsletter

Your crucial guide to the billions being made and lost in the world of Asia Tech. A curated menu of exclusive news, crisp analysis, smart data and the latest tech buzz from the FT and Nikkei

Sign up here with one click

Mexico’s Covid-sceptical president tests positive

Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has refused to wear a face mask, has tested positive for coronavirus days after dining with some of the nation’s leading industrialists.

“I am sorry to inform you that I have caught Covid-19. The symptoms are light but I’m having medical treatment. As ever, I’m optimistic. We’ll all get through this,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Mr López Obrador, 67, has been criticised for playing down the severity of the pandemic in Latin America’s second-biggest economy. He has continued to hold meetings across the country despite record deaths and infections in recent days.

Hospitals in Mexico City are almost full and many infected people have struggled to obtain access to oxygen tanks.

The Mexican leader follows other Covid-19 sceptics, such as Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Donald Trump in the US, in contracting the virus. At a news conference last year, Mr López Obrador displayed an amulet that he said protected him from the pandemic.

He said he would still hold a scheduled call with Vladimir Putin on Monday morning to discuss procuring Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and bilateral ties.

The Mexican president said he intended to continue following public affairs from the National Palace, but that Olga Sánchez Cordero, the interior minister, would replace him at his daily morning news conference.

Mr López Obrador, who suffered a heart attack in 2013 and suffers from hypertension, has repeatedly sent an upbeat message that Mexico was coping well with the pandemic and has refused to enforce lockdown measures, despite more than 1.7m confirmed cases and almost 150,000 deaths.

Mexico’s low testing rate and high excess deaths point to a far bleaker picture. Its rolling seven-day average of new deaths, at 0.962 per 100,000, is higher than that of the US, with 0.935, and Brazil, at 0.474.

On Friday night, Mr López Obrador spoke by telephone with US president Joe Biden and posted a photograph to Twitter of himself around a table with Marcelo Ebrard, foreign minister, and former cabinet chief Alfonso Romo. Hugo López-Gatell, the country’s coronavirus tsar, attended the president’s daily morning news conference on Friday.

On López Obrador also dined on Friday with eight senior business leaders, as well as Mr Romo, his economy minister Tatiana Clouthier and Mr Ebrard in Monterrey, the country’s business capital.

A person close to the business leaders said none had displayed Covid symptoms and they were taking all precautions.

The president, who travels on commercial airlines, spent the weekend touring the states of Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí, where he inaugurated National Guard installations and supervised welfare projects.

José Luis Alomía, Mexico’s director-general of epidemiology, told a daily Covid-19 news conference that “fortunately [Mr López Obrador] is stable, his signs and symptoms are light, he is at home” under the care of a multidisciplinary medical team led by Jorge Alcocer, the health minister.

Contact tracing of people with whom the president had been in contact was under way, he added. This month, Jesús Ramírez, the president’s press chief, tested positive for the virus.

Latest coronavirus news

Follow FT’s live coverage and analysis of the global pandemic and the rapidly evolving economic crisis here.

Mexico’s Covid-sceptical president tests positive

Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has refused to wear a face mask, has tested positive for coronavirus days after dining with some of the nation’s leading industrialists.

“I am sorry to inform you that I have caught Covid-19. The symptoms are light but I’m having medical treatment. As ever, I’m optimistic. We’ll all get through this,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Mr López Obrador, 67, has been criticised for playing down the severity of the pandemic in Latin America’s second-biggest economy. He has continued to hold meetings across the country despite record deaths and infections in recent days.

Hospitals in Mexico City are almost full and many infected people have struggled to obtain access to oxygen tanks.

The Mexican leader follows other Covid-19 sceptics, such as Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Donald Trump in the US, in contracting the virus. At a news conference last year, Mr López Obrador displayed an amulet that he said protected him from the pandemic.

He said he would still hold a scheduled call with Vladimir Putin on Monday morning to discuss procuring Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and bilateral ties.

The Mexican president said he intended to continue following public affairs from the National Palace, but that Olga Sánchez Cordero, the interior minister, would replace him at his daily morning news conference.

Mr López Obrador, who suffered a heart attack in 2013 and suffers from hypertension, has repeatedly sent an upbeat message that Mexico was coping well with the pandemic and has refused to enforce lockdown measures, despite more than 1.7m confirmed cases and almost 150,000 deaths.

Mexico’s low testing rate and high excess deaths point to a far bleaker picture. Its rolling seven-day average of new deaths, at 0.962 per 100,000, is higher than that of the US, with 0.935, and Brazil, at 0.474.

On Friday night, Mr López Obrador spoke by telephone with US president Joe Biden and posted a photograph to Twitter of himself around a table with Marcelo Ebrard, foreign minister, and former cabinet chief Alfonso Romo. Hugo López-Gatell, the country’s coronavirus tsar, attended the president’s daily morning news conference on Friday.

On López Obrador also dined on Friday with eight senior business leaders, as well as Mr Romo, his economy minister Tatiana Clouthier and Mr Ebrard in Monterrey, the country’s business capital.

A person close to the business leaders said none had displayed Covid symptoms and they were taking all precautions.

The president, who travels on commercial airlines, spent the weekend touring the states of Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí, where he inaugurated National Guard installations and supervised welfare projects.

José Luis Alomía, Mexico’s director-general of epidemiology, told a daily Covid-19 news conference that “fortunately [Mr López Obrador] is stable, his signs and symptoms are light, he is at home” under the care of a multidisciplinary medical team led by Jorge Alcocer, the health minister.

Contact tracing of people with whom the president had been in contact was under way, he added. This month, Jesús Ramírez, the president’s press chief, tested positive for the virus.

Latest coronavirus news

Follow FT’s live coverage and analysis of the global pandemic and the rapidly evolving economic crisis here.