FirstFT: Omicron accounts for nearly three-quarters of US Covid cases

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The Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading far faster across the US than health officials had expected, accounting for almost three-quarters of new cases.

Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its latest figures for the proportion of infections caused by Omicron, estimating that the variant now makes up 73 per cent of cases — up from 13 per cent in the previous week.

Since the first US case of Omicron was confirmed in California on December 1, the strain has been identified in all but four states, according to the CDC.

Outbreaks have prompted cities and states to reinstate pandemic restrictions such as indoor mask mandates and strict vaccination rules in an effort to slow the wave of infections.

Cases have risen particularly quickly in US states experiencing colder weather, such as those in the north-east.

The seven-day average number of daily infections in the US has doubled since late October. Adjusted for population, at about 40 per 100,000 people, it is only a third of that in the UK.

Thanks for your comments about Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, like Janice Richardson who wrote in to say she believes BBB was weakened by moderate Democrats before it was “killed” by Manchin. Here’s the rest of today’s news — Gordon

1. Chile’s stock market and currency fall after Boric victory The Chilean peso fell more than 4 per cent against the dollar yesterday, reaching an all-time closing low, and Santiago’s IGPA index fell more than 6 per cent. The margin of victory for former student leader Gabriel Boric was much wider than predicted by pollsters.

2. BNP Paribas to exit US retail market French bank BNP Paribas has become the latest European lender to exit US retail banking after agreeing to sell its San Francisco-based Bank of the West to Bank of Montreal for $16.3bn. European banks have struggled to compete with US rivals like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

3. Closing argument in Ghislaine Maxwell trial Ghislaine Maxwell worked “hand-in-hand” with Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse underage women, a federal prosecutor told jurors in closing arguments as she urged them to convict the British socialite of sex trafficking after three weeks of evidence. “Ghislaine Maxwell is not Jeffrey Epstein,” said Laura Menninger, an attorney for the accused.

4. SEC demands more risk disclosure for Chinese companies The request seeks more information on Chinese companies’ use of variable interest entities, a complicated legal structure used by tech groups to circumvent Beijing’s stringent foreign investment restrictions. New York-listed companies including Alibaba, Pinduoduo and Baidu all use VIEs to run their operations.

4. UK Supreme Court thwarts Maduro’s $1.9bn gold bid The court dealt a blow to Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro in his fight to gain control of $1.9bn of disputed gold reserves after it ruled that opposition leader Juan Guaidó should be recognised as the country’s legitimate head of state.

Coronavirus digest

  • The FTSE All-World Index fell 1.3 per cent yesterday, marking its worst one-day slide since shortly after the discovery of Omicron last month. Investors feared the pandemic may choke off the global economic recovery but European stocks have rebounded today.

  • Boris Johnson yesterday faced a wave of cabinet opposition to new proposed Covid-19 restrictions in England, forcing him to shelve decisions on a potential post-Christmas “circuit breaker” until ministers have seen new data.

  • The World Economic Forum scrapped plans to hold an in-person annual meeting in Davos next month amid uncertainty over the Omicron variant.

  • Protection from two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine begins to wane three months after the second shot, according to a new study. Early evidence shows a “clear” drop in the effectiveness of current Covid-19 vaccines against the Omicron, the head of the European drugs regulator told the Financial Times.

  • Here’s what we know about the new strain that is more infectious but possibly less virulent from our frequently updated explainer.

The day ahead

Biden Omicron speech The president will outline new measures to slow the spread of Omicron. He will also seek to persuade more Americans to protect themselves against the highly transmissible variant by getting a booster jab, according to officials.

Trade data: The Commerce Department will release a US trade update. Economists have forecast that the nation’s current account deficit hit $205bn in the third quarter, up from a 14-year high of $190.3bn in the second quarter.

Earnings: General Mills, the company behind Cheerios cereal and Häagen-Dazs ice cream, is expected to report a smaller profit year on year for its fiscal second quarter, as inflation weighs on the bottom line. Yesterday we mistakenly reported that General Mills was reporting for which we apologise.

Liz Truss and Maros Sefcovic talk The UK’s foreign secretary, who has been put in charge of the Brexit negotiations following the weekend resignation of David Frost, will speak to her opposite number in Brussels for the first time.

Winter solstice in the northern hemisphere Those marking the occasion include, in the UK, druids at Stonehenge.

What else we’re reading

A tale of two elites in Washington and Beijing One of the few things that Republicans and Democrats agree on is that America should treat China as a serious and dangerous global rival, writes Gideon Rachman. Until recently, most Americans assumed that the US would retain a technological edge over China. That can no longer be taken for granted, Rachman writes.

The secret Africa deal that nearly collapsed NSO For the Israeli company that created the spyware Pegasus, its dalliance into east Africa to secure tens of millions of dollars in funding was a moment it crossed a red line, infuriating US diplomats and leading to its blacklisting by the commerce department.

The student loan trap For a disproportionate number of black Americans, the pursuit of a university degree has led to a new kind of poverty rather than prosperity — dashing decades of hopes that increased access to higher education would narrow the US racial wealth gap. This is the second of a series of articles looking at race and the financial system in the US.

Lucy Kellaway’s crypto classroom confessions When Lucy Kellaway left the Financial Times and retrained as an economics teacher, she could not have predicted how the cryptocurrency craze would sweep through British classrooms. In this special Christmas edition of the Money Clinic podcast, presenter Claer Barrett hears why Lucy and other top FT writers are supporting a greater focus on teaching finance in schools. It is the latest part of the FT’s Financial Literacy and Inclusion Campaign.

Peter Spiegel, Lucy Kellaway and Patrick Jenkins join Claer Barrett for this week’s Money Clinic podcast © FT Montage

It’s not only working mothers who benefit from flexible jobs Onerous working hours that allow no space for family life underlie some of the starkest blue-collar labour shortages in 2021. Working mothers have been trying to balance work and family pressures for more than a century. It should no longer just be their battle to fight, writes Sarah O’Connor.

House & Home

The transformative power of games: why have humans played in their homes for millennia? Besides being fun, they promote togetherness, mental agility and emotional release.

Games have played a role in human society across history and cultures stretching back millennia
Games have played a role in human society across history and cultures stretching back millennia © Giorgio Roster/Alinari Archives, Florence/Bridgeman Images

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