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Christmas without tiers?

Written by Javier Maquieira, senior associate 
Edited by David Gaffney, partner
23 November 2020

Good morning,

For residents of Scotland, conversations about Covid-19 protection levels have replaced, to some extent, small talk about the weather. This tiered existence has also brought out the competitive side in many people, who will perform impromptu tests of your knowledge of restrictions, local authority areas, and travel options available to your tier.
 
The glittery silver lining to the grey cloud of the current situation for many people is the hope and expectation that some sort of relaxation will happen over Christmas to allow families and friends to celebrate together.
 
In England, where a four-week national lockdown replaced a rather controversial regional approach on 5 November, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, will announce today a tougher three-tiered system to safeguard lockdown progress while allowing family get-togethers over the festive period.
 
Although the new system, which would be introduced at the end of the current lockdown on 2 December, is expected to be stricter than the one in place in October, the UK government is reportedly looking at suspending the tiers between three and five days over Christmas before reimposing them again between January and March.
 
Other measures being considered include lifting the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants and the roll-out of a programme of mass, instant coronavirus testing in areas of England with the highest infection rates. Gyms and non-essential shops are also expected to be able to reopen in all areas.
 
Following talks held on Saturday, the UK’s four nations seem to have backed plans to allow households to meet for yuletide celebrations too, with ministers in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland endorsing a “shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days”, according to the cabinet office.
 
Discussions on the details of any such common approach are still ongoing, but an agreement is hoped to be reached later this week. In any event, the public will still be advised to remain cautious, avoid travelling wherever possible, and minimise social contact.
 
It is no secret that Christmas will be anything but normal this year. Governments are now in the business of gauging whether a temporary rise in infection rates is a price worth paying for the boosts to wellbeing and the national mood – and, yes, their own popularity – that a short break from the slog of the lockdown will provide.
 
Whether the public – and Tory backbenchers at Westminster, for that matter – will put up with a protracted (and tougher) tier system well into the new year remains to be seen. In the meantime, best keep brushing up on your knowledge of restrictions for all those bumper 2020 quizzes.

News

European policymakers are planning to relax Covid-19 restrictions ahead of Christmas after measures implemented in October have started to yield results. Governments from Dublin to Rome are to ease restrictions only gradually, in contrast with the full-scale reopenings seen during the summer. Retailers across Europe are already calling for the end of mandatory closures of non-essentials shops during the most lucrative month of the year. (£)
 
A large-scale trial of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford suggests the treatment is 70% effective. Although the protection rate is lower than that of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Oxford jab, of which the UK government has ordered 100 million doses, is reportedly far cheaper and easier to store and distribute than the other two. 
 
The head of the US government’s effort to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus has said that, if authorised, the Pfizer vaccine could start to be administered as early as the second week of December. Moncef Slaoui told CNN the vaccine could be rolled out across immunisation sites within 24 hours of its approval by the US Food and Drug Administration on 11 or 12 December.
 
The president-elect of the United States, Joe Biden, is to announce his first cabinet picks tomorrow, the incoming White House chief of staff has confirmed. Ron Klain said the appointments were moving at a faster pace than the previous two administrations, although limits to what the Biden team can do remain, as the Trump administration continues to attempt to block the transition. Klain added that the inauguration celebration, to be held on 20 January, is expected to be scaled down as a result of risks of spreading coronavirus.

Business and economy

Ahead of the UK government’s spending review on Wednesday, the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has confirmed his view that a one-year pay freeze for many public sector workers in England would be “entirely reasonable”, given the uncertain state of the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic. The prospect of such a move has sparked anger among opposition MPs and unions, who have called the government’s pay policy “morally obscene and bad economics” and warned it risks a sector strike. NHS England doctors and nurses are expected to be exempted.
 
In related news, the chancellor is expected to raise public spending on education by 4.6% and deliver 20,000 new police officers by 2023 on Wednesday, in what the Financial Times has called “a last hurrah” before introducing tax rises to bear the burden of a fiscal consolidation. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has insisted on avoiding a return to austerity by focusing on higher spending on some areas of the economy. (£)
 
Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has voiced her worry about access to Covid-19 vaccines among the poorest countries. Speaking at a G20 summit that has seen the world’s richest nations promise a fair distribution of coronavirus jabs, the German leader said she would raise her concerns to the global vaccine alliance GAVI, in light of slow progress in poor countries whose economies have been badly damaged by the crisis. 

Columns of note

Libby Purves argues in The Times that online connection is no substitute for human interaction, be it socially, professionally, educationally or artistically. Although the economic case for carrying on in the virtual world will be tempting, digital communications should be tools to be picked up when really needed, rather than a new stage of human evolution. Purves calls on schools and universities, professionals, and the entertainment industry to be cautious about “slipping down that easy slope” and avoid the mental disconnection brought by remote interaction. (£)
 
Writing in City AM, John Hulsman concedes that President Donald Trump has been right to wind down the United States’ endless wars in Iraq and especially Afghanistan. He argues that in the face of America’s interventionist “blob” in the latter country, it should either properly colonise the place, or leave and cut its massive, tragic losses of both blood and treasure. Hulsman concludes that it is high time the American foreign policy elite gave up on its nation-building malpractice and fighting wars of choice.

Cartoon source: The Telegraph

Markets

The week ahead

Flash purchasing managers’ index data will be in focus this week in the eurozone, as it is expected to point to a further decline in business activity in November as a result of the second wave of coronavirus infections and lockdowns.
 
In the UK, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will be in the spotlight on Wednesday when he presents the government’s spending review along with a full economic and fiscal outlook update by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
 
Meanwhile, Brexit negotiations will resume online after one of the European Union negotiators tested positive for Covid-19 last week.
 
Investors will also be on the lookout for clues in the minutes of the last Federal Reserve and European Central Bank meetings as to what moves both central banks will make next.
 
In company news, market participants will watch for any updates to Aviva’s new strategy when the insurer reports on Thursday. Other companies reporting this week include retailers Urban Outfitterson Monday, followed by Gap, Nordstrom and Abercrombie & Fitch on Tuesday. Among commodities, Motor Oil publishes its third-quarter results on Tuesday together with Lukoil, while Gazprom will issue its earnings on Thursday.

What’s happening today?

Finals
Carrs Group
Cerillion
Daily Mail  

Interims
Cake Box Holdi.
Codemasters Gr.
Lxi Reit
Mind Gym Plc
NextEnergy Solar
Northern Bear
Sirius R E.
Sysgroup
Thruvision Grp

AGMs
CPL
Leeds Group
Mcbride
Schroder Japan
Tr Euro.growth

Source: Financial Times

did you know

In 2017, The Economist argued that opening all borders and allowing free movement of people would generate an extra $78tn for the global economy. (@qikipedia)

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral questions
Education (including Topical Questions)
 
Motions
Motion to approve the Draft Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 1)(Amendment) Order 2020 and the Heavy Commercial Vehicles in Kent (No. 2) (Amendment) Order 2020 – Grant Shapps
 
Motion to approve the Draft Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EE Exit) Regulations 2020 and the Draft Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 – George Eustice
 
Motion to approve the Draft European Union Withdrawal (Consequential Modifications) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 – Michael Gove
 
Adjournment
Persecution of Ahmadis – Imran Ahmad Khan

House of Lords 

Oral questions
Making misogyny a hate crime – Baroness Donaghy
 
Opportunities for new entrants into farming – Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
 
The future of high street travel agents – Baroness Clark of Kilwinning
 
Protecting migrant women who have been subjected to domestic abuse and who have no recourse to public funds – Baroness Lister of Burtersett
 
Private Notice Question
To ask the Government what progress has been made in settling claims under the Windrush Compensation Scheme – Lord Dholakia
 
Statement
Update on the Integrated Review – Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
 
Legislation
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill – report stage (day 2) – Lord Callanan

Scottish Parliament 

No business scheduled

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