China battles rising Covid infections as controls are lifted

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Good evening,

How does China open up after a long period of strict pandemic control without putting its citizens’ lives at risk?

That is the central conundrum facing policymakers in Beijing, as Covid-19 spreads rapidly through Chinese cities, causing runs on drugs and virus tests and shortages of blood banks, putting an already strained health system under further stress.

The current outbreak has brought normal life to a halt in many cities, just weeks after the government abruptly abandoned its zero-Covid regime of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing.

Authorities in Beijing had until recent days not reported any deaths from the current outbreak, despite estimates suggesting that more than half of the capital’s 22 million residents have been infected. Funeral homes are cremating more bodies than usual, and FT reporters have seen body bags outside Covid-designated hospitals.

Chongqing, meanwhile, has become the first Chinese city to allow people with mild Covid-19 symptoms to go to work as normal, as the country steps up its transition to living with the virus.

The outbreaks are also causing widespread business disruption as staffing shortages threaten to close factories and truck drivers fall ill. Companies have been given no guidance on how to deal with the sudden surge in cases after previously operating under strict guidelines from local authorities. Local bosses are either loosening all controls or isolating workforces to keep operations running.

Factories face the added problem of more than 290 million migrant workers heading home for the Lunar New Year, a move that threatens to become a “superspreading event”. Disruptions in microchip factories can also affect the global economy, and affect supplies for cars and industrial equipment, says the FT’s Lex column.

The financial sector has also been hit hard, with up to half of the employees in asset managers and banks in Beijing suspected of being infected. Local share prices are also down as the Covid situation, along with global rising interest rates, offset optimism over reopening and pro-growth comments from party and central bank officials.

The big problem, Lex points out, is that production jobs cannot be done from home. “The proportion of workers sick or absent in more than 2 million factories across various industries in China will be similar to the numbers now seen at the major financial groups in Beijing,” it concludes. “The consequences of reopening will be enormous.”

Need to know: Britain and Europe’s economy

Regulatory burdens risks Europe falling behind the US in attracting investment to tackle climate change, according to ABB’s Björn Rosengren, one of Europe’s leading industrialists. The EU’s trading partners are hitting out at the bloc’s plan to introduce the world’s first carbon limit taxand claimed it was protectionist.

ItalyThe new right-wing government scrapped plans to allow shops to refuse digital payments for transactions under €60, averting a potential showdown with Brussels. It will go ahead with raising the legal limit for cash transactions to €5,000, reversing efforts by the previous government to lower the limit to combat tax evasion.

Need to know: Global economy

As we wrote in the previous edition of DT, the global fight against inflation is far from over. New FT analysis shows that core inflation continues to rise in many economies, even as the headlines start to fall.

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The global agreement to set a minimum tax rate for multinationals of 15 percent reached a breakthrough last week with a pledge by the EU to introduce it across member states, which could lead to a “domino effect” worldwide.

Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to return as Israeli prime minister after winning last month’s election. Our Big Read examines how the country’s most right-wing government to date will exercise its power.

Ghana stopped paying off large parts of its foreign debt, making it the last developing county to fail to meet its foreign obligations.

President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa was re-elected as leader of the ruling African National Congress, despite a damaging controversy centered on his private game farm. He replaced Jacob Zuma in 2017 at the height of a corruption scandal and promised to clean up the state.

Atiku Abubakar could finally win the Nigerian presidency at his sixth attempt in February’s elections in Africa’s largest economy. The race pits Abubakar’s opposition People’s Democratic Party against Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress and Peter Obi of the Labor Party.

Need to know: business

Facebook owner Meta was hit by a complaint from the EU’s antitrust watchdog that the social network’s classified ad service was unfair to rivals. apple opens up its App Store as tough EU laws loom.

The leader of Pioneer Natural Resources, America’s biggest shale oil operator rejected White House claims that failing to accelerate drilling was “un-American”. Scott Sheffield said pouring profits into faster manufacturing growth at the expense of shareholder returns would send investors fleeing.

Electricity companies warned the UK government that it could run out of cash as price volatility in wholesale markets continues.

Despite suggestions that the concept of metaverse struggling to take off, it has become the hottest topic ever in exchange-traded funds.

Bar chart showing the number of ETF launches by technology theme

The world of work

Work may have become less physically dangerous, but it appears to have become more so psychologically dangerous, writes columnist Sarah O’Connor. Work-related stress, depression and anxiety began to rise about a decade ago, increased during the pandemic and now account for half of all work-related illnesses.

Line diagram of estimated frequency of self-reported work-related musculoskeletal disorders and stress/depression per 100,000 employed in the past 12 months

At least robots don’t get sick. Recent advances in generative AI means that the threat of being replaced by a machine has extended beyond art to other types of creative and knowledge workers.

From managing your time to how to prepare for change in the workplace, browse our new selection of business books.

One of the biggest disadvantages for people returning to the UK workforce is high costs of childcare. FT readers tell us their experience and what they think needs to change.

Covid cases and vaccinations

Total number of global cases: 646.1 minutes

Total doses given: 13.1 billion

Get the latest worldwide picture with our vaccine tracking

Some good news

The London Ticket Bank is an initiative by some of the capital’s leading cultural organizations and charitable groups to provide affordable tickets for music, dance, theater and comedy events. For more information and to donate click here.

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