Global Business Daily: UK's $6.2bn to support businesses, Google gets a union
Louise Greenwood
Europe;United Kingdom

The UK faces a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle the disadvantages faced by many that this pandemic has so devastatingly exposed," says the influential, left-leaning think tank the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

The cost of supporting the country through a third lockdown has put public spending in the UK back to wartime levels, raising huge questions about how the economic recovery from COVID-19 will be handled. Grants of up to $12,000 have been announced by the UK's chief finance minister Rishi Sunak to support firms. And as business groups warn it will not be enough to save many from collapse, another leading British retailer, the stationery group Paperchase, has announced it is on the verge of administration with the possible closure of all 127 of its stores. 

Elsewhere, there's evidence from the supermarkets that housebound Britons are munching their way through the ongoing misery of social isolation, with rising food and drink sales.

Meanwhile in sunny California, there are signs that worker unrest in Silicon Valley is gathering momentum under the demands of the pandemic, with news that staff at Google's parent firm are unionizing for the first time. Industry watchers claim the development may herald a turnaround in the laissez-faire management culture of U.S. "Big Tech".

In Southeast Asia, a tie-up between Indonesia's ride-hailing firm Gojek and the e-payments giant Tokopedia may be about to create one of the world's biggest new tech firms, that is not based in the U.S.. 

As the roll-out of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine begins in the UK, CGTN Europe is joined by one leading respiratory disease experts to discuss the unprecedented mass immunization campaign now getting under way.

And with a nod to the "green" shoots of recovery, electric car sales outstripped those of traditional models for the first time ever in one European country last year: Norway. Given the propensity of the Nordics to set consumer trends, it is perhaps a small sign of what the post-COVID-19 world may end up looking like.

Read on for the day's business news in full.  

Louise Greenwood,

Digital correspondent

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The UK's chief financial minister, Rishi Sunak, has announced a $6.2 billion support package for businesses, as the country goes into a third lockdown that economists warn may threaten a double-dip recession in the world's sixth largest economy. Retail, hospitality and leisure firms will receive one-off payments of more than $12,000 on top of the $4,000 already granted to those forced to close their doors completely due to COVID-19 restrictions. In a video message on Twitter, Sunak vowed to "set out the next stage in our economic response" in the next budget due in early March. The measures will add $380 billion to the pandemic response bill, which has pushed government spending to its highest point since 1944.

The third lockdown in the UK has prompted several airlines to cut back on flights to the country. Low-cost carrier easyJet said it would prioritize services between key cities along with "a small number of international routes," while British Airways said it would only keep crucial routes in operation. Holiday operator Tui said it will suspend all package trips from the UK until February, when current restrictions are due to end.

Workers at Google's parent company Alphabet have banded together to form a union for the first time, to protect the rights of staff and to prioritize a more ethical approach in product development. Organizers say the group of 226 making up the "Alphabet Workers Union" expects to grow in numbers "by thousands" in coming months, using collective bargaining power on issues such as misconduct and the rights of contract and temporary workers. Unionization remains rare in Silicon Valley, despite rising concern over labor standards at many firms since the start of the pandemic. 

New data suggest $7.3 billion worth of stock was shifted out of the City of London to other European bourses on the first day of trading in 2021. Equity in leading European institutions such as Santander, Deutsche Bank and French energy giant Total has moved to primary listed exchanges such as Madrid, Frankfurt and Paris, according to the research group Refinitiv. Up to 30 percent of all EU share trading is estimated to pass through the City of London, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has admitted his post-Brexit trade deal with the EU has fallen short of providing the protections for the financial sector he had hoped for. 

The New York Stock Exchange has backtracked on plans to delist three Chinese telecoms firms. China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom had been earmarked for delisting later this week in compliance with a White House executive order. In a statement, the NYSE said it would reverse the decision "in light of further consultation with relevant regulatory authorities."

Some of the world's biggest pharmaceutical firms have begun hiking prices in response to falling demand and concern over the cost implications of new regulation, according to figures just out. Healthcare research firm 3 Axis Advisors says the price of more than 300 drugs produced by Pfizer, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline have risen by up to 10 percent in the first days of the new year. While drug price increases have slowed overall since 2015, the industry is seeking to protect revenue as doctors' visits and prescription orders plummet during lockdown.

Indonesia's ride-hailing and e-payments giant Gojek is understood to be in merger talks with local e-commerce pioneer PT Tokopedia. The two regional tech giants are thought to be seeking synergies ahead of a planned initial public offering later this year. If the $18 billion deal goes ahead, it will create one of the biggest companies in Southeast Asia.

In more evidence of cabin fever spending, the UK’s fourth largest supermarket chain Morrisons said sales jumped by 9.3 percent in the three weeks to early January, with a 64 percent rise in champagne sales and increased demand for luxury foods such as cheese, salmon and desserts. With pubs and bars still closed, alcohol sales at the Yorkshire-based retailer rose by $421 million overall.

Elsewhere, rival Sainsbury's was forced to restrict access to its online shopping portal after a surge in demand, as would-be shoppers seek to stock up on supplies ahead of lockdown. Customers also took to social media to complain of virtual queues and technical problems while attempting to place orders with Tesco and Ocado, the parent company of the upmarket food chain Waitrose. 

And, amid signs that record low borrowing costs are here to stay, Denmark's biggest bank Danske says it will offer homeowners 20-year mortgages at a fixed interest rate of zero. The home finance unit of the Scandinavian banking giant Nordea is marketing the deals at a lower rate than benchmark U.S. 10-year treasury bonds, essentially offering free money to borrowers until 2040. 


As the UK become the first country to roll out the new Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine, CGTN Europe is joined by Julian Tang, honorary associate professor in the department of respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, to discuss the new lockdown and why it is so badly needed.


Unfortunately, this virus is now pretty much out of control with the new variant and the post-festive season social socializing. The vaccine at the moment is just starting [and] the response can be too slow to control this virus at the moment. Preventative health care services are being overwhelmed and there are more deaths in the elderly and the vulnerable. 


How long could it be before the situation is under control?

At least four weeks, given the previous lockdowns and the impact of the duration of previous lockdowns. And now we're seeing surges that are in excess of any previously seen, except for the very first wave, I'm guessing at least four to six, perhaps even eight weeks at least to get ahead of this level.


How is this vaccine roll-out different from any other in recent history? 

Well, it's unprecedented, I mean, the most widespread vaccination program that we're used to is the seasonal flu vaccine, even then we're really only trying to immunize about 10 to 15 percent, the most vulnerable of the population, each season. Probably you have to go back to at least a smallpox era to really see. This is widespread immunization across all age groups, across all groups, globally. 


WATCH: From Bob Dylan to Dolly Parton, why are artists selling their catalogs to music companies? 💿  Kurt Dahl, a musician and an entertainment lawyer, believes it is “a matter of timingg… these offers [that] are coming in are way higher than you typically expect for a publishing catalog buyout. And also the artists that are selling are at that age where it makes sense… the aging boomer population.”



And finally, in more positive news about just how "green" the shoots of economic recovery may be, the latest data on the car industry show that electric car sales overtook those of diesel, petrol and hybrid combined for the first time in Norway last year. Could other European countries follow? Plug in folks!

Source(s): Reuters

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