BP, BofA Urge Work From Home; Dutch Ease Lockdown: Virus Update
Bloomberg Quint|3 days ago

(Bloomberg) -- Bank of America Corp. pushed back its return to office for staff in the U.S. again, until at least the fourth week of January. BP Plc told employees at its largest U.S. office, in Houston, to work from home until next month due to rising omicron cases in Texas. 

General Electric Co. is suspending implementation of the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers after the Supreme Court blocked the federal rule. 

The U.K. reported fewer than 100,000 new cases for the first time since late December, raising hopes the omicron wave has peaked. The Netherlands eased its strict lockdown. Germany reported record cases for the third straight day.

Key Developments: 

  • Virus Tracker: Cases near 321.7 million; deaths pass 5.5 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.64 billion shots administered
  • Biden agenda collides with Supreme Court willing to flex power
  • Omicron surge gives bosses reason to order shots Biden can’t
  • Chaos at Hong Kong quarantine camp leaves some detainees trapped
  • Canada plays dangerous game demanding U.S. truckers have shots
BP, BofA Urge Work From Home; Dutch Ease Lockdown: Virus Update

France Cases, Hospitalizations High (1:48 p.m. NY)

France registered more than 329,000 new cases on Friday, as infections hovered near Tuesday’s record for a third day while the omicron variant spreads across the country.

The number of people hospitalized with Covid rose to 24,511, the highest since mid-May last year, while the number of patients in intensive care fell for a second day to 3,895.

Illinois Fatalities Climb (1:43 p.m. NY)

Deaths in Illinois caused by Covid-19 have continued to climb this week, reaching the highest daily number in a year. 

On Friday, 153 Covid-19 deaths were reported, the highest in one day since January 2021, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health website. The deaths come after the state reported a daily record number of confirmed and probable cases last week and amid declining availability of hospital and intensive care unit beds in the state.

BP Tells Houston Workers to Stay Home (1:41 p.m. NY)

BP Plc told employees at its largest U.S. office to work from home until next month due to rising omicron cases in Texas. 

The oil major reopened its sprawling glass-walled campus in west Houston last summer as the first waves of Covid-19 subsided, but its 3,500 employees were asked to return to remote work this week.

Netherlands Eases Lockdown (1:38 p.m. NY)

The Dutch government eased the strict lockdown that has been in place since last month amid a drop in fatalities and intensive-care admissions.

The announcement came even as infections continued to rise, reaching a record 35,521 on Friday, according to government data. 

Non-essential shops are set to re-open in the Netherlands from Saturday, with a closing time of 5 p.m. Hairdressers and other contact professions will be allowed to reopen but restaurants, cinemas, museums, theaters and concert halls will remain closed.

BofA Delays Office Return Again (1:04 p.m. NY)

Bank of America Corp. pushed back its return to office for staff in the U.S. again, until at least the fourth week of January, as Covid-19 cases remain escalated nationwide from the highly contagious omicron variant.

The company told employees they can work remotely through at least next week, and until they’re advised it’s time to come back, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The move follows last week’s decision to delay bringing back workers through this week.

GE Halts Vaccine Rule After Court Decision (12:32 p.m. NY)

General Electric Co. is suspending implementation of the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers after the Supreme Court blocked the federal rule.

The maker of jet engines, wind turbines and medical scanners confirmed the decision Friday via email. GE is the first major company to announce a halt after the court’s decision Thursday to block the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s push to boost Covid-19 vaccinations. 

U.K. Daily Cases Dip Below 100,000 (12:23 p.m. NY)

The U.K. reported fewer than 100,000 new cases for the first time since late December, raising hopes that the country is past the worst of its omicron wave.

The 99,652 infections recorded on Friday compare with almost 200,000 a day at the peak of the outbreak. 

Hospitalizations in London, the early center of the U.K. omicron onslaught, are below the recent high reached on Jan. 5., and show signs of decline elsewhere in the country as well. While the average number of fatalities is creeping upward, deaths have stayed relatively low compared with earlier waves.

Maryland Begins Distributing 20 Million Masks (11:44 a.m. NY)

Maryland began distributing the first of what it says will be a total of 20 million more-protective N95 and KN95 masks. Maryland, part of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, has hit record cases and hospitalizations, though some health experts say the state’s omicron wave may be peaking. 

Finland to Help Hurt Businesses (11:14 a.m. NY)

Finland is planning to compensate companies hit by restrictions intended to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Sports facilities, gyms, spas and swimming pools and indoor playgrounds are among companies that will receive the aid, Economy Minister Mika Lintila told reporters on Friday. The package will be about 200 million euros ($230 million) in size, he said, depending on the duration of the curbs.

Adams Says NYC Can’t Function Remotely (11:06 a.m. NY)

New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged businesses to bring workers back and parents to send their kids to school. 

“We cannot run a city as complex as New York remotely,” Adams said at a press conference at the Steinway & Sons factory in Astoria, Queens. 

The mayor, who spoke on a podium in the middle of the factory as employees worked, continued his bid to will the city back to regular activity despite a daily average of more than 25,000 cases due to the omicron variant. 

More U.K. Babies Hospitalized (9:30 p.m. HK)

Omicron has resulted in a higher hospitalization rate for babies in the U.K. than seen for previous variants of Covid-19, though most hospital stays were short, researchers said. 

Infants under the age of one accounted for 42% of children hospitalized during the omicron wave, compared with 30% in May to mid-December when the delta variant was prevalent, the research team said in data presented on Friday. Outcomes for the hospitalized babies have been positive, however, with no deaths, less need for oxygen and proportionally fewer intensive-care admissions than during the delta wave. 

EU Regulator Links Spinal Illness to J&J, Astra (8:30 p.m. HK)

European Medicines Agency’s safety committee has recommended a change to the product information for AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria and Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 Vaccine Janssen, according to statement.

Product information to include a warning of very rare cases of transverse myelitis (TM) reported following vaccination. TM is a rare neurological condition characterized by an inflammation of one or both sides of the spinal cord.

EMA’s safety committee says causal relationship between these two vaccines and transverse myelitis is “at least a reasonable possibility.”

Gene Linked to Severe Covid (6 p.m. HK)

Polish scientists have discovered a gene that they say more than doubles the risk of falling severely ill with, or even dying from Covid-19.

The Health Ministry in Warsaw expects the discovery to help identify people who are most at risk from the disease, which has already killed more than 100,000 people in Poland alone. It also plans to include genetic tests when it screens patients for potential Covid-19 infections as soon as the end of June.

Omicron Less Severe for Unvaccinated: S. African Study (4:04 p.m. HK)

The omicron coronavirus variant causes less severe disease than the delta strain even in those who are unvaccinated or who haven’t had a prior Covid-19 infection, a study from South Africa’s Western Cape province showed. 

The findings add to growing evidence that while more infectious, omicron may be less virulent than predecessors. Data from South Africa, the first country to have a major outbreak caused by the strain, has so far shown lower hospitalization and death rates.

No Need to Wear Masks Outdoors in Paris (2:23 p.m. HK)

Parisians are no longer obliged to wear masks outdoors after an administrative court struck down a local rule put in place from Dec. 31 to try to stem the spread of omicron, Les Echos reported Friday. The court decision followed another in the neighboring department of Versailles that found the measure to be an “excessive” and disproportionate intrusion on individual rights, the newspaper said.

Hong Kong Bankers Stuck Overseas (1:53 p.m. HK)

Those stranded include division heads in investment banking, wealth and asset management and other functions, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing internal business. The barring of flights from eight countries, part of an outlier Covid Zero strategy, is threatening the city’s appeal as a regional financial hub.

Cases in Germany Soar to Record (10:41 a.m. HK)

Infections surged by 92,223, the highest one-day increase since the start of the pandemic, according to numbers released Friday by the country’s RKI public-health institute. The seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people climbed to a record high of 470.6.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz this week issued a strong appeal for Germans to get vaccinated, saying failing to do so puts others at risk as the nation grapples with omicron. More than 72% of the population is fully vaccinated with two shots, and over 45% have had a booster shot, according to the latest RKI data. But there remain pockets of intense opposition to inoculations.

Airlines Slash Services to China (9:58 a.m. HK)

China is more cut off from international travel than at any other stage during the pandemic as it tries to stamp out Covid with tight controls on movement. Airlines from key markets have reacted by slashing services from already low levels, with fewer than 500 inbound China flights scheduled this week versus about 10,000 this time two years ago.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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