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FirstFT: Nations race to contain Omicron variant

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Good morning. This article is an on-site version of our FirstFT newsletter. Sign up to our Asia, Europe/Africa or Americas edition to get it sent straight to your inbox every weekday morning

Countries raced to contain the Omicron coronavirus variant by restricting travel and imposing quarantine measures as new cases were detected around the world yesterday.

A third case was identified in the UK and dozens more were being treated as suspected cases, people familiar with the matter told the Financial Times. The government will today set out legislation required to mandate mask-wearing for shops and public transport in England.

The US, the EU, the UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea all limited travel or ordered quarantines on travellers to and from southern Africa, where the variant was first identified, much to the dismay of aviation groups. Stocks across the industry subsequently plummeted on Friday. Asia-Pacific stocks began the trading week lower but showed signs of recovery mid-morning after last week’s decline.

The World Health Organization has called for a balanced response to the variant, saying countries which report cases should not be “stigmatised”.

Read on

  • Drugmakers are racing to test vaccines against Omicron. Here is what we know about the variant so far.

  • China said its zero-Covid policy will protect it from Omicron as a domestic study warned against “disastrous” western-style reopening.

  • The FT View: Countries should recognise that flight restrictions will impose special hardship on developing economies and be ready to provide assistance.

Chart showing that a new variant is spreading rapidly in South Africa, and appears to be out-competing other variants much faster than previous variants of concern did

1. EU ministers call for deal to tackle migrant crisis European ministers met yesterday to discuss ways to end small-boat crossings after 27 people died last week in the English Channel. They agreed that a UK-EU migration policy framework was needed, as well as improved surveillance of traffic.

2. Half of this year’s big IPOs are under water Half of the companies that raised over $1bn at initial public offerings this year, including Swedish food manufacturer Oatly and Indian payments giant Paytm, are trading below their listing price, despite robust stock markets around the world.

3. Brussels urged to regulate Big Tech EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager has urged the approval of rules to curb the power of Big Tech, even if they are imperfect. “It’s important that everyone realises that it is best to get 80 per cent now than 100 per cent never,” she said. Vestager is due to speak at the FT-ETNO Tech and Politics forum, which kicks off at 9:15am CET today. Register here.

  • Mounting troubles for ‘gatekeepers’: The UK competition regulator is expected to block Meta’s acquisition of online image platform Giphy in the coming days in an escalation of the watchdog’s assault on Big Tech.

4. BoE: cladding crisis poses risk to UK financial stability The Bank of England is increasingly concerned about the impact of the crisis and has been pressuring lenders to audit their exposure to homes that might be unsellable, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

5. Virgil Abloh dies of cancer The American designer known for bringing streetwear into luxury fashion and a rising star within the LVMH group has died of cancer at the age of 41, the company said yesterday.

Abloh’s family said he had been battling an aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma, and had chosen to keep his 2019 diagnosis private
Abloh’s family said he had been battling an aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma, and had chosen to keep his 2019 diagnosis private © Reuters

Coronavirus digest

  • Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre, a jab-making centre near Oxford at the heart of UK efforts to prepare for future pandemics, is up for sale.

The day ahead

Iran nuclear talks in Vienna Iran is set to resume talks with global powers about the deal as concerns grow over the scale of Tehran’s atomic activity. China, France, Germany, Russia, UK and US are to be represented at the meeting.

  • Go deeper: Ali Bagheri Kani, the hardline diplomat who once described the deal as a “complete loss”, will lead the Iranian delegation in the talks. For the meeting to succeed, “talks must address the removal of sanctions,” he writes.

Cyber Monday In the lead-up to Christmas, online retailers hold special promotions and prepare for a deluge of orders after a busy Black Friday.

Epstein The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell begins in New York. The former associate of Jeffrey Epstein is accused of luring girls for sex abuse.

Economic data The eurozone releases consumer confidence figures, while Germany issues flash consumer price index data and Italy presents monthly producer price index data.

What else we’re reading and watching

We must accept higher taxes to fund health and social care The UK government’s plan to deliver “world leading health and social care” has, to its credit, recognised that there is a crisis. The question is whether its solutions are effective and fair. The answer is: no. That is because the new levy is inadequate and can prove only a short-term fix, writes Martin Wolf.

Is Turkey on the brink of hyperinflation? Turks have been watching with horror as the lira has tumbled since early November, while inflation surged. If President Erdogan refuses to abandon his fixation with low-interest rates, Turkey could be headed towards hyperinflation, analysts warn.

America’s abortion battle returns to the Supreme Court The pink-walled Jackson Women’s Health Organization has become the focal point of a legal battle that could overturn Roe vs Wade, the landmark decision to legalise abortion in the US, in a critical test for new conservative justices.

Macau casinos gamble on relations with Beijing Hit by stringent border controls under China’s zero-Covid policy, the region’s gambling revenue has sunk. But fears in the world’s largest casino hub go beyond the pandemic, as operators face further scrutiny from Xi Jinping’s government.

Video: NFT sales redraw the art market The art world is grappling with a new frontier, where ownership of digital assets is encrypted on the blockchain. The FT talks to artists, auction houses and collectors about how NFTs have opened up opportunities for creators — and speculators.

Food & drink

Heavens, we need cheer and conviviality — and what’s more cheering than a convivial glass of fizz? Jancis Robinson reveals some of her favourite bubbly for the winter, from a £10 Crémant to a memorable Krug.

Thank you for reading and remember you can add FirstFT to myFT. Send your recommendations and feedback to firstft@ft.com

Britain after Brexit — Keep up to date with the latest developments as the UK economy adjusts to life outside the EU. Sign up here

The Week Ahead — Start every week with a preview of what’s on the agenda. Sign up here



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