The deadly risk of thinking the pandemic is nearing its end

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

The markets probably don’t need to hear this—they’re well aware—but some politicians and policymakers might: the pandemic is not over yet. Not by a long shot.

Mary Daly, who heads the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, certainly thinks the sentiment bears repeating. “I think one of the biggest risks to our global growth going forward is that we prematurely declare victory on COVID,” she told the Financial Times.

You can see the signs in Japan, where a newly-imposed state of emergency means the Tokyo Olympics will take place without spectators. You can see them in parts of Europe such as the U.K. and the Iberian peninsula, where a surge of COVID cases is raising questions about the continent’s big reopening. (Here in Germany, cases have just started ticking up again, though it’s too early to say whether this points to a new wave as such.)

Personally, I find what’s happening in England both highly disturbing and exemplary of the needlessly risky political mindset we’re starting to see. As my colleagues in Fortune‘s Europe team wrote this week: “…In the face of rising cases, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is moving full steam ahead on relaxing restrictions, lifting social distancing rules, and making mask use voluntary in England.”

It’s essentially a let-it-rip policy. Health Secretary Sajid Javid acknowledges it could mean 100,000 new cases a day. “We want to be very straightforward about this in what we can expect in terms of case numbers. But what matters more than anything is hospitalization and death numbers,” he said a few days ago.

The U.K.’s rising case numbers are most pronounced among younger people, who are certainly less likely than older people to become seriously ill with COVID. However, there is a non-trivial risk of infected people going on to suffer the effects of so-called long COVID. There are already signs that the U.K.’s third wave is forcing hospitals to cancel operations for things like cancer. And the U.K.’s imminent “Freedom Day” will be anything but, for disabled and immunocompromized people who will suddenly find the outside world more dangerous.

As deeply concerned doctors wrote in a joint letter this week: “The link between infection and death might have been weakened, but it has not been broken, and infection can still cause substantial morbidity in both acute and long-term illness.”

“The government’s strategy provides fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants. This would place all at risk, including those already vaccinated, within the U.K. and globally,” they added.

Which brings us to the ongoing scandal—both moral and strategic—of the rich world’s failure to get the rest of the world vaccinated.

In places like Germany (one of the strongest opponents of the vaccine patent waiver that health equity campaigners are calling for), we are entering a situation where we have more vaccines than we can use. As I got my second jab last weekend, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt knowing that in my native South Africa a mere 0.8% of the population has had that privilege. Bad luck and government incompetence have both played significant roles in that, but the full-vaccination rate across Africa is barely above 1%, and that is broadly the result of rich countries hoarding vaccines and intellectual property. This is wrong and, as variants proliferate, demonstrably risky.

“We are not through the pandemic, we are getting through the pandemic,” said Daly. How quickly we get through will depend on the choices we make now. More news below.

David Meyer


Pandemic bonus

Microsoft is to spend $200 million on staff bonuses, to say thank you and/or keep workers on-board after a year and a half of pandemic. Employees will get $1,500 bonuses, excepting corporate VPs and employees of the company's GitHub, LinkedIn and Zenimax subsidiaries. CNBC

Pfizer booster

Pfizer will seek FDA approval for a third COVID shot next month. The company says very early study data indicates an extra dose, to be administered between six and eight months after the first two, can boost neutralizing antibody levels as much as 10-fold. Fortune

Avenatti sentenced

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who gained a high profile representing Stormy Daniels in her legal battles with Donald Trump, has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years behind bars for his attempt to extort $20 million out of Nike. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe: "Mr. Avenatti had become drunk on the power of his platform." Wall Street Journal

Biogen pullback

Biogen has voluntarily reduced the market reach for its Alzheimer's drug Aduhelm, the FDA's approval of which was highly controversial, by requesting that the FDA cut back on its prescribing label. Biogen said Aduhelm should initially be given to patients with mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia, i.e. the kind of patients that were involved in its clinical studies. Most physicians don't think the FDA should have approved Aduhelm, as there's little evidence it slows cognitive decline in Alzheimer's patients. Fortune


Brexit bill

The U.K. is apparently liable to pay the EU a little more than expected—$56.2 billion—under its Brexit divorce settlement. The size of the financial settlement, representing the U.K.'s share of EU spending commitments up until the end of the Brexit transition period (i.e. the end of last year) has always been one of the more contentious Brexit issues. The U.K. had been expecting to pay $53.7 billion max. RTÉ News

Vaccine policies

How should companies deal with employees who don't want to get vaccinated? As Fortune's Jessica Mathews writes: "On Wall Street, it’s been a mixed bag. Goldman Sachs has required its employees to report their vaccination status. Bank of America, BlackRock and Morgan Stanley are only allowing vaccinated employees back in the office...Charles Schwab doesn’t have a specific policy regarding vaccines." Fortune

Instawork round

Instawork, a startup that matches gig-economy workers to jobs, is raising $60 million in a Series C round that values the company at $560 million. Not bad for a firm that was cutting its valuation around a year ago. Fortune

Apple weed

After changing its policies on such things, Apple has for the first time approved a weed-ordering app, with full e-commerce functionality, for the App Store. Eaze's customers previously had to complete transactions on the startup's website, but now they can do everything within the app. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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