Client Weekly Update – Friday 4 February

Local update

Jersey this week reached 100 deaths from Covid related illness. 

The Minister for Health and Social Services, Deputy Richard Renouf said: “Unfortunately this week has seen us surpass 100 COVID-related deaths in Jersey. I extend my sincere condolences to the families of the deceased. We all feel sympathy for their loss.

“This sad milestone reminds us all that we cannot be complacent.  I appeal to everyone to continue to be vigilant and act responsibly. We are moving away from fixed and enforceable measures to focusing on public health guidance and the exercise of common sense by Islanders”.  

“While the risk of disease and severe illness from COVID in Jersey is now much less than we have known previously, I want to remind Islanders that they can visit the Vaccination Centre at Fort Regent without a booked appointment to get their first, second or booster dose. Being vaccinated ensures those that who are vulnerable in our community are as protected as possible. Such actions will help limit further hospitalisations and untimely deaths from this disease.”

Several schools have today been forced to close classes or ask students to work from home following a surge in Covid cases which one head teacher says has pushed the staffing levels to ‘crisis point’. 

Secondary schools have been particularly badly hit, with the total number of pupils absent fluctuating between 22 and 28%  over the last fortnight. 

Three secondary school year groups were required to study from home yesterday, including year 10 at Haute Vallee and year 7 at Grainville, where head teacher Sue Morris said they were also missing 16 members of staff, adding, “we have done everything we can to have the whole school back for the last four days but we are at crisis point again with regards to staffing”. 

In Jersey, there are 2,677 known cases of Covid with 21 islanders in hospital.

Children aged 5 to 11 in a clinical at-risk group will be offered a primary course of COVID-19 vaccination, following advice from the Joint Committee on Immunisation and Vaccination (JCVI). Parents have started receiving a letter and leaflets from the Vaccination Team. 

The JCVI recommended that 5 to 11-year-olds who are in a clinical at-risk group or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed, should be offered two paediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 8 weeks apart.

The Vaccination Centre will phone parents to confirm if they would like to get their child vaccinated. The vaccinations will be administered by nurses in the General Hospital to create a more private and child-friendly environment for young children. 

Clinical at-risk children who attend Mont à L’Abbé School will be offered a choice to have their vaccinations at school so that it is as accessible as possible and in familiar surroundings.

 If a parent is not contacted by Wednesday 2 February but believes their child should be eligible for vaccination, they can call the Coronavirus Helpline who will be able to confirm eligibility and complete an opt-in form over the phone on 0800 735 5566.

The government has extended financial support to retailers and close-contact businesses, with the vast majority of these, reporting a loss in turnover as a result of restrictions imposed in response to the Omicron variant. 

A recent survey by the Jersey Chamber of Commerce said that 90% of respondents had a lower income this January than at the same time in 2019, while a quarter of respondents reported a drop of at least 50% compared to three years ago. 

The survey was carried out in response to the government previously excluding retailers and close-contact businesses, such as beauty salons and hairdressers, from an extension to the Co-Funded Payroll Scheme, under which support is provided for struggling businesses.

Now the government has responded to concerned businesses and extended the scheme’s eligibility to more sectors, including wholesale and retail businesses, hairdressing, driving schools, sports and recreation, and childcare. 

Treasury Minister Susie Pinel said the extension, which covers claims for January made in February, was likely to be the last and called the scheme the ‘most effective tool we have to respond to the impact that public health measures have had on businesses’. 

Left-out businesses argued that the work-from-home guidance, which was lifted on Tuesday, had led to decreased footfall in town and that some customers were reluctant to shop while mask-wearing was being enforced. 

The Co-Funded Payroll Scheme was previously extended to include restaurants, bars, coffee and sandwich shops, taxis, cinemas and the arts, and sole traders in all qualifying sectors.

Chamber chief executive Murray Norton said that the restrictions imposed in response to the Omicron surge in cases could not have come at a worse time for many businesses. 

‘The government rightly followed health advice to recommend that wherever possible employees should work from home and businesses did follow this advice. That government intervention clearly reduced footfall to many businesses in retail and close-contact services, hampering their trading conditions at the worst of times’. 

He called it ‘appropriate’ for the government to support the same sectors again.

Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham said he was ‘pleased’ they had been able to extend the scheme, following further engagement with the business community. ‘Providing support throughout the pandemic has been essential to retain businesses and protect jobs,’ he said.

Mixed markets

London’s FTSE 100 was flat at 7,529.56 in afternoon trade today.

European stock markets tumbled into the red today. The CAC 40 fell 0.6% and the DAX was 1.7% lower.

Wall Street stocks were mixed today. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.24% at 35,027.76, while the S&P 500 was 0.25% firmer at 4,488.52 and the Nasdaq Composite came out the gate 0.86% stronger at 13,998.69

Asian markets finished mixed as of the most recent closing prices. The Hang Seng gained 3.23% and the Nikkei 225 rose 0.73%. The Shanghai Composite lost 0.97%.

Businesses handed £1.3bn in Covid contracts

Furlough grants totalled £1 million for businesses awarded £1.3 billion in Covid contracts.

Dozens of UK companies were handed VIP fast-track contracts to supply PPE to the NHS, which paid idled employees at taxpayer expense.

Companies were given a total of £1.3 billion in contentious fast-track funding. It has been uncovered that Covid contracts with little vetting claimed at least £1 million in furlough funds.

An examination of the finances of companies that won lucrative emergency contracts to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to the NHS at the peak of the pandemic, reveals that 12 of them also claimed funding, to put employees on furlough at taxpayers’ expense.

Many had no prior experience delivering PPE but saw significant revenue increases after getting contracts to supply goods ranging from gowns to masks. Overall, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spent £9 billion on personal protective equipment that was either inadequate, malfunctioning, out of date, or significantly expensive.

These furlough claims were allowed under the provisions of the £70 billion job preservation scheme, but the facts raise ethical concerns about seeking government help while profiting from lucrative state contracts.

Britain risks cycle of low growth without higher investment

A key business lobby group has warned that Britain risks being locked in a vicious cycle of poor growth and high taxation unless the government takes dramatic actions to promote investment, enhance skills, remove red tape, and capitalise on green economy potential.

Tony Danker, the CBI’s director general, will use a speech on Thursday to criticize ministers for a lack of ambition as he offers a five-point plan to restore the UK’s underlying growth rate to pre-financial-crisis levels.

Danker will refer to independent Office for Budget Responsibility projections that show the economy rising at an annual pace of 1.3-1.7% once it has recovered from the pandemic.

Meta shares tumble

On Wednesday, Facebook disclosed its first ever dip in daily user numbers, causing its parent company’s share price to plummet dramatically.

Meta, Mark Zuckerberg’s newly rebranded social media empire, announced that daily active user counts at its flagship app – a key growth metric for investors – decreased to 1.929 billion in the three months to December, down from 1.93 billion in the previous quarter. 

The landmark reduction of around 1 million members, the first in 18 years, contributed to a share price rout in after-hours trading, with Meta stock dropping 20%, representing a $175 billion drop in value if it holds when trading resumes on Thursday.

On a conference call with investors, Zuckerberg said he was “proud” of the work the firm had done the previous year but said the company faced difficult competition for attention from rivals such as TikTok.

“Facebook’s fundamental challenge is competing for attention – there are only so many people and so many hours in a day, and we’re already nearing saturation point,” said Neil Wilson, chief markets analyst at trading platform

Shell unveils highest quarterly profit

Shell has cashed in on the soaring oil and gas markets by quadrupling its earnings to unprecedented highs, fuelling renewed calls for a windfall tax on fossil fuel behemoths to assist hard-pressed households in dealing with record energy prices.

The oil business recorded higher-than-expected profits of $6.4 billion (£4.7 billion) in the fourth quarter of last year, up from $393 million a year earlier, owing to a spike in oil and gas prices.

Shell’s overall profits for 2021 increased to $19.3 billion, up from $4.85 billion the previous year, thanks in part to significant revenues from shipping liquefied natural gas (LNG) on the worldwide market amid a global shortage of gas supply.