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Colby Smith, Naomi Rovnick and David Sheppard

US stocks closed higher after a choppy trading day, as investors weighed up the prospects of a new relief package for the pandemic-scarred US economy.

The S&P 500 index rose 0.5 per cent, despite turning negative at one point during the session. The tech-focused Nasdaq Composite climbed by a larger magnitude, gaining 1.4 per cent.

In recent days Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, have sought to work out the details of another round of stimulus measures, which investors and the Federal Reserve see as key to keeping the recovery in the world’s largest economy from losing momentum.

But many observers have expressed doubts about a compromise being reached soon, especially given that progress appeared to stall on Thursday. In a recent note, analysts at Goldman Sachs said “the odds still seem stacked against additional pre-election fiscal stimulus”.

Earlier on Thursday Ms Pelosi said she was “hopeful” an agreement could be reached, but acknowledged that “it takes money to do that”. Subsequent comments in a Bloomberg Television interview underscored how far apart both sides remain.

Meanwhile, Brent crude dropped more than 5 per cent at one point to slip below $40 a barrel, hitting a low of $39.95, before edging higher again. Brent has lost more than 10 per cent in the past month after the recovery under way since May stalled.

Rising coronavirus cases worldwide have unnerved traders with demand still well below pre-pandemic levels, with jet fuel and diesel for industrial consumption particularly hard hit.

The return of supplies from Libya has also led traders to warn Opec may need to slow plans to start returning more production to the market as supply starts to again outstrip consumption.

Peter Wells in New York

California reported back-to-back increases of more than 3,000 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, but notched its smallest monthly increase in cases since May.

A further 3,062 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed this afternoon, down from 3,200 yesterday and compared with 3,170 on Thursday last week.

For the month of September, the Golden State added about 105,900 coronavirus cases, down from nearly 207,700 in September and the smallest monthly increase since May, just before the summer surge in southern and western US states began.

California has confirmed 813,687 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and is the only US state with more than 800,000 infections.

Deaths in the state rose by 96, down from 152 on Wednesday and compared with 110 fatalities a week ago.

For the month of September, California attributed 2,870 fatalities to the virus, down from nearly 3,800 in August and the smallest monthly increase since June. Its overall toll sits at 15,888, the third-highest among US states.

California conducted 66,649 tests over the past 24 hours, down from 91,657 on Wednesday.

Peter Wells in New York

North Carolina reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus cases in two months on Thursday, less than a day after governor Roy Cooper announced the state would begin easing restrictions on bars, cinemas and some other businesses.

A further 2,277 people tested positive over the past day, the state health department revealed this morning, up from 1,495 on yesterday and compared with 1,836 on Thursday last week.

That was the biggest one-day jump in new infections since the 2,411 reported July 30, according to data from the state's health department.

North Carolina on Wednesday joined a growing list of southern US states that have decided to ease restrictions on their economies that had been introduced to combat a summer surge in coronavirus infections.

In justifying the lifting of some restrictions for some businesses, which come into effect tomorrow afternoon, Mr Cooper said on Wednesday that North Carolina’s Covid-19 “metrics remained stable in September”. Mandy Cohen, state health secretary, said the state’s trajectory of lab-confirmed cases, positivity rate and hospitalisations over the past 14 days were “level”, while surveillance of Covid-like illness had experienced a “slight increase” over the same period.

Data on Thursday revealed the state’s death toll rose by 47 to 3,579.

Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London

Margaret Ferrier, SNP MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West in Glasgow, Scotland has apologised for travelling across the country after testing positive for coronavirus.

In a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday evening, Ms Ferrier said she was “very sorry” and “deeply regretted” her actions.

The MP said she experienced mild coronavirus symptoms on Saturday, yet despite testing positive for the virus on Monday evening, travelled by train from London to her constituency.

Ms Ferrier wrote: “On Saturday afternoon, after experiencing mild symptoms, I requested a Covid-19 test which I took that day. Feeling much better, I then travelled to London by train on Monday to attend Parliament as planned. This was wrong, and I am very sorry for my mistake.

“On Monday evening, I received a positive test result for Covid-19. I travelled home by train on Tuesday morning without seeking advice. This was also wrong and I am sorry. I have been self-isolating at home ever since.”

“I have used Test and Protect and I have notified the House of Commons authorities who have spoken with Public Health England. I have also notified the police of my actions.”

The MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West said she “took full responsibility” for her actions, adding: “I would urge everyone not to make the same mistakes that I have, and do all they can to help limit the spread of Covid-19.”

Ian Murray, Labour’s Shadow Scottish Secretary, criticised Ms Ferrier's actions as “reckless” and said that she had put lives at risk.

“Through her irresponsible actions, she very possibly has passed on the virus to a vulnerable person, who may now have Covid-19 and be in danger. She has put passengers, rail staff, fellow MPs, Commons staff and many others at unacceptable risk,” he added.

“To breach the rules twice is simply unforgivable, and has undermined all the sacrifices made by her constituents.

“Nicola Sturgeon must come out and condemn her MP’s actions and tell the Scottish people what disciplinary action she will be taking. There cannot be one rule for Margaret Ferrier, another for everybody else.”

Arthur Beesley in Dublin

Northern Ireland’s government has imposed tough new coronavirus restrictions on the region’s second city, with a “particularly frightening” rise in cases leading to some of the UK’s highest infection rates.

The new measures imposed on Thursday evening will apply to Derry city in the north-west of the region, which is also known as Londonderry, and Strabane town in county Tyrone. There has been a tenfold rise in infections in these areas since the summer. “Quite clearly there has been a particularly frightening increase in community transmission of Covid-19 in the Derry city and Strabane council area,” said Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin, the region’s deputy first minister.

The area borders county Donegal in the Irish republic, where Dublin imposed sweeping new measures last week.

Pubs and restaurants in Derry will be restricted to outdoor dining and takeaway or delivery service while hotels have been told to limit service to residents and people with bookings for weddings or funeral meals. Organised indoor gatherings have been banned from community halls, and organised outdoor gatherings will be limited to 15 people.

Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionists, the first minister, said: “In a few short weeks the Derry City and Strabane district council area has gone from having the lowest number of cases in the UK to now being amongst the highest.

“It is sobering to note that at the end of the summer the north-west area sat alongside other lower infection areas like east Antrim. Today their rates are 10 times higher.”

Peter Wells in New York

New York reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus cases since May on Thursday as the state’s most populous city contends with several clusters of infections and a stark warning from top finance officials that nearly half of New York City's bars and restaurants could close permanently over the next six months as a result of the pandemic.

A further 1,382 people tested positive for Covid-19 over the past 24 hours, governor Andrew Cuomo revealed on Thursday morning, up from 1,000 yesterday and compared with 955 on Thursday last week.

It was the biggest one-day increase in cases since 1,551 were reported on May 29 and the fourth time in six days New York has reported a daily increase of 1,000 cases or more. On Saturday, the state reported its first thousand-plus case day since early June.

There are 612 people currently in New York hospitals with coronavirus, Mr Cuomo said, while a further 11 people died.

There were now 20 hot spots across the state, the governor said, that “require full attention, effectiveness and action”, half of these were clusters in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.

There are 10 zip codes in New York City exhibiting concerning case metrics, mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference on Thursday morning, up from nine yesterday. Health officials said these neighbourhoods represented nearly 28 per cent of new infections in New York City over the past two weeks, despite being home to just under 8 per cent of the city’s population.

The surge in cases in Brooklyn and Queens earlier this week pushed the one-day positivity rate for New York City above 3 per cent for the first time in months. Mr de Blasio said the daily rate had eased back to 1.59 per cent, while the rolling seven-day average stood at 1.52 per cent. If the seven-day average rises above 3 per cent, schools in the city — which are in the middle of a phased reopening process for in-classroom learning — will have to be closed again.

New York City on Wednesday allowed restaurants to restart indoor dining, albeit at reduced capacity. A report from state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, released on Thursday, forecast that without help from the federal government, up to half of New York City's nearly 24,000 bars and restaurants could close over the next six months, resulting in the loss of 150,000 jobs, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the city’s measured pace of reopening.

Victor Mallet in Paris

France may tighten measures in six cities including Paris next week to curb the spread of coronavirus infections by closing bars and imposing other restrictions, health minister Olivier Véran told a news conference on Thursday.

He said a decision on whether to move Paris and its immediate suburbs to the “maximum alert” status as already enacted in Marseille would be taken on Sunday. The capital has crossed all three of the relevant Covid-19 thresholds on overall infections, infections among the vulnerable, and strain on hospital intensive care units.

The government would also take decisions next week on Lille, Lyon, Grenoble, Toulouse, and Saint-Etienne — cities in which Mr Véran said developments were “very worrying” — after consulting locally elected officials.

Infections, hospitalisations, admissions to intensive care and deaths have been rising steadily across much of France in recent weeks. The government is anxious to prevent the epidemic from getting out of control again as it did in March, triggering a two-month nationwide lockdown.

However, Mr Véran said there were “glimmers” of good news from Bordeaux, Nice and Marseille, where the virus indicators remained high but were showing signs of coming off their recent peaks.

While restaurants in Marseille and the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe have been completely closed for the past week, Mr Véran said the government was studying ways suggested by the restaurant sector for reinforcing safety measures to keep them open even in the hardest hit cities. Bars, however, which must already close in Paris from 10pm, are unlikely to be spared if curbs are tightened.

Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London

Travellers arriving in England from Turkey will now have to self-isolate for 14 days, the government announced on Thursday.

Visitors travelling from Poland, Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba will also be expected to quarantine from 4am Saturday, transport secretary Grant Shapps said.

In an announcement posted on Twitter, Mr Shapps said: “Data from Poland shows that test positivity has nearly doubled increasing from 3.9 per cent to 5.8 per cent alongside a rapid increase in weekly cases, causing the Joint Biosecurity Centre to update their recommendation.”

On Wednesday, Turkey admitted that it had been publishing a partial tally of confirmed coronavirus infections, amid growing concerns from opposition politicians that officials have been under-reporting cases in an attempt to protect the economy.

Fahrettin Koca, the country’s health minister, said that asymptomatic patients who had tested positive were not included within the government’s daily table of Covid-19 data.

The UK travel corridor list is updated each week, with decisions made based on the latest infection rates for each given country.

Peter Wells in New York

Florida reported an increase in coronavirus cases on Thursday that hovered a little higher than the average of the past week, but had its smallest monthly increase in infections since May.

Counties reported 2,628 new cases over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed this morning, up from 1,948 on Wednesday and compared with 2,541 a week ago.

Over the past seven days, Florida has averaged 2,300 new cases a day, according to a Financial Times analysis of data from the state's health department and Covid Tracking Project. On Monday, Florida reported its smallest daily rise in infections since early June.

That speaks to an overall trend in the Sunshine State — alongside other hotspots in the US south and west — during September that saw daily caseloads retreat from peak levels at the height of summer.

Florida added 78,104 new cases last month, a 48 per cent reduction from about 151,000 cases added in August, that took the total number of confirmed infections in the state since the start of the pandemic to 709,144. Data in the state health department's daily report is reported with a lag of one day.

The state's death toll rose by 133, down from yesterday's seven-day high of 175 and compared with 179 on Thursday last week.

During the month of September, 3,098 fatalities in Florida were attributed to Covid-19, down from 4,377 in August, which was the state's worst month for deaths during the pandemic.

Florida has reported 14,619 fatalities since the start of the pandemic, the fifth-highest tally among US states. 

Sarah Neville in London

The number of people testing positive for coronavirus rose more than 60 per cent in the most recent weekly data from England’s test and trace programme, but fewer than three out of four of their contacts were traced, raising fresh fears about whether the system is robust enough to withstand winter.

The latest figures show 31,373 people tested positive in England between September 17 and September 23, a 61 per cent increase compared with the previous week. NHS Test and Trace said positive cases “have been rising steeply over the last four weeks with over four times as many positive cases identified in the most recent week compared to the end of August”.

Almost 30,000 people were transferred to the contact tracing system over the course of the week, an increase of 37 per cent compared with the previous week. Of those 71.3 per cent were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts, down from 80.8 per cent a week earlier.

The percentage of people reached “has returned to similar proportions seen when Test and Trace launched”, the programme admitted.

For those identified as coming into close contact with an infected person, just 71.6 per cent were reached and asked to self-isolate.

There was brighter news on test turnround times, with just over 70 per cent of in-person test results received the day after the test was taken compared with 52.9 per cent the week before.

But Layla McCay, director at the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare organisations across the UK, said while there had been some small improvements week-on-week, “the fact remains that the percentage of people identified as close contacts who were reached and asked to self-isolate continues to fall, while cases have now more than quadrupled since the end of August, meaning the virus is likely to continue to spread widely”.

Sheila Bird, who formerly led the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge, pointed out that the “time-frame of relevance” for infectious disease control was “the percentage of non-complex cases referred to T&T who were reached within 48 hours of symptom-onset; and, indeed, the distribution of these times for all reached cases”.

Kerin Hope in Athens

Greece saw a surge in coronavirus cases in September led by steadily rising infections in Athens as residents returned from resort islands where mask-wearing and social distancing rules were widely ignored.

Out of 7,597 new confirmed cases across the country last month, 3,896 were recorded in the city and the surrounding Attica region, according to figures from the state health organisation EODY.

The total number of Covid-19 cases since the first outbreak in late February reached 18,475 on September 30. The death toll increased to 391 from 266 at the end of July.

Localised Covid-19 clusters spread within days from wealthy Athens suburbs to densely populated neighbourhoods in the city centre, pushing the R number, or the rate of infection, to 1.3. The average age of those infected in the capital has fallen below 40 for the first time.

“Athens is not doing well, we need to examine the increase in cases during the month,” said Sotiris Tsiodras, an infectious diseases expert who chairs the government’s Covid-19 advisory committee.

Mr Tsiodras is credited with Greece’s successful handling of the pandemic earlier this year, which allowed the country to open in June to European visitors and partially rescued the tourist season.

The committee this week recommended that bars and restaurants close at 10pm, followed by an overnight curfew until 5am. Several committee members urged the government to make face-coverings mandatory in open spaces, extending the existing rules on wearing masks in the capital’s shops, supermarkets and offices.

Matthew Rocco

Growth in the US factory sector eased in September, cooling off a month after advancing at its best pace in 21 months.

The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing PMI came in at 55.4, down from 56 in August, according to figures published on Thursday. Economists had anticipated that growth would pick up slightly to 56.3. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

Members of the ISM manufacturing survey group “reported that their companies and suppliers continue to operate in reconfigured factories and are becoming more proficient at maintaining output” during the pandemic, said Timothy Fiore, who chairs the committee.

A sub-index tracking new orders dropped more than 7 points to 60.2, while production also dipped.

However, a reading on order backlogs rose to 55.2 from 54.6. The employment index also improved, rising 3.2 points, but remained in contraction at 49.6.

Sentiment grew more optimistic relative to August, and new orders continued to grow at a strong pace, Mr Fiore said.

Mamta Badkar in New York

Bed, Bath & Beyond has reported growth in a key sales measure for the first time in nearly four years as people working remotely spend more sprucing up their home and shopping online during the coronavirus pandemic.

The homewares retailer said same-store sales climbed 6 per cent in the three months ending August 29 — the first increase since the fourth quarter of 2016. That compared with expectations for a 2.1 per cent decline and was driven by an 89 per cent increase in online sales.

"During this unprecedented time when our homes have become the centre of our lives, our company continues to respond with agility to the changing needs of our customers," said chief executive Mark Tritton. Sales were boosted by the retailer's expanded services online, in-store pick-ups and curbside pick-up services. The group also recently launched a same-day delivery service ahead of the key holiday shopping season.

Net sales fell 1 per cent from a year ago to $2.69bn, better than expectations for sales of $2.6bn. The decline was partly attributed to the divestiture of home accessories website One Kings Lane.

Bed, Bath & Beyond swung to a profit of $217m or $1.75 a share, compared with a loss of $138.8m or $1.12 a share in the same period a year ago. Adjusting for one-time items, earnings of 50 cents a share topped expectations for a loss of 23 cents.

The company did not provide a full-year outlook citing uncertainty around the pandemic, but continues to accelerate its previously announced restructuring programme, which includes closure of about 200 stores, as it expects to generate savings of between $250m to $350m.

Bed, Bath and Beyond shares surged 16 per cent in pre-market trade, but are down 13 per cent year to date.

Matthew Rocco in New York

The pace of US unemployment applications slowed last week even as new claims remained above 800,000, as the labour market gradually rebounds from coronavirus shutdowns.

There were 837,000 initial jobless claims on a seasonally adjusted basis, the US Department of Labor said on Thursday, compared with 873,000 a week earlier and lower than economists’ forecast for 850,000. The figure marked a fresh low since the pandemic began, but remained elevated. Weekly jobless claims, which peaked near 6.9m at the end of March, totalled 211,000 in the week before the pandemic first dealt a blow to the economy.

Covid-19 outbreaks in the US south and west have abated since developing in May and June, raising hopes for a steadier jobs recovery. Florida and Texas, two of the states hit hardest during the summer, have recently taken steps to relax or lift restrictions on businesses.

California — the most populous US state — has temporarily stopped accepting jobless claims for a two-week period to address fraud and work through a backlog of applications.

The number of Americans actively collecting state jobless aid also eased to 11.8m, down from 12.7m in the week that ended on September 19 and a pandemic-era high of 24.9m. Continuing claims equalled 8.1 per cent of the workforce. The insured unemployment rate, considered an alternative measure of joblessness, was 8.7 per cent the week before.

The US has recovered nearly half of the 22m jobs lost in April and May at the height of coronavirus shutdowns. The labour department is due to publish its latest monthly figures on Friday and economists have forecast a gain of 850,000 payrolls in September, while the unemployment rate is expected to fall to 8.2 per cent.

The latest figures come as the Trump administration and Democrats attempt to hammer out a deal on additional economic stimulus. Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, spoke on Wednesday and agreed to continue negotiations.

Thursday’s jobless claims report showed that a total of 26.5m people were claiming benefits in state and federal programmes as of September 12, up from 26m, according to unadjusted figures that are reported on a two-week delay. This tally includes Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims and another Cares Act measure that extended unemployment benefits for up to 13 weeks.

Sarah Provan, Andy Bounds in Huddersfield and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London

The UK government has extended tighter coronavirus-related measures to Liverpool and other areas in the north and will provide £7m funding to support local authorities seeking to contain the spread as cases rise fast.

The health secretary said he would extend measures that have been in place in north-east England to Liverpool city centre, where cases have more than doubled in a fortnight. The city recorded 221.8 per 100,000 in the week to September 26.

"Together we need to act," said Matt Hancock in the House of Commons on Thursday. He added that he wanted the rules to stay in place for "as short as time as possible".

It will become illegal to meet people from a different household indoors in pubs and restaurants in Liverpool city region, Warrington, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

The measures match those imposed in north-east England last week and affect more than 2m people across seven boroughs in and around Merseyside and Tees Valley.

The second peak is highly localised, Mr Hancock said, as the virus spreads fast in some parts of the country.

"We recommend against all social mixing" from different households except in outdoor public spaces such as parks. The government recommends that people should not attend professional or amateur sporting events in the affected areas as spectators and only visit care homes in exceptional circumstances.

He warned against essential travel, which he explained would be going to work or school.

A ban on household mixing in private homes and gardens is in place across many parts of the UK, with more than 21m people, almost a third of the population, affected as a second wave of the virus takes hold.

Early signs show the R number or the rate of infection, is falling, Mr Hancock said, showing that "our efforts together may be beginning to work", but he warned cases are still rising.

Donato Paolo Mancini in Rome

The US Food and Drug Administration has widened its probe into an adverse event involving a patient on a trial for the coronavirus vaccine that AstraZeneca is developing with the University of Oxford, according to people briefed on the matter.

The FDA’s move, first reported by Reuters, stems from a trial participant in the UK falling ill with a neurological condition called transverse myelitis last month. Trials in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, which were all halted after the adverse reaction was reported, have resumed, AstraZeneca said on Thursday.

“Regulators in each individual country determine when trials can start and they do this in their own time frame,” said the drug maker. “We are continuing to work with the FDA to facilitate review of the information needed to make a decision regarding resumption of the US trial.”

The FDA is “obviously being thorough” in its review, one of the people briefed on the matter said.

The revelation came as the European Medicines Agency is expected to introduce rolling reviews for potential coronavirus jabs, starting with AstraZeneca’s product on Thursday, according to people familiar with the matter. The move could speed up the assessment and marketing of any potential inoculations.

Drug makers and regulators have been under intense political pressure — especially from President Trump, who is seeking re-election next month — to deliver a vaccine as soon as possible.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that the chief executive of Moderna, which is developing a potential jab, said the vaccine would not be ready before the election.

On Tuesday, FDA commissioner Hahn said his agency would stick to its vaccine approval criteria despite Trump pressure, the FT reported.

The FDA and EMA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Valentina Romei in London

The share of Britons travelling to work declined at the end of September while the number of people on furlough stalled, according to an official survey that shows signs of the UK recovery slowing.

The proportion of working adults who travelled to work fell to 59 per cent in the week to September 27, from 64 per cent the previous week, revealed the latest business impact of coronavirus survey, run by the Office for National Statistics.

The decline was the first since May and followed a reversal by the government. The prime minister on September 22 said people should work from home if possible. Those who worked exclusively from home rose 3 percentage points to 24 per cent.

A rise in infections interrupted the shift back to work that the government had encouraged at the end of the summer in an effort to revive the fortunes of stores, bars and restaurants in city centres.

Those returning from furlough stalled at 11 per cent in the same period, unchanged from the previous week.

The IHS UK purchasing managers' index for manufacturing meanwhile showed slowing growth, with the corresponding index falling to 54.1 in September from 55.2 in the previous month. The final PMI manufacturing reading was down from the 54.3 of the flash estimates.

UK manufacturers reported job losses for the eighth consecutive month, the survey showed. It reported some businesses implementing redundancy programmes in response to the impact of the pandemic.

“Considerable challenges” lie ahead, said Rob Dobson, director at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey.

“The full economic cost incurred by 2020 will likely rise further as governments look to re-introduce some restrictions, job support schemes are tapered and rising numbers of firms start focusing on Brexit as a further cause of uncertainty and disruption during the remainder of the year.”

Daniel Dombey in Madrid

Madrid said on Thursday it would implement new curbs imposed by Spain’s central government — even though it opposed the measures and would appeal them in court.

The region of Europe worst hit by coronavirus said it would carry out the ministry of health order to restrict mobility in the capital city and nine outlying municipalities while challenging it legally, said Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the head of the regional government, in a move that appeared to back down from comments her colleagues had made the previous night.

“This region is not in rebellion,” she said. "We will comply [with the order] but we will go to the courts to defend the legitimate interests of Madrileños."

Under the rules, people will not be able to enter or leave affected areas apart for work, education and other permitted reasons. Bar service will be banned, restaurants will be forbidden to accept new customers after 10pm and residents will be instructed to avoid all unnecessary journeys.

The central government had given the region 48 hours to comply with the curbs, which apply to cities with high infection rates where more than a third of intensive care beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients.

But on Wednesday night, Ms Díaz Ayuso’s top health official had indicated that Madrid would not fall into line, arguing that the ministry’s order was “generic”, arbitrary and lacked legal validity because it was not unanimously backed by Spain’s regions. The centre-right regional government has been keen to avoid new restrictions that apply to the whole capital city.

Madrid has the highest rate of infection in Europe, recording 735 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days. Ms Díaz Ayuso’s administration said the situation was stabilising, but the region has reported more than 150 Covid-19 deaths in just the past two days.

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

Unemployment rose in the eurozone for the fifth consecutive month in August, despite the economy rebounding and many governments extending their furlough schemes designed to keep staff on the payroll.

The jobless rate in the 19-country bloc reached 8.1 per cent in August, up from 8 per cent in July, taking it to the highest level for more than two years, Eurostat said on Thursday.

The number of unemployed people increased by 251,000 in August from the previous month, taking the total to 13.2m.

Women and younger workers were the most heavily affected. Youth unemployment in the eurozone rose from 17.8 per cent to 18.1 per cent.

France, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal all reported increases in their jobless rates, while there were falls in Italy, Austria and Poland.

Ben Hall, Europe editor

Central Europe will see a weaker than expected economic rebound next year, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as the region experiences a surge in coronavirus infections having contained a first wave of the pandemic in the spring.

The EBRD revised down its prediction of growth for 2021 in the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Croatia from 4.6 per cent it anticipated in May to 3.5 per cent.

The region is still likely to perform better than the EU as a whole, with an expected contraction of 4.4 per cent this year compared with 8.3 per cent for the EU. It is strongly exposed to Germany's manufacturing economy, which is suffering a less severe recession than the services-heavy economies of southern Europe.

However, a separate survey suggested that central Europeans were more likely to have felt the impact of the crisis by losing their job or having their hours cut.

The EBRD assumes a gradual return to normal activity in its forecasts. But after recording a relatively low number of infections in the spring, following a strict lockdown and border closures, parts of central Europe are now seeing a sharp rise in infections. Slovakia and the Czech Republic on Wednesday adopted emergency power to control the virus.

The downturn in its traditional markets of eastern Europe, as well as in its newer areas of activity in the Middle East, means the EBRD has put off a decision it was due to take at its annual meeting next week to expand into sub-Saharan Africa.

Losses on EBRD lending amounted to €1.5bn in the first three months of the year, more than last year's record profits of €1.4bn, but would be pared back to some €850m for the whole of 2020 as the rise in non-performing loans levelled off, said Jurgen Rigterink, acting president.

Alice Hancock

The US has extended its ban on cruising until the end of October in a blow to the industry as it began to restart voyages.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that it has extended its "no sail order" for ships carrying more than 250 passengers in US waters until October 31.

It blamed recent outbreaks on cruises for its decision, saying that they provided "evidence that cruise ship travel continues to transmit and amplify the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19,— even when ships sail at reduced passenger capacities".

It added that, where health and safety protocols had been put in place by cruise operators, "resuming passenger operations significantly burdened public health authorities" due to the additional testing, isolation of infected holidaymakers and contact tracing.

Cruise operators have been steadily ramping up operations since a ban on cruising in the Mediterranean was lifted in August.

On Tuesday, Axios reported that the White House had overruled CDC proposals that the no sail order extend into 2021.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley noted that booking volumes in the last month were "sharply down" on previous years due to uncertainty about when sailings would resume. An increasing number of customers were also requesting cash refunds rather than cruise holiday credits when trips were cancelled, they said.

Daniel Dombey in Madrid

The Spanish government has given regional authorities in Madrid, the European region worst hit by coronavirus, 48 hours to comply with new mobility curbs that would limit entry and exit into the capital and instruct people to avoid unnecessary trips.

The ministry of health notified the region on Wednesday night that it would have to follow new rules that impose such measures when there are exceptionally high rates of infection and when more than a third of intensive care beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients. The ministry’s order added that the regional authorities had “a maximum time of 48 hours” to put the new measures into effect.

But Madrid insists that the order lacks legal validity under Spain’s decentralised health system, since the rules were not unanimously supported by regions. They were backed though by a majority of regional administrations.

Madrid’s centre-right regional government, a political foe of Spain's leftwing coalition, has described the criteria for imposing the tougher measures as arbitrary and “generic”, while calling for parts of the capital to be exempted.

Under the health ministry’s criteria, all of the capital city would come under the new curbs, as would nine outlying municipalities in the greater Madrid region, but no other part of Spain would be immediately affected.

The government counters that one of the principal criteria for imposing the new controls - a total of more than 500 infections per 100,000 people over 14 days - is twice the level that constitutes a high risk of uncontrolled transmission. The Madrid region’s infection rate of 735 per 100,000 people compares with 284 for Spain as a whole, the highest of any European country.

The EU’s Centre of Disease Prevention and Control describes any rate above 60 as “high”.

Valentina Romei in London

Italy’s manufacturing activity grew more quickly than in France and Spain last month, helped by fewer Covid-19 infections and restrictions.

Italy’s IHS Markit purchasing managers' index for manufacturing rose to 53.2 in September from 53.1 in the previous month.

"September PMI data signalled an ongoing recovery in the Italian manufacturing sector, with the headline figure the highest for 27 months and indicative of a moderate improvement in overall conditions,” said Lewis Cooper, an economist at IHS Markit.

A reading above 50 indicates a majority of businesses reporting improved activity over the previous month.

The survey reported improved demand, domestically and abroad, that supported a solid growth of output and total new orders. Italy’s new export orders rose for the first time since April 2019, amid reports that foreign demand was strengthening.

The PMI reading for manufacturing was only weaker than Germany's, suggesting the recovery was stronger in countries with lower numbers of new infections.

The final reading for the eurozone manufacturing sector showed an increase to 53.7 in September from 51.7 in the previous month, marking the strongest growth in more than two years. However, estimates have shown that the dominant services sector has been less resilient with tighter restrictions choking activity.

Valentina Romei in London

Spain’s manufacturing activity showed resilience to eke out some growth in September even as a resurgence in coronavirus infections threaten the recovery of the eurozone's hardest hit economy.

Spain’s IHS Markit purchasing managers' index for manufacturing rose to 50.8 in September from 49.9 in the previous month.

"Whilst there was a return to growth in September, the latest data suggests the manufacturing sector continues to struggle to regain meaningful traction, with overall sales again undermined by Covid-19,” said Paul Smith, economics director at IHS Markit.

Economists polled by Reuters expected a small improvement to 50.5.

Despite growing output, Spanish manufacturers reported falling orders, particularly from domestic customers.

The eurozone manufacturing sector has shown some resilience with activity rising in September, according to the flash PMI's released last week, as it benefited from improved global trade. In contrast, activity in the dominant services sector contracted.

In September, Spain had the highest number of new infections across Europe and it is the economy forecast to contract the most among large economies.

Sarah Provan

Hennes & Mauritz plans to close about 250 stores next year as the coronavirus crisis sends ever more of its customers online.

The world’s second-largest clothing retailer said that about a quarter of its more than 5,000 stores would be able to renegotiate or exit their leases in 2021, handing the company the chance to close some of them.

The group's shares rose nearly 6 per cent in early Stockholm trading.

The move by the Swedish group came as its third-quarter sales fell 16 per cent to SKr50.8bn, from a year earlier. About 900 of its stores were closed at the start of the quarter, which ran to the end of August, as governments around the world imposed lockdowns to contain the spread of Covid-19.

For the quarter, H&M said profits tumbled to SKr1.8bn from SKr 3.8bn a year earlier.

The picture improved in September, with sales down 5 per cent from a year earlier. About 166 of its stores remained closed, while many still had limited opening hours, H&M said.

Laura Pitel in Ankara

Turkey has admitted that it is not publishing a full tally of confirmed coronavirus infections, stoking a political row that has been simmering for months over the scale of the pandemic.

The health ministry changed the way that it reported coronavirus cases in late July. In its daily table of Covid-19 data, it replaced the words “today’s number of cases” to “today’s number of patients”.

The term “patients” referred to those who had tested positive for the disease and showed symptoms, Fahrettin Koca, the health minister, said at a news conference on Wednesday night. People who had a positive test but were asymptomatic were not included, he said.

“Not every case is a patient,” he said. “Because there are people who receive a positive test result but show no symptoms. These [cases] make up the vast majority.”

Turkish doctors responded furiously to the news. They, along with several high-profile opposition politicians, have claimed for months that Turkey’s government was seriously under-reporting the number of cases in an attempt to protect the tourism industry and avoid striking a fresh blow to the domestic economy.

Mr Koca rejected a claim by an opposition MP that the true number of cases was almost 20 times higher than the government’s official figure, which put the daily number of new patients on Wednesday at 1,391.

He declined to provide a figure for the total number of cases.

World Health Organization guidance says that confirmed cases should be defined as “a person with laboratory confirmation of Covid-19 infection, irrespective of clinical signs and symptoms”.

Kate Beioley in London

Litigation funder Burford Capital said the business had been “tested in the first half of 2020 by a historic global economic downturn", causing double-digit declines in income and profit at its half-year point.

The funder — which was the most valuable company on Aim before an attack from short seller Muddy Waters — said profit before tax fell by 15 per cent in the six months to June to $197.8m.

“Unsurprisingly, in a world buffeted by Covid-19 and its ensuing consequences, while our team and operations have been largely unaffected, new business declined,” said chief executive Christopher Bogart.

The funder said lockdowns impacted new business, with group wide commitments — that is, money to invest — down 74 per cent to $195m and deployments 42 per cent lower at $258m.

Burford said it was expecting a “significant increase in disputes” at a later stage of the economic recovery as businesses fought over the fallout from Covid-19.

The funder also reported a rise in cash on the balance sheet and a better mix of income, relying less on its “Petersen claim" against Argentina over nationalised oil company YPF which the company has sold interests in for cash. Realised gains, or cash from completed investments, from litigation finance and asset recovery matters were up 57 per cent to $183m.

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

Academy Award-winning directors Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and Clint Eastwood, alongside other Hollywood heavyweights and cinema owners from across the US, have appealed for financial support for theatres, saying they fear for the industry's future.

In a letter to Congress they said the impact from Covid-19 had been so destructive that without government assistance “theaters may not survive”.

The letter was signed by more than 70 directors and producers, including Ang Lee, Wes Anderson, Sam Mendes, Steven Soderbergh, Denis Villeneuve and James Cameron, as well as by representatives of the National Association of Theater Owners, the Directors Guild of America and the Motion Picture Association.

Large cinema chains closed their doors in March but have since reopened with reduced capacity in many US cities. However, they remain shut in key markets including Los Angeles and New York City. Many big film releases originally planned for 2020 have been delayed until next year.

The letter said “69 per cent of small and mid-sized cinema operators will be forced to file for bankruptcy or to close permanently” without help.

“Cinemas are an essential industry that represent the best that American talent and creativity have to offer,” the letter continued. “But now we fear for their future.”

Benjamin Parkin in Mumbai

Indian cinemas will be allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity from mid-October, after a six-month closure that has financially devastated the world's largest film industry by viewers.

States in India will also be given the option of whether to reopen schools and colleges starting October 15, in the latest round of relaxations of the country's coronavirus lockdown.

India is recording over 80,000 new Covid-19 infections a day, taking its total to 6.2m – on track to overtake the US, which has the highest number of cases globally. India is also approaching 100,000 deaths from the virus.

But economic fallout from the virus has forced the government to push ahead with lockdown relaxation measures.

Cinemas had remained shuttered long after other venues, such as restaurants, were permitted to begin reopening.

Bollywood, India's Hindi-language film industry, has been at a standstill since cinemas first closed in March. The country sells around 1bn film tickets a year, more than any other country, and India's media and entertainment sector employs hundreds of thousands of people directly and indirectly.

Multiplex chains have taken out newspaper adverts imploring the government to allow them to reopen. But industry experts say it is unclear how many new films they will even have to show, with producers having long since sold many productions to streaming platforms.

Erika Solomon in Berlin

Germany is to press ahead with plans to give employees the legal right to work from home, the country’s labour minister has said, as the coronavirus pandemic prompts governments to consider major reforms in the world of work.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Hubertus Heil said the draft law would be published in a few weeks’ time. It aims to ensure workers have the option of working from home when possible, as well as to regulate home office work, such as limiting hours.

Mr Heil said that the law would seek to reinforce workers’ rights and set clearer boundaries for the increasingly blurred lines between personal life and work. He hit back at critics who argue that his plans could weaken workers’ ability to engage in collective bargaining and could encourage companies to outsource jobs abroad to countries with lower labour standards.

“We cannot stop the changes in the world of work, nor do we want to,” he said. “The question is how we can turn technological progress, new business models and higher productivity into progress not only for a few, but for many people. How do we turn technological progress into social progress?”

Read more here

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Covid-19 has put 500,000 more girls at risk of child marriage this year as the pandemic places pressure on family finances, reversing 25 years of progress, according to Save the Children.

Before the pandemic began, an estimated 12m girls were expected to be forced into child marriage in 2020. This number is forecast to grow thanks to the economic hit to communities.

“A growing risk of violence and sexual exploitation combined with growing food and economic insecurity — especially in humanitarian emergencies — also means many parents feel they have little alternative but to force their girls to marry men who are often much older,” said Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children UK.

The effects of the pandemic will be long-lasting for female children, with up to 2.5m additional girls expected to be married over the next five years, resulting in 61m child marriages by 2025.

Girls in South Asia are most at risk by the increased chance of child marriage, with 191,000 more expected to be married this year.

“COVID-19 is increasing the risk of child marriage as a response to school closures, growing risks of violence, adolescent pregnancy, and food and economic insecurity,” Save the Children said in a report. “Estimates suggest that for the first time in almost 30 years, girls are more, not less, at risk of child marriage.”

The pandemic also means girls have reduced access to health services and are less likely than boys to return to education once schools restart.

Girls also face being exposed to physical harm, with increased reports of gender-based violence since the pandemic began.

Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe, Anna Gross and Clive Cookson

Scientists advising the British government on its response to coronavirus have hit back at claims from MPs that they are trying to scare the public into submitting to stringent new restrictions.

During a debate on the pandemic in the House of Commons on Monday, several Conservative MPs accused Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, of orchestrating “Project Fear”.

This followed warnings by the two scientists in a televised statement last week that the UK could experience 50,000 new coronavirus infections per day if further nationwide restrictions were not implemented.

Asked on Wednesday at a Downing Street press conference whether the presentation was too extreme, Sir Patrick said he had been trying to get across several messages, in particular the way cases can rise exponentially in an epidemic.

Subsequent analysis showed that the number of people testing positive for coronavirus was doubling every three to four days in the UK in March and April — more quickly than was realised at the time — and at the peak probably exceeded 100,000 a day, he said.

Read more here

Robin Harding in Tokyo

Business sentiment in Japan is recovering slower than expected in a worrying sign that the bounce back from Covid-19 will take longer than hoped.

The closely watched Tankan survey of large manufacturers rose by only seven points from -34 to -27 in the third quarter, compared with consensus expectations of -23.

The figures suggest Japanese companies are still struggling and the shock from Covid-19 is calcifying into a more traditional economic downturn.

Japan’s economy shrunk by a record 7.9 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 but there were still hopes for a rapid rebound, with Covid-19 largely under control in east Asia.

Read more here

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

The Australian state of Victoria reported 15 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, days after lockdown restrictions on Melbourne were eased.

The tally of new cases was up from the previous day’s 13 infections, but remained below 20 for the ninth consecutive day.

Lockdown measures imposed in July to contain an outbreak in Melbourne were eased on Monday, removing a curfew and allowing more people to return to work.

Health authorities in the state are keeping close watch on the 14-day rolling average of cases, which fell to 15.6.

The state reported two fatalities linked to Covid-19.

Separately, Queensland eased limits on outdoor dining at restaurants and pubs as well as relaxing rules for theme parks, zoos and stadiums. The state reported no new coronavirus cases on Thursday.

Edward White in Wellington

South Korean exports have returned to growth for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, in a new sign of greenshoots in the global economy.

The value of shipments from Asia’s fourth-largest economy rose 7.7 per cent last month to $48bn from $44.6bn a year earlier, beating local analysts' expectations and the first year-on-year improvement since February.

The preliminary reading from officials in Seoul marked the latest signs of a rebound from the global economic damage wrought by the pandemic, underpinned by a resilient tech sector. The data is seen as a bellwether for the health of regional trade.

Shipments of computer chips, South Korea’s most important product, have been buoyed by solid demand from data centres grappling with increased interconnectivity during the global pandemic, and further supported by China’s economic recovery.

These factors have helped to soften the blow from months of double-digit declines in South Korea's overall exports this year amid lockdowns around the world that suppressed global demand.

The country was hit by a particularly bleak period for shipments from other key sectors such as cars, ships, petroleum products and some consumer electronics.

Huawei’s moves over recent months to stockpile high-tech components — including computer chips — ahead of the latest US restrictions have also played a role in boosting demand from South Korean suppliers such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, analysts have said.

Seoul has rolled out a series of unprecedented stimulus packages and the central bank has maintained record low interest rates to help support domestic spending and keep businesses afloat.

Still, South Korea’s economy shrank 3.3 per cent in the second quarter compared to the previous quarter as the pandemic hit both exports and consumption.
In August, the OECD forecast a 0.8 per cent contraction for 2020, compared to an average fall among members of 7.5 per cent.

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

The UN on Wednesday called for nations to provide urgently needed funds – “roughly equivalent to what the world spends on cigarettes every two weeks”, it said – on behalf of a global Covid-19 vaccine initiative to ensure that people everywhere receive protection from the virus.

The Access to Covid-19 Tools, or ACT-Accelerator, is a UN-led collaboration to accelerate development, production and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

Launched at the end of April, the ACT-Accelerator has secured only $3bn in funding and needs a further $35bn, including an “immediate infusion” of $15bn, UN secretary-general António Guterres said.

“These resources are crucial now to avoid losing the window of opportunity for advance purchase and production, to build stocks in parallel with licensing, to boost research and to help countries prepare to optimise the new vaccines when they arrive,” he said, warning that delay would further widen inequalities between nations.

Peter Wells in New York

The US reported more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths for the first time in a week on Wednesday, while hospitalisations reached their highest level in nearly three weeks.

The national death toll rose by 1,061, according to Covid Tracking Project data on Wednesday, up from an increase of 739 on Tuesday and compared with an increase a week ago of 1,157.

Florida (175), California (152) and Texas (107) were the only three states to each have more than 100 new fatalities, with the former two reporting their biggest increases in one and two weeks, respectively. Wisconsin (27) was the only state to report a record one-day increase in deaths.

The number of patients currently in US hospitals with coronavirus rose to 30,876 from 30,391 on Tuesday and to the highest level since September 11, according to Covid Tracking Project data.

Illinois (97), Texas (93) and Kansas (82) had the largest one-day increases in hospitalisations. That helped to more than offset the biggest decreases, which were in Florida (-77), Virginia (-50) and Kentucky (-48).

States reported 44,391 cases on Wednesday, up from 36,947 on Tuesday. It was the first time in four days that infections rose by more than 40,000 and compared with 38,567 on Wednesday last week.

Texas (5,335) and California (3,200) reported the largest increases, which were their biggest daily jumps in weeks. Wisconsin (2,459) and Illinois (2,273) were the only other states with more than 2,000 new cases.

Montana (347) was the only state to report a record one-day jump in infections.

Alice Woodhouse

Australian equities started Thursday higher after strong economic data and stimulus talks in Washington supported US stocks, while Japan’s exchange was forced to halt trading.

The S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.8 per cent. Japan Exchange Group said it had halted trading of all stocks over a network issue.

Markets are closed in China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan for the mid-autumn festival.

Overnight, the S&P 500 closed up 0.8 per cent as investors looked past a chaotic presidential debate to focus on the chance of a new stimulus package before the election.

Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury Secretary, told CNBC that a deal was possible on a $1.5tn economic relief offer from the Trump administration.

S&P 500 futures were up 0.3 per cent.

Jim Pickard in London and Andy Bounds in Huddersfield

Sadiq Khan has called for a £5.7bn bailout of London’s transport system in a submission to the Treasury that lays bare the damage the coronavirus emergency measures have inflicted on the network.

In the mayor’s official submission to the government’s spending review as chairman of Transport for London, Mr Khan said the funds were needed to keep the system going for the next 18 months. A similar package was struck a week ago for the national railway system.

Meanwhile, Mr Khan, who is a member of the opposition Labour party, has accused the government of cutting London out of some of its recent spending announcements as it focuses on “levelling up” the regions.

Senior Conservatives indicated that the government was likely to approve most of the money demanded by TfL but it could come with strings attached.

Read more here

Claire Bushey in Chicago

A day before airlines enact mass furloughs, United Airlines said it would borrow $3bn more from the US government than previously anticipated.

The Chicago airline plans to seek up to $7.5bn in loans from the US government, according to a filing on Wednesday evening with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, a 67 per cent increase on the $4.5bn in funding it originally targeted.

United plans to offer slots, gates and routes as collateral for the loan from taxpayers, the filing said. The government also will receive warrants in the company, or the right to buy stock in the airline at a predetermined price.

Lawmakers approved a $50bn bailout for the airline industry in March as part of the larger US Care Act. Half came in the form of grants and loans with 1 per cent interest to support airline payrolls. The other half came in the form of collateral-backed loans.

On October 1, airlines are free of legislative restrictions that prevent them from furloughing employees. United, along with American and aviation unions, has been lobbying without success for a six-month, $25bn extension of the payroll support program.

American Airlines also upsized its government loan last week.

Peter Wells in New York

Texas reported its biggest one-day jump in new Covid-19 cases in more than a month on Wednesday, while hospitalisations jumped to their highest level in nearly three weeks.

A further 5,335 people in the state tested positive over the past 24 hours, up from 3,812 on Tuesday and compared with 2,977 a week ago.

It was the biggest one-day jump in new cases since the 6,091 reported on August 25.

Authorities in the Lone State state have for weeks been adding older cases stemming from backlogs of tests from commercial laboratories to the statewide total, although these are excluded from the daily figures. There were 348 such historical cases, with 308 of those coming from the region around Houston, in Wednesday's update.

The number of patients currently in Texas hospitals jumped to 3,344 from 3,251 on Tuesday, the highest level since September 12.

The statewide death toll rose by 107, up from 71 on Tuesday and compared with an increase of 135 on Wednesday last week.

Peter Wells in New York

California reported its biggest one-day jump in coronavirus fatalities in two weeks on Wednesday, providing a brief departure from the state’s recent downward trend in deaths.

The statewide death toll rose by 152, up from an increase of 32 yesterday. That compared with 133 last Wednesday and was the biggest daily jump in fatalities since the 164 reported by authorities on September 16.

The jump in fatalities brings the rolling seven-day average of deaths in California to 84 a day. That is up from a rate on Tuesday of about 81, which was the lowest the metric had been since July 9, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

A further 3,200 people in the Golden State tested positive over the past 24 hours, authorities revealed this afternoon, up from 2,162 cases on Tuesday and compared with 3,146 a week ago. Testing volumes dropped back to 91,657 over the past 24 hours, from 128,693 yesterday.

James Politi in Washington

The Federal Reserve is extending curbs on share repurchases and dividend payments by the largest banks into the fourth quarter, the US central bank said on Wednesday.

“Due to the continued economic uncertainty from the coronavirus response, the Federal Reserve Board on Wednesday announced it will extend for an additional quarter several measures to ensure that large banks maintain a high level of capital resilience,” the Fed said.

The Fed said banks with more than $100bn in assets would be barred from making share buybacks while dividends would be capped until the end of the year. The move highlights the Fed’s lingering concern about the health of bank balance sheets as the US economy struggles to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The Fed had initially instituted the restrictions for the third quarter in the wake of a first round of stress tests conducted in June, and noted that “the capital positions of large banks have remained strong during the third quarter while such restrictions were in place”.

The Fed is now planning a second round of stress tests related to the coronavirus fallout.

Spain plans to force tougher controls on Madrid, the worst-hit region in Europe, after a face off between the country’s leftwing government and the region’s centre-right administration.

North Carolina will from Friday begin lifting coronavirus restrictions for some businesses including large outdoor venues, cinemas and bars, governor Roy Cooper announced.

Florida reported its biggest daily jump in deaths in almost a week on Wednesday. Deaths attributed to the disease rose by 173, authorities revealed, up from 106 on Tuesday. That compared with an increase of 203 last Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia is set to cut spending by 7 per cent next year as it faces sliding revenues from the impact of coronavirus and lower oil prices. The kingdom’s pre-budget statement for 2021 forecast expenditure at 990bn Saudi riyals ($264bn), down from SAR1.1tn this year.

Boris Johnson said more coronavirus restrictions could be imposed soon as his chief scientific adviser admitted the virus was not “under control”. Johnson also said that plans are being put in place to allow students home safely for Christmas.

Passengers were allowed to disembark from the Mein Schiff 6 and go sightseeing in the Greek port of Piraeus on Wednesday after two days of testing showed the German-operated cruise-ship was free of coronavirus, an official from Tui Cruises said.

The US National Football League said it would postpone a scheduled game this week due to a coronavirus outbreak among one of its teams, the Tennessee Titans, throwing America's most-watched sport into uncertainty less than a month into its season.

Shareholders of Arabtec, one of the largest construction companies in the Middle East, have voted to liquidate the company in what would become the highest profile corporate collapse since the coronavirus crisis upended the United Arab Emirates’ real estate sector.

Private employers added more than 700,000 US jobs this month in a sign that hiring picked up more than forecast, according to a survey. Payroll processor ADP said on Wednesday the private sector gained 749,000 non-farm jobs in September, more than the 650,000 anticipated by economists polled by Reuters.

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