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Double mutation Covid variant in India may spread to other countries, doctor says

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The double mutation of a Covid-19 variant discovered in India is of grave concern — and could spread to other countries, according to Dr. Kavita Patel, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“It is something to watch very closely, and something that will not be limited to India. It is something we will likely see around the world as we have with other variants,” she told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Monday.

India’s health ministry said last week that a variant with two mutations — known as E484Q and L452R — was found in the country. The mutations are not new, but the variant in India carries both of them —something that has not been seen in other variants.

The mutations could make the virus more contagious and better at evading the body’s defenses.

A health worker administers a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Bhopal, India, March 25, 2021.

STR | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

“This double mutation, number one, it is incredibly serious. Number two, it is probably just the tip of the iceberg in what we would worry about in Asia,” said Patel, who is also a former Obama administration official.

She said the mutations could lead to reinfections since the body’s immune system won’t recognize it and therefore cannot effectively fight it.

Patel also said she would be concerned about the implications of the mutation if she were an Asian health official, and would think about how to get vaccines to as many people as possible.

Indian authorities said Covid variants, including the double mutation strain, have not been detected in such large numbers that are sufficient to explain the spike in new infections.

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Kraken CEO Jesse Powell warns of cryptocurrency crackdown

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Yuriko Nakao | Getty Images

Governments around the world may start to clamp down on the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the CEO of a top crypto exchange has warned.

A number of officials — from U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde — have sounded the alarm about the use of bitcoin for money laundering, terrorist financing and other illegal activities.

“I think there could be some crackdown,” Jesse Powell, CEO of Kraken, told CNBC in an interview. Cryptocurrencies have surged in value lately, with bitcoin hitting a record high price of more than $61,000 last month. The world’s most valuable digital coin was last trading at around $60,105.

Kraken is the world’s fourth-largest digital currency exchange in terms of trading volume. The firm is considering going public through a direct listing — similar to Coinbase — next year after achieving record trading volumes in the first quarter, CNBC reported last week.

Coinbase is set to go public on Wednesday, and could be valued at as much as $100 billion — more than major exchange operators like Intercontinental Exchange, owner of the New York Stock Exchange. Crypto investors are hailing the company’s stock market debut as a major milestone for the industry after years of skepticism from Wall Street and regulators.

Still, Kraken’s chief thinks regulatory uncertainty around crypto isn’t going away any time soon. A recent anti-money laundering rule proposed by the U.S. government would require people who hold their crypto in a private digital wallet to undergo identity checks if they make transactions of $3,000 or more.

“Something like that could really hurt crypto and kind of kill the original use case, which was to just make financial services accessible to everyone,” he said.

Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have often been associated with illicit activities due to the fact that people transacting with it are pseudonymous — you can see where funds are being sent but not who sent or received them.

There are signs that the use of crypto for nefarious purposes may be falling. Illicit activity accounted for just 0.34% of all crypto transaction volume last year, according to blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis. That was down from roughly 2% a year earlier.

“I hope that the U.S. and international regulators don’t take too much of a narrow view on this,” Powell said. “Some other countries, China especially, are taking crypto very seriously and taking a very long-term view.”

Kraken’s CEO said he feels the U.S. is more “short-sighted” than other nations and “susceptible” to the pressures of incumbent legacy businesses — in other words, the banks — that “stand to lose from crypto becoming a big deal.”

“I also think it might be too late,” Powell added. “Maybe the genie’s out of the bottle and just trying to ban it at this point would make it more attractive. It would certainly send a message that the government sees this as a superior alternative to their own currency.”

The U.S. isn’t the only country considering strict new rules on crypto. In India, for example, the government is considering a law that would ban cryptocurrencies and penalize anyone holding or trading them.

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Huawei blames global chip shortage on U.S. sanctions

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The U.S. flag and a smartphone with the Huawei and 5G network logo are seen on a PC motherboard in this illustration taken January 29, 2020.

Dado Ruvic | Reuters

Huawei said Monday that it believes U.S. sanctions on the company are partly to blame for the ongoing global chip shortage.

Eric Xu, Huawei’s rotating chairman and CEO, said the sanctions imposed over the last two years on the Chinese tech company are, “hurting the global semiconductor industry” because they have “disrupted the trusted relationship in the semiconductor industry.”

Speaking to analysts in Shenzhen at Huawei’s Analyst Summit, Xu said: “The U.S. sanctions is the main reason why we are seeing panic stockpiling of major companies around the world.”

He added: “Some of them never stockpiled anything but because of the sanctions they are now having three months or six months of stockpiles.”

Huawei itself has built up a stockpile of chips to try and ensure its business — focused on telecoms equipment and consumer electronics — can continue as normal.

Some companies in other industries, such as the automotive sector, have been forced to temporarily shut down operations as a result of the chip shortage.

Up until recently, the semiconductor supply chain “was running on the assumption that it should be flexible with zero stockpiles,” said Xu, one of three Huawei executives that takes it in turns to be CEO.

“That’s why the panic stockpiling in recent days has added to the supply shortage of global semiconductor industry,” he said. “That has disrupted the whole system. Clearly the unwarranted U.S. sanctions against Huawei and other companies are turning into a global and industry wide supply shortage.”

The U.S. has accused Huawei of building backdoors into its equipment that could be exploited by the Chinese Communist Party for espionage purposes and imposed sanctions on the company.

In 2019, Huawei was put on a U.S. blacklist called the Entity List. This restricted American companies from exporting certain technologies to Huawei. Google ended up cutting ties with Huawei, meaning the Chinese giant could not use Google’s Android operating system on its smartphones. Last year, the U.S. moved to cut Huawei off from key chip supplies it needs for its smartphones.

Huawei strongly denies the U.S.’ allegations.

$1 billion into self-driving cars

Huawei is pursuing new avenues after the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration left its once-leading smartphone business in tatters, while also hindering progress in its semiconductor and 5G businesses.

Xu said he doesn’t expect the Biden administration to change the rules any time soon and the company is investing in new areas like healthcare, farming, and electric cars to try and mitigate the impact of being blacklisted by the U.S.

“We believe, we’ll continue to live and work under the entity listing for a long period of time,” he said. “The overall strategy as well as the specific initiatives for Huawei are all designed and developed in a way that the company would be able to survive and develop while staying on the entity list for a long time.”

Huawei said Monday that it plans to invest $1 billion into self-driving and electric car research and development as it looks to compete with the likes of Tesla, Apple, Nio and Xiaomi.

Xu claimed that Huawei’s self-driving technology already surpasses Tesla’s as it allows cars to cruise for more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) without human intervention. Tesla’s vehicles can’t do more than 800 kilometers and drivers are meant to keep their hands on the wheel for safety purposes.

Huawei will initially partner with three automakers on self-driving cars including BAIC Group, Chongqing Changan Automobile Co and Guangzhou Automobile Group. The company’s logo is likely to be put on cars in the same way that Intel’s logo is put on some computers.

“Once self-driving is achieved, we’re able to disrupt all of the related industries, and we think that in the foreseeable future, namely in the next decade, the biggest opportunity and breakthrough will be from the automobile industry,” Xu added.

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U.K. to investigate after Cameron’s lobbying controversy

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Former British prime minister David Cameron.

LEON NEAL/ AFP via Getty Images

LONDON — The U.K. government on Monday announced plans to open an independent investigation into Greensill Capital following former Prime Minister David Cameron’s efforts to lobby ministers on behalf of the financial firm.

“The Cabinet Office is commissioning an independent review on behalf of the prime minister to establish the development and use of supply chain finance and associated activities in government and the role Greensill played in those,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson told reporters, according to Reuters.

“This independent review will also look at how contracts were secured and business representatives engaged with government,” he said, adding the prime minister wanted it to be concluded promptly.

The investigation will be led by legal expert Nigel Boardman.

Cameron, who led the U.K. from 2010 to 2016, reportedly sent text messages about Greensill to ministers including Finance Minister Rishi Sunak.

Cameron began working as an adviser to Greensill after leaving office in August 2018. The company collapsed into administration last month

The former Conservative Party leader has denied that he broke any rules over the matter nor any code of conduct. In his first comments in weeks over the scandal, Cameron on Sunday conceded that he should have contacted government ministers through formal channels, saying there were “important lessons to be learnt.”

Cameron said he had been trying to get money for Greensill through a government-backed emergency loans scheme that was set up to help firms affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The government declined to support Greensill through its “Covid Corporate Financing Facility.”

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