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How India is doing now after delta variant spread

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A health worker seen preparing the shot of Covid Vaccination to a beneficiary at a vaccination centre at Mandir Marg, on July 21, 2021 in New Delhi, India.

Hindustan Times | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

The delta variant was first detected in India last October and it led to a massive second wave of Covid-19 cases in the country.

Since then, the highly infectious strain has spread globally.

The variant has usurped the previously dominant alpha variant, first detected in the U.K. last fall, and has prompted further waves of infections in Europe and an ominous incline in cases in the U.S.

Indeed, the delta variant now makes up 83% of all sequenced cases in the U.S., the Director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday, marking a dramatic rise from 50% the week of July 3.

The World Health Organization has already warned that, based on the estimated transmission advantage of the delta variant, “it is expected that it will rapidly outcompete other variants and become the dominant circulating lineage over the coming months.”

In its latest weekly report on Wednesday, the WHO noted that as of July 20, the prevalence of delta among the specimens sequenced over the past four weeks exceeded 75% in many countries worldwide including Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Israel, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa and the U.K.

WHO’s map showing the global prevalence of variants

World Health Organization

But what of India where the delta variant first emerged in October?

The situation is still bad, data shows, but not as bad as it was when the second wave peaked in the country, when daily new cases were over 400,000. On May 7, India reported a staggering 414,188 new infections and several thousand deaths.

Fortunately, cases have declined significantly since then. On Thursday, India reported 41,383 new coronavirus infections and 507 new deaths, the Indian health ministry data tweeted.

The seven-day average of 38,548 in daily new cases marks a 3% decline from the previous average, according to data from John Hopkins University and Our World in Data.

Meanwhile, the percentage change in the number of new confirmed cases over the last seven days (relative to the number in the previous seven-day period) in parts of Europe and the U.S. is stark.

In France, the percentage change in the number of new cases over the past seven days is 223% in France, 112% in Italy while in Germany the percentage change is 50%. In the U.S., the percentage change in the last seven days is 58% higher than the previous seven-day period.

Nonetheless, after the U.S., India has the second highest number of recorded Covid cases in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with over 31.2 million cases and almost 419,000 fatalities.

During the first wave of the pandemic, India went into a nationwide lockdown in March 2020 and this only began to be lifted around June last year with a series of easing restrictions over the following summer months.

As the second (and much harder) wave hit earlier in 2021, however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi resisted pressure to re-impose a national lockdown, handing the responsibility to individual states over whether to re-impose restrictions instead. A member of Modi’s economic advisory council defended the Modi government as it came under pressure in May, telling CNBC that state governments should have the final say in social restrictions.

In addition, and in a bid to deal with its Covid crisis, India halted exports of Covid vaccines (it makes a domestic version of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford shot called “Covishield”) and is unlikely to resume any exports until the end of the year.

Public health experts told the FT in late May that regional lockdowns, reduced social interaction and an increasing number of antibodies against Covid among the general population were helping to bring down the infection rate in India. Vaccinations too have helped to continue the downward trend in cases.

Exposure to Covid during the second wave has been exemplified in the latest data showing the prevalence of antibodies against Covid among the general population.

A national blood serum survey which tests for antibodies (known as a sero survey) was released on Tuesday which showed that two-thirds of India’s population have antibodies against Covid, Reuters reported, although around 400 million of India’s 1.36 billion people did not have antibodies, the survey found.

Overseeing one of the world’s largest vaccination drives (India has to vaccinate around a billion adults) is no easy task and the total vaccination rate remains sluggish when compared to other countries around the world.

Our World in Data figures record that 87.5 million people (around 6.3% of the entire population, including children) are fully vaccinated while 330.2 million people have received at least one dose, meaning that it lags behind the world average in which around 13% of people are fully vaccinated.

In it together

On Tuesday, Modi expressed concern for a “significant” number of health care and frontline workers who still have not been vaccinated, despite the vaccination program kicking off more than six months ago.

In a press statement released by the government in which the premier apprised officials of the Covid situation in India, Modi also spoke of the need “to stay vigilant looking at the situation in various countries,” noting that “mutations make this disease very unpredictable, and hence we all need to stay together and fight this disease.”

Chandrakant Lahariya, a doctor based in New Delhi who is also a vaccines, public policy and health systems expert, told CNBC that India is not out of the woods yet.

“The findings of the fourth national sero-survey …. corroborates what many had suspected: 67.6% of the total population and 62% of those who have not been vaccinated have developed antibodies (against Covid). Nearly all age groups above 6 years have antibodies. This shows the extent of virus spread in the second wave,” he noted.

“We know that [the] vaccination rate is lower than expected and Covid appropriate behavior is not optimal. With 400 million of the population still being susceptible, dropping our guard would be akin to inviting the next wave early. India needs to be fully prepared for any subsequent wave. What is happening in Indonesia, Vietnam or the U.K. is an alarm bell that no country can drop their guard and [that they] need to do everything in their arsenal,” he added.

The emergence of several significant variants of concerns across the world (such as alpha, beta and delta) that have then become widespread “reaffirms how interconnected we are in this pandemic,” Lahariya continued.

“This is a reminder that we need to see pandemic challenges as one global community. It reminds us that we need all interventions and vaccines availability as our combined responsibility. Even if this may sound clichéd, ‘no country can be safe till every country is safe’ needs to be repeated till it is understood at every level,” he said.

Lahariya believed that more variants would emerge as the pandemic continues. “We should be prepared for more variants, till pandemic is declared over.” Where those variants will emerge next, nobody knows.

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Skype, Wise, Bolt thrive in absence of tech giants

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Bolt CEO Markus Villig speaks on stage at the 2019 Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

Horacio Villalobos | Corbis via Getty Images

Estonia’s tech companies have been able to thrive in the absence of large multinationals like Facebook and Microsoft, the country’s president told CNBC.

Home to just over a million people, Estonian founders have produced several tech firms with multibillion-dollar valuations. Skype, which was sold to eBay and then Microsoft, is the most well-known, while others include the recently listed currency exchange app Wise and mobility app Bolt, which is backed by Silicon Valley VC heavyweight Sequoia.

President Kersti Kaljulaid said multinationals have traditionally set up their overseas headquarters in countries with generous tax systems, adding that Estonia has never been a tax haven.

Facebook, Google and Apple all employ thousands of people at their European headquarters in Ireland, where corporation tax is 12.5%. In Estonia, it’s 20%. The tech giants also employ thousands of staff across other European countries including the U.K. and Switzerland, but they don’t have a significant presence in Estonia.

“Estonia is a country that has never offered special deals or special treatment to any kind of company,” Kaljulaid said in an exclusive interview last week. “When I was advising the prime minister 20 years ago, everybody always came and asked what are your special conditions? We said none and I think it has served us right.”

She added: “This probably, might be, one of the reasons why Estonia has so many homebred start-ups from which you now see unicorns coming out more often.”

Estonia has developed a reputation for being one of the most technology-friendly countries in the world, with the government moving many processes online well before other nations. It has embraced online voting and digital IDs, for example, and free wi-fi is widely found across the country.

Kaljulaid said the country’s leaders want to make sure Estonia’s legal space is safe but permissive for new technologies like the grocery delivery robots that have been built by Starship Technologies, which was set up by Skype co-founder Janus Friis.

Kaljulaid said the nation’s entrepreneurs and coders have been educating politicians on the technologies that are poised to change the world.

For example, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn has been teaching her and others all about artificial intelligence.

“In Estonia, he [Tallinn] is well known as somebody who warns us and informs us,” she said. “He’s worried, but not unnecessarily.”

Tallinn told CNBC that he has one major concern when it comes to AI.

“AI is still fairly domain specific and fragile,” he said. “The one big concern I have is that countries will start applying more AI to a military context.”

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Build cash positions ahead of extreme market moves, strategist says

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People eat outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on September 16, 2021 in New York City. Despite a rise in retail sales, the Dow slipped lower on Thursday as investors continue to have concerns from the delta variant and news of a slight rise in jobless claims.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Financial markets appear vulnerable to what could be an extreme move in either direction, according to Paul Gambles, co-founder of investment advisory firm MBMG Group.

As a result, Gambles said investors should consider sitting on the sidelines and build up their cash positions significantly.

His comments come as market participants remain cautious given a flurry of risks on the horizon. These include fears of rising inflation, persistent concerns about the economic outlook amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, supply shortages and valuation concerns.

Some investors are also wary of the possible implications of China’s indebted property firm Evergrande, which is on the brink of default.

“Our advice is just be a little bit cautious. We think that the market is very finely poised waiting for what potentially could be a very, very big move,” Gambles told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Friday.

“We’ve got no idea which direction that could be; I realize that doesn’t sound helpful, but frankly there are just so many unanswered questions out there right now,” he continued. “Until we start to get answers to those, our advice is actually unless you can really afford to take what could be a pretty big hit, and possibly even a permanent hit, then it is better to just sit on the sidelines.”

‘It’s a coin flip’

Gambles said MBMG Group, which says it has over $1.5 billion assets under advice, has looked to raise cash levels “quite dramatically” of late, warning market risk had “suddenly gone up and off the scale” compared to just one month ago.

Gold and gold miners were “one of the best ways to hedge risk” for the moment, he added, suggesting there was also still some value in Treasuries.

“Take those profits,” Gambles said. “You should be able to swallow your fear of missing out rather than expose yourself to the risk of what could be some pretty significant losses if we get a reversal.”

“We are not saying that there is an absolute crash nailed on here, far from it. What we are saying is it’s a coin flip as to whether things are good or things are bad and, you know what, it has got the potential to be pretty extreme in either direction,” Gambles said.

He said it was the first time he’d advised clients to hold cash for some time.

“This is a potentially pivotal moment and we’ve got no idea whether it is going to be a good or bad outcome,” Gambles added.

‘Cash is trash’

Not everyone is in favor of building cash positions.

Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” earlier this week that investors should not deal with market risk by hiding out in cash.

“Don’t keep it in cash,” Dalio said from the SALT conference in New York City. More than a year after saying “cash is trash,” Dalio said on Wednesday that he still feels that way.

Ray Dalio, billionaire investor and founder of Bridgewater Associates, pauses during a Bloomberg Television interview at the Grand Hyatt in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

Giulia Marchi | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Instead, the hedge fund billionaire said the most important thing for an individual investor was to know “how to diversify well.”

Dalio argued that doing so across countries, currencies and asset classes would outperform cash.

Correction concerns

Daniel Lacalle, chief economist at Tressis Gestion, told CNBC on Friday that he expected financial markets to turn lower in October, saying a constellation of factors could force investors to come “back to reality.”

“I believe that what we are likely to see is first the backlash from very aggressive expectations and very optimistic expectations about the recovery,” Lacalle said, noting the recovery pace remains for now.

Lacalle said market estimates that were far too bullish had become “embedded” in earnings and macro growth projections. In addition, tapering from the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank, as well as concerns about a slowdown in China, were likely to trigger a market correction.

The risk of a “very aggressive” correction or a spillover effect to the sovereign debt market was somewhat limited, Lacalle said, given that the Fed and the ECB were expected to continue to be supportive.

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Sustainable property a ‘real opportunity’ for investors

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Investing in sustainable buildings could offer a real solution to reducing emissions in one of the world’s most polluting sectors, said Taronga Ventures, an investment firm focused on sustainable innovation and tech.

Buildings currently represent 39% of global greenhouse emissions, according to U.N. data. Almost one-third (28%) of the global total is the result of running buildings — referred to as operational emissions, while 11% comes from building materials and construction.

“It is a widely unknown fact,” Avi Naidu, co-founder and managing director of Taronga Ventures told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” Friday.

“Many people think that it’s transport, it’s methane, it’s food that is a big driver, but actually it’s the built environment,” said Naidu, whose company invests in innovation within real estate and construction.

Dispelling misconceptions

That lack of awareness, however, presents a “huge opportunity” for investors, said Naidu, noting that the technology and appetite for sustainable building solutions are already there.

“There is a misconception in markets and particularly from landlords [that] it will cost more. Absolutely, as technology is first introduced it sits higher on the cost curve, [but] as it gets more widely adopted we see it go further and further down the cost curve,” he said.

The exterior of the Parkroyal Hotel in Singapore.

VW Pics | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

“We’re also starting to see consumers and investors pay a premium for products and assets that are ESG aligned and much more sustainable,” he continued.

Environmental, social and governance — or ESG — investing has grown increasingly popular in recent years, mainly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“So a lot of the cost is being increasingly mitigated by the ability to command greater rents, greater asset values, and that’s really how landlords should be thinking about it,” he said.

Decarbonizing the economy

Decarbonizing the economy could be a market opportunity worth up to $30 trillion within the next two decades, according to Goldman Sachs.

For its part, Taronga Ventures is investing in green building solutions “across the value chain,” said Naidu. That includes design, construction, and operations, but also the repurposing and ultimate destruction of buildings.

Read more about clean energy from CNBC Pro

As we build new stock, “we have an opportunity to think about different materials, different kinds of concrete, different methodologies that make the process safer, smarter and obviously, from a carbon perspective, more efficient,” he said.

Naidu’s comments come ahead of the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as COP26, in Glasgow in November, where world leaders will discuss efforts to combat the climate crisis.

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