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France cancels gala in D.C. over Australia submarine deal

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WASHINGTON – French officials in Washington canceled a Friday evening gala at their sprawling compound over frustration with the new security partnership between the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

A French official confirmed to CNBC that the event, which was slated to commemorate the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Capes, will no longer take place at the embassy in Washington.

“Other parts of the celebration are still ongoing,” including a wreath-laying ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland, the official said. Two other events involving a French destroyer in Baltimore and a French submarine in Norfolk’s harbor have not been canceled.

The New York Times was the first to report the cancellation.

A woman runs in front of the French Embassy in Washington, DC on May 8, 2020.

Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

The development comes after France expressed outrage over a newly minted trilateral partnership that, in part, ends a long-standing submarine contract between Australia and France and replaces it with a deal between the U.S. and U.K.

The U.S. and U.K. agreed Wednesday to assist Canberra in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, which will allow Australia’s navy to help counter Chinese nuclear-powered vessels in the region.

“It was a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia. This trust has been betrayed,” France minister of foreign affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian told radio station Franceinfo Thursday morning.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Thursday that he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had spoken to their French counterparts about the new security pact ahead of its unveiling.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian hold a joint press conference at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, on June 25, 2021.

Andrew Harnik | AFP | Getty Images

“I’ll leave it to our Australian partners to describe why they sought this new technology. But as the president said and I want to emphasize again, we cooperate incredibly closely with France on many shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific but also around the world,” Blinken said.

“We’re going to continue to do so, we place fundamental value on that relationship, on that partnership and we will carry forward in the days ahead,” the nation’s top diplomat added.

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ECB hawk Jens Weidmann says he wants to quit

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Alex Kraus | Bloomberg | Getty Images

European Central Bank member Jens Weidmann announced Wednesday that he will be stepping down as governor of the German central bank at the end of the year due to personal reasons.

“I have come to the conclusion that more than 10 years is a good measure of time to turn over a new leaf — for the Bundesbank, but also for me personally,” Weidmann said in a letter to the bank’s staff.

He has been in charge of the German central bank since 2011 — at the height of the sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone. Throughout his tenure, Weidmann has been one of the biggest names within the decision-making body of the ECB, famous for his more conservative views on policy.

Weidmann’s departure comes at a time when the ECB has a difficult choice to make over what to do with higher inflation across the region.

Speaking about ECB policy on Wednesday, Weidmann said the bank played a “stabilizing role of monetary policy during the pandemic” and highlighted the recent decision to have a “symmetrical, clearer inflation target.”

“Side effects and in particular financial stability risks are to be given greater attention,” he said.

This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.

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UK doctors call for return of Covid restrictions; new mutation watched

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Firefighter Dan Joslin wearing a face shield helps prone a Covid-19 patient as he works alongside critical care nurses in the Intensive Care Unit at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, southern England.

ADRIAN DENNIS | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — U.K. medical professionals have issued an urgent plea to the British government to reimpose some Covid restrictions due to the increased level of infections and hospitalizations in the country.

Health leaders warned late Tuesday that the U.K. risks “stumbling into a winter crisis” if the government does not enact its “Plan B,” a pledge it made last month in which it said it would reimpose Covid measures if data suggested the National Health Service was “likely to come under unsustainable pressure.”

Officials at the NHS Confederation, which represents organizations across the U.K. healthcare sector, issued a statement calling on the government “to introduce measures, such as mandatory face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces, without delay to keep people well and avoid the NHS from becoming overwhelmed this winter.”

They warned that the National Health Service “is seeing worrying increases in coronavirus cases in its hospitals and the community at a time when it is preparing for a busy winter period, its staff are close to burnout, and it is being expected to recover many of its services that were disrupted by the pandemic.”

The U.K. is currently recording between 40,000 and 50,000 new Covid cases a day and the number of hospitalizations and deaths is steadily rising, although at a much lower pace than earlier in the pandemic thanks to Covid vaccines, which greatly reduce the risk of severe infection, hospitalization and death.

On Tuesday, the U.K. reported 43,738 new Covid cases, a decrease from Monday when 49,156 new cases were recorded, which marked the highest daily number in three months.

Situation ‘will only get worse’

Covid restrictions in England were lifted on July 19 when pubs, restaurants and nightclubs reopened. Mask-wearing also became largely a matter of personal choice apart from on public transport.

The government, under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has previously insisted that Covid restrictions, and potential lockdowns, would only return as a last resort and that the country must “learn to live with the virus.”

On Wednesday, the U.K.’s Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng reiterated that position, saying: “I absolutely think that it would be completely wrong for us to go back into a lockdown,” he told Times Radio.

Noting that hospitalizations and death rates were much lower than in previous peaks of the pandemic, he added that “we are learning, I think, to live with the virus.”

The NHS Confederation on Tuesday said the additional measures that the U.K. could now enact included “clear communications to the public that the level of risk has increased, introducing certificates for people’s Covid vaccine status, and legally mandating people to wear face coverings in certain settings, in addition to considering asking people to work from home if they can.”

Many of these measures, particularly around mask-wearing and Covid certification, “are already common in parts of Europe where the prevalence of the disease is lower,” the NHS Confederation noted.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the confederation, warned that the NHS, a much-loved institution in the U.K. and even more so during the pandemic, was “right on the edge” with the number of Covid patients seen to be rising in hospitals.

“I talk to health leaders every day, and I have literally not spoken to any leader who doesn’t say that their service is under intense pressure now. This is the middle of October. Things are only going to get worse,” he told BBC Radio.

“The health service is right at the edge … if you push much further we will not be able to provide the level of service that people need to have.”

New mutation

Making matters worse, potentially, is a new mutation of the delta variant that British experts are watching closely.

Last Friday, the U.K.’s Health Security Agency issued a report in which it said “a delta sublineage newly designated as AY.4.2 is noted to be expanding in England” and that it was monitoring the subtype.

The highly infectious delta variant is the dominant version of the coronavirus worldwide, having usurped the previous “alpha” variant of the virus, that was first discovered in the U.K.

This new descendent of the delta Covid variant, AY.4.2, has being identified in an increasing number of U.K. Covid cases, with some suggesting it might be another possible factor in rising case numbers, although it is too early to tell for sure.

“This sublineage is currently increasing in frequency. It includes spike mutations A222V and Y145H. In the week beginning 27 September 2021 (the last week with complete sequencing data), this sublineage accounted for approximately 6% of all sequences generated, on an increasing trajectory. This estimate may be imprecise … Further assessment is underway,” the U.K. Health Security Agency noted.

The prime minister’s official spokesman told Sky News on Tuesday that “[AY.4.2] is something we’re keeping a very close eye on” and that there’s currently no evidence to suggest that this variant is more easily spread. “There’s no evidence for that, but as you would expect, we’re monitoring it closely and won’t hesitate to take action if necessary,” he said.

Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb also tweeted about the subtype at the weekend.

“U.K. reported its biggest one-day Covid case increase in 3 months just as the new delta variant AY.4 with the S:Y145H mutation in the spike reaches 8% of UK sequenced cases,” Gottlieb said. “We need urgent research to figure out if this delta plus is more transmissible, has partial immune evasion?”

Professor of immunology at Imperial College London, Danny Altmann, told CNBC Monday that the subtype “needs to be monitored and, so far as possible, carefully controlled.”

“Because delta has now been the dominant mutant in several regions for some six months and not been displaced by any other variants, the hope has been that delta perhaps represented [the] peak mutation performance achievable by the virus. AY.4 may be starting to raise doubts about this assertion,” he warned.

Why is the UK in this mess?

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Alibaba shares surge after Jack Ma appears in Europe, new chip release

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Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, attends opening ceremony of the 3rd All-China Young Entrepreneurs Summit on September 25, 2020 in Fuzhou, Fujian Province of China.

Lyu Ming | China News Service via Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Alibaba’s Hong Kong shares rallied as much as 9% on Wednesday following reports that its founder Jack Ma traveled to Europe and after the release of a new chip.

The stock pared some of those gains and was just under 7% higher in afternoon trade.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong-based publication East Week reported that Ma had traveled to Spain over the weekend with his billionaire friends and business partners for a sailing vacation. The report cited a source that could not be named due to confidentiality considerations.

The South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, later published an article reporting Ma was in Spain for an agriculture and technology study tour related to environmental issues.

Alibaba was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Ma’s whereabouts have been the topic of intense discussion since he went out of the public view last October after a speech in which he appeared to criticize Chinese regulators.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jack Ma no longer being missing would have at least a 10% impact on Alibaba’s share price.

Tariq Dennison

GFM Asset Management

The initial public offering of Ma’s fintech giant Ant Group was subsequently suspended. Since then, China’s technology sector has also come under intense scrutiny from regulators.

China’s technology companies have seen billons of dollars wiped off of their valuations. Alibaba’s U.S.-listed shares are down more than 23% year-to-date.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Jack Ma no longer being missing would have at least a 10% impact on Alibaba’s share price, as that has long been one of the uncertainties many investors have had about the stock,” Tariq Dennison, wealth manager at Hong Kong-based GFM Asset Management, told CNBC.

In January, when Ma reappeared for the first time since the October speech, Alibaba’s shares surged on the day.

Alibaba also released some news related to its cloud business this week. On Tuesday, the company launched a new chip designed for servers in a bid to boost its cloud computing capabilities.

Cloud is seen as a key part of Alibaba’s future growth. It currently accounts for 8% of the company’s total revenue.

The e-commerce giant also said on Wednesday that it plans to open new data centers in South Korea and Thailand next year to continue overseas expansion of its cloud business.

“I see today’s move as just part of a broader recovery / reverse correction, where Alibaba shares are now 30% off their lows just earlier this month, but still 35% below their February highs,” Dennison said in an email.

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