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Alibaba, Tencent rally troops amid $10 billion retail battle

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Tencent also bought a stake in Yonghui Superstores Co Ltd, apparel retailers Vipshop Holdings Ltd and Heilan Home, mall operator Wanda Commercial, and this month snagged a strategic tie-up with grocer Bubugao.

In the other corner is Alibaba, which has invested even more heavily in Suning.com>, Intime Retail, Sanjiang Shopping Club, Lianhua Supermarket, Wanda Film and IKEA-like home
improvement store Easyhome.

Key to the battle is China’s nearly $13 trillion mobile payment market, where Alibaba and Tencent are going head-to-head. Alibaba took a 33 percent stake in its payment affiliate Ant Financial this month ahead of an expected mega IPO.

Ant operates China’s top mobile payment platform, Alipay, while Tencent’s payment system on its hugely popular Weixin chat app is catching up fast. Both firms are also making a big push in cloud computing and data.

“I think for payment (the retail push) is a very critical part because it’s almost a gateway,” said Yu. Brick-and-mortar stores in China account for about 85 percent of retail sales, creating a huge lure for tech giants.

“That’s the pot that Alibaba, JD.com and even Tencent want a slice of,” Yu added. “That’s the majority of the business where they can actually look for future growth.”

In return, the physical stores get access to payment systems, logistics networks and other services – not to mention the reams of data on consumers that the tech firms control.

Alibaba invested $486 million this month in a retail-focused big data firm, saying the deal meant it could better “help brick-and-mortar retailers succeed in the digital age.”

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Sweden’s high virus death toll may be linked to mild flu seasons: Chief scientist

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People walk on Stranvagen in Stockholm on September 19, 2020.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND | AFP | Getty Images

Sweden’s chief epidemiologist has partly blamed the country’s high coronavirus death toll on mild flu outbreaks in recent winters.

“When many people die of the flu in the winter, fewer die in heat waves the following summer. In this case, it was Covid-19 that caused many to die,” Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter earlier this week.

‘What has now been seen is that the countries that have had a fairly low mortality for influenza in the last two, three years, such as Sweden, [also] have a very high excess mortality in Covid-19,” he said, according to a translation provided in The Times newspaper.

“Those which had a high flu mortality rate, such as Norway, during the last two winters, have fairly low Covid mortality. The same trend has been seen in several countries. This may not be the whole explanation but part of it.”

Much attention has been paid to Sweden during the coronavirus pandemic because of its decision to not completely lock down its public life and economy. Most of Europe did so as coronavirus cases surged in spring.

Tegnell’s public health agency instead recommended mostly voluntary measures, such as good hygiene, social distancing guidelines and working from home if possible.

Bars, restaurants, most schools and businesses remained opened, however, and face masks are not widely worn. Sweden did ban mass gatherings and visits to elderly care homes, however, although this latter restriction is due to be lifted soon despite a high death toll from Covid-19 being seen in such institutions. 

Sweden’s no-lockdown policy was seen by Tegnell as a way to achieve a degree of herd immunity in the population, he told CNBC in April. 

Herd immunity among a population, usually achieved through vaccination, is reached when around 60% of citizens are deemed immune. With no vaccine available, however, scientists have been looking closely at whether exposure to and recovery from Covid-19 leads to long-term immunity.

Pursuing herd immunity has proved controversial in Sweden because allowing the virus to spread (albeit with some measures in place), has put vulnerable groups such as the elderly and people with existing health conditions at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill and dying. In July, WHO officials warned that patients who recover from the virus may be able to get it again, saying that some studies suggest immunity may wane after a few months. 

Sweden has reported a higher number of infections and deaths than its neighbors, although, with around 10 million people, it has roughly double the population of its neighbors Denmark, Finland and Norway. To date, Sweden has recorded almost 90,000 cases and 5,870 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Denmark, by contrast, has recorded under 25,000 cases and 641 deaths.

Unlike major European economies France, Spain and the U.K., which are seeing coronavirus cases rise again in what is being described as a second wave of the pandemic, Sweden was initially thought to be avoiding a resurgence. However, outbreaks among sports teams have emerged in recent weeks, and rising cases in the capital Stockholm mean the city could now be headed for more restrictions.

“Stockholm has seen a clear increase recently, across all age groups,” Tegnell said in a press conference, Dagens Nyheter reported Tuesday. “We are discussing with Stockholm whether we need some additional possibility to take measures to reduce transmission.”

What possible measures could be introduced was not discussed, but Stockholm’s Health and Medical director Bjorn Eriksson, said an uptrend in the Stockholm region could lead to a “very serious situation again.”

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Tesla sues to overturn Trump administration tariffs on China

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U.S. faces dollar crash, high double-dip recession odds: Stephen Roach

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