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UAE floats movement restrictions on unvaccinated people

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A health worker checks a man’s temperature before receiving a dose of vaccine against the coronavirus at a vaccination center set up at the Dubai International Financial Center in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, on February 3, 2021. The United Arab Emirates has suffered a spike in cases after the holiday period.

Photo by KARIM SAHIB | AFP via Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates will consider “strict measures” to limit the movement of people unvaccinated against the coronavirus, as it seeks to ramp up a national inoculation campaign that has already administered more than 9.9 million shots. 

“Strict measures are being considered to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals and to implement preventive measures such as restricting entry to some places and having access to some services, to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” Saif Al Dhaheri, a spokesman for the UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, said in a statement late Tuesday.

No further details were given for the “preventive measures” beyond restrictions on access to certain places and services in the country. The new measures would add to public health measures already in place aimed at keeping the virus at bay during the holy month of Ramadan. 

The announcement sparked some negative responses online. One Twitter user by the handle Fawzia al Hashemi wrote, “Why restrict when vaccine is freedom of choice, not mandatory? When majority have taken vaccine, we are worried on them [sic] from the ones not taken? How!” 

Another user by the name of Abeer Essa tweeted, “Where were the constraints on the travelers coming from the countries that were suffering from wide spread?” 

The UAE’s coronavirus cases hit a peak of some 4,000 per day in late January, but have since fallen to fewer than 2,000 per day. The peak was due in large part to travelers coming to the UAE’s commercial capital Dubai for tourism, particularly from the U.K., which was then gripped by a new and more contagious variant of the virus. Dubai did not shut its doors to tourists nor restrict the movement of visitors or residents. 

The UAE has overseen the second-fastest vaccination campaign in the world after Israel, announcing on Wednesday that 9.9 million vaccine doses had been administered to its mostly-expat population of roughly 10 million.  

Abu Dhabi approves Pfizer-BioNTech jab

Abu Dhabi approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday, reversing course on its previous strategy of only using the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine.

Residents of neighboring Dubai, the Gulf country’s most populous emirate, can choose from Sinopharm, Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, or Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine free of charge, though Sinopharm was made universally available to adults months before the others. The UAE became the first country to approve the shot for use last year, and partnered with China, a major buyer of Gulf oil, to manufacture vaccines locally.

“The more tools we have at our disposal, the better,” Simon Bland, CEO of the Global Institute for Disease Elimination told CNBC on Wednesday. “Many countries have got several vaccine candidates that they’re using and I don’t think there is anything unusual in that, I think some diversity is valuable.”  

Authorities said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be available at designated vaccination centers by appointment only. The Sinopharm vaccine, which has been the only available shot in Abu Dhabi for the general public since December, would still be available to use. 

“We call on the public, both citizens and residents above the age of 16 who did not get vaccinated, to visit the nearest vaccination center and get the vaccine” NCEMA’s Al Dhaheri said. “Delaying or refraining from taking the vaccine poses a threat to the safety of society. The vaccine is our best means to recover and return to a normal life.” 

Abu Dhabi opted for a Chinese-only strategy for its local vaccination drive. Most people in the emirate received the Sinopharm shot, despite a lack of details surrounding its efficacy results and peer-reviewed data.  

It wasn’t clear how the decision to rollout Pfizer-BioNTech alongside Sinopharm would impact Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries, also known as Julphar, which signed a contract with Abu Dhabi’s G42 to produce the vaccine locally. A new vaccine plant with an eventual production capacity of 200 million doses a year was scheduled to be operational this year. 

Julphar, G42 and The Abu Dhabi Media Office did not reply to CNBC requests for comment.

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Asia-Pacific markets decline on inflation fears; Japan’s Nissan shares tumble 10%

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The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE), operated by Japan Exchange Group Inc. (JPX), in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020.

Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Asia-Pacific markets were mostly down on Wednesday, as Taiwan’s markets tumbled after authorities said they may raise its Covid-19 alert level after an outbreak in recent days.

The Taiwan Stock Exchange fell 4.3%. Its health minister said on Wednesday, according to Reuters that Taiwan may raise its Covid-19 alert level in the “coming days” after it experienced an unusual outbreak of six new cases with no clear infection source. The territory had kept the pandemic well under control before this cluster.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 tumbled 2% while the Topix index fell 1.9%.

Japanese automaker Nissan’s shares tumbled more than 10%. The company announced Tuesday that its annual operating loss in the year ending March 31 widened to 150.65 billion yen ($1.38 billion) from a 40 billion yen shortfall in the past year, according to Reuters. Overall, auto shares in Japan fell on Wednesday morning, except Toyota Motor which was up more than 2%.

South Korea’s Kospi index fell 2.16%.

Mainland Chinese markets were subdued in the morning. The Shanghai composite was flat, and the Shenzhen component was down 0.26%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 0.37%.

Down Under, the Australian benchmark ASX 200 declined 0.8% as major banking names came under pressure. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost about 1%.

“The tech led equity rout that began on Monday’s US trading session extended into our APAC region yesterday and overnight Europe joint the retreat with some heavy losses,” Rodrigo Catril, a senior foreign-exchange strategist at the National Australia Bank, wrote in a morning note.

“Inflation concerns against a backdrop of higher commodity prices was identified as the reason for the US technology led equity sell-off on Monday night,” he said. “That said looking at the data releases over the past 24 hours, one could argue that we had at least one more new evidence that inflation is on the rise.”

China released data on Tuesday that showed factory gate prices rose at the fastest rate in three and a half years in April while consumer prices rose at a more modest pace. That fueled some of the concerns around a rapid rise in inflation that may force central banks to raise interest rates and implement other tightening measures.

Wednesday’s session follows overnight sell-off stateside where the Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced its worst day since February.

In overnight trading, Dow futures fell about 150 points as of 1:13 a.m. ET.

Currencies and oil

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar rose to trade at 90.383, up from levels near and above 91.00 in the previous week.

The Japanese yen changed hands at 108.86 per dollar, strengthening from last week’s levels above 109.00. Meanwhile, the Australian dollar declined against the dollar to $0.7791.

Oil prices were little changed on Wednesday during Asian trading hours. U.S. crude futures traded 0.15% higher at $65.42 per barrel and global benchmark Brent also traded near flat at $68.65.

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Amcham finds 42% of members surveyed plan or consider leaving

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A man wearing a protective face mask stands on Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront that faces Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong.

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong found that 42% of respondents are considering or planning to leave Hong Kong, with more than half citing their discomfort with the controversial national security law imposed by China.

Various media outlets have reported anecdotes of people or businesses leaving Hong Kong following the clampdown by Beijing. And the Amcham survey offers a glimpse of the sentiment among the expatriate community in Hong Kong.    

Last year, China bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature to impose the national security law. Implementation of the law came after widespread pro-democracy protests rocked the financial hub in 2019 and took a toll on its economy. Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The chamber collected 325 anonymous responses for the survey, or 24% of its membership, between May 5 and May 9.

About 78% of respondents were expatriates who live in Hong Kong for work but do not hail from there.

… I don’t want to continue to fear saying or writing something that could unknowingly cause me to be arrested.

Among those planning to move out of the city:

  • 3% said they aimed to do so immediately.
  • 10% said before the end of the summer.
  • 15% said at the end of the year.
  • 48% said they plan to leave in the next three to five years.
  • The remaining 24% said as soon as they can relocate their jobs and/or family.

Around 62.3% of those considering leaving cited the national security law (NSL) as a reason.

“Previously, I never had a worry about what I said or wrote when I was in Hong Kong,” said an anonymous respondent to the Amcham survey.

“With the NSL, that has changed. The red lines are vague and seem to be arbitrary. I don’t want to continue to fear saying or writing something that could unknowingly cause me to be arrested,” the person said.

Hong Kong is ruled under a special framework that promises the city limited autonomy, including legislative and independent judicial power.

The Hong Kong government said last year the law is aimed at “an extremely small minority of criminals who threaten national security.” It maintained that the legislation “will not affect the legitimate rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents.”

Some critics disagreed. Former pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau told CNBC last month that people in Hong Kong have become “distressed” and “disillusioned” as some fear the city has lost important freedoms.

Still, a slight majority of respondents — about 58% — in the Amcham survey said they’re not planning to leave Hong Kong. Around 76.8% of them cited a good quality of life in the city, while some 55.1% said the business environment is excellent.

“Whilst we plan to stay for now, we are not sure about the long term in light of the political changes that have been taking place recently which make HK a less attractive place to be,” a respondent said.

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economist says states should decide on lockdowns

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under growing pressure to call for another nationwide lockdown in India as the overwhelmed health-care system struggles to fight a devastating second Covid-19 wave.

But one member of Modi’s economic advisory council says state governments should have the final say in social restrictions instead.

“All things considered, the current policy of leaving it to different states, to take local circumstances into account, and decide on a lockdown strategy – I think it is a better one on balance,” V. Anantha Nageswaran, part-time member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Tuesday.

Calls for a national lockdown — like the one imposed last year between late-March and May — have grown louder as India’s health-care system buckles, and patients are turned away due to shortages of hospital beds, medical oxygen and medicines needed to treat the disease.

Top White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci also said in an interview with ABC News on Sunday that India needs to shut down in order to break the chains of transmission.

So far, the central government has resisted calls for a lockdown, allowing states to step up their own localized restrictions, including lockdowns and curfews.

Instead, the government is focusing its efforts on delivering global aid received — including oxygen concentrators, cylinders, and generation plants as well as anti-viral drug Remdesivir — to affected areas. The country is also stepping up its vaccination campaign.

People aged 18 and over waiting to be inoculated against Covid-19 at a vaccination centre at Radha Soami Satsang grounds being run by BLK-Max hospital on May 4, 2021 in New Delhi, India.

Hindustan Times | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

Nageswaran explained that at this point, the benefits of a nationwide lockdown will not significantly outweigh the costs. He added that the surge in cases is still relatively localized in different pockets instead of at a national level.

India has reported more than 300,000 daily cases for 20 consecutive days. On Tuesday, however, the health ministry said its data showed a net decline in the total active cases over a 24-hour period for the first time in 61 days.

India’s death toll from the coronavirus is close to 250,000.

Economic growth trajectory

Last year’s national lockdown knocked India off its growth trajectory, pushing the economy into a technical recession. Prior to the second wave of infections, the economy was slowly on the mend — but economists are now predicting the recovery will be delayed in light of the current situation.

There is a growing possibility that localized lockdowns will likely continue until June or beyond, and given the current pace of vaccination, any attempt to fully reopen the economy could result in a potential third wave of infections, Kunal Kundu, India economist at investment bank Societe Generale, said in a recent note.

Kundu said the bank had a forecast of 9.5% year-on-year real GDP growth for India’s fiscal year ending in March 2022, that was below market consensus. But even that target is no longer tenable as it was based on the assumption that the economy will open up sooner due to a rapid pace of vaccination.

“With localised lockdowns until June and beyond, this adds downside risk to our existing growth forecast. We now expect real GDP to clock growth of 8.5% for the current year,” Kundu said.

He added that India’s ability to track the new variants will be key to preventing subsequent waves. For that, the country “needs to earmark more fiscal resources for genomic surveillance and vaccine research,” and ensure all temporary Covid-19 care centers are still operational, he said.

Nageswaran added that if India’s Covid-19 cases do not peak in the next two weeks, and if it drags into the next quarter, the country’s pre-pandemic level growth trajectory will be harder to achieve until the 2022-2023 financial year.

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