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More than 314,000 new Covid cases

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Medical oxygen cylinders at a charging station during the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic.

Naveen Sharma | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

India reported a record number of daily Covid-19 cases on Thursday as the country’s second wave of coronavirus shows no signs of slowing down.

There were 314,835 new cases and 2,104 deaths over a 24-hour period, according to government data. That surpassed the word’s previous highest single-day increase in cases held by the United States.

India’s first wave of infection peaked around September following last year’s national lockdown between late-March and May, which had significant economic consequences.

Cases began rising again in February and in the subsequent months large crowds, mostly without masks, gathered for religious festivals and political rallies.

So far in April, India has reported more than 3.78 million new cases and over 22,000 deaths.

While the reported death toll is rising, some media reports suggest that the official number may be under-reported.

Situation on the ground

The picture on the ground is grim. Even as officials insist the situation is under control, hospitals are overwhelmed, turning away patients due to a shortage of beds — including those who are critically ill. In some instances, non-related patients are being forced to share beds, according to media reports.

Health-care facilities are also low on oxygen supply and the government is reportedly diverting oxygen intended for industrial use to medical facilities instead.

India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in a tweet that the federal government is monitoring supply and demand for oxygen and increased the quota for several states and regions including Maharashtra, the epicenter of the country’s second wave.

There is also growing concern about the double mutation of a Covid-19 variant that was discovered in India, which could make the virus more contagious.

Most states have stepped up social restrictions such as introducing night curfews and some have entered partial lockdowns.

India has so far administered more than 132 million vaccine doses as worries mount over supply shortages. The number of people who have completed their inoculation is still small compared to the country’s 1.3 billion population. Starting May 1, anyone above 18 years old will be eligible for inoculation.

The government recently approved around $610 million in grant funding for Covid-19 vaccine-makers Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech to boost production capacity, according to media reports. 

Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, said in a statement this week that it will scale up vaccine production over the next two months. It said 50% of capacity would be used to serve the government’s vaccine program and the rest would be for state governments and private hospitals to roll out shots.

Serum Institute is producing AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is known locally as Covishield.

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Vaccinated people who had Covid may have more protection against variants

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House press briefing, at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House January 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

People who have had Covid-19 and later got vaccinated may have more protection against highly contagious variants, White House chief medical officer Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

Fauci cited a study published in late April that found that after one dose of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine, people with prior coronavirus infections had better immune responses against B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, the variants first identified in the U.K. and South Africa, compared with those who hadn’t had Covid.

He cited an additional study, which was published online and not yet peer-reviewed, that found people with prior infections who were later boosted with two doses of an mRNA vaccine had “increased protection” protection against variants.

The studies provide more evidence on the benefits of getting vaccinated, Fauci said.

“Vaccines are highly efficacious,” Fauci said during a White House Covid briefing. “They are better than the response you get from natural infection.”

His comments come amid the Biden administration’s push to get 70% of U.S. adults partially vaccinated and 160 million adults fully vaccinated by the Fourth of July, a date the administration hopes will be a turning point in the pandemic.

In recent weeks, the pace of individuals receiving their first vaccine doses has fallen, though U.S. health officials say they are working to improve access to the shots as well as encourage more hesitant Americans to get vaccinated.

Earlier Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a new report that projected Covid-19 cases would surge through May before sharply declining by July as vaccinations drive down infections.

Highly contagious variants, namely the highly contagious B.1.1.7 first identified in the U.K., remain a wild card, U.S. health officials said, urging Americans to get vaccinated and practice pandemic safety measures.

“We are seeing that our current vaccines are protecting against the contaminant variants circulating in the country. Simply put, the sooner we get more and more people vaccinated, the sooner we will all get back to normal,”  CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during the press briefing.

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Copper is ‘the new oil’ and could hit $20,000 per ton, analysts say

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A worker labels copper products at Truong Phu cable factory in northern Hai Duong province, outside Hanoi, Vietnam August 11, 2017.

Kham | Reuters

The world risks “running out of copper” amid widening supply and demand deficits, according to Bank of America, and prices could hit $20,000 per metric ton by 2025.

In a note Tuesday, Bank of America commodity strategist Michael Widmer highlighted inventories measured in tons are now at levels seen 15 years ago, implying that stocks currently cover just over three weeks of demand. This comes as the global economy is beginning to open up and reflate.

“Linked to that, we forecast copper market deficits, and further inventory declines, this year and next,” Widmer said.

“With (London Metal Exchange) inventories close to the pinch-point at which time spreads can move violently, there is a risk backwardation, driven by a rally in nearby prices, may increase.”

Backwardation is when an underlying asset is trading at a higher price than the futures market for that asset.

Widmer also highlighted that a rise in volatility resulting from falling inventories was not without precedent, since nickel shortages in LME warehouses in 2006/7 drove nickel prices more than 300% higher.

Given the fundamental environment and the depleted inventories, Widmer suggested that copper may spike to $13,000/t in the coming years after notching $10,000 last week for the first time in a decade.

Copper prices stood at just under $4.54 per pound as of 5:30 a.m. London time on Thursday, up 30% for the session.

After deficits in 2021 and 2022, BofA expects the copper market to rebalance in 2023 and 2024 before fresh shortfalls and a further draw down on inventories kick in from 2025.

“In our view, scrap supply is critical and our analysis suggests that scrap usage at smelters/refiners could increase from around 4,200t in 2016 to 6,700t by 2025,” Widmer said.

“If our expectation of increased supply in secondary material, a non-transparent market, did not materialize, inventories could deplete within the next three years, giving rise to even more violent price swings that could take the red metal above $20,000/t ($9.07/lb).”

‘The new oil’

Along with the broader economic recovery, demand for copper is also being boosted by its vital role in a number of rapidly growing industrial sectors, such as electric vehicle batteries and semiconductor wiring.

David Neuhauser, founder and managing director of U.S. hedge fund Livermore Partners, told CNBC on Wednesday that metals were receiving a general tailwind from a weaker dollar and increasing moves toward green infrastructure.

Commodity prices rose 3% in April, taking the global index up 80% since April 2020, and HSBC commodity analysts highlighted in a note Wednesday that demand for copper is being supported by investment in electrification as emission reduction strategies are further bolstered by policymakers.

Copper remains Livermore’s favorite commodity at present, Neuhauser said.

“I think copper is the new oil and I think copper, for the next five to 10 years, is going to look tremendous with the potential for $20,000 per metric ton,” Neuhauser said.

“We think there are some very solid small cap companies that have massive production potential, and valuations are attractive, and Livermore could make great return on investment.”

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China ‘indefinitely’ suspends economic dialogue with Australia

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A general view of a Australian flag is seen outside the Great Hall of the People on April 9, 2013 in Beijing, China.

Feng Li | Getty Images

BEIJING — Strained relations between China and Australia took a turn for the worse Thursday after Beijing said it has “indefinitely” suspended all activity under a high-level economic dialogue with one if its largest source of imports.

It was not immediately clear what impact the announcement would have on trade between the two countries, which has already fallen amid retaliatory pressure from Beijing.

The Australian dollar weakened against the U.S. dollar following the news, falling close to breaking 77 cents after trading near 77.47 cents Wednesday.

Beijing’s economic planning agency, the National Reform and Development Commission, said in an English-language statement Thursday that some Australian officials recently launched unspecified measures “out of a Cold War mindset” to disrupt cooperation with China.

The commission said that based on this attitude, it has decided to “indefinitely suspend all activities under the framework of the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue.”

Representatives for trade from the Australian government, as well as the China-Australia Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Public records indicate the last meeting under the dialogue was in 2017. The first meeting was held in 2015, when the two countries signed a free trade agreement. At the time, China was Australia’s largest trading partner.

Tensions began to pick up in 2018 with Australia’s 5G network ban on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and worsened with a call for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19.

China has since launched anti-dumping probes into Australian wine imports and unofficially banned coal imports from the country, among other restrictions. China still buys iron ore from Australia, for a total of about $115.10 billion in U.S. dollars’ worth of imported Australian goods in the 12 months to March, according to Reuters.

The Australian government has increased scrutiny on foreign deals and in April canceled two involved with the Belt and Road Initiative. Critics say the regional infrastructure development program is a way for Beijing to expand its influence overseas.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported, citing a government source, that Australia is reviewing the lease of a port to a Chinese firm.

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