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Pfizer expects elderly, those with health conditions to be first

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A healthcare worker gives the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to Norman G. Einspruch, 88, a cardiology patient, as part of COVID-19 vaccination plan for the seniors at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, United States on December 30, 2020.

Marco Bello | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

High-risk groups such as the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions are expected to be the first in line to get booster shots of the PfizerBioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer told investors Tuesday.

The two-dose vaccine has been shown to be about 95% effective against Covid two weeks after the second dose, though researchers who helped develop the shot now say they are beginning to see that strong protection wane over time.

Executives at Pfizer and BioNTech previously told CNBC that people will likely need a booster shot, or third dose, of the Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of getting fully vaccinated. They also said it’s likely people will need to get additional shots each year.

During an earnings call Tuesday, Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, said it makes sense to start with those most susceptible, such as older adults and those with chronic diseases that make them more vulnerable to severe illness and hospitalization, such as cardiovascular disease or asthma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes recommendations to states on who should get the shots first.

“We cannot predict” what the CDC will do, Dolsten said.

Dolsten’s comment comes after the company reported that sales of its Covid-19 vaccine boosted its first-quarter financial results.

The company now expects full-year sales of $26 billion from the vaccine, up from its previous forecast of about $15 billion. It expects an adjusted pretax profit in the high 20% range of revenue for the vaccine.

“Based on what we’ve seen, we believe that a durable demand for our Covid-19 vaccine, similar to that of the flu vaccines, is a likely outcome,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told investors on the earnings call.

Should Americans require booster shots, the U.S. government would likely need to make arrangements with the drugmakers to supply additional doses and make plans for vaccine distribution.

Last month, Andy Slavitt, senior advisor to President Joe Biden‘s Covid response team, said the White House is preparing for the potential need for Covid-19 vaccine booster shots. He said the Biden administration has thought about the need to secure additional doses.

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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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Consultant outlines steps to meeting socially responsible targets

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With sustainable investments becoming an increasing part of the international agenda, pressure is piling on businesses to ensure they have a suitable strategy in place.

BlackRock — the world’s largest asset manager and a forerunner in sustainable investments — was last week accused of inconsistency in its ESG agenda. ESG stands for environmental, social and corporate governance, and refers to a set of standards that measure a company’s performance in areas like carbon emissions and social responsibility.

The investment firm was found to have links to an Indonesian palm oil company, which once again raised concerns around possible blind spots in the ESG investment process. But according to Singapore-based consultancy Asia Research and Engagement (ARE), there are several steps businesses can take to ensure their ESG strategy is considered and consistent.

It’s no good having a commitment for 2050 and expecting all of the change to happen in 2049.

Benjamin McCarron

founder and managing director, Asia Research and Engagement

First, businesses must set out a strong intention to “manage whatever it is that needs to be managed,” Benjamin McCarron, founder and managing director of ARE told CNBC Tuesday. That could be internal policies or external investments.

Then, leaders should set in place a time-targeted plan to meet those goals.

“It’s no good having a commitment for 2050 and expecting all of the change to happen in 2049, so there needs to be a plan which is in place and which is progressive through time,” he said.

An Acehnese worker harvests palm oil fruits at a palm oil plantation area in Kuta Makmur, North Aceh Regency.

SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

Next, they need to implement a transparent reporting system and have appropriate governance in place to ensure that reporting is adhered to.

Finally, businesses need to start now. “Don’t leave it too late,” said McCarron.

The advice comes as interest in ESG investments has been rising. In the first quarter of 2021, investments in sustainable funds hit a new high of nearly $2 trillion, marking the fourth quarter of gains, according to Morningstar.

However, investors should continue to exercise caution to ensure companies are acting in accordance with their claims. Institutional investors should engage in dialogue, exert their voting rights and implement shareholder proposals to make sure companies are meeting the set goals.

Meanwhile. it’s much easier for retail investors, said McCarron: “You can have whatever values you want. If you don’t want to own something, don’t own it.”

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