Visoot Uthairam | Moment | Getty Images
The Covid-19 delta variant originally discovered in India is now spreading around the world, becoming the dominant strain in some countries, such as the U.K., and likely to become so in others, like the U.S.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said the variant had been detected in more than 80 countries and it continues to mutate as it spreads.
The variant now makes up 10% of all new cases in the United States, up from 6% last week. Studies have shown the variant is even more transmissible than other variants.
Scientists have warned that the data suggests the delta variant is 60% more transmissible than the “alpha” variant (previously known as the U.K. or Kent variant which was itself a much more transmissible than the original version of the virus) and is more likely to lead to hospitalizations, as has been seen in countries like the U.K.
WHO officials said Wednesday there were reports that the delta variant also causes more severe symptoms, but that more research is needed to confirm those conclusions.
Still, there are signs that the delta variant could provoke different symptoms than the ones we’ve been advised to look out for when it comes to Covid-19.
Throughout the pandemic, governments around the world have warned that the main symptoms of Covid-19 are a fever, persistent cough and loss of taste or smell with some domestic variations and additions as we’ve learned more about the virus.
The CDC’s updated list of symptoms, for example, includes fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, a sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea as possible symptoms of infection. There there are of course the millions of people who have had Covid-19 with no symptoms at all with the extent of asymptomatic transmission still being investigated by scientists.
But the delta variant appears to be provoking a different range of symptoms, according to experts.
Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, runs the Zoe Covid Symptom study, an ongoing U.K.-based study which enables the public to enter their Covid symptoms on an app when enables scientists to then analyze the data.
“Covid is also acting differently now,” Spector noted in a YouTube briefing last week. “It’s more like a bad cold in this younger population and people don’t realize that and that hasn’t come across in any of the government information.”
“Since the start of May, we have been looking at the top symptoms in the app users and they are not the same as they were,” he said. “The number one symptom is headache, then followed by sore throat, runny nose and fever.” More “traditional” Covid symptoms such as a cough and loss of smell were much rarer now he said, with younger people experiencing much more of a bad cold or “funny off feeling.”
The alpha variant first discovered in the U.K. highlighted the emergence of a wider set of symptoms.
A study of over a million people in England within the REACT study (which tracks community transmission of the virus in England) that was carried out between June 2020 and January 2021 — and hence over a period of time in which the alpha variant spread and became dominant — revealed additional symptoms that were linked with having the coronavirus including chills, loss of appetite, headache and muscle aches, in addition to the ‘classic” symptoms.
This week the delta variant was re-classified as a “variant of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “based on mounting evidence that the delta variant spreads more easily and causes more severe cases when compared to other variants, including B.1.1.7 (Alpha),” it said in a statement to NBC News.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said the delta variant will likely become the dominant strain in the U.S. and could “spike a new epidemic heading into fall,” during an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.
In the U.K., where the delta variant is now responsible for the bulk of new infections, cases have spiked among young people and the unvaccinated, leading to a rise in hospitalizations in those cohorts. The spread of the variant has also prompted the U.K. to delay further loosening of Covid-19 restrictions.
It’s hoped that Covid-19 vaccination programs can stop the wild spread of the delta variant and so the race is on to protect younger people who might not be fully vaccinated. Analysis from Public Health England released on Monday showed that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization from the delta variant.
The U.K.’s situation shows how quickly the delta variant can quickly become dominant and the U.S. is certainly watching on with concern.
Remarking on how rapidly the delta variant has become dominant in the U.K., Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, noted last week that “we cannot let that happen in the United States,” as he pushed to get more people vaccinated, especially young adults.
The latest study on the spread of the virus in England alone does nothing to allay the concerns of experts. The REACT study’s latest findings, published on Thursday, warned that cases were rising “exponentially” and said the “resurgence” of Covid-19 infections in England was “associated with increased frequency of Delta variant.”
The study estimated that roughly 1 in 670 have the virus, a sharp increase compared to the study’s previous findings, when 1 in 1,000 people had the virus as of May 3. The findings were published Thursday and are based on almost 110,000 home swab tests taken between May 20 and June 7.
Led by Imperial College London, the scientists estimate that the reproduction number is now 1.44 in England, meaning 10 infected people would pass the virus on to 14 others on average, “resulting in fast growth of the epidemic.”
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT program from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said “we found strong evidence for exponential growth in infection from late May to early June … These data coincide with the Delta variant becoming dominant and show the importance of continuing to monitor infection rates and variants of concern in the community.”
Most infections are happening in children and young adults, but they are rising in older people too, the study found.
While it had found that the link between infections, hospitalizations and deaths had been weakening since February, suggesting infections were leading to fewer hospital admissions and deaths due to the vaccination programme, since late April, the trend has been reversing for hospitalizations.
– CNBC’s Rich Mendez contributed reporting to this story.
Netflix games are coming — and the reasons are very Netflixian
In this photo illustration the Netflix logo in the App Store seen displayed on a smartphone screen.
Rafael Henrique | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images
For the first time, Netflix executives spoke at length about the company’s video gaming aspirations. Their rationale for expanding the company’s product offerings was very … Netflixian.
Superficially, Netflix will start offering mobile games to subscribers for no additional charge to add value to the service. Subscribers in the U.S. and Canada declined by 400,000 in the second quarter, a sign the business may be reaching a near-term saturation point. Adding video games may entice new customers while reducing churn.
“The success of this initiative is about great games, fundamentally,” Netflix chief operating officer and chief product officer Greg Peters said during his company’s second-quarter earnings conference call Tuesday. “We think we can deliver more entertainment value through [games].”
But pull back the curtain, and it’s clear Netflix chose video games as one of the company’s first significant nonvideo-related business ventures because of two themes: data and intellectual property.
Those two concepts are core to Netflix’s success as a video streaming service. Netflix has revolutionized streaming video by using streaming video data to recommend what a person should watch and to guide original content production. The value of the owned intellectual property has led to a global shift in media distribution, as companies increasingly hold on to their own creations and distribute content themselves via streaming rather than widely selling programming to others.
The results have led to Netflix dominating the entertainment world with 209 million global subscribers and a trail of copycat subscription streaming services from every media company. They’ve also led to a creative product that some find gauche and not in the spirit of making art.
“These streaming services have been making something that they call ‘movies,’ ” Barry Diller, who once ran Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox, said earlier this month. “They ain’t movies. They are some weird algorithmic process that has created things that last 100 minutes or so.”
Peters acknowledged the company will “learn and grow and refocus our investment based on what we see is working” with games. He noted that gaming provides “intentionality,” allowing users to dictate the characters they want to spend time with in different parts of a gaming world.
That user-based decision-making won’t be ignored by Netflix. Rather, it will guide Netflix — not only in making better games but also in creative decisions. If a Netflix-owned series has a character that’s used heavily in gaming, one could easily imagine that character being more prominently featured in an upcoming season of the show.
“Maybe someday we’ll see a game that spawns a film or a series,” Peters said. “That would be an amazing place to get to, to really see the rich interplay between these different forms of entertainment.”
While Peters noted that Netflix will license some games — just as Netflix built its video service on the back of licensing TV shows and movies — he said Netflix’s intellectual property is a key differentiating factor against other rivals in the space.
“The first of those [differentiating factors] is about the IP we create,” Peters said. “We know the fans of our stories want to go deep and engage further. What’s great about interactive is you can provide universes that provide a significant amount of time where people can engage and explore.”
That “significant amount of time” is yet another key Netflix tenet — keeping users within the company’s ecosystem. That’s why Netflix founder and co-chief executive officer Reed Hastings once said that even sleep should be considered Netflix competition.
Gaming won’t become an independent driver of revenue any time soon. Hastings referred to Netflix as “a one-product company with a bunch of supporting elements.” But for anyone who was confused why Netflix would budge from its famous focus on streaming, the rationale is clearer today: Hastings hopes what worked for video will work again for gaming.
The bond market is torn over the potential for higher inflation and lower growth
A man wearing a protective face mask walks by 14 Wall Street in the financial district of New York, November 19, 2020.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters
A volatile environment for government bonds is reflecting a highly uncertain future for the U.S. economy, pointing to both slower growth and stubborn inflation.
After a burst higher earlier this year that scared markets, Treasury yields have fallen back sharply as investors have switched their focus from worries about price increases to the potential that the rapid burst in post-pandemic activity could start to slow down.
In the 1970s, the mix of higher prices and lower growth was called “stagflation,” a pejorative that has garnered little attention since then as inflation has remained tame over the past few decades.
However, the word is coming up more and more these days as the growth picture gets cloudier.
“The market is trading on the stagflation theme,” said Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies. “There’s the idea that these price increases are going to cause demand destruction, cause a policy mistake and ultimately that slows growth.”
For her part, Markowska thinks the trade that sent 10-year Treasury yields tumbling from a peak of around 1.75% in late March to about 1.18% earlier this week was a mistake. Yields trade opposite price, so a slump there means that investors are buying up bonds and pushing prices higher.
She sees a strong consumer and a coming eruption in supply, reversing the current bottleneck that has pushed prices to their highest levels since before the 2008 financial crisis, as generating plenty of momentum to keep growth cooking without generating runaway inflation. Markowska sees the Federal Reserve staying on the sidelines until at least 2023, despite recent market pricing that the central bank will begin raising rates in late 2022.
“Consensus is projecting 3% growth. I think we could grow 4% to 5% next year,” Markowska said. “Not only is the consumer still very healthy, but you’re going to have massive inventory restocking at some point. Even if demand comes down, supply has so much catching up to do. You’re going to see the mother of all restocking cycles.”
The bond market, which is generally seen as the more sober component of financial markets as opposed to the go-go stock market, doesn’t seem as convinced.
The 10-year Treasury is seen as the fixed income bellwether and generally a barometer for where the economy is headed as well as interest rates. Even with Wednesday’s rally in yields, a 1.29% Treasury is not expressing a lot of confidence in the future growth trajectory.
“Our view is growth and inflation moderate,” said Michael Collins, senior portfolio manager at PGIM Fixed Income. “I don’t care what growth and inflation looks like this year, what matters to our forecast of the 10-year Treasury is what it’s going to be like over 10 years. And I think it’s going to go back down. That’s the world we live in.”
The reference is to a below-trend growth environment with interest rates well below standard.
As the economy has grown out of the government-imposed pandemic shutdown, GDP has been well above the 2% or so trend that had been prevalent since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. The Covid recession was the shortest on record, and the economy has been a rocket since mid-2020.
But Collins expects the modest-growth world to return, and for investors to keep yields well within that a subdued range.
“The U.S. is going to continue to be a leader in global growth and economic dynamism,” he said. “But 1.5% to 2% is our speed limit on growth unless we have some productivity miracle.”
The looming question, then, is inflation.
Consumer prices rose a lofty 5.4% in June while the prices producers receive spiked 7.3%. Both numbers indicate continued price pressures that even Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged have been more aggressive and persistent than he and his central bank colleagues had expected.
While the slide in yields indicates that least some of the worry has come out of the market, any further signs that inflation will stick around longer than policymakers expect could change investors’ minds in a hurry.
That’s because of the swirling dynamics that threaten to raise that stagflation specter. The biggest growth concern right now centers on the threat that Covid-19 and its delta variant pose. Slowing growth and rising inflation could be lethal for the current investing landscape.
“If the virus begins to spread rapidly again, that would curtail economic growth and prolong the inflationary supply chain disruptions that have affected so many industries including semiconductors and housing,” said Nancy Davis, founder of Quadratic Capital Management and portfolio manager of the Quadratic Interest Rate Volatility and Inflation Hedge Exchange-Traded Fund.
“Stagflation is an even bigger risk for investors than inflation,” Davis added.
Collins, though, said he sees the current 10-year yield as trading around fair value considering the circumstances.
The Treasury market is often far more deliberate than its equity-focused counterpart, which can swing wildly on headlines both good and bad. At its current level, the bond market is taking a cautious view on what’s ahead.
With the stock market’s sensitivity lately to what’s been happening in bonds, that could mean some volatility on the equity side.
“Given what’s happened over the last 18 months and the problems much of the world faces over the next 2-3 years, a 1.2% 10-year is understandable,” wrote Nick Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research. “It doesn’t mean equities are fated to have a tough remainder of 2021, or that a crash is imminent. It does mean that Treasuries have a healthy respect for history, especially the last decade’s worth of subpar U.S. inflation.”
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26-year-old American teaches English in South Korea: Advice to expats
In November 2019, Michaela Cricchio, 26, booked a one-way flight to Seoul, South Korea, to teach English abroad.
Cricchio first heard about programs to teach English in a foreign country during an international studies class in college. When she couldn’t afford to move right after college, she spent a year and a half working on a cruise ship, where she could live rent-free, to save up.
After becoming certified to teach English and applying for a work visa, she was off to live on her own for the first time, and in a foreign country where she barely knew the language, no less.
“I remember sitting on the plane a year ago for my first year of teaching in South Korea and thinking, ‘What am I doing?'” Cricchio recalls. “Now, to actually be here and wake up every morning knowing I’m in a different country and so far away from home, it still hits me sometimes … I’ll realize that this is my life.”
Cricchio loves her expat lifestyle. As a foreign English teacher, her school pays for her rent, which allows her to live in Seoul comfortably on $24,000 a year. During the weekends, she meets up with friends to visit cafes, restaurants, bars, art museums, parks, shopping districts and other city attractions.
But despite all the highs, she has one word of caution to other young people who want to travel the world and work abroad.
“The biggest misconception about living abroad is that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” Cricchio says. The Instagram photos and vlogs of people living abroad rarely cover the challenges and mundane parts of daily life, she says.
For Cricchio, living in South Korea has been a major culture adjustment, since even basic errands like going to the grocery store can be challenging on her basic proficiency of the language. She still has work to do, bills to pay, health check-ups to schedule — she also still has to pay taxes to the U.S. government. “It’s still real life, just in a different place,” she says.
And teaching English grammar to elementary school students when it isn’t their first language is harder than you’d think, she adds.
Cricchio says it’s important to have realistic expectations in mind when making such a big life change. Also, it’s completely expected and normal to feel lonely during the experience.
She’s used apps to find English-speaking friends who are all in similar situations — young, newly independent and very far from home. “It’s really great to have your friends practically become your family,” she says. “But of course, there are times when I really miss my family. Being in this apartment alone at night, it gets lonely.”
FaceTime has become a lifeline for her to stay in touch with friends and family back home, including her parents and three older siblings. Sometimes, seeing them all together makes her even more homesick. But during those moments, she reminds herself that she’s living this lifestyle to learn and grow on her own.
Still, Cricchio wouldn’t change the experience for anything. She hopes to continue building her financial cushion and finding opportunities to be a digital nomad, where she can move around, teach English part-time and freelance write about travel and teaching.
“Living in Korea has changed the way I look at my future,” Cricchio says. “Before, I was super afraid of the world, super shy. I wasn’t really sure about what direction I was going in.”
In the last year and a half, however, her confidence has skyrocketed. “It’s helped me grow up a lot. I 100% rely on myself here. I do have the help of my friends and school, but overall, I rely on myself a lot: financially, mentally, emotionally. I’m all I have.”
Her biggest piece of advice to others who also want to move abroad is to stop putting off their plans and actually get the ball rolling.
Though Cricchio couldn’t afford a teaching certification right after college, which can cost upwards of $1,000, she gave herself a timeline: She’d work two contracts on a cruise ship and save the money she needed to move.
She made good on her promise once she hit $13,000 in savings: She enrolled in a certification course, got in touch with a teaching abroad program and applied for her work visa.
At times, Cricchio questioned whether she was “ready” to make the big leap. But, “it’s never going to be the perfect time,” she says. “If I had waited till I was ready to move abroad and come to Korea, I would have been waiting a while.”
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