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World Health Organization holds press briefing as countries face Covid mutations

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World Health Organization officials are holding a press conference on Monday on the coronavirus pandemic as more countries report cases with contagious new mutations of the virus.

Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases on Sunday said it found a new variant of the coronavirus in four passengers arriving from Brazil. The institute said the new strain appears to have some of the same qualities, like increased infectivity, as other variations discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Meanwhile, the United States has found at least 63 Covid-19 cases with the new, more contagious strain of the virus first identified in the U.K., known as B.1.1.7, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The variant doesn’t appear to make patients more sick or increase their risk of death, health officials have said.

The coronavirus has infected more than 90.4 million people across the globe and has killed at least 1.9 million people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

—CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this report.

Read CNBC’s live updates to see the latest news on the Covid-19 outbreak.


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Systemic change and climate action are key to achieving green goals

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From geopolitical tensions to the coronavirus pandemic and disputes over trade, modern life can often feel bewildering, insecure and disjointed.

One area where there does seem to be some renewed sense of unity is the environment. Just last week, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change, reversing the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the accord. 

A landmark deal reached at the COP21 summit in December 2015, the Paris Agreement aims to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and “pursue efforts” to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In a statement reacting to Biden’s decision, the European Commission stressed the need for collaboration and consensus going forward. “The climate crisis is the defining challenge of our time,” the EU’s executive arm said, “and it can only be tackled by combining all our forces.”

The role of finance

Politicians are not the only ones focusing on the environment. In a panel discussion moderated by CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick, the financial sector’s role in efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change was touched upon in some detail. 

“In the finance industry, compared to where we were in 2015, there is just this undeniable and accelerating momentum,” Rhian-Mari Thomas, chief executive of the Green Finance Institute, said.

“We’re seeing huge inflows into … environmental, social and governance aligned funds,” she went on to state, going on to explain that the scope of change taking place was widespread.

“As well as the interesting innovation that we’re seeing and the pledges and commitments of individual finance firms and providers, what we’re really seeing is change at the systemic level,” she said.

According to the trade body for U.K. investment managers, the Investment Association (IA), the period between January and October 2020 saw £7.8 billion ($10.72 billion) placed into what it described as “responsible investment funds.”

This, the IA said, accounted for 47.5% of all net money placed into funds and was four times higher compared to the same period in 2019.

In October 2020 alone, more than £1 billion was placed into these funds, a figure the IA described as the “highest monthly total on record.” Still, work needs to be done: the IA said responsible investment funds’ “overall share of industry funds under management” amounted to just 3.0% at the end of October.

Reinforcing her point of systemic change, Thomas referred to the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System, or NGFS. Launched in 2017, the NGFS is made up of central banks and supervisors.

Breaking things down, it consists of 83 members and 13 observers. The latter includes institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and OECD, while members range from the Bank of England and European Central Bank to the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The presence of such big hitters is not lost on Thomas. “All the world’s systemically important banks and many other financial institutions are now supervised by members of the NGFS that are committed to ensuring that the financial services system is aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” she said.

The challenge facing business

While the big picture may be changing thanks to global initiatives and collaborations, the issue of how individual companies tackle issues surrounding sustainability and the environment is also important.

Another member of CNBC’s panel, Covestro CEO Markus Steilemann, sought to highlight the challenge facing his firm, a major player in polymers.

“We have two transitions to master,” he said. “Number one is our massive energy intake needs to become climate neutral, carbon dioxide emission neutral,” he added.

“And secondly, we have to master the raw material transition, so, going completely away from raw materials that come from coal, oil and gas towards renewable sources.”

Steilemann also highlighted the importance of pursuing a circular economy rather than a linear one, an idea that’s started to gain more and more traction in recent years. 

“The materials we put out there do not need to end up — and must not end up — in landfill, and must not end up in the oceans … they must be recycled,” Steilemann said.

“Secondly, we need to make sure that also our feedstock we are using is not coming from a linear business model and is not extracted from the ground.”


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New York’s Cuomo lifts Covid restrictions but worries about new strains

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wears a protective face mask as he arrives to speak during a daily briefing following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., July 13, 2020.

Mike Segar | Reuters

New York has seen the worst of its post-holiday coronavirus outbreak and will begin lifting restrictions on much of the state, but more contagious strains of the virus that have recently emerged could impede that progress, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

Triggered by dinners with family and friends, the holiday surge appears to have peaked in New York on Jan. 4 when the positivity rate, or the percentage of Covid tests returning positive, reached about 8% across the state. That figure has since dipped to roughly 5.6%, Cuomo said.

“I think at this point it’s safe to say the holiday surge was anticipated, the holiday surge did happen, but the holiday surge is over,” Cuomo said during a press briefing in Albany.

The Democratic governor said the state will lift restrictions on gatherings and some nonessential businesses across most of the state — except in parts of the greater New York City area, including Washington Heights, the Bronx and Queens, and the Newburgh area upstate.

Those areas are still considered “yellow zones” under New York’s micro-cluster strategy, an effort to target economic restrictions to specific areas where the virus is spreading more. New York will lift restrictions on all remaining orange and yellow zones, which will eliminate harsher limits on indoor dining, gathering sizes and businesses such as gyms, barbershops and hair salons.

Existing Zones in New York State

Source: The State of New York

Under the state’s reopening strategy, New York City restaurants are allowed to offer only outdoor dining or takeout and delivery. Cuomo said he plans to meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio and health officials to discuss how to reopen indoor dining in the city, and he will provide more details later this week.

However, there is still a looming concern that new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil could take hold and threaten the state’s ability to treat an influx of Covid-19 patients.

“The new strains are a real concern, and the Covid threat is not over,” Cuomo said.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the variant found in the U.K., known as B.1.1.7, could become the dominant strain of the virus by March. So far, New York has identified 22 Covid-19 cases with the mutated strain, according to recent data compiled by the CDC.

However, the federal agency warns that figure is based on sampling and doesn’t represent the total number of B.1.1.7 cases that may be circulating.

Cuomo said that expanding the number of available hospital beds isn’t the state’s main concern, but rather the lack of health-care workers to treat a wave of new patients if they were to get infected with the virus themselves.

“Yes, it creates anxiety, and all I can tell you is that we watch it and we adapt,” Cuomo said. “If it changes, we will change.”


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Tilray CEO expects U.S. federal cannabis legalization within two years

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Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Tilray medical cannabis producer, poses in a greenhouse of the Canadian company’s European production site in Cantanhede, on April 24, 2018.

Patricia De Melo Moreira | AFP | Getty Images

Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Canadian cannabis company Tilray, is optimistic that the United States will take steps toward federal legalization of marijuana in the near future, a move that will shake the industry forever.

“I expect that pressure from the North and the South will ultimately lead the U.S. to implement a federal program here at some point in the next 18 to 24 months,” Kennedy said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Mexico published regulations for medical cannabis use and Kennedy is confident that Mexico and Canada’s positive stance on marijuana will put more pressure on the U.S.

Tilray announced Tuesday that it has been chosen as a supplier of medical cannabis for experimentation in France by the country’s National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products.

Since 2017, the company has been selling its cannabis products in Germany. With the French program getting underway in the first quarter, Kennedy is optimistic that other European countries will implement medical marijuana programs as well.

“While we are excited for our opportunities in Germany and France, we expect to see additional opportunities for our European businesses in the coming quarters,” Kennedy told CNBC in an interview.

Tilray has cannabis production licenses in Canada and Portugal, where their main cannabis facility is located.


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