The week’s news included; UK coronavirus strategy explained, UK Budget, Pentagon reconsiders $10 billion Microsoft JEDI contract, Law firms see spike in coronavirus related work
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Opinion articles of the week:
- BBC News – Is this the digital future for banknotes?
- City A.M – Is the EU’s approach to regulating artificial intelligence misguided?
- The World Economic Forum – Can herd immunity really protect us from coronavirus?
1. UK CORONAVIRUS STRATEGY
The strategy of the UK government in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak has been criticised as too laisse-faire but what exactly is the strategy? Based on advice from the scientific advisers the UK is adopting a “herd immunity approach”. The concept is to “reduce the peak” and avoid a huge spike in cases which would come as a result of draconian measures to suppress the outbreak. If you supress a disease outbreak too hard, once measures are lightened, infection rates spike again. Herd immunity would allow lower risk people to contract the virus over a longer period of time, as for the majority of people it only brings a mild illness but people would build up an immunity. By avoiding the spike but broadening the peak, long term, there would be enough people immune to prevent further transmissions and short term pressure is reduced on health services. To ensure only lower risk people get infected, the UK government will soon announce measures to require over 70’s to self-isolate. For this whole strategy to work however, an estimated two-thirds of the population would need to contract the virus.
This approach has not been taken by the vast majority of other countries. In Europe, as Italy and Spain have gone into total lockdown, putting hundreds of millions of people in compulsory isolation. Germany, Portugal and Poland for example have shut down their borders completely. The UK has not introduced bans on public gatherings, they haven’t closed closes or introduced any form of social distancing as of yet. Whether this strategy will work out in the long term remains to be seen.
2. UK BUDGET
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, revealed his first budget last week, laying out the government’s fiscal plans. After Sajid Javid’s dramatic exit, Sunak has had barely a month at helm of public finances. Understandably, measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak were front and centre. Here are the key measures;
- £5 billion emergency fund for the NHS and other public services
- £500 million hardship fund for councils
- Automatic statutory sick pay for those advised to self-isolate
- Self-employed workers entitled to Employment Support Allowance from day 1 of self-isolation
- Tax threshold for National Insurance Contributions will rise from £8,632 to £9,500
- VAT on women’s sanitary products to be scrapped
- Business rates for hospitality, leisure and retail for firms with rateable value under £51,000
- Small businesses will be refunded for two week’s sick pay payments. Also will have access to £1.2 million in “business interruption” loans.
3. STOCK MARKETS
Last week, Coronavirus fears sent the stock markets into its worst day since 1987. The FSE 100 tanked over 10% while two of the largest US exchanges, the Dow and S&P 500 also saw over 9% drops. US stock markets saw their automatic trading suspension mechanism triggered due to the rout. Central banks across the globe has introduced fiscal stimuli such as interest rate cuts and cash injects. These measures are not sufficient to counteract the economic turmoil predicted by markets. Economic activity is grinding to a halt as customers self-isolate and countries close their borders. Airlines such as Norwegian Air have laid off 50% of their workforce due to the severe drop in demand. Job losses and business collapses will have a huge knock on effect on the wider economy. The uncertainty around the virus is creating fear so the stock market rout is unlikely to ease in any significant way.
4. INTEREST RATE CUTS
Central banks across the globe are frantically seeking to counteract the economic impact of the coronavirus. After already cutting interest rates two weeks ago, the US Federal Reserve further slashed rates to a range of 0%-0.25%. It also introduced a $700 billion stimulus package. These emergency meetings are the first time they have happened since the 2008 financial crisis. In the UK, the Bank of England cut rates from 0.75% to 0.25% and is considering further rate cuts.
The shock of the coronavirus is likely to tip the global economy into recession. As major economies go into lockdown, there’s only so long companies can sustain themselves with miniscule or no demand, regardless of government measures. In the UK, even prior to coronavirus economic growth was stagnant. Travel and hospitality are likely to be worst hit but most businesses globally will feel the pinch and a downturn is likely to ensue.
5. PENTAGON TO RECONSIDER $10 BILLION AMAZON CONTRACT
The US Department of Defence has requested to reassess its award of a $10 billion cloud contract to Microsoft, amid a lawsuit by Amazon. Amazon claimed that the government did not give it a contract due to political motivations and not based on technical matters. The government however, says the decision was on pricing and technical issues but agreed to reassess. The Pentagon will now review whether the decision-making process was fair and free of interference. President Trump had publicly criticised Amazon and the idea of giving it the contract, potentially swaying the decision. The Pentagon will now have 120 days to reassess. Microsoft and Apple are bidding for the Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (Jedi) contract. Jedi is a system to replace the Pentagon’s computer infrastructure.
6. SPORTS SHUT DOWN
Last week, numerous professional sports associations around the world suspended their seasons due to the coronavirus outbreak. In the US, the NBA was suspended minutes before the start of a game between Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz. It transpired minutes before the game that Utah player Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus. Both sets of players were quarantined at the arena and anyone who had played the Utah Jazz within the preceding 10 days was advised to self-quarantine. The NBA has now implemented a hiatus while it decides how best to proceed. In the UK, the Premier League has also been suspended until at least the start of April. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi have both tested positive. The Australian and Chinese F1 Grand Prix were also cancelled. The coronavirus has bought around a phase of unprecedented disruption in the world of sport.
7. AUSTRALIA SUES FACEBOOK
Australia has sued Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The scandal saw the data of 87 million Facebook users being used for advertising and political campaigning without authorisation. 300,000 Australian users data was used, in breach of their privacy. The commissioner has now taken this to the Australian federal court. The court can imposed a maximum fine of £860,000 for each serious or repeated privacy breach.
Facebook made its largest pay-out for the scandal in the us where regulators slapped a $5 billion on the tech giant. The scandal was ground-breaking and reshaped the the relationship between lawmakers and tech firms.
8. BETWAY FINED
Gambling company Betway has been fined £11.6 million for inadequate anti-money laundering processes and customer protections. This was the largest fine ever issued by the Gambling Commission and was linked to the cases of seven customers. In one case, one person deposited £8 million over four years and lost £4 million but the source of these funds were not ascertained. Furthermore, another customer deposited and lost £187,000 in just 2 days.
9. LAW FIRMS SEE SPIKE IN DEMAND
Corporate law firms have seen a spike in demand due to the Coronavirus. Companies are seeking to get out of contracts or keep them alive due to the challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak. Many are seeking to implement force majeure clauses in contracts, particularly with regards to orders. Employers are seeking to add in specific clauses to address the outbreak, all adding to the workload for lawyers. Law firms have seen a 25% spike in client queries due to the outbreak. Coronavirus has brought the world in unchartered legal territory and lawyers will be at the forefront of untangling the inevitable legal disputes.
10. GHOST FLIGHTS
Virgin Atlantic and other airlines have resorted to operating near empty flights due to the coronavirus outbreak. Airlines are unwilling to lose their flight slots. Legally, if airlines do not operate their flights their slots must be forfeited and other airlines can fill these slots. So to maintain their presence companies operate ghost flights. But these “ghost flights” are bad for the environment. Politicians and airlines are pushing for these rules to be relaxed amid the outbreak. These rules are however, EU law so any changes would need to come from the European Commission. With the outbreak predicted to worsen before it improves, whether the EU will respond quickly enough to the challenging aerospace situation remains to be seen.