FirstFT: ‘Freedom day’ in England overshadowed as Covid instances surge

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Three of Britain’s most senior cabinet ministers — including prime minister Boris Johnson — will be self-isolating on England’s so-called Freedom Day today when the country throws off its last pandemic restrictions.

Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak were contacted by the NHS Test and Trace programme after holding meetings with health secretary Sajid Javid on Friday, who said he is isolating after testing positive for coronavirus.

The surge in Covid-19 cases came as food retailers and producers warned of food shortages and price increases, with acute staff shortages due to workers isolating put pressure on supply chains.

Delays in accessing and processing PCR tests are also hampering efforts to contain the rising tide of infections.

Global health experts have condemned the lifting of most legal restrictions in England as “a threat to the world”. Cases in England are now the third-highest number in the world behind Indonesia and Brazil.

“Freedom Day” has merely allowed Johnson to shunt responsibility for difficult decision-making down the line, writes Jo Ellison. Anjana Ahuja warns that lifting restriction ignores the clinically extremely vulnerable.

Five more stories in the news

1. Opec+ reaches deal to raise oil production Opec and its allies have reached a deal to raise oil production in response to soaring prices, and set a target of the end of 2022 for restoring all the output cut during the early days of the pandemic. Subscribe to our Energy Source newsletter for the latest energy industry news.

Line chart of Brent crude, $ per barrel showing Oil price rallies to multiyear highs

2. Pentagon drones ‘8 to 14 times’ costlier than banned Chinese craft
Camera drones developed by the US defence department are more expensive and less capable than the Chinese-made models they were meant to replace, according to an internal US government memo seen by the Financial Times.

3. Probe: spyware used to hack journalists, activists and executives A spyware tool licensed by Israeli company NSO Group was used to target smartphones belonging to 37 journalists, human rights activists and other prominent figures, according to an investigation released yesterday.

4. Jupiter chief: buyout firms should not be blamed for UK raid Andrew Formica, chief executive of one of Britain’s best-known asset managers, has defended the private equity industry’s pursuit of UK businesses, arguing that cheap valuations will keep companies “vulnerable”.

5. US gas exporters face EU methane curbs US oil and gas exporters have been warned that they face a tightening of European anti-pollution rules despite energy’s exclusion from a swath of climate proposals introduced in Brussels last week. Separate rules on methane, a greenhouse gas with up to 80 times the warming effect of CO2, are expected in the coming months.

Coronavirus digest

  • The Delta variant is exacting a grim toll on dozens of developing countries, where vaccination levels are insufficient to prevent a surge.

  • UK scientists will carry out wide-ranging research into the causes, diagnosis and treatment of long Covid.

  • New York state reported more than 1,000 Covid-19 cases in a day for the first time since mid-May.

  • The Tokyo Olympic Games has suffered a number of late controversies, including an alleged rape, a bullying scandal and a vanished weightlifter — as well as 55 coronavirus cases this month.

  • Asia’s garment workers have been deprived of almost $12bn in wages and severance pay in the wake of the pandemic, according to a labour rights group.

  • More than 80 per cent of asset management firms increased their headcount last year despite Covid-19.

Follow our live coronavirus blog and sign up for our Coronavirus Business Update newsletter for more Covid-19 news.

The day ahead

Earnings IBM publishes second-quarter earnings today after US markets close.

Economic data The EU has Eurostat construction output data, while Rightmove releases its monthly UK house price index.

What else we’re reading

Robotaxis: a ‘moonshot’ solution to automation? Since Google launched its self-driving car project in 2009, the biggest question for the technology has been: can it be safe enough to deploy at scale? Now, the risk for robotaxis is not whether full autonomy can succeed, but whether they can be low-cost enough to make a business case.

How shortages fuelled Cuba’s protests The pandemic has devastated the tourism industry and cut the state’s ability to finance food imports, leading to higher prices and thousands taking to the streets in protest. The government has been able to tamp down unrest, it remains unclear how long it can maintain control with an economy in ruins.

German floods bring climate into election focus With just over two months polling day, devastating floods that swept through western Germany, leaving at least 140 people dead, have catapulted climate change to the heart of the country’s election campaign.

Inflation fears are overblown Early signs of rising prices are more reflective of a predictable, post-lockdown surge in animal spirits than any longer-term trend, writes Rana Foroohar.

Rana Foroohar: ‘Too much in our market system revolves around the short term. That certainly holds true for the debate about inflation’
Rana Foroohar: ‘Too much in our market system revolves around the short term. That certainly holds true for the debate about inflation’ © Matt Kenyon

Mediocre workers have nowhere to hide Do mediocre workers thrive more when they work from home or when they are in the office? While some employers doubt the motivations of staff who prefer remote work, others say it is easier to identify which staff add the most value when a team is working remotely, writes Pilita Clark.

Food & Drink

How Eritrean cooking came to Leeds Six young women who fled their country as children share recipes from home.

Elsa Asmara holds a dish of gomen besiga (lamb and spinach stew)
Elsa Asmara holds a dish of gomen besiga (lamb and spinach stew) © Maryam Wahid

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