Coronavirus latest: NYC delays start date for in-classroom learning again

Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe and Chris Tighe

Residents in the north-east of England will be subject to tough new coronavirus restrictions from Friday, as the government struggles to control the surge in cases.

Under new restrictions announced by health secretary Matt Hancock, residents within Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham, will be unable to socialise with individuals outside of their household or support bubble.

In addition, hospitality outlets in the north-east will be forced to operate under a curfew of 10pm to 5am and will be restricted to table service only.

Announcing the new measures in the House of Commons on Thursday, the health secretary said that he sympathised with residents and did not take the decision “lightly”, adding: “I know that these decisions have a real impact on families, on businesses and local communities.”

Mr Hancock said local authorities had written to him requesting tighter restrictions, following a rise in coronavirus cases in the region. In Sunderland, for example, the Covid-19 infection rate had reached 103 positive cases per 100,000, he added.

According to the latest data from NHS Test and Trace, between September 3 and 9, 18,371 people tested positive for coronavirus in England, a 75 per cent increase from last week and the highest weekly total since May.

The region is the latest in a series of areas that have been subject to localised lockdowns in recent weeks.

Last week, 1.6m residents in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull were told that they would be banned from socialising with other households indoors or in private gardens unless they were within a bubble with them.

The prime minister has repeatedly said that measures including the ‘rule of six’ and localised lockdowns are designed to avoid the country having to return to a national lockdown.

He told MPs at a liaison committee meeting on Wednesday that a second lockdown would be “disastrous”, stating: “I don’t want a second national lockdown – I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.”

Santander and UBS chairs should testify in €112m Orcel suit, court rules

Santander chair Ana Botín and UBS chairman Axel Weber will be called to testify over the Spanish lender’s U-turn in hiring Andrea Orcel as chief executive, a Madrid court decided on Monday.

Mr Orcel, UBS’s former head of investment banking, is suing Santander for €112m, alleging that the bank’s reversal of its September 2018 decision to appoint him constitutes breach of contract.

Santander says that, although a letter offering the chief executive post to Mr Orcel was signed by both sides, it was not a contract under Spanish law.

At Monday’s preliminary hearing, which lasted about an hour and a half, the court fixed March 10 as the start of the civil case, and the two sides confirmed that they were unable to reach a settlement. 

Neither Mr Orcel nor Ms Botín were present at the hearing, which had previously been scheduled for April but was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Mr Orcel’s side have called Ms Botín as a witness in March, as well as Mr Weber. 

UBS’s role may be significant, because its decision not to pay Mr Orcel deferred pay worth millions of euros made his hiring much more expensive for Santander.

The Spanish bank had proposed giving Mr Orcel up to a maximum of €35m in shares if he forfeited his deferred pay from UBS by joining a rival.

Ms Botín subsequently told Mr Orcel in a December 2018 exchange on Signal, the encrypted messaging app, that “on the subject of compensation Axel [Weber] is not moving at all. Basically 0 [zero].” Days later Santander decided not to proceed with Mr Orcel’s appointment.

The prolonged legal battle over Santander’s volte face and whether Mr Orcel is due compensation have also put the spotlight on corporate governance at the bank. 

The lender argues that his proposed hire was a mistake that it remedied in time amid concerns about the final cost of his appointment. 

Mr Orcel, who had already quit his UBS post by the time of the volte face and who had asked Ms Botín to “empower” him as CEO, has said he was surprised and massively disappointed by the bank’s U-turn.

The fact that the court case is set to begin in March may pave the way for a ruling next year — although it could subsequently be appealed.

Mr Orcel also has recourse to appeal in a separate criminal case he is pursuing against Santander over alleged manipulation of evidence. Santander denies the claims, which have also been rejected by a criminal court. 

In a statement on Monday, Santander said it remained “confident that the decision not to proceed with Mr Orcel’s appointment was both correct and handled appropriately”, adding that it “looks forward to resolving the matter in court”.

Mr Orcel’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
UBS, which has been reluctant to take sides in the dispute, declined to comment.

Coronavirus latest: Birmingham restrictions tightened amid rise in cases

Working from home sent shares of the connected fitness group Peloton to a record high in after-hours trading. Peloton said revenues in the three months ending June 30, its fourth fiscal quarter, grew 172 per cent from a year ago to $607.1m.

A sell-off in US stocks resumed on Thursday, as Congress failed to make progress on a new stimulus package and signs emerged that improvements in the US labour market have stalled. The S&P 500 index closed lower by 1.8 per cent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 2 per cent.

Republicans in the Senate failed in their efforts to advance new economic stimulus measures worth about $500bn, after Democrats voted to block the legislation because the package was too small to tackle the scale of the downturn still facing the US.

Northern Ireland’s devolved government has tightened coronavirus rules. Household gatherings will be curtailed throughout Belfast, the region’s capital, as well as the county Antrim town of Ballymena and some neighbouring areas. First minister Arlene Foster said the move reflects the need to “push down” on a rising curve of infections.

The number of people hospitalised in Florida with coronavirus fell below 3,000 for the first time in at least two months. Hospitalisations fell by 153, the biggest one-day drop since late August, to 2,922 as of Thursday morning, compared with 3,436 a week ago.

The UAE said it would rigorously implement fines as weak adherence to physical distancing prompts a surge in coronavirus cases. The Gulf federation recorded 930 new cases on Thursday, the highest daily tally in four months, saying 88 per cent of recent cases had been caused by gatherings.

Recovery in the US oil industry looked to have stalled on Thursday after data showed crude stocks building for the first time in almost two months. US commercial crude inventories surprised the market to grow by 2m barrels – or 0.4 per cent – in the week to September 4.

Seven people have died and hundreds injured in riots in the Colombian capital Bogotá sparked by an incident in which police used stun guns to arrest a man who was allegedly flouting coronavirus restrictions and who later died in hospital.

Singapore Airlines Group, which consists of majority state-owned Singapore Airlines, regional SilkAir and low-cost carrier Scoot, will reduce its workforce by 4,300 people, or a quarter of its staff relative to the average number across the previous financial year.

The Scottish government has tightened limits on indoor gatherings, put on hold planned reopening of theatres and live music venues, and called on people to continue working from home amid a climb in new cases.

Coronavirus latest: Leading drugmakers vow to ensure safety of Covid vaccine

Valentina Romei in London

A decline in Italy’s retail sales ended two months of improvement to raise fears for the fragility of recovery in the eurozone’s third-biggest economy that risks widening the region’s north-south gap.

Sales fell 2.2 per cent in July compared with the previous month, marking a setback from June’s 12 per cent expansion. The monthly figure means that retail sales in July were 7.2 per cent below the same month last year, official data showed on Tuesday.

Recent figures “show that the pace of recovery is likely to slow significantly beyond the ‘mechanical’ bounce in activity seen in the third quarter”, said Nicola Nobile, economist at Oxford Economics. “Overall, we maintain our view that, after the strong rebound in the third quarter, the subsequent quarterly gains in the Italian economy in the fourth and through 2021 will be much more modest.”

Online shopping rose 11.6 per cent as coronavirus-hit consumers stuck at home took to their computers to buy goods, the national statistics office said. Overall sales dropped nonetheless, while food sales were broadly unchanged from last year.

Non-food goods especially clothing and household appliances fell, the Italian statistical agency Istat said.

“Looking at the value of sales for non-food products, dramatic falls were reported across all categories,” Istat said.

The setback in Italy’s retail spending raises concerns of a slowdown in the economic recovery after the historic fall in output in the second quarter.

Industrial output is recovering more quickly than expected, but the dominant services sector is suffering from reduced international tourism and fears of unemployment once the government’s support scheme ends.

Data for other European countries have shown a correction in retail spending in July after a large rebound in June. Germany, the region’s largest economy, reported a 0.9 per cent drop in sales, compared with the previous month.

However, in France and Germany, July’s retail sales were stronger than in the same month last year, while for Italy – and to a smaller extent in Spain – the drop came before reaching pre-pandemic levels, fuelling concerns that an uneven economic recovery could widen the north-south economic gap.

Shared beliefs unite factions in Germany’s virus protests

For weeks now, Germany has debated the significance of the varied and seemingly incompatible factions that have descended on the capital to rally against the country’s coronavirus measures. From anti-vaxxers to biologists, Christian fundamentalists to conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis to Hare Krishnas — could the forces gathered under the banner of coronavirus scepticism constitute a viable political force? Or are they just a passing symptom of the global pandemic?

Though few see any chance of these disparate strands forming a lasting movement, analysts warn that the threat the protests pose should not be discounted.

“The groups will crumble, but I don’t think this is what we have to look out for. We have to look out for people getting lost in alternative realities, in collective delusions,” said Miro Dittrich, a researcher on the far-right and social media at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. “The longer this pandemic lasts, the more radical these people get. The longer they get radicalised, the more likely it is for them to use violence.”

Polls suggest that only 10 per cent of Germans believe the current measures — social distancing and mandatory wearing of masks in shops and on public transport — are too tough. Yet the protests against them have grown. On August 1, some 17,000 people protested in Berlin. By the end of the month, it was 38,000.

Where outsiders see an unstable and inchoate alliance of flower-crown wearing hippies and tattooed neo-Nazis, political scientists like Jan Rathje, also of the Amadeu Antonio institute, see some significant shared ideas — most notably, the belief in a natural order said to be threatened by modernity. 

Some rightwingers, for example, see environmental protection as integral to the defence of the German homeland. And one of the leaders of the attempt by hundreds of protesters on August 29 to storm the Reichstag was a dreadlocked woman identified as “Tamara K” in German media. She practises alternative medicine, and urged protesters up the parliament stairs, claiming that US president Donald Trump had arrived in Berlin to liberate the Germans.

“These topics all somehow mash together through a belief that there are forces of evil and forces of good that must come to a final stand-off,” said Mr Rathje.

The woman at the Reichstag wore a shirt emblazoned with memes related to the QAnon conspiracy movement, which believes Mr Trump is fighting a satanic, deep-state cabal. Its following has grown among Germany’s coronavirus sceptics, Mr Dittrich said. He noted a spike in QAnon group membership on the texting platform Telegram, from some 20,000 before the coronavirus crisis to about 130,000. He said QAnon’s largest support base outside the English-speaking world was in Germany.

Pia Lamberty, a researcher on conspiracy theories at Gutenberg University Mainz, cited studies that show some 25 per cent of Germans believe in coronavirus conspiracies. And of these, a quarter believe the use of violence is justified in pursuit of their political aims. 

Protesters take part in an unregistered demonstration against coronavirus measures in Berlin on August 30 © Omer Messinger/Getty

Many of the protesters in Berlin waved the red, white, and black imperial-era German flag, normally brandished by the most extreme elements of the far-right. Officials worry the protests have become a far-right recruiting ground. Analysts say they are concerned less about the creation of new extremists than the prospect of far-right ideas spreading to other groups.

Radical rightwing groups have sensed this opportunity. Martin Sellner, the young Austrian leader of the Identitarian movement, who appeared at last Saturday’s demonstration, told followers in a video that the protests in Germany could show the wider population that they had a “common hidden goal”.

“With the corona movement, a mass of people can gather, organise, politicise, protest, and get a whiff of experience,” he said, arguing that the protests could mobilise a “broad, patriotic mass” to fight the “grand strategy” of global elites.

Many of these otherwise disparate groups also share a belief that they are living under a repressive regime. It is an idea that has been spread in recent years through social media, said Karolin Schwarz, author of Hate Warriors: The New Global Right-Wing Extremism. “They portray the German and other European governments as autocracies.”

Yet the paranoia characteristic of these groups means their alliances will always be shaky. Already, they are turning on each other. A vegan cookbook writer turned far-right propagandist repeatedly accused some protest organisers of being part of the Illuminati. Another organiser came under attack for distancing himself from the assault on the Reichstag.

But even if the protests crumble, experts argue, the discontent they exploit is likely to outlast them.

“They are articulating a certain broader dissatisfaction in society which I don’t think will fade away as quickly,” said Swen Hutter, of the Berlin Social Science Centre. “[It will] get stronger the more the economic and social fallout of the corona crisis materialises in Germany.”

Coronavirus latest: US private sector jobs recovery more sluggish than forecast

Wall Street kicked off September with a strong rally as the S&P 500 closed at a record high on the heels of its biggest August gain in decades. The S&P 500 closed up 0.7 per cent at 3,526.68 on Tuesday, led by technology and materials stocks. The rise followed the best August gain for the benchmark index since 1986. The Nasdaq Composite rose 1.4 per cent to 11,939.67.

A split among US scientists over using convalescent plasma to treat Covid-19 deepened on Tuesday, when a panel said there was insufficient evidence. “There are currently no data … that demonstrate the efficacy and safety of convalescent plasma for the treatment of Covid-19,” the National Institutes of Health panel said, contradicting the Food and Drug Administration.

Brazil’s economy has officially entered a recession following the swingeing impact of the coronavirus crisis, which has killed more than 120,000 Brazilians and pushed millions into unemployment. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, gross domestic product shrank 9.7 per cent quarter-on-quarter, reflecting the effect of widespread shutdowns.

Classes in New York City’s public schools, scheduled to begin September 10, will now start on September 21 after the city and a union agreed on a plan for more safety measures related to coronavirus, including random testing. The deal averted a strike vote scheduled for Tuesday by the United Federation of Teachers. “This is a great day for every public school student,” said mayor Bill de Blasio, pictured.

US manufacturing sector activity expanded for the third consecutive month and climbed to its highest level since 2018, data from the Institute for Supply Management showed. Its purchasing managers’ index rose to 56 in August, from 54.2 the previous month. That was the highest reading since November 2018. Economists had forecast the index would be little changed at 54.5.

Eurozone consumer prices have slipped year on year for the first time since 2016, putting pressure on the European Central Bank to do more to support the faltering economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Consumer prices fell 0.2 per cent in August from the same month in 2020, down from an increase of 0.4 per cent in July.

The number of international tourists visiting Spain collapsed 75 per cent in July compared with the same month in 2019 in an indication of how hard the pandemic has shaken the country’s economy. Just 2.5m foreign visitors arrived in Spain during the month, spending about €2.45bn. The average expenditure of €994 per tourist also represented an 18 per cent fall on last year.

Low-cost carrier Wizz Air has warned it could cut its flight schedule and park part of its fleet this winter after Hungary added to the travel restrictions in place across parts of Europe. Hungary, Wizz’s home market, shut its borders to foreign nationals on Tuesday after recording 292 new coronavirus cases on Sunday — its highest daily count.

The number of unemployed people in Germany fell for the second consecutive month as its labour market rebounded from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Employment Agency said the number of jobless people fell by about 9,000 in August, adding to signs that Europe’s largest economy is steadily shaking off the disruption of the pandemic.

China export restrictions pose new risk for TikTok sale in US

China’s inclusion of new technologies on an export restrictions list could hamper TikTok’s sale in the US, according to state media reports, in the latest ratcheting up of trade tensions between the two countries.

China’s Ministry of Commerce revealed late on Friday the government had added items including those related to computing and artificial intelligence to a list of technologies subject to export controls.

In an interview with the state-run Xinhua news agency, Cui Fan, a government adviser, suggested that the new measures could impact the sale of TikTok by ByteDance, its Chinese owner, because they cover some of its underlying technologies.

He added that the company, which has attracted interest from Microsoft, Oracle and Walmart for its operations in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, should “seriously and cautiously” decide whether to suspend its negotiations as a result.

The trade restrictions are the latest development in a feud between China and the US over TikTok, a popular video app that President Donald Trump has vowed to shut down unless its business in the country is sold to an American firm.

China has not adjusted its list of technology export restrictions since 2008, the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement. The changes were needed because of the “rapid development” of science and technology in the country.

The updated list of controlled exports added restrictions for “personalized information recommendation services based on data analysis”. Tiktok’s app is built on algorithms that analyse user behaviour to push personalised content.

The commerce ministry said it approves or denies applications for export within 30 business days of receiving an application.

Erich Andersen, ByteDance general counsel, said: “We are studying the new regulations that were released Friday. As with any cross-border transaction, we will follow the applicable laws, which in this case include those of the US and China.”

Prof Cui, who is also a professor at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, told the FT the changes had been under discussion since 2018. But China was introducing them now in part because of the “current international situation”.

Inclusion on the list means companies must obtain additional government approvals for the export of certain technologies. Prof Cui told Xinhua that ByteDance should go through the “licensing procedures” if it is exporting related technology. 

The scrutiny of TikTok follows a wider deterioration in relations between China and the US, with longstanding tensions over trade escalating this year following the coronavirus outbreak and the introduction of a new security law in Hong Kong that prompted US sanctions on individuals.

Recent US pressure has focused on the technology sector. Mr Trump, who has hardened his stance towards China ahead of US elections in November, has said there is “credible evidence” that actions taken by ByteDance might harm US security.

Earlier in August, Mr Trump said he was giving US companies 45 days to stop dealing with WeChat, a Chinese messaging app owned by Tencent. The US president has signalled he might take a similar approach towards other Chinese companies, including ecommerce group Alibaba. 

In China, ByteDance has faced a backlash over the perception that it was bowing to US pressure.

Last week, Kevin Mayer, the chief executive of TikTok, quit his role, pointing to a “sharply changed” political environment. Earlier in the week, the company sued the Trump administration.

Coronavirus latest: France to extend mask wearing to all of Paris as Covid-19 spreads

The US justice department has requested Covid-19 data from four states as it considers civil rights investigations into the deaths of nursing home residents. The department said it was requesting the data from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan, citing orders in those states that required nursing homes to admit coronavirus-infected patients.

Italy on Wednesday reported its biggest one-day increase in coronavirus cases in more than three months as Europe contends with a sharp uptick in infections. The country reported 1,367 new cases up from 878 the previous day, taking the total caseload to 262,540. The country’s death toll has climbed to 35,458. Italy is one of several countries in Europe with a rise in infections as holidaymakers return home.

Coronavirus will sap more than £20bn from Britain’s travel industry while the UK quarantine policy leaves London at risk of surrendering its position as a global hub for tourism and business, an industry group has warned. Spending by international travellers is expected to plummet 78 per cent, or £22bn, this year, the World Travel & Tourism Council said.

Inflation surged in Lebanon during July, with its consumer price index rocketing 112 per cent compared with 2019. The cost of consumer goods is being driven up by the devaluation of the Lebanese pound, whose two-decade peg to the dollar at L£1,500 has effectively been broken. Black market rates are currently hovering at L£7,000-7,500.

Dick’s Sporting Goods registered its highest-ever quarterly sales and earnings, as consumers showed growing interest in fitness and socially distant outdoor activities. The Pittsburgh-based retailer said net sales jumped 20.1 per cent year-on-year to $2.71bn for the three months to August 1. Consolidated same-store sales advanced 20.7 per cent.

London Gatwick is to cut up to a quarter of its workforce as part of a major restructuring following a collapse in passenger numbers at the UK’s second-busiest airport. Gatwick is entering into consultations with about 600 staff, and said it was in talks with the government over sector-specific support to help the aviation industry through the crisis.

Salesforce shares were poised to extend their gains a day after the cloud-based software group surpassed $5bn in quarterly sales and raised its forecast for next year. Shares in the San Francisco-based company rose 13 per cent in pre-market trading on Wednesday. They have risen more than 10 per cent this month, and 33 per cent for the year.

Russian gold miner Polymetal doubled its dividend after metal prices rallied in the first half of the year. Polymetal said it would pay a first-half dividend of 40 cents a share. The group has benefited from a 27 per cent rise in gold prices this year and lower costs due to a fall in the Russian rouble and Kazakh tenge. Gold hit a record $2,072 an ounce on August 6.

Compiled by George Russell in Hong Kong

Oil rises ahead of two dangerous storms hitting Gulf Coast

Oil prices rose on Monday, led higher by a jump in US gasoline futures as two dangerous storms careered towards the fuel refining hub on the US Gulf Coast.

Tropical storm Laura, which was expected to hit between Louisiana and Texas later this week, was now approaching hurricane strength and was gaining in intensity, warned the National Hurricane Center in Florida.

“Laura is forecast to strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico and there is an increasing risk of dangerous storm surge, wind, and rainfall impacts along portions of the US Gulf Coast by the middle of the week,” the NHC said on Monday.

RBOB gasoline futures, the benchmark for wholesale petrol prices in the US, rose almost 5 per cent to $1.3485 a gallon, as traders worried about a disruption to fuel supplies.

US crude benchmark West Texas Intermediate and international benchmark Brent also gained around 1 per cent to $42.70 a barrel and $44.80 a barrel, respectively, as oil producers temporarily shut around half of the production in the offshore Gulf of Mexico as a precaution.

Marco, the other tropical storm, was scheduled to approach the Louisiana coast later on Monday, weakening from hurricane strength overnight and dissipating further.

A key focus for traders was on the possible impact of the storms on refineries that dot the southern US coast. The US refining hub on the Gulf Coast processes roughly 10m barrels of crude a day, or more than half of all US demand, with pipelines carrying fuel supplies to population centres on the East Coast.

Robert Yawger at Mizuho Securities USA said damage to refineries could lead to the gap in price performance between fuels and crude widening further.

“If refineries shut in, there is no need for the crude oil that runs through them,” Mr Yawger said. “Gasoline and product will likely be bid, but crude oil prices could slide.”

Inventories of both crude oil and refined fuels are at elevated levels, however, which may dampen any price hit as long as pipelines and other industry infrastructure are not too badly affected, analysts said.

Oil consumption remains depressed by the pandemic, while stockpiles of fuel grew rapidly in March and April as lockdowns slashed demand in North America and Europe.

“Gains will be limited by the threat of a second prolonged Covid wave,” said Stephen Brennock at PVM oil brokerage in London.

The US has had an overly active hurricane season with 13 named storms so far, leading possibly to the busiest season on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Historically, only two named storms form on average by early August, and the ninth named storm typically does not arrive until around October 4.

Meteorological agencies in the US and Australia have recently raised the chances of a La Niña weather phenomenon, which could enhance an already busy hurricane season. The phenomenon, caused by the cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean, increases the number of hurricanes that develop and allows stronger hurricanes to form, according to NOAA.

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Socialising pushes Spain’s Covid-19 rate far above rest of Europe | Free to read

Coronavirus is spreading far faster in Spain than in the rest of Europe, confronting the country with a race against time to bring the outbreak under control before the return to school and work next month following the holiday season.

Figures published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, an EU agency, on Friday indicated that in the previous 14 days Spain had reported about 145 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 of population.

Apart from Malta, no other European country had a ratio above 100, and the Spanish figures compare with ratios of 51 in France and 21 in the UK.

In three districts of Madrid, the Spanish region with most cases, the equivalent ratio is above 400 and in one it is almost 600. On Friday, the regional government of Madrid urged people in the worst-affected areas to stay at home.

“No one should be confused: things are not going well,” Fernando Simón, the doctor leading the country’s effort against the pandemic, said on Thursday evening, as he acknowledged that in some areas of the country the spread of the virus was out of control.

National and regional officials largely blame the speed of the virus’s resurgence on uncontrolled groups of youths drinking and socialising — as well as gatherings of family members — and are beginning to warn that despite months of planning, pupils may not be able to return to classes in full.

Dr Simón pleaded for social media influencers to use their clout with young people to persuade them of the dangers of the virus. “We can’t allow this to go on,” he said. “I understand that people want to party, but there are lots of ways to party.”

Critics say that Madrid and Spain as a whole need to step up their effort to track and trace the virus spread. In Madrid, where more than 2,800 new cases were reported on Friday, there are about 550 trackers.

“Unless citizens take responsibility, in terms of staying at home if they have been in contact [with someone infected], we could have the best tracking in the world and it won’t be enough,” Enrique Ruiz Escudero, the Madrid region’s top health official, told the Financial Times. “Most of the outbreaks we have detected have been family or social gatherings, when people relax and think they can’t be infected.”

With the disease resurgent in a city that has been largely deserted for the beach, the challenge is to avoid a disastrous further surge when people return to schools and work in around two weeks time, as well as during the autumn flu season.

As is the case in countries such as France and Germany, the number of daily cases recorded in Spain has already returned to levels not seen since spring. On Friday, the health ministry reported more than 8,000 new cases and said that 125 people had died in the previous week. This compares with a death toll of 22 in the week up to August 6.

Mr Ruiz Escudero emphasised that current hospitalisations and intensive care cases are a fraction of the levels reached during the pandemic’s peak in March and April, and that those affected are on the whole much younger than before. About half of all Spain’s new cases are asymptomatic. 

He added that the high totals in Madrid were partly the result of large-scale random testing in the most affected areas, rejecting criticism that the region’s centre-right government was too quick to relax controls when Spain’s nationwide lockdown ended on June 21.

Madrid, together with the rest of the country, is now reimposing some controls, this week decreeing the closure of nightclubs and discos — although on Friday a judge was reported to have overturned the order.

Mr Ruiz Escudero said the region was looking at “all possible scenarios” for the return to school, including part-time attendance, and called for nationwide agreement on protocols for how schools should respond to Covid-19 cases.

“The phase-out of the lockdown accelerated too much in June,” said Miguel Otero, an analyst at the Elcano institute, a think-tank, who served on a government committee on the transition to a new normality. “People had the impression the virus was coming under control and there was huge pressure on the economy to reopen, particularly the tourism and entertainment sectors.”

Mr Otero also suggested that part of the reason why Covid-19 was now more prevalent in Spain than elsewhere was the country’s love of bar-hopping and of family gatherings.