Civil War: Trump attacks Republican strategist Rove, who fires back | Reuters

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Former President Donald Trump intensified his war with the Republican establishment on Thursday by attacking Karl Rove, a longtime Republican strategist who criticized Trump’s first speech since leaving office for being long on grievances but short on vision.

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“He’s a pompous fool with bad advice and always has an agenda,” Trump complained in a statement issued by his office in Palm Beach, Florida.

Rove, the architect of Republican George W. Bush’s presidential victories in 2000 and 2004, wrote in an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that Trump’s speech last Sunday to the Conservative Political Action Conference was wanting.

Rove noted that in a straw poll of CPAC participants, only 68% wanted Trump to run for president again in 2024, while 32% did not want him to run or had no opinion.

Trump’s CPAC speech was noteworthy for rehashing his unfounded claims of election fraud in his November loss to Democrat Joe Biden, despite advice from his team not to do so.

Rove wrote of the 90-minute speech: “There was no forward-looking agenda, simply a recitation of his greatest hits. People like fresh material. Repetition is useful to a point, but it grows stale.”

The spat was the latest round in the civil war that has erupted within the Republican Party, with establishment figures such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell eager to put Trump in the rearview mirror, and others, like Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham, believing the party’s future depends on the energy of the pro-Trump base.

But Trump retains strong influence within the party. McConnell, for instance, voted to acquit Trump on impeachment charges, then turned around and called Trump “practically and morally responsible” for his supporters’ deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol last month, only to then say he would vote for Trump if he is the Republican nominee in 2024.

Trump called Rove — a familiar figure on the Fox News Channel who writes his points on an erasable whiteboard — a “RINO,” or Republican In Name Only, and said Rove had lobbied him in support of 5G telecommunications.

“Karl Rove has been losing for years, except for himself. He’s a RINO of the highest order, who came to the Oval Office lobbying for 5G for him and a group,” Trump said.

Trump said Rove had called him on the night of the Nov. 3 election to congratulate him on a “great victory,” which was before Biden was declared the winner.

Rove, in a statement to Reuters, dismissed Trump’s criticism.

“I’ve been called a lot of things in my career, but never a RINO. I’ve voted for every Republican presidential candidate since I turned 18 and have labored only for GOP (Republican) candidates since then,” said the 70-year-old Rove. “I have a different recollection of Mr. Trump’s views on 5G and our conversation election night. I’ll continue to use my whiteboard and voice to call balls and strikes.”

Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Leslie Adler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Surging bond yields push Asian shares to one-month lows | Reuters

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NEW YORK/SYDNEY (Reuters) — Asian stocks skidded to one-month lows on Friday as rising U.S. Treasury yields again rattled equity investors while hoisting the dollar to a three-month high, which in turn dragged the Japanese yen.

FILE PHOTO: A woman holding an umbrella walks near an electric board showing Nikkei index at a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Energy markets were not spared the volatility either, with oil prices adding to big gains overnight after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies agreed to mostly maintain their supply cuts in April as they await a more solid recovery in demand from the coronavirus pandemic.

Australian stocks shed more than 1%, Japan’s Nikkei share average dropped 1.6% and shares in Seoul fell 1.4%. Chinese shares were in the red with the bluechip CSI300 index off 1.5%.

That sent MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside of Japan to 684.52, the lowest since Feb. 1.

E-Mini S&P futures were 0.5% lower.

U.S. stocks dropped on Thursday after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell disappointed some investors by not indicating that the Fed might step up purchases of long-term bonds to hold down longer-term interest rates.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite tumbled 2.1%, taking it down about 10% from its record close on Feb. 12 and putting it in correction territory. [.N]

Even though Powell made it clear that the Fed was not close to changing its ultra-loose monetary policy stance anytime soon, some analysts still worried rising Treasury yields could herald higher borrowing costs, thereby limiting the fragile U.S. economic recovery.

“The market was seemingly looking for Powell to push back harder on the recent increase in yields,” said Ray Attrill, head of forex strategy at National Australia Bank.

“Volatility seen in local interest rate markets yesterday with another large increase in long-term rates and government bond yields has set the scene for a choppy market again today if overnight developments are any guide.”

Bond investors with a bearish view of Treasuries took heart in Powell’s remarks and sold the notes. The yield on 10-year Treasuries climbed above 1.5% to as high as 1.5727%, but still below a one-year high of 1.614% struck last week.

The yield curve, a measure of economic expectations, steepened on rising yields, with the gap between two- and 10-year yields widening by another 6.3 basis points overnight.

Rising Treasury yields bolstered demand for the dollar. The dollar index jumped to a three month high of 91.734.

A stronger dollar hobbled the yen. By early Friday, the yen fell to as low as 107.97, the lowest since July 1 though it pared those losses and was last at 107.85.

The euro was also tripped by a firmer dollar, with the common currency sluggish at $1.1960.

Climbing yields and dollar strength pummeled gold prices, which sank to a nine-month low as investors sold the precious metal to reduce the opportunity cost of holding the non-yielding asset.

Spot gold slid another 0.2% early Friday to $1,692.26 per ounce, trading below $1,700 for the first time since June 2020.

Oil prices extended gains on early Friday after zooming higher overnight.

U.S. crude futures climbed 17 cents, or 0.3%, to $64, holding below a 13-month high hit on Thursday. Brent crude rose 10 cents to $66.84 a barrel.

In the cryptocurrency market, bitcoin was down 4% at $46,422 Friday.

Reporting by Koh Gui Qing in New York and Swati Pandey in Sydney; Editing by Sam Holmes and Christian Schmollinger

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Rock and heavy metal: winners emerge in energy transition | Reuters

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NEW YORK (Reuters) — Investors in metals and mineral extraction are poised to see their fortunes grow as the race to cut carbon emissions requires massive investment in commodities other than oil and gas.

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As world economies shift to more electrification and away from fossil fuels to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, expect more copper mining and interest in metals like cobalt and nickel crucial to battery production, CEOs and global politicians said at this week’s all-virtual CERAWeek energy conference.

The World Bank has estimated that the energy transition will require over 3 billion tons of minerals and metals. Demand for minerals including graphite, lithium and cobalt could increase by nearly 500% by 2050, to meet the growing need to deploy wind, solar and geothermal power as well as energy storage, according to a World Bank Group report last year.

Metals such as nickel and cobalt are vital in the battery sector, executives said.

Copper demand will surge from makers of piping and wires for electrification, they said.

“We see the use of electric vehicles, wind farms and solar requires up to five times the amount of copper,” Trafigura CEO Jeremy Weir said at the conference Thursday. “You can’t turn on the switch and produce more copper,” he said.

He noted that lead times for developing copper mines can be between five and 10 years, putting pressure on available copper supplies. As a result, copper and other metals will see “significant supply deficits,” he said.

In February, three-month copper prices on the London Metal Exchange surged to the highest since August 2011.

The vast quantities of copper needed could also reorder the geopolitical landscape, Goldman Sachs’ global head of commodities research and global investment research Jeff Currie said.

He said copper-producing heavyweights like Chile could take on a role similar to the one Saudi Arabia plays in the oil industry. Other nations such as Democratic Republic of the Congo could become key suppliers even with unstable, high-risk governments, akin to oil producer Venezuela. [L2N2KZ26E]

Mining in the United States, one of the world’s largest copper producers, poses its own challenges. Reuters previously reported that the Biden administration plans to allow mines that produce metals for use in electric vehicles to be developed under existing environmental standards, rather than face tighter scrutiny similar to mining for materials such as coal.

Biden is open to allowing more mines on federal land, the sources said, but won’t give the industry carte blanche to dig everywhere.

“We are living in a technology-driven world,” Petrobras CEO Roberto Castello Branco said, speaking at CERAWeek. “In the past, we looked only to the oil business as competitors. Now, many of them are partners, and other industries are competitors.”

Reporting By Jessica Resnick-Ault and Devika Krishna Kumar; Editing by David Gregorio

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


China sets modest GDP growth target as economy improves | Reuters

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BEIJING (Reuters) — China on Friday set a modest annual economic growth target, at above 6%, and pledged to create more jobs in cities than last year, as the world’s second-biggest economy emerged from a year disrupted by the effects of COVID-19.

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows traffic during evening rush hour at the central business district (CBD) in Beijing, China, January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

In 2020, China dropped a gross domestic product growth target from the premier’s work report for the first time since 2002 after the pandemic devastated its economy.

“As a general target, China’s growth rate has been set at over 6% for this year,” Premier Li Keqiang said in his 2021 work report. “In setting this target, we have taken into account the recovery of economic activity.”

China’s GDP expanded 2.3% last year, the only major economy to see growth.

But the 2021 target was significantly below the consensus of analysts, who expect growth could beat 8% this year. Chinese shares fell.

“If sequential growth averages zero from Q1 to Q4 this year, we will get around 6.1% annual growth this year,” Nomura said in a note.

“Beijing does not want to set a growth target too close to 8.0% as it does not want to slash the growth target next year.”

Aninda Mitra, senior sovereign analyst at BNY Mellon Investment Management, said the modest growth target will allow the authorities to emphasise the quality of growth rather than its quantity.

“In the aftermath of the pandemic, a low bar should allow most provinces to cross the hurdle without over-stretching themselves financially,” Mitra said.

In 2020, China will target the creation of more than 11 million new urban jobs, Li said in his report delivered at the opening of this year’s meeting of parliament.

That’s up from a goal of over 9 million new urban jobs last year, and in line with recent years.

In line with an improving economy, the government is targeting a 2021 budget deficit of around 3.2% of GDP, less than a goal of above 3.6% last year.

The quota on local government special bond issuance was set at 3.65 trillion yuan ($563.65 billion), also down from 3.75 trillion yuan last year.

China also has no plan to issue special treasury bonds this years, after issuing such bonds for the first time last year to support the virus-hit economy.

The government has set its 2021 target for consumer price inflation at around 3%, compared with a target of around 3.5% last year.

($1 = 6.4756 Chinese yuan)

Reporting by Kevin Yao, Judy Hua, Stella Qiu and Gabriel Crossley; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Sam Holmes

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Myanmar diplomatic revolt against junta widens after violent crackdown | Reuters

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(Reuters) — Myanmar’s junta lost a tug of war over leadership of its U.N. mission in New York and the United States unveiled new sanctions targeting military conglomerates after the deaths of dozens of civilians protesting against last month’s coup.With tussles going on over diplomatic loyalties overseas, pro-democracy activists said they planned to hold more demonstrations in Myanmar on Friday to oppose the Feb. 1 ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators block a road during an anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar, March 4, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

“Our federation will be on road to fight the military regime together with the people,” the All Burma Federation of Student Unions posted on social media late Thursday.Police broke up rallies with tear gas and gunfire in several cities across Myanmar on Thursday, as protesters returned to the streets after the United Nations said 38 people had been killed on Wednesday in the bloodiest day of protests up to now.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet demanded the security forces halt what she called their “vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters.” Bachelet said more than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.A clash over who represents Myanmar at the United Nations in New York was averted — for now — after the junta’s replacement quit and the Myanmar U.N. mission confirmed that Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun remained in the job.The junta fired Kyaw Moe Tun on Saturday after he urged countries at the U.N. General Assembly to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup.In Washington, it was unclear whether Myanmar’s embassy was still representing the junta, after it issued a statement decrying the deaths of civilians protesting the coup and calling on authorities to “fully exercise utmost restraint.”One diplomat in the embassy also resigned and at least three others said in posts on social media they were joining the civil disobedience movement against the military government.

“This is encouragement for us who are going to go out on streets tomorrow,” wrote Facebook user U Zay Yan, responding to the news.

The U.N. human rights investigator on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, urged the Security Council — which meets to discuss the situation on Friday — to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions on the junta.States should impose sanctions on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, now controlled by the military and its largest source of revenue, he said in a report.


Myanmar activists continued to call for the release of Suu Kyi, 75, who was detained on the morning of the coup, and recognition of her Nov. 8 election victory. They also reject the junta’s promise to hold new elections at an unspecified date.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the election in a landslide but the military has refused to accept the result citing fraud. The election commission said the vote was fair.

Hundreds of people on Thursday attended the funeral of a 19-year-old woman who was shot dead at a protest while wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK”. After her death, the slogan went viral as a symbol of defiance..

Sources told Reuters that Myanmar’s military rulers attempted to move about $1 billion held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York days after seizing power. U.S. officials froze those funds indefinitely, they said.

The U.S. Commerce Department designated trading curbs on Myanmar’s Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs and two military conglomerates that control swathes of the economy, with interests ranging from beer to real estate.

But the measures are expected to have limited impact as the entities are not major importers.

“A bigger impact would be to go after the financial assets of the military leaders of the coup,” said William Reinsch, a former Commerce Department official.

The European Union suspended support for development projects to avoid providing financial assistance to the military. The support in past years has involved more than 200 million euros ($241 million) in separate programmes.

Myanmar’s generals have long shrugged off outside pressure.The United States has told China, which has declined to condemn the coup, that it expects it to play a constructive role. China has said stability is a top priority in its strategic neighbour.

Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Stephen Coates

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


China says will deter Taiwan independence but seek peaceful ties | Reuters

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BEIJING (Reuters) — China will resolutely deter any separatist activity seeking Taiwan’s independence but is committed to promoting the peaceful growth of relations across the Taiwan Strait and China’s “reunification”, Premier Li Keqiang said on Friday.

China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has increased its military activity near the island in recent months, responding to what it calls “collusion” between Taipei and Washington, Taiwan’s main international backer and arms supplier.

Speaking at the opening of the annual meeting of China’s parliament, Li said Beijing stands by the “one China” principle, which states that Taiwan is part of China.

China remains committed “to promoting the peaceful growth of relations across the Taiwan Strait and China’s reunification”, he told the roughly 3,000 delegates at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

“We will remain highly vigilant against and resolutely deter any separatist activity seeking Taiwan independence,” Li added.

“We will promote exchanges, cooperation and integrated development across the Taiwan Strait. Together we can shape a bright future of rejuvenation for our great nation.”

Most Taiwanese people have shown no interest in being ruled by autocratic China, and have also strongly supported anti-government protests in Chinese-run Hong Kong.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected by a landslide last year on a promise of defending the island’s democracy and standing up to China.

China believes Tsai wishes to push for Taiwan’s formal independence, a red line for the Chinese government which has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under Beijing’s control.

Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.

Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Richard Pullin

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Biden deputy budget nominee Young wins Republican plaudits; House Democrats want her in top job | Reuters

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Shalanda Young, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be his deputy budget director who has emerged as the top contender for budget director after the nomination of Neera Tanden was withdrawn, won praise from Republican lawmakers on Thursday for her ability to work across the political aisle.

“These days wide bipartisan support is rare, but when Senators Graham, Leahy, Sanders and Shelby agree, either we’re in a some sort of weird space-time continuum or the nominee is exceptionally capable,” said Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, referring to fellow Republicans Lindsey Graham and Richard Shelby and Democrats Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sander.

“Ms. Young is a qualified individual with a distinguished record in public service. I look forward to the committee and the Senate approving her nomination,” said Cassidy, in his introduction of Young to a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats, including the Congressional Black Caucus, say that Young should replace Tanden as Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Budget and Management.

Tanden withdrew her nomination this week, after senators from both parties threatened not to vote for her because of her critical comments on Twitter.

Young, who was the first Black woman to serve as the staff director for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, could become the first Black woman to head the OMB.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee wrote to Biden on Thursday urging him to nominate Young. “Shalanda Young has an impressive, lengthy record of hard work and smart budgeting across all of the federal departments and programs,” they wrote.

The White House emphasized Thursday that Young wouldn’t automatically get the top job of gatekeeper for the $4 trillion federal budget.

Biden clearly thinks highly of Young and she would be acting director of the budget office if confirmed, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. However, she added, “There is a range of individuals in the country who are qualified for the job.”

If Biden chooses another woman of color to head the Office of Management and Budget, and all remaining nominees are confirmed, his cabinet will be 46% female and 50% non-white, including Biden and Harris, according to Inclusive America, a non-profit that tracks diversity in government.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Heather Timmons, Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


New Zealanders take to the hills as powerful quakes trigger tsunami waves | Reuters

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) — Small tsunami waves triggered by a series of powerful earthquakes hit the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island on Friday and authorities said thousands of residents who had evacuated to higher ground could now return to their homes.

Officials had warned that waves could reach three metres (10 feet) above high tide levels after the quakes — the strongest a magnitude 8.1 — but the largest waves have now passed, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said as it downgraded the threat level.

“All people who evacuated can now return,” the agency said.

Video footage posted on social media showed surges of water entering a marina in Northland and on the North Island’s East Cape region.

Earlier on Friday, workers, students and residents in areas like Northland and Bay of Plenty, on the northern coast near Auckland, were put on alert after the three offshore earthquakes in less than eight hours triggered tsunami sirens and warnings.

An emergency alert was issued for all coastal areas around Auckland, a city of 1.7 million, where people were told to stay away from the water’s edge. There were no reports of damage or casualties from the quakes.

The third and strongest quake struck the Kermadec Islands, northeast of New Zealand’s North Island, on Friday morning, coming shortly after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in the same region. Earlier, a large 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck about 900 km (540 miles) away on the east of the North Island.

Linda Tatare, a resident of Anaura Bay, on the North Island’s east coast, said the small community of about 50 left for higher ground in the morning.

“Everyone, and their dogs, are up in the hills,” Tatare told Reuters.

“We are safe. We can all see our properties from here.”

Tsunami warnings were also put out for Pacific islands including New Caledonia and Vanuatu, while smaller tsunami waves may be recorded as far away as Antarctica and parts of South America, the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Scientists said Friday’s series of quakes was caused by tectonic movement on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific plates, part of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire that New Zealand sits on.

A decade ago, a magnitude 6.3 quake killed 185 people in the South Island city of Christchurch.

Australia issued a marine tsunami threat for Norfolk Island, a tiny Australian territory with about 1,750 residents, but said there was no threat to the mainland.

Norfolk Island residents in areas threatened by land inundation or flooding were advised to go to higher ground or inland, the Bureau of Meteorology said, as small tsunami waves impacted the coastline.

Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington, Byron Kaye in Sydney and Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Nick Macfie, Chizu Nomiyama, Daniel Wallis, Cynthia Osterman and Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Europe’s volte-face on Oxford Covid vaccine

The European Union began blocking exports of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine on Thursday as Europe’s leaders finally admitted they were wrong about the jab and that it worked. 

EU countries now recognise that the vaccine is vital to ramping up the slow pace of their vaccine programmes – which lag far behind those in Britain, the US, Serbia and Israel – after attacking AstraZeneca for delivery failures and branding its vaccine ineffective.

Germany made the vaccine available to over-65s after Angela Merkel, the chancellor, called for age restrictions to be lifted.  New data proved the jab was "highly effective". Jens Spahn, the country’s health minister, said: "This is good news for any elderly person waiting to be vaccinated. They can now be vaccinated faster."

Jean Castex, the French prime minister, said the AstraZeneca vaccine was "very efficient" and as good as the other EU-approved jabs. 

In January, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, sparked fury when he said the vaccine was only "quasi-effective" in older people – comments thought to have slowed French vaccinations further.

Greece and Sweden announced they would lift age restrictions on the jab following Belgium, with Spain considering following suit as realisation dawns that countries were wrong not to follow Britain’s lead in approving it for all ages.

Italy became the first country to impose an EU export ban on coronavirus vaccines on Thursday when it blocked a shipment of 250,000 AstraZeneca jabs to Australia.

A spokesperson for Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told The Telegraph the blocked shipment “was not factored into our distribution plan for coming weeks”.

“The Astra Zeneca Roll out begins today in Murray Bridge South Australia. The first international shipment already arrived which takes us through to the commencement of domestic CSL supplies. This is one shipment from one country."

He added: “Domestic production starts with one million per week of deliveries from late March and is on track."

Brussels introduced the export transparency regime during its row over supply shortfalls with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company at the end of January. Under the rules, manufacturers in the EU must ask national authorities in the country of production and the European Commission for permission to export vaccines outside the EU. 

Italy blocked the export of the vaccines and the commission did not raise any objections, the Financial Times reported. Rome notified Brussels of its decision at the end of last week. 

Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister, who took office in February, called for stricter export controls at an EU summit last month. He was described as "defending Italy’s national interests". 

But the former Brexit Secretary David Davis told The Telegraph: "Frankly, it amounts to disgraceful behaviour. It comes at the end of a period where it took them a long time to approve the vaccine, then some of their leaders questioned the value of the vaccine, and it looks likely they wasted the vaccine as a result of that because of an uptake shortfall. 

"And now this. I’m afraid the EU is putting at risk the goodwill of the rest of the world. It is disgraceful behaviour and sad, really, because they are our friends and allies."

David Jones, the deputy chairman of the European Research Group of Conservative MPs, said it looked like "piratical" behaviour.

Italy has 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccines and has administered 322,800 doses. In total, it has given out 4.75 million vaccines from all companies.

Vaccination rates in the UK and the EU

Italy appears to be on the cusp of a third wave of Covid, with the pace of its vaccination programme stuttering. It reported nearly 350 deaths on Wednesday, with more than 20,000 new cases.

Its foreign ministry objected to the "very high" number of doses that AstraZeneca wanted to export and pointed to "delays on the part of AstraZeneca in the supply of vaccines" as a reason for the ban. It said Australia had had very few Covid cases and deaths, noting a dearth of jabs in Italy and other EU nations. 

AstraZeneca had requested permission to export the 250,000 doses from its Anagni plant, near Rome. 

EU sources said the commission backed the Italian decision because of the firm’s failure to respect contractual obligations. It insists it is not in breach of contract. 

In January, AstraZeneca cut supplies to the EU in the first quarter to 40 million doses from the 90 million foreseen in the contract, and later said it would cut deliveries by another 50 per cent in the second quarter.

An EU diplomat said: "Italy has sent a crystal clear message to AstraZeneca. Contracts are to be honoured." The diplomat said reduced deliveries to the bloc were "putting 30 million European lives at risk".  

Britain had feared it would be the first victim of an EU vaccine exports ban at the height of the commission’s row with AstraZeneca earlier this year. 

Brussels threatened to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which would impose a hard border on the island of Ireland and prevent jabs reaching mainland Britain, but later dropped the threat. 

On Thursday, the European Medicines Agency began a rolling review of the Russian Sputnik vaccine in a first step towards authorising that jab as the bloc looks to ramp up its rollout. 

Hungary and Slovakia have already secured two million doses without awaiting EU approval. French officials were reported to be furious that the countries were seeking vaccines outside the bloc’s slower scheme while still benefiting from it. 

The Austrian chancellor and the Danish prime minister travelled to Israel to announce they would work with Israel to develop second generation Covid vaccines in another sign of ebbing support for the EU joint approach. 

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, claimed "many other countries" had called him to ask to be part of the same scheme, which was criticised by the French foreign ministry.

Councils to raise £7.5bn in stealth tax raid after Rishi Sunak relaxes threshold for local vote

Householders face a £7.5 billion council tax raid after local authorities increased rates without consultation, according to an analysis by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The OBR said councils would increase taxes by £1.8 billion next month – up to £100 a month for many households – after the Government allowed them to impose increases of up to 5 per cent.

This could culminate in an increase of £7.5 billion by 2025-26.

Councils can normally raise local taxes by no more than 2 per cent without a referendum. But the Chancellor increased the limit to 5 per cent in his November review to help meet councils’ ballooning social care costs.

The OBR’s estimates suggest two-thirds of councils will raise taxes up to the maximum 4.99 per cent, meaning increases of between £50 and £100 for band D properties.

The OBR said the Chancellor’s decision had forced it to revise up its estimate of the increase in council tax by £800 million to £1.8 billion for 2021-22.

“This is more than explained by the Government’s decision to allow councils to increase council tax rates by up to 5 per cent … rather than the 2 per cent our March 2020 forecast assumed,” said the OBR in its Budget day report. It pushes the total council tax take for 2021/22 to £39.9 billion, rising to £45.6 billion by 2025/26.

Local tax campaigners said it was a “stealth” tax that would undermine Boris Johnson’s levelling up agenda, while senior Tories, fiscal experts and council leaders blamed the Government’s failure to solve the social care crisis for the increased bills.

Andrew Dixon, founder of the Fairer Share campaign for property tax reform, said: “This … will only exacerbate the unfairness of the current system where modest homes in the North often pay significantly more than mansions in Knightsbridge. It is sure to sit awkwardly with voters inspired by the Conservatives’ talk of fairness and levelling up. Council tax was the elephant in the room when the Chancellor delivered the Budget.

“While he set out support packages for those worst hit by Covid-19, there was no such respite for millions of modest and low-income households facing crippling council tax bills.”

Stuart Adam, of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: “It is a way to allow councils to raise more for social care in the short term while the Government sorts out some more fundamental solutions for the long-term funding of social care. It was one of the things that the Budget was silent about.”

Lord Lilley, a former social security secretary, who will publish his own blueprint for social reform next week, said: “Because the Government has been unable to decide how to reform finance of social care, it has left council taxpayers to take the strain.

“Councils’ care budgets have been squeezed to the limit. The proportion of people over 85 living in care homes has shrunk from 25 per cent to 15 per cent and can’t go much lower.”

The Local Government Association said: “Councils face the tough choice about whether to increase bills to bring in desperately needed funding to protect our services at a time when we are acutely aware of the significant burden that this could place on some households.

“Council tax rises – particularly the adult social care precept – have never been the solution to the long-term pressures faced by councils, particularly in social care, which is desperately in need of reform.

“Further action is desperately needed to immediately shore up social care services – which have been on the front line during the pandemic – and to secure the long-term future of care and support.

“The Government must urgently bring forward its proposals.”

‘Crippling’ bills

About a quarter of councils that provide social care will issue a council tax bill to Band D homes of more than £2,000 in April, most for the first time. And in more than two thirds of areas, bills for a Band D home will rise by at least £50.

In London, householders will be hit by a 9.5 per cent rise in the portion of council tax charged by the Greater London Authority – an extra £31.59 for a Band D home.

The combined rises mean Band D bills look set to rise by more than £100 this year in around seven of London’s 32 boroughs.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We’ve committed over £35 billion to help councils support their communities and local businesses during the pandemic.

“We’re also providing councils with £670 million of new grant funding to enable them to continue reducing council tax bills next year for those least able to pay, including households financially hard-hit by the pandemic.

“Councils are and have always been responsible for setting council tax levels. We set referendum principles to ensure that local people have the final say over any excessive increases.”