• The UK reported 38,598 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the lowest since December 27.
  • Norway will investigate 23 deaths in frail elderly patients after vaccination.

As scientists identify more and more potentially worrying variants of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, US President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. announced his incoming administration’s proposal for a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue plan last week.

The programme is including $20 billion to mount a national vaccination program.

The plan is taking some of the stings out of the markets due to the spread of the new variant virus.

At the same time, despite a previously stated strategy of holding back some vaccine doses to ensure people can get their second shot, the Trump Administration started releasing its reserve doses in December 2020, the Washington Post reported.

However, this means that the previous stockpile no longer exists—dashing the hopes of US state and local officials for a quick increase in the available vaccine supply.

That being said, vaccines have reached consumers in record time due to the US Food and Drug Administration granting emergency authorization to vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna in less than a year. 

Several efforts are underway to help produce and distribute the vaccines more quickly.

More than 60 vaccines are still going through a three-stage clinical trial process and the US government’s Operation Warp Speed initiative has pledged $10 billion in an effort to develop and deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective coronavirus vaccine this month.

The World Health Organization is coordinating global efforts to develop the vaccines, aiming for two billion doses by the end of 2021.

While there have been some weekend reports of scepticism and even fatalities whereby Norway will investigate 23 deaths in frail elderly patients after vaccination, a CDC report last week revealed that severe reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are rare.

These reassurances of safety as efforts for wide-spread vaccination continue to ramp up are crucial in restoring a commitment to the objective of herd immunity. 

Meanwhile, in the UK, where the variant first originated, the next phase of its COVID-19 vaccination programme will be released on Monday.

Covid-19 deaths have been at the highest they’ve ever been — and the more infectious variants could make things much worse.

However, the UK reported 38,598 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, which is the lowest since December 27.

The nation will start offering doses to people aged 70 and above and those who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus.

"Today is a significant milestone in our vaccination programme as we open it up to millions more people who are most at risk from COVID-19," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday.

"We have a long way to go and there will doubtless be challenges ahead - but by working together we are making huge progress in our fight against this virus."

Health minister Matt Hancock said more than half of all over-80s had now had a vaccination.

Britain - which has Europe's highest COVID-19 death toll - hopes progress with rolling out the vaccines will enable it to ease some of the economically damaging lockdown restrictions in March, foreign minister Dominic Raab said. 

Johnson has set a target of vaccinating the four most at-risk categories - encompassing roughly 14 million people - by the middle of February.

Market implications 

Stock and oil prices fell on Friday, pressured by intensifying lockdowns while the safe-haven US dollar index posted its largest weekly gain in more than two months.

However, US bond yields and stocks have been in the rise recently, partly on expectations about the rollout of coronavirus vaccines and on a massive stimulus plan by the incoming Democratic administration.

Given that there has been a drop in new cases as the UK has reported this week, to the lowest since December 27, perhaps the variant is not as transmissible as first feared.

This should be a positive for risk sentiment this week. 

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