Breakingviews - Corona Capital: Drugs, Planes, Parcels

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LONDON/HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - Corona Capital is a daily column updated throughout the day by Breakingviews columnists around the world with short, sharp pandemic-related insights.


- Roche/Actemra

- Airport testing

- FedEx pilots

COVID-19 LOTTERY. Roche’s coronavirus drug fail is a cautionary tale for peers. The $307 billion pharmaceutical giant said on Wednesday that a trial of its existing drug Actemra that aimed to treat people with severe coronavirus-related pneumonia had failed. The result is a blow to Chief Executive Severin Schwan, who had ramped up production of the drug, originally designed for arthritis, from several hundred thousand doses to over a million.

Schwan isn’t the only one having a punt. Drug groups like AstraZeneca and Moderna are ploughing billions of euros into developing and testing vaccines. AstraZeneca announced plans to make two billion doses of its coronavirus inoculation, even though it has yet to be proven effective. Moderna has inked a billion-dose pact with manufacturer Lonza. Investors have driven their shares up 22% and 300% respectively since the beginning of the year. But like the national lottery, there are likely to be few winners. (By Aimee Donnellan)

HAVE TEST, MAY TRAVEL. People want to go on holidays, but they don’t want to get Covid-19, so localised increases in cases are a big problem. On Monday, the UK government told passengers returning from Spain that they have to quarantine for 14 days. That sort of sudden shift could snuff out a nascent recovery in flying, the last thing that financially challenged airlines and airports need.

The answer may be mandatory Covid-19 tests for passengers returning from virus hotspots. The German government is mulling over a plan, and London’s Heathrow airport wants something similar. For airlines and airports, tests add another layer of expense and bother, but the alternative, widespread fear and what Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye calls “quarantine roulette”, is far worse. For passengers, viral tests could easily join luggage checks and body scans as part of the chore of travelling safely. (By Edward Hadas)

BLAME GAME. The FedEx pilots’ union is demanding the $44 billion U.S. delivery company suspend Hong Kong operations after some members were quarantined in cell-like rooms without air conditioning, refrigerators or internet access.

It’s a sore topic in the Asian financial hub, where a resurgence in Covid-19 cases has been blamed on the city’s easy treatment of airline and sea crews; some were reported to be seen sightseeing around town while waiting for test results. The exception granted to them, as well as to top corporate executives, has forced the government to tighten social controls, including a ban on dining in restaurants. That will likely deepen Hong Kong’s recession. Two wrongs are making more wrongs. (By Pete Sweeney)

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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