Tesla shrugs off pandemic as sales hit new record

Tesla has recorded a fifth quarter in a row of profit, as sales of its electric cars accelerated to a new record despite the pandemic.

The firm said it made $8.7bn in revenue in the three months to September, as deliveries rose 54%.

The firm said it still hoped to meet its goal of delivering more than 500,000 vehicles this year but warned this had “become more difficult”.

Analysts also warn the firm faces mounting competition.

So far, Tesla has delivered fewer than 320,00 cars to customers this year – but nearly half of those – 139,593 – came in the three months ended 30 September.

That was up 54% from the prior quarter and 44% year-on-year.

This helped lift the carmaker to a quarterly profit of $311m – more than double what it made during the same period last year.

The firm’s successful streak – at a time when many other automakers have been hit by disruption – has not gone unnoticed by investors.

Shares in the firm have more than quadrupled in value since the start of the year – and climbed higher in after-hours trade on Wednesday.

The firm now boasts the highest market value of any carmaker in the world – despite selling far fewer vehicles than older rivals such as Toyota.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said that while the firm enjoyed “a significant first mover advantage” in the electric car market, it faced mounting competition.

“As the world’s most valuable car company by market capitalisation Tesla’s current [share] price builds in a massive eventual market share.

“Fending off companies that have been manufacturing cars at industrial scale for years, as well as overseas start-ups, will be a big ask when the giants of the industry start to put R&D budgets to work on closing the electricity gap.”

Tesla has unveiled a host of ambitious plans recently, including starting production of its own batteries, as it prepares to face increased competition from other carmakers, many of which are increasing their focus on electric offerings.

It hopes to start production at its new factory in Europe, outside of Berlin, in 2021, it said.

Chancellor expected to increase tier 2 jobs support

The chancellor is expected to unveil new support for workers in parts of England under tier two restrictions.

Rishi Sunak will announce an update to the Jobs Support Scheme – which is set to replace furlough in November – in the Commons on Thursday.

Critics say not enough is being done for companies in tier two areas that have seen demand collapse without being formally required to shut.

This is while those forced to close in tier three regions get bespoke support.

That help includes the government paying two-thirds of affected workers wages, up to £2,100 a month from 1 November.

Talks have been ongoing throughout Wednesday, with the government said to have acknowledged the reality that there are three tiers of pandemic shutdowns but only two tiers of support.

This gap, particularly though not exclusively affecting pubs and restaurants in tier two areas, has been referred to by the hospitality industry as the “worst of all worlds”.

Key Conservative figures, such as the West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, have also been critical of the gap in support, as well as the concern from a raft of Labour local leaders and MPs.

The original Winter Economic Plan – publicly backed by the leaders of both business lobby group the CBI and union body the TUC on the steps of Number 11 – was predicated on a period of declining infections and a recovering economy, says the BBC’s economics editor Faisal Islam.

But that has not transpired, as infections and Covid hospitalisations continue to rise.

In this scenario, critics say the standard Job Support Scheme available in tier one and two areas is falling short.

This scheme tops up wages of workers who have not been able to return to the workplace full time, but is only designed to protect “viable jobs” and requires a much larger contribution from the employer.

Many fewer firms than had been expected have been able to use the scheme as tier two curbs stop different households mixing in indoor spaces, such as pubs and restaurants, crushing demand.

Options being discussed in Whitehall include more generous taxpayer wage support for businesses in tier two, up from the current level of 22%, and grants offered through local authorities.

With so much of England now in tier two, even small changes could end up being very expensive. Business and union leaders will be briefed on the changes tomorrow.

It comes amid warnings that unemployment could rise as high as 8.5% in the first half of next year without more government support for businesses struggling in the pandemic.

In the three months to August, redundancies rose to their highest level since 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number claiming work related benefits, meanwhile, hit 2.7 million in September – an increase of 1.5 million since the beginning of the crisis in March.

Coronavirus: Fourteen cancer surgeries postponed at Western Trust

Fourteen people have had their cancer surgeries postponed in the Western Health Trust this week due to a surge in Covid-19 patients.

The trust confirmed to BBC News NI that 14 patients required overnight stays on Monday and Tuesday, which was not possible.

A trust spokesperson said they are working to rebook these surgeries at the earliest opportunity.

The trust is currently in the “level red” stage of their Covid surge plan.

The Western Trust confirmed that cancer surgery in day case theatres were not affected on these dates and inpatient cancer surgery went ahead on Wednesday.

In a statement, a Western Trust spokesperson said: “We continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis.

“We sincerely apologise to any patient who had their surgery postponed and have been affected by this decision.”

These delays come at a time when the health service is currently facing staffing shortages, with an estimated 2,700 NI healthcare workers currently self-isolating as a result of Covid-19.

The figures, from the six health trusts, are a significant increase from a fortnight ago when BBC News NI reported that 1,200 staff were isolating across all the trusts.

Speaking at a press conference at Stormont on Wednesday, Health minister Robin Swann said that “within days we will exceed the highest number of hospital admissions experienced in the first wave.”

“If no full lockdown is imposed, restrictions have to be targeted however complicated that may be.

“I have yet to see any real or feasible alternatives to the actions we are taking,” Mr Swann said.

The minister said if people did not follow the public health guidance, many more avoidable deaths would occur.

On Wednesday, Northern Ireland reported 1,039 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of cases to 29,992.

There was also five further Covid-19 related deaths were reported, bringing the total death toll to 629.

In the Republic of Ireland there were three additional deaths related to Covid-19 reported on Wednesday.

It brings the total number of deaths in the country to 1,868.

As of midnight on Tuesday, the Irish Department of Health reported 1,167 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 53,422.

Manchester Arena Inquiry paused after Covid-19 cases at court

The public inquiry into the Manchester Arena boming has been paused after court staff tested positive for Covid-19.

Three confirmed and three suspected cases were linked to workers at Manchester Magistrates’ Court.

The cases are not directly connected to the inquiry, but Thursday’s session has been adjourned as a precaution.

Evidence is expected to resume on Monday if it is deemed safe to continue.

“The safety of everyone attending the Manchester Arena Inquiry is our priority,” a statement said.

Earlier on Wednesday the inquiry heard from a security steward who worked on the night of the terror attack who said looking for suspicious people “wasn’t at the top of my list”.

CCTV footage was shown of Salman Abedi approaching Robert Atkinson nearly four hours before he killed himself and 22 others on 22 May 2017.

Transport for Wales Rail services set to be nationalised

Answers have been demanded over reports the Welsh train franchise is on the verge of being nationalised.

A report in The Telegraph said ministers are expected to transfer the Wales and Borders train services to public hands on Thursday morning.

Private firm KeolisAmey has run the Transport for Wales franchise for just two years.

The Welsh Government said it would make an announcement on Thursday.

The changes are due to the coronavirus pandemic which has resulted in a collapse in passenger numbers.

BBC Wales understands the public body Transport for Wales will play a greater role in the delivery of day-to-day rail services, including operating the trains.

KeolisAmey started running the Wales and Border train services in October 2018, after winning a five-year contract worth £15bn.

Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Conservative MS for South Wales Central, said the reported nationalisation “once again highlights the huge economic damage being inflicted by coronavirus, and is sadly yet another significant announcement that is set to evade any sort of scrutiny in the Welsh Parliament”.

He added: “My region of South Wales Central has traditionally had some of the highest rail usage in the country, and there will be a number of questions ministers will need to answer to quell concerns.

“At the very least, Welsh Government should make available an urgent written statement before the meeting of the committee for the scrutiny of the first minister tomorrow afternoon.”

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The minister for economy, transport and north Wales will tomorrow announce a series of measures to protect services for rail passengers, maintain jobs, and keep momentum on the Metro project, in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

Health Minister isolating after Covid app alert

Health Minister Robin Swann is self-isolating after receiving a close-proximity notification from NI’s track and trace app.

He received the notification from the StopCOVID NI app, run by the HSC Public Health Agency.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Swann urged others to download the app.

Mr Swann has no symptoms and will only require a test if he develops one of the symptoms of the virus.

An exposure notification from the app means the user has been close to another person who has tested positive.

He is the third member of the Northern Ireland Executive to have to self-isolate in relation to Covid-19.

Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín is self-isolating after a family member tested positive – although she herself has tested negative.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill is also self-isolating after a family member tested positive, although she has also tested negative.

Mr Swann said he will be working from self-isolation for the next 14 days.

He appeared at the Stormont briefing on coronavirus earlier on Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, the DUP’s Pam Cameron also confirmed she was self-isolating after receiving a notification, tweeting a screengrab of the app.

The South Antrim MLA is the deputy chairperson of the Stormont health committee.

Responding to Ms Cameron, independent MLA Trevor Lunn said he was also self-isolating, and was on his fourth day of doing so.

Covid: No safety concerns found with Oxford vaccine trial after Brazil death

Trials of a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University will continue, following a review into the death of a volunteer in Brazil.

Brazil’s health authority has given no details about the death, citing confidentiality protocols.

Oxford University said a “careful assessment” had revealed no safety concerns.

The BBC understands that the volunteer did not receive the vaccine.

Only around half the volunteers in the trial are given the actual Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine. The second group are being given an existing licensed vaccine for meningitis.

Neither the participants nor their families know which vaccine they are being given.

This enables the researchers to compare the results for the two groups in order to measure whether the vaccine is effective.

AstraZeneca said in a statement that it could not comment on individual cases but it “can confirm that all required review processes have been followed”.

“All significant medical events are carefully assessed by trial investigators, an independent safety monitoring committee and the regulatory authorities,” it said. “These assessments have not led to any concerns about continuation of the ongoing study.”

Brazilian media report that the volunteer was a 28-year-old doctor who died of Covid-19 complications. They say the doctor had worked with infected patients.

This has not been publicly confirmed by the Brazilian health authorities.

There are high hopes that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could be one of the first to make it onto the market.

It had successful phase 1 and 2 testing, while phase 3 testing is being carried out on participants in countries including the UK, Brazil and India.

Trials of the Oxford vaccine were paused last month after a reported side effect in a patient in the UK, but were resumed days later when it was deemed safe to continue.

Phase 3 trials in the US remain on hold while the regulator there conducts its own assessment. A senior official was quoted by Bloomberg on Wednesday as saying he expected US trials to restart later in the week.

Brazil’s health authority Anvisa said it was informed of the Brazilian volunteer’s death on 19 October.

In a statement, Oxford University said: “All significant medical incidents, whether participants are in the control group or the Covid-19 vaccine group, are independently reviewed.

“The independent review, in addition to the Brazilian regulator, have both recommended that the trial should continue,” it said.

Brazil has plans to purchase the vaccine if it is approved.

The country has had nearly 5.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases – the third highest tally in the world after the US and India – and is second only to the US in terms of deaths, with nearly 155,000 registered so far, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.

Michael Jackson: Court dismisses lawsuit from accuser James Safechuck

A US judge has dismissed a lawsuit from one of Michael Jackson’s accusers, who claimed Jackson’s companies allowed the star to abuse him and other children.

James Safechuck has said the singer started abusing him when he was 10.

In 2014, he sued MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, and has alleged they “were created to, and did, facilitate Jackson’s sexual abuse of children”.

But the judge dismissed the case, saying the companies didn’t have a duty of care for Mr Safechuck.

Mr Safechuck was one of two men who accused the late pop star of abuse in last year’s Leaving Neverland documentary.

In his lawsuit, he said Jackson abused him hundreds of times at his homes and on tour in the late 1980s and early 90s.

MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures were set up by Jackson to run his career. But in the lawsuit it was claimed: “The thinly-veiled, covert second purpose of these businesses was to operate as a child sexual abuse operation, specifically designed to locate, attract, lure and seduce child sexual abuse victims.”

Mr Safechuck also featured with Jackson in a Pepsi commercial and often appeared on stage with the singer.

Mr Safechuck’s lawyer Vince Finaldi told BBC News: “He was an employee that was working on behalf of them as a dancer and entertainer on the stage with Michael.

“Because he was a minor, and he was an employee working for them, they had a duty to protect him. That’s our argument.”

California judge Mark Young disagreed, saying the companies weren’t directly responsible for causing emotional distress, and were not able to control Jackson, because he controlled the companies and everyone they employed. Corporations cannot be direct perpetrators, he said.

Mr Safechuck, who is seeking unspecified damages, will appeal.

Jackson vehemently denied the abuse. Mr Safechuck (a child at the time) reportedly gave a witness statement defending Jackson when allegations against the singer first emerged in 1993.

Mr Finaldi is also representing Wade Robson, who appeared in Leaving Neverland too, in a separate lawsuit, which is expected to reach trial next summer.

Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed is reportedly making a sequel about the pair’s legal battles. Deadline reported on Wednesday that Jackson’s companies had taken legal action against the film-maker.

Jonathan Steinsapir, representing MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, declined to comment on the latest ruling.

Covid: Coventry to move to tier 2 from Friday

Coventry is to move to tier two Covid restrictions from midnight on Friday, the city council has said.

The change is a response to a continuing rise in the number of cases of the virus in households and communities across the city.

Council Leader George Duggins said the city had to work to get back to tier one as soon as possible.

It means there will be new restrictions on households mixing in homes and hospitality venues.

The infection rate per 100,00 people in the city rose from 165.3 in the week to 11 October to 179.3 in the week to 18 October.

The change to “high risk” status will mean additional measures, preventing households from mixing with one another indoors, including in pubs and cafes.

However, there are exemptions for circumstances like childcare and for support bubbles.

Multiple households can also gather outdoors and in private gardens – up to a maximum of six people.

Michelle Gilmore, the owner of the Old Windmill pub in Spon End, said the move to tier two was “awful news”, and that the business had been struggling since the 22:00 curfew was introduced.

She said businesses in tier two zones were in many ways worse off than those in tier three, because of the support available.

Mr Duggins said the latest move was “disappointing”, but added the “consistent increase in positive cases over the last few weeks made that inevitable”.

The Labour councillor also asked the government to “mend the broken test, track and trace system”.

Last week, he warned tier two restrictions could lead to job losses and wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to ask for more financial support for the region’s industry.

There’s an unfortunate irony to Coventry announcing it’s to enter tier two restrictions on the same day it announced its programme for next year’s City of Culture.

There was however a certain inevitability to today’s news. While neighbours in Birmingham and four other West Midlands authorities were already under tighter restrictions, Coventry with its large student populations had escaped.

A belief that the disease was largely contained to these students may have influenced the decision. But as the council admitted today rates have been increasing steadily in recent weeks and as the age profile of those becoming infected has risen they were left with little choice, but to enter tier two.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “It is clear the city now needs to move to stricter restrictions in order to help contain the spread of the virus.”

He said tier two restrictions presented “a serious challenge to the hospitality sector” and that he would press the government for extra financial support.

Much of the West Midlands conurbation is already in a tier two zone, including Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Solihull.

Charlotte Porter, the manager at the Golden Cross pub, said she thought the move would “be a nightmare”.

The inn, which dates back to the 17th Century, currently has nine tables, down from 13 pre-Covid.

Ms Porter said it had been due to open the upstairs to customers from Saturday for the first time since before lockdown, and that some weeks had been “really quiet”.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to take enough money to cover all of our costs, but we don’t know. Often when restrictions change, people stop coming often because they feel less comfortable,” she added.

Tory MPs attack celebrity free school meal campaigners

Conservative MPs have criticised a campaign for free school meals to be offered over the holidays.

Last week England footballer Marcus Rashford launched a petition urging government to make the change.

Some Tory MPs criticised the campaign, with Brendan Clarke-Smith calling for less “celebrity virtue signalling on Twitter”.

But other Tory MPs rebelled against the government to support extending free school meals over the holidays.

Mr Rashford has argued that the number of children with little access to food had grown due to families losing income amid Covid-19 restriction measures.

MPs voted rejected Labour’s motion – which called for free school meals to be offered over the school holidays until Easter 2021 – by 322 votes to 261.

Following the vote, Mr Rashford said: “A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.

“We must stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers – our views are being clouded by political affiliation.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not change his policy on free school meals, arguing that poor families were supported by the benefits system.

Mr Johnson told MPs: “We support kids of low incomes in school and we will continue to do so.

But he added that the government would “continue to use the benefit system and all the systems of income support to support young people and children throughout the holidays as well.”

Earlier this year, a campaign by Mr Rashford pushed the government into a dramatic U-turn when it agreed to extend free school meals over the summer holidays.

The political debate on how to deal with coronavirus has moved a lot since the summer and we’re seeing a different tone from the government.

It’s now clear that the virus isn’t going away for some time yet and after a summer of big spending, the government seems less willing to put money into one-off temporary solutions.

That feels like part of a broader shift by the Conservatives to try to move away from a fire-fighting “government-by-bailout” approach to something more sustainable.

But there is a big risk in applying that strategy to this issue in particular.

Firstly, nobody wants to see children going hungry over half term or Christmas, so the government needs to be confident they won’t slip through the net.

Secondly, Marcus Rashford’s high profile campaign means a lot of people are watching.

Compared with some other coronavirus spending, extending free school meals wouldn’t cost that much.

So the risk for the government is of a public backlash or as one Conservative MP put it to me, a bit more bluntly, “another self-inflicted and entirely predictable wound”.

Responding to the defeat, Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have badly let down more than one million children and their families.

“No child should go hungry over the holidays, but the government is blocking the action needed to prevent this.

“We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and others for shining a spotlight on this incredibly important issue. This campaign is not over and the government must reconsider.”

Labour points to a “double whammy” of challenges as the furlough job support scheme comes to an end and coronavirus restrictions increase in areas which already have high levels of poverty.

And the party claims nearly 900,000 children in such Covid hot spots will go hungry, unless the government extends a food scheme.

Chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “We’ve reached a low point if in the midst of a pandemic we decide we can’t make sure children in the lowest income families have a nutritious meal in the middle of the day.”

Some Conservative MPs also criticised the government’s approach.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Harlow MP Robert Halfon said: “I’m not arguing it should go on forever, but the free school meals should at least go on at least until we are out of the coronavirus [pandemic], we hope, God willing, by next spring.”

Mr Halfon added that there was significant support for extending the scheme among his fellow Conservative MPs.

And former Conservative former minister, Paul Maynard, said he was “very deeply disappointed” by the government’s response.

But other Conservative MPs criticised the Labour motion.

Bassetlaw MP Mr Clarke-Smith asked: “Where is the slick PR campaign encouraging absent parents to take some responsibility for their children?

“I do not believe in nationalising children, instead we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility.

“This means less celebrity virtue signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.”

David Simmonds, MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, said: “What does it say about the opposition’s priorities that all of their interests are simply swept aside in favour of currying favour with wealth and power and celebrity status, spending taxpayers’ money to curry favour with celebrity status, wealth and power?

“Now I have no doubt that Mr Rashford is an expert in his own experience, but we should not forget that the experiences he so movingly described took place under a Labour government then supposedly at the peak of its powers in tackling child poverty in this country.”

The Welsh government, which recently ordered a three-week lockdown, announced a move to offer food support to struggling families until next spring. Northern Ireland has also extended support for its children to a lesser degree.

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