US markets soar despite election uncertainty

US stock markets have recorded their biggest post-election leap in decades despite continuing uncertainty over which candidate will win the race.

Shares rallied as investors bet the closer-than-expected results reduced the chance of big changes for business.

Tech and health firms, now seen as less likely to face new regulation, led the gains.

Facebook shares rose more than 8%, while several major health insurance firms saw double-digit jumps.

The Dow closed up more than 1.3%, while the wider S&P 500 climbed 2.2%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq gained nearly 3.9%.

“The thinking in the markets … is it looks like it’s divided government regardless of who takes the White House,” said Chris Low, chief economist at FHN Financial. “That means a lot less probability of big sweeping legislative change, big sweeping spending or tax programmes and therefore a lot less uncertainty.”

With millions of votes still to be counted, incumbent President Donald Trump and his challenger, Democrat Joe Biden, are neck and neck in key swing states.

But predictions of a possible early landslide win for Mr Biden and his party in Congress failed to materialise. Early Wednesday morning, Mr Trump prematurely claimed victory, and later moved to challenge vote counts in some states.

Against some expectations, however, the uncertainty over the outcome did not appear to worry US financial markets, which have proven resilient this year despite a crash in March triggered by the coronavirus.

There was a brief sell-off in the overnight US futures market, as investor hopes faded that a so-called Blue Wave win by Democrats would usher in a major spending package for coronavirus relief and drive share prices higher.

But shares bounced back as investors bet the close race reduced the likelihood of other possible changes, such as an increase in the corporate tax rate proposed by Mr Biden.

“Divided government makes sweeping legislation inherently hard,” said economist Michael Pugliese of Wells Fargo. “We are sceptical that outside of Covid relief much other major economic policy legislation would become law.”

Business lobby group Chamber of Commerce claimed the election as a win for business interests, pointing to Republican resilience in the House and Senate.

The group also cited the results of some state-level fights – such as a victory in California by tech firms Uber and Lyft, which will exempt them from a law mandating stronger worker benefits.

“There’s clearly some indication from voters across this country that they are focused on supporting a pro-growth, pro-business agenda,” chief policy officer Neil Bradley told reporters.

The gains in the S&P 500 and the Dow were the biggest for a single day following a presidential election in at least four decades.

Indexes in Europe closed higher too, climbing back after a sharp fall following incumbent President Donald Trump’s premature victory speech. Asian markets also mostly rose on Wednesday.

Mr Bradley said he was optimistic wins by pro-business centrist politicians would prompt quick action on items like further stimulus, noting remarks on Wednesday by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell promising to move on a deal.

But with coronavirus cases rising, markets could still be in for a bumpy ride, warned Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“The bottom line … is that we are now much less bullish on growth in the first half of next year, though we remain of the view that pent-up demand will generate a massive wave of post-vaccine spending on discretionary services later in the year,” he said. “The next few months likely will be tough going for the stock market; much will depend on how quickly vaccines can be approved and rolled out; that’s unknowable at this point.”

Covid: New care home visits guidance in England defended by minister

New guidance for care homes in England will give people “more opportunities to see loved ones in a safe way”, the care minister, Helen Whately, has said.

She said the government had to strike a balance to allow visits during lockdown but also keep residents and staff safe.

It is suggested care homes introduce Covid-secure floor-to-ceiling screens, visiting pods or window visits.

However, charities and Labour have criticised the government for advising measures that won’t be practical.

The updated government advice, which comes into effect on Thursday, says care homes – especially those which haven’t allowed visits since March – “will be encouraged and supported to provide safe visiting opportunities”.

Visits should be “tailored to residents and facilities and should prioritise residents and staff’s safety” to limit the spread of coronavirus, the advice says, with measures such as social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The guidance also suggests:

All face-to-face visits were banned during the first national lockdown at the height of the pandemic in the spring.

Guidance in England over recent months has allowed visits on a “limited basis” where alternative arrangements were not possible, but visits have been severely curtailed or prohibited entirely in those areas subject to enhanced restrictions, which have applied to large parts of England.

Ms Whately said she knew the restrictions on visiting had been “incredibly painful” and she had been “in tears” with some of the stories she’d heard. This was why the government was publishing updated guidance, but stressed that visiting had to be done in a “Covid-safe” way, she added.

She said the government was “absolutely trying to enable more visiting” but, against the “backdrop of this second wave”, it was “only right that we make sure visiting care homes is safe”.

She said a trial would start later this week as part of plans to carry out testing on visitors to care homes.

The government also said a new national programme for weekly testing of professionals who regularly visit care homes would be “rolled out in the coming weeks” following a pilot in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Northamptonshire.

Labour’s shadow care minister Liz Kendall said many care homes would not be able to comply with the government’s requirements which meant “in reality thousands of families are likely to be banned from visiting their loved ones”.

She said instead of suggesting measures such as screens, the government should “designate a single family member as a key worker – making them a priority for weekly testing and proper PPE”.

Kate Lee, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We’re devastated by today’s new care home visitor guidance – it completely misses the point: this attempt to protect people will kill them.”

She said the pandemic had left people with dementia isolated and thousands had died. The guidelines “completely ignore the vital role of family carers in providing the care for their loved ones with dementia that no one else can”, she added.

She said the “prison-style screens” proposed by the government with people speaking through phones were “frankly ridiculous when you consider someone with advanced dementia can often be bed-bound and struggling to speak”.

That view was echoed by Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, who said she was “acutely aware” that the methods being sanctioned were “unlikely to be useable by many older people with dementia, or indeed sensory loss”.

She added: “Overall we think this new guidance is too restrictive. In practice we fear it will result in many care homes halting meaningful visiting altogether, because they will be unable to comply with the requirements laid down.”

Bristol illegal rave organiser fined £10,000

The organiser of a rave which attracted 700 people has been fined £10,000 for breaching coronavirus restrictions.

The Halloween event on Saturday in Yate, near Bristol, turned violent when police tried to disperse the crowd.

Avon and Somerset Police said a man in his 30s was arrested as he tried to take away some of the sound equipment the day after the event.

The man, who was later identified as the organiser, has been given the maximum fine possible.

Police who tried to shut down the event were pelted with missiles including bottles, with some officers suffering minor injuries.

Avon and Somerset Chief Constable Andy Marsh said the people running the rave had acted “criminally and disgracefully”.

“It is hard to adequately explain how reckless it was to organise an unlicensed music event during the midst of a pandemic that has claimed so many lives,” he said.

“We are facing a moment in this pandemic when scientists and medics and warning of the grave risks and consequences of not controlling the virus.

“Yet those involved in this event acted with no thought for anyone other than themselves.

“It was deliberately organised in secret with complete disregard to the current situation the country is facing at the moment.”

In total eight people, aged between 17 and 33, have been arrested in relation to the violence at the rave for offences such as violent disorder and assaulting an emergency worker.

Mr Marsh said police were still trying to identify other people who may have been involved.

Brexit: Differences remain over trade deal, say UK and EU

The UK and EU have said serious differences remain over a post-Brexit trade deal, as the latest talks came to an end in Brussels.

UK negotiator Lord David Frost said “wide divergences” remained in some areas, despite progress being made.

His EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, said there were “serious divergences” over fishing and competition rules.

Negotiation resumed last month, after a week-long standoff in the wake of an EU leaders’ summit.

The two sides are seeking an agreement to govern their trading relationship once the UK’s post-Brexit transition period ends in January 2021.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said talks were likely to continue in London next week, as the time remaining to strike a deal runs out.

After briefing MEPs and EU diplomats, Mr Barnier said the lack of agreement in key areas came “despite EU efforts to find solutions”.

He added that fishing rights, competition rules and agreement over how a deal would be enforced remained “essential conditions”.

Lord Frost said: “I agree with Michel Barnier that wide divergences remain on some core issues.

“We continue to work to find solutions that fully respect UK sovereignty.”

Coronavirus: Not enough achieved to stop more restrictions

Interventions to tackle Covid-19 “have not achieved enough” yet to ensure more restrictions are not required in NI, Sinn Féin’s junior minister has said.

Restrictions on hospitality and close-contact services are due to end on Friday, 13 November.

Declan Kearney said the measures had helped but warned: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

DUP junior minister Gordon Lyons said the executive wants mitigations in place.

He said this would allow hospitality to open more “safely than before”.

The executive is due to meet on Thursday to discuss the latest Covid-19 modelling data, but it is thought a decision on whether to extend any of the restrictions may not happen until early next week.

Speaking on a visit to a shop in Belfast on Wednesday with Mr Lyons, Mr Kearney said indications from the Department of Health were that the restrictions imposed on 16 October had “helped us stabilise” the rate of infection.

But he added: “So while this intervention is going to come to an end, we have to make strategic decisions about what more is required, tomorrow’s meeting will focus very strongly on that.

“If we get that balance between societal partnership and compliance, then I’m confident in the coming period we will continue to suppress the spread of the virus.

“But at this point in time we have not achieved enough to say that by moving beyond this intervention, there is not more to do.”

Mr Lyons’s party, the DUP, have said the current restrictions must end next Friday.

On Wednesday, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in NI, Dr Tom Black, said reopening hospitality would be an “act of vandalism” and called for Northern Ireland to implement a second lockdown.

But Mr Lyons said his focus was “on making sure the hospitality sector can open again”.

“We want to make sure we protect livelihoods as well as lives,” he added.

“What we need to do as an executive is find a way to ensure we mitigate any problems that arise from that.”

Asked if the extension of the furlough scheme made it easier for the executive to consider keeping the sector closed until the end of November, Mr Lyons said: “We want to make sure businesses have the opportunity to open, they don’t want handouts and we want to help them in the most safe and Covid-secure way possible.”

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride has said the R-number – or reproduction value – will not stay below one if both hospitality and schools are open.

Schools in Northern Ireland reopened on Monday and the executive has said its top priority is keeping children in classrooms.

Clarks shoes rescued in £100m deal with LionRock Capital

Clarks, one of the UK’s oldest shoe chains, has been rescued in a £100m investment deal.

The money is being invested by the Hong Kong-based private equity firm LionRock Capital.

As part of the deal, Clarks – which has 320 shops across the UK – will enter a form of administration known as a company voluntary agreement (CVA).

The company said the agreement meant no stops would be permanently shut and no jobs would be lost.

Like many retailers Somerset-based Clarks has struggled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The CVA means landlords will have to accept a percentage of a shop’s revenue for their rent instead of relying on a fixed lease.

Clarks first began making shoes in Street 195 years ago.

Philip de Klerk, interim finance chief at Clarks, said it was a move the company had made “out of complete necessity”.

“It is important to stress that we are not announcing the closure of any stores today, and employees and suppliers will continue to be paid,” he said.

If successful in a shareholders’ vote next month, LionRock will buy a majority stake in Clarks, with the Clark family no longer the main shareholders, although they will remain investors.

In 2019 the company closed its only remaining UK factory, which had opened in 2017 solely to make desert boots.

Before that, the last remaining Clarks plant in the UK – Millom in Cumbria – closed in 2006 as production was moved to the Far East.

The company is the latest high street firm to turn to insolvency measures to avoid complete collapse.

Retailers including New Look, Jigsaw and Edinburgh Woollen Mill have all used insolvency processes to reduce debts as their stores struggled because of the pandemic.

Clarks shops are not counted as essential under the lockdown rules which begin at midnight tonight so will be closing, but they can still offer a click-and-collect service.

Covid: Care homes advised to allow visitors in England during lockdown

Care homes must provide a Covid-secure environment – such as floor-to-ceiling screens or visiting pods – to allow families to visit loved ones during the new lockdown, the government says.

The updated guidance for care homes in England comes into effect on Thursday.

It says all residents should be able “to receive visits from their family and friends in a Covid-secure way”.

Alzheimer’s Society said the guidance was “devastating” and the “attempt to protect people will kill them”.

All face-to-face visits were banned during the first national lockdown at the height of the pandemic in the spring.

Guidance in England over recent months has allowed visits on a “limited basis” where alternative arrangements were not possible, but visits have been severely curtailed or prohibited entirely in those areas subject to enhanced restrictions, which have applied to large parts of England.

Under the updated government guidance, care homes – especially those who haven’t allowed visits since March – “will be encouraged and supported to provide safe visiting opportunities”.

It says visits should be “tailored to residents and facilities and should prioritise residents and staff’s safety” to limit the spread of coronavirus, with measures such as social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The guidance also suggests:

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said care homes “should feel empowered by this new guidance to look at safe options to allow visits to care homes that suit their residents and facilities”.

“We’ve seen some really innovative solutions used to help families see each other safely, face-to-face, which has been life-changing for some.

He said he knew “how heart-breaking and incredibly frustrating it has been for families and friends who haven’t been able to see their loved ones” during the pandemic, adding that “we must allow families to reunite in the safest way possible”.

However, Kate Lee, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We’re devastated by today’s new care home visitor guidance – it completely misses the point: this attempt to protect people will kill them.”

She said the pandemic had left people with dementia isolated and thousands had died. The guidelines “completely ignore the vital role of family carers in providing the care for their loved ones with dementia that no one else can”, she added.

She said the “prison-style screens” proposed by the government with people speaking through phones were “frankly ridiculous when you consider someone with advanced dementia can often be bed-bound and struggling to speak”.

The government has outlined plans to carry out testing on visitors to care homes, with trials to begin later this month.

It also said a new national programme for weekly testing of professionals who regularly visit care homes would be “rolled out in the coming weeks” following a pilot in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Northamptonshire.

Covid-19: Elective surgery cancelled at Craigavon Hospital

Elective surgery at Craigavon Hospital has been cancelled this week as it expands its intensive care capacity.

The Southern Trust said it had experienced a significant surge in Covid-19 cases in the community and its hospitals in a statement on Wednesday.

It said there had been challenges due to staff absence and isolation measures.

More than 500 staff in the Southern Trust area are off work, for Covid-19 related reasons.

The decision has affected 68 patients and the trust said those procedures would be rescheduled over the coming weeks.

The move comes after Northern Ireland’s medical leaders called for “breathing space” as health services come under increasing pressure due to Covid-19.

The Royal Colleges of Surgeons, General Practitioners and Physicians have urged the public to help an “exhausted” health service.

The Ulster Hospital is operating at almost 113% capacity.

The South Eastern Health Trust said it was dealing with its highest number of Covid-positive patients yet.

An increasing number of staff were also self-isolating, which meant patients were waiting longer in emergency departments for admission to wards, said a trust spokeswoman.

Patients arriving by ambulance were also facing delays, she added.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health reported 10 more Covid-related deaths across Northern Ireland in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 740.

There were 679 confirmed new cases of the virus, with 418 people in hospital.

The number of patients on ventilators fell by two to 42, while there are 50 people in intensive care units across Northern Ireland.

Hospitals across Northern Ireland are operating at 101% capacity, according to the Department of Health data published on Wednesday.

There are 236 patients awaiting admission to hospitals according to the data on the department’s Covid-19 dashboard.

Trusts are understood to be escalating plans to deal with the surge.

Meanwhile, a doctor from the Royal College of Physicians has warned of concerns the concentration on emergency Covid care is “creating a massive backlog of chronic disease.”

All six of Northern Ireland’s health trusts and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service are under strain due to the extra pressures of the pandemic, and are close to substantially reducing routine surgery as a result.

More staff have been told they will be moved to work in Covid wards and intensive care units, BBC News NI understands.

In their joint appeal, the medical leaders urged people to follow public health advice on social distancing, hand-washing and face masks.

The leader of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Laurence Dorman, issued a plea to the public to support an “exhausted” health service workforce by following the rules.

“We’re all extremely busy and extremely worried as our hospitals come close to capacity,” he told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

“In our practices, just like our hospitals, we are seeing that our staff are being affected by Covid, through either contracting the virus or by being in contact with people with the virus.”

Dr Dorman said staff absences were putting pressure on the system, at a time when GPs are also having to cope with the fallout of cancelled operations.

He said GPs were seeing managing patients who have already been waiting a long time for cancer surgery and elective procedures such as hip replacements.

Dr Hamish Courtney, from the Royal College of Physicians, said there are worries the routine care of those with chronic illness “will come to harm” due to the concentration on emergency Covid care.

The diabetes specialist told the BBC’s Nolan Show on Wednesday the longer “non-emergency work gets put aside” the more likely conditions will “become very significant issues and irreversible”.

“We have been working well below capacity since March but as time goes on, these problems with chronic disease go on,” he added.

“People can’t wait forever for care. They need blood tests and scans, they need their conditions reviewed and new problems dealt with.”

Royal College of Surgeons director, Mark Taylor, confirmed it was increasingly difficult to deliver services like elective surgery and said breathing space was needed to get through the second wave.

On Tuesday, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland warned against reopening the hospitality industry next week.

Dr Tom Black told the Good Morning Ulster programme that the reopening of pubs and restaurants on 13 November would be “an act of careless vandalism”.

On Wednesday, Dr Dorman was asked if he would support calls for another lockdown.

“The Royal College of GPs, as a national organisation, does not have a position on lockdowns per se,” he replied.

“Ultimately these are political decisions.”

Covid-19: The last thing I bought before Englands lockdown 2.0

Shops selling non-essential goods are closing their doors for four weeks, as England enters a second national lockdown. In June, when stores reopened for the first time after the spring, we spoke to shoppers about the first thing they bought after lockdown. Now we’re back at the same shopping centre – centre.mk in Milton Keynes – to see what people are stocking up on this time.

“As soon as I knew about lockdown, I went into work on Monday and said ‘can I book off Wednesday because I need to go Christmas shopping’,” says Joanne Nixey, 28, from Windsor. She messaged her friend, Chloe Gould, straight away and the pair have been stocking up on Christmas presents and decorations.

“I love funky Christmas decorations so I got a rubber duck and a fish,” says Chloe. “It’s random. A cushion, some candles. I’m trying to get it all done.”

“It gets us out before lockdown,” says Joanne, pointing to her Primark bags.

Sue Stone also booked some time off of work to get the bulk of her Christmas shopping done. “Boris knew we had a day off, so luckily he moved the lockdown to Thursday,” she jokes.

“It’s just the last day before lockdown so it’s Christmas shopping,” says Sue, 52, a company director. She and her friend Lorraine Stonell spent £130 at Hotel Chocolat, as well as bagging perfumes, toiletries and a hoodie.

“I have bought my coffee pods,” she adds, pointing to a Nespresso bag. “They are an essential, but the shop will still shut.”

“I got my work bonus so have come shopping,” says Phil Read, 47, from Bletchley. “Considering the situation, I’m surprised I got a bonus. I work for the government so a very secure job thankfully.”

In his shopping bags are clothes – “winter clothes, basically” – including sweaters, pants and some waterproof trousers to play football in.

He says the thought of lockdown “feels rubbish”. “I have actually got a week off work,” he says. “They are forcing us to use our holiday so I took this week off and have been doing all I can in these few days, cramming it in.”

“Everything’s half price,” says Jenny Holloway, 40, referring to the Christmas pop-up shop, where she and her mother Helen McGill bought reindeer decorations for £10 each.

“We are just mother and daughter”, adds Helen, “and we don’t get to spend that much time together anyway because of work, and thinking about lockdown we won’t be seeing each other. We are just trying to spend time together today before lockdown.

“It’s a happy-sad feeling. Happy that we’re out now, but sad for the people in shops. At 5pm the shutters are going to come down and when will they come up again? We were hearing whispers about furlough and I just thought it was really sad.”

Elizabeth Morris, 38, and her mother, also called Elizabeth Morris, managed to do all of their Christmas shopping back in September and they are now “just getting some little bits”.

“We have got some matching pyjamas, to wear for a whole month,” jokes Elizabeth, holding up the bedwear for her and one-year-old son George. “It’s that last opportunity to go to the shops. It’s our last hurrah. Last day before we’re grounded again.”

On the prospect of another lockdown, Elizabeth, 58, says: “We are positive about it all now. We look forward to reinstating our walks.” Her daughter adds: “It’s my mum and dad’s ruby wedding anniversary in November and we were going to Tenerife but can’t now. We are now finding other things to do to celebrate. We’ll find something.”

“There’s a couple of celebrations in our house at the weekend,” says childminder Rose Iroegbu, 47. “My son is 18 on Friday.

“I plan to cook his best delicacy, rice and stew.” She’s bought balloons and some surprise gifts for him (she can’t tell us what they are to risk spoiling the surprise) as well as a phone charging cable for herself.

“I feel a mixture of emotions” about a second lockdown, she says. “Worry and anxiety about the future.”

“I have done most of my shopping for Christmas,” says electrician Chris Locke, 41, from Luton.

“I have bought some stuff this morning and put that in my car. I can’t carry everything. I’ll be finished today, kids as well.”

Chris has bought some socks and slippers for his mother-in-law, plus some toys for his children, including Mario Kart Live and some Lego. “I’m fairly organised, like I always get stuff done before December. But more in advance this year.”

“They don’t send it out online,” says Sarah Bennett, talking about the six rolls of wrapping paper she’s just bought from Card Factory, which had a fast-moving queue outside. “With two kids you need a lot of Christmas paper.”

“We are just getting bits,” adds Sarah, who runs a cleaning business and has come shopping with her teenage daughter. “If I like it, I buy it. We got two standing Santas, reduced to £12.99 from the Christmas shop.

“We just came out for a mother and daughter day and we are going to TGI Fridays after.”

All photographs by Richard Cave and reporting by Francesca Gillett.

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