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US regulators seek information from Lordstown electric vehicle start-up

Move comes after short seller Hindenburg Research claims company’s order book has been overhyped

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ByteDance embarks on hiring spree in Singapore

TikTok owner aims to expand beyond China to satisfy global regulators

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China dominates global wind industry after record installations

Finding an alternative to coal is the biggest obstacle to Beijing achieving net-zero emissions

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Can the lumbering US housing department become a force for change?

One of Marcia Fudge’s first big battles as an elected official was over a shopping centre in Warrensville Heights, Ohio.

A developer wanted to build a hub for major retailers in the largely black Cleveland suburb, which has a population of 13,000. But Fudge would not have it. Warrensville Heights did not want “giant retail stores,” but office space and hotels, she said.

“We also control our own destiny and our own vision for the future,” Fudge, who was mayor of Warrensville Heights between 2000 and 2008, said at the time. “The days of plantation rule are over.”

Fudge won that battle and many others like it, and is widely credited for revitalising the area during her eight years as mayor.

Now she is being counted on by progressives to do the same in urban areas across the US as President Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The $50bn agency manages 1m units of public housing and oversees a vast array of federally-funded housing programs — from insuring mortgage loans to voucher programs for low-income families.

Housing reform is expected to be a key part of Biden’s efforts to support the black voters who propelled him into office, many of whom still deal with the consequences of decades of segregation and discrimination in America’s housing market.

Malcolm Glenn, a fellow at the New America think-tank, called Fudge’s appointment to HUD “a real opportunity” to make tangible progress on an issue where race and economics are tightly bound.

“If this administration and Secretary Fudge make racial equity, not just a core, but sort of the singular core guiding force around everything that they do, I think we’ll be in a much much much better place than we’ve ever been,” Glenn says. “I don’t think any HUD secretary has ever done that.”
 
Ro Khanna, a Democratic Representative from California, believes Fudge is uniquely qualified for the job. “She understands deeply housing inequity, she understands racial exclusion,” Khanna said. “[She will] really focus on equity in housing and anti-racist zoning laws and anti-racist policies.”
 
But to deliver on those hopes, Fudge will have to grapple with a demoralised agency facing dual crises. An unprecedented number of Americans face the threat of eviction because of the Covid crisis. And inside HUD, a mass exodus of career staffers under previous Secretary Ben Carson has decimated the ranks.

Congress slashed the department’s operating budget by 15 per cent last year.

Carson, a black surgeon who grew up in public housing, did not believe that it was the government’s responsibility to rectify the effects of systemic racism on the American housing market.

HUD also has a long record of underdelivering, and has sometimes been regarded as a backwater of government. Rates of home ownership among blacks have been largely stagnant since the 1968 Fair Housing Act outlawed discriminatory policies that, among other ills, made it exceedingly difficult for blacks to take out mortgages.
 
Even Fudge acknowledged its shortcomings soon after her nomination. “I don’t know that anybody can even tell you what HUD has done,” she said. “So I really do think that HUD has not fulfilled its mission.”

Fudge, 68, has lived in the same tightly-knit neighbourhood for decades. Her personal phone number is listed in the local phone book, and she drives her 89-year-old mother to church every Sunday morning, stopping first at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee.
 
Her success in Warrensville Heights elevated her to Congress before the end of her second mayoral term. But her ascent was also tinged with tragedy: she was elected to fill the seat of her close friend and former boss, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones when she died suddenly in August 2008.

“She’s tough as nails and I have to caution her sometimes about being too tough,” said Jim Clyburn, the House majority whip, adding that Fudge is the first person that fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus members confide in during a crisis.

During her time in Congress, she worked closely with the Department of Agriculture, an agency not often thought to be at the forefront of the fight for racial justice. But Fudge prodded it to expand food voucher programs, development schemes in rural areas, and for clearer labelling on food products.
 
She was actually angling for the top agriculture job when Biden tapped her for HUD instead. Last year, she told Politico in November: “You know, it’s always ‘we want to put the black person in [the Department of] Labor or HUD.’”

At HUD, Fudge has proposed boosting spending on housing, establishing programs to help Americans save up for mortgage down payments, and transforming a voucher program for low-income renters from a lottery to a guarantee for everyone that meets the requirements.
 
“Her style is not combative. She prefers to get along, but she’s not a pushover,” said Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson, who worked closely with Fudge during her mayoral tenure. “That means just don’t piss her off.”

In response to a question at her confirmation hearing from Republican Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton on what he called a “long history of intemperate comments”, Fudge replied: “Sometimes I am a little passionate about things.”

She is almost certain to meet further opposition. During the confirmation hearing, Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator Patrick Toomey complained that Obama-era fair housing policies were too costly and time consuming for home builders — and Fudge wants to go much farther than the Obama administration did.

People who know Fudge do not expect her to back down. “I think President Biden and his team want to have a slugger in that position,” said Tami Jackson Buckner, a partner Michael Best Strategies and sorority sister of Fudge’s. “She is someone who knows that without a home, it’s hard to fulfil your American dream.”

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Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: WTO members must intensify co-operation

The writer is director-general of the World Trade Organization

On Monday I became the first woman and the first African to lead the World Trade Organization. Now we must roll up our sleeves and get to work.

The WTO already faced acute challenges, and they have been amplified by Covid-19. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy, affecting supply chains and disrupting transport and travel. The crisis has upended trade and economic activities, leading to job losses and reduced incomes around the world. It has erased years of economic gains made by developing countries and even decades of growth in some low income and least-developed countries.

There is hope on the horizon. The WTO expects world merchandise trade to rebound strongly this year. The IMF forecasts an 8 per cent growth in global trade volumes in 2021 and a 6 per cent growth in 2022. It estimates global gross domestic product to rebound from falling 4.4 per cent in 2020 to growing 5.5 per cent in 2021.

However, for the global economy to return to sustained growth, we must intensify co-operation to ensure equitable and affordable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. The WTO can and must play a more forceful role in encouraging members to minimise or remove export restrictions and prohibitions that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment.

WTO members have a further responsibility to reject vaccine nationalism and protectionism while co-operating on promising new treatments and vaccines. We must find a “third way” on intellectual property that preserves the multilateral rules that encourage research and innovation while promoting licensing agreements to help scale-up manufacturing of medical products. Some pharmaceutical companies such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and the Serum Institute of India are already doing this.

More broadly, WTO members agree that the organisation needs reforms. But a lack of trust means they do not agree on what changes are needed or their sequencing. If we are to restore the WTO’s credibility, we must set aside our differences and agree on reforms when trade ministers meet later this year.

We must contribute to ocean sustainability by agreeing to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies which lead to too many vessels chasing too few fish. A robust deal will signal that the WTO is back and that it can conclude a multilateral agreement vital for future generations. The WTO cannot afford to stumble over this; the negotiations have been going on for 20 years. This is far too long. Absent an agreement, there will be no fish left over which to argue.

The dispute settlement system has been central to the security and predictability of multilateral trade. But it needs reform and ministers need to agree this year on the nature of these reforms and how to make them.

The WTO rule book must be updated to take account of 21st-century realities such as the digital economy. The pandemic has accelerated the use of ecommerce, enabling women and small and medium-sized enterprises to participate in international trade. But we must bridge the digital divide that makes some developing countries reluctant to join the ecommerce negotiations.

Negotiations among some WTO members on facilitating investment and removing regulatory red tape in services trade have continued fairly intensively despite the pandemic. Participants need to broaden the support for these initiatives and attract interest from developing countries with the aim of concluding talks by the end of the year.

More can be done to ensure the WTO addresses the nexus between trade and climate change. Members should reactivate and broaden the negotiations on environmental goods and services. But climate-related restrictions cannot become disguised restrictions on trade, and we must assist developing countries as they transition to the use of more environmentally friendly technologies.

The WTO’s work in new or innovative areas does not mean that we have forgotten traditional topics such as agriculture. Improving market access for export products and dealing with trade-distorting farm subsidies remain of paramount importance to developing and least-developed countries. One area ripe for early agreement involves the removal of export restrictions on farm products purchased for humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme. Ensuring that government support for state-owned industrial enterprises does not distort competition is also a top priority for many WTO members.

The WTO faces numerous tricky challenges, but they are not insurmountable. There is hope if we work together in a manner that builds trust and builds bridges.

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Coronavirus latest: California reports sharp rise in new cases as US vaccinations top 20m

Total Covid-19 cases

View charts and maps

World

Confirmed

99,672,717

Deaths

2,140,260

Updated at 1/27/2021, 4:12:29 PM BST

Chicago to enforce diversity on health board

The city of Chicago on Wednesday ordered more diversity on its health board, as part of efforts to reduce inequities underscored by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lori Lightfoot, the mayor, introduced an ordinance requiring that the board have “demographic diversity [and] members with a variety of skill sets ranging from community engagement to health equity”.

She added: “These changes will [help] the board guide policymaking effectively in an age of Covid-19 and deep health inequity.”

At least five of the board’s nine members would also need to have experience or education in public health.

“They will help ensure the board has a clear role, looks like Chicago and continues to evolve to face the challenges of the day, from the pandemic to racial injustice,” said Board of Health president Carolyn Lopez.

Russian capital to lift some entertainment curbs

A shop assistant wears a face shield as she arranges Dolce & Gabbana handbags in the Tsum department store in Moscow

George Russell in Hong Kong

Moscow will lift curbs on restaurants and bars operating at night, as Russia’s president warned the pandemic would drag on for months.

Nightclubs, bars, discos, karaoke, bowling and other leisure and entertainment facilities will be able to operate later than 11pm from Thursday, provided they comply with capacity and social distancing restrictions, Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin wrote on Wednesday.

“These facilities still have to comply with the requirements for customers’ seating areas and standards established by Russia’s sanitary watchdog,” he said.

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that he foresaw stricter measures in future to control the spread of Covid-19.

“The epidemic will drag out, its uncontrollable clusters will remain, it does not have borders,” Mr Putin said via videoconference at the World Economic Forum Davos Agenda Week.

“We should … propose measures aimed at boosting efficiency of systems that monitor emergence of such diseases in the world,” he said.

Russia has recorded 3,774,672 coronavirus cases, including 71,076 fatalities.

Asia-Pacific stocks track Wall Street falls

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Equities in Asia-Pacific pulled back on Thursday, following the biggest one-day drop of the year for US stocks as a risk-off tone prevailed.

In Japan, the Topix dropped 1.6 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea shed 2.3 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 fell 2.3 per cent.

On Wall Street on Wednesday, the S&P 500 tumbled 2.5 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 2.6 per cent.

Those moves came amid fears over new coronavirus variants and obstacles to President Joe Biden’s stimulus package.

Jay Powell, Federal Reserve chairman, warned on Wednesday that the battle against the economic impact from the pandemic was not over.

“We have not won this yet,” he said as the Fed held its main interest rate close to zero and its asset purchases steady.

S&P 500 futures fell 0.8 per cent.

Covid-19 ecommerce push boosts Facebook

Hannah Murphy in San Francisco

Facebook posted record quarterly revenues on Wednesday, surpassing analysts’ expectations as the company’s push into ecommerce during coronavirus lockdowns bore fruit. 

Fourth-quarter revenues at the social media group rose 33 per cent to $28.1bn, beating analyst expectations of an increase to $26.4bn. Net income jumped 53 per cent to $11.2bn, or $3.88 a share.

In a statement, the company’s chief financial officer David Wehner said the business had been boosted by “the ongoing shift towards online commerce” and “the shift in consumer demand towards products and away from services”. 

Read more here

California sees sharp rise in cases as jabs top 20m

Peter Wells and Matthew Rocco in New York

California reported its second-biggest daily increase in coronavirus deaths, offsetting the continued downward trend in hospitalisations and new infections.

Authorities on Wednesday attributed a further 697 fatalities to coronavirus, a daily tally second only to the 764 deaths reported last Friday. That pushed the state’s death toll, which is the highest in the US, to 38,224.

More than 20m Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, as health officials push to accelerate the shot’s rollout to older people.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said health providers have administered doses to 20.7m people as of Wednesday.

Out of that group, 3.8m have been given two doses – a requirement for vaccines made by Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer.

China lifts Apple to record quarterly profit

People try out the iPhone 12 at an Apple store in Shanghai

Patrick McGee in San Francisco

Apple reported its highest-ever net profit in the holiday quarter as revenues swelled way beyond forecasts to $111.4bn on the back of a 57 per cent rise in sales in China.

Net profits rose 29 per cent to $28.8bn, against forecasts it would rise 6.3 per cent, while earnings per share jumped 35 per cent to $1.68. Forecasters expected revenues of about $102bn.

All five of the $2.4tn company’s product categories grew at double-digit percentages, led by a 41 per gain in iPad sales and a 30 per cent climb in wearables, which include AirPods and the Apple Watch.

The iPhone, by far its biggest category, generated sales of $65.6bn, a 17 per cent gain that far outpaced analyst expectations of a 6 per cent rise.

Apple declined to offer any guidance for the March quarter, citing uncertainties around the pandemic.

UK experts defend 12-week delay for 2nd dose

Clive Cookson in London

A month after the UK government decided to extend the gap between first and second jabs of the Covid-19 vaccines from three to 12 weeks to ensure maximum inoculation as soon as possible, Britain’s “first doses first” policy remains an outlier in global terms.

The UK’s decision prompted widespread concern that it might weaken the immune response to the two marketed vaccines that use groundbreaking mRNA technology made by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.

But almost every independent expert on vaccinology and virology in the UK contacted by the Financial Times has supported the 12-week interval policy formulated by the government’s medical advisers and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Read more here

Mexican billionaire Slim ‘recovering’

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim has been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 but is recovering well, his son-in-law Arturo Elías said.

On Monday, Carlos Slim Domit, the América Móvil boss’s son, had written on Twitter that his father was undergoing tests at the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición, one of Mexico’s most prestigious state hospitals.

Mr Elías told the Financial Times that he had been in hospital since then, “but he’s doing very, very well, it’s just for monitoring and so on, he’s nearly over this”.

Mr Slim, who turns 80 on Thursday, suffered a massive haemorrhage following open-heart surgery in 1997 and contracted pneumonia but has since been in good health.

News you might have missed …

After a two-day meeting on Wednesday, its first since Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House, the Federal Reserve held its main interest rate close to zero and its asset purchases steady as it sought to maintain a massive dose of support for the US economy as it suffers through a new slowdown.

A growing number of passengers are trying to board airlines using fake test results to get around immigration controls, the aviation industry has warned. “We are aware of numerous counterfeit test results which have cropped up in … several countries,” the International Air Transport Association said on Wednesday.

US public health officials have changed their vaccination advice to make it easier for people to get a second shot, saying injections can be spaced up to six weeks apart, and can even be from a different manufacturer from the first shot if necessary, said Rochelle Walensky, head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Vaccination rates for the Covid-19 jab in England are much lower among non-white people aged 80 and above than their white counterparts, data show. By January 13, 42.5 per cent of elderly white people in England had received their first dose, compared with 20.5 per cent of black people and 29.5 per cent of South Asians.

AT&T posted a $13.8bn quarterly loss as the US telecoms group and owner of Warner Bros and HBO warned the Covid-19 crisis has hit most of its businesses, resulting in $650m in charges. The group recorded a $15.5bn charge on its pay-TV business, as customers abandon cable and satellite in favour of streaming.

French pharmaceuticals group Sanofi is to help accelerate production of the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine and add millions to the EU supply, as concern grows about the availability of doses around the world. Sanofi plans to start working on late-stage manufacturing of the vaccine in the summer,

Tullow Oil has secured an additional month from its banks before it faces a test on a key lending facility as the embattled explorer and producer continues refinancing talks with its creditors. The company is still trying to recover from a torrid 2019 that resulted in hefty cuts to its production forecasts.

London’s Chelsea Flower Show will showcase dahlias rather than spring flowers and roses as the coronavirus pandemic has forced the garden show to be held in the autumn for the first time in its 108-year history. The 2021 show has been moved to September 21-26 from May 18-23, the Royal Horticultural Society said.

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TikTok rival Kuaishou to raise up to $6.3bn in Hong Kong IPO

Chinese livestreaming and short video group Kuaishou is set to raise up to $6.3bn in a Hong Kong initial public offering in a test of investor appetite for China’s tech sector as it faces growing regulatory scrutiny.

The deal could value Kuaishou, which competes with ByteDance’s TikTok, at up to $61.7bn and would be the largest tech IPO since ride-hailing company Uber went to market in 2019.

The listing will raise between $4.9bn and $5.4bn, but that could rise to $6.3bn if bankers exercise an overallotment option to increase its size, according to a term sheet seen by the Financial Times. Shares are expected to price on Friday between HK$105 (US$13.55) and HK$115 (US$14.84) and begin trading on February 5.

The flotation comes as Chinese tech companies face an increasingly uncertain regulatory environment. The $37bn Hong Kong and Shanghai IPO of payments firm Ant Group was halted by Beijing at the last minute in November, while its ecommerce affiliate Alibaba is subject to an antitrust investigation.

Kuaishou, which is backed by Chinese internet group Tencent, earns most of its revenues from users sending virtual gifts to livestreaming hosts. The company takes roughly half of the gift price, which can range from a few cents to Rmb2,000 (US$309). 

Livestreaming rules announced in November ban teenagers from purchasing virtual gifts on platforms such as Kuaishou and limit total spending by any single user. The regulations also tighten controls on livestreaming ecommerce, where video hosts promote goods to shoppers, a growing business for Kuaishou.

Kuaishou competitors including TikTok have faced controversy over their operations and use of data amid tensions between the US and China. In December, a deadline for ByteDance to restructure TikTok’s US operations passed without a deal, and the company remains in negotiations about the short video app’s status in the country. 

Kuaishou’s app had about 262m daily viewers in the first nine months of last year, who on average spent 86 minutes per day watching videos. The company reported an operating loss of Rmb9bn on Rmb41bn in sales during the same period.

The company has spent heavily on bringing in new users as it faces an increasingly crowded online video market in China.

Cornerstone investors in Kuaishou’s IPO include asset managers Invesco and Fidelity as well as Singaporean state-backed investors Temasek and GIC, which will together buy shares worth up to $2.5bn with a six-month lock-up period.

“The quality and size of cornerstone investors are some of the highest we have seen in Chinese tech companies to come to market,” said one banker on the deal. “It shows that the market is still crying out for more liquidity in sizeable, high-growth tech companies.”

Kuaishou will use the funds for purposes including research and development, acquisitions and investment and expanding its ecosystem, according to the term sheet.

Tencent holds a roughly 22 per cent stake in Kuaishou after leading a $3bn financing round last year. As the number-two player in China’s online video market after Douyin — the Chinese version of TikTok — “Kuaishou is less susceptible to political noise”, according to one banker working on the IPO.

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TikTok rival Kuaishou to raise up to $6.3bn in Hong Kong IPO

Chinese livestreaming and short video group Kuaishou is set to raise up to $6.3bn in a Hong Kong initial public offering in a test of investor appetite for China’s tech sector as it faces growing regulatory scrutiny.

The deal could value Kuaishou, which competes with ByteDance’s TikTok, at up to $61.7bn and would be the largest tech IPO since ride-hailing company Uber went to market in 2019.

The listing will raise between $4.9bn and $5.4bn, but that could rise to $6.3bn if bankers exercise an overallotment option to increase its size, according to a term sheet seen by the Financial Times. Shares are expected to price on Friday between HK$105 (US$13.55) and HK$115 (US$14.84) and begin trading on February 5.

The flotation comes as Chinese tech companies face an increasingly uncertain regulatory environment. The $37bn Hong Kong and Shanghai IPO of payments firm Ant Group was halted by Beijing at the last minute in November, while its ecommerce affiliate Alibaba is subject to an antitrust investigation.

Kuaishou, which is backed by Chinese internet group Tencent, earns most of its revenues from users sending virtual gifts to livestreaming hosts. The company takes roughly half of the gift price, which can range from a few cents to Rmb2,000 (US$309). 

Livestreaming rules announced in November ban teenagers from purchasing virtual gifts on platforms such as Kuaishou and limit total spending by any single user. The regulations also tighten controls on livestreaming ecommerce, where video hosts promote goods to shoppers, a growing business for Kuaishou.

Kuaishou competitors including TikTok have faced controversy over their operations and use of data amid tensions between the US and China. In December, a deadline for ByteDance to restructure TikTok’s US operations passed without a deal, and the company remains in negotiations about the short video app’s status in the country. 

Kuaishou’s app had about 262m daily viewers in the first nine months of last year, who on average spent 86 minutes per day watching videos. The company reported an operating loss of Rmb9bn on Rmb41bn in sales during the same period.

The company has spent heavily on bringing in new users as it faces an increasingly crowded online video market in China.

Cornerstone investors in Kuaishou’s IPO include asset managers Invesco and Fidelity as well as Singaporean state-backed investors Temasek and GIC, which will together buy shares worth up to $2.5bn with a six-month lock-up period.

“The quality and size of cornerstone investors are some of the highest we have seen in Chinese tech companies to come to market,” said one banker on the deal. “It shows that the market is still crying out for more liquidity in sizeable, high-growth tech companies.”

Kuaishou will use the funds for purposes including research and development, acquisitions and investment and expanding its ecosystem, according to the term sheet.

Tencent holds a roughly 22 per cent stake in Kuaishou after leading a $3bn financing round last year. As the number-two player in China’s online video market after Douyin — the Chinese version of TikTok — “Kuaishou is less susceptible to political noise”, according to one banker working on the IPO.

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Mexico’s Covid-sceptical president tests positive

Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has refused to wear a face mask, has tested positive for coronavirus days after dining with some of the nation’s leading industrialists.

“I am sorry to inform you that I have caught Covid-19. The symptoms are light but I’m having medical treatment. As ever, I’m optimistic. We’ll all get through this,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Mr López Obrador, 67, has been criticised for playing down the severity of the pandemic in Latin America’s second-biggest economy. He has continued to hold meetings across the country despite record deaths and infections in recent days.

Hospitals in Mexico City are almost full and many infected people have struggled to obtain access to oxygen tanks.

The Mexican leader follows other Covid-19 sceptics, such as Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Donald Trump in the US, in contracting the virus. At a news conference last year, Mr López Obrador displayed an amulet that he said protected him from the pandemic.

He said he would still hold a scheduled call with Vladimir Putin on Monday morning to discuss procuring Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and bilateral ties.

The Mexican president said he intended to continue following public affairs from the National Palace, but that Olga Sánchez Cordero, the interior minister, would replace him at his daily morning news conference.

Mr López Obrador, who suffered a heart attack in 2013 and suffers from hypertension, has repeatedly sent an upbeat message that Mexico was coping well with the pandemic and has refused to enforce lockdown measures, despite more than 1.7m confirmed cases and almost 150,000 deaths.

Mexico’s low testing rate and high excess deaths point to a far bleaker picture. Its rolling seven-day average of new deaths, at 0.962 per 100,000, is higher than that of the US, with 0.935, and Brazil, at 0.474.

On Friday night, Mr López Obrador spoke by telephone with US president Joe Biden and posted a photograph to Twitter of himself around a table with Marcelo Ebrard, foreign minister, and former cabinet chief Alfonso Romo. Hugo López-Gatell, the country’s coronavirus tsar, attended the president’s daily morning news conference on Friday.

On López Obrador also dined on Friday with eight senior business leaders, as well as Mr Romo, his economy minister Tatiana Clouthier and Mr Ebrard in Monterrey, the country’s business capital.

A person close to the business leaders said none had displayed Covid symptoms and they were taking all precautions.

The president, who travels on commercial airlines, spent the weekend touring the states of Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí, where he inaugurated National Guard installations and supervised welfare projects.

José Luis Alomía, Mexico’s director-general of epidemiology, told a daily Covid-19 news conference that “fortunately [Mr López Obrador] is stable, his signs and symptoms are light, he is at home” under the care of a multidisciplinary medical team led by Jorge Alcocer, the health minister.

Contact tracing of people with whom the president had been in contact was under way, he added. This month, Jesús Ramírez, the president’s press chief, tested positive for the virus.

Latest coronavirus news

Follow FT’s live coverage and analysis of the global pandemic and the rapidly evolving economic crisis here.

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Mexico’s Covid-sceptical president tests positive

Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has refused to wear a face mask, has tested positive for coronavirus days after dining with some of the nation’s leading industrialists.

“I am sorry to inform you that I have caught Covid-19. The symptoms are light but I’m having medical treatment. As ever, I’m optimistic. We’ll all get through this,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Mr López Obrador, 67, has been criticised for playing down the severity of the pandemic in Latin America’s second-biggest economy. He has continued to hold meetings across the country despite record deaths and infections in recent days.

Hospitals in Mexico City are almost full and many infected people have struggled to obtain access to oxygen tanks.

The Mexican leader follows other Covid-19 sceptics, such as Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Donald Trump in the US, in contracting the virus. At a news conference last year, Mr López Obrador displayed an amulet that he said protected him from the pandemic.

He said he would still hold a scheduled call with Vladimir Putin on Monday morning to discuss procuring Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and bilateral ties.

The Mexican president said he intended to continue following public affairs from the National Palace, but that Olga Sánchez Cordero, the interior minister, would replace him at his daily morning news conference.

Mr López Obrador, who suffered a heart attack in 2013 and suffers from hypertension, has repeatedly sent an upbeat message that Mexico was coping well with the pandemic and has refused to enforce lockdown measures, despite more than 1.7m confirmed cases and almost 150,000 deaths.

Mexico’s low testing rate and high excess deaths point to a far bleaker picture. Its rolling seven-day average of new deaths, at 0.962 per 100,000, is higher than that of the US, with 0.935, and Brazil, at 0.474.

On Friday night, Mr López Obrador spoke by telephone with US president Joe Biden and posted a photograph to Twitter of himself around a table with Marcelo Ebrard, foreign minister, and former cabinet chief Alfonso Romo. Hugo López-Gatell, the country’s coronavirus tsar, attended the president’s daily morning news conference on Friday.

On López Obrador also dined on Friday with eight senior business leaders, as well as Mr Romo, his economy minister Tatiana Clouthier and Mr Ebrard in Monterrey, the country’s business capital.

A person close to the business leaders said none had displayed Covid symptoms and they were taking all precautions.

The president, who travels on commercial airlines, spent the weekend touring the states of Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí, where he inaugurated National Guard installations and supervised welfare projects.

José Luis Alomía, Mexico’s director-general of epidemiology, told a daily Covid-19 news conference that “fortunately [Mr López Obrador] is stable, his signs and symptoms are light, he is at home” under the care of a multidisciplinary medical team led by Jorge Alcocer, the health minister.

Contact tracing of people with whom the president had been in contact was under way, he added. This month, Jesús Ramírez, the president’s press chief, tested positive for the virus.

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