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New Strains of COVID-19 Could Be 50% More Infectious

Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Globally, COVID-19 cases surpassed 100 million on January 26, as new strains of the virus start to spread throughout the world. New strains of COVID-19 could be up to 50% more infectious than the original strain. Scientists are questioning how effective the current vaccines will be on the new strains and whether herd immunity will be harder to achieve than what initial hypotheses proposed.

The U.K. variant was found to spread the easiest and quickest of all the new mutations — and it is spreading across the world. Fifty-five countries reported having the U.K. strain. The South African variant is similarly spreading rapidly, with 23 countries identifying cases of the strain.  

Many countries have implemented new safety measures and travel lockdowns and are rolling out faster vaccination processes in response to the new threats. Over 80 million people worldwide have received the COVID-19 vaccine, with roughly 3.95 million doses administered a day, on average. The U.S. has distributed the highest number of vaccine doses so far, followed by China, the EU, U.K. and Israel.

Global Food Prices Hit a 10-Year High

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization

Global food prices increased in May to 127.1 points indicating the biggest month-on-month gain in more than a decade. This is 5.8 points higher than in April and 36.1 points above prices recorded the same time last year, according to the FAO Food Price Index, a monthly tracker for changes in global food prices. 

In May, prices for oils, sugar and cereals surged — up 12.7 points, 6.8 points and 7.6 points from April, respectively. Cereal prices especially are on track to reach record highs — FAO is predicting an output of nearly 3 billion tons in 2021, a 1.9% increase from 2020. International maize prices rose the most by 8.8%, reaching 89.3% above their value last year; however, they fell toward the end of the month due to an improved production outlook in the U.S.

The pandemic caused major fluctuations in the food supply chain — from a shortage in workers to price increases in raw materials. As the world starts to reopen, demand from consumers is rebounding quicker than supply itself. As a result, in the past year, grocery bills in the U.S. rose by 7% to 10% compared to pre-COVID bills.

CEO Confidence at Highest Level Since 1976

Source: Conference Board

The level of CEO confidence rose to 82 points in Q2 of 2021 — a 9-point increase from Q1. This is the highest level recorded since 1976, when The Conference Board started measuring CEO confidence. 

In the second quarter, 88% of CEOs believed that economic conditions would improve over the next six months, while 94% of CEOs said that conditions are better compared to six months ago. CEOs are also more hopeful about the state of their own industries, with a 21% increase in optimism in Q2. Over half of CEOs expect to grow their workforce over the next year — up from 47% in Q1. 

The demand to hire has led to difficulty in finding qualified workers. “For CEOs, the challenge is no longer staying afloat, but keeping pace — in particular, with a likely resurgence of the labor shortages experienced before the pandemic,” said vice chairman Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. of The Conference Board. Vaccine distribution is pushing the U.S. economy to pre-pandemic levels, but for businesses to succeed, they will need to consider new workforce demands

COVID-19 Challenges Consumer Trust in the Financial Sector

Source: Morning Consult

The majority of U.S. adults surveyed are less likely to trust financial services companies now compared to a year ago, while 13% say they trust finance more. Finance ranked second among the industries for which consumers say trust is crucial, after health care companies, according to the Morning Consult. 

Within finance, investment and wealth management companies saw the largest decline, with a 7-point drop in net trust. In contrast, banks are trusted the most by consumers at 61%. Almost 90% of respondents say data privacy and security are tied to earning their trust, and 66% would stop using a bank if it experienced a data breach.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, financial institutions provided protection and stability by “waiving account fees, refunding insurance premiums or investing in underserved communities.” However, as this industry focuses more on a digital-first approach, the Morning Consult states that trust will be determined predominantly through “data stewardship, security and reliability” as opposed to personal relationships. 

7 US States At Risk of All Five Climate-Related Threats

Source: Safety.com survey of 1,220 American adults

Over 60% of U.S. adults believe that climate change is a threat, while 11.5% do not. Recent news coverage and documentaries are the two leading factors changing the way people respond to climate change. Americans are recycling (64.3%), picking up trash (48.7%) and reducing their use of plastic (38.9%), according to Safety.com. 

The survey looks at five factors resulting from climate change: extreme heat, droughts, wildfires, inland flooding and coastal flooding. Every state in the U.S. is at least at risk of extreme heat, which is the cause of death for hundreds of Americans each year. The other four factors vary depending on the region. California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Washington are at risk for all five threats.

To address these five climate-related threats, the report notes that states and nations need to take action. Last year marked a record-breaking year for climate disasters, costing around $95 billion in damages. Moving forward, states need to adapt plans to address this climate risk—only 26 states have already done so.

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