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Covid updates: Officials warn variants can hijack recovery; Apollo bets conventions will come back stronger

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President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the U.S. will have a large enough supply of coronavirus vaccines to inoculate every adult in the nation by the end of May. Biden declined to estimate when things could go back to "normal," and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the United States is far from herd immunity, which is when enough people in a given community have antibodies against a specific disease. Yet on Tuesday, the governors of Texas and Mississippi both announced they are lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity in their states.

The U.S. is recording at least 65,400 new Covid-19 cases and at least 1,900 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

Here are some of the biggest developments Wednesday:

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 115.03 million
  • Global deaths: At least 2.55 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 28.77 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 518,900

Apollo Global bets on post-Covid convention recovery in deal with Las Vegas Sands

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Behind Apollo's multibillion-dollar bets on Michaels, Las Vegas Sands

Apollo Global Management expects to see a return in business conventions after the Covid pandemic, and that's one factor behind the firm's recent deal with Las Vegas Sands. According to David Sambur, co-lead partner of private equity at Apollo, the rise of remote work could actually be a catalyst for a convention recovery.

"Some may say the convention business could be stronger in a post-Covid world as you have distributed workforces that spend less time together," Sambur told CNBC's Leslie Picker on "The Exchange." "The business case for meeting once a year, twice a year, four times a year to get people together could actually be stronger."

Apollo is buying the operations holding company for the Venetian, Palazzo and the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas in a deal valued at $2.25 billion. Vici Properties is acquiring the land and real estate for those assets from Sands for $4 billion.

"The other thing we were able to do as part of our due diligence was really look at the business that's on the books for the next three or four years because the convention business books out several years in advance," Sambur said. "We were able to speak to several customers and a get a sense of their travel plans, and based on that work, we were comfortable that people will return to going to conventions."

Kevin Stankiewicz

How Texas and Mississippi lifting mask mandates affect ending Covid

Experts say it is too early to abandon mask mandates and fully reopen businesses after governors in Texas and Mississippi announced they would begin lifting these measures next week.

Although there are now three approved vaccines against Covid, "what's really helping to keep safe and protected this point is our viral control practices" such as masking and social distancing, Dr. James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Waco, Texas, told CNBC Make It.

McDeavitt is concerned people will interpret the governors' actions as an excuse to relax public health measures, which will lead to another surge of infections.

"We will come out of the back end of the surge, but it'll prolong the period of time before we reach herd immunity and, in a way, increase the chances that a variant could emerge that is going to be more problematic," McDeavitt said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control, said earlier this week that "we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained" given the number of cases and spread of more contagious variants out there.

With regards to achieving herd immunity in the U.S., McDeavitt says "the clock is ticking."

Cory Stieg

Top U.S. health officials warn variants could 'hijack' nation's recent progress

The U.S. is at a critical point in its pandemic response as highly transmissible coronavirus variants threaten to reverse the nations progress in a matter of weeks, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The emergence of the new variants, specifically the variant first identified in the U.K. dubbed B.1.1.7, has largely coincided with the sharp decline in daily new cases across the U.S. since January, but those figures have since stalled.

Now, the B.1.1.7 variant "looms ready to hijack" the nation's success, Walensky said during a press briefing. Covid-19 cases are growing by more than 5% in 14 states. That was true of only two states a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

"So much can turn in the next few weeks," Walensky said. "How this plays out is up to us. The next three months are pivotal."

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Biden slams governors for lifting restrictions

President Joe Biden on Wednesday slammed state officials who repealed Covid-19 restrictions on businesses and rescinded mask mandates for residents, calling the shift a "big mistake."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, announced Tuesday they would allow businesses to reopen at 100% capacity and lift statewide mask mandates. Biden's remarks were in response to shouted questions from the press specifically about the two states.

"Look, I hope everybody's realized by now these masks make a difference," Biden told reporters at the White House. "We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we're able to get vaccines in people's arms... The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking, that, 'In the meantime, everything's fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.' It still matters."

—Will Feuer

Arizona to require schools to offer in-person learning starting March 15

Arizona public schools will be required to offer students in-person learning beginning March 15 or following spring break, Gov. Doug Ducey said in a tweet.

Ducey said parents won't be required to send their students back into the classroom and virtual learning will still be an option. The Republican governor wrote in a tweet that the state's teachers have been prioritized to receive a vaccine, and "many school districts are reporting that nearly all of their educators have received both doses."

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

School closures will slow the economy and widen economic inequality

A sign in front of King Elementary School encourages students to participate in remote learning on September 08, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

As the Biden administration and state governments grapple with how to safely open schools, evidence is growing that the closures will have a devastating impact on the economy for years to come.

The impact will be felt most acutely by the lowest-income households that have fewer resources to make up for their children's lost learning, expanding the gulf of income inequality in the U.S. and around the globe.

Learning disruptions due to Covid could lower the level of annual economic output in the U.S. by a quarter of a percentage point on average over the next 70 years, according to recent research the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

While a fraction of a percent may not seem like much, the study, using the Congressional Budget Office projection of potential output, found that the loss to the economy could equal $90 billion a year on average.

—Valerie Block

WHO officials warn of rising cases

World Health Organization officials said Wednesday scientists are trying to understand why Covid-19 cases are suddenly ticking up across much of the world after weeks of falling infections.

Cases had been falling rapidly for six consecutive weeks, but are now ticking up across most of the world, the WHO said. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO's emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said during a Q&A event at the organization's headquarters in Geneva that the global health agency is trying to better understand what's causing the reversal in trends in each region and country.

"I can tell you what we're worried about is with the introduction of vaccines and vaccination in a number of countries, we still need people to carry out their individual-level measures," she said, urging people to practice physical distancing and continue to wear masks when around others.

—Will Feuer

Asian-owned small businesses were hard hit last year

Small business in the U.S. owned by Asians saw a big drop in business in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the country, CNBC's Kate Rogers reports.

San Francisco's local chamber of commerce, for example, found that 75% of storefronts in the ZIP code housing the city's Chinatown were nonoperational at some point last year. This also comes as anti-Asian incidents rise across the country.

"Last year was a very difficult time — not just for us in Chinatown, but the whole city, the whole world," said Nancy Yu, who owns a store in San Francisco's Chinatown. Yu noted her store's sales have plunged by 80% because of the pandemic.

Fred Imbert

Biden backs plan to send direct payments to fewer people

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President Biden agrees to faster phaseout of direct stimulus checks

President Joe Biden signed off on a plan to send direct payments to fewer people as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Under the changes, individuals who earn up to $75,000, heads of households who make up to $112,500 and couples who take in up to $150,000 will get the full $1,400 stimulus checks. The payments, however, would phase out more quickly than in the version of the plan the House passed.

Checks to single filers would cut off at $80,000 in income. For heads of households and couples filing jointly, checks would stop for people who make $120,000 and $160,000, respectively.

It is unclear how many fewer people would receive money under the new structure. Moderate Senate Democrats — who once before pushed party leaders to limit eligibility for payments — had pushed for the changes as the chamber tries to pass the legislation by this weekend.

Democrats aim to approve the bill and get it to Biden's desk before March 14, when key unemployment assistance expires.

—Jacob Pramuk

Insurers launch pilot program aimed at getting 2 million seniors vaccinated

More than a dozen health insurers are launching a pilot program aimed at getting 2 million American seniors vaccinated as quickly as possible, President Joe Biden's senior advisor on the Covid-19 pandemic announced.

The pilot program – called Vaccine Community Connecters – is designed to educate seniors on the vaccines, help schedule appointments for shots, and arrange transportation, according to advisor Andy Slavitt.

The announcement comes as the Biden administration works to ramp up the supply of Covid-19 vaccines and get the majority of Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible. The risk for severe illness with Covid-19 increases with age, with older adults at the highest risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In October, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a deal with CVS Health and Walgreens to administer Covid vaccines to the elderly and staff in long-term care facilities.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

UK hikes corporation tax to 25% as pandemic support hits £407 billion

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak holds the Budget box outside 11 Downing Street in central London ahead of the announcement of the Spring Statement in the House of Commons on 03 March, 2021 in London, England.
Wiktor Szymanowicz | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

U.K. Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced the corporation tax will rise to 25% from April 2023 as the British government looks to restore public finances in the wake of the pandemic.

In his budget statement Wednesday, Sunak set out £65 billion ($90.7 billion) of new fiscal measures for this year, bringing the government's total spending response since the onset of the pandemic to £407 billion as the country looks to phase out Covid-19 restrictions by late June.

The government has borrowed a peacetime record of £355 billion since the onset of the pandemic, or 17% of GDP, and expects to borrow a further £234 billion next year, as the U.K. seeks to bounce back from its worst annual economic contraction for more than 300 years.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, a public body that provides independent forecasts, expects the economy to return to its pre-Covid level by the middle of 2022, with GDP growing by 4% this year and 7.3% next year.

February private payrolls growth falls short of expectations, ADP says

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ADP: Private payrolls increase 117,000 in February vs 225,000 estimate

Companies added just 117,000 positions in February, well below the 225,000 expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones, CNBC's Jeff Cox reports. The total also represented a sharp decline from the upward revised 195,000 jobs in January.

The weak ADP report comes despite otherwise encouraging signs of economic growth. According to the Atlanta Federal Reserve's GDPNow tracker, the U.S. is on track for a 10% gain to start 2021.

—Melodie Warner 

Dolly Parton gets Moderna Covid vaccine shot

Country music singer Dolly Parton received her Covid vaccine shot on Tuesday at Vanderbilt Health in Tennessee and encouraged others to also get vaccinated. Parton also referenced her donation to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which helped to fund the Moderna vaccine trial and research.

—Melodie Warner 

President Biden urges states to prioritize teachers, school staff vaccinations

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Biden says he wants every educator should get at least one dose by the end of March

President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged states to prioritize teachers and school staff for vaccination against Covid-19, reports CNBC's Will Feuer. Biden said he will use the federal pharmacy partnership, which was established with retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, to expand access to Covid vaccines.

—Melodie Warner

Health officials warn early easing of restrictions could lead to 4th Covid wave

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Health officials warn we could have 4th Covid wave with early easing of restrictions

CNBC's Meg Tirrell joined "The News with Shepard Smith" to discuss the Texas governor's plans to reopen all businesses starting next week, although CDC director Rochelle Walensky has said now is not the time to ease restrictions.

—Melodie Warner

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