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Business Highlights: Stocks rise, omicron threatens economy

December 21, 2021 GMT

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Omicron casts a new shadow over economy’s pandemic recovery

Just as Americans and Europeans were eagerly awaiting their most normal holiday season in a couple of years, the omicron variant has unleashed a fresh round of fear and uncertainty — for travelers, shoppers, party-goers and their economies as a whole. The Rockettes have canceled their Christmas show in New York. Some London restaurants have emptied out as commuters avoid the downtown. Broadway shows are canceling some performances. The National Hockey League suspended its games until after Christmas. Boston plans to require diners, revelers and shoppers to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars and stores.

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Democrats try to ‘build back’ after Manchin tanks $2T bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are trying to pick up the pieces after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin effectively crushed President Joe Biden’s big domestic policy bill. They faced serious questions Monday over whether the $2 trillion initiative can be refashioned to win his crucial vote or the party will be saddled with a devastating defeat. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said they’re going to “work like hell” to finish. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed the chamber will vote early in the new year. But the conservative Manchin and his party are so far apart it’s hard to see how they can even go back to negotiations.

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EXPLAINER: Why Elizabeth Holmes’ trial hinges on intent

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The high-profile trial of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes boils down to a single question: Did she cover up defects in her startup’s blood-testing technology to rip off investors while potentially endangering the lives of unwitting patients? Federal prosecutors charged Holmes, 37, with 11 felony counts of fraud and conspiracy in 2018 after Theranos collapsed under the weight of her bogus boasts about its technological prowess.. While telling her own story on the stand, Holmes acknowledged making some bad decisions and other mistakes while insisting she never stopped believing Theranos was on the verge of transforming health care..

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UK to give $1.3 billion in aid to businesses hurt by omicron

LONDON (AP) — Britain has announced $1.3 billion in grants and other aid to help the hospitality industry survive the onslaught of the omicron variant of COVID-19. The government on Tuesday bowed to days of pressure from pubs, restaurants and other businesses that have seen income plunge following public health warnings. Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-time grants of up to 6,000 pounds each. An additional 100 million will be given to local governments to support businesses in their areas hit by the sudden spike in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly transmissible new variant.

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Stocks end higher on Wall Street, breaking a 3-day slump

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Stocks closed solidly higher on Wall Street Tuesday, more than regaining the ground they had lost a day earlier. The S&P 500 rose 1.8%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.6% and the Nasdaq rose 2.4%. Small-company stocks rose even more than the rest of the market, a signal that investors were feeling a more optimistic about the economy. Technology stocks did especially well. Prices for ultra-safe U.S. government bonds fell, sending yields higher. Energy prices also rose. Nike, one of the 30 stocks in the Dow, jumped 6.1% after turning in strong quarterly results.

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Intel tells unvaccinated employees they face unpaid leave

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Intel has told workers that unvaccinated people who don’t get an exemption for religious or medical reasons will be on unpaid leave beginning in April. The California-based semiconductor company told employees last month they had a Jan. 4 deadline to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or seek an exemption, citing a government mandate for federal contractors. The constitutionality of broad government mandates is up in the air. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports Intel is for now leaving its policies in place. Intel will review employees’ exemption requests until March 15. Employees who don’t receive an exemption will begin unpaid leave on April 4 for at least three months but “will not be terminated.”

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Strike at Kellogg comes to a close; workers to return Monday

NEW YORK (AP) — A strike at Kellogg that has gone on since early October has ended after workers voted to ratify a new labor contract at the company’s four U.S. cereal plants. The contract covers approximately 1,400 workers represented by the union at plants in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Kellogg said Tuesday that the new contract provides immediate, across the board wage increases and enhanced benefits for all. It also provides an accelerated, defined path to top-tier wages, a major sticking point for workers. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union said the contract is a win for workers.

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Germany clamps down on New Year’s parties to tame omicron

BERLIN (AP) — Germany has announced new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the new omicron variant of COVID-19. The new rules, which go into effect on Dec. 28, fall short of a full lockdown but include contact restrictions for vaccinated people. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a press conference Tuesday evening that “we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to this next wave.” Among the new rules are limiting private gatherings to 10 people, closing nightclubs, and having large events such as soccer matches take place without an in-person audience. Germany’s national disease control institute has urged Germans to restrict holiday travel that which is “absolutely necessary.”

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Omicron compels Portugal to reimpose COVID-19 restrictions

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal is reimposing coronavirus restrictions because of fears over the threat from the omicron variant. The move comes despite the country having one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world. The country’s prime minister announced Tuesday that working from home will be mandatory and discotheques and bars will be closed from midnight Saturday. The measures will be in force at least through Jan. 9. A negative test result must be shown to enter cinemas, theaters, sports events, weddings and baptisms during that period. The prime minister said Portugal is going into an especially difficult period because of COVID-19 surges in other European countries attributed to omicron.

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France seeks to avoid a lockdown with tougher vaccine rules

PARIS (AP) — Facing a jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations, France’s government is trying to push through a law requiring vaccination to enter any restaurant and many other public places. Officials are also warning of tougher measures if the current surge of infections doesn’t recede. The government dropped efforts to require a health pass for all workplaces, however. French Prime Minister Jean Castex spent Tuesday meeting with mayors and lawmakers to persuade them to support tougher vaccine rules. French travelers and families, meanwhile, are flocking to virus testing tents ahead of the holidays. France currently has 16,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 60% of the country’s ICU beds are occupied by virus patients.

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The S&P 500 rose 81.21 points, or 1.8%, to 4,649.23. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 560.54 points, or 1.6%, to 35,492.70. The Nasdaq rose 360.14 points, or 2.4%, to 15,341.09. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 63.07 points, or 2.9%, to 2,202.95.