The coronavirus pandemic has spurred the world’s wealthiest into putting their contingency plans into action. Silicon Valley’s tech gurus have decamped to doomsday bunkers in New Zealand, while in Europe, controversy has sprung up over a private virus testing site in a billionaires’ compound on the Riviera.
While most French hospitals struggled to handle the influx of Covid-19 patients, the mega-rich living in palatial villas at Les Parcs de Saint-Tropez didn’t have that problem. The denizens of the ultra-luxury community—a group which includes steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and Francis Holder, the founder of the Paul bakery chain—have access to a special medical unit well-equipped to test them and their friends for antibodies against the coronavirus.
If the private infirmary has been held out as an example of how the well-to-do are getting special treatment that’s making it easier for them to weather the public health crisis, the pandemic has nevertheless struck a blow to the luxury sectors which not only cater to the tastes of the 1%, but employ thousands of European workers. The yachting industry, in particular, has been rocked to its core.
Monaco, which is still hoping to hold its world-famous yacht show in September, barred its wealthy residents from taking their yachts out and is restricting boats’ access to its port. The Principality’s ban follows a broader pattern: one by one, Mediterranean countries have closed their borders and their ports. Billionaires hoping to escape on their superyachts would have trouble getting to them in the first place—and those who are already on board their luxury ships are having trouble finding marinas that will allow them to dock. That’s to say nothing of the problem of staffing the boats—many yachts still out to sea are running on a skeleton staff, as workers are too concerned about their health to sign on to a long voyage.
Yacht brokers, meanwhile, are counting on a moderate recovery in the fall to salvage a dismal 2020. Jonathan Beckett, the CEO of industry titan Burgess, predicted in late March that some of the world’s most expensive superyachts could be soon be up for sale as owners’ finances come under strain. Beckett’s words seem to have been prophetic: a number of high-profile boats have come on the market in recent weeks for intriguing reasons.
In an astonishing announcement, the custom-built Luminosity, “one of the greenest gigayachts to date”, is up for sale just weeks before her scheduled delivery to her anonymous owner. The fact that, after waiting 5 years for the 107 metre Luminosity—which features everything from a swimming pool which converts to a dance floor at the push of a button to a “virtual forest” where “e-flowers” open and close in response to motion—her owner is putting her on the market without ever enjoying the stunning craft is a sure sign that the coronavirus pandemic has even disrupted the lives of the elites cocooned in their sumptuous villas.
Other luxury vessels, meanwhile, are changing hands for more conventional reasons than the coronavirus pandemic. Russian oligarch Oleg Burlakov sunk a fortune into the eco-yacht Black Pearl, named after the ship in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Dubbed “the most spectacular sailboat in the world”, the sleek steel and aluminium ship has carbon fibre solar masts permitting her to cruise no matter the direction of the wind.
Burlakov, however, is now embroiled in protracted divorce proceedings after having been spotted with younger model Sofiya Shevtsova. Legally, Burlakov’s wife is entitled to a large portion of the family assets—something which Burlakov is reportedly trying to sidestep by reregistering the Black Pearl under the name of one of his relatives, Nikolai Kazakov. The transfer has put the Black Pearl’s future in doubt, as Kazakov is by all accounts not a wealthy man and does not seem to have the funds to maintain the 106-metre-long vessel.
Matters of the heart may be the culprit in yet another recent yacht listing. In mid-April, former Italian prime minister—and the world’s 190th richest person— Silvio Berlusconi listed his superyacht Morning Glory for sale. Morning Glory has a particularly storied history—Berlusconi bought the Italian-built ship from media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who married his third wife Wendy Deng onboard, back in 1999. Since then, the “bunga bunga” king has enjoyed summers onboard cruising the Mediterranean, and has spent huge sums on refitting the ship, which now boasts a freshly repainted hull, new engines and entirely redone rigging.
Berlusconi hasn’t offered a reason for parting with the luxury vessel—but it’s possible that his romantic troubles have played a role. Just last month, the former prime minister split from Francesca Pascale, his partner of 12 years. The twice-divorced octogenarian politician, who apparently asked Pascale to marry him “every day” while they were together, has already moved on to an even younger flame—Marta Fascina, a 30-year-old MP in his Forza Italia party.
Another jewel of the yacht world in engaged in a bitter falling-out. Twin brothers David and Frederick Barclay, who for years have managed a business empire including the Ritz in London and the Daily Telegraph, have shared their sleek yacht Lady Beatrice, named after their mother, since 1993. The brothers were once inseparable—living together in a castle on their private island, Brecqhou.
This brotherly affection has now imploded in spectacular fashion, after David’s youngest son Alistair was caught secretly recording his uncle Frederick in the Ritz’s conservatory. A lengthy legal battle between the twins is now on the cards, and the Ritz—the crown jewel of the brothers’ assets—was recently sold to an unnamed Qatari businessman. Other parts of the Barclay twins’ business empire are likely to be parcelled off as well, including the Lady Beatrice.
Amidst these family dramas, the global pandemic will only put further pressure on the yacht market, and aficionados are certain to see some exceptional superyachts listed on the secondary market in the coming months.
Dutch PM condemns lockdown riots as 'criminal violence'
The police said hundreds of people had been detained after incidents that began on Saturday evening and lasted until the early hours of Monday, including some in which rioters threw rocks and in one case knives at police and burned down a COVID-19 testing station.
“This has nothing to do with protest, this is criminal violence and we will treat it as such,” Rutte told reporters outside his office in The Hague.
Schools and non-essential shops in the Netherlands have been shut since mid-December, following the closure of bars and restaurants two months earlier.
Rutte’s government added the curfew as an additional lockdown measure from Saturday over fears that the British variant of COVID-19 may soon lead to an increase in cases.
There have been 13,540 deaths in the Netherlands from COVID-19 and 944,000 infections.
The police trade union NPB said there could be more protests ahead, as people grow increasingly frustrated with the country’s months-long lockdown.
“We haven’t seen so much violence in 40 years,” union board member Koen Simmers said on television program Nieuwsuur.
Police used water cannon, dogs and officers on horseback to disperse a protest in central Amsterdam on Sunday afternoon. Nearly 200 people, some of them throwing stones and fireworks, were detained in the city.
In the southern city of Eindhoven, looters plundered stores at the train station and set cars and bikes on fire.
When police said the demonstrators were violating the country’s current lockdown rules “they took weapons out of their pockets and immediately attacked the police”, Eindhoven Mayor John Jorritsma said.
Head of French health regulatory body: COVID situation is 'worrying'
The COVID-19 situation in France is worrying, the head of the country’s Haute Autorite de Sante (HAS) health regulator told France Inter radio on Monday (25 January), as President Emmanuel Macron’s government considers a new lockdown, write Sudip Kar-Gupta and Dominique Vidalon.
France has the world’s seventh-highest COVID-19 death toll, with more than 73,000 deaths.
“It is a worrying moment. We are looking at the figures, day by day. We need to take measures pretty quickly....but at the same time, not too hastily,” said HAS head Dominique Le Guludec.
Jean-François Delfraissy, head of the scientific council that advises the government on COVID-19, had said on Sunday that France probably needed a third national lockdown, perhaps as early as the February school holidays, because of the circulation of new variants of the virus.
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune, when asked about this on French radio on Monday, replied that no firm decision had been taken on the matter.
France is currently in a nationwide 18h to 6h curfew, in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus, but the average number of new infections has increased from 18,000 per day to more than 20,000.
Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, head of the MEDEF French business lobby group, said he would call on the government to keep as many businesses and schools open as possible in any new lockdown, to protect the economy and help children’s education.
EU urges AstraZeneca to speed up vaccine deliveries amid 'supply shock'
In a sign of the EU’s frustration - after Pfizer also announced supply delays earlier in January - a senior EU official told Reuters the bloc would in the coming days require pharmaceutical companies to register COVID-19 vaccine exports.
AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, told the EU on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of March, with an EU official involved in the talks telling Reuters that meant a 60% cut to 31 million doses.
“We expect the company to find solutions and to exploit all possible flexibilities to deliver swiftly,” an EU Commission spokesman said, adding the head of the EU executive Ursula von der Leyen had a call earlier on Monday with AstraZeneca’s chief Pascal Soriot to remind him of the firm’s commitments.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca said Soriot told von der Leyen the company was doing everything it could to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans as soon as possible.
News emerged on Monday that the company faces wider supply problems.
Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters AstraZeneca had advised the country it had experienced “a significant supply shock”, which would cut supplies in March below what was agreed. He did not provide figures.
Thailand’s Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said AstraZeneca would be supplying 150,000 doses instead of the 200,000 planned, and far less than the 1 million shots the country had initially requested.
AstraZeneca declined to comment on global supply issues.
The senior EU official said the bloc had a contractual right to check the company’s books to assess production and deliveries, a move that could imply the EU fears doses being diverted from Europe to other buyers outside the bloc.
AstraZeneca has received an upfront payment of 336 million euros ($409 million) from the EU, another official told Reuters when the 27-nation bloc sealed a supply deal with the company in August for at least 300 million doses - the first signed by the EU to secure COVID-19 shots..
Under advance purchase deals sealed during the pandemic, the EU makes down-payments to companies to secure doses, with the money expected to be mostly used to expand production capacity.
“Initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated due to reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain,” AstraZeneca said on Friday.
The site is a viral vectors factory in Belgium run by the drugmaker’s partner Novasep.
Viral vectors are produced in genetically modified living cells that have to be nurtured in bioreactors. The complex procedure requires fine-tuning of various inputs and variables to arrive at consistently high yields.
“The flimsy justification that there are difficulties in the EU supply chain but not elsewhere does not hold water, as it is of course no problem to get the vaccine from the UK to the continent,” said EU lawmaker Peter Liese, who is from the same party as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The EU called a meeting with AstraZeneca after Friday’s (22 January) announcement to seek further clarification. The meeting started at 1230 CET on Monday.
The EU official involved in the talks with AstraZeneca said expectations were not high for the meeting, in which the company will be asked to better explain the delays.
Earlier in January, Pfizer, which is currently the largest supplier of COVID-19 vaccines to the EU, announced delays of nearly a month to its shipments, but hours later revised this to say the delays would last only a week.
EU contracts with vaccine makers are confidential, but the EU official involved in the talks did not rule out penalties for AstraZeneca, given the large revision to its commitments. However, the source did not elaborate on what could trigger the penalties. “We are not there yet,” the official added.
“AstraZeneca has been contractually obligated to produce since as early as October and they are apparently delivering to other parts of the world, including the UK without delay,” Liese said.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is expected to be approved for use in the EU on Jan. 29, with first deliveries expected from 15 February.
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