COVID-19

GulfNews Entertainment

Dolly Parton celebrates getting COVID-19 vaccine with ‘Jolene’ twist

HollyWood|: Country music star Dolly Parton has yet another a new gig: Singing the praises of coronavirus shots and getting vaccinated on camera. Last year, Parton donated $1 million (Dh3.7 million) to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which worked with drugmaker Moderna to develop one of the first coronavirus vaccines to be authorised in the United States. The federal government eventually invested $1 billion in the creation and testing of the vaccine, but the leader of the research effort, Dr. Mark Denison, said that the singer’s donation funded its critical early stages. On Tuesday, Parton, 75, received a Moderna shot at Vanderbilt Health in Tennessee. “Dolly gets a dose of her own medicine,” she wrote on Twitter. FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File) Image Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP “Well, hey, it’s me,” she said to her fans in an accompanying video, a minute before a doctor arrives to inoculate her. “I’m finally gonna get my vaccine.” “I’m so excited,” she added in the video, which racked up more than 1 million views within about four hours. “I’ve been waiting a while. I’m old enough to get it, and I’m smart enough to get it.” She also broke into song (naturally), replacing the word “Jolene” in one of her best-known choruses with “vaccine.” “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” she sang, embellishing the last one with her trademark Tennessee lilt. “I’m begging of you please don’t hesitate.” “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” she added, “because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.” Just before the doctor arrived to inoculate her — or “pop me in my arm,” as she puts it — she doubled down on her message. “I know I’m trying to be funny now, but I’m dead serious about the vaccine,” she said. “I think we all want to get back to normal — whatever that is — and that would be a great shot in the arm, wouldn’t it?” “I just want to say to all of you cowards out there: Don’t be such a chicken squat,” she added. “Get out there and get your shot.”

GulfNews Business

Gulf states can start thinking beyond deficits

Analysis|: The Gulf states have announced their budgets for 2021, and it’s no surprise they come with large deficits set off by oil price falls as well as the heavy additional expenditures allocated to tackle the pandemic. On top of this, these countries extended healthcare measures to their populace to help them cope with the pandemic. Besides the scale of the 2021 deficits, the budgets are characterized by lower public spending, something which was a natural outcome of efforts to get a handle on their deficits and avoid imposing new fees or taxes. Even then, the projected deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) declined this year compared to last year. In Saudi Arabia, the deficit is projected to shrink by 53 per cent to 141 billion riyals ($38 billion) compared to 300 billion riyals ($80 billion) last year. This equates to 4.9 per cent of GDP compared to 12 per cent last year. The declared deficit in Oman is estimated at $ 5.7 billion and spending at $28 billion, with a significant decrease in spending amounting to 18 per cent from last year. The expected deficit in Kuwait is $40 billion, while the UAE came up with a balanced federal budget. Dip into reserves Although Saudi Arabia sought to cover the deficit through internal and external borrowings, Oman plans to do so by withdrawing from reserves. Kuwait will face difficulties covering its large deficit due to the parliament’s position that refuses to allow any withdrawals from strategic reserves, and which will put the government in a complicated situation. Yet, we trust that this situation in the Gulf will changed drastically thanks to recent and rapid developments in the oil markets. The GCC countries have adopted relatively conservative estimates for oil prices – of $45-$50 a barrel - when preparing their budgets. Oil’s comeback Current prices have exceeded this level by reaching $ 66 a barrel last week, and expected to rise further, according to most energy analysts’ expectations, and even reaching $75 a barrel. This is a good sign that will undoubtedly contribute to bringing down the deficits for Gulf states, and in turn contribute to increasing spending levels. This will lead to a further recovery in economic conditions this year. The wave of closures that have impacted certain sectors as part of health precautions are expected to subside by the middle of this year thanks to the widespread use of vaccines. Tax receipts The GCC countries are at the forefront of the world in terms of vaccination rates, giving further impetus to reviving their fee and tax collections, which have become a most important revenue source following reforms adopted by some Gulf countries as part of preparing for the post-oil era. Moreover, oil production is likely to grow from the gradual resumption of economic activity across various parts of the world, including large oil-consuming countries such as China and India. This will lead to rise in production ceiling within the OPEC+ group, perhaps even by the end of third quarter itself. The Gulf economies are even expected to achieve growth ranging between 3-4 per cent, according to projections by International Monetary Fund. These are good indications that tell we will overcome most of the repercussions brought on by COVID-19 and economic conditions will be better this year. - Mohammed Al Asoomi is a specialist in energy and Gulf economic affairs.

GulfNews Business

UAE reports modest gains in non-oil economy in February

Business|: Dubai: The UAE’s purchasing managers' index (PMI) data for February showed a modest increase in non-oil private sector output with improved business expectations. However, the underlying data indicated fresh disruptions to the UAE non-oil private sector in February, as rising coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases led to increased restrictions in parts of the economy and hampered customer sales. The headline index fell from 51.2 in January to 50.6 in February to indicate a slower and only marginal improvement in business conditions. The index stayed above the 50 neutral threshold largely due to the output sub-component, which continued to signal a rise in business activity in the UAE non-oil economy. New business failed to rise for the first time in four months, contributing to just a modest rise in output and a broadly unchanged employment level. "The tightening of COVID-19 restrictions in February had a notable impact on the UAE economy, according to PMI survey data. New orders failed to grow for the first time since last October, while output growth softened since the start of the year,” said David Owen, Economist at IHS Markit. Improved expectations Business expectations improved, but only gradually as restrictions led to further uncertainty about short-term growth prospects despite hopes for a rebound in the latter half of 2021. Firms also signalled that global supply chain delays impacted on the UAE economy in February, as lead times on inputs lengthened at the fastest rate since last April. However, the impact on costs has so far been limited, allowing companies to continue offering discounts on sales. Stable employment Employment numbers were largely stable in February, as unchanged sales volumes meant that companies saw little pressure on capacity and were able to lower backlogs for the sixth month running. Subdued jobs trends were also linked to expectations for output in the next 12 months which, despite improving to a five-month high, remained historically weak. Many firms said that new restrictions made the near-term outlook more uncertain, although the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and projected new business gains from the Expo 2020 meant that firms were generally optimistic of an improvement in the economy later in the year.

GulfNews Business

Mideast Spotify challenger Anghami near SPAC merger

Business|: Dubai: Music streaming service Anghami is close to being listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York by merging with a blank-check company, according to people familiar with the matter, setting the stage for one of the biggest investments into a Middle Eastern technology startup in years. Anghami, Arabic for "my tunes," has been holding talks with Vistas Media Acquisition Company Inc., a special purpose acquisition company set up last year, and a deal may be announced as early as Wednesday, the people said, asking not to be named because the information is private. It would mark the first listing on the Nasdaq in New York by a home-grown Middle Eastern tech company. High valuation If the deal goes ahead, Anghami could be valued at close to $300 million, according to the people. The transaction includes a combined $40 million commitment from UAE financial firm Shuaa Capital and the parent of the SPAC sponsor in so-called PIPE - private investment in public equity - financing, the people said. SPACs are often formed to allow private companies to raise fresh funds to grow and list directly without having to go through the costly and time-consuming initial public offering process. Representatives for Anghami, Vistas and Shuaa declined to comment. A successful listing of Anghami would add to a streak of major technology deals in the Middle East that started with acquisitions of local companies by Uber Technologies Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. Despite the shockwaves of the coronavirus pandemic, regional startups have attracted around $1 billion in funding in 2020, 13% more than the previous year, according to Dubai-based Magnitt Inc. New Arrival Anghami relocated its headquarters from Lebanon to the capital of the United Arab Emirates at the start of this year in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office. It was a coup for Abu Dhabi, which has been courting tech companies and startups as part of its efforts to diversify the oil-dependent economy. Anghami, founded in Beirut in 2012 by two Lebanese entrepreneurs, has grown to become one of the region's most popular streaming platforms. It delivers about 1 billion streams per month, offering 57 million songs to more than 70 million registered users. With offices across the Arab world, Anghami is vying for regional hegemony with Spotify Technology SA and Deezer SA. Key shareholders Anghami's shareholders include regional venture capital firms and strategic shareholders, such as Middle East Venture Partners, Samena Capital, Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Co., MBC Group and Etihad Etisalat Co. who represent around 68% of the company with the rest owned by the founders. VMAC is led by Chief Executive Officer F. Jacob Cherian, a former associate at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and co-founders Abhayanand Singh, the head of the Singapore-based media investment company behind the SPAC, and Saurabh Gupta, a former banker and co-producer of several films. Vistas began trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange in August after its $100 million IPO. Anghami last year worked with investment bank JPMorgan to raise fresh capital and explore strategic options as it looked to expand, sources told Bloomberg at the time. More recently, Shuaa Capital also invested in the music platform.