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Parks and green spaces helped us get through lockdown – but not everyone has equal access

Spending time in nature is an essential resource for mental wellbeing, but lockdown increased existing inequalities in the way our green spaces are used – and who is able to benefit from them.

Cliff Hands/Shutterstock

What we could all see was solace: it was clear that nature at its loveliest and most inspiring, in springtime’s wondrous transformations, could offer people comfort at a moment of tragedy and great stress.

Michael McCarthy, nature writer

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a damaging impact on their psychological health, but the chance to get out into nature provided some much needed respite and escape during a difficult year.

Following restrictions in March 2020 that saw the UK closing non-essential retail and hospitality, and limiting people to leaving the house once a day for essential reasons, it’s no surprise that some discovered a heightened appreciation of their local green spaces. Whether it was a park, a nature reserve or a canalside walk, stories of people finding comfort and consolation in nature at this distressing time have been well documented.

This was emphasised by the UK housing, communities and local government minister, Robert Jenrick, who stated that parks and other public green spaces must be kept open for “the health of the nation”.

However, our research during this period found that the majority of the UK population (63%) were spending less time in green spaces than before lockdown. This was likely linked to feelings of anxiety when venturing out of the house, especially for those over 70 or anyone advised to shield for health reasons.

We conducted an online survey through YouGov to investigate how the UK population had altered the amount of time spent in parks during the first lockdown, and whether their experiences of these places had changed. The survey was answered by 2,252 adults from across the UK, drawn from a representative panel of over 800,000 participants. In this research, we defined green spaces as any place outside of the home where people can experience nature, plants and trees.

A goldfinch sitting in a cherry tree in full blossom with white flowers.
Immersing ourselves in nature can help relieve anxiety. Mark Caunt/Shutterstock

Widening gap

Inequalities in the use of green space, and changes in the way it is being used, are likely to be associated with occupation, especially during lockdown, when certain workers were advised to work from home. One report stated that less than 10% of manual workers worked from home during the initial lockdown, compared to 75% of managerial and professional workers.

This data highlights that those in the professional group had more opportunity to visit green spaces during lockdown and so were more able to benefit. Manual workers unable to do their jobs at home may have had less time and opportunity to visit green spaces – such as walking in the local park.

We found that the initial lockdown increased existing inequalities in the use of green spaces. Before the pandemic, manual workers like shop assistants and labourers were a third less likely to visit green spaces than those who worked in managerial occupations, such as business owners and senior executives. This difference could be partly explained by a lack of access to decent parks for more disadvantaged groups, or the fact that these groups are less interested in using green spaces.

This pattern of inequality actually worsened during lockdown, with the difference in use increasing between the two social groups. We found that manual workers were two-thirds less likely to visit a park after lockdown restrictions were enforced. This is despite ONS research finding that parks are most accessible in the poorest areas of the UK.


Read more: Ecotherapy aims to tap into nature to improve your wellbeing


However, other research shows that poorer areas are more likely to have low-quality green spaces. This could mean that even if someone lived close to a park, they might not want to use it due to a lack of amenities such as seating and toilets, or high crime levels or too much litter.

Older adults (aged 65+) and women spent less time in green spaces during lockdown, compared to younger age groups and men. These will likely lead to widening health inequalities if no action is taken, and compound the devastating impact of the pandemic for older people, who experienced more social isolation. This is because they were less likely to be online and more likely to live alone and be shielding. Meanwhile, the inequality in use between the sexes could be explained by the fact that women spent more time on childcare than men during the first lockdown. They also make up 77% of the NHS workforce and 89% of nursing staff in the UK.

Benefits of green space in lockdown

Green space has positive effects on physical and mental health, especially through things like “forest bathing” – a mindful, immersive walk in the woods, and green prescribing, where doctors advocate a dose of nature rather than medication. Both are currently being researched and implemented across the UK.

But how did green spaces affect the population’s mental health during the first lockdown? We know that suicidal thoughts increased during lockdown and antidepressant use is now “soaring”.

Our research found that around two-thirds (65%) of individuals reported that spending time in green spaces benefited their mental health more during the lockdown than before. This would suggest that green spaces have the capacity to counteract the impact of the pandemic on the population’s mental health.

Previous research has shown that the positive effects of being immersed in green space can help reduce health inequalities by benefiting less advantaged people more. Other studies have found that inequalities in mental wellbeing are smaller among those who have better access to green space compared to those who do not have access to a local park. More recently, a report by Public Health Scotland found that nine in ten people said that being in green open spaces improved their mental health.

These findings emphasise the importance of parks and nature reserves remaining open during any future lockdowns. We believe our research highlights green spaces as an essential resource for mental health and wellbeing, and they must be protected and prioritised in any future fiscal squeeze to ensure the most disadvantaged and vulnerable do not lose out.

The Conversation

Hannah Burnett receives funding for her PhD from the Medical Research Council and University of Glasgow College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences.

Jonathan Olsen receives funding from the Medical Research Council and the Chief Scientist Office (Scotland) as part of the Places and Health Programme (MC_UU_00022/4; SPHSU19) at the MRC/CSO Social and Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU), University of Glasgow.

Rich Mitchell receives funding from the Medical Research Council and the Chief Scientist Office (Scotland) as part of the Places and Health Programme (MC_UU_00022/4; SPHSU19) at the MRC/CSO Social and Health Sciences Unit (SPHSU), University of Glasgow.

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Top Stocks To Watch This Week? 3 Fintech Stocks Making Headlines

Should investors be watching these top fintech names now?
The post Top Stocks To Watch This Week? 3 Fintech Stocks Making Headlines appeared first on Stock Market News, Quotes, Charts and Financial Information | StockMarket.com.

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top stocks to watch this week (fintech stocks)

Are These Best Fintech Stocks To Buy Right Now?

Financial technology, or fintech for short, is an increasingly vital industry in the world today. By extension, this would make fintech stocks increasingly relevant in the stock market today. This would be the case as fintech companies enable contactless payments along with other financial services directly accessible from consumers’ smartphones. When you couple this with the current pandemic, it is easy to understand why fintech has skyrocketed in popularity. With signs of another wave of coronavirus infections incoming, some would argue that fintech stocks could continue to thrive.

In fact, Mastercard (NYSE: MA) CFO Sachin Mehra believes that consumer reliance on fintech services could grow past pre-pandemic levels. Just last week, Mehra cited Mastercard’s second-quarter earnings figures as a key indicator of this. In detail, the company saw its gross dollar volume, which reflects purchase activity, increase by 34% year-over-year. This added up to a whopping $619 billion. More importantly, it also marks a 27% increase from the same quarter in 2019. Mehra also highlighted that we “haven’t even seen travel come back to the levels we used to see pre-pandemic.” In theory, this would indicate that the fintech industry could potentially have more room to run moving forward.

For instance, we could look at the likes of Fiserv (NASDAQ: FISV) and Visa (NYSE: V). Both companies are notable players in the industry today. Likewise, they continue to make massive plays on the operational end, on top of the current industry tailwinds. Overall, Fiserv recently made significant expansions to its digital banking services and Visa acquired fintech software firm Currencycloud in the U.K. last month. Given all of the activity in this section of the stock market, you might be keen on top fintech stocks yourself. In that case, here are three names to know now.

Best Fintech Stocks To Watch Right Now

Square Inc.

To begin with, we will be taking a look at Square Inc. The California-based fintech company is a titan in the industry today. In short, it offers a wide variety of financial services and digital payment solutions. Through all of this, Square primarily caters to the needs of businesses of varying sizes. The likes of which rely on the company’s offerings to manage their operations, access financing, and improve their market reach. On the consumer front, Square’s flagship Cash App smartphone service boasts over 40 million monthly active users.

After considering all of this, many would see SQ stock as a viable play on the current fintech boom. Evidently, the company’s shares are already looking at massive gains of over 540% since its pandemic-era low. Regardless, Square continues to press forward on all fronts now. Earlier today, the company released its second-quarter financial results ahead of schedule. In it, Square posted stellar figures across the board. The company saw gross payment volume (GPV) for the quarter add up to $42.8 billion, marking a significant 87% year-over-year leap. As a result, Square also reported year-over-year surges of 143% in total revenue and 94% in Cash App gross profit. All in all, user demand for Square’s services seems to be holding strong.

At the same time, the company is also planning to acquire Afterpay (OTCMKTS: AFTPF), an Australian fintech firm, for $29 billion. With this move, Square would be making a significant expansion into the “Buy Now, Pay Later” (BNPL) service space. Given that Afterpay is the pioneering name in this space, this could be a win for Square. Now, with Square looking to integrate Afterpay into its Cash App, would you be buying SQ stock?

top fintech stocks (SQ stock)
Source: TD Ameritrade TOS

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Apple Inc.

Following that, we have Apple Inc. Sure, most would not immediately think about Apple when discussing fintech. However, the consumer tech giant also has a hand in the industry now. This would be mainly through its Apple Pay division. In brief, Apple Pay is a mobile payment and digital wallet service. As you can imagine, it allows Apple users to make secure payments via its devices. Given the popularity of Apple’s wares, this would provide the company with a sizable addressable market.

Now, the question for today is, would AAPL stock be a top fintech stock to consider? Well, for one thing, the company does not seem to be sitting idly by on this front. Just last month, news broke of Apple reportedly partnering up with Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS). The duo is now working to bring the Apple Pay Later service to Apple Pay’s users. As the name suggests, it is a BNPL service as well. Similar to our previous entry, Apple appears to be well aware of the shifting needs in the consumer fintech market. Through the current deal, Goldman Sachs will act as the lender for installment loans. Accordingly, Apple Pay users will be able to spread their payments across four interest-free transactions across a two-week timespan.

Arguably, this could be a smart play on Apple’s end now, especially with the global chip shortage. Ideally, even if the company’s hardware supplies take a hit, it can still support growth via services such as Apple Pay. With all this in mind, will you be keeping an eye on AAPL stock?

fintech stocks (aapl stock)
Source: TD Ameritrade TOS

[Read More] Best Stocks To Buy Right Now? 5 Aerospace Stocks To Know

Affirm Holdings Inc.

Topping off our list today is BNPL player Affirm Holdings Inc. According to Affirm, its customers can finance purchases at the point of sale without worrying about late or hidden fees. Through its services, the company now caters to over 5.4 million consumers. With that in mind, could AFRM stock be worth buying at its current price point?

If anything, analysts appear to believe so. Just last month, both CNBC’s Jim Cramer and Truist (NYSE: TFC) analyst Andrew Jeffrey had good things to say about AFRM stock. Firstly, Cramer highlighted the company in the lightning round segment of his show saying, “I am a buyer at the $56 level.” Secondly, Jeffrey hit AFRM stock with a buy rating and an $82 price target. This would indicate a potential 45% upside from its current price of $56.32 as of last week’s closing bell. According to the analyst, Affirm’s current position in the BNPL industry is worth noting given its “superior merchant integrations and complex underwriting abilities”. The likes of which supposedly differentiate it from the current competition.

Moreover, the company also recently expanded its partnership with e-commerce juggernaut Shopify (NYSE: SHOP). As of last month, Shop Pay Installments is now exclusively powered by Affirm. Because of this, all eligible Shopify merchants in the U.S. now have access to the BNPL solution. Having read all this, would you consider adding AFRM stock to your August watchlist?

NASDAQ AFRM
Source: TD Ameritrade TOS

The post Top Stocks To Watch This Week? 3 Fintech Stocks Making Headlines appeared first on Stock Market News, Quotes, Charts and Financial Information | StockMarket.com.

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Combining AstraZeneca and mRNA COVID-19 vaccines is effective – Danish study

Combining AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine with a second dose from either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna’s jab provides "good protection", Denmark’s State Serum Institute said on Aug. 2.

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Combining AstraZeneca and mRNA COVID-19 vaccines is effective – Danish study

COPENHAGEN, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Combining AstraZeneca’s (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine with a second dose from either Pfizer-BioNTech (PFE.N), (22UAy.DE) or Moderna’s (MRNA.O) jab provides “good protection”, Denmark’s State Serum Institute said on Monday.

A growing number of countries are looking at switching to different COVID-19 vaccines for second doses, a measure particularly necessary in Denmark after health authorities discontinued inoculations with AstraZeneca’s vaccine in April over rare side-effect concerns. read more

More than 144,000 Danes, mostly frontline personnel in the health sector and the elderly, received their first jab with AstraZeneca’s vaccine but were subsequently vaccinated with either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna’s shots.

Signs and age groups are shown for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at a vaccination center as California opens up vaccine eligibility to any residents 16 years and older during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Chula Vista, California, U.S., April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

“The study shows that fourteen days after a combined vaccination program, the risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 is reduced by 88% compared to unvaccinated individuals,” the State Serum Institute (SSI) said.

That is a “high efficacy”, SSI added, comparable to the 90% efficacy rate of two doses from Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, confirmed in a different Danish study.

The study, published last week, covered a span of more than five months between February and June this year, a period in which the Alpha-variant of the coronavirus was predominant.

It could not conclude whether the same protection applied to the Delta-variant, which is now the most widespread in Denmark.

It also provided no efficacy data on COVID-19 related deaths or hospitalisations, since none took place following the combined vaccination programme.

Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard, editing by Louise Heavens

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

 

Reuters source:

https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/combining-astrazeneca-mrna-covid-19-vaccines-is-effective-danish-study-2021-08-02

 

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The Philippine economy under the pandemic: From Asian tiger to sick man again?

In 2019, the Philippines was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It finally shed its “sick man of Asia” reputation obtained during the economic collapse towards the end of the Ferdinand Marcos regime in the mid-1980s. After decades…

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By Ronald U. Mendoza

In 2019, the Philippines was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It finally shed its “sick man of Asia” reputation obtained during the economic collapse towards the end of the Ferdinand Marcos regime in the mid-1980s. After decades of painstaking reform — not to mention paying back debts incurred under the dictatorship — the country’s economic renaissance took root in the decade prior to the pandemic. Posting over 6 percent average annual growth between 2010 and 2019 (computed from the Philippine Statistics Authority data on GDP growth rates at constant 2018 prices), the Philippines was touted as the next Asian tiger economy.

That was prior to COVID-19.

The rude awakening from the pandemic was that a services- and remittances-led growth model doesn’t do too well in a global disease outbreak. The Philippines’ economic growth faltered in 2020 — entering negative territory for the first time since 1999 — and the country experienced one of the deepest contractions in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that year (Figure 1).

Figure 1: GDP growth for selected ASEAN countries

GDP growth for selected ASEAN countries

Source: Asian Development Outlook

And while the government forecasts a slight rebound in 2021, some analysts are concerned over an uncertain and weak recovery, due to the country’s protracted lockdown and inability to shift to a more efficient containment strategy. The Philippines has relied instead on draconian mobility restrictions across large sections of the country’s key cities and growth hubs every time a COVID-19 surge threatens to overwhelm the country’s health system.

What went wrong?

How does one of the fastest growing economies in Asia falter? It would be too simplistic to blame this all on the pandemic.

First, the Philippines’ economic model itself appears more vulnerable to disease outbreak. It is built around the mobility of people, yet tourism, services, and remittances-fed growth are all vulnerable to pandemic-induced lockdowns and consumer confidence decline. International travel plunged, tourism came to a grinding halt, and domestic lockdowns and mobility restrictions crippled the retail sector, restaurants, and hospitality industry. Fortunately, the country’s business process outsourcing (BPO) sector is demonstrating some resilience — yet its main markets have been hit heavily by the pandemic, forcing the sector to rapidly upskill and adjust to emerging opportunities under the new normal.

Second, pandemic handling was also problematic. Lockdown is useful if it buys a country time to strengthen health systems and test-trace-treat systems. These are the building blocks of more efficient containment of the disease. However, if a country fails to strengthen these systems, then it squanders the time that lockdown affords it. This seems to be the case for the Philippines, which made global headlines for implementing one of the world’s longest lockdowns during the pandemic, yet failed to flatten its COVID-19 curve.

At the time of writing, the Philippines is again headed for another hard lockdown and it is still trying to graduate to a more efficient containment strategy amidst rising concerns over the delta variant which has spread across Southeast Asia. It seems stuck with on-again, off-again lockdowns, which are severely damaging to the economy, and will likely create negative expectations for future COVID-19 surges (Figure 2).

Figure 2 clarifies how the Philippine government resorted to stricter lockdowns to temper each surge in COVID-19 in the country so far.

Figure 2: Community quarantine regimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Philippine National Capital Region (NCR), March 2020 to June 2021

Community quarantine regimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Philippine National Capital Region (NCR), March 2020 to June 2021

Note: From most severe mobility restriction to least severe, the regimes are Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), ECQ* (similar to ECQ but with slightly fewer restrictions), Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), MECQ* (similar to MECQ but with slightly fewer restrictions), GCQ* (similar to GCQ but with slightly heightened restrictions), General Community Quarantine (GCQ). Sources: Philippine Department of Health, Rappler, CNN Philippines, ABS CBN News, Inquirer, Sunstar, PNA, cebudailynews.

If the delta variant and other possible variants are near-term threats, then the lack of efficient containment can be expected to force the country back to draconian mobility restrictions as a last resort. Meanwhile, only two months of social transfers (ayuda) were provided by the central government during 16 months of lockdown by mid-2021. All this puts more pressure on an already weary population reeling from deep recession, job displacement, and long-term risks on human development. Low social transfers support in the midst of joblessness and rising hunger is also likely to weaken compliance with mobility restriction policies.

Third, the Philippines suffered from delays in its vaccination rollout which was initially hobbled by implementation and supply issues, and later affected by lingering vaccine hesitancy. These are all likely to delay recovery in the Philippines.

Quo vadis?

By now there are many clear lessons both from the Philippine experience and from emerging international best practices. In order to mount a more successful economic recovery, the Philippines must address the following key policy issues:

  • Build a more efficient containment strategy particularly against the threat of possible new variants principally by strengthening the test-trace-treat system. Based on lessons from other countries, test-trace-treat systems usually also involve comprehensive mass-testing strategies to better inform both the public and private sectors on the true state of infections among the population. In addition, integrated mobility databases (not fragmented city-based ones) also capacitate more effective and timely tracing. This kind of detailed and timely data allows for government and the private sector to better coordinate on nuanced containment strategies that target areas and communities that need help due to outbreak risk. And unlike a generalized lockdown, this targeted and data-informed strategy could allow other parts of the economy to remain more open than otherwise.
  • Strengthen the sufficiency and transparency of direct social protection in order to give immediate relief to poor and low-income households already severely impacted by the mishandling of the pandemic. This requires a rebalancing of the budget in favor of education, health, and social protection spending, in lieu of an over-emphasis on build-build-build infrastructure projects. This is also an opportunity to enhance the social protection system to create a safety net and concurrent database that covers not just the poor but also the vulnerable low- and lower-middle- income population. The chief concern here would be to introduce social protection innovations that prevent middle income Filipinos from sliding into poverty during a pandemic or other crisis.
  • Ramp-up vaccination to cover at least 70 percent of the population as soon as possible, and enlist the further support of the private sector and civil society in order to keep improving vaccine rollout. An effective communications campaign needs to be launched to counteract vaccine hesitancy, building on trustworthy institutions (like academia, the Catholic Church, civil society and certain private sector partners) in order to better protect the population against the threat of delta or another variant affecting the Philippines. It will also help if parts of government could stop the politically-motivated fearmongering on vaccines, as had occurred with the dengue fever vaccine, Dengvaxia, which continues to sow doubts and fears among parts of the population.
  • Create a build-back-better strategy anchored on universal and inclusive healthcare. Among other things, such a strategy should a) acknowledge the critically important role of the private sector and civil society in pandemic response and healthcare sector cooperation, and b) underpin pandemic response around lasting investments in institutions and technology that enhance contact tracing (e-platforms), testing (labs), and universal healthcare with lower out-of-pocket costs and higher inclusivity. The latter requires a more inclusive, well-funded, and better-governed health insurance system.

As much of ASEAN reels from the spread of the delta variant, it is critical that the Philippines takes these steps to help allay concerns over the country’s preparedness to handle new variants emerging, while also recalibrating expectations in favor of resuscitating its economy. Only then can the Philippines avoid becoming the sick man of Asia again, and return to the rapid and steady growth of the pre-pandemic decade.

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