Small businesses surviving COVID, Brexit trade and tracking Santa – Al Jazeera English

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After a new strain of coronavirus found in the United Kingdom sent financial markets and the public into panic mode this week, fresh lockdowns, travel bans and snarled ports became part of many people’s holiday plans.

Yup, 2020 proved yet again it would be a disruptive year right up until the very end.

So if you are ready to kick up your heels and learn something new to impress your relatives on that holiday group text or zoom call, here are the biggest economic and business news numbers you may have missed this week.

23

The number of mutations found in a new strain of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The mutation was discovered in the UK and appears to be up to 70 percent more contagious than the strain that has been detected in countries all over the world.

The news led UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose a stricter lockdown on London and other regions of the country, sending holiday travellers – and financial markets – into a tizzy.

Several countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America have imposed travel bans on the UK in an effort to stop the new variant, which has been named VUI-202012/01 (the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020). Does not exactly roll off the tongue, but sure.

660 billion pounds

The annual value of the Brexit trade deal reached between the UK and the European Union on Thursday. The long-awaited deal – struck after months of fraught negotiations and with only days to spare to avoid a messy Brexit divorce – eliminates much of the uncertainty surrounding a trading relationship worth nearly $900bn a year.

250,000

The amount of Iranian rials now worth $1, a staggering plunge from an exchange rate of 40,000 rials to $1 before the Trump administration unleashed a relentless wave of sanctions designed to squeeze Iran’s economy.

Sara Farnad, who runs a small bakery from her mother’s basement in Tehran, closed down operations for three months this year only to surface in a radically altered business environment [File: Al Jazeera]

The disruptions triggered by the pandemic have only made a bad situation worse.

But in Tehran, a clothier, a baker, and a party supply shop owner have all survived this especially harsh year for their small businesses. They shared their stories with Al Jazeera as part of our ongoing series profiling small businesses around the globe that have weathered market disruptions from COVID-19 as well as economic challenges unique to their countries.

Check out our other small business dispatches from Mumbai,  Beirut and central England as well.

$900bn

The price tag on a coronavirus relief bill that was finally passed by the United States Congress after months of negotiations but which has now been stopped in its tracks by President Donald Trump.

Trump has demanded that legislators amend the bill to increase the amount of stimulus cheques distributed to Americans from $600 to $2,000 per person, among a slew of other demands.

The president’s actions hold up desperately needed financial relief that millions of people have been waiting on since the last round of aid expired at the end of July, and creates a race against time for legislators before other protections expire on December 31. Yikes.

22,300

OK, OK. COVID mutations, stimulus squabbling, so much bad news. Can we have something happy, please?

So 22,300 is the number of miles above Earth that the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s satellites are located. Wait, wait, I promise it gets happier.

Usually, NORAD’s satellites are used to track planes and missiles. But every December 24, the command centre shifts its gaze to a much jollier target – tracking Santa Claus.

For 65 years, NORAD has tracked Kris Kringle’s merry progress as he flies around the world in his sleigh delivering toys. Santa usually starts at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and travels west, NORAD said, managing to make it to every home where children believe in him in about 24 hours.

But while “NORAD coordinates with Santa’s Elf Launch Staff to confirm his launch time”, once he is in the air, “Santa calls the shots,” the centre says.

So just to be safe – put those cookies out early.

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