WH Smith has said it could axe up to 1,500 jobs after the pandemic pushed down the number of customers going into its stores.

Carl Cowling, the chief executive, said: “Covid-19 continues to have a significant impact on the WH Smith Group.

“In our travel business, while we are beginning to see early signs of recovery in some of our markets, the speed of recovery continues to be slow."

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The executive added: "At the same time, while there has been some progress in our high street business, it does continue to be adversely affected by low levels of footfall.

"As a result, we now need to take further action to reduce costs across our businesses.”

A factory in West Lothian is expanding as part of a deal to secure 60 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by the French firm Valneva.

The UK Government and the drugs firm are investing in the Livingston plant, with 75 new jobs expected to be created.

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The Government had struck a deal for early access to Valneva's "promising" vaccine candidate.

If clinical trials are successful, the site could provide up to 100 million doses of the vaccine across the UK and internationally.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma will visit the factory on Wednesday to hear about plans to scale-up production.

Valneva's vaccine, which is called VLA2001, is one of four potential vaccines which the UK Government has secured rights for.

Mr Sharma said: "I'm incredibly grateful to our highly-skilled scientists and technicians in Livingston who are supporting the global effort to research, develop and manufacture a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.

"The multimillion-pound upfront investment we have agreed with Valneva today means that their vaccine can be manufactured in quantity right here in Scotland.

"If clinical trials are successful, millions of people in priority groups across the UK will be protected by their life-saving vaccine."

Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland radio programme ahead of his visit, Mr Sharma said the French company hoped to secure regulatory approval for its vaccine in the second half of next year.

Mr Sharma said: "We're looking at a whole range of ways we can support and bring forward a successful vaccine, in addition to that we're also investing in manufacturing in the UK and supporting the international effort."

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: "We are doing everything possible to keep people in all parts of the UK safe as we tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

"The UK Government is purchasing millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine for distribution across all parts of the UK.

"A safe and effective vaccine is vital to the long-term protection against the virus we need.

"I'm particularly pleased that Scotland's world-class research sector is playing such an important role in developing a much-needed vaccine."

Valneva said the final supply agreement would be concluded in the coming weeks.

Chief financial officer David Lawrence said: "We are delighted to receive initial funding from UK Government to support the expansion of our Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing facilities.

"We are thrilled that the Secretary of State has made the time to travel to Livingston and to visit our site, it's a real sign of the Government's commitment."

Betting giant William Hill is closing 119 stores, but will protect almost all of the jobs, as it said it does not think customers will come back in the same numbers as before the pandemic.

Only about 12 people are likely to lose their jobs of the approximately 200 to 250 employees who work there, Ulrik Bengtsson said in a call with reporters.

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The company has identified all of the 119 stores that are slated for closure, the chief executive said.

It leaves William Hill with around 1,440 betting shops across the UK.

William Hill said that its betting shops had seen encouraging progress last month as they opened again last week after months of lockdown.

"The business has traded well since mainstream sport resumed and our UK shops have re-opened and we are encouraged by the early indications," the firm said in a statement to shareholders on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile its online arm has kept up its strong momentum, and made "good progress" in the UK in July after a "robust" first half of the year, it said.

The company swung to a pre-tax profit of £141 million in the first half of the year, a swing from a loss of £63 million. Revenue was £554 million, down by a third.

However, when stripping out some factors, the company's adjusted pre-tax loss £4.2 million from a £50.8 million profit the year before.

William Hill's online operations had "produced a solid outcome with limited sports content".

Sport has now returned to the US, despite there being signs of a second wave of coronavirus hitting the country, Mr Bengtsson said.

In a statement to shareholders, he added: "I am delighted with William Hill's performance in these extraordinary times.

"Our team has been remarkable, supporting each other and our customers throughout the pandemic, and I would like to thank them for their continuing efforts.

"The furlough scheme provided welcome and timely support, and meant we could protect the jobs of our 7,000 UK retail colleagues.

"Therefore, given the strength of our recovery post-lockdown, we have decided to repay the furlough funds."

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