Airlines cut flights, face ruin as central banks take action: Virus update

Airlines cut flights, face ruin as central banks take action: Virus update

Workers wash and disinfect a bus at the bus station, as a measure to prevent the spread of the new Coronavirus, Covid-19, in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday. (AFP photo)
Workers wash and disinfect a bus at the bus station, as a measure to prevent the spread of the new Coronavirus, Covid-19, in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday. (AFP photo)

Asian stocks and US stock futures tumbled as central banks took sweeping action to blunt the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Italy’s government will meet Monday to pass a new package of measures after deaths jumped by 368 Sunday.

The Federal Reserve slashed rates to near zero and the Bank of Japan strengthened stimulus 

Airlines cut flights and could face bankruptcy by the end of May, a consultant said. Governments worked to slow the spread of the outbreak, with more travel restrictions and closures of schools, bars and restaurants.

Key Developments:

- Cases top 166,000 worldwide, as deaths exceed 6,400
- Asian central banks hit crisis mode amid Fed emergency moves
- Italy adds 368 deaths in one day, raising total to 1,809
- South Korea cases slow
- Asian equities, US stock futures tumble
- Airlines cut flights and could face bankruptcy by end May

Updates (latest first):

Italy to pass new stimulus plan after deaths jump 

Italy’s government will meet Monday to pass a new package of measures including increased spending for its stricken health-care sector and moves to cover extraordinary layoffs after deaths in the country from the coronavirus jumped by 368 Sunday.

Premier Giuseppe Conte said the country will need a “recovery plan” as the new package won’t be enough to sustain the economy, according to an interview with daily Corriere della Sera. Damage from the virus to companies will be “serious and widespread,” he said.

British Airways owner to cut capacity 

British Airways parent IAG SA said it plans to cut capacity in April and May by at least 75%. The company is also taking action to cut operating expenses.

IAG said the rapid spread of the virus and associated government travel restrictions and advisories are having a “significant and increasingly negative impact” on the demand for global air traffic on almost all routes operated by IAG’s airlines.

Bavaria to declare state of emergency 

The southern German region of Bavaria will declare a state of emergency Monday to better coordinate measures to tackle the virus, Markus Soeder, the state premier, said in a television interview.

People will still be allowed to leave their homes but from Tuesday bars, clubs, cinemas, zoos and public swimming pools will be closed, while opening hours for stores and restaurants will be restricted from Wednesday, local media reported.

Bavaria has 886 confirmed cases, with four deaths, while Germany’s overall tally is 4,838 cases and 12 fatalities.

Russia sets tax holiday, crisis fund: Vedomosti 

Russia is planning measures to combat the impact of the coronavirus, including a 300 billion ruble ($4.1 billion) crisis fund, tax holidays for businesses and paid leave for quarantined workers, Vedomosti reported, citing two government officials it didn’t identify.

The crisis fund will be formed in part by optimising budget spending, the paper said.

Virus to bankrupt most airlines by end of May: consultant 

The coronavirus pandemic will bankrupt most airlines worldwide by the end of May unless governments and the industry take coordinated steps to avoid such a situation, an aviation consultant warned.

Many airlines have probably been driven into technical bankruptcy or substantially breached debt covenants already, Sydney-based consultancy CAPA Centre for Aviation warned in a statement. Carriers are depleting cash reserves quickly because their planes are grounded and those that aren’t are flying more than half empty, it said.

Bank of Japan strengthens stimulus 

The Bank of Japan strengthened stimulus but stopped short of cutting its negative interest rate at a meeting to address the rapidly mounting shocks from the coronavirus.

The BOJ doubled its target for net purchases of exchange-traded funds to 12 trillion yen ($112 billion). The bank also introduced a new lending programme to help businesses hit by the pandemic.

The BOJ’s move was among a wave of actions following a rate cut by the US Federal Reserve. New Zealand’s central bank slashed its benchmark interest rate by 75 basis points and the Reserve Bank of Australia, which already cut its cash rate earlier this month, said it will boost liquidity in short-term funding markets.

White House NSC says rumours of US quarantine fake

The White House National Security Council, in a Twitter post on a verified account, said text-message rumours of a national quarantine “are fake”, adding there’s “no national lockdown”.

There is an ongoing effort to spread misinformation and cause undue panic in the US, a senior administration official said. The effort includes text messages with false information being sent to mobile phones across America, the official said.

NYC and LA close venues, limit restaurants 

New York City and Los Angeles said they will close nightclubs and entertainment venues while limiting restaurants and bars to takeout and delivery.

The moves came after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s public schools -- encompassing some 1.1 million students -- will close until at least April 20. The city last week declared an emergency, with Broadway theatres going dark and streets and train stations sparsely populated.

The latest announcements capped a steady barrage of unprecedented decisions across American Sunday to help contain the virus, including moves by the governors of Ohio and Illinois to close bars and prohibit dining in restaurants. They followed sweeping restrictions on crowded venues and gatherings imposed earlier by Italy, Spain and France.

Vaccine trial to begin, official says: AP 

The first participant in a clinical trial for a vaccine against the coronavirus will receive an experimental dose on Monday, the Associated Press reported, citing an unidentified US government official.

The report said the trial is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and will involve 45 young, healthy volunteers with different doses of shots co-developed by the NIH and Moderna Inc. It will take at least a year to validate any potential vaccine, the AP said.

Peru, Ecuador announce containment moves 

Peru declared a state of emergency for 15 days, closing its borders and ordering a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus, President Martin Vizcarra said in a televised address. Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno announced in a nationwide address that individual travel will be restricted to essential activities.

Australia considers further economic support 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is considering further economic measures and support to buttress the economy, just days after announcing a A$17.6 billion ($10.8 billion) stimulus package.

Morrison met with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann on Monday to consider the measures, and is having rolling meetings with Cabinet ministers in key sectors in preparation for Tuesday night’s national Cabinet meeting.

Qantas, United plan to cut more flights 

Qantas Airways Ltd plans a fourth set of capacity cuts after a global clampdown on travel accelerated and Australia said anyone arriving from overseas must isolate themselves to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Separately, United Airlines Holdings Inc is slashing capacity by about 50% in April and May, and cutting salaries. The moves follow peers including American Airlines Group Inc, which is reducing long-haul international flights 75%, in chopping services after restrictions on travel.

Universal Music CEO hospitalised for virus 

Lucian Grainge, chairman and chief executive officer of Universal Music Group Inc, has been hospitalised after testing positive for Covid-19, according to a person familiar with the matter. A representative for Universal Music didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Grainge, 60, joined Universal more than 30 years ago and has been chairman and CEO since 2011. He is widely considered the most powerful record executive in the industry.

South Korea sees no new deaths, adds 74 cases 

South Korea reported no new deaths from coronavirus over the past 24 hours. The country added 74 new cases, the second day in a row that infections came in below 100. South Korea has a total of 8,236 coronavirus cases, with 75 deaths. It released 303 more patients from quarantine.

China reports 16 more cases 

China reported 16 additional coronavirus cases as of March 15, with 12 of them imported, according to a statement from the National Health Commission. The remaining four cases are from Hubei, the province where the pathogen first emerged.

China now has 80,860 confirmed cases, while infections across the rest of the world total more than 85,000. China’s death toll rose by 14 to 3,213, roughly half the global total.

Discharged patients in China rose by 838 to 67,749.

Wynn, MGM to close Las Vegas properties 

Wynn Resorts Ltd and MGM Resorts International said they will temporarily close operations at their Las Vegas properties to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Wynn’s Las Vegas and Encore resorts will shut down effective March 17 for two weeks, while MGM’s properties will be suspended from March 17 and casino operations from March 16 until further notice.

The closing of the Las Vegas resorts comes after casino operators shut their Macau businesses for 15 in February.

CDC warns against big events 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended postponing for the next eight weeks any event with 50 or more people.

The CDC cited conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies where more than 50 people will attend.

US coronavirus cases double in days 

Two months since the first documented case in the US, there are now at least 3,365 reported cases across 49 states, and 64 have died from Covid-19.

West Virginia remained the only state without a reported case.

The growth rate of the virus escalated in March -- cases roughly doubled every few days at the epicentres in Washington, California and New York. That growth reflects a mix of new transmissions and increased testing capacity.

State officials reported the first California cases in late January, and since then, the count has ballooned. On Feb 2 there were 6 cases, and today the state had 335, according to the California Department of Public Health.

California asks seniors to isolate 

California Governor Gavin Newsom asked residents aged 65 and older -- an estimated 5.3 million people -- to isolate themselves in their homes.

“We are doing so with our eyes wide open at the magnitude of what that means,” Newsom said. The state is working on providing services and supplies to those seniors in need, he said.

The governor also ordered the closure of bars, nightclubs and wineries in the most populous US state. Restaurants may remain open at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing.

More tests to produce ‘spike,’ aide says 

An expansion of US testing for the virus will result in a “spike in the curve” in the next week as more cases are uncovered, a top White House aide said.

“For those of you who watched China, and China reporting, remember when they changed their definition and all of a sudden there was a blip in their curve? We are going to see that,” Deborah Birx, virus response coordinator, said at a briefing of the coronavirus task force. “We are going to see a spike as more and more people have access” to the tests.

Many local governments have announced measures to press “social distancing” as a way to “flatten the curve” -- shorthand for slowing new cases enough so as not to overwhelm hospitals.

Czech Republic in quarantine 

The Czech government imposed a nationwide quarantine to prevent further spread of the coronavirus by limiting the movement of people, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said in Prague. The lockdown will be in place until March 24.

Exempted from the order: travel to and from work, necessary family visits or medical appointments.

Drive-through tests in place in US

Vice President Mike Pence said 10 US states have now implemented their own drive-through coronavirus testing, a step that can speed detection of the spreading illness.

Pence, at a White House briefing, said testing is available in all 50 states and 2,000 laboratories will be online by Monday. The priority will be testing health-care workers and first responders, followed by people over age 65 with coughs, fever or other symptoms, he said.

The Trump administration will brief state governors on Monday, the vice president said.

US Fed cuts main rate to near zero 

The US Federal Reserve cut its benchmark rate by a full percentage point to near zero and will boost its bond holdings by $700 billion to cushion the US economy from the coronavirus outbreak.

The Fed will keep interest rates near zero “until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement.

NYC to close schools 

New York City schools will close this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced. Schools in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk Counties will close tomorrow, and city schools will close later in the week, said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor.

All the localities must provide food programs to those now receiving them, and childcare to essential workers. City officials must have a plan in place within 24 hours, DeRosa said.

Spain-Portugal border shut

Portugal and Spain will close their border to tourists, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said. The border will remain open for goods and for cross-border workers. Costa said he expects the measure can take effect Monday and continue for more than a month to include the Easter holidays.

The Portuguese have voluntarily limited their movement and social contact, so it’s not necessary to adopt tougher lock-down measures, Costa said.

Travel limits roil US airports 

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was among US facilities overwhelmed this weekend with passengers, including many coming from Europe, who faced new screening measures.

As pictures of queues and stories from travellers were shared on social media, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said the White House failed to prepare for the influx of returning passengers in response to President Donald Trump’s new travel restrictions.

New Zealand cuts rates 

The New Zealand central bank slashed its benchmark interest rate by 75 basis points as strict border controls look set to tip the economy into recession. In an emergency move, the Reserve Bank cut its cash rate to 0.25% from 1% and said it will remain there for at least the next 12 months.

South Africa declares disaster 

South Africa declared a national state of disaster, closed 35 ports of entry, banned gatherings of more than 100 people and shut schools starting the middle of this week. Flights will be halted from Italy, Iran, the US, UK and South Korea, the government said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa in a televised speech discouraged citizens from non-essential domestic travel.

Ireland asks pubs to close 

The Irish government asked pubs to close for at least two weeks after video of bars jammed with drinkers in defiance of guidelines appeared on social media. Industry groups say it’s impossible to police social-distancing guidelines.

The government also pleaded with citizens not to replace pub visits with house parties.

Europe outpacing China at peak 

Europe is reporting more new cases each day than China did when the disease peaked in that country, the head of the World Health Organization said. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said canceling sporting events can help slow the spread.

The situation will worsen in many countries before it improves, said Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist. While the situation is improving in Asia, countries where the disease has peaked could experience relapses, she said.

Dutch schools, bars to close 

The Dutch government ordered schools, gyms, restaurants and bars to close until April 6. Suspending classes puts the Netherlands in line with most other European countries, though it’s a reversal from Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s insistence last week that schools will stay open.

Manhattan Project approach urged 

US hospitals are preparing for a surge in patients as testing becomes more prevalent, revealing the extent of Covid-19’s spread, which led one administrator to urge more action.

“We need to think about this in almost like a war-like stance,” Peter Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

He urged the government to wage a Manhattan Project-type effort, as it did in World War II on the atomic bomb, to spur the health-care industry to make more surgical masks, eye protection gear and gowns.

Portugal limits crowds

Portugal is banning events with more than 100 people, Internal Administration Minister Eduardo Cabrita said in a broadcast on SIC Noticias. The government had already blocked events with more than 1,000 people.

Health insurers drop copays 

US health insurers are dropping coronavirus testing copayments and requirements that treatments be approved in advance. The America’s Health Insurance Plans trade group posted details of the emergency steps taken related to Covid-19. Insurers include Aetna, Anthem, the 36 Blue Cross Blue Shield Association plans, Cigna, and Humana.

Europe cases surge 

Spain’s diagnosed cases of the coronavirus jumped 35% to 7,753 on Sunday and the death toll more than doubled to 288, the Health Ministry said. In Switzerland, 2,200 cases marked a 62% increase. The number of deaths in the Netherlands rose by eight to 20, while confirmed cases increased by 176 to 1,135, according to a daily update from the RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment on Sunday. Several countries cautioned that fewer tests are being performed as more people fall ill.

Mnuchin sees no recession 

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he doesn’t expect the coronavirus pandemic to tip the US economy into recession, even though growth will slow. “Later in the year, obviously the economic activity will pick up as we confront this virus,” Mnuchin said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”.

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