Virus Update: Stimulus reaches $1.9tn

Virus Update: Stimulus reaches $1.9tn

Cases hit 211,713 worldwide, deaths reach 8,714

A view of the empty Woodlands Causeway between Singapore and Malaysia after Malaysia imposed a lockdown on travel due to the outbreak on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)
A view of the empty Woodlands Causeway between Singapore and Malaysia after Malaysia imposed a lockdown on travel due to the outbreak on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)

Hubei, the Chinese province at the centre of the outbreak, reported no new infections for the first time since the pathogen emerged more than two months ago as fiscal support from governments worldwide to cushion their economies from the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak soared to $1.9 trillion.

The European Central Bank launched an extra emergency bond-buying program worth €750 billion ($820 billion) as fallout spread from a credit rout.

The US Senate passed a relief package that would provide paid sick leave, food assistance and financial help for coronavirus testing. The New York Stock Exchange will close trading floors and go fully electronic from Monday. New York governor Andrew Cuomo told non-essential businesses to have no more than half their staff in the office.

New Zealand barred indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, and Australia’s central bank cut interest rates to support the economy. In the UK, schools in England and some London Underground stations will close. Early drug trials on patients yielded mixed results.

Key developments:

  • Cases hit 211,713 worldwide, deaths reach 8,714
  • Trudeau unveils stimulus worth 3% of economy
  • China’s virus epicenter sees no new cases
  • Worldwide fiscal support reaches $1.9 trillion
  • Europe can’t stop pandemic from rocking its foundations
  • The US and Canada closed its border to non-essential traffic


Latest developments:

Spain virus death toll jumps 30%

Spain on Thursday announced deaths due to the novel coronavirus had risen about 30% over the past 24 hours to 767.

A total of 17,147 people have contracted the disease in the country, a roughly 25% increase over the previous day, according to the health ministry, with the figure expected to rise further in the coming days as testing becomes more readily available.


Thailand reports 60 new cases

Thailand recorded 60 new cases in the biggest daily jump in the number of cases so far to take its total infections to 272, a health official said on Thursday.

The cases fall into two groups — the first consists of 43 cases linked to earlier cases, while the second group involves 17 new patients including arrivals from countries such as Italy, Malaysia, Japan, Iran and Taiwan, Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, director-general of Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Health, told a news conference.

Thailand has recorded one death since the outbreak, with 42 patients having recovered and gone home and 229 still being treated in hospital.


Vietnam Airlines to suspend all international flights

Vietnam Airlines will suspend all international flights until at least April 30 because of the coronavirus outbreak, which has forced several countries to close their borders, the company said on Thursday.

"Due to the development of the coronavirus outbreak and the entry and quarantine regulations of many countries, Vietnam Airlines will completely suspend all international flights from next Wednesday," the company said on its website.

Flights to Southeast Asian destinations including Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar will be suspended from March 21. Flights to Britain and Japan will be halted from March 23. Services between Vietnam and Germany and Australia will be stopped from March 25.

Imperial couple's visit to Britain postponed

The planned state visit by Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako to Britain in the second quarter of this year will be postponed due to the outbreak, Japan's top government spokesman said Thursday.

The government also decided on Wednesday to cancel banquets originally planned for April to celebrate Crown Prince Fumihito's ascent to first in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne.


Indonesia cuts rate for second month

Indonesia’s central bank cut its benchmark interest rate for a second straight month, joining global policy makers in seeking to shore up economies amid a deepening coronavirus crisis.

Bank Indonesia lowered the seven-day reverse repurchase rate by 25 basis points to 4.50% Thursday with officials in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy increasingly worried about the financial fallout from the virus.


Malaysia reports 110 new cases

Malaysia reported 110 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, with the total number of cases increasing to 900.

Most of the new cases were linked to a religious gathering at a mosque attended by 16,000 people, the health ministry said.


Philippine records 15 new cases

The Philippines' health ministry on Thursday reported 15 new coronavirus infections, bringing the country's total to 217, as more than half of the 107-million population is in the early part of a month-long quarantine.

The health ministry also announced that one patient has recovered, increasing the tally to eight, adding that deaths from the outbreak remain at 17.


Russia registers first death

Russia registered the first death of a patient infected with the coronavirus on Thursday, an elderly woman who had been hospitalised in Moscow, health officials said.

The 79-year-old, who had tested positive, was hospitalised on March 13 and had several other conditions including diabetes and heart problems, Moscow's coronavirus response headquarters said on social media.


Foreign visitors to Japan drop 58%

The number of foreign visitors to Japan posted the largest drop in nearly nine years in February with a 58.3% plunge, dented by travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, government data showed.

An estimated 1.09 million foreigners visited Japan last month. The fall was the biggest since April 2011 when the figure plummeted 62.5% after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan the previous month, causing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.


Australia, New Zealand seal borders to all foreigners

Australia and New Zealand will close their borders to all noncitizens and nonresidents, both governments announced on Thursday, in an attempt to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The bans will not apply to immediate family members, including spouses and dependents.

New Zealand will be the first of the two countries to close its borders, with international arrivals banned from midnight Thursday. Australia's travel ban will begin at 9pm on Friday.

Australia has recorded over 630 cases of coronavirus and six deaths. In New Zealand, 28 cases have been confirmed.

Both countries have already introduced a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for all international arrivals, including citizens and permanent residents.

Earlier on Thursday, board members of Australia's Reserve Bank agreed to an emergency rate cut, bringing the country's interest rates to a record low 0.25%.

Board members also agreed at the unscheduled meeting to begin quantitative easing measures for the first time in the country's history, and provide a three-year funding facility to the nation's banks, with particular support for credit to small and medium-sized businesses.

Australia last went into recession almost 30 years ago, having been shielded from the 2008-2009 global financial crisis largely due to strong commodities exports to China.

Philippine goes for deeper rate cut

The Philippine central bank delivered a larger-than-expected cut in its benchmark interest rate as it braced for the economic fallout.

The central bank slashed the rate on its overnight reverse repurchase facility by 50 basis points, which was greater than the quarter-point reduction predicted by nine of 13 economists in a Reuters poll.


Malaysia seeks Rohingya for checks

Malaysian authorities are scrambling to track down about 2,000 Rohingya men who attended a Muslim religious gathering that has led to a big spike in cases across Southeast Asia, a security source and two other people told Reuters.

More than 100,000 Rohingya live in Malaysia after fleeing from Myanmar, but they are considered illegal immigrants.

The religious gathering late last month at a mosque on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur was attended by some 16,000 people, including the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, one source said.

As well as the Rohingya, about 1,500 Muslims from across Asia attended.

Nearly 600 coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia have been linked to the gathering, including 513 in Malaysia, 61 in Brunei, 22 in Cambodia, at least five in Singapore and two in Thailand.

Malaysia has 790 coronavirus cases in all.


Australia’s central bank cuts rates

Reserve Bank of Australia spent its remaining conventional interest-rate ammunition and moved to additional policy measures to try to support an economy spiralling toward its first recession in almost 30 years.

Governor Philip Lowe cut the cash rate 25 basis points to 0.25%, its effective lower bound, in an emergency meeting. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also developing a follow-up spending package to expand on the A$17.6-billion ($10.2-billion) programme announced last week.


Fiscal support soars to $1.9tn

Governments around the world have pledged more than $1.9 trillion in fiscal support and shore up financial markets and businesses.

Among the latest additions, US President Donald Trump signed a second relief package as Canada, Eastern Europe and Turkey bumped up stimulus.


New Zealand limits indoor gatherings

Gatherings of 100 people or more should be cancelled, Health Minister David Clark said in a statement. The measures don’t apply to workplaces, schools, supermarkets or public transport.


Vietnam makes space to quarantine 60,000

Vietnam’s military is expanding its quarantine facilities to house about 60,000 people by adding as many as 20,000 beds, as thousands of Vietnamese return home from virus-hit countries.

Nearly 7,000 Vietnamese reportedly returned by plane on Wednesday, including more than 5,700 from across Southeast Asia.


Two members of Congress test positive

Two representatives from the US House were infected.

Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican, developed symptoms over the weekend and has been working from an apartment in Washington while in quarantine, according to his office. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat, said he tested positive after experiencing symptoms Sunday. He also is working in quarantine.

The House is on recess this week. Several congressional staffers have also tested positive for the virus.


China’s epicentre sees no new cases

Hubei, the Chinese province at the centre of the outbreak, reported no new infections for the first time since the pathogen emerged more than two months ago.

China still faces another concern as imported cases continue to add to the country’s tally of infections. The National Health Commission reported 34 new cases for March 18, all of them patients who brought the disease from other countries.


Early drug trials yield mixed results

Drug trials on coronavirus patients in China yielded mixed results, with an HIV pill showing little benefit and a flu medication made by Fujifilm Holdings Corp resulting in faster clearance of the virus.

The combination of lopinavir and ritonavir, marketed by AbbVie Inc, didn’t improve the condition of patients or stop them from dying more than standard care in a randomised, controlled trial of 199 patients. The research was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.


Twitter cracks down on misinformation

Twitter Inc said it’s expanding rules to capture misinformation around the virus, following a similar escalation of measures from Facebook Inc.

Twitter will require users to remove tweets that deny expert guidance, encourage fake or ineffective treatments and preventions, or falsely purport to be from experts or authorities.

Qantas furloughs about 20,000 staff

The Australian airline furloughed two-thirds of its 30,000-strong workforce and scrapped all international flights as travel demand dried up.

“We have no work for most of our people,” CEO Alan Joyce said in a note to employees.

US may take stakes for company aid

The White House’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said the administration may consider asking for an equity stake in corporations that want help from taxpayers.

But Mr Kudlow cautioned that the idea was one of many, and the ultimate form of the coronavirus stimulus legislation would depend on negotiations with Capitol Hill.


London to close 40 underground stations

Transport for London said public transit should only be used for essential journeys as it moved to close as many as 40 London Underground stations that don’t interchange with other lines.

From March 20, there will be no service on the Waterloo & City line and from March 23, the frequency of other services will be gradually reduced.

ECB launches bond buying

The European Central Bank launched an extra emergency bond-buying programme worth €750 billion ($820 billion) to calm a worsening financial crisis and protect the economy.

The decision in an unscheduled meeting on Wednesday evening came less than a week after a policy session in which officials agreed to pump more liquidity into the financial system.


Trump gives control over healthcare supply chain

President Donald Trump signed an executive order giving the federal government broad powers to direct the production and distribution of health protective gear, ventilators and other supplies if the outbreak gets far worse.

As part of an emergency measure, the order lets US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar take priority over private contracts and agreements. The department could also get control over how needed health-care goods are distributed.


NYSE to move to fully electronic trading

The New York Stock Exchange will temporarily close its equities and options trading floors, moving to all-electronic trading starting Monday.

“While we are taking the precautionary step of closing the trading floors, we continue to firmly believe the markets should remain open and accessible to investors,” said NYSE president Stacey Cunningham. The markets will continue to operate under normal trading hours.


US Senate passes relief Bill, plans stimulus

The Senate cleared the second major bill responding to the pandemic. The 90-8 vote, following House passage on Saturday, sends President Donald Trump a measure providing paid sick leave, food assistance for vulnerable populations and financial help for coronavirus testing.

As the Senate voted, Republican and Democratic leaders were already working on the next proposal.

“I will not adjourn the Senate until we have passed a far bolder package that includes significant relief for small businesses,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor of the chamber.

Navy hospital ship weeks away from NYC deployment

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will be dispatched to New York City as cases almost doubled, governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The floating hospital, which has previously been sent to disaster zones like Haiti and post-Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, can help free 1,000 beds when it arrives in a few weeks, the governor said. Another ship, the Mercy, will head to the West Coast.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Tuesday that hospital ships aren’t equipped to handle infectious disease patients but could provide care for trauma victims, allowing more beds in hospitals on land to handle those with the coronavirus.


Detroit automakers to shut US plants

General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler will temporarily shut down their US plants.

Ford will halt operations at all North American manufacturing facilities after Thursday evening shifts, according to a statement. GM and Fiat Chrysler also plan to idle their factories, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified ahead of official announcements.


Johnson closes schools in England

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said schools will close from Friday, increasing restrictions on the British population as the country grapples with the crisis.

Mr Johnson’s announcement covers English schools, after administrators in Scotland and Wales earlier told schools in those regions to prepare to close from Friday.

“After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed for most pupils, the vast majority of pupils, until further notice,” Mr Johnson said.

School sites will be kept open to provide care to the children of key workers, Mr Johnson said.


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