US may become hub of outbreak: Virus Update

US may become hub of outbreak: Virus Update

Police check vehicles at an entry point to Zagreb on Tuesday as authorities enforce a lockdown  in a bid to curve the spead of the Covid-19 infection caused by the novel coronavirus. (AFP photo)
Police check vehicles at an entry point to Zagreb on Tuesday as authorities enforce a lockdown in a bid to curve the spead of the Covid-19 infection caused by the novel coronavirus. (AFP photo)

The euro zone economy is sinking as countries toughen containment efforts, implementing strict stay-at-home policies even as China prepared to lift its lockdown in Wuhan, the city at the center of the original outbreak.

The US could become a new hub of the outbreak, the World Health Organization warned, even as President Donald Trump declared that the American economy “was not built to be shut down”. European stocks rose and US equity futures reached limit-up bands as the Federal Reserve unveiled unprecedented measures, taking action as Congress continued to argue over stimulus.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee agreed to delay the Tokyo Games by a year. Spain reported another surge in fatalities and said a total of almost 40,000 people have been infected, while Germany is evaluating a stimulus program.

Key developments:

  • Cases top 387,000, 16,767 dead, 101,987 recovered — Johns Hopkins
  • IATA warns airlines could lose $252 billion in 2020 sales
  • GM and Vale tap credit lines; Intel suspends buyback
  • Australia, Singapore widen curbs; U.K. lockdown could intensify
  • JPMorgan plans firm-wide hiring freeze amid virus uncertainty

Updates: (latest first):

US may become new epicentre

The US is showing a large acceleration in the number of infections and has the potential to become a new epicentre of the outbreak, said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization. Over 24 hours, 85% of new cases were from Europe and the US, and of that, 40% were from the US, she said. Covid-19 has killed more people than Ebola did in the first two years of that outbreak, she said.

IATA issues stark warning

The global airline industry could lose $252 billion in revenue this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, or 44% of the total for 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association. The anticipated hit is more than double the maximum $113 billion sales decline mooted by IATA earlier this month, and reflects a deepening crisis more severe than anything the industry has ever faced, the trade group said Tuesday.

Olympics delayed

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the leader of the International Olympic Committee agreed to the unprecedented move to delay the Tokyo Olympics by about one year. Mr Abe told reporters he won the backing for the proposal to delay the games planned to start in July in telephone call with IOC President Thomas Bach.

GE, Ford, 3M collaborate on ventilator production

Ford Motor Co is throwing its design and production prowess behind two other manufacturers’ efforts to build more ventilators and masks for health-care workers and first responders. The automaker will work with 3M Co on a new mask design and have United Auto Workers members assemble more than 100,000 plastic face shields a week. Ford said it also will help General Electric Co’s health-care unit boost output of ventilators hospitals desperately need for coronavirus patients.

China urges manufacturers to resume operations

China will push for work in the manufacturing and distribution industries to resume, CCTV reported, citing a State Council meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang. The country will take measures to upgrade international air cargo transport capability and provide policy support to international air cargo transport routes.

Singapore, Australia widen curbs

Singapore is introducing its strictest measures yet. The new regulations start on Thursday and cover closing entertainment venues such as theatres, night clubs and discos. Tuition and enrichment classes will be suspended, as will all religious services and congregations. Gatherings outside of work and school will be limited to maximum 10 people.

Australia is also enforcing more stringent controls, banning non-essential travel overseas, closing food courts in shopping malls and restricting weddings and funerals after the number of cases surged past 2,000. Earlier this week, the government closed pubs, casinos, cafes and restaurants and has already banned indoor gatherings of 100 people or more.

Four Nato soldiers in Afghanistan test positive

Four newly arrived NATO soldiers in Afghanistan tested positive, marking the first confirmed cases among NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, according to a statement posted by the mission.

Fatalities surge in Spain 

Spain recorded 514 deaths from the coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest daily increase so far, as the country struggles to contain the outbreak despite strict rules that are keeping people from leaving their homes.

Australia closes malls, restricts weddings 

Australia is enforcing more stringent controls to slow the spread of the coronavirus, closing shopping malls, beauty salons and other services as the number of cases surged past 2,000. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was experiencing “heart-breaking events” and that the virus could only be defeated through following social distancing guidelines. Earlier this week, the government closed pubs, casinos, cafes and restaurants and has already banned indoor gatherings of 100 people or more.

Ireland plans further curbs 

Ireland will impose further restrictions on so-called non essential businesses including restaurants and cafes, RTE reported. While the measures will include controls on people gathering outdoors, they will not be as strict as those introduced by the UK, which shares a land border with Ireland. The government will announce the measures later today, RTE said. Ireland closed schools and urged people to work from home two weeks ago.

Ryanair doesn’t expect to operate flights in April, May 

Ryanair does not expect to operate flights during the months of April and May, but it will depend on government advice, according to an emailed letter. The airline expects most of its flights to be grounded from March 24.

Tokyo sees biggest single-day jump in patients 

Tokyo has confirmed 17 new coronavirus patients, taking its total to 171, Fuji News Network reported.

Apple target cut at Piper on global demand risk 

Apple’s price target was cut to $260 from $343 at Piper Sandler, which cited further weakness from the coronavirus pandemic. “Demand softness has moved from China to the United States and Western Europe,” and the number of 5G handsets sold in 2020 “is likely to be lower than previously expected,” Piper Sandler said.

France points to aeronautics, car sectors as priorities 

“There are sectors like the aeronautical sector and the automobile sector that need support today,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on France Info radio on Tuesday. “It won’t systematically be nationalisation; it could be recapitalisation.”

There are other solutions besides nationalisation to help Air France-KLM, he said at a subsequent press conference. The carrier and Airbus SE are poised to tap French government-backed loans as the health crisis puts pressure on balance sheets.

India braces for lowest gold sales in 25 years 

India’s sales of gold jewellery to bars are set to plunge to the lowest in a quarter of a century as a lockdown brings the industry to a standstill. Demand in the world’s second-biggest gold consumer has already tumbled, slammed by record high domestic prices and an economy headed for the slowest pace of growth in 11 years.

Germany mulls stimulus package to boost post-virus economy 

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is evaluating a stimulus programme to help revive the German economy after the coronavirus crisis subsides, according to a person close to the discussions.

Should Germany enter a deep recession after the pandemic is contained, a stimulus package to get the economy growing again would be needed, said the person who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. The measures would be targeted for immediate impact, though a broad distribution of funds isn’t on the table, the person said.

The economy is heading for a steep recession as attempts to slow the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic sent the services sector into an unprecedented slump. IHS Markit’s gauge of manufacturing and services activity plunged in March, signalling that GDP in the euro area’s biggest economy could drop by around 2% in the first quarter -- with worse to come.

Top WTO official tests positive 

A top official at the World Trade Organization, Deputy Director-General Karl Brauner, has contracted Covid-19, according to a WTO spokesperson. Brauner is a key WTO official who helps oversee WTO administrative issues, including budgetary matters. This month the WTO suspended all meetings at its Geneva headquarters until the end of April and its members are in discussions to reschedule their biennial ministerial conference.

Iran cases surge, nearly 25,000 infected 

Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus climbed to 1,934 with 122 new deaths in the last 24 hours. More than 24,800 people have tested positive for the virus, including 1,762 since Monday, while 8,931 have recovered. On Tuesday, President Hassan Rouhani said the temporary leave of least 85,000 Iranian prisoners granted over the virus will remain in place by April 19.

G-20 leaders plan to hold emergency teleconference 

Group of 20 leaders are planning to hold an emergency call on the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, according to a person with knowledge of the plan. Leaders are likely to discuss coronavirus response and the economic crisis, including a slump in oil prices.

Indonesia reports highest daily jump in cases 

Indonesia saw the number of confirmed coronavirus cases soar to 686, with as many as 107 new cases reported on Tuesday, the biggest daily jump since the outbreak started earlier this month. The number of fatalities rose to 55, while those discharged from hospital remained at 30.

Separately, Hong Kong found 30 additional confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the city’s total to 386, including 9 returnees from Diamond Princess cruise.

American retail grinds to near-total halt

More than 47,000 chain stores across the US temporarily shut their doors in 10 days as retailers took extreme measures to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has rattled all sectors of the global economy, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. At least 90 nationwide retailers, ranging from Macy’s Inc to GameStop Corp to Michael Kors have temporarily gone dark.

Europe dragged into record recession in battle to halt virus 

The euro zone is sinking into the biggest economic crisis in its history as measures to contain the pandemic bring much of the business world to a standstill. IHS Markit’s measure of private-sector activity plunged to the lowest since the index was started, and the currency bloc was formed, more more than two decades ago.

GDP in Germany, the euro area’s biggest economy, could contract by about 2% in the first quarter, with worse to come. France’s economy is also in a record downturn, while UK businesses are being dragged into the biggest slump in modern memory by the shutdown to contain the coronavirus.

Facebook mobile app shows local social-distancing rules 

Facebook’s mobile app now invites users to an “information centre” where they can view their local country’s social distancing rules, news headlines, and statistics on the disease’s spread, and subscribe to update alerts. Its Instagram platform appears to be prioritising users’ story updates which have added its new “Stay Home” sticker. Meanwhile Google’s homepage in the UK now features the government’s ‘stay at home’ slogan under its central search bar, and links to more information.

UK lockdown measures may need to be tightened 

UK cabinet minister Michael Gove said national lockdown measures could be intensified after three weeks if necessary. One or two of the existing restrictions could also be lifted after the initial period, he said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had on Monday approved measures to ban all unnecessary movement of people for at least three weeks. Britain has pledged more fiscal stimulus to fight the economic fallout than during the global financial crisis a decade ago.

Separately, Ineos said it plans to build a hand sanitizer plant near Middlesbrough, England, in 10 days to make one million bottles per month.

Israel PM warns virus cases may jump to 1 million 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned ministers that coronavirus cases could jump to one million in Israel within a month and 10,000 people could die, Channel 12 news reported. As of Tuesday morning, there were 1,656 confirmed cases in Israel, an increase of 34% from a day earlier, including 31 people in serious condition. There has been one fatality. The government is expected to approve within hours new, more stringent restrictions on movement, Channel 12 said.

Israel is looking to boost its economic aid to businesses and workers clobbered by the coronavirus outbreak by as much as $3.8 billion, a surge of almost 50%, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Cases jump in Austria 

Austria coronavirus cases grew 24% in the last 24 hours, the fastest pace since Thursday, boosted by infections in the ski-tourism epicentre of Tyrol, where cases surpassed 1,000. Almost a quarter of the Austria’s 4,486 cases are in the Alpine province of Tyrol. Twenty-five people in the country of 8.8 million have died.

Acceleration in diagnosed cases could be seen as a setback following the Austrian government’s early lockdown measures, which seemed to have contained spread of the Covid-19. The country has rapidly been ramping up the number of tests it’s administering, conducting almost 5,000 since Monday.

Thai premier to impose state of emergency 

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said a state of emergency will be declared for a month from March 26 as the government steps up efforts to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The decree will give him broad powers to impose further curbs on every-day life. Confirmed cases have surged to more than 800 from the low 40s at the start of the month, and on Tuesday officials reported three more fatalities, taking the death toll to four. Much of the country, including the capital Bangkok, has been partially shut down already and people are being advised to stay at home.

Italy cases far higher than reported: Repubblica 

Italy may have 10 times the number of virus cases than officially reported, emergency chief Angelo Borrelli told La Repubblica. That would raise the total number to over 600,000, the newspaper reported.

Italy reported 601 new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday, posting a decline for a second day, as the country enters its third week of lockdown measures designed to keep the spread of the disease in check. The government is considering new measures worth a total of 18 billion euros to protect the economy as a nationwide lockdown continues, newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore reported.

China to lift lockdown in Wuhan on April 8 

China’s Hubei province said it will allow transportation to resume for the city of Wuhan on April 8, effectively lifting a mass quarantine over the city where the coronavirus first emerged last December.

People in Wuhan will be allowed to leave the city and Hubei province, according to a statement on the provincial government’s website Tuesday.

The easing of restrictions comes as Hubei reported that new infections dropped to zero on March 19, a dramatic plunge from the height of an epidemic that’s infected more than 80,000 Chinese and killed over 3,200.

Thailand cases climb to 827 

Thailand said confirmed coronavirus infections jumped by 106 to 827, and three more people died. Cases have surged this month, leading to a partial shutdown of much of the country, including in Bangkok.

Many of the new cases are linked to clusters from a boxing stadium event, foreign travel and the tourism and service industries. Four involve health- care workers.

The latest fatalities take the death toll to four, Taweesilp Witsanuyotin, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said in a briefing.

Southwest Air cuts 1,500 daily flights 

Southwest Airlines Co will scrub 1,500 flights from its daily schedule, 500 more than planned just days ago, because it is only filling about 20% of seats on its planes as the coronavirus slams demand. Southwest’s rapid escalation reflects the severity of the drop in travel demand that has impacted airlines around the world. The four largest US airlines had cut about 5,000 flights by midday Monday.

Intel taps emergency supply to donate masks, gear 

Intel Corp joined the ranks of global tech giants donating personal protective equipment, announcing it will donate more than a million items, including face masks, gloves and other gear to health-care workers. Facebook Inc. donated its emergency supply of 720,000 face masks this week, and Microsoft Corp. is supplying equipment to the hard-hit Seattle area.

NYC region’s infection rate far exceeds other areas 

The New York metropolitan area, the centre of the outbreak in the US, has a higher infection rate than in the rest of the country and a greater share of tests that come out positive, said Deborah Birx, a member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force. The attack rate in the region is close to one in 1,000, five times what other areas are seeing, Birx said a Trump press briefing. About 28% of the submitted tests are positive, compared with less than 8% in the rest of the country, she said.

“Clearly the virus had been circulating there for a number of weeks to have this level of penetrance into the general community,” Birx said.

FDA lifts curbs on maker of drug touted by Trump 

US regulators have lifted import restrictions on an Indian pharmaceutical company in an effort to increase supplies of a malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump as a potential coronavirus treatment.

Mumbai-based Ipca Laboratories Ltd said in a March 21 securities filing that the US Food and Drug Administration “has made exception to the import alert” for three of its facilities, allowing it to supply tablets as well as raw materials for making chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulphate.

The US is facing possible shortages of both drugs, which are also widely prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Hospitals have been stocking up on the treatments in recent weeks following reports from doctors outside the US that they were effective against Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. There have been no large-scale clinical trials to support those claims.

Washington State shuts down 

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home order that begins in 48 hours and will be in force for at least two weeks. The order bans all gatherings and shutters non-essential businesses. Grocery and pharmacy shopping, doctor appointments and restaurant takeout will still be allowed.

The actions come on a day in which Seattle and King County announced 12 fatalities, the largest single-day death toll yet in that area, and Boeing shut down in-state production after a worker at its Everett plant died of Covid-19 yesterday. There are 2,221 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Washington State, according to the Department of Health, and 110 deaths.

The step follows similar actions by New York and California, but also by states that have fewer infections than Washington such as Oregon and West Virginia.

China’s imported cases almost double 

China reported 78 additional coronavirus cases for March 23, with 74 of them from abroad, according to statement from the country’s National Health Commission. The other four, including one from Wuhan, are locally reported cases.

While the number of local cases in China has been dwindling, reaching zero in recent days, the number of imported infections has been rising. The latest figure is almost double the number of imported cases reported a day earlier.

China now has 81,171 total confirmed coronavirus cases. The nation’s death toll rose by seven to 3,277. All the latest fatalities are from Hubei. Discharged patients rose by 456 to 73,159.

Amazon suspends seller accounts over price gouging 

Amazon.com Inc said it has suspended thousands of seller accounts for price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic. The operator of the largest US online marketplace said it has pulled well over half a million offers and suspended more than 3,900 selling accounts in the US for violating its fair pricing policies.

Trump says Boeing will need help 

US President Donald Trump said Boeing Co. will need government “help” amid the economic slowdown stemming from the coronavirus crisis that has hit the travel industry.

“Boeing’s going to need some help,” Trump said at a White House news conference. “Obviously the airlines are going to have a problem, but the airlines aren’t going to be buying from Boeing or anybody else right now because of this difficulty.”

The planemaker announced Monday that it is shutting its Seattle-area manufacturing hub for two weeks after a worker died of coronavirus complications, adding to a wave of plant closings sweeping the globe as the aviation industry navigates the biggest disruption in decades.

AB InBev withdraws outlook on virus impact 

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the world’s largest brewer, withdrew its 2020 outlook. The company cited the uncertainty, volatility and fast-moving developments of the coronavirus pandemic in markets where it operates, according to an emailed statement.

In February, AB InBev cut its chief executive’s bonus and forecast the steepest decline in quarterly profit in at least a decade as the coronavirus damps barhopping.

Trump says US to reopen in less than 3 or 4 months 

President Donald Trump said the US economy can’t remain slowed for long to fight the coronavirus, declaring the country “was not built to be shut down”.

“America will again and soon be open for business. Very soon,” Trump said at a news conference. “A lot sooner than three or four months.”

The president also said he was delaying the Oct 1 deadline for Americans to get a REAL ID. The identification will eventually be required to board a domestic flight in the United States.

Florida orders self-isolation for travellers from NY, NJ 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he will issue an executive order making it mandatory for all arrivals from New York and New Jersey to self-isolate for two weeks upon entering the state.

Trump administration may reopen Obamacare exchange 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is considering reopening enrolment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act in response to the outbreak. Americans who don’t currently have coverage may see if they qualify for “special enrolment periods” if they’ve lost their job or have been subject to other life-changing circumstances, a CMS spokesperson said.

CMS is working closely with the states and health plans to assess other necessary actions to ensure Americans have coverage and access to services during the pandemic, the spokesperson said.

Boris Johnson puts UK on three-week lockdown 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved radical measures to ban all unnecessary movement of people for at least three weeks. Police will break up gatherings and have the power to fine individuals who break the tough new laws. Shops selling non-essential items, playgrounds, libraries and places of worship will be closed.

Work to begin on hospital at Javits Center 

Construction will begin this week to turn the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan into a 1,000-bed hospital, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The main showroom of the centre will be broken up into four 250-bed hospitals each about 40,000 square feet in size, Cuomo said at the centre. The state is hoping to add an additional 1,000 beds at the centre for less-intensive medical care, for a total of 2,000 new beds, Cuomo said.

France advises against test drug 

As deaths climbed almost 30% in France, Health Minister Olivier Veran said the government recommends against prescribing the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine or using it for anything other than severe cases. France is participating in a multi-country study looking at the efficacy of four experimental treatments, including hydroxychloroquine.

New deaths fall in Italy for second day 

Italy reported 601 new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday, posting a decline for a second day, as the country enters its third week of lockdown measures designed to keep the spread of the disease in check.

Total cases in the country rose to 63,927, civil protection officials said, while the hard-hit Lombardy region around Milan, which accounts for about half of the nation’s infections, registered a decrease in the number of hospitalised virus patients, top health official Giulio Gallera said Monday.

IMF predicts recession 

The International Monetary Fund said it expects a global recession this year that will be at least as bad as the downturn during the financial crisis more than a decade ago, followed by a recovery in 2021.

Nearly 80 countries have asked the Washington-based IMF for emergency finance, Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement Monday following a conference call of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers.

Germans offer to help stricken Italy 

German officials are ready to help Italy get through the coronavirus pandemic and are prepared to support an emergency loan from the euro area’s bailout fund.

The preferred option in Berlin would see Italy granted an enhanced credit line by the European Stability Mechanism with minimal conditionality, according to a German official with knowledge of the government’s thinking. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she’s happy to discuss Italy’s request for jointly issued coronavirus bonds to shore up euro members’ finances, the official said Germany isn’t ready to move forward with that idea.

New cases may be slowing in Germany 

Germany’s public health authority has seen a trend toward the exponential growth in new cases flattening out and expects to see by Wednesday whether this is the case, Lothar Wieler, president of the authority, said at a press conference earlier on Monday. “I am optimistic.”

RKI repeated that many local health agencies don’t report over the weekend and that those numbers will trickle in during the course of the week.

Moderna’s vaccine may reach some this fall 

Moderna Inc’s experimental vaccine for the new coronavirus could be available to a select few as soon as this fall. That’s ahead of expectations for a commercial launch in another year.

Stephane Bancel, the biotech’s chief executive, told Goldman Sachs representatives on Friday that the vaccine could be made available to a few, potentially health-care workers under emergency-use authorisation. Moderna has been working with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on the vaccine and just started testing in humans earlier this month.

A potential vaccine isn’t expected to be commercially available for at least a year. Moderna is also scaling up manufacturing so that the company can produce millions of doses each month, according to a company statement.

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