Spain, Germany cases rise; UK PM remains in ICU: Virus update

Spain, Germany cases rise; UK PM remains in ICU: Virus update

Volunteers from the Violet organisation perform a puppet show for children in a camp for displaced Syrians, to inform them about the novel coronavirus and the methods used in order to limit its spread, in the village of Kafr Yahmul, north of the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, on Tuesday. (AFP photo)
Volunteers from the Violet organisation perform a puppet show for children in a camp for displaced Syrians, to inform them about the novel coronavirus and the methods used in order to limit its spread, in the village of Kafr Yahmul, north of the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib, on Tuesday. (AFP photo)

Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the start of a turnaround in the fight against the virus could come after this week.

Spain said fatalities and new cases rose to the highest in four days, and Belgium had its deadliest day of the outbreak so far. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is stable and responding to treatment.

US Democrats are seeking at least $500 billion in the next stimulus bill, and Hong Kong announced a fresh package valued at about $18 billion. European Union finance ministers failed to agree on a $543 billion recovery plan for the bloc. McDonald’s Corp. withdrew its forecast for the year.

The World Health Organization cautioned countries against lowering their guards.

Updates (latest first):

Local French curfew blocked in legal rebuke of lockdowns 

A French court blocked a curfew in a municipality north of Paris, in what is probably the first legal rebuke in the country of measures designed to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

The court said the mayor of Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine had failed to justify the curfew, which went from 7pm to 6am. The judge said that the regional government had already taken steps to prevent gatherings, including shutting liquor stores after 9pm.

Dutch cases top 20,000 

Confirmed cases in the Netherlands rose 5% to 20,549, below the average daily increase in the past week. Reported deaths rose 7% to 2,248. New hospital intakes climbed 4% to a total of 7,735, according to the RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.

India’s most populous state seals 15 districts 

India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has sealed off 15 of its districts worst affected by infections.

“Since the numbers have risen sharply, this move is essential to stop community spread,” R. K. Tiwari, chief secretary of the state, said in a television interview on Wednesday. The state has so far recorded 326 infections and three deaths.

India has had total infections of 5,360 and 164 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. A 21-day national lockdown ends April 14.

Boris Johnson is stable, responding to treatment 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in a stable condition in intensive care and is “responding to treatment” for a severe coronavirus infection, his spokesman said. Johnson was taken into St Thomas’ hospital in London on Sunday and moved to the critical care unit on Monday after struggling to shake off the symptoms, including a cough and a fever.

Vaccine hopes, tests boost Oxford Biomedica, Novacyt 

Oxford Biomedica shares rose as much as 24%, the most since Sept 2013, after the firm joined a consortium working on a Covid-19 vaccine. The consortium, led by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, has fast-tracked clinical trials of a vaccine candidate to start this month. Oxford Biomedica will be the manufacturing partner for the drug should the trials prove successful.

Earlier, Novacyt SA shares extended their year-to-date surge to more than 1,600% after the company’s Covid-19 test was listed as eligible for procurement by the World Health Organization. The stock jumped as much as 22% in Paris as Novacyt said its diagnostics kit would be available for a year following an emergency process by WHO.

UK employers cheating furlough plan face prosecution 

“Some employees have already been reporting that some employers have asked them to work during the furlough period,” Jim Harra, chief executive officer of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, told a panel of lawmakers by video conference on Wednesday. “If it amounted to trying to defraud us, we could take criminal action.”

Under the job-retention program announced last month, the government will pay 80% of employee wages so long as they remain tied to their jobs during the economic lockdown designed to slow the spread of the disease. A condition of the payments is that no work is done for employers, although training is permitted.

Democrats seek at least $500 billion in next stimulus bill 

Democrats want $250 billion in small business aid, with $125 billion channelled through community-based financial institutions that serve farmers, family, women, minority and veteran-owned cos, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

French scientific committee sees confinement until ICUs relieved 

France will be able to look into ending its confinement only when intensive-care units won’t be saturated and other control measures are operational, the scientific committee that advises the government said in a note, cited by Agence France-Presse. Experts say the population’s immunity is probably under 15%.

Hong Kong unveils virus relief package 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced a fresh government stimulus package worth about HK$137.5 billion ($17.7 billion) to support the city’s deteriorating economy. The spending package will include an HK$80 billion job security program to subsidize 50% of wages for affected workers for six months.

VW reviewing dividend 

Volkswagen AG is considering whether to pay out a record 3.3 billion-euro ($3.6 billion) dividend as planned, or use at least part of it to shore up its finances for what is shaping up to be the biggest economic crisis since World War II.

WHO says lifting lockdowns may be premature 

“To think we’re close to an endpoint would be dangerous,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, said at a briefing. Sweden is showing a fresh surge in cases, while the WHO is concerned about a dramatic increase in Turkey, he said. Countries should not lower their guard, he said.

“We have got to ensure that the public understands we’re moving to a new phase,” said Bruce Aylward, one of the WHO’s top officials who recently led a mission to Spain. Countries need to make sure they’re hunting the disease down, because the key to eradication is testing patients, isolating them and tracing their close contacts. Some restrictions may need to continue for some time while others are gradually loosened, he said. “It’s not lifting lockdowns and going back to normal. It’s a new normal.”

Spain’s success in slowing the spread proves that lockdowns and measures such as testing and contact tracing can work, Aylward said. While the country had a 20-fold increase in cases in the week through March 14, the rate later slowed to doubling every eight days.

Iran new cases, fatalities decline 

Iran reported 1,997 new cases on Wednesday, down from 2,089, taking the total number of cases to 64,586. Total fatalities rose to 3,993 after the country reported 121 more deaths.

Spain deaths, cases rise 

Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll and the number of confirmed cases increased by the most in four days on Wednesday in Europe’s most-extensive outbreak of the disease. There were 6,180 new infections in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 146,690, according to Health Ministry data. The death toll rose by 757 to 14,555, the biggest gain since April 4.

Deadliest day in Belgium 

Belgium experienced its deadliest day of the virus outbreak so far, with the fatalities rising by 205 to 2,240. Government health officials however said the epidemic is approaching its peak in the country of 11.4 million. The number of patients currently being treated in hospitals fell for the first time to 5,688, a decline of 324 from the prior day. That includes 1,276 people in ICU, a figure that has been stable in recent days.

Irish police freed to arrest Easter travellers 

Ireland handed its police sweeping powers to limit travel as part of its efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus as the nation heads into the Easter holiday. The government gave the police powers to arrest people travelling more than 2 kilometres from their home or on non-essential business. If convicted, they could face as long as six months in prison or a 2,500 euro ($2,700) fine.

Scholz says EU agreement ‘hopefully’ before Easter 

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters that an agreement was close and hoped one would be reached before April 12. That came after European Union finance ministers failed to agree on a$543 billion package to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, prolonging a paralysis that casts doubt over the bloc’s ability to weather the crisis.

China March retail passenger car sales slump

Daily average sales of retail passenger vehicles dropped to 30,683 units in March, the China Passenger Car Association said. Separately, Daimler AG’s global deliveries fell about 15% in the first quarter and the number of vehicles sold in China, the world’s largest auto market, fell around 20% from a year earlier. However, a recovery in China’s car market is slowly gathering pace, with dealerships even in the initial virus epicentre of Wuhan seeing customers return.

SoftBank-Backed Oyo Is furloughing thousands of employees 

Oyo Hotels & Homes, the Indian budget lodgings service backed by SoftBank Group Corp, is placing thousands of its employees globally on indefinite furlough. The company said it is furloughing employees in countries excluding India without specifying numbers, adding that it’s not considering job cuts at this time. The startup, one of the largest in SoftBank’s portfolio, has more than $1 billion of cash in the bank and is exploring options to remain viable over at least the next 36 months.

Germany approves tighter rules on foreign takeovers 

Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved the measures -- which apply to takeover bids from outside the European Union -- on Wednesday, the Chancellery said. They will enable the government to block acquisitions that present “potential interference,” a lower threshold than existing rules that envisage a security threat.

Record contraction seen in France, Germany 

The French economy shrank the most since World War II in the first quarter, and the outlook for the rest of the year is souring significantly. The central bank’s estimate of a 6% slump is the latest indicator of the severity of the shock to European economies from a simultaneous collapse in demand and supply.

Germany’s economy is likely to shrink by 4.2% this year, before government measures to counter the coronavirus impact fuel expansion of 5.8% in 2021, according to five of the nation’s leading research institutes. In the second quarter, they expect gross domestic product to decline by 9.8%, the most since records for quarterly data began in 1970.

Russia reports more than 1,000 new cases again 

Russia reported 1,175 new cases overnight, a 16% increase, bringing the total number of infected to 8,672. The country reported five more fatalities, taking its total to 63.

Lam to brief press, HK plans new relief package 

Chief Executive Carrie Lam will speak to the press at 6pm local time. Hong Kong’s government will offer a relief package valued at more than HK$100 billion ($12.9 billion), or 3.5% of the city’s GDP, to blunt the coronavirus’s impact on businesses and workers, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unidentified people. Most of the funds will go toward subsidising half of employees’ wages in industries directly impacted by the outbreak.

Tokyo cases rise 

Tokyo found 144 new cases of coronavirus, NTV reported. Earlier, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Japan could be facing as many as 80,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in a month if no action is taken as he declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and its surrounding regions.

German institutes see 4.2% contraction, then big rebound 

Germany’s economy is likely to shrink by 4.2% this year, before government measures to counter the coronavirus impact fuel expansion of 5.8% in 2021, according to five of the nation’s leading research institutes.

The size of the contraction this year is smaller than the 5% predicted last week by Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, though the institutes cautioned that there are “considerable downside risks” to their projections. In the second quarter, they expect gross domestic product to decline by 9.8%, the most since records for quarterly data began in 1970, and more than twice as much as during the first quarter of 2009 at the height of the financial crisis.

Russia reports more than 1,000 new cases again 

Russia reported 1,175 new cases overnight, a 16% increase, bringing the total number of infected to 8,672. The country reported five more fatalities, taking its total to 63.

Tokyo cases rise 

Tokyo found 144 new cases of coronavirus, NTV reported. Earlier, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Japan could be facing as many as 80,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in a month if no action is taken as he declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and its surrounding regions.

Drugmakers need government support to ensure supply 

European drugmakers need cooperation and support from regional and national authorities to ensure continuity in the drug supply during the pandemic, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations said.

“Regulatory flexibilities and lifting measures that impact manufacturing and supply can help ease the situation,” the trade group said in an e-mail. The European Union health commissioner appealed to companies on April 3 to boost production of medicines needed to treat the coronavirus, saying that several member states only had a one-week supply of some drugs.

The European Union’s most senior health official has appealed to the pharmaceutical industry to boost production of critical medicines needed to treat the symptoms of the coronavirus, warning that several member states may soon run out.

Zara owner increases apparel exports to Asia 

Traffic at Zaragoza airport, where more than 75% of space is assigned to Inditex, has started to pick up, according to Marcos Diaz, airport director. Although the airport, which is controlled by AENA SA, saw a small decrease in activity earlier in the year, Asian markets “have been recovering strongly in recent weeks and South America hasn’t yet been hit like Europe,” he said.

Lam to brief press, HK plans new relief package 

Hong Kong’s government will offer a relief package valued at more than HK$100 billion ($12.9 billion), or 3.5% of the city’s GDP, to blunt the coronavirus’s impact on businesses and workers, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unidentified people. Most of the funds will go toward subsidizing half of employees’ wages in industries directly impacted by the outbreak.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam will speak to the press at 5.30 local time, local broadcaster TVB said.

A 16-hour call wasn’t long enough 

European Union finance ministers failed to agree on a remedy for mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic, prolonging a paralysis that casts doubt over the bloc’s chances to weather the storm unscathed.

During a call lasting more than 16 hours, finance chiefs couldn’t reconcile their contrasting visions for the steps needed to help European economies recover. Countries led by France and Europe’s hardest-hit south were pitted against Germany and other hawkish northern states over the need to issue joint debt.

Another call is scheduled for Thursday.

European companies roundup 

Brewer Heineken said it expects the pandemic impact to worsen in the second quarter and withdrew its 2020 guidance. UK grocer Tesco said panic-buying has subsided and maintained its plan to pay a 5 billion-pound ($6.2 billion) special dividend. Credit Suisse turned to its own ultra-high-net-worth clients to bolster its lending ability as markets sank in March and companies began to draw down credit lines, according to a person familiar with the matter.

French economy shrinks most since WW II 

The French economy shrank the most since World War II in the first quarter, and the outlook for the rest of the year is souring significantly amid the confinement to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Bank of France. The central bank’s estimate of a 6% slump is the latest indicator of the severity of the shock to European economies from a simultaneous collapse in demand and supply.

Germany reports biggest rise in infections in three days 

The number of new coronavirus infections in Germany rose the most in three days, bringing the total to 107,663 in one of Europe’s worst-hit nations.

More than two weeks after the government ordered citizens to adhere to strict limits on public life, infections increased by 4,288 on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That compared with a gain of 3,252 a day earlier.

The head of Germany’s public health institute said Wednesday that the general trend in confirmed cases is “positive” but cautioned that the nation is still only at the beginning of the pandemic.

Expert: Virus likely to be around for two years 

The coronavirus likely will be around for at least two years, which means the measures being implemented to curb its spread may be in place for a while, an infectious diseases expert said.

A vaccine likely won’t be available in large amounts for another 18-24 months, and countries need to do more frequent testing, Peter Collignon, a professor at the Australian National University Medical School, told Bloomberg News.

Eradication of the virus is unrealistic, he said.

More Asian countries learn to love face masks 

The debate over whether face masks can help contain the spread of Covid-19 is shifting quickly, with more countries requiring citizens to cover their faces in public.

Indonesia, one of the world’s most populous countries with 264 million people, ordered citizens to wear face masks when they leave the house after predicting as many as 95,000 people could be infected.

Vietnam is fining people who don’t wear them, while the Philippines is requiring more than 50 million people on Luzon Island to wear masks or improvised face shields outside. Singapore now says asymptomatic people can wear masks in public, and India is explaining how to make reusable coverings at home.

Still, the World Health Organization says there’s no evidence that wearing a mask can prevent healthy people from infection.

Tesla cutting some salaries by 30% 

Tesla Inc will reduce employees’ salaries as much as 30% starting Monday to cut costs as it shuts down some operations because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the US, the salary cut is 30% for vice presidents and above, 20% for directors and above, and 10% for others, according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg. Workers outside the US will see similar reductions.

Employees who haven’t been assigned to critical tasks and who can’t work from home will be furloughed without pay, though they will keep health-care benefits. Tesla agreed to idle US production last month amid authorities’ orders.

Apple partner Foxconn to start making ventilators

Foxconn, the company responsible for assembling most of the world’s iPhones, will start developing and making ventilators in the US

Foxconn will work with Medtronic Plc on the design and development of the devices. Foxconn, which owns a plant in Wisconsin, didn’t say where and when it will be making the medical equipment.

There has been a global shortage of ventilators needed in the treatment of severe cases of Covid-19. Foxconn has been making face masks, used to curb the spread of the virus, in China since February.

Outbreak seen growing fast in US, stabilising in Italy 

The coronavirus outbreak is growing rapidly in the US, Japan, Germany, France and the UK, according to a weekly forecast by Imperial College London’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis.

But the group found the disease is stabilising in Italy, Iran, South Korea and Indonesia.

The MRC, which collaborates with agencies including the World Health Organization, forecasts fatality rates for the week ahead based on analyses of 42 countries with active transmission.

The centre, in its forecast dated April 7, predicts deaths exceeding 5,000 in the coming week in France, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US Fatalities of less than 100 are predicted for 14 countries, including Japan.

Singapore enforcing “circuit breaker” measures 

Singapore issued more than 7,000 written advisories to people not following safe distancing on the first day of new “circuit breaker” rules, the government said. Elevated measures took effect Tuesday as the city-state tries to curb the spread of coronavirus and a second wave of infections in the city-state.

First-time offenders may face a fine of as much as S$10,000 ($7,009), jail for as many as six months, or both, the Straits Times reported.

The elevated measures include bans on public and private gatherings of any size by people who aren’t living together. The rules apply to private quarters and public spaces, according to a copy of a speech by health minister Gan Kim Yong.

Schools also are moving to full home-based learning.

Wuhan sees mass exodus as lockdown lifted 

About 55,000 people had train tickets out of Wuhan on Wednesday, according to Chinese state television, as the government eased its lockdown on the city.

Flights are resuming from the city’s international airport, which handled 24 million passengers a year before the outbreak, and people will be able to return to their jobs around the country. Cars queued at toll booths to get onto the highways out of town.

However, a web of complex restrictions and fear of a resurgence in infections means many can’t -- or won’t dare to -- go anywhere. Housing compounds in the city retain the power to put residents back under lockdown.

Hong Kong extends distancing measures 

Hong Kong is extending its social distancing measures to April 23 and adding beauty parlours and massage places to the list of venues that must close.

The city already bans public gatherings of more than four people. It previously closed gyms, bars and karaoke places, and it required restaurants to run at half capacity and space out tables.

Separately, all travellers arriving at the Hong Kong International Airport will be required to undergo coronavirus testing starting Wednesday.

The South China Morning Post reported that the city will keep schools closed through May, citing a person familiar with the matter that it didn’t identify. The original plan was to resume later this month.

The city reports at least 935 coronavirus cases.

Trump considering hold on US funding for WHO 

President Donald Trump said he’s considering putting a “hold” on US funding for the World Health Organization after the agency “blew it” by failing to sound the alarm sooner about the coronavirus.

“I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we’re going to look at it,” the president said at a White House briefing.

He earlier called the organisation “very China-centric” and said it was wrong to advise against travel restrictions he imposed. The organisation has urged nations to avoid blanket travel bans to countries experiencing outbreaks because historically such moves have been ineffective.


Do you like the content of this article?
COMMENT (15)

S. Korea sees biggest jump in virus cases in 7 weeks

South Korea reported its biggest jump in coronavirus infections in seven weeks on Wednesday, driven by a fresh cluster at an e-commerce warehouse on Seoul's outskirts, as millions more pupils went back to school.

16:25

Hong Kong police stamp out national anthem law protests

Hong Kong police cast a dragnet around the financial hub's legislature on Wednesday and fired pepper-ball rounds in the commercial district as they stamped down on protests against a bill banning insults to China's national anthem.

16:10

Father stabbed by drug-crazed son

NAKHON RATCHASIMA: A 53-year-old man was stabbed repeatedly in the chest while trying to calm down his violent, drug-addled son on Wednesday, police said.

15:59