4/7/2020, 11:43:37 PM
Jack Dorsey to make $1bn donation to coronavirus relief
Hannah Murphy in San Francisco
Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said on Tuesday that he would donate $1bn of his equity in Square, the payments company he also leads, in order to fund coronavirus relief efforts.
In a series of tweets, the Silicon Valley executive said that the funds — about 28 per cent of his wealth — would be moved to Small Start, his own donor-advised foundation for charitable purposes, as “needs are increasingly urgent”.
“After we disarm this pandemic, the focus will shift to girl’s health and education, and [universal basic income],” he said, adding that he had chosen to move his Square stock, rather than Twitter, as he owns more of it.
According to a document shared by Mr Dorsey, $100,000 of the fund already appears to have been granted to America’s Food Fund, a charity focused on tackling hunger and access to food.
Mr Dorsey is one of a handful of tech executives who have funnelled money into relief efforts. The Chan Zuckerberg initiative, the philanthropic group of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, has committed $25m to finding treatments for coronavirus, and $5bn to emergency relief efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area, while the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged about $100m.
4/8/2020, 12:12:13 AM
Asia-Pacific stocks mixed after Wall Street rally loses steam
Asia-Pacific stocks opened mixed on Wednesday following on from a slight dip on Wall Street as investors weighed the latest news on the coronavirus outbreak.
The Topix in Japan was up 0.1 per cent, South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.5 per cent and in Australia, the S&P/ASX was down 0.4 per cent.
Overnight, the S&P 500 struggled to hold on to early gains, ending the day 0.2 per cent lower. Optimism over signs the spread of the virus was slowing were tempered with the question of how and when measures to close businesses could be safely lifted.
Futures tip the S&P 500 to fall 0.1 per cent when Wall Street reopens.
4/8/2020, 12:23:56 AM
China reports 3 new local coronavirus infections
Health authorities in China reported 62 new coronavirus cases in the mainland to the end of Tuesday, three of which were local cases. The cases of local transmission were reported in Shandong and Guangdong.
The new infections take the reported total to 81,802, while 77,279 people have now been discharged from hospital.
There were two new deaths, taking the number of reported fatalities from Covid-19 to 3,333.
There were 137 new coronavirus infections detected in people with no symptoms, with 102 of those found in people who had returned to China from overseas. China has imposed strict rules on who can enter the country and enforces quarantine measures in a bid to prevent a wave of imported infections.
4/8/2020, 12:37:35 AM
News you might have missed
Donald Trump said the US would “put a hold” on its funding of the World Health Organization, accusing the agency of being biased towards Beijing and failing to catch the pandemic early enough. Mr Trump said the US was responsible for the “biggest proportion of their money” and would withhold the funding until his administration had “looked into” its handling of the outbreak.
Donald Trump said on Tuesday that the UK government had “called” to ask the US for 200 ventilators, which are key to saving the lives of the worst-affected coronavirus patients. “The UK called today and they wanted to know would it be possible to get 200 [ventilators]. And we’re going to work it out,” he said.
Moody’s Investors Service said a tax cut to provide more liquidity to Mexican state oil company Pemex would strengthen its ability to boost capital expenditure, but warned it would not be enough to prevent it from having to tap revolving credit facilities and thus boost debt.
A Texas appeals court has upheld emergency restrictions on abortions imposed by Texas in response to the coronavirus outbreak saying it was justified in all but banning abortions in order to preserve medical supplies.
The head of Nicaragua’s human rights association has called on President Daniel Ortega to appear in public by Thursday morning as the former revolutionary’s lengthy absence from view has raised concerns about his health and the country’s strategy to fight the coronavirus pandemic. He has not been seen in public for 45 days.
France’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has risen to 10,328, with 30,000 patients still in hospital of whom 7,131 are in intensive care, but the increase in the number of those needing ventilators continued to slow.
The chief executive of the English Premier League has defended football clubs’ use of the UK government’s furlough scheme, and warned that the country’s top division could lose at least £1bn if the coronavirus pandemic puts a stop to the season.
The Deutsche Post DHL Group has withdrawn its guidance for 2020, citing the downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak, even as it registered strong growth in its German parcel business.
Barclays is setting up a £100m foundation to back charities helping vulnerable people during the coronavirus pandemic, with chief executive Jes Staley initially donating a third of his salary for the next six months, equivalent to £396,000.
There could be early signs of ‘curve flattening’ in the UK, according to the chief scientific officer. Sir Patrick Vallance said it was “possible” the UK was beginning to see “the beginning of change in terms of the curve flattening a little bit”.
4/8/2020, 1:34:08 AM
Property mogul who called Xi Jinping a ‘clown’ placed under investigation
Christian Shepherd in Beijing
A Chinese property mogul who criticised President Xi Jinping saying he had used China’s coronavirus response as an opportunity for self-aggrandisement has been placed under investigation by the Chinese Communist party.
The probe into Ren Zhiqiang was announced in a one-line statement on the website of the Beijing city discipline and inspection commission, an anti-graft body. Investigations by the commission almost always end in a guilty verdict.
Mr Ren, known as “the cannon” for his outspoken political commentary, went missing last month after he called Mr Xi a “clown insisting on acting as emperor” in a scathing essay.
The former head of a Beijing city state-owned property company also suggested Mr Xi was using the outbreak to build a Mao Zedong-like cult of personality, in a critique of Mr Xi’s centralisation of personal power that Mr Ren has made repeatedly in recent years.
4/8/2020, 1:38:30 AM
Mexico awaits planeload of medical supplies from China
Jude Webber in Mexico City
Mexico reported a 14 per cent rise in confirmed coronavirus cases to 2,785, with a nearly 13 per cent rise in deaths to 141 as the government awaited the arrival of a planeload of medical supplies from China for hospital staff.
A plane, chartered from national flag carrier Aeroméxico, set off for China on Saturday and was due to land back in Mexico later on Tuesday.
Health undersecretary Hugo López-Gatell, who has admitted that Mexico — a major exporter of medical equipment — sold masks to China in February and is now having to buy them back at a higher price, said the plane mostly carried personal protection equipment.
He declined to give quantities but said the cargo included “a large quantity” of N95 masks and that the shipment would “cover practically 100 per cent of the PPE” required in the state hospital system.
He stressed it was not the only flight and that an “air bridge” had been set up between the two countries. Ventilators, monitors and other more specialised equipment “will come soon,” he told a news conference.
4/8/2020, 1:45:29 AM
Hong Kong extends closures of gyms and karaoke parlours
Hong Kong has extended the closures of fitness centres, karaoke parlours, bars and other entertainment venues for two more weeks, while measures to limit the number of diners in restaurants will also be prolonged to stem the spread of coronavirus.
The government announcement said the city had seen a “drastic increase” in the number of coronavirus cases over the past two weeks to 936 from 387 confirmed infections. “Many of the cases are locally acquired infections without travel history,” the statement said.
The measures will be extended until April 23, including a requirement that people restrict gatherings in public to four people or face a fine of HK$25,000 ($3,225) or six months in prison.
Restaurants must continue to reduce seating capacity by 50 per cent and ensure tables are at least 1.5 metres apart.
Hong Kong branches of Marks and Spencer, the food and clothing retailer, were closed for deep cleaning on Tuesday after three employees tested positive for coronavirus following a farewell party at a karaoke venue.
4/8/2020, 2:28:37 AM
South Korea suspends visa waiver programmes
Song Jung-a in Seoul
South Korea will suspend visa waiver programmes for countries with entry bans on South Koreans in an effort to stem a sharp rise in imported cases amid the widening coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Wednesday the government would also expand entry restrictions to include foreigners travelling for other than essential or urgent reasons.
“While maintaining the basis of openness, the government will strengthen [entry] restrictions in accordance with reciprocity,” Mr Chung told a government meeting to discuss ways to contain the deadly virus.
The prime minister’s office did not specify exactly when the ban would take effect.
The stronger measures come after a rise in imported infections with coronavirus now accounting for about half of new cases.
The country’s daily rate of confirmed new infections has slowed to about 50 from more than 900 in late February. On Wednesday, South Korea reported 53 new cases of the coronavirus, taking the total caseload to 10,384. Its death toll increased by 8 to 200.
South Korea imposed a mandatory two-week self-quarantine on all international arrivals at the beginning of April and toughened punishment for those who violate the rules.
4/8/2020, 3:14:30 AM
The FT has been analysing the global spread of coronavirus since January here. As part of the research, Steven Bernard and Cale Tilford are mapping Covid-19 fatalities in different countries.
After some initial success in tracing and isolating infected coronavirus patients, some countries in Asia have been forced to step up their responses in recent days as the virus spreads.
Singapore on Tuesday passed a bill to ban all gatherings outside immediate family, both public and private, with fines of up to S$10,000 ($7,026) or six months in prison as the number of coronavirus cases neared 1,500.
Japan, however, is gambling that it can control the outbreak without a countrywide lockdown.
4/8/2020, 3:43:02 AM
S Korea outlines $29.5bn in loans to support exporters
Song Jung-a in Seoul
South Korean president Moon Jae-in has announced another stimulus package worth about Won53.7tn ($44bn) to revive faltering exports and domestic consumption, amid growing concerns about the economic fallout from the widening coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Moon said on Wednesday the government would offer about Won36tn of additional cheap loans for exporters and Won17.7tn in measures to boost domestic spending. The announcement comes after Seoul announced stimulus packages worth $80bn last month to cushion the blow to Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Mr Moon said South Korea’s export-driven economy was suffering a “tsunami-like impact” from the pandemic as “the global economy is falling into an extreme slump.” “We are in a dark tunnel with no end in sight,” he said at an emergency economic meeting.
South Korea’s exports fell 0.2 per cent in March from a year earlier, as the deadly virus hit global supply chains and dampened overseas demand, raising the spectre of a global recession.
Samsung Electronics, the country’s biggest exporter, said on Tuesday its first-quarter profit would be near its lowest level in five years as the fast spread of the virus across the world batters demand for electronic devices.
4/8/2020, 4:51:02 AM
Oil prices climb ahead of Saudi-Russia meeting
Thomas Hale in Hong Kong
Oil prices rallied after two straight days of decline as traders pinned hopes on a deal later this week between Saudi Arabia and Russia that would curb production and underpin the market.
Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, climbed 2.4 per cent to $32.63 a barrel in Asia trading on Wednesday. It fell more than 6 per cent over Monday and Tuesday combined, following a sharp rally at the end of last week.
G20 oil ministers are set to meet on Friday to try to find measures to support the global industry. Before that, Saudi Arabia and Russia are scheduled to meet on Thursday to address a feud over production that has flooded global markets with supply and halved the price of oil this year.
The gains for oil came as a two-day rally in Asia equities ran out of steam, with most markets following Wall Street lower after a wave of optimism earlier in the week over an apparent slowing in new coronavirus cases ebbed away.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 1 per cent while China’s CSI 300 fell 0.5 per cent, though Japan’s Topix index eked out a 0.5 per cent gain.
4/8/2020, 5:07:58 AM
Hong Kong funds hit by record redemptions on coronavirus fears
Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong
Hong Kong funds saw record net redemptions in March, as investor unease in the Asian financial hub intensified in the face of a second wave of coronavirus cases.
Net outflows totalled HK$13.5bn ($1.7bn) last month, according to transaction network Calastone, exceeding even redemptions during social unrest last year sparked by the government’s attempt to pass a bill allowing extradition to mainland China.
Net redemptions in December had totalled only HK$3.8bn.
Leo Chen, managing director and head of Asia at Calastone, said Hong Kong had seen “the highest level of net redemptions across the Calastone network, unseen even through the protests, as investors grappled with unprecedented uncertainty”.
“This is only likely to continue as the world struggles through the pandemic”, he added.
4/8/2020, 5:21:07 AM
Wuhan’s liberation greeted with anger and anxiety
Sun Yu and Don Weinland in Wuhan
Seventy-six days after severing links with the outside world, the Chinese city at the centre of the global coronavirus outbreak has lifted its official ban on travel, ending the world’s largest mass quarantine.
The “liberation” of Wuhan marks an important step in President Xi Jinping’s plan to declare an early victory over the crisis just as western countries are struggling to contain the outbreak.
Some 55,000 people on Wednesday alone are expected to leave Wuhan, the railway administration said.
But for many of Wuhan’s 11m residents, the formal lifting of restrictions on movement is just the start of a long recovery for a city in severe economic distress and a population fearful of a second outbreak.
Read more here
4/8/2020, 5:31:11 AM
Hong Kong business group calls for wage subsidy scheme
Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong
The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce has called for the city’s government to roll out a wage subsidy scheme similar to those announced in Europe and Singapore.
The chamber said many businesses will close imminently without such a scheme resulting in large-scale job losses, as the outbreak comes after the economy slipped into recession last year.
“Many businesses in Hong Kong are under intense pressure as they struggle to remain solvent. Some have collapsed while others have had to reduce their workforce in a desperate attempt to cut costs amid dwindling cash reserves,” said chamber chairman Aron Harilela.
Hong Kong businesses, particularly those in the retail, tourism and hospitality sector, have been suffering since last year when anti-government protests forced a political crisis in the territory, and the virus outbreak has simply added to their pain.
4/8/2020, 5:56:04 AM
UN economist urges Asia-Pacific governments to respond proactively to coronavirus
John Reed in Bangkok
A UN economist said on Wednesday that countries in Asia-Pacific had enough fiscal space to spend and borrow more in response to Covid-19, and should do so “at full throttle”.
Hamza Ali Malik, director of macroeconomic policy and financing for the development division of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), made the recommendation as the body published its first report on the region’s progress toward sustainable development goals since the outbreak began.
Escap urged Asian developing countries to increase their health emergency spending and use fiscal and monetary policies to help businesses and households during what it called an “unprecedented health crisis”.
“Asia-Pacific as a whole have sufficient fiscal space, and they can and should respond very proactively,” Mr Malik said in an online briefing. “There are countries with fiscal space that is relatively limited, but as a whole, the region is in far better shape than many other regions.”
Mr Malik said that the median fiscal balance as a share of GDP in Asia-Pacific countries stood at about 1 per cent, and debt to GDP was on average a little under 40 per cent.
“Initially, all policy instruments should be used at full throttle,” he said. “What I mean by that is, irrespective of fiscal positions, governments should really go out and help people.”
Thailand on Tuesday became the latest Asian country to announce a record-breaking $58bn worth of stimulus measures to help households and companies withstand the sharp slowdown caused by the outbreak. The Bank of Thailand has forecast that Covid-19 will cause GDP to fall by 5.3 per cent, the sharpest contraction since 1998.
4/8/2020, 6:20:32 AM
UK grocer Tesco says coronavirus to boost costs by up to £925m
Tesco said that impact of coronavirus would lead to an increase in operating costs of between £650m and £925m, largely due to increased staffing levels to cope with employee absence.
The UK supermarket chain said that if customer behaviour returned to normal by August, the additional costs “would be largely offset by the benefits of food volume increases, 12 months’ business rates relief in the UK and prudent operations management”.
Tesco added that it expected a reduction in income at its banking operation and increased provisions for bad debts, which would likely result in a loss at the bank for the year to February 2021.
The spike in buying by consumers in the early stage of the crisis resulted in a 30 per cent uplift in sales volumes, but Tesco said this had now stabilised and “more normal sales volumes are being experienced”.
For the year to February 2020, the group reported a pre-tax profit of £1.32bn, down 18 per cent from the previous year. It declared a final dividend of 6.5p a share, above many analysts’ expectations.
4/8/2020, 6:24:29 AM
Foxconn to manufacture ventilators in US plant
Kathrin Hille in Taipei
Apple supplier Foxconn is teaming up with US company Medtronic to make ventilators, a partnership which could put the Taiwanese technology group’s controversy-ridden US plant to productive use.
“Currently medical and technical personnel from both companies are closely cooperating, we hope to speed up the timetable for mass production and join the ranks of those fighting the epidemic,” the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer said Wednesday.
The statement confirms remarks from Omar Ishrak, Medtronic chief executive, on Monday that Foxconn would start producing ventilators for Medtronic within less than two months.
Mr Ishrak told CNBC that his company had doubled ventilator capacity in its own factory in Ireland to more than 300 a week, and aimed to increase it to 1,000 a week by the end of June.
The Medtronic ventilators would be one of the first products to come out of Foxconn’s Wisconsin plant after years of delays and changes in scale and purpose of the project. In July 2017, Foxconn had promised to invest US$10bn and employ 13,000 people at the planned complex, spurring US president Donald Trump to boast about attracting manufacturing investment to the US.
The ventilator production push comes as the rapid spread of Covid-19 in the US and Europe has led to shortages of ventilators and other equipment needed to treat patients with severe symptoms.
Foxconn was one of the first companies worldwide to jump into the manufacturing of epidemic-related supplies when it set up production lines for surgical masks in the largest of its plants in China in early February. According to Foxconn, the output is so far used only for providing its own workers with masks.
4/8/2020, 6:28:28 AM
States in India hit by plunging tax revenues due to the lockdown
Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
India’s state governments are facing acute financial crises with the ongoing lockdown hitting their revenues as tax revenues plunge.
The states, which are on the front line of the battle against coronavirus, derive much of their revenue from taxes on fuel, and excise duties on alcohol.
But liquor sales have been suspended since New Delhi imposed a 21-day nationwide curfew on March 25. Fuel sales have also dropped as most of the country’s 1.37bn people have at stayed home over the past two weeks, and all public transportation, from buses to flights, has been suspended.
Some states have warned that they could struggle to pay the salaries of government employees next month, as a result of the current fiscal pressures.
Yet it is state government health workers that are playing a critical role in the battle to contain coronavirus, as they enforce quarantines and try to trace contacts of those known to be infected.
State revenues had already been under pressure over the past financial year, due to the country’s protracted economic slowdown.
4/8/2020, 6:28:54 AM
European stocks set to slide
European equity indices looked set to start the day lower after a global rally yesterday fizzled out in US trading.
The continent-wide Stoxx 600 was headed for a 1.5 per cent decline at the open, according to futures trade, while the FTSE 100 in London was on track to lose 1.8 per cent and the Dax 30 in Frankfurt 1.2 per cent.
That would put an end to this week’s gains, which have seen European stocks rise on hopes that the spread of coronavirus was decelerating. But yesterday’s rally in Europe and Asia loss steam by the time trading ended on Wall Street, with the S&P 500 closing lower.
Analysts warned that investors may have been reading too much into the infection rates and that more data providing evidence of an economic recovery would be necessary to sustain a rally.
4/8/2020, 6:38:50 AM
Flurry of UK insurers cancel dividends amid pressure from regulators
Several insurers announced they would be cancelling dividends on Wednesday, joining the growing number of companies looking to conserve cash by delaying payouts to investors.
Direct Line, Aviva and Hiscox all announced they would be cancelling their dividend payouts for the year 2019, due to be paid to investors in the coming weeks.
The Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority released a statement saying: “We welcome the prudent decision from some insurance companies today to pause dividends given the uncertainties associated with Covid-19.”
At the end of March, the head of the PRA wrote to insurers and said that they should manage their financial resources prudently but stopped short of an outright ban on dividends. It said they should “pay close attention to the need to protect policyholders and maintain safety and soundness, and in so doing to ensure that their firm can play its full part in supporting the real economy throughout the economic disruption arising from Covid-19.”
European insurance companies have been scrambling to react to contradictory messages from supervisors on dividends, with France seeking to stop payouts altogether while regulators in the UK and Germany have taken a more flexible stance. Last week Eiopa, the European insurance regulator, urged insurance companies to halt dividend payments altogether.
Some UK insurers have already committed to paying their dividend, including Legal & General.
4/8/2020, 6:50:18 AM
Eurozone finance ministers fail to agree on joint stimulus measures
Victor Mallet in Paris
Eurozone finance ministers failed to agree a common position on measures to relaunch their economies after the coronavirus crisis, and will meet again on Thursday, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said.
“With [Germany finance minister] Olaf Scholz, we call on all European states to rise to the task of meeting the exceptional challenges we face to reach an ambitious accord,” he said on Twitter.
Italy, France, Spain and their allies have pushed for a joint EU recovery fund of hundreds of billions of euros, but northern members led by the Netherlands have resisted the idea of mutualising the eurozone’s debt obligations and said existing mechanisms such as the European Stability Mechanism were sufficient.
4/8/2020, 7:08:01 AM
European stocks slip at the open
European stocks ended a two-day rally to open lower on Wednesday as investor optimism over a slowdown in coronavirus infections wavered.
The continent-wide Stoxx 600 slipped 0.9 per cent after gaining almost 5 per cent earlier in the week. In London, the FTSE 100 shed 1.3 per cent, while Paris’s Cac 40 was down 1.2 per cent and the Dax 30 in Frankfurt fell 0.8 per cent.
Equities had gained ground on Monday and Tuesday as investors welcomed signs that sweeping restrictions on movement in the US and Europe were proving effective in slowing the spread of coronavirus. However, there is little clarity yet on how quickly those restrictions can be lifted and fears remain about the economic impact of the pandemic.
“Equity investors are . . . starting to understand, as might government authorities, that the economic and social cost of an extended lockdown might turn out to be worse than an increase in mortality rates,” said Neil McKinnon at VTB Capital.
4/8/2020, 7:12:34 AM
Heineken withdraws guidance during ‘trying times’
Heineken announced it was withdrawing all guidance for 2020 on Wednesday, as “trying times” brought about by the coronavirus pandemic caused unquantifiable damage to the company’s performance.
For the first quarter of 2020, Heineken expects to announce a total drop in sales of around 4 per cent, with a 2 per cent fall in beer sales. “The impact is expected to worsen in the second quarter,” the company said.
It said that containment measures adopted by multiple countries, including outlet closures and mandatory lockdown of production facilities, have had a “significant impact on Heineken’s markets and on its business in 2020”.
The company assured investors that it had entered the crisis with a strong balance sheet and had successfully secured additional financing.
4/8/2020, 7:12:36 AM
French output to drop by most since WWII, central bank forecasts
French economic output may have fallen in the first quarter by the sharpest rate since the second world war, the country’s central bank has said.
Gross domestic product contracted 6 per cent during the first three months of 2020, when lockdowns meant to restrict the spread of coronavirus placed business into stasis, the Bank of France forecast on Wednesday.
While the decline would be the biggest since the second world war, the economy sustained a similarly large shock in the second quarter of 1968 when GDP fell by 5.3 per cent due to the student-led protest movement that transformed the country.
The central bank added that GDP would probably shrink about 1.5 per cent for every two weeks of confinement. For every week in confinement in March, business activity dropped by about a third, said the central bank in its statement.
France is entering its fourth week of lockdowns with the current one set to run until April 15. However French politicians have made it clear that it will most probably be extended.
More than 10,000 people have died from the virus in France so far, with 30,000 patients still in hospital of whom 7,131 are in intensive care, but the increase in the number of those needing ventilators continued to slow.
4/8/2020, 7:20:42 AM
Tracking coronavirus: big data and the challenge to privacy
Nic Fildes in London and Javier Espinoza in Brussels
When the World Health Organization launched a 2007 initiative to eliminate malaria on Zanzibar, it turned to an unusual source to track the spread of the disease between the island and mainland Africa: mobile phones sold by Tanzania’s telecoms groups including Vodafone, the UK mobile operator.
Working together with researchers at Southampton university, Vodafone began compiling sets of location data from mobile phones in the areas where cases of the disease had been recorded.
Mapping how populations move between locations has proved invaluable in tracking and responding to epidemics. The Zanzibar project has been replicated by academics across the African continent to monitor other deadly diseases, including Ebola in west Africa.
With much of Europe at a standstill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, politicians want the telecoms operators to provide similar data from smartphones.
But the use of such data to track the virus has triggered fears of growing surveillance, including questions about how the data might be used once the crisis is over and whether such data sets are ever truly anonymous.
Read more here
4/8/2020, 7:38:11 AM
Rouhani highlights Shia religious occasion to lift Iranians
Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran
As Iran suffers with severe economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic and US sanctions, president Hassan Rouhani borrowed from a religious occasion to give hope to Iranians.
Thursday is the birthday of Imam Mahdi, who is believed by Shia Muslims to reappear one day and will bring justice to the world. Waiting for his return is one of the main pillars of Shia Islam but any public celebrations in holy sites are banned this year to prevent further spread of coronavirus.
“This belief can save us from hopelessness, sadness and depression. The future of the world will be glorious, beautiful and full of justice,” Mr Rouhani said in the cabinet meeting broadcast live on the state television.
Now, more than ever we need this belief. The more we believe in His return, the calmer we will be.”
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will address the nation on Thursday, after about three weeks of silence.
4/8/2020, 7:44:50 AM
EU warns tracking apps could ‘stigmatise’ citizens and breach privacy
Javier Espinoza in Brussels
The EU has warned against potential “stigmatisation” of citizens when deploying apps aimed at tracking people’s movements to fight the spread of coronavirus.
A document seen by the Financial Times, which provides recommendations on how to deploy tracking apps in the bloc, says their development “should be guided by privacy and data protection principles”.
It adds that mobile applications must safeguard “respect for fundamental rights and prevention of stigmatisation, in particular applicable rules governing protection of personal data and confidentiality of communications”.
Officials will push for the deployment of the “least intrusive” tools, including proximity data, while at the same time preventing access to data “on location or movement of individuals”, the document says.
The publication of the guidelines, expected later on Wednesday, comes after officials said individuals should be able to give consent about being monitored by apps.
In an interview with the FT and other publications on Tuesday, Vera Jourova, vice-president for values and transparency, said:
There must not be a hidden purpose or something I as a citizen don’t know. The main thing is people entering such a system know what they are doing.
This is the first global crisis where the full power of technology can be deployed and offer efficient solutions. I fully support a European approach for the use of mobile applications and mobile data in response to the coronavirus pandemic in line with our fundamental rights.
We will ensure this approach is transparent, proportional and based on people’s trust.
The EU will also call for the use of anonymised and aggregated data whenever possible to help track the virus.
When it comes to protecting an individual’s privacy, the commission will propose strong cybersecurity measures to safeguard “the availability, authenticity, integrity, and confidentiality of data”.
The commission will also recommend deleting personal data once the pandemic is declared “under control”.
4/8/2020, 7:48:06 AM
Germany reports highest daily death toll yet
Tobias Buck in Berlin
Germany reported 254 new Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday morning, the highest daily death toll since the crisis started and a 15 per cent increase compared with the previous day.
Germany has suffered 1,861 deaths in total.
According to official data from the Robert Koch Institute, the number of coronavirus cases reached 103,228 on Wednesday — an increase of 4,003 over the previous 24 hours.
It was the third day in a row that detected cases rose by just 4 per cent, a marked deceleration compared with last week.
4/8/2020, 7:57:37 AM
Russia reports another day of record cases
Henry Foy in Moscow
Russia reported 1,175 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, another record daily increase that takes its total to 8,672.
The country previously had far fewer confirmed cases than other major European countries but has seen its total grow steadily. It is now the world’s 19th most affected country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins university.
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday warned that Russia had not yet reached the peak of infections. The country is on a “national holiday” until the end of April, and many regions, led by Moscow, have imposed near total quarantine orders.
Five new deaths from Covid-19 infections overnight took the country’s total number of dead to 63, the country’s anti-coronavirus task force said.
4/8/2020, 8:02:36 AM
Germany faces historic recession on Covid-19 hit, top forecasters warn
The German economy is sliding into its deepest recession on record and will shrink by almost 10 per cent in the three months to June as the coronavirus crisis deepens, according to the country’s top economic research institutes.
Europe’s largest economy is expected to contract by 4.2 per cent this year, after many activities were shut down to slow the spread of the pandemic, but the institutes predicted it would rebound next year with growth of 5.8 per cent.
The drop in second-quarter output would be the sharpest since quarterly national accounts began in 1970, and is more than double the magnitude of the tumble recorded in early 2009 during the global financial crisis.
The forecasts, compiled twice a year by Germany’s top-five economic research institutes on behalf of the government, paint a gloomy picture of the country’s economic outlook, while predicting that it has the fiscal capacity to absorb and recover from such a shock.
“Germany is in a good position to cope with the economic slump and to return in the medium term to the economic level that it would have reached without the crisis,” said Timo Wollmershäuser, head of forecasts at the Munich-based Ifo Institute.
The crisis is expected to increase the number of unemployed people in Germany by 236,000, pushing the jobless rate up from close to a record low of 5 per cent to about 5.5 per cent. That would remain well below the jobless levels of many countries in the eurozone, where the overall unemployment rate recently hit a 12-year-low of 7.4 per cent.
The forecasters warned that the “downside risks are substantial”.
“Further measures to fight infection could come into force”, they added. “Disruptions in the financial system as a result of growing corporate insolvencies would be likely, which could not be prevented by state shields.”
The government’s response to the crisis – including massive support for companies and workers left out of pocket by the pandemic – will push the country into a budget deficit of €159bn, or 4.7 per cent of gross domestic product, they forecast. This would increase public debt from close to 60 per cent of GDP to 70 per cent.
The spring forecasts were published by Ifo, the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, the Kiel Institute, the Halle Institute for Economic Research, and RWI in Essen.
4/8/2020, 8:08:00 AM
UK confirms it has asked US for ventilators
Sebastian Payne in London
The UK government has confirmed it asked Donald Trump to help supply ventilators to assist the National Health Service through the worst of the coronavirus crisis.
The US president said on Tuesday that “the UK called today and they wanted to know would it be possible to get 200. We’re going to work it out, we’ve got to work it out. They’ve been great partners. They wanted 200, they need them desperately.”
In response, health minister Ed Argar confirmed to the BBC on Wednesday:
We’re sourcing ventilators from the USA, we’re sourcing them from other countries. The USA is one of those countries with which we are working to source ventilators.
Mr Argar did not, however, confirm details of the specific request.
The UK has said it will require 30,000 ventilators to cope with the peak of the coronavirus crisis, expected in the next 10 days according to London mayor Sadiq Khan. The latest update was given by health secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday, who said the UK now had 12,000 ventilators with hundreds more expected to arrive due to increased domestic manufacturing capabilities.
4/8/2020, 8:18:47 AM
Italian bonds under pressure after eurozone ministers fail to reach deal
Tommy Stubbington in London
Italian bonds are under pressure after eurozone leaders failed to agree a common response to the coronavirus crisis in a marathon all-night meeting.
Finance ministers failed to overcome an impasse between Italy and the Netherlands, with sticking points over whether to issue jointly backed “coronabonds” and the structure of loans from the eurozone’s bailout fund.
Hopes of a unified response to the crisis, including the possibility of greater debt burden sharing between euro area countries, had supported riskier eurozone bonds — particularly Italy’s — in recent days. Italian debt fell on Wednesday morning, pushing the 10-year yield to a three-week high of 1.72 per cent, according to Tradeweb data.
The 10-year spread between Italy and Germany, a key measure of country risk in the eurozone, widened to more than two percentage points, up from 1.6 percentage points two weeks ago.
“Spreads should remain nervous with tail-risks of a complete failure to agree on anything still present,” said Christoph Rieger, head of rates and credit research at Commerzbank.
Finance ministers were due to reconvene on Thursday to try and hammer out a set of recommendations they can put to EU leaders.
4/8/2020, 8:21:01 AM
France recalls flagship aircraft carrier on signs of coronavirus outbreak
David Keohane in Paris
France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, the flagship of the country’s fleet, is being recalled to port due to a suspected outbreak of coronavirus.
Some 40 of the 1,760 people on board the ship are “under enhanced medical observation” as they “have symptoms consistent with possible Covid-19 infection,” said the French ministry of armed forces in a statement on Wednesday morning.
A team capable of testing for coronavirus has been “dispatched to the aircraft carrier to investigate the cases and to prevent the spread of the virus on board the ship,” added the ministry.
The nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle had been deployed in the Atlantic and was being recalled early to Toulon in the south of the country due to the fear of infection spreading on board.
The news follows controversy surrounding a coronavirus outbreak aboard the US aircraft carrier Theordore Roosevelt, in which the commander was fired after he sent a letter to Navy officials pleading for help. The letter was leaked to the media, causing the US navy’s top official to say he had lost confidence in the captain for not adhering to the chain of command in raising his concerns.
4/8/2020, 8:30:58 AM
Rise in daily number of cases around the world
Steve Bernard in London
The number of new daily cases of Covid-19 rose again on Tuesday as 84,945 people were confirmed to have the virus. This brings the global total to more than 1.4m. Yesterday also saw the highest death toll in a single day with 7,382 people losing their lives.
The US added 33,331 cases on Tuesday, its second-highest daily rise, pushing the total for the country over 400,000. There was also a large jump in the death toll as 1,970 people died. This represents an 18 per cent increase on the day, deadliest thus far by some margin.
New York state continues to be worst affected adding 10,486 cases yesterday. This is more than any other country recorded over the past 24 hours with the exception of France. The state’s death toll of 731 was only behind the UK’s 786, excepting France that reports nursing home deaths in its totals.
The number of global recovered cases rose by 23,483 yesterday, leaving a total of 302,017 free from the virus.
4/8/2020, 9:00:23 AM
Medical professionals in Scotland call for higher PPE standards
Mure Dickie in Edinburgh
Scottish medical professionals have called for higher standards of personal protective equipment for front-line staff whose lives are at risk from the coronavirus pandemic.
Shahzad Hanif, a general practitioner and co-ordinator of an open letter to the Scottish government signed by more than 100 medical professionals, told BBC radio on Wednesday that PPE standards suggested by the World Health Organization were inadequate for a wealthy country such as the UK.
The Scottish government has said that it is addressing PPE shortages, but the letter states that some medical professionals have “grave concerns” about the equipment they have been given.
“There are certainly signs now that the quantity of the protective equipment is coming through…It’s more the quality of the equipment that we are more anxious about now,” Dr Hanif said.
4/8/2020, 9:16:30 AM
London’s mayor tightens safety on buses as drivers’ death tally rises
Transport for London has introduced a new boarding system to improve safety for staff and passengers on buses but the mayor has refused calls to provide drivers with protective equipment, as the death toll of transport workers in the capital reaches at least 14.
The trial system, in which passengers can only enter through the middle door, will begin this week. It builds on other safety measures including covering the holes in drivers’ screens with clear film and discouraging people to sit near the driver.
Sadiq Khan, London mayor, told viewers of breakfast TV show Good Morning Britain that nine bus drivers had died from coronavirus so far. He added that London was following Public Health England guidelines to provide masks to front-line health workers but not to transport workers.
Unite, the workers union, has called on government to provide personal protective equipment for transport.
“Each of these deaths is a terrible tragedy and the thoughts of everyone at Unite goes to the families of the bus workers who have died of coronavirus,” said Unite regional secretary Peter Kavanagh this week.
“We are also calling on the government to make provisions for transport workers in terms of Personal Protective Equipment,” he added.
4/8/2020, 9:20:38 AM
MJ Gleeson raises cash to ramp up housebuilding after lockdown
George Hammond in London
MJ Gleeson, the low-cost housebuilder, has become the first construction company to raise cash with a view to ramping up activity in the wake of coronavirus.
“There will be a recovery, and we’re absolutely confident in our model,” said James Thomson, chief executive of Gleeson, which announced the £16.4m equity issue on Wednesday.
The funds will allow Gleeson to accelerate building on existing sites, where work is currently paused, to break ground on new sites and to reinvigorate its supply chain after a period of forced hibernation.
Gleeson’s average selling price for a new home is £130,000, and customers are mostly first-time buyers. Many are also key workers.
Shares in Gleeson were up almost 7 per cent in early trading.
Other housebuilders are also taking steps to ensure mothballed construction projects can be restarted quickly. Taylor Wimpey has made £5m available to pay subcontractors in advance of any work carried out once building sites reopen, it announced on Wednesday.
4/8/2020, 9:32:45 AM
Pendragon to furlough 80% of staff for 3 weeks as car sales plummet
Nikou Asgari in Reading
Britain’s largest car dealership Pendragon announced it would furlough more than 80 per cent of its UK employees for 21 days as car sales dive following the nationwide lockdown.
Pendragon also announced the company’s senior executives would take a pay cut and its chief executive, Bill Berman, would donate his 20 per cent salary reduction to the NHS.
All of Pendragon’s dealerships, which include the Evans Halshaw and Pinewood companies, have been closed since March 24 in accordance with government rules. Some dealerships have remained open exclusively to repair emergency service vehicles.
The automotive industry has seen demand slump as nationwide lockdowns have shuttered dealerships and production lines. Car sales in the UK fell 44.4 per cent in March compared with the same month in 2019, according to SMMT, Britain’s motor industry trade group.
4/8/2020, 9:39:57 AM
Opinion: Trump’s risky fixation on unproven therapies
The FT View
If one thing unites the world, it is the desire for a quick exit from the coronavirus pandemic. Donald Trump shares that goal. But the US president’s reach is considerably longer than his grasp.
His focus on antimalarial drugs as a cure for Covid-19 comes increasingly at the expense of the US government’s attention to more practical ends.
Yet Mr Trump persists in pushing his “hail Mary” recipe. This is causing several problems.
Read the article in full here.
4/8/2020, 9:42:56 AM
Border closure raises new economic fears in Iran
Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran
Iraq has extended the closure of its main border crossing with Iran, Tehran said, raising concerns about an export market that generates a significant part of the country’s foreign currency income.
Iran exports about a quarter of its non-oil goods to its western neighbour, a vital lifeline in the face of US sanctions. Baghdad had closed the crossing since early March amid concerns over the spread of coronavrius.
“Iraqi government has decided to renew the closure of Mehran checkpoint until April 18,” the Iranian government said. “We hope our efforts to re-open the border will bear fruit before that deadline.”
Economic pressure has led the government of Hassan Rouhani to start bringing life back to normal. From Saturday, 75 per cent of all businesses will resume work across the country.
Iran’s death toll is set to surpass 4,000 while a similar number of patients are in a critical condition.
4/8/2020, 9:55:58 AM
WHO stresses countries must maintain lockdown measures
Camilla Hodgson in London
The World Health Organization has urged countries not to relax Covid-19 lockdown measures and stressed that there was still “a long way to go” to defeat the pandemic.
Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, told a press conference that now was “not the time to relax [lockdown] measures,” and all countries must “double and triple our collective efforts”.
“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “The progress we have made so far in fighting the virus is extremely fragile.” Any relaxation of social distancing measures required “very careful consideration,” he added. “We need to remain committed.”
Dr Kluge said the picture was still “very concerning” in Europe, although some countries, such as Italy and Spain, were starting to see the rate of new cases slow as a result of lockdown measures. However, others, such as Turkey and Sweden, were seeing a “surge” and seven out of the 10 worst affected countries by the virus globally were in Europe.
The slowdown in some countries offered “a rare chance for us to tighten our grip on the virus”, said Dr Kluge. “This is not the time to lower our guard. We must soldier on.”
4/8/2020, 10:00:21 AM
OECD data indicates major economies have entered recession
Delphine Strauss in London
The scale and speed of the shock that coronavirus has dealt the global economy was shown in OECD data published on Wednesday, giving the strongest signal on record that major economies have gone into recession.
The Paris-based organisation said its index of composite leading indicators – designed to identify turning points in the economic cycle – recorded its biggest drop on record in most major economies in March, reflecting the immediate impact of lockdown measures on production, consumption and confidence.
But the OECD warned that because of the uncertainty over how long lockdown measures would last, the CLI could be taken to reflect only the current situation, not how long or how severe the contraction in activity would last.
4/8/2020, 10:01:43 AM
Russia rejects US claim that shale output fall is tantamount to supply cut
Henry Foy in Moscow
Russia has rejected claims from the US that a natural reduction in oil output from shale producers should be classed as the country’s share of a potential global crude reduction deal set to be discussed this week.
Russia, Saudi Arabia and other major producers are set to hold meetings on Thursday and Friday in a bid to hash out a deal to cut global oil production, after a dramatic fall in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic caused prices to fall by about 50 per cent.
But much hangs on the participation of the US in any shared cuts, after Moscow said it would only agree to a deal that also required American producers to reduce their output.
The Kremlin said that reports released on Tuesday forecasting that shale output would naturally decline due to the lower oil price forcing involuntary shut-ins would not count to any voluntary US pledge to reduce production.
“These are completely different reductions. You compare the general reduction in demand with the reductions for stabilising world markets. It’s like comparing length and breadth,” said Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for president Vladimir Putin, in response to a question about whether Russia would accept the forecast output decline as part of any US reduction pledge. “These are different concepts, and they cannot be equated.”
Russia and other Opec members are set to take part in a virtual conference on Thursday, while Saudi Arabia has called a meeting of G20 energy ministers on Friday to discuss a potential deal.
4/8/2020, 10:17:29 AM
Ethiopia declares state of emergency
David Pilling in London
Ethiopia has become the latest country in Africa to declare a state of emergency to help its battle against coronavirus.
The declaration gives the government the power to enforce social distancing and to ban mass gatherings, including in churches in what is a devoutly Christian country. About a third of the country’s 110m people are Muslim.
According to official statistics, Ethiopia has been relatively unscathed by the virus so far with just 52 confirmed cases. But the fast-developing east African country has close air links with China and was operating flights to at least five Chinese cities well into March. Some officials admit privately that the real caseload of coronavirus cases is likely to be much higher.
Some opposition groups are likely to criticize the decision to impose a state of emergency, which recalls the days of the pre-2018 government when critics were routinely imprisoned under state of emergency laws.
Mr Abiy’s government has allowed far more freedom of expression than its predecessor, but that has unleashed a fierce wave of ethno-nationalism across a country divided into 10 ethnic-based regions.
Ethiopia has already postponed much-anticipated general elections in August that would have been the first electoral test of Mr Abiy’s popularity. Article 93 of the constitution allows the government to declare a state of emergency in case of external invasion, a breakdown of law, natural disaster or an epidemic.
4/8/2020, 10:18:35 AM
Indian banks face spillover effects as pressure mounts on companies
Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
India’s largest business organisation has warned that the current stress on companies could soon spill over into the banking sector, unless the Indian government provides more financial support to struggling companies.
In a strategy paper on how to revive India’s economy after the current lockdown, the Confederation of Indian Industry appealed to New Delhi to press banks to provide additional working capital to companies, equivalent to the wage bill from April to June for affected industries.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the surprise three-week lockdown, he admonished businesses to pay all workers wages and warned them against laying off idle workers. But companies have said it is unsustainable to continue paying workers, when they cannot operate and have no revenues.
In its strategy paper, the CII also suggested that New Delhi set aside an additional $53bn to strengthen banks to give them the ability to deal more flexibly with borrowers that are reeling from the lockdown.
The stress in the real sector has the possibility of spreading to the financial sector.
The CII also called for $26bn in financial support to the country’s poorest families, who have been hard hit by the suspension of virtually all economic activity.
4/8/2020, 10:19:37 AM
Morrisons joins forces with Deliveroo to meet home delivery demand
Jonathan Eley in London
Wm Morrison has become the latest supermarket to team up with Deliveroo to offer home delivery of groceries, as Deliveroo looks for ways to mitigate the impact of a sharp contraction in restaurant delivery services.
The companies said in a joint statement that the service will be available from more than 130 Morrisons stores across the UK and cover one in four households. That makes it more substantial than existing Deliveroo partnerships with convenience store chains Coop and McColl’s and M&S Simply Food stores located on BP petrol station forecourts.
The menu of 70 or so options will include “a selection of items that customers might need” including meat, fruit, vegetables and store cupboard essentials. Pricing will be the same as Morrison’s stores and the Deliveroo charge will be a flat £4.99.
They said the initiative “will be for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis”.
“The new offer is important for families now staying at home and those unable to order speedy delivery from supermarkets due to high demand,” they added.
Morrisons has already launched a £35 “essentials box” and expanded its online grocery and click and collect services, but demand has still exceeded supply.
4/8/2020, 10:40:49 AM
London Stock Exchange’s annual meeting moves online
Samuel Agini in London
Social distancing and two shareholders present. The London Stock Exchange Group is the latest company to find that protocol for its annual meeting must change because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The LSE has told shareholders that attending its annual meeting in person will not be possible this year, referring to the UK government’s restrictions on public gatherings. The exchange encouraged shareholders to vote electronically instead. Alternatively, shareholders can provide LSE chairman Don Robert with their voting preferences and appoint him as their proxy.
“The meeting will take place with the minimum necessary quorum of two shareholders, which will be facilitated by LSEG in line with the government’s strict social distancing advice,” Lisa Condron, group company secretary, wrote in a statement.
“We are disappointed that we are having to adopt these measures and appreciate our shareholders understanding in these unprecedented circumstances,” she wrote.
The meeting is due to take place on April 21 at its headquarters in Paternoster Square.
4/8/2020, 10:42:21 AM
Spain records figures below peak
Daniel Dombey in Madrid
The number of coronavirus deaths in Spain and the rate of spread of the disease rose marginally on Wednesday, but remained well below the peak of the outbreak.
As many as 757 have died in the past 24 hours after contracting coronavirus, the second consecutive rise in deaths after four straight days of declines, official figures show. That’s higher than the previous day’s toll of 743 but lower than the peak of 950 released less than a week ago. The total is now 14,555.
Controversy is mounting in Spain over claims that the official numbers underestimate the real death toll because of central government’s insistence that the figures only include people with proven rather than suspected cases of coronavirus. Other countries have had similar disputes, while authorities insist there is no alternative as official data must be limited to proven cases.
The number of documented cases of coronavirus is 146,690, 4 per cent above Tuesday’s figure. The growth rate is well below the 25-30 per cent levels that were regularly reported last month.
The government is introducing antibody tests for bigger segments of the population.
4/8/2020, 10:48:05 AM
Live Q&A: How are your spending habits changing under lockdown?
Claer Barrett, FT money editor, will be holding two online Q&A sessions on Wednesday: 12 midday to 1pm; and 5-6pm British summer time.
She will be available to answer your questions about how you have shifted your spending habits as you adhere to lockdown rules.
To join the live discussion please follow this link.
4/8/2020, 10:49:50 AM
South African minister disciplined for defying lockdown
Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa placed his communications minister on leave for defying strict lockdown measures.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was ordered to leave her post for two months, one without pay, by Mr Ramaphosa on Wednesday after she was caught on social media lunching at a friend’s house during the lockdown.
South Africans have been ordered to stay home until at least April 16 in order to slow the spread of the pandemic in Africa’s most industrialised nation. South Africa has recorded nearly 1,750 cases and plans to step up daily testing this month.
“Members of the national executive carry a special responsibility in setting an example to South Africans, who are having to make great sacrifices,” Mr Ramaphosa said. He was “unmoved” by excuses offered by Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams, his office said.
The Instagram picture of Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams’ lockdown lunch infuriated many South Africans due to the harsh conditions being faced by the poorest in particular while the economy remains closed. They face tough penalties for lockdown violations including fines or prison.
“I regret the incident and I am deeply sorry for my actions,” Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams said. Mr Ramaphosa said that the law should take its course.
New Zealand’s health minister and the Scottish chief medical officer were also demoted this week after they broke lockdown rules.
4/8/2020, 11:36:15 AM
EU carbon emissions wane during lockdowns
Victor Mallet in Paris
Daily carbon dioxide emissions have fallen almost 60 per cent across the EU since coronavirus lockdowns put the world economy into reverse, underlining how the pandemic has sharply reduced — albeit temporarily — human impact on the environment.
Measures by the 27 EU member states to confine their populations to slow the spread of the virus have disrupted economies and prompted a 58 per cent decline in daily carbon emissions, show calculations by Sia Partners, a French consultancy specialising in energy.
Read the full article here.
4/8/2020, 11:37:41 AM
EU says top scientist was asked to resign by ERC committee
Javier Espinoza in Brussels
Mauro Ferrari, the EU’s top scientist, was asked to resign from his post by the members of the European Research Council, an EU spokesman said on Wednesday. The person gave no further details on the reasons behind their request.
“There was a vote on March 27 by the ERC’s other 19 members who requested the resignation of Mr Ferrari,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman added Mr Ferrari quit by email on Tuesday and his resignation took immediate effect.
He said the EU “regrets his resignation”, which comes at a crucial stage of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Launched in 2007, the ERC is aimed at funding the bloc’s best scientists and it is one of the world’s most prestigious funding agencies with a budget of about €2bn a year.
4/8/2020, 11:55:12 AM
Scottish death toll is higher than previous records show
Mure Dickie in Edinburgh
Deaths from coronavirus in Scotland are higher than previously captured by health boards, government data revealed on Wednesday, as controversies stack up around the world about the accuracy of officially reported cases.
There were 366 deaths in Scotland by April 6, up 70 from the previous day, according to data released by the government using a revised methodology.
Separately, the National Records of Scotland said there had been 354 deaths in Scotland by April 5 where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate.
The new NRS figure is intended to complement the daily data from government agency Health Protection Scotland that records deaths in hospitals among those who have a laboratory-confirmed coronavirus infection.
The NRS said 60 per cent of all deaths involving Covid-19 were of people aged 75 or over.
4/8/2020, 11:56:00 AM
List of countries attending the G20 emergency meeting on oil
David Sheppard in London
The provisional list of countries planning to attend the G20 emergency meeting on the oil market has emerged, with most of the largest members planning to have ministers dial in to the online gathering.
The meeting, set for Friday, is part of efforts to find a way to reduce supplies and support a market that has been overwhelmed by the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which is suspected of having reduced global consumption by as much as a third.
The meeting will come after a gathering of the so-called Opec+ group on Thursday, with members such as Russia pushing for wider participation from oil producers outside the group, amid warnings the world could quickly run out of storage and be forced to shut in fields, potentially with long-term consequences for supplies.
Saudi Arabia, which holds the rotating G20 presidency this year, helped organise the meeting in conjunction with the International Energy Agency, which was established by oil consuming countries in the 1970s.
US President Donald Trump has said he believes Saudi Arabia and Russia will end their price war and agree a cut of as much as 15m barrels a day, or about 15 per cent of pre-crisis output.
The US has made no commitment to make formal cuts, but it is suspected that it could highlight forecast production falls – caused by lower prices – from its own industry as a contribution. Other countries where the private sector makes up the majority of their energy industry are expected to be asked to make similar contributions, such as pointing to the sharp drop in capital expenditures already announced by publicly listed energy companies.
Importing countries without significant oil industries, such as Germany, may be asked to buy up crude or refined fuel for their strategic stockpiles to provide additional support to the market.
Here is a provisional list of attendees for the G20 emergency meeting, according to people familiar with the matter:
4/8/2020, 12:01:13 PM
Hospitality workers hit by service charge exclusion in support scheme
Alice Hancock in London
Tens of thousands of workers in the UK hospitality industry face receiving only half their wages from the government’s coronavirus job support scheme after the tax authority said service charge would not be included.
The charge, usually 12 to 15 per cent of the total that is added to bills in hotels and restaurants, is paid directly to employees through a system known as tronc. It usually comprises between 30 and 50 per cent of waiters’, chefs’ and sommeliers’ pay.
Unlike cash tips, which typically go straight to employees without being taxed, service charge is taxed and declared through a company’s payroll system, even though the employers do not touch the money.
Read more here
4/8/2020, 12:03:25 PM
Hong Kong sets out additional $18bn relief to support economy
Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong
Hong Kong has set out an additional HK$137.5bn ($17.6bn) relief package to support the local economy hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
This is for an “unprecedented challenge” that demands an “unprecedented response” from the government, chief executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday.
The measures include an HK$80bn wage grant to prevent layoffs. Employers can apply for a 50 per cent subsidy for each employee with a HK$9,000 upper limit for six months. The government pledged HK$21bn more on the existing HK$30bn anti-epidemic fund to provide support to specific industries.
Ms Lam added that companies who dismiss staff will be asked to pay back the subsidies or even be subject to punishment.
The city’s rail operator, MTR, which is majority owned by the government, will provide a 20 per cent discount on ticket fares from July. The government will take up half the cost.
Other policies include corporate loan guarantees, expanding civil servant recruitment, tax breaks, rent cuts on government lands and other fee waivers.
Key government officials will also take a 10 per cent salary cut for 12 months, after a recent outcry on Ms Lam’s 2 per cent pay rise.
The territory has set aside more than HK$287.5bn to boost the economy in the past months. Paul Chan, the financial secretary, said the deficit for the current fiscal year will rise to 9.5 per cent of gross domestic product.
4/8/2020, 12:07:27 PM
Boris Johnson ‘stable’ and ‘responding to treatment’ in ICU
Boris Johnson remains in intensive care but is “clinically stable” and “responding to treatment”, the UK prime minister’s spokesperson has said.
The prime minister remains in “good spirits” during his treatment for coronavirus at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, Downing Street said in a daily press briefing.
Mr Johnson is still receiving “standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any other assistance”. Downing Street added that Mr Johnson is “not working, as he is in intensive care” but “has the ability to contact those he needs to”.
His spokesperson declined to say whether his high temperature has decreased, his cough has subsided or whether the prime minister has gone on any of the trial drugs to combat coronavirus. Mr Johnson will “continue to follow the advice of his medical team”, his spokesperson added.
On the topic of when the UK lockdown will end, No 10 said a review would be made “on or about” the three-week mark — which is just after the long Easter weekend. The spokesperson declined to say when exactly it would be announced.
There is a widespread expectation in government that the lockdown will be renewed. In Wales, the housing minister Julie James said this morning that the lockdown will continue there into next week. Ms James told the BBC there were “signs” that the stringent social distancing measures were working, but urged residents not to leave home over Easter.
The PM’s spokesperson said the UK government was not expecting to make any announcements on the lockdown today. “It is too early to say when the peak is going to be,” he said, reiterating that the government will be guided by scientific advice on when to relieve the measures.
The government also announced that 20,000 health care workers have now been tested for coronavirus. The most recent daily figures put 14,006 people being tested, which is some way off the pledge of 100,000 tests before the end of the month.
4/8/2020, 12:11:37 PM
Free to read
Analysis: Tracking coronavirus — Big data and the challenge to privacy
Nic Fildes in London and Javier Espinoza in Brussels
Mapping how populations move between locations has proved invaluable in tracking and responding to epidemics.
But the use of such data to track coronavirus has triggered fears of growing surveillance, including questions about how the data might be used once the crisis is over and whether such data sets are ever truly anonymous.
Read the full article here for free.
4/8/2020, 1:05:45 PM
Global trade will shrink more than in financial crisis, WTO says
Valentina Romei in London
World trade is expected to contract more than during the financial crisis as the coronavirus pandemic upends the global economy, according to the World Trade Organization.
World merchandise trade is set to plummet by up to 32 per cent due to the Covid-19 crisis, marking a much faster contraction than the 12 per cent decline in 2009, the WTO forecasts.
“These numbers are ugly – there is no getting around that,” the organisation’s director-general said. “The unavoidable declines in trade and output will have painful consequences for households and businesses, on top of the human suffering caused by the disease itself.”
Roberto Azevêdo urged countries to “work together” to keep markets open and ensure they foster a favourable business environment to achieve a “much faster recovery”.
The nearly one-third drop in trade is calculated assuming an initial steep decline and a prolonged and incomplete recovery.
If global trade were to start recovering from the second half of 2020 and the post-crisis growth were strong enough to bring trade close to its pre-pandemic trend, the annual contraction would be milder, at 13 per cent. However, the organisation notes that, after the financial crisis of 2008-09, trade never returned to its previous trend.
Under both scenarios, all regions will suffer double-digit declines in trade in 2020, with a 41 per cent contraction for North America in the most pessimistic scenario.
Last year, global merchandise trade fell by 0.1 per cent, weighed down by geopolitical tensions and slowing economic growth.
4/8/2020, 1:10:43 PM
Russia and China shut land border
Henry Foy in Moscow
Russia and China have closed their land border for personnel crossings after the Heilongjiang province recorded 25 new cases of coronavirus among citizens who had recently returned from Russia.
Russia had moved to seal off its more than 4,000km border with China in late January as the coronavirus outbreak was beginning to spread globally, but has allowed certain people and goods to cross in the months since.
“All personnel passages at the China-Russia land border crossings have been temporarily closed,” the Chinese embassy in Moscow said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Russian consulate in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, confirmed the closure, and said in a separate statement that 87 cases of coronavirus in the region had been imported.
“Twenty-five new Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the Heilongjiang province in the past 24 hours,” it said in a post on social media. “All the Chinese citizens arrived from Moscow via Vladivostok and crossed the [border] in the period between March 30 and April 4.”
None of those infected were Russian citizens, it added
4/8/2020, 1:12:39 PM
Mexico job losses threaten workers’ healthcare
Jude Webber in Mexico City
Mexico has registered almost 350,000 job losses as a result of Covid-19, with the majority of those workers also losing access to the state social security health service.
Luisa María Alcalde, labour secretary, said the job losses, which count cuts in formal employment between March 13 and April 6, were concentrated among larger companies employing more than 50 people. Smaller companies employing up to five people “have resisted and shown solidarity,” she told a news conference.
Mexico also has a large informal workforce, making up roughly half the economy, where workers pay no taxes and receive no benefits. The CCE, Mexico’s biggest business lobby, says 1.4m jobs in Mexico are at risk as Latin America’s second biggest economy is forecast to contract as much as 10 per cent.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called small companies “heroic” for not cutting staff and appealed to others to reconsider, saying “our god cannot be money”.
Zoé Robledo, head of the state social security institute, IMSS, said 62 per cent of the fired workers would no longer have access to the institute’s health services and appealed to employers not to fire workers because “these are health service contributions that can mean life or death” in the current coronavirus crisis.
Mr López Obrador has resisted calls from business leaders to defer taxes or provide other benefits to keep small businesses afloat during a month-long lockdown. He said he would provide 1m low-interest loans instead.
4/8/2020, 1:27:49 PM
Rio Tinto bucks trend with plans to pay $3.7bn dividend
Neil Hume in London
Global miner Rio Tinto will make a $3.7bn dividend payment this year bucking a trend that has seen scores of companies in Europe and North America scrap returns to shareholders because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chairman Simon Thomson said the Anglo-Australian company had decided to hand the cash to investors because demand for its main commodity — steel-making ingredient iron ore — remained strong.
Mr Thompson told investors:
The Board debated this issue on Monday and confirmed that we will pay the dividend, as set out in our annual report.
We took this decision because Rio Tinto has a strong balance sheet, our operations are running safely, and our order book for iron ore is full.
The price of iron ore has remained relatively robust this year helped by supply disruptions and also demand in China, where business is returning to normal after the virus outbreak.
Some rival miners including Glencore and Freeport-McMoRan have decided to suspend dividend payments to preserve cash and give them time to assess the impact of Covid-19 on their operations.
Rio has already paid a $2.7bn interim dividend for 2019 and returned a $1bn by way of a special dividend.
4/8/2020, 1:32:31 PM
US stocks rise 1% as investors assess coronavirus updates
Wall Street climbed more than 1 per cent at the open amid hopes that cases in the US are peaking and on expectations that Congress could announce further emergency support to cushion the economy.
The S&P 500 rose 1.1 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 1.2 per cent. US equities are in the midst of what looks to be another wild week. The S&P 500 jumped 7 per cent on Monday, for its biggest daily gain in a fortnight, and on Tuesday, it ended lower despite have chalked up sizeable gains earlier in the session.
Investors, this week, have have been encouraged by signs that coronavirus cases are starting to slow after governments around the world imposed sweeping restrictions on movement.
Elsewhere in markets, the yield on the US 10-year rose 0.02 percentage points to 0.7563 per cent.
4/8/2020, 1:33:55 PM
Covid-19 death toll in England jumps by 828 in worst day yet
The number of Covid-19 fatalities in England has risen by more than 800 in the darkest day yet of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.
England’s death toll increased by 828 people as of Tuesday evening, according to NHS England. It marked the biggest increase to date and suggests the overall UK tally will have climbed by the most since the outbreak began.
Patients were between 22 and 103 years old and roughly 94 per cent had underlying health conditions, according to NHS England. London continued to be the hardest-hit region, reporting 201 deaths over the 24-hour period. Fatalities rose by 171 in the Midlands, 128 in the North West and 120 in the South East.
The overall UK death toll increased by 786 to 6,159 the previous day, with the number of fatalities in England increasing by 758. The health department is scheduled to publish updated UK data later on Thursday.
4/8/2020, 1:34:53 PM
Democrats set out billion-dollar emergency stimulus demands
Lauren Fedor in Washington
Top Democrats on Capitol Hill have set out a series of demands for small businesses, hospitals and state and local governments, as lawmakers prepare for a fresh round of negotiations on how to provide billions of dollars of stimulus to Americans struggling to cope with the coronavirus crisis.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s most senior Democrat, said in a joint statement on Wednesday morning that Democrats wanted “interim emergency legislation” to include $250bn in assistance to small businesses, half of which would be channelled through smaller, community-based lenders.
Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer called for an extra $100bn for hospitals to buy personal protective equipment and expand testing capacity, $150bn more for state and local governments and a 15 per cent increase in food stamp benefits for low-income Americans.
Their list of demands came one day after Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, said he had spoken to both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders about securing $250bn to fund loans for small businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
4/8/2020, 1:41:48 PM
Free to read: Zoom in on your lockdown meeting techniques
The early weeks of lockdown have seen an unprecedented take-up of on-screen technologies for both our professional and personal lives. The “Zoom revolution” has swept every country affected by the global pandemic.
With this surge in onscreen traffic comes a corresponding desire to look and sound good. This is not necessarily a new challenge, but it is suddenly an urgent and widespread one.
Viv Groskop explores the question: How do you own the room when you are not in the room?
4/8/2020, 1:46:00 PM
Vietnam to send 450,000 protective suits to US
John Reed in Bangkok
The Vietnamese government said on Wednesday it was shipping more than 450,000 protective suits made in Vietnam by the American company DuPont to the US to help it in the fight against Covid-19.
Vietnam is a significant manufacturing base for the US company, largely to serve the neighbouring Chinese market.
“The first of two initial shipments of over 450,000 DuPont protective suits departed Hanoi on April 7,” Vietnam said in its online government newspaper in a post on Wednesday evening.
The online portal quoted Daniel Kritenbrink, the US ambassador to Vietnam, as saying that the shipment would “help protect healthcare professionals working on the front lines against Covid-19 in the United States”, and that it demonstrated the strength of the two countries’ relationship.
Separately, Vietnam on Tuesday said it was sending more than 550,000 made-in-Vietnam face masks to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK, the European countries hit hardest by the pandemic.
Healthcare professionals have praised Vietnam for its forthright approach to confronting the pandemic, which has included the aggressive tracing of people who came in contact with patients, and the forced quarantines of tens of thousands of people. The country has reported 251 cases of coronavirus to date, and no deaths.
4/8/2020, 1:51:06 PM
Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News publications to be liquidated
Mark Di Stefano in London
The Jewish Chronicle, the world’s oldest continuously published Jewish newspaper, and the Jewish News are to be liquidated as both UK-based publications urgently seek buyers to survive the tough media market brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
A statement posted on the Jewish Chronicle’s website said:
Despite the heroic efforts of the editorial and production team at the newspaper, it has become clear that the Jewish Chronicle will not be able to survive the impact of the current coronavirus epidemic in its current form.
Staff were this morning told of the plan to liquidate both companies in the coming weeks, with all 54 employees including journalists and support staff to be made redundant.
The Jewish Chronicle was founded in 1841 and the two publications have a combined average newspaper circulation of about 40,000 copies per week, according to industry figures.
In February the two titles had announced an intention to merge, in a move that would have brought together two of the most influential Jewish news outlets in the UK under one umbrella.
4/8/2020, 1:51:31 PM
McDonald’s sales drop by over 20% in March
McDonald’s is shelving $1bn worth of restaurant upgrades and openings after coronavirus disruption caused sales at the fast food chain to slump more than a fifth last month.
In an unscheduled update, McDonald’s said that while three quarters of outlets globally were operational most were focusing on drive-through, takeaway and delivery.
The Chicago-based group is reining in capital spending and suspending share buybacks after global sales dropped 22 per cent in March.
Chris Kempczinski, the chief executive who took charge last year when Steve Easterbrook was fired for having a relationship with a colleague, is taking a 50 per cent cut to his base salary.
McDonald’s said it was also allowing some franchisees to defer rent and royalty payments. In common with other large companies, McDonald’s said it was unable to quantify the financial impact of Covid-19 and withdrew its 2020 outlook.
4/8/2020, 2:02:54 PM
Irish police gain powers to curb citizens’ movements over Easter
Arthur Beesley in Dublin
Ireland has tightened coronavirus restrictions, giving police enforcement powers to curtail peoples’ movement over the coming Easter holiday weekend.
Drew Harris, chief of the Garda force, said police will set up road checkpoints “to deter travel which is not essential” amid anxiety that people going to holiday homes will spread Covid-19 from cities, where there are the most infections.
He was speaking on Wednesday after Leo Varadkar’s government triggered emergency police regulations that it rushed into law a fortnight ago at the start of a lockdown that requires people to stay at home.
“What we’re seeing is that the discipline required to live by this medical advice is starting to slip a little,” Mr Harris said.
We’re seeing things like people exercising more than 2km from their home. We’re seeing people moving for non-essential reasons and we’re also seeing house parties so these are areas where we feel we may need the regulations in terms of enforcing the restrictions that are in place.
The Irish council for civil liberties, a human rights group, urged police not to use the powers.
“It is not clear that there is any demonstrated need to move from consent to enforcement and we urge the Garda commissioner to make it clear that the introduction of these regulations does not lead to any significant change in the operational approach of the [force],” said Liam Herrick, the group’s executive director.
The lockdown was introduced for an initial two-week period, to end on Sunday, but Simon Harris, the health minister, has said the restrictions are unlikely to be lifted at the weekend.
4/8/2020, 2:28:13 PM
Video: How satellite images show global lockdown
Before and after satellite images and drone footage reveal empty city streets, from China to Italy, the UK and the US.
4/8/2020, 2:34:51 PM
India’s Supreme Court calls for free Covid-19 testing
Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
India’s Supreme Court has directed the government to ensure that testing for the novel coronavirus is free in public and privately owned laboratories, after private labs had been permitted to start offering tests at up to Rs4,500 ($60) per customer.
The order came in response to a petition from a lawyer who argued that the cost of coronavirus tests in private labs would put them out of reach of many middle-class families, who are unable to secure tests in overloaded government hospitals.
India has struggled to scale up its capacity to test suspected coronavirus patients for the pathogen, and has one of the lowest rates of testing of any country. It recently permitted a handful of prominent private laboratory chains to conduct the tests as well to help increase testing capacity.
The Indian Council for Medical Research, which has set testing policy, had capped the prices of tests at private laboratories at Rs4,500 each.
In the hearing, the judges suggested that private hospitals and labs “have an important role to play in containing the scale of the pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis”.
The court directive is an interim order and the government has an opportunity to respond.
4/8/2020, 2:36:13 PM
General Motors to produce 30,000 ventilators for $489m
Claire Bushey in Chicago
General Motors and ventilator manufacturer Ventec Life Systems are set to deliver 30,000 of the medical devices to the national stockpile by August, for a price tag of $489m.
A new contract between the US Department of Health and Human Services and GM specifies that at least 6,132 ventilators will be delivered by June 1.
The automaker has been collaborating with Ventec to use GM’s purchasing and logistics expertise to help Ventec increase production of the much-needed breathing machines. The Seattle-area ventilator maker has been constrained by the limits of its supply chain, which could not scale up fast enough to meet the demand created by the spread of Covid-19. GM will also manufacture ventilators at one of its plants in Indiana.
President Donald Trump has criticised GM for moving slowly and for asking too high a fee for the project. He said he would use the Defense Production Act to compel the automaker’s participation. GM said that it wanted to help supply the ventilators, and was doing so at cost.
4/8/2020, 2:47:51 PM
Poland boosts economic stimulus
James Shotter in Warsaw
Poland has expanded its Covid-19 economic rescue package by 100bn zlotys, roughly $24bn, as its central bank lowers borrowing costs for the second time in three weeks.
Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the latest measures, which bring total support for the economy to around 320bn zlotys, were designed to help companies avoid laying off staff.
“Today’s economic goal is to maintain the largest number of jobs possible,” Mr Morawiecki said. “When there is no revenue [for companies], we have to react quickly.”
The measures include around 60bn zlotys of subsidies that will not have to be repaid if companies keep staff on their books, and are focused on small and medium-sized businesses.
Mr Morawiecki’s announcement came as the National Bank of Poland cut its benchmark rate from 1 per cent to 0.5 per cent.
4/8/2020, 2:59:30 PM
Rent non-payments shoot up in April as US families struggle
Joshua Chaffin in New York
The number of households who paid rent during the first five days of April plunged 12 percentage points from the same period in March, according to an apartment industry survey. That meant nearly a third of tenants failed to pay any rent, in the latest sign of the economic toll the coronavirus has had on US families.
The survey was compiled by the National Multifamily Housing Council, a group that represents developers who own and manage apartment complexes and other residential rental properties.
It found that as of April 5, just 69 per cent of households had made their monthly payment compared with 81 per cent in the same time period of March. During the first five days of April 2019, the figure was 82 per cent.
The NMHC did not include a geographical breakdown. But, anecdotally, several developers indicated that rent delinquencies were worse in Las Vegas and Orlando, two markets that are heavily-reliant on entertainment industries that are now closed.
Read the full article here.
4/8/2020, 3:18:59 PM
UK government will not start antibody testing by May
Camilla Hodgson in London
None of the 100,000 Covid-19 tests that the UK government aims to be doing per day by the end of April will be antibody tests, Public Health England said on Wednesday.
“We do not expect to be doing antibody tests before the end of April,” said Professor John Newton, director of public health improvement for Public Health England, giving evidence to a House of Commons committee.
The 100,000 are all expected to be diagnostic polymerase chain reaction tests.
The government admitted on Monday that none of the 17.5m antibody tests it had ordered yet worked well enough to be used.
Those that the government have trilled have “worked to some extent, but they were just not good enough to rely on”, said Prof Newton. “It’s worth taking the time to develop a better antibody test before rolling it out.”
Ministers had in March touted the imminent roll out of antibody tests for use at home by the public, but have since backtracked on when this might happen.
4/8/2020, 3:25:31 PM
Some of UK’s elite private schools reject upfront fee cuts
Andrew Jack in London
Westminster, St Paul’s and Dulwich in London are among elite schools that have refused to bill at lower rates for regular tuition charges for the coming term, while promising future rebates and cutting charges for boarders.
They are seeking to delay projects and find other ways to save money while applying for the government programme to recover 80 per cent of salaries for staff unable to work during the lockdown.
But their decisions on fees have caused anger among some parents who are suffering a drop in income and believe that the online programmes offered are worth less than in-person schooling.
Read the rest of this: Some of UK’s elite private schools reject upfront fee cuts
4/8/2020, 3:35:28 PM
UK nurses do not receive adequate protective equipment, union says
Bethan Staton in London
The UK’s largest nursing union has told MPs that nurses are still not receiving adequate personal protective equipment, arguing that a disproportionate focus on hospitals has deprived other staff on the coronavirus frontline of life-saving kit.
Dame Donna Kinnair, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the safety of nurses was being “fundamentally compromised” by a lack of PPE supplies and the slow roll-out of testing, forcing members to make “impossible decisions” between their health and their “sense of duty”.
Writing this week to Jeremy Hunt, the chair of the Commons Health and Social Care select committee, she said nurses were being forced to share equipment, buy their own supplies, or re-use PPE meant for single use.
“Although there are announcements that millions of pieces of PPE are being distributed, they aren’t reaching the frontline across all health and care settings,” she wrote.
In a written submission to the inquiry into preparations for coronavirus, the RCN said nursing staff had been “unheard” in their requirements for proper PPE. It said there had been a “disproportionate focus” on ensuring PPE only for NHS hospitals, leaving those in general practice or care homes without adequate supplies.
Provision of insufficient and inadequate PPE was a “direct breach” of statutory obligations, the union said. Dame Kinnair wrote that she expected to discuss the issues with the health and social care select committee “at the earliest available opportunity”.
4/8/2020, 3:35:37 PM
UK broadcaster Channel 4 cuts this year’s content spending
Mark di Stefano in London
Channel 4 is the latest media company to take action to weather the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, setting out plans to cut this year’s spending on new content.
The UK broadcaster, which usually spends between £600m to £700m every year on new content, plans to reduce that by £150m in 2020.
Executives will be taking a 20 per cent pay cut, bonuses will be suspended and about 10 per cent of the workforce will be furloughed, Channel 4 said on Wednesday as part of a number of measures.
The broadcaster said the advertising market was collapsing, even as viewing figures have risen. Channel 4 forecasts advertising revenue will be down 50 per cent in April and May.
For some perspective, one insider said during the financial crisis of 2008 the broadcaster’s ad revenue fell 20 per cent.
“As a commercially funded business the Covid-19 outbreak has had a severe impact on our advertising revenues and so we are taking action now to manage our costs appropriately and ensure that we both protect our staff and our ongoing ability to serve our audience,” said Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon.
4/8/2020, 3:42:32 PM
UK mulls contact tracing using smartphone technology
Camilla Hodgson in London
The UK government is considering rolling out smartphone technology that would alert people if they had been close to someone infected with Covid-19.
Contact tracing using smartphone technology is “potentially a huge tool”, said Professor John Newton, director of public health improvement for Public Health England, giving evidence to a House of Commons committee. “That’s actively being considered.”
Such a system would “give you some indication of whether you have been close to someone who’s tested positive,” he said. “Undoubtedly it’s going to be a very important component.”
Prof Newton said the technology would likely be used in a later phase of the pandemic, and would help doctors and researchers contain and study the virus.
4/8/2020, 3:55:29 PM
Norwegian Air proposes revamp to qualify for government support
Norwegian Air Shuttle has called an emergency meeting as it proposes restructuring measures to improve liquidity and cope with the pandemic that has ravaged the airline industry.
The company plans to convert debt to equity and raise funds through a private placement, measures that will mean it qualifies for up to NKr3bn worth of support from the Norwegian government.
Jacob Schram, chief executive, said: “The proposed measures are necessary in securing the next tranches of the Norwegian government state guarantee programme.”
“We will over the next weeks engage in dialogue with the bond holders, lessors and other creditors, with the intent of converting substantial debt to equity,” he added.
Among the airline’s measures include plans to convert “all or part of its bonds” into shares and offer a private placement with potential preferential treatment for existing shareholders.
An EGM will be held on May 4 to vote for the plan.
Last month the carrier became one of the first in Europe to be bailed out by its government. Authorities have been grappling with how to help an aviation industry struggling in the face of near non-existent revenues due to grounded flights.
Norwegian Air’s share price has plunged 82 per cent this year.
4/8/2020, 3:56:01 PM
Israel locked down for Passover
Mehul Srivastava in Tel Aviv
Israelis will spend the next four days under strict curfew to stem the spread of coronavirus over the Jewish holiday of Passover, when it is customary for families to assemble for a special meal.
The police and thousands of soldiers have been deployed to checkpoints restricting travel between cities. All businesses, including supermarkets, have been shut, and people are not allowed to venture more than 100 metres from their homes until Saturday morning.
The decision follows a surge in new infections that came after the Purim holidays in early March, when, despite government advice, thousands of people took part in street celebrations.
“We paid the price of high morbidity after Purim,” said public security minister, Gilad Erdan, in a statement to the Israeli media.
Two health ministry officials said the nationwide lockdown was not entirely necessary but was politically expedient for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Health ministry advice was to lock down only ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, which have become the epicentre of Israel’s coronavirus outbreak, they said, asking for anonymity.
Mr Netanyahu chose to shut down the entire country because of pressure from ultra-orthodox political parties he needs to keep on side as he negotiates a governing coalition expected to come together in the next 10 days, said the health ministry sources.
4/8/2020, 3:58:29 PM
Canada reports a sharp rise in cases
The number of Covid-19 cases in Canada jumped by 1,384 in the past day, taking the total confirmed cases to 18,433. The national public health agency reported 56 deaths, bringing the cumulative death toll to 401.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned of more economic pain to come from the coronavirus pandemic, with employment figures expected tomorrow. “It is going to be a hard day for the country”, he said.
Mr Trudeau also relaxed rules on Canada’s wage subsidy to give more employers access to the funds. He also pledged new measures to help gig economy workers, students and jobseekers in the coming days, as well as retirees who have lost savings.
4/8/2020, 4:00:46 PM
UK reports 938 deaths in biggest daily rise
A total of 7,097 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Tuesday, the Department of Health as saying.
That is up by 938 from 6,159 the day before.
As of 9am on Wednesday, 282,074 tests have been carried out in the UK, up from the 14,682 tests carried out at the same time the previous day, the health department said. Some individuals are tested more than once for clinical reasons.
Of those tested, 60,773 are Covid-19 positive, though some data has not been included.
4/8/2020, 4:01:29 PM
Fed temporarily lifts asset cap to help Wells Fargo lend more
The Federal Reserve has agreed to “temporarily” lift Wells Fargo’s asset cap to enable the bank to lend more to customers who need support through the coronavirus crisis.
“Due to the extraordinary disruptions from the coronavirus, the Federal Reserve Board … will temporarily and narrowly modify the growth restriction on Wells Fargo so that it can provide additional support to small businesses,” regulators said in a statement.
They added that Wells would only be able to use the extra lending capacity to make loans under the Paycheck Protection Program and the Main Street Lending Program, two state-backed schemes to help small businesses through the crunch.
“The board will require benefits from the PPP and the Main Street Lending Program to be transferred to the US Treasury or to non-profit organisations approved by the Federal Reserve that support small businesses,” the Fed said. “The change will be in place as long as the facilities are active.”
Wells Fargo said on Sunday night it could only lend $10bn under the Paycheck Protection Program because of a cap on its assets that was imposed following its 2016 misselling scandal. It then stopped taking applications for the $350bn programme that the White House wants to add another $250bn to.
4/8/2020, 4:02:18 PM
UK homebuilding targets hit by pandemic crisis
George Hammond in London
Building work on 220,000 homes in the UK has ground to a halt as a result of the coronavirus crisis, starving the undersupplied property market of much needed new homes.
In England work has stopped on 193,000 homes, a number equivalent to 79 per cent of those built last year, an analysis of building sites by estate agent Savills shows.
While much of that work will be deferred, close to 50,000 homes risk having their planning permissions expire if work does not begin in the coming months, said Savills.
Without an extension from the government, permissions in the UK are valid for three years. With most building sites in the country shut down and supply chains fragmented because of the pandemic, developers who gained permissions in 2017 but have not begun work on site risk losing the right to develop.
That would push a government target for 300,000 new homes to be built each year by 2025 even further out of reach. An additional 60,000 homes are required each year to hit the target.
4/8/2020, 4:02:51 PM
RBS chairman and chief to donate quarter of their salaries
Nicholas Megaw in London
Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief executive Alison Rose and chairman Howard Davies will donate a quarter of their salaries to a charity assisting coronavirus victims for the rest of the year.
The money will be donated to the National Emergencies Trust’s Coronavirus Appeal, the bank announced on Wednesday. Ms Rose will also give up her entire annual bonus worth up to £1.9m.
Ms Rose said: “We want to do the right thing for our customers and the communities we serve as we face these challenges together. In the current environment, many of our customers are worried about their jobs and their businesses and, in recognition of this, I have taken these decisions on my own pay.”
The move follows similar announcements from peers Barclays and TSB on Tuesday.
TSB chief executive Debbie Crosbie and other senior executives will give up their bonus awards for 2020, while the chief executive and chairman of Barclays said they would donate a proportion of their pay over the next six months to a new charity foundation.
4/8/2020, 4:17:38 PM
Italy records 542 new fatalities as outbreak slows
Davide Ghiglione in Rome
A further 542 people have died in Italy from coronavirus on Wednesday, a lower daily tally than the 604 seen on Tuesday, continuing to show a steady downward trend.
The total death toll in the world’s hardest-hit country since its outbreak came to light on February 21 rose to 17,669, the Civil Protection Agency said on Wednesday.
The total number of confirmed cases increased by 3,836 on Wednesday to 139,422.
While Italy has been under strict social distancing measures since March 10, its government confirmed that the measures would continue until at least after Easter as the new cases continue to rise, even if the growth rate has sharply declined since the early stages of the outbreak.
The total number of Covid-19 patients in Italy who have recovered increased by 1,555 to 26,491.
4/8/2020, 4:22:38 PM
UK pledges millions to help charities and vulnerable people
Joshua Oliver in London
The UK will make £750m available to support charities during the pandemic, the chancellor said in Wednesday’s daily briefing at Downing Street.
Rishi Sunak said that tens of thousands of charities will receive direct cash grants from the government, including £360m from government departments for charities that provide key services and help vulnerable people. An additional £370m will be available for smaller charities.
“One of our greatest strengths as a country is our civil society,” said Mr Sunak.
The chancellor said charities can already receive other forms of government support, including through the job retention scheme for furloughed workers.
Other charities, he said, provide “critical support to vulnerable people and communities” and will receive government support to continue operating.
“Those charities have never been more needed than they are now and have never faced such a severe fall in their funding,” Mr Sunak said.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister who is in intensive care in a London hospital with Covid-19 symptoms, has improved, the chancellor said in the briefing.
“He is receiving excellent care from the NHS team at St Thomas'” hospital, said Mr Sunak.
Boris Johnson has been sitting up in bed and “engaging positively with the clinical team”, the chancellor said.
4/8/2020, 4:51:01 PM
Sunak says Brexit deal negotiations going ahead
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said negotiations over the UK’s trading relationship with the EU after the Brexit transition are going ahead even as the Covid-19 pandemic tightens its grip on Europe.
Mr Sunak said David Frost, the UK’s lead negotiator, held talks “earlier this week” with EU officials and “exchanged legal texts”.
The UK chancellor said the two sides would in coming weeks discuss how to set out the next steps for negotiations through April and May.
“We remain committed to the timeline of concluding those talks,” he said.
4/8/2020, 4:51:59 PM
New York daily death toll reaches new high while hospitalisations fall
New York’s coronavirus deaths reached a single-day high of 779 on Wednesday even as Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that social distancing measures were succeeding at lowering hospitalisation rates.
“It’s working. It is flattening the curve,” the governor said in his daily briefing.
Mr Cuomo also promised to do more testing in minority communities to better understand why they were suffering disproportionately from the pandemic.
4/8/2020, 5:03:02 PM
Midlands has highest Covid-19 death toll in UK after London
Andy Bounds in Huddersfield
Almost as many people are dying of coronavirus in hospitals in the Midlands as in London, the latest numbers from the health service show, as the region becomes the “second hotspot” for the disease in the UK.
The NHS said 171 died in the Midlands on April 7, compared with 201 deaths in London. The Midlands figure rose, while in London the tally dropped, although it is too early to confirm a trend.
In London 1,907 Covid-19 patients have died while the figure for the Midlands is 1,367. London has a population of about 9m, while the East and West Midlands combined, which includes cities such as Nottingham and Birmingham, have around 10.7m.
University Hospitals Birmingham Trust, one of the biggest hospital centres in the country, based in the West Midlands, has had 306 patients die in its four hospitals, the most in a single trust.
Many have been moved to a temporary mortuary at Birmingham airport, one of several sites being set up across the UK.
The news came as the Birmingham Trust unveiled its Nightingale field hospital in the National Exhibition Centre ahead of its opening this weekend, when patient numbers should peak.
The hospital, partly built by the army, will provide an initial 500 beds to support patients with Covid-19 so that they can be moved from in-demand intensive care hospital wards as they recover.
Andy Street, metro mayor of the West Midlands, said that the region was the “second hotspot after London”.
He told media outlets on Tuesday that hospitals were “coping well…there is capacity for people who need critical care”.
4/8/2020, 5:06:26 PM
WHO chief in passionate plea for global unity against Covid-19
Clive Cookson, Science Editor
The World Health Organization’s director has pleaded passionately for global unity in the fight against coronavirus, in the face of attacks from US president Donald Trump and others on the world body’s conduct during the crisis — and allegations of pro-China bias.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave three pieces of advice at a daily WHO press teleconference:
Please, unity at national level, no using Covid for political points. Second, honest solidarity at the global level. And honest leadership from the US and China.
He did not expect President Trump to carry out his threat of withholding US contributions to the world health body.
“The US will continue to contribute its share,” he said. “I thank the people in government in the US for their generous support.”
Dr Tedros said he had received death threats but added in a voice laden with emotion: “Why would I care about being attacked when people are dying?
I know that I am just an individual. Tedros is just a dot in the whole universe. I prefer to really focus on saving lives.
4/8/2020, 5:11:22 PM
Scotland frets non-Covid-19 patients may avoid medical care
Mure Dickie in Edinburgh
Scotland’s health system appears “eerily quiet” apart from the parts of it dealing with the coronavirus epidemic, fuelling worries that people suffering from other illnesses are not seeking help.
The comments from Scottish interim chief medical officer Gregor Smith on Wednesday came amid new data that suggest a sharp rise in overall deaths in Scotland that is not fully explained by the numbers succumbing to Covid-19 infection.
National Records of Scotland data showed a provisional total of 1,741 deaths from all causes were registered in Scotland in the week to April 5, 643 higher than the average of 1,098 deaths registered in the same week of the previous five years. Coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate registering 282 of the deaths.
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister, said some of the spike in deaths that week could be because of registration delays from the previous week. She said there was not “enough evidence” to conclude that more people were dying because they were put off from seeking medical treatment over worries about coronavirus infection or of burdening the NHS.
Still, Dr Smith stressed that patients should seek urgent attention if they had symptoms such as chest pains or unexplained weakness in the limbs. “The system feels eerily quiet in relation to people presenting with illness which isn’t Covid 19 just now,” he said. “That, as a clinician, is immediately disconcerting because that illness hasn’t gone away somewhere.”
4/8/2020, 5:20:16 PM
Airbus to cut production by a third in move expected to cut jobs
Peggy Hollinger, International Business Editor
Airbus is cutting aircraft production by a third in a move expected to trigger job losses across the global aerospace supply chain as airline customers fight to survive the impact of a virtual halt to international air travel.
The European aerospace group has confirmed it will slash production of its popular A320 single aisle, as reported in the Financial Times last week, from 60 to 40 a month.
It will also cut production of the A350 mid-sized twin aisle from about 10 a month to six, and produce 24 of the A330 family of widebody aircraft a year against previous expectations of 40.
Investors watch production rates closely as a guide to future profits and cash flow.
The moves come as airlines seek to defer or even cancel orders for aircraft as government attempts to contain the coronavirus pandemic have grounded the majority of the world’s passenger jets.
Airbus’s decision to cut production so substantially suggests that the company expects demand to remain subdued for years, bringing to an end more than a decade of ever increasing production.
4/8/2020, 5:22:59 PM
Ireland set to extend restrictions following review of national lockdown
Arthur Beesley in Dublin
Ireland has reported 25 new coronavirus deaths, taking its toll from the pandemic to 235, amid signals that the country’s lockdown will soon be prolonged.
The latest fatalities came as officials reported 365 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 6,074. With one of Dublin’s main hospitals warning that its intensive care unit is already full, the number of patients in intensive care throughout the country has risen to 224.
Officials in Dublin will this week review restrictive measures first imposed in mid-March that are due to lapse on Sunday, although health minister Simon Harris has already said the restrictions are unlikely to be lifted.
Irish health officials said the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control advised that it was “currently too early” to start lifting community and physical distancing measures. Ronan Glynn, the deputy chief medical officer, said: “The risk of exceeding the capacity of the health system remains high even in countries like Ireland where significant public health restrictions have been put in place.”
4/8/2020, 5:25:15 PM
African Development Bank launches $10bn credit facility
The African Development Bank has launched a $10bn facility to cushion the blow of the coronavirus pandemic on countries and private companies across the continent, where the outbreak is still in its early days.
The $10bn emergency credit facility includes $5.5bn for sovereign operations in AfDB countries and $3.1bn under the bank’s concessional arm for more fragile countries, along with $1.35bn for the private sector.
“Africa is facing enormous fiscal challenges to respond to the coronavirus pandemic effectively,” Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB president, said in a statement. The bank “is deploying its full weight of emergency response support to assist Africa at this critical time”.
Economists have warned that many African countries, many of which are commodity export-driven and have large informal sectors, are particularly vulnerable to the economic shock of the pandemic. At the same time, many countries’ fragile health systems will be unable to cope with a European-style outbreak.
Many African countries implemented social distancing and lockdown measures early on, which could have devastating effects on the many Africans in the informal economy who live hand-to-mouth.
So far the continent has recorded just over 10,000 cases and around 500 deaths, but the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said that it is tracking the trajectory of Europe.
4/8/2020, 5:30:48 PM
Top bank executives to donate some pay to charity
HSBC and Standard Chartered said their top executives would not receive cash bonuses this year and would donate part of their salaries to charities supporting victims of the coronavirus pandemic.
HSBC said Mark Tucker, its chairman, would donate roughly £1.5m — his entire fee for 2020 — to charities supporting “healthcare workers and vulnerable people” in the UK and Hong Kong.
Noel Quinn, chief executive, and Ewen Stevenson, chief financial officer, will donate one quarter of their salary this year, equivalent to about £160,000 and £93,000.
Nor will the pair receive cash bonuses this year, which would have been worth about £1.4m and £706,000.
Last week the Bank of England said it expected Britain’s largest banks to refrain from paying cash bonuses as it forced them to withhold dividends following a stand-off between the industry and its top regulator.
Standard Chartered’s top executives will give part of their salaries to a fund set up by the bank to provide assistance to people affected by coronavirus, the bank said in a statement.
Bill Winters, chief executive, will give away half of his salary for the eight months until the end of the year, or roughly £825,000, according to one person briefed on the arrangements.
Andy Halford, chief financial officer, will make a “significant donation”, the bank said, while the chairman and other members of the management team will make “personal donations”.
Neither Mr Winters — who received a cash bonus of £1.25m last year — nor Mr Halford will receive a cash bonus this year.
4/8/2020, 5:32:33 PM
Curtains for Broadway until June
The show will not go on till… June. Broadway has extended its shutdown by two months and will remain dark until June 7 because of the coronavirus pandemic that is raging through New York City.
“Our top priority continues to be the health and well-being of Broadway theatregoers and the thousands of people who work in the theatre industry every day, including actors, musicians, stagehands, ushers, and many other dedicated professionals,” said Charlotte St Martin, president of the Broadway League.
Last month New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Broadway theatres, a crucial aspect of New York’s tourist economy, would be closed until April 12. On Wednesday, the Broadway League said it was extending the suspension in keeping with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as Mr Cuomo.
In March, the Broadway League, producers, theatre owners and the unions of Broadway reached an emergency relief agreement to provide Broadway employees with pay and health insurance for the duration of the shutdown.
New York state has recorded 6,268 deaths as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
4/8/2020, 5:45:04 PM
UK restaurant chain to tap equity market in new funding round
Alice Hancock in London
UK-based The Restaurant Group, which owns Asian-themed chain Wagamama, on Wednesday said it would raise additional funding through the placing of about a fifth of its current share capital.
The London-listed company said the placing, which will be done via an accelerated bookbuild run by JPMorgan, would give it sufficient liquidity to see out the coronavirus crisis. The shares will rank alongside the existing ordinary shares in the company including the right to receive future dividends, although these have been temporarily suspended.
Casual dining brands were among the first to suffer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic after the UK government enforced a lockdown and the closure of all restaurants, hotels and bars.
The Restaurant Group said it was working on the assumption that all of its 600 restaurants would stay closed until the end of June and that there would only be a phased reopening in the second half of the year. This would result in an overall decline in revenues of 45 per cent in 2020, it said.
The group has put two of its brands, Chiquito and Food & Fuel, into administration since the pandemic began and increased its revolving credit facility by £15m.
On its current modelling, the company said it forecast a minimum of £60m liquidity needs for the rest of the year.
Shares in the company are down 64 per cent this year, faring poorly compared with the FTSE All-Share index, an indicator of equities traded in the London Stock Exchange, which is down 25 per cent.
4/8/2020, 5:52:06 PM
Greece bans citizens from travelling beyond their region over Easter
Kerin Hope in Athens
Greece has banned residents from travelling outside the region where they live in order to stem the spread of coronavirus during the Easter holiday break.
The ban will take effect on Wednesday evening and stay in force until April 27, said Nikos Hardalias, undersecretary for civil protection. Police would check cars on a 24-hour basis at highway toll booths and patrol secondary roads, while the Greek coastguard would monitor passengers boarding ferries to the islands.
The Greek Orthodox church, which celebrates Easter on April 19, will hold services behind closed doors but ceremonies at leading churches and monasteries will be televised or live-streamed on the internet.
“It’s important that we don’t relax the lockdown measures during the Easter holiday and risk undoing our achievement,” said Mr Hardalias.
The government confirmed 52 more coronavirus cases on Wednesday, compared with 77 the previous day, to a total of 1,884, said Sotiris Tsiodras, the health ministry spokesman.
In Greece two people died from Covid-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total to 83, he said.
4/8/2020, 6:20:09 PM
Fed minutes show officials feared sharp deterioration in economic conditions
James Politi in Washington
Federal Reserve officials feared a sharp decline in economic and market conditions last month as they began injecting a heavy dose of monetary stimulus to limit the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
According to minutes of emergency meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee held last month, US central bankers “viewed the near-term US economic outlook as having deteriorated sharply in recent weeks and as having become profoundly uncertain”.
In addition, officials at the Fed were grappling with little clarity on when economic conditions might improve. “The timing of the resumption of growth in the US economy depended on the containment measures put in place, as well as the success of those measures, and on the responses of other policies, including fiscal policy”, Fed officials said, according to the minutes.
The minutes released on Wednesday came from two emergency meetings of the FOMC held on March 3 and 15, during which the central bank took action to shield the US economy from the fallout of the pandemic that exceeded steps it adopted during the 2008 financial crisis.
The Fed lowered interest rates close to zero, launched a sharp expansion of its balance sheet by buying US Treasury debt and mortgage-backed securities, and set up swap lines with other major central banks.
4/8/2020, 6:35:00 PM
Growth rate of French people needing intensive care continues to slow
David Keohane in Paris
Another 541 people have died in French hospitals of the coronavirus but the slowing growth of the increase in the total number of people needing intensive care has also continued.
The total number of people who have died in France now stands at 10,869, but the data for those who have died over the past day in nursing homes were not available on Wednesday — that figure has been provided separately and on Tuesday showed an increase of 820 to 3,237.
Although Jérôme Salomon, director-general of health, said 418 people had been admitted to intensive care over the past day. The net increase in those needing such care had been just 17, he said. That figure stood at 59 on Tuesday and has now been decreasing for more than a week:
March 29: +359
March 30: +475
March 31: +458
April 1: +452
April 2: +382
April 3: +263
April 4: +176
April 5: +140
April 6: +94
April 7: +59
April 8: +17
As France begins its fourth week of lockdown to combat the spread of the virus, 30,375 people remain in hospital and 7,148 are in intensive care.
Édouard Philippe, prime minister, has underlined a few times this week that the lockdown is most likely to continue past April 15, the current supposed end date. He said the idea of relaxing the current lockdown was “premature”.
4/8/2020, 6:41:53 PM
Top Lloyds executives to join peers in turning down bonuses
Nicholas Megaw in London
Lloyds Banking Group has become the latest major bank to announce that its top executives will give up their annual bonuses in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Lloyds, the UK’s largest retail bank, said its entire executive committee would forgo their bonus entitlement for 2020, which would have been worth up to £1.8m for chief executive António Horta-Osório.
The bank said the decision was made “in solidarity with the communities in which we operate and in recognition of the priorities of our stakeholders”.
The Bank of England last week said it expected all major lenders to refrain from paying cash bonuses after it forced them to cancel their dividends.
RBS, HSBC and Standard Chartered announced similar moves earlier on Wednesday.
Mr Horta-Osório said: “We are doing all we can to support our customers, colleagues and communities. We understand the difficulties and challenges that they are facing in these unprecedented times, and are working at pace to provide the support they need. In light of this, it is right for the executive directors and group executive committee to give up all of their bonus entitlement for 2020.”
4/8/2020, 6:49:04 PM
France to extend its lockdown for at least another week
David Keohane in Paris
France will extend its shutdown as it enters a fourth week into the “confinement” that was put in place to fight the spread of the coronavirus, said the president’s office on Wednesday.
The lockdown will go beyond April 15, a spokesperson for the Elysée Palace said. President Emmanuel Macron will address citizens for the third time since the start of the crisis on Monday, the official said.
Business activity in the country has been frozen over those weeks and nobody is allowed on the streets except for a limited number of defined reasons.
More than 10,000 have died of the virus in France although the rate of increase in the number of people needing intensive care has slowed over the past week or so.
4/8/2020, 6:51:32 PM
EU suggests borders stay closed until May 15
Victor Mallet in Paris
The European Commission has recommended that the closure of external borders be extended for a month until May 15 while efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic persist.
The recommendation to keep external frontiers closed except for essential traffic is to the governments of the “EU-plus” zone of 30 countries, including the Schengen agreement states and Ireland and the UK.
“We are busy making the house safe and we mustn’t leave the door open again,” said Margaritis Schinas, vice-president in charge of the European way of life.
We can see the first encouraging results [of social distancing measures in member states], but it’s necessary to prolong movement restrictions to continue to reduce the risks of further propagation of the disease.
4/8/2020, 7:05:37 PM
US accounts for one-quarter of Covid-19 deaths in rapid national uptick
Steve Bernard in London
The US has come into focus as the country’s death toll climbs at speed. With a reported total of 1,906 deaths today, the US accounts for close to a quarter of the global deaths daily tally, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Europe is also a source of concern with two-thirds of Covid-19 daily deaths stemming from the region. Spain and Italy’s numbers jumped at an alarming rate in the past two weeks of March, continuing to rise in April to reach 17,127 deaths in Italy and 14,045 deaths in Spain.
Asia on the other hand was responsible for more than 60 per cent of coronavirus-related deaths at the beginning of March but has since managed to contain the spread of the virus and experienced very few deaths in recent weeks, compared to global figures.
South America, Africa and the Middle East reported fewer deaths in the past two weeks relative to other regions, making up single figure percentage points of the world’s total coronavirus deaths count.
4/8/2020, 7:21:05 PM
German companies in Mexico call on president to offer stimulus, protect jobs
Jude Webber in Mexico City
German companies in Mexico appealed to the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to apply “proven instruments like fiscal stimuli and support packages” to protect jobs, warning that otherwise nearly four out of 10 of its 800 members feared they would have to cut jobs.
In a survey of its members, the Mexican-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that 35 per cent expected to invest less in the coming year and 36 per cent expected not to invest at all. In its survey last autumn, 39 per cent had expected to trim investments but none had expected zero. So far, 44 per cent had cancelled investments because of coronavirus.
The survey also found 39 per cent expected to cut jobs, while 50 per cent believed employee numbers would remain unchanged. Almost a quarter – 24 per cent – saw their sales more than halve, while 29 per cent expected a reduction in turnover of 25 to 50 per cent.
Mexico has more than 2,000 companies with German capital, which have created 200,000 direct and more than 1m indirect jobs. Big names include Volkswagen, Allianz, Siemens and Bayer. However, most are in the small and mid-sized company sector which business leaders say has been left out of Mr López Obrador’s plans to weather the Covid-19 economic downturn with loans to small businesses and higher social programmes but no tax or social security deferments.
4/8/2020, 7:35:34 PM
Turkey’s ruling party proposes moratorium on lay-offs
Laura Pitel in Ankara
Turkey’s ruling party has proposed a temporary ban on firing workers as part of its battle to prevent the coronavirus crisis from triggering a wave of unemployment.
A draft law put forward by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party would prevent companies from sacking employees for a period of three months, according to Turkish media reports that were confirmed by a government official.
Companies would instead have the option of placing workers on unpaid leave. In that scenario, each furloughed employee would receive 39.24 lira ($5.80) per day from the country’s unemployment fund — a measure that would be backdated to anyone placed on unpaid leave after March 15.
The proposed payment is aimed at plugging a gap left by a salary support scheme announced last month the government, which did not cover all workers.
Critics have been quick to point out, however, that the suggested daily amount of 39 lira amounts to just half the take home pay of someone earning the minimum wage.
Turkey’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen rapidly over the past four weeks, with the total reaching more than 38,000 on Wednesday night.
4/8/2020, 7:58:38 PM
UN and Russian planes bring aid to Venezuela
Gideon Long in Bogotá
A UN plane carrying 90 tonnes of humanitarian aid has flown to Venezuela, one of the most vulnerable countries in the Americas to coronavirus.
Separately, a Russian plane also landed in Caracas on Wednesday carrying aid.
The UN shipment includes 28,000 protective suits for health workers, oxygen concentrators, pediatric beds, water quality control products and hygiene kits, the UN said.
“This is the first United Nations humanitarian shipment in support of the Venezuela Covid-19 outbreak,” said Peter Grohmann, the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator in the country.
Venezuela is reeling under an acute humanitarian, economic and political crisis, exacerbated by US sanctions. Leftist President Nicolás Maduro has appealed to the IMF for a $5bn loan, but the request was turned down because of political divisions over who runs the country.
Mr Maduro says US sanctions are hampering him from dealing with the outbreak, although the US points out its sanctions do not apply to medical and food aid.
4/8/2020, 8:06:53 PM
US stocks jump back into nascent bull market
A rebound for US stocks continued on Wednesday, lifting them more than 20 per cent from their lows last month amid optimism coronavirus infections and death rates are displaying signs of steadying in a number of global hotspots.
The S&P 500 closed 3.4 per cent higher today, extending its rally since a March 23 low to 22.9 per cent. That takes gains over the past 12 sessions beyond the 20 per cent threshold typically used to define a bull market, although the benchmark remains 18.8 per cent below its February 19 peak.
The Nasdaq Composite rose 2.6 per cent, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 3.4 per cent.
Stocks were given a boost during the afternoon session, following the release of the minutes of two emergency meetings in March by the Federal Reserve. The minutes showed the US central bank’s policymakers favoured leaving interest rates near zero until they were confident the domestic economy had “weathered recent events”.
Government bonds were slightly weaker, with yields rising slightly. The yield on the benchmark 10-year US Treasury was up 0.02 percentage points to 0.756 per cent.
4/8/2020, 8:11:46 PM
Lagarde urges bickering eurozone governments to show solidarity
Martin Arnold in Frankfurt
Christine Lagarde has appealed to the eurozone’s bickering governments to “support each other” as they face what the president of the European Central Bank called “one of the greatest macroeconomic cataclysms of modern times” with the coronavirus crisis.
Writing in a number of European newspapers, Ms Lagarde stressed the need for solidarity after a 14-hour meeting of EU finance ministers broke up without an agreement on what joint action to take in response to the pandemic.
“It is vital that the fiscal response to this crisis is undertaken with sufficient force in all parts of the euro area,” wrote Ms Lagarde. “Governments need to support each other, so that they can together deploy the optimal policy response against a common shock for which none is responsible.”
Finance ministers failed to break an impasse over the conditions attached to loans from the European Stability Mechanism, the bloc’s bailout fund, during an all-night teleconference that ended on Wednesday morning with Italy and the Netherlands still locked in disagreement.
The ECB provided the main pan-European response to the crisis so far by announcing a €120bn bond-buying plan that was swiftly increased by a further €750bn, while also offering vast amounts of ultra-cheap funds to the region’s banks on very generous terms.
“Full alignment of fiscal and monetary policies – and a level playing field against the virus – is the best way to protect our productive capacity and employment, enabling us to return to sustainable growth and inflation rates once the coronavirus outbreak passes,” wrote Ms Lagarde. “If not all countries are cured, the others will suffer. Solidarity is in fact self-interest.”
4/8/2020, 8:37:37 PM
Germany now carrying out 56,000 coronavirus tests a day
Tobias Buck in Berlin
Germany has carried out more than 1.3m coronavirus tests since the pandemic started, and is now conducting more than than 56,000 every day.
The latest official testing data from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin offers fresh evidence of the unusual scale and ambition of Germany’s coronavirus testing programme, and is likely to fuel criticism of the government in countries such as the UK, which has struggled for weeks to match Germany.
According to the institute, Germany carried out 392,984 coronavirus tests in the week ended April 5, up from 360,964 the previous week. The latest weekly data show laboratories across the country have tripled the number of tests performed over a one-week period since early March.
Despite the relatively high number of tests, there is also evidence that Germany is poised to further increase the rate of testing. According to a poll of laboratories conducted by the Berlin-based institute, testing capacity is still significantly higher than the number of actual tests conducted. It found laboratories now have the capacity to conduct more than 116,000 coronavirus tests a day, up from 104,000 the week before.
Nine per cent of all tests conducted in Germany last week were positive, a very slight increase compared to the previous week.
More than 140 laboratories are involved in the testing programme.
4/8/2020, 9:00:38 PM
European airports’ passenger traffic drops 97% at end of March
Tanya Powley in London
Passenger traffic at Europe’s airports fell 97 per cent at the end of March after international travel was hit by efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
ACI Europe, the industry’s trade body, will publish figures on Thursday that forecast passenger numbers across the region’s airports will fall by 873m in 2020, down 35 per cent in a year that was previously predicted to have 2.3 per cent growth before the crisis.
The region’s airports still handled more than 5m passengers on March 1, but that number had reduced to just 174,000 by March 31, a fall of 97.1 per cent compared to the same day in 2019, according to the figures. During the month of March, traffic was down almost 60 per cent.
“This is like nothing we have seen before. In the global financial crisis, it took Europe’s airports 12 months in 2009 to lose 100 million passengers. With Covid-19, it just took 31 days – the month of March – for that same passenger volume and more to vanish,” Olivier Jankovec, director-general of ACI Europe, said.
As many as 93 airports in Europe have closed – mostly secondary and smaller regional airports – out of a total of about 650 airports. Many of the larger airports have taken cost-cutting measures and scaled down their facilities by shutting terminals, piers and spare runways.
ACI Europe now expects a loss of €23bn in revenues for the industry in 2020, down 41 per cent compared to the business-as-usual scenario.
4/8/2020, 9:05:38 PM
US allows pharmacists to order and administer coronavirus tests
Hannah Kuchler in New York
US pharmacists are now allowed to order and administer coronavirus tests, as the federal government tries to expand access to diagnostic testing.
Alex Azar, health and human services secretary, on Wednesday said pharmacists play a vital role, bringing “convenient access” to healthcare services and information.
“Giving pharmacists the authorization to order and administer Covid-19 tests to their patients means easier access to testing for Americans who need it,” he said.
The department did not say how the samples collected at local pharmacies would be processed to deliver a result.