(Bloomberg) — The European Commission has drawn up plans for a partial lifting of restrictions, but warned that some restrictions will remain until a vaccine or cure is found. Germany is set to extend curbs even after new cases fell for a sixth day.
Earlier, China criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to halt funding to the World Health Organization and pledged to support the global health body. Beijing said it had updated the WHO in a “timely” manner.
South Korea’s ruling party may have won an outright majority in the biggest election since the pandemic spread around the globe. Indonesia is set to bring 34 million people under a partial lockdown, while India may ease some curbs as the economy faces its first contraction since 1980.
Virus Tracker: Cases reach 1.99 million; deaths top 127,000China’s data on symptom-free cases reveals most never get sickScientists weigh immunity; hyped Malaria pill doesn’t help in studyTrump backs off ‘total authority,’ says he’ll consult statesIMF calls for yet more stimulus after contagion starts to abate
BofA Joins Rival Banks in Setting Aside Billions for Loan Losses (6:57 a.m. NY)
Bank of America Corp. joined two big rivals in setting aside billions of dollars for loans likely to sour amid an almost total U.S. economic shutdown. Profit plunged 45% as the company allocated $4.76 billion for loan losses, the most since 2010, as businesses and households reel from the coronavirus pandemic.
The bank follows competitors JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., which posted their highest provisions in a decade Tuesday. The three lenders have collectively stashed away more than $17 billion to cover defaults.
Banks are trying to get ahead of loan losses they expect to come from the pandemic bringing large swaths of the global economy to a virtual standstill. While defaults haven’t yet spiked in a meaningful way, bank efforts to build up their reserves show they’re bracing for a severe recession.
UnitedHealth’s Witty to Help Lead WHO Vaccine Effort (6:20 a.m. NY)
UnitedHealth said Andrew Witty, the chief executive officer of its Optum health-services business, will take a leave of absence to help lead a World Health Organization effort to speed up development of a Covid-19 vaccine. Witty will return at about year-end, the company said in a statement. David Wichmann, UnitedHealth’s CEO, will oversee Optum during Witty’s appointment at the WHO, which is effective April 20. Witty was previously CEO of drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc.
Amazon Threatens to Suspend French Deliveries (6 a.m. NY)
Amazon.com Inc. threatened to stop activity at its fulfillment centers in France after a court order banned the sale of non-essential goods, concluding the retailer isn’t doing enough to protect staff from the pandemic. The company was given 24 hours to comply with the ruling to reduce its activity to sell only essential items such as food and hygiene products, and to upgrade its health security procedures.
The company faces fines of 1 million euros ($1.1 million) for each day’s delay. Amazon said it was considering lodging an appeal but such a move wouldn’t suspend the order that will be enforced on Wednesday early afternoon
China’s Data on Symptom-Free Cases Reveals Most Never Get Sick (6 a.m. NY)
China for the first time publicized a breakdown of people testing positive for the coronavirus without outward signs of being sick, revealing that those among them who remain symptom-free throughout infection are in the majority.Among 6,764 people who tested positive for infection without showing symptoms, only one fifth of them — 1,297 — have so far developed symptoms and been re-classified as confirmed cases, China’s National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said at a briefing in Beijing Wednesday.
Iran’s Daily Death Toll Drops Again (6 a.m. NY)
Fatalities from the virus in Iran reached 4,777 as the country’s toll decreased for the fourth consecutive day with 94 deaths overnight. Total infections reached 76,389 after 1,512 tested positive since Tuesday.
Spain Cases Rise, Deaths Decline (5:45 p.m. HK)
Spain reported the biggest increase in the number of confirmed cases in six days on Wednesday, while the daily death toll declined. There were more than 5,000 new infections in the 24 hours through Wednesday, taking the total to 177,633, according to Health Ministry data. The number of fatalities rose by 523 to 18,579, compared to Tuesday’s increase of 637.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said this week that Spain has already passed the peak of what is Europe’s most extensive outbreak. While the situation at many hospitals and intensive care units has improved, severe restrictions on movement are still in place.
South Korea Leader Set for Win in Election During Pandemic (5:32 p.m. HK)
South Korea’s ruling party may have won an outright majority in parliament in elections held Wednesday, exit polls showed, giving President Moon Jae-in fresh momentum to reshape the virus-ravaged economy.
The country was holding the biggest election since the coronavirus pandemic spread around the globe — and it might spur other world leaders with good poll numbers to follow suit.
India May See First Contraction Since 1980 (5:29 p.m. HK)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to extend the mandatory stay-at-home to 40 days against the originally announced 21 days will result in a direct output loss of more than 8%, according to some economists including Sonal Varma of Nomura Holdings Inc. That’s prompted Varma and Kunal Kundu of Societe Generale GSC Pvt. to revise their forecasts for the year to March 2021 to a negative 0.4% and negative 0.1% respectively.
The country is planning to ease some curbs to revive the stalled economy. India will allow makers of information technology hardware, farmers and industries in rural areas to resume operations after April 20. Amid a lockdown that’s been extended to May 3, the government will lift restrictions to allow e-commerce companies, goods movement by roads, as well as restart port and air cargo operations.
Belgian Fatalities Include Almost 2,000 Unconfirmed Cases (5:20 p.m. HK)
Belgian health officials disclosed for the first time the split between deaths following confirmed infections and fatalities in nursing homes that can only be linked with probability to the coronavirus. Of the 4,440 deaths reported so far, 1,966 haven’t been confirmed by a prior diagnostic test. Belgium reported 2,454 new cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 33,573; fatalities rose by 283.
Portugal to Keep Containment Measures in Place (5:13 p.m. HK)
Prime Minister Antonio Costa said containment measures have to stay in place at the moment as the country tries to limit the coronavirus outbreak. The economy was never entirely shut, Costa said in comments broadcast by RTP.
Europe Drafts Plan to Get People Back to Work (5 p.m. HK)
The European Commission says companies and workers won’t get back to business-as-usual until there’s a vaccine or a cure for Covid-19. In the meantime, the European Union’s executive has drawn up plans for a partial lifting of restrictions in an effort to mitigate the economic devastation.
The roadmap unveiled by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday seeks to coordinate a gradual exit from the lockdowns that the bloc’s 27 member states imposed last month to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The commission has warned that the easing may be temporary as it will “unavoidably” lead to a spike in new cases that could threaten healthcare systems again and lead to a reinstatement of the confinement rules
U.K. Insurers Plunge (4:51 p.m. HK)
U.K. insurers plunged for second day as the Financial Conduct Authority says there are clear cases where firms should pay claims to small and medium-sized enterprises for business interruption from the outbreak. While the U.K. FCA said on Wednesday that most policies will likely not be covered, it added that there are “policies where it is clear that the firm has an obligation to pay out.”
Earlier, Peel Hunt slashed price targets for Hiscox, Beazley and Lancashire, forecasting hundreds of millions of dollars of coronavirus exposure.
Germany Likely to Extend Lockdown Measures Until May 3 (4:42 p.m. HK)
Germany is set to agree on an extension of nationwide lockdown measures until at least May 3 as the government debates with regional leaders on how to gradually relaxing restrictions on public life in the coming weeks. Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to announce the agreement later on Wednesday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The number of new cases in Germany fell for a sixth day on Wednesday. There were 2,138 new infections, the lowest increase this month, bringing the total to 132,210, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The country has been in recession since last month but a recovery is expected in the second half, the economy ministry said in its latest monthly report.
Coronavirus Spurs Record Drop in Oil Demand (4:05 p.m. HK)
Global oil demand will plunge by a record 9% this year due to coronavirus lockdowns, thwarting efforts by OPEC+ to contain the resulting glut of crude, the International Energy Agency said.
A decade of demand growth will be wiped out in 2020, when consumption will slump by just over 9 million barrels a day, the agency said in its monthly report. April will suffer the hardest hit, with fuel use contracting by almost a third to the lowest level since 1995.
Cases in Russia Increase by 16% (4 p.m. HK)
Confirmed cases rose by 3,388 in the past day, Russian consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor reported. New daily cases exceeded 3,000 for first time and have almost tripled from last week. The death toll reached 198 with 28 people dying overnight.
Hyped Malaria Pill Doesn’t Help Clear Coronavirus in Study (3:43 p.m. HK)
Hydroxychloroquine, the 65-year-old malaria drug that President Donald Trump has praised, appeared not to help patients get rid of the pathogen in a small study. The pill didn’t help patients clear the virus better than standard care and was much more likely to cause side effects, according to a study of 150 hospitalized patients by doctors at 16 centers in China. The research, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed, was released Tuesday.
China Slams Trump’s WHO Move (3:40 p.m. HK)
China criticized Trump’s move to temporarily halt funding to the WHO and pledged to support the global health body. Trump said he ordered the move because the WHO took China’s claims about the coronavirus “at face value” and failed to share information about the pandemic as it spread.
China has “serious concerns” about the decision and called on the U.S. to fulfill its responsibilities, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a briefing on Wednesday. “This U.S. decision will weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international cooperation,” Zhao said. The U.S. move attracted criticism from health policy experts as well as Bill Gates, who warned that cutting off funds “is as dangerous as it sounds,” and said the world needs the WHO “now more than ever.”
The Associated Press earlier reported that it obtained internal documents showing Chinese officials waited six days in January before President Xi Jinping warned the public of the dangers of the outbreak. The delay allowed millions of people to travel from the epicenter in Wuhan to elsewhere in the country and the world, the report said. While China’s Zhao said he hadn’t seen the report, Beijing updated the WHO in a “timely” manner and called accusations the government wasn’t transparent “unfair.”
Indonesia Set to Bring 34 Million Under Partial Lockdown (3:22 p.m. HK)
Indonesia expanded a partial lockdown to more areas near Jakarta, the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus cases, as authorities stepped up efforts to restrict movement of people ahead of the nation’s biggest festive season next month.
More than 15 million people living in some cities adjoining the national capital were brought under large scale social distancing rules on Wednesday. The stringent measures include a ban on public gatherings of more than five people, religious and social events and mandatory use of masks. Residents of other satellite towns near Jakarta will implement the partial lockdown on Friday and Pekanbaru, the first city outside the main island of Java, will roll out the measures on Saturday. That would take the total number of people under tighter social distancing rules to 34 million, official data show.
HK, Japan Visitor Numbers Slump (3:15 p.m. HK)
The number of daily visitors to Hong Kong fell to below 100 on average in the beginning of April amid travel restrictions introduced by the government, the city’s tourism board said.
Visitors to Japan in March slumped to levels not seen since its economic heyday in the 1980s after the pandemic shut down global travel, an early sign the impact the drop will have on retailers that thrived on tourist spending. Visitors in March fell 93% from a year earlier to 193,700 people, the steepest drop on record, figures from the Japan National Tourism Organization show. That’s the fewest since 1989, the year when the Nikkei 225 stock average hit its all-time high.
U.S. to Boost Payment for Abbott’s Test (2:39 p.m. HK)
The U.S. government will nearly double the amount it pays hospitals and medical centers to run Abbott Laboratories’ large-scale coronavirus tests, an incentive to get the facilities to hire more technicians and expand testing that has fallen significantly short of the machines’ potential.
Abbott’s m2000 machines, which can process up to 1 million tests per week, haven’t been fully used because not enough technicians have been hired to run them, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Sweden Adds $35 Billion to Spending Cap (2:23 p.m. HK)
Sweden unveiled a budget proposal that reverses years of fiscal parsimony as the government tries to prevent an all-out economic crisis as a result of the virus. The Social Democrat-led administration is raising its cap on how much it can spend by 350 billion kronor ($35 billion), to 1.74 trillion kronor, it said Wednesday. Sweden’s response to the pandemic remains controversial. It left much of the economy open and has a higher death rate than its Nordic neighbors.
Separately, a fresh analysis published by the central bank on Wednesday showed that Denmark needs 250 billion kroner ($37 billion) between April and the end of July to help pay for the economic fallout of Covid-19. Though the estimate is “subject to great uncertainty,” the debt office at the central bank said the new financing need is about 200 billion kroner more than previously predicted.
France to Give Support for Air France-KLM in Days (1:56 p.m. HK)
Air France-KLM will receive support from the government in a “matter of days,” according to French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.
Speaking on RTL radio on Wednesday, Le Maire said the former flag carrier needs backing from government because planes are grounded. Le Maire also said “a large part of our economy is functioning.” The amount of French industry that has restarted has risen from 50% to close to 60%, he said.
Austria Undertakes More Random Tests (1:55 p.m. HK)
Austria will carry out a second round of random tests to get a clearer picture of total infections, after a first study in early April concluded there were about 28,500 cases in the country, more than triple the official number at the time.
The study of 2,800 residents will take nose and throat swabs between April 21 and April 25 to find live infections, and will be followed by anti-virus tests, according to the country’s statistics office.
Trump’s Signature to Appear on Stimulus Checks (11:01 a.m. HK)
President Donald Trump’s signature will appear on the $1,200 checks being mailed to low- and middle-income households in coming weeks, according to two officials familiar with the decision. Typically, a civil servant’s signature would appear on regular government benefit checks or one-time economic stimulus payments.
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