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Coronavirus latest: Face masks help protect vulnerable, review finds



New York’s death toll flat for a second day, raising hopes for early peak

Joshua Chaffin in New York

New York’s coronavirus death toll was effectively flat for the second day, raising hopes that the worst affected US state had reached a plateau with the pandemic.

The state recorded 599 deaths over the past 24 hours, only a slight increase from the 594 the previous day. Both were down from the 630 tallied on Saturday.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said it was possible the state was now reaching its peak, earlier than some had forecast, but it was still not clear if that peak would be short and sharp or an extended plateau.

Mr Cuomo said he wanted to redouble social distancing rules, increasing maximum fines for violations to $1,000. He also said he would ask President Donald Trump for permission to use the hospital ship Comfort to treat coronavirus. Under agreement with the Navy, the ship arrived in New York to provide support for non-coronavirus patients only. But Mr Cuomo said that was no longer its best use, particularly as the virtual shutdown of the state had led to declines in accidents and other hospital emergencies.

Earlier in the day, the chairman of the city council’s health committee warned that New York City may soon be forced to bury its dead in public parks, in temporary graves, because the morgues had reached capacity.

Italy’s infection curve shows further signs of flattening

Miles Johnson in Rome

There were further signs that Italy’s coronavirus infection curve was flattening on Monday as the country’s total number of active diagnosed cases increased by just 2.1 per cent over 24 hours.

Official statistics released on Monday showed that the number of Italian patients being treated in intensive care fell for the third consecutive day, dropping by 79 to stand at a total of 3,898.

A daily decrease in intensive care bed usage happened for the first time since the crisis began on Saturday, providing a respite to Italy’s health system, especially in its northern regions which have been worst hit by the outbreak.

The total number of cases rose 2.8 per cent, or by 3,599, to 132,547. The total number of active cases increased by 1941, or 2.1 per cent, to 93,187.

The total number of recovered patients rose by 1,022 to 22,837. The 2.1 per cent increase in active cases compares with a 3.4 per cent daily increase on Saturday and 3.5 per cent increase on Sunday.

A further 636 people died from the Covid-19 disease over the 24-hour period, with the country’s total dead now standing at 16,523. The number of dead on Monday was higher than the 525 who were declared to have died on Sunday.

UK coronavirus death toll reaches 5,373

Philip Georgiadis in London

The number of people who have died from coronavirus in the UK reached 5,373 by 5pm on Sunday, the Department of Health said.

The figure was up by 439 over 24 hours, a slight decrease in the daily numbers of fatalities.

As of 9am on Monday, 51,608 people have tested positive for the virus. That number is likely to significantly underestimate the actual spread of the virus, given the UK’s relatively limited testing capabilities.

US retailers furlough thousands more workers

Alistair Gray in New York

Thousands more US retail workers have been put on unpaid temporary leave, and in an early sign of lasting economic damage from the crisis, some will lose their jobs permanently.

Capri Holdings, the luxury conglomerate behind Versace, Jimmy Choo and Michael Kors, said it would from this weekend furlough 7,000 retail store workers in North America. The New York-listed company also said it expected to “require a smaller workforce as it resets its business post-Covid-19” and to reduce its corporate headcount to “generate additional payroll savings”.

RH, the upscale home furnishing company, is furloughing 2,300 workers and also letting go of 440 staff permanently. Carter’s, the children’s clothing group, which has 1,100 outlets, said all its store workers would be furloughed.

All three companies said they were also taking other steps to shore up their finances, including cuts to management pay and reductions in capital expenditure.

Workers in the retail sector have been among the hardest hit from the coronavirus shutdown. Several other chains, including Macy’s, Kohl’s and Gap, furloughed hundreds of thousands of employees last week.

Italian bonds account for over a third of ECB’s debt purchases in March

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

Italian bonds made up over a third of the sovereign debt bought by the European Central Bank last month, as it waded into government debt markets to reverse a sudden spike in borrowing costs.

The ECB bought almost €12bn of Italian public sector debt in March — an unusually high proportion of its overall sovereign debt purchases. It also bought a similar amount of French and Spanish bonds combined.

The detail of its purchases, announced on Monday, show that the central bank was using its recently expanded firepower to ease investor concerns over the turmoil caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Frederik Ducrozet, strategist at Pictet Wealth Management, said the ECB was on track to buy €1.1tn of assets this year, increasing the size of its balance sheet by a third to €6.3tn by the end of December.

The cost of borrowing for several peripheral eurozone members spiked last month after ECB president Christine Lagarde’s ill-judged comment that it was not the central bank’s job to “close the spread” in bond markets caused by fears about the pandemic.

After her comment, Italian spreads above German bonds — seen as a key measure of country risk in the eurozone — hit their highest level since June. She later rowed back the comment and apologised to her fellow ECB governing council members.

In total the ECB bought €34bn of sovereign bonds last month, out of a total of €51bn in asset purchases. This included the start of its €120bn “envelope” of extra asset purchases that it announced on March 12 as part of its initial response to the coronavirus crisis.

But the figures do not include the separate €750bn asset purchase programme that it unveiled a week later in response to the sell-off in eurozone bond markets.

The ECB said on Monday that it had also bought €30.1bn of assets under the €750bn scheme, which it dubbed the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme, in the seven working days between its launch on March 26 and the end of last week.

Brussels mulls further relaxation of state aid rules to help coronavirus-hit businesses

Javier Espinoza in Brussels

The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, is considering proposals that would allow member states to help companies through the injection of equity, in a move to tackle the economic impacts of coronavirus.

The new proposal calls on member states to “provide further support in equity or hybrid capital instruments” to groups directly affected by coronavirus, people with direct knowledge of the plan said.

The type of funding would depend on what is “most appropriate” for each company, and would include safeguards for granting financial support, such as good governance from companies when it comes to handling the aid.

The proposal, still being drafted, may be announced this week but timing could slip as discussions continue to take place.

State aid rules restrict how member states can recapitalise companies. “Their investments are either on strict market terms or count as aid with stringent conditions, including requiring companies to shrink and restructure their businesses,” said James Webber, a partner at Shearman and Sterling in London.

Allowing states to inject cash into companies in exchange for equity is “a natural next step”, beyond the state guarantees for new bank lending that have been the mainstay of EU support schemes to date, added Mr Webber.

The plan mirrors the state recapitalisation of the banks during the last financial crisis over a decade ago.

Portugal has lowest daily number of case increases since outbreak began

Peter Wise in Lisbon

Portugal on Monday reported its lowest daily increase in confirmed coronavirus cases since the outbreak began, continuing a trend of several days in which the spread of the virus appeared to be slowing down.

Graça Freitas, director-general of health, said the number of confirmed cases had increased by 452, or 4 per cent, over the previous 24 hours to a total of 11,730. The number of deaths linked to Covid-19 rose by 16, or 5.4 per cent, over the same period to a total of 311.

Except for one day, the daily increase in the number of people testing positive for the virus has been decelerating since March 31. Portugal reported its first confirmed case on March 2.

Ms Freitas said 1,099 people with the virus were being treated in hospital, of which almost 25 per cent were in intensive care. She said 140 people have so far recovered from the disease.

António Sales, secretary of state for health, said Portugal had made about 110,000 tests for the virus since March 1 and currently had the capacity to carry out about 11,000 tests a day.

New York warns it may bury dead in public parks

Joshua Chaffin in New York

New York will soon have to begin burying its coronavirus dead in temporary graves in public parks, the chairman of the health committee for the city council has warned.

In a series of tweets, Mark Levine said the city’s morgues were nearly full, even with the addition of 80 refrigerated trucks, and that cemeteries had largely stopped accepting bodies. The city protocol for a mass-casualty event calls for temporary internment of bodies, likely using a park.

Mr Levine said the process would be handled with dignity but that he expected New Yorkers to be shocked, in any case. Still, he wrote: “We need to face the gruesome reality that we need more resources to manage our dead.”

Slovakia declares its first deaths from coronavirus

James Shotter in Warsaw

Slovak officials said on Monday that the central European nation had recorded its first two deaths from coronavirus, making it one of the final EU states to report fatalities.

Health minister Marek Krajci confirmed the deaths, according to local media reports, as the overall number of infections in the 5.4m-strong country passed the 500 mark.

One of the victims had recently been released from hospital.

Slovakia has taken a number of aggressive steps to fight the virus, including ordering citizens to wear masks in public, closing non-essential shops and banning gatherings and international travel.

EU urges drugmakers to boost supply of intensive care medicines

Michael Peel in Brussels

Brussels has called on Europe’s drugs industry to ramp up urgently supplies of intensive care medicines used for Covid-19 patients after some EU member countries reported imminent or actual shortages.

Several states hit by the pandemic said they had only a week’s stock of certain critical medicines, said Stella Kyriakides, EU health commissioner, in a letter seen by the Financial Times, to leading pharmaceutical business groups.

“We therefore call on the EU pharmaceutical industry … as a matter of extreme urgency, to increase their production of medicines used to treat seriously ill Covid-19 patients,” Ms Kyriakides said in the letter, dated April 3.

The EU’s European Medicines Agency said on Monday the availability of drugs was a “critical concern” as some countries said they were starting to see shortages or expected to very soon.

They included medicines such as certain anaesthetics, antibiotics and muscle relaxants, stocks of which are being depleted by soaring admissions to intensive care units as the outbreak spreads across Europe.

The continent faces a further difficulty because some crucial drugs are imported from India and China, a supply route that has become trickier because of the grounding of many commercial aircraft and their cargo capacity.

Daily Mail cuts staff salaries amid falling advertising revenue

Mark Di Stefano in London

The Daily Mail is the latest UK newspaper to cut the take-home salaries of staff as the wider media industry grapples with falling circulation and advertising revenue brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

In a note sent to staff on Monday afternoon, Lord Rothermere, executive chairman of the Daily Mail, said all employees earning more than £40,000 would be asked to take a pay cut of between 1 per cent and 26 per cent.

But unlike other media outlets, the Mail also launched a compensation scheme, where employees who took a pay cut will get shares in the newspaper’s parent company each month to the exact same value of the pay cut.

Lord Rothermere said employees would be able to sell the shares by the end of the year. However, if the shares had lost money, the company said it would compensate employees so they were not out of pocket.

The pay cut will apply to all of Daily Mail and General Trust, which includes Mail on Sunday, the Mail Online and Metro.

In the two-page statement, Lord Rothermere blamed drops in advertising revenue and newspaper circulation for the need to take measures.

“With the world spiralling into recession, we have seen, and must expect, a significant decrease in advertising revenue; while the current restrictions have also caused a serious drop in circulation.”

Opinion: We need some ‘creative destruction’ to address today’s challenges

John Thornhill in London

The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that creative destruction was “the essential fact about capitalism”. The capitalist machine constantly creates new products and markets and new methods of transportation and organisation that sweep away the old.

Occasionally, there are times when a similarly convulsive process applies to institutions and ideas, as the Northwestern University historian Joel Mokyr has described in his writings on the Industrial Revolution.

Are we living through such a moment today as a global pandemic, a technological revolution and an existential environmental threat unleash a new wave of creative destruction of old institutions and ideas?

Read the column in full here.

Hospitals face pump and dialysis machine shortages, memo warns

Peter Foster in London

Major London hospitals are running short of equipment in intensive care wards, including pumps and blood dialysis machines, according to a leaked memo to senior hospital doctors.

The shortages, which go beyond concerns about the lack of ventilators and protective equipment, emerged from a conference call of some 80 senior NHS doctors. The call highlighted the growing pressure from the influx of coronavirus patients on hospitals in the capital, which so far is the hardest hit part of the UK.

Read the full story here

Kenya bans travel in and out of capital Nairobi

Donald Magomere in Nairobi

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta has ordered a 21-day “cessation of movement” in and out of Nairobi, the country’s capital, in the latest measure aimed at combating the spread of coronavirus.

The containment, set to take effect from 7pm today in the Nairobi metropolitan area, “is a choice that we are asked to make as a government and as a people…Make no mistake, we are at war and we must win,” Mr Kenyatta said.

Movement in and out of Nairobi city and county will be prohibited. People will still be able to move around within the capital, except during the national curfew period between 7pm and 5am.

Of all the Covid-19 cases reported in Kenya, 82 per cent have been in the Nairobi region. This compares with 14 per cent in the coastal towns of Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale, where the movement of people is also set to be curtailed, effective from Wednesday this week.

So far, Kenya has tested 4,277 people, and recorded 158 positive cases of the virus, with four recoveries and six deaths.

Ten of London’s transport workers die from virus in ‘past few days’

Bethan Staton in London

Ten Transport for London workers have died as a result of coronavirus, according to the Mayor of London, as the UK government is scrutinised over the protective equipment offered to frontline workers.

Sadiq Khan told Sky News on Monday that eight bus workers, one London Underground worker and one worker for the Transport for London network had died after testing positive for the virus “in the past few days”.

“It reminds us actually, [some] of the heroic frontline workers are transport workers,” he said. “We’ve got 25,000 bus drivers, more than 25,000 people who work for Transport for London, doing their best to keep public transport running for those essential key workers that need public transport to get from home to work and back home again.”

Mr Khan said the Mayor’s Office had been lobbying the government for additional personal protective equipment and testing for transport staff on the London network.

“We can do the best we can with the limited facility given by the government,” he said. Measures include cleaning key touchpoints with antiviral disinfectant, perspex screens for staff and social distancing.

Aslef, the union for train drivers, on Monday wrote to London Underground’s director of line operations to demand better safety measures for Tube drivers, including specialised rotas and enhanced personal protective equipment.

British Open golf championship cancelled

The Open 2020 has been called off by its organisers the R&A, marking the first cancellation of the golf tournament since the second world war.

The major championship, which has been running since 1860, had been scheduled to take place from July 12 to 19 in Kent.

There had been speculation that the R&A might seek to reschedule this year’s event as opposed to abandoning it outright due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But in a statement on Monday, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said: “I can assure everyone that we have explored every option for playing The Open this year but it is not going to be possible.”

The next Open will be played in 2021 at Royal St George’s.

Hospitals face shortages, leaked memo warns

Peter Foster reports:

Major London hospitals are running short of equipment in intensive care wards, including pumps and blood dialysis machines, according to a leaked memo to senior hospital doctors.

The shortages, which go beyond concerns about the shortage of ventilators and protective equipment, emerged from a conference call of about 80 senior NHS doctors. The call highlighted the growing pressure from the influx of coronavirus patients on hospitals in the capital, which so far is the hardest hit part of the UK.

The 1,000-word memo, seen by the Financial Times, is written by Professor Daniel Martin, the head of intensive care for serious infectious diseases at the Royal Free Hospital. It paints a picture of doctors and nurses still scrambling to develop treatments for the virus as the shortages bite.

Read the full story here.

Israel cuts interest rates for first time since 2015 as economy stagnates

Mehul Srivastava in Tel Aviv

Israel cut rates to almost zero and forecast that its economy would contract 5.3 per cent in 2020 as the full impact of the coronavirus shutdown rippled through the country.

The benchmark rate is now 0.1 per cent, the Bank of Israel said, in the first rate cut since 2015, as it began a programme of accepting repo transactions backed by corporate bonds as collateral. The bank did not kick-off a programme of purchasing corporate bonds, as many economists had expected.

The economy will expand as much as 8.7 per cent in 2021, the bank said in a research note, signaling hope that a snap-back could help reverse the drastic slump in employment since Israel shuttered all but essential businesses.

Unemployment has surged to 25 per cent, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has committed to a $22bn stimulus package, with more under discussion after trade groups demanded almost twice as much.

Israel now has 8,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 50 deaths. Government officials are hopeful that a wider lockdown instituted over Passover, which begins on Wednesday, will break the chain of infection and allow Israel to open up some sectors of the economy within two weeks.

That depends on bringing a possible breakout in the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods under control, where one medical official has estimated there are tens of thousands of undiscovered infections. The army has been deployed to one ultra-orthodox town, Bnei Brak, to seal it off from the rest of the country while taking care of the ill.

Inovio to begin human trials of potential Covid-19 vaccine

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Inovio, a US-based biotech, is launching a trial of its potential Covid-19 vaccine in humans this week, after receiving regulatory approval to test the candidate.

The vaccine – based on the synthetic DNA that codes for antibodies to the virus – is one of a handful the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has funded. Richard Hatchett, chief executive of CEPI, said it was an “important step forward in the world’s search for a Covid-19 vaccine” but there was still a “long road ahead”.

About 40 healthy volunteers in Pennsylvania and Kansas will receive the vaccine to test it for safety at first, receiving two doses four weeks apart. Data on their initial immune responses are expected by the summer.

But, as with other vaccines being developed by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, even if it is successful, it will still not be ready for the general public until next year. Shares in Inovio gained 3.8 per cent to $8.03 in mid-morning trading in New York.

Face masks help protect vulnerable, finds review

Clive Cookson in London

Wearing a face mask while out and about on public transport, in shops and in crowded places could help protect vulnerable people from Covid-19, according to a systematic review from the University of East Anglia of all published research on the effectiveness of masks in limiting the spread of respiratory illness.

Although masks had a consistent but small protective effect – particularly in shared public spaces – this is not strong enough to recommend widespread use of masks in the general population, the researchers say. But it does justify vulnerable people wearing them for short periods while shopping or on a bus or train.

The UEA researchers found 31 studies that had analysed whether wearing face masks stopped people getting symptoms of infections similar to Covid-19. The review was posted online on Monday.

Lead researcher Dr Julii Brainard, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said:

People who wore masks, usually surgical grade, were less likely to get respiratory symptoms from casual exposure in the community. Something like a sneeze or cough near you would become less likely to cause infection. It’s a small reduction in risk, but might be very important to especially vulnerable people.

EU must settle economic plan in ‘weeks and months, not years’, says commissioner

Sam Fleming in Brussels

The EU’s economics commissioner said the bloc needs to agree on tools to relaunch its economy now, rather than waiting to have the debate down the road, as he urged member states to put their past differences over common fiscal policy behind them.

Paolo Gentiloni drew a contrast with the frequently cited Marshall Plan, recalling that the latter programme had been launched a number of years after the end of the second world war.

The EU needed to settle on a plan to relaunch its economies much more quickly, he said, arguing for the matter to be addressed in the next “weeks and months, not in the next years”.

Mr Gentiloni was speaking in a live streamed event organised by Bruegel, the Brussels-based think-tank, and the Financial Times. His intervention came as finance ministers prepare to meet in a decisive Eurogroup meeting on Tuesday to discuss a range of tools to cushion the economy from the impact of coronavirus.

Mr Geniloni urged member states to hold a “no regret” discussion that did not focus on their past differences over fiscal policy matters. He warned it would be “very dangerous” to allow euro area member states to undergo an economic divergence as a result of the current crisis, reiterating his calls for the bloc to settle on additional tools ensuring equal and fair access of member states to bond markets.

“We have the mission of relaunching our economy,” he said. “And here I think a strong fiscal effort is needed” which will entail a European dimension, not just a national one.

In a joint op-ed with fellow commissioner Thierry Breton published today in a number of newspapers, Mr Gentiloni called for the creation of a purpose-built fund that could issue long-term bonds, using the money for joint investments in the recovery.


Wall Street races higher

Global stocks rallied on Monday, as investors welcomed signs that coronavirus outbreaks have started to stabilise in some of the worst-affected countries.

On Wall Street the S&P 500 opened up 3.9 per cent, while the Dow Jones and Nasdaq recorded stronger gains and were each more than 4 per cent higher.

The virus has shown signs of peaking in continental Europe, as the daily death toll in Italy, Spain and France slows. Signals that some governments will consider easing lockdowns that have been imposed across much of the region have also raised hopes that economic activity could begin to resume in the medium term.

President Trump said he saw “light at the end of the tunnel” on Monday, while New York state reported its first daily drop in new cases since the crisis began on Sunday. But Andrew Cuomo, the state’s governor, warned it was too soon to tell if the number of cases had peaked.

EasyJet receives £600m in state aid

Nikou Asgari in London

EasyJet has obtained £600m from the UK government and drawn down the full $500m from its revolving credit facility as the budget airline seeks to improve liquidity to cope with the aviation crisis.

The European carrier expects to have cash reserves of £2.3bn by April 9, it said in a statement.

Johan Lundgren, chief executive, said the company remains focused on cutting costs and saving jobs.

Our current priority is to safeguard short term liquidity, so we have borrowed from the Covid Corporate Financing Facility and drawn down on our revolving credit facility in order to increase our liquidity in the event of a prolonged grounding of the fleet.

Bernstein analysts said the funding will give easyJet up to a year of liquidity “making it one of the better-positioned airlines in Europe to withstand the current crisis.”

Last week easyJet grounded its entire fleet as a result of the collapse in demand for air travel. The airline said it would continue to look at further funding options “given the possibility of a prolonged grounding.”

EasyJet has also reached an agreement with the BALPA, the British pilots’ union, to furlough its pilots in April and May using the government’s wage scheme. If flights are restarted during that time, the company plans to give pilots a week’s notice before they take to the skies.

G20 oil ministers to hold emergency meeting on Friday

David Sheppard in London

An emergency meeting of G20 oil ministers will be held this week after a push from Saudi Arabia and the International Energy Agency, as they scramble to find a solution to the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, told the Financial Times the meeting aimed to find a way to protect energy markets during the crisis, as millions of jobs and the stability of the global economy is at risk. Global oil demand has fallen by more than a quarter due to lockdowns and grounded flights, leading to a crash in prices that has upended the sector around the globe.

“There is a huge structural overhang of supply in oil markets caused by the coronavirus crisis,” Mr Birol said.

It is coming to a level where it will have significant implications for the stability of the global economy and millions of workers employed in the oil and gas industry. The main task [of the G20] is to provide and maintain the financial and economic stability of global markets so it is perfectly in-line with their remit.”

The move comes as US President Donald Trump has called on Saudi Arabia and Russia to cut oil production by at least 10m barrels a day, warning them to pull back from a price war that saw both countries threaten to increase supplies as they fell out last month over how to respond to the drop in demand.

The two countries, who had collaborated before the crisis through the so-called Opec+ group, are due to meet on Thursday, but both have insisted other countries must also be party to cuts and have remained at loggerheads over how best to proceed.

Read the full story here

It’s not yet time to buy the dip, says JPMorgan

Equities are looking cheap but it is not yet time to buy into the stock market on the hopes that a rally is around the corner, said analysts at JPMorgan, noting that it took Wall Street stocks “as much as 18 months on average to reach a final low in past recessions”.

After spending 2019, and most of the last decade, bullish on equities, JPMorgan strategists have been firmly bearish since early March.

We believe that trying to buy the market simply based on technically oversold levels and admittedly larger by the day policy support, might be missing the elephant in the room –the first consumer and labour market downcycle in 11 years.

Equities do look “oversold”, they said, but there is still reason to be cautious as a typical recessionary feedback loop is likely to materialise. This time, with an extra Catch 22: if consumer sentiment rebounds, it could cause a renewed spike in infections, with a knock-on effect on demand.

They advise investors to allocate their capital to defensive sectors, most notably pharmaceuticals and utilities, which benefit from a “Green Deal”, robust CO2 prices and strong cash flow.

JPMorgan’s analysis stands in stark contrast to the view that the “worst is behind us”, put forward by analysts at Morgan Stanley yesterday. They argued that that “current levels in equity and credit markets should prove to be good entry points” to the stock market.

Football Association executives to take pay cuts of up to 30%

Murad Ahmed in London

Top executives at the Football Association, English football’s governing body, are taking pay cuts worth up to 30 per cent to help the organisation cope with lost income projected to be worth over £150m as a result of lost fixtures and events in the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the FA said that the postponement of England national team matches, FA Cup games and other events at Wembley stadium in London, is forecast to result in a financial hit worth at least £100m but could “easily exceed £150m depending on the duration of the government’s necessary [social distancing] measures.”

As a result, the FA said that all staff will take a temporary pay cut worth 7.5 per cent, those earning above £50,000 will take a 15 per cent reduction and the organisations highest earners, such as England manager Gareth Southgate, will accept a 30 per cent cut.

Mark Bullingham, chief executive, added the body is also exploring use of the UK’s government furlough scheme to pay the wages of some workers “as a contingency plan, while we continue to plan for the return of football, once it is safe to do so.”

Nigeria to raise up to $6.9bn from World Bank, IMF and ADB

Neil Munshi, west Africa correspondent

Nigeria plans to raise as much as $6.9bn from multilateral institutions including the World Bank and IMF as Africa’s biggest crude producer seeks to cushion the blow of the coronavirus pandemic and the oil slump.

Africa’s largest economy is seeking $2.5bn from the World Bank, $3.4bn from the IMF and $1bn from the African Development Bank, finance minister Zainab Ahmed told reporters in Abuja on Monday.

Ms Ahmed said the government has begun talks with lenders to suspend Nigeria’s debt payments for this year and next.

The country has also had to lower its 2020 budget and devalue its currency because of the drop in oil prices. Crude accounts for over half of government revenues and more than 90 per cent of foreign exchange.

Nigeria has recorded just 232 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, but testing in the country of 200m people is limited.

Oil exporting economies across Africa, where most countries also have large informal sectors, have been hit particularly hard amid the pandemic.

Health officials across Africa, which is so far the region least impacted by the pandemic, have warned that severe medical equipment shortages and weak health infrastructure will hamper their ability to respond.

Apple supplier Foxconn posts 12% fall in revenues on Covid-19 hit

Kathrin Hille in Taipei

Apple supplier Foxconn reported a 12 per cent drop in revenue for the first quarter compared with the same period last year, an indication of the immediate blow the coronavirus-induced factory and transport stops dealt to technology manufacturing.

Revenue in the first three months of 2020 was NT$929.7bn ($30.7bn), the company said on Monday. The rate of decline narrowed in March to 7.7 per cent year-on-year from 18.1 per cent in February.

Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer, has about 75 per cent of its capacity in China, where it is the largest private-sector employer and the largest exporter. After the outbreak in China forced it to keep its factories – which employ up to 1m people – shut for weeks following the Lunar New Year holiday, it started gradually bringing workers back, and had aimed for getting production back to normal by the end of last month.

On Thursday last week, the company kicked off a hiring drive at its plant in Wuhan, the city where the outbreak originated and which will fully emerge from quarantine only this week.

Hungary announces stimulus package

Valerie Hopkins in Budapest

Hungary’s government revealed a stimulus package worth almost 20 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product on Monday in order to stave off the consequences of the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the budget deficit would go up from 1 per cent to 2.7 per cent of GDP to finance the measures, which include loan subsidies totalling 2 trillion forints ($6 billion) for Hungarian companies, extra pensions and increased infrastructure spending.

“The goal is to create as many jobs as are destroyed by the virus,” Mr Orban said during a televised address.

Over the weekend, Mr Orban announced a special $2bn recovery fund which will consist partially of contributions from corporate banks and retailers, in addition to funds diverted from municipalities and local mayors. Corporate and household loan repayments have been postponed through the end of the year.

GSK invests $250m into biotech group developing Covid-19 treatments

Donato Paolo Mancini in London

GlaxoSmithKline is investing $250m in Vir Biotechnology to explore possible Covid-19 treatments, including for prevention of the disease.

The collaboration will focus on finding new and accelerating existing viral antibodies, GSK said. It will utilise the companies’ capabilities to develop two treatment candidates identified by Vir that would aim to latch on to so-called ‘spike proteins’ and potentially keep the coronavirus from infecting cells.

The companies plan on progressing directly to a Phase 2 clinical trial on these two potential drugs within the next three to five months, subject to regulatory approval.

GSK and Vir have also agreed to conduct further vaccine research into Sars-CoV2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Malaysia scraps approval for Heineken and Carlsberg to operate during lockdown

Stefania Palma in Singapore

Malaysia has rescinded the approval it originally granted Heineken and Carlsberg to operate throughout the country’s national lockdown.

Ismail Sabri, Malaysia’s minister of defence, on Monday said the government decided at a special cabinet meeting to revoke the authorisation for the companies to operate during the lockdown that will run until mid-April and under which only essential establishments may remain open.

Heineken on Sunday issued a statement saying the government allowed it to resume production with less than 10 per cent of its workforce to maintain the supply of its products to outlets such as supermarkets and convenience stores, which are not closing their doors.
The u-turn follows backlash over the weekend from parts of the public as well as the Islamist party PAS and the youth wing of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, according to local media. The Muslim majority country counts 3,793 confirmed coronavirus cases and 62 deaths.

Heineken and Carlsberg did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Downing Street insists Johnson is in charge of government from hospital

Sebastian Payne

Downing Street has provided an update on Boris Johnson’s health after the prime minister was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London on Sunday night due to coronavirus symptoms.

While No 10 previously described the prime minister’s symptoms as “mild”, his spokesperson now said he has “persistent” symptoms including a high temperature and a cough.

Mr Johnson “had a comfortable night and is in good spirits” according to his spokesperson. He remains in hospital under observation, but Number 10 has not said when he is expected to return home.

Downing Street insisted that Mr Johnson remains in charge of the government from his hospital bed. He is continuing to receive his ministerial red boxes and official papers.

In his absence, foreign secretary Dominic Raab chaired Monday morning’s 9:15am coronavirus planning meeting in No 10, known informally in government as the “war cabinet”. Mr Raab will continue to chair these meetings while the prime minister is in hospital.

No 10 declined to comment on any further details about Mr Johnson’s health or treatment, but said journalists would be updated when there were any developments.

Germany to place anyone entering the country in isolation for a fortnight

Guy Chazan in Berlin

All Germans and EU citizens returning to Germany from abroad will in future have to go into self-isolation at home for two weeks, according to a new order issued on Monday by the German government.

The new rule will be in force from April 10 and will apply to all people who have been abroad for several days. Commuters will be exempted, as well as truck drivers and medical staff.

Germany imposed border controls in mid-March, blocking entry to all people who had no “valid reason” to come into the country. The new rules apply to people who were travelling through Germany to reach their home country.

Number 10 says antibody tests still not reliable enough for mass testing

George Parker, political editor

Downing Street has confirmed that none of the 17.5m coronavirus antibody tests provisionally ordered by the government have yet proved reliable enough to be put into service.

The government is working with nine companies to secure tests to check who has already contracted the disease — and is therefore likely to be immune — and Downing Street said it was working with them to improve their quality.

“No test so far has been proved to be good enough to be used,” Boris Johnson’s spokesman said. “No government in the world has rolled out a full antibody testing programme.”

The NHS has increased the rollout of separate tests to establish whether a person is currently suffering from coronavirus, with testing passing 15,000 on Sunday.

Matt Hancock, health secretary, wants NHS testing to reach 25,000 swab tests by the end of April with a further 75,000 tests, both swab tests for current symptoms and blood tests for antibodies, being provided by the private sector.

Meanwhile Mr Johnson’s spokesman told reporters that there were “no current plans to ban exercise”, in spite of fears that some Britons were ignoring government guidance and enjoying spring sunshine.

“All the indications are that the overwhelming majority of the British public chose to stay at home and, if they do leave, it is only for essential reasons,” he added.

Downing Street declined to comment on Britain’s exit strategy from the lockdown, saying the focus now was on maintaining tough social distancing rules to “protect the NHS and save lives”.

24m people watched Queen’s address on Sunday night

Mark Di Stefano

About a third of the UK population watched the Queen’s “We Will Meet Again” coronavirus address on Sunday night – putting it just below the top tier of most-watched broadcasts in British TV history.

The broadcast was watched by 24m people, according to the BBC’s entertainment reporter Lizo Mzimba, with more than 14m tuning in to watch it on BBC One.

At the top of the most-watched broadcasts include the 1966 World Cup final between England and West Germany, and Princess Diana’s funeral, which both drew more than 32m viewers, according to the British Film Institute.

The Queen’s address also drew slightly fewer viewers than prime minister Boris Johnson’s coronavirus lockdown address last month, which was seen by an estimated 27m people.

Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’

In this free-to-read piece, novelist Arundhati Roy explains how the virus threatens India and what the country, and the world, should do next

Who can use the term “gone viral” now without shuddering a little? Who can look at anything any more — a door handle, a cardboard carton, a bag of vegetables — without imagining it swarming with those unseeable, undead, unliving blobs dotted with suction pads waiting to fasten themselves on to our lungs? 

Who can think of kissing a stranger, jumping on to a bus or sending their child to school without feeling real fear? Who can think of ordinary pleasure and not assess its risk? Who among us is not a quack epidemiologist, virologist, statistician and prophet? Which scientist or doctor is not secretly praying for a miracle? Which priest is not — secretly, at least — submitting to science? 

And even while the virus proliferates, who could not be thrilled by the swell of birdsong in cities, peacocks dancing at traffic crossings and the silence in the skies?

Read the full piece here

Wells Fargo says asset cap is limiting its lending under US business rescue scheme

Laura Noonan, in New York

Wells Fargo says it cannot lend any more money under the US government’s small business rescue scheme because of an asset cap that the bank has been pressing regulators to lift.

The San Francisco-based bank said it had applications for $10bn of loans under the $750bn Small Business Administration programme that went live on Friday.

Wells expects those applications “will fill the company’s capacity to lend under the program, as it continues to operate under existing asset cap limitations”, the bank said in a statement.

“While we are actively working to create balance sheet capacity to lend, we are limited in our ongoing ability to use our strong capital and liquidity position to extend additional credit,” Wells chief executive Charlie Scharf added.

The bank also announced it would donate all fees from the SBA loans to non-profits that support small businesses.

The FT reported on March 21 that Wells is pushing the Fed to lift a $1.95tn cap on its assets that was imposed by regulators in the wake of a massive mis-selling scandal.

Dimon says JPMorgan may cancel dividend if sharp recession occurs

Laura Noonan in New York

JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon has warned that America’s biggest bank would probably consider cancelling its dividend if the coronavirus crisis triggers the kind of sharp recession that some economists now expect.

In his annual shareholders letter, Mr Dimon said his bank was “not immune” to the coronavirus crisis and is exposing itself to “billions of dollars of additional credit losses” as it lends to businesses and individuals in need.

Its board would “likely consider suspending the dividend” in an “extremely adverse scenario”, where America’s economy contracts by 35 per cent in the second quarter.

“This scenario is quite severe and, we hope, unlikely,” Mr Dimon said, stressing that JPMorgan would have strong capital and liquidity ratios if faced with such a headwind.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs last week said the US economy could shrink 34 per cent in the second quarter, while analysts at Morgan Stanley said it could contract by 38 per cent.

Mr Dimon, who returned to work last week after a life-saving heart surgery on March 5, also used the missive to take aim at post-crisis regulation.

“We are now seeing the impact of poorly coordinated, poorly calibrated and poorly organized rulemaking,” he said. “After the crisis subsides (and it will), our country should thoroughly review all aspects of our preparedness and response.”

Confidence grows that Spain has passed its ‘first wave’

Daniel Dombey in Madrid

Spain has reported the fourth consecutive decrease in its daily coronavirus death toll, as the spread of the virus slows to a new low.

According to government figures released on Monday, 637 people died in the last 24 hours after contracting coronavirus. This compares with the record death toll of 950 people recorded last Thursday and was the lowest level since March 24.

Three weeks into the national lockdown intended to halt the spread of the virus, the number of confirmed cases rose just 3 per cent on the previous day’s total to 135,032.

The official number of documented cases may soon rise further, as the Spanish authorities begin to use 1m tests the government distributed at the weekend, so capturing relatively mild cases of Covid-19.

But officials express increasing confidence that the peak of the first wave of coronavirus has now passed, even though Pedro Sánchez, prime minister, plans to ask parliament to extend the country’s extraordinary “state of alert”— the extraordinary legal order underpinning the lockdown — to April 25.

At present the accumulated number of deaths is 13,055, while 40,437 people have recovered and 6,931 have needed intensive care.

Opinion: From shutdowns to the reopening of economies

Covid-19 has confronted the world with its biggest challenge in living memory. It is necessary now to manage both the disease and its economic impact. This is no simple trade-off.

On the contrary, bringing the disease under control is a necessary condition for bringing the economy back to life. But time is also limited. Governments must use what they now have wisely and effectively.

You can read The FT View in full here.

Austria to allow shops to reopen from next week

Sam Jones in Zurich

Austria is set to become Europe’s first country to roll-back stringent quarantine measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, with plans for shops to open as early as next week.

Speaking on Monday morning, chancellor Sebastian Kurz outlined a timetable to restart the Austrian economy, with a series of phased steps designed to normalise life in Austria while at the same time minimising the risk of a surge in new infections.

While promising some return to normalcy, Mr Kurz’s plan also underscores the degree to which the public should prepare themselves for months of restrictions ahead. The chancellor urged Austrians to cancel any plans to celebrate Easter this week. And stressed that restrictions could only be eased if rules were adhered to.

Small shops will be permitted to open again from April 14 as well as large DIY stores and garden centres, the government said. As of May 1, other businesses deemed slightly higher risk, including hair salons, will be allowed to open.

The government said there is a possibility restaurants and cafes will be permitted to start operating again in mid-May, but declined to give an exact date. Public events will not be allowed to take place until July. No date has been set for schools to reopen.

Austrian authorities have confirmed 12,008 cases of the novel coronavirus.The growth rate of daily new infections has already slowed to 2.8 per cent from over 40 per cent in mid March, health authorities said.

Iran to grant credit to 23m families to limit economic impact of virus

Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Iran said it will grant credit to 23m families as the Islamic republic grapples with falling demand and impending job losses amid the spread of coronavirus.

President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that banking loans to these families — which covers most of the population — will be 10m rials (the equivalent of $61 at the open market rate) and will not have to be paid back immediately.

Instead, repayments will be deducted “gradually” over two years from monthly subsidies that these families receive since the government slashed energy subsidies, he added.

Mr Rouhani also said that lower-income families — already entitled to some non-refundable financial assistance — will be granted loans of up to 20m rials ($122.17) at an interest rate of 4 per cent. The country has an inflation rate of 37 per cent, and banks charge rates as high as 30 per cent on loans.

Life started going back to normal on Saturday following two weeks of Persian New Year holidays, fuelling fears of a second wave of coronavirus infection which has cost at least 3,603 lives.

Struggling with the US’s toughest sanctions, Iranian analysts say the Islamic republic cannot afford to quarantine cities and force people to stay at home. The country’s death toll rose to 3,739 on Monday, from 3,603 a day before.

Debenhams appoints administrator in third insolvency process in a year

Jonathan Eley in London

Debenhams has filed a notice of intent to appoint FRP Advisory as administrators after the shutdown of its entire estate in response to the coronavirus pandemic which compounded already difficult trading conditions.

It said the move – its third insolvency process in a year – will protect it from legal action that could have pushed the company directly into liquidation, and that the current management team will remain in place under the supervision of the administrators.

It added that it is making preparations to resume trading once government restrictions on movement are lifted, and reiterated that it has the support of its lenders who plan to provide the funding for the administration.

“These are unprecedented circumstances and we have taken this step to protect our business, our employees, and other important stakeholders, so that we are in a position to resume trading from our stores when government restrictions are lifted,” said chief executive Stefaan Vansteenkiste.

Investor sentiment plumbs new depths in Europe

Martin Arnold in Frankfurt

Eurozone investor sentiment has fallen to a record low, as pessimism about the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic surpassed even the low-point of the 2008 financial crisis, according to a survey published on Monday morning.

The Sentix survey of investors reported its steepest monthly fall on record in its sentiment indicator for the eurozone economy, which was down by 25.8 points to minus 42.9, its lowest point since the poll first stated in 2001.

“The coronavirus is keeping the global economy in a stranglehold: without exception, all regions of the world are in a deep recession,” said Patrick Hussy, Sentix managing director.

Never before has the assessment of the current situation collapsed so sharply in all regions of the world within one month.

He said investor sentiment about the US was “in a full downward spiral” and the “only glimmer of hope” was a stabilisation of sentiment in Asia excluding Japan. “A quick V-recovery of the economy is not to be expected,” he added.

Katharina Koenz, eurozone economist at Oxford Economics, said:

Governments are rushing to the economies’ rescue, but no stimulus will be able to offset the loss resulting from the enormous scale of the containment measures to tackle the coronavirus, which have entirely stopped economic activity in some sectors.

Japan set to declare state of emergency in 7 prefectures

Robin Harding in Tokyo

Japan is getting ready to declare a month-long state of emergency in seven prefectures including the capital city of Tokyo because of a rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases, prime minister Shinzo Abe announced on Monday.

The declaration – which will not be made formally until tomorrow – is expected to apply to the prefectures of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka. They cover three of Japan’s biggest cities and much of its economic activity.

However, Mr Abe said a state of emergency would stop short of a full lockdown. “Even if we declare a state of emergency in Japan, cities will not be locked down as they are overseas, and all the experts say that is not necessary,” he said.

Public institutions such as railways will continue to operate, supermarkets will be open as usual, and we will maintain economic and social activity to the greatest extent possible.

Rather than lockdowns enforced by fines, the state of emergency will give prefectural governors powers to request the closure of businesses such as gyms and karaoke halls in an effort to increase social distancing.

Mr Abe claimed that a forthcoming economic stimulus package will amount to ¥108tn ($9.9tn), or close to 20 per cent of gross domestic product, but the figure will include a lot of non-cash measures such as loan guarantees. The government is expected to make cash payments to workers who have lost wages because of the virus.

Analysis: Coronavirus, is Europe losing Italy?

As Italy faces its most severe crisis since the second world war, with more than 15,000 deaths from coronavirus and its economy on course to suffer the deepest recession in its modern history, there is a rising feeling among even its pro-European elite that the country is being abandoned by its neighbours.

Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s softly-spoken 78-year-old president, and the man relied on to safeguard the country’s constitution and international alliances, has warned the future of Europe is at stake if its institutions do not show solidarity.

“I hope that everyone fully understands, before it is too late, the seriousness of the threat to Europe,” he said in a television address last week.

Many in Rome now feel that unless bold action is taken by northern European countries, they risk Italy turning its back on the European project forever.

Read the full story here.

Belgium intensive care numbers fall for first time

Jim Brunsden in Brussels

The Belgian authorities have reported the first reduction in the number of people in intensive care since the start of the pandemic, saying that the country was “heading towards a stabilisation” in its fight against coronavirus.

According to data for April 5, published this morning, the number of people in intensive care is 1,257, a reduction of 4 compared with the data for April 4. The number of people in intensive care needing respiratory assistance fell by 11 to 984.

But the country’s crisis centre also reported that its death toll from the virus has risen by 185 people to reach 1,632, one of the largest single increases since the start of the crisis.

Spokespeople for the crisis centre cautioned that the numbers could be affected by what they call “the weekend effect” — a lag in the reporting of up to date numbers from care homes and public authorities.

Emmanuel André, a scientist and spokesman for the crisis centre, urged the public to continue respecting the country’s lockdown conditions, saying that “these efforts have to be continued for some weeks”.

“The situation in hospitals remains very intense,” he said.

Heathrow to close two of its terminals as passenger traffic plummets

Bethan Staton in London

Heathrow has “temporarily” closed two of its terminals following a 75 per cent reduction in passenger traffic as a result of the global coronavirus outbreak.

The UK’s largest airport on Monday announced it would consolidate airline operations to Terminals 2 and 5, shifting activity from Terminals 3 and 4 over the coming weeks.

From Monday it will also move to a single runway operation. Public Health England officials have been deployed to monitor safety, social distancing and hygiene standards.

“Heathrow is one of the main supply lines bringing vital medical equipment, medicines and food into the UK, as well as repatriation flights for Britons stranded abroad – it is our duty to assist the UK as we fight the virus by keeping Heathrow open and operating in a safe way,” a spokesperson said.

While passenger numbers have dropped significantly, cargo-only traffic at Heathrow increased by 409 per cent in the last week of March, and over 40 per cent of the UK’s pharmaceutical products are imported via Heathrow according to the airport.

Most of the remaining passenger flights are now repatriating British citizens, some of whom have been stranded abroad as a result of the pandemic.

UK construction sector takes worst hit in a decade

Valentina Romei in London

UK construction activity fell at the fastest pace since the financial crisis as many builders ceased work and the coronavirus pandemic hit demand, according to a closely watched survey.

The IHS Markit purchasing manager index for UK construction crashed to 39.3 in March from 52.6 the previous month, worse than analysts’ expectations and the lowest in more than 10 years.

“As measures to contain the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic were put in place across the UK, construction sites closed and builders lost their jobs on a frightening scale as overall activity fell to an extent not seen since April 2009,” said Duncan Brock, group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply.

A reading below 50 indicates a majority of businesses reporting deteriorating activity over the previous month. The sector employs 2.4m workers in the UK to produce about 6 per cent of the country’s total output. However, headcounts were cut at the fastest pace since September 2010 as civil engineering and commercial activity declined sharply and orders dried up.

Residential activity dropped at a comparatively modest pace in March, with the equivalent index posting 46.6, but companies expect a further slump in house building in the months ahead as building sites stop and measures to stop the virus become more stringent.

Last Friday, Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders, which represents small-to-medium sized contractors, called on further action from the government to help the “industry survive and recover from the coronavirus” like including construction companies in the business rates relief exemption and automatically extend all planning permissions by a year.

UK new car sales plunge 44% in March

New car registrations in the UK tumbled by almost half in March in a fall that outstripped the financial crisis as the spread of coronavirus forced showrooms across the country to close.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the industry body, said the market shrank by 44 per cent compared to March 2019, with 203,370 fewer cars registered. The total figure of 254,684 marked the industry’s worst month of March since the late nineties, when the current registration system was introduced.

The drop off mirrors declines in car sales across Europe, many of which have been even more dramatic. March sales fell 85 per cent in Italy, 72 per cent in France and 69 per cent in Spain.

The SMMT cut its outlook for new car registrations this year by 23 per cent to 1.73m. This would be a full quarter lower than the 2019 figure.

Rohingya brace for coronavirus pandemic

Susannah Savage in London

Aid workers in Bangladesh are bracing for a coronavirus outbreak among the Rohingya refugee camps, where more than 850,000 members of the Muslim ethnic minority have sought refuge from Myanmar since 2017.

Overcrowded, under-resourced and lacking healthcare and sanitation, the camps in Cox’s Bazar are a “ticking time bomb”, warned Médecins Sans Frontières.

Just 88 cases of coronavirus have been detected in Bangladesh so far but experts believe the actual number to be far higher. Authorities have put the country on lockdown and restricted refugees’ movements inside the camps, raising concerns from humanitarian organisations.

Implementing health authorities’ recommended measures would be nearly impossible. Social distancing in the overcrowded camps — where up to 70,000 people live per square km — is like “telling people to get under their tables when there’s an imminent nuclear war”, said one aid worker.

Read the full story here.

Tony Blair describes prime minister’s situation as ‘hellish’

Laura Hughes in London

Tony Blair, former Labour prime minister, described Boris Johnson’s situation as “hellish” and called for a policy of mass community testing to be overseen by a senior minister.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning, the former Labour leader said: “I have every sympathy and solidarity with him. I know it must be a hellish situation to be in.”

Questioned on whether he believed Mr Johnson should continue to lead the response to the coronavirus crisis, Mr Blair said: “I’m not going to second guess them on that. He knows the state of his own condition and he will be judging it carefully himself, I’m sure.”

He also called for the government to pursue mass community testing and to appoint a minister responsible for overseeing the rollout of the strategy.

“On testing: unless you’re able to get mass testing, so at scale with speed, I don’t see how you get a way out of this lockdown”, he said.

He continued:

If I was handling the situation now, I would put a senior minister in charge of testing and nothing else with people who have industrial experience, business experience of how you ramp up industrial scale production. Plus people on the technology side and obviously on the scientific advice side.

Mr Blair added that he was “terrified by the economic damage that we are doing with every week this lockdown continues.”

Gordon Ramsay’s Hong Kong restaurants close amid economic turmoil

Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong

British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s three Hong Kong restaurants have closed, according to local operators, who cited both last year’s political crisis and the coronavirus outbreak as reasons for the move.

Maze Grill and London House in Tsim Sha Tsui, and Bread Street Kitchen & Bar at the Peak have not opened their doors since April 1, according to a spokeswoman for Dining Concepts, the local group managing the restaurants.

Four other restaurants from Dining Concepts – Olive, Nahm, Craftsteak and Soho Spice – have also closed.

Asked whether staff will be laid off, the spokeswoman said “we are still dealing with this internally”.

Anti-government protests have rocked the self-ruled Chinese territory since mid-way through last year, emptying out hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. Covid-19 has added to the economic turmoil faced by the city.

Decline in new Covid-19 cases stokes hopes of outbreak peak

Steve Bernard, data visualisation journalist

A drop in the number of new Covid-19 diagnoses to the lowest level in six days has prompted hope the global coronavirus outbreak has reached or is nearing a peak.

There were 71,418 cases of Covid-19 confirmed worldwide on Sunday. The total now stands at just under 1.3m. Deaths were also down from recent highs, with 4,737 people losing their lives, bringing the total to 69,505.

The US remains the worst affected country by cases. However, the 25,316 cases added on Sunday were the lowest for five days, and more than 9,000 less than Saturday’s peak. This marks the first day in two weeks that the country has confirmed less cases than the day before.

Spain, Italy, Germany and France all saw the number of new cases drop significantly from recent highs. The lockdowns appear to be having their desired effect, with many European countries looking to ease restrictions. But they remain wary of a second wave of infections.

The UK saw a large rise in the number of new cases yesterday with 5,903, more than 1,500 higher than Friday’s previous peak. The number of deaths recorded on Sunday dropped slightly to 621, bringing the total to 4,934.

The country is currently tracking the same path as France, which points to a possible peak in new cases over the Easter weekend.

The number of global recovered cases rose by 18,139 yesterday, leaving a total of 264,604 free from the virus.

US military declares public health emergency in Tokyo

Robin Harding in Tokyo

The United States military has declared a public health emergency in the Tokyo region – pre-empting any similar action by the Japanese authorities – because of the growing number of coronavirus cases in the city.

The declaration allows commanders to enforce public health measures over the thousands of US military personnel stationed in or near the Japanese capital, including the home base of the Seventh Fleet at Yokosuka, and the large air bases at Atsugi and Yokota.

It highlights the recent upsurge in cases in Tokyo, with 143 new diagnoses on Sunday taking the total into four figures, as well as the independent authority of US forces operating on Japanese territory. Japan has not yet declared its own state of emergency but is likely to do so on Tuesday.

Lt Gen Kevin Schneider, the commander of US forces in Japan, said:

The virus makes no exceptions based on military or civilian status, and our policies and procedures won’t either. We are in this together and I need every single person on every single facility and installation to take this seriously and comply with these measures.

German infections continue to slow

Tobias Buck in Berlin

Germany reported 3,677 new coronavirus cases on Monday, the smallest increase relative to the previous day since infections started to surge last month.

The 4 per cent rise in cases took the total number of detected infections to 95,391, according to official data released by the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin.

Covid-19 deaths also rose by significantly less than in previous days, with fatalities up just 7 per cent to 1,434.

As in previous weeks, the relatively small increase in new cases and deaths may reflect delays in reporting from local health authorities over the weekend. But the slowdown in the growth rate also continues a trend German officials have seen for some time. Monday was the ninth day in a row in which new cases rose by less than 10 per cent.

According to Johns Hopkins University in the US, which keeps a separate count of global cases, Germany currently has 100,123 detected infections, and 1,584 Covid-19 deaths.

Construction activity slumps in Europe

Valentina Romei in London

Eurozone construction activity fell at the fastest rate since the financial crisis in March as many building sites were closed, while demand plummeted, fresh evidence of the economic damage being caused by lockdowns across the continent. 

The IHS Markit purchasing managers survey for construction dropped to 33.5 in March from 52.5 in February, its lowest level since January 2009. A reading below 50 indicates a majority of businesses reporting deteriorating activity over the previous month.

Bernard Aw, principal economist at IHS Markit, said:

The eurozone construction sector fell into a severe downturn in March as measures to contain the Covid-19 outbreak hit activity and demand.

Italy was the hardest hit with its PMI index dropping to 15.9 in March from 50.5 in February, the lowest level since the survey began in July 1999.

Eurozone construction companies cut their staff numbers at the fastest for a decade as activity tailed off. Across the region, the construction sector employs nearly 10 million people.

“Any work that is currently going ahead is being hit by disruption on the supply-side, with firms reporting delivery delays of the likes rarely seen during the survey’s history,” said Phil Smith, principal economist at IHS Markit.

Russia reports record rise in cases despite containment efforts

Henry Foy in Moscow

Russia reported 954 new coronavirus cases on Monday, a new record daily jump that dashes hopes Moscow had tempered growth of the outbreak with new restrictive measures.

The 18 per cent jump in new confirmed infections, which takes the country’s total to 6,343 cases of Covid-19, comes after three days of falling growth rates.

Russia’s government announced a period of “national holiday” and ordered people to remain in their homes late last month, a measure that has since been extended until the end of April.

The total number of people in Russia who have died from the virus is 47, the country’s coronavirus taskforce said on Monday.

China lashes out at Australian media over corporate coverage

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

Beijing has accused the Australian media of “defaming” local Chinese companies that purchased vital supplies of personal protective equipment in the Pacific nation and exported them to Wuhan during the height of the coronavirus crisis.

The Chinese embassy in Canberra said on Monday some media, such as The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald, were “misleading the public” and had “maliciously characterised the Chinese companies’ purchasing … as ‘scandal’”.

It said the actions of the local arms of Chinese companies, which include Sydney property development company Risland, were no different to Australian miners Fortescue, Rio Tinto and BHP, which are currently purchasing medical supplies in China to tackle the crisis in Australia.

It was known to all that at the time China was in great need of certain medical materials in its fight against Covid-19. The procurement by the Chinese business was just to help China overcome difficulties.

Australian media has reported extensively on how several Chinese companies with local operations, including two state-owned enterprise Greenland and Poly Australia, began stockpiling medical supplies in February and shipping them back to China to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Nine, which owns the SMH, and News Corp Australia, were not immediately available for comment.

Boris Johnson undergoing ‘routine tests’ at hospital

George Parker in London

Robert Jenrick, housing secretary, said “routine tests” on Boris Johnson were underway, adding: “He will stay in hospital as long as needed, but I’ve heard he is doing well.”

Mr Jenrick told the BBC’s Today programme he expected Mr Johnson to return to Number 10 “shortly” but that the prime minister would follow medical advice on when he should return home.

The minister insisted Mr Johnson was not incapacitated: “He remains in charge of the government,” he said. “He will be updated regularly while he’s in hospital.”

South Korea investigates as dozens test positive for virus a second time

Edward White and Kang Buseong in Seoul

South Korean health officials are investigating scores of cases where recovered coronavirus patients have tested positive for the virus a second time.

More than 50 people from Daegu and the surrounding region, the centre of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, tested positive for the virus after being released from quarantine.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director general of the Korea Centers for Disease Control, said it was more likely that the virus had been reactivated, rather than people being re-infected, but experts have been dispatched to Daegu to investigate further.

Earlier in the day, South Korea reported 47 new cases, the lowest since February 20, and down from 81 on Sunday. The country, which has tested nearly half a million people for the virus, has seen a total caseload of 10,284 infections with 186 deaths. Despite successful containment measures and the low death rate, officials cautioned the lower number reflected a drop in the number of people tested in recent days and the country remained at risk of further flare ups.

India uses tech to track quarantine violators

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India has begun using cell phone data to track and prosecute people who violate home quarantine orders, after many have been failing to adhere to the restrictions on their movements.

Tens of thousands Indians suspected of exposure to coronavirus have been ordered into home quarantine, but many have flouted the quarantine rules, prompting authorities to turn to technology to enforce the restrictions.

In the state of Karnataka, authorities now require people under quarantine to upload selfies with geotags every hour during daytime to ensure they are following the rules. And authorities in India’s capital city New Delhi are using cell phones to track more than 25,000 people now under home quarantine.

Over the weekend, Delhi police said they had filed preliminary criminal complaints against 176 people whose phone locations suggested they had stepped out of their residence, including one man who had taken an evening walk in his neighbourhood.

Bookmaker GVC stems losses as it slashes costs

Alice Hancock in London

GVC, the owner of Ladbrokes Coral, said it expects to reach a break even cash flow position and cut earnings lost due the coronavirus outbreak by half thanks to a series of cost saving measures.

The FTSE 250 gambling company had originally forecast a hit to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of £100m per month but said on Monday it now expected that to be £50m per month after it reduced marketing and took advantage of government support schemes.

It also said that it would cut content and trading costs in its sports department, since the majority of sports events have been cancelled, and would cut a £103m dividend payment due at the end of April.

The company said it expected to reach a net earnings of £15m per month, which would balance a £15m per month cash outflow to maintain the business.

Media group Reach to furlough one fifth of staff and slash pay

Patricia Nilsson in London

Britain’s largest regional news group Reach will furlough one fifth of its staff and ask the remainder to take a pay cut, as a growing number of media companies take drastic measures to stay afloat.

The group, which publishes the national Daily Mirror and Express and Star tabloids, on Monday said its board and “most senior” editorial and management team would take a 20 per cent pay cut. Salaries of remaining staff would drop by 10 per cent, as long as it did not put anyone below the UK living wage of £9.30 an hour.

“It remains difficult to predict the duration and long term impact of the crisis on our sector so it is key we take proactive measures now on cost to protect jobs and the Reach business for the long term,” said chief executive Jim Mullen, who joined the company in August last year.

Reach said it would propose to suspend its 2019 dividend, arguing it would be “inappropriate” to pay shareholders as it relies on the government’s job protection scheme to pay staff. The company also suspended guidance for this year.

Wagamama owner increases credit facilities and cuts executive pay

Alice Hancock in London

Wagamama owner, The Restaurant Group, has cut executive pay and increased its banking facilities as it moves to cope with the continued coronavirus shutdown.

The casual dining company, which also owns the Frankie and Benny’s brand, said its chief executive Andy Hornby and chief financial officer Kirk Davis would take pay cuts of 40 and 20 per cent respectively for the next three months and give up £207,000 of bonuses between them.

It also said that it had extended its bank debt from £20m to £35m and agreed with lenders that its half year covenant test would be cancelled.

The Restaurant Group has already announced that it plans to put two of its brands – Chiquito and Food & Fuel – into administration following the shutdown of all dine-in restaurants in the UK as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The restaurant sector has been among those hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak due to the total shutdown and tight margins that it typically operates on. Restaurants owned by the celebrity chef Mark Hix became the latest casualty after he appointed administrators at the end of last week.

Global stocks rise on hopes pandemic is stabilising

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong and Philip Georgiadis in London

Global stocks rallied on Monday, as investors welcomed signs that measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic were starting to bear fruit in some of the worst-affected countries. 

London’s FTSE 100 rose 2.5 per cent at the open, while in Frankfurt the Dax gained 3.9 per cent and the CAC 40 in Paris was 3.4 per cent higher. 

The virus has shown signs of peaking in continental Europe, as the daily death toll in Italy, Spain and France slows. Signals that some governments will consider easing lockdowns imposed across much of the continent have also raised hopes that economic activity could begin to resume in the medium term.

Still, Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid advised caution, and questioned whether western economies will be able to quickly break free from the restrictive measures put in place to slow the pandemic’s spread. 

“Overall global new case growth and fatalities are slowing but are they slowing quickly enough to work out when economies can reopen?” Mr Reid wrote in a note to clients. 

S&P 500 futures tipped the Wall Street benchmark to rise 3.6 per cent when the US opens for trading, while Asian markets recorded strong gains. 

Singapore to launch third wave of ‘unprecedented’ stimulus measures

Stefania Palma in Singapore

Singapore will unleash a further S$5.1bn ($3.5bn) to help offset the economic impact of coronavirus, marking a third relief package that brings the city state’s overall fiscal support to S$59.9bn, or about 12 per cent of GDP.

The country’s budget deficit for financial year 2020 will increase to S$44.3bn, or 8.9 per cent of GDP.

“This is an unprecedented budget for extraordinary times,” said Heng Swee Keat, deputy prime minister and finance minister. “The situation remains highly fluid and uncertain. The government stands ready to provide further support should it become necessary”.

The new measures aim to help workers, businesses and households during a tightening of distancing measures that will lead to most work premises shutting down from April 7 to May 4. The package includes cash handouts for households as well as a threefold jump in local workers’ wage support to 75 per cent for all companies in April.

The city state will draw upon an additional S$4bn from past reserves to support the new package, after seeking approval from the president last month to draw on S$17bn from this cash pool. Fiscal space in the current government will fund the third scheme’s remaining S$1.1bn.

WH Smith to raise equity as corporate virus warnings mount

UK newsagent chain WH Smith is tapping investors for cash, it said this morning, making it among the first UK retailers to do so.

Citing a “substantial downturn in economic activity” as its share price tumbled in recent months, the group said it had secured new lending facilities of £120m.

The new credit is conditional on raising new equity. As a result, WH Smith said it was in the process of preparing an equity issue of up to 13.7 per cent of its issued share capital by way of a placing.

Elsewhere, the pile up of companies abandoning their guidance and pulling their dividends gained a handful of new big names this morning.

Rolls Royce (see below) withdrew its guidance and opted against paying its dividend for the first time since privatisation in 1987.

Oilfield services group Petrofac did likewise, pointing to the impact of both the virus and low oil prices on its financial performance and new orders.

Engineering group Smiths also pulled its guidance and said it would not pay an interim dividend. It said the virus had sapped demand across the board with the exception of its medical division, while its supply chain had experienced heavy disruption.

Software group Sage said it anticipated revenues below its previous growth targets and scrapped a £250m share buyback.

German factory orders dipped before worst of coronavirus hit

Martin Arnold

German industrial orders fell slightly in February as factories started to feel the pinch of coronavirus disruption in Asia. But economists are braced for a much steeper fall in March when the pandemic spread across Europe and caused many manufacturers to shut down.

Weaker foreign demand was the main cause for the 1.4 per cent drop in German factory orders in February, which was a reversal from the 4.8 per cent increase in January. Economists said the drop in orders caused by the sharp downturn in Asia was milder than expected.

“Today’s numbers at least show that this first wave of the Covid-19 impact on German industry has been rather benign,” said Carsten Brzeski, economist at ING. “As Covid-19 affects the economy through multiple channels, today’s industrial orders data look to be just another eerie calm before the storm.”

The outlook for German manufacturing has darkened since many factories were forced to close because of the severe restrictions imposed on non-essential movement and activities across Europe to slow the spread of the pandemic.

Last week, IHS Markit’s purchasing managers index for German manufacturing – which accounts for a fifth of the country’s economy – fell to its lowest level for 11 years. It dropped from 48.0 in February to 45.4 in March. A reading below 50 indicates a contraction in activity.

Economists said the lower PMI was mitigated by suppliers’ lengthening delivery times — which usually signals rising demand, but in this case points to supply chain disruption.

India’s coronavirus case count rises above 4,000

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

India’s confirmed coronavirus case load crossed 4,000 on Monday, as the country completes the second week of a 21-day lockdown intended to curb the spread of the pathogen.

As of yet, India has failed to significantly bend the curve of coronavirus infections, with health officials saying that confirmed Covid-19 infections have doubled every 4.1 days, as the country scales up its previously low testing.

The tally of confirmed cases has risen to 4,066. The number of those who have recovered is 291 and 109 people have died.

India’s battle against coronavirus also received a setback last week when authorities discovered that the virus was circulating among followers of an Islamic revivalist sect, Tablighi Jamaat. The sect held a massive congregation, involving thousands of Indians and hundreds of foreigners, in mid-March, despite a ban on large-scale meetings.

Authorities say that nearly 30 per cent of India’s coronavirus caseload is now linked to the Tablighi event, with preachers and followers of the movement seeding other clusters across the length and breadth of India.

Without those cases, authorities say India’s caseload would be doubling every seven days.

The Tablighi Jamaat fiasco has also contributed to a sharp rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in Hindu majority India, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has long portrayed the country’s largest religious minority as a major threat to internal security.

Dubai’s leading developer implements salary cuts

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Dubai developer Emaar has implemented salary cuts across its business lines, including a 100 per cent reduction for its chairman, Mohammed Alabbar.

In a letter to employees, Mr Alabbar said strict measures had been taken to respond to disruption caused by coronavirus and to “secure the continuity” of its businesses.

Emaar, Dubai’s leading real estate developer, also runs hotels and shopping centres, including Dubai Mall.

To stem the spread of Covid-19 in the United Arab Emirates, which has around 1,800 cases, Dubai has imposed a 24-hour curfew on residents, closing large swaths of the city’s tourism, trade and retail-oriented economy.

The new salary structure, effective from April 1 until further notice, includes a 50 per cent salary reduction for senior management, a 40 per cent cut for middle management and a 30 per cent reduction for junior staff. Support staff will not receive a cut if they are working full-time.

Hospitality staff will be put on 15 per cent of their cash salary, with free accommodation and medical provision. Other employees put on leave will be paid 60 per cent of their full salary.

Rolls-Royce pulls guidance and scraps dividend

Rolls-Royce this morning joined the increasingly-lengthy list of companies which have abandoned their targets for the year and suspended their dividends.

Warren East, chief executive of the aerospace group, pointed to the “unprecedented times” in which the company finds itself as he announced the move, which was revealed by the FT over the weekend. It marks the first time the company has failed to pay a dividend since privatisation in 1987.

Rolls-Royce has been hit hard by the sweeping restrictions on global air travel, as governments scramble to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The company’s civil aerospace division, which accounts for around half of Rolls-Royce’s £15.4bn annual revenue, makes its profit from the number of hours its engines fly.

On Monday the group said flying hours for widebody aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and A330, and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner had fallen by around 25 per cent in the first quarter, compared to the previous year, and by half in March. This is expected to worsen again in the coming months.

European stocks set to bounce higher

Stock markets across Europe were set to open the week with major gains, as investors cheered signs that the pandemic was stabilising in some of the worst-hit countries.

Futures pointed to gains of 3 per cent for the FTSE 100, while Germany’s Dax was primed to rise 4.5 per and the CAC 40 in France was pointing 3.8 per cent.

The virus has shown signs of peaking in continental Europe, as the daily death toll in Italy, Spain and France slows. Vice President Mike Pence said the US was seeing “glimmers of progress” in terms of the outbreak, while New York State reported its first daily drop in new cases since the outbreak began.

Governments across Europe have begun preparations to ease the lockdowns imposed across much of the continent to contain the coronavirus pandemic, offering some hope to economies that have been brought to a standstill.

Cambodia bars fish exports amid food security fears

John Reed in Bangkok

Cambodia has suspended fish exports, becoming the latest country to cut off international trade in a staple commodity because of food security concerns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Hun Sen, the country’s prime minister, took the move “to avoid food shortages for locals” and stabilise fish prices, the Phnom Penh Post reported late on Sunday. The announcement came on the same day that Cambodia’s previously announced ban on some rice exports took effect.

“To avoid rising fish prices, fish should be kept at home and banned from export to international markets,” Mr Hun Sen said in a message to leaders of Cambodia’s National Committee for Combating Covid-19, in remarks quoted by the paper.

“We previously announced a ban on only paddy and white rice, but now we should ban fish exports because we can keep them and sell them on our markets.”

Neighbouring Vietnam last month suspended rice exports to shore up its food supply, and Algeria, Morocco, and the Philippines are among the other countries that have taken steps to bolster their grain reserves in response to concerns raised by the trade and production bottlenecks caused by the virus.

Non-performing assets to spike in Asia this year – S&P

Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong

S&P estimates that non-performing assets in Asia’s banking system will spike by $600bn this year on the back of the coronavirus outbreak

The rating agency said China will account for the “lion’s share” of the increase due to the size of its banking system, but pointed to other problems across the continent’s banking sectors.

A rise in bad debts poses particular risks in India, where banks already had a “large overhang of problem loans”, and Indonesia where the corporate sector has a greater reliance on US dollar borrowings.

The ratings agency said the spike could result in additional “credit costs” – charges banks take against “bad and doubtful debts” – of $300bn this year. It pointed to a difficult balance between rising risks and support from central banks and governments, such as rates cuts and liquidity injections.

“The principal risk we see beyond our base case for nonperforming assets and credit losses is that the coronavirus will spread faster, further, and for longer,” said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Gavin Gunning.

Oil prices tumble while coronavirus hopes boost Asian stocks

Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

Oil prices slipped on doubts that Saudi Arabia and Russia could quickly reach a deal to reduce global crude supplies, while Asia stocks were buoyed by optimism that measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic were bearing fruit.

In Asian trading on Monday, Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, fell 1.7 per cent to $33.53 per barrel while US marker West Texas Intermediate sank 3.3 per cent to $27.40.

Both benchmarks had earlier fallen as much as 12 per cent after Riyadh and Moscow traded barbs over the weekend, raising concerns over any potential agreement to cut supply and put a floor under prices that have been hit by a falling-out between the two producers.

Stocks across Asia Pacific and Wall Street futures rose after European governments signalled they were considering an easing of lockdowns imposed across much of the continent.

Japan’s benchmark Topix index added 2.6 per cent, South Korea’s Kospi also climbed 2.6 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 3.9 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was up 1.2 per cent. On Monday, new cases in South Korea dipped to a six-week low, but officials in Seoul warned that the fall reflected a recent drop in testing.

Alibaba donates medical equipment to El Salvador

Jude Webber in Mexico City

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele thanked Chinese businessman Jack Ma and the Alibaba Group he founded for donating 100,000 masks, 10,800 coronavirus testing kits and five ventilators to Central America’s smallest country.

“We’ll need all the help we can get to fight this disease. Thank you again. God bless you,” the president said in a tweet after the donations started to arrive.

El Salvador, which has imposed a strict lockdown, has 69 confirmed cases and has reported three deaths.

Flight Centre to raise A$1bn in new funding as travel bookings collapse

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

Flight Centre is raising almost A$1bn funds through an equity raising and new credit lines to bolster its balance sheet as it faces a collapse in travel bookings due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Australian-listed travel agency said it would close more than half its global leisure shops and stand down or make redundant 6,000 of its 20,000 employees in a bid to slash costs by A$1.9bn per year.

The group, which has operations in Australia, China and several European nations, said it is raising A$700m in a fully underwritten equity raising and has secured an additional A$200m line of credit from its bankers.

Graham Turner, Flight Centre managing director, said it was the most challenging period in the 30 year history of the business and it was inevitable that some companies would not survive the crisis.

“With this funding in place and additional liquidity, we are in a much stronger position and are well placed to weather a prolonged downturn, which currently seems the likely scenario, and to then take advantage of the significant opportunities that will arise once conditions improve,” he said.

Ssangyong Motor to sell assets after Mahindra drops plan to inject $186m

Song Jung-a in Seoul

Ssangyong Motor plans to sell non-core assets to secure liquidity after its parent Mahindra & Mahindra canceled its plan to inject capital into the troubled South Korean carmaker amid the widening coronavirus pandemic.

The Indian parent company said earlier this year it would inject Won230bn ($186m) into Ssangyong over three years but Mahindra’s board has recently rejected the plan as global automakers are hit harder by the pandemic.

“We are unable to get support from our main shareholder as the global auto industry faces an unprecedented crisis with Covid-19 affecting the global financial sector as well as the real economy,” the company said on Monday.

Mahindra’s decision to nix its investment plan has spurred speculation about the company’s withdrawal from South Korea but Ssangyoang said Mahindra would still inject Won40bn of emergency funds into the South Korean automaker.

However, the emergency funding will be far short of the financial support Ssangyong needs to stay afloat. Mahindra’s managing director Pawan Goenka said earlier this year a total of Won500bn is needed to turn around Ssangyong by 2022.

Ssangyong has suffered losses since 2017 due to a lack of new models. Its sales plunged more than 30 per cent in the first three months of this year after falling 2.2 per cent last year. Mahindra, which took over Ssangyong for Won523bn in 2011, holds a 75 per cent stake in Ssangyong.

S Korea warns of further outbreaks as coronavirus cases hit 6-week low

By Edward White and Kang Buseong

South Korea struck a cautious tone on Monday despite new coronavirus cases falling to their lowest in six weeks.

Health officials on Monday reported 47 new cases, the lowest since February 20, and down from 81 on Sunday. But officials also cautioned that the country still faced a high risk of further outbreaks and said the lower number reflected a drop in the number of people tested in recent days.

The broader trend follows an extension of the country’s social distancing measures, including moving schools and universities online and cracking down on large public gatherings. Seoul has also ramped up testing of arrivals to the country after a surge in imported cases over recent weeks.

South Korea, which has tested nearly half a million people for the virus, has seen a total caseload of 10,284 infections with 186 deaths. More than 6,500 people have recovered from the virus in the country, reflecting a comparatively low death toll to many parts of the world on the back of the rapid roll out of a mass public testing campaign in February and March.

The impact of Covid-19 on India

In this FT video, Delhi correspondent Stephanie Findlay looks at the looming humanitarian crisis in India and the potential knock-on impact around the world.

In the world’s second most populous country, 78m people live in densely-packed urban slums, and there are far fewer hospital beds per capita than in China or the US.

If India is unable to bring the virus under control, that may have important implications for its spread globally. Watch more here.

China reports local transmission in Guangdong

Health authorities in China reported 39 new coronavirus cases to the end of Sunday, one of which was a locally-transmitted case in the southern province of Guangdong. The remaining cases were imported from overseas.

Guangdong, a major manufacturing hub that borders Hong Kong, reported 5 new cases of coronavirus in the province on Saturday, highlighting the challenges of restarting China’s economy while controlling the outbreak.

The new cases brought the total number of reported infections in mainland China to 81,708.

There was one new reported death linked to coronavirus in Hubei, the origin of the outbreak, taking the total number of fatalities to 3,331.

Authorities reported 78 new cases where those who tested positive for the virus did not show any symptoms. There are currently 1,047 asymptomatic cases under medical observation.

News you might have missed

Scotland’s chief medical officer resigned on Sunday after revelations she had twice defied the government’s own coronavirus advice to make weekend visits to a holiday home. Catherine Calderwood announced her resignation just hours after Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, told a media briefing it was vital that she remain in post.

The number of coronavirus deaths in Turkey rose to 574 on Sunday as the government invited millions of people to apply for weekly deliveries of free masks. A total of 73 people died of Covid-19 in the country in the previous 24 hours, the Turkish health ministry announced. The number of confirmed cases rose by 3,135 to just over 27,000.

Another 357 people have died in French hospitals of the coronavirus, but the rate of increase in those needing intensive care has continued to fall. The total number of people who have now died in French hospitals stands at 5,889. A further 2,189 have died in institutions such as nursing homes, meaning the total number who have died in the country stands at 8,078.

Canada’s confirmed coronavirus case count surpassed 14,000, the country’s public health agency said on Sunday. The number of cases rose from 12,924 a day prior to 14,426 — rising by nearly 12 per cent. Meanwhile, the death toll climbed to 258, up from 214, with the highest proportion of deaths among those aged 80 and older.

Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar will return to working as a doctor as the country steps up the battle against coronavirus, promising to work one day per week in the health service while also leading the government.

The Berlin authorities have backtracked on accusations that the US commandeered and diverted a shipment of face masks that was intended for the Berlin police, claims that have strained already scratchy relations between the US and Germany.

Governments across Europe have begun preparations to ease the lockdowns imposed across much of the continent to contain the coronavirus pandemic, even if restrictions that have paralysed the economy are expected to remain in force for several more weeks.

Pence says US seeing ‘glimmers of progress’ in coronavirus fight

Kiran Stacey in Washington

The US is beginning to see “glimmers of progress” in its fight against coronavirus, according to Mike Pence, the vice-president and head of the White House coronavirus task force.

Mr Pence told a press conference on Sunday he was hopeful that the disease was beginning to come under control in places that were hit earliest.

He said: “We are beginning to see the glimmers of progress… We’re starting to see cases and most importantly losses and hospitalisations begin to stabilise.”

His comments came after the US surgeon general warned that the coming weeks would prove “our Pearl Harbour”, and the president told Americans to prepare for the toughest week yet of the outbreak.

But officials said they are pleased there are some signs of stabilisation in places such as Washington state and New York, which have seen the largest outbreaks of the disease.

Oil prices tumble as Saudi-Russia deal remains out of reach

Oil prices tumbled on doubts over the prospects of a deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia, while Asia-Pacific stocks nudged higher at the start of the week.

Brent crude slipped as much as 12 per cent to just over $30 a barrel as barbs traded between the two oil producers over the weekend signalled a deal to cut oil supply remained out of reach.

Japan’s Topix was up 0.1 per cent, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.6 per cent, while the Kospi in Seoul rose 1.4 per cent.

US stocks closed down on Friday with the S&P 500 shedding 1.5 per cent as the US recorded its fastest pace of job losses since the financial crisis. The index lost more than 2 per cent for the week as the economic toll of the coronavirus became clearer.

S&P 500 futures pointed to a 1.5 per cent gain when markets reopen for the week.

Apple pledges to ship 1m face shields for health workers each week

Patrick McGee in San Francisco

Apple has designed its own face shield for health workers and said it will be able to ship 1m of them a week to protect medical professionals fighting the Covid-19 outbreak.

Chief executive Tim Cook said in a video shared on Twitter that Apple has launched “a company-wide effort” to design, build, package and ship the face shields around the world, with manufacturing taking place in both the US and China.

“We plan to ship over 1m by the end of this week and over 1m per week after that,” the Apple chief said. “We are closely co-ordinating with medical professionals and government officials across the US to get these to where they’re needed most urgently. We hope to quickly expand distribution beyond the US in both these efforts.”

The shield is a simple sheet of plastic that requires less than two minutes of assembly before it can be worn to cover the face.

Apple delivered its first units to Kaiser hospital facilities in the Santa Clara Valley last week and said it can ship the shields in boxes by the hundred.

Mr Cook also said Apple has now donated 20m face masks that it has secured through its supply chain.

Trump says US has stockpiled 29m doses of malaria drug

Kiran Stacey in Washington

The US has stockpiled 29m doses of hydroxychloroquine, Donald Trump has claimed, as the US president once more touted the benefits of the anti-malaria drug to treat coronavirus despite it not having been proven as a therapy against the virus.

Mr Trump on Sunday urged people, and especially healthcare workers, to take the drug as a prophylactic against the disease, despite the lack of clinical proof that it is effective against coronavirus.

The president told a press conference: “We have stockpiled 29m pills, of the hyrdoxychloroquine”. “A lot of drugstores have them by prescription and also, they’re not expensive,” Mr Trump said.

“Also, we’re sending them to various labs, our military was sending them to the hospitals we’re sending them all over. If you are a doctor or a nurse, a first responder a medical person going into hospitals, they say taking it before the fact is good. But what do you have to lose?”

Two European commissioners call for joint fund to invest in recovery

Sam Fleming in Brussels

Europe should consider creating a new joint fund to invest in the post-corona crisis recovery, two European commissioners have said, adding to calls for collective debt issuance to battle the recession.

Paolo Gentiloni, the economics commissioner, and Thierry Breton, the single market commissioner, wrote an op-ed that a “historic mobilisation” by member states and the EU would be needed given the scale of the economic challenge.

“What is clear is that no European country, northern or southern, has the means to deal with such a shock on its own. Not one,” they wrote in the article, published by a range of newspapers including Le Monde and Corriere della Sera.

If German rescue plans and guarantees were replicated across the union the financing requirements would be in the range of €1.5tn to €1.6tn, they wrote.

This implies finding additional tools to ensure “equal and fair access for each member state to the debt needed to finance its respective plan”. They suggested the creation of a purpose-built fund that could issue long-term bonds, using the money for joint investments in the economic recovery.

France, Italy and Spain are among the countries calling for joint debt sales to pay for the recovery effort, but they are meeting resistance from northern states including Germany that are wary of efforts to bolster collective debt issuance.

Euro area finance ministers are due to hold a call to discuss ways of battling the economic fallout on Tuesday afternoon.

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The Villages’ policy on face masks presents a financial risk




Scott Fenstermaker has reported on the new Recreation Department policy of not requiring masks for situations in recreation centers where social distancing is not feasible. In fact, the new policy has just turned the task of checking Villager ID’s into a potential suicide mission for employees.

Furthermore, if the staff, themselves, don’t wear masks, a sick, maskless ID checker could infect hundreds, and indirectly, thousands of Villagers. While this potential death and suffering has been discussed, at length, on this site, what has not appeared here is a discussion of the financial risk of the new policy.

In addition to the death and suffering that the new policy will likely cause, the new policy could jeopardize the financial solvency of our amenity system. Sick employees (or their survivors) will be filing worker compensation claims. Even more costly, sick Villagers (or their survivors) will be filing lawsuits against the amenity system for negligently not following the recommendation of both the CDC and virtually every other expert in the field.

I won’t get into the merit of such lawsuits (which will depend on the facts), the intricacies of the ownership and administration of the amenity system, or the effectiveness of masks. But do not think for a moment that such worker compensation claims and lawsuits will have no chance of succeeding. For people interested in learning more, here is a link to one of many articles that have appeared on the general subject: For more, Google: “COVID-19 business liability”.

Scott Fenstermaker is a resident of the Village of Winifred.

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Pandemic-related restaurant closures take an emotional and financial toll




Michael Raviele agonized for hours over how to break the news to his loyal customers before finally announcing at 4:30 a.m. on May 15 that he was closing Il Gatto Nero, the Italian restaurant his father first opened some six decades prior.

“I did that road for 18 years — up and down, every single day,” said the man with a tattoo of the restaurant’s logo on his arm. “I worked there every single day.”

Restaurants across Canada — from local institutions to newer spots hustling to establish themselves — have closed permanently in recent weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged an industry already plagued by razor-thin margins. Their owners face not only the emotional loss of their business, but also often large debt, little savings and an uncertain future.

Il Gatto Nero started as an Italian social club featuring pool tables and espresso more than 60 years ago. Raviele joined the business in the early 90s and slowly added to the club’s repertoire with a pizza oven, sandwiches and other tweaks.

The club moved to Toronto’s College Street about 18 years ago. At the new location, they saw a lot of success — like when Italy won the FIFA World Cup in 2006 — as well as some down times — like the 2008 recession — that prompted Raviele and his father to dip into personal savings to keep the restaurant afloat. Raviele invested more money into the business in 2014 for a renovation and expanded to a second location, a small cafe in Etobicoke, in October 2019.

When COVID-19 hit and government ordered dining rooms to close, Raviele attempted to shift to take away, but eventually stopped. Bills piled up from utility companies.

“I obviously incurred some debt and debt that wasn’t there,” he said.

But uncertainty over the future of dining was the final nail in Il Gatto Nero’s coffin.

Raviele speculated he might be required to remove the restaurant’s 10 bar seats and slash his 65-seat capacity in half to comply with pending physical distancing rules, which would cripple his business.

“I don’t see a future for my business or for my family,” he said. “The model for opening any restaurant is based on feeding capacity versus space, and how many people can you do over the course of a night… I mean, if you have one bad weekend, it could be disastrous for many small business.”

He plans to focus on the small espresso bar, add a pizza oven and hustle to keep that business going, which he said he invested his second life into.

“I’m angry because I wanted to do something good and now the possibility of losing both is always there.”

Mohammed Bin Yahya, co-founder and chief executive at Plentea, found the coronavirus to be “just like the knock out punch” for his Toronto tea bar.

Before the pandemic, the company was struggling to pay some $5,000 in rent. When they shifted to takeaway to abide by health regulations amid the pandemic, foot traffic dropped dramatically.

The tea shop, which Bin Yahya opened in 2015 with dreams of growing to multiple locations, will close at the end of the month.

“The numbers. Straight up, the numbers don’t lie,” he said.

The company had to pay penalties when closing some of their accounts with cleaning companies, internet and phone providers, and others, he said.

“We are in debt,” he said, estimating they’ll owe some $40,000 in the end.

For now, he’s trying to minimize his expenses, and said he may have to find a side job and move in with family to help pay back the loans.

But he’s keeping the dream alive. Plentea will continue selling tea online, he said, and — for now — he’ll keep the equipment in storage with the hopes of opening again.

With nearly four decades in the food industry, 77-year-old Frances Wood’s retirement plan relied heavily on the Cajun-and-Creole food restaurant she co-owns, Southern Accent in Toronto. 

After 34 years in one location, Wood dipped into her nest egg to help cover a move to a new spot about three years ago. It took some time to build up a new customer base and Wood noticed in recent years, lucky restaurants made 10 per cent in profit.

Still, at the start of this year, she started seeing “the light at the end of the tunnel” in making the new location work.

She debated selling the restaurant after her five-year lease ended. But with about one-and-a-half years to go, COVID-19 hit.

Southern Accent also attempted take-away and delivery, but found with high delivery app fees, it was losing money each day it stayed open.

Wood and her co-owner decided to close permanently in April and have about $60,000 in loans and bills to pay back between them.

In what Wood called “a miracle,” their landlord released them from their roughly $10,000 monthly lease early, Wood said.

“I don’t know what we would have done. We would have to go personally bankrupt, I guess” had that not happened, she said.

The next phase of the septuagenarian’s life “doesn’t look very good.” Wood didn’t draw a salary for the past several years, but the restaurant did pay some of her expenses. She collects Old Age Security, the Canada Pension Plan and has some personal savings, but that hardly covers her monthly expenses.

“My livelihood, what I was expecting to have at the end of 37 years in the restaurant business was some money from the restaurant when I sold it to help with my senior years.”

She planned to sell the name and recipes, and help set the buyer up for success. She even kept the restaurant’s 1940s bar in case a buyer emerges. It’s tucked away in the garage.

Still, she considers herself lucky all things considered.

“I think, ‘Okay, I’m lucky. I have my health.’”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2020.

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

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Why it matters that China is putting Hong Kong independence ‘through the shredder’




Hong Kong’s long history as an independent entity is being systematically squeezed by China, which experts contend is lashing out at challenges to its global ambitions — as well as the coronavirus crisis spawned within its borders, which remains shrouded in suspicion.

Roiled for over a year by anti-government protests, Hong Kong is now in the crosshairs of a Chinese government that’s increasingly on the defensive as it moves to entrench its status as a superpower.

By enacting the Security Act of Hong Kong this week, the Chinese government effectively put the world on notice that decades of Hong Kong semi-autonomy — and a raucous independence movement — are coming to an end. It also raises the possibility that the dispute may end in a violent confrontation between Hong Kong’s pro-freedom movement and an authoritarian power determined to maintain the status quo.

According to experts, China’s move against Hong Kong’s independence has dovetailed with a wide-ranging campaign of intimidation and “wolf-warrior” influence-projection across the world. The evolving conflict has imperiled Hong Kong’s special trading status with the U.S., which has locked horns with China over everything from trade to a perceived lack of transparency during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Security Act “pretty much put through the shredder” any ambitions Hong Kong may have harbored over maintaining the autonomy it’s enjoyed since 1997, when Great Britain handed Hong Kong back to China, according to Arthur Dong, professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

China is “sending a message to not only Hong Kong but the rest of the world that they are going to …[consider] actual martial law as well as the imposition of greater military authority over Hong Kong,” Dong told Yahoo Finance in an interview. It’s also a major impetus behind why President Donald Trump moved on Friday to end Hong Kong’s trade preferences, as part of a multi-pronged pushback against Beijing’s influence.

“Now up until this point, China was rather restrained in terms of what it was going to do, although it sent an implied message that if things fall apart, we’re going to roll the tanks,” Dong warned, in a veiled reference to the 1989 pro-freedom protests in Tiannamen Square that ended with a bloody government crackdown.

“And now it’s become very clear that that possibility and that prospect is going to be a very, very real option that’s being put on the table,” he added.

‘Fairly embattled’

Food delivery workers wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus prepare to delivery foods near a TV screen showing Chinese President Xi Jinping attending the closing ceremony of the National People’s Congress in a news report, in Beijing, China, Thursday, May 28, 2020. China’s ceremonial legislature on Thursday endorsed a national security law for Hong Kong that has strained relations with the United States and Britain. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

The mounting challenges to preserving decades of U.S.-China-Hong Kong status quo are likely to make American multinational companies nervous, while also unsettling global investors.

With bipartisan support growing in Washington for reprisals against Beijing, Goldman Sachs said this week that “legislation related to the U.S.-China relationship looks increasingly likely to become law.” A bill that passed the Senate on May 20 to delist Chinese companies from U.S. stock exchanges received overwhelming support, and may get Trump’s signature, the bank suggested. 

“China-focused legislation specifically related to COVID-19 could also become law, but is farther behind in the legislative process and appears to have somewhat less support in Congress, but it is not out of the question,” Goldman added.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is hardly the only country reacting to China’s provocations. Rodger Baker, vice president of strategic analysis at Stratfor, told Yahoo Finance this week that countries around the world are growing more concerned about Beijing’s “heavy handed use of economic tools to stop political commentary. They’re starting to shift their vision of China as well.”

The Security Act “clearly empowers Hong Kong security forces, under the direction of Beijing, to increase the arrest, detentions and shutting down of protests and demonstrations,” Baker said. He also said that U.S. businesses are “re-weighing” their position in Hong Kong, as questions are raised over its status, and China’s policies grow more revanchist. 

“Beijing has been very vocal and active over the past several months…from rising backlash against the questions around the origins of COVID,” Baker said. With China feeling “fairly embattled,” the government may renege on U.S. trade deal commitments, or make multinationals feel the heat, he added.

Eurasia Group Founder and CEO Ian Bremmer, who believes that the U.S. and China are heading towards a new “cold war,” told Yahoo Finance this week that the world’s largest economy should avoid inflicting damage on an ally just to spite China.

“We don’t want to hurt Hong Kong more than we hurt mainland China,” Bremmer said, adding: “I expect we will put sanctions on a bunch of mid-level Chinese officials that have been involved in the crackdown … [and] we might say that Hong Kong will have export tariffs that are similar to mainland China.”

Javier David is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @TeflonGeek

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