(Bloomberg) — Spain said fatalities and new cases rose to the highest in four days, infections in Germany increased by the most in three days and Belgium had its deadliest day of the outbreak so far. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition remains stable and he is not on a ventilator.
Hong Kong announced a fresh stimulus package valued at about $18 billion, while European Union finance ministers failed to agree on a $543 billion recovery plan for the bloc. Britain, U.S. and Italy may see deaths exceed 5,000 in the coming week, according to a forecast by Imperial College London.
Earlier, China relaxed its lockdown of Wuhan, the city where the pandemic began. Italy’s discussions to gradually lift restrictions are advancing, as Europe’s exit from stringent lockdown measures takes shape, but the World Health Organization cautioned countries against lowering their guards.
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Hong Kong Unveils Virus Relief Package (6:33 a.m. NY)
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced a fresh government stimulus package worth about HK$137.5 billion ($17.7 billion) to support the city’s deteriorating economy. The spending package will include an HK$80 billion job security program to subsidize 50% of wages for affected workers for six months.
VW Reviewing Dividend (6:13 a.m. NY)
Volkswagen AG is considering whether to pay out a record 3.3 billion-euro ($3.6 billion) dividend as planned, or use at least part of it to shore up its finances for what is shaping up to be the biggest economic crisis since World War II.
WHO Says Lifting Lockdowns May Be Premature (6 a.m. NY)
“To think we’re close to an endpoint would be dangerous,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, said at a briefing. Sweden is showing a fresh surge in cases, while the WHO is concerned about a dramatic increase in Turkey, he said. Countries should not lower their guard, he said.
“We have got to ensure that the public understands we’re moving to a new phase,” said Bruce Aylward, one of the WHO’s top officials who recently led a mission to Spain. Countries need to make sure they’re hunting the disease down, because the key to eradication is testing patients, isolating them and tracing their close contacts. Some restrictions may need to continue for some time while others are gradually loosened, he said. “It’s not lifting lockdowns and going back to normal. It’s a new normal.”
Spain’s success in slowing the spread proves that lockdowns and measures such as testing and contact tracing can work, Aylward said. While the country had a 20-fold increase in cases in the week through March 14, the rate later slowed to doubling every eight days.
Correct: Iran New Cases, Fatalities Decline (5:41 p.m. HK)
Iran reported 1,997 new cases on Wednesday, down from 2,089, taking the total number of cases to 64,586. Total fatalities rose to 3,993 after the country reported 121 more deaths.
Spain Deaths, Cases Rise (5:30 p.m. HK)
Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll and the number of confirmed cases increased by the most in four days on Wednesday in Europe’s most-extensive outbreak of the disease. There were 6,180 new infections in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 146,690, according to Health Ministry data. The death toll rose by 757 to 14,555, the biggest gain since April 4.
Deadliest Day in Belgium (5:25 p.m. HK)
Belgium experienced its deadliest day of the virus outbreak so far, with the fatalities rising by 205 to 2,240. Government health officials however said the epidemic is approaching its peak in the country of 11.4 million. The number of patients currently being treated in hospitals fell for the first time to 5,688, a decline of 324 from the prior day. That includes 1,276 people in ICU, a figure that has been stable in recent days.
Irish Police Freed to Arrest Easter Travelers (5:20 p.m. HK)
Ireland handed its police sweeping powers to limit travel as part of its efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus as the nation heads into the Easter holiday. The government gave the police powers to arrest people traveling more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from their home or on non-essential business. If convicted, they could face as long as six months in prison or a 2,500 euro ($2,700) fine.
Scholz Says EU Agreement ‘Hopefully’ Before Easter (5:15 p.m. HK)
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters that an agreement was close and hoped one would be reached before April 12. That came after European Union finance ministers failed to agree on a$543 billion package to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, prolonging a paralysis that casts doubt over the bloc’s ability to weather the crisis.
China March Retail Passenger Car Sales Slump (5:15 p.m. HK)
Daily average sales of retail passenger vehicles dropped to 30,683 units in March, the China Passenger Car Association said. Separately, Daimler AG’s global deliveries fell about 15% in the first quarter and the number of vehicles sold in China, the world’s largest auto market, fell around 20% from a year earlier. However, a recovery in China’s car market is slowly gathering pace, with dealerships even in the initial virus epicenter of Wuhan seeing customers return.
SoftBank-Backed Oyo Is Furloughing Thousands of Employees (5:10 p.m. HK)
Oyo Hotels & Homes, the Indian budget lodgings service backed by SoftBank Group Corp., is placing thousands of its employees globally on indefinite furlough. The company said it is furloughing employees in countries excluding India without specifying numbers, adding that it’s not considering job cuts at this time. The startup, one of the largest in SoftBank’s portfolio, has more than $1 billion of cash in the bank and is exploring options to remain viable over at least the next 36 months.
Germany Approves Tighter Rules on Foreign Takeovers (5:10 p.m. HK)
Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved the measures — which apply to takeover bids from outside the European Union — on Wednesday, the Chancellery said. They will enable the government to block acquisitions that present “potential interference,” a lower threshold than existing rules that envisage a security threat.
Record Contraction Seen in France, Germany (5 p.m. HK)
The French economy shrank the most since World War II in the first quarter, and the outlook for the rest of the year is souring significantly. The central bank’s estimate of a 6% slump is the latest indicator of the severity of the shock to European economies from a simultaneous collapse in demand and supply.
Germany’s economy is likely to shrink by 4.2% this year, before government measures to counter the coronavirus impact fuel expansion of 5.8% in 2021, according to five of the nation’s leading research institutes. In the second quarter, they expect gross domestic product to decline by 9.8%, the most since records for quarterly data began in 1970.
Russia Reports More than 1,000 New Cases Again (4:48 p.m. HK)
Russia reported 1,175 new cases overnight, a 16% increase, bringing the total number of infected to 8,672. The country reported five more fatalities, taking its total to 63.
Tokyo Cases Rise (3:46 p.m. HK)
Tokyo found 144 new cases of coronavirus, NTV reported. Earlier, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Japan could be facing as many as 80,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in a month if no action is taken as he declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and its surrounding regions.
Drugmakers Need Government Support to Ensure Supply (3:45 p.m. HK)
European drugmakers need cooperation and support from regional and national authorities to ensure continuity in the drug supply during the pandemic, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations said.
“Regulatory flexibilities and lifting measures that impact manufacturing and supply can help ease the situation,” the trade group said in an e-mail. The European Union health commissioner appealed to companies on April 3 to boost production of medicines needed to treat the coronavirus, saying that several member states only had a one-week supply of some drugs.
The European Union’s most senior health official has appealed to the pharmaceutical industry to boost production of critical medicines needed to treat the symptoms of the coronavirus, warning that several member states may soon run out.
Zara Owner Increases Apparel Exports to Asia (3:37 p.m. HK)
Traffic at Zaragoza airport, where more than 75% of space is assigned to Inditex, has started to pick up, according to Marcos Diaz, airport director. Although the airport, which is controlled by AENA SA, saw a small decrease in activity earlier in the year, Asian markets “have been recovering strongly in recent weeks and South America hasn’t yet been hit like Europe,” he said.
A 16-Hour Call Wasn’t Long Enough (3:10 p.m. HK)
European Union finance ministers failed to agree on a remedy for mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic, prolonging a paralysis that casts doubt over the bloc’s chances to weather the storm unscathed.
During a call lasting more than 16 hours, finance chiefs couldn’t reconcile their contrasting visions for the steps needed to help European economies recover. Countries led by France and Europe’s hardest-hit south were pitted against Germany and other hawkish northern states over the need to issue joint debt.
Another call is scheduled for Thursday.
European Companies Roundup (2:50 p.m. HK)
Brewer Heineken said it expects the pandemic impact to worsen in the second quarter and withdrew its 2020 guidance. U.K. grocer Tesco said panic-buying has subsided and maintained its plan to pay a 5 billion-pound ($6.2 billion) special dividend. Credit Suisse turned to its own ultra-high-net-worth clients to bolster its lending ability as markets sank in March and companies began to draw down credit lines, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Germany Reports Biggest Rise in Infections in Three Days (2:15 p.m. HK)
The number of new coronavirus infections in Germany rose the most in three days, bringing the total to 107,663 in one of Europe’s worst-hit nations.
More than two weeks after the government ordered citizens to adhere to strict limits on public life, infections increased by 4,288 on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That compared with a gain of 3,252 a day earlier.
The head of Germany’s public health institute said Wednesday that the general trend in confirmed cases is “positive” but cautioned that the nation is still only at the beginning of the pandemic.
Expert: Virus Likely to Be Around for Two Years (1:54 p.m. HK)
The coronavirus likely will be around for at least two years, which means the measures being implemented to curb its spread may be in place for a while, an infectious diseases expert said. A vaccine likely won’t be available in large amounts for another 18-24 months, and countries need to do more frequent testing, Peter Collignon, a professor at the Australian National University Medical School, told Bloomberg News. Eradication of the virus is unrealistic, he said.
More Asian Countries Learn to Love Face Masks (12:43 p.m. HK)
The debate over whether face masks can help contain the spread of Covid-19 is shifting quickly, with more countries requiring citizens to cover their faces in public. Indonesia, one of the world’s most populous countries with 264 million people, ordered citizens to wear face masks when they leave the house after predicting as many as 95,000 people could be infected.
Vietnam is fining people who don’t wear them, while the Philippines is requiring more than 50 million people on Luzon Island to wear masks or improvised face shields outside. Singapore now says asymptomatic people can wear masks in public, and India is explaining how to make reusable coverings at home. Still, the World Health Organization says there’s no evidence that wearing a mask can prevent healthy people from infection.
Tesla Cutting Some Salaries By 30% (11:57 a.m. HK)
Tesla Inc. will reduce employees’ salaries as much as 30% starting Monday to cut costs as it shuts down some operations because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the U.S., the salary cut is 30% for vice presidents and above, 20% for directors and above, and 10% for others, according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg. Workers outside the U.S. will see similar reductions.
Employees who haven’t been assigned to critical tasks and who can’t work from home will be furloughed without pay, though they will keep health-care benefits. Tesla agreed to idle U.S. production last month amid authorities’ orders.
Apple Partner Foxconn to Start Making Ventilators (11:29 a.m. HK)
Foxconn, the company responsible for assembling most of the world’s iPhones, will start developing and making ventilators in the U.S.
Foxconn will work with Medtronic Plc on the design and development of the devices. Foxconn, which owns a plant in Wisconsin, didn’t say where and when it will be making the medical equipment.
There has been a global shortage of ventilators needed in the treatment of severe cases of Covid-19. Foxconn has been making face masks, used to curb the spread of the virus, in China since February.
Outbreak Seen Growing Fast in U.S., Stabilizing in Italy (10:49 a.m. HK)
The coronavirus outbreak is growing rapidly in the U.S., Japan, Germany, France and the U.K., according to a weekly forecast by Imperial College London’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis.
But the group found the disease is stabilizing in Italy, Iran, South Korea and Indonesia.
The MRC, which collaborates with agencies including the World Health Organization, forecasts fatality rates for the week ahead based on analyses of 42 countries with active transmission.
The center, in its forecast dated April 7, predicts deaths exceeding 5,000 in the coming week in France, Italy, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S. Fatalities of less than 100 are predicted for 14 countries, including Japan.
Singapore Enforcing “Circuit Breaker” Measures (10:16 a.m. HK)
Singapore issued more than 7,000 written advisories to people not following safe distancing on the first day of new “circuit breaker” rules, the government said. Elevated measures took effect Tuesday as the city-state tries to curb the spread of coronavirus and a second wave of infections in the city-state.
First-time offenders may face a fine of as much as S$10,000 ($7,009), jail for as many as six months, or both, the Straits Times reported.
The elevated measures include bans on public and private gatherings of any size by people who aren’t living together. The rules apply to private quarters and public spaces, according to a copy of a speech by health minister Gan Kim Yong.
Schools also are moving to full home-based learning.
Wuhan Sees Mass Exodus as Lockdown Lifted (9:35 a.m. HK)
About 55,000 people had train tickets out of Wuhan on Wednesday, according to Chinese state television, as the government eased its lockdown on the city.
Flights are resuming from the city’s international airport, which handled 24 million passengers a year before the outbreak, and people will be able to return to their jobs around the country. Cars queued at toll booths to get onto the highways out of town.
However, a web of complex restrictions and fear of a resurgence in infections means many can’t — or won’t dare to — go anywhere. Housing compounds in the city retain the power to put residents back under lockdown.
(A previous version was corrected to fix the number of cases in Iran)
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