Spain Cases Slow; China Rejects Trump’s Claims: Virus Update

China rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s claim that Beijing was trying to damage his re-election chances with its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Spain recorded steep declines in new cases, Germany is set to extend restrictions and Britain will likely miss its daily testing target.

The European Central Bank will decide on Thursday if more than $1.1 trillion in asset purchases and a generous lending plan are enough to keep companies and households afloat as data showed that shutdowns had pushed the region’s economy into a record contraction.

Gilead said it had more than 50,000 courses of its experimental Covid-19 therapy ready to ship as soon as the drug is authorized for emergency use by U.S. regulators. In Europe, AstraZeneca agreed to make and distribute the potential vaccine that Oxford University scientists have developed.

Key Developments

  • Virus Tracker: Global Cases 3.22 Million; Deaths 227,420
  • Dueling data on Gilead treatment leaves many questions
  • Dead coronavirus particles muddy outcome of test results
  • China data shows global slump undercut nascent recovery
  • World embraces contact-tracing technology to fight Covid-19
  • Road to easing lockdowns is paved with economic trade-offs

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27,327 in U.S.Most new cases today

-14% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​122 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-0.​5% Global GDP Tracker (annualized), March

Study Suggests a Third of U.K. Covid-19 Hospital Patients Die (5:35 p.m. HK)

About a third of patients in U.K. hospitals with Covid-19 died from the disease, according to the findings of a study of more than 16,000 people with the virus. The research, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed and has yet to appear in a scientific journal, is an early insight into the deadliness of the virus in the U.K., which has one of the highest tolls from the pandemic in Europe.

Led by researchers from Edinburgh University, Liverpool University and Imperial College London, the study pulled information from 166 hospitals in England, Wales and Scotland about Covid-19 patients.

Italy May Remove More Curbs (5:22 p.m. HK)

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is preparing to further ease Italy’s lockdown beginning in mid-May if there is no spike in new virus cases. “We could continue easing the restrictive measures” by mid-May Conte said in parliament on Thursday. “If the contagion curve doesn’t grow, we are going to allow reopenings of shops, restaurants and services,” the premier said, warning that the country is not “free of pandemic yet.”

Spain Records Fewest Deaths in Six Weeks (5:16 p.m. HK)

Spain recorded steep declines in the number of new coronavirus deaths and cases, as the nation begins gradually relaxing a strict lockdown regime after weeks of confinement. The number of fatalities rose by 268 to 24,543 in the 24 hours through Thursday, the smallest increase in six weeks and compared with Wednesday’s of 325, according to Health Ministry data. Total infections rose by 1,309 to 213,435 after the previous day’s gain of 2,144.

Indonesia Cases Top 10,000 (5:13 p.m. HK)

Indonesia’s coronavirus cases exceeded 10,000 as infections showed no signs of slowing even with partial lockdowns and travel restrictions in the nation’s main cities. The number of confirmed cases rose by 347 to 10,118 on Thursday with the death toll jumping to 792.

While the number of people infected in the world’s fourth-most populous nation is fewer than those in China, India and Singapore, it has the highest mortality rate in the region, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Confirmed cases have soared more than six-fold in April alone after the country reported its first cases only in early March.

Euro Area Slump Adds Urgency to Calls for Fiscal Aid (5 p.m. HK)

The euro-area economy plunged into a record contraction, an outcome that will only add more urgency to demands for joint government fiscal support. Output in the 19-country region shrank 3.8%, reflecting shutdowns to contain the coronavirus that have pushed businesses close to collapse, sent unemployment surging and forced governments to unleash billions of euros in emergency stimulus.

France and Spain, two countries with limited room to spend their way out of the pandemic crisis, saw gross domestic product fall more than 5%. Italy, saddled with one of the world’s highest debt burdens, is also expected to report a huge contraction later on Thursday.

In Germany, labor-market figures showed jobless claims surged by a record 373,000 in April, far exceeding all estimates in a Bloomberg survey. Applications for state wage support climbed to unprecedented levels, and demand for labor plunged, according to the country’s labor agency.

President Christine Lagarde and her colleagues decide later on Thursday whether their planned asset purchases of more than 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) this year are enough to assist economies in need. Most economists predict the Governing Council will pause to see whether governments can agree on comprehensive fiscal support. A minority including Goldman Sachs, however, expect a bump up in monetary stimulus immediately.

Germany Could Help Neighboring Countries Test (5 p.m. HK)

Germany’s testing labs could in theory use some of their extra capacity to process samples from other European countries, Lothar Wieler, director of the Robert Koch Institute, said at a briefing in Berlin.

Some large laboratory groups span several countries, Wieler said. Though German labs processed about 467,000 coronavirus tests last week, they had capacity to process twice as many. RKI, the German public-health authority, is also encouraging doctors to test more. “The earlier we test, the better,” Wieler said.

Separately, the Netherlands declined an offer from a German lab to increase the country’s testing capacity by about 5,000 a day for a two-month period, Dutch broadcaster NOS reported, citing a spokesman for the diagnostics task force. The offer was made about two weeks ago and would have added to the country’s current capacity of about 7,000 daily tests.

Germany Poised to Prolong Most Curbs (4:40 p.m. HK)

German officials signaled there won’t be a significant further easing of restrictions on public life for at least another week as data showed coronavirus infections in Europe’s biggest economy rose the most in four days.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to consult with state premiers later on Thursday on whether to lift more of the curbs imposed to stop the disease from spreading. Helge Braun, who heads Merkel’s office, said limits on public contact will be extended at least until May 10, in line with a strategy already adopted by regions including Bavaria.

Both Braun and Stephan Weil, the premier of Lower Saxony, said that officials want to wait for data on the impact on the outbreak of this week’s reopening of some shops.

U.K. Concedes It Won’t Hit Testing Target (4:16 p.m. HK)

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said on Thursday the government is unlikely to meet its deadline for carrying out 100,000 daily Covid-19 tests by the end of April. Capacity has dramatically increased, but officials have struggled to get people to testing centers. About 52,000 tests were carried out on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will return to lead the U.K.’s daily televised coronavirus briefing on Thursday, with his government weighing options for easing a nationwide lockdown that officials warned will not be lifted any time soon. An effective testing regime is a crucial piece in the track-and-trace strategy outlined by officials to enable some lockdown restrictions to be lifted, as the government seeks to rebuild the battered U.K. economy.

Two-thirds of U.K. firms have applied to make use of the government’s wage subsidy program -- an indication of the widespread impact on businesses. More than half of firms that continue to trade reported a drop in turnover between April 6 and 19, with 1 in 4 saying it had dropped by more than half.

Separately, as part of a home testing program to track community spread across the U.K., 100,000 randomly selected people from 315 local authorities across England will be invited to provide nose and throat swabs.

China Says Not Interested in Interfering in U.S. (3:48 p.m. HK)

China has no interest in interfering in internal U.S. affairs, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said after Donald Trump blamed Beijing’s response to the coronavirus outbreak on a desire to see him lose in November. Geng said China is a victim of the virus, “not an accomplice”

Trump -- speaking in an Oval Office interview with Reuters published Wednesday -- didn’t provide evidence to support the claim that China would deliberately mishandle an outbreak that has killed more than 4,600 of its citizens. The president said that he was considering various ways to punish the Chinese government, which he has blamed for allowing the virus to spread across the world.

“China will do anything they can to have me lose this race,” Trump said in the interview. He didn’t say what punitive actions he might take, but added: “There are many things I can do.”

Russia Has Record Rise in Cases (3:45 p.m. HK)

The number of confirmed cases rose by 7,099, the largest single-day increase to date, to 106,498. The pace of increase quickened to 7.1% from 6.2% on Wednesday. Total fatalities rose to 1,073 after 101 more people died.

Crisis Boosts Lysol Maker (3:30 p.m. HK)

Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc, the maker of Lysol and Dettol, posted its strongest start to the year in recent memory as customers loaded up on cleaning supplies. U.K. retailer J Sainsbury Plc said that grocery sales were surging, but that fewer people were shopping for clothes and an initial surge in ordering from its Argos stores was beginning to taper off.

BASF SE, which gets a large part of its sales from the floundering auto industry, warned that it anticipates a significant revenue drop in the second quarter after it abandoned its full-year forecast late on Wednesday. Nokia Oyj warned that some of its customers may start to reassess their spending plans and said it sees difficulty getting the parts it needs and delivering products next quarter. For more on European earnings, click here.

AstraZeneca to Partner With Oxford on Vaccine (2:32 p.m. HK)

AstraZeneca Plc agreed to make and distribute the a potential vaccine against the coronavirus pandemic that Oxford University scientists are working on. The experimental shot is already in early clinical tests and could reach late-stage trials by the middle of the year, ranking as one of the most advanced vaccine projects. Astra said in an email on Thursday it would pick up the development as well as manufacture and distribute the product.

Italy’s New Contact Tracing App (1:26 p.m. HK)

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s cabinet approved a decree covering use of personal data for a virus tracking app the government has said it hopes to release within the coming weeks. Users will get “clear, transparent” indications of how their personal data will be employed before activating the app, to be called Immuni.

European Banks Flag Virus Hit (1:19 p.m. HK)

Societe Generale SA posted a surprise first-quarter loss after income from its stock-trading unit was wiped out in the market volatility caused by the coronavirus and the bank set aside 820 million euros ($890 million) to cover bad loans. Revenue from equities trading and the business of servicing hedge funds slumped 99% to 9 million euros in the first quarter, the French lender said.

Lloyds Banking Group, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender, booked a provision of 1.4 billion pounds ($1.75 billion) for possible soured loans as efforts to halt the spread of the virus crushed the economy. Lloyds also scrapped its previous targets as pretax profits in the quarter plunged 95% to 74 million pounds.

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA took a combined hit for virus-related provisions and a second consecutive charge at its U.S. business to post its biggest-ever quarterly loss. BBVA, which is focused on emerging markets in Latin America and Turkey, reported a first-quarter net loss of 1.8 billion euros ($2 billion) as provisions and the U.S. charge totaled 3.5 billion euros.

Thailand to Begin Easing Lockdown on May 3 (1:14 p.m. HK)

Thailand will begin easing its emergency virus lockdown curbs on May 3 to allow some businesses to restart operations, according to Taweesilp Witsanuyotin, a spokesman for Thailand’s Covid-19 center.

L.A. to Offer Wide-Scale Tests (12:25 p.m. HK)

Los Angeles will offer free Covid-19 tests to all residents of the county regardless of their symptoms, becoming the first major U.S. city to make wide-scale tests available.

“So long as Covid-19 spreads, we have to scale up our response,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in an emailed statement, calling the coronavirus a “silent killer.” He said in an earlier briefing that the test would only be available to residents in the city of L.A.

China, S. Korea Ease Border Controls (11:58 a.m. HK)

China and South Korea agreed to ease quarantine requirements for some business travelers, Beijing’s first such move to revive essential economic activities disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The so-called “fast-track” entry, which takes effect Friday, will simplify entry procedures for business travelers between the two countries, according to a statement from the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

— With assistance by Adveith Nair, Wout Vergauwen, and Naomi Kresge

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