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Coronavirus: More businesses in Italy to shut down as outbreak worsens – as it happened

Asia: what you might have missed

US stocks notched up their biggest weekly drop since the financial crisis, with actions by central banks to support economies and financial markets hit by the coronavirus pandemic failing to push Wall Street higher on Friday.

A staffer in the office of US vice-president Mike Pence has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a spokeswoman.


Illinois governor JB Pritzker issued a “shelter in place” order Friday, making it the third state after California and New York to tell residents to stay home.

Delta Air Lines forecast second quarter revenue would be $10bn less than a year earlier and revealed it was burning through $50m in cash a day. The Atlanta-based airline is suspending dividend payments and share buybacks as it tries to preserve cash in the wake of the swift decline in air traffic wrought by Covid-19.

At least 22 people who travelled with Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro to meet his US counterpart, Donald Trump, in Florida earlier this month have tested positive for coronavirus. Both presidents say they tested negative, but on Friday Mr Bolsonaro said he may do another test.

Greece‘s central bank has slashed its economic growth forecast for 2020 from 2.4 per cent to zero, warning that output in the first two quarters could plunge as the coronavirus outbreak picked up pace.

Singapore reports 40 new cases of coronavirus

Singapore reported 40 new cases of coronavirus by midnight Friday, according to the city-state’s health ministry.

Officials confirmed 30 imported and 10 local cases of Covid-19 infection in Singapore. The imported cases had travel history to Europe, North America, Asean countries and other parts of Asia.

All except one were returning residents, the ministry said.

GM to aid medical ventilator manufacturing

Claire Bushey reports from Chicago

General Motors said on Friday it would help a suburban Seattle manufacturer produce medical ventilators faster to help US efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The car maker said it would consult on logistics, purchasing and manufacturing to help Ventec Life Systems scale up its operations.

Earlier on Friday, Donald Trump cited GM at a White House briefing when asked which US companies the administration had asked to make healthcare equipment like ventilators and face masks.

“With GM’s help, Ventec will increase ventilator production,” said Chris Kiple, Ventec’s chief executive, on Friday. “By tapping their expertise, GM is enabling us to get more ventilators to more hospitals much faster. This partnership will save lives.”

Mr Kiple told the Seattle Times earlier this week that the company has struggled to ramp up production because of its sprawling global supply chain.

GM, along with Ford, has had discussions this week with the federal government about using the automakers’ manufacturing capacity to make breathing equipment for patients suffering from Covid-19.

The plan raised questions not only because making medical devices calls for different equipment and manufacturing parameters than making cars, but because the Detroit Three shut their US plants this week in an attempt to slow the spread of the pandemic.


Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, said: “We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis.”

Honduras imposes ‘absolute’ curfew on its citizens

Jude Webber reports from Mexico City

Honduras imposed a nationwide “absolute curfew” on its citizens from 6pm until March 29 in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus in the Central American country.

The government said in a statement that the national supplier of basic products, Banasupro, would tour neighbourhoods to serve customers.

Supermarkets, pharmacies, tortilla shops, grocery stores and fast food delivery outlets would be authorised to make home deliveries, provided they showed identification to the police. Honduras has 24 confirmed cases.

The agricultural and agribusiness sector, as well as food delivery companies, are exempt from the measure. The government has closed all its borders – land, sea and air – but freight is still allowed.

Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach closed over social distancing outcry

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney

Authorities have temporarily closed Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach following strong criticism of people who broke social distancing rules by gathering in large numbers to enjoy the sunny weather.


Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, said on Saturday the overwhelming majority of Australians were trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus but warned some people were “breaking the rules” and must stop. “What happened at Bondi was unacceptable,” he said.

Bondi’s famous white sand, crescent-shaped beach was packed with people on Friday, as a spell of hot weather encouraged beachgoers to enjoy the sun.


Photographs and videos of the crowds circulated on social media shortly after Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, introduced new rules on social distancing in a bid to stop the rapid increase in positive cases in Australia, which are now at least 874.


Meanwhile, on Saturday the state of Victoria announced a A$1.7bn “economic survival and jobs package”, which includes full payroll tax refunds for small and medium sized businesses for the 2019-2020 financial year.

Hong Kong sees spike as China reports no new cases for 3rd day

China reported no new domestically transmitted cases of coronavirus for the third consecutive day on Friday, according to the National Health Commission, Nicolle Liu and Tom Mitchell report.

The commission said 41 new confirmed cases were reported on Friday, all of them imported. China’s total number of confirmed cases now stands at 81,008 with 3,255 deaths.

No new confirmed cases were found in Hubei province, Chinese authorities added.

Beijing accounted for 14 of the 41 imported cases in China. Fears of a surge in the capital sparked by people returning from overseas has led to the imposition of strict new quarantine measures.

Meanwhile Hong Kong reported its largest single day increase in new cases, with 48 recorded on Friday.

As in China and other countries across the region, the Chinese territory is now focused on a “second wave” of infections carried by people returning from overseas.

Authorities said 35 of Friday’s new cases in Hong Kong were imported. Since Thursday all people arriving in the territory have been required to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

New cases of coronavirus in South Korea top 100

South Korea on Saturday reported more than 100 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, fuelling concerns about new cluster infections and imported cases, Song Jung-a reports from Seoul.

The 147 new cases brought the country’s total number of infections to 8,799, according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and prevention. The sharp increase in new infections came after the daily infection rate fell to double digits this week, except on Wednesday.

Many of the new confirmed patients were elderly people in rest homes in the country’s southeast region, which has been at the centre of the virus outbreak.

A 20-year-old man in Seoul who had recently visited Canada also tested positive.

Eight more deaths were reported, bringing the total number of fatalities to 102, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses.

The pace of daily new infections has shown signs of slowing since the second week of March but health authorities remain on high alert over new clusters of infections.

Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said on Saturday the government would use up to Won3.8tn ($3bn) in disaster funds to support small merchants and self-employed and low-income people affected by the fast spread of Covid-19.

Pakistan coronavirus cases rise sharply to 450

Farhan Bokhari reports from Islamabad

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan shot up to more than 450 with three deaths, prompting urgent calls for the country to intensify its response to the outbreak.

Saturday’s toll is more than five times the number of cases reported just a week ago, according to senior government and health officials.

The sharp increase has been largely attributed to Muslim pilgrims who returned from Iran, according to one senior government official in the south-western city of Quetta.

“It took us time to enforce strict quarantine facilities at Taftan,” he said, referring to Pakistan’s main border crossing along the Iranian border.

In Taftan, many pilgrims were kept quarantined in dirty camps, crammed together in tents with little access to facilities, a situation that has underlined the country’s lack of resources to deal with the crisis.

Health officials have said many of those who traveled to Iran have eventually returned to parts of the southern Sindh province, the region home to more than half of Pakistan’s confirmed cases.

Prime minister Imran Khan’s government has ordered the closure of all schools and colleges until early April and delayed high school examinations.

On Friday, a leading businessman told the FT that the outbreak has had “a devastating impact on Pakistan just at the wrong time” as the country is in the middle of a $6bn IMF lending programme that started in 2019.

On Tuesday, the central bank’s decision to lower interest rates by 75 basis points to 12.5 per cent disappointed many business people who wanted significantly larger cuts.

“We are in a state of war. Pakistan needs to fight this war as it should be fought” said the businessman.

New Zealand reports 13 more coronavirus cases

New Zealand’s health ministry reported on Saturday that 13 new cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the past 24 hours.

The patients are in Wellington, Auckland, Waikato, Taupo, Manawatu and Nelson.

The country now has 52 confirmed cases and four others that are “probable”, authorities said.

“Most of these cases are travel-related but as yet, in at least two instances, no link to overseas travel has been ascertained and we are continuing to investigate,” the ministry said in a statement.

“We always knew cases apparently not linked to imported cases would happen and we are prepared,” the country’s director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website.

United Airlines to reduce flights by 95% as demand plunges

United Airlines plans to cut international flight capacity for April by 95 per cent, the company said on Friday, Claire Bushey reports from Chicago.

The Chicago-based carrier and its competitors are suffering from the sudden, precipitous drop in demand for air travel as governments restrict travel and consumers shy away from it as the coronavirus spreads.

The airline industry is seeking a $50bn bailout from US taxpayers, and United’s top executives said Friday the company will cut payroll if it does not receive the aid.

The airline will end service on almost all transatlantic routes on March 22, southbound departures to Latin America on March 24 and trans-Pacific routes on March 25. One or two routes will remain open in each region a few days longer, and United will continue limited service to Mexico and Guam.

All service to Canada will be suspended on April 1.

The airline said it was working with the federal and local governments to gain permission to operate in areas with travel restrictions to bring stranded customers back to the US.

United Arab Emirates reports first coronavirus fatalities

The United Arab Emirates has announced its first coronavirus fatalities, state-run media reported on Saturday.

The official WAM news agency said a 78-year-old man who had arrived in the country from a trip to Europe had died on Friday from a heart attack “coinciding with complications from the coronavirus disease”.

A 58-year-old foreign resident who had prior chronic illnesses also died on Friday, the agency reported.

The UAE has 140 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 31 recoveries, according to health ministry data.

Singapore reports its first deaths in coronavirus outbreak

Singapore has announced the country’s first two fatalities caused by coronavirus, Stefania Palma reports.

A 75-year-old Singaporean woman with a history of hypertension and chronic heart disease died after 26 days in a hospital intensive care unit, authorities said.

The second fatality was a 64-year-old Indonesian man with a history of heart disease who arrived in the city-state on March 13 and was admitted in an ICU on the same day.

“We are deeply saddened by their passing,” said Gan Kim Yong, Singapore’s health minister.

“I understand that Singaporeans will be affected by this news,” he added. “But we must take courage and continue to play our part to fight this virus.”

India to expand coronavirus testing as officials brace for surge

Stephanie Findlay reports from New Delhi

India’s coronavirus cases climbed to 271 on Saturday, the health ministry said, as the country announced it would expand testing to all serious pneumonia cases and braced for a surge in infections.

India has tested fewer than 15,000 people for coronavirus since the global outbreak began, an amount equivalent to the daily capacity of South Korea.

The severity of the crisis has hit the country’s political class after Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor tested positive for coronavirus and was booked for negligence, the Press Trust of India reported. The singer had recently attended a series of gatherings where political leaders were in attendance.

“For the past 4 days I have had signs of flu, I got myself tested and it came positive for Covid-19,” said Ms Kapoor in a statement on Instagram. “My family and I are in complete quarantine now and following medical advice on how to move forward.”

In response to Ms Kapoor’s diagnosis, the former chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje, said she was voluntarily in quarantine after attending a dinner with Ms Kapoor.


As India prepares to do a countrywide curfew on Sunday, its biggest private airline, IndiGo, said it would operate only 60 per cent of its normal domestic schedule.

“Most of our international flights are suspended and additionally, given the reduction in domestic demand, we are trimming our domestic India operations by approximately 25% for now,” said the carrier in a statement on Friday.

India’s Tata Motors to reduce production to “skeletal” level

Benjamin Parkin reports from Mumbai

India’s Tata Motors said it was scaling down operations at one of its main manufacturing plants ahead of a potential closure.

Tata Motors managing director Guenter Butschek said the company would reduce operations at its plant in Pune to “skeletal” levels by Monday, and be ready to close entirely by Tuesday if necessary.

Pune is located in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, which has been hardest hit by the virus in India.

Maharashtra has at least 49 of India’s 271 confirmed cases, prompting the local government to order the closure of all workplaces.

Part of the Tata Group, Tata Motors is one of India’s largest vehicle manufacturers and the owner of Jaguar Land Rover.

JLR said this week it was closing all UK facilities until mid-April.

India fears coronavirus spread as migrant workers evacuate Mumbai

Amy Kazmin reports from New Delhi

Migrant workers are streaming out of Mumbai, returning to their home villages across India, as the state of Maharashtra shuts down most workplaces until at least March 31 to try to stop the worsening coronavirus outbreak.

The mass exodus of the taxi drivers, auto rickshaw drivers and other workers who normally keep India’s financial capital humming saw thousands of people packing themselves into crowded trains ahead of Sunday’s “people’s curfew,” when both long-distance and local train services are being drastically reduced.

There is concern that some of those now leaving the city could already be infected with the coronavirus and will unwittingly spread the disease to their relatively impoverished home communities, where ramshackle rural health care infrastructure would struggle to cope with critically ill patients.

About 4.6m of Mumbai’s 18m residents were migrants from other parts of India, according to 2011 census data.

In Maharashtra, authorities have ordered all businesses and workplaces – except shops selling essential items such as milk, food and pharmaceuticals – to close down.

India is also gearing up for a nationwide, one-day “people’s curfew tomorrow,” during which the prime minister, Narendra Modi, has appealed to the entire population to stay home.

Taiwan to extend stays for foreigners stranded by dearth of flights

Taiwan is allowing all foreigners legally in the country to stay three months longer in response to the cuts in global flights, Kathrin Hille reports from Taipei.

For all foreign citizens who were in Taiwan under a visa waiver programme or a visa or arrival visa that had not yet expired as of March 21, their permit to stay would be extended automatically by up to 180 days, the foreign ministry said on Saturday.

The visa relaxation comes as growing numbers of travellers find themselves stranded in various countries after many governments imposed entry and exit bans and airlines cut most international flights.

Taiwan suspended entry for practically all foreign citizens earlier this week as it is being hit by a second wave of imported infections that more than doubled its confirmed case count to 153 and threatens to derail its earlier successful containment of the virus.

The Epidemic Command Centre announced 18 new confirmed cases on Saturday. All are people infected abroad, with six having returned from the UK, five from the US, and the rest from other European countries, Egypt and South Africa.

Of the 18 people, 11 were diagnosed while under a broadened screening and isolation programme the government imposed this week targeting people who arrived since the beginning of the month, during the period when the pandemic escalated in Europe and America.

All but one are Taiwanese who came back from study, work or group travel abroad.

India turns back KLM plane full of stranded citizens

Amy Kazmin reports from New Delhi

A KLM flight carrying 100 Indians rushing home before their country locks down its borders was forced to turn back mid-way, after it being denied permission to land amid confusion by Indian officials in interpreting their own restrictions and travel advisories.

India will not permit any incoming passenger flights to land after midnight tonight, and Indians across the world are racing to get home on the few commercial flights still available before the deadline.

But the Indian government had also previously announced that no travellers coming from hard-hit European countries – even Indian citizens – would be allowed to enter the country after Wednesday.


Most of the Indian travellers on the KLM plane had flown in from North America and were transiting in Amsterdam, and were due to land in India just ahead of the closure. But the plane was turned back while flying over Russia, after Indian aviation authorities decided that the ban on passengers from Europe would apply to the KLM flight.

Foreign ministry officials had previously assured the airline that the plane would be permitted to land, as the passengers had only transited in Amsterdam.

In videos posted on Twitter, Indian passengers now stranded at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport beg the Indian government for help, and permission to return home.

Many Dutch citizens trying to leave India were awaiting the arrival of the flight, which was set to ferry them back home.

Indian authorities have said they are trying to resolve the issue.

Bangkok orders closure of most stores and public venues from Sunday

John Reed reports from Bangkok

Bangkok’s regional government on Saturday ordered the closure of shopping malls, non-food markets, barber shops, swimming pools and most other public venues from Sunday in a bid to contain the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Supermarkets and food markets will remain open in the Thai capital, where 8m people live, and restaurants will be allowed to offer only take-away service.

Thailand, with an economy that relies heavily on tourism and hospitality, has been slower than most other countries to order businesses to shut in response to the pandemic.

The kingdom reported 89 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, the biggest daily jump yet, bringing the total to 411.

On Friday evening the Bank of Thailand cut the main lending rate to a record low of 0.75 per cent at a special meeting in an effort to mitigate the impact of the outbreak on south-east Asia’s second-biggest economy.

US politicians urge Twitter to ban Chinese diplomats’ accounts

US political pressure is building on Twitter to ban use of the social media platform by Chinese diplomats, some of whom have used it to spread conspiracy theories blaming the global coronavirus pandemic on the US military, Tom Mitchell reports.

In a letter to Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey released on Saturday, two US politicians, Ben Sasse and Mike Gallagher, said Chinese diplomats were using Twitter, which is blocked in China, to “disseminate propaganda … [that] obscures and confuses users over the origins of Covid-19 and potentially undermines efforts to contain and control the outbreak”.

Chinese diplomats and other government officials use special software to bypass the “great firewall” that censors Twitter and many other foreign social media sites in China.

“Access to social media platforms should be denied to government officials from countries that prohibit their own populations from accessing this content,” Mr Sasse, a Nebraska senator, and Mr Gallagher, a Wisconsin House member, added. Both are Republicans.


Increasingly bitter exchanges between Washington and Beijing about the origins of the disease, which US President Donald Trump publicly refers to as “the Chinese virus”, have become intertwined with the expulsions of dozens of Chinese and US journalists over recent weeks.

On Friday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman asked if the Trump administration’s recent expulsion of 60 Chinese journalists was “an attempt to block access to information on the epidemic in the US”.

He added: “Did the US anticipate that the epidemic would spread at home in a month and fear that the Chinese media would expose the situation … are they trying to hide anything?”

On Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry’s chief spokesperson, Hua Chunying, took to Twitter to mock the Trump administration’s much-criticised handling of the worsening pandemic within its own borders, as China reported no new cases from internal transmission for the third straight day.

“US AID promised to give some medical supplies to China, but was not ready until March 11,” Ms Hua wrote. “Given the fast spreading of the pandemic around the world, we have thanked the US and suggested to give them to those more needed [sic] asap.”

Millions of Iranians defy health officials to travel for new year

Monavar Khalaj reports from Tehran

Millions of Iranians have travelled over the past four days as the Islamic republic began new year celebrations on Friday despite warnings by health officials to stay home and self-quarantine to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

The acting head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Karim Hemmati, said on Saturday that 970,000 vehicles had left 13 provinces between March 17 and 20, amounting to almost 3m people on the move to celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian new year.

He complained that Iranians did not heed an appeal by the country’s health officials not to travel and added that about 2,400 of these people had been found with early symptoms of the virus, such as fever and coughs, at health-check roadblocks, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a second package of medical equipment, including masks and sanitisers, arrived from Qatar on Saturday, according to domestic media.

Iran, which is under the tough US sanctions after US President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal agreed between the Islamic republic and world powers, has asked the world for international assistance to secure equipment such as test kits, ventilators, protective clothing against hazardous materials, gloves and masks.

Food and medicine are not subject to the sanctions but imports face obstacles and delays because Iran is cut off from the international financial system.

United Arab Emirates moves to seal its borders

The United Arab Emirates has been taking gradual steps to seal off the Gulf’s commercial centre, barring the entry of tourists and the return of residents from outside the country, Simeon Kerr reports from Dubai.

From Saturday, nationals from other Arab Gulf states will also be blocked from the UAE until a coronavirus screening mechanism is approved.

State media on Saturday reported the UAE’s first coronavirus fatalities, saying that two people had died on Friday. The UAE has 140 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Bundesbank head expresses discomfort over ECB’s €750bn asset splurge

Martin Arnold reports from Frankfurt

The head of Germany’s central bank has said “extraordinary measures” are needed to deal with the economic turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic, while warning they must be unwound once the crisis is over.

Jens Weidmann, president of the Bundesbank, hinted at his discomfort with the vast €750bn of extra asset purchases announced by the European Central Bank after an emergency call with other governing council members on Wednesday night.

“We discussed very extensively, different perspectives were presented and different approaches to solutions,” Mr Weidmann told Die Welt newspaper. “Regardless of differences in individual points, we agree that there is a need for action and that extensive measures are important.”

The Bundesbank boss, along with the heads of the Dutch and Austrian central banks, expressed their dissent on both the size of the ECB’s extra asset purchases and its indication that long-standing limits on the programme could be lifted if needed.

Admitting that a recession was “now inevitable” in Germany, Mr Weidmann praised the “quick and correct” actions of the country’s government to lock down most activity to contain the spread of coronavirus.

“Monetary policy supports, but this time it cannot be at the forefront of defense,” he said, adding that Germany’s many years of running budget surpluses put it in “a good starting position” to deal with the economic impact of the virus.

He said that “if additional funds are needed” by more heavily indebted countries to finance their response to the crisis, “it is up to politicians in Europe to decide on aid in solidarity”. In an apparent reference to the European Stability Mechanism, the region’s €500bn bail-out fund, he added: “Instruments for this were created in the last crisis.”

Mr Weidmann has long opposed the ECB’s bond-buying programme, arguing it infringes on EU laws against monetary financing of governments. The central bank has already bought €2.6tn of bonds to keep borrowing costs low across the bloc and after its latest temporary expansion it is set to buy another €1tn this year.

UK government prepares taxpayer injection for airlines

David Crow in New York and Jim Pickard in London report

The UK government is drawing up plans to buy equity stakes in airlines and other companies hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis after being warned that the economic packages it has announced so far will not be enough to save them.

The plans would see the UK taxpayer inject billions of pounds into companies, including British Airways, in exchange for shares that would eventually be sold back to private investors, according to three people briefed on the proposals.

Two of the people said the government was contemplating the move after being warned by bankers that the support it has already unveiled — including £330bn of loan guarantees — would not be enough to stave off the collapse of companies that had seen their revenues all but evaporate.

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ADIB takes measures to ease burden on customers hit by coronavirus

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank has offered to postpone April payments for its personal finance customers as United Arab Emirates institutions take steps to ease the burden on customers hit by the coronavirus fallout.

ADIB also said on Saturday that it would offer 5 per cent cash back per month on grocery and utility bills.

The measures come after Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank conditionally offered from April 2 to defer loan payments and waive interest for up to six months. The lender said it would defer payments and waive interest charges for three months to anyone placed on unpaid leave because of the outbreak.

The UAE central bank last week launched a 100bn dirham ($27bn) relief package to allow banks to ease the burden on retail and corporate clients, but struggling companies and individuals have complained that some lenders have been reluctant to pass along any benefits.

Turkish president issues health advice via voicemail

Laura Pitel in Ankara

Mobile phone users across Turkey will receive a voice message from president Recep Tayyip Erdogan urging them to stay indoors and practice good hygiene.

A Turkish official said that the measure was aimed at ensuring that vital public health messages reached older citizens who were less likely to use social media and the internet.

The initiative came as the number of deaths from coronavirus in Turkey more than doubled to nine people, while the number of confirmed cases rose by 87 per cent to 670.

Iranian president says armed forces have completed 7 makeshift hospitals and 3,000 beds

Monavar Khalaj in Tehran

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said the country’s armed forces had so far set up 7 makeshift hospitals, 3,000 beds and new centres to look after patients who were discharged from hospitals but still need care.

The president added that the number of hospitals could increase to as much as 20 if needed.

Makeshift beds have also been set up in the 1.4m square metre Iran Mall. The shopping complex volunteered earlier this week to set up 3,000 beds to assist the country’s healthcare network.

Experts warn that a second peak of infections could be expected when millions of Iranian travellers return home after the new year holidays in early April.

Iran’s health ministry said that fatalities reached 1,556 on Saturday, rising from 1,433 on Friday. The numbers testing positive increased for the virus increased from 19,644 to 20,610.

UK manufacturer ramps up ventilator output

Smiths Group announced plans to boost production of ventilators as part of the UK’s efforts to meet demand for the medical device, which is crucial for treating many critically-ill coronavirus patients.

The FTSE 100 engineering company said it will boost output at its facility in Luton. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week appealed to British industrial firms to build tens of thousands of ventilators for the NHS. Smiths said it will also contribute technical advice to the national manufacturing effort.

Global demand for ventilators has risen sharply since the coronavirus outbreak began. Countries including Germany and Italy have moved to increase production and some nations have limited exports of the devices, promoting concerns over the global supply.

Andrew Reynolds Smith, CEO of Smiths, said:

During this time of national and global crisis it is our duty to assist in the efforts being made to tackle this devastating pandemic… We are doing everything possible to substantially increase production of our ventilators at our Luton site and worldwide.

Covid-19 case count jumps to more than 277,000

Steve Bernard, data visualisation journalist, reports:

Global health authorities reported more than 30,000 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, the largest increase to date, in a sign the pandemic is continuing to escalate.

There were 30,655 new infections reported, bringing the global tally to 277,245, according to Financial Times calculations.

The death toll jumped by 1,356 to greater than 11,000. Italy accounted for almost half of the new fatalities.

The rate of recoveries has continued to grow this past week, with 3,411 patients reporting being free of the virus. The total of recovered cases now stands at 91,989.

All the latest data is available on the FT coronavirus tracker.

Europe — what you might have missed

• The United Arab Emirates has been taking steps to seal off the Gulf’s commercial centre, barring the entry of tourists and the return of residents from outside the country.

• Millions of Iranians have travelled over the past four days as the Islamic republic began new year celebrations on Friday despite warnings by health officials to stay home and self-quarantine to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

• Migrant workers are streaming out of Mumbai, returning to their home villages across India, as the state of Maharashtra shuts down most workplaces until at least March 31 to try to stop the worsening outbreak.

Bangkok’s regional government on Saturday ordered the closure of shopping malls, non-food markets, barber shops, swimming pools and most other public venues from Sunday in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

United Airlines plans to cut international flight capacity for April by 95 per cent, the company said on Friday.

World Health Organization announces WhatsApp messenger service

The World Health Organization announced that it is launching a messenger service via WhatsApp to directly provide the public with information about Covid-19.

The service offers up-to-date statistics, details on symptoms, advice on how to guard against the virus and a list of common rumours and misinformation.

False news and information about Covid-19 have been rife. While social media platforms have been one vector, campaigns spreading fake narratives and inaccurate advice have also used encrypted messenger apps and traditional SMS texting.

While Facebook and Twitter have said that there is no evidence of state-backed campaigns on their open platforms, the provenance of these messages remains extremely difficult to discover.

WHO launches WhatsApp service to fight Covid-19 fake news

The World Health Organization announced that it is launching a messenger service via WhatsApp to directly provide the public with information about Covid-19.

The service offers up-to-date statistics, details on symptoms, advice on how to guard against the virus and a list of common rumours and misinformation.

False news and information about Covid-19 have been rife. While social media platforms have been one vector, campaigns spreading fake narratives and inaccurate advice have also used encrypted messenger apps and traditional SMS texting.

While Facebook and Twitter have said that there is no evidence of state-backed campaigns on their open platforms, the provenance of much misinformation remains unclear.

Hong Kong re-imposes partial lockdown to fight ‘second wave’ of outbreak

Nicolle Liu reports from Hong Kong:

Hong Kong has resumed a partial lockdown as the number of confirmed cases imported from abroad has increased sharply, highlighting the ‘second wave’ of the outbreak that is sweeping across Asia.

Carrie Lam, the territory’s chief executive, announced from Monday onwards, public recreational facilitates such as sport grounds and museums will be shut again and civil servants work-from-home arrangement will recommence. Private companies would be encouraged to follow, Ms Lam said.

Kevin Yeung, the Secretary for Education, said schools will remain closed until further notice and public exams scheduled to start next week are postponed for a month and oral assessment will be cancelled.

“The epidemic from imported cases, is more severe and harder to deal with compared to any time in the past two months, and have a much higher chance to lead to a community outbreak,” said Ms Lam

The total of confirmed and probable cases in Hong Kong have reached 294, with most of the recent infections occurring in those coming from abroad or their close contacts.

Coronavirus testing will be expanded to asymptomatic elderly individuals or those who are living with them returning from high risk areas from aboard, said Sophia Chan, the Secretary for Food and Health.

Ms Lam added that the government is ramping up law enforcement towards those who violate compulsory quarantine orders imposed to all arrivals from all countries and jurisdictions, except Taiwan and Macau, to Hong Kong. Authorities have found seven cases allegedly breaching the rules and they will be prosecuted accordingly, she said.

Google revamps coronavirus search results after Trump comments

Google launched a dedicated website with information about the coronavirus alongside changes to its search results for the virus a week after President Donald Trump touted the company’s efforts to inform people about the disease.

The company has redesigned its search results pages for the virus including a sidebar with links to official health advice. “This new format organises the search results page to help people easily navigate information and resources”, wrote Google’s Emily Moxley in an online announcement.

The changes come a week after President Trump told reporters that 1,700 Google engineers were working on an online tool to help people find out if they should be tested for Covid-19. Google’s new website directs users to local health resources in each US state, with plans to expand to other jurisdictions, but does not offer the personalised testing advice Mr Trump described. The site also includes resources for online education as well as links to Youtube videos on working from home and cooking with non-perishable food items.

Google’s fellow Alphabet Inc subsidiary Verily has said it is working with California health officials to help deliver coronavirus testing, with the programme now open in some counties in the San Francisco Bay area.

Spanish cases jump by 25 per cent in 24 hours

Daniel Dombey in Madrid

The number of documented Spanish cases of coronavirus has increased by almost 5,000 in 24 hours and more than 300 people have died from the virus in that time, according to figures released on Saturday.

The Spanish government said there were now 24,926 cases, with 1,612 people in intensive care and 1,326 deaths.

Compared with Friday’s figures, this represents a 25 per cent increase on the number of cases, a 40 per cent surge in people in intensive care and a 32 per cent increase in the death toll. Overall, 2,125 people have recovered.

Spain’s hospitals and intensive care units are struggling to cope, despite some Madrid hotels being temporarily converted and of the Fair of Madrid, the capital’s main exhibition space.

Madrid remains the worst affected part of the country, with 8,921 cases, 767 people in intensive care and 804 deaths.

Belgian cases rise by over 500 in 24 hours

Jim Brunsden from Brussels

The total number of cases of coronavirus in Belgium rose by over 500 in 24 hours, a 25 per cent increase which brought the total number of confirmed cases up to 2,815. The government also reported deaths had risen to 67, an increase of 30 in the same time period.

A spokesman for the Belgian government’s crisis centre advised people to establish a clear daily routine to avoid mental health problems during confinement.

The authorities have placed a team of Red Cross volunteers on call to respond to those in distress because of the lockdown, which began on Wednesday. Social gatherings are banned, teleworking is compulsory for much of the population, and all non-essential shops are shut.

The crisis centre, in its daily press conference, urged people to avoid spending lots of time on social media, instead recommending activities such as cooking, DIY and reading.

A spokesperson for the centre also recommended that Belgians under lockdown reach out to those around them. “Do not remain alone with your emotions, talk about them.”

Ukraine minister calls for ‘total full quarantine’

Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv

Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior affairs minister, called for a nationwide “total full quarantine”, warning that strict lockdowns and possibly martial law would soon be declared to prevent an uncontrolled spike in the coronavirus which threatens to overwhelm the country’s dilapidated healthcare system.

“Only critically necessary business entities should work in the country, regardless of the form of ownership!” he said in a Facebook post on Saturday.

He added:

Critical industrial enterprises and infrastructure enterprises [will continue to operate] – the rest should be closed, and people should be quarantined at home … we will count losses and think about compensations later, when we survive!

Kyiv, the country’s capital city, will on Sunday prohibit use of public transportation for average residents, with the exception of workers in the healthcare system, pharmacies and grocery stores.

Mr Avakov’s comments came hours after the country’s government declared a state of emergency in Kyiv, and several provinces where officials tried to prevent full-blown outbreaks of Covid-19.

Ukraine’s health ministry on Saturday revealed 41 confirmed infections of the virus, nearly double the 26 detected as of the prior day. But limited testing has fuelled fears that infection rates are much higher and that the country’s stockpile of nearly 1,000 ventilators for infectious diseases are not enough for a population of 44m, including 9m pensioners.

The number of tests we have done, and the number of people identified as positive are so drastically fewer then all of the countries around us that it’s virtually impossible to be accurate

Dr Ulana Suprun, former health minister, told the Financial Times.

Germany plans blow-out budget to save its economy

Guy Chazan in Berlin reports

Germany is set to abandon six years of fiscal restraint with a blow-out budget designed to save its economy from the brutal effects of the coronavirus pandemic and protect thousands of businesses from imminent ruin.

Angela Merkel’s cabinet is meeting on Monday to approve new borrowing of €356bn — equivalent to nearly 10 per cent of Germany’s gross domestic product — marking a new era in fiscal policy and a radical departure from Berlin’s long-held aversion to debt.

Ministers will consider plans for a €156bn supplementary budget for 2020, including a €50bn hardship fund to help small businesses and freelancers whose revenues are collapsing as the virus spreads.

They will also approve a €100bn economic stabilisation fund that will be used to take stakes in companies crippled by the fallout from the pandemic, according to a person familiar with the plans, paving the way for a radical state intervention in the workings of the market economy.

The blueprint also envisages a €100bn loan from the new stabilisation fund to the KfW, Germany’s state development bank, which is providing unlimited loans to firms facing a cash crunch under a programme announced by the finance minister Olaf Scholz earlier this month.

The stabilisation fund will also be equipped with €400bn in guarantees to underwrite the debts of companies affected by the turmoil.

The fund is a reactivation of Soffin, a government-backed vehicle set up in 2009 to bail out troubled banks. It will not only underwrite debts but also be able to inject fresh capital into stricken companies, effectively paving the way for a wave of partial state takeovers.

Just as the state helped the banks after the financial crisis, “we are now prepared to provide equity for the real economy”, Mr Scholz told German radio on Friday. The state had to help companies “that employ an incredible number of men and women and which all of a sudden have no business”.

Hungary’s Viktor Orban seeks new emergency powers

Valerie Hopkins in Budapest reports

Hungary’s government will seek to extend a state of emergency indefinitely and impose a raft of measures to combat coronavirus including jail time for people believed to have spread false information.

Prime minister Viktor Orban, who is currently serving his fourth term, asked the parliament to grant him the right to issue decrees to contain the pandemic, in draft legislation published late Friday.

The bill, which will be voted on next week, proposes a penalty of up to five years in prison for anyone deemed to be spreading fake news about the pandemic. One individual has already been detained for allegedly spreading false reports that there would be a full lockdown in the capital Budapest.

Mr Orban’s conservative Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament but the bill requires support from opposition groups in order to get the required 80 per cent support.

The draft legislation has raised concerns in Hungary, which is currently facing heightened EU scrutiny over the rule of law. A report published last week by V-Dem, an academic group based in Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, downgraded Hungary’s categorization this year to “electoral authoritarian regime,” the first inside the European Union.

Hungary, like many of its central European neighbours, closed most of its borders early in the week. The country currently has 103 registered cases of the coronavirus and four deaths.

OECD secretary-general says ‘war’ on Covid-19 requires joint action

Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, has said that a highly ambitious global response is needed to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Gurría described the outbreak as “the third and greatest economic, financial and social shock of the 21st Century,” after the September 11 attacks and the 2008 financial crisis.

The approach which he outlined would require co-operation at all levels, including national governments working together on research into vaccines and treatments, and on creating “an immediate buffer” to mitigate the economic damage.

Central banks also have a role to play, he said, ensuring the functioning of financial markets and services.

Finally, Mr Gurría highlighted the importance of restoring confidence. It suggested that measures such as removing trade restrictions would ease tensions which pre-dated Covid-19.

Mr Gurría said that the scope of the response went beyond previous actions.

“We need a level of ambition similar to that of the Marshall plan…and a vision akin to that of the New Deal, but now at the global level.”

Coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia rise by over 10 per cent

Ahmed Al Omran in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia announced 48 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the kingdom to 392.

A health ministry spokesman said that authorities have carried out around 22,000 tests so far that came back negative. Of the diagnosed cases, 16 people have fully recovered, he said.

The country has implemented strict measures to combat the coronavirus outbreak, including suspending international and domestic air travel, trains, buses and taxis; closing malls and mosques, and halting religious pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina.

Despite taking these steps, health officials say many cases reported in recent days are related to mixing with infected people at weddings, funerals and family gatherings. That has led to calls on social media for the imposition of a curfew if people continue to ignore official instructions.

Campaign to ‘clap for carers’ makes the rounds on UK social media

A message calling on those living in the UK to applaud health professionals and other carers has been making the rounds on social media.

The message below, which was shared on my North West London neighbourhood WhatsApp group and by a local Twitter account (see below), encourages Britons to show doctors, nurses, and others that they are “grateful”.

It has called on people to applaud from their “front doors, garden, balcony, windows and living room” on March 26 at 8pm. Similar campaigns have taken hold in other countries including Spain and France.


Medical expert issues guidelines for sex during the pandemic

Clive Cookson, science editor:

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, says several people have asked him whether they can still have sex when either social distancing or self-isolating during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is not mentioned in the official guidance so he has come up with his own:

If you or your partner are self-isolating because one of you have symptoms (cough or fever) then, providing you live together, you do not necessarily need to give up sex for the seven day period recommended for individual cases to self-isolate. However, if you partner is in one of the vulnerable groups because of age (over 70), pre-existing disease or she is pregnant then you need to stay away from them as much as possible and this would mean avoid sex for the first seven days.

The evidence is unclear about whether vigorous exercise is bad for you when you are acutely unwell with fever or pneumonia. Nevertheless, it would probably be best to avoid sex whilst you feel poorly. Whether you do or do not still have sex during this period remember to wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds and avoid touching your or your partner’s face with unwashed hands.

If you are free of symptoms but are social distancing, then there are no reasons why you cannot continue to have sex with your partner when you live together. If your sex life is rather more bohemian and you cannot get to have sex without mixing with some/many other people, this mixing is advised against so stay at home. This is especially important if you are in one of the at-risk groups.

Even during sex, the main risk probably comes from being close face to face through droplet spread, through kissing and touching each other’s faces. I am not aware of any evidence to date that the infection can be spread through vaginal intercourse per se. So please continue to wash your hands regularly and especially before sex


UK urges Britons to stop panic-buying groceries

Jim Pickard reports:

George Eustice, UK environment secretary, has begged people to stop panic-buying, asking Britons to “be responsible”.

“As you shop think of those who are finishing their late shifts and need to pop to the shop at the end of a long day,” he said at a press conference at 2pm on Saturday afternoon inside Downing St.

Mr Eustice said he and Boris Johnson, prime minister, had met the supermarket sector earlier on Saturday. The food industry had stepped up its production by 50 per cent in recent days, he said.

The government has relaxed restrictions on driver hours to allow more food to be delivered more quickly to shops. It has waived the plastic bag charge. Supermarkets are also recruiting more staff and limiting shopping hours so they have more time to restock.

Helen Dickinson, head of the British Retail Consortium – speaking alongside Mr Eustice – said retailers had seen unprecedented levels of demand in recent weeks.

“It’s almost like we’re seeing basically a peak in demand like Christmas without the four-month build-up in planning that you have in advance, and we’ve been able to do that in two weeks,” she said.

“There is plenty of food in the supply chain, the issue is people and lorries, getting the food on to shelves.”

Coronavirus deaths in Portugal double to 12 in 24 hours

Peter Wise in Portugal

The number of deaths caused by the Covid-19 virus in Portugal rose to 12 on Saturday, a 100 per cent increase in 24 hours. Health authorities said that confirmed coronavirus cases totalled 1,280, an increase of 260 cases, or 25 per cent, over the same period.

Marta Temido, health minister, said the number of people infected by the virus in Portugal was likely to peak around April 14. A further 1,059 people are awaiting test results. Of those confirmed as having the virus, 156 are being treated in hospital, including 35 in intensive care.

From next week, Portugal will require anyone entering the country to remain in quarantine for 14 days as it tightens up prevention measures under a state of emergency that came into force on Thursday. The exact timing of the measure has not yet been announced.

Finland reports first death from coronavirus

Richard Milne, Nordic and Baltic Correspondent, reports

Finland reported its first death from the coronavirus pandemic after 521 cases.

An elderly person in or close to the Finnish capital of Helsinki was the first fatality in the Nordic country, which has notably lower infections than Sweden or Denmark.

Finland has declared a state of emergency, closed its borders and launched a €15bn support package for business as a result of the coronavirus.

Panic stockpiling has led to £1bn in unconsumed food in UK homes

Jim Pickard writes:

Environment secretary George Eustice said there has been a switch from people eating out to people buying from supermarkets, but points out that there is now £1bn worth of unconsumed food in people’s homes which should – eventually – lead to a slowdown in purchases.

Meanwhile Sky News reported that Defra, the environment ministry, has hired former Nestle executive Chris Tyas to oversee a “war room” to ensure the UK’s food security during the pandemic. He has been given the job of director of food supply at the department, the report said.

Mr Eustice said retailers were already limiting the number of certain products that anyone could buy – such as toilet rolls – but said these limits would not be set by central government. Instead it would be best for the retailers to come together and decide the “appropriate level” for any given item.

He said the precedent from European countries was that initial hoarding had slowed down. “Once people have stocked up with food this surge will taper off,” he said.

Pakistan suspends all international flights for a fortnight

Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad

Pakistan has suspended all international flights to and from the country for two weeks to limit the spread of the coronavirus, as the number of people infected climbed to over 600. There have been three deaths from the virus in Pakistan to date.

355 of those with Covid-19, over half of the total, are in the southern Sindh province which is home to Karachi – the country’s de facto business and financial capital.

The central Punjab province, where around 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population live, ordered all businesses to close for two days from Saturday night, with the exception of medical facilities and those selling food items.

A senior government official told the FT that travellers on domestic flights were being scanned for fever before boarding. However, Pakistan’s shortage of sufficient medical facilities to deal with the emergency has been badly exposed in recent days.

Healthcare officials have told the FT that there are just 14 laboratories sufficiently equipped to diagnose the coronavirus in a country with a population of roughly 220m.

Aid workers with international non-governmental organisations have criticised prime minister Imran Khan’s government for its failure to enforce tough measures early on. “We know that the biggest source of spread of the coronavirus was people returning to Pakistan from Iran. I think the government should have adopted very strong measures early on to screen those people [returnees from Iran]” said one.

Mr Khan’s government has urged the US to lift punitive sanctions against Iran, allowing the country to tackle the spread of the coronavirus more aggressively. A foreign ministry official who spoke to the FT said “The US must immediately step back from harsh measures put in place against Iran so that this deadly condition doesn’t travel from Iran to the rest of the world. It is in everyone’s interest including the US that Iran should be equipped to deal with this emergency”.

Global Covid-19 case count hits almost 285,000

Almost 285,000 people globally have confirmed Covid-19 infections as the outbreak continues to grow at a rapid pace.

The global tally of confirmed cases stood at 284,256 as of 2.45pm London time on Saturday, according to Steve Bernard, an FT data journalist. The latest count does not include Saturday figures from Italy, France or the UK — three countries in Europe that have faced sharp rises in cases.

At the end of the day on Friday, there were 277,245 confirmed Covid-19 cases, an increase of more than 30,000 from the previous day and the single biggest rise yet.

The global death tally has risen to 11,663.

Find more from the FT data visualation team’s coronavirus tracker.

John Lewis to temporarily close all stores

UK retailer John Lewis announced it will close all its stores for the first time in its 155-year history citing concern over customer safety and a decline in footfall during the coronavirus outbreak.

The retail partnership’s grocery brand Waitrose will remain open, and the John Lewis online store will operate as normal. The company said employees will be redeployed to the food an e-commerce business “wherever possible”, joining 2,000 John Lewis staff already helping Waitrose handle a surge in demand.

The company also said it would cut recruitment, marketing and the supply of inventory — as well as reducing capital expenditure — in a plan to conserve cash. It expressed confidence that the business has enough liquidity, despite anticipating a “significant net cash outflow” for this year.

The store closure will start from Tuesday.

LVMH orders 40m masks as French group revs up Covid-19 offensive

Leila Abboud reports from Paris:

Luxury group LVMH has secured an order of up to 40m masks from a Chinese supplier that should arrive in France starting this week to help address a looming shortage.

French health workers in hospitals and doctors in private practice have been calling on the government in recent days to more quickly distribute masks as the virus spreads.

France’s richest man Bernard Arnault, who controls LVMH, will pick up the tab for the first order of masks, which is worth about €5m. It comes soon after LVMH converted production lines at its three French perfume factories to making hand sanitiser to donate to Paris hospitals.

Other French companies, which had masks on hand for their now largely shut-down factories and construction sites, have also stepped up. Bouygues has donated 1m masks; Renault about 115,000.

Inside the factory: how LVMH met France’s call for hand sanitiser in 72 hours

Mexican president Lopez Obrador speaks of solidarity after call with Donald Trump

Jude Webber reports from Mexico City

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador thanked Donald Trump for not closing the US-Mexico border and sent his country’s solidarity as it battles the coronavirus.

Both countries agreed a partial shut-down of the border to non-essential traffic – trade is exempted, as are Mexicans who need to cross the border to go to work – but Mexico has not agreed to US hopes that it would also stop receiving flights from Europe.

Mr Lopez Obrador said on Twitter that he had spoken with the US president by telephone and also called for the implementation of USMCA – the new North American free-trade deal – to be speeded up “to spur the economic recovery of both countries”.

He added: “We reaffirmed our decision to always work together and, especially, now we are going through difficult times. It was an affectionate call.”

UAE to ban distribution of newspapers and magazines from Tuesday

Simeon Kerr in Dubai and Ahmed Al Omran in Riyadh

The United Arab Emirates will ban the distribution of newspapers, magazines and marketing materials from Tuesday in a bid to contain the coronavirus.

The UAE’s media regulator said the sharing of printed material by multiple readers could help spread the virus. The Gulf state reported its first two coronavirus-related deaths earlier on Saturday.

The latest restrictions stop delivery to places where newspapers and magazines may be used by several people, including residential complexes, restaurants and salons. The ban does not apply to regular subscribers and large retailers at shopping centres.

The regulator said newspapers’ digital platforms would continue to play a “crucial role” in publishing news and discussing issues of national importance.
Saudi newspaper Okaz also said it would suspend its print edition from Sunday as a preventative measure, though the government has not ordered any such decision for the sector.

Number of confirmed infections in America rises above 20,000

Steve Bernard writes:

The number of cases in the US has risen above 20,000 as the outbreak worsens in the sprawling country.

The case count has risen to 21,682, an increase of 2,582 on Friday. The death toll rose 23 to 279.

New York’s health system groans as number of cases tops 10,000

Alistair Gray in New York

Authorities in New York are drawing up plans to turn college campuses and conference centres into field hospitals as confirmed cases across the state topped 10,000.

Officials are today touring sites including the Javits Center – normally host to some of the country’s biggest business conferences – as they try to increase state bed capacity by half, to at least 75,000. Elective surgeries at regular hospitals are to be suspended.

One million N95 masks, which help shield wearers from the coronavirus, are being sent to New York City and 500,000 to Long Island, governor Andrew Cuomo also said at a briefing this morning.

New York is an epicentre of the outbreak in the US. The state today reported 3,200 new confirmed cases taking the tally up to 10,356. The city itself accounts for about two thirds of cases in the state.

English private hospitals to treat coronavirus patients for NHS

Sarah Neville, pharmaceuticals editor, and Gill Plimmer, UK companies reporter:

The entire capacity of the private hospital sector in England will be used to treat coronavirus patients, and take on work the NHS is too overwhelmed to carry out, the government announced on Saturday.

As the taxpayer-funded health service braces for hundreds of thousands of extra patients, the agreement will provide nearly 20,000 extra staff to help manage the surge in cases, NHS England said.

The private hospitals will not make a profit, undertaking the work at cost.

The deal, the first of its kind, will provide 8,000 more hospital beds across England, nearly 1,200 more ventilators, more than 10,000 nurses, over 700 doctors and over 8,000 other clinical staff.

Read the full story here

UK High Court to hear coronavirus challenge to immigration detention

Law Courts Correspondent Jane Croft writes

The High Court in London is to hear a legal challenge related to Covid-19 next week over the legality of continuing to detain people held under immigration powers in immigration centres.

Detention Action, a charity, has brought the case against the UK government over the lawfulness of continued detention amid concerns about the coronavirus for those people currently held in seven immigration detention centres across the country. It is seeking the review and release of detainees held under immigration powers and an immediate halt to further detentions.

The High Court has ordered a hearing of the case next Wednesday.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said that since the legal claim was launched the charity had heard that detention centres have started to release people.

We will be pressing for a robust review of all detentions…In the midst of a global pandemic, administrative detention puts those interned in grave danger.

US approves a faster coronavirus test

US Pharma and Biotech correspondent Hannah Kuchler reports

US regulators have approved a new coronavirus test that takes 45 minutes to deliver a result, as it tries to boost the supply of tests to hospitals and get patients tested faster.

The Food and Drug Administration has granted an emergency use authorisation to Cepheid, a maker of diagnostics equipment, for a cartridge that works on the automated systems, of which there are 5,000 in labs across the US.

Warren Kocmond, president of Cepheid, said: “Our automated systems do not require users to have specialty training to perform testing — they are capable of running 24/7, with many systems already doing so today.”

Another potential advantage of the test is it can be done without nasal swabs, which are in short supply. The new method uses a nasal wash instead.

Canada plans emergency flights to repatriate citizens

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his government will arrange rescue flights to bring home citizens stuck abroad following widespread travel restrictions and flight cancellations.

Officials are working with Canadian airlines and foreign governments to organise special flights to repatriate citizens. An Air Canada flight carrying Canadians home from Morocco is expected to land in Montreal on Saturday.

Mr Trudeau said efforts are also underway to arrange flights from other countries in the coming days, possibly including Spain and Peru. CBC News reports that 800 Canadians are stuck in Peru, which has shut its airports.

“We will not be able to reach everyone, but are going to do our best to help those we can,” said Mr Trudeau at his daily briefing in Ottawa.

The government will look at the number of Canadians stranded and the local situation when deciding where to seek special flights, he said. Canada has also extended loans of up to C$5,000 to Canadians to cover the costs of returning home.

Brazilian evangelical church fights closure

Andres Schipani in São Paulo

One of Brazil’s biggest evangelical churches is vowing to stay open despite the rapid spread of coronavirus in Latin America’s largest country.

Pastor Silas Malafia, head of the Assembly of God Victory in Christ church in Rio de Janeiro, posted a video on Saturday saying he would only shut the doors of his church if there was a decree of emergency, a drastic reduction in public transportation, or a judicial ruling.

The church won a court ruling on Thursday allowing it to remain open despite warnings that gatherings could fuel coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Malafia, who is close to Brazil’s hard-right President Jair Bolsonaro, said: “I will suspend the services but I will extend the opening hours of the church, the church won’t stay close, no,” he said. “The church will remain open longer, I won’t shut it because I believe the church is God’s hospital for the spirit and the emotions.”

Mr Malafaia’s comments come only days after Edir Macedo, Brazil’s most prominent evangelical pastor and also a Bolsonaro supporter, downplayed coronavirus as a “tactic of Satan” aimed simply at spreading fear.

Experts estimate that more than a fifth of the 211m Brazilians are now evangelical Christians in a country where the confirmed cases of Covid-19 rocketed to 904 on Friday afternoon, the highest in Latin America, with 11 fatalities.

Health officials expect the virus to spread widely in the coming days and health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta warned on Friday that Brazil’s health system faces a “collapse” at the end of April.

Dubai banks bring in new measures to mitigate impact of coronavirus

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Dubai banks will introduce measures to support corporate and retail customers impacted by the fallout from coronavirus.

Under orders from the emirate’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, lenders pledged to allow companies most affected to reschedule loans, including those working in healthcare, aviation, hospitality, retail, events, consumer goods and education.

Emirates NBD, Emirates Islamic Bank, Dubai Islamic Bank, Mashreq and Commercial Bank of Dubai will allow retail customers who have been forced to take unpaid leave to stop paying instalments and interest payments on loans, the state news agency reported.

The emergency measures will span from April for three months.

The banks will also waive interest payments on credit card purchases related to instalment payments on school fees and food payments for six months.


Italian death toll rises by 793 in darkest day yet of country’s Covid-19 outbreak

Miles Johnson reports from Rome:

The total number of dead in Italy from the Covid 19 outbreak rose to 4,825 on Saturday in the worst day for fatalities since the crisis began as the country’s number of infections continued to rise at a rapid pace.

Official numbers showed that the total number who have been declared to have died in Italy from the coronavirus increased by 793 over the last 24 hours, while the total number of diagnosed infections rose by 13.9 per cent to 53,578.

The figures released on Saturday showed that the total number of active cases, which strips out the recovered and the deceased, also rose sharply by 12.7 per cent to 42,681.

On Thursday Italy marked a grim milestone in its battle against the virus by overtaking China to become the country with the highest number of deaths from the Covid 19 virus in the world. On Friday 475 fatalities were recorded in a single day, a number that also exceeded the worst ever day for deaths in China during its outbreak.

On Saturday in the northern region of Lombardy, the worst-hit area accounting for 47 per cent of all infections in Italy, a total of 546 people died over the last 24 hours, a figure that alone surpassed the worst ever number of fatalities nationally recorded on Friday.

As the the numbers of patients requiring intensive care continues to rise, pushing the country’s medical system in the north to breaking point, the government has enforced even stricter measures to try and halt the spread of the virus. On Saturday 2,857 people were in intensive care, up from 2,655 on Friday.

On Friday the government banned the last types of outdoor exercise Italians were able to participate in under the lockdown measures by deciding that running and bicycle rides were no longer permitted. The Italian military has also been despatched to Milan, the largest city in Lombardy, to ensure the lockdown measures are followed.

Over 223,633 people were inspected by the Italian police on Friday across the country, with 9,888 people reported for breaking the lockdown measures and 260 for false declarations about why they were outside, according to the Italian interior ministry.

Here is what you might have missed

By Charlotte Middlehurst

• Hong Kong has re-imposed partial lockdown to fight a “second wave” of the outbreak, as the number of confirmed cases sweeping across Asia increases.

• The UK government announced new measures to ensure the UK’s food security during the pandemic. The environment minister urged retailers to come together and set an “appropriate level” for individual purchases.

• New York has drawn up plans to turn college campuses and conference centres into field hospitals as confirmed cases across the state topped 10,000, while the number nationally breached the 20,000 mark.

• Germany’s cabinet approved new borrowing of €356bn — equivalent to nearly 10 per cent of Germany’s gross domestic product — to save its economy from the pandemic’s impact and protect thousands of businesses from imminent ruin.

• English private hospitals have agreed to share resources with the taxpayer-funded National Health Service in a deal that will provide nearly 20,000 extra staff.

• The United Arab Emirates will ban the distribution of newspapers, magazines and marketing materials from Tuesday in a bid to contain the coronavirus.

Death toll in England rises to 220

FT reporters

Another 53 people with coronavirus have died in England, bringing the total of deaths in the country to 220.

The patients who died in England were aged between 41 and 94 years old and all had underlying health conditions, according to NHS England.

Earlier, two more deaths were recorded in Wales, bringing its total to five, and another death in Scotland, taking the number to seven.

Northern Ireland has recorded one death.

Pret to shut down UK stores

Pret a Manger will temporarily close all of its UK locations starting this evening.

“My priority is always to protect our teams as much as we can,” chief executive Pano Christou said. The chain said it will send excess food to “those who need it most”.

US retail sector seeks inclusion in Washington’s economic rescue plan

Alistair Gray in New York

US retailers and their suppliers have called on Washington to include them in its $1tn-plus economic rescue plan, warning companies needed a “bridge, not a bailout” to stay in business.

In an open letter today to President Trump, 89 trade bodies representing the sector estimated that the coronavirus shutdown put at least $430bn in retail-related sales and 1.7m jobs at risk.

The stimulus package going through Congress needed to provide “a bridge, not a bailout, that is flexible enough for retailers and related suppliers of any size to take advantage”, the letter said. “We want to make sure these companies are able to continue operations when we eventually get through this crisis.”

The estimated job losses are based on a 20 per cent revenue decline over the next three months, yet the letter said the sales slump could prove much worse, especially in some sub-sectors within retail.

While some retail businesses, including groceries, have been deemed “essential” and can stay open, scores of retail companies including Macy’s, Nordstrom and Kohl’s, as well as large shopping mall operators have announced widespread closures in recent days.

Turkey imposes curfew on older citizens and others with chronic illnesses

Laura Pitel in Ankara

Turkey has imposed a strict curfew on citizens over the age of of 65 as it seeks to limit the fallout from the the mounting number of coronavirus cases in the country.

A directive issued by the Turkish interior ministry, valid from midnight on Saturday, said that it would be forbidden for older people to go out, including to parks and gardens.

The measure also applies to those of any age with certain chronic health conditions, including lung disease, asthma and heart conditions.

The interior ministry said that it would take steps to ensure that support groups helped older people to meet all their basic needs while they stayed at home.
Turkey’s number of coronavirus cases has risen rapidly over the past week, reaching 670 on Friday night, with nine deaths.

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday urged everyone in the country to stay at home and practice social distancing. Some people, including those in more vulnerable social categories, had continued to go outdoors to cafes, shops and parks.

In a sign of the intergenerational tensions arising from the Covid-19 outbreak, earlier on Saturday the mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavas, had said that he was temporarily suspending the right to free public transport in the Turkish capital for over-65s “at the request of your grandchildren”.

In a post on Twitter, he wrote: “To our dear elders, we love you very much and we want you to be safe.”

New Jersey residents given stay-at-home order

New Jersey residents must “stay at home” while all non-essential businesses must close “indefinitely”, according to an executive order signed by governor Phil Murphy.

All businesses deemed non-essential by the government were told to close their “physical stores” to the public by 9pm ET on Saturday. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, hardware stores, banks and auto repair shops will be allowed to remain open. New Jersey had already closed its malls, salons and barber shops. Restaurants have been allowed to serve take-out.

The governor also said all gatherings such as weddings and parties were cancelled, and businesses should have all employees work from home if possible.

“We know the virus spreads through person-to person contact, and the best way to prevent further exposure is to limit our public interactions to only the most essential purposes,” Mr Murphy said.

New Jersey, home to around 9m people, followed California, New York and Illinois in issuing a “stay-at-home” order for most residents in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

New Jersey tallied 442 new cases of coronavirus in the state since Friday, bringing its total to 1,327.

US stimulus measures could top $2tn

Courtney Weaver in Washington

US stimulus measures in response to coronavirus could exceed $2tn in the coming weeks, Donald Trump’s top economic adviser said on Saturday, as Congress raced to pass a sweeping fiscal stimulus package.

Walking into the US Capitol, Larry Kudlow told reporters that Congress’s stimulus package would likely top $1.3tn, while overall federal aid to combat the crisis could soon exceed 10 per cent of US gross domestic product, outlets including the Washington Post and the New York Times reported.

Mr Kudlow’s comments came as Republican and Democratic senators continued to hash out details of a bipartisan stimulus package, which they hope to pass by Monday.

“The Senate is here,” Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said on the Senate floor on Saturday. “We are working. And we are all eager to come to a bipartisan agreement as soon as humanly possible.”

Mr Schumer said he had “just had a very good, very detailed phone call with [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin…We discussed many of the outstanding issues and we are making very good progress. I have every expectation that this progress will continue throughout the day.”

US orders ‘hundreds of millions’ of masks as private companies offer help

Aime Williams in Washington

Vice-president Mike Pence said the US government had ordered “hundreds of millions” of N-95 masks for health care facilities and hospitals across the country as the US faces up to a shortage of the medical supplies needed to battle coronavirus.

The move comes as officials across several states have warned of the limited amount of vital equipment, including protective gear for frontline workers, and ventilators.

In a 90-minute press conference on Saturday afternoon, Donald Trump said private companies, including Hanes and General Motors, had offered to make medical equipment. He added that he did not need to use the Defense Production Act, a law allowing the US government to mandate private companies to produce supplies needed to national defence.

Mr Trump also indicated the amount of cash sent directly to American citizens as Washington pursues aggressive economic stimulus measures could be larger than $1,000.

“We’re not talking about a thousand-dollar cheque, we’re talking about a lot more than that,” said Mr Trump. “And we’re also going to do it in phases, if this doesn’t work we’re going to keep doing it until we get it going.”

Global cases surpass 300,000

Steve Bernard writes:

Over 300,000 cases of the coronavirus have now been confirmed globally, an increase so far on Saturday of 28,758. The death toll currently stands at 12,953, increasing by 1,566. Italy accounted for more than half of that total, as 793 lost their lives to the Covid-19 virus.

UAE to close beaches, parks and pools for two weeks

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

The United Arab Emirates will close all beaches, parks and swimming pools from Sunday for two weeks, subject to review.

The move, reported by the official state news agency, comes as the regional tourism and commercial hub boosts efforts to contain coronavirus. The state has already prevented new tourist arrivals and blocked residents returning from overseas.

The UAE on Saturday reported 13 new cases, bringing the total to 153. Two have died.

The government also said restaurants and cafes could remain open if establishments work at 20 per cent of their seating capacity, with clients maintaining no less than two meters’ distance from one another.

New York-area flights briefly halted after air traffic control workers infected

Alistair Gray in New York

New York flights were briefly halted today after two workers in air traffic control contracted coronavirus, showing how the outbreak poses a threat even to essential infrastructure.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it had halted departures and arrivals to and from major airports in the area — an epicentre for the outbreak in the US — because of “staffing issues”. Officials have since lifted the restrictions, which were imposed on JFK, Newark and LaGuardia.

The disruption came a day after the FAA said a technician at JFK’s control tower had tested positive. The technician had last visited the facility on Monday. Then, today, the FAA said a trainee based in a site on Long Island had also contracted the virus. That individual was there as recently as Tuesday.

Affected areas were being sanitised and officials were trying to establish which personnel had recently interacted with them.

Cases in Brazil jump to 1,128, most in Latin America

Andres Schipani in São Paulo

Brazil’s number of coronavirus cases jumped to 1,128 on Saturday, the highest in Latin America, with 18 fatalities as the country struggles to contain the spread of the disease.

At the beginning of the week, the number of cases was 234. Health officials expect the virus to spread widely in the coming days, and experts fear Brazil is on track to have an Italian-like curve of growing cases. Health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta warned on Friday that Brazil’s health system faces a “collapse” at the end of April.

The national government has not imposed lockdowns, but the governor of São Paulo, where the majority of cases are concentrated with 459, said that starting Tuesday all “non-essential” businesses should shut their doors for a fortnight — that includes bars, restaurants and shops.

Hard-right president Jair Bolsonaro has provoked anger by initially describing the reaction to the virus as “hysteria” and every night this week, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians banged pots and pans from windows and balconies shouting “Bolsonaro out” to demonstrate against him.

On Friday, after at least 22 people who travelled with him to meet Donald Trump in Florida earlier this month tested positive for coronavirus, he said he may undergo a third test. However, the president, who was stabbed on the campaign trail in 2018, downplayed the risk of the virus: “After the stabbing, it won’t be a little flu what will take me down”.

Kuwait to impose 12-hour curfew

Ahmed Al Omran in Riyadh

Kuwait announced that it would start imposing a curfew between 5pm and 4am due to what the government called “non-compliance with Ministry of Health’s instructions to stay indoors”.

The government also said a public holiday that was due to end March 26 would be extended for two more weeks as the Gulf state struggles to contain the coronavirus spread.

The health ministry spokesman said earlier that 17 Covid-19 cases were reported on Saturday, bringing the total to 176. Around 16,000 people have been tested and 27 cases have recovered, a spokesman added.

Researchers find lost sense of smell may be a symptom

Alistair Gray in New York

Lost your sense of smell? It might be time to self-isolate. Doctors believe it could be a sign of coronavirus.

While the best-known symptoms are a cough, fever and shortness of breath, researchers say there is evidence from several countries that a sizeable proportion of patients who tested positive had their smell inhibited.

Almost a third of otherwise mild cases in South Korea had developed anosmia as the main symptom, according to Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society.

At the same time, doctors in countries including Iran have also noted a rise in individuals complaining about a loss of smell but have no other symptoms.

Prof Hopkins, a consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London, said the spread of the virus could be better contained if such patients were told to isolate themselves.

More businesses in Italy to shut down as outbreak worsens

All businesses in Italy with few exceptions must shut down temporarily, in another effort to slow the spread of coronavirus in the country.

Prime minister Giuseppe Conte ordered all businesses, with the exception of those considered essential to supply chains, to close until April 3 as Italy faces its “most difficult crisis in our post-war period”, he said in a video message on social media.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and postal service will remain open, Mr Conte said.

The decision came after the total number of deaths related to coronavirus in Italy rose to 4,825, the worst day for fatalities since the crisis began.

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