Coronavirus latest: Boris Johnson ‘stable’ and ‘responding to treatment’ in ICU

Democrats set out billion-dollar emergency stimulus demands

Lauren Fedor in Washington

Top Democrats on Capitol Hill have set out a series of demands for small businesses, hospitals and state and local governments, as lawmakers prepare for a fresh round of negotiations on how to provide billions of dollars of stimulus to Americans struggling to cope with the coronavirus crisis.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s most senior Democrat, said in a joint statement on Wednesday morning that Democrats wanted “interim emergency legislation” to include $250bn in assistance to small businesses, half of which would be channeled through smaller, community-based lenders.

Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer called for an extra $100bn for hospitals to buy personal protective equipment and expand testing capacity, $150bn more for state and local governments and a 15 per cent increase in food stamp benefits for low-income Americans.

Their list of demands came one day after Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, said he had spoken to both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders about securing $250bn to fund loans for small businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 death toll in England jumps by 828 in worst day yet

The number of Covid-19 fatalities in England has risen by more than 800 in the darkest day yet of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.

England’s death toll increased by 828 people as of Tuesday evening, according to NHS England. It marked the biggest increase to date and suggests the overall UK tally will have climbed by the most since the outbreak began.

Patients were between 22 and 103 years old and roughly 94 per cent had underlying health conditions, according to NHS England. London continued to be the hardest-hit region, reporting 201 deaths over the 24-hour period. Fatalities rose by 171 in the Midlands, 128 in the North West and 120 in the South East.

The overall UK death toll increased by 786 to 6,159 the previous day, with the number of fatalities in England increasing by 758.

US stocks rise 1% as investors assess coronavirus updates

Wall Street climbed more than 1 per cent at the open amid hopes that cases in the US are peaking and on expectations that Congress could announce further emergency support to cushion the economy.

The S&P 500 rose 1.1 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 1.2 per cent. US equities are in the midst of what looks to be another wild week. The S&P 500 jumped 7 per cent on Monday, for its biggest daily gain in a fortnight, and on Tuesday, it ended lower despite have chalked up sizeable gains earlier in the session.

Investors, this week, have have been encouraged by signs that coronavirus cases are starting to slow after governments around the world imposed sweeping restrictions on movement.

Elsewhere in markets, the yield on the US 10-year rose 0.02 percentage points to 0.7563 per cent.

Rio Tinto bucks trend with plans to pay $3.7bn dividend

Neil Hume in London

Global miner Rio Tinto will make a $3.7bn dividend payment this year bucking a trend that has seen scores of companies in Europe and North America scrap returns to shareholders because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chairman Simon Thomson said the Anglo-Australian company had decided to hand the cash to investors because demand for its main commodity — steel-making ingredient iron ore — remained strong.

Mr Thompson told investors:

The Board debated this issue on Monday and confirmed that we will pay the dividend, as set out in our annual report.We took this decision because Rio Tinto has a strong balance sheet, our operations are running safely, and our order book for iron ore is full.

The price of iron ore has remained relatively robust this year helped by supply disruptions and also demand in China, where business is returning to normal after the virus outbreak.

Some rival miners including Glencore and Freeport-McMoRan have decided to suspend dividend payments to preserve cash and give them time to assess the impact of Covid-19 on their operations.

Rio has already paid a $2.7bn interim dividend for 2019 and returned a $1bn by way of a special dividend.

Mexico job losses threaten workers’ healthcare

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexico has registered almost 350,000 job losses as a result of Covid-19, with the majority of those workers also losing access to the state social security health service.

Luisa María Alcalde, labour secretary, said the job losses, which count cuts in formal employment between March 13 and April 6, were concentrated among larger companies employing more than 50 people. Smaller companies employing up to five people “have resisted and shown solidarity,” she told a news conference.

Mexico also has a large informal workforce, making up roughly half the economy, where workers pay no taxes and receive no benefits. The CCE, Mexico’s biggest business lobby, says 1.4m jobs in Mexico are at risk as Latin America’s second biggest economy is forecast to contract as much as 10 per cent.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called small companies “heroic” for not cutting staff and appealed to others to reconsider, saying “our god cannot be money”.

Zoé Robledo, head of the state social security institute, IMSS, said 62 per cent of the fired workers would no longer have access to the institute’s health services and appealed to employers not to fire workers because “these are health service contributions that can mean life or death” in the current coronavirus crisis.

Mr López Obrador has resisted calls from business leaders to defer taxes or provide other benefits to keep small businesses afloat during a month-long lockdown. He said he would provide 1m low-interest loans instead.

Russia and China shut land border

Henry Foy in Moscow

Russia and China have closed their land border for personnel crossings after the Heilongjiang province recorded 25 new cases of coronavirus among citizens who had recently returned from Russia.

Russia had moved to seal off its more than 4,000km border with China in late January as the coronavirus outbreak was beginning to spread globally, but has allowed certain people and goods to cross in the months since.

“All personnel passages at the China-Russia land border crossings have been temporarily closed,” the Chinese embassy in Moscow said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Russian consulate in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, confirmed the closure, and said in a separate statement that 87 cases of coronavirus in the region had been imported.

“Twenty-five new Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the Heilongjiang province in the past 24 hours,” it said in a post on social media. “All the Chinese citizens arrived from Moscow via Vladivostok and crossed the [border] in the period between March 30 and April 4.”

None of those infected were Russian citizens, it added

Global trade will shrink more than in financial crisis, WTO says

Valentina Romei in London

World trade is expected to contract more than during the financial crisis as the coronavirus pandemic upends the global economy, according to the World Trade Organization.

World merchandise trade is set to plummet by up to 32 per cent due to the Covid-19 crisis, marking a much faster contraction than the 12 per cent decline in 2009, the WTO forecasts.

“These numbers are ugly – there is no getting around that,” the organisation’s director-general said. “The unavoidable declines in trade and output will have painful consequences for households and businesses, on top of the human suffering caused by the disease itself.”

Roberto Azevêdo urged countries to “work together” to keep markets open and ensure they foster a favourable business environment to achieve a “much faster recovery”.

The nearly one-third drop in trade is calculated assuming an initial steep decline and a prolonged and incomplete recovery.

If global trade were to start recovering from the second half of 2020 and the post-crisis growth were strong enough to bring trade close to its pre-pandemic trend, the annual contraction would be milder, at 13 per cent. However, the organisation notes that, after the financial crisis of 2008-09, trade never returned to its previous trend.

Under both scenarios, all regions will suffer double-digit declines in trade in 2020, with a 41 per cent contraction for North America in the most pessimistic scenario.

Last year, global merchandise trade fell by 0.1 per cent, weighed down by geopolitical tensions and slowing economic growth.

Free to read

Analysis: Tracking coronavirus — Big data and the challenge to privacy

Nic Fildes in London and Javier Espinoza in Brussels

Mapping how populations move between locations has proved invaluable in tracking and responding to epidemics.

But the use of such data to track coronavirus has triggered fears of growing surveillance, including questions about how the data might be used once the crisis is over and whether such data sets are ever truly anonymous.

Read the full article here for free.


Boris Johnson ‘stable’ and ‘responding to treatment’ in ICU

Sebastian Payne

Boris Johnson remains in intensive care but is “clinically stable” and “responding to treatment”, the UK prime minister’s spokesperson has said.

The prime minister remains in “good spirits” during his treatment for coronavirus at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, Downing Street said in a daily press briefing.

Mr Johnson is still receiving “standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any other assistance”. Downing Street added that Mr Johnson is “not working, as he is in intensive care” but “has the ability to contact those he needs to”.

His spokesperson declined to say whether his high temperature has decreased, his cough has subsided or whether the prime minister has gone on any of the trial drugs to combat coronavirus. Mr Johnson will “continue to follow the advice of his medical team”, his spokesperson added.

On the topic of when the UK lockdown will end, No 10 said a review would be made “on or about” the three-week mark — which is just after the long Easter weekend. The spokesperson declined to say when exactly it would be announced.

There is a widespread expectation in government that the lockdown will be renewed. In Wales, the housing minister Julie James said this morning that the lockdown will continue there into next week. Ms James told the BBC there were “signs” that the stringent social distancing measures were working, but urged residents not to leave home over Easter.

The PM’s spokesperson said the UK government was not expecting to make any announcements on the lockdown today. “It is too early to say when the peak is going to be,” he said, reiterating that the government will be guided by scientific advice on when to relieve the measures.

The government also announced that 20,000 health care workers have now been tested for coronavirus. The most recent daily figures put 14,006 people being tested, which is some way off the pledge of 100,000 tests before the end of the month.

Hong Kong sets out additional $18bn relief to support economy

Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has set out an additional HK$137.5bn ($17.6bn) relief package to support the local economy hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

This is for an “unprecedented challenge” that demands an “unprecedented response” from the government, chief executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday.

The measures include an HK$80bn wage grant to prevent layoffs. Employers can apply for a 50 per cent subsidy for each employee with a HK$9,000 upper limit for six months. The government pledged HK$21bn more on the existing HK$30bn anti-epidemic fund to provide support to specific industries.

Ms Lam added that companies who dismiss staff will be asked to pay back the subsidies or even be subject to punishment.

The city’s rail operator, MTR, which is majority owned by the government, will provide a 20 per cent discount on ticket fares from July. The government will take up half the cost.

Other policies include corporate loan guarantees, expanding civil servant recruitment, tax breaks, rent cuts on government lands and other fee waivers.
Key government officials will also take a 10 per cent salary cut for 12 months, after a recent outcry on Ms Lam’s 2 per cent pay rise.

The territory has set aside more than HK$287.5bn to boost the economy in the past months. Paul Chan, the financial secretary, said the deficit for the current fiscal year will rise to 9.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

Hospitality workers hit by service charge exclusion in support scheme

Alice Hancock in London

Tens of thousands of workers in the UK hospitality industry face receiving only half their wages from the government’s coronavirus job support scheme after the tax authority said service charge would not be included.

The charge, usually 12 to 15 per cent of the total that is added to bills in hotels and restaurants, is paid directly to employees through a system known as tronc. It usually comprises between 30 and 50 per cent of waiters’, chefs’ and sommeliers’ pay.

Unlike cash tips, which typically go straight to employees without being taxed, service charge is taxed and declared through a company’s payroll system, even though the employers do not touch the money.

List of countries attending the G20 emergency meeting on oil

David Sheppard in London

The provisional list of countries planning to attend the G20 emergency meeting on the oil market has emerged, with most of the largest members planning to have ministers dial in to the online gathering.

The meeting, set for Friday, is part of efforts to find a way to reduce supplies and support a market that has been overwhelmed by the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which is suspected of having reduced global consumption by as much as a third.

The meeting will come after a gathering of the so-called Opec+ group on Thursday, with members such as Russia pushing for wider participation from oil producers outside the group, amid warnings the world could quickly run out of storage and be forced to shut in fields, potentially with long-term consequences for supplies.

Saudi Arabia, which holds the rotating G20 presidency this year, helped organise the meeting in conjunction with the International Energy Agency, which was established by oil consuming countries in the 1970s.

US President Donald Trump has said he believes Saudi Arabia and Russia will end their price war and agree a cut of as much as 15m barrels a day, or about 15 per cent of pre-crisis output.

The US has made no commitment to make formal cuts, but it is suspected that it could highlight forecast production falls – caused by lower prices – from its own industry as a contribution. Other countries where the private sector makes up the majority of their energy industry are expected to be asked to make similar contributions, such as pointing to the sharp drop in capital expenditures already announced by publicly listed energy companies.

Importing countries without significant oil industries, such as Germany, may be asked to buy up crude or refined fuel for their strategic stockpiles to provide additional support to the market.

Here is a provisional list of attendees for the G20 emergency meeting, according to people familiar with the matter:

Scottish death toll is higher than previous records show

Mure Dickie in Edinburgh

Deaths from coronavirus in Scotland are higher than previously captured by health boards, government data revealed on Wednesday, as controversies stack up around the world about the accuracy of officially reported cases.

There were 366 deaths in Scotland by April 6, up 70 from the previous day, according to data released by the government using a revised methodology.

Separately, the National Records of Scotland said there had been 354 deaths in Scotland by April 5 where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate.

The new NRS figure is intended to complement the daily data from government agency Health Protection Scotland that records deaths in hospitals among those who have a laboratory-confirmed coronavirus infection.

The NRS said 60 per cent of all deaths involving Covid-19 were of people aged 75 or over

EU says top scientist was asked to resign by ERC committee

Javier Espinoza in Brussels

Mauro Ferrari, the EU’s top scientist, was asked to resign from his post by the members of the European Research Council, an EU spokesman said on Wednesday. The person gave no further details on the reasons behind their request.

“There was a vote on March 27 by the ERC’s other 19 members who requested the resignation of Mr Ferrari,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman added Mr Ferrari quit by email on Tuesday and his resignation took immediate effect.

He said the EU “regrets his resignation”, which comes at a crucial stage of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Launched in 2007, the ERC is aimed at funding the bloc’s best scientists and it is one of the world’s most prestigious funding agencies with a budget of about €2bn a year.

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