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France orders all non-essential shops closed to stem spread of virus

Victor Mallet reports from Paris:

France has ordered the closure of all cafés, restaurants, non-essential shops and places of entertainment from midnight on Saturday to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

Edouard Philippe, prime minister, announced the new measures on Saturday night, as the health ministry disclosed that the number of cases in the country had doubled in the past 72 hours to 4,500. The number of deaths rose to 91.

“We see two things today,” Mr Philippe said.

“On the one hand, there is an acceleration of the spread of the virus and in some areas we are seeing a large increase in the number of people in intensive care.”
Essential public services will stay open, although schools and nurseries will close from Monday except for the children of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers.

Places of worship can stay open to individuals but services and gatherings must be postponed. Mr Philippe said the first round of the local elections would go ahead on Sunday as planned, with security measures in place to try to minimise the spread of the virus.

Jérôme Salomon, director-general of health, said: “It’s urgent. We need to change our behaviour now… It’s not the virus that circulates in France, it’s men and women who circulate.”

Germany appeals to shoppers not to hoard products

Guy Chazan reports from Berlin:

German officials appealed to shoppers not to hoard, as supermarkets across the country saw scenes of panic-buying and empty shelves in response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Julia Klöckner, agriculture minister, said there were currently “no supply bottlenecks”. “For that reason I appeal to people to exercise care, prudence and a sense of proportion when they’re stocking up – there is enough available for everyone”.

Ministers attributed the nervousness of shoppers to fake news being spread on platforms like WhatsApp. Hoaxers were, for example, circulating the rumour that all supermarkets in Germany would shut down on Monday, or that food would run out.

“Beware of fake news,” the German health ministry tweeted on Saturday. It said users of social media were claiming that the “health ministry/government will soon announce more massive restrictions on public life. That is NOT TRUE! Please help us to stop this being spread.”

Ms Klöckner said it was important for Germans to buy and store only those goods “that are normally used and consumed in everyday life, in order not to waste food and important resources”. Hoarding often led to “food ending up in the bin”, she said.

Even without hoarders, supermarkets in Germany have been doing a roaring trade, as people switch from dining out to cooking and dining at home. The supermarket chain Rewe said it had seen a big increase in demand for all dry goods such as pasta and rice, as well as tinned goods and toiletries. Delivery services like Lieferando have also seen a big uptick in orders.

Andreas Scheuer, transport minister, told Bild Zeitung that after meeting representatives from Germany’s leading discounters, such as Aldi and Lidl, he had concluded there was “no reason to fear that we will have shortages”.

He said all the companies had acknowledged logistical difficulties, but their warehouses were so full that “no one should fear that things will run out”. He said there was “no reason” for hoarding and panic.

Global Covid-19 case count crosses 150,000 level

The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has risen further above the levels we reported earlier on Saturday to reach above 150,000.

There have now been 153,694 infections globally with 5,791 deaths, according to the FT coronavirus outbreak tracker.

New York JFK to London Heathrow is among world’s busiest routes

Flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and London’s Heathrow airport are among the most popular in the world, underlining the potential impact of the US plan to ban travel between the US and UK.

Last year, there were 14,195 flights between the airports that connect two of the world’s financial capitals, according to OAG, a provider of travel data. That ranks as the second-most popular long-haul route, and 13th most popular international route.

The JFK to Heathrow route is also important to airlines because it is often flown by business travellers who are willing to pay higher prices for seats. In fact, British Airways generated $1.2bn in revenue on that route from April 2018 – March 2019, making it the world’s most lucrative route, according to OAG data.

Alex Cruz, chief executive of BA, told 45,000 staff in a message last week entitled “The Survival of British Airways” that the airline was “under immense pressure” despite a robust balance sheet and the support of a strong parent company in IAG. Other big airlines, like Delta, which also flies the JFK-Heathrow route, are also under significant strain.

France prepares aid for Air France-KLM

David Keohane in Paris reports:

The French government is preparing to come to the aid of Air-France KLM, with a state loan the preferred option to help the struggling airline which has been hit hard by the coronavirus and Donald Trump’s travel ban.

France is studying how best to support the carrier, which is 14.3 per cent owned by the state, with senior officials at the finance ministry saying they were currently considering loans rather than a capital injection.

The government has already publicly said it would stand behind the airline, which was formed by the merger of Air France and KLM of the Netherlands in 2004.

Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, said on Friday that France would “help all companies in which the state has a stake . . . Whatever it costs we will be at their side.”

Ferrari to close Italian factory

Peter Campbell reports:

Ferrari will close its factory for two weeks after the coronavirus outbreak disrupted the supply of key parts from elsewhere in Italy, becoming the latest carmaker to halt output temporarily across Europe.

The supercar maker had planned to keep its facility in Maranello running by keeping production staff 1 metre from each other, but “is now experiencing the first serious supply chain issues, which no longer allow for continued production,” it said.

It is understood the issue is from an Italy-based component maker that has interrupted supply due to the coronavirus outbreak. It expects production to resume on March 27.

Renault and Volksagen have also both been forced to close plants because of supply disruptions.

VW’s Seat plant near Barcelona is closing next week because of a supplier issue, while Renault’s facilities at Palencia and Valladolid in the north of Spain will shut for two days, the company announced late on Friday.

American Airlines working with US to comply with latest travel ban

Claire Bushey writes:

American Airlines said that it was working with the federal government to comply with travel restrictions expanding from continental Europe to include the UK and Ireland.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline operates approximately 20 flights a day to or from Heathrow airport in London. It also flies once per day to or from Manchester in the north of England and once per day to or from Dublin.

American already had reduced flights to London because of the pandemic. The airline cut back four daily flights from both Dallas-Fort Worth and John F. Kennedy airport in New York to three. It has dropped service from Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina to London.

The airline plans to resume normal service from these sites on May 7.

Number of Italian cases rises again

Miles Johnson in Rome reports:

The number of coronavirus cases in Italy has risen sharply again over the last 24 hours, increasing to above 21,000 according to the latest figures released on Saturday.

The total number of cases increased by 19.8 per cent to 21,157, while a further 175 people have died, taking the total since the crisis began to 1,441. The total number of active cases, excluding the dead and recovered, stands at 17,750.

The numbers came as Italy’s transport minister, Paola De Micheli, played down reports of large numbers of people traveling to Italy’s south from the north on trains.

The south has a far worse-resourced health system than its wealthier north, meaning an outbreak of the same scale as has occurred in Lombardy would place an even greater strain on hospital resources.

UAE outlines $27bn economic package

Simeon Kerr in Dubai reports:

The central bank of the United Arab Emirates has launched a 100bn dirham ($27.2bn) economic support package to assist corporate and retail banking clients affected by the impact of coronavirus.

The scheme consists of Dh50bn in zero cost loans to banks operating in the UAE and the freeing up of Dh50bn from their capital buffers, the state news agency said on Saturday.

The central bank in a statement said it aimed to provide temporary relief on principal and interest payments on outstanding loans to private sector companies and retail customers for up to six months.

The central bank, which called on lenders to treat customers fairly, also said it would reduce the amount of capital that banks must hold for their loans to small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as easing real estate lending restrictions.

The UAE aviation regulator also said it would from Tuesday suspend flights to and from Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

Emoticon US extends travel ban to UK and Ireland

Lauren Fedor in Washington reports:

Donald Trump has been tested for Covid-19 and is awaiting his test results, as the US prepares to extend its current European travel ban to include the UK and Ireland.

The US president told reporters at the White House that he had been tested on Friday night and that he did not know when he would receive the results.

Mr Trump’s comments came just hours after the White House published a memo from the president’s physician, who said that the president, 73, was at “low risk for transmission” and did not need to be quarantined or tested. Mr Trump hosted a Brazilian presidential delegation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last week. Multiple members of the delegation have since tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

US vice-president Mike Pence confirmed at the same news conference that a travel ban between the US and free travel-area European countries would be extended to include the UK and Ireland. Mr Pence said the ban would go into effect from midnight EST on Monday, but added that Americans and US legal residents currently in the UK and Ireland would be allowed to repatriate.

Iran calls on world leaders to push US to lift sanctions

Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran reports:

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani urged world leaders to help lift the US sanctions which he said had inflicted $200bn damage over the past two years to the country’s economy and weakened its capacity to fight against the coronavirus.

“We expect you to adopt measures… to make the US illegal sanctions against the Iranian people ineffective,” Mr Rouhani said in a letter sent to an unspecified number of heads of states on Friday which domestic media published on Saturday.

Undoubtedly, under a dangerous pandemic situation, there is no long distance between Tehran, Qom, Paris, London and New York. Any policy that weakens [Iran’s] economic structure and medical system and restricts financial resources for crisis management can have a direct impact on other countries’ efforts to battle against the pandemic.

The Islamic republic initially denied the US sanctions had any impact on its campaign against the Covid-19 outbreak. But as casualties are mounting and frontline health workers struggle with shortages of equipment, politicians have started speaking out.

Iran said on Saturday 611 people have died from the coronavirus, up from 514 a day before while 12,729 have tested positive, making the country one of the worst hit.

Trump holds White House press conference

President Trump is holding a press conference at the White House to update on the US’s response to the outbreak. The FT’s Lauren Fedor in Washington notes that the president took credit for Friday’s sharp rally in US stock markets, which rushed higher as he spoke to close the day up nearly 10 per cent.

https://twitter.com/LaurenFedor/status/1238863591803142146?s=20

Singapore reports 12 new cases

Stefania Palma in Singapore reports:

Singapore has confirmed 12 new cases, taking the country’s total to 212.

The cases include four Singaporean citizens aged between 32 and 40 who travelled to Malaysia, Indonesia, the UK and the US.

They also include a 32-year-old American man with travel history to Japan, a 33-year-old woman from New Zealand who travelled to the US and a German man aged 56 who visited Germany and Switzerland.

Eight additional patients have fully recovered and have been discharged from hospital, taking the total to 105.

White House takes temperature of reporters

Lauren Fedor in Washington reports:

In an unprecedented move, the White House has begun taking the temperature of reporters in attendance at press briefings. A spokesperson told reporters that a member of the White House physician’s office would be assessing their health.

“Out of an abundance of caution, temperature checks are now being performed on any individuals who are in close contact with the president and vice-president,” said Judd Deere, White House deputy press secretary.

Donald Trump, 73, said at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden on Friday afternoon that he would “most likely” be tested for Covid-19 after possibly coming into contact with members of a Brazilian presidential delegation at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, who later tested positive for the virus.

Late Friday night, Sean Conley, the White House physician, said in a memo that the president was at “low risk for transmission” and would not need to be quarantined.

Russia advises citizens not to leave the country

Max Seddon in Moscow reports:

Russia has advised its citizens not to leave the country after recording 14 new coronavirus cases, all of which it said were diagnosed among people who had recently returned from Europe.

Mikhail Mishustin, Russia’s prime minister, suggested on Saturday extending advisory bans on officials travelling abroad to all citizens, as well as expanding quarantine protocols and bans on large-scale public events already in place in Moscow to the rest of the country.

Moscow said school would be optional for children starting next week. Several major Russian companies have already banned business trips and advised staff to work from home.

Russia has confirmed 59 cases, nearly all of them among people who recently visited countries with large-scale outbreaks like Italy and Spain. Flights to Europe are limited to EU capitals from a quarantine terminal in Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow’s largest.

Russia nonetheless remains one of the few European countries not to have cancelled its sporting seasons. On Saturday, Zenit St Petersburg fans put up a banner reading “We’re all infected with football”.

Irish republic and Northern Ireland deepen cooperation

Arthur Beesley in Dublin reports:

The Irish republic and Northern Ireland pledged to work together to combat the coronavirus pandemic despite adopting divergent strategies that have closed schools south of the 310-mile border and left them open in the north.

Leo Varadkar, Irish prime minister, and Arlene Foster, first minister in the northern executive, met on Saturday to deepen cooperation between Dublin and Belfast. There are 90 confirmed cases in the republic, including one death, 34 in Northern Ireland and both governments are bracing for many more.

Mr Varadkar said “this virus knows no borders, knows no nationality” at the outset of the talks in Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Mr Varadkar said both governments shared a common objective despite differing approaches, saying “the differences that exist are mostly around timing.”

Mrs Foster acknowledged after the talks that Northern Irish schools will ultimately be closed, saying they will shut for at least 16 weeks whenever it happens.

New York reports first coronavirus death

New York has announced its first death from the Covid-19 virus.

An 82-year-old woman who had a pre-existing respiratory disease died in New York City, state governor Andrew Cuomo said.

“I extend my condolences to her family during this challenging time,” Mr Cuomo added.

New York is one of the worst hit areas of the US, and earlier this week National Guard troops were sent to suburban New Rochelle to help establish a “containment zone”.

South Africa to hold emergency cabinet meeting

Joseph Cotterill, Southern Africa bureau chief, reports:

South African cases of Covid-19 rose to 38 on Saturday, from 24 the previous day, the country’s ministry of health said.

The 14 new cases had all recently returned from travel abroad to European countries and the US. Tracing of the patients’ contacts was underway, Zweli Mkhize, the minister of health, said.

The latest rise in cases in Africa’s most industrialised economy comes after several other African nations announced their first cases in the last 24 hours, including South Africa’s neighbours Namibia and eSwatini, and Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will hold an emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday to escalate South Africa’s response.

All South African cases to date have been linked to international travel and the South African national institute for communicable diseases (Nicd) has braced the country for more, given the global spread of the infection. There is also concern in South Africa about the risk of local transmission of the virus due to the presence of large groups with weaker immune systems, such as South Africans living with HIV who may be undiagnosed.

UK supermarkets face ‘unprecedented demand’

Discount supermarket chain Aldi is limiting some purchases in the UK as its stores face “unprecedented demand”.

The retailer said customers would only be allowed to buy four units of any one item, in an effort to keep stock levels under control.

https://twitter.com/AldiUK/status/1238831179719155712?s=20

There has been some evidence of a rush to buy essential items in UK shops, despite the government’s decision not to impose any restrictions on movement or travel.

The FT’s Julian Vickers said that Lidl’s car park in former prime minister Theresa May’s constituency of Maidenhead – normally the haunt of a few lone bargain hunters – was already overflowing at 7am this morning as the supermarket opened its doors to shoppers rushing to stock up on essential items.

Ryanair cancels Polish flights

Tanya Powley reports:

Ryanair has become the latest airline to cancel all flights to and from Poland after the Polish government decided to “lock down” the country to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The low-cost carrier has cancelled all flights to and from Poland, from March 15 until March 31. This includes flights on its brands Buzz and Lauda.

Ryanair said:

We are contacting all affected customers by email to advise them of their options and we urge customers not to call us.

Wizz Air, the Hungary-based low-cost airline, also cancelled all its flights to and from Poland earlier on Saturday.

Indonesian minister contracts virus – Reuters

Tom Hancock reports:

Indonesia’s transport minister Budi Karya Sumadi has been hospitalised in Jakarta after he contracted the coronavirus, a senior government official told a news conference on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Indonesia reported 27 more coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 96 in the south-east Asian country.

Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta will close all schools and has ordered remote teaching for at least two weeks starting next week to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the city’s government said.

New York landlords put evictions on hold

The FT’s US business editor Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson reports:

A group of New York’s biggest landlords, including Blackstone, Silverstein Properties and Vornado Realty Trust, has pledged to hold off evictions for the next three months as tenants struggle with lost earnings in the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will not execute any warrant of eviction for the next 90 days unless it is for criminal or negligent behaviour that jeopardises the life, health or safety of other residents,” the Real Estate Board of New York said in an open letter published in several newspapers.

“With all the stress, health risk and economic suffering going on now, no one should have to worry about losing their place to live during this crisis,” said the trade association, which represents the owners of more than 150,000 units in the city.

UAE steps up efforts to contain virus

Simeon Kerr in Dubai reports:

The Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi is to close from Sunday alongside other cultural and tourism attractions in the oil-rich emirate as the United Arab Emirates tightens measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The state news agency said the outpost of the French museum would close from Sunday until the end of March, as well as other sites in Abu Dhabi, including theme parks.

The UAE also said it would from Tuesday suspend the issuance of new visas to foreigners, who constitute most of the population. The government said the decision would not apply to those who already had their visas issued before March 17.

Portugal to carry out checks along Spanish border

Peter Wise in Lisbon reports:

António Costa, the Portuguese prime minister, and Pedro Sánchez, his Spanish counterpart, have scheduled a call on Sunday to discuss managing the frontier between the two countries and the overall EU response to the pandemic.

Mr Costa’s office said Portuguese police and health officials would this weekend carry out checks along the border with Spain, one of the European countries hit hardest by the virus.

Under a “state of alert” declared by the Lisbon government, all schools and universities will close from Monday and most public administration employees allowed to work from home. Schools will be required, however, to look after the children of people working in the health service, security forces and other essential public services.

Portugal on Saturday reported 169 confirmed cases of the virus, an increase of 57 cases, or 51 per cent, over 24 hours. Health authorities said 114 people were being treated in hospital and the others quarantined at home. A further 1,704 suspected cases are being monitored or awaiting test results.

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UK confirmed case count exceeds 1,000 people as death toll reaches 21

The number of people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the UK has exceeded 1,000, with the number of deaths hitting 21.

The Department for Health has said out of the 37,746 people who have been tested, 1,140 have confirmed Covid-19 infections. The number of confirmed cases has increased by more than 340 compared with figures released on Friday.

The number of deaths, meanwhile, increased to 21, a rise of 10 from the previous day. All of the additional deaths have been among a group of people considered to be at particularly high risk from the coronavirus outbreak.

Additional reporting by Laura Hughes.

US suspends visa interviews in India

Amy Kazmin, South Asia bureau chief, reports:

The US has suspended all visa interviews in India, citing the coronavirus pandemic, effectively curbing the potential flow of traffic of Indian travellers into the country.

In a statement, the US embassy in New Delhi said that all consular interviews of Indians seeking travel visas to the US – either for immigration or non-immigration purposes – would be cancelled as of Monday.

It said such interviews would be rescheduled once normal consular operations resume.

Visa interviews will also be suspended at various US consulates in India.

The US announcement comes just days after India effectively cancelled all outstanding visas for foreign visitors into the country that had not been previously used, with the exception of foreign diplomats, UN officials and individuals on employment visas.

The suspension of ‘extant visas’ for visits to India – as well as the suspension of visa free entry privileges for foreigners of ethnic Indian origin – took effect on Friday, and will remain in force until April 15.

However, the visas of foreigners already in India will remain valid until such time as they leave the country, or they expire.

As a result of India’s sweeping travel restrictions, many airlines are already reducing the frequency of flights to India. 

Coronavirus tracked: the latest figures as the pandemic spreads

John Burn-Murdoch reports:

The FT data team has updated our tracker on how the coronavirus pandemic is spreading around the globe, showing the trajectory of growth in individual countries.

The coronavirus has now taken hold in Europe, with the largest number of confirmed cases in Italy. In most western countries case numbers have been increasing by about 33 per cent a day, a sign that other countries may soon be facing the same challenge as Italy.

Spain has almost as many confirmed cases of coronavirus as Iran had at the same stage of its outbreak, according to the FT’s case trajectory tracker, putting the pair second and third behind China. Spain had 5,753 cases on Saturday, 11 days after the Spanish outbreak began in earnest, according to the latest data. Iran had 5,823 at the same stage, and Italy 3,089.

The updated chart is below. Further charts and analysis are here.

WHO questions UK virus approach as scientists call for more transparency

Tom Hancock reports from London:

The World Health Organization has questioned the British government’s policy of allowing Covid-19 to infect a large proportion of the country’s population in order for “herd immunity” to emerge.

“This virus… hasn’t been in our population for long enough for us to know what it does in immunological terms,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We can talk theories, but at the moment we are really facing a situation where we have got to look at action,” she said when asked about the British policy. “We want all the things you need to do to be done together,” including large-scale testing for the virus and tracing contacts, she added.

Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, has said it was desirable for around 60 per cent of Britain’s population to be infected with Covid-19 so that “herd immunity” can emerge in the population to protect the country in the longer term.

The theory has been presented as the basis for the British government’s refusal to take steps such as closures of large scale events, schools, bars and other venues which have been rolled-out across Europe aimed at stemming infections.
The comments from Ms Harris as a group of leading scientists wrote to the Times newspaper demanding the government release scientific models and evidence for its policy.

“There is no clear indication that the UK’s response is being informed by the experiences of other countries in containing the spread of Covid-19,” the letter, which was signed by six infectious disease experts including Richard Horton, editor of prestigious medical journal The Lancet, stated.

“Transparency is essential to retain the scientific community, healthcare community and the public’s understanding, co-operation and trust,” the letter added.

An editorial in the FT on Friday called Britain’s counter-virus strategy a significant gamble. Read it here

UK Covid-19 death toll reaches 21

The death toll in the UK from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that has swept across the world, has increased by 10 people to 21.

All of the new cases were from groups considered to be at particular risk from the virus, according to the National Health Service.

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said:

I understand this increase in the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 will be a cause for concern for many. The public should know every measure we are taking is seeking to save lives and protect the most vulnerable. Every single one of us has a role to play in achieving this. If you have a new continuous cough or high temperature, please stay at home for seven days. I also encourage everyone to be washing their hands for 20 seconds regularly.

UK Rugby League an outlier in continuing to host matches

Andy Bounds reports from Huddersfield:

Not all mainstream sports in the UK have shut down because of the coronavirus. While all professional football and Rugby Union was abandoned this weekend, Rugby League is carrying on.

The 13-a-side game, mainly played in Northern England, had almost a full fixture list over the weekend. Only Leeds Rhinos’ trip to Catalans Dragons, who are based in Perpignan in southern France, was cancelled, after a Rhinos player showed symptoms of the virus.

On Friday night Salford Red Devils played Wigan Warriors while there were also Challenge Cup ties. On Sunday Castleford Tigers take on St Helens. Sky TV will show the game live to fill a gap in the schedule caused by football cancellations.
Some clubs have taken measures to reduce human contact such as banning junior mascots from walking onto the pitch with players.

The Rugby Football League said:

The situation is clearly fluid, and we recognise there is likely to be a significant impact on our competitions at some point. We have been considering contingencies, in discussions with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the clubs and other stakeholders, for some time, and that will continue.

For the moment, we hope supporters will feel comfortable in attending matches, and backing their clubs, in challenging times for everyone.

The season ends in October so there should be time to complete it even if the government bans mass gatherings next week as expected.

Trump’s physician says no need to quarantine US president

Donald Trump’s physician has advised that there is no need for the US president to quarantine or undergo testing despite meeting people who have contracted the coronavirus.

Mr Trump last weekend dined at Florida resort Mar-a-Lago with a group that included Brazil’s communications secretary, Fabio Wajngarten, who Brazilian officials say has now tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement late on Friday, Dr Sean Conley said another individual at the dinner, who shared a table with the president and White House delegation, developed symptoms of the illness three days later and has tested positive for the coronavirus.

He said the encounter was “low risk” and there was no need for the president to “home quarantine”.

“The president’s exposure to the first individual was extremely limited (photograph, handshake) and though he spent more time in closer proximity to the second case, all interactions occurred before any symptom onset,” he said. Dr Conley added that given Mr Trump was not displaying symptoms of the coronavirus, “testing for Covid-19 was not currently indicated”.

For more on the connections of Mr Trump to people who have come into contact with Covid-19, read this story.

Italian town that recorded first death says it has no new cases

Miles Johnson reports from Rome:

Encouraging news from the small Italian town where the country’s first recorded coronavirus death took place just over three weeks ago.

No new cases of the virus over the last 48 hours have been diagnosed in Vo’ Euganeo, located in the northern region of Veneto, which has been under strict lockdown measures for longer than anywhere else in Europe.

“We have applied the quarantine with a great sense of responsibility and made two sets of screenings to which 95 per cent of the population has undergone,” the towns mayor, Giuliano Martini, told the Italian newswire Ansa.

Italian media has also reported that the number of new infections has been falling in the other 10 small towns that were part of the country’s original “red zone” when the outbreak first started in February.

GMB union says NHS should requisition private hospital beds

Gill Plimmer reports:

The GMB union, which represents 631,000 workers including NHS staff and cleaners, has called for private hospital beds to be requisitioned to provide extra capacity to deal with the coronavirus.

Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB, said: “It can’t be right that we have plush private hospitals lying empty waiting for the wealthy to fall ill, while people are left in dying in hospitals for the want of a bed. Do the right thing and let these unused beds be requisitioned by the NHS to save lives.”

The call was supported by Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for health and social care. “As the prime minister said, this is the worst public health crisis for a generation. It would be completely wrong for the government not to call on all the resources possible.”

On Friday Spire Healthcare, which has 39 hospitals across the UK, said it had met with NHS England and representatives from across the private sector to “discuss future Covid-19 planning”.

“Spire Healthcare has been asked for, and has offered, its support to the NHS during this challenging time,” it said. “The exact nature, extent and the timing of this support is yet to be determined.”

JPMorgan steps up remote working for staff

Laura Noonan reports:

JPMorgan Chase is asking up to half its staff whose jobs can be done remotely to work from home in areas affected by the coronavirus, and has promised fourteen days paid leave for any vulnerable staff who cannot perform their roles out of the office.

America’s biggest bank outlined the escalation of their coronavirus response in a memo from its operating committee to all staff late Friday night.

“This coming week and the weeks ahead will be challenging,” the memo said. “Although this event is unlike any other, this is not the first time we’ve navigated a large, unpredictable situation. We have a playbook. We will use it and adapt to meet this challenge together.”

JPMorgan has already implemented policies to separate staff in areas hit hardest by the virus, including Seattle, Milan, the New York metro area and Ohio, and has banned most travel.

The latest measures cover a wider geographic area and include having between 25 and 50 per cent of staff working from home. Managers have discretion on whether their teams rotate between home and the office on one or two week rotations.

For vulnerable staff whose roles cannot be done from home, JPMorgan said they will be paid for “regularly scheduled hours over the next 14 calendar days and we will continue to monitor how the situation evolves”.

For more on how traders and bank staff are adapting to working from home, read this story from FT reporters.

Europe’s banks face a test of resilience

Stephen Morris and Patrick Mathurin report:

More than a decade on from the financial crisis, Europe’s banks are facing a major test of their resilience.

Fears about the coronavirus pandemic and an oil price war prompted a widespread market sell-off this week. Since their recent peak almost a month ago, European banks indices have plunged 40 per cent in an indiscriminate sell off of financial stocks. This outpaces the 25 per cent fall over the whole of 2008 — during the peak of the financial crisis.

The latest slide has cost shareholders about €300bn and left all major European banks trading at steep discounts to their book value. On average, they are now worth at about 0.4 times their net assets, half of the 0.8 ratio for the top six US banks.

Read more here

US Surgeon General calls on hospitals to halt elective procedures

The US Surgeon General has called on hospitals and healthcare centres to halt elective procedures as the country deals with the worsening Covid-19 outbreak.

Jerome Adams said on Twitter early on Saturday Washington time that elective surgeries pose the risk of bringing coronavirus to America’s healthcare facilities. He said that such procedures deplete personnel that “may be needed” for responding to the coronavirus outbreak, and that they also pull from stores of personal protective equipment.

The Surgeon General is sometimes called “The Nation’s Doctor”, and is one of the government’s main spokespeople on public health issues. Mr Adams oversees a staff of more than 6,000 uniformed health officers who make up the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

https://twitter.com/Surgeon_General/status/1238798972501852160

Roche says investors should attend annual meeting ‘at their own risk’

Sarah Neville, global pharmaceuticals editor, reports:

Roche, the Swiss drugmaker, on Saturday morning announced its annual general meeting will go ahead as planned next week — but warned that participants attending the event should do so at their “own risk”.

In the latest sign of how the coronavirus is disrupting the norms of corporate life, the company said it “strongly advises against physical participation and recommends electronic voting via the independent proxy”.

It directed a particular “stay away” warning towards “people whose age or pre-existing condition may make them more susceptible, as part of preventive healthcare measures”. The event is being held in Basel, Switzerland on Tuesday.

In a stern statement it said: “Irrespective of health precautions taken, shareholders attending the meeting do so at their own risk.”

Deripaska calls for Russia to close borders to protect against coronavirus

Henry Foy reports:

Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska has called for Russia to close off its borders to protect against coronavirus, warning that the epidemic poses a bigger threat than the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It is not too late: in Russia it is necessary to introduce full quarantine,” the energy and metals tycoon wrote on his Telegram channel. “This is not panicking, not an admittance that we are helpless as a society, but simply the right decision.”

“The first step is to close all borders tomorrow, cancel all mass events and provide people with the opportunity to spend 60 days at home.”

Russia confirmed two new cases of the virus on Saturday, taking its total to 47. It has already moved to close many of its borders and restrict flights to foreign capitals.

Mr Deripaska, who is sanctioned by the US, was once Russia’s richest man and one of its most prominent businessmen abroad.

“Obviously, now the country is not ready for an epidemic. People are massively ignoring the most basic precautions,” he said. “If this epidemic is uncontrolled, it will lead to consequences for the authorities, more serious than the collapse of the country in 1991.”

He said his opinion was informed by the experience of Rusal, the aluminium company he founded, in Guinea during an Ebola outbreak.

”It so happened that in 2015, like other Rusal employees, I encountered Ebola in Africa. And only the isolation of Guinea… was able to stop it,” he added. “Without a complete closure of borders tomorrow, it is impossible to stop the growth in the number of infected and the spread of the virus in Russia.”

Sweden records second Covid-19 death

Richard Milne reports:

Sweden has recorded its second death from coronavirus after an 85-year-old with existing medical conditions died of the deadly pandemic in the western city of Gothenburg.

Sweden has posted 775 cases of coronavirus, fewer than neighbouring Denmark and Norway, but has taken less restrictive measures than the other Scandinavian countries. Its schools are still open and children are still playing organised sport.

Authorities gave few other details on the latest death but it comes after coronavirus killed another elderly person on Wednesday outside Stockholm.

Swedish health authorities have criticised Denmark’s decision on Friday night to close its borders (pictured below near the northern German village of Harrislee) to foreigners with Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist in Stockholm, calling it “completely meaningless”. He added that Sweden was highly unlikely to follow suit:

“I have a very hard time seeing how it could help us. There is no research that shows that. On the contrary, it would hurt us economically, and that there are studies on.”

FT Opinion: Financial markets are being humbled by real life

Katie Martin – FT Markets Editor – writes

For years, investors and analysts pored over the intricacies of financial markets, hunting for ‘canaries in coal mines’ for signs of the source of the next big crisis. The uniquely arrogant Masters of the Universe who dominate the financial sector have long assumed that markets themselves would provide the source of the next big crisis.

Arcane corners of financial plumbing, from volatility indices to specialist short-term lending markets, have been endlessly scrutinised for signs that they could prove to be the butterfly’s wing that sets off the next big drama in the real economy. Everyone was looking for the modern equivalent of the drop in the Thai baht that sparked the 1998 collapse of hedge fund LTCM, which in turn forced a US Federal Reserve bailout to rescue markets from calamity.

Instead, investors are being humbled by one thing they clearly had not considered: real life. That makes the crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic more dangerous, and harder to fix, than anything else previously seen by the men and women currently on finance’s front lines. It will not be the last.

Read more here

Abe vows to act boldly to counter economic blow from coronavirus

Kana Inagaki and Leo Lewis report from Tokyo:

Shinzo Abe vowed to act boldly and flexibly to counter the economic blow from the coronavirus outbreak, signaling that he would consider lowering Japan’s consumption tax hike if the crisis continues.

“Markets worldwide including Japan are in turmoil and there is concern about a further decline in the global economy,” the prime minister said at a news conference on Saturday evening. “We will watch the developments closely and will continue to act flexibly and quickly to implement sufficient economic and fiscal policy.”

Even before this year’s coronavirus outbreak, Japanese companies have been grappling with the fallout from last autumn’s rise in consumption tax with the economy shrinking at an annualised rate of 6.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2019. Mr Abe said he would consider “various options” in compiling its economic policy when asked about the possibility of lowering the consumption tax which was raised to 10 per cent last year from 8 per cent.

On this summer’s Olympics, Mr Abe echoed the recent comments of both the organisers and others within his party which have suggested an unshakeable determination to press on with the games. He said: “We hope to carry it out safely on schedule after overcoming the spread of infections.”

The prime minister gave the go ahead for schools to carry out graduation ceremonies at smaller scales at the end of this month even as most schools remain shut across the country.

But Mr Abe, who initially caused widespread confusion when he abruptly announced the closure of all schools in late February, said he would defer the decision to experts on whether schools will reopen on April 1, the start of the new fiscal year in Japan.

Spain prepares new powers to battle crisis

Daniel Dombey reports from Madrid:

Madrid is preparing to assume new powers to tackle the coronavirus pandemic as the number of cases of illness in Spain rises to above 5,200

More than 130 people have died after contracting the disease, with around 190 recovering. Around half of the 5,200 cases have been in the Madrid region.

The Spanish cabinet is on Saturday due to formally impose a state of alert – which will allow the government to take control of factories and impose restrictions on the freedom of movement – after which Pedro Sánchez, prime minister is set to outline what steps he will take with the new powers.

The regions of Madrid, Catalonia and Galicia have already ordered almost all commerce to close other than shops selling food and pharmaceuticals.

Vietnam Airlines to fly ‘ghost flights’ from Europe

John Reed reports from Bangkok:

Vietnam Airlines is to begin flying empty planes from three cities in Europe, taking passengers only in the opposite direction, in a move the state-owned carrier said it was taking to slow the spread of coronavirus and protect public health.

In a statement on Saturday, VNA said that from Sunday its flights departing from London, Paris, and Frankfurt would not carry passengers, but that flights leaving Vietnam for Europe would be operated as usual to allow European passengers to return home. Vietnam’s communist government has taken decisive action, including through the widespread quarantining of arriving airline passengers, to curb the spread of the virus since the first cases were reported in February.

However, several recent infections have been reported linked to people who arrived in the country by air. VNA said it was working with relevant authorities to allow its flights from Europe to Vietnam on Saturday to fly as planned, but reroute from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Van Don, near the northern city of Haiphong, and Cantho, in the southern Mekong delta region “to proceed with quarantine regulations.”

The UK last week warned its citizens that they faced a high risk of being put into quarantine for 14 days, either on arrival or during their trip to Vietnam.

New cases of Covid-19 rise sharply as spread in Europe widens

Steve Bernard, an FT data journalist, reports:

New daily cases jumped on Friday to their highest levels since China changed how it defined a confirmed case of Covid-19. There were a total of 10,907 new cases, up more than 2,500 on the previous day’s increase.

Italy accounted for nearly a quarter of the new cases, with a daily increase of 2,547. Followed by Spain – 2,086, Germany – 930 and France with 785, as the virus spread rapidly in Europe.

The global case count has now risen above 145,000. You can keep track of updates on the FT’s live tracker page.

Lithuania to close border to foreigners

Richard Milne reports from Oslo:

Lithuania became the latest EU country to close its borders to foreigners in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The reintroduction of border controls follows similar measures on Friday night by neighbouring Poland as well as Denmark and the Czech Republic.

Rita Tamasuniene, Lithuania’s interior minister, said on Saturday morning that checks on the EU’s internal borders with Latvia and Poland would begin at 6pm local time.

The Baltic country of 3m people is also preparing to put its entire population in quarantine from Monday after it recorded its seventh case.

Its move comes as countries across the region urged their citizens to return home quickly while Norway advised against all non-essential travel on Saturday.

“We are in a serious and increasingly unpredictable situation,” said Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg. “Our priority is to safeguard life and health. That requires extraordinary steps. The situation is changing rapidly in many countries, which is why we are advising against travel that is not strictly necessary to all countries.”

Welcome to the FT’s special weekend live coverage

The FT has launched special weekend live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak given how quickly this story is developing. We’ll be tapping our global network of reporters and editors to bring you the latest developments.

Here are a couple key stories you may have missed while you were asleep:

-Apple has closed all of its retail stores outside of China. Tim Cook, the California tech company’s chief executive, said he had taken note of China’s efforts to slow the spread of the Covid-19 disease. “One of those lessons is that the most effective way to minimise risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximise social distance,” he said.

-Countries in Europe have accelerated their search for ventilators as doctors and hospitals brace for a surge in patients fighting Covid-19.

-US markets rebounded sharply on Friday after the worst day since the stock market crash of 1987 as Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in the US.

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