Number of coronavirus cases in Germany rises to 36,508: RKI

BERLIN (Reuters) – The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Germany has risen to 36,508 and 198 people have died of the disease, statistics from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.

Cases rose by 4,995 compared with the previous day while the death toll climbed by 50, the tally showed.

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U.S. could become next coronavirus epicenter, WHO says

GENEVA/TOKYO (Reuters) – The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the United States could become the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, which finally forced reluctant organizers to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

Britain joined the ranks of countries in lockdown to try to hold back the virus, and data showed business activity collapsing from Australia and Japan and Western Europe at a record pace in March, with the United States showing expected to be just as dire.

“The coronavirus outbreak represents a major external shock to the macro outlook, akin to a large-scale natural disaster,” analysts at BlackRock Investment Institute said.

But amid the gathering gloom, the Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus was first identified in December, said it would lift travel restrictions on people leaving the region as the epidemic eases there.

Confirmed coronavirus cases around the world exceeded 377,000 across 194 countries and territories as of early Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, more than 16,500 of them fatal.

In Geneva, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters there had been a “very large acceleration” in infections in the United States.

Over the previous 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were in Europe and the United States, and of those, 40 percent were in the United States.

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As of Monday, the virus had infected more than 42,000 people there, killing at least 559.

Asked whether the United States could become the new epicenter, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.”

Some U.S. state and local officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action, saying that having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies.

President Donald Trump acknowledged the difficulty.

“The World market for face masks and ventilators is Crazy. We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy,” he tweeted.

OLYMPIC ORGANIZERS GIVE IN

Olympic Games organizers and the Japanese government had clung to the hope that the world’s biggest sporting event could go ahead, but finally bowed to the inevitable to make Tokyo 2020 the latest and biggest victim of a ravaged sporting calendar.

After a call with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the July 24-Aug. 9 event would be rescheduled for the summer of 2021 at the latest – as proof of victory over the coronavirus.

“President Bach said he is in agreement, 100%.”

It was the first time in the Olympics’ 124-year history that they had been postponed, though they were canceled outright three times during the two 20th-century world wars.

Of the top 10 countries by case numbers, Italy has reported the highest fatality rate, at around 10%, which at least partly reflects its older population. The fatality rate globally – the ratio of deaths to confirmed infections – is around 4.3%, though national figures can vary widely according to how much testing is done.

Britain, believed by experts to be about two weeks behind Italy in the outbreak cycle, on Tuesday began curbs on movement without precedent in peacetime after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the country to stay at home.

The streets of the capital were eerily quiet as all but essential shops closed and people only went to work if it was unavoidable.

Johnson had resisted pressure to impose a full lockdown even as other European countries had done so, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.

Meanwhile China’s Hubei province, the original center of the outbreak, will lift curbs on people leaving the area, but other regions will tighten controls as new cases double due to imported infections.

The provincial capital Wuhan, which has been in total lockdown since Jan. 23, will lift its travel restrictions on April 8.

However, the risk from overseas infections appears to be on the rise, prompting tougher screening and quarantine measures in major cities such as the capital Beijing.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open in external browser – here

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Germany says six million coronavirus face masks missing in Kenya

BERLIN (Reuters) – German customs officials are trying to track down about 6 million face masks, ordered to protect health workers from the coronavirus, that they say went missing at an airport in Kenya.

“The authorities are trying to find out what happened,” a German defence ministry spokeswoman said, confirming a report first published by Spiegel Online.

A Kenyan Airports Authority (KAA) spokeswoman said investigations had found nothing so far.

The FFP2 masks, which filter out more than 90% of particles, were ordered by German customs authorities. They and the armed forces procurement office have been helping the health ministry to get hold of urgently needed protective gear.

The shipment was due in Germany on March 20 but never arrived after disappearing at the end of last week at an airport in Kenya. It was unclear why the masks, produced by a German firm, had been in Kenya.

“What exactly happened, whether this a matter of theft or a provider who isn’t serious, is being cleared up by customs,” a German government source said, asking not to be named.

Spiegel Online reported Germany has placed orders worth 241 million euros ($260.57 million) with suppliers for protective and sanitary equipment to fight the novel coronavirus.

The defence ministry spokeswoman said there was no financial impact from the loss of the masks as no money had been paid.

Germany is preparing its hospitals and health workers for a big increase in admissions of patients with the virus. It has 27,436 confirmed coronavirus cases and 114 people have died, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said.

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U.S. could become 'coronavirus epicenter', UK locks down, Olympics in doubt

GENEVA/LONDON (Reuters) – The United States could become the global epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, as Britain went into lockdown and Olympic organizers considered postponing the 2020 Tokyo Games.

But the Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus was first identified in December, said it would lift travel restrictions on people leaving the region as the epidemic there eases.

On the economic side, business activity collapsed from Australia and Japan to Western Europe at a record pace in March, with data for the United States later on Tuesday expected to be just as dire.

“The coronavirus outbreak represents a major external shock to the macro outlook, akin to a large-scale natural disaster,” analysts at BlackRock Investment Institute said.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said in Geneva there had been a “very large acceleration” in coronavirus infections in the United States which had the potential of becoming the new epicenter.

Over the past 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were from Europe and the United States, she told reporters. Of those, 40 percent were from the United States.

Asked whether the United States could become the new epicenter, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential. We cannot say that is the case yet but it does have that potential.”

LONDON LOCKDOWN

Some U.S. state and local officials have decried a lack of coordinated federal action, saying having localities act on their own has put them in competition for supplies.

U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledged the difficulty in a tweet.

“The World market for face masks and ventilators is Crazy. We are helping the states to get equipment, but it is not easy,” he wrote.

Confirmed coronavirus cases exceeded 377,000 across 194 countries and territories as of early Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, with over 16,500 deaths linked to the virus.

Of the top 10 countries by case numbers, Italy had reported the highest fatality rate, at around 10%, which is reflective of its older population. The fatality rate globally is around 4.3%.

Britain, believed by experts to be about two weeks behind Italy in the outbreak cycle, woke up on Tuesday to curbs on movement without precedent in peacetime after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the country to stay at home.

The streets of the capital were eerily quiet as all but essential shops closed and people only went to work if it was essential.

Johnson had resisted pressure to impose a full lockdown even as other European countries had done so, but was forced to change tack as projections showed the health system could become overwhelmed.

OLYMPICS UNDER THREAT

A decision on whether to postpone this year’s Tokyo Olympics for the first time will come in days, sources said on Tuesday.

The July 24-Aug. 9 Olympics have been the last major sporting event left untouched as the epidemic put most of the world in virtual lockdown.

The International Olympic Committee and Japan repeated their insistence that the event would go ahead as scheduled – and then their weekend announcement of a lengthy, one-month consultation over possible postponement – perplexed many.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and IOC President Thomas Bach were to talk by phone on Tuesday.

China’s Hubei province, the original epicenter of the outbreak, will lift travel curbs on people leaving the area, but other regions will tighten controls as new cases double due to imported infections.

The provincial capital Wuhan, which has been in total lockdown since Jan. 23, will see its travel restrictions lifted on April 8.

However, the risk from overseas infections appears to be on the rise, prompting tougher screening and quarantine measures in major cities such as the capital Beijing.

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Coronavirus crisis to cost Germany 255-729 billion euros in 2020: Ifo

BERLIN (Reuters) – The coronavirus crisis could cost the German economy between 255 billion and 729 billion euros in 2020, the Ifo economic institute said on Monday.

“The costs will probably exceed everything known from economic crises or natural disasters in Germany in recent decades,” Ifo President Clemens Fuest said in a statement.

If the economy comes to a partial standstill for two months, the costs will be between 255 billion and 495 billion euros, Fuest said. With three months of partial closure, the costs would reach 354 billion to 729 billion euros, he added.

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Germany eyes 156 billion euros of new borrowing, 200 bln euros in debt authorization

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany is readying stimulus measures requiring about 156 billion euros ($166.83 billion) in net new borrowing and additional debt authorization of up to 200 billion euros to fight the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a draft law and senior officials.

The package will include a supplementary government budget of 156 billion euros, 100 billion euros for an economic stability fund that can take direct equity stakes in companies, and 100 billion euros in credit to public-sector development bank KfW for loans to struggling businesses, the sources said.

The combined sum of possibly 356 billion euros in new debt would represent roughly 10% of Germany’s gross domestic output.

Final details of the measures are being discussed by ministers over the weekend, the sources added.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz was expected to give a statement later on Saturday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to counter the epidemic’s economic impact and the government has promised an initial half a trillion euros in liquidity guarantees for affected businesses via KfW.

Merkel’s cabinet is set to back the package of fiscal measures on Monday.

A government source had told Reuters on Friday that a 150 billion euro supplementary budget was underway.

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Bavaria head more popular than Merkel in midst of coronavirus crisis

BERLIN (Reuters) – The premier of the southern state of Bavaria, Markus Soeder, is Germany’s most popular politician, a poll showed on Friday, boosting his chances of standing as the conservative chancellor candidate in the next election and succeeding Angela Merkel.

During the coronavirus crisis, which has hit Bavaria particularly hard, Soeder has impressed commentators by introducing tough steps to restrict social contact before the rest of Germany while displaying a calm and reassuring air.

The INSA poll for Focus magazine put Soeder, head of Bavaria’s conservative CSU, on 129 points, up 11 from a week ago and overtaking Merkel who came second on 126 points, making him Germany’s most popular politician for the first time.

After almost 15 years leading Europe’s biggest economy, Merkel has said she will not seek a fifth term and her conservative CDU party is in the midst of a leadership race after her protege said last month she would stand down.

The winner is in a strong position to run as German chancellor in a federal election due by October 2021. Bavaria’s CSU must agree, however, as the two parties form a parliamentary bloc, and despite protestations that he is happy as state premier, Soeder may decide to stand himself.

Germany has recorded 10,999 cases of the coronavirus and 20 deaths. Bavaria, which had Germany’s first cases, now has 1,692 cases and eight people there have died. Soeder has led the way with school closures and other social distancing steps and has called a state of emergency in Bavaria.

One commentator in top-selling Bild this week said Soeder was his hero. “In this war against the virus I want you to be field marshal,” he wrote.

In part hamstrung by Germany’s federal system, which gives a lot of power to the 16 states, Merkel has at times appeared dry and more hesitant. Only on Wednesday evening did she address the public about the crisis in a rare television address.

A separate poll for Focus, conducted by Kantar, showed that among conservatives, Soeder was the most popular choice to run for chancellor, scoring 30% compared to 22% each for CDU candidates Friedrich Merz and Armin Laschet.

It is unclear when the leader will be chosen as the CDU has postponed a conference to decide from April 25.

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Merkel plans rare TV address, but will announce no new restrictions: broadcaster

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel will make a rare television address to the nation on Wednesday evening, but is not expected to announce further restrictions beyond the social distancing measures already in place, a national broadcaster said.

Citing government sources, national broadcaster ARD said Merkel wanted in pre-recorded remarks to update Germans about where the country stands and remind them of what they can do to help slow the spread of the illness.

It is the first time in her 14 years in office that the Chancellor has given a television address to the nation other than in her annual New Year’s address.

Merkel’s government has advised the country’s 16 regions to shut schools and daycare facilities until the end of the Easter holiday. Shops, except for grocery stores, bakeries, pharmacies banks and other essential businesses have been shut.

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Wall Street jumps after Monday's historic sell-off as Fed boosts liquidity to fight coronavirus effect

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The S&P 500 rose 6% on Tuesday, clawing back a significant portion of Monday’s steep losses, as the Federal Reserve and the White House took further steps to boost liquidity and stem damage from the coronavirus outbreak that has gripped the global economy.

The U.S. central bank relaunched a financial crisis-era purchase of short-term corporate debt to help companies be able to continue paying workers and buy supplies through the pandemic.

The move to buy back commercial paper followed several emergency measures taken by the Fed on Sunday, including slashing interest rates to near zero.

Also on Tuesday, the Trump administration pursued an $850 billion stimulus package to buttress the economy and mulled sending Americans $1,000 checks within two weeks.

“This issue about liquidity has been a concern, and that’s what they’re trying to alleviate,” said Stephen Dover, head of equities at Franklin Templeton.

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“That said, what is as big a factor is that since this is a consumer-driven slowdown, you have to have fiscal stimulus… and we’re seeing around the world very large fiscal stimulus, so that’s a lot of what is affecting the market now.”

The pandemic is causing severe business and travel disruptions across the globe as people stay home and avoid their usual activities. Many companies have warned of lower revenue, and most market watchers are bracing for a U.S. recession.

With the day’s bounce, the market has retraced only part of its recent losses. The S&P 500, which on Monday fell 12% in its biggest one-day decline since the 1987 Black Monday crash, is still down 25.3% from its Feb. 19 record closing high, and many market-watchers see more volatility ahead.

“We’re far from out of the woods. We haven’t had back-to-back positive days for two weeks,” said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 1,048.86 points, or 5.2%, to 21,237.38, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 143.06 points, or 6.00%, to 2,529.19 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 430.19 points, or 6.23%, to 7,334.78.

So far though, many of the measures announced by policymakers and the government have not been able to stem the recent sell-off in stocks for long.

Monday’s drop was the S&P 500’s third-biggest daily percentage drop, beaten only by the 1987 rout and the Great Depression crash in 1929.

Some of the biggest decliners in the S&P 500 in the last month include cruise operators like Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH.N), hotels such as MGM Resorts (MGM.N), clothing companies like Capri Holdings (CPRI.N) and department stores, including Macy’s (M.N).

Another company that has suffered sharp losses is Boeing Co (BA.N). Its shares tumbled again on Tuesday following a rating downgrade that reflected its worsening cash flow due to the extended grounding of its 737 MAX jet and the blow from the coronavirus pandemic.

Equity investors were playing it somewhat safe on Tuesday, giving the biggest boosts to so-called defensive sectors known for reliable dividends. Among the S&P’s 11 major industry sectors, utilities .SPLRCU was the biggest percentage gainer, adding 13%, followed by consumer staples .SPLRCS, which rose 8.4%. Growth sectors also got some attention, with technology .SPLRCT climbing 6.8% a day after its record daily percentage decline.

Healthcare stocks were another bright spot. Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) gained 6.6% after signing a deal with Germany’s BioNTech SE (22UAy.F) to co-develop a potential coronavirus vaccine.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc (REGN.O) jumped 11.5% after the company said it had identified antibodies that could potentially treat COVID-19.Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.44-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.95-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted seven new 52-week highs and 209 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded seven new highs and 876 new lows.

On U.S. exchanges, 16.9 billion shares changed hands compared with the 13.98 billion average for the last 20 sessions.

Investors cited potential problems in reducing trading hours after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at a news conference that the Trump administration intends to keep markets open but that shortened trading hours may be needed at some point.

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Merkel: Drastic closures needed to counter coronavirus

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday announced unprecedented restrictions on social contact in an attempt to slow the progress of the coronavirus epidemic, but said the government would attempt to minimize the economic impact.

She told a news conference most non-grocery stores would close and restaurants would have to run restricted opening hours and guarantee a minimum distance between tables. Hospital visits would be limited to one a day, with additional restrictions to reduce the risk of infections spreading.

“The better everyone sticks to these rules, the faster we’ll get through this phase,” she told a news conference. “And I think we all want to get through this as quickly as possible.”

Cultural and entertainment establishments would also close, and holiday travel, whether at home and abroad, would cease for the duration of the emergency measures.

The G7 group of large industrial economies had agreed to coordinate to minimize the impact of the virus, she added.

Asked if the coronavirus crisis would result in rescue programs for banks, companies and other European Union member states, Merkel said that Berlin was willing to help, but that it was still too early to talk about concrete steps.

Merkel pointed to measures announced by Finance Minister Minister Olaf Scholz and Economy Minister Peter Altmaier on Friday, adding: “This is a shield to protect small (family-owned) Mittelstand companies and all other companies.”

The support package would provide liquidity aid through the state-owned KfW bank, but it would certainly at a later stage also include funds for hardship cases, Merkel said.

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