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Coronavirus latest: SXSW festival in Texas cancelled



US banks ordered to test online systems

Laura Noonan in New York

America’s banks have been ordered to test their online systems’ ability to cope with increased digital banking demands, as regulators up their efforts to make sure the financial system can cope with a coronavirus pandemic.

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, an interagency body for nine US regulators, wrote to lenders on Friday night outlining a list of measures they should take for “pandemic planning”.

These include testing “increased reliance on online banking, telephone banking, and call center services” as well as testing whether workers can work remotely and how supply chains will be maintained.

Regulators also want banks to identify and prioritize “essential functions, employees, and resources within the institution and across other business sectors for operational continuity purposes” and promote employees’ awareness of measures to avoid spreading the virus.

Big banks have alread begun testing their disaster recovery centres, segregating staff to reduce the risk of a mass outbreak, and engaging with regulators on temporary permissions that would allow their trading floors to continue operating if traders are not able to meet compliance standards because they have to work from home.

Grand Princess cruise has 21 cases of coronavirus, Pence says

James Politi in Washington

Mike Pence, the US vice-president, said that 21 people had tested positive for coronavirus on the Grand Princess cruise ship carrying 3,500 people off the coast of San Francisco and that all passengers would be allowed to disembark at the weekend.

Mr Pence confirmed the results at a press conference in the White House briefing room on Friday afternoon, adding that 19 of the 21 people who contracted the disease on the ship were members of the crew. The Grand Princess had travelled to Mexico and back to Northern California and was left in limbo as US authorities refused to let it dock in American ports, amid concern that coronavirus could be spreading on the ship. Mr Pence said 46 people on the ship were tested.

On a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Georgia on Friday, Mr Trump had cast doubt on whether they should be allowed on shore.

“I have great experts including the vice-president. … They would rather have the people come off,” Mr Trump said. “I don’t need the numbers to double because of one ship,” he added.

So far, there are 11 confirmed deaths to coronavirus in the US, mostly in Washington state, as cases soared to more than 200.

Greece confirms 15 new cases involving tourist group

Kerin Hope in Athens

Greece has reported 15 new confirmed cases of coronavirus involving a tourist group that visited Israel and Egypt by bus last month, bringing the country’s total to 46.

Another 23 people on the same trip tested positive for the virus earlier this week, according to health ministry spokesman Sotiris Tsiodras.

A 67-year-old man was hospitalised in serious condition, while 17 other people were being treated in isolation wards, the spokesman said. Four patients were related to members of the group but had not gone on the tour.

Local authorities shut down schools and banned public gathering across the western Greek districts of Patras and Elia and the island of Zakynthos — areas where most of the patients lived. Football teams from the region would have to play away games behind closed doors, the Greek football federation said.

SXSW cancelled on coronavirus worries

The South by Southwest film, music and tech festival has been cancelled, organisers said, citing the “rapidly” evolving situation around coronavirus.

The city of Austin, Texas, which hosts the annual event, made the call on Friday. “SXSW will faithfully follow the City’s directions,” it said in a tweet.

“We are devastated to share this news with you,” SXSW said, noting it would mark the first time in 34 years that the March event in Austin has been cancelled. “We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.”

“As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that ‘there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.’ However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision.”

SXSW is one of the most high-profile events in the US to be called off as a result of the outbreak. There are at least 164 confirmed US cases of coronavirus, while 11 people have died.

An online petition to cancel SXSW attracted more than 55,000 signatures.

Wall Street trims losses to notch weekly gain

The S&P 500 fell for the 10th time in the last dozen sessions but managed to snap a two-week losing streak driven by coronavirus fears that have gripped Wall Street.

The S&P 500 fell 1.7 per cent on Friday, closing near its session high after earlier sliding 4 per cent. The benchmark index advanced 0.6 per cent this week, on the heels of an 11.5 per cent retreat that marked its worst week since the height of the financial crisis.

Shares across the energy sector led the S&P 500’s declines on Friday, coinciding with a 9.4 per cent drop in Brent crude — its biggest one-day drop since December 2008.

Financial names also lost ground as yields on US government debt touched fresh record lows. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note tumbled another 14.5 basis points to 0.7796 per cent.

St Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard on Friday said “markets seem to be pricing in the very worst outcome here and I’m not sure that’s warranted”, in remarks at the Shadow Open Market Committee’s meeting in New York.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite also notched weekly gains but were down 1 per cent and 1.9 per cent, respectively, on the day.

Saudi Arabia to suspend attendance at sporting events

Ahmed Al Omran in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia has announced suspending public attendance at all sports events starting Saturday, the latest in a series of precautionary measures aimed at stopping the coronavirus spread.

The kingdom has said in recent days that it would also limit worshippers’ access to Islam’s two holiest sites, the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, between the evening and dawn until further notice.

US grants tariff relief for Chinese-made medical supplies

James Politi in Washington

US trade officials have granted exclusions from tariffs on Chinese imports for a spate of products ranging from medical masks to isolation gowns that will be needed at affordable prices to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision by the office of the US trade representative to ease tariffs on such key medical supplies was communicated to companies which had requested the exclusions on March 5, as the coronavirus disease became increasingly prevalent across the US.

The products in question, which also include shoe covers, surgical drapes, and specimen containers, were part of $120bn worth of Chinese goods that were subject to 15 per cent tariffs between September and mid February, when the levies dropped to 7.5 per cent under the terms of a truce deal reached between Washington and Beijing in January.

The move by US trade officials, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, highlights the heightened sensitivity within the administration to criticism that their policies may be impeding the response to the crisis. The Trump administration has urged US manufacturers to ramp up domestic production of key supplies, and some advisers, including Peter Navarro, the White House trade and manufacturing adviser, have urged the US to reduce its dependence on foreign imports of key medical equipment as well as drugs. Certain pharmaceutical products had already been exempted from Chinese tariffs before the coronavirus outbreak.

Although Washington has moved to exclude some medical equipment from tariffs, it has for now ruled out a wholesale reduction or elimination of all the levies on Chinese goods, affecting $370bn worth of products, as a form of economic stimulus.

US stocks down 4% on virus fears

US stocks extended their declines in late afternoon trade amid renewed fears over the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

The S&P 500 fell 4 per cent in a broad-based sell-off. Energy stocks fell the most, down 6.8 per cent, while financials were close behind, down 5 per cent. The Nasdaq Composite was down 4.1 per cent. Friday’s sell-off left US stocks on track for a weekly decline.

There was growing concern among investors that policymakers’ response to the outbreak would not be enough to prevent a global downturn.

The drop in energy shares came as Brent crude prices crumbled, falling 10 per cent, after talks between Opec and Russia over whether to cut oil production in response to the coronavirus outbreak, collapsed without a deal on Friday.

Meanwhile, yields on Treasuries tumbled with the 10-year falling below 0.7 per cent earlier in the day but down 20 basis points to 0.7261 per cent. Yields move inversely to prices.

Singapore case count climbs to 130

Stefania Palma in Singapore

Singapore has reported 13 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the biggest daily jump that takes the country’s total to 130.

They involve a 55-year old male Singtel employee with no travel history to affected areas or links to previous cases; and a 47-year old male flight attendant at Singapore Airlines who recently traveled to South Africa and France. He is likely to be an imported case, the health ministry said.

The new cases are all Singaporean citizens except a 37-year old female permanent resident who is likely to be another imported case as she tested positive for the virus the day after returning from Germany, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, a 77-year old man tested positive after being in the same ward as a previously confirmed case before their infection was confirmed.

The remaining cases involve men and women aged between 54 and 70, as well as a 33-year old woman, who have no recent travel history to affected areas, but have links to previously confirmed cases.

Singapore has discharged one more patient after fully recovering, bringing the total number of people that have been discharged to 82.

Facebook closes London office after visiting employee tests positive for Covid-19

Hannah Murphy in San Francisco and Stefania Palma in Singapore

Facebook closed its London and Singapore offices on Friday after an employee who had travelled to both was diagnosed with coronavirus, and said it was “strongly recommending” all of its Silicon Valley staff work remotely.

“An employee based in our Singapore office who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 visited our London offices [on] February 24 [to] 26 2020. We are therefore closing our London offices until Monday for deep cleaning and employees are working from home until then,” a Facebook spokesperson in London said.

Facebook added that over the past two weeks, the employee had spent one day in the company’s Singapore Marina One office, which had now also been closed for deep cleaning until March 9. Employees in the affected three floors of that office have been advised to work from home until March 13, the social media group said.

The closure of the two global offices came after the company closed an office at its Stadium East in Seattle on Thursday after a contractor from that base tested positive for the virus.
Separately on Friday, Facebook said it was “strongly recommending” its staff based in California’s Bay area, including its Menlo Park headquarters, work remotely.

“Based on guidance from Santa Clara County today, we are strongly recommending that all Bay area employees and contingent staff work from home starting…Friday, March 6th. This decision is based on our desire to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19, The health and safety of our teams, their loved ones and our neighbors remain a top priority,” Chloe Meyere, a Facebook company spokesperson, said.

Nevertheless, some staff involved in the safety and security of its platforms may still have to work onsite, it said.

Kudlow says US considering tax relief measures to help some affected industries

James Politi in Washington

Donald Trump’s top economic adviser said the US administration was considering new tax relief measures to help businesses like airlines and hospitality, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, but ruled out a large-scale stimulus package.

Speaking on CNBC Friday morning, Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council at the White House, said discussions within the administration were focused on a “micro approach” that would aid some affected industries.

“We would like to be targeted and timely, not the gigantic macroeconomic fix. I think that’s the issue. And we really have to wait for more information, almost on a day-by-day basis, before we can take action,” Mr Kudlow said.

His remarks followed data this morning that showed a surge in US hiring last month. Mr Kudlow has consistently downplayed the risk to the US economy from the coronavirus, which has claimed at least 11 lives in America, with more than 200 confirmed cases of infection, according to the latest bulletin from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I don’t want to panic on the virus, which, frankly, most Americans are not at risk. And I don’t want to panic on policy measures. Let’s try to be calm and not overreact,” Mr Kudlow, although he did say that people might want to “avoid” Seattle and Northern California, where the disease has first spread across the US.

Coronavirus hits French parliament

Leila Abboud in Paris

The coronavirus has hit France’s national assembly with one deputy in the hospital, and a member of staff having also been diagnosed.

Four other staff members have been identified as potentially being ill, so are being tested, according to a statement from the president of the legislative body, Richard Ferrand.

Although the official statement did not name the deputy who was ill, French media reports have said it is Jean-Luc Reitzer, who represents the Haut-Rhin region and is a member of the center-right party Les Républicains.

Given that the National Assembly was already planned to be closed from March 9 to 22 for a regular scheduled break, it will operate with a skeleton staff until then, and all the restaurants on site are also being disinfected.

Separately, the death toll in France has reached nine after two more people died on Thursday, according to the health department, taking the total number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus to 577.

TechHub shuts London office after employee came into contact with confirmed case

Tim Bradshaw in London

TechHub, a start-up centric co-working space in Shoreditch, has closed after one of its members came into contact with an infected individual.

“We’re really applauding our member for doing the right thing, self-isolating and informing us, and this meant we could swiftly swing our response plan created last week into action,” Elizabeth Varley, TechHub’s co-founder and chief executive, said.

The London office – close to what has sometimes been called “Silicon Roundabout” on Old Street – is closed “as a precaution” while the member is tested.

TechHub, which also has offices in Swansea, Riga and Bucharest, is home to hundreds of tech companies and was one of the first co-working spaces in London when it was founded in 2010.

Czechs returning from Italy face two-week quarantine

By James Shotter

The Czech Republic said on Friday that thousands of its citizens currently in Italy would have to undergo a mandatory two-week quarantine on their return, or face being fined up to 3m CZK.

The Czech health ministry said that there were currently around 16,500 Czech citizens in Italy, and that on their return they should contact a doctor who would put them into quarantine.

The health ministry said in a statement that people in quarantine would be entitled to sick leave, and that entrepreneurs who were hit by the extraordinary measures would be entitled to compensation.

The Czech Republic has so far recorded 18 cases of coronavirus. All those involved had either been to Italy, or been in contact with someone who had returned.

In response the Czech government has banned flights to several northern Italian cities, and also banned the export of respirators, saying that they are needed for domestic use.

Fears of second UK coronavirus death

A second person in the UK is feared to have died from coronavirus, Bethan Staton writes.

The person, believed to be in hospital in Milton Keynes, initially tested positive for the virus but authorities are awaiting the results of a second test for confirmation.

The death comes a day after a person with pre-existing conditions died of the illness in hospital in Berkshire on Thursday.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK increased by 48 on Friday – the highest day-on-day increase so far – to 163. The mortality rate of the virus is thought to be 1 per cent, but this rises to 8-9 per cent among people over 80.

Lufthansa may cut half of all flights

Lufthansa has warned it may have to halve the number of flights it operates in the next few weeks, following “drastic declines in bookings” and more than 7,000 cancellations due to the spread of coronavirus, Joe Miller writes.

The German carrier, which has already offered its staff voluntary unpaid leave, or reduced hours, and has been forced to ground roughly a fifth of its fleet, said that all routes were now affected by the slowdown.

The group said in a statement:

In recent days, the Lufthansa Group has been exposed to drastic declines in bookings and numerous flight cancellations due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. All traffic areas are now affected

The Executive Board of Deutsche Lufthansa AG therefore decided today to reduce the flight capacity offered even more than previously planned. Based on further demand development, capacity will be reduced by up to 50% in the coming weeks.

Lufthansa has already offered to waive rebooking fees until the end of the month. Its shares have fallen by almost 25 per cent in the past month.

The Group, which includes the SWISS, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Air Dolomiti brands, was forced to cancel all its flights to and from Israel for at least three weeks, and has suspened all routes to and from mainland China until the end of its winter schedule, on 28 March.

This post has been amended from an earlier version that said Lufthansa would cut half of flights.

HSBC confirms Wuhan employee has Covid-19 following new test guidelines

An HSBC employee in Wuhan, the Chinese city in which coronavirus originated, was confirmed as having the disease in the wake of newly-released medical guidelines by local authorities on testing criteria.

The individual had not been in contact with any other staff members or customers since late January, the bank said in a statement on Friday.

“The employee is in good condition and has been under medical care, as a suspected case according to previous medical guidelines, for about 2 weeks and was in self-quarantine prior to that,” HSBC said.

Investors stunned by blowout bond rally amid growing virus fears

Tommy Stubbington, Robin Wigglesworth and Colby Smith

A record-breaking global bond rally accelerated on Friday, with growing fears over the economic impact of coronavirus sending investors scrambling for the safety of government debt at the fastest pace since the financial crisis of 2008.

The 10-year US Treasury yield — a key reference point for markets around the world briefly fell below 0.7 per cent to a new record low. Meanwhile, Germany’s 10-year bond yield — which serves as a benchmark for the eurozone — also traded at a record low of minus 0.74 per cent, eclipsing the record set during last summer’s epic bond rally.

“It’s pure fear — you can see it in the empty supermarket shelves and you can see it in the bond market,” said Dickie Hodges, a fund manager at Nomura Asset Management.

Read the full story here.

Trump signs coronavirus funding legislation

James Politi in Washington reports:

US president Donald Trump has signed legislation allowing $8.3bn in funding to respond to the coronavirus, as America grappled with mounting cases across the country and growing concerns about the economic and financial fallout from the outbreak.

“We’ve signed the $8.3 billion. I asked for two and a half and I got 8.3 and I’ll take it,” Mr Trump said at the White House, before heading on a trip to Nashville, Tennessee to visit an area hit by a deadly tornado this week, and then on to his resort at Mar-a-Lago, Florida.

Mr Trump was supposed to visit the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency at the heart of the federal response to the crisis, in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday. But he cancelled the trip after hearing of one suspected case of coronavirus there, even though the individual eventually tested negative. “So I may be going. We’re going to see if they can turn it around,” he said.

UK cases rise to 163, two BA staff test positive

Bethan Staton reports:

The number of cases of the coronavirus in the UK has risen by 48 to 163, the Department for Health has announced.

As of 7 am on Friday 20,338 people had been tested for the virus, and 20,175 had been confirmed not to have the illness. The increase in cases is the biggest daily rise so far and comes after one person with pre-existing health conditions died of the illness.

British Airways has separately announced that 2 staff members, who were working as baggage handlers, have tested positive for the illness. “The colleagues have been isolated and are recovering at home,” a spokesperson said.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty yesterday said people who have a mild form of the virus should now self-isolate at home, as the UK government shifts from containing isolated cases of the virus to delaying its spread.

UK pledges £46m to develop new coronvirus vaccine and test

Bethan Staton in London

The UK government has pledged £46m toward the development of a new vaccine and speedy test for coronavirus, in the hope of supporting countries where poor health provisions could exaggerate the impact of the outbreak.

UK Aid is funding the development of 8 possible vaccines, which it said could be ready for clinical testing in the “record time” of under a year, and a test for the virus which can be used and provide results at home.

Tests for the illness currently have to be sent to a laboratory, delaying effective action, and preventing diagnosis at all in countries that do not have lab facilities. The developed test will be manufactured in the UK and Senegal, and UK Aid funding will also fund preparedness measures in developing countries, the department said.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, a group representing industry, public and 3rd sector organisations, said on Friday that $2bn (£1.5bn) would be needed to develop an effective vaccine for coronavirus, and said it has already committed $100m of funding.

EmoticonConfirmed cases pass 100,000

The humanitarian costs of the coronavirus outbreak have continued to mount, with more than 100,000 cases of the disease now confirmed.

More than 55,000 of the infected patients have recovered, while there have been 3,400 deaths. The vast majority of those fatalities have occurred in mainland China, although Italy, Iran and South Korea have also seen dozens of deaths.

The FT is mapping the coronavirus and its economic impact as it spreads. Check back for our up-to-date figures.

Brussels urges states to pool equipment to stem spread of virus

The commission has hit out at bans or restrictions of protective equipment within the EU borders among member states, including France and Germany, Javier Espinoza in Brussels reports.

“Solidarity among member states is crucial to tackle this common challenge in an effective way,” said the commission’s crisis manager.

“There are legal grounds that makes such measures possible but these kinds of unilateral measures first have to be notified, they have to be proportionate,” said Janez Lenarcic,

Even if they are legally possible they carry a risk of undermining our collective approach and our collective capacity to handle this crisis

We need to pool equipment that is available and we should make sure that it goes where it is needed in particular among health personnel.

The crisis management commissioner said Brussels favoured seeking solutions at an EU level.

Malaysia reports 28 new confirmed cases

Stefania Palma in Singapore

Malaysia has reported 28 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, the biggest daily jump so far, taking the country’s total to 83.

The new patients are all linked to close contacts of Hisham Hamdan, head of public markets and research at Khazanah Nasional, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, who has generated a cluster counting 44 people.

Mr Hisham said in a statement that while he is linked to Malaysia’s new wave of cases, he does not believe he is its source.

Malaysia has so far discharged 23 cases from hospital.

London-based employee at commodity broker tests positive for Covid-19

Anjli Raval in London

Commodity broker Marex Spectron said one of its London employees had tested positive for coronavirus.

“They only became symptomatic on 28 February with mild symptoms and is fully recovered. As a precautionary measure they are remaining at home in self isolation,” a spokesperson said.

The person attended an event hosted by the company last Tuesday, during International Petroleum Week, which also saw others in the industry attend.

Marex Spectron sent an email to attendees of the event at The Market Tavern pub in Shepherd’s Market in Mayfair saying: “We have already informed 3 employees who sit in close proximity to this person about the situation and, as a precautionary measure, have asked them to work from home for the next 14 days. “

As some employees from Argus Media, a provider of commodity price information and news, were in attendance, the company has asked all employees to work from home on Friday.

France and Germany ban exports of medical protective gear

Javier Espinoza in Brussels

France and Germany have banned the exports of medical protective gear like masks and gloves and more countries, including the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Italy are also considering to follow suit, an EU spokesperson has said.

Countries can stop the free flow of products and goods within the bloc’s single market on national health grounds, the person added.

While Germany has simply prohibited the sale of masks outside Germany, the French authorities have seized all available masks and have ordered that they can only become available via prescriptions handed out by doctors or any other relevant health professionals.

“Legally speaking countries can do this but we want to follow an EU-wide approach.” the person added.

It comes as health ministers are gathered in Brussels to discuss ways to tackle the coronavirus crisis in a coordinated manner.

Stocks slide and bonds hit records as investors reach for safety

Government bond prices rushed to new historic highs while stocks across the globe tumbled on fears over the cascading economic disruption caused by the spread of the coronavirus.

With haven assets in high demand and traders raising their bets on the US Federal Reserve cutting interest rates again, the yield on 10-year government debt briefly fell below 0.7 per cent — a new record low. Yields stood at 1.9 per cent at the start of this year. UK and German government bonds also hit records.

Yields on the US 10-year have tumbled by more than 0.3 percentage points in each of the last two weeks, their biggest such moves since the height of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Yields fall when prices rise.

Meanwhile, European stocks slid, with London’s FTSE 100 shedding 3.3 per cent and Frankfurt’s Dax down 3.6 per cent in some of the most significant selling action since the outbreak of the coronavirus began rattling global markets last month.

The Stoxx 600 index tracking the region’s leading companies was on track for its third consecutive week of declines, and is now trading at its lowest levels this year.

Denmark advises cutting back on large gatherings

Denmark’s prime minister has recommended that gatherings of more than 1,000 people be cancelled or postponed for the rest of the month, measures that would affect Saturday’s Eurovision singing final, writes Richard Milne, Nordic and Baltic correspondent.

Mette Frederiksen said Denmark was stepping up its efforts to contain the deadly epidemic, with 23 cases recorded, far fewer than in Sweden or Norway.

“There may be costs for ordinary people and families, businesses and (event) organisers,” she added. “When we take such steps, it’s because we want to stave off the potential of people losing their lives.”

The move would affect sporting events and mean that the Eurovision final will take place without an audience. The Danish Royal Theatre will ensure audiences will use every other seat to ensure its plays could go ahead.

The public health agency recommended on Friday to avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing.

EU27 calls off diplomats’ meeting after case reported

A meeting of EU27 ambassadors in Brussels has been called off this morning after a positive case of coronavirus was found in the institution, diplomats told the Financial Times, writes Mehreen Khan in Brussels.

An internal email sent to diplomats says that ambassadors who were in close contact, which means at least 15 minutes at a distance of less than 2m with the concerned person, are being identified. The council is “sealing off areas in which the colleague concerned has been present and these will subsequently be subject of deep cleaning”. Diplomats told the FT that the official works in the migration office at the European Council.

Ambassadors, who have been meeting regularly this week to discuss migration issues in Greece, have been told to get tested if they fall unwell and enter a two-week quarantine period if they test positive.

A diplomat told the FT that they are awaiting formal communication about how to continue the regular weekly meetings of envoys.

Slovakia records first case while Spain’s tally rises

Slovakia reported its first case on Friday as Spain added dozens to its case tally, with Madrid being the most affected region there, write James Shotter in Bratislava and Daniel Dombey in Madrid.

The patient in Slovakia, said the prime minister, is a 52-year-old man whose son had recently returned from Italy. He is being treated in a clinic in Bratislava.

Spain, the fourth most affected country in the EU, added 82 to record 345 cases on Friday. Five people have died there, all aged over 70.

Coronavirus scams cost UK consumers thousands of pounds, say police

Coronavirus scams have cost UK consumers more than £800,000, with nearly half the cases to do with buying face masks, London police authorities revealed on Friday, writes Leke Osoalabi.

The City of London police received 21 reports of scams mentioning coronavirus in February, of which 10 were people trying to buy protective face masks. One person reported a loss of more than £15,000 when they purchased masks that were never delivered.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which provided the numbers, has received reports of coronavirus-themed phishing emails that have attempted to trick people into revealing sensitive personal and financial information. Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies so as to get hold of personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

Fraudsters have sent emails to potential victims, claiming to be able to provide the recipient with a list of coronavirus infected people in their area. However, in order to access this information, the victim is directed to a malicious website, or is asked to pay with bitcoin.

The City of London police predicts a rise in such numbers as the virus spreads.

Iran reports big jump in deaths and calls off Friday prayers

Iran reported a jump in coronavirus-related deaths and cancelled Friday prayers for a second week, reports Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran.

The respiratory illness has claimed 124 lives, the health ministry said on Friday, from 107 a day earlier, while cases rose to 4,747.

The Islamic republic held weekly prayers – a major symbol of its theocracy’s power – even during the war with Iraq in the 1980s and missile attacks on cities such as Tehran. Mosques have effectively become non-operational for the first time.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has twice urged the nation to listen to the guidelines by health officials – a clear message to the clergy not to intervene in medical issues. There is concern many Iranians do not take the warnings seriously.

Senior clergy have echoed the top leader’s advice and have called on their followers to allocate part of religious donations to coronavirus patients. Shrines remain open in the holy cities of Qom and Mashhad.

Authorities have no plans to quarantine any city. Iran has banned travel to some popular destinations but local media has shown roads busy with people heading towards Caspian Sea coastal cities for holidays.

Iran’s central bank said six employees have died of coronavirus and urged people to use internet banking instead of showing up.

Opec and Russia in talks over oil output cut

Oil prices approached a three-year low, falling below $48 a barrel on Friday, as Opec and Russia sat down for crunch talks in Vienna over how to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, writes energy team David Sheppard, Anjli Raval and Derek Brower.

Opec’s members propose cutting production by an additional 1.5m barrels a day to try and support a market crippled by the drop in aviation and transport demand, with the world’s biggest traders forecasting oil consumption could contract for the first time since the financial crisis.

The deal could take total production cuts by the Opec+ group — which includes Russia and other producers outside the cartel — to 3.6m barrels a day, or almost 4 per cent of world demand, and would represent the biggest reduction in more than a decade. But Russia has so far not agreed to expand the deal, which is critical to its four-year-old oil alliance with Saudi Arabia, Opec’s de facto leader.

Read more on Opec and Russia in crunch talks over oil output cut

Rouble hit by oil concerns

Henry Foy in Moscow reports:

The rouble has breached the level of 68 to the dollar for the first time since January 2019 on fears that the virus outbreak will hit trade and demand for its natural resource exports, especially oil.

The Russian currency has fallen by 11.5 per cent against the dollar since early January as the virus has spread, and was trading at 68.05 at 10am London time.

Gold heads for best week since 2016

Gold is heading for its biggest weekly gain since 2016 as investors look for safe places to warehouse cash in their struggle to assess the impact of the coronavirus on global growth.

The metal, which has advanced almost 6 per cent since Monday, has also been boosted by the collapse in government bond yields to historic lows. Lower yields and interest rates reduce the opportunity cost of holding the metal, a non-yielding asset.

Gold rose as much as 0.9 per cent to $1,687 a troy ounce, a near seven year high, as the 10-year US Treasury yield hit a new record low.

Analysts at Berenberg noted bullish bets in the futures market are at all time highs:

Until the virus abates on a global basis (and, consequently the world economy improves), gold and silver prices will remain elevated.

Cameroon reports confirmed case

Neil Munshi, West Africa Correspondent, reports:

Cameroon became the fourth country in sub-Saharan Africa to report a case of the coronavirus.

The patient is a 58-year old Frenchman who arrived in Yaoundé, the capital, on February 24. He has been quarantined at Central Hospital, the Central African country’s health ministry said.

There are now 29 confirmed cases of the virus in Africa. But Cameroon marks just the fourth country to report a case in sub-Saharan Africa, the region health experts have warned may be least prepared for a pandemic because of shoddy health infrastructure.

Samsung shifts phone production away from Korea

Song Jung-a in Seoul reports:

Samsung Electronics will shift its domestic phone production to Vietnam as its domestic plants reported another confirmed case of Covid-19, disrupting production of its premium phones.

Samsung temporarily closed its smartphone plant in Gumi, about 200km southeast of Seoul, as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the plant rose to six so far.

Samsung has been producing the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Z Flip in Gumi, which has about 10,000 workers, for the domestic market.

Samsung said the decision was made for “stable production” of its high-end smartphones as coronavirus spreads fast in South Korea, which has reported more than 6,500 infections so far, leaving it the worst-hit country outside of China.

First confirmed case in Serbia

Valerie Hopkins in Brussels reports:

The Serbian government has announced that the country has registered its first case of the virus.

Health minister Zlatibor Loncar said that the patient was a 43-year-old man who had recently travelled several times to Budapest, Hungary. Mr Loncar said that the man is in isolation in a hospital in Subotica, near Serbia’s border with Hungary.

“He is in good health and feels well,” Mr Loncar said at a press conference.

EU willing to take steps to contain coronavirus spread

The EU is ready to take steps to avoid a worst-case scenario when it comes to containing the coronavirus spreading through Europe, health ministers say, writes Javier Espinoza in Brussels.

Rudolf Anschober, Austrian health minister, said: “We are prepared. We have different scenarios also worst case scenarios. We are not talking at the moment what it means the worst case scenario because we are convinced that we have solutions to realise a better scenario.”

Simon Harris, his Irish counterpart, said it was important for the EU to act united.

It is clearly a very worrying global health situation. It’s important to hear the EU speak with one voice when it comes to providing public health information but also to provide guidance for mass events.

EU fears rise over drug supplies from China and India

EU health ministers are increasingly worried about accessing drug supplies from China and India and how exposed the bloc is to these countries, Javier Espinoza writes in Brussels.

Adam Vojtěch, the Czech health minister, said: “It is a problem and it will be a problem in the future. A third production of drugs is in China right now and India has also stopped export of drugs recently.”

We depend on these countries and we should try to bring manufacture of drugs in the EU so we can control it. The EU should really work on a strategy for the future. We should speed it up because it is really urgent.

Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke said the issue of drug supply was an important one. He said the Danish authorities were working really hard alongside other countries to make sure “we have the medicine that we need”.

EmoticonUS bond yields hit new lows

The flight into government bonds touched new records while stocks across Europe and Asia tumbled on fears over the cascading economic disruption caused by the spread of the coronavirus.

The moves compounded another tough week for stock markets and came as traders raised their bets on the Fed cutting rates again.

The search for safety was underlined by the latest fall in US government bond yields, as investors moved into the debt which is regarded as a relative haven in times of market and economic stress.

On Friday morning, the 10-year yield fell 0.15 percentage points to a new record low 0.7765 per cent. The 30-year Treasury yield dropped 0.20 points to an all-time low of 1.3580 per cent, while the policy sensitive 2-year fell below 0.5 per cent. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

European stocks slid at the open, with London’s FTSE 100 shedding 1.9 per cent and Frankfurt’s Dax down 2.2 per cent.

Italy spreads virus faster than any other country

Italy has become the fastest-spreading country, overtaking South Korea and China, as the number of new coronavirus cases has accelerated, Steve Bernard in London illustrates.

Italy on Thursday recorded 769 cases, while South Korea confirmed 467. The southern European country, with 3,858 people infected, has become the worst affected country behind South Korea and China in the number of cases.

It has recorded 148 deaths, the worst toll behind China’s Hubei province, where the outbreak began weeks ago.

EU health minister meeting aims to coordinate action

Vili Beros of Croatia said a meeting of EU health ministers in Brussels on Friday was aimed at orchestrating coordinating action at EU level, reports Javier Espinoza in Brussels.

“Our goal is to improve our mutual cooperation on the basis of the mechanisms that are at our disposal,” the Croatian health minister said. The priorities would be to improve support between member states and their citizens, Mr Beros said.

We will discuss national measures and see what options we have to improve those measures.

Adam Vojtech, health minister for Czech Republic, said the EU should speed up the joint efforts to secure protective masks and other tools to help protect the bloc’s healthcare workers in light of the global shortage.

Mr Vojtech said: “We need to protect our healthcare workers who take care of the patients and the number is growing.”

I would like the commission to be more active in regard with the procurement mechanism, we should speed up the whole procedure because the lack of protective masks or all protective equipments is really concerning.

Film lovers hunker down for Cineworld’s latest releases

A spot of good news this morning from Cineworld, writes Gordon Smith in London.

Admissions to its cinemas rose in January and February compared with the same two-month period a year ago. The chain stands ready to respond to the coronavirus outbreak with measures that include a reduction in capital spending and cost cuts should the situation deteriorate, said a trading update released in response to the rapid spread of the disease.

Cathay Pacific to close cabin crew base in Vancouver

Primrose Riordan and Nicolle Liu report from Hong Kong

Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s de facto flag carrier which has been forced to cut flights due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, said it would close a cabin crew base in Vancouver, Canada.

The airline, which is due to report its annual results next week, said the move was part of a review of the business. It will put nearly 150 jobs at risk.

“As part of our ongoing business review, we have made the decision to close down our Vancouver cabin crew base. There are currently 147 cabin crew based in Vancouver,” a Hong Kong spokeswoman for the airline said.

She added that management was in talks with the union over the shutdown.
Cathay Pacific warned in February that the coronavirus will hit its financial performance “significantly” after the outbreak forced it to ground almost half of its flights

Iran steps up curbs on travel in tourist areas

Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran reports:

Iran is increasing travel restrictions to popular destinations along the Caspian Sea coast to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Roads leading to the Mazandaran province have been closed as of Friday and only allow cars with local plate numbers as well as ambulances and trucks carrying foodstuff to enter the province.

Iran has confirmed 107 deaths and 3,513 confirmed cases. The governor of Gilan, one of the top three virus-hit spots, said travelers will be stopped at the main entrances into the province.

Many families from stricken provinces, where schools and universities have been closed, such as Tehran travelled to coastal cities for holiday, which could exacerbate the spread of Covid-19. Authorities fear people might ignore warnings and travel during Persian new year holidays in less than two weeks’ time.

Destinations such as Shiraz and Isfahan have closed their hotels and hostels.

Coronavirus has hit tourism hard but officials have promised to introduce stimulus packages later. Occupancy in Iran’s hotels has fallen below 5 per cent, local media say.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, foreign minister, said “strict preventive measures—including screening of air travellers at departure gates—are being implemented”.

In a post on Twitter, he added, his country was “closely engaged” with the World Health Organization to battle the virus and called for more international cooperation. “We either win together or lose together.”

Europe: what you might have missed

Seoul lashed out at Japan after it decided to introduce 14 days of quarantine for all passengers arriving from China and South Korea in a belated extension of its travel restrictions.

• A worker at the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, a day after all of the organisation’s employees were ordered to work from home.

• The spread of the coronavirus will blow a $211bn hole in Asia-Pacific economies in 2020, reducing the region’s annual growth rate to the lowest level since the global financial crisis in 2008, according to S&P Global.

• Treasury yields plunged to another record low and stocks sold off in Asia on Friday as coronavirus cases outside China continued to rise and investors bet the US Federal Reserve would be forced to cut rates again when it meets later this month.

Researchers estimate death rate of 1.4 per cent for coronavirus

Nicolle Liu reports from Hong Kong

The expected death rate for the coronavirus is about 14 in every 1,000 patients, according to research released on Friday by the University of Hong Kong faculty of medicine and the Harvard School of Public Health.

The fatality rate increases exponentially with age, according to the study. For people who are over the age of 70, it is about three times the average rate.

“This is a very serious concern, especially about the older adult population,” said Gabriel Leung, the Hong Kong university’s dean of medicine.

Prof Leung said the estimated death rate was lower than in the 1918 influenza pandemic but higher than during the spread of swine fever in 2009.

“This is not a very large number, but we have to remember this has to be multiply by the total number of people who get infected and are symptomatic…while the rest of the world is still … suffering [the] beginnings of a first wave, the eventual final epidemic size is going to be many times larger,” he said.

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 3.4 per cent of those infected in reported Covid-19 cases have died.

Prof Leung said this number is insufficient because it does not include the time for the case to eventually recover or die from the disease in the calculation.

Chinese central bank resists large-scale stimulus

Chinese stocks this week touched a two-year high as investors anticipated stimulus from the country’s central bank.

But while other monetary authorities around the world – from Australia to the US – have taken steps to combat the economic impact of the virus, the People’s Bank of China has said it will not provide any “short-term stimulus”.

In a country where many companies are struggling to return to work, it is unclear what a flow of cheap credit would achieve.

Read the full FT analysis here.

Virus puts pressure on indebted Chinese developers

Some of China’s weakest property developers risk defaulting on their dollar-denominated debt as the coronavirus outbreak cripples home sales across the country.

One example is Tahoe Group, a Fujian-based developer which has $730m of debt coming due this year. A $530m bond, which matures in January next year, is trading at distressed levels, hitting its lowest ever level last month.

Defaults on Chinese offshore property bonds – a market worth close to $200bn – are rare. The wider sector has issued debt at its fastest rate on record in the first two months of the year, according to Dealogic data.

Read the full report here.

Seoul lashes out after Japan imposes quarantine measures

Robin Harding in Tokyo and Edward White in Seoul report

Seoul has lashed out after Japan decided to introduce 14 days of quarantine for all passengers arriving from China and South Korea in a belated extension of its travel restrictions.

“We express extreme regrets over the fact that Japan has taken such an unreasonable and excessive measure without sufficient consultations with us,” said the foreign ministry in Seoul.

Japan had previously imposed restrictions on specific provinces in China over fears of coronavirus infection. It will now expand them to all travellers from China and South Korea, including Japanese nationals, said chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga on Friday morning.

Up to 100 countries have imposed travel restrictions on South Korea, where the number of Covid-19 cases has reached 6,284. South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha is meeting the foreign diplomatic corps in Seoul this afternoon, where she is expected to urge the outside world to reconsider.

Taiwan cancels performances after Australian composer infected

Kathrin Hille reports from Taipei

Taiwan has cancelled all performances of its National Symphony Orchestra until further notice and closed its National Concert Hall for disinfection after Australian composer Brett Dean, who had performed twice at the concert hall in Taipei last week, was diagnosed with coronavirus on Thursday.

Taiwan’s Epidemic Management Centre said that it had identified the Australian who tested positive for the virus after visiting Taiwan, based on his age and flight details, and included him in Taiwan’s infection count as the country’s 44th case, an imported infection.

It did not give Mr Dean’s name, but said the person was a 58-year-old Australian who had performed at the concert hall on February 28 and March 1 – dates when Mr Dean had a concert with NSO where he played his own viola concerto, and a chamber music concert and lecture with a smaller group of Taiwanese musicians.

The Epidemic Management Centre said the person had experienced a cough and related symptoms at one point before going on his trip to Taiwan, but had been symptom-free when he arrived on February 23.

After a few days of rehearsals, he consulted a small clinic on February 27 with symptoms of a cold on February 27, but went on to perform the next day and on March 1 before leaving Taiwan on March 2.

China reports 143 new cases of coronavirus

Chinese health authorities today reported 143 new cases of the coronavirus to the end of Thursday.

There were 30 new deaths, with 29 in Hubei, the landlocked province at the centre of the outbreak, and one in Hainan, the island province in China’s south.

Total cases in China now stand at 80,552.

Daily reported cases in South Korea, which announced 518 new infections on Friday, are now much higher than those in China.

Chinese piglet prices jump after virus disrupts supply chains

Last year, the size of China’s hog herd collapsed by 40 per cent and prices soared as African swine fever tore through the country.

Now, the market is being impacted by another infectious disease. The coronavirus is hitting the supply chains that transport pigs from farms to market, constraining the availability of pork.

The price of piglets, which take half a year to grow large enough for slaughter, have now hit a record high as a result.

Read the full FT report here.

South Korea cases rise amid concern over aged-care facility

Edward White and Kang Buseong report from Seoul

South Korea today reported a rise in new cases, reversing a four-day decline as concerns grew over an outbreak at an aged-care facility in the country.

Health officials on Friday said there were 518 new cases of the deadly disease, up from 438 new cases reported a day earlier, taking the total to 6,284.

New confirmed cases had been falling this week after 686 new infections were reported on Monday, according to data from the Korea Centers for Disease Control.

Seoul continues to implement a programme of mass public testing in a bid to contain the outbreak, which has been centred around Daegu, the country’s fourth-biggest city.

More than 135,000 tests have returned negative results while a further 20,000 tests are being processed as testing facilities are expanded across the country.

The virus has killed 43 people in the country, reflecting a fatality rate of below 1 per cent. Almost all of those were already suffering from one or more chronic or terminal illness.

This week saw the confirmation of an outbreak at an aged-care home at Bonghwa, in Gyeongsangbuk province. According to local officials, 49 of 56 residents have confirmed infections.

Amid plunging consumption and a series of disruptions to critical export industries, the government this week moved to boost an already-record fiscal stimulus planned for this year by almost $10bn.


Worker at Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative tests positive for virus

Hannah Murphy reports from San Francisco

A worker at the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, a day after all of the organisation’s employees were ordered to work from home.

The initiative aims to give away 99 per cent of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s shares to causes that include tackling infectious diseases.

Yesterday, it said all employees should work from home until March 23 after a relative of one of its contractors tested positive.

Earlier this week, Mr Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post that the US company would crack down on “misinformation” surrounding the virus.

Asian stocks fall as Treasury yields hit new low

Hudson Lockett reports from Hong Kong

Treasury yields plunged to another record low and stocks sold off in Asia on Friday as coronavirus cases outside China continued to rise and investors bet the US Federal Reserve would be forced to cut rates again when it meets later this month.

China’s CSI 300 index of major Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed stocks dropped 1.3 per cent in early trading, bringing it down from a two-year high notched on Thursday. In Japan the Topix shed 3 per cent while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 2 per cent.

The 10-year US Treasury yield fell as much as 6 basis points to a new record low 0.8514 per cent, extending a 14bp fall from Thursday in New York. The 30-year Treasury yield also dropped as much as 7bp to a new record low of 1.4714 per cent. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

Futures markets had priced in a full 50bp cut when Fed policymakers meet on March 17-18, and implied a 75 per cent chance of another 25bp cut at the central bank’s April meeting.

Futures showed US stocks heading for a fall at the open on Wall Street, with the S&P 500 expected to drop 1 per cent. The FTSE 100 was set to drop 1.8 per cent.

Australia will launch public health fund to tackle virus outbreak

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney

Australia is establishing a A$1bn ($660m) public health fund to tackle the coronavirus outbreak following concerns expressed by state governments that they need more resources as the number of cases continues to rise.

Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, said on Friday the federal government would immediately provide A$100m for a fund, which would involve 50-50 cost sharing between the federal and the country’s six state governments.

“We are estimating based on advice that we have at the moment this could be as much as about A$1bn, A$500m each, that we would have to be allowing for,” said Mr Morrison.

This week Brad Hazzard, New South Wales’ health minister, warned the state needed “a damn sight more doctors and nurses” to tackle the growing number of infections and called on the federal government to provide funding for a “war on the coronavirus”.

Several more coronavirus cases have been declared in Australia over the past 24 hour, including a staff member at an aged care centre in Sydney, bringing the total number to 61.

On Friday authorities ordered the closure of a school in Sydney, after a 16-year-old boy tested positive. Two people have died from the virus in Australia.

Asia: what you might have missed

Starbucks expects a hit to its China revenues of up to $430m, leading to a reduction in second-quarter group earnings, following the temporary closure of many of its stores on the mainland as the coronavirus outbreak grew in scale.

• The US Senate voted to approve $8.3bn in new funding to tackle the expanding coronavirus outbreak, sending the legislation to Donald Trump for his signature.

• The Italian government has told the European Commission it plans to issue a package of support measures for the economy in a bid to mitigate the impact of coronavirus.

Moscow has placed travel restrictions on residents who travelled to affected areas.

US stocks fell more than 3 per cent in another difficult day on Wall Street, as investors remained unnerved by the coronavirus outbreak.

San Francisco officials confirmed on Thursday that two residents have tested positive for coronavirus, marking the first known cases to be confirmed in the city.

Asia-Pacific faces $211bn economic loss, says S&P

Jamie Smyth reports from Sydney

The spread of the coronavirus will blow a $211bn hole in Asia-Pacific economies in 2020, reducing the region’s annual growth rate to the lowest level since the global financial crisis in 2008, according to S&P Global.

The credit rating agency said a U-shaped recovery should start later this year but warned the outlook for the region has darkened mainly due to the global spread of the coronavirus.

Economic growth is forecast at 4 per cent, down from 4.9 per cent in 2019, and several regional economies will flirt with recession, S&P said.

“Household spending in Japan and Korea are set to weaken further and slower growth in the US and Europe will add to external headwinds,” said Shaun Roache, Asia-Pacific chief economist at S&P Global Ratings.

“China’s return to work is proceeding at a glacial pace as local officials remain cautious about a renewed upturn in infections,” he said.

S&P expects China to grow at just 4.8 per cent this year before rebounding to 6.6 per cent in 2021.

The agency said even a U-shaped recovery would mean an economic loss of about $211bn across the region, which will weaken balance sheets.

Some economic activities will be lost forever, especially for the service sector, said S&P.

Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand would be among the hardest-hit regional economies, mainly due to the loss of tourism, business travel and supply chain disruptions.

S&P predicts Hong Kong’s economy will contract by 0.8 per cent in 2020, growth will flatline in Singapore and Thailand will expand by just 1.6 per cent.

Australia is also vulnerable, with growth in 2020 expected to touch 1.2 per cent, S&P added.

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