Here’s just-drinks’ overview of the latest coronavirus-related developments from around the world.
- US COVID-19 cases are accelerating and will soon surpass China’s on current trends. Even more worryingly, a US jobless numbers report shows a record weekly rise in the numbers of Americans laid off and claiming benefits. The debate over the controversial Trump proposal to relax restrictions and ‘re-open the country’ from Easter continues
- G20 leaders have held an extraordinary meeting via video conference to respond to the global pandemic and agreed on the need for collective action to boost the global economy
- China has suspended entry for most foreigners – it blames ‘imported’ infections from travellers for its latest confirmed cases
- India has announced an economic stimulus package worth INR1.7 trillion (US$22.5bn)
- Vietnam has become the latest country to ban large public gatherings, while Hungary has joined the ever-expanding lockdown club
In the US, speculation continues over a controversial proposal from the President for a possible easing of restrictions to enable a widespread return to work from Easter Sunday on 12 April. Calls for a return to work and to get the economy moving again gathered some momentum after it emerged that an unprecedented 3.3m Americans claimed benefits last week after being laid off because of the coronavirus. The previous week’s total was 282,000. The 3.3m figure soared past the previous one-week record – 695,000 – set in 1982.
G20 leaders have held an extraordinary meeting via video conference to respond to the global pandemic. In a statement, they committed to collective action and to continue to “conduct bold and large-scale fiscal support”. The G20 statement also said leaders will “ask finance ministers and central bank governors to coordinate on a regular basis to develop a G20 action plan in response to COVID-19 and work closely with international organisations to swiftly deliver the appropriate international financial assistance”.
China has suspended entry for most foreigners. From Saturday, foreign nationals holding valid visas or residence permits for China will not be allowed to enter the country, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said in a statement. The only exceptions will be foreign nationals coming to China for “necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs”. They can still apply for visas. Beijing is blaming new confirmed COVID-19 cases on travellers returning from overseas, rather than domestically-sourced transmission.
The ban on outbound civilian traffic from Hubei province, with the exception of that from Wuhan, the provincial capital, was lifted this week, after a two-month lockdown. The ban on traffic from Wuhan is due to be lifted on 8 April.
India has announced an economic stimulus package worth INR1.7 trillion ($22.5bn). The package includes food security measures – rice and pulses – for poor households (some 800mpeople) as well as direct cash transfers. The country is also in the midst of a 21-day lockdown.
Hungary has announced a two-week lockdown in response to the coronavirus. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that while citizens must maintain social distancing, they would be able to go to work, shop and take limited exercise outdoors, starting from Saturday.
Vietnam has become the latest country to ban large public gatherings. The Government has announced that indoor gatherings of more than 20 people and outdoor gatherings of ten or more would be banned. Contact tracing has figured prominently in Vietnam’s efforts to counter COVID-19. “The important thing is, you need to know the number of people who might have come in contact with the disease, or returned from pandemic areas, then perform tests on these people,” one senior official advising Vietnam’s Emergency Operation Centre told the Financial Times.
Malaysia has announced a package of stimulus worth MYR250bn (US$57.9bn) to soften the economic impact from the outbreak. Around MYR128bn will be spent on social welfare and MYR100bn will be deployed to support businesses, the Malaysian Prime Minister said in a televised address.
Thailand has decreed a state of emergency following a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. The country has also banned the entry of non-resident foreigners and is planning a fiscal stimulus to offset the economic impact of the growing crisis. Thailand has been hit particularly hard by much-reduced tourism numbers.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a curfew earlier this week. The measure will restrict the movement of citizens between 7:00 pm and 5:00 am the following day.
Commentators, forecasters and financial institutions
- The number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 450,000 globally, according to the WHO
- A strategist with JP Morgan Asset Management has warned that the record spike in jobless claims in the US is a sign that economic damage from the outbreak is going to be around for a while
- The investment bank has also revised down its US GDP projections and now expects Q2 to show a staggering 25% annualised reversal
- A survey of businesses prompts a question: When this crisis is over, will we be avoiding travel and working more at home permanently?
The number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 450,000 globally, according to the WHO. There are 462,684 confirmed cases (49,219 in the last 24 hours) and 20,834 deaths (2,401 last 24 hours). International proliferation continues with three new countries/territories/areas from the Americas (one) and Africa (two) reporting cases of COVID-19. China continues to show a low number of new cases and deaths. Total cases for China stand at 81,961 (113 in the last 24 hours) with deaths at 3,293 (just six in last 24 hours). The US is showing an acceleration, with 63,570 cases (11,656 in last 24 hours) and 884 deaths (211 last 24 hours).
A JP Morgan Asset Management strategist has warned that the spike in jobless claims in the US is a sign that economic damage from the outbreak is going to be around for a while. “It’s a bit of a shock to look at just the chart of how many people are claiming unemployment, compared to what we’ve seen in prior periods of economic stress,” Hannah Anderson, a global market strategist, told CNBC. She added: “I think we should all take this as a serious signal that we’re going to have to deal with economic pain for quite a while longer.”
JP Morgan has also cut its growth outlook for the US economy for the first and second quarters. The investment bank slashed its forecast for real annualised GDP in the first quarter to a 10% contraction (previously -4%). It now expects a contraction of 25% in Q2 (previously at -14%).
Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley said today that they have received the final regulatory approvals to take majority stakes in their China securities joint ventures, as Beijing continues to open its financial sector to foreign companies. With the Chinese economy where it is, the ‘foreign direct investment’ doors are likely to be held well and truly open and the liberalisation of financial markets will continue.
A Forbes commentator has neatly thrown the US political and economic debate on the COVID-19 crisis into sharp relief. ‘China’s 4% GDP Plunge Is Trump’s Nightmare‘ warns that China’s mounting troubles this year should remind Donald Trump to be careful about what he wishes for. “His two-year-long trade war weakened China’s economic immune system and its ability to withstand the fallout from a pandemic virtually no one saw coming,” the commentator writes.
A survey by S&P suggests that COVID-19 will likely have a permanent impact on modes of working. Enterprises surveyed said they are implementing travel bans, work-from-home policies and limits on internal and external meetings. Many expect these policies to remain in place long-term or permanently, including 38% for expanded/universal work-from-home policies, 23% for travel limitations or bans and 16% for not attending events they have previously attended.