López Obrador disappoints in quarterly state of nation address

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador disappointed business leaders in a quarterly state of the nation message bereft of concrete policy plans or aid for small businesses that are likely to be pummelled.

The peso dropped nearly a percentage point to breach 25 to the dollar again as markets gave the thumbs-down to a message that signalled no deviation from current policy.

Mexico's economy is expected to shrink by an estimated 8 per cent this year, yet unlike other Latin American nations, the president made clear no stimulus plan would be forthcoming and he would not take on additional debt.

In an address to an empty patio in the national palace, the president again ruled out any rescue plans for companies, made no mention of tax breaks or deferrement of social security contributions that could ease the pressure on small companies. Instead, he said he would stick to his government programme and appealed to Mexicans to have faith that the “transitory crisis” would pass.

“The formula we are applying is the sum of three basic elements – more public investment for economic and social development, full employment and republican honesty and austerity,” he said. “We are going to create 2m new jobs in 9 months,” he said, and reiterated the promise of more than 2.1m loans for small business owners and increased social programmes to protect the poor.

A long-delayed 339bn peso ($13.5bn) investment plan for energy infrastructure would be announced this week he said. He promised 65bn pesos more for Pemex via lower taxes, but gave no further details.

The president said he would reduce salaries and scrap bonuses for all senior government officials to help weather the coronavirus storm.

As of Saturday, Mexico had 1,890 coronavirus cases and 79 deaths.

Breaking news

Trump says US has stockpiled 29m doses of malaria drug

Kiran Stacey in Washington

The US has stockpiled 29m doses of hydroxychloroquine, Donald Trump has claimed, as the US president once more touted the benefits of the anti-malaria drug to treat coronavirus despite it not having been proven as a therapy against the virus.

Mr Trump on Sunday urged people, and especially healthcare workers, to take the drug as a prophylactic against the disease, despite the lack of clinical proof over its effect on coronavirus. The president told a press conference: "We have stockpiled 29m pills, of the hyrdoxychloroquine".

"A lot of drugstores have them by prescription and also, they're not expensive," Mr Trump, said. "Also, we're sending them to various labs, our military was sending them to the hospitals we're sending them all over. If you are a doctor or a nurse, a first responder a medical person going into hospitals, they say taking it before the fact is good. But what do you have to lose?

Britons view Queen Elizabeth II's coronavirus address — in pictures

British citizens and people around the world tuned in to watch Queen Elizabeth II deliver a rare televised address to the nation.

In her speech, the monarch called on the UK to self-isolate and urged her subjects to show the same "quiet good-humoured resolve" that has characterised previous generations of Britons.

Matt Hancock, health secretary, called the remarks "a striking and important message", while the NHS Nightingale Hospital in London tweeted photos of their staff listening to the speech that praised NHS staff and care workers.

Here's a look at folks in the UK and around the world tuning in:

Noah (9) and Milly (7) watch Britain's Queen Elizabeth II during a televised address to the nation at their home in Hertford, Britain.

People in Leicester watch Queen Elizabeth II deliver her speech.

Customers wait for orders at Cafe 247 in Lucerne Valley, California, as Britain's Queen is seen during her address.

Breaking news

US stock futures rise, while oil prices fall

US equity futures climbed more than 1 per cent on Sunday signalling Wall Street was attempting to regain its footing after ending last week on a sour note.

S&P 500 futures rose 1.4 per cent, while Nasdaq 100 futures advanced 1.5 per cent. The S&P 500 finished last week in the red posting a weekly decline of more than 2 per cent.

Markets tumbled last week after data showed the US labour market shed a staggering number of jobs and a record number of Americans filed for unemployment benefits, adding to evidence of the heavy economic toll from the coronavirus pandemic. Over the weekend, US president Donald Trump warned the US faced its 'toughest week' of the crisis.

However, a number of countries considered hotspots for the pandemic reported some positive news. The number of people that need intensive care fell in both Italy and France.

Elsewhere in markets, oil prices tumbled amid doubts on whether Saudi Arabia and Russia could reach a deal to cut oil supply.

Breaking news

Crude prices fall 12% at open on doubts over supply deal

Derek Brower and David Sheppard in London

Oil prices fell 12 per cent as markets reopened on Sunday, after Saudi Arabia and Russia traded barbs over the weekend, casting doubt on their ability to reach a deal to cut oil supply to shore up prices devastated by their month-long price war and the coronavirus pandemic.

Brent crude fell in early trading to just over $30, losing more than $3 a barrel, but holding onto the bulk of the gains made last week when US President Donald Trump sparked a rally after suggesting Saudi Arabia and Russia would agree to remove 10m-15m barrels a day of oil.

Brent hit an 18-year low near $20 a barrel early last week, before rebounding to near $34 a barrel. It still remains down by more than half since January, spreading fear through the industry. Brent stabilised shortly after the open to trade down around 8 per cent near $31 a barrel. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate lost a similar amount to trade near $26.

The oil producers’ meeting, initially scheduled for Monday, has been postponed until Thursday as a war-of-words between Moscow and Riyadh deepened and both accused each other of sparking the price war to hurt the US oil sector.

Two European commissioners call for joint fund to invest in recovery

Sam Fleming in Brussels

Europe should consider creating a new joint fund to invest in the post-corona crisis recovery, two European commissioners have said, adding to calls for collective debt issuance to battle the recession.

Paolo Gentiloni, the economics commissioner, and Thierry Breton, the single market commissioner, wrote an op-ed that a "historic mobilisation" by member states and the EU would be needed given the scale of the economic challenge.

"What is clear is that no European country, northern or southern, has the means to deal with such a shock on its own. Not one," they wrote in the article, published by a range of newspapers including Le Monde and Corriere della Sera.

If German rescue plans and guarantees were replicated across the union the financing requirements would be in the range of €1.5tn to €1.6tn, they wrote.

This implies finding additional tools to ensure "equal and fair access for each member state to the debt needed to finance its respective plan". They suggested the creation of a purpose-built fund that could issue long-term bonds, using the money for joint investments in the economic recovery.

France, Italy and Spain are among the countries calling for joint debt sales to pay for the recovery effort, but they are meeting resistance from northern states including Germany that are wary of efforts to bolster collective debt issuance.

Euro area finance ministers are due to hold a call to discuss ways of battling the economic fallout on Tuesday afternoon.

Scotland chief medical officer resigns after defying guidance on non-essential travel

Mure Dickie in Edinburgh

Scotland’s chief medical officer resigned on Sunday after revelations she had twice defied the government’s own coronavirus advice to make weekend visits to a holiday home.

Catherine Calderwood announced her resignation just hours after Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, told a media briefing it was vital that she remain as chief medical officer to help guide the government’s response to the widening pandemic.

“The first minister and I have had a further conversation this evening and we have agreed that the justifiable focus on my behaviour risks becoming a distraction from the hugely important job that [the] government and the medical profession has to do,” Ms Calderwood said in a statement.

News of Ms Calderwood’s visits to her second home in Fife, about 45 miles from her residence in Edinburgh, dominated coverage of the coronavirus crisis in Scotland on Sunday and raised concerns she had undermined government demands that the public refrain from non-essential travel.

Breaking news

Boris Johnson hospitalised 10 days after Covid-19 diagnosis

Boris Johnson has been admitted to hospital 10 days after being diagnosed with Covid-19 after the UK prime minister suffered "persistent" symptoms.

Mr Johnson was hospitalised on the advice of his doctor as a "precautionary step", Downing Street said late on Sunday. He has a high temperature, one of the hallmark symptoms of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The prime minister and Matt Hancock, health secretary, were both confirmed to have coronavirus late last month, which raised fears of more cabinet ministers becoming ill and over the government's ability to conduct an effective response to the pandemic.

Mr Johnson remains in charge of the government and his admission was not made on an emergency basis. He thanked NHS staff for their “incredible hard work” and urged the public to stay at home and help save lives.

More than 47,000 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the UK as of Sunday morning, according to the Department of Health. The death toll had risen to 4,932 by Saturday evening.

Turkey death toll climbs to 574

Laura Pitel in Ankara

Turkey’s number of coronavirus deaths rose to 574 on Sunday as the government invited millions of people to apply for weekly deliveries of free masks.

A total of 73 people died of Covid-19 in the country in the previous 24 hours, the Turkish health ministry announced. The number of confirmed cases rose by 3,135 to just over 27,000.

Turkey had suffered one of the world’s fastest growing outbreaks in recent weeks. While the number of new cases reported each day has continued to grow, the pace of that growth has slowed in the last few days.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has imposed a series of ever-tighter restrictions on public movement as his government has battled to contain the virus, including a total ban on leaving home for those under-20 and over-65. The Turkish presdient also announced that it would be obligatory to wear a mask to busy places including supermarkets.

In a further step on Sunday, Mr Erdogan’s office announced that citizens between the ages of 20 and 65 would be able to apply online for a weekly delivery of five free masks via the country’s postal service.'

Breaking news

Queen Elizabeth II tells British people self-isolation 'the right thing to do'

Jim Pickard in London

Self-isolation is hard but it is “the right thing to do”, Queen Elizabeth II said in a rare television address to the British people.

Amid tensions in the UK about restrictions on movement, she recalled the spirit of Britain in World War II when people remained resolute despite the pain of family separation.

After praising NHS staff, care workers and those carrying out essential roles,
the 93-year-old monarch said: “I also want to thank those of you who are staying at home, thereby helping to protect the vulnerable and sparing many families the pain already felt by those who have lost loved ones. Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.”

The four-minute morale-boosting address, recorded at Windsor Castle, was broadcast on Sunday evening. Earlier in the day, Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary, had dropped a threat to ban people from exercising outside their homes just hours after he made it.

Self-isolating “may at times be hard”, the Queen said. But recalling her first public broadcast in 1940, made with her sister, the late Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth went on: “We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.”

And echoing the World War II British song, We'll Meet Again, she added: "Better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again."

The UK recorded a slowdown in the death rate. The number of fatalities rose by 619 people as of 5pm on Saturday to 4,932, according to the Department of Health. It had risen by 708 people the previous day.

Breaking news

Death toll climbs above 8,000 in France, but intensive care numbers improve

David Keohane in Paris

Another 357 people have died in French hospitals of the coronavirus, but the rate of increase in those needing intensive care has continued to fall.

The total number of people who have now died in French hospitals stands at 5,889. The peak so far for daily deaths in hospitals was 588 on Friday, while 441 deaths were recorded on Saturday.

A further 2,189 have died in institutions such as nursing homes, meaning the total number who have died in the country stands at 8,078.

The rise of people needing intensive care in France has now fallen for six consecutive days, in part because an increasing number of people are able to be taken off ventilation.

March 29: +359
March 30: +475
March 31: +458
April 1: +452
April 2: +382
April 3: +263
April 4: +176
April 5: +140

That figure, said the health ministry in a statement on Sunday evening "allows us to follow the evolution of tension in health facilities and mobilise all necessary resources to respond."

The rate of hospital admissions had also fallen since the start of the month before rising slightly today, with another 748 people admitted.

On an economic front, and over the past 8 days since a €300bn government-backed loan scheme went live, more than 100,000 companies have asked for more than €20bn of loans, said finance minister Bruno Le Maire on Sunday.

Canada cases exceed 14,000, while death count rises 20%

Canada's confirmed coronavirus case count surpassed 14,000, the country's public health agency said on Sunday.

The number of cases rose from 12,924 a day prior to 14,426 — rising by nearly 12 per cent. Meanwhile, the death toll climbed to 258, up from 214, with the highest proportion of deaths among those aged 80 and older.

Canada has conducted more than 323,000 tests so far.

Meanwhile, prime minister Just Trudeau asked for volunteers with specialised skills to support frontline healthcare workers during his daily press briefing. "Health Canada is building an inventory of specialised work volunteers that provinces and territories can draw on to provide more support to our healthcare workers, this could include tracking cases and tracing contact as well as collecting and reporting data," he said.

Mr Trudeau also said the government was offering full-time jobs to all reservists in the Canadian Armed Forces in the coming months, with same pay and benefits as regular force personnel.

"Bolstering the military's ranks will help offset some of the economic consequences of Covid-19 and ensure our communities are well supported," he said.

Varadkar returns to medicine to help Ireland's virus battle

Arthur Beesley in Dublin

Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar will return to working as a doctor as the country steps up the battle against coronavirus, promising to work one day per week in the health service while also leading the government.

Mr Varadkar rejoined the medical register last month as the Covid-19 crisis intensified, his spokesman said. He worked as a doctor for seven years and left the register in 2013 but had been full-time in politics since long before then.

“He has offered his services to the [Health Service Executive] for one session a week in areas that are within his scope of practice,” the spokesman said.
“Many of his family and friends are working in the health service. He wanted to help out even in a small way.”

The taoiseach’s partner, father and one of his sisters are doctors. His other sister is a nurse, as was his mother. His return to the register came as his government appealed to all medical professionals not working in healthcare to volunteer to fight the crisis, prompting thousands to sign up. With 158 fatalities already from Covid-19 and 4,994 infections, the country’s health service has been stretched to the limit by the pandemic.

Mr Varadkar's government is battling the economic shock set off by coronavirus. And after his party trailed in third place in an inconclusive general election in February, he is still in slow-moving talks with the largest opposition party to form a new administration.

Berlin authorities dial back accusations the US diverted face mask shipments

Guy Chazan in Berlin

The Berlin authorities have backtracked on accusations that the US commandeered and diverted a shipment of face masks that was intended for the Berlin police, claims that have strained already scratchy relations between the US and Germany.

The police said over the weekend that the consignment was not "confiscated" by the US authorities, as originally claimed, but had simply been acquired by another buyer in Thailand.

A police spokeswoman told the German newspaper Tagesspiegel that 200,000 of the 400,000 FFP2 masks which had been ordered "were diverted to another buyer at the last minute".

The incident highlights the intensity of the scramble for protective equipment between countries affected by the pandemic, with competition for scarce resources apparently leading to bidding wars between buyers.

On Friday, the interior minister of Berlin, Andreas Geisel had claimed that the US authorities had impounded the consignment of masks and diverted them to the US, accusing the Trump administration of an "act of modern piracy" and "wild west methods".

But over the weekend, the authorities distanced themselves from that account, saying the police had ordered 400,000 FFP2 masks from a German trading firm dealing in specialised medical products. The company had then informed the police that the first half of the order, consisting of 200,000 masks, had been sent instead to the US.

Opposition politicians were sharply critical of Mr Geisel, with Burkard Dregger, a senior figure in the Berlin branch of the Christian Democratic Union, the German chancellor Angela Merkel's party, accusing him of "deliberately deceiving Berliners".

"The US has no ability to confiscate protective equipment on foreign territory," he said. The Berlin government was seeking a culprit "to conceal their own inability to procure protective gear", he added.

Europe prepares to ease coronavirus lockdowns

Governments across Europe have begun preparations to ease the lockdowns imposed across much of the continent to contain the coronavirus pandemic, even if restrictions that have paralysed the economy are expected to remain in force for several more weeks.

France, Spain, Belgium and Finland are among many countries that have set up expert committees to examine a gradual easing of stay-at-home orders for some businesses and schools while avoiding a second wave of infections that could overwhelm health services. 

Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, on Saturday extended the shutdown of his country for another two weeks until April 26 but he said a ban imposed last month on all non-essential work including manufacturing and construction would be lifted after Easter.

Angelo Borrelli, head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency which is in charge of co-ordinating the national response to the outbreak, suggested a “phase two” of the country’s lockdown could begin next month. 

Read the full story here

Dubai residents need permits in order to leave home

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Dubai residents will need to apply to the police for a permit before leaving home as the Gulf emirate ratchets up restrictions on movement to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The authorities said members of the public collecting supplies and key workers would need prior permission before venturing outside. Violators will face legal action.

Healthcare, banking, telecommunications, food supply and construction workers on approved projects are among those essential sectors whose employees will be able to continue to go out to work once they have secured a permit.

Dubai on Saturday imposed 24-hours-a-day lockdown measures for two weeks as it broadens a campaign to disinfect public spaces and test residents of densely-populated areas for Covid-19.

UK health secretary drops threat to ban exercising outdoors

Jim Pickard in London

Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary, has dropped a threat to ban people from exercising outside their homes just hours after he made it.

On Sunday morning Mr Hancock said that if people did not behave more responsibly in terms of “social distancing” then the government would have to take further action.

But at the Downing St evening press conference he said:

I don’t want anyone to think that changes to social distancing are imminent…the vast majority are following the rules.

Mr Hancock said the death toll from Covid-19 had reached 4,934, with 16,702 people hospitalised so far. “People are yearning to know how long this will go on,” he said. “The answer depends on whether people follow the rules on social distancing.”

Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, meanwhile suggested that when the country is ready to end the lockdown, that process could happen more quickly in some regions than others.

Ms Harries said any such decision would depend on research into how coronavirus had affected people’s immunity across the country – and how many people had had the disease.

She hinted that areas with large levels of immunity could see an easing of restrictions more quickly.

“If it was found that a large number of people were immune then it might mean that different interventions could come off sooner rather than later,” she said.

"Equally if there are areas where there have been less cases prevalent we need to be very mindful about what would happen if social interaction levels increase in those areas and what the impact would be."

But she warned that the last thing the government wanted was to “lift the lid too early” and risk a second spike in infections.

Number of intensive-care patients in Italy falls for second day

Miles Johnson in Rome

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care in Italy has fallen for a second day and more than 800 patients have recovered, bolstering hopes that an outbreak that has claimed more lives than in any other country has reached a plateau.

Patients needing intensive care dropped by 17 over 24 hours on Sunday compared with Saturday, following a fall of 74 the day before. That fall on Saturday was the first time any decrease in intensive care bed usage had been registered in Italy since the outbreak began.

Official statistics released on Sunday showed that a further 525 people died over the past day, taking Italy’s death count to a total of 15,887. This number remains the highest number of fatalities of any country in the world. The death count on Sunday compares with 681 recorded on Saturday, and is the lowest recorded since March 19.

Italy’s total cases grew by 3.4 per cent to 128,948 over the past 24 hours. The total number of active cases, which excludes the dead and recovered, rose to 91,246, a daily increase of 2,972. This was slightly higher than the 2,886 new active cases recorded yesterday.

The total number of patients that have been categorised as having recovered from the virus rose to 21,815, up from 20,996 the day before.

Sturgeon says Scottish medical chief made mistake but will stay in post

Mure Dickie in Edinburgh

Scotland’s chief medical officer will remain in her post despite revelations that she twice defied the government’s own coronavirus advice by making weekend visits to a holiday home. But she has been withdrawn from the public eye.

Police Scotland said officers had warned Catherine Calderwood over the visits to a second home in Fife that is around 45 miles away from her main residence in Edinburgh. Dr Calderwood told the Scottish government’s daily coronavirus briefing that she had no legitimate reason for the visits. “I did not follow the advice I am giving to others, and I am truly sorry for that,” she said.

Scottish Labour, and the Liberal Democrats said Dr Calderwood should resign, while the Scottish Conservatives said her position was “very difficult, untenable even”. But Nicola Sturgeon, first minister in the Scottish National party government, dismissed suggestions the chief medical officer should step down.

Dr Calderwood had been immersed in the coronavirus crisis from the start and was vital to dealing with it, Ms Sturgeon said.

“People make mistakes…I have made mistakes of my own,” the first minister said. “It would be damaging to my work and to the government right now…not to have the ongoing advice and expertise of the chief medical officer.”

Ms Sturgeon later said Dr Calderwood was withdrawing from the daily updates and she would also no longer feature in the Scottish Government's advertising campaign.

New York reports slowdown in Covid-19 deaths

Joshua Chaffin in New York

Coronavirus deaths in New York dipped slightly as governor Andrew Cuomo indicated it was possible that the state had reached a plateau.

Mr Cuomo said on Sunday:

We could either be very near the apex, or the apex could be a plateau and we could be on that plateau right now.

He cautioned that health experts needed more data before they could make a definitive judgment. They had also not determined whether the state - the worst afflicted by the pandemic - would endure a sharp peak in its caseload or an extended plateau.

New York recorded 594 deaths over the last 24 hours, down from the 630 announced on Saturday. The state's positive cases grew to 122,031, an addition of 10,841.

Abu Dhabi owner of London's ExCeL centre agrees to waive fees for NHS

Michael Pooler

The Abu Dhabi owner of London’s ExCeL centre, which is hosting a makeshift hospital for thousands of coronavirus patients, has agreed to waive fees for the National Health Service’s use of the site.

A facility with space for 4,000 beds has been built in just nine days inside the vast exhibition venue, located in the capital’s docklands area, to help the NHS cope with a peak of Covid-19 infections expected in the coming weeks.

It is one of a number of temporary NHS Nightingale hospitals set up around England to provide additional critical care capacity, alongside similar initiatives in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

An initial agreement between the NHS and ExCeL London included “a contribution to some fixed costs” but these will now be covered by the centre, said its chief executive Jeremy Rees.

“The ExCeL London facility is fully available to the NHS, and we are here to support all their needs and requirements during this crisis,” he added.

The Sunday Times had reported that ExCeL was charging the NHS £2m to £3m a month in rent. However, ExCeL and its owner Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (Adnec) said the site had from the outset been offered to the NHS rent-free.

An amount of about £2m a month was originally agreed with health bosses to cover a portion of expenses such as power and utilities, according to a person aware of the matter.

Adnec CEO Humaid Matar Al Dhaheri said: “It is our firm commitment that we will not charge a penny for the use of our facilities, and we will provide the NHS with the operational and logistical support it needs for NHS Nightingale London.”

The NHS had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Morgan Stanley calls bottom of market for stocks and company debt

Wall Street's most rapid bear market on record has opened up a strong opportunity for investors to gobble up stocks and company debt, Morgan Stanley has said. 

Stocks and credit are priced at the most attractive levels relative to profits in nine years as a result of the dramatic fall in the first three months of 2020, Michael Wilson, Morgan Stanley's chief US equities strategist, said in a note to clients on Sunday. 

He said: 

With the forced liquidation of assets in the past month largely behind us, unprecedented and unbridled monetary and fiscal intervention led by the US, and the most attractive valuation we have seen since 2011, we stick to our recent view that the worst is behind us for this cyclical bear market that began two years ago, not last month.

Mr Wilson said current levels in stocks and corporate bonds suggest now is a "good entry point" for investors with time horizons of six months to a year. 

US stocks shed a fifth of their value in the first quarter in the worst sell-off since 2008. The credit market was also hard-hit, with measures of risk premium widening dramatically as investors shifted into assets considered to be havens. 

Breaking news

Bailey rejects monetary financing as tool in virus crisis

Chris Giles

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has rejected suggestions the central bank should use monetary financing to protect and boost the economy amid the coronavirus crisis, saying it would “damage credibility on controlling inflation”.

Writing in the Financial Times, Mr Bailey signalled he would oppose any calls for the BoE to print money to allow the government to run up a bigger deficit as it seeks to support companies, workers and households.

“Using monetary financing would damage credibility on controlling inflation . . . It would also ultimately result in an unsustainable central bank balance sheet and is incompatible with the pursuit of an inflation target by an independent central bank,” said Mr Bailey.

Although monetary financing has been associated with disastrous economic consequences in Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Weimar Germany in the 1920s, such is the depth of the Covid-19 crisis that it has been recommended by some of the UK’s most distinguished economic policymakers. 

Read Andrew Bailey's op-ed here.

Read Chris Giles' analysis here.

US drug companies working on short-term immunity therapy

Kiran Stacey in Washington

Drug companies are developing a new therapy to tackle coronavirus which could give people immunity for a short period of time, the US medicines regulator has said.

Stephen Hahn said that companies were working on a type of treatment known as "hyperimmune globulin", which involves pooling the blood plasma of patients who have had the virus and injecting it into others.

Mr Hahn told Fox News: "This can work as a treatment, potentially. But also as a prophylactic, which would act as a bridge to get us to a vaccine. We are pushing hard on that particular end."

Biden raises doubts about Americans voting in person at presidential election

Kiran Stacey in Washington

Joe Biden has suggested Americans may not be allowed to vote in person at this year's presidential election, as he urged election officials to begin thinking about how to hold November's vote in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, said on Sunday: "I think it's time we start thinking about how we're going to hold elections... Is it going to mostly be by mail, which is not the preferred route for everyone - how are we going to do that? How are we going to make it available to everybody?"

Mr Biden also suggested his party might need to hold a virtual convention this summer to avoid tens of thousands of people gathering in one place. The Democratic National Convention Committee on Friday decided to postpone the four-day gathering in Milwaukee from July to August.

The former vice-president is expected to be confirmed as the nominee at that convention, but he told ABC News on Sunday: "We're going to have to do a convention, may have to do a virtual convention. I think we should be thinking about that right now. The idea of holding a convention is going to be necessary, but we may not be able to put 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 people in one place."

US becomes centre of Covid-19 outbreak

Steve Bernard, data visualisation journalist

The US has become the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, with the situation worsening there at an accelerating pace as it shows signs of peaking in continental Europe, where it first shifted from Asia.

In a little over one month the daily number of Covid-19 cases globally has grown exponentially from 2,359 on March 1 to 101,503 on Saturday. At the beginning of March, Asia accounted for more than half of the total cases reported each day.

This quickly shifted as outbreaks began in continental Europe, with Italy, Spain, Germany and France all reporting cases in the thousands. By mid-March, Europe was responsible for four in every five new confirmed cases each day.

While Europe is still responsible for nearly 40 per cent of daily cases, the US has become the new centre of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country accounts for nearly one-third of all daily cases, with New York state particularly affected.

Spain considers isolation centres for asymptomatic coronavirus carriers

Ian Mount in Madrid

Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez has asked regional leaders to provide lists of facilities in their area that could be used to isolate asymptomatic people who test positive for coronavirus, as the country prepares to ease lockdown restrictions.

Interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said he expected that the use of isolation centres — which is still under consideration — could be voluntary, but if that were not feasible “all the legal options would be studied, because the fundamental principle is to maintain public health, with exquisite respect for fundamental rights."

The government plans to significantly increase coronavirus testing, which is currently at between 15,000 and 20,000 tests a day. To that end, it will complete the distribution of 1 million rapid tests to the regional governments by Monday, health minister Salvador Illa said.

Greece quarantines second asylum-seekers’ camp

Kerin Hope in Athens

Greece has quarantined a second asylum-seekers' camp near Athens after an Afghan resident tested positive for coronavirus, the migration ministry said on Sunday.

The 53-year-old man came to the medical unit in the camp at Malakasa, 40km north of the Greek capital, showing symptoms of Covid-19. He was taken to an Athens hospital for testing on Saturday, according to a ministry statement.

It was the second case recorded in the past week at a Greek facility for refugees and migrants. A woman staying at a camp at Ritsona outside Athens tested positive after giving birth at a maternity hospital in Athens. Another 23 people she had contact with were confirmed as having the virus.

More than 2,000 people live in tents and container homes at the Malakas camp, including 1,600 people transferred last month from the island of Lesvos to await deportation to their countries of origin.

Singapore reports highest rise yet in new coronavirus cases

Mercedes Ruehl in Singapore

Singapore on Sunday reported the highest daily number of new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infected to 1,309 people.

The city state, which on Friday announced it would bring in strict new distancing measures to contain the virus' spread, said it had confirmed a record 120 new cases. A significant number were linked to existing clusters in two foreign worker dormitories, which house 19,800 people. Both dormitories have been "gazetted as isolation areas" the government said, meaning workers will not be able to leave their rooms for 14 days.

The rise in cases came after Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the strictest social distancing measures yet to fight the spread of the virus, which will run from April 7 to May 4. The government has been internationally recognised for its success in dealing with the outbreak but it has recently struggled to contain a new wave of locally-transmitted infections.

Heng Swee Keat, Singapore deputy prime minister, also the city's finance minister, on Monday will announce additional support for workers, households and vulnerable groups. 

Police caution Scotland medical chief for breach of own lockdown advice

Jim Pickard in London

Police in Scotland have cautioned the country's chief medical officer after she was photographed visiting her second home, having advised others to avoid unnecessary travel.

Chief constable Iain Livingstone said in a statement on the Police Scotland Twitter feed: “Earlier today local officers visited Dr Catherine Calderwood and spoke to her about her actions, reiterated crucial advice and issued a warning about her future conduct, all of which she accepted.

“The legal instructions on not leaving your home without a reasonable excuse apply to everyone. Individuals must not make personal exemptions bespoke to their own circumstances. It is vital that everyone adheres to these requirements.”

Dr Calderwood had previously said in a public information film: “To help save lives, stay at home." She was photographed on Saturday with her family and dog walking on the Firth of Forth, some 45 miles from her main home. She has apologised but resisted calls for her resignation.

Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of 'serious mistakes' but offers support

Jim Pickard in London

New UK Labour party leader Keir Starmer said he would work constructively with the government in the national interest to tackle the pandemic – but would not shy away from asking difficult questions.

The former shadow Brexit secretary, who won the Labour leadership race by a landslide on Saturday, made the comments in a phone call on Sunday with government officials. Earlier, Sir Keir criticised Boris Johnson’s handling of the crisis, saying the prime minister had made “serious mistakes” in recent weeks.

He said ministers had been slow in explaining why the UK was “so far behind” other countries in testing. He told the BBC he would not “demand the impossible” or do opposition for the sake of opposition.

“Getting the balance right is important here. We have to be supportive, constructive, support the government where we should do so,” he said. “The Labour party under my leadership will ask difficult questions but only for the purpose of pointing out mistakes so they can be put right.”

The government, he added, would need to “reimagine” the economy after the crisis in order to rebalance it, saying: “I think it is inevitable that we have to ask those that have more to pay more….when we are through there is going to have to be a reckoning.”

Breaking news

Rise in UK Covid-19 fatalities slows but growth in infections quickens

The number of new Covid-19 deaths reported in the UK has eased but diagnosed infections have risen at the quickest pace to date.

More than 600 Covid-19 patients died in the UK in the 24 hours to Saturday night, marking a slowdown in the pace of fatalities from Friday. The death toll rose by 619 people as of 5pm on Saturday to 4,932, according to the Department of Health. It had risen by 708 people the previous day.

The total number of those infected in the UK rose to 47,806 as of 9am on Sunday, from 41,903 the previous day. The increase of 5,903 was the highest yet, with diagnosed cases in one day breaching the 5,000 threshold for the first time.

England accounted for the bulk of the new fatalities, with 555 people dying, NHS England reported. London reported the most deaths, at 137, followed by the North East and Yorkshire at 103. Patients were aged between 33 years and 103 years old and most had underlying health conditions, NHS England said.

The UK and England figures only include deaths of those diagnosed with Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at hospital, and not in the community such as in care homes.

New Tokyo cases top 100 for second consecutive day

Robin Harding in Tokyo

The city of Tokyo now has more than 1,000 cases of coronavirus after the highest daily figure to date continued an acceleration that has brought calls for lockdown in the Japanese capital.

There were 143 new diagnoses on Sunday, the second consecutive day to top 100 cases in the city - 118 patients were diagnosed on Saturday. That took the Tokyo figure to 1,033 out of a national total of 3,806.

Covid-19 has developed relatively slowly in Japan, despite its close links with China, but the figures have accelerated in the last 10 days. Although schools have been closed for weeks, the city remains largely open for business.

Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, said the number of cases was a surprise. "The most surprising thing is there are more than 90 cases where we cannot trace the source. It's mainly younger people: there are almost 90 cases between their twenties and their forties."

After a change in government guidelines, mild cases will no longer be admitted to hospital but will stay in hotels, in order to relieve pressure on the medical system.

What you might have missed over the past few hours

Here is a rundown of the news you might have missed so far today:

• The global rate of growth in new Covid-19 infections slowed on Saturday to 84,821, down from Friday’s peak of 100,000. The total now stands at just over 1.2m. Saturday was the second deadliest day in the global coronavirus pandemic, however, with 5,800 fatalities. A total of 64,780 people have lost their lives since the outbreak began late last year.

• The World Bank has called on the global community to support the poorest countries, many of which have health systems that are ill equipped to deal with the challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.

• In the UK, health secretary Matt Hancock admitted that the country is likely to fall far short of its target for ventilators when the coronavirus peak is expected. Mr Hancock told the BBC that he had set a new target of 18,000 ventilators – double the current level – but conceded there could be only 13,500 in hospitals by Easter, when experts predict Covid-19 will reach a high. He also suggested that UK residents could be banned from taking exercise outside unless they follow the current “social distancing” rules.

• In Europe, Spain marked its third straight daily drop in the number of people who have died after contracting coronavirus as the spread of the virus in the country slows. 674 people died of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, down from Saturday’s death toll of 809. This is the lowest daily fatality count in more than a week.

• One of Angela Merkel’s closest advisers has rejected calls for the issuance of joint European debt, or eurobonds, as he warned that the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in Germany was “still ahead of us”.

• Belgium has seen a sharp fall in new admissions to its intensive care units, as the country’s three-week-long lockdown relieves the pressure on its hospitals. The total number of coronavirus patients in intensive care rose by 16 in the past 24 hours, the lowest number since the health ministry started publishing the data on March 20.

• Elsewhere, the Kremlin reiterated its assertion that Russia was not at fault for the collapse of an oil production deal with Saudi Arabia and other Opec producers, instead blaming Riyadh for the price war and supply glut that has exacerbated a collapse in oil prices caused by the pandemic.

• Elsewhere, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday businesses that are considered to have a low or moderate risk of boosting the spread of the virus could resume work on April 11 in all provinces except for Tehran, the capital, in an effort to dull the economic effects of coronavirus.

Dutch death rate slows, pointing to impact of social distancing measures

Mehreen Khan in Brussels

The Netherlands has reported its lowest daily deaths from the virus in six days, in tentative signs that the country's social distancing measures are having an effect.

The Dutch health authority said there were 115 deaths from coronavirus in the last 24 hours, dropping from Saturday's reported total of 164.

The Netherlands has not imposed a full lockdown, compared to those in Italy and Spain, but has implemented tough social distancing measures and banned all meetings until June.

The country's total number of deaths is at 1,766.

Scotland medical chief apologises for flouting her own travel advice

Jim Pickard in London

Scotland’s chief medical officer is facing calls to resign after she was photographed visiting her second home, having advised others to avoid unnecessary travel.

Catherine Calderwood had previously told the public in a public information film: “To help save lives, stay at home.” But she was photographed on Saturday with her family and dog walking on the Firth of Forth, some 45 miles from her main home.

Monica Lennon, health spokeswoman for Scottish Labour, said Ms Calderwood’s position was untenable. She said the CMO’s actions had “undermined Scotland’s pandemic response and her own credibility” and said she could not continue in the role.

In a statement, Ms Calderwood apologised but refused to resign.
“While there are reasons for what I did, they do not justify it and they were not legitimate reasons to be out of my home," she said.

"While I and my family followed the guidance on social distancing at all times, I understand that I did not follow the advice I am giving to others, and I am truly sorry for that.”

Lifesaver or false protection: do face masks stop coronavirus?

Western countries have begun to embrace the mass public use of face masks to combat coronavirus in a growing trend that mimics longstanding anti-pandemic measures in parts of Asia.

Austria this week followed Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bosnia-Herzegovina by saying it would be compulsory for people to wear the protective gear outside the home. Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, also urged citizens this week to wear face masks or even home-made coverings when they were outside.

So can masks halt the spread of coronavirus? Most experts agree that wearing a face mask can stop some virus-laden watery droplets that are expelled into the air when a person coughs, sneezes or just breathes out. More contentious is whether they help reduce the risk of a person becoming infected by inhaling the virus through their nose or ingesting via the mouth.

A big problem in resolving the debate conclusively has been the lack of proper clinical trials on the impact of masks on viral infection rates.

To read more on this story click here

Russia blames Saudi Arabia for oil price war

Henry Foy in Moscow

The Kremlin has reiterated its assertion that Russia is not at fault for the collapse of an oil production deal with Saudi Arabia and other Opec producers, instead blaming Riyadh for a price war and supply glut that has exacerbated a collapse in oil prices caused by the pandemic.

The war of words between Moscow and Riyadh, which began on Friday when President Vladimir Putin accused Saudi Arabia of ramping up production to hurt the shale oil industry, could scupper an initiative to strike a deal between major producers to cut oil production. A meeting to discuss potential cuts originally scheduled for Monday has been delayed to Thursday.

"Russia was not a supporter of the cessation of the Opec + deal. President Putin and the Russian side are in general inclined towards a constructive negotiation process, to which there appears to be no alternative in order to stabilise the international energy market," said Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

"We now see that our partners from Saudi Arabia have embarked on an unprecedented discounting [of their oil]. They embarked on an unprecedented increase in production," Mr Peskov told state-run television. "Well, what did it lead to? It led to a situation where with just a little more oil, all the storage in the world will be full."

He added: "Tankers are already being used not for transporting oil, but in fact as floating canisters. In the end, we just get a completely minimal oil price, which is not beneficial to any country."

Rate of increase in Germany's Covid-19 fatalities picks up slightly

Joe Miller

The daily number of new confirmed coronavirus deaths in Germany has risen to 184, after remaining at approximately 140 for the past few days.

Figures released by the Robert Koch Institut on Sunday morning show the fatality rate in the country has crept up to 1.5 per cent, with a total 1,342 confirmed deaths.

Overall, there have been 91,714 confirmed cases, with Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hamburg suffering the highest per-capita rates of infection.

Bavaria's minister president, Markus Söder, took to Twitter on Sunday morning, pleading with citizens to follow social-distancing rules, and not be tempted to congregate because of the good weather.

Fewer deaths in Veneto offer clues for fight against coronavirus

Miles Johnson in Rome

Lombardy and Veneto recorded Italy’s first local cases of coronavirus at the end of February, and established Europe’s first lockdowns. Since then, the death rate in the two wealthy northern Italian regions has diverged.

Lombardy, which has a population of 10m people, has a death rate of 17 per cent. As of Wednesday, it accounted for 57.7 per cent of Italy’s total of 13,155 declared deaths from the virus. Meanwhile Veneto, which has a population of 4.9m, has a death rate of just over 5 per cent. It has suffered 499 deaths out of 9,625 diagnosed cases.

Higher levels of testing and tracing in Veneto is the most widely cited explanation for why the region has managed to control its outbreak more effectively than its neighbours.

Veneto had conducted 112,746 tests as of Wednesday, the second highest in Italy after the 121,449 of Lombardy, in spite of having half of its population.

As well as citing Veneto's historic expertise in infectious disease, virologists say another critical factor has been the number of diagnosed patients being hospitalised. The hospitalisation rate in Lombardy at the start of the outbreak was around 65 per cent, compared with 20 per cent in Veneto. Experts say that when hospitals are rapidly populated by infected patients, this facilitates transmission to uninfected patients and, crucially, health workers.

Veneto also has a network of smaller medical centres, which eases the strain on large hospitals as well.

To read more on this story click here.

World Bank calls for support for poorest countries facing virus crisis

Emma Agyemang

The World Bank has called on the global community to support the poorest countries, many of which have health systems that are ill equipped to deal with the challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Axel van Trotsenburg, the World Bank managing director of operations, spoke on Sunday of the urgent situation facing developing economies.

“We need to consider that these countries' health systems are the weakest in the world, and they need our full support,” he said on the BBC on Sunday. “In Europe for every 300 people, there’s one doctor. In many countries in Africa it is 70,000 people per one doctor. That gives you the size of the challenge and the need to act.”

The health actions some developing countries have taken to contain the virus by imposing widescale lockdowns could have the knock-on effect of causing an “imminent food crisis for…the poorest of the poor”, he warned. “We need to think about it and to act.”

Mr van Trotsenburg also warned of a “world recession” on the horizon. He gave his backing to the vast stimulus packages many developed countries have unleashed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

“These are very unprecedentedly large amounts we’re seeing [with] stimulus packages in the order of 10 to 15 per cent of GDP,” he said. “What we have learned from [previous] crises is the world needs to act fast, decisively as well as massively. I think therefore it is correct.”

Vietnam reports no new Covid-19 cases for first time in a month

John Reed in Bangkok

Vietnam on Sunday reported no new coronavirus cases for the first time in a month, raising hopes that new infections might be levelling off for one of the countries hit first by the disease after China.

Vietnam reported its first Covid-19 case in January, and since then has taken aggressive steps to contain the disease, including through the forced quarantine of more than 66,000 people, more than two-thirds of them at centralised government-run camps, and the close tracing of those who came into contact with patients.

As of Sunday, Vietnam had reported 240 coronavirus cases and no deaths from the disease

• Since this story was first published, Vietnam's Ministry of Health has announced one more case of Covid-19 infection, bringing the country's tally of cases to 241

Belgian intensive care admissions at lowest since lockdown began

Jim Brunsden in Brussels

Belgium has seen a sharp fall in new admissions to its intensive care units, as the country’s three-week-long lockdown relieves the pressure on its hospitals.

The total number of coronavirus patients in intensive care rose by 16 in the past 24 hours, the lowest number since the health ministry started publishing the data on March 20.

The occupancy rate of the country’s intensive care beds is just over 50 per cent.

Some 5,735 people are hospitalised with the illness, up 57 from Saturday morning; 1,261 of those patients are in intensive care.

Breaking news

Spanish death toll rises at slowing pace for third day

Ian Mount in Madrid

Spain marked its third straight daily drop in the number of people who have died after contracting coronavirus as the spread of the virus in the country slows.

Government figures released on Sunday showed that 12,418 people have died after being infected, 674 of them in the past 24 hours. This compares with Saturday’s death toll of 809 and is the lowest daily fatality count in more than a week. Spain has recorded the highest national death toll from the virus after Italy.

The rate of increase in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus is also decelerating, three weeks into a nationwide lockdown.

As of Saturday, the number of confirmed cases totaled 130,759, a 4.8 per cent rise on the previous day’s total and the lowest daily percentage increase for weeks. The accumulated total of those who have recovered rose 11 per cent on
Saturday’s total to 38,080.

The drop in deaths comes a day after prime minister Pedro Sánchez announced that his government would request a two-week extension of the state of alert that the government has used to lock down the country. The state of alert is currently slated to end on April 12.

While three weeks of isolation are “bearing fruit”, Mr Sánchez said the country’s health systems needed more time to recover from an avalanche of coronavirus patients. More than 6,800 have required intensive care unit hospitalisation during the pandemic.

During the announcement of the extended state of alert, Mr Sánchez also again pushed his call for the joint European debt to finance the fight against coronavirus, an idea that has met strong resistance from Germany, the Netherlands and several other European countries.

“Spain will not give up the Eurobonds,” he said. “This debt, this economic crisis and its impact on our public accounts, have to be community-based because it is affecting the whole of the European Union.”

Top Merkel advisor rejects call for eurobonds

Joe Miller

One of Angela Merkel’s closest advisers has rejected calls for the issuance of joint European debt, or eurobonds, as he warned that the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in Germany was “still ahead of us”.

Helge Braun, head of the chancellery office in Berlin, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that the German government “remained sceptical of anything that threatens the stability of the economic and monetary area”.

But the CDU politician, who is also a medical doctor, offered tentative support for using EU funds to help countries pay for furlough schemes.

Markus Söder, the head of the Bavarian CSU, one of Germany’s coalition partners, told Bild am Sonntag that tax cuts would be needed to stimulate the economy after the crisis, as well as "massive support" from the state for purchases of electric cars to kickstart the country’s auto industry.

Mr Söder, whose party is in the same European Parliament group as Viktor Orban’s Fidesz, also offered mild criticism of the Hungarian leader’s moves to impose indefinite rule by prime ministerial decree, saying: “the measures leave a very bad feeling”.

On Sunday, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a leading proponent of eurobonds, again pushed for a "new debt mutualisation mechanism" in an open letter published in 10 European papers.

"The Spanish have always protected and defended the European project. It is time for reciprocity. With us, with Italy and with each and every one of the 27 countries of the union," he wrote.

Ian Mount contributed reporting from Madrid

Hancock concedes UK will fall short of target for ventilators at viral peak

Jim Pickard

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has admitted that the UK is likely to fall far short of its target for ventilators when the coronavirus peak is expected.

Mr Hancock told the BBC that he had set a new target of 18,000 ventilators – double the current level – but conceded there could be only 13,500 in hospitals by Easter, when experts predict Covid-19 will reach a high.

He also suggested that UK residents could be banned from taking exercise outside unless they follow the current “social distancing” rules.

“If you don’t want us to have to take the step to ban exercise of all forms outside of your own home, then you’ve got to follow the rules.”

Mr Hancock told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that sunbathing was not allowed under the terms of the lockdown.

“We’ve said because of the positive benefits to your physical and your mental health that it’s OK to exercise on your own or with members of your own household,” he said.

“But if the result of that is that too many people go out and flout the other rules because they say ‘well if I can exercise, then it’s fine for me to do other things’, then I’m afraid we will have to take action.”

Iran to begin loosening restrictions in bid to bolster economy

Monavar Khalaj in Tehran

Iran will start loosening restrictions on some businesses within a week as the government attempts to dull the economic effects of coronavirus on an economy already reeling from US sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday businesses that are considered to have a low or moderate risk of boosting the spread of the virus could resume work on April 11 in all provinces except for Tehran, the capital. Similar businesses in Tehran province could get back to work not sooner than April 18.

The president ordered state organisations to continue work from April 11 with two-thirds of their employees instead of the current one-third, and said they should start work at least an hour earlier in the morning across the country.

Schools, universities, higher-risk businesses such as sports gyms and swimming pools as well as religious sites will remain closed at least until April 18. A ban on travel between provinces will stay in place.

Iran is under the toughest ever US sanctions, which have damaged the economy, and particularly affected poorer Iranians, even before the outbreak of the respiratory illness. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the economy contracted by 9.5 per cent last year.

As the country’s New Year holidays ended on Saturday, photos by domestic media showed heavy traffic in the streets, prompting officials to warn against the possibility of an increase in the spread of the virus. Officials say the number of people referred to hospitals has risen by 30 per cent over the past two days in Tehran.

Breaking news

Rise in global Covid-19 infections eases but death toll mounts

Steve Bernard, data visualisation journalist

The rate of growth in new Covid-19 infections slowed on Saturday to below 100,000, although it still marked the second worst day yet for fatalities from the disease.

There were 84,821 cases of Covid-19 confirmed on Saturday, down from Friday's peak of over 100,000. The total now stands at just over 1.2m.

Saturday was the second deadliest day in the global coronavirus pandemic, with 5,800 fatalities. A total of 64,780 people have lost their lives since the outbreak began late last year.

The US continues to struggle to contain the virus with 34,196 cases added on Saturday, bringing the total to 311,637. This is the fourteenth straight day that the country has confirmed more cases than the day before.

Spain has now overtaken Italy as the worst affected country in Europe by cases. However, the country is starting to see a reduction in people diagnosed each day. Spain added 6,969 and Italy 4,805, both well down from their respective peaks.

The UK saw a slight fall in the number of cases confirmed on Saturday, with a further 3,735 diagnosed with coronavirus. But the daily death toll continues to grow rapidly. More than 700 people died in the 24-hour period ending on Friday evening, almost a four-fold increase from just five days earlier.

The number of recovered cases globally rose by 17,878 on Saturday, leaving a total of 246,467 free from the virus.

UK health secretary denies reports of row with Rishi Sunak

Jim Pickard

Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, has denied reports of a growing rift with chancellor Rishi Sunak over the economic fallout from measures to halt the Covid-19 pandemic.

Treasury sources told the Mail on Sunday that Mr Sunak has made “robust” representations to Mr Hancock arguing for a clear path back to normality to prevent permanent devastation to the UK economy.

“It is fair to say we need to be considering all ways of protecting lives and wellbeing, not just the loss of life from the virus, but the wider implications of a major downturn as well,” one Treasury official said.

Analysts at Nomura, the investment bank, project the UK economy could shrink by 7.8 per cent in 2020, a far worse fall in output than the 2008 financial crisis.

Some Tory MPs have also started to question the huge price of the lockdown, citing studies showing that other deaths could be caused by a rise in mental illness, unemployment or missed hospital appointments for other conditions.

The Sunday Times also reported Treasury concerns about the health effects of a long lockdown which led to a deep recession - including delays to screening and treatment of other conditions such as cancer.

Speaking on Sky News on Sunday morning, Mr Hancock said Mr Sunak was doing an “absolutely brilliant” job as chancellor of the exchequer. “We are working very closely together,” he said.

Football trade body says pay cuts would sharply cut taxes to NHS

Murad Ahmed, Sports Editor

Premier League players have said demands to take steep pay cuts would result in millions of pounds less in taxes to the NHS, as part of an intensifying row about how to spread the financial losses faced by the English game from suspension of fixtures in the coronavirus pandemic.

The Professional Footballers’ Association, the players' trade body, has so far resisted calls from the top tier of English football for elite players to take a 30 per cent pay cut. Last week, health secretary Matt Hancock also called on Premier League players to “take a cut and play their part”.

Following the latest round of crisis talks this weekend with the Premier League and the English Football League, the PFA said:

The proposed 30 per cent salary deduction over a 12-month period equates to over £500m in wage reductions and a loss in tax contributions of over £200m to the government.

What effect does this loss of earning to the government mean for the NHS? Was this considered in the Premier League proposal and did the health secretary, Matt Hancock, factor this in when asking players to take a salary cut?

The PFA has also been critical of moves by some Premier League clubs owned by billionaires, including Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, for using the UK government’s furlough scheme to fund the wages of non-playing staff, without having first agreed cuts with their high-earning footballers.

On Saturday, league leaders Liverpool became the latest team to say it would use the taxpayer-backed scheme for “some” of its staff.

Saudi Arabia and UAE sustain hit to non-oil related activity

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

The non-oil sectors of the Gulf states’ two largest economies are decelerating rapidly as the impact of coronavirus shakes Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to new business confidence surveys.

IHS Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index saw Saudi non-oil sector conditions decline at their fastest pace in more than a decade, recording their lowest level since the survey began in August 2009. The kingdom’s PMI fell to 42.4 in March - the first time it has fallen below the neutral value of 50 - from 52.5 in February. Steep declines in output levels and new orders weighed on the PMI, though employment was “relatively resilient”, with staffing falling only fractionally.

In the UAE the index dropped to a record low of 45.2 in March from 49.1 in February – its third monthly decline – as firms reported the sharpest decrease in employment on record, with companies making staff redundant and asking employees to reduce hours.

New orders fell at their quickest pace on record as tourism, trade and consumer demand were all hit by Covid-19. Demand declined as firms reduced activity and costs in March. Output also decelerated further, though this was offset by consumer bulk-buying.

UK 'concerned' over Trump's protectionist moves on medical equipment

The UK health secretary has said he is "very concerned" about Donald Trump's accelerating push to force US manufacturers of key protective equipment to ship it to America rather than to customers in other countries. 

Matt Hancock said on a Sky News interview that it "does not benefit anyone for countries to put up barriers", when asked for his view on Mr Trump's latest interventions that are meant to boost US supplies of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves. 

Mr Hancock's remarks come a day after the US was accused of intercepting masks made by American company 3M bound for Berlin. 3M said it found "no evidence" that such an action took place, but a senior German official claimed they had been "confiscated" in Thailand and never reached the Germany capital. 

Mr Trump said on Saturday 3M would have "a hell of a price to pay" if it did not do a better job of "taking care" of the US. "We're very disappointed in 3M. They should be taking care of our country and they can sell to others, but they should be taking care of our country," he said. 

The UK "must be a beacon for openness of supply chains across the world," Mr Hancock said on Sunday, noting that many medicines are produced across several different countries. 

Mr Hancock was also asked about the health of Boris Johnson, who was diagnosed more than a week ago with Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Mr Hancock said the prime minister still has a fever but that Mr Johnson nevertheless had his "hand on the tiller". 

UAE central bank eases reserve requirements to boost lenders

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

The United Arab Emirates central bank has halved some reserve requirements as it extends banking stimulus measures to Dh256bn ($70bn) in its latest bid to protect the economy from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures comprise Dh50bn in capital buffer relief, Dh50bn in zero-cost funding support, Dh95bn in liquidity buffer relief and Dh61bn in the reduction of cash reserve requirements.

The central bank said it would reduce reserve requirements for demand deposits from 14 per cent to 7 per cent.

“The additional measures announced today will effectively relieve the pressure on financial institutions, allowing them to continue to carry out their crucial role as the backbone of the economy while offering the required relief and continued access to funding for businesses and households,” said Abdulhamid Saeed, the central bank governor.

The central bank also extended a relief programme for retail and corporate customers, which allows banks to defer principal and interest payments, until the end of 2020.

To assist the programme, banks were granted extensions until the end of the year on zero-cost funding facilities, capital buffer relief and a release from liquidity buffer requirements.

The planned implementation of some Basel III capital standards will also be delayed until the end of March 2020 to “minimise the operational burden on the financial industry during this challenging period”, the central bank announced.

Carnival faces criminal probe over infections from cruise ship

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

Authorities in Australia say they will conduct a criminal investigation into the circumstances that led to a Carnival Australia cruise ship disembarking more than 600 passengers in Sydney who have since tested positive for the coronavirus.

New South Wales state police chief Mick Fuller said on Sunday the investigation would look at whether Carnival crew were transparent in alerting local authorities to the danger that some patients may have been sick with the virus before they disembarked.

“There is clear evidence that [coronavirus] has been brought off that ship,” Mr Fuller told reporters.

He said there appeared to be discrepancies between the information provided by Carnival and what he considers the benchmark for laws enacted by state and federal authorities to protect Australians.

The investigation will look at the roles of Carnival and all government agencies involved in the March 19 disembarkation. Since then, 622 passengers and crew on board the Ruby Princess have tested positive with coronavirus and 10 have died.

The bio-security blunder in allowing the ship’s passengers to disembark without adequate testing and quarantine procedures is responsible for a tenth of Australia’s cases of coronavirus.

"In addition to willingly participating in the investigation, Carnival Australia will vigorously respond to any allegations of which there must now be full disclosure and the basis for them," a Carnival spokesman said.

Mr Fuller said there were still nearly 200 crew on board the Ruby Princess with symptoms of coronavirus.

Bali tourist arrivals plunge to 5% of pre-pandemic levels

Arrivals to the Indonesian tourist island of Bali have fallen to about 5 per cent of normal traffic, state media reported.

Putu Astawa, head of the Bali provincial government's tourism office, told the Antara news agency that about 500 tourists per day now arrive on the island, compared with 10,500-11,000 per day before the coronavirus pandemic.

The majority of the visitors were Australians, he said.

The resort island welcomed 363,937 foreign travellers in February, a decline of 31.19 per cent over January, official provincial data show.

HSBC investors threaten action over dividend cancellation

Retail investors in Hong Kong have threatened legal action against HSBC and will attempt to force the bank to hold an extraordinary general meeting, after it was pressured by UK regulators to cancel its dividend due to the coronavirus crisis.

The controversy surrounding the suspension of HSBC’s annual payout to shareholders for the first time in nearly 75 years has again highlighted the lender’s complicated situation in Hong Kong, where it derives most of its profits before tax.

Individual HSBC shareholders in the Asian financial hub — ranging from wealthy business people to low-income earners — have banded together in an attempt to reach the threshold of 5 per cent of outstanding shares required to secure an EGM.

Read the full report here

Trump asks India to release antimalarial drug for Covid-19 use

Stephanie Findlay in New Delhi

US President Donald Trump has called on India to release shipments of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug identified as a potential treatment for coronavirus, after New Delhi banned exports of the drug last month.

During a White House briefing on Saturday, Mr Trump said he had phoned Indian prime minister Narendra Modi on Saturday to request the drug.

"I said I'd appreciate it if they would release the amounts that we ordered and they are giving it serious consideration," said Mr Trump.

The US leader repeated his claim that hydroxychloroquine is a "gamechanger", despite lack of concrete evidence about its effectiveness.

"The [US Food and Drug Administration] also gave emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine, we're going to be distributing it through the strategic national stockpile," said Mr Trump.

India, one of the largest producers of hydroxychloroquine, has prioritised the supply of the drug for its own people, banning exports with few exceptions on March 25 as the number of positive cases has surged.

India, with 1.37bn people, has reported more than 3,300 Covid-19 infections with 77 deaths as of Sunday.

Hong Kong official warns of broader economic threat from pandemic

Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s finance chief said on Sunday that the coronavirus outbreak’s economic impact has spread from retail and tourism to almost all sectors of commerce and industry in the Chinese territory.

Paul Chan, financial secretary, wrote in his blog that many Hong Kong companies faced a sudden halt in payments due from their European and North American customers.

Many had refused to pay for goods and had cancelled orders, exacerbating cash flow difficulties for many Hong Kong suppliers.

He said future relief measures will shift from focusing on providing assistance to individual industries to all companies.

The government has already set up a HK$30bn (US$3.9bn) fund to provide direct financial assistance to guesthouses, restaurants and other food outlets, travel agents and retailers as well as guarantee loans for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Mr Chan also urged landlords to cut rent. “We believe that this is the time for the property owners, including many large developers, to take on more social responsibilities,” he said.

“The owners should actively respond to the community’s strong demand for rent reduction over the past few months.”

Swiss score successes with payouts to small businesses

Switzerland unveiled its SFr20bn ($20bn) package of emergency loans to support small businesses on March 25. In its first week of operating, it disbursed more than SFr15bn to 76,034 businesses.

On Friday, Bern announced that it would double the facility to SFr40bn.

Its success is drawing attention elsewhere in Europe, with Swiss banks and the government in contact with European counterparts in recent days over how the scheme is structured.

Read the full report here

Indian banks face reckoning due to coronavirus lockdown

India’s banks and shadow lenders face a surge in bad debts due to the nationwide economic lockdown aimed at combating the coronavirus outbreak, risking a wave of corporate defaults.

Rating agencies and analysts are concerned the strict, 21-day lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — which has shut down all but the most essential economic activity — threatens the health of the banking sector, particularly the 10,000 or so less-regulated shadow lenders.

Small businesses “are always on the edge, they're on the brink in terms of their finances,” said Nirmal Jain, founder of financial group IIFL, which also has a non-bank financial group. “If [the lockdown is] over a couple of weeks from now, people will manage. But if it gets prolonged, then there will be a serious problem.”

Read the full report here

China sees rise in local transmission of coronavirus

Ryan McMorrow in Beijing and Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

China reported a rise in new locally transmitted coronavirus cases as the country works to fend off a second wave of infections.

The National Health Commission reported five new locally transmitted cases, all in the southern province of Guangdong, as well as 31 new local asymptomatic cases, as of Saturday.

A leading Hong Kong microbiologist said the five cases on Saturday with untraceable sources in Guangdong were likely to have been related to imported cases from Europe or the US.

Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong said he was concerned that the reopening of factories and offices in China might bring a third wave of coronavirus infection to the territory.

Infections, Prof Yuen said, could spread from China to overseas and then back to China and on to Hong Kong.

China also reported 25 cases and 16 asymptomatic cases imported from abroad.

The official number of deaths ticked up by three to 3,329.

Mexican president insists pandemic is ‘transitory crisis’

Jude Webber in Mexico City

Mexico confirmed 1,890 cases of coronavirus on Saturday, a 12 per cent rise on the previous day, and 79 deaths, as the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, appealed for 10,000 specialist intensive-care medical staff.

Mr López Obrador, who is due to unveil his economic rescue plan at his quarterly state of the nation report on Sunday, visited hospitals near Mexico City, including a navy facility. He said he hoped that “we can control coronavirus without using intensive care areas”.

Despite predictions from economists and businesspeople that Mexico would be pulverised by coronavirus without support measures from the government that the president so far appears reluctant to provide, Mr López Obrador again described it as a “transitory crisis”.

Mr López Obrador later tweeted that he had held a video call with BlackRock chief Larry Fink to discuss the economic impact of the crisis. No details of their discussion were immediately available.


Earlier, Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said she was donating two months of her salary – 156,728 pesos ($6,261) – for the purchase of specialist medical equipment.

She urged other officials to do the same, on a voluntary basis. Mr López Obrador has already said government officials will contribute by taking no pay rise this year.

United to sharply reduce flights from New York City region

Claire Bushey in Chicago

United Airlines plans to cut the number of flights from the US centre of the coronavirus outbreak, the New York region, by nearly 90 per cent.

Chief operating officer Greg Hart said in a memo to employees that starting from Sunday, United will reduce flights from its hub in Newark from 139 a day to 15. The number of daily flights from LaGuardia Airport will drop from 18 to two.

The schedule change will last at least three weeks.

“While New York and New Jersey are the primary Covid-19 hotspots today, we will also watch the situation on the ground in stations all across our network and evaluate additional mitigation measures we can take in those locations as well,” Mr Hart said.

The change means more United staffers can stay home without threat to their pay or benefits.

United chief executive Oscar Munoz said previously the airline will maintain current staffing levels through September 30, but not necessarily after that date.

New Zealand PM says early and tight lockdown is paying off

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand prime minister, said her country’s early closing of borders and tight restrictions on movement to combat the coronavirus pandemic are paying off.

The combined total of confirmed and probable cases in New Zealand on Sunday was 1,039. There has been just one death, a Greymouth woman in her 70s with an underlying health condition.

Growth in cases had been relatively steady, she said on Sunday. “We haven’t seen the exponential growth others have that leads to an overwhelmed health system. What we have done as a country is making a difference.”

Ms Ardern said health officials had initially expected 4,000 cases by now but instead New Zealand has only about 1,000.

“Those 3,000 fewer cases shows the difference that cumulative action can make," she said. "3,000 fewer people sick with Covid-19; 3,000 fewer people passing the virus on to others and then to others."

The prime minister said New Zealand had recorded a 91 per cent reduction in movement, according to Google data, one of the sharpest restrictions in advanced economies.

"The lockdown is the best way to stop the virus, and it is also the best thing for our economy by making the pain as short as possible," she said.

Ms Ardern noted that New Zealand closed its borders 25 days after the first case was recorded, compared with Germany's 49 days, Spain's 52, Australia's 55 and Singapore's 61 days.

"Our first economic package was in place 18 days after the first case. Most countries took more than 40 days," she added.

Airbus slashes production of popular A320 jets

Airbus has sharply reduced production of its most popular single-aisle passenger jet, the A320 series, as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation industry worsened.

The manufacturer expects output to fall well below the 60 jets a month achieved before the crisis.

Toulouse-based Airbus is also expected in the coming weeks to reduce production of its twin-aisle A350 and A330 aircraft.

Read the full report here

Premier League calls for players to take 30% salary cut

England’s Premier League has called on its players to take a 30 per cent cut to their annual pay, in the latest effort to address a deepening cash crunch in the national game caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Footballers are at an impasse with the country’s leagues over demands to accept wage reductions, while politicians have attacked top clubs and players over their response to a financial crisis caused by the postponement of fixtures due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Read the full story here

British monarch to address nation on coronavirus

Queen Elizabeth will address the nation in a rare broadcast this weekend, praising NHS workers and calling for resolve and self-discipline from the public.

The queen will broadcast the four-minute morale-boosting address at 8pm on Sunday, having made the recording earlier at Windsor Castle.

“I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge,” she will say.

Read the full report here

The end of dining out’s belle époque

Fewer entrepreneurs are going to brave the economic risk of the restaurant trade after the coronavirus crisis passes. Those who do will meet fewer willing investors.

A sector that is already defined by overcapacity and hair’s-breadth margins will have to get smaller.

Being able to eat like a Basque, a Laotian, an Israeli, all in one day, and often within one postcode, might come to seem as improbable as the passport-free travel of the era before the first world war does now.

Read the full Janan Ganesh column here

News you might have missed

Donald Trump, the US president, warned on Saturday that the country was about to confront its deadliest week of the coronavirus crisis, with the military preparing to deploy 1,000 personnel to New York. "There will be a lot of death, unfortunately," he said. The Pentagon plans to deploy soldiers and medical personnel to New York City and other parts of the country. "They are going to war,” said Mr Trump. “They're going into a battle they've never really trained for."

The US is considering tariffs on crude imports to protect American energy jobs. "I've been against Opec my whole life," Mr Trump said of the global oil cartel. Oil prices have tumbled in recent weeks, falling to an 18-year low, amid a global drop in consumption triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and a price war launched by Saudi Arabia.

Mr Trump warned that the Minnesota-based company 3M would have "a hell of a price to pay" if it did not do a better job of "taking care" of the US. His comments came after it became public this week that 3M had refused to send about 10m N95 respirator masks that were being produced in Singapore for markets in Asia to the US instead — citing legal and humanitarian reasons.

New York’s coronavirus cases topped 10,000 for a second consecutive day, while the daily death toll passed 600. New York state accounts for 45 per cent of all deaths registered in the US.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said his government is in “constructive discussion” with the US about cross-border supply chains for essential goods following White House efforts to block exports of masks from the US into Canada. He said his government’s message is that “the US will be hurting itself as much as Canada will be hurting if we see an interruption of essential goods and services flow back and forth across the border”.

The UK suffered its deadliest day as cases passed 40,000. The number of deaths from Covid-19 in UK hospitals rose by 708 to a total of 4,313, the Department of Health reported, the worst daily death toll since the outbreak began. A further 3,735 people have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the UK total to 41,903.

Another 441 people have died in France’s hospitals from coronavirus, although the rate of increase of patients needing intensive care has slowed.

The number of patients in intensive care in Italy has fallen for the first time since the outbreak began, according to official statistics.

Germany recorded 6,082 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours and the number of Covid-19 deaths rose by 141 to 1,158, or 14 per cent, according to official data. That was the lowest increase in deaths in more than two weeks.

Greece has extended the country's lockdown by another three weeks to curb the spread of coronavirus, a senior government official said on Saturday. "The next two to three weeks will be critical. We will remain under lockdown till April 27,” Nikos Hardalias, undersecretary for civil protection, said on state television.