U.S. Cases Increase 1.2%, Slowest Pace This Month: Virus Update
A field researcher places a swab sample from a covid-19 positive patient into an identification bag, as part of a treatment trial in Sant Antoni de Vilamajor, Spain (Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg)

U.S. Cases Increase 1.2%, Slowest Pace This Month: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. coronavirus cases increased at the slowest past of the month. New York’s all-day subway system will stop running overnight so cars and platforms can be disinfected. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain is past the peak of the outbreak.

Spain recorded steep declines in new cases and Germany is set to extend restrictions. The European Central Bank intensified its response as shutdowns pushed the region’s economy into a record contraction, and President Christine Lagarde gave a dour 2020 projection.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the agency is moving at “lightning speed” to review data on Gilead Sciences’ experimental treatment remdesivir. Gilead has more than 50,000 courses of the therapy ready to ship as soon as it’s authorized for emergency use.

Key Developments

  • Virus Tracker: global cases top 3.2 million; deaths 231,000
  • Dueling data on Gilead treatment leaves many questions
  • Dead coronavirus particles muddy outcome of test results
  • China data shows global slump undercut nascent recovery
  • World embraces contact-tracing technology to fight Covid-19
  • Road to easing lockdowns is paved with economic trade-offs

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus.

Florida Cases Rise 3.1% Before Partial Reopening (11:11 a.m.)

Florida reported 34,728 cases on Friday, up 3.1% from a day earlier. Deaths among residents reached 1,314, an increase of 3.6%.

Governor Ron DeSantis plans to start reopening much of the state on Monday, with the exception of the three worst-hit counties: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

California Governor Targets Beaches (6:20 a.m. HK)

California Governor Gavin Newsom has taken the fight against the coronavirus to a place nearly sacred in his state -- the beach.

Newsom on Thursday ordered beaches closed in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, after a heatwave last weekend lured crowds of sunbathers there. He pointedly targeted just one coastal county, saying beaches elsewhere hadn’t seen the same numbers of people blatantly violating social distancing.

The move comes as many Californians grow impatient with the state’s virus lockdown, now well into its second month. Although polls have shown a majority of California residents support the restrictions, they are eager to see them end. And yet, the number of coronavirus cases confirmed in the state experienced its biggest one-day jump so far on Wednesday, with 2,417 new cases reported. The virus also killed 95 people in California Wednesday, bringing the total death toll to 1,982.

DOJ Looking into PPP Relief Fraud (5:10 p.m. NY)

The Justice Department has begun a preliminary inquiry into how taxpayer money was lent out under the Paycheck Protection Program and has already found possible fraud among businesses seeking relief, a top official said.

Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, who runs the department’s criminal division, said prosecutors have contacted 15 to 20 of the largest loan processors and the Small Business Administration, which oversees one relief program, as part of an effort to police the trillions of dollars in federal aid being pushed out hastily to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The review has already turned up several red flags in the data prosecutors have examined over the past week, Benczkowski said Thursday in a telephone interview.

“Whenever there’s a trillion dollars out on the street that quickly, the fraudsters are going to come out of the woodwork in an attempt to get access to that money,” Benczkowski said.

Texas Reports Most Deaths in a Single Day (5 p.m. NY)

Texas reported its deadliest Covid-19 day of the pandemic, less than 24 hours before Governor Greg Abbott’s reopening of the state’s economy was set to begin.

The Lone Star state recorded 50 deaths from the virus, a 6.8% increase that pushed the death toll to 782, according to state health department figures. The surge in fatalities came as new cases jumped more than 1,000 for the biggest one-day increase in the raw number of detections since the peak on April 10.

“Decisions will continue to be driven by data and doctors to provide the safest strategies to restore the livelihoods of Texans,” Abbott said in a tweet on Thursday. “Based upon this data, we can continue to open Texas businesses in ways that contain the spread of Covid-19.”

Gilead Says Virus Clouds Outlook (4:30 p.m. NY)

Gilead Sciences Inc. posted stronger-than-forecast results, but the drugmaker said there is significant uncertainty about how Covid-19 will affect its business even though its experimental treatment for the disease appears headed toward a swift U.S. authorization.

There is ample enthusiasm for remdesivir, Gilead Sciences’ experimental medicine for Covid-19 that the Food and Drug Administration is rushing toward allowing on to the U.S. market after early clinical trials. But more broadly, Covid-19 could cause fewer patients to access treatments for conditions such as HIV, the company said.

Amgen to Test Otezla for Covid Treatment (4:15 p.m. NY)

Amgen Inc. will investigate the psoriasis drug Otezla as a potential therapy to treat Covid-19, the company announced during its first-quarter earnings.

Otezla is a medication used to treat certain types of psoriasis as well as psoriatic arthritis. It’s being investigated to treat other immune system-related inflammatory diseases. In those Covid-19 patients that experience extreme symptoms, it’s believed that an overactive immune system may be at least partially to blame. Many critically ill patients experience hyper-inflammation, what’s known as a cytokine storm. It’s exploring if drugs that help temper the immune response may help to curb the severity of the illness.

Amgen picked up the psoriasis drug Otezla in November from Celgene Corp. ahead of the company’s sale to Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. Amgen plans to begin clinical trials of the drug as a potential treatment for adults with Covid-19 within weeks.

Otezla works by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme found in inflammatory cells in the human body. It is thought to modulate the production of inflammatory cytokines, which may prove helpful in inhibiting the inflammatory response associated Covid-19.

U.S. Cases Rise at Slowest Pace This Month (4 p.m. NY)

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. increased 1.2% from the day before to 1.04 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. That was below the average daily increase of 3% over the past week and Wednesday’s 2.7% rise.

  • New Jersey reported 460 new deaths, a record one-day increase, according to Governor Phil Murphy. Fatalities now total 7,228.
  • California reported cases rose 5.3% to 48,917, the biggest one-day jump in new infections. It had 95 deaths, the most in eight days. Hospitalizations remained stable from a day earlier.
  • Florida reported 33,690 cases, up 1.5% from a day earlier, according to the state’s health department. Deaths increased 4.1% to 1,268. Governor Ron DeSantis plans to start reopening the state on May 4.
  • Nebraska had the biggest daily increase in cases, 9.1%, to a total 3,851.

Medicare Eases Testing Rules (3:23 p.m. NY)

People on Medicare will no longer require a doctor’s order to get tested for Covid-19, the Trump administration said Thursday.

The move is aimed at expanding testing at “parking lot” sites, according to an announcement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The federal health programs will also cover certain antibody tests to determine whether people have had past exposure to the virus, and approved at-home tests that let people collect samples themselves.

With the changes, Medicare beneficiaries should be able to get tested at doctors’ offices or hospitals, at their homes, at pharmacies or drive-through testing sites, the agency said. Medicare covers about 60 million older or disabled Americans.

Portugal to Reopen Small Shops (3:15 p.m. NY)

Portugal will allow small stores to reopen from Monday, while shops in malls and the largest stores will have to wait until June 1, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in a presentation of the plan to gradually ease confinement measures during the next month. The government will continue to assess data on the outbreak and if needed “take a step back” in its plan to ease restrictions every two weeks, he said.

Gates: Vaccine Possible in 9 Months (3:15 p.m. NY)

Bill Gates doesn’t think life will return to normal until there’s a viable vaccine that can stop its spread, and said such work could be completed within nine months.

Gates, whose foundation is focusing its efforts on fighting the virus, said in a blog post that he agreed with predictions by infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci that developing a virus could take about 18 months. “It could be as little as nine months or as long as two years,” Gates said.

Even at 18 months, that would still be the fastest that scientists have created a new vaccine, Gates said, adding that he’s thinks eight to 10 of the 115 current Covid-19 vaccine candidates look promising.

Georgia Seniors Ordered to Stay Home (3 p.m. NY)

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp extended his state health emergency through mid-June and urged residents to stay home whenever possible, even as a his shelter-in-place order expires Thursday.

Kemp, in a statement, also said he will sign an order requiring “medically fragile and elderly Georgians” to continue to stay at home through June 12. President Donald Trump last week rebuked Kemp, the first governor to ease restrictions, for allowing barber shops, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys and other businesses to reopen.

Russian Premier Tests Positive (2:19 p.m. NY)

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said he just learned he has tested positive for coronavirus and is temporarily stepping down, becoming the most senior Russian official to be diagnosed with the illness.

“The tests I did for coronavirus came back positive,” Mishustin said in a televised video conversation with President Vladimir Putin. “As a result, I must observe self-isolation and fulfill my doctors’ orders, which is necessary to protect my colleagues.”

NYC Subways to Halt Overnight (12:30 p.m. NY)

The New York City subway system will stop running for four hours overnight, from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., for disinfecting of cars and stations, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. The MTA plans to provide transportation during that time with buses, for hire-vehicles and “dollar vans” at no cost to essential workers, the governor said.

Read more here

Johnson: U.K. Has Passed Peak (12:20 p.m. NY)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. has passed the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, which has now killed more than 26,000 people and forced the country into an ongoing lockdown.

In his first press conference since recovering from Covid-19, Johnson promised to set out details next week on how businesses can get back to work to revive the stalled economy.

‘Months’ of U.S. Measures: DHS (12:15 p.m. NY)

Americans will need to continue social distancing and using cloth face coverings for months, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said. Mitigation measures will be “critically important” beyond next month or the month after, Wolf said during an Auburn University live video event on Thursday.

“These measures and procedures will be with us for some time,” he said.

Trump Noncommital After N.J. Plea (11:50 a.m. NY)

President Donald Trump stopped short of committing to help New Jersey after Democratic Governor Phil Murphy went to the White House Thursday to press for federal aid.

Murphy said the state has been crushed by the outbreak and told Trump he would appreciate “consideration” of further aid to states in the next round of coronavirus-related stimulus. Trump complimented Murphy’s leadership but didn’t explicitly commit to providing aid.

Pelosi Expects $1 Trillion for Governments (12:10 p.m. NY)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the next aid package should provide $1 trillion just for states and cities. State governments have so far sought $500 billion, while local governments have a similar figure, Pelosi said. The funding could cover up to four years of expenses, the speaker said, adding that states and localities should be reimbursed both for virus expenses and revenue losses.

Pelosi expects the House to return to Washington the week of May 11.

Unemployment Strains State Accounts (11:05 a.m. NY)

The record number of Americans drawing unemployment benefits during the pandemic is rapidly draining cash set aide by the biggest U.S. states, leaving them poised to borrow from the federal government.

In April’s first two weeks, New York drew $1 billion from its account, or more than 40% of the total, according to U.S. Treasury Department data. California’s balance dropped by more than $2 billion since March 16, according to state officials. Texas, which had about $1.3 billion left in mid-April, has submitted a loan request to the Labor Department, as have Illinois, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

When accounts run dry, states have to request an advance from the U.S. Labor Department. They have as long as 34 months to repay before the U.S. raises taxes on employers to recoup the money.

Florida Cases Rise 1.5% (11 a.m. NY)

Florida reported 33,690 cases on Thursday, up 1.5% from a day earlier. Deaths among residents reached 1,268, an increase of 4.1%.

New cases rose 2.2% on Tuesday, the highest rate so far this week.

Meat Plants Could Reopen in Days: USDA (10:10 a.m. NY)

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says he expects meat plants to reopen in “days not weeks” under President Donald Trump’s executive order to keep them operating. Perdue anticipates the production shortfall, which he said is about 20% to 30%, to narrow to “10% to 15% within a week to 10 days.”

In a telephone interview, Perdue said he expects slaughterhouse workers to immediately begin receiving protective gear and be tested.

Macy’s Sets Reopening Schedule (9:55 a.m. NY)

Macy’s said it plans to resume operations Monday at 68 locations in Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Oklahoma, where lockdowns are easing.

The retailer, which also owns Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury, has added barriers at cash registers, shut most fitting rooms and adopted a no-touch policy in the beauty department. A second set of stores will open May 11, Macy’s confirmed on Thursday, with the intent to reopen all stores by mid-June.

FDA Moving at ‘Lightning Speed’ on Gilead Drug: Hahn (9:26 a.m. NY)

“We’re working with the company to emphasize the necessity of speed while at the same time to understand the data,” the FDA commissioner said in an interview. “There will be a lot of factors that go into all the regulatory decisions. We want to look at the totality of data to make sure that remdesivir is targeted to the right patients.”

Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, said on NBC’s Today Show that he expected an FDA decision relatively soon. A vaccine could be available by January, he said separately.

Reliance’s Profit Plummets on Oil Rout (9:23 a.m. NY)

Reliance Industries Ltd.’s profit plunged nearly 40% from a year earlier, as lockdowns across the planet slammed demand for fuels, hitting its mainstay refining business.

U.K. Bankruptcies Set to Rise After Lockdown Ends (9:16 a.m. NY)

Bankruptcy experts say that the number of U.K. insolvencies is likely to rise sharply as further evidence emerged of the damage being inflicted by the lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters on Thursday that 4.1 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) of government-backed lending has now been issued under the U.K.’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Two-thirds of U.K. firms have now applied for funds under the government program that pays 80% of the wages of furloughed workers, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Portugal Has Most New Cases in Five Days (9 a.m. NY)

Portugal reported the biggest increase in cases in five days, and the number of patients in intensive-care units rose after dropping for 11 days. There were 540 new confirmed infections, taking the total to 25,045, the government said. The number of deaths rose by 16 to 989.

Later on Thursday, Portugal is set to announce which businesses can reopen from May 4, with confinement measures to be eased gradually every 15 days. The government hasn’t shut down the economy entirely, with industrial, construction and transport activities allowed to continue.

Euro-Area Economy Could Shrink as Much as 12%: Lagarde (8:36 a.m. NY)

The economy could shrink from 5% to 12% this year, Lagarde said during the opening statement of the ECB’s virtual monetary policy press conference in Frankfurt.

The ECB unveiled a further facility to inject liquidity into the economy after data showed the worst three-month contraction in a quarter of a century of data. It delivered a new lending salvo that includes a so-called “PELTRO” measure to further assist growth, and will keep asset purchases and interest rates unchanged.

The bank said the lowest interest rate on a program that gives banks incentives to lend to companies and households will fall to 50 basis points below the deposit rate, currently at -0.5%. Interest on the new, non-targeted facility will be 0.25% below the main refinancing rate that currently is zero.

U.S. Cases Increase 1.2%, Slowest Pace This Month: Virus Update

Singapore Cases Must Ease Before Economy Restarts (7:41 a.m. NY)

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cautioned that things won’t ever get back to the way they were before. He warned “significant structural changes” to the economy are likely even after the virus abates, with some industries disrupted permanently, companies having to change their business models to survive and some jobs simply disappearing. Many workers will have to accept pay cuts so their companies can survive, he said.

When Singapore does reopen, it won’t happen all at once, Lee said. Rather, it will reopen step by step, with critical industries and those connected to global supply chains going first. Places that draw crowds, such as entertainment outlets and large-scale sporting events, will have to wait.

Germany Sets Out Terms For Lufthansa Aid (7:35 a.m. NY)

Deutsche Lufthansa AG is expected to accept a significant government stake and state veto rights in exchange for a multibillion-euro package of assistance, according to people familiar with the matter.

While details are still being negotiated, the economy and finance ministries have ironed out disagreements that dragged on for weeks. The plan foresees Germany taking a least a 25% stake in the airline and receiving at least one seat on the firm’s supervisory board, the people said. The assistance could run to 10 billion euros ($11 billion).

Children May Be Just as Infectious as Adults (7:30 a.m. NY)

Children with the new coronavirus may be as infectious as adults, according to a study from Germany that recommends caution against an unlimited reopening of schools and kindergartens.

While children have a lower risk of developing severe illness from Covid-19, they may be no less capable of spreading it. Levels of virus in the respiratory tract -- the main route via which the pathogen is transmitted -- don’t appear significantly different across age groups, Christian Drosten, director of the Institute of Virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, and colleagues found.

The WHO says more research is needed on the topic. For now, household transmission studies indicate that children are less likely to transmit Covid-19 to adults than the reverse, WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove told reporters in Geneva on Wednesday.

Conoco Deepens Production Cuts (7:21 a.m. NY)

ConocoPhillips estimates that it will voluntarily curtail production by 420,000 net barrels per day. Cuts for May are estimated to be 230,000 barrels per day. Future decisions to curtail will be made on a month-to-month basis.

Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, earlier cut its dividend for the first time since at least the Second World War and signaled demand may not fully recover once the pandemic is over.

McDonald’s Flags ‘Dramatic’ Changes in Behavior (7:10 a.m. NY)

The global crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted business, the company said. “The resulting operational impact brought on by several related factors, including restaurant closures, limited operations and dramatic changes in consumer behavior, led to a marked decline in sales during the second half of March and significantly affected the company’s first quarter results.”

Nissan Sunderland Production Won’t Start Until June (7 a.m. NY)

Vehicle Production at Nissan’s U.K. Sunderland plant will continue throughout May, and the company is currently planning a phased resumption of production in early June. Output has been suspended since March 17. The majority of employees at the plant will remain furloughed.

That comes as manufacturers from Volkswagen AG to Renault SA and Daimler AG are restarting factories in Europe with little visibility about how much actual demand there will be once customers emerge from restrictions. Aston Martin said last week it intends to reopen its St. Athan factory in Wales on May 5, while operations at its main site in Gaydon, England, “are planned to resume later.”

Japan’s Abe Signals Plans to Extend Emergency (6:45 a.m. NY)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signaled that he plans to extend a national state of emergency, saying that current conditions make it difficult to stick to the current end date of May 6. Abe told reporters in Tokyo it would be difficult to return to the previous way of life on May 7. The country’s parliament passed a $240 billion extra budget for this fiscal year, securing part of the funding for a record stimulus package and clearing a major hurdle for aid getting to small businesses.

Separately, Fuji News Network reported that Japan will call for creating a joint fund to combat the pandemic at a teleconference later in the day by Group of Seven finance chiefs. The fund’s main role would be helping make medicines and vaccines against the illness widely available in the world.

Continental Shelves Unit Spinoff (6:36 a.m. NY)

Continental AG said it’s postponing the planned spinoff of its Vitesco powertrain division due to market disruptions sparked by the coronavirus crisis. Continental won’t put the transaction up for a vote at its July 14 shareholder meeting, but still plans to pursue the spinoff at a later stage. Vitesco makes engine components, electronics and sensors.

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