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Toyota’s US plants to make masks; NYC surge seen: Virus update

Bloomberg

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his health secretary tested positive, and Spain recorded its deadliest day so far. European leaders struggled to agree on a strategy to fight the outbreak.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, which accounts for about a quarter of U.S. cases, said new infections will be “astronomical” and pleaded for more ventilators from the federal government. President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping pledged to cooperate after weeks of rising tensions.

Toyota’s idled manufacturing facilities in the U.S. will make much-needed face shields and masks.

Key Developments: Cases top 550,000; 25,000 dead, 127,000 recovered: Johns HopkinsU.S. ramps up virus testing, but demand still outpaces supplyWorkers critical to world’s food supply falling illU.K. government orders unprecedented shutdown of housing marketTokyo braces for critical weekend; second shockwave hits China’s factoriesFrom Spain to Germany, farmers warn of fresh food shortages

Toyota Shifts Factories to Face Shields (11:07 a.m. NY)

Toyota Motor Corp.’s idled manufacturing facilities in the U.S. will make much-needed face shields and masks, and the Japanese automaker is closing in on deals with medical-device makers to help them boost production.

The carmaker said Friday it will start mass production of face shields early next week to supply hospitals near its plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Texas. Toyota also said it is finalizing pacts with at least two companies to make breathing ventilators and respirator hoods, and it’s looking for partners to make protective masks. The company on Thursday extended its shutdown of North American factories for two weeks.

U.K. Virus Deaths Jump 30% (10:29 a.m. NY)

The number of people in the U.K. who have died from coronavirus increased by 31% to 759 as of Thursday, the Department of Health said. That’s higher than the five-day average of 20%.

Some 14,579 have tested positive for the disease as of Friday, an increase of about 25%, above the five-day average of 20%.

Two Fed Bankers Confident of Rebound (10:29 a.m. NY)

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic and Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan expressed confidence the U.S. economy will rebound when restrictions on activity are lifted.

“This is a public health crisis” and different from a typical recession, Bostic said on Bloomberg Television Friday. Kaplan offered a similar view a few minutes earlier. “We were strong before we went into this, and we believe that we’ve got a great chance to come out of this very strong,” he said.

Kaplan said unemployment would peak “in the low to mid teens” before recovering to around 7%-to-8% by year-end.

Coronavirus Response Leaves U.K. Vulnerable: Lancet (9:29 a.m. NY)

A delayed response by the U.K. government to the coronavirus pandemic has left the health system “wholly unprepared” for an expected surge of critically ill patients, according to the editor of the medical journal The Lancet.

In a letter posted on the journal’s website, Richard Horton described chaos and panic across the National Health Service, basing his comments on messages he received from workers. The government last month should have expanded testing capacity, ensured the distribution of protective equipment and stepped up training, he said.

U.K. Prime Minister, Health Secretary Have Virus (9:17 a.m. NY)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will self-isolate in Downing Street for seven days after a test found he had the coronavirus, spokesman James Slack told reporters on Friday. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also contracted the illness, in a double blow to the U.K. government’s response to the crisis.

Both men have reported mild symptoms. Meals will be left at Johnson’s door while he continues to work by video-conference, Slack said. Hancock is self-isolating and working from home.

These are the latest high-profile individuals to contract the virus in Britain after Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, tested positive.

U.K. Sees No Change to Brexit Timetable (8:29 a.m. NY)

“In terms of the timetable there’s no change from our point of view,” the U.K. prime minister’s spokesman James Slack told reporters in a conference call. Slack was asked if there would be an extension to the Brexit transition period beyond December.

NYC Mayor Says Trump Needs to Face Reality on Ventilators (8:20 a.m. NY)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said cases of the new coronavirus are going to become “astronomical,” putting unprecedented strain on the hospital system. Trump said in an interview on Fox News that he didn’t think New York state needed the 30,000 ventilators that Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked for to treat Covid-19 patents with respiratory conditions.

“When the president says the state of New York doesn’t need 30,000 ventilators, with all due respect to him, he’s not looking at the facts of this astronomical growth of this crisis,” de Blasio said. “If they don’t have a ventilator, a lot of people are just not going to make it.”

Rolls-Royce Pauses U.K. Civil-Engine Output (8:07 a.m. NY)

Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc will wind down jetliner-engine production in the U.K. as it spends a week implementing cleanup and safety measures to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. The company, which makes turbines for wide-body planes, will “significantly reduce” all but essential activities within its U.K. civil aerospace facilities from midnight, it said in a statement Friday.

Rolls-Royce is taking a break from manufacturing after customer Airbus SE also paused production to check on measures to protect employees from Covid-19. Boeing Co. has gone a step further, winding down planemaking in the Seattle area for two weeks after a worker died of virus-related complications.

China Ramps Up Stimulus Measures (8 a.m. NY)

China will “appropriately” raise its fiscal deficit as a share of gross domestic product, issue special sovereign debt and allow local governments to sell more infrastructure bonds as part of a stimulus package to stabilize the economy, according to a politburo meeting on Wednesday, central China television reported late on Friday.

Italy Virus Curve Seen Flattening Slightly (7:49 a.m. NY)

The curve of new coronavirus cases in Italy appears to have started flattening slightly since March 20, Silvio Brusaferro, head of the country’s National Health Institute, said at a press conference on Friday. The mortality rate in the country is proportional to patients’ age, Brusaferro said.

The National Health Institute said the country wasn’t at the peak of the contagion yet, but the head of the Superior Health Council Franco Locatelli said there were clear signs that the containment measures “are efficient, so people must respect them.”

Italy reported its biggest rise in coronavirus infections in the last five days on Thursday, as the disease spread further in the northern Lombardy region, even after weeks of rigid lockdown rules.

Chinese Banks Post Record Profits (6:50 a.m. NY)

China’s big banks posted record earnings last year, beefing up their capacity to cope with the virus outbreak that’s threatening to throw the nation into the worst economic slump in four decades. Top executives offered few signs of any stress as they presented their reports. Bank of China President Wang Jiang said the impact from the virus outbreak is short term, calling it manageable.

Stable earnings at China’s biggest lenders, which account for 40% of the nation’s $41 trillion banking assets, may help cushion the financial system against further shocks at a time when banks are being enlisted to help struggling businesses stay afloat at the cost of their own profits.

Hong Kong Announces New Curbs (6:47 a.m. NY)

The government announced new measures to contain the outbreak, including limiting crowd size to four people except weddings and funerals. The measures will last for 14 days, leader Carrie Lam told a briefing.

The city earlier found a record 65 new cases, taking its total to 518. The Department of Health said 41 of the cases found on Friday had traveled overseas.

Spain Deaths, Cases Surge (6:30 a.m. NY)

The country reported its deadliest day so far after 769 people died, for a total of 4,858 fatalities. Cases rose to 64,059 from 56,188.

Russia Reports First Case of Virus in Kremlin Staff (6:30 a.m. NY)

The staffer didn’t have contact with President Vladmir Putin, the Kremlin said. The pace of the outbreak should slow down by late April to early May, Interfax reported, citing the health ministry’s chief epidemiologist Nikolay Briko. The total number of cases rose by 196 to 1,036 on Friday.

African Travel Grows Harder By the Day With Virus Curbs (6:30 a.m. NY)

Africa is inching toward a shutdown of its sea, land and air borders. A majority of its 54 nations have banned flights from countries with at least 100 coronavirus cases or temporarily closed their domestic and international airports. Most sea ports still allow cargo vessels, but passengers and crews from cruise ships are barred.

European Banks Vow Payout Restrain (6:12 a.m. NY)

European banks said they’re ready to suspend payouts to shareholders to bolster their finances after receiving unprecedented regulatory relief to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. The European Banking Federation, a lobby group, wrote to the region’s main supervisor that for 2020, it “believes that listed banks should not accrue dividends or undertake share buybacks so as to maintain maximum capital preservation.”

Separately, Deutsche Bank AG became the latest bank to halt plans for widescale layoffs, joining lenders including HSBC Holdings Plc and Lloyds Banking Group Plc in putting thousands of job cuts on hold.

Iran Cases Surge Past 32,000 (5:39 p.m. HK)

Iran reported 2,926 new coronavirus cases and 144 more deaths over the past day, bringing the total figures in the country to more than 32,000 cases and 2,300 fatalities. The government on Friday enforced social distancing measures banning inter-city travel and all gatherings, and the central bank approved loans for businesses affected by the outbreak.

How the Virus Is Impacting European Firms (5:23 p.m. HK)

The coronavirus pandemic is prompting an increasing number of European companies to abandon their financial guidance for the year. While some have opted to lower their previous outlooks, 82 companies in the benchmark Stoxx 600 Index, or 14%, have now given up on trying to predict how 2020 will turn out for them.

European stocks declined on Friday, ending their best ever three-day winning streak. The Stoxx 600 Index was down 2.2%. The number of companies scrapping their outlooks grew to include French advertising firm Publicis Groupe SA and eyewear-maker EssilorLuxottica SA.

Indonesia Reports Biggest Daily Jump (5:14 p.m. HK)

Indonesia reported the biggest daily jump in new coronavirus infections with the total number of confirmed cases topping 1,000. Tests confirmed the disease in 153 more people, Achmad Yurianto, a spokesman for the government task force on the virus, said in Jakarta on Friday. The country also reported nine new deaths, taking the total to 87, the highest in Southeast Asia.

Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory to Reduce On-Site Staff (5:02 p.m. HK)

Tesla Inc.’s Nevada gigafactory is reducing on-site staff by 75% in the coming days, Storey County said on its website. The county said local companies regularly tell it about the measures they are taking to adhere to guidelines aimed at combating the outbreak. The gigafactory produces battery packs and electric motors with partner Panasonic Corp.

Italian Business, Consumer Sentiment Drops (5 p.m. HK)

The economic sentiment index fell to 81.7 from 97.8 in February, a decline that statistics office Istat described as a “crash.” All sectors, from manufacturing to construction, services and retail, saw declines in confidence. The consumer confidence climate also dropped.

Research group Prometeia said Italian GDP could shrink by 6.5% in 2020 if the shutdown of industrial activity is partially and gradually lifted starting from May, while Il Sole 24 Ore reported that the country may need new stimulus measures worth 30 billion euros.

South African Lockdown Begins, Virus Claims First Victims (5 p.m. HK)

South Africa began a three-week lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus on Friday as the disease claimed its first two victims in the country and the number of infections passed 1,000.

U.K. Housing Market Takes a Hit (4:25 p.m. HK)

Shares in U.K. homebuilders dropped after the government urged home buyers to consider suspending transactions while the country remains in lockdown. The pandemic is hurting large sectors of the U.K. economy, with the property market suffering a dramatic slowdown. Real estate portal Zoopla said Thursday that house sales are set to plunge 60% in the next three months.

Billionaire Ashley Apologizes After Questioning Shutdown Order (4:16 p.m. HK)

Billionaire Mike Ashley apologized in an open letter for questioning a government-mandated lock-down and attempting to keep his retail stores open. Ashley, the founder of the Sports Direct brand, sought to keep his stores open in defiance of government guidance, provoking criticism from politicians and the public. The U.K. government had ordered non-essential services to close down to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.

German Cases Soar Past 43,000 (3:40 p.m. HK)

Cases in Germany rose to 43,039 on Friday from 37,179, while the death toll jumped to 262 deaths from 203, based on Bloomberg-compiled data. In a worst-case scenario based on limited government action, 70% of the German population would swiftly be infected and the death toll would exceed 1 million, Der Spiegel magazine reported, citing an internal interior ministry study.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said it’s premature to consider easing Germany’s lockdown measures. “We’re not even close to where we can see if the measures are working,” Merkel said via audio conference from Berlin in her first public comments since entering precautionary quarantine on Sunday.

Ferrari to Resume Some Production (3:30 p.m. HK)

Ferrari says that subject to supply chain continuity it now plans to resume production in Maranello and Modena on April 14.

Hungary Declares Limited Nationwide Lockdown (2:35 p.m. HK)

Hungary’s government will partially restrict movement for a two-week period ending April 11 to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said. People can still leave their homes for work and for essential needs such grocery shopping and to get fresh air, but only when respecting social distancing recommendations.

WHO to World Leaders: Fight Like Hell’ (2:10 p.m. HK)

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told G-20 leaders to “fight like hell,” and said shutdowns are necessary to slow down the pandemic, but they won’t extinguish it, so countries need to test more and trace every contact. The WHO chief himself didn’t call the coronavirus a pandemic until mid-March.

“The price we end up paying depends on the choices we make now,” Tedros said in a speech to the world’s top politicians. “The actions we take now will have consequences for decades to come.”

“Fight like your lives depend on it,” he said. “Because they do.”