Austria to ban tourist stays at hotels to stem coronavirus spread

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria is banning the use of hotels for tourism as part of wide-ranging efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus with Easter holidays approaching, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Monday.

“A third point are hotels, with regard to the Easter holidays … We want to stop the touristic use of hotels for this phase,” Anschober told a government news conference.

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Indonesia president plans stricter rules on mobility, social distancing

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday he plans to impose stricter limits on mobility between regions and also to implement a large-scale policy of social distancing to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

“In implementing the policy of large scale social distancing, I ask that a regulation is prepared for clear guidance for provincial level governments,” Widodo said at the opening of a cabinet meeting.

Presidential spokesman Fadjroel Rachman said via Twitter Widodo was embarking on “a new stage of war against COVID-19, which is large scale social distancing with health quarantines.”

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Oil plunges to 2002 lows, shares sink again

LONDON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Oil took another eyewatering 8% tumble on Monday and world shares buckled again as fears mounted that the global coronavirus shutdown could last for months.

There were some bright spots, with Australian equities posting a standout jump as the government launched a super-sized support programme, but that was about it.

Japan’s Nikkei had led the rest of Asia lower and Europe’s main markets slumped by 1.5-2.5% in early trade, adding to what has already been the region’s worst quarter since 1987.

The rout in oil took crude to its lowest since 2002. Brent was at only $22 a barrel by 0815 GMT, hammering petro currencies such as Russia’s rouble, Mexico’s peso and the Indonesian rupiah by as much as 2%.

It didn’t help that the U.S. dollar was back on the climb. The euro and pound were both batted back by about 0.6%, leaving the former near $1.1070 and sterling at $1.2350. On Friday Britain had become the first major economy to have its credit rating cut because of the coronavirus.

“I have been in this business almost 30 years and this is the fastest correction I have seen,” Lombard Odier’s Chief Investment Officer Stephane Monier said of this year’s plunge in global markets.

Wall Street futures had also backpeddled into the red, having been up as much as 1% in Asia after a late flutter of optimism.

Australia’s benchmark ASX200 registered a late surge, closing 7% up after Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a $130 billion ($79.86 billion) package to help to save jobs.

Most other markets were down but trimmed earlier losses. Japan’s Nikkei dropped 1.6%, Shanghai blue chips were down 0.9% and there were sharper drops in Southeast Asia, with Singapore’ benchmark index down almost 3%.

JPMorgan now predicts that global GDP could contract at a 10.5% annualised rate in the first half of the year.

“We continue to mark down 1H20 global GDP forecasts as our assessment of both the global pandemic’s reach and the damage related to necessary containment policies,” said JPMorgan economist Bruce Kasman.

As a result, central banks have mounted an all-out effort to bolster activity with rate cuts and massive asset-buying campaigns, which have at least eased liquidity strains in markets.

China on Monday became the latest to add stimulus, with a cut of 20 basis points to a key repo rate, the largest in nearly five years.

Singapore also eased as the city state’s bellwether economy braced for a deep recession while New Zealand’s central bank said it would take corporate debt as collateral for loans.

Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at NAB, said the main question for markets was whether all the stimulus would be enough to help the global economy withstand the shock.

“To answer this question, one needs to know the magnitude of the containment measures and for how long they will be implemented,” he added.

“This is the big unknown and it suggests markets are likely to remain volatile until this uncertainty is resolved.”

DOLLAR NOT DONE YET

Bond investors looked to be bracing for a long haul, with European government bond yields dipping and those at the very short end of the U.S. Treasury curve turning negative. Those on 10-year notes dropped a steep 26 basis points last week and were last standing at 0.68%.

That drop has combined with efforts by the Federal Reserve to pump more U.S. dollars into markets, dragging the currency off recent highs.

Against the yen, the dollar was pinned at 107.74, well off the recent high of 111.71, but its gains against the euro, pound and heavyweight emerging market currencies suggested it was regaining strength.

“Ultimately, we expect the USD will soon reassert itself as one of the strongest currencies,” argued analysts at CBA, noting the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency made it a countercyclical hedge for investors.

“This means the dollar can rise because of the deteriorating global economic outlook, irrespective of the high likelihood the U.S. is also in recession.”

The dollar’s retreat had provided a fillip for gold, but buying stalled as investors were forced to liquidate profitable positions to cover losses elsewhere. The metal was last at $1,613.6 an ounce.

Oil prices have also been hit by a fight for market share between Saudi Arabia and Russia, with neither showing signs of backing down even as global transport restrictions hammer demand.

Brent futures were down 8%, or $2, at $22.50 a barrel – their lowest for 18 years. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell as far as $19.92, near a 2002 low hit this month.

“Central banks have been easing (monetary policy) and governments have been offering stimulus packages, but they are only supportive measures, not radical treatments,” said Satoru Yoshida, a commodity analyst with Rakuten Securities.

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Asia shares suffer virus chills, central banks offer what they can

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares slid on Monday and oil prices took another tumble as fears mounted that the global shutdown for the coronavirus could last for months, doing untold harm to economies despite central banks’ best efforts.

“We continue to mark down 1H20 global GDP forecasts as our assessment of both the global pandemic’s reach and the damage related to necessary containment policies has increased,” said JPMorgan economist Bruce Kasman.

They now predict global GDP could fall at a 10.5% annualized rate in the first half of the year.

There was much uncertainty about whether funds would have to buy or sell for month- and quarter-end to meet their benchmarks, many of which would have been thrown out of whack by the wild market swings seen over March.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 skidded 1.2% right from the bell, and Japan’s Nikkei 3.7%. EUROSTOXXX 50 futures fell 0.6% and FTSE futures 1.3%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 1.1%, while Shanghai blue chips shed 1.4%.

Central banks have mounted an all-out effort to bolster activity with rate cuts and massive asset-buying campaigns, which have at least eased liquidity strains in markets.

China on Monday became the latest to add stimulus with a cut of 20 basis points in a key repo rate.

Singapore also eased as the city-state’s bellwether economy braced for a deep recession, while New Zealand’s central bank said it would take corporate debt as collateral for loans.

Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at NAB, said the main question for markets was whether all the stimulus would be enough to help the global economy withstand the shock.

“To answer this question, one needs to know the magnitude of the containment measures and for how long they will be implemented,” he added. “This is the big unknown and it suggests markets are likely to remain volatile until this uncertainty is resolved.”

It was not encouraging, then, that British authorities were warning lockdown measures could last months.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday extended guidelines for social restrictions to April 30, despite earlier talking about reopening the economy for Easter.

Japan on Monday expanded its entry ban to include citizens traveling from the United States, China, South Korea and most of Europe.

DOLLAR NOT DONE YET

Bond investors looked to be bracing for a long haul with yields at the very short end of the Treasury curve turning negative and those on 10-year notes dropping a steep 26 basis points last week to last stand at 0.65%.

That drop has combined with efforts by the Federal Reserve to pump more U.S. dollars into markets, and dragged the currency off recent highs.

Indeed, the dollar suffered its biggest weekly decline in more than a decade last week. [USD/]

Against the yen, the dollar was pinned at 107.27, well off the recent high at 111.71. The euro edged back to $1.1096, after rallying more than 4% last week.

“Ultimately, we expect the USD will soon reassert itself as one of the strongest currencies,” argued analysts at CBA, noting the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency made it a countercyclical hedge for investors.

“This means the dollar can rise because of the deteriorating global economic outlook, irrespective of the high likelihood the U.S. is also in recession.”

The dollar’s retreat had provided a fillip for gold, but fresh selling emerged on Monday as investors were forced to liquidate profitable positions to cover losses elsewhere. The metal was last off 0.5% at $1,609.42 an ounce.

Oil prices were again under water as Saudi Arabia and Russia show no signs of backing down in their price war.

Brent crude futures lost $1.56 to $23.37 a barrel, while U.S. crude fell $1.12 to $20.39.

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Shanghai tops world's IPO league table despite coronavirus

HONG KONG/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Shanghai has topped global initial public offering (IPO) league table for the first time in nearly three years, even as the coronavirus epidemic which originated in China rocked markets around the world.

A total of 33 companies raised $7.31 billion floating on the Shanghai main board and the city’s start up-focused STAR market, according to Refinitiv data for the first quarter, easily outstripping New York’s Nasdaq where 17 companies raised $5.13 billion via IPOs.

But even as Shanghai basks in success, for cash-seeking companies and their bankers the question is whether China can maintain this momentum as the coronavirus continues to cause massive disruption in global financial markets.

While Shanghai hosted the $4.4 billion IPO of Beijing-Shanghai Speed Railway (601816.SS) early in January, accounting for most the funds on the main board, STAR market issuance held up even as the country went into virtual lockdown in February.

Eight companies raised $2 billion that month and a further 5 deals in March were worth $615.5 million.

China’s markets have fared better than many Western benchmarks, with the blue-chip CSI 300 .CSI300 down 9.4% for the year as of Friday March 27, compared with tumbles of 21% fall for the S&P 500 .SPX in New York and 25% for the pan-European STOXX 600 index.

EY Greater China IPO practice leader Terence Ho said the fiscal response from China’s government – which accelerated a massive program of economic stimulus measures – could help boost the prospects of companies looking to list on the mainland markets.

“The Chinese government has already rolled out timely policies to help companies, with more economic stimulus on the way,” Ho wrote in a recent report.

“These efforts should help the economy and IPO markets recover more quickly when the outbreak is controlled.”

China has also relaxed the rules for follow-on share sales by listed companies in an effort to help virus-hit firms raise cash.

January-March 2020 was the first time since the third quarter of 2017 that Shanghai topped the global leader board to beat the larger New York and Hong Kong exchanges.

“I’m not surprised,” said Zhu Ning, deputy dean of the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance (SAIF).

“The number of Chinese start-ups is huge and there’s an increasing tendency for Chinese companies to list in the domestic market, where valuation is much higher.”

Thailand ranked third for IPOs, thanks to the $2.5 billion IPO of Central Retail CRC.BK in February – the country’s largest ever IPO.

The largest deal on the Nasdaq was the $1.86 billion of drug research firm PPD Inc (PPD.O) in early February.

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Spain toughens restrictions as coronavirus death toll surges

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain prepared to enter its third week under near-total lockdown on Sunday, as the government approved a strengthening of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus and the death toll rose by 838 cases overnight to 6,528.

Second only to Italy in fatalities, Spain also saw infections rise to 78,797 from 72,248 the day before.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, in a televised address to the nation on Saturday night, announced that all non-essential workers must stay at home for two weeks, the latest government measure in the fight against coronavirus. [L8N2BL0LH]

He said workers would receive their usual salaries but would have to make up lost hours at a later date. The measure would last from March 30 to April 9.

On Sunday, Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz said the measure was “flexible” and workers would be paid but would be expected to make up their lost days before Dec. 31.

“We need to reduce mobility to the level of Sundays,” she said, adding that taking into account the Easter holidays, measures would cover eight working days.

She added to Prime Minister Sanchez’s calls for the EU to react, saying “we need a Europe in which workers’ rights are reinforced”.

Unions welcomed the measures and business groups CEOE and CEPYME said that while they would comply with the new rule, “it will generate an unprecedented huge impact on the Spanish economy, especially in sectors such as industry”.

The slowdown “may lead to a deeper crisis in the economy that could become social”, they warned in a statement.

On Sunday, health emergency chief Fernando Simon repeated a warning that intensive care wards were becoming saturated, but said cases were stabilizing and “the rise in new cases has been falling for a few days”.

In Madrid, birdsong drowned out traffic on deserted streets on Sunday morning as police reinforced patrols, stopping buses and cars to check passengers had reason to be out of their homes.

The number of beds at a makeshift hospital to treat coronavirus patients in the IFEMA conference center will soon reach 1,400, Madrid’s regional government said.

It also announced an official period of mourning for those who have died. Flags will fly at half-mast and a daily minute’s silence will be held.

Schools, bars, restaurants and shops selling non-essential items have been shut since March 14 and most of the population is house-bound as Spain tries to curb the virus.

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Pope backs U.N. chief's call for global ceasefire to focus on coronavirus

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday backed a call by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire so the world can focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at his weekly blessing, delivered from the official papal library instead of St. Peter’s Square because of the lockdown in Italy, Francis specifically mentioned the appeal Guterres made in a virtual news conference on Monday.

Saying the disease knows no borders, Francis appealed to everyone to “stop every form of bellicose hostility and to favor the creation of corridors for humanitarian help, diplomatic efforts and attention to those who find themselves in situations of great vulnerability”.

More than 662,700 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus across the world and 30,751 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

About a third of the deaths have been in Italy, where the toll passed 10,000 on Saturday, a figure that made an extension of a national lockdown almost certain.

Confirmed cases in Italy stood at 92,472, the second-highest number of cases in the world behind the United States.

The Vatican, a 108-acre city-state surrounded by Rome, has had six confirmed cases and on Saturday spokesman Matteo Bruni said tests were carried out after a priest who lives in the papal residence tested positive.

Bruni said the pope and his closest aides did not have the disease.

The social effects of the pandemic have drawn comparisons with painful periods such as World War Two, the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

The United Nations has been trying to mediate an end to conflicts in countries including Syria, Yemen and Libya, while also providing humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians.

Guterres warned that in war-torn countries health systems have collapsed and the small number of health professionals left were often targeted in the fighting.

In his Sunday address, Francis also appealed to authorities to be sensitive to the particular problem coronavirus poses in prisons around the world, many of them overcrowded.

He said the prison situation “could become a tragedy”.

Prisoners have rioted in a number of countries, including Italy, where at least six inmates died earlier this month. Prisoners rioted at a jail in northeastern Thailand on Sunday.

Several countries, including Germany, Sudan and Iran, have released inmates in order to reduce the strain on their prison systems.

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China guards against second wave of coronavirus coming from abroad

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – The growing number of imported coronavirus cases in China risked fanning a second wave of infections at a time when “domestic transmission has basically been stopped”, a spokesman for the National Health Commission said on Sunday.

“China already has an accumulated total of 693 cases entering from overseas, which means the possibility of a new round of infections remains relatively big,” Mi Feng, the spokesman, said.

In the last seven days, China has reported 313 imported cases of coronavirus but only 6 confirmed cases of domestic transmission, the commission’s data showed.

There were 45 new coronavirus cases reported in the mainland for Saturday, down from 54 on the previous day, with all but one involving travelers from overseas.

Most of those imported cases have involved Chinese returning home from abroad.

Airlines have been ordered to sharply cut international flights from Sunday. And restrictions on foreigners entering the country went into effect on Saturday.

Five more people died on Saturday, all of them in Wuhan, the industrial central city where the epidemic began in December. But Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, has reported only one new case on the last 10 days.

A total of 3,300 people have now died in mainland China, with a reported 81,439 infections.

Saturday marked the fourth consecutive day that Hubei province recorded no new confirmed cases. The sole case of domestically transmitted coronavirus was recorded in Henan province, bordering Hubei.

With traffic restrictions in the province lifted, Wuhan is also gradually reopening borders and restarting some local transportation services.

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“It’s much better now, there was so much panic back then. There weren’t any people on the street. Nothing. How scary the epidemic situation was,” a man, who gave his surname as Hu,

told Reuters as he ventured out to buy groceries in Wuhan.

“Now, it is under control. Now, it’s great, right?”

All airports in Hubei resumed some domestic flights on Sunday, with the exception of Wuhan’s Tianhe airport, which will open to domestic flights on April 8. Flights from Hubei to Beijing remain suspended.

A train arrived in Wuhan on Saturday for the first time since the city was placed in lockdown two months ago. Greeting the train, Hubei Communist Party Secretary Ying Yong described Wuhan as “a city full of hope” and said the heroism and hard work of its people had “basically cut off transmission” of the virus.

More than 60,000 people entered Wuhan on Saturday after rail services were officially restarted, with more than 260 trains arriving or traveling through, the People’s Daily reported on Sunday.

On Sunday, streets and metro trains were still largely empty amid a cold rainy day. Flashing signs on the Wuhan Metro, which resumed operations on Saturday, said its cars would keep passenger capacity at less than 30%.

The Hubei government on Sunday said on its official WeChat account that a number of malls in Wuhan, as well as the Chu River and Han Street shopping belt, will be allowed to resume operations on March 30.

Concerns have been raised that a large number of undiagnosed asymptomatic patients could return to circulation once transport restrictions are eased.

China’s top medical adviser, Zhong Nanshan, played down that risk in comments to state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday. Zhong said asymptomatic patients were usually found by tracing the contacts of confirmed cases, which had so far shown no sign of rebounding.

With the world’s second-biggest economy expected to shrink for the first time in four decades this quarter, China is set to unleash hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus.

The ruling Communist Party’s Politburo called on Friday for a bigger budget deficit, the issuance of more local and national bonds, and steps to guide interest rates lower, delay loan repayments, reduce supply-chain bottlenecks and boost consumption.

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British PM Boris Johnson self-isolates after testing positive for coronavirus

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday he had tested positive for coronavirus and was self-isolating at Downing Street but would still lead the government’s response to the accelerating outbreak.

Johnson, 55, experienced mild symptoms on Thursday – a day after he answered at the prime minister’s weekly question-and-answer session in parliament’s House of Commons chamber.

“I’ve taken a test. That has come out positive,” Johnson said in a video statement broadcast on Twitter. “I’ve developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus. That’s to say – a temperature and a persistent cough.

“So I am working from home. I’m self-isolating,” Johnson said. “Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”

It was not immediately clear how many Downing Street staff and senior ministers would now need to isolate given that many have had contact with Johnson over recent days and weeks.

His finance minister, Rishi Sunak, was not self-isolating, a Treasury source said.

When Britain clapped health workers on Thursday evening, Johnson and Sunak came out of separate entrances on Downing Street and did not come into close contact, according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.

Nor was it immediately clear whether Johnson’s 32-year-old partner, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, had been tested.

ISOLATING IN DOWNING STREET

Previously the government has said that Johnson had the option to delegate to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab if needed.

“The prime minister was tested for coronavirus on the personal advice of England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

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“The test was carried out in No 10 by NHS staff and the result of the test was positive,” the spokesman said.

So far, 578 people in the United Kingdom have died after testing positive for coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 11,658. The UK toll is the seventh worst in the world, after Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

Britain’s Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week but is in good health and is now self-isolating at his residence in Scotland with mild symptoms along with his wife Camilla, who tested negative, his office said.

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Historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill passes U.S. House, headed to Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in American history – to help people and businesses cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The massive bill also rushes billions of dollars to medical providers on the front lines of the outbreak. Republican President Donald Trump said he would sign it at 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT).

“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the close of a three-hour debate on the House floor. “Whatever we do next, right now we’re going to pass this legislation.”

Democrats and Republicans in the Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote that could have delayed its passage.

Massie, an independent-minded Republican who has repeatedly defied party leaders, wrote on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve. His fellow lawmakers overruled his request.

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On Twitter, Trump called Massie a “third rate Grandstander” and said he should be thrown out of the Republican Party. “He just wants the publicity,” wrote Trump, who last week began pushing for urgent action on coronavirus after long downplaying the risk.

Democratic and Republican leaders asked members to return to Washington to ensure there would be enough present to head off Massie’s gambit. Lawmakers from as far away as California were present for the debate. The session was held under special rules to limit the spread of the disease among members, who used hand sanitizer and in at least one case wore protective gloves.

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

The Senate, which approved the bill in a unanimous vote on Wednesday evening, has adjourned and is not scheduled to return to Washington until late April.

Older people have proven especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The average age of House members was 58 at the beginning of 2019, well above the average age of 38 for the U.S. population as a whole.

‘THE VIRUS IS HERE’

Democratic and Republican leaders appeared together at a news conference to celebrate the bill’s passage — an unusual event for a chamber that is normally sharply divided along partisan lines.

“The virus is here. We did not ask for it, we did not invite it. We did not choose it. But with the passing of the bill you will see that we will fight it together, and we will win together,” said Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican.

He did not say whether Massie would face any disciplinary measures from the party.

The rescue package is the largest fiscal relief measure ever by Congress.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The rare but deep bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

On Thursday, the United States surpassed China and Italy on as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 87,000, and the death toll exceeded 1,300.

Adding to the misery, the Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

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