Travel Curbs Spread; California Calls Emergency: Virus Update

Travel Curbs Spread; California Calls Emergency: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — HSBC Holdings Plc (LON:) joined companies curbing employee travel and Microsoft Inc. pressed its Seattle-area staff to work from home, as the coronavirus disrupts working lives across the globe. California called a state of emergency after its outbreak worsened.

The declaration in California, the most populous U.S. state, followed passage in the House of Representatives of a $7.8 billion spending package to fund measures to combat the outbreak, showcasing a strengthening response to the epidemic in the world’s largest economy. Deaths from the coronavirus surpassed 3,000 in China, though the first country to be hit by the disease also announced progress on discharging people after treatment. In South Korea, cases have dropped three days in a row.

Key Developments:

  • Global cases reach at least 94,534; death toll reaches at least 3,270
  • U.S. lawmakers agree on $7.8 billion in emergency spending
  • South Korea’s testing blitz seems to keep its death rate low
  • Virus threatens to unleash lawsuits against global business
  • A coronavirus expert is racing for answers in a locked-down lab

Click VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus and here for maps and charts. For analysis of the impact from Bloomberg Economics, click here.

HSBC Joins Firms Curbing Travel (11:55 a.m. Hong Kong Time)

HSBC Holdings Plc told its staff they can only undertake international business travel “if absolutely essential to meet commitments to our clients or regulators, even between countries with no recorded cases of COVID-19,” according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg and confirmed by a Hong Kong-based spokeswoman. Any exceptions require approval, the memo said.

The move follows similar decisions at many other multinational firms, including UBS Group AG, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:) & Co. and crop trader Cargill Inc. One of the first to take the step was Nestle SA (SIX:), which employs 291,000 people worldwide.

U.K. Airline Collapses After Virus Hit (12:34 p.m. HK)

British airline Flybe went into administration after the failure of last-ditch talks on a government bailout and pressure from the coronavirus outbreak left the country’s biggest domestic carrier with no alternative.

“As a result of insolvency proceedings, Flybe has ceased to trade and is no longer able to fly or accept bookings,” administrator EY said in a statement Thursday. “Unfortunately it has been necessary to make the majority of the workforce redundant.”

First Human-to-Animal Transmission (11:04 a.m. Hong Kong Time)

The pet dog of a coronavirus patient in Hong Kong has been confirmed to be infected with a “low level” of the virus, marking what’s likely the first known instance of human-to-animal transmission. Tests confirmed the virus in the pet’s nasal and oral cavities, “which indicates a low-level of infection,” Hong Kong’s agricultural and fisheries department said in statement late Wednesday.

Facebook Sees First Infection, in Seattle (10:46 a.m. HK)

Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:). said an employee in Seattle has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the first known infection within the company as the virus continues to spread in the region.

The employee, a contractor, was last in Facebook’s Stadium East office in Seattle on Feb. 21. The company alerted employees Wednesday night and said the Seattle office will be closed to all employees until March 9. Employees in Seattle are also being encouraged to work from home until the end of the month.

Travel Bans Spread (10:34 a.m. HK)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces the government will continue travel bans for China and Iran, and will extend the ban to South Korea, in press conference in Canberra Thursday.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga separately said Thursday that his country has expressed strong concern to India over the South Asian nation’s suspension of visas to Japanese citizens. India, which has seen a rise in cases thanks in part to visiting tourists from Italy, earlier this week also canceled visas for Italians, Iranians and South Koreans issued on or before March 3, according to India Today.

Cruise Ship Gets Diverted (9:39 a.m. HK)

Carnival (NYSE:) Corp.’s Princess Cruises diverted a ship bound for Ensenada, Mexico, after a passenger who had recently traveled on the vessel died of coronavirus, becoming California’s first such fatality.

The ship was being held off the coast of California to give state officials time to test passengers and crew for the virus, Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press conference.

South Korea Cases Slow (9:31 a.m. HK)

Asia’s fourth-largest economy reported a total of 5,766 coronavirus cases as of midnight between March 4-5, according to a statement from South Korea’s Health Ministry. That marks an increase of 438 for Wednesday, compared with 516 in the previous 24 hours and 600 the day before that.

Incheon airport, a major hub in northeast Asia near Seoul, plans to check temperatures on all departing passengers, according to South Korea’s transport ministry. Starting March 9, at 9 a.m. local time, temperatures will be checked for passengers when they enter the terminals, and again before entering the transit area. Passengers will be checked one last time at the boarding gate if departing to countries that requested this step.

Microsoft Work-From-Home Guidance (9:05 a.m. HK)

Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:). became the largest employer in Washington state’s Puget Sound region to tell all workers to do their jobs from home if possible, until March 25, after King County made a similar recommendation to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Workers whose roles require their presence on site should go to their locations, except those aged 60 or over, pregnant or have underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems, the Redmond, Washington-based software maker said Wednesday in a blog post. Workers in those groups should discuss the appropriate leave options with their managers, the company said.

Microsoft, one of the biggest employers in the Seattle area, had previously given workers the option of working from home. Washington state has so far been hardest hit by the virus in the U.S., with nine deaths and 31 cases in King County alone.

China Deaths Moderate (8:33 a.m. HK)

China on Wednesday reported an additional 31 coronavirus deaths by March 4, bringing the total to 3,012, with all of the newest fatalities coming from Hubei province, the original source of the outbreak. The country also reported an additional 139 confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the total to 80,409. Discharged patients climbed by 2,189 to 52045.

While doubts remain over whether the Chinese statistics show the full picture, the surging number of recovering patients has spurred optimism. Sixty-two percent of those who’ve been officially diagnosed with the disease are now better and out of hospital, according to the data from the National Health Commission on Wednesday.

California Governor Declares Emergency (8:09 a.m HK)

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to make more resources available and loosen regulations. The state had its first death Wednesday from a resident in Placer County, whose case was linked to travel on a cruise ship from San Francisco to Mexico last month.

More than 50% of the roughly 2,500 people on that cruise were Californians, Newsom said. The state is sending people up and down the state to find passengers for monitoring. The ship, the Grand Princess, is now being rerouted from a separate sailing and is being held off the coast of San Francisco as the state prepares to test guests on board, Newsom said. Twenty-one passengers and crew members are showing symptoms.

Washington Conference (7:39 a.m. HK)

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said Wednesday that a person infected with the coronavirus had contact in New York with people who attended the organization’s policy conference in Washington this week.

“To our knowledge no one who attended the conference has tested positive for coronavirus at this time,” AIPAC said in an emailed statement to conference participants. The people exposed to the infected person have been added to the self-quarantine list, it said.

AIPAC, an influential pro-Israel lobby, said it has been in close contact with Washington’s health department. “There is no evidence of community spread in D.C.,” according to the District of Columbia Health Department. Among the speakers at the AIPAC conference were Vice President Mike Pence, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

Qantas Accused of Sub-Standard Cleaning Practices (7:25 a.m. HK)

Substandard plane-cleaning practices on a Qantas Airways Ltd. plane may have put workers and passengers at risk of catching the new coronavirus, according to a workplace safety watchdog.

The airline’s method of cleaning planes that could have carried infected passengers is “inadequate,” SafeWork NSW said in a March 2 notice to Qantas that was released by a trade union Thursday. “Workers and other persons may be exposed to a risk of injury or illness,” the state government body said in its report.

A spokesman for the airline said it’s considering appealing the notice. “Qantas is not known for being complacent when it comes to safety or the cleanliness of our aircraft,” it said in a statement.

CDC Lifts Most Restrictions on Testing (5:16 p.m. New York time)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted most restrictions on coronavirus testing on Wednesday, saying in a new set of guidelines that doctors could use their judgment in deciding what patients to test.

“This expands testing to a wider group of symptomatic patients,” the agency said in a document posted on its website. Testing decisions should be based on how the virus is spreading in a given community, as well as whether a patient has symptoms consistent with possible coronavirus infection.

The CDC has been criticized by local doctors and health officials over overly restrictive testing criteria that had prevented physicians from testing sick people who hadn’t traveled to affected areas or had contact with known patients. Also, the original test kit the CDC produced had flaws that led to shortages of testing capacity, which are only now being resolved.

Drugmakers Promise Affordable Vaccines, Treatments (4:25 p.m. NY)

Executives from Sanofi (PA:), Johnson & Johnson and other drugmakers committed to affordable access of potential coronavirus vaccines and treatments, at a briefing with reporters Wednesday.

“We’re keenly aware of what’s at stake here,” said Stephen Ubl, head of PhRMA, the industry’s lobbying arm.

Daniel O’Day, chief executive officer of Gilead Sciences Inc (NASDAQ:)., said there are many factors that need to be considered when pricing a drug, such as what other treatments are available and how to ensure there’s an ability to reinvest into medicines for other potential pandemics.

Washington State Targets Price Gouging (3:21 p.m. NY)

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is investigating price gouging in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in the Seattle region, where 10 people have died from the illness. Many stores are out of hand sanitizer and face masks, and panicked shoppers are stocking up on essentials.“My office is investigating price gouging in the wake of the Covid-19 public health emergency,” Ferguson said in a statement, referring to the name of the disease caused by the virus. “We do not identify the targets of our investigations, but we are taking formal investigative actions. If you see price gouging, file a complaint with my office.”Washington, unlike most U.S. states, doesn’t have a specific price-gouging law.

United to Reduce Flights, Freeze Hiring (3:10 p.m. NY)

United Airlines Holdings Inc. plans to cut back on flights, freeze hiring and halt merit pay raises as it grapples with a rapid decline in travel demand. The domestic schedule will be pared 10% in April and international flying will be chopped 20%, United said in a message to employees. Similar reductions will probably be necessary for May, Chief Executive Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby said in the memo.

United has also imposed a hiring freeze through June and deferred merit-based salary increases for management until July 1, in an effort to prepare the company financially for a steep downturn in business. The Chicago-based carrier will also offer employees voluntary unpaid leaves of absence.

Italy Closes Schools Until March 15 (12:55 p.m. NY)

Italy said it would close its schools until March 15 as it redoubles efforts to curb the worst outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic in Europe.

The decision came after Italian emergency chief Angelo Borrelli reported an additional 28 deaths, bringing the total to 107. The number of coronavirus cases increased to 3,086 from 2,502 on Tuesday in an outbreak that has crippled activity in the rich northern regions.

Four More Test Positive in New York, Cuomo Says (10:10 a.m. NY)

Relatives and a neighbor of a lawyer who contracted the coronavirus in Westchester County all have tested positive for the infection, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The lawyer’s wife, 14-year-old daughter, 20-year-old son and a person who drove him to the hospital all came down with the sickness, the governor said during a briefing. Yeshiva University in Manhattan’s Washington Heights and Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy in the Bronx, where the children attended, both have been closed.

The attorney is in intensive care, Cuomo said.

France Reports 45 New Cases; Total Is 257: (9:34 a.m.)

France has 45 new cases, public health authority Sante Publique France said on its website. The number of fatalities is unchanged at four.

U.K. Coronavirus Cases Jump by 34 to 85 (9:22 a.m. NY)

The U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care said in a tweet that the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases stands at 85 people as of 9 a.m. local time on March 4.

EU Fears Cascading Effects on Economy From Virus (9:12 a.m. NY)

The coronavirus is threatening to plunge both France and Italy into recession, and a prolonged epidemic could ripple through the region’s economy and financial markets and cause a “vicious sovereign-bank loop,” European finance ministers were warned by officials on Wednesday.

“A longer and more widespread epidemic could have a disproportionate negative impact through uncertainty and financial-market channels,” according to a European Commission briefing note on the economic impact, seen by Bloomberg. “Cascading effects could stem from liquidity shortages in firms that have to stop production, amplified and spread out by financial markets.”’

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