Canada expects coronavirus deaths to soar; job losses hit 1 million

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s coronavirus death toll is set to soar from the current 435 to as high as 22,000 by the end of the pandemic, health officials said on Thursday, while the economy lost a record 1 million jobs last month.

Officials outlined the two most likely scenarios, showing that between 11,000 and 22,000 people would die. The total number of positive diagnoses of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, ranged from 934,000 to 1.9 million.

The officials said they expected between 500 and 700 people in Canada to die from the coronavirus by April 16. There have been 18,447 positive diagnoses so far.

“Models are not a crystal ball,” Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, told a briefing, saying it was too early to predict when the peak would be.

Tam said it was crucial that people continued to obey instructions to stay at home as much as possible.

“While some of the numbers released today may seem stark, Canada’s modeling demonstrates that the country still has an opportunity to control the epidemic,” she said.

“We cannot prevent every death but we must prevent all the deaths that we can.”

Local governments across Canada have ordered non-essential businesses shut to combat the spread of the coronavirus, throwing millions out of work.

Canada lost a record-breaking 1 million jobs in March while the unemployment rate soared to 7.8%, Statistics Canada said on Thursday, adding that the figures did not reflect the real toll.

“Sticker shock for sure. This was about as bad as it could be,” said Derek Holt, vice president of capital markets economics at Scotiabank.

More than 5 million Canadians had applied for all forms of federal emergency unemployment help since March 15, government data showed on Thursday, suggesting the real jobless rate is closer to 25%.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has so far announced a range of measures to help businesses that total around C$110 billion ($78.3 billion) in direct spending, or 5% of gross domestic product.

Canada’s independent parliamentary budget officer predicted the budget deficit would balloon to C$184.2 billion in the 2020-2021 fiscal year from C$27.4 billion in the 2019‑2020 fiscal year.

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U.N. seeks $130 million to prevent hunger catastrophe in Zimbabwe

HARARE (Reuters) – The United Nations food agency said on Wednesday it needed $130 million to fund emergency operations in Zimbabwe until August and prevent a catastrophe in the southern African nation, as climate- and recession-induced food shortages deepened.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said 7.7 million Zimbabweans, half the population, need food aid after a devastating drought and cyclone last year. A lack of predictable rains this year has affected crops, compounding the situation.

The coronavirus pandemic has added to the pressure. Zimbabwe has recorded only three deaths and 11 cases, but economists predict it could face a second successive recession this year as the pandemic shuts down large parts of the global economy.

Zimbabwe’s mining industry, the largest single earner of foreign exchange, has already signalled that exports could fall by a quarter due to the effects of the new coronavirus.

“With most Zimbabweans already struggling to put food on the table, the COVID-19 pandemic risks even wider and deeper desperation,” Eddie Rowe, WFP director for Zimbabwe, said in a statement.

“We must all do our utmost to prevent this tragedy turning into a catastrophe.”

The WFP said inflation, at 540% in February, was pushing prices of staples beyond the means of most Zimbabweans, forcing families to eat less and sell off belongings or go into debt.

Zimbabwe is under a 21-day lockdown but some residents have complained this risks exacerbating the situation. More than 80% of the working population ekes out a living in the informal sector, leaving them with few protections.

The government says the lockdown is necessary to contain the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 81,000 people globally.

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Global stocks gain on hopes pandemic is nearing peak

LONDON (Reuters) – Global shares rose on Thursday on hopes the COVID-19 pandemic was nearing a peak and that governments would roll out more stimulus to support their economies, while expectations of a deal to cut oil production bolstered crude prices.

European stock markets gained for a fourth straight day, with investor attention also focused on a meeting of euro zone finance ministers to discuss an economic rescue package.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index was up 0.5% by midday in London, with battered travel and leisure stocks, autos, and mining companies leading early gains. [.EU]

MSCI’s All-Country World Index, which tracks shares across 49 countries, was up 0.3% to its highest since March 12.

U.S. stock futures were flat after bouncing in and out of positive territory in European trading.

In Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 1.56%, following a strong Wall Street close.

Shares in China, where the novel coronavirus first emerged late last year, rose 0.42%. Australian shares were up 2.54%.

“Sentiment remains volatile, but investors appear to be looking through the growing headline numbers of COVID-19 cases and focusing on signs that the spread of the pandemic is being brought under control, which in turn is underpinning hopes for a relatively swift relaxation of containment measures,” said Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management.

Oil prices extended gains on hopes major producers would agree to cut output when they met later in the day in response to a collapse in global oil demand.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state’s efforts at social distancing were working in getting the virus under control in one of the biggest hot spots in the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would like to reopen the U.S. economy with a “big bang” but that the death toll from the coronavirus first needs to be heading down.

The S&P 500 gained 3.41% on Wednesday, helped by hopes the pandemic was nearing its peak.

The Trump administration has asked lawmakers for an additional $250 billion in aid for small U.S. businesses. However, congressional efforts were stalling as Democrats held out for similar amounts of aid for hospitals and local governments.

While Trump’s optimism helped stoke Wall Street’s rally, recent U.S. data and forecasts are only now beginning to reflect the economic damage.

McDonald’s Corp said global comparable sales tumbled 22.2% in March, while Starbucks Corp forecast a 47% drop in second-quarter earnings.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index bucked the regional trend and fell 0.46% as coronavirus infections in the country rose. Markets were also jittery following the government’s declaration of a state of emergency for Tokyo and other urban areas.

The coronavirus has spread rapidly across the globe, infecting more than 1.4 million people and causing more than 87,500 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new virus emerged late last year, ended its more-than two-month lockdown on Wednesday, but many governments around the world remain nervous about the pace of infections and deaths.

The euro gained against the dollar on hopes euro zone finance ministers would agree on more support for their coronavirus-hit economies.

The pandemic is still infecting and killing large numbers of people across Europe and there is no sign the peak of the region’s outbreak has been reached, the EU’s disease monitoring agency said.

Sterling held onto gains versus the dollar. Helping confidence was news British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition was improving. Johnson, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 late in March, was taken to intensive care two days ago after his condition deteriorated.

Against a basket of its peers, the dollar fell 0.04%.

U.S. crude rose 7.45% to $26.96 a barrel. Brent crude rose 4.69% to $34.38 per barrel.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia – a group known as OPEC+ – are set to convene a video conference meeting on Thursday.

Hopes of an agreement to cut 10 million to 15 million barrels per day rose after media reports suggested Russia was ready to reduce its output by 1.6 million bpd.

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Costco set to open new store in China's Suzhou city

BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. retail giant Costco (COST.O) will open a new store in China’s eastern city of Suzhou, near Shanghai, state media reported on Thursday.

Costco’s subsidiary in Suzhou on Thursday bought a piece of land in Suzhou New District at a cost of more than 142.5 million yuan ($20.2 million), according to the management committee of Suzhou New District. The plan is for a warehouse store with a floor area of more than 50,000 square meters to be built on the site.

Costco is beefing up its presence in the world’s most populous country where a rapidly expanding middle class is looking for good-quality products at bargain prices.

The retailer opened its first mainland China store in Shanghai’s Minhang district in August, with customers queuing for hours to enter the store on its opening day.

The company said in February it would build another store in Shanghai, with its subsidiary securing a piece of land in the city’s Pudong district.  

Costco’s Suzhou subsidiary was established in January, with a total investment of 1.27 billion yuan. The store in Suzhou will be the company’s third in China, and the first out of Shanghai.

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Indonesia reports biggest jump in coronavirus deaths as Malaysia trend improves

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus deaths on Thursday, bringing the total confirmed number to 280 in the world’s fourth most populous country, the highest death toll in Asia outside China where the virus first emerged.

Indonesia confirmed 40 more deaths and its death toll accounts for nearly half of the more than 590 across Southeast Asia. More than 16,500 cases have been reported across the region.

Indonesian health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said the country had registered 337 new infections, also a new daily high, taking the total to 3,293.

Health experts say Indonesia faces a surge in cases after a slow government response masked the scale of the outbreak in Southeast Asia’s biggest country.

Indonesia has brought in “large-scale social restrictions”, but President Joko Widodo has resisted bringing in the type of tough lockdowns imposed by neighbours and only moved to allow areas like Jakarta, where there has been a spike in cases, more powers to tackle the crisis.

Researchers at the University of Indonesia have predicted there could be 140,000 deaths and 1.5 million cases by May without tougher curbs on movement and gathering.

Indonesia has stepped up the number of tests to 16,511 as of Wednesday, but for a country with more than 260 million people it has one the lowest testing rates in the world

Neighbouring Malaysia, with only 32 million people, has conducted 69,675 tests.

There are also growing fears that the outbreak could spread across the archipelago during the annual exodus to home villages for the Muslim Ramadan holiday.Widodo has said the government would give aid to poorer families, particularly in Jakarta, to persuade them to stay put but has rejected calls for an outright ban on the “mudik”, as the holiday is known.

Malaysia reported 109 new infections on Thursday, the second-lowest daily increase since a partial lockdown was imposed on March 18.

The data comes a day ahead of possible ministerial discussions on whether to extend the curbs on travel and non-essential businesses beyond April 14.

The country has so far recorded 4,228 infections – the highest in Southeast Asia – with 67 deaths. But government officials have said the restrictions are showing results.

“We have done well,” Ministry of Health Director General Noor Hisham Abdullah told a news conference. “We have a small window of opportunity. If we do it right we may be able to avert the surge that we have seen in other countries.”

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Saudi, Russia debate record oil cut as U.S. resists action

DUBAI/MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) – OPEC and Russia will debate record oil output cuts on Thursday to prop up prices wrought by the coronavirus pandemic but their talks are complicated by internal disagreements and the reluctance of the United States to join the action.

Global fuel demand has plunged as much as 30% as measures to fight the virus have grounded aircraft, reduced vehicle usage and curbed economic activity.

Benchmark Brent crude oil prices LCOc1 hit an 18-year low last month and are trading below $34 a barrel, half their level at the end of 2019, dealing a severe blow to budgets of oil producing nations and high-cost U.S. shale oil industry. [O/R]

U.S. President Donald Trump said last week a deal he had brokered with OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia could lead to cuts of as much as 10 million to 15 million barrels per day (bpd) or 10% to 15% of global supplies, an unprecedented reduction.

Riyadh and Moscow, who fell out when a previous pact on curbing supplies collapsed in March, have signalled that their agreement to new, much deeper cuts would depend on the United States and others outside a group known as OPEC+ joining in.

A video conference for ministers from OPEC+, which groups Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other oil producers, as well as additional participants is due to start at 1400 GMT. The United States has been invited.

Trump has been reluctant to mandate cuts in domestic supply so far, saying production had been falling naturally because of low prices anyway. Russia said on Wednesday that such declines would not count as a proper cut.

In a further complication, Moscow and Riyadh are struggling to agree on the levels from which output should be cut with the kingdom insisting on April, the first month of a large hike in its output, while Moscow insists on the first quarter.

“I’m not sure how Russia and Saudi Arabia would be able to iron out their differences today, it all could be stretched out,” one Russian source told Reuters.

Two OPEC sources agreed that the differences were still big.

Two Russian sources said the maximum Russian cut would be 2 million bpd or around 17% of its output. Saudi Arabia has yet to indicate how much it is prepared to cut.

DEMAND SHOCK

Goldman Sachs and UBS both said on Thursday the suggested cuts, however deep, would not be enough to address a massive decline in global demand and predicted that oil prices could fall back to $20 per barrel and even lower.

“Ultimately, the size of the demand shock is simply too large for a coordinated supply cut,” Goldman said in a note.

Trump warned on Wednesday that he had many options if Saudi Arabia and Russia failed to reach a deal on Thursday.

U.S. senators have previously called on the White House to impose sanctions on Riyadh, pull out U.S. troops from the kingdom and impose import tariffs on Saudi oil.

Thursday’s OPEC+ talks will be followed by a meeting of energy ministers from the Group of 20 nations (G20) on Friday.

To figure out how a cut would be shared among producers, Moscow, Riyadh and others would need to agree on what output levels to use as a baseline for calculating cuts.

That issue has been muddied by a battle between Saudi Arabia and Russia for market share that erupted after an acrimonious OPEC+ meeting in Vienna in March.

At that meeting, Russia refused to participate in cuts proposed by Saudi Arabia in response to the coronavirus crisis. In response, Riyadh said it would pump at maximum capacity and flooded an already oversupplied market with extra crude.

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Saudi Arabia ramped up output to a record 12.3. million bpd in April, up from below 10 million bpd in March. The kingdom’s Gulf allies, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, also raised production.

Russian TASS news agency said any cuts could last three months starting from May.

The largest one-off cut OPEC has ever agreed till now was 2.2 million bpd in 2008.

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Global stocks gain on hopes pandemic is reaching peak

LONDON (Reuters) – Global shares rose on Thursday on hopes the COVID-19 pandemic was nearing a peak and that governments would roll out more stimulus to support their economies, while expectations of a deal to cut oil production bolstered crude prices.

European stock markets gained for a fourth straight day, with investor attention also focused on a meeting of European Union finance ministers to discuss an economic rescue package.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index was up 1.7%, with battered travel and leisure stocks, autos, and mining companies leading early gains.

MSCI’s All-Country World Index, which tracks shares across 49 countries, was up 0.5% to its highest since March 12.

U.S. stock futures were up 1% after bouncing in and out of positive territory in Asia.

In Asia, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 1.56%, following a strong Wall Street close.

Shares in China, where the novel coronavirus first emerged late last year, rose 0.42%. Australian shares were up 2.54%.

“Sentiment remains volatile, but investors appear to be looking through the growing headline numbers of COVID-19 cases and focusing on signs that the spread of the pandemic is being brought under control, which in turn is underpinning hopes for a relatively swift relaxation of containment measures,” said Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management.

Oil prices extended gains on hopes major producers would agree to cut output when they met later in the day in response to a collapse in global oil demand.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state’s efforts at social distancing were working in getting the virus under control in one of the biggest hot spots in the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would like to reopen the U.S. economy with a “big bang” but that the death toll from the coronavirus first needs to be heading down.

The S&P 500 gained 3.41% on Wednesday, helped by hopes the pandemic was nearing its peak.

The Trump administration has asked lawmakers for an additional $250 billion in aid for small U.S. businesses. However, congressional efforts were stalling as Democrats held out for similar amounts of aid for hospitals and local governments.

While Trump’s optimism helped stoke Wall Street’s rally, recent U.S. data and forecasts are only now beginning to reflect the economic damage.

McDonald’s Corp said global comparable sales tumbled 22.2% in March, while Starbucks Corp forecast a 47% drop in second-quarter earnings.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index bucked the regional trend and fell 0.46% as coronavirus infections in the country rose. Markets were also jittery following the government’s declaration of a state of emergency for Tokyo and other urban areas.

The coronavirus has spread rapidly across the globe, infecting more than 1.4 million people and causing more than 87,500 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

(GRAPHIC: World stocks vs. COVID-19 confirmed cases – here)

Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new virus emerged late last year, ended its more-than two-month lockdown on Wednesday, but many governments around the world remain nervous about the pace of infections and deaths.

The euro gained against the dollar and the pound on hopes euro zone finance ministers would agree on more support for their coronavirus-hit economies.

The pandemic is still infecting and killing large numbers of people across Europe and there is no sign the peak of the region’s outbreak has been reached, the EU’s disease monitoring agency said.

Sterling held onto gains versus the dollar. Helping confidence was news British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition was improving. Johnson, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 late in March, was taken to intensive care two days ago after his condition deteriorated.

Against a basket of its peers, the dollar fell 0.1%.

U.S. crude rose 5.3% to $26.42 a barrel. Brent crude rose 3% to $33.83 per barrel.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia – a group known as OPEC+ – are set to convene a video conference meeting on Thursday.

Hopes of an agreement to cut 10 million to 15 million barrels per day rose after media reports suggested Russia was ready to reduce its output by 1.6 million bpd.

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New Zealand orders quarantine for returning citizens in coronavirus battle

SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand will begin moving citizens to compulsory quarantine from Friday as they return from overseas, stepping up its efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus halfway through a four-week nationwide lockdown.

The shutdown began in late March in the Pacific nation of about 5 million, and a state of national emergency was declared to stifle local transmissions of the respiratory disease.

“No one goes home, everyone goes into a managed facility,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, adding that 14 days spent in a government-approved facility would be a prerequisite for all foreign travellers.

“Even one person slipping through the cracks and bringing the virus in can see an explosion in cases, as we have observed with some of our bigger clusters,” she told a media briefing in Wellington on Thursday.

Ardern added that her cabinet would decide whether to extend the nationwide curbs on April 20, two days before the lockdown is set to end.

The lockdown has reduced domestic transmissions, authorities said, with a steady fall this week in the daily rise in infections.

The tally of infections rose by 29 to stand at 1,239 on Thursday, for the lowest daily rise since March 21, a sign the epidemic could be on the retreat since the lockdown began 15 days ago. Overnight, 35 people were declared to have recovered.

New Zealand, like neighbouring Australia, has fewer infections than many countries and the pace of infections in both nations has slowed dramatically in the past week.

Despite some signs of a plateau in infections, the government said it had no plans to relax the curbs over the Easter weekend and warned of hefty fines for non-essential travel then.

Police will step up activity around holiday spots during the Easter holidays, authorities said, with some roadblocks planned.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

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Brazil turns to local industry to build ventilators as China orders fall through

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s health minister said on Wednesday that the country’s attempts to purchase thousands of ventilators from China to fight a growing coronavirus epidemic had fallen through and the government is now looking to Brazilian companies to build the devices.

“Practically all our purchases of equipment in China are not being confirmed,” Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said at a news conference.

An attempt to buy 15,000 ventilators in China did not go through and Brazil was making a new bid, he said, but the outcome is uncertain in the intense competition for medical supplies in the global pandemic.

In one positive sign for Brazil’s supply crunch, a private company managed to buy 40 tonnes of protective masks from China, with the shipment arriving by cargo plane in Brasilia on Wednesday.

The purchase of 6 million masks worth 160 million reais ($30 million) was undertaken by pharmaceutical and hospital equipment company Nutriex, based in Goiania, 220 kilometers east of Brasilia. The firm plans to donate part of the order.

Health authorities began to sound the alarm this week over supply shortages as hospitals faced growing numbers of patients with COVID-19.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country soared to 15,927 on Wednesday, with the death toll rising by 133 in just 24 hours to 800, the ministry said.

Rio de Janeiro reported the first six deaths in four of the city’s hillside slums, called favelas, alarming authorities who fear rapid contagion in crowded communities that have limited access to medical care and often lack running water for hygiene.

Two of the deaths occurred in Rocinha, one the largest slums in South America where more than 100,000 people live.

Mandetta reported the first case of coronavirus among the Yanomami people on the country’s largest reservation and said the government plans to build a field hospital for indigenous tribes that are vulnerable to contagion.

“We are extremely concerned about the indigenous communities,” Mandetta said.

Anthropologists and health experts warn that the epidemic can have a devastating impact on Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people whose lifestyle in tribal villages rules out social distancing.

President Jair Bolsonaro said in an address to the nation that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was saving lives of coronavirus patients and should be used in the initial stages of COVID-19. Due to the absence of scientific evidence on its effectiveness and safety, Brazil’s health authorities limit its use to seriously ill patients who are in hospital.

Mandetta said Brazil has hired local unlisted medical equipment maker Magnamed to make 6,000 ventilators in 90 days.

Pulp and paper companies Suzano SA and Klabin SA, planemaker Embraer SA, information technology provider Positivo Tecnologia SA and automaker Fiat Chrysler have also offered to help build ventilators, he said.

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Virgin Islands at odds with Epstein estate over 'broad' liability releases

(Reuters) – Women who say they were abused by deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein should not be required to sign broad liability waivers in order to get payouts from his estate, the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands said on Wednesday.

The office of Attorney General Denise George said in a statement that the estate was demanding the “broad releases,” which would shield not only the estate but potentially other individuals from legal liability, as part of a proposed victim compensation fund.

A spokeswoman for George said people covered by the releases could include anyone linked to Epstein who was involved in trafficking or abusing girls.

“With this demand still in place, the Fund cannot ensure a fundamentally fair and legally sufficient process for victims who choose to participate,” the attorney general said.

George’s office has asked the Virgin Islands probate court, which is overseeing the estate, to resolve the dispute. The estate was valued at $636.1 million before the recent global market plunge.

Lawyers for the estate could not immediately be reached for comment.

Epstein was arrested last July on charges he abused and trafficked in women and girls from 2002 to 2005 in Manhattan and Florida and pleaded not guilty. He died on Aug. 10 last year at age 66, five weeks after his arrest and two days after signing his will, by hanging himself in his Manhattan jail cell.

George sued the estate in January, saying Epstein’s sexual misconduct there stretched from 2001 to 2018 and included raping and trafficking in dozens of women and girls.

At least two dozen Epstein accusers have filed civil lawsuits against the estate. Some named Epstein’s friend Ghislaine Maxwell and other alleged enablers of Epstein’s abuses as defendants.

Ghislaine, whose whereabouts are currently unknown, has denied the allegations against her.

The compensation fund for Epstein’s victims, which was set up by the estate, is overseen by Kenneth Feinberg and Jordana Feldman, who worked on a fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

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