WHO Forms Vaccine Pact; FDA Warns on Malaria Drugs: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — The World Health Organization formed an international alliance to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines and treatments are distributed fairly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned patients about taking malaria medications touted by President Donald Trump.

Spain had its fewest deaths in five weeks, and new cases in Singapore dropped below 1,000 for the first time in five days. Russia reported the most new cases since April 19, and Germany had its worst day in almost a week. Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country is “far from being out of the woods.”

Europe’s leaders inched toward a deal on rebuilding plans, while U.S. lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a $484 billion aid bill.

Key Developments

Virus Tracker: Cases top 2.7 million; deaths exceed 191,000Europe grapples with lockdowns as cases drop and economies reelMnuchin asks for equity stakes in exchange for $17 billion aidGilead sinks after latest data leak on virus drug trialTrump muddles virus response while public support slidesThe week coronavirus got away from Boris Johnson’s government

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NYC Reports Declining Admissions (10:30 a.m. NY)

New York City reported declines in hospital admissions, public hospital intensive-care patients and the percentage of people who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The city reported 176 people admitted to hospitals, down from 227 as of April 21, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday at his daily press briefing.

The number of people in ICUs for Covid-19 declined to 786 from 796, and the percentage of people with positive tests citywide declined to 30% from 32%.

FDA Warns on Trump-Touted Drugs (10:03 a.m. NY)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned patients against taking two malaria medications that have been touted by President Donald Trump for Covid-19, unless carefully monitored in a hospital or as part of a clinical trial.

The FDA said it was issuing the warning after reports that patients taking the drugs, especially in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin, had experienced heart issues.

“The FDA is aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with Covid-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with azithromycin,” the FDA said in the warning.

WHO Forms Alliance to Share Drugs (9:22 a.m. NY)

The World Health Organization formed an international alliance to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines and treatments are distributed fairly.

French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are involved in the alliance.

“The world needs these tools and it needs them fast,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in an online briefing. “In the past they have not been available to all. That cannot be allowed to happen again.”

Netherlands Reports Drop in Excess Mortality (8 a.m. NY)

The spike in overall mortality is decreasing from the third week of April, according to official Dutch statistics. The deviation from the average mortality is being used as an alternate way to track the impact of the pandemic, since not everyone is being tested.

Fatalities ascribed to the virus were up 3%, the numbers show, bringing the total to 4,289. Confirmed cases rose 2% to 36,535.

AmEx to Cut Costs, Verizon Trims Outlook (7:50 a.m. NY)

American Express Co. said provisions rose to $2.6 billion in the first three months of the year as people across the nation were ordered to stay home. It also warned that the slowdown it began to see in March as a result of the nationwide shelter-in-place orders “dramatically” impacted spending on its cards in April. “The first two months of 2020 continued the strong momentum we have delivered over the past two years, but we’re now in a different world,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Squeri said in a statement Friday. “In light of the current environment, we are aggressively reducing costs across the enterprise.”

Verizon Communications Inc. topped Wall Street earnings estimates but fell short of revenue expectations after Covid-19 damaged first-quarter sales, and the company is revising its forecast for the year. Freeport-McMoRan Inc., the world’s biggest publicly traded copper miner, said it will slash capital expenditures by $800 million this year as the coronavirus flattens global demand. Operating costs will be cut by a total of $1.3 billion, the company said.

Gilead Drug Seen to Have 50/50 Shot by Citi (7:32 a.m. NY)

Gilead’s experimental medicine for Covid-19, remdesivir, is seen with a 50/50 chance of succeeding, Citi analyst Mohit Bansal wrote in a note. The stock was whipsawed for the second time in a week on Thursday after a summary of a Chinese trial of its Covid-19 drug appeared to show that it was a failure.

HSBC May Need to Revisit Strategy (7:11 a.m. NY)

HSBC said it will need to consider what additional actions it needs to take in response to the new economic circumstances that will emerge after COVID-19. The bank plans to review dividend policy at or ahead of the year-end results for 2020, when the economic impact is better understood.

HSBC said it would not have been appropriate to proceed with some of its job reduction programs in the middle of the current crisis, and has paused the vast majority of redundancies associated with the program “where notices have not already been issued.”

Germany Sees Economy Shrinking Up to 7% (7 a.m. NY)

Germany expects gross domestic product to shrink between 6% and 7% in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus, the worst contraction since at least 1950, Spiegel magazine reported. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration expects a recovery in 2021 of more than 5%, the weekly reported on Friday, citing Economy Ministry projections due to be presented next week. The ministry declined to comment.

Europe’s largest economy has been crippled by lockdown measures to contain the pandemic, which have shuttered factories, halted travel and closed schools across the continent. Almost every third company in Germany has requested state wage support. Figures released earlier showed German business confidence extended its slump in April and companies anticipate a prolonged period of subdued demand. The Ifo Institute’s index dropped to 74.3, more than economists predicted and a record low.

“Sentiment at German companies is catastrophic,” said Ifo President Clemens Fuest. “Companies have never been so pessimistic about the coming months. The coronavirus crisis is striking the German economy with full fury.”

Insured Losses Could Hit $60 Billion, UBS Says (6:52 a.m. NY)

UBS now expects potential insured losses from Covid-19 of $30 billion to $60 billion, up from a previous estimate of $20 billion to $40 billion. UBS said while it was confident European insurers’ balance sheets could withstand the hit, the level of uncertainty remained high.

Transport for London Furloughs Quarter of Staff (6:36 a.m. NY)

Transport for London will place 7,000 of its staff on furlough from April 27, as the coronavirus pandemic impacts its operations. The move will allow the London transport agency to access funding from the U.K. government’s Job Retention Scheme and save an estimated 15.8 million pounds every four weeks.

Tube journeys have now fallen by 95% and buses journeys by 85% since the U.K. government announced a lockdown.

U.K. Mulls 100% Loan Guarantees for Smallest Firms (6:31 a.m. NY)

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is considering 100% guarantees on loans to help small companies weather the coronavirus crisis, a person familiar with the matter said, in what would be a significant U-turn for the government. The new program would offer state-backed loans of as much as 25,000 pounds to help small businesses through the pandemic.

Russia Cuts Rates to Six-Year Low (6:30 a.m. NY)

The Bank of Russia finally joined other emerging markets with a half point interest-rate cut to support an economy that’s heading into its worst slump in more than a decade. The benchmark interest rate was cut 50 basis points to 5.5%, the central bank said in a statement, the lowest level since before Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. The move was forecast by a majority of economists in a Bloomberg survey.

Earlier, Russia said confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 5,849 to 68,622, the most since April 19, with the pace of increase accelerating after two days. The number of fatalities rose by 60 to 615.

EU Narrows PPE Export Curbs (6:10 a.m. NY)

The European Union will exclude face shields and gloves from its renewed curbs on the export outside the bloc of personal protective equipment for fighting the coronavirus. The EU on Sunday will reimpose export restrictions for 30 days on: spectacles and visors; mouth-nose equipment; and garments such as gowns. The trade limits, which involve a requirement for an authorization to sell the gear outside the 27-nation EU, were initially imposed on March 15 for six weeks to help ensure adequate supplies within the bloc.

Sanofi Warns on Vaccine Manufacturing (6 a.m. NY)

The head of one of the world’s biggest vaccine companies says Europe needs to wake up to the challenge of manufacturing enough coronavirus shots to halt the pandemic. As others squabble over the timing and details of how to develop such a vaccine, Sanofi Chief Executive Officer Paul Hudson points further ahead to the continent’s ability to produce enough to meet demand.

“There is less concern about finding a successful vaccine than there is about making the volumes needed,” Hudson told reporters on Friday. “The biggest untold story in Europe right now is the one about the number of doses.”

Sanofi is working with rival GlaxoSmithKline Plc to develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus, racing against other pharma giants such as Johnson & Johnson as well as nimbler biotechs such as Moderna Inc. Most of them aim to deliver a shot sometime next year.

The U.S. may be in a position to vaccinate first, according to Hudson, thanks to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a government agency that backs vaccine development. There’s no similar coordination in Europe.

Deaths Slow in Spain (5:45 p.m. HK)

Spain recorded the smallest number of new coronavirus deaths in nearly five weeks, as the nation remains on almost-total lockdown due to Europe’s most extensive outbreak.

The number of fatalities rose by 367, the fewest since March 21 and compared with Thursday’s increase of 440, to 22,524, according to Health Ministry data published Friday.

As other countries in Europe start to ease lockdowns, Spain has yet to publish detailed plans on lifting the restrictions that have brought the nation to an almost complete standstill for more than a month.

Belgian Surge Linked to Nursing Home Test Program (5:29 p.m. HK)

Belgium reported 1,496 newly confirmed coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, up from 908 the prior day and the most since April 15. The increase fully reflects an acceleration in the test program being rolled out in the nation’s senior care centers since April 10. The curve of new infections outside the nursing homes keeps flattening.

The country of 11.4 million also reported 190 additional deaths, down from 230 the prior day, for a total of 6,679, but health officials made the remark that nursing homes in the Dutch-speaking Flemish region failed to report their fatalities because of a technical problem. Their tally will be included in tomorrow’s figures.

Reckitt, Experts Warn Against Using Bleach (5:10 p.m. HK)

Reckitt Benckiser Group, which makes Lysol and Dettol, warned against administering disinfectants into the body. “RB has been asked whether internal administration of disinfectants may be appropriate for investigation or use as a treatment for coronavirus,” the company said. “We must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body.”

That comes after U.S. President Donald Trump suggested testing to see if bleach could kill the new coronavirus.“The disinfectant knocks it out in a minute. One minute,” he said. “Is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside?” He said it would be “almost a cleaning. It gets in the lungs and does a tremendous number on the lungs.”

​Bleach is a toxic chemical, and inhaling it could damage the lungs. “Inhaling chlorine bleach would be absolutely the worst thing for the lungs,” said John Balmes, a pulmonoligist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, and a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco. “The airway and lungs are not made to be exposed to even an aerosol of disinfectant.”

“Not even a low dilution of bleach or isopropyl alcohol is safe,” Balmes said in a telephone interview. “It’s a totally ridiculous concept.”

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