Trump Splits With Fauci; H.K. Ends No-Cases Streak: Virus Update

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the U.S. economy faces unprecedented risks that could do lasting damage. The pandemic could remove four years of growth from the global economy and push 130 million to extreme poverty, a U.N. study showed.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he disagrees with Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, over the doctor’s warnings that reopening the country too quickly could cause the virus to flare up.

Hong Kong’s 23-day streak without a case of local transmission ended. New research is raising more questions about tests used to diagnose patients, with some showing a surprisingly high rate of false negatives.

Key Developments:

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 4.3 million; deaths exceed 296,000
  • Bolsonaro contends with crisis as Brazil’s death toll rises
  • New York City takes step toward opening schools in September
  • New normal for U.S. economy looks awful, long and perilous
  • Experts want to know why the virus hasn’t killed more Russians

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Qatar Orders Wearing of Masks When Stepping Outside (7:16 a.m. HK)

The Qatari government ordered all citizens to wear masks when they step outside for any reason beginning May 17, state-run QNA reported. People who violate the order will be subjected to either imprisonment of up to three years, or a fine of as much as 200,000 riyals ($55,000) or both, according to the report.

U.K. Boosted by Clearance of Roche Antibody Test (7:14 a.m. HK)

Roche Holding AG’s coronavirus antibody test was cleared by a U.K. health authority, a boost to Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he seeks ways to gradually relax lockdown restrictions.

Johnson has previously described antibody tests as a ‘game-changer’, as they show who has already had the virus and may have a degree of immunity. However, scientists still aren’t sure whether having antibodies means long-lasting immunity.

Trump Disagrees With Fauci Over Reopening (6:16 a.m. HK)

President Donald Trump accused the nation’s top infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci, of wanting to “play all sides of the equation” with congressional testimony Tuesday that warned reopening the country too quickly could lead to coronavirus case flare ups.

“I was surprised by his answer, actually,” Trump told reporters Wednesday at the White House. “Because you know, it’s just — to me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”

The president’s public rebuke of Fauci’s testimony was a remarkable split with the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has come under criticism from some Republicans who charge he’s been too cautious in his advice on lifting social distancing precautions. Trump has been pushing to reopen the U.S. economy faster as joblessness increases.

L.A., San Francisco Relax Some Curbs on Business (5:41 p.m. NY)

Los Angeles and San Francisco relaxed business restrictions to allow for retailers not in indoor shopping malls to reopen for curbside pickup, along with some manufacturing operations. While California began allowing some of these measures last week, both areas had kept their stricter rules.

Los Angeles County, which accounts for almost half of the state’s virus cases, also is reopening beaches for active recreation like running and surfing, while keeping them closed for sunbathers and group activities.

South Africa Eases Nationwide Lockdown (5 p.m. NY)

South Africa’s government announced plans to further ease a nationwide lockdown as the fallout from shuttering much of the economy threatens to outweigh the damage wrought by the coronavirus.

Consultations will begin in the coming days about moving most of country to disease alert level 3 by the end of the month, from level 4, and allow a number of additional industries to resume operations, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Wednesday in a televised address to the nation. Level 4 restrictions will remain in force in areas where infection rates are highest, including some of the main cities.

Goldman Sachs Sees Gloomier U.S. Jobs Outlook (4:38 p.m. NY)

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists revised their forecasts to reflect a gloomier outlook for the U.S. labor market, though also the potential for a faster recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Analysts David Mericle and Ronnie Walker estimate that the unemployment rate will peak at 25%, up from a previous forecast of 15%, as “more workers will lose their jobs and a larger share of them will be classified as unemployed,” according to a research note late Tuesday. The rate would then remain near 10% at year-end, near the highs of the last recession, they wrote.

U.S. Cases Rise 1.6% (4 p.m. NY)

U.S. cases rose 1.6% from the day before to 1.38 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. That was higher than Tuesday’s growth rate of 1.4%, but below the average increase of 1.9% over the past week. Deaths rose 1.8% to 83,249.

New York reported 166 deaths, keeping daily fatalities under 200 for a third day, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo. The state also added 2,176 cases, for a total of 340,661. Texas cases climbed 3.3%, above the 3% average of the past week, to a total of 42,403.

Ex-Glaxo Official, General to Lead Vaccine Hunt (3:52 p.m. NY)

President Donald Trump plans to name Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s vaccines division, and Gustave Perna, a four-star U.S. general, to lead a Manhattan Project-style effort to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, two people familiar with the matter said.

Slaoui, 60, and Perna will oversee the initiative known as Operation Warp Speed, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement expected later Wednesday. Slaoui will work on a volunteer basis. The Trump administration project seeks to produce 300 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of the year, hastening development by simultaneously testing many different candidates and beginning production before they’ve completed clinical trials.

Italy Approves $60 Billion Stimulus Package (2:58 p.m. NY)

Italy’s government approved a much-delayed 55 billion-euro ($60 billion) stimulus package to rescue an economy crippled by a two-month nationwide lockdown, promising a boost in liquidity for businesses and aid for families in need.

The new spending includes emergency income measures, extra funding for companies and tax cuts for some 4 billion euros. Non-reimbursable grants for small and medium-sized companies will also be available.

French Deaths at Slowest Pace in Three Days (2:45 p.m. NY)

French virus deaths rose at the slowest pace in three days on Wednesday, at 83. New cases were little changed over the day at 213,664. Hospitalizations fell by 524 to 21,071, the lowest since March 30. Patients in intensive care because of the virus, which health officials consider a key indicator of the pressure on France’s health-care system, fell by 114 to 2,428, about a third of the peak in April.

France has started easing lockdown measures that helped slow the coronavirus outbreak, with many stores reopening after almost eight weeks. The number of people in France who had been infected was estimated to be 2.8 million as of May 11, or 4.4% of the population, according to a study based on modeling published in Science magazine on Wednesday.

“The epidemic remains active and the virus is still circulating,” the ministry said. “We must remain cautious.”

U.K. Aid Claims Top $416 Million on First Day (2:25 p.m. NY)

The U.K. government’s coronavirus aid program for self-employed people received more than 340 million pounds ($416 million) of claims in its first morning of operation. Some 110,000 people had applied for the cash grants by noon on Wednesday, Jim Harra, chief executive officer of the U.K. tax authority, told Sky News in an interview.

“They are all eligible claimants” who should receive payments by May 25, he said. The program, announced in March, allows self-employed workers to claim a one-time grant equivalent to 80% of their average monthly profit for three months.

N.Y. Probes Illness in Kids (1:40 p.m. NY)

New York state is investigating 102 reported cases of an inflammatory disease in young children that’s thought to be related to the coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, after a 5 year-old boy in New York City, a 7 year-old boy in Westchester County, and an 18 year-old girl in Suffolk County died.

The disease causes inflammation of the blood vessels and can affect the heart, he said. Of the cases being investigated, the children showed symptoms of an inflammatory disease like the Kawasaki disease or toxic shock-like syndrome, he said. At the request of the CDC, the state is helping to develop the criteria for identifying and responding to the illness; 14 other states and five European countries have reported cases.

About 60% of the children displaying the symptoms tested positive for Covid-19 and 40% tested positive for antibodies. Of those, 71% have resulted in ICU admissions, 19% in intubations, and 43% remain hospitalized, Cuomo said.

The state reported its first rise in new cases in five days after ramping up testing to 33,794 people from 20,463 the day before.

Vaccine Just One Step In Stopping Virus, WHO Warns (1:15 p.m. NY)

The “massive moonshot” of finding a Covid-19 vaccine will be only the first step toward eradicating the disease, a World Health Organization official warned, saying that access must be ensured around the world.

“Science can come up with the vaccine, but someone has got to make it, and we’ve got to make enough of it that everyone can get a dose of it, and we have got to be able to deliver that, and people have got to want to take that vaccine,” said Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies program. “Every single one of those steps is fraught with challenges.”

It’s impossible to make promises now about when the virus could be eradicated, Ryan said, noting that resistance to vaccine use has contributed to the spread of diseases, such as measles.

U.S. House Republicans Urge WHO, China Probes (12:50 p.m. NY)

Republicans want a new congressional panel created to monitor coronavirus dollars to also investigate “the actions and inactions” of the World Health Organization, China and the U.S. House of Representatives itself in the early stages of the outbreak.

The demands are included in a list of rules the GOP wants the Democratic-led committee to adopt as safeguards against “partisan political ends,” in a letter delivered just hours before the panel is holds its first hearing Wednesday on how to safely reopen the U.S. economy.

Italy New Cases Fall (12:07 p.m. NY)

Italy registered the fewest new coronavirus cases in two days on Wednesday, as the government prepared to approve a much-postponed 55 billion-euro ($60 billion) stimulus package for an economy blighted by a nationwide lockdown.

Civil protection authorities reported 888 cases — the least since Monday — compared with 1,402 a day earlier, taking confirmed cases to 222,104. Daily fatalities rose to 195 from 172 on Tuesday, with a total of 31,106 reported since the start of the pandemic in late February.

EU Working on Economic Recovery Plan (11:45 a.m. NY)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament that she’s working on an “ambitious” plan to help economies recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. which would sit alongside the bloc’s regular budget and be funded in part by borrowing on financial markets.

The recovery instrument proposal is still being revised by EU officials, with member states fighting over how it should be funded. Any plan will have to be endorsed by the parliament and national governments.

The plan would see most of the funds spent on public investments and reforms in the countries most deeply affected by the coronovirus lockdown. Von der Leyen stressed that funding would be given only for projects “aligned with European policy” such as on measures to fight climate change and boost digitalization.

Abbott Test May Miss Many Cases (11:26 a.m. NY)

The coronavirus test from Abbott Laboratories used at the White House and other prominent locations to get rapid answers on whether someone is infected may miss as many as half of positive cases, according to a report from New York University. The findings have yet to be confirmed.

An analysis of Abbott’s ID NOW found it missed at least one-third of positive cases detected with a rival test and as many as 48% when using the currently recommended dry nasal swabs.

Air Travel to Lag for Years (11:02 a.m. NY)

Demand for air travel will lag behind pre-virus forecasts by about 10% for at least five more years, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Traffic next year will be down between a third and two-fifths from projections made prior to the pandemic, according to IATA, which doesn’t see travel recovering to last year’s levels until 2023 at the earliest. Brian Pearce, the trade group’s chief economist, said he expected a rebound in demand to come about two years after an upturn in GDP, partly due to the increased inconvenience of travel.

— With assistance by Kara Wetzel

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