U.S. Raises Italy Travel Advisory; Rate Cut Eyed: Virus Update

The U.S. raised its travel advisory for Italy, epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the U.S. central bank is prepared to cut interest rates. Amazon.com Inc. warned workers about travel and Google canceled a Las Vegas conference. More than 50 countries now report infections.

The virus continued its spread, including the first infection south of the Sahara, in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. Mexico also confirmed its first case. Iran and South Korea disclosed more cases.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said school closings in the U.S. are likely.

Fear over the economic fallout sent U.S. equities to a seventh straight loss and the worst week since the financial crisis. Brent crude dipped below $50 a barrel for the first time since December 2018.

Key Developments

  • Confirmed cases worldwide pass 83,000; deaths top 2,800
  • Iran reports 143 more infections; South Korea adds 571
  • Traders speculate on the Fed’s first emergency cut since 2008
  • Limited virus testing in Japan masks true scale of infection
  • China is making progress in the battle to get back to work

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.

U.S. Raises Travel Advisory to Italy (5:45 p.m. NY)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its second-highest travel warning for Italy, citing the continuing spread of the coronavirus in the country.

“At this time, CDC recommends avoiding non-essential travel to Italy,” the State Department said Friday on its travel advisory website. “Travelers should review and follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus if they decide to travel to Italy.”

Italy has 888 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 21 deaths linked to the illness.

WHO Says Travel Bans Don’t Prevent Virus’s Spread (5:40 p.m.)

The World Health Organization, in a status report on Friday, said a preliminary analysis of countries that blocked entry of travelers from China “suggest that such measures may have delayed the importation of new cases, but did not prevent the importation of the disease.”

The United Nations agency has recommended against imposing travel or trade restrictions to combat the outbreak.

Trump Considers More Travel Restrictions (5:30 p.m. NY)

President Donald Trump says he’s considering expanding travel restrictions due to the spread of the coronavirus to countries other than China.

“We’re looking at that right now, and we’re looking at a couple of countries, a few countries, that have a little bit disproportionately high number, and we’re going to make that decision very soon,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday, as he left for a campaign rally.

The U.S. imposed restrictions on travel from China on Jan. 31, including banning entry of non-Americans who’d been to China within the previous 14 days. As the virus spreads, Trump comments raise the prospect of other restrictions or travel advisories.

No Connection of Patient to Air Base, Azar Says (4:10 p.m.)

The California patient who may be the first coronavirus case in the U.S. of unknown origin doesn’t appear to be connected to a nearby air base where Americans were evacuated from Asia, an administration official said.

“Our current thinking is we do not believe it could be connected to the Travis Air Base repatriation efforts, just in terms of the timing of when she presented symptoms,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters in Washington Friday.

There were no people with symptoms on the base before the woman became ill, Azar said. The lack of a link to the base isn’t ironclad, however, and health authorities still don’t know how the woman contracted the coronavirus, he said.

“This individual is a suspect community-transmission case at this point — meaning we do not have a definitive link,” he said.

Google Cancels Conference in Las Vegas (3:36 p.m. NY)

Google canceled a major internal gathering, the latest in a wave of events and conferences being called off around the world.

The sales and marketing event was set to take place in Las Vegas in March, a Google spokesman said. “In light of the evolving coronavirus situation, we made the decision to cancel an internal event that would have brought thousands of employees together from across two continents,” the spokesman said.

Google will also ban business travel to and from Japan and South Korea starting March 2, according to an internal employee memo seen by Bloomberg.

German Intensifies Border Health Checks (3:22 p.m. NY)

A German government task force announced plans to intensify health checks for cross-border travel into the country, and said people arriving from South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran must declare their medical status upon arrival. Passengers from China are already required to do so.

Train passengers entering Germany now must also fill out forms about their condition, while rail operators will be required to report symptomatic travelers to authorities.

The task force also said large events should be canceled.

Powell Says Fed Poised to Act (2:47 p.m. NY)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the coronavirus “poses evolving risks” to U.S. economic growth and signaled the central bank is prepared to cut interest rates to support the longest-ever expansion.

The statement issued by Powell before the financial markets closed for the U.S. weekend came as stocks posted their seventh-straight daily loss, prompting calls for near-term interest-rate cuts from Wall Street banks. Yields on U.S. Treasury securities, one of the world’s safest assets, have fallen to record lows.

Amazon Tells Workers to Avoid Non-Essential Travel (1:50 p.m. NY)

Amazon.com Inc. this week asked employees to defer non-essential travel out of caution around the spread of the coronavirus, a spokeswoman said.

Dave Clark, the leader of Amazon’s worldwide logistics and operations teams, told employees in its largest unit to put off travel until at least the end of April, according to a memo first reported by the New York Times. The company employs 798,000 people globally, including more than 50,000 at its Seattle headquarters.

Separately, the company pulled out of the Game Developers Conference, scheduled for next month in San Francisco.

CDC Plans Surveillance in 6 Cities Next Week (1:40 p.m. NY)

In an effort to broaden surveillance for the coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aims to have six U.S. cities running tests on individuals with flu-like symptoms next week. It’s an effort to broaden monitoring beyond those already identified as at risk, such as travelers from China.

The move comes after California identified the first possible case of the virus in a patient with no apparent link to international travel or other known cases. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a briefing Friday that surveillance is increasingly important, adding that the CDC aims to rapidly expand the program to all 50 states.

Congress Seeks as Much as $8 Billion for Virus Fight (11:57 a.m. NY)

Congress is closing in on a deal for emergency spending of $6 billion to $8 billion to fund the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Members of both parties have called President Donald Trump’s initial plan to spend $2.5 billion — with only $1.25 billion in new funds — insufficient and have been working this week to settle on an amount. Congressional staff members are set to work through the weekend on a package that could be introduced early next week in the House, the person said.

The funding would be used to expand disease surveillance, bolster state and local health agencies, fund work on vaccines and drug treatments and help fortify the strategic national stockpile with protective gear, including masks and respirators.

WHO Raises Global Risk Outlook to ‘Very High’ (11:09 a.m. NY)

The World Health Organization raised its global risk assessment for the novel coronavirus to “very high” from “high” as several countries are struggling with containment.

Mike Ryan, director of the agency’s Health Emergencies Program, said it would be unhelpful to declare the disease a pandemic at this point.

Countries including China, Singapore, Nepal and Vietnam have shown that containment measures can work, the WHO said.

Italy May Suspend Some Mortgage Payments (10:42 a.m. NY)

Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, is expected to approve emergency measures, including suspending payments of utility bills and some mortgage payments, to support companies and families in the areas most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, according to a draft of a measure seen by Bloomberg.

Small- and medium-sized businesses in affected areas will have preferential access to a state relief fund, according to the draft, which may change before a cabinet meeting later Friday.

Cases in Italy soared to 650 on Thursday from 400 a day earlier.

Lawmakers Unsatisfied After Briefing on Whistle-Blower (10:30 a.m. NY)

U.S. lawmakers left a briefing by top health officials saying they hadn’t received satisfactory answers to their questions about a possible violation of infection protocols in handling coronavirus evacuees. The allegations were raised in a whistle-blower complaint to Congress.

California Democrat John Garamendi, whose district is home to the first possible case of the virus with no apparent link to international travel or other known cases, said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention briefers couldn’t say whether proper procedures were following at Travis Air Force Base, where the evacuees were quarantined.

He said that health workers in his district have been sent home following potential exposure. “They say it is a community infection and it’s going to be much bigger,” he said.

California Democrat Mark Takano said CDC officials promised to follow up with lawmakers later Friday about the allegations of violated protocols. Takano also said that National Institutes of Health infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci denied a report that he has been muzzled by the White House.

Fed’s Bullard Says Rates Cuts Possible (9:22 a.m. NY)

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said he would back interest-rate reductions if the coronavirus develops into a worldwide pandemic, but last year’s cuts are already supporting the economy.

“Further policy rate cuts are a possibility if a global pandemic actually develops with health effects approaching the scale of ordinary influenza, but this is not the baseline case at this time,” Bullard, who doesn’t vote on monetary policy this year, said Friday in prepared remarks to be delivered in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Virus Could Disrupt U.S. Schools, Transportation: Mulvaney (9:08 a.m. NY)

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged that the coronavirus is likely to cause disruptions to everyday life, such as school closures and changes to public transportation.

“Are you going to see some schools shut down? Probably. Maybe see impacts on public transportation? Sure, but we do this. We know how to handle this,” Mulvaney said at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington on Friday.

Iran’s Parliament Suspends Sessions Indefinitely (8:16 a.m. NY)

Iranian state TV reported that the country’s parliament has suspended sessions indefinitely. Earlier, Iran reported that cases had soared to 388 and there were eight more deaths, taking the total toll to 34. The country’s health minister said he expects “an upward trajectory” in confirmed coronavirus cases in the next few days.

Iran has shut universities and public spaces for another week. Travelers suspected of having the coronavirus will be stopped at city entrances and sent into quarantine for 14 days, according to state TV.

The Iranian health-care system is “not robust,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in response to questions about the Islamic Republic’s ability to fight the virus. Iran isn’t sharing sufficient information on the virus, he said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

— With assistance by Michelle Cortez

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