Trump-Touted Drugs Tied to Deaths; Vaccine Trials: Virus Update

The antimalaria drugs that U.S. President Donald Trump has touted to fight Covid-19 are linked to an increase of death and heart ailments.

Oxford University and AstraZeneca started recruiting subjects for advanced human studies of one of the fastest-moving experimental vaccines. Anthony Fauci, who is leading the U.S. infectious disease control effort, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about Moderna’s vaccine, boosting the stock.

Brazil had another record day of deaths and its government agreed to the terms of a financial aid package. Beijing abandoned a growth target for 2020 amid the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, while central banks in Japan and India stepped in to help their economies. Britain posted a record budget deficit in April and retail sales slumped.

Key Developments:

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 5.1 million; deaths around 333,000
  • Coronavirus is a stress test many world leaders are failing
  • Millions face risk of virus contagion in storm-hit South Asia
  • Nobody’s happy about all the contact-tracing apps out now
  • Bankers to the ultra-rich deprived of glamor turn to Zoom
  • Scared and sick, U.S. meat workers crowd into reopened plants

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click VRUS on the terminal for news and data on the coronavirus. See this week’s top stories from QuickTake here.

25,294 in U.S.Most new cases today

-14% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​077 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-4.​8% Global GDP Tracker (annualized), April


Malaria Drugs Linked to Death, Heart Risk (9:30 a.m. NY)

The antimalaria drugs touted by U.S. President Donald Trump to treat Covid-19 patients were linked to an increased risk of death and heart ailments in a study published in The Lancet medical journal. Trump said Monday that he had taken the drug for about a week.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine didn’t benefit the patients either alone or in combination with an antibiotic, according to the study based on records of 15,000 people treated with the antimalarials and one of two antibiotics often paired with the drug. Treatment with any combination of the four drugs was associated with a higher risk of death than seen in 81,000 patients who didn’t receive them, the study found.

Puerto Rico Cases Surpass 3,000 (8:14 a.m. NY)

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Puerto Rico surpassed the 3,000 mark on Friday, as the Health Department said an additional 117 people had tested positive. This is the third time this month that more than 100 cases were detected in a 24-hour period.

According to government figures, the pandemic has now affected 3,030 people and 126 have died. The figures come as the commonwealth of 3.2 million people pushes ahead with plans to reopen the economy after declaring a broad lock-down on March 16. On Tuesday, malls, retail outlets and restaurants will be allowed to resume operations.

Russia Tests Covid-19 Vaccine on Researchers (8:10 a.m. NY)

A Russian government research institute said it conducted successful unofficial tests on a potential coronavirus vaccine. Laboratory staff who volunteered to receive the vaccine at the Gamaleya epidemiology institute in Moscow had no side effects and are healthy, said its director, Alexander Ginzburg, the state-run Tass news service reported.

It didn’t state how many people took part in the trial.

Fauci Optimistic About Moderna Vaccine (7:36 a.m. NY)

Moderna shares rose after Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious disease official, said he was optimistic about the company’s vaccine. “Even though there were only eight individuals, we saw neutralizing antibodies at a reasonable dose of the vaccine,” Fauci said on CNN. “Although the numbers were limited, it was really quite good news because it reached and went over an important hurdle in the development of vaccines. That’s the reason why I’m cautiously optimistic about it.”

Fauci said on NPR that he expects the full results of a Phase 1 study of the biotech’s experimental Covid-19 vaccine within weeks. Earlier this week, an experimental vaccine from the company showed signs that it can create an immune-system response to fend off the new coronavirus. In 25 people who got either of the two smaller doses used in the study, researchers reported that the levels of antibodies equaled or exceeded the levels of antibodies found in patients who had recovered from the virus.

The second test, evaluating the quality of those antibodies, was only available for eight of the people because it takes longer to perform. But in all eight people, the vaccine successfully stimulated the body to create antibodies capable of neutralizing the virus in the test tube, so it can no longer infect cells.

Alibaba Growth Slows; Deere Tractor Sales Hold Up (7:15 a.m. NY)

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. reported its slowest pace of revenue growth on record after China’s economic contraction drove down spending across its online marketplaces. The results demonstrate the world’s second largest economy has yet to fully shake off Covid-19, with consumers still hesitant about spending on big-ticket items.

Deere & Co. shares rose after the world’s biggest tractor maker navigated coronavirus upheavals better than expected in the height of the pandemic. For the three months through April, sales and earnings fell less than analysts projected as agriculture -- deemed essential in the lockdown era -- proves more resilient than many other industries.

U.K. Contact-Tracing App Roll-Out Delayed (6:20 a.m. NY)

Britain’s mobile phone app for tracking coronavirus infections has been delayed by bureaucracy and the addition of more symptoms to monitor, according to a person familiar with the matter -- who said they expected the government to abandon it in favor of the model backed by Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

The app is being developed by VMware Inc. and Zuhlke Engineering Ltd at a cost of 4.7 million pounds ($5.8 million). There has been controversy about the U.K.’s decision to reject the structure backed by Apple and Google, a move that has been criticized by privacy campaigners.

The U.K. has opted for a “centralized” model, where people who test positive for coronavirus upload all their recent contacts to a database, and those people are then contacted and warned. Apple Inc. and Google released their Covid-19 exposure-notification tools on Wednesday. Some governments have criticized the “decentralized” system because it doesn’t let authorities store data on who has the virus and track where it is spreading. Instead, it just notifies individuals if they have been exposed.

Germany Plans One-Time Child Bonus (6 a.m. NY)

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz is planning a one-time bonus for families of 300 euros ($327) per child as part of a government stimulus program worth as much as 150 billion euros, Der Spiegel magazine reported, without identifying the source of its information. The bonus could cost the government 5 billion to 6 billion euros. Scholz is also considering vouchers to boost consumer spending.

Belgian Virus Spread Remains Under Control (5:54 p.m. HK)

A weekly update of Belgium’s infection rate showed the epidemic remains under control in the country after lock-down measures were gradually eased starting May 4. The so-called reproduction factor rose to 0.86 for the 7 days ending May 20 from about 0.8 in the previous week, below the key threshold of 1.0.

Belgium reported 276 new infections in the past 24 hours, based on 18,182 diagnostic tests. That’s up from 252 the prior day, which was based on 18,918 tests. New hospital admissions fell to 56 from 71 the day before, as the total number of beds occupied declined to 1,415.

U.K. Will Fine Arrivals Who Break Quarantine (5:29 p.m. HK)

Passengers arriving in the U.K. will be forced into quarantine for two weeks and face fines of 1,000 pounds ($1,217) if they break the rules. The plan is designed to stop travelers re-introducing coronavirus to the country after becoming infected overseas and is likely to have a major impact on the aviation industry’s attempts to recover after the lockdown.

Home Secretary Priti Patel will set out the details of the new quarantine system at the daily government press conference at 5 p.m. on Friday. Her Cabinet colleague, Brandon Lewis, said the measures will be reviewed every three weeks, along with the rest of the government’s coronavirus response.

Putin Presses Plan to Extend Rule (4:20 p.m. HK)

Thrown off course by the coronavirus pandemic, Vladimir Putin is moving to regain the political initiative for his plan to remain as Russia’s president potentially until 2036. Putin may announce a snap ballot within weeks on proposed changes to the constitution that allow him to sidestep term limits, said four people familiar with Kremlin discussions on the matter. Electronic voting will be used as well as polling stations to boost turnout and the result, the people said.

Putin delayed the referendum on constitutional amendments originally scheduled for April 22 when the coronavirus crisis erupted in the spring. What had seemed a formality then now looks a harder sell. Like millions around the world, Russians were thrust into hardship and uncertainty about their jobs after Putin in late March ordered a nationwide lockdown that sparked a 33% plunge in economic activity.

While there are signs the Covid-19 epidemic is starting to wane in Russia, which has the world’s second-highest number of infections, the turmoil unleashed by the virus and an unprecedented slump in oil prices continues to rip through the economy. Confirmed cases increased by 8,894 to 326,448 on Friday, while the number of deaths in the past day rose by 150, the most so far, to 3,249.

Oxford, AstraZeneca Begin Advanced Trials (3:47 p.m. HK)

The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc have begun recruiting more than 10,000 subjects for advanced human studies of one of the world’s fastest-moving experimental Covid-19 vaccines.

A smaller part of the trial will expand the age range of testing to children from 5 to 12 years old and adults 56 and older, according to a statement. The other, larger stage will test the vaccine’s effectiveness in volunteers 18 and older.

AstraZeneca received a boost in its efforts to get the immunization tested and ready for use when the U.S. pledged as much as $1.2 billion toward development on Thursday.

Nissan May Cut More Than 20,000 Jobs (2:15 p.m. HK)

Nissan Motor Co. is planning to cut more than 20,000 jobs across the world, as the Japanese carmaker grapples with factories and showrooms that have been shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kyodo News reported.

The outbreak is forcing Nissan to cut back on production, and restructuring measures in Japan are also being considered, the news agency reported. The job reductions are part of a mid-term reorganization plan that Nissan is due to unveil on May 28, Kyodo said. The reduction would be much larger than the 12,500 staff cuts announced in mid-2019.

U.K. Posts Record Budget Deficit; Retail Sales Crater (2:15 p.m. HK)

Britain posted a record budget deficit in April as the government unleashed an unprecedented package to prevent the collapse of the virus-stricken economy. The shortfall stood at 62.1 billion pounds ($76 billion), the Office for National Statistics said. The figure is equal to total borrowing in the whole of the previous fiscal year. In a separate report, the ONS said retail sales fell the most since at least 1988.

The figures reflect the cost of interventions announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, including paying the wages of 8 million furloughed workers, a surge in welfare claims and the hit to tax revenue from a shrinking economy. Meanwhile, the U.K. also announced that banks should extend mortgage holidays for struggling homeowners by a further three months, as part of its measures to shore up households.

German Infection Rate Holds Below Key Level (1:20 p.m.)

Germany’s coronavirus infection rate held below the key threshold of 1.0, while the number of new cases and deaths dipped for a second day. There were 548 new cases in the 24 hours through Friday morning, bringing the total to 179,021, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Fatalities increased by 59, to 8,203.

The reproduction factor of the virus, known as R-naught, was 0.89 on Thursday, compared with 0.88 the previous day, according to the Robert Koch Institute. The figure reflects the number of additional cases generated by one infected person, and authorities consider it important to keep the number below 1.0 to prevent exponential growth that could overwhelm the health system.

Thailand Extends State of Emergency (1:15 p.m. HK)

Thailand will extend its nationwide state of emergency for another month through June, according to Taweesilp Witsanuyotin, a spokesman for the Covid-19 center. That will help facilitate the country’s reopening in stages three, which begins June 1, and four, Taweesilp said. Once stage four is completed, the government may consider reopening its borders.

India Unexpectedly Cuts Interest Rates (12:26 p.m. HK)

India’s central bank cut interest rates in an unscheduled announcement on Friday, ramping up support for an economy it expects will contract for the first time in more than four decades.

The benchmark repurchase rate was lowered by 40 basis points to 4%, Governor Shaktikanta Das said in a live streamed address. The reverse repurchase rate was reduced to 3.35% from 3.75%. The monetary policy committee met ahead of its scheduled meeting in early June, Das said.

Australian State Relaxes Curbs on Pubs, Cafes (11:36 a.m. HK)

Australia’s most-populous state will allow pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants to have as many as 50 customers from June 1, as authorities try to breathe life back into the economy.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that strict social distancing guidelines, including ensuring premises allow for 4 square meters per person, would be in force.

Coronavirus Reshapes New Zealand’s Politics (10:42 a.m. HK)

New Zealand’s main opposition party elected a new leader after a slump in opinion polls spooked its members of parliament four months out from a general election. National Party MPs backed agriculture spokesman Todd Muller to replace Simon Bridges in a caucus vote Friday in Wellington.

Muller challenged for the leadership after two polls this week showed support for National plummeting to as low as 29%, from 46% just three months ago.

Muller now faces the daunting task of trying to dethrone Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose crisis management during the coronavirus pandemic has seen her popularity soar. Support for Ardern’s Labour Party surged to 59% in a 1News/Colmar Brunton poll published yesterday, 30 percentage points ahead of National. The election will be held on Sept. 19.

China Abandons Growth Target (8:29 a.m. HK)

The Chinese government abandoned its decades-long practice of setting an annual target for economic growth amid the storm of uncertainty unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, and said it would continue to increase stimulus.

“We have not set a specific target for economic growth this year,” the report said. “This is because our country will face some factors that are difficult to predict in its development due to the great uncertainty regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and the world economic and trade environment.”

Premier Li Keqiang said the government is setting a target for urban job creation of over 9 million jobs. That’s lower than the 2019 target of around 11 million, and a target for the urban surveyed unemployment rate of around 6%, higher than 2019’s goal, according to the document.

IBM Joins Tech Giants in Cutting Jobs (7:23 a.m. HK)

International Business Machines Corp. cut an unspecified number of jobs across the U.S., eliminating employees in at least five states. The company declined to comment on the total number, but the workforce reductions appear far-reaching.

Based on a review of IBM internal communications on the Slack corporate messaging service, the number of affected employees is likely to be in the thousands, said a North Carolina-based worker who lost his job along with his entire team of 12.

It’s unclear how many of IBM’s cuts are caused by the pandemic; the company has suffered years of falling revenue. But the tech industry has suffered widespread job losses after the coronavirus pandemic triggered a severe recession. Airbnb Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. have cut about a quarter of their workforces. Earlier on Thursday, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. said it will eliminate some employees to save money, while Dell Technologies Inc. suspended several staff benefits.

— With assistance by Mark Schoifet, John Martens, Adveith Nair, and Jonathan Levin

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