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U.S. Covid-19 Cases Rise 1.9%; Deaths Top 70,000: Virus Update

Bloomberg News
U.S. Covid-19 Cases Rise 1.9%; Deaths Top 70,000: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) -- Pfizer administered the first U.S. patients with its experimental vaccine, and Regeneron said an antibody treatment could be available as soon as this fall. Gilead is working to expand manufacturing of its virus treatment, remdesivir, for use around the world.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned against prematurely ending lockdowns, and President Donald Trump lashed out at Democrats who want Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious-disease expert, to testify before Congress.

The U.K.’s coronavirus death toll soared passed that of Italy, making it the worst hit country in Europe. Hong Kong moved to ease restrictions, and the state of Bavaria set out plans to reopen its economy in what may serve as a blueprint for the rest of Germany.

Key Developments

Virus Tracker: global cases pass 3.6 million; deaths top 255,000Trump pushes virus-from-lab theory that divides U.S. spiesWhere Europe’s lockdowns are easing after weeks of restrictionsRussia new cases topped 10,000 cases for a third straight dayAlphabet’s Verily struggles to live up to Trump’s testing hypeCoronavirus causes blood clots harming organs from brain to toes

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.

U.S. Extends Loan Repayment Deadline (7:13 a.m. HK)

The U.S. Small Business Administration extended the “safe harbor” repayment date for borrowers to return loans under the Paycheck Protection Plan to May 14. The move came shortly after the Justice Department announced the first criminal charges over the program, accusing two New england businessmen of fraud in connection with their applications for aid under the program.

Amazon Factory Worker Dies (6:53 a.m. HK)

Amazon.com Inc. said an employee who worked in a Staten Island warehouse died from Covid-19, heightening concerns among workers that the online retail giant isn’t doing enough to protect those toiling through the pandemic.

The employee, whose identity wasn’t disclosed, last worked at the New York facility on April 5 and notified Amazon April 11 that he had tested positive for Covid-19, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday. The man’s family told Amazon about his death Monday, and warehouse managers began alerting workers Monday evening. He had no known contact with any other employees since getting sick, according to Amazon.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of an associate at our site in Staten Island,” Amazon spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski said. “His family and loved ones are in our thoughts, and we are supporting his fellow colleagues.”

U.S. Health Official Files Whistleblower Claim (6:45 a.m. HK)

A top U.S. health official who said he was ousted over his concerns regarding a drug pushed by the Trump administration for the coronavirus also clashed repeatedly with his superiors over other issues related to the pandemic, according to a complaint the official filed Tuesday.

Rick Bright, who had served as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until the end of last month, disagreed with his supervisors at the Department of Health and Human Services over the seriousness of the threat of the novel coronavirus, shortages of protective gear and contracts that went to companies with political connections.

Attorneys for Bright filed the complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. The document says Bright’s former boss, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, created a culture of cronyism that didn’t emphasize scientific data.

Bright’s complaint outlines his concerns over contracts he says HHS officials pushed based on political considerations rather than scientific data. He raised red flags regarding hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, two drugs Trump and his administration had touted as Covid-19 treatments despite a lack of clinical evidence.

Gilead in Talks to Expand Remdesivir Production (5:13 p.m. NY)

Gilead Sciences Inc. is in talks to expand manufacturing of remdesivir, its Covid-19 treatment that’s been cleared by U.S. health regulators for emergency use.

The company said in a blog post that it’s in talks with “some of the world’s leading chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies” about their ability to make the drug for Europe, Asia and the developing world through 2022. It’s also talking with manufacturers in India and Pakistan about manufacturing for developing markets, and about how to license the drug in those markets.

“Close coordination of remdesivir manufacturing will be critical. This is why Gilead is working to build a consortium of manufacturing partners -- to bring efforts together to help maximize global supply,” the Foster City, California based company said in the post.

The company, which has faced questions from investors about how it intends to recoup its investment on the drug, promised it will make the compound “accessible and affordable to governments and patients around the world.”

Meat Shortages Show Supply Woes (4:49 p.m. NY)

With almost 1,500 cases of Covid-19 at just three meatpacking plants in Iowa, consumer outlets from Kroger Co. to Costco Wholesale Corp. are limiting shoppers’ purchases. Even Wendy’s Co. has dropped burgers from some menus.

Prices for wholesale beef and pork have jumped more than 20% since President Donald Trump’s historic executive order to keep plants running during the pandemic. The supply shortfalls and soaring prices underscore the challenges of quickly fixing America’s broken meat supply chain.

Meat supplies for retail grocery stores could shrink almost 30% by Memorial Day, leading to retail pork and beef price inflation as high as 20% relative to prices last year, according to agricultural lender CoBank.

Beyond Meat Inc. however reported sales beating Wall Street expectations despite shuttered restaurants as business shifts to supermarket sales. The faux-meat maker hasn’t seen any disruptions to supply chains or reported cases of Covid-19 at its plants, CEO Ethan Brown said.

Disney Profit Plunges With Parks Closed (4:20 p.m. NY)

Walt Disney Co.’s second-quarter profit plunged by more than half as the world’s largest entertainment company was bludgeoned on all sides by the coronavirus.

The worst performance by far came from the theme-park division, where operating income tumbled to $639 million from $1.51 billion last year. Disney’s parks remain shuttered around the world, with the resorts in Asia closed since late January. Profits at the film studio dropped 8% with U.S. theaters shuttered since mid-March. And cable networks such as ESPN were hurt by an advertising slump in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown. ESPN is especially vulnerable in a world without live sports.

One bright spot, despite still being in the money-losing stage, was the direct-to-consumer division, which has seen strong growth in subscribers to its new Disney+ streaming service launched in November.

U.S. Cases Rise Slower Than Week’s Average (4 p.m. NY)

U.S. cases rose 1.9% from the day before to 1.19 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. That was lower than Monday’s growth rate of 2% and below the average daily increase of 2.6% over the past week. Deaths rose 2.9% to 70,272.

New cases and deaths in New York both rose 0.7%, according to the Johns Hopkins and Bloomberg News data.Florida recorded 37,439 cases, up 1.5% from a day earlier, according to the state’s health department. Deaths reached 1,471, an increase of 5.1%.Hospitalizations in Texas surged to 1,888 from 1,500 a day earlier, the biggest rise in three weeks, according to state health department data. New cases rose 3.2% to 33,369 and fatalities increased by 2.5% to 906.California reported 1,275 new cases for Monday, its lowest daily total since April 25. The state had 63 more deaths, up from a three-week low of 39 the prior day.Mississippi had the biggest daily increase in cases, which rose 8.7% to 8,208.

White House Weighs Disbanding Task Force (3:30 p.m. NY)

The White House is discussing disbanding the president’s coronavirus task force, possibly as soon as Memorial Day, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters.

“We’re having conversations about that,” Pence said in a briefing Tuesday.

The White House may transition the government’s response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Pence said. A time frame for the move could be late May or early June, he added.

But on Tuesday, Pence portrayed the task force as having accomplished its goal as the U.S. outbreak -- the largest in the world -- plateaus. There have been nearly 1.2 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 69,000 deaths from the disease, but states are beginning to try to reopen businesses and lift social-distancing regulations as the growth of the outbreak slows.

California Has Fewest Cases in 9 Days (2:53 p.m. NY)

California reported 1,275 new confirmed cases for Monday, its lowest daily total since April 25. The state had 63 additional deaths, up from a three-week low of 39 the prior day.

Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday expressed optimism that the state had turned a corner in cases, allowing it to take modest steps toward reopening the economy. California has accelerated testing, now completing more than 30,000 a day. It has tested a total of 779,902 residents, according to data released Tuesday.

New Jersey Hospitalizations Fall (2 p.m. NY)

New Jersey’s death toll surpassed 8,200 as hospitalizations continued to fall.

In all, 5,328 patients are hospitalized, a decrease of nearly 3,000 from about three weeks ago, Governor Phil Murphy said at a news conference. Of those, 1,534 are in critical-care units, with 1,169 on ventilators, and both of those figures are dropping, he said. About half of New Jersey’s 8,244 virus deaths have occurred in nursing homes, Murphy said.

In the past day, 385 people were hospitalized, a sign that social distancing must continue, he said.

Texas Hospitalizations Rise 23% (1:55 p.m. NY)

In Texas, hospitalizations rose the most in more than three weeks, climbing 23% to 1,888, according to state health department data. The number of available intensive-care unit beds was 2,094.

New cases rose 3.2% to 33,369, a slower rate than the almost 5% increase in testing, the data showed. Fatalities increased by 2.5% to 906.

Cuomo Warns on Reopening Risks (12:44 p.m. NY)

The number of projected deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus has doubled because of governors’ push to reopen, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said as he warned against prematurely ending lockdowns.

“There’s a cost of reopening quickly,” Cuomo said Tuesday at a press briefing. “The faster we reopen, the lower the economic cost, but the more lives lost.”

The governor cited data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which has increased its first-wave death projection to more than 130,000 from earlier estimates of about 60,000.

Regeneron Treatment Could Be Out by Fall (12:03 p.m. NY)

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. said an experimental antibody treatment for Covid-19 could be available as soon as this fall, an expedited timeline for a drug that’s scheduled to be studied in humans for the first time in June.

To meet the fall time line will “depend on a lot of factors,” including whether the treatment works as well as hoped, “and there is obviously a lot of risk,” Regeneron Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos said Tuesday on a conference call with investors. “We’ve sort of done it before but now we are trying to take it to the next level.”

Florida Cases Rise 1.5% (11 a.m. NY)

Florida reported 37,439 Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, up 1.5% from a day earlier. Deaths among Florida residents reached 1,471, an increase of 5.1%

Florida is in its second day of its gradual reopening, with restaurants and retail allowed to reopen in most parts of the state Monday.

Trump: Fauci Won’t Testify to ‘Trump Haters’ (10:55 a.m. NY)

President Donald Trump said U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci was blocked from testifying to the House of Representatives on the coronavirus this week because it’s controlled by Democrats, undercutting the White House’s earlier explanation.

“The House is a setup, the House is a bunch of Trump haters, they put every Trump hater on the committee, same old stuff,” Trump said Tuesday in response to a question about why Fauci wasn’t allowed to testify.

A White House spokesman, Judd Deere, said in a statement last week that it would be “counterproductive” to allow top U.S. medical officials to testify to Congress while they’re working to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

EU’s Hogan Urges End to Trade Curbs (10:48 a.m. NY)

European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said countries around the world should scrap pandemic-induced commercial curbs as the global economy recovers.

“We have to remove all of those restrictions and return to an open, rules-based, approach,” Hogan said in a Bloomberg TV interview in Brussels. He cited the need for World Trade Organization member nations to work together toward “a more speedy recovery.”

Connecticut Schools to Remain Shut (10:20 a.m. NY)

Connecticut has canceled in-person classes for public school students for the rest of the academic year, according to Governor Ned Lamont.

Schools will be still be required to provide meals to children under school lunch and breakfast programs for consumption at home, Lamont said.

New York and New Jersey also closed schools for the rest of the academic year.

Airlines Cut Jobs Amid Slump: (9:37 a.m. NY)

United Airlines Holdings Inc. will cut at least 30% of its managerial and administrative jobs when government restrictions lift in October. In addition to cutting the roughly 3,500 positions, the company will require that management and administrative employees take 20 days off without pay between May 16 and Sept. 30, according to an internal memo.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. will eliminate 3,150 jobs and shutter its hub at London Gatwick airport to help ride out the coronavirus crisis after struggling to secure a bailout from the U.K. government. The cuts will be discussed with unions in a 45-day consultation, the carrier founded by billionaire Richard Branson said in a statement.

Flights will be focused on London Heathrow and Manchester, though Gatwick slots will be retained in expectation of an eventual recovery there, it said.

More Deaths Reported in N.Y. Nursing Homes: AP (8:35 a.m. NY)

New York state is reporting more than 1,700 previously undisclosed deaths at nursing homes and adult care facilities, the Associated Press reported. At least 4,813 residents with confirmed or presumed cases of Covid-19 have died at 351 of New York’s 613 nursing homes since March 1, the AP said, citing the new list from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration. The list, released late Monday, includes the reported number of both confirmed and presumed deaths as of Sunday evening.

U.S. Trade Plummeted in March (8:47 a.m. NY)

U.S. exports of goods and services plunged in March by a record and imports declined by the most in 11 years as the pandemic stymied trade and travel.

The overall gap in goods and services trade widened to $44.4 billion from a revised $39.8 billion in February, according to Commerce Department data released Tuesday. The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg had called for a widening to $44.2 billion.

Germany Faces 20% Surge in Insolvencies (8:40 a.m. NY)

The pandemic could lead to a 20% jump in corporate insolvencies this year in Germany with a spike in the autumn, according to Frankfurt-based financial advisory firm Falkensteg.

One third of respondents in a survey of 460 insolvency administrators last month expect that the number of companies seeking creditor protection could rise to 22,500 in 2020 from 18,750 last year. Three in four of the respondents expect a jump of at least 10%.

Goldman: Sweden’s Strategy Doesn’t Offer a Model (8:36 a.m. NY)

Sweden’s light-touch approach to containing Covid-19 may be working in Scandinavia’s biggest economy, but it would be wrong to regard it as a model for others to emulate, according to Goldman Sachs.

Swedish schools, gyms, bars and shops have remained mostly open during the pandemic. At the same time, its fatality rate as a share of the population is lower than in most of the major European economies, and there are signs the infection rate has stabilized.

But Goldman says a number of uniquely Swedish demographic factors have shielded it from the worst, and there’s no evidence that other countries would achieve similar results.

Gottlieb: Cases Haven’t Declined as Expected (7:42 a.m. NY)

“We haven’t seen the declines we expected to see right now,” former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb said an in NBC interview. “Certainly I expected to see sustained declines in new cases around the country,” Gottlieb said, adding that cases are actually going up in around 20 states.

Several states had said Gottlieb was helping to advise them on their approach to reopening and he was also named by President Donald Trump in April as someone providing guidance on economic revival to the White House.

U.K.’s Vallance Says Better Testing Would Have Helped (6:54 a.m. NY)

U.K. Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance told a parliamentary committee hearing that Britain should be able to avoid a second wave of infections “if we do test, track and tracing well” and keep social-distancing measures at the right level. “But I want to add one caveat, which is winter is going to be extremely difficult when you also have flu circulating and all the other respiratory infections.”

When asked what could’ve been done differently Vallance told the committee: “I think that probably we, in the early phases, and I’ve said this before, if we’d managed to ramp testing capacity quicker it would’ve been beneficial.”

According to documents released earlier, scientists advised the government to try a gradual easing of restrictions when its lockdown is lifted, saying a stop-start approach could lead to a loss of trust in the strategy. An April 1 paper on how to relax measures imposed on March 23 shows government scientists examined tactics to ease restrictions and then tighten them again.

“If strict restrictions are retained for months and then abruptly eased and people are told it is safe to resume social contact they will expect this to mean that the risk of infection has ceased or significantly reduced,” they wrote in the papers released on Tuesday. “If there is then an increase in infection rates that necessitates a reintroduction of restrictions this is likely to be seen as a serious failure of policy and trust in public health advice will be lost.”

Marathon Takes $12 Billion Charge (6:54 a.m. NY)

Marathon Petroleum Corp. took a charge of $12.4 billion in the first quarter on non-cash impairments as America’s biggest fuel maker adjusts to lower demand for its product. Marathon said it will slash its own spending by 30% to $3 billion for this year.

The biggest U.S. refiners have reduced rates sharply across their systems and Marathon has shut some of its plants as widespread lockdowns to stem the coronavirus outbreak kept cars off the road.

Pfizer Starts U.S. Trials of Experimental Vaccine (6:50 a.m. NY)

Pfizer Inc. has administered the first U.S. patients with its experimental vaccines to fight the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, part of a bid to shave years off of the typical time it takes to develop a new inoculation. The trials are being conducted at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“The short, less than four-month time-frame in which we’ve been able to move from preclinical studies to human testing is extraordinary,” Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said. Preclinical studies are what companies do in animals or in the lab before they test vaccines in humans. Drugmakers have been working with regulators to compress development times.

Pfizer and BioNTech are in a race with companies including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Inc. and dozens of other biopharmacuetical outfits and academic groups to come up with a safe and effective vaccine against the illness within the next year to 18 months. A handful are in human trials already, including Moderna’s and ones from CanSino Biologics Inc., the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Bavaria Maps Out Reopening Plans (6:44 a.m. NY)

The German state of Bavaria announced a timeline for reopening all stores, hotels and restaurants this month in what may serve as a blueprint for the rest of the nation. The announcement of a gradual reopening of the southern region’s economy came a day before talks between the nation’s 16 state leaders and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Larger shops and malls in Bavaria, which has some of the strictest lockdown measures, can reopen for business from May 11, with restaurants following on May 25 and hotels from May 30, Premier Markus Soeder said at a news conference Tuesday.

U.K. Politicians Risk ‘Poisoning’ Ties With China (6:29 a.m. NY)

China’s Ambassador to the U.K., Liu Xiaoming, said British politicians who have called for a reset of ties between the two nations risk poisoning the relationship. Anti-China rhetoric is in danger of undermining international solidarity in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, he said in a webinar on Tuesday.

The ambassador’s comment is a thinly veiled warning to senior Conservatives, including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who said last month it could not be “business as usual” with China after Covid-19. Critics have focused on China’s lack of transparency about reporting early cases of the disease.

Saudi Arabia Allows Firms to Cut Salaries (6:20 a.m. NY)

Saudi Arabia has allowed private-sector companies to cut salaries by as much as 40% for up to six months and given employers more rights to terminate contracts, after its finance minister warned the kingdom of “painful” measures as it confronts the coronavirus pandemic and a meltdown in global oil prices.

A company will only be allowed to use the new rules to end employment once it shows it hasn’t benefited from government subsidy provided to confront the virus outbreak, has suffered losses during the “current circumstances,” and has made use of the six-month provision to lower salaries.

U.K. Quarantined Fewer Than 300 Before Lockdown (6:18 a.m. NY)

Fewer than 300 people who entered the U.K. in the months leading up to the lockdown were taken to government-supported isolation facilities to be quarantined. Passengers evacuated from Wuhan in China, where Covid-19 first flared up, and 32 people who had been on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship were among those taken to isolation facilities.

The government has faced criticism that it was too slow to respond to the threat caused by the pandemic. The U.K. may end up with the highest number of fatalities in Europe, in part because it tried to keep life continuing as normal while the rest of Europe was imposing restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Virus Symptoms May Have Started Early December (6:10 a.m. NY)

The earliest Covid-19 cases had symptom onset in early December, according to Christian Lindmeier, a spokesman for the World Health Organization. A potential virus case in France that dates back to December, a month before the first reported case there, is not surprising and even more might be found after retesting patients who were sick in December and January for unspecified reasons.

“It’s possible some of the infected people traveled from Wuhan to other countries at that time, and it’s also possible more early cases will be found as countries retest samples,” Lindmeier said at a press briefing on Tuesday. Aggressive testing and better contact tracing would’ve been more effective to reign in the virus than travel bans, he added.

Facebook’s New VR Headset May Be Delayed (6 a.m. NY)

Facebook Inc.’s Oculus division is building a new version of its Quest standalone virtual reality headset, but the device is facing potential delays due to the impact of Covid-19 on product development and the global supply chain.

The social-networking giant is working on multiple potential successors to the Quest. Some models in advanced testing are smaller, lighter, and have a faster image refresh rate for more realistic content, according to people familiar with the matter. These headsets also have redesigned controllers, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unannounced products.

The company hasn’t finalized which new version of the Quest it will release, and the final product may have different features. Facebook originally planned to launch the new model at the end of 2020, around its annual Oculus Connect conference, but the coronavirus pandemic could delay the headset from shipping until 2021, the people said.

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