France to Aid Economy; Sunak Unveils U.K. Job Fund: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — France’s new prime minister said he would back targeted restrictions to preserve the economy if the country is hit by a second wave of virus infections. Violence flared in Serbia, with Belgrade facing lockdown at the weekend.

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak unveiled a plan to save jobs and cut a property tax to stimulate the virus-hit economy.

The U.S. gave the United Nations one-year notice that it plans to exit the World Health Organization, and President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok in retaliation for China’s handling of the coronavirus.

Global Tracker: Cases near 11.9 million; deaths exceed 544,700U.S. plans a testing surge as latest virus data hints at shiftNew York City’s rental market is being pushed to breaking point.Cruise ships risk rusting away while sitting idleThese mistakes pushed an Australian city back into lockdownWhy ‘silent spreaders’ make the virus hard to beat

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U.K.’s Sunak Lays Out Moves to Revive U.K. Economy (8 a.m. NY)

Sunak promised to do everything he can to save jobs and pump life into the U.K. economy, cutting property sales tax and giving employers a bonus if they don’t lay off workers. Sunak also announced a cut in sales tax for the hospitality and tourism sectors.

“We face profound economic challenges,” the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House of Commons on Wednesday, laying out a stimulus package he intends to amplify in a budget and spending review in the fall. “In just two months our economy contracted by 25% — the same amount it grew in the previous eighteen years.”

The Treasury unveiled a 2 billion-pound ($2.5 billion) program to pay the wages of more than 200,000 young workers. Unemployment is expected to spike upwards as Sunak unwinds unprecedented government programs that are funding the salaries of more than 12 million people.

Merkel Calls for EU Solidarity to Tackle Virus Risks (7:32 a.m. NY)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union needs to pull together to face the historic challenges stemming from the coronavirus crisis and changes threatening the bloc’s economic standing.

“We stand before an unknown situation of economic collapse, the worry over jobs, and for this we need the right answer,” she said on Wednesday before a scheduled address to the European Parliament. “The money we want for reconstruction won’t just be invested just to get where we were but to take a step in the future.”

Al Gore: Pandemic Can Spur Environmental Change (6:11 a.m. NY)

The global pandemic may be what’s required to address the environmental crisis once and for all, says former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Gore, chairman of $19.8 billion asset manager Generation Investment Management, said that the coronavirus is unlike anything before — a once-in-a generation opportunity to rethink, reset and redesign the global economy. “The data confirms the pandemic has triggered fundamental changes in consumer and social behavior, that’s matched by an acceleration in innovation by governments and businesses,” he said.

Iran Death Toll Passes 12,000 (6:05 a.m. NY)

Iran’s death toll from Covid-19 surpassed 12,000 as the country recorded 153 more deaths over the last 24 hours, down from a record high of 200 fatalities the day before. The number of infections rose by 2,691 to 248,379, with over 3,300 patients in intensive care units.

Authorities made wearing face masks mandatory on public transit from last week as banks and government offices were instructed to refuse service to visitors without face coverings.

U.K. Drops Tax Liability For Covid-19 Testing (5:41 p.m. HK)

Third-party Covid-19 tests by employers will no longer be treated as a taxable benefit in kind, U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said.

The announcement came as Sunak prepared to unveil a 2 billion-pound ($2.5 billion) program to pay the wages of more than 200,000 young workers as he tries to pull the U.K. economy out of the deepest slump in centuries.

Stimulus Deal Unlikely at EU Summit, Orban Says (5:23 p.m. HK)

European Union leaders will probably fail to agree at a summit next week on a massive spending plan aimed at reviving their economies, according to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Negotiations will be “very tough” and will likely need to continue throughout the summer, Orban said on Wednesday in an online panel discussion with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

Hong Kong Infections Fuel Resurgence Fears (5:20 p.m. HK)

Hong Kong reported a second day of rising local infections, disrupting a long virus-free stretch that had allowed life in the Asian financial hub to largely return to normal.

There were 19 new local coronavirus cases reported Wednesday, Department of Health official Chuang Shuk-kwan said at a briefing.

“We are worried that there may be a major community outbreak because of so many unknown sources coming up, with new cases with unidentified source,” Chuang said.

EU Needs Mandatory Virus Tracking App, Slovenia Says (4:52 p.m. HK)

The European Union needs to make a virus-tracking digital application mandatory for citizens of the bloc as long as there’s no vaccine to treat the coronavirus, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said.

An app is the only way to relax travel rules to help a devastated tourism industry while taking steps to prevent and prepare for a second wave of infection, Jansa said.

Israel Defense Minister Gantz Enters Quarantine (4:34 p.m. HK)

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz has entered quarantine as a precautionary measure after coming into contact with a suspected coronavirus patient. Israel is in the midst of a renewed surge in virus cases after officials eased a lockdown.

French PM Pledges to Protect Economy (3:37 p.m. HK)

France’s new government would seek to preserve the economy should a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic force it to bring back lockdown measures, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday.

“We won’t survive, economically and socially, an absolute and generalized lockdown,” Castex told BFM TV and RMC radio, adding that he advocated more targeted restrictions. Separately, France’s economy is expected to contract about 9% this year, statistics institute Insee said in a report.

Earlier, director general for health Jerome Salomon said France must prepare for a second wave, urging people to wear masks and respect safe distances. Limiting travel could be one way to deal with a resurgence, Salomon said.

Violence in Serbia Over Lockdown Plans (2:41 p.m. HK)

Thousands of protesters clashed with police in Serbia’s capital of Belgrade late on Tuesday after President Aleksandar Vucic said the city will go into lockdown this weekend. The Balkan country of 7 million lifted one of Europe’s strictest lockdown regimes in May but a spike in new cases has filled hospitals to capacity.

The situation in Belgrade is “alarming,” Vucic said. “Hospitals are literally packed.”

Japan Bankruptcies Soar (2:31 p.m. HK)

A growing number of Japanese businesses are failing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some 780 Japanese firms filed for bankruptcy in June, 148% more than the prior month and the most this year, according to Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd.

There were 94 pandemic-driven cases last month, bringing the total to 240 in the first half of the year, with sectors such as hotels and restaurants badly hit. Growing distress among businesses is in line with the record jump in bank loans and deposits in June, as companies continued to tap emergency credit facilities and hoard cash.

Norway’s Economy Grows (2:25 p.m. HK)

Norway’s economy expanded 2.4% in May from the previous month, the first increase since February, amid signs the government’s rapid response to containing the coronavirus pandemic is paying off. Though less than the 4.3% economists surveyed by Bloomberg had predicted, the data show Norway is coming back to life, after GDP shrank 4.7% in April and 6.9% in March.

Norway was one of the first countries in Europe to impose a strict lockdown, and its decision to ramp up testing early helped bring the virus under control quickly.

Tokyo New Cases Slow (2:22 p.m. HK)

Tokyo confirmed 75 cases of coronavirus Wednesday, broadcaster TBS reported, the first time in a week cases were below 100.

While fresh infections have prompted stricter measures in some places — Melbourne has been locked down for the second time in four months, and Beijing recently confined whole neighborhoods to their homes — Tokyo is taking a more muted approach, arguing that this time is different. A look at the data goes some way to back that up.

Google, Amazon Funnel Millions to Virus Conspiracy Sites: Study (1:49 p.m. HK)

Digital advertising platforms run by Google, Inc. and other tech companies will funnel at least $25 million to websites spreading misinformation about Covid-19 this year, according to a study released Wednesday.

Google’s platforms will provide $19 million, or $3 out of every $4 that the misinformation sites get in ad revenue. OpenX, a smaller digital ad distributor, handles about 10% of the money, while Amazon’s technology delivers roughly $1.7 million, or 7%, of the digital marketing spending these sites will receive, according to a research group called the Global Disinformation Index.

Germany’s Infection Rate Falls Further Below Key Threshold (1:24 p.m. HK)

Germany’s coronavirus infection rate remained below the key threshold of 1.0, dropping to 0.81 on Tuesday from 0.97 the previous day.

The country reported 279 new cases – and 10 fatalities – in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, bringing the total caseload to 198,343, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That compares with an average of 432 in the last seven days and is significantly below the almost 7,000 recorded at the peak of the pandemic in late March.

Mumbai Eases Rules on Testing (1:12 p.m. HK)

Mumbai will no longer require a doctor’s prescription from people seeking a test for coronavirus, as India’s largest city and the epicenter of its outbreak has been criticized for only managing about 4,000 tests per day.

India this week became the third-worst affected country in the world with 719,665 cases, with Mumbai seeing 86,509 infections. Municipal officials have said the relaxed guidelines aim to increase use of private labs that offer testing for a fee. Free testing at government facilities will still be limited to admitted patients.

Virus May Deal Lasting Blow to U.S. Consumer Spending (12:50 p.m. HK)

American consumers may not be prepared to return to pre-pandemic spending levels. More than 40% of people who spent money on movies, event tickets or at bars before the pandemic now plan to spend less on those activities, according to a new survey for

Meanwhile, more than 60% of small businesses say they need spending to return to normal by the end of the year to stay open, according to American Express data.

Victoria Outbreak Spreads to Australian Capital Territory (12:36 p.m. HK)

The outbreak in Victoria state has spread to the Australian Capital Territory, which reported its first new cases of the virus in a month Wednesday.

Two of the three people who tested positive arrived in the ACT from a Melbourne hotspot July 2, while the third is a household contact. They visited a shopping center and markets before being tested, and authorities are urging people who also visited those places to monitor themselves for symptoms.

Apple will temporarily close all five of its stores in Victoria as stringent restrictions come into effect, Nine News Melbourne reports, citing an Apple spokesperson.

Virus on the Retreat in Spain (12:33 p.m. HK)

While Spain’s recent regional outbreaks — particularly in Catalonia — are worrying, the number of cases is going down in most of the country, Fernando Simon, the chief epidemiologist leading the government’s battle against Covid-19, told the Financial Times in an interview.

Trump May Ban TikTok (12:06 p.m. HK)

President Donald Trump said his administration is considering banning TikTok in the U.S. to retaliate against China over its handling of the coronavirus. Trump’s comments on Tuesday came one day after Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said officials were looking at barring the app, whose parent company is China’s ByteDance Ltd.

“It’s something we’re looking at, yes,” Trump said when asked in an interview with Gray Television’s Greta Van Susteren about Pompeo’s remarks. “Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”

Trump said banning TikTok is “one of many” ways he is looking to hit back at the Beijing government over the virus.

New Zealand Reviews Security After Quarantine Breach (11:36 a.m. HK)

New Zealand officials are reviewing security at mandatory quarantine hotels after a man who tested positive for Covid-19 escaped and spent an hour wandering city streets.

The man, who was under compulsory hotel quarantine, left the hotel’s outside smoking area when a fence was being replaced, visiting a grocery store before returning to the hotel, Health Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters. On Wednesday it was reported that the man had tested positive for the virus.

New Zealand citizens who return from abroad face a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in isolation hotels. The man’s escape comes after a woman at another Auckland hotel climbed two fences last week before being apprehended.

AirAsia’s Future in Doubt, Ernst & Young Warns (10:55 a.m. HK)

AirAsia Group Bhd.’s ability to continue as a going concern may be in “significant doubt” because of the impact of coronavirus, auditor Ernst & Young said.

The airline’s current liabilities already exceeded its current assets by 1.84 billion ringgit ($430 million) at the end of 2019, a year when it posted a 283 million ringgit net loss, Ernst & Young said in a statement to the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange Wednesday. The financial performance and cash flow have now been further hit by virus-related travel restrictions.

Japan to Skip Primary Surplus Target in Basic Policy: Jiji (10:52 a.m. HK)

The Japanese government, which is compiling a policy document on economic and fiscal management, won’t directly refer to its target of achieving a primary surplus in fiscal 2025 as measures against coronavirus have increased the deficit, Jiji reports.

NHK reports the government will seek to diversify supply chains of products whose parts are all produced in a single country, and will promote remote work to reduce the concentration of workplaces in the Tokyo area. The government hopes to gain cabinet approval of the policy next week.

Aussie Banks Extend Loan Holiday as 800,000 Defer Payment (10:03 a.m. HK)

Some of Australia’s biggest banks will extend loan-repayment deferrals for as long as four months.

Customers will be contacted as they approach the end of the six-month deferral period, and those with reduced incomes and ongoing financial difficulty can be given extensions, the Australian Banking Association said in an emailed statement. Options will include extending the length of the loan and converting to interest-only payments.

Australia Plans More Income Support (8:54 a.m. HK)

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the government will announce a “new phase” of income support for people affected by the coronavirus crisis when it hands down its economic and fiscal update later this month. Economists have warned of a looming fiscal cliff at the end of September, when the government’s flagship wage subsidy program known as Jobkeeper is due to expire.

Beijing Records No New Cases for Second Day (8:42 a.m. HK)

The capital city also reported zero new suspected or asymptomatic cases Tuesday, the Beijing Municipal Health Commission said in a statement.

Duterte Cautious on Reopening (8:40 a.m. HK)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he will “have to be very circumspect in reopening the economy” given the recent spike in coronavirus cases.

The firebrand leader said he can’t emulate the “devil-may-care attitude” of U.S. President Donald Trump or Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro because the Philippines is poor. “We cannot afford really a total epidemic or pandemonium,” he said in an address aired Wednesday.

His comments came after Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and central bank Governor Benjamin Diokno both backed further easing of virus curbs to reignite an economy facing its deepest contraction in three decades.

U.S. Plans Testing Surge in Three States (8:34 a.m. HK)

The federal government is ramping up coronavirus testing in Louisiana, Texas and Florida as health officials attempt to get a firm grasp on how the fast-moving pandemic is evolving. Eight temporary testing sites will each perform as many as 5,000 free tests a day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.

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