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A Nigerian army health official performs a temperature check on a visitor to the entrance of the Nigerian Army Hospital in the Yaba area of Lagos, Nigeria, on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020.

Global coronavirus update – March 31

A Nigerian army health official performs a temperature check on a visitor to the entrance of the Nigerian Army Hospital in the Yaba area of Lagos, Nigeria, on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020.

Key Developments:

  • Cases top 788,000; 37,800 dead, 166,700 recovered: Johns Hopkins
  • Europe set for longer lockdown after Spanish deaths exceed 8,000
  • Sick crew keeps ship running, risking spread of virus
  • A vaccine in 18 months? Experts urge reality check
  • Startup offers $181 at home virus tests, FDA says not so fast
  • Hospitals tell doctors they’ll be fired if they talk to press
  • Japan plans $554 billion package; Italy prepares emergency handout

Russia Doctor Who Met Putin Is Diagnosed: TV

The head of Russia’s main coronavirus hospital, Denis Protsenko, who hosted President Vladimir Putin there on March 24, has been diagnosed with COVID-19, State-run Rossiya 24 television reported.

UK’s Johnson Faces Calls to Release Lockdown Data

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to release data showing why he needed to lock down the country to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Johnson ordered the most sweeping curbs on the population ever imposed, shutting restaurants, gyms, schools and shops, and banning people from gathering in public. Now members of Parliament from across the political spectrum are calling on the government to release the data that prompted the stringent measures so the public can see why they were needed — and whether they could or should have been taken earlier.

Pelosi Says Moving Toward Vote By Mail in November

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC she sees the country moving toward a vote by mail for the November elections, and said she hoped the postal service would receive funding to accommodate it.

Dutch Deaths Surpass 1,000

The Netherlands became the latest country with a death toll surpassing 1,000 after 175 more fatalities were reported, bringing the total to 1,039. Confirmed cases rose seven per cent to 12,595.

The southern province of Brabant at the heart of the country’s outbreak seems to have passed the peak of hospitalized cases, according to the RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.

Portugal Confirmed Cases Rise 16%

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Portugal rose to 7,443 as of 11 a.m. on Tuesday from 6,408. That’s faster than a 7.5% gain on Monday, following a 15% increase on Sunday.

Italy Readies Emergency Cash for Underground Economy

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is preparing an unprecedented emergency handout for workers trapped in Italy’s underground economy, as his government seeks to stave off the risk of social unrest during a nationwide lockdown.

Conte is expected to host a cabinet meeting on Wednesday or Thursday to approve a new request to parliament for a wider budget deficit, paving the way for a second stimulus package worth at least 30 billion euros ($33 billion), according to officials who asked not to be identified by name. Italy’s initial package was valued at 25 billion euros.

The government may extend restrictions through the May 1 holiday weekend, with a gradual opening of the country from May 4, Italian newspapers including La Stampa reported on Tuesday. The controls, now in their fourth week, are currently in place until the end of this week.

European Air Shutdown Broadens

British Airways suspended operations at its second London hub at Gatwick airport. In France, Orly airport outside the capital will shut down at the end of the day, while those flying out of Amsterdam will now have to wait until November next year for the opening of Lelystad Airport, a second hub for the Dutch capital.

South Africa Rolls Out Mass Screening Program (6:55 a.m. NY)

South Africa will dispatch about 10,000 field workers to check up on people in their homes, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to do so. The field workers will refer people with symptoms to local clinics or mobile clinics for testing, and those with severe symptoms will be transferred to hospitals, President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

France to Push for Emergency Aid to Developing Nations

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire will propose on a call of Group of 20 economy chiefs that the International Monetary Fund increase its special drawing rights by $500 billion as part of an aggressive push to assist developing nations battered by the coronavirus.

Iran Reports Another Jump in Cases

Iran’s health ministry reported 3,111 new coronavirus infections and 141 more deaths over the past day, marking another large jump in cases during the Persian new year holiday. The country has now reported 44,606 cases and 2,898 total deaths.

Spain Deaths, Cases Surge

The country reported 849 more deaths, marking its deadliest day since the outbreak began, and taking its total to 8,189. The number of confirmed cases increased to 94,417 from 85,195.

Russia Reports 27% Increase in Cases

Russia reported 500 new cases overnight, bringing the total number of infected to 2,337, Interfax reported. 387 out of 500 new cases are in Moscow. The country is moving toward a nationwide lockdown.

China Reports Asymptomatic Case Data

China says it has 1,541 people infected with the novel coronavirus who don’t have symptoms. It was unclear if that number was only people currently in medical quarantine or if it included those who have recovered. Of the cases, 205 were found when people entered China from overseas, according to a statement on China’s National Health Commission website.

China’s total count of confirmed infections exceeds 81,000, but the vast majority of those recovered. It still has 2,161 cases in hospital as of March 30, according to an earlier health commission release.

Hong Kong Retail Sales Plunge

Hong Kong retail sales plummeted by the most on record amid growing travel restrictions and social-distancing measures. Retail sales by value fell 44% in the month, the largest drop on record, to HK$22.7 billion ($2.93 billion) according to a government release. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast a median 40.3% decline. The slide in February marks 13 straight months of negative readings.

German Death Rate Likely to Rise

The head of Germany’s public health authority said he expects the coronavirus pandemic to continue for several more months and the nation’s death rate to rise. The current death rate in Germany of 0.8% is relatively low, partly because extensive testing was conducted early and included many of the less severe cases, Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wieler said. That means there is a time lag and the rate is likely to rise, he said.

Asked about optimism that restrictions on public life could be eased after Easter, Wieler said: “Let’s wait until we really have concrete numbers. I expect that we will see the trend by Easter. My optimism remains and I think it’s justified.” Germany has 66,885 confirmed cases and 645 deaths.

Goldman Sees Even Deeper US Contraction

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. expects the US economy to experience a far deeper slump than previously anticipated. The world’s largest economy will shrink an annualized 34% in the second quarter, compared with an earlier estimate of 24%, economists led by Jan Hatzius wrote in a report. Unemployment will soar to 15% by mid-year, up from a previous forecast of  nine per cent.

The economists, however, now expect a stronger recovery in the third quarter, with gross domestic product expanding 19%.

Japan Plans Record $554 Billion Stimulus

Japan’s ruling party proposed the country’s biggest-ever stimulus package worth 60 trillion yen ($554 billion) as the spreading coronavirus locks the economy in a recession.

The sum includes 20 trillion yen in fiscal measures with private initiatives and other elements likely making up the rest, according to the proposal by the Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday. More than 10 trillion yen, or the equivalent of a five per cent cut in the sales tax rate, would be handed out to the public in a combination of cash, subsidies and coupons, according to the plan.

Separately, the Tokyo government confirmed 78 more cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, NHK reported. Number of confirmed cases in Tokyo now totals 521.