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A medical worker dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) assists a patient with COVID-19 in the hemodialysis care unit ward of Moscow City Clinical Hospital 52 in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.

Global coronavirus update: May 20

A medical worker dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) assists a patient with COVID-19 in the hemodialysis care unit ward of Moscow City Clinical Hospital 52 in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.

Key Developments:

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 4.9 million; deaths exceed 323,000
  • The struggles of homeschooling in the world’s tiniest apartments
  • Australia’s closed borders harken back to pre-global economy
  • Boris Johnson has a Brexit problem with workers staying home
  • China’s new outbreak shows signs the virus could be changing

UK to Ease Insolvency Rules

The UK introduced new insolvency legislation to help businesses that are struggling from the economic impacts of coronavirus. The new Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill will create more opportunities to save companies in difficulty and offer better protection from creditors, giving new tools to restructure debt to keep operating.

The rules temporarily suspend wrongful trading provisions, allowing companies to keep operating without the threat of personal liability to directors. They also suspend the use of written warnings from creditors and winding up petitions against ones that can’t pay their debts due to the crisis. The goal is to protect “otherwise viable companies” from collapse.

Brazil Says Chloroquine to Be Used in All Cases

Chloroquine is now recommended for all patients from the first day of symptoms related to the coronavirus, according to a protocol released by Brazil’s Health Ministry. Medications can be used in cases with mild symptoms. Patients need to sign a consent form, and the drugs must be prescribed by a doctor. The government also recommends the use of hydroxychloroquine, a sister drug, and azithromycin.

Clinical trials have failed to prove chloroquine’s efficacy in combating COVID-19. French research found the drug didn’t reduce the likelihood that a patient would die. Other trials were halted when patients developed potentially fatal irregular heart rates. Since the start of the pandemic, President Jair Bolsonaro has often touted the anti-malarial medication. Trump has also backed it, saying Monday that he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine as a precautionary measure.

Brazil has overtaken Spain, Italy and the UK and now trails only Russia and the US in cases. More than 270,000 people have tested positive, and almost 18,000 have died, though the outbreak is likely much larger given a widespread lack of testing.

Netherlands Restricts Dividends, Bonuses

The Netherlands plans a second round of financial aid worth more than 13 billion euros ($14.3 billion). The package includes a new plan to help companies with fixed expenses after lockdown measures crippled demand. A wage-compensation program was extended for three months. The government added conditions, including barring companies seeking state support to pay large parts of wages from buying back shares or distributing dividends and pay management bonuses for 2020, tightening the program from the first one announced in March.

Slovenia approved a third economic relief package worth about 1 billion euros to aid workers and companies. The program announced by Finance Minister Andrej Sircelj will replace two earlier initiatives that are being partially phased out at the end of this month.

Johnson Promises UK Track-And-Trace System By June

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK will have a track-and-trace system in place by June 1 capable of dealing with 10,000 new coronavirus infections a day. Johnson has previously said that a system of tracing infections is essential to lifting the UK’s lockdown. Answering questions in Parliament on Wednesday, he didn’t refer to the mobile phone app that the government is developing and which is now overdue, instead focusing on hiring thousands of people to work as contact tracers.

“There will be 25,000 trackers,” Johnson said. “They will be able to cope with 10,000 new cases a day.” He said new infections were currently running at a rate of 2,500 a day.

Inovio Vaccine Tested in Mice, Eyes Phase 2/3 by August

Inovio soared after highlighting results for its experimental COVID-19 vaccine in mice and guinea pigs, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, “demonstrating robust neutralizing antibody and T cell immune responses against coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.” The company is targeting a Phase 2/3 efficacy trial to start in July or August pending regulatory approval.

Inovio’s vaccine platform uses DNA which is more “scalable,” for mass production, according to Kate Broderick, Inovio’s SVP of R&D. She noted in a phone call before the results that “from the perspective of DNA medicine we’ve had a very benign safety profile which will make it easier to scale up to trials.”

Separately, Aldeyra Therapeutics said it will advance the investigational new HSP90 inhibitor ADX-1612 to clinical testing for COVID-19.

WTO Sees Contraction in Global Trade Continuing

World merchandise trade volume is likely to fall “precipitously” in the first half of 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic on global trade flows, according to the World Trade Organization. The Goods Trade Barometer, a forward-looking measure, fell to 87.6 in March, well below the 100 level that indicates volumes in line with the medium-term trend.

“The barometer captures the initial phases of the COVID-19 outbreak and shows no sign of the trade slump bottoming out yet,” the Geneva-based body said.

Cyclone Threatens to Displace Millions in India, Bangladesh

Authorities along India’s east coast and neighboring Bangladesh have evacuated millions and shut factories as the biggest cyclonic storm in two decades is set to make landfall later on Wednesday.

Apart from the storm threatening lives, authorities face another risk — evacuating millions of people during a pandemic may lead to a jump in infections. Bangladesh is evacuating 2.2 million people from coastal districts. In India’s West Bengal, almost 300,000 people have been moved into relief centers, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.

“We will try to maintain social distancing as much as possible,” Banerjee said. India’s federal government has also directed states to follow social distancing rules to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Infections in India have been rising at the fastest pace in Asia and have topped 100,000.

Russia Recoveries Surpass New Cases for First Time

The number of confirmed new coronavirus infections in Russia rose by 8,764 over the past day, the lowest since May 1, taking total cases to 308,705. As many as 9,262 people recovered in the same period, bringing the total to 85,392. The number of deaths increased by a record 135 to 2,972.

Cases in Russia have tripled since the end of April, making the country the new hotspot for the coronavirus in Europe. Infections surged this month, as new cases topped 10,000 every day for more than a week, but the rate has since slowed.

UK Inflation Rate Drops Below 1%

UK inflation slowed to the weakest level since 2016 in April as energy prices fell and the coronavirus lockdown put the brakes on economic activity.

The prospect of persistently low inflation will fuel speculation that more action is needed from the Bank of England, intensifying the debate over taking rates below zero for the first time. Governor Andrew Bailey faces questions from lawmakers later on Wednesday. While the lockdown means it’s hard to interpret the data, the report gives more of a flavor of the impact the virus is having on the economy.

Rolls-Royce Moves to Cut 9,000 Jobs

Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Warren East’s five-year bid to revive earnings has been shattered by the coronavirus crisis as the UK engineering giant moves to scrap 9,000 jobs. Jet-engine-maker Rolls will cut 17% of its workforce amid a travel slump prompting airlines to scale back years of jetliner purchases, the company said in a statement.

Rolls-Royce is particularly exposed because of its focus on larger aircraft facing a reduced role in global fleets as the pandemic depresses economies and alters travel habits. East said before the outbreak that the London-based company was turning a corner after years of restructuring.

South Africa Says It Doesn’t Meet WHO Criteria to Lift Curbs

The rate of new coronavirus infections in South Africa must slow before the country can lift a nationwide lockdown in line with World Health Organization guidelines, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said. The government’s COVID-19 modeling team presented forecasts showing a peak in active cases in early July under the pessimistic scenario, or a peak in early August under the optimistic scenario.

South Africa, which has the highest number of confirmed infections on the continent, eased some restrictions on May 1, almost five weeks after imposing a stringent lockdown. Schools will be allowed to reopen gradually from June 1.