A worker wearing a protective mask checks a customer's temperatures at an entrance to a grocery store during a partial lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

Japan to unveil another $1 trillion in stimulus: Global virus update

A worker wearing a protective mask checks a customer's temperatures at an entrance to a grocery store during a partial lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

Key Developments:

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 5.6 million; deaths over 351,000
  • Germany’s stimulus: the wishlist for Europe’s biggest economy
  • Europe’s easing timetable intact with virus spread under control
  • Amazon writes its own TV news segments to laud virus response
  • Salaries get chopped for many Americans who manage to keep jobs
  • Demand for virus-killing UV rays boosts niche businesses

Japan to Unveil Another $1 Trillion in Stimulus

Japan will unveil new economic stimulus worth more than $1 trillion, its second major package in just over a month to keep businesses and households afloat amid the deepening coronavirus recession, a document obtained by Bloomberg showed.

The 117 trillion yen ($1.1 trillion) package includes a raft of loan guarantees and private sector contributions along with 31.9 trillion yen in fresh government spending that will be paid for with new bond issuances, according to the document.

Norway Allows Full Classrooms

Norway continued to ease restrictions, saying on Wednesday that it would now allow entire classes to gather in kindergartens and schools rather than in smaller groups. The government will also lift a ban on visits to nursing homes and hospitals. The Nordic country was one of the first in Europe to start lifting restrictions last month. It’s so far had fewer than 8,400 confirmed cases and 235 deaths, with no deaths reported since last week.

Fauci: ‘Good Chance’ of Vaccine By November or December

“I still think that we have a good chance, if all of the things fall into the right place, that we might have a vaccine that will be deployable by the end of the year, by December or November,” Fauci told CNN. He also said that recent instances of social crowding — such as a pool party in Missouri — are “very troubling,” and that a second wave of COVID-19 isn’t “inevitable” if people are prudent.

US testing capability is getting “better and better,” Fauci said.

Switzerland to Ease Limits on Restaurants, Events

Switzerland will permit events attended by up to 300 people and allow restaurants to serve tables with more than four guests as of June 6, the government said. Mountain railways, casinos, amusement parks, zoos, botanical gardens, campsites, swimming pools and tourist attractions will be allowed to open from that date. Restaurants and nightclubs will need to close by midnight.

Separately, the Swiss National Bank is intervening more heavily in the foreign exchange market to weaken the franc and can further cut interest rates, if a cost-benefit analysis warrants such a step, President Thomas Jordan said.

Germany Aims to Test More People Without Symptoms

Germany’s health ministry is seeking to expand coronavirus screening to more people without symptoms, including close contacts of sick people and workers in care homes, meat-packing plants, schools and restaurants where cases emerge. The proposal would require health insurers to reimburse the tests at 52.50 euros apiece.

“It makes sense to test throughout the entire close environment when infections are found,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a statement. “The sooner we can find the virus, the better we can fight it.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and Germany’s 16 states have agreed to keep contact restrictions in place until June 29. States have room to allow groups of as many as 10 people to meet in public, as well as contact with two other households. The premier of the eastern state of Thuringia has floated plans to abandon restrictions after June 5, and a minister in Saxony has said the eastern state may follow suit. The chancellor is holding talks with the premiers of eastern states on Wednesday.

New cases in Germany rose to the highest in four days, though the infection rate dropped further below the key threshold of 1.0. There were 600 new cases, bringing the total to 181,200, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The daily death toll has remained below 100 for almost two weeks.

Merck KGaA Enters Vaccine Race

German drugmaker Merck KGaA is entering the COVID-19 vaccine race in a collaboration with a US university to speed up research and production of two candidates. The company will work with scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, to develop the potential immunizations, including one that may enter human tests later this year, according to a statement Wednesday.

The company is unrelated to Merck & Co., the US drug giant.

Applications for US Home Loans Rise

Applications for home-purchase loans in the US rose to the highest level since January, the latest sign that the housing market is holding up better than expected during the coronavirus pandemic. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s purchasing index rose 8.6% in the period ended May 22. It has gained for six straight weeks and is up more than 50% since early April.

Poland Eases Curbs

Poland will scrap restrictions on the number of people in restaurants and shopping malls from May 30 as it sees the pandemic subsiding, Premier Mateusz Morawiecki said. Theatres, cinemas, gyms and swimming pools can reopen from June 6. Outdoor gatherings of up to 150 people are allowed from May 30, while restaurants and bars at hotels can also fully reopen as of May 30.

Malaysia Adds Fewest Cases Since March

Malaysia reported the smallest increase in new coronavirus cases since March 12, after it saw a surge of infections among migrant workers earlier this week. The country added 15 cases on Wednesday to bring the overall number of infections to 7,619 with 115 deaths, according to the health ministry. The country added a total of 359 new cases on Tuesday and Monday, most of which were found among foreign workers at immigration detention centers as the government stepped up testing.

UK Weighs Local Lockdowns

Individual UK businesses, schools, hospitals and housing estates could be isolated on a local level if coronavirus flares up, under Prime Minister Johnson’s plan to relax lockdown rules.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the new track, trace and isolate plan would have a “very local element to it.” The measures which include hiring 25,000 contact tracers to monitor the spread of the virus, are due to come into operation next week, although a mobile phone app to help track the spread of infections has been delayed.

“If there is a flare-up in one particular community — and that could be applied on a small scale, like a particular workplace or school — then measures can be introduced, which hopefully the public will get behind, to enable us to control the virus in that locality,” Jenrick told BBC News on Wednesday.

France Ends Clearance for Hydroxychloroquine

France removed hydroxychloroquine from a list of medicines that can be used to treat patients with COVID-19 after consultation with scientific advisers. An advisory body reviewed data on the old malaria medicine, including an article published in the Lancet, and advised against using hydroxychloroquine, alone or in combination, to treat COVID-19.

The drug, touted by US President Donald Trump as a treatment, has been linked to an increased risk of death and heart ailments.

Russia Covid-19 Recoveries Exceed New Cases

Russia had 8,338 new confirmed coronavirus cases over the past day, taking the total in the country to 370,680. Figures showed 11,079 people had recovered in the same period, the second straight day that number exceeded new cases. The death toll rose by 161 to 3,968.

Data showed earlier that Russia’s retail sales plunged the most since records began in the latest sign that the government’s cautious stimulus program has done little to soften the economic blow from the coronavirus lockdown.

Indonesia Orders Ramp Up of Tests in Java Hot Spot

Indonesia will step up coronavirus testing and isolation of suspected patients in East Java, home to the nation’s second-largest city and a major industrial hub that’s emerged as a new virus hot spot.

President Joko Widodo ordered troops and police to assist local authorities in bolstering efforts to contain a spike in cases in East Java, a province with a population of almost 40 million. Jokowi, as the president is known, also called on ministers to focus on flattening the virus curve in other regions reporting high rates of new infections.

Johnson Faces More Questions Over Support for Top Aide

Pressure continues to mount on Prime Minister Johnson to fire his chief aide, Dominic Cummings, with polls showing voters think he broke lockdown rules and members of Parliament calling for him to go.

Johnson will face an hour and a half of sustained questioning from the senior members of Parliament who make up the so-called Liaison Committee on Wednesday from 4 p.m. London time. The subject is his handling of the coronavirus crisis in general, but the opening section will be his relationship with Cummings.

Thailand Reports 9 Cases, May Shorten Curfew

Thailand reported nine new coronavirus cases, all of them in state quarantine after returning from the US, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, according to Taweesilp Witsanuyotin, a spokesman for the COVID-19 center.

The new infections come as Thailand’s National Security Council will consider details of a third stage of easing its lockdown later Wednesday, include shortening a curfew and allowing inter-provincial travel, Somsak Rungsita, secretary-general of the council, told reporters in Bangkok. The government is scheduled to start the third stage of easing from June 1.