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A pedestrian walks past the Olympics rings at the Japan Olympic Museum located in front of the main stadium of the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

Olympics may be cancelled if virus isn’t controlled: Global update

A pedestrian walks past the Olympics rings at the Japan Olympic Museum located in front of the main stadium of the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

Key Developments

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 3 million; deaths pass 212,000
  • New Zealand eases curbs; Hong Kong govt employees to resume work
  • Testing shortages undermine drive to restart U.S. economy
  • Virus forces China to rethink Xi’s annual political pageant
  • Back to school brings a bleak new normal for China’s students
  • Business of survival fuels race for new skills to stay afloat
Olympics May Be Cancelled if Virus Isn’t Controlled

The Olympic Games would be cancelled instead of being further postponed if the coronavirus pandemic isn’t under control by 2021, the head of Tokyo’s organising body said. Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, told Nikkan Sports that a delay to 2022 wouldn’t happen, noting that during wars, the games have simply been cancelled.

Just weeks after agreeing to postpone the games to 2021, Japan and the International Olympic Committee have in recent weeks given conflicting statements about the prospect of a further delay to the games, as well as seeming to disagree on who would bear the extra costs from the delay.

France to Reopen Shops Starting May 11

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said a decision on whether to reopen restaurants and cafes will be examined at the end of May, and pupils can start returning to school from May 11 but with strict rules. Public events of more than 5,000 people are outlawed until September, and working from home is encouraged for at least three more weeks, he said.

Ford to Restart Initial Production at European Plants

Ford intends to restart initial production at most of its main European vehicle and engine plants beginning May 4, the company said. Manufacturing will resume in a phased approach, and employees will receive personal-care kits including masks and thermometers.

Mnuchin Says All Relief Loans of $2 Million to Be Audited

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said all loans of more than $2 million in a government relief program for small businesses will be audited to ensure they were justified after large public companies and big chains sparked outrage by taking funds.

Mnuchin said the loans of as much as $10 million meant to keep workers on payrolls under the Paycheck Protection Program were intended for small firms that lacked access to other capital, and the US Small Business Administration will check that borrowers who took large loans properly certified it was needed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I want to be very clear it’s the borrowers who have criminal liability if they made this certification and it’s not true,” Mnuchin said Tuesday on CNBC.

The Treasury secretary also said those states that had poorly managed budgets before the Covid-19 outbreak shouldn’t be rescued by the federal government.

Germany to Extend Takeover Controls to Health Care

The German government plans to extend its protection against foreign takeovers to the health-care industry after the coronavirus outbreak made companies more vulnerable. Angela Merkel’s cabinet aims to lower the threshold for scrutinizing investments in the sector from outside the European Union, the Economy Ministry said Tuesday.

Netherlands Sees Fewest New Cases Since March 14

The Netherlands reported 171 new cases, the lowest since March 14, which was a few days before an “intelligent lockdown” was imposed on the country. Confirmed cases rose a mere 0.4% to 38,416, marking the lowest recorded growth rate. Fatalities increased by 48 — five more than Monday, but still below the triple-digit numbers seen for most of the month — for a total of 4,566.

European Banks Get Break on Leverage Limits

A key rule on banks’ indebtedness — the so-called leverage ratio — will be relaxed under a European Union proposal announced Tuesday, enabling banks to hold less capital for funds they keep at central banks. Deutsche Bank AG, which had 134 billion euros in cash primarily at central banks at the end of 2019, stands to be a major beneficiary.

The softening of the rule is part of the latest plan unveiled by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, that also would allow banks to save on capital when they invest in software and when they fund infrastructure and small- and medium-sized businesses

Singapore Virus Trend ‘Improving’

The trend of overall cases is “indeed improving” but the government wants to make sure there is a decisive reduction in local community transmission before moving to relax circuit breaker measures, Singapore Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said at a briefing.

As part of the city-state’s strategy to bring down infections in the weeks to come, the government said it has more than doubled its daily testing capacity since early April even as the number of cases. Once touted as an early success in containing the spread, Singapore now has Asia’s highest number of coronavirus cases after China and India. Much of the surge in infections has been driven by hundreds of new daily cases from migrant worker dorms.

Luxembourg Starts Large-Scale Testing

Luxembourg, a nation of about 600,000 people, is starting a new phase of large-scale testing to understand better how the virus is developing and to adapt national measures accordingly. The goal is to be able to test some 20,000 people a day as of May 19, the government said on Tuesday.

The project, which will cost about 40 million euros ($43 million), will help create certainty that it’s safe to relax some of the confinement measures. By testing teachers and pupils from next week, schools can safely reopen as planned over the course of May as well, said Education and Research Minister Claude Meisch.

Belgian Hospitalizations at Six-Week Low

Belgian health officials reported 123 new hospital admissions in the past 24 hours, the lowest since mid-March and down from 127 the prior day. The number of patients treated in intensive care units fell by 27 to 876. Virologists would like to see that ICU total drop to less than 500 before giving the go-ahead for store re-openings now planned on May 11 in Belgium’s exit plan from a partial lockdown. Reported fatalities on Monday rose to 134 from 113 on Sunday, taking the total to 7,331. Hospital deaths account for only 46% of Belgium’s death toll.

Malaysia Reports Fewest New Cases in Six Weeks

The country confirmed 31 new cases on Tuesday to bring the total to 5,851, the smallest daily increase since March 12, according to a statement from the Health Ministry. One more person died, bringing the total to 100.

The country has said its lockdown, which has been extended until May 12, has succeeded in flattening the curve of infections as the country enters a recovery phase.

Spain’s New Cases, Deaths Decline

The number of fatalities rose by 301 to 23,822 in the 24 hours through Tuesday, compared with Monday’s increase of 331, according to Health Ministry data. Total confirmed cases increased by 1,308 to 210,773 after rising by 1,831 Monday.

The latest figures on new infections reflect updated reporting standards adopted in recent days. Previously, the government included people who had virus antibodies in its overall figure, but now the daily total only includes patients who are confirmed positive using a testing technique known as PCR.

Spain and France, two of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, are set to detail plans to ease lockdowns as Europe moves to loosen restrictions despite concerns that such steps could backfire.

Russia Surpasses Iran in Total Cases

Confirmed cases rose by 6,411 to 93,558. Russia now has more cases than Iran, which is the worst-hit country in the Middle East. The number of new daily cases was up slightly from 6,198 on Monday when Russia passed China in total registered cases.

Outbreak Continues to Slow in Austria

The spread of coronavirus in Austria has continued to slow even after the country started easing lockdown measures two weeks ago. The reproduction factor — known by epidemiologists as R-naught — fell to 0.59, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober told journalists.

That will allow the government in Vienna to let some of the most onerous lockdown measures expire this week. People will again be free to leave their homes and meet in public whenever they like, rather than having to provide a specific reason for doing so, Anschober said. However, they will still have to keep at least 1 meter away from each other, wear face masks in stores and on public transport, and gatherings will be limited to 10 people.