- Elon Musk: "Give people their freedom back"
- Japan plans to extend state of emergency
- de Blasio threatens Williamsburg Jews with arrest after mass gathering
- Italy's recoveries outnumber new cases for 4th time
- Starbucks to reopen 90% of US stores
- North Carolina pug tests positive for COVID-19
- Texas sees deaths surpass 700
- Italy reports another slowdown in deaths
- Florida reports promising drop in new cases
- Another study shows virus genetic material found on aerosols that linger in air for hours
- Fauci says he hopes to see baseball this year "even if it's just on TV"
- NY sees deaths steady at 335, latest 'surveillance' data shows 17% of FDNY/EMS in NYC likely infected
- EU consumer sentiment plunges
- UK industrial production at ~50% capacity
- Trump asks governors to 'consider' reopening schools before end of academic year
- Trump says may travel to Arizona next week for an industry related event
- UK launches massive study of 6 potential COVID-19 treatments
- Poland joins growing list of EU states with plans to reopen
- China reopens Beijing to outsiders
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Update (1850ET): In another message of hope, Dr. Fauci said he hopes to see some form of baseball this year, even if it's "just on TV".
In an interview released Wednesday conducted by first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (the latest in a series of professional athletes interviewing the good doctor), the Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said that there is “a pathway” to playing baseball games this season, but it will depend on whether there are additional major outbreaks, as well as our ability to isolate patients and trace cases.
Earlier, the doctor said during a presentation for the Economic Club on Tuesday that a second wave of the virus is pretty much "inevitable". That comment comes as yet another study confirms that the coronavirus can attach to aerosol particles - like air pollution particles - that can linger in the air for hours.
However, there's still no evidence of whether these particles are infections. The new study was published in the journal Nature.
The consensus so far is that the virus spreads through respiratory droplets released when people breath, speak or cough, but that these droplets immediately fall to the ground or are swept away by air flow. Aerosol particles are large enough to linger in one area - particularly indoors - for hours.
In other news, President Trump is taking a beating from the mainstream press for saying during the "Opening Up America Roundtable" that he might travel to Arizona next week for an industry-related event.
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Update (1325ET): Following this afternoon's dismal announcement of the thousands of additional deaths in the UK caused by COVID-19 outside of hospital settings, the UK reported 4,076 new cases of the virus, and 4,419 new deaths (only 765 of which were from the last 24 hours and the rest were part of the total announced earlier). Britain's totals were 165,221 cases and 26,097 deaths.
As of 9am 29 April, there have been 818,539 tests, with 52,429 tests on 28 April.— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) April 29, 2020
632,794 people have been tested of which 165,221 tested positive.
As of 5pm on 28 April, of those tested positive for coronavirus across all settings, 26,097 have sadly died. pic.twitter.com/Qw1GB5s3Wc
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Update (1300ET): As Texas prepares to reopen restaurants, retail stores, places of worship, single-person offices etc., local media reports claim more than a dozen Chick-fil-A employees across Texas have tested positive for COVID-19, while 15 workers out of more than 100 employees in two Beaumont locations tested positive for the highly contagious virus.
Total cases across Texas climbed 3.4% to 27,054, while fatalities across the state topped 700. Considering Texas's population of 29 million, making it the second-most-populous state in the US, its infection numbers are relatively mild, compared to other large states like New York and Cali.
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Update (1250ET): Italy reported another encouraging slowdown in casualties linked to COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Another 323 Italians have died over the past day while daily growth in total cases slowed to just 1%, rising by 2,086 to 203,590. The number of recovered patients hit 2,311, outnumbering the number of new cases for at least the fourth time since the outbreak started, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 71,252, according to Italy's Civil Protection Service.
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Update (1240ET): Rumblings about thousands of new home deaths recorded in England and Wales have now morphed into a formal revision of the UK death toll by the Department of Health and Social Care. Now, a total of 26,097 people have died in the UK, according to Public Health England, as the government prepares to start reporting deaths outside hospitals.
This figure is an increase of 3,811 on the previously reported total of hospital deaths, covering between March 2 and April 28. The daily death toll as of 5pm on Tuesday rose to 765, which includes those in care homes, hospitals and in the community, according to foreign secretary Dominic Raab.
In other news, after another round of gloom-and-doom comments from the WHO's Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus Adhanom, the WHO officially endorsed the approach taken by Sweden, the latest flip flop from an organization that has done more than its fair share to confuse people with guidance that's constantly changing.
The WHO initially opposed, then embraced lockdowns, and now it's apparently back to opposing them again. Unlike other European states like Italy, Sweden implemented swift and early testing regimes to weed out infected patients. This allowed it to avoid lockdowns and border closures, relying instead on social distancing guidance. The country never closed its schools, and although mortality rates have been markedly higher than its neighbors, the virus never overwhelmed its hospital system. The Swedish government's approach is widely popular within Sweden.
The director of the WHO's health emergencies program said the notion that Sweden hadn't done much to combat the virus is simply not true.
Sweden has put in place a "very strong public health policy", said Dr. Mike Ryan. Unlike many other countries, Sweden chose to rely on its "relationship with its citizenry" and trust them to self-regulate. Its healthcare system has not been overwhelmed, he said, adding that its approach could be a "model" for other countries when lockdowns begin to relax. "There are lessons to be learnt by our colleagues in Sweden."
Remember the last time the WHO praised a "model" approach to tackling the virus? It was praising China's strict lockdowns.
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Update (1235ET): New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy just signed an executive order to reopen parks and golf courses in the state.
BREAKING: Today, I will sign an executive order to:— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) April 29, 2020
🏞️Reopen New Jersey’s state parks
⛳Allow golf courses and county parks to reopen
This order will take effect at sunrise on Saturday, May 2nd. Social distancing will continue to be mandated. pic.twitter.com/q1gIuUxoFg
Nearby states including New York and Connecticut have mostly allowed parks to remain open, while demanding that residents use social distancing while visiting.
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Update (1230ET): NY just released its latest round of data on new cases and hospitalizations. Turns out, the number of new cases added yesterday surpassed the number from the day before by more than 1k. The number of new cases (+4,585) compares with (+3,110) yesterday.
THE LATEST coronavirus figures in New York, per state officials:— Jimmy Vielkind (@JimmyVielkind) April 29, 2020
+ 17,968 dead
+ Hospitalized: 12,159 (-487)
+ Patients in ICU: 3,923 (-148)
+ Patients intubated: 3,281 (-139)
+ People tested: 872,481 (+27,487)
+ Confirmed cases: 299,691 (+4,585)https://t.co/tElx0HYu9B
Here's our updated chart:
Cuomo said earlier that NY would take particular care in rolling back its lockdown due to the uptick in the German mortality rate after it started opening more shops.
He added Wednesday that he had asked the MTA to come up with a plan to guarantee that any essential workers commuting on trains can step into a “clean” train car that had been disinfected. This comes one day after Cuomo called reports of homeless people packing into the subway, potentially leaving other riders vulnerable to infection, as “a disgrace”, and promised to do more to protect riders and the homeless.
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Update (1145ET): Gov. Cuomo reported Wednesday that hospitalizations continued to drop, while deaths remained steady day over day at 330...
....though the governor added that the number of death was still unacceptably high.
He added in a tweet that the reopening of his state will be based on "just the facts," as he more or less reiterates information form the last two press briefings.
We must make reopening decisions based on fact.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 29, 2020
Just the facts and the data and the science.
The latest round of 'surveillance' testing for coronavirus antibodies was done on first responders, and found that the number who tested positive was once again surprisingly high.
New York State has tested over 2,000 first responders for COVID-19 antibodies.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 29, 2020
FDNY/EMT: 17.1% positive
NYPD: 10.5% positive
Earlier, Florida reported 49 more deaths related to the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, pushing the state’s official death toll past 1,200 to 1,240. Meanwhile, the state also reported 355 new cases, the lowest single-day number in a month, bringing the state's total to 33,193. Wednesday’s increase in deaths follows a record 83 new deaths from the virus reported yesterday. Statewide, about 375,000 Floridians have been tested for the coronavirus. Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to release his plan to reopen the state later on Wednesday, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
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Update (0955ET): Global Times editor Hu Xijin has been incessantly bashing President Trump for a couple of weeks now, ever since Trump suspended funding to the WHO, straining the informal truce that he had purportedly worked out with President Xi during a recent phone conversation.
Hu seized on Wednesday's horrendous GDP report (a -4.8%, which was comically initially reported without the "-") and mocked Trump over how he will explain away these horrendous data as much better than expected - and then accuse China again of "faking it" when Beijing reports its numbers (numbers that have been questioned by traders, economists and government officials around the world for years).
Already fell 4.8% in Q1, will definitely be worse in Q2. How will President Trump explain? I guess he would say the figure is better than expected and is so much better than any other country in the world.When China sees positive growth rate in Q2,he would say the number is fake. pic.twitter.com/PN10JicZKI— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) April 29, 2020
In other news, the Washington Post reports that the 29th federal prisoner - and first female prisoner - has died in a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, according a CBS affiliate covering the DFW area.
A pregnant inmate whose baby was delivered by cesarean section while she was on a ventilator after being hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms has died in federal custody at a Fort Worth hospital, the Bureau of Prisons said Tuesday.
Andrea Circle Bear, 30, died on Tuesday, about a month after she was hospitalized while serving a 26-month sentence for maintaining a drug-involved premises.
Circle Bear was first brought to FMC Carswell, a federal prison medical facility in Fort Worth on March 20 from a local jail in South Dakota.
As a new inmate in the federal prison system, she was quarantined as part of the Bureau of Prisons’ plan to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
She was taken to a local hospital on March 28 for “potential concerns regarding her pregnancy,” but was discharged from the hospital the same day and brought back to the prison, officials said.
Three days later, prison medical staff members decided she should be brought back to the hospital after she developed a fever, dry cough and other symptoms, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
Circle Bear was put on a ventilator the same day she arrived at the hospital and her baby was born the next day by C-section, officials said.
She tested positive for COVID-19 days later, on April 4.
Prison officials said Bear had a preexisting condition other than her pregnancy that also made her vulnerable.
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Update (0940ET): Starbucks workers in certain states who were enjoying earning more in unemployment than they were making at work are about to be extremely disappointed. During an interview on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" Wednesday morning, SBUX CEO Kevin Johnson announced that the company would reopen 90% of its stores across the US over the coming days so Americans can once again indulge in their 'essential' espresso fix.
Johnson said the reopening would happen safely and responsibly, and that his employees were excited to get back to work (though we sincerely doubt that).
Don't believe these workers are earning more sitting at home than they ever did at work? Try reading WSJ's reporting on this phenomenon before you dismiss it as impossible in such a 'anti-labor late-capitalist nightmare' as the US.
Roughly half of all U.S. workers stand to earn more in unemployment benefits than they did at their jobs before the coronavirus pandemic shut down swaths of the U.S. economy, a result of government relief that employers say is complicating plans to reopen businesses.
As the FT explained last night in a preview of Johnson's announcement, Starbucks will use a "modified" format. In some locations, stores will be drive-thru only. Also last night: Starbucks reported its Q2 results and warned that it would take an even bigger hit in Q3.
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Update (0930ET): As Japanese PM Shinzo Abe frets over the possibility that the 2020 Games might be cancelled altogether if the world's third-largest economy can't bring the virus to heel, Nikkei reports that his government may extend its 'state of emergency', which asked schools and businesses across the country to close, for another month.
The proposal will be discussed at a meeting on Friday.
Japan's government plans to extend a nationwide state of emergency beyond its current May 6 end date, Nikkei learned Wednesday, as the country's coronavirus outbreak has yet to subside.
The public would be urged to stay at home for about one more longer under a proposal to be discussed at an expert meeting on Friday.
"It is still very uncertain whether we will be able to say, 'It's over,' on May 6," Abe told lawmakers in the upper house on Wednesday. The government will hold an expert panel on Friday to discuss the extension.
We neglected to mention this earlier, but last night CNN reported that a pug in North Carolina has become the first domesticated dog in the US to test positive for COVID-19. Three of the dog's human family members have already contracted the virus.
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With Georgia, Tennessee and now Texas - the biggest and most economically vital state so far - starting to lift coronavirus restrictions, initial data suggest that the American consumer is throwing caution to the wind and venturing back out to retail 'hotspots' and other locations.
Whether we'll see the same in Europe isn't yet clear, but last night, France, Spain and Portugal released plans for reopening their economies, joining Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, who shared some broad strokes from Italy's plan on Sunday night. On Wednesday, Poland joined the growing number of European states - including the Czech Republic, Germany (sort of), Denmark, Austria and others.
As the leaders of Europe's largest economies have warned, the reopenings will happen gradually, and any signs of the virus's reemergence will be met with an immediate rollback. The sum total of all the caveats and complications shared by Italy's Conte and French PM Édouard Philippe, who laid out France's plan in detail during a marathon address last night, is that the "European era of national confinement will not end for months," as WSJ reports.
Ongoing evaluations of the epidemic, officials say, will determine whether stricter rules need to be reimposed.
Overall, the rules mean an era of European confinement will not end once national lockdowns begin to officially lift in May. Instead, governments are digging in for months to come, crafting changes that are likely to place longer-term strains on social and democratic norms.
Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez has been, in many ways, even more cautious than his colleagues. Spain's lockdown won't truly begin until May 12, meaning many Spaniards still have at least 2 weeks of WFH to go.
On Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland will reopen hotels and shopping malls on May 4 while it will consider reopening pre-schools on May 6. Poland started relaxing some restrictions in April, claiming they were too costly for the economy. It has also reopened parks and eased rules on the number of customers allowed in shops. As of Wednesday, the EU member with a population of nearly 40 million had only 12,415 cases and 606 deaths (Spain's population is only ~8 million larger than Poland's), according to the New York Times.
As President Trump reportedly urged governors to at least consider reopening some schools before the end of the year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who recently told employees at Tesla's Fremont factory to report back to work before California's 'stay at home' order expires.
"Give people their freedom back!" Musk tweeted while citing a WSJ analysis suggesting that the lockdowns haven't saved that many lives.
The CDC recently revised the government's 'official' projections to reflect a slightly larger number of anticipated deaths around the country after Georgia and Texas kicked off the reopening.
California must be giving Elon Musk trouble about reopening Tesla's Fremont plant, because Musk in a series of tweets demanded the US and all states end the lockdowns now, becoming the first CEO of a major American company ("major" based solely on Tesla's market cap) to criticize them in such strident terms.
FREE AMERICA NOW— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2020
Bravo Texas! https://t.co/cVkDewRqGv— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2020
Give people their freedom back! https://t.co/iG8OYGaVZ0— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2020
Now, will Musk be joining his former partner Peter Thiel in LA after committing the heresy of disagreeing with the Silicon Valley groupthink? We certainly have cause to wonder...
Silicon Valley has become Sanctimonious Valley— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2020
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted a menacing message to NYC's ultra-orthodox Jewish Community, warning that he has instructed the NYPD to start issuing summonses and making arrests when people are found in large groups not obeying social distancing requirements.
de Blasio tweeted that the funeral in Williamsburg was "unacceptable."
My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 29, 2020
For the US, it's probably too early to read too much into leading indicators, though they're certainly something to consider. On Wednesday, economists straining their eyes for ‘green shoots’ in Europe were probably disappointed to learn that European business and consumer confidence plummeted in April by a record margin, falling to its lowest level since the financial crisis more than a decade ago.
Data released by the European Commission revealed a popular economic indicator had fallen by 28.8 points to 65.8 for the EU-wide reading on consumer confidence. And that drop would have probably been even larger if data from Italy hadn’t been excluded (the survey reportedly couldn’t even be carried out in Italy).
As the FT pointed out, sentiment on the continent has never deteriorated this quickly before.
Among the biggest eurozone economies, the Netherlands saw the biggest drop with 32.6 points, while Spain saw a 26-point drop and Germany was down 19.9 points, while France declined 16.3 points.
And that's not all: Industrial activity in the UK is running at ~50% activity. UK industrial production is running just above half of its capacity while sentiment in the services sector has dropped to an all-time low in April as businesses shut down in an attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus.
As we reminded readers last night, there's no guarantee that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready for mass distribution within the 2 year timeline provided by public health officials. Despite the musings of some British scientists at Oxford claiming they might have a vaccine ready by the fall (initially, it would be distributed only to front-line health-care workers), questions remain about whether long-term immunity to COVID-19 is even possible.
In light of this, the UK has set up a new clinical trial initiative to fast-track research on six potential treatments. Poland cautiously sets dates in May for shopping centres, museums, hotels and schools to re-open. Beijing loosens border controls for most domestic travellers. James Shotter in Warsaw and Yuan Yang in Beijing report.
In what was perhaps the biggest news story overnight, Beijing has ended its mandatory quarantine period of 14 days for anybody - Chinese and foreigners - traveling into the city from low-risk areas. That means most Chinese (except residents of Wuhan) will soon be allowed to travel to the capital.
Beijing’s municipal deputy secretary Chen Bei announced the news in China's state press on Wednesday, the same day the CPC announced it would hold its annual "Two Sessions" parliamentary meetings starting May 21. Of course, Beijing has plenty of other measures in place to try and prevent a resurgence. Most notably: China's "Health Kit" app, which every citizen must have installed on his/her phone before entering a public space.
Earlier this week, several of China's largest cities, including Beijing, allowed some older students to return to school.
Elsewhere, as the number of new cases balloons in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that holding the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 will be "impossible" if the pandemic hasn't been contained by next summer, the latest sign of exasperation as Japan discovers its outbreak is much larger than it had expected.
Before we go, we'd like to end with a dollop of good news: UK PM Boris Johnson and his fiance Carrie Symonds have given birth to a healthy baby boy in a London hospital, according to the BBC.