Via Financial Times

Sweden records second Covid-19 death

Richard Milne reports:

Sweden has recorded its second death from coronavirus after an 85-year-old with existing medical conditions died of the deadly pandemic in the western city of Gothenburg.

Sweden has posted 775 cases of coronavirus, fewer than neighbouring Denmark and Norway, but has taken less restrictive measures than the other Scandinavian countries. Its schools are still open and children are still playing organised sport.

Authorities gave few other details on the latest death but it comes after coronavirus killed another elderly person on Wednesday outside Stockholm.

Swedish health authorities have criticised Denmark’s decision on Friday night to close its borders to foreigners with Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist in Stockholm, calling it “completely meaningless”. He added that Sweden was highly unlikely to follow suit:

“I have a very hard time seeing how it could help us. There is no research that shows that. On the contrary, it would hurt us economically, and that there are studies on.”

FT Opinion: Financial markets are being humbled by real life

Katie Martin – FT Markets Editor – writes

For years, investors and analysts pored over the intricacies of financial markets, hunting for ‘canaries in coal mines’ for signs of the source of the next big crisis. The uniquely arrogant Masters of the Universe who dominate the financial sector have long assumed that markets themselves would provide the source of the next big crisis.

Arcane corners of financial plumbing, from volatility indices to specialist short-term lending markets, have been endlessly scrutinised for signs that they could prove to be the butterfly’s wing that sets off the next big drama in the real economy. Everyone was looking for the modern equivalent of the drop in the Thai baht that sparked the 1998 collapse of hedge fund LTCM, which in turn forced a US Federal Reserve bailout to rescue markets from calamity.

Instead, investors are being humbled by one thing they clearly had not considered: real life. That makes the crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic more dangerous, and harder to fix, than anything else previously seen by the men and women currently on finance’s front lines. It will not be the last.

Read more here

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Abe vows to act boldly to counter economic blow from coronavirus

Kana Inagaki and Leo Lewis report from Tokyo:

Shinzo Abe vowed to act boldly and flexibly to counter the economic blow from the coronavirus outbreak, signaling that he would consider lowering Japan’s consumption tax hike if the crisis continues.

“Markets worldwide including Japan are in turmoil and there is concern about a further decline in the global economy,” the prime minister said at a news conference on Saturday evening. “We will watch the developments closely and will continue to act flexibly and quickly to implement sufficient economic and fiscal policy.”

Even before this year’s coronavirus outbreak, Japanese companies have been grappling with the fallout from last autumn’s rise in consumption tax with the economy shrinking at an annualised rate of 6.3 per cent in the final quarter of 2019. Mr Abe said he would consider “various options” in compiling its economic policy when asked about the possibility of lowering the consumption tax which was raised to 10 per cent last year from 8 per cent.

On this summer’s Olympics, Mr Abe echoed the recent comments of both the organisers and others within his party which have suggested an unshakeable determination to press on with the games. He said: “We hope to carry it out safely on schedule after overcoming the spread of infections.”

The prime minister gave the go ahead for schools to carry out graduation ceremonies at smaller scales at the end of this month even as most schools remain shut across the country.

But Mr Abe, who initially caused widespread confusion when he abruptly announced the closure of all schools in late February, said he would defer the decision to experts on whether schools will reopen on April 1, the start of the new fiscal year in Japan.

Spain prepares new powers to battle crisis

Daniel Dombey reports from Madrid:

Madrid is preparing to assume new powers to tackle the coronavirus pandemic as the number of cases of illness in Spain rises to above 5,200

More than 130 people have died after contracting the disease, with around 190 recovering. Around half of the 5,200 cases have been in the Madrid region.

The Spanish cabinet is on Saturday due to formally impose a state of alert – which will allow the government to take control of factories and impose restrictions on the freedom of movement – after which Pedro Sánchez, prime minister is set to outline what steps he will take with the new powers.

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The regions of Madrid, Catalonia and Galicia have already ordered almost all commerce to close other than shops selling food and pharmaceuticals.

Vietnam Airlines to fly ‘ghost flights’ from Europe

John Reed reports from Bangkok:

Vietnam Airlines is to begin flying empty planes from three cities in Europe, taking passengers only in the opposite direction, in a move the state-owned carrier said it was taking to slow the spread of coronavirus and protect public health.

In a statement on Saturday, VNA said that from Sunday its flights departing from London, Paris, and Frankfurt would not carry passengers, but that flights leaving Vietnam for Europe would be operated as usual to allow European passengers to return home. Vietnam’s communist government has taken decisive action, including through the widespread quarantining of arriving airline passengers, to curb the spread of the virus since the first cases were reported in February.

However, several recent infections have been reported linked to people who arrived in the country by air. VNA said it was working with relevant authorities to allow its flights from Europe to Vietnam on Saturday to fly as planned, but reroute from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Van Don, near the northern city of Haiphong, and Cantho, in the southern Mekong delta region “to proceed with quarantine regulations.”

The UK last week warned its citizens that they faced a high risk of being put into quarantine for 14 days, either on arrival or during their trip to Vietnam.

New cases of Covid-19 rise sharply as spread in Europe widens

Steve Bernard, an FT data journalist, reports:

New daily cases jumped on Friday to their highest levels since China changed how it defined a confirmed case of Covid-19. There were a total of 10,907 new cases, up more than 2,500 on the previous day’s increase.

Italy accounted for nearly a quarter of the new cases, with a daily increase of 2,547. Followed by Spain – 2,086, Germany – 930 and France with 785, as the virus spread rapidly in Europe.

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The global case count has now risen above 145,000. You can keep track of updates on the FT’s live tracker page.

Lithuania to close border to foreigners

Richard Milne reports from Oslo:

Lithuania became the latest EU country to close its borders to foreigners in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The reintroduction of border controls follows similar measures on Friday night by neighbouring Poland as well as Denmark and the Czech Republic.

Rita Tamasuniene, Lithuania’s interior minister, said on Saturday morning that checks on the EU’s internal borders with Latvia and Poland would begin at 6pm local time.

The Baltic country of 3m people is also preparing to put its entire population in quarantine from Monday after it recorded its seventh case.

Its move comes as countries across the region urged their citizens to return home quickly while Norway advised against all non-essential travel on Saturday.

“We are in a serious and increasingly unpredictable situation,” said Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg. “Our priority is to safeguard life and health. That requires extraordinary steps. The situation is changing rapidly in many countries, which is why we are advising against travel that is not strictly necessary to all countries.”

Welcome to the FT’s special weekend live coverage

The FT has launched special weekend live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak given how quickly this story is developing. We’ll be tapping our global network of reporters and editors to bring you the latest developments.

Here are a couple key stories you may have missed while you were asleep:

-Apple has closed all of its retail stores outside of China. Tim Cook, the California tech company’s chief executive, said he had taken note of China’s efforts to slow the spread of the Covid-19 disease. “One of those lessons is that the most effective way to minimise risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximise social distance,” he said.

-Countries in Europe have accelerated their search for ventilators as doctors and hospitals brace for a surge in patients fighting Covid-19.

-US markets rebounded sharply on Friday after the worst day since the stock market crash of 1987 as Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in the US.