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Economy

South Korea central bank to infuse cash via 'unlimited' repos for first time

SEOUL (REUTERS) – South Korea’s central bank said on Thursday (March 26) it will temporarily offer an unlimited amount of money for three months through repo operations, an unprecedented move to funnel cash to money markets hammered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Repo auctions will be held every week, where a wider range of financial institutions will be able to borrow funds at the repo rate of no higher than 0.85 per cent, the BOK said in a statement.

The BOK also said it would accept a wider range of collateral including notes issued by state-run companies in the repo auctions – where central banks lend money to commercial banks and brokerages who can deposit government debt as collateral.

Thursday’s news follows similar policy moves by central banks around the world as policymakers race to bolster stimulus to tackle the economic and financial impact of the coronavirus.

On Monday, the US Federal Reserve pledged to back purchases of corporate bonds and buy unlimited amounts of Treasury bonds for the first time to ensure credit flows to corporations and local governments.

The BOK too is entering unchartered territory by pledging to offer an ‘unlimited demand’ for liquidity from domestic markets, after slashing interest rates by 50 basis points to 0.75 per cent on March 16 in its largest policy easing since the global financial crisis.

It is also working in tandem with the government, after President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday doubled a planned economic rescue package to 100 trillion won (S$118 billion) to save companies hit by the coronavirus and put a floor under crashing stocks and bond markets.

“Through this (repo operations), we will be supplying enough money to the government’s 100 trillion won rescue package programmes,” the BOK said.

The cost of raising US dollars by swapping the South Korean won surged to the highest since the global financial crisis earlier this month while the spread between corporate bonds and treasury debt has been widening, in a sign of tightening money market conditions.

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World News

Coronavirus France: Majority of French fear catching virus and believe it will get worse

The daily poll, conducted online by BVA for Europe 1 radio and Orange, found that 76 percent of French people are worried about getting sick. Seventy-nine percent said they feared “the worst is yet to come,” up four points from Saturday and nine points from last Wednesday.

Only 43 percent of respondents approve of the French government’s handling of the public health crisis, down seven points from Saturday.

A separate poll by Ifop for newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD) also published on Sunday gave similar results, showing that 55 percent of the French support the government’s crisis management efforts.

Eighty-four percent, however, told pollsters they were “worried” about the worsening pandemic.

The coronavirus death toll recorded by French hospitals jumped by 112 to 674 on Sunday, the head of the public health authority Jerome Salomon said, while the number of confirmed cases increased by 11 percent to 16,018 over 24 hours.

Mr Salomon told a daily press briefing: “We are looking at an epidemic that is widening and escalating.” With hospitals scrambling to attend to 7,240 victims – including 1,646 in intensive care –, the military are having to transfer some from the worst-hit areas.

Mr Salomon warned: “The virus kills and is continuing to kill.”

He added people over the age of 70 represent around 87 percent of deaths.

Health Minister Olivier Veran, for his part, praised medical staff on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight and urged other workers to keep key services running.

Mr Veran told LCI television: “The medical profession is making a heavy sacrifice in our country today.

“We’re asking citizens to continue mobilising to keep our economy working.

“Not for the sake of economic objectives or budgets, but because a single missing link can bring down the entire production system.”

French lawmakers on Sunday approved tougher penalties for violating a nationwide confinement; while the country’s top administrative court – the State Council – rejected demands for stricter confinement rules.

Under the health emergency bill approved by lawmakers, those caught violating the rules – which include exceptions for essential commuting, shopping and solitary exercise – will face harsher fines, ranging from 135 to 3,700 euros (£124-£3,409) and a six-month prison term for repeat breaches.

France is expecting preliminary results within two weeks from a clinical test of the effectiveness of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19, the condition caused by the virus.

French hospitals began testing the anti-malarial and three other drugs this weekend, research institute Inserm said, as part of a European programme involving 3,200 Covid-19 patients.

There are as yet no vaccines or treatments approved but trials are underway in the United States and Europe to see whether hydroxychloroquine can prevent, or reduce the severity of, the illness.

The Ifop poll of 1,013 people was conducted online between March 19-20; while the BVA poll was conducted online on March 22.

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World News

COVID-19 isolation, treatment centre for homeless opens in Ottawa

A local recreation centre in Ottawa has become an isolation and treatment centre for homeless people with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.

The centre opened Monday near the city’s ByWard Market, which is a few blocks east of Parliament Hill. The facility has been filled with beds, linens, medical supplies and everything someone would need to serve out their isolation period.

Already, three people are expected stay there in isolation while they await test results.

The centre was set up because the national plan to fight COVID-19 doesn’t apply to people who are homeless.

“The whole strategy is based on the assumption that people will seek care when they need it, and that they’ll self-isolate,” said Wendy Muckle, president of Ottawa Inner City Health, which provides health care to the national capital’s vulnerable population.

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Politics

Tide yet to turn for coronavirus situation in Singapore, says PM Lee

While Singapore has been praised for its handling of the coronavirus situation, the Government is under no illusion that the problem is over, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

The Government has done its best to tackle the virus – on the medical front, through social measures and with public reassurance – while it balances keeping Singapore’s borders safe with maintaining essential trade and cooperation with other countries, PM Lee said in an interview with The Australian newspaper last Friday.

“If I made an analogy, it is not that the tide has turned, it is that we put the dykes up,” PM Lee said.

“We are watching very carefully to see where water may leak in, and if you take your eyes off it for a moment, suddenly I have an outbreak, like what happened in South Korea, and I will be in a perilous situation.

“It can happen to us at any time,” he added.

People should expect the virus to persist for “quite some time” based on current evidence, said PM Lee, as the virus continues to be a global problem despite successes in keeping cases down in individual countries.

The coronavirus “is going to catch fire in many countries, and is going to take a long time to burn out”, he added.

“What you can hope for is that you control the spread of the disease, you hold the position, and hope and pray that the scientists come up with either a treatment or a vaccine within a year or two,” he told the newspaper, ahead of a video call with his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison today.

Like Singapore, each country has to find its own balance to prevent “the doomsday scenario, namely that the disease goes through the whole population”.

“Either it is going to leave you with huge casualties or it is going to take forever, and to lock down forever,” he said.

“I think it is an enormous economic cost and human cost too.”

Asked about Singapore being considered the most successful country in dealing with the coronavirus, PM Lee said the Republic has been reasonably successful at hindering the transmission of Covid-19, despite being a densely populated island, because of good social trust, ample medical capacity and extensive contact tracing.

The country has worked very hard to contact-trace once it detects a case, and to put immediate contacts either on notice or on quarantine depending on if they displayed symptoms. To date, several thousand people have been contact-traced, he noted. “It is labour intensive, but it is helpful in preventing one single case from becoming many hundred cases, if you catch it in time,” he said.

While social capital and trust in the Government have been key, these assets have to be built upon during a crisis or they will erode very quickly, he added.

This is why Singapore has a multi-ministry task force and almost-daily press conferences “to bring people up to date and to prepare people when something particularly significant or surprising happens”, he said.

Without such transparency and engagement, the public will begin to doubt what they are told or think that facts are being withheld and “you will be in trouble very quickly”, said PM Lee.

He will speak to Mr Morrison today via video link, and the two countries will sign a slew of agreements to deepen the bilateral relationship. Among these are a treaty to strengthen defence cooperation and enhance the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) in Queensland.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Exercise Wallaby, the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) largest annual overseas drill, which takes place at SWBTA. The current training area is about four times the size of Singapore, allowing the SAF to conduct large-scale and complex training not possible at home.

Agreements on digital economy cooperation and scientific cooperation on research of the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease are among others to be inked.

During the interview, PM Lee pointed out that Singapore and Australia have a close relationship and are like-minded countries that have gone through thick and thin together. “We would like to keep that friendship for a very long time to come,” he said.

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World News

Italy ready to offer further measures to combat coronavirus, PM tells paper

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s government is ready to intervene again, if needed, as measures approved so far are not enough to support businesses and households hit by a coronavirus outbreak, the prime minister said on Monday.

Italy is the second worst hit country in the world after China, where the illness first emerged late last year, and the outbreak has shown no signs of slowing, with 24,747 cases and 1,809 deaths by Sunday.

“The approved measures are not sufficient. Damage (from the coronavirus) will be serious and widespread. A true ‘reconstruction plan’ will be needed,” Giuseppe Conte told daily Corriere della Sera in an interview.

“After the coronavirus nothing will be as before, we will have to sit down and rewrite the rules of trade and the free market.”

The government has said planned economic support would total some 25 billion euros ($27.94 billion), with a cabinet meeting on Monday expected to approve new measures to support businesses and families.

“We are responding with rules that will allow our economy to face the costs of the emergency. We are ready, if necessary, to intervene again to relaunch the country,” the premier added.

Conte said no further bans were needed but it was important to “scrupulously” respect existing ones.

Last week the government imposed nationwide restrictions to curb the virus spread, closing schools, shops and sporting events and ordering people to stay home, except for essential travel.

“Scientists are telling us that the outbreak has not reached it peak, these weeks will be the most risky, and the maximum precaution is needed,” Conte said, explaining that the lockdown’s results will be seen in a few weeks.

The government is working urgently to get medical equipment as doubts grow over the ability of a strained health system to cope with the persistent rise in new cases, particularly in the northern region of Lombardy, where the virus emerged almost a month ago.

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Sports

NBA, owners set coronavirus conference call for Wednesday

NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins’ nonprofit encouraging autistic inclusion

Atlanta Hawks vice president Dominique Wilkins discusses his endorsement for former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and Wilkens’ nonprofit KultureCity putting efforts towards autism awareness.

The NBA will hold a conference call with team owners Wednesday to discuss potential responses to the worsening coronavirus outbreak, according to a report.

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The conference call will occur amid mounting concerns that the coronavirus outbreak could force changes to the NBA’s schedule, including the possibility that games will be played without fans in attendance, ESPN reported. The league office has instructed teams to develop contingency plans, including essential staff that would be on hand if the NBA moves to limit fan presence.

Like many other sports leagues, the NBA has already taken precautionary steps. A league memo asked the NBA’s 30 teams to have several plans in place by Tuesday, including a designated infectious disease specialist and identification of a facility that can test for coronavirus, according to ESPN.

NFL, 2K SPORTS REVIVE VIDEO GAME PARTNERSHIP AFTER 16 YEARS

In a joint announcement on Monday, the NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS said they would bar all nonessential personnel, including media members, from team locker rooms until further notice. League officials said the move was meant to ensure player safety and that the media would have access to players in different settings.

“Given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice,” the leagues said in a statement. “Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting.”

WILL CORONAVIRUS IMPACT NFL DRAFT, OTHER OFFSEASON EVENTS?

So far, the NBA has not made any changes to its schedule. The NCAA has indicated that it plans to hold its March Madness championship basketball tournaments as planned, though officials are developing contingency plans.

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Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James pushed back against the possibility of playing NBA games without crowds.

“We play games without the fans? No, it’s impossible,” James told reporters Saturday. “I ain’t playing. If I ain’t got the fans in the crowd, that’s who I play for. I play for my teammates — I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. If I show up to an arena and there are no fans in there, I ain’t playing. They can do what they want to do.”

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