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Number of coronavirus cases in Germany rises to 36,508: RKI

BERLIN (Reuters) – The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Germany has risen to 36,508 and 198 people have died of the disease, statistics from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.

Cases rose by 4,995 compared with the previous day while the death toll climbed by 50, the tally showed.

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Merkel is healthy and in constant contact with cabinet: spokesman

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel is well, in close contact with her cabinet and holding international talks from home, where she is self-quarantining after coming into contact with an infected doctor, a government spokesman said on Wednesday.

“The chancellor is well,” Steffen Seibert told a news conference. “She is doing her work, as I said previously, from home, she is in constant close contact with all members of the cabinet and her staff and she is also conducting international discussions from home.”

He reiterated that Merkel would undergo a series of tests, adding: “If there are developments we will tell you.”

Merkel’s initial test for coronavirus came back negative, her spokesman said on Monday.

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  • Don't read too much into our low coronavirus death rate: German ministry

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World News

Don't read too much into our low coronavirus death rate: German ministry

BERLIN (Reuters) – It would be wrong to read too much into numbers showing a lower relative rate of deaths from the coronavirus outbreak in Germany compared to other countries, since Germany still stood at the beginning of the epidemic, a health ministry spokesman said.

“We are in a very early stage of the epidemic here in Germany and we were testing very early on,” he said, suggesting that Germany’s figures included more mild cases. “Another possible factor is demographic: so far in Germany we have been dealing with relatively young infected people on average.”

He added: “We are at the beginning of the epidemic and so it is far too early to signal the all-clear. These numbers could change.”

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Business

Dollar falls for a second day on Fed stimulus

LONDON (Reuters) – The dollar slipped for a second consecutive day on Tuesday after the U.S. Federal Reserve unveiled fresh measures to supply precious liquidity into funding markets, sending risky currencies such as the Australian dollar soaring.

The Fed announced unlimited quantitative easing and programs to support credit markets on Monday in a drastic bid to backstop an economy reeling from emergency restrictions on commerce to fight the coronavirus.

Against a basket of its rivals =USD, the dollar fell 0.5% to 101.52, down more than 1% from Monday’s highs and having hit a more than three-year high of 102.99 on Friday.

“The dollar funding conditions are easing slightly compared with a week ago, though I wouldn’t say things are normal. While the Fed is pumping dollars, we still need to wait and see if that money will flow to every corner of the economy,” said Koichi Kobayashi, chief manager of forex at Mitsubishi Trust Bank.

While the Fed’s latest measures were seen to have effectively broken the spreading freeze in the dollar funding markets in the short-term, the shock to the real economy is expected to last for a far longer period with latest PMI data offering a glimpse of the pain.

Japan posted its biggest ever services sector decline and factory activity shrank at its fastest in a decade, consistent with a 4% economic contraction this year. The picture in Australia was similar.

Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of FX and commodity research at Commerzbank said in a note that as more economies enact draconian measures to lock down their economies, the global economy would be massively constrained in the near future and markets could quickly turn back into risk-off mode.

But in early London trading, battered currencies rallied.

The euro gained 1% to $1.0834 EUR=EBS, bouncing back from a near three-year low of $1.0636 in the previous session.

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The British pound also rose 0.9% to $1.1650 GBP=D3, up more than two cents from its 35-year low of $1.1413 set last week.

The Fed announced various programs including purchases of corporate bonds, guarantees for direct loans to companies and a plan to get credit to small and medium-sized business.

Trading remained volatile, with the Australian dollar rising 2.0% to $0.5952 AUD=D3, extending its recovery from a 17-year low of $0.5510 touched last week.

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World News

German vice-chancellor says Merkel is healthy but working from home

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Chancellor Angela Merkel, who on Sunday went into quarantine after coming into contact with a coronavirus-infected doctor, was healthy but working from home.

“The Chancellor is healthy at this moment. She is simply in home office, as are many other people who have had to place themselves in self-isolation at home,” Scholz, who is Germany’s finance minister, told a news conference on Monday.

“She is active: we had the cabinet meeting together this morning. Not with video, but of course we all recognise each others’ voices. Otherwise, files are being delivered back and forth and everything is happening as you’d imagine,” he added.

Scholz said he would speak in Merkel’s place in the Bundestag lower house of parliament on Wednesday.

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World News

Coronavirus: Germany ‘flattens the curve’ as Spain pandemic cases surge

Germany’s coronavirus infection curve could have now flattened, according to the country’s public health chief, as cases across elsewhere in Europe and the US continue to surge.

On Monday, the country said that the upward trend it was seeing in the number of COVID-19 cases seems to be levelling off, in part thanks to social distancing measures to deal with the outbreak.

Lothar Wieler, head of the country’s health institute, said: “We are seeing signs that the exponential growth curve is flattening off slightly.

“But I will only be able to confirm this trend definitively on Wednesday.”

Mr Wieler added that he was optimistic, given the strict measures in place in Germany, including those on public gatherings and washing of hands.

In Spain however, cases have continued to surge, with 4,517 more people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last day – a rise of 15% on the previous day.

The total number of confirmed cases in the country stands at 33,089 – the second highest number in Europe. 2,182 people have now died in Spain, after testing positive for COVID-19.

Italy‘s death toll from coronavirus is also on the rise, surpassing more than 5,000 over the weekend. More people have died after testing positive from coronavirus in Italy than anywhere else in the world – despite the stringent lock down measures in place.

Elsewhere, the number of dead in Iran continues to rise, with 1,812 people losing their life after testing positive, out of 23,049 confirmed cases.

Elsewhere around the world:

  • The 2020 Olympic Games is in doubt as countries begin to pull out
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in self-isolation after her doctor tested positive for COVID-19
  • Australia’s pubs, bars, casinos, gyms and cinemas have all been ordered to close down by the government
  • Polish police have carried out inspections of 80,000 people supposedly in quarantine, and found more than 300 of them breaking the rules
  • In Japan, two more former passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise liner have died, making the total number of dead from the ship 10

Iran is facing widespread criticism for not enacting stricter social distancing and quarantine measures earlier on in its outbreak, like other countries nearby.

The epicentre of the global outbreak in Wuhan in China, has gone a fifth day in a row without any new infections, according to the country’s health ministry.

China implemented very strict quarantine measures, which are now being slowly relaxed, that have led to a slow down in the country’s infection rate.

Chinese officials have also said the US is trying to “scapegoat” the country and called on it to “stop politicising the epidemic”.

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Business

Rout resumes as more nations self-isolate against virus

LONDON/SYDNEY/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Financial markets around the world took another hammering on Monday as a rising tide of national coronavirus lockdowns threatened to overwhelm policymakers’ frantic efforts to cushion what is likely to be a deep global recession.

European stocks dived 4.5% as they reopened and commodity markets also saw more heavy selling as the global death toll from the virus passed 14,000.

Investors tried to take cover in ultra-safe government bonds and in the Japanese yen in currency markets but with so much uncertainty about when any semblance of normality might return there were few places to really hide.

“Further deterioration in the COVID-19 outbreak is severely damaging the global economy,” Morgan Stanley analysts warned on Monday. “We expect global growth to dip close to GFC (global financial crisis) lows, and U.S. growth to a 74-year low in 2020.”

Goldman Sachs sent a similar warning and in a taste of the pain to come, E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 dived 3.5% [.N] and MSCI’s main world stocks index was down 1.6% and almost at 4-year lows.

UBS Australian head of equities distribution George Kanaan said global financial markets were gripped by fear, which seemed unlikely to ease any time soon, despite the co-ordinated efforts of governments and central banks around the world.

“I have been in the financial markets for 27 years and I have never seen anything like this,” he told Reuters by telephone from Sydney.

“This is unprecedented in terms of fears and there are two elements driving that.

“First is that this involves masses of people. In the GFC, that was an event that occurred in the investment banks around the world, it didn’t involve people on the street. The second is that social media is helping to drive this fear and panic.”

In Asian trade, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 5.4%, with New Zealand’s market shedding a record 10% at one point as the government closed all non-essential businesses.

Shanghai blue chips dropped 3.3%, though Japan’s Nikkei rose 2.0% aided by expectations of more aggressive asset buying by the Bank of Japan. In Australia, the S&P/ASX200 dropped 5.62% to take the index to a seven-year low.

Globally, analysts are dreading data on weekly U.S. jobless claims due on Thursday amid forecasts they could balloon by 750,000, and possibly by more than a million.

U.S. stocks have fallen more than 30% from their mid-February peak and even the safest areas of the bond market are experiencing liquidity stress as distressed funds are forced to sell good assets to cover positions gone bad.

In contrast to the response by authorities to the global health crisis, however, are calls from some on Wall Street to ease restrictions as soon as possible to give the economy room to recover.

“Extreme measures to flatten the virus ‘curve’ is sensible-for a time-to stretch out the strain on health infrastructure,” former Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein tweeted.

“But crushing the economy, jobs and morale is also a health issue-and beyond. Within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work.”

MOUNTING ECONOMIC TOLL

The mounting economic toll led to a major rally in sovereign bonds late last week, with efforts by central banks to restore liquidity in the market allowing for more two-way trade.

Yields on the benchmark U.S. 10-year note were down at 0.80%, having dived all the way to 0.84% on Friday from a top of 1.28%. European benchmarks like German Bunds were at around -0.36% down more than 20 bps from last week’s 10-month highs.

Calls were continuing for the euro zone’s 19 governments to issue the bloc’s first joint bonds to try to get the region through the economic crush of the virus lockdowns.

In New Zealand, the central bank announced its first outright purchase of government paper aiming to inject much-needed liquidity into the local market.

In currency markets, the first instinct on Monday was to dump those leveraged to global growth and commodity prices, sending the Australian dollar down 0.8% to $0.5749.

The U.S. dollar started firm but took a step back after partisan battles in the U.S. Senate stopped a coronavirus response bill from advancing.

The dollar eased 0.5% to 110.31 yen while the euro recouped losses to be up 0.1% at $1.0705.

The dollar had been a major gainer last week as investors fled to the liquidity of the world’s reserve currency, while some funds, companies and countries desperately sought more cash to cover their dollar borrowings.

The steady rise in the dollar undermined gold, which slipped 0.3% to $1,493.83 per ounce.

Oil prices were sharply lower. Brent crude futures dropped $1.30, or 4.9%, to $25.66 a barrel, while U.S. crude was down 29 cent to $22.34.

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World News

Finance minister says Germany preparing 150 billion euro supplementary budget

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German finance minister Olaf Scholz said on Saturday that the government was readying a supplementary budget of 150 billion euros ($160 billion), as part of a broader funding package to tackle the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

“A hundred and fifty billion is a large amount, but it gives us the flexibility that we now need,” Scholz said.

“In addition we are laying the ground for various other institutions of our nation to take the steps necessary to stabilize our companies … it’s important to send a clear and strong signal right at the beginning,” told a news briefing.

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Economy

Germany considering 350 billion euros in new debt to counter crisis -sources

BERLIN, March 21 (Reuters) – The German government is readying stimulus measures requiring about 350 billion euros ($374 billion) in net new debt to counter the coronavirus crisis, several people familiar with the plans told Reuters on Saturday.

The package will include a supplementary government budget of about 150 billion euros, 100 billion euros for an economic stability fund that can take direct equity stakes in companies, and 100 billion euros in credit to public-sector development bank KfW for loans to struggling businesses, the sources said.

Final details of the measures are being discussed by ministers over the weekend, the sources added. ($1 = 0.9351 euros) (Reporting by Holger Hansen, Michael Nienaber, Christian Kraemer Writing by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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World News

Germany: Will authorities crack down on 'corona parties'?

Germany is the third-most affected country by the outbreak, after Italy and Spain, with 14,481 cases and 43 deaths.

Berlin, Germany – On Thursday evening in Tempelhof Field, the former airport turned public park, Nicolas Engel improvised a tune on an upright piano he wheeled onto the runway, as a well-spaced audience sat around him on the tarmac, enjoying the melody float through the warm spring air.

“People still want to go out,” the Swiss musician told Al Jazeera. “Here on the field you have a lot of space, so even if there’s a crowd you can sit two metres from each other.”

The scene was calmer than earlier this week, when a spell of unseasonably warm weather drew thousands of people to the park to cycle, play football or drink with friends – including large groups of dozens of teenagers free from shuttered schools, in what politicians and local media have branded “corona parties”.

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Germany is the third most affected country in Europe by the coronavirus outbreak, after Italy and Spain, with 14,481 confirmed cases and 43 deaths.

However, it has not imposed the sweeping restrictions on movement in those countries, and in most parts of the countries people continue to move and socialise freely. But leading politicians have warned this will change quickly if the public does not begin to heed warnings about social distancing advice and minimising close contact with others.

“If a lot of people don’t restrict themselves voluntarily, then eventually the only instrument that will remain is a Bavaria-wide curfew. That must be clear to everyone,” Bavarian leader Markus Soder said on Thursday, while announcing the nation’s first curfews in the district of Wunsiedel and the town of Mitterteich, both near the Czech border.

#staythefuckathome

Markus Blume, general secretary of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union agreed, tweeting “stay at home, otherwise curfews are inevitable”, adding the hashtag #staythefuckathome.

Hours later Freiburg became the first large city to announce a curfew, which will begin on Saturday and last until April 3.

 

 “We are aware that this serious decision will have significant restrictions on the life of Freiburg. As things stand the protection of the public must take precedence over all other considerations,” said Mayor Martin Horn in a press statement.

Germany’s federal government announced sweeping measures to limit the spread of the virus on Monday, ordering places of worship and many non-essential shops to shut.

But the country’s system of government means that curfews and other restrictions are decided at a state or sometimes local level under the Infection Protection Act of 2001, leading to a divergence of prevention measures – while Bavaria has banned all events larger than 1,000 people, in Berlin the upper limit is 50.

Personal life

In the capital, some non-essential businesses such as tattoo parlours and clothing alteration stores remained open during the week, with shopkeepers telling Al Jazeera they were unsure if or when they should close.

Police have conducted evening inspections on bars, which have been shut, and restaurants, which must close at 6pm, finding almost 100 violations of current restrictions on Wednesday night, a police spokesperson said on Thursday.

Mitterteich, the sleepy Bavarian town of 7,000 where 27 have been infected by COVID-19, may spell out the changes yet to come across the country. Residents there must now have a valid reason to leave the house, such as work, visiting shops or pharmacies, or walking a pet. 

“The personal life of the [individual], this has a very high value in our constitution. So any restriction must be really proportional,” said Sigrid Wienhues, a lawyer specialising in administrative law based in Hamburg.

“You need the facts [to prove] that it’s really necessary, that there was no other means to prevent further spread and to prevent really high risk to the health system of Germany.”

After listening to Engel’s impromptu piano recital in Berlin, artist Meme Hrteg said she could not have imagined it taking place in her native Denmark, where harsher restrictions on daily life have been enforced. 

“I think that in Germany they are taking it very easy and not so seriously as they should do,” she told Al Jazeera. “I’m just waiting for them to [introduce] some stricter rules.”

 


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