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To fight coronavirus, it’s lockdown time, like it or not

March 20, 2020, 10:46 AM UTC

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Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan on this, the first day of spring.

It’s lockdown time. California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the state’s 40 million residents to stay home unless they’re commuting to essential jobs, visiting the doctor or buying groceries or prescriptions. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has ordered all businesses in that state to shut down immediately, unless they are “life-sustaining”—this apparently means grocery stores, gas stations, farms and transit systems.

Looking at these measures from a European perspective, the Californian lockdown seems roughly in line with the orders we’ve seen in France, Austria, Spain and Italy—though Sun Shuopeng, the head of a Chinese Red Cross delegation to Italy, expressed horror this week that he saw people still walking around and using public transportation in Milan. “Right now we need to stop all economic activity and we need to stop the mobility of people,” he said. “All people should be staying at home in quarantine.” Shockingly, given the disparity in country size, the Italian death toll now appears to have overtaken that in China.

(In Berlin, I still see people congregating outdoors, which should not be happening. It is only in the last couple days that the first German town—Mitterteich in Bavaria—instituted a proper lockdown. The federal government says it will see how people behave on Saturday, then introduce a strict lockdown if necessary.)

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board wrote yesterday that “America urgently needs a pandemic strategy that is more economically and socially sustainable than the current national lockdown,” if it is to “avoid an economic recession that will dwarf the harm from 2008-2009.” But what they refer to isn’t even a full lockdown—and the experts are now very clear that full lockdowns are necessary, particularly when most infections are undocumented. When hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives are at stake, the health of the economy is simply not the highest priority, vital as it is.

The markets seem to have realized in recent weeks what is coming. Happily, they’re looking healthier so far today, thanks to the U.S. Federal Reserve promising to provide liquidity to central banks in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden—a move designed to stop dollar funding markets breaking down. South Korea’s Kospi index jumped 7.4%, the Hang Seng was up 5.1%, and Europe’s Stoxx 600 was up almost 4% at the time of writing. U.S. futures also look strongly positive.

More news below.

David Meyer


Musk capitulation

Elon Musk has stopped trying to keep Tesla's U.S. factories open. Musk, who has argued that the intensity of anti-coronavirus measures is "dumb", had resisted official orders to shut down the facilities. But, following heavy criticism, he relented and started tweeting advice about staying safe. Financial Times

Streaming quality

YouTube and Netflix have both agreed to reduce their streaming quality in Europe, so as to help avoid Internet gridlock in the region while many Europeans switch to home working. EU industry chief Thierry Breton had urged them to make the move. Reuters

Brexit negotiators

Remember those heady days when a hard Brexit was supposed to be the big economic threat? Well, now the European Union's lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, has come down with coronavirus—and his lead counterpart, David Frost, is also symptomatic and now in isolation. Bloomberg

Bitcoin bounce

Cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin have soared today—Bitcoin and Ethereum are both up around 20% at the time of writing. However, they still haven't made up for the losses they incurred this month. CNBC


Italian GDP

Milan-based think-tank REF has predicated a 3% drop in Italian GDP in Q1, and a 5% drop in Q2. In late February, before the current lockdown decrees, it was thinking more along the lines of 1% and 3% respectively. However, it says, "a rebound is possible from the third quarter." Reuters

Airline warnings

The bosses of easyJet and Lufthansa have become the latest to warn that some airlines may not survive the coronavirus crisis. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr: "The longer this crisis lasts, the more likely it is that the future of aviation cannot be guaranteed without state aid." India is reportedly preparing to bail out its carriers. In related news, British Airways pilots face the halving of their pay, and Air Canada is to temporarily lay off over 5,100 workers. BBC

"Like a fist"

"2020 has hit us like a fist," said Gavin Thomson, vice chairman for energy in Asia Pacific at consultancy Wood Mackenzie, in Singapore. That's pretty much the consensus among oil traders and analysts around the world, who after the last two weeks are wondering where the bottom is. Fortune

Heroes and villains

Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist behind the Imperial College report that convinced the U.K. and U.S. authorities to accept the need for harsh suppression of the outbreak, has confirmed that he is infected. Meanwhile, it has emerged that Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr sold off as much as $1.72 million of his stocks ahead of the stock market crash, back when he was still assuring the public that the government had everything under control—a similar scandal also appears to be hitting Senator Kelly Loeffler, and perhaps also Intelligence Committee members Dianne Feinstein and James Inhofe. Fortune