Coronavirus live updates: Bill Gates calls Trump’s WHO decision ‘dangerous,’ Abbott’s debuts antibody test

This is CNBC’s live blog covering all the latest news on the coronavirus outbreak. All times below are in Eastern time. This blog will be updated throughout the day as the news breaks. 

  • Global cases: More than 1,996,600
  • Global deaths: At least 127,590
  • US cases: More than 609,600
  • US deaths: At least 26,059

The data above was compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

10:32 am: Bill Gates calls Trump’s decision to halt funding for WHO ‘as dangerous as it sounds’

Bill Gates said the White House should not withhold funding for the World Health Organization during a global pandemic, a day after the president announced his intent to do so.

President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. is suspending funding from WHO while it reviews the agency’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Gates said on Twitter early Wednesday morning. —Jessica Bursztynsky, Christina Wilkie

10:21 am: Homebuilder confidence index takes the biggest one-month dive in its history

A contractor carries boards through a house under construction at the Lennar Corp. Tree Tops community development in Lancaster, South Carolina, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018.

Travis Dove | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A crucial indicator of homebuilder sentiment suffered its biggest monthly drop in the index’s 35-year history this month, as the coronavirus pandemic hammered the American economy.

Builder confidence in the market for single-family homes plunged 42 points to a reading of 30 in April, the lowest point since June 2012, according to the latest National Association of Homebuilders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, or HMI. The survey dates back to January 1985.

The reading was expected to drop to 55. Anything above 50 is considered positive. The last negative reading was in June 2014. —Diana Olick

10:17 am: Abbott’s new antibody test could handle up to 20 million screenings in June

Abbott Laboratories launched its third test for the coronavirus and said it could be screening up to 20 million people for antibodies for Covid-19 by June. Abbott said it plans to distribute 4 million of the new antibody tests by the end of this month, after an initial shipment of 1 million tests this week to US customers, beginning Thursday.

“Antibody testing is an important next step to tell if someone has been previously infected,” Abbott said in a press release. “It will provide more understanding of the virus, including how long antibodies stay in the body and if they provide immunity,” the company said.

Abbott’s two other coronavirus tests, which only recently were introduced, determine whether a person has Covid-19 now. One of those tests can tell in 13 minutes or less if a person at a testing site is currently infected, while the other test is performed in labs.

The new antibody test announced Wednesday will reveal if a person also had been infected in the past, even if they were no longer sick. —Dan Mangan, Meg Tirrell

9:48 am: China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days 

President Xi Jinping warned the public they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus on Jan. 20. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and expert estimates based on retrospective infection data.

That delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus. 

“This is tremendous,” said Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.”

Other experts noted that the Chinese government may have waited on warning the public to stave off hysteria, and that it did act quickly in private during that time. —Associated Press 

9:34 am: Dow tumbles more than 500 points as coronavirus shutdown slams economy, bank earnings 

Stocks fell sharply Wednesday as dismal economic data and weak bank earnings fueled concerns over the coronavirus’s impact on the U.S. economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 530 points at the open, or 2.2%. The S&P 500 slid 2.3% while the Nasdaq Composite traded 1.9% lower. —Fred Imbert, Maggie Fitzgerald 

9:30 am: New York, New Jersey continue to have highest number of confirmed cases 

9:24 am: Best Buy to furlough about 51,000 employees as its stores remain closed

Best Buy will furlough about 51,000 employees starting Sunday. The retailer’s stores have been closed across the country since March 22, but it has continued to pay its employees and offer curbside pickup. It also suspended all in-home delivery, installation and repairs.

Starting Sunday, Best Buy said it will furlough nearly all of its part-time store employees and some of its full-time store employees in the U.S. About 82% of its full-time store employees will continue to be paid. —Melissa Repko 

9:15 am: US clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine could show in weeks whether it works 

Researchers are working as quickly as science will allow to determine whether hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump as a potential “game changer” in curtailing the Covid-19 pandemic, is effective in fighting the coronavirus. One study at NYU Langone and the University of Washington s a randomized controlled trial designed to determine whether hydroxychloroquine is any better than a placebo in preventing Covid-19. The New York State Department of Health, in partnership with the University of Albany, is also conducting a so-called observational study that researchers hope can shed some insight into the drug’s potential effectiveness in a matter of weeks, possibly before May. —Berkeley Lovelace, Jr.

9:13 am: New York manufacturing hits record low reading of -78.2 amid coronavirus collapse 

The Empire State Manufacturing Index for April hit minus 78.2, worse even than the -32.5 expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones. The worst reading the index had seen was -34.3 during the financial crisis.

The index measures companies reporting better versus worse conditions over the past month. Just 7% reported stronger conditions, while 85% said things had weakened.

As businesses shut down due to coronavirus restrictions, it was no surprise that firms in New York, which has been the U.S. epicenter of cases, would experience a downturn or near total stoppage. However, the outlook ahead wasn’t much better, with the future expectations index registering a 7% reading. —Jeff Cox 

9:05 am: South Africa extends lockdown but offers a road map for reopening 

South Africa has extended its nationwide lockdown for two weeks but outlined criteria for lifting restrictions, with coronavirus cases in the country so far avoiding the sharp trajectory seen in Europe and the U.S.

South Africa remains the most affected country in Africa by the pandemic, with 2,415 confirmed cases as of Wednesday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. However, the spread of Covid-19 has been far less severe than expected. —Elliot Smith 

8:59 am: US retail sales in March saw the biggest decline since 1992

U.S. retail sales suffered a record drop in March as mandatory business closures to control the spread of the coronavirus outbreak depressed demand for a range of goods, setting up consumer spending for its worst decline in decades.

The Commerce Department said retail sales plunged 8.7% in March, the biggest decline since the government started tracking the series in 1992, after falling by a revised 0.4% in February.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, retail sales were forecast to have fallen 8% last month. —Reuters

8:54 am: Harvard researchers warn social-distancing measures may need to remain in place into 2022 

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have warned that in the absence of a vaccine or an effective treatment of the coronavirus, social-distancing measures may be required through to 2022.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Science, epidemiologists at Harvard assessed what is known about Covid-19 and other coronaviruses to anticipate possible scenarios for the current global health crisis.

It said social-distancing measures, such as school closures, bans on public gatherings and stay-at-home orders, may have to remain in place for at least the next couple of years.

“Absent other interventions, a key metric for the success of social distancing is whether critical care capacities are exceeded,” they said. “To avoid this, prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022.” —Sam Meredith

8:45 am: Americans are spending their coronavirus stimulus checks on food, gas, and paying back friends 

Data compiled by digital bank Current found members who received stimulus payments over the past five days spent 16% of the money on food, including takeout and delivery. An additional 9% of spending was on groceries and 10% went toward gas.

“Clearly food is an issue, people are struggling,” Current CEO Stuart Sopp told CNBC. “They’re just trying to survive, and I think that’s what the stimulus was all about.”

The figures give an early glimpse at how Americans will use cash transfers from the government as the coronavirus pandemic has shut down businesses and left millions unemployed.

The CARES Act, which was passed by Congress at the end of March, provided one-time cash transfers of up to $1,200 to individuals to assist with the economic fallout of the pandemic. The Treasury Department said this week that tens of millions of Americans will receive payments via direct deposit by Wednesday. —Elizabeth Schulze

8:05 am: Trump’s decision to withdraw WHO funding prompts international criticism

President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is going to withdraw U.S. funding for the World Health Organization has provoked criticism from around the world.

Among those voicing opposition was philanthropist Bill Gates, who called the decision “as dangerous as it sounds.” Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that “blaming does not help,” adding, “the virus knows no borders.” He said the WHO was already underfunded. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he “deeply regretted” the decision.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier that now is “not the time” to cut WHO funding, as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.The WHO is the United Nations’ health agency.

Trump said Tuesday the U.S. will suspend funding to the WHO while it reviews the agency’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. He has accused the agency of making mistakes in its approach to the virus. However, some have criticized the White House for what they see as an inadequate response to the crisis. —Holly Ellyatt

7:29 am: CDC director says the agency has a productive relationship with WHO

Center for Disease and Control (CDC) Director Robert Redfield testifies before the House Appropriations Committee on the CDC’s budget request for fiscal year 2021 on Capitol Hill on March 10, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Samuel Corum | Getty Images

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency has a very productive relationship with the World Health Organization, whose funding was cut by President Donald Trump over the coronavirus crisis.

“The CDC and WHO have had a long history of working together in multiple outbreaks around the world as we continue to do in this one,” CDC chief Robert Redfield said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “We’ve had a very productive public health relationship. We continue to have that.” —Reuters

7:14 am: WHO recommends governments restrict alcohol access

A customer wearing a glove grabs the wine “No Curfew” at the Total Wine & More liquor store in South Beach, Miami, on March 19, 2020.

Leila Macor | AFP | Getty Images

The World Health Organization’s regional office for Europe recommended governments restrict access to alcohol and “any relaxation of regulations or their enforcement should be avoided.” More than 3 million people die every year from alcohol, the WHO said, adding that alcohol consumption during an emergency can “exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviors, mental health issues, and violence.”

Alcohol sales in the U.S. were up 22% at the end of March, compared with a year earlier, according to Nielsen. 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we should really ask ourselves what risks we are taking in leaving people under lockdown in their homes with a substance that is harmful both in terms of their health and the effects of their behavior on others, including violence,” said Carina Ferreira-Borges, program manager for WHO Europe’s alcohol and illicit drugs program. —Will Feuer

6:15 am: Russia rejects criticism of its handling of the crisis

A mural reading “Fight!” by the construction site of a new building of the Novomoskovsky multipurpose medical center for patients suspected of the COVID-19 coronavirus infection and passengers with acute respiratory viral infection (ARVI) symptoms arriving from countries with unfavorable epidemiological situation.

Sergei Savostyanov | TASS | Getty Images

The Kremlin rejected criticism of its handling of the coronavirus crisis after China said its largest source of new, imported cases, had come from the far northeastern part of the country that borders Russia.

“We hear that there is now an exchange of criticism over coronavirus between different countries, which is played like pingpong. We consider this to be a thankless exercise,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, Reuters reported. —Holly Ellyatt

5:40 am: Race for vaccine ‘is a global effort’ for mankind — not just one country, Germany says

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, experts are scrambling to develop a vaccine to protect millions of people from infection.

Finding a vaccine is a collaborative effort, experts say, and is expected to take around 12-18 months. The World Health Organization said over the weekend that there are currently 70 vaccine candidates in development.

But who, or which country, gets priority when a vaccine is finally found is yet to be seen and could prove controversial.

The president of Germany’s Federal Institute of Vaccines and Biomedicines, an agency of the German Ministry of Health, told CNBC that the race to develop a vaccine is a collaborative and cooperative effort. —Holly Ellyatt

5:05 am: Spain’s daily death toll from the virus falls

Coffins containing the bodies of people who have died of coronavirus (COVID-19) are lined up in the long-term parking of the Collserola morgue before they either buried or incinerated, on April 02, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain.

David Ramos | Getty Images

Spain’s death toll rose to 18,579, up from 18,056 the day before, Spain’s health ministry said. That’s a daily increase of 523 deaths, down from 567 deaths reported the previous day. On Monday, 517 new deaths had been reported.

The total number of confirmed cases in Spain has now reached 177, 633.—Holly Ellyatt

4:20 am: Crisis will erase nearly a decade of oil demand growth this year, IEA says

The International Energy Agency said it expects the coronavirus crisis to erase almost a decade of oil demand growth in 2020, with countries around the world effectively having to shut down in response to the pandemic.

A public health crisis has prompted governments to impose draconian measures on the lives of billions of people. It has created an unprecedented demand shock in energy markets, with mobility brought close to a standstill. —Sam Meredith

4:11 am: Germany to extend restrictions to May 3, media reports

Germany will extend restrictions on movement introduced last month to slow the spread of the coronavirus until at least May 3, Handelsblatt business daily reported, citing the country’s DPA news agency.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding a video conference on Wednesday with Cabinet ministers, and later with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states, Reuters reported.  Officials are set to discuss whether to ease lockdown measures given Germany’s improving coronavirus data. —Holly Ellyatt

Read CNBC’s coverage from CNBC’s Asia-Pacific and Europe teams overnight here: Criticism mounts on Trump after US withdraws funding for WHO

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