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The UK is expected to extend its coronavirus lockdown on Thursday, but hopes are rising that the peak of the crisis is approaching and a gradual easing of restrictions will begin next month.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday it was “too early to make changes”, but Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, confirmed that the pace of new infections was flattening.

Britain’s death toll stands at nearly 13,000, but with its testing capacity at just 19,000 per day, experts say it is unlikely to make its target of 100,000 in just two weeks.

The government will shield ventilator manufacturers from potential legal claims over intellectual property or personal injury, as ministers estimated the NHS needs another 8,000 on top of the 10,000 it already has.

In a letter to the Financial Times, senior peers and medical experts called for a full public inquiry into Britain’s virus response. The FT View is that the public deserves straight answers about the government’s shortfalls — and its next steps. (FT)

Coronavirus digest

  • Donald Trump will announce guidelines to reopen the economy on Thursday as the US recorded its highest single-day death toll. New York, which mandated face mask use, tapped McKinsey to develop a “Trump-proof” plan to safely lift lockdowns.

  • Germany will reopen many shops on Monday and some schools from May 4, but new contact-tracing apps are raising privacy concerns. Liechtenstein is piloting a radical biometric bracelet tracking programme.

  • Top ministers defended Sweden’s decision not to impose a lockdown despite a mounting death toll. Portugal has surprisingly managed better than most.

  • The Gates Foundation more than doubled its funding to fight coronavirus. Google sharply reduced hiring, facing a possible first-ever revenue contraction.

  • US-China tensions are rising over access to data from Wuhan that could help trace the outbreak’s origin as global cases topped 2m. (FT, Reuters, Politico)

The FT View is that Donald Trump should leave the virus response to the experts. Follow our outbreak tracker and live coverage here

We’re offering a free 30-day trial to our Coronavirus Business Update, which includes access to Non-FT subscribers can sign up here

In the news

Exclusive: Gulf funds seek investment bargains Cash-rich Gulf sovereign wealth funds are mobilising to buy assets hit hard by coronavirus but expected to recover, such as healthcare, technology and logistics. The Saudi-backed £300m acquisition of Newcastle United football club will be the first test of the Premier League’s tightened takeover rules. (FT) 

Wall Street braces for loan losses Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs took a total $12.8bn of charges for loan losses in the first quarter, and warned more could be to come, but trading desks posted their strongest results in years. Banks are also predicting dramatic credit card losses. (FT, WSJ)

5G coronavirus conspiracies Claims that next-generation wireless technology frequencies caused Covid-19 or impair the immune system have sparked arson attacks across the UK and Europe. Simon Kuper says conspiracies hurt response efforts — and could poison our politics. (FT)

Economic breakdown Data published on Wednesday revealed the vast scale of the collapse in US consumer demand, industrial activity and confidence, sending stocks tumbling and suggesting the hit from lockdowns has been deeper than feared. In the UK, retail sales fell at the fastest rate in March since records began. (FT)

$350bn small business pot empties More than 90 per cent of the US small business rescue fund has been exhausted. US airline chief executives are considering tapping a second, $25bn pot of taxpayer money. Stimulus cheques began arriving on Wednesday; most are being spent on food. (FT, WaPo)

EU bars bailout dividends European companies that accept equity injections will be forbidden from making dividend payouts, launching share buybacks or paying bonuses, according to an official document seen by the FT. Across the Atlantic, Warren Buffett will receive his latest controversial dividend from Occidental Petroleum in shares instead of cash. (FT)

Apple’s $399 new iPhone Apple launched a cheaper, revamped iPhone SE, cutting its entry price point to expand its services user base. Amazon, meanwhile, will temporarily shut French distribution centres after a court ruled it had failed to protect warehouse workers. (FT, Guardian)

© AP

The day ahead

US jobless claims The weekly jobless report is due on Thursday, when TD Securities expects a decline of more than 1m new claims, which will still signal a dramatic weakening in the labour market. (FX Street)

Abbott Laboratories earnings The US healthcare company, which developed a coronavirus rapid test kit in late March, reports Q1 earnings on Thursday, as its share price has climbed towards new highs. (FT, The Street) 

What else we’re reading

Why we fail to prepare for disasters While the world is an unpredictable place, unpredictability is often not the problem — the problem is that faced with clear risks, we fail to act. Tim Harford examines why we do nothing in the face of danger. (FT)

Mental health at home Not everyone was relieved to abandon the daily commute. Emma Jacobs details strategies to stay well — and working — in lockdown. Nasa’s Curiosity team is operating the Mars rover from home. Madison Darbyshire finds that, against all odds, her love life is flourishing. (FT, Nasa)

Boris Johnson’s debt to the NHS The prime minister says he owes his life to the National Health Service, but his debt is also political, Philip Stephens writes: the NHS helped map his path to power. In an interview with the FT, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds called for a fresh “social contract”. (FT)

Pandemic distrust In France, where Emmanuel Macron’s approval ratings were already running low, a controversy over face masks has threatened to erode remaining goodwill, writes Anne-Sylvaine Chassany. India’s cities are among the world’s densest, and space in quarantine is distributed as unequally as other wealth, observes Amy Kazmin. (FT)

Hope in darkness Can the shared experience of the pandemic alleviate inequality and anti-democratic policies, asks Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate and Harvard professor. The need to act together can generate an appreciation of the constructive role of public action. (FT)

How the financial system was saved Coronavirus has brought the economy to a near standstill and left millions out of work. But thanks to unprecedented intervention, a full-scale meltdown has been averted — for now. (Guardian)

Video of the day

Ian Bremmer on a global pandemic in a leaderless world The president of Eurasia Group speaks to the FT’s Vanessa Kortekaas about how the Covid-19 crisis is affecting US-China relations, the World Health Organization’s response and the lack of global leadership. (FT)

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